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Title: He Comes Up Smiling
Author: Sherman, Charles
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.

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                              HE COMES UP
                                SMILING


                                  _By_

                            CHARLES SHERMAN



                         WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
                          ARTHUR WILLIAM BROWN



                              INDIANAPOLIS
                       THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
                               PUBLISHERS



                             COPYRIGHT 1912
                       THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY



                                PRESS OF
                            BRAUNWORTH & CO.
                        BOOKBINDERS AND PRINTERS
                            BROOKLYN. N. Y.



                         *HE COMES UP SMILING*



                               *CONTENTS*

CHAPTER

I  The Beauty Contest
II  A Close Shave
III  Enter Mr. Batchelor
IV  And When I Dine
V  A Plan and a Telegram
VI  What Is Heaven Like
VII  Watermelon Yields
VIII  Gratitude Is a Flower
IX  On the Road
X  The Deserted House
XI  A Night’s Lodging
XII  The Key to the Situation
XIII  Only to be Lost
XIV  Billy, Billy Everywhere
XV  Love in Idleness
XVI  A Thief in the Night
XVII  Alphonse Rides Away
XVIII  Oh, For a Horse
XIX  A Broker Prince
XX  The Seven O’Clock Express
XXI  Rich and Poor Alike
XXII  The Truth At Last
XXIII  Back to the Road
XXIV  The Poet or the Poodle
XXV  As He Said He Would



                         *HE COMES UP SMILING*



                              *CHAPTER I*

                          *THE BEAUTY CONTEST*


"You have a phiz on yer," said the Watermelon with rare candor, "that
would make a mangy pup unhappy."

"I suppose you think yer Venus," sneered James, a remark that he
flattered himself was rather "classy."

The Watermelon sighed as one would over the ignorance of a child.  "No,"
said he, "hardly."

"Don’t let that bloomin’ modesty of yers keep yer from tellin’ the
truth," adjured James.

The Watermelon waved the possibility aside with airy grace.  "With all
due modesty, James," said he, "I can’t claim to be a woman."

"Not with that hay on yer mug," agreed Mike, casting a sleepy eye upward
from where he lay in lazy content in the long, sweet grasses under the
butternut tree.

"When I was a kid, I took a prize in a beauty show," announced James,
with pardonable pride.

"Swiped it?" asked the Watermelon.

"Dog show?" inquired Mike drowsily, listening to the pleasing drone of a
bee in a near-by clump of daisies.

James sat up and ran his fingers with musing regret through the coarse
stubble on cheeks and chin.  "I was three, I remember, a cute little
cuss.  My hair was yellow and ma curled it—you know how—all fuzzy—and I
had a little white dress on.  It was a county fair.  I got the first
prize for the best lookin’ kid and was mugged for the papers.  If I was
shaved now and had on some glad rags, I’d be a lady killer, all right,
all right."

"’Longside of me," said the Watermelon, "you’d look like a blear-eyed
son of a toad."

"You!  Why, you’d make a balky horse run, you would."

"When me hair’s cut, I’m a bloomin’ Adonis, not Venus;" and the
Watermelon drew languidly at an old brown pipe, warm and comfortable in
the pleasant shade, where soft breezes wandered fitfully by, laden with
the odors of the fields in June.

James was skeptical.  "Did y’ ever take a prize in a beauty show?" he
demanded, still musing upon those bygone honors.

"No," admitted the Watermelon.  "My old man was a parson, and parsons’
kids never have any chance.  Besides, I wouldn’t care to. Too much like
the finest bull in a county fair, or the best laying hen."

"Huh," sneered James.  "My folks was of the bon-ton."

"The bon-tons never broke any records in the beauty line," replied the
Watermelon. "And the bon-tonnier they are, the uglier."

"Beauty," said James with charming naiveté, "runs in my family."

"It went so fast in the beginning then, yer family never had a chance to
catch up," returned the Watermelon.  "We’ll have a beauty show, just us
two."

Inspired by the thought, he sat up to explain, and Mike opened his eyes
long enough to look each over with slow scornful derision and a mocking
grunt.

James fondled the short stiff hair on his cheeks and chin and waited for
developments.

The Watermelon went on.  "We will meet this afternoon, here, see?
Shaved and with decent duds on.  And Mike can pick the winner."

"Mike!  He can’t tell a sick cat from a well one."

"That’s all right.  He knows enough to tell the best lookin’ one between
you and me.  A _blind_ mug could do that."

"But—"

"We haven’t any one else, you mutt.  We can’t have too much publicity in
this show.  I dislike publicity any way, at any time, and especially
when I have on clothes, borrowed, as you might say, for the occasion.
If the gang was here, we could take a vote, but seein’ that they ain’t,
we got to do with what we got."

"I ain’t goin’ to get in no trouble wid this here burg," declared Mike.
"I want a quiet Sunday, some place where I can throw me feet for a bite
of grub and not run no fear of the dog’s taking one first.  See?
Besides, it’s a decent, law-abidin’ burg, God-fearin’ and pious; too
small to be made unhappy.  You want to take somethin’ yer own size."

"Aw, who’s goin’ to hurt the jerkwater town?" demanded the Watermelon
with indignation.

"The cost of livin’ is goin’ up so these days, it’s gettin’ hard even to
batter a handout," groaned Mike, whose idea of true beauty consisted of
a full stomach and a shady place to sleep on a long quiet Sunday
afternoon.  "I ain’t goin’ to get every place soured on me.  If the
public gets any more stingy, I’ll have to give up de turf for a livin’,
that’s all.  To throw a gag will be harder den hod-carryin’."

"We ain’t goin’ to hurt the burg none," said James.

He rose languidly and stretched.  "You be here this afternoon, Mike,
about three, see, or I’ll knock yer block off.  It’s a nice quiet
hangout and far enough from the village to be safe. I’m goin’ to get a
shave and borrow some duds from the bloomin’ hostelry up yonder to do
honor to de occasion."  He knocked the ashes from his pipe and slipped
it into his pocket.  "If you don’t get the clothes and de shave,
Watermillion, you’ll be counted down and out, see?"

"Sure," agreed the Watermelon.

He lay at length on the ground beneath the butternut tree and James
paused a moment to run his eye critically over him, from his lean face
with its two-weeks’ growth of beard to his ragged clumsy shoes.  James
smiled grimly and drew himself up to his full height with just pride.
He was six feet two in shoes that might as well have been stockings for
all they added to his height.  His shoulders were broad and muscular,
with the gentle play of great muscles in perfect condition.  His neck,
though short, was well shaped and sinewy, not the short thick neck of a
prize-fighter or a bull. His hips were narrow and his limbs long and
straight.  Beneath his open shirt, one saw his bronze throat and huge
chest.  A splendid specimen of the genus _homo_, for all the rags and
tatters that served as clothes.

The Watermelon was a bit shorter, with narrower shoulders, but
long-legged, slim, graceful, and under his satiny skin, his muscles slid
and rippled with marvelous symmetry.  Where James was strong, slow,
heavy, he was quick, lithe, supple.  Dissipation had not left its mark,
and the hard life of the "road" had so far merely made him fit, an
athlete in perfect condition.  His features were clean-cut and
symmetrical, with a narrow, humorous, good-natured mouth and eyes soft
and gray and gentle, the eyes of a dreamer and an idler.

James looked at the slight graceful youth, sprawled in the shade of the
butternut tree, and grinned, doubling his huge arms with slow, luxurious
pleasure in the mere physical action and watching the rhythmic rise and
fall of the great muscles.

"You might get honorable mention in one of these county fairs for the
best yoke of oxen," admitted the Watermelon from where he lay at ease.

"There ain’t going to be no show," said Mike firmly.  "Not if yer have
to swipe the duds.  I ain’t going—"

James showed that he was a true member of the bon-ton.  He waved the
other to silence with the airy grace of a master dismissing an impudent
servant.  "There is goin’ to be a contest for the just reward of beauty
and yer goin’ to be here, Mike, and be the judge or y’ will have that
red-headed block of yours knocked into kindlin’ wood."

Mike was fat and red-headed and dirty.  His soul loathed trouble and
longed for quiet with the ardor of an elderly spinster.  "No, I ain’t,"
said he, in a vain struggle for peace.  "I ain’t goin’ to hang around
here until you blokes swipe the rags and come back wid de cops after
yer."

"There ain’t no cops around this place, you mutt," contradicted the
Watermelon with the delicate courtesy of the road.

"There’s a sheriff—"

"Sheriffs," interrupted James coldly, "ain’t never around until the
job’s done."

"Sunday," added the Watermelon, from knowledge gained by past
experience, "is the best time to swipe anything.  No one is lookin’ for
trouble that day and so they don’t find it, see?"

"Sure," agreed James.  "Every one’s feelin’ warm and good and stuffed,
and when yer feel good yerself, yer won’t believe any one is bad. You
know how it is, Mike.  When yer feelin’ comfortable, yer can’t
understand why the devil we ain’t comfortable."

"Well, why the devil ain’t yer?" demanded Mike.  "I ain’t takin’ all the
shade er all the earth, am I?  Lie down and be quiet.  What do yer want
a beauty show for?"

"Aw, stow it!" snapped the Watermelon.

"Yes, I’ll stow it all right when we’re all sent to the jug.  I tell yer
I ain’t fit to work.  The last time I got pinched, I pretty near
croaked. I wasn’t made to work."

"We ain’t going to get pinched," said James. "You make more talk over
two suits of clothes—"

"It ain’t the clothes.  It’s the damn fool notion of swipin’ ’em and
then comin’ right back here, and not makin’ no get-away—"

"This hang-out is more than four miles from the burg, you galoot,"
sneered the Watermelon. "No one would think of coppin’ us here. They’ll
go to the next town, or else watch the railroads—"

"But they might—"

"Might what?  Might be bloomin’ fools like you."

"Where are you goin’ to be shaved?"

"In a barber shop," said James mildly. "You probably favor a lawn-mower,
but personally I prefer a barber."

"Yes," wailed Mike, "go to a barber shop and let every guy in town get
his lamps on yer—"

"You’re gettin’ old, Mike, me boy, and losin’ yer nerve," said James.
He stretched and yawned.  "Well, I’m off before church time or the
barbers will be closed.  Remember, Mike, this afternoon, between four
and five."

He pulled his clothes into place, adjusted his hat at the most becoming
angle and started up the narrow woodland path, whistling gaily through
his teeth.  As he disappeared among the trees, the far-off sound of
church bells stole to them on the quiet of the Sabbath morning.



                              *CHAPTER II*

                            *A CLOSE SHAVE*


The Watermelon climbed the stone wall and paused a moment to view his
surroundings.  The road wound up the hill from the village nestling at
its foot and dipped again out of sight farther on.  On all sides were
the hills, falling rocky pasture lands, rising to orchards or woods, and
now and then a farmhouse.  It was summer, glad, mad, riotous summer.
The sky was a deep, deep blue, with here and there a drifting,
snow-white cloud.  The fields were gay with buttercups and daisies, and
wild roses nodded shyly at him from the briers along the roadside.  In
the leafy recesses of the trees, the birds twitted and sang.  A little
gray squirrel peered at him from the limb close by and then scampered
off with a whisk of its bushy tail.  A brook laughed and tumbled under a
slender bridge across the road.

The Watermelon was a vagabond in every fiber of his long graceful self.
The open places, the sweep of the wind, the call of the birds, the rise
and fall of the hills, hiding the fascinating "beyond," found
unconscious harmony with his nature.  As a captive animal, given a
chance for freedom, makes for the nearest timber; as a cat, in a strange
neighborhood, makes for the old, familiar attic, so the Watermelon
sought the country, the peace and freedom and space where a man can be a
man and not a manikin.

He paused a moment now, in perfect contentment with the world and
himself, while up the valley, over the hills, through the sun-warmed
air, borne on the breath of the new-mown fields came the sound of
distant church bells, softly, musically, soothingly.  Slipping from the
wall, he set out for the village below in the valley, where the road
wound steeply down.

The village boasted but one barber shop, a quiet, little, dusty-white,
one-room affair, leaning in timid humility against the protecting wall
of the only other public building in town, drygoods, grocery and butcher
shop in one.  The church bells had stopped for some time when the
Watermelon turned into the wide empty street, and strolled carelessly up
to the faded red, white and blue pole of Wilton’s Tonsorial Parlor.  In
its Sunday calm the whole village seemed deserted.  A few of the bolder
spirits who had outgrown apron strings and not yet been snared in any
one’s bonnet strings, had remained away from church and foregathered in
the seclusion of the barber shop.  The Watermelon regarded them a moment
through the window as he felt carelessly in his pockets for the coins
that were never there.  It was a quiet crowd, well brushed hair, nicely
polished boots and freshly shaved faces.  They were reading the sporting
news of Saturday’s papers and ogling any girl, fairly young and not
notoriously homely, who chanced to pass.  The barber was cleaning up
after his last customer and talking apparently as much to himself as to
any one.  Convinced of what he knew was so, that he had no money, the
Watermelon pushed open the door and entered.

"Hello," said he.

"Hello," said the barber.

All the papers were lowered and all conversation stopped as each man
turned and scanned the new-comer with an interest the Watermelon
modestly felt was caused by some event other than his own entry.  He
surmised that James had probably been there before him, and the next
words of the barber confirmed his surmise.

That dapper little man scanned him coldly, from the rakish tip of his
shabby hat to the nondescript covering on his feet which from force of
habit he called shoes, and spoke with darkly veiled sarcasm:

"I suppose you are a guest from the hotel up to the lake?"

The Watermelon grinned.  He recognized James’ favorite role.  "No," said
he cheerfully, "I’m John D., and me car is waiting without."

"A guest up to the hotel," repeated the barber, upon whom James had
evidently made a powerful impression.  "Just back from a two weeks’
camping and fishing trip—"

"No," said the Watermelon.  "I don’t like fishing, baiting the hook is
such darned hard work."

"Just back," went on the barber, still quoting, his soul yet rankling
with the deceit of man.  "Look like a tramp, probably—"

"Am one," grinned the Watermelon.

"And you thought you would get a shave as you passed through the
village, wouldn’t dare let your wife see you—"

"Say," interrupted the Watermelon wearily, "what are you giving us?  Did
any one bunko you out of a shave with that lingo?"

"Yes," snapped the barber.  "About an hour ago a feller blew in here and
said all that.  He talked well and I shaved him.  He said he had sent
his camping truck on to the hotel by his team; he had stopped off to get
a shave.  I shaved him and then he found he hadn’t any money in his old
clothes—but he would send it right down—oh, yes—the moment he got to the
hotel.  It ain’t come and Harry, there, says there ain’t no one up to
the hotel like that. Harry’s the porter."

"Sure," said Harry importantly.  "I passed the feller as I was coming
down and there ain’t any one like him to the hotel."

The Watermelon laughed heartily.  "A hobo, eh?  Bunkoed you for fair.
You fellers oughtn’t to be so dog-goned easy.  Get wise, get wise!"

"We are wise now," said the barber ruefully, and added sternly, "If you
want a shave, you’ve got to show your money first."

"Sure, I want a shave," said the Watermelon, and carelessly rattled a
few old keys he carried in his pocket.  They jingled with the clink of
loose coins and were pleasing to the ear if not so much to the touch.
"I came here for a shave, but I pay for what I want, see? Say, I’ll bet
that feller busted your cash register," and he nodded pleasantly toward
the new shiny receiver of customs on the shelf near the looking-glass.

The remark brought an agreeable thrill of excited expectation to all
save the barber.  He shook his head with boundless faith in his new
possession.  "I bought that just last week and the drummer said it was
practically thief proof."

"Do you want to bet?" asked the Watermelon. "All there is in the
register, huh? Even money," and he jingled the keys in his pocket.

"Naw," said the barber.  "I know he couldn’t have robbed it.  It’s
impossible, even if the thing could be robbed, which it can’t be. I was
right here all the time."

"It’s near the lookin’-glass," said the Watermelon.  "He went close to
the counter to see himself, didn’t he?"

The Watermelon knew vanity as James’ one weakness and realized with what
pleasure he himself would stand before the mirror and gaze fondly at his
own charms, uncontaminated by a shaggy, two-weeks’ growth of beard.

"Yes," admitted the barber slowly.  "He did look at himself for a long
time."

"And some of the time your back was turned," added the Watermelon.  "You
were probably cleaning up or looking for a whisk."

"Yes," admitted the barber again, still more reluctantly.  "But nobody
can bust into one of them cash registers, not without a noise that would
be heard across the room."

"I’ll bet he did," said the Watermelon.  "Do you take me?"

"But they can’t be busted," reiterated the barber.

"Then why the devil don’t you bet?" demanded the Watermelon.  "You are
bettin’ on a sure thing."

"Yes, go on.  Don’t be scared," encouraged Wilton’s gay youth in joyful
chorus.

The barber started for his precious register, but the Watermelon reached
it first and laid his hand on it.

"Do you take me?" he asked.  "You have to say that before you can count
the change or the bet’s—Say, is that the galoot?" he nodded suddenly
toward the window and all turned quickly, instinctively, to look up the
village street.  The Watermelon hastily thrust a thin comb between the
bell and the gong so it would not ring as he gently pressed the
twenty-five cent key, registering another quarter, then he joined the
others, pushing and struggling to see the man who did not pass, and
gazed languidly over their heads.

"There ain’t no one there," exclaimed the barber.

"He’s passed out of sight," said the Watermelon, making a feeble attempt
to see up the street.  "He was almost by as I saw him."

"Do you take me?" he asked, as they returned to the counter and the
subject of the cash register.  His hands were in his pockets and
occasionally he jingled the keys.

"Aw, go on," urged Harry, who was a sport.  "What are you afraid of?"

"He couldn’t have picked it," insisted the barber, whose faith in his
register was really sublime.

"Sure he could.  They are easy to a guy who knows the ropes," declared
the Watermelon. "The drummer was handing you a lot of hot air when he
said they can’t be picked. You don’t want to be so easy."

The slur on his mental capacity was too much for the barber.  His vanity
rose in defense of his register where his faith had failed. "I have some
brains," he snorted.  "I know the thing is perfectly safe.  Yes, I take
you."

He started to open the register, but the Watermelon objected.  "Here,"
he cried, "let Harry do it.  I’m not wanting to be bunkoed out of me
hard-earned lucre."  And he lovingly rattled the keys in his pockets.

Harry and the others stepped forward.

"How much has been registered?" asked the Watermelon.

Harry drew forth the strip of paper and after a few moments of mental
agony, confused by the different results each obtained as all peered
eagerly over his shoulder, he finally arrived at the correct answer,
three dollars and sixty cents.  It was Sunday and shaving day for the
male quarter of the population.

"Three, sixty," announced Harry in some trepidation, lest he be flatly
and promptly corrected.

The barber reached for the slip and added it on his own account.
"Three, sixty," he agreed, and sighed.

"Count the cash," ordered the Watermelon, and Harry counted, slowly,
carefully, laboriously, and the rest counted with him, more or less
audibly.

When the last coin had been counted, there was a moment of puzzled
silence.  The Watermelon broke it.

"Three, thirty-five," said he.  "What did I tell you?"

"Here," snapped the barber, "let me count it."

He pushed Harry aside and again all counted as the barber passed the
coins. Quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies, the last one was
lingeringly laid on the pile and the sum was lacking a quarter to make
it complete according to the registered slip.

"Three dollars and thirty-five cents," said the Watermelon again, like
the voice of doom.

"Well, I vum!" exclaimed Harry.

"How’d he do it?" asked the grocer’s son, with an eye out for possibly
similar emergencies nearer home.

The Watermelon shrugged.  "I don’t know," said he.  "Can’t do it myself,
but the fellers in the cities have gotten so they can open ’em the
minute the clerk turns his back.  They can do it without any noise, too,
and so quick you can’t catch ’em.  I’ll be hanged if I know how they do
it."

Again the barber counted the change, again he totaled the numbers on the
registered slip. They would not agree.  That painful lack of a quarter
could not be bridged.

"He said it was automatic bookkeeping," moaned the barber, glaring at
the slip that would register nothing less than three dollars and sixty
cents.

"The bookkeeping’s all right," said the Watermelon, "it’s the money that
ain’t."

He gathered up the coins, slowly, lovingly, and the barber turned away
from the painful sight.

"Do you want a shave?" he asked crossly.

The Watermelon sank gracefully into the chair.  "It’s hard luck," said
he sympathetically, "but you oughtn’t to be so easy.  Get wise, get
wise."



                             *CHAPTER III*

                         *ENTER MR. BATCHELOR*


With hair nicely cut, face once more as smooth as a boy’s, and three
dollars and ten cents in his pocket, the Watermelon gazed fondly at
himself in the glass and felt sorry for James.  He gently patted his
hair, wet, shiny and smelling of bay rum, arranged his hat with great
nicety at just the graceful angle he preferred as doing the most justice
to his charms, and sallied forth to look for a suit of clothes.  He had
scanned critically those he had encountered in the barber shop with an
eye to future possession, but none of them, at least what he had been
able to see of them, the coat having generally been conspicuous by its
absence, had pleased him.  They had the uncompromising cut of the
country and the Watermelon felt that the attractions that gazed back at
him from the mirror were worthy of something better.  He had a vague
fancy for light gray with a pearl-colored waistcoat and purple socks—a
suit possessing the gentle folds and undulations of the city, not the
scant, though sturdy, outlines of the country.  The hotel seemed the
best place to look for what he wanted, so he turned in that direction.

The hotel was several miles from the village.  Its gables and chimneys
could be seen rising in majestic aloofness from the woods on a distant
hillside.  The Watermelon paused where the road dipped down again into
the valley and ran his eye over the intervening landscape.  By the road,
it would be at least five miles; through the woods, the distance
dwindled to about three.  The Watermelon took to the woods.  They became
thicker at every step, the quiet and shade deeper and deeper.  A bird’s
call echoed clear and sweet as though among the pillars of some huge
grotto.  A brook laughed between its mossy banks, tumbling into foamy
little waterfalls over every boulder that got in its path.  The
Watermelon determined to follow the brook, sure that in the end it would
lead him to the hotel.  City people had a failing for brooks and no
hotel management would miss the chance of having one gurgling by, close
at hand.  The brook grew wider and wider, and through a break in the
trees the Watermelon saw a lake, disappearing in the leafy distance. He
heard a splash and saw the shiny white body of a man rise for one joyful
moment from the green depths ahead and then dive from sight with another
cool splash.

The Watermelon decided from habit to get a better view of the lonely
swimmer before he let his own presence become known.  He slipped into
the bushes and slowly wriggled his way to the little glade.  The lake
was bigger than at first appeared.  It turned and twisted through the
woods and was finally lost from view around a small promontory.  The
trees grew nearly to the water’s edge, a dense protecting wall to one
who wished to sport in nature’s solitude, garbed in nature’s simple
clothing.  The lake was too far from the hotel to have been annexed as
one of the attractions of that hostelry.  All this the Watermelon
noticed at a glance.  He also noticed that the man swimming in the cool
brown depths, with long easy strokes, was alone and a stranger. The
Watermelon looked for the clothes and found them on a log, practically
at his feet.

In everything but color, they fulfilled his dream of what raiment should
be like.  Instead of the pale gray he rather favored, the suit was
brown, a light brown, with a tiny green stripe, barely visible,
intertwined with a faint suggestion of red, forming a harmonious whole
that was vastly pleasing to the Watermelon’s æsthetic senses.  In the
matter of socks, he realized that the stranger had not taken the best
advantage of his opportunity.  Instead of being red or green to lend
character to the delicate suggestion of those colors found in the suit,
they were a soft dun brown.  There was a tie of the same shade and a
silk negligée shirt of white with pale green stripes.  The owner was
clearly a young man of rare taste, unhampered by a vexatious limitation
of his pocket-book.

He could be seen swimming slowly and luxuriously in the little lake,
perfectly contented, unconscious that some one besides the woodpeckers
and the squirrels was watching him. The swimmer’s strokes had quickened
and the Watermelon perceived that he was swimming straight up the lake
with the probable intention of rounding the promontory and exploring the
farther lake.  When he disappeared, the Watermelon quickly, carefully,
gathered up the clothes and likewise disappeared.

The swimmer was a big man and the clothes as good a fit as one could
look for under the circumstances.  They set off the Watermelon’s long,
lean figure to perfection, and the hat, a soft and expensive panama,
lent added distinction.  The Watermelon removed the three dollars and
ten cents and the keys from his own pockets, and making a bundle of his
cast-off dollies, stuffed them out of sight in a hollow log, where later
he could return and find them. It was just as well to leave the stranger
a practical captive in nature’s depths until the beauty show was pulled
off.  After that event, he would return, and if the stranger was
amenable to reason, he could have his good clothes back, but if he acted
put out at all, for punishment he would have to accept the Watermelon’s
glorious attire.

Clean-shaven, well-clothed, there was no longer any need for him to go
to the hotel, unless he wished to dine there.  If the devotee of nature,
back in the swimming pool, was a stranger in these parts and not a guest
at the hotel, the Watermelon felt that he could do this with pleasure
and safety.  It was after twelve, and his ever-present desire to eat was
becoming too pronounced to be comfortable. It would be a fitting climax
to a highly delightful morning to have dinner, surrounded by gentle folk
again, for the Watermelon came of a gentle family.  He had no fear, for
some time at least, of the owner of the borrowed clothes making himself
unnecessarily conspicuous. But, on the other hand, if he were a guest at
the hotel, the clothes would probably be recognized and murder be the
simplest solution of their change of owners.  Still, reasoned the
Watermelon, with a shrewd guess at the truth, if he were a guest, it was
hardly likely that he would be swimming alone in the isolated pond, in
the bathing suit designed by nature.  The clothes hardly indicated a
young man of a serious turn of mind, who would seek the wooded solitudes
in preference to the vivacious society of his kind to be found in a big
hotel.

The wood ended abruptly at a stone wall. There was a road beyond the
wall, and beyond the road, another stone wall and more woods. It was a
narrow woodland road, a short cut to the hotel.  It wound its way out of
sight, up a hill, through the pines.  It was grass-grown and shady and
the trees met overhead. Sweetbrier and wild roses grew along the stone
walls, while gay little flowers and delicate ferns ventured out into the
road itself, and with every passing breeze nodded merrily from the ruts
of last winter’s wood hauling. By the side of the road, like a glaring
anachronism, a variety theater in Paradise, a vacuum cleaner among the
ferns and daisies, stood a huge red touring car with shining brass work
and raised top.  No one was anywhere in sight and the Watermelon climbed
into the tonneau and leaned comfortably back in the roomy depths.

"Home, Henry," said he languidly to an imaginary chauffeur.

A honk, honk behind him answered.  He leaned from the car and saw
another turn into the road and come toward him.  It was a touring car,
big and blue.  An elderly gentleman, fat, serious, important, was at the
wheel. Beside him sat a lady, and a chauffeur languished in the tonneau.

"Hello, Thomas," called the old gentleman with the affability of a
performing elephant, addressing the Watermelon by the name of his car,
as is the custom of the road.

"Hello, William," answered the Watermelon, wondering why they called him
Thomas.

The old gentleman flushed angrily and the lady laughed, a delightful
laugh of girlish amusement.  The Watermelon smiled.

"We are a Packard," explained the old gentleman stiffly.

"Are you?" said the Watermelon, wholly unimpressed by the information.
"Well, I ain’t a Thomas."

"I called you by the name of your car," said the old gentleman.  "I
surmise that you have not had one long."

"I don’t feel as if I owned it now," the Watermelon admitted.

The old gentleman smiled genially.  Anything was pardonable but
flippancy in response to his own utterances, none of which was ever
lacking in weight or importance.  The young man, it seemed, was only
ignorant.

"Are you in trouble?" he asked with a gleam of anticipated pleasure in
his eyes.  To tinker with a machine and accomplish nothing but a crying
need for an immediate bath was his dearest recreation.

"No," said the Watermelon, thinking of the three, ten, in the pocket of
the new clothes and of the lonely swimmer.  "I ain’t—yet."

The old gentleman was vaguely disappointed. "Can you run your machine?"
he asked, hopeful of a reply in the negative.

"No," said the Watermelon.

"Won’t go, eh?"  The old gentleman turned off the power in his car and
stepped forth, agilely, joyfully, prepared to do irreparable damage to
the stranger’s car.  He drew off his gloves and slipped them into his
pocket, then for a moment he hesitated.

"Where is your chauffeur?"

"I haven’t one," said the Watermelon.

The old gentleman disapproved.  "Until you know more about your machine,
you should have one," said he oratorically.  "I am practically an
expert, and yet I always take mine with me."

He waved aside any comment on his own meritorious conduct and foresight
and turned to the machine.  "There is probably something the matter with
the carburetor," said he, and raised the hood.

"Probably," admitted the Watermelon, alighting and peering into the
engine beside the old gentleman.

"Father," suggested the lady gently, "maybe you had better let
Alphonse—"

Alphonse, sure of the reply, made no move to alight and assist.

The old gentleman, with head nearly out of sight, peering here and
there, tapping this and sounding that, replied with evident annoyance.
"Certainly not, Henrietta.  I am perfectly capable—"

His words trailed off into vague mutterings.

The Watermelon glanced at the lady, girl or woman, he was not sure
which.  Between thirty and thirty-five, the unconquerable youth of the
modern age radiated from every fold of her dainty frock, from the big
hat and graceful veil.  Her hair was soft and brown and thick, her mouth
was rather large, thin-lipped and humorous, and yet pathetic, the mouth
of one who laughs through tears, seeing the piteous, so closely
intermingled with the amusing.  Her eyes were brown, clever, with
delicate brows and a high smooth forehead. The Watermelon decided that
she was not pretty, but distinctly classy.  She was watching him with
amused approval, oddly mingled with wistfulness, for the Watermelon was
young and tall and graceful, good-looking and boyish.  His man’s mouth
and square chin were overtopped by his laughing woman’s eyes, soft and
gentle and dreaming, a face that fascinated men as well as women.  And
he was young and she was—thirty-five.  He smiled at the friendliness he
saw in her eyes and turned to the old gentleman, who was now thoroughly
absorbed.

"I need a monkey-wrench," said he.  "I thought at first that there was
something the matter with the carburetor, but think now that it must be
in the crank shaft assembly."

"Oh, yes," agreed the Watermelon vaguely, and got the wrench from the
tool-box as directed.

"I—I think that maybe you had better let us tow you to some garage,"
said the lady timorously, her voice barely audible above the old
gentleman’s noisy administrations.

"Search me," returned the Watermelon, standing by to lend assistance
with every tool from the box in his arms or near by where he could reach
it instantly at an imperious command.

"Automobiles," said the lady, "are like the modern schoolmarms, always
breaking down."

"Like hoboes," suggested the Watermelon, "always broke."

The old gentleman straightened up.  "There is something the matter with
the gasolene inlet valve," he announced firmly.

"The whole car must be rotten," surmised the Watermelon, catching the
oil-can as it was about to slip from his already over-burdened hands.

"No, no," returned the old gentleman reassuringly, as he buttoned his
long linen cluster securely.  "The crank shaft seems to be all right,
but the—"

He knelt down, still talking, and the Watermelon had a horrible fear for
a moment that his would-be benefactor was about to offer up prayers for
the safety of the car.  He reached out his hand to stay proceedings,
when the old gentleman spoke:

"I must get under the car."

"Maybe it’s all right," suggested the Watermelon, who did not like the
idea of being forced to go after him with the tools.

"Father," the lady’s voice was gentle, but firm, and the old gentleman
paused.  "Let Alphonse go.  You know we are to dine with the Bartletts.
Alphonse, please find out what the trouble is."

Alphonse alighted promptly.  He was a thin, dapper little man with a
blasé superiority that was impressive as betokening a profound knowledge
of the idiosyncrasies of motor-cars. He plainly had no faith in the old
gentleman’s diagnosis.  He approached the car and announced the trouble
practically at once.

"There is no gasolene."

The old gentleman was not in the least perturbed over his own slight
error in judgment. "A frequent, very frequent oversight," said he,
rising.  "We will tow you to the hotel, my dear sir.  You can get the
gasolene there."

"Never mind," said the Watermelon.  "I can hoof it."

"Hoof it!"  The old gentleman was pained and hurt.  "Hoof it, when I
have my car right here!  No, indeed.  Alphonse, get the rope."

The Watermelon protested.  "Aw, really, you know—"

"Weren’t you going to the hotel?"

"I was thinking some of it.  But the car—"

"Alphonse, get the rope.  It will be a pleasure. We have always got to
lend assistance to a broken car.  We may be in the same fix ourselves
some day."

Alphonse brought the rope and the Watermelon watched them adjust it.
When the last knot was tied to the old gentleman’s liking, he turned to
the Watermelon and presented him with his card.  The Watermelon took it
and read the name, "Brig.-General Charles Montrose Grossman, U.S.A.,
Retired."  Then, not to be outdone, he reached in the still unexplored
pockets of his new clothes with confident ease, and finding a
pocket-book drew it forth, opened it on the mere chance that there would
be a card within, found one and presented it to the general with lofty
unconcern, trusting that the general and the owner of the clothes were
not acquainted.

"William Hargrave Batchelor," read the general aloud, while his round
fat face beamed with pleasure.  "I have heard about you, sir, and am
glad to make your acquaintance."

The Watermelon grasped the extended hand and wrung it with fervor.  "The
pleasure is all mine," said he with airy grace and sublime
self-assurance.

"Let me present you to my daughter. Henrietta, this is young Mr.
Batchelor of New York.  You have read about him, my dear, in the papers.
He broke the cotton ring on Wall Street last week.  You may remember.
Miss Grossman, Mr. Batchelor."

The girl put out her hand and the Watermelon shook it.  Her hand was
slender and white, soft as velvet and well cared for.  The Watermelon’s
was big and brown and coarse, and entirely neglected as to the nails.
Henrietta noticed it with fastidious amusement. William Hargrave
Batchelor was not in her estimation, formed from the little she had read
about him in the papers, a gentleman.  He had started life as a newsboy
on the streets of New York, and doubtless had not had his suddenly
acquired wealth long enough to be familiar with the small niceties of
life.  Besides, he was so young and so good-looking, one could forgive
him a great deal more than dirty nails.

"You hardly look as old as I imagined you to be from the papers,"
declared the general, regarding a bit enviously the youth who had made
millions in a few short weeks by a sensational stroke of financial
genius.

"I have a young mug," explained the Watermelon modestly.

The general looked a bit startled.  Henrietta laughed.  She had always
wanted to meet a man in the making.

"I hope that if you have no other engagement, you will dine with us,"
said she.

"Certainly," cried the general.  "Have you a previous appointment?"

"With myself," said the Watermelon.  "To dine."

"You will dine with us," declared the general, and that settled it.
"Get into my car. Alphonse will steer yours."

The Watermelon made one last protest against highway robbery in broad
daylight, but the general waved him to silence and the Watermelon
decided that if they wished to make off with the stranger’s car it was
no fault of his.  He had done his best to stop it.  He climbed into the
general’s car, the general cranked up and they were off, Alphonse and
the Thomas car trailing along behind.



                              *CHAPTER IV*

                           *AND WHEN I DINE*


Henrietta turned sidewise that she might the better converse with her
guest.

"I noticed by the papers that you always make it a point to spend
Sundays in the country somewhere near New York, so that you can return
quickly in your car.  I suppose that you really need the rest and quiet
for your week’s work."

"I never work when I can rest," said the Watermelon truthfully.

"That’s right, that’s right," agreed the general, torn between a desire
to talk to the phenomenal young financier, who in one night had set New
York all agog, and to avoid a smash-up with the stone walls on either
side of the road.  "Men are altogether too eager to make money."

"Yes," said Henrietta.  "Everything nowadays is money, money, money."
Then remembering who her guest was, she added quickly, "I think it is
splendid in your getting away from it all and spending one day a week in
the country, close to nature.  They say that stock-brokers are never
happy away from the Street."

"But I am not a stock-broker," explained the Watermelon, with his
candid, boyish smile. "I’m a lamb."

Henrietta laughed.  "But not fleeced," said she gaily.

"Not yet," admitted the Watermelon, wondering if William Hargrave
Batchelor was still enjoying his swim.

"What you want to do, now that you have made your ’pile,’" advised the
general, as the machine swerved dangerously near a tree, "is to leave
the Street at once.  Invest your money in U.S. government bonds and buy
a place in the country."

"You don’t like the country yourself, father, except in the summer,"
objected Henrietta.

"That’s all right, my dear, but when a man has three millions invested
in government bonds, he does not have to spend all of his life in the
country.  Your last deal brought you three millions, I believe the
papers said?"  Never before had the general discussed a friend’s private
affairs with such sylvan frankness and interest, with such complete
unconsciousness of his own rudeness, but the youth who had risen one
night from the obscurity of New York’s multitude to a position of
importance in the greatest money market in the world appeared to the
general in the light of a public character, and as he would have
discussed aviation with the Wright brothers, the North Pole with Peary,
so now he discussed money with the Watermelon.

"Three, ten," chuckled the Watermelon.

"Ah, yes," sighed the general.  Money is power and every man wants
power.  The general was old, without the time, training or opportunity
to make money, while this long-legged youth with the ridiculous woman’s
eyes, sat on the back seat and babbled lightly of millions as the
general could hardly do of thousands.

"Ah, yes, three millions.  Have you ever lived in the country?"

"Oh, off and on," said the Watermelon.

"I suppose you are fond of it or you wouldn’t come up here every
Sunday," went on the general, missing the wall on the right by a
fraction of an inch.  "Do you care for fishing?"

"If the bites ain’t too plentiful."

Henrietta laughed.  "You can’t do it, Mr. Batchelor," said she.

"Do what?" asked the Watermelon, leaning forward.  The Watermelon never
lacked self-assurance under any circumstances, and before a pretty girl
it merely grew in adverse ratio to the girl’s years and in direct ratio
to her good looks.  Henrietta was not pretty, but she had charm and
grace and good breeding, and a combination of the three sometimes equals
prettiness.

"Make us believe that you are as lazy as you are trying to."

"If I can’t do it, I won’t try," laughed the Watermelon.  "But you can’t
do it, either."

"Do what?"

"Make me believe that you are the general’s daughter," returned the
Watermelon, letting his voice fall, gently and softly.  The general was
busy at that moment preventing the car from climbing a tree and trying
to decide between Maine and Virginia as the best place for the
Watermelon to invest in his country estate. Personally, he preferred
Maine in summer and Virginia in winter.  Was it therefore preferable to
roast in summer and be comfortable in winter, or to freeze in winter and
enjoy yourself in summer?

"Don’t I look like him?" asked Henrietta, wishing that she had not made
the conversation quite so personal thus early in their acquaintance.

"You look like him," admitted the Watermelon, "but—"

Henrietta laughed faintly.  "You wouldn’t take me for his sister, would
you?" she questioned, fearing he would say yes.  William Hargrave
Batchelor had spent his youth peddling papers and blacking boots.  A
frank disregard for all social graces and hypocrisies was doubtless one
of his most pronounced characteristics.  The little social amenities
would hardly be required in the strenuous existence of newsboy and
boot-black.

"For his granddaughter," said the Watermelon.

"Of course," said the general, aloud, "Maine has fine shooting in
winter."

"None of Maine for mine," declared the Watermelon conclusively.  "Maine
is a prohibition state."

The general frowned.  "You don’t drink, I hope, young man?"

"Drink," said the Watermelon, making Henrietta think unreasonably of a
minister, "Drink causes a psychological condition which each man should
experience to obtain a clear insight into the normal condition of the
mind."  He paused impressively and Henrietta felt almost compelled to
say "Amen," for what reason she did not know.  "But," added the youth in
the solemn tones of the benediction, "when I get—lit, I like to do it on
whisky and not poison."

The general who had intended a scathing reply, and firm but gentle
counsel to lead back to the narrow path this promising young man
hovering on the brink of ruin, with all his glorious possibilities,
found himself agreeing.

The car had reached the top of the steep hill, and suddenly left the
trees, the narrow, woodland road, with the columbine and wild roses
nodding at them from the underbrush, and swept out on to a wide,
well-kept driveway, with smooth rolling lawns on each side and a
majestic white building as a crowning glory on the top of the hill.

Grandview did not belie its name.  High on the topmost ridge, it looked
over valley and woods and streams, beyond to farther hills, peak after
peak, range after range, fading into a blue shadow against the sky.  It
was a big, square, garish building, gaunt and unlovely among its lovely
surroundings.  There were two porches, one up-stairs and one below. They
were filled with chairs and gay, brightly fringed hammocks.  Behind the
hotel was a stable and garage, white and gaunt and square like the main
building.

It was the dinner hour and in the country there is never any need to
urge one to the table. So, save for a man and a girl, waiting on the
steps, there was no one in sight.

"There are the Bartletts now," cried Henrietta, as the train of cars
approached the porch.  "Poor dears, we have kept them waiting."

"I wonder," said the Watermelon, "why a guy always gets so hungry on
Sunday."

"Nothing else to do," suggested Henrietta, "but eat."

The car stopped and she started to alight but the Watermelon was before,
offering his hand with a grace bred of absolute unconsciousness of self.

"Alphonse can take your car to the garage and fill it with gasolene,"
said the general.  He always felt that after he had done his best to put
a car out of order for good, he practically owned the car and its owner.

"Aw, don’t bother," protested the Watermelon.

"Tush, tush, man, it is no bother," and the general turned to the coldly
respectful Alphonse.

Henrietta had started toward the steps and the Watermelon turned to
follow her, when he saw _her_ standing on the top step, looking straight
at him across Henrietta’s shoulder. His first impulse was to stand and
stare, his second, to turn and run back to Mike and James and his old
clothes, his third, which he followed blindly, was to stumble forward,
hat in hand, not from any respect for woman in the abstract, but just
for her, her tiny feet, her small white teeth, her dimple.  She would
not come up to his shoulder by at least six inches, she was very
slender, and in her high-waisted, yellow frock, she seemed a mere wisp
of a girl.  Her hair and eyes were brown, her cheeks flushed like the
petals of an apple blossom.  She had a crooked little smile that brought
a single dimple in one soft cheek.  Her hat was a big, flapping affair,
covered with buttercups and daisies.

The Watermelon, gazing at her, forgot everything, Henrietta, dinner, the
general.  He stared and she stared back.  The brown suit with the pale
green stripe and the faint suggestion of red, lent an undeniable
improvement to the broad shoulders and long limbs of the graceful
Watermelon.  The admirable shave and hair-cut the village barber had
given him in exchange for his own quarter, revealed the square-cut chin
and the good-natured, careless mouth of the born ne’er-do-well.  Under
the brim of the soft expensive panama, were his woman’s eyes, now tragic
and unhappy, for who was he but a tramp, a frequenter of the highways
and back streets, an associate of James and Mike?

"Billy," said Henrietta, "we have had an adventure and picked up another
guest.  Miss Bartlett, Mr. Batchelor."

"Were you part of the adventure?" asked Billy, holding out her hand.

"Yes," said the Watermelon, incapable of further speech.

Henrietta presented him to Mr. Bartlett, a stout, red-faced gentleman of
middle age. Wealth, success, self-complacency radiated from him like the
rays of the sun.  He grasped the hard brown hand of the Watermelon and
looked the young man up and down, noticing the pin in his tie, the
panama and the silk socks without seeming fairly to notice the man.

"William Hargrave Batchelor?" he murmured questioningly.

"The same," answered the general heartily, feeling that he had done
something praiseworthy in capturing the young man.  He drew off his
gloves and beamed at the Watermelon.

"He is a young one to beat us, Bartlett.  We ought to be Oslerized."

Bartlett’s eyes gleamed and he shook the Watermelon’s hand with renewed
pleasure. "Youth," said he oratorically, "is hard to beat, General, but
we aren’t deaduns yet.  I have had an occasional try at the Street,
myself, Mr. Batchelor.  You may have heard of me."

"Oh, yes," said the Watermelon absent-mindedly, thinking of the girl
with the single dimple and the turned-up nose.

"Father took me, once," said Billy.  "It was terrible.  Are you a
broker, Mr. Batchelor?"

"Haven’t you read yesterday’s papers, Billy?" exclaimed Henrietta.

"I never read the papers," admitted Billy, with a charming smile.  "Just
the front page head-lines, sometimes."

"He was there," laughed the general.  "In inch-high print.  He broke the
cotton ring, my dear."  The general’s tone was full of reflected glory
as the host of the great man.

"Oh," cried Billy, "that’s where father lost so much.  He told me this
morning, just as we left the house—"

Bartlett glanced sharply at the Watermelon and interrupted Billy with a
laugh.  "You get everything wrong, my dear," said he, tweaking her ear.
"I said a good deal of money had been lost—"

"But, papa," protested Billy, "you said—"

"Come to dinner, everybody, please," interrupted Henrietta, in response
to an appealing glance from Bartlett.  "I am starving whether you others
are or not."

"We had better," cried the general jocularly, "or this young man will
become a bear instead of a bull."  He laid his hand affectionately on
the Watermelon’s shoulder and walked down the hall with it resting
there.



                              *CHAPTER V*

                        *A PLAN AND A TELEGRAM*


The big, cool dining-room, with tall palms and plants, snowy tables and
gleaming silver, the crowd of well-dressed people, the talk and
laughter, and the obsequious, hurrying waiters, was not a new experience
to the Watermelon.  For one short, painful week, he had essayed to be a
waiter and had finally seen the folly of his ways and given it up after
he had broken more china than his wages, which were withheld, could
cover.  His complete indifference as to what people thought of him made
him entirely at his ease, while his scattered wits were coming back with
a rush and his colossal self-assurance was growing every moment he was
in the society of the charming Billy.

"I was a hash-slinger once," said he, gazing at her across the table.

Her small nose wrinkled with pleasure and the single dimple flashed
forth and was gone.

"That’s right," said the general, who grew more fond of his guest with
every passing remark.  "Don’t be ashamed of the past just because you
have money now."

"You blacked boots, too, I believe?" questioned Bartlett, the results of
that unfortunate cotton deal he had participated in still rankling.
"Quite interesting."

The Watermelon had ears only for Billy. She spoke and it was as if the
others had been silent.

"Was it fun?" she asked.

"Oh, yes," drawled the Watermelon sarcastically. "It was fun all right.
Everybody wanted to be waited on first and everybody wanted the white
meat."

"What did they do when they didn’t get waited on?" asked Billy.

"Yelled at me," said the Watermelon, "as if I was their servant.  This
is a free country and we are all equal.  I said that to one old gent
once and it raised Cain."

"What’d he say?"

"He said that might be, but we didn’t remain equal."

"What did you say?"

"I said, ’I know it and I am sorry for you, sir.  Don’t blame yourself
too much,’ I said. ’Was it drink that did it?’  When I left they didn’t
give me any pay."

"Why not?" asked Billy, eagerly amused.

"They said I had broken too many dishes. I said if I had known they were
going to keep my pay, I would have broken twice as many."

"Why didn’t you do it, then?" asked Billy, whose ideas of vengeance were
young and drastic.

"Too much work," explained the Watermelon. "If I wasn’t extra strong, I
wouldn’t have been able to break what I did."

"I presume you return to the city to-night?" questioned Bartlett.

The Watermelon thought of the shivering wretch who was trying to hide
his nakedness in the forest depths and shook his head.  "I’m leaving
about three," said he, putting the parting off as long as possible
because of Billy.  It hurt him to think of leaving her, even then,
charming, dainty Billy.

"Tell me some other things you have done," teased Billy.

"If I sat over that side," said the Watermelon with the boldness of
desperation.  In two short hours they would part for good, so why not
make the most of the short time allowed?  "If I sat over that side, I
could tell you so much better the sad, sweet story of my life."

"Come on," laughed Billy.  And the Watermelon rose, to the amusement of
those nearest, went around the table and drew up a chair beside Billy,
with the general on the other side of him.

Henrietta made vain attempts to take a hostess’ part in the
conversation, and both Billy and the Watermelon made equally polite and
good-natured endeavors to include her, but when two are young, and one
is pretty and the other handsome, a third person assumes the proportions
of not a crowd so much as a mob. The general was enjoying himself
sufficiently with his dinner.  He and Bartlett had gone to the same
school and he felt as much right to neglect Bartlett as though he had
been a brother.  Henrietta turned to Bartlett and they chatted on the
trivial affairs of the day, while Henrietta wondered if she did seem so
very old to the Watermelon and Bartlett matured a plan that had come to
him like an inspiration as he watched the Watermelon’s frank admiration
for Billy.

In the crash on the Street which had broken the cotton ring and had
brought a comparatively young and hitherto unknown man into prominence,
Bartlett had lost more than he cared to think about.  Though his name
had not appeared, he had been heavily involved.  The ring had needed but
a week, a day, more to bring it to perfection, then in a night, from
whence hardly a soul knew, having worked quietly, steadily,
persistently, this unforeseen factor had arisen and defeat stared the
ring in the face.  Another week would bring complete collapse unless
this William Hargrave Batchelor could be suppressed.  They had tried to
see him, but he would not be seen. Clearly he had no price, preferring
to fight to a finish, which was an admirable quality in one so young,
but hardly to be desired in an opponent who unfortunately had every
chance to win.  Voluntarily, he would not leave the fight, but if he
could be suppressed?  The following Saturday was the crucial time.  If
he did not return until the day after?

Bartlett had left the city late the previous afternoon to spend Sunday
with Billy, away from the heat and worry of the scene of battle, and
here was William Hargrave Batchelor, apparently doing the same thing.
Clearly it was a dispensation of Providence.  There was Billy, and after
all William Hargrave Batchelor was young and human.  He had probably
never known girls like Billy before, or dined with them as equals.  He
certainly had made no attempt to hide his admiration for this particular
one.  Bartlett chatted gaily with Henrietta and watched the two
opposite, trying to decide if it would be possible to kidnap the young
man for a week, take him farther into the country, get him away from
Wall Street at any cost.  Were Billy’s charms equal to the attempt?

William Hargrave Batchelor was said to be a cold, hard-headed youth, who
had risen by sheer grit and determination to the place he now held,
riding rough-shod over his own and every one else’s desires and
pleasures.  A calm, imperturbable young man, with cruel keen eyes, the
papers described him.  Watching him across the table, Bartlett decided
that his square jaw and thin mouth fitted the description fairly well,
but that the eyes were a complete contradiction.  They were neither keen
nor cruel, but soft and mild and sleepy. The whole face was careless,
indifferent, and if it were not for the jaw, Bartlett would have hardly
believed it possible that Batchelor was sitting opposite him.  His own
jaw snapped and he swore to himself that he would keep him for a week,
either through Billy or otherwise. So strong is the power of suggestion,
it did not enter his head to question the youth’s identity.

They were rising from the table now.  The general, having dined to his
satisfaction, was beaming with good humor and stories.  Excusing himself
a moment, Bartlett hurried to the telegraph station in the office.  He
hunted for his code, but could not find it and had to write the telegram
in English.  It would be safe enough.  The operator was a raw country
youth who wouldn’t be able to understand it anyway, and it would go
direct to his broker, who would be spending the day at his country place
on Long Island.

"Have W.H.B.," wrote Bartlett.  "Will take him for a week’s tour in the
country, with Billy’s help.  Eat them up."

"Rush it," he ordered sternly, "and bring me the answer.  I will wait
for it on the porch."

The news soon spread that the stranger dining with the general and his
daughter was none other than the suddenly famous young stock broker,
whose grim defiance of the Street was told in head-lines in the daily
papers, and whose life from the cradle up was thrillingly recounted in
the Sunday supplement.  When he had changed his seat at the table, there
had been a suppressed titter of amusement for the eccentricities of a
great man, and those who made a study of human nature saw plainly an
indication of that character which knew what it wanted and would get it
and keep it, overriding all obstacles.  A man like that, nothing could
down.

As they stood on the porch after dinner, waiting for Bartlett to rejoin
them, the four were soon surrounded by an ever-growing circle of friends
and near friends, and to his pained surprise, the Watermelon was the
admired center of the group.  All looked on him much as the general did,
not so much as a man but as a character out of the Sunday supplement.
Bored to exhaustion, he shook hands limply with a score or more whom he
did not know and did not want to know.

It was getting late and he would have to return the clothes and become
once more merely the Watermelon.  He had forgotten the beauty show and
had no heart for it now.  When he left Billy nothing more counted,
nothing mattered.  Old clothes or good, hobo or millionaire, without
Billy, one was as desirable as the other.  He would return the clothes
and beat it up the line that evening.  James and Mike could go to grass.
Meanwhile, instead of getting the most out of the short space of time
allotted to him and having Billy alone somewhere, here he was shaking
hands with a frowsy bunch of highbrows.

"Mr. Batchelor, would you invest in copper, if you were I?" queried an
elderly maiden whose hand he had weakly grasped and but just dropped.

The Watermelon looked around, desperately, miserably.  Billy was gazing
at him from the edge of the crowd, awe fighting with admiration and
amusement on her small face.  Henrietta had presented him gaily, to this
one and that, and the general, thoroughly in his element, stood by and
showed him off as though he were a new horse or the latest model
motor-car.

"No," said the Watermelon.  "I would not invest in copper."

"Have you any copper?" questioned another with a wink that the great man
was caught.

"No," repeated the Watermelon with the animation of a hitching-post.  "I
have no copper.  I have never had any, not even pennies," he added,
thinking how fast the time was going and he would become a tramp again,
with ragged clothes and empty pockets, while Billy would still be—Billy.

Every one laughed and the general essayed a joke on his own account.
"Greenbacks are a better investment," said he, "and you have invested in
them pretty well."

"How could you tear yourself away from the Street?" asked one
impressionable young thing.

"I don’t know," said the Watermelon. "Wall Street is practically my
home."  And he gazed languidly over their heads into the trees across
the road.

"Oh, Mr. Batchelor, do you think the tariff will affect the cost of
living?" inquired another of his new friends.  "So many people claim
that it will."

Henrietta laughed.  "Poor Mr. Batchelor," said she.  "You can now
realize some of the drawbacks to greatness."

"The tariff," said the Watermelon monotonously, "is all right.  Take it
from me."

He glanced again at Billy.  The clock in the garage struck two and he
hesitated no longer. "My car," he muttered vaguely, and made for the
steps.  He ran down them and started around the hotel toward the
stables.  As he passed near the place where Billy stood, he looked up
straight into her eyes.

"Aren’t you coming to see my car—Billy?" he asked, the odd little name
below his breath, so that even she did not hear.

"Oh, yes, indeed," said Billy.

He caught her hands and swung her down to the lawn beside him.

At the garage they did not stop.  The Watermelon heard the general
panting behind in the distance, but he did not pause.  Ungratefully he
led the way down a narrow path around the stable, into the deep, cool
shade of the woods. It was two.  He would give himself until the clock
struck three, before he slunk away into the unknown again.



                              *CHAPTER VI*

                         *WHAT IS HEAVEN LIKE*


They found a little mossy knoll beside the brook and Billy made herself
comfortable against a tree trunk, while the Watermelon sprawled at her
feet.

"Say," said he, "what do those guys take me for?  The editor of the
’Answer to correspondents’ page?"

"I bet you know as much," said Billy with artless simplicity.

"Sure, I know as much," grinned the Watermelon. "But I’m not paid to
tell what I know. It would be starvation rates for mine," he added.

Billy laughed.  "Didn’t you ever go to school?" she asked.

"Yes, I went to school, when father didn’t forget."

"Didn’t forget?"

"He had eight kids, you see, and he used to say a man couldn’t be
responsible for more than six.  Two kids, he used to say, were a
blessing, four a care, six a burden, and eight an affliction, and no man
is responsible for his afflictions."

"I wish I had some relatives," said Billy wistfully.  "There are only
daddy and I.  Don’t you like relatives, some one who belongs to you?"

"Father used to say that relatives were an affliction, and he supposed a
man had to have afflictions to make a man of him, but if he had had any
influence with Providence, he would have preferred not to be a man."

"Who was your father?" asked Billy.

"A minister," answered the Watermelon, clasping his hands behind his
head and staring up at the interlaced boughs overhead.  "A country
minister.  He used to say that there was just one thing in this world
more pitiful than a country minister, and that was his wife."

"Why," cried Billy, "the papers said he used to be a policeman."

"I thought you didn’t read the papers?"

"I don’t, just the Sunday supplements," said Billy frankly, as one to
whom his intellectual development is of minor importance.

The Watermelon wheeled over with a laugh and caught her hand.  "Hang
dad!" he exclaimed.  "Where’d you get your name?"

He drew himself up on the log beside her, as near as he dared.  He
wanted to put his arm around the slim waist, but decided that he had
better not.

She jerked her hand away and laughed, her small nose wrinkled, the
dimple coming and going.  "Don’t you like it?"

"Sure.  It’s classy, all right.  But what is the long of it?"

"Wilhelmina.  Dad’s is William, just like yours.  We’re all Billies."

"Mine ain’t William," sneered the Watermelon, edging a bit nearer.

Her eyes opened and she stared in frank surprise.  "But the papers say—"

"The papers lie faster than I can," said the Watermelon, "and that’s
fairly speedy."  He had only an hour and he did not care what she
thought between him and the papers.  "Billy is a darned cute little
name, and a cute little girl," he added.

"I guess you can lie faster than the papers," said she.

"I can when I want to," admitted the Watermelon.  "Father used to say
that a man that couldn’t lie was a fool and one who wouldn’t, a bigger."

"I should think if your father was a minister that he wouldn’t lie,"
said Billy severely.

"I know.  But he used to say he had to in a business way.  To tell a man
that there was a bigger hell than this earth was a lie on the face of
it."

"Why?"

"Because there couldn’t be, he used to say."

"Don’t you believe in Heaven?" demanded Billy.

"Sure," said the Watermelon.

"What do you think it’s like?" asked Billy.

"A watermelon patch," said the Watermelon promptly.  "Just when all the
fruit is ripe. Don’t you think so?"

"I think it’s an ice-cream counter," said Billy.

"Naw.  At an ice-cream counter you would have to have money."

"Not in Heaven, you wouldn’t," said Billy. "It would all be free and you
could have as much as you wanted."

"Who would wait on you?  Any one could pick a watermelon, but everybody
can’t mix an ice-cream soda."

"The bad people would.  That would be hell, you see, always serving it
to others and never allowed to taste any."

"That wouldn’t work, either," objected the Watermelon.  "Because there
would be so many more to do the serving than there would be people to
serve.  No, we are both wrong. Heaven is a grove of trees back of a
white garage.  There’s a fallen log and a couple sitting on it."

"I should think that would be monotonous," said Billy.  "Do they talk?"

"Sure, they talk.  Heaven ain’t a deaf and dumb asylum."

"I should think they would get talked out during eternity."

"Ah," said the Watermelon, leaning a bit nearer, "eternity is but a
minute."

"What do they talk about?"

"Heaven."

"Are they angels?"

"One is."

Billy laughed.  "Who are you?" she asked, leaning toward him, one hand
resting on the log between them, her steady eyes on his face.

The Watermelon again drew forth the card case, extracted a card and
presented it to her with a flourish.

Holding it, she shook her head dubiously.  "I mean are you a
stock-broker?  Are you on ’Change?  Father has been nearly all his life,
and he looks it.  His eyes and—everything. Your eyes are different,
quite different.  I don’t mean in color and size, for of course they
would be, but in expression."

"How do you know?" asked the Watermelon. "You have only seen their
expression when I have been looking at you, and a man doesn’t look at a
girl as if she were the tape from the ticker."

"I know," acknowledged Billy.  "But I have known brokers all my life,
and some have been young, and they—they aren’t like you.  I never sat on
a log with one and talked about Heaven."

"Well, you see, I am a minister’s son, and I had Heaven with every meal,
as it were."

"Maybe that’s it," agreed Billy.

A stick snapped behind them as though some one were approaching their
retreat with stealthy tread under cover of the friendly bushes.

"Are you afraid of cows?" asked Billy, glancing over her shoulder
fearfully.

"Not of female cows," said the Watermelon.

"A broker wouldn’t have said that," objected Billy, pursing up her
mouth.  "A broker would say, ’No, indeed, Miss Bartlett.  Don’t be
afraid.  A cow is really harmless,’ and smile as if I were young and
half-witted, anyway."

A stick snapped again, nearer, and a woodpecker fled from a group of
trees, scolding angrily.

Billy rose nervously.  "If that’s a male cow—"

"Sit down," ordered the Watermelon.  "It’s no cow, unfortunately.  It’s
the general."

"Don’t you like the general?" asked Billy, sitting down again, but ready
to rise quickly, instantly.

"Yes, I like him, but I don’t think I would if I were a motor-car."

"I have known him and Henrietta all my life," said Billy.  "Henrietta
has been like a mother to me," she added, a statement Henrietta would
have denied, shortly but firmly. "Really, we ought to go back."

"Politeness is not politeness unless it comes from the heart," said the
Watermelon, in the tones that had made Henrietta think of a minister,
she knew not why.

"Did your father used to say that?"

"No, he never had any cause to.  We never were polite."

Billy glanced around.  "I thought I heard some one cough."

"So did I.  It can’t be the general.  He wouldn’t cough."

A hollow cough sounded distinctly from the bushes behind and the
Watermelon rose to investigate.  It was nearly three and at three he
would have to go, or the man down yonder in the swimming hole might come
after him to reclaim his clothes and motor-car.  The Watermelon
begrudged every precious moment.

"Wait, and I will see what the mutt wants," said he.  "You will wait,
won’t you?" he pleaded, looking down at her where she sat on the log.

"We really ought to go," said Billy.

"All right, but don’t run off until I’ve—I’ve cured that cough, will
you?"

Billy nodded and the Watermelon strode to the bushes from whence had
sounded the harsh, constrained cough.  He pushed the branches aside and
gazed into the small, pinched face of a thin youth of about eighteen,
dressed in the uniform of the hotel.

"Hist," cautioned the boy, before the Watermelon could speak.  "I want
to tell you something important."

"All right, spit it out and be quick about it," ordered the Watermelon.

If the real William Hargrave Batchelor had managed to get word to the
hotel about the impostor, the sooner he knew it the better.  The boy had
probably come to offer to help him escape in exchange for something,
money most likely.  Like all tramps, the Watermelon was quick to read
faces, and in the crafty young face before him, he saw only the dollar
mark.

"It—I don’t want no one to hear me," said the boy, with a motion toward
the log and Billy’s slim young back.

The Watermelon hesitated, but in the shifty eyes he saw fear and
deference.  If he knew the Watermelon for a tramp, there would be no
deference.

"Gwan, spit it out," ordered the Watermelon. "I ain’t keen for the
pleasure of hearing any of your heart to heart secrets."

"It’s very important," said the boy, "and no one must hear."

"I suppose you think every one is busting to hear your words of wisdom,"
said the Watermelon.  "Probably get a dime a word, eh?"

"It’s about you," said the boy, harsh with impatience and nervousness.
"It’s—"  He drew a piece of paper from his pocket and held it out.  "He
gave me that to send."

"Who are you?"

"The telegraph clerk," whispered the boy, with a frightened glance
toward Billy on the log.

The Watermelon read the paper and smiled a slow, sweet smile of
anticipated pleasure as the full import of Bartlett’s telegram became
clear.  He glanced at Billy and his smile deepened.  Then he turned and
drew the boy farther away.

"Bartlett sent this, eh?"

"Yes," cried the boy, eager with excitement over the service he was
rendering the great man.  "And the minute I read it and knew that you
were here, I knew you ought to have it."

"Didn’t you send it?"

"Yes, I had to.  You see he stood right there.  But just as soon as he
went, I lit out to find you."

"Where is he now?"

"I seen him on the front porch with Miss Grossman.  Say, you’ll want to
be going now, won’t you, huh?  You ken get to New York to-night if you
hurry."

The Watermelon rattled the coins in his pockets and looked down at the
thin, crafty face of the youngster.  "Kid," said lie, "if you keep on as
you’ve begun, you’ll be doing time, sure.  You’re a thieving little
snipe and ought to be the head of a corporation some day, or a United
States senator, ’cause you haven’t as much honor as a grasshopper, see?
I don’t know why you shouldn’t land in Sing Sing, if you miss the
corporation job or the senate."

"Huh," said the boy, reddening with the praise of the great man.

"If you let on that you have shown this to me, you will lose your job
here, you know. So, until I can see my friend, J. Pierpont, about that
other job for you, you’d better keep your mouth shut.  Understand?"

"Sure," cried the boy.  "Course I understand."

The Watermelon handed him a quarter. "When I reach New York," said he
airily, "I’ll send you me check for a thousand."



                             *CHAPTER VII*

                          *WATERMELON YIELDS*


Eager to accomplish the plan he had suddenly conceived, the Watermelon
turned and strolled back to Billy, while the boy gazed after such
majesty in awed admiration.

"Who was it?" asked Billy, looking up as the Watermelon approached.

"The telegraph clerk," said the Watermelon calmly.  "A telegram—and he
brought it to me."

He made no motion to sit down and Billy rose.

"I suppose you have to go back," said she. She had to throw back her
head to see into his face, for the top of her beflowered hat only
reached to his shoulder.

"No," said the Watermelon, preparing the way for the future.  "I could
take a few days off, if I wanted to.  Come on.  I might as well try and
save the remains of my car after the general has done his best to ruin
it.  I heard him go into the garage as we got out of sight. The general
is more expensive than a motorcar."

"I like the general," said Billy, as they started slowly back.

"I suppose he has been like a grandfather to you," said the Watermelon,
glancing down at the top of the big hat.  "Don’t you want me for a
relative of some kind?"

"You said relatives were afflictions," objected Billy.

"I know; but it is only through our afflictions that we can rise to
higher things."

"What higher things?"

"Why, Heaven, as I described it last."

They found the general with Henrietta and Bartlett in the garage.  The
general was kindly superintending the filling of the absent Batchelor’s
car with gasolene, Bartlett was expounding the merits of his make of car
as superior to any other make, while Henrietta sat on the step of the
general’s car and pretended to be listening.

"I took the liberty," apologized the general, as the other two appeared
in the doorway, feeling, on the contrary, that he was doing the young
man an inestimable favor.

"Go ahead," said the Watermelon.

"Draw the line somewhere," advised Henrietta. "Father is too fond of
trying to see what makes the wheels go round to give him carte blanche
with any car."

"I understand a car thoroughly, Henrietta," said the general.  "I have
always been fond of mechanics."

"I know it, dear," said Henrietta with contrition.  "I have always said
that if you hadn’t been a general, you would have been a master
mechanic."

"Thank God, he’s a general," whispered the Watermelon into the small ear
of Billy.

"To thoroughly appreciate a car, you should take a trip of a week or
two," said Bartlett, not glancing at the Watermelon, apparently talking
to the general alone.  "There is nothing like it.  It has revolutionized
travel.  Have you ever done it, General, spent a month, a week, at
least, in your car, going where you wanted, stopping as long as you
wanted and as often?"

Assured that Alphonse was attending to the gasolene, the general
withdrew his invaluable supervision and turned to the others.

"We spent a week in the car last summer, and we intended to do it again
this year, but have somehow put it off."

"It’s perfectly delightful," said Henrietta. "You wonder how you ever
tolerated a train."

"It is tramping idealized," declared Bartlett.

"It’s dandy," cried Billy.  "Daddy, do you remember that time we went
from Maine straight down the coast to Maryland?"

The general turned to the Watermelon.  "I suppose you have grown tired
of it," said he, "A young unmarried man can go when and where he wants."

"Oh, I’ve been around some," admitted the Watermelon modestly.  "But
never in a car."

"You should try it, my dear sir," said Bartlett.  "Upon my word, you
have no idea how fascinating it is."

"I never owned a car."

"You do now," laughed Henrietta.  "Now’s your chance."

"I’ve no one to go with," replied the Watermelon innocently, smiling
down at Henrietta on the car step and not looking at Bartlett.

Henrietta laughed and threw out one of her delicate, graceful hands with
a little gesture that embraced the whole group.  "You have all of us,
now," said she.  "We have made you one of us."

Bartlett agreed with a chuckle.  Things were coming his way with hardly
any effort on his part, as they, had had a way of doing until William
Hargrave Batchelor had made himself too annoying.  He took it as a good
sign and smiled cheerfully.

"You can take us all," laughed Billy.

"A week," said Bartlett tentatively, "in the country, away from
telegrams and letters and papers, it would do me a vast amount of good.
I have been overworking lately."  He nodded gravely, in confirmation of
his own remark. "I would like to drop everything, now, this minute,
crank up the car and start, no matter where, any place, any road.  You
don’t need clothes.  The lighter you travel, the better. You can put up
anywhere you happen to be for the night, and, if you get lost it does
not matter, merely adds to the fun and affords an adventure."

"It sounds alluring," said Henrietta.  "Suppose we all go, just as we
are!"

"We could," cried Billy.  "Why, Dad, we could do it easily.  I have that
linen dress I wore yesterday, and my brush and comb and things, and you
have yours."

"But the general and Henrietta," objected Bartlett.  "They only ran up
here for the day, my dear.  They may not have anything."

"Yes, we have," cried Henrietta, "We planned to stay a week or two and
sent a trunk along.  We could easily pack a suit-case."

"Oh!" exclaimed Billy.  "Do let’s do it."

"I noticed a suit-case in your car, Batchelor," Bartlett turned to the
Watermelon, genially. "I judge you are planning to take a few days’
jaunt somewhere."

"I was thinking of it," acknowledged the Watermelon, with truth,
lounging gracefully in the doorway.

Bartlett laughed.  "We are crazy, all of us," said he and waved the
suggestion aside as a whimsical fancy best forgotten.

"Oh, Daddy, please," teased Billy.

"But, Billy, child, the others don’t want to do it, the general or
Batchelor."

"I want to," said Henrietta, "and so does the general.  Father, wouldn’t
you like to take a trip in the car somewhere for a week or two?"

The general’s attention had wandered back to the car.  He turned
abstractedly.  "Do what, Henrietta?"

"Take a trip in the car for a week or two."

"Yes, we must plan one later, as we did last summer."

"But we mean now, father, start right now."

"Now?  Henrietta, you’re foolish, my dear."

"No, indeed, father.  Why not now?  ’Do it now’ is your favorite motto,
you know."

"It is impossible," and the general, also, dismissed the subject.

Bartlett thrust his hands in his pockets and appeared absorbed in his
car.  He knew Billy.

"Why impossible?" asked Billy, laying a small hand on the general’s arm.
"You were going to spend a week here.  Why not spend it in your car?
You have no engagement, have you?"

"No," said the general, smiling into her pretty face.  "But what about
clothes?"

"Clothes," laughed Billy, "why, clothes—"

"Be hanged," said the Watermelon.

Bartlett laughed.  "Quite so.  Wash out on the line, general.  Better
come."

"Pretend the Indians have risen," said Henrietta, "and you are given an
hour to get into marching order."

"Ah, yes," cried the eager Billy, patting the arm she clung to.  "You
used to do it, General, why, in half an hour, out on the plains."

"What do you know about it, puss?" asked the general.

"Didn’t you?" pleaded Billy.

"Yes," said the general, who always gave in to a pretty woman.  "I used
to.  In those days we were always ready for a fight."

"So you will go?  I knew you would."

"But Mr. Batchelor may have to return to the city," suggested Henrietta,
glancing at the Watermelon.

Bartlett shot a glance at the young man and began to whistle softly
through his teeth as he indifferently raised the bonnet of his car and
examined the clean, well-ordered machinery within.  Would Billy’s charms
be enough to hold the young man against his better judgment?  Could he
forget what the next week meant to him, forget the lure of the Street,
the rise and fall of stocks, in the light of a woman’s eyes, in the
sound of a woman’s laugh?  If Billy could not keep him, what could?  He
must be kept.  A week with him out of the way, the ring could be
renewed, strengthened, that which was lost, regained. Bartlett bent low
over his car, but he heard Billy, sweetly speaking to the Watermelon.

"You don’t have to return to the city, do you?  You would much rather go
with us, wouldn’t you?"

The Watermelon glanced at Bartlett.  If he accepted too readily,
Bartlett might wonder, yet if he hesitated, if he thought apparently of
how important his presence in the city would be in the coming week, even
if there were to be a few days of armed neutrality, it might seem even
more impossible that he would consent to go.

"Can’t you join us, Batchelor?" asked the general.  "You’ve made enough
for one while. When you run out of that three million, you can go back.
Time enough then."

"Swollen fortunes are a crime nowadays," said Henrietta, smiling her
odd, half gay, half tender smile.

"Come ahead, Batchelor," urged Bartlett with friendly good nature,
neither too eager, nor too insistent, but his eyes were half shut and
the palms of his hands wet as he rubbed them on his handkerchief.

"We will start to-night," said Billy.  "It will be beautiful.  In the
night, driving is perfectly lovely, you know, Mr. Batchelor."

"Better come," advised the general.  "We can keep in touch with the
telegraph.  It’s not as if we were going into the wilds of Africa."

"No, indeed," said Bartlett.  "I have interests in New York, myself,
that I want to keep an eye on."

Billy laid her hand on his arm.  "Won’t you come?" she teased.

The Watermelon looked down, under the brim of her hat, into the
gray-green eyes and smiled.

"Yes," he said simply.  "I would like to."



                             *CHAPTER VIII*

                        *GRATITUDE IS A FLOWER*


James lay in the shade of the butternut tree and smoked gloomily.  He
was well-shaved and his hair newly cut and carefully brushed, but his
clothes were still the rags that had graced his muscular form since the
dim, nearly forgotten long ago, when he had stolen them one lucky night
from some back yard passed in the course of his travels.

He squinted at the sun through the tree tops and judged it to be about
four.  The Watermelon had evidently done no better or he would have
turned up before.  Mike, sprawled in the grass beside him, slept with
the stentorian slumber of the corpulent.  James kicked him.

"Aw, wake up," he growled.  "I want your rare intelligence to unbosom me
sorrowful and heavy heart to."

Mike yawned, stretched and sat up, pushing his shapeless hat to the back
of his round hot head.  He drew his sleeve across his streaming forehead
and yawned and stretched again.

"You ought to relax, James," said he, cutting a square from the plug of
tobacco that he carried carefully wrapped in a soiled piece of tinfoil.
"Youse will have noivous prostration one of these days with the
strenuous life youse leads.  The modern hurry and worry is all wrong.
Now, take me—"

"No one would take you, not even a kodak," sneered James, scowling
before him moodily.

"The matter with you, James," said Mike, sticking the tobacco into his
mouth with the blade of his knife, "the matter with you is youse are
harboring and cultivating that green-eyed monster called jealousy.
Youse are, in short, jealous of me young friend, the Watermillion."

"Aw, jealous of a kid!  Who?  Me?  Not on your tin-type."

"You say so, James.  We all deny the werminous cancers that gnaw our
vitals.  But look into your own heart, question yourself—"

"Aw, pound yer ear," snapped James.

Some one was heard approaching and Mike paused from cleaning the blade
of his knife in the ground before him to listen.

"The youth comes," said he, and rose clumsily to his little fat legs.
He stepped aside to see up the path, but James did not move.

"A radiant vision of manly beauty," announced Mike, one hand on his
heart, the other shading his small eyes as though dazzled by a great and
brilliant light.

James glanced up sullenly.  A youth was coming through the trees, tall
and graceful and broad-shouldered.  His suit of soft brown, his gently
tipped panama, his light shoes and silk socks brought with them a breath
of motor-cars and steam yachts, of the smoker in a railway train, with a
white-clad, attentive porter, instead of the brake beam underneath and
an irate station-master and furious conductor. From the lapel of his
coat gleamed a heavy gold chain and in his stylish tie a pin of odd but
costly workmanship caught the eye of the enraptured beholder.

Mike laid his hand on his heart again, removed his hat, and standing
aside for the youth to pass, bowed low.

"Me lud," said he in humble salutation.

[Illustration: "Me lud," he said in humble salutation]

James glanced up from his seat under the butternut tree.  He regarded
the vision of affluence before him a moment in growing admiration and
awe.  Then he removed his pipe and spoke.

"You’ll get three years for this," said he cheerfully, and put his pipe
back into his mouth.

"Three nothing," sneered the Watermelon.

"Jealousy," said Mike, putting his hat on the back of his frowsy head.
"Jealousy maketh the tongue cruel and the heart bitter.  Me," he spread
forth his fat dirty hands, "me beauty is such it gives me no concern.  I
realize youse can not gild the lily."

The Watermelon drew himself up to his full height, threw back his
shoulders and fastidiously adjusted his cuffs, with their heavy gold
links.

"With every passing moment, more beautiful," murmured Mike.

James snorted.

"Well," asked the Watermelon, "who gets the prize?"

"Me humble faculties," said Mike, with one wary eye on James, "me humble
faculties are incapable of rendering true and accurate judgment in the
present case where two such rare specimens of manly beauty compete in my
honored and deeply grateful presence."

The Watermelon laughed and ran his hand over his smooth chin and
hairless cheeks with a gesture of gentle pride.  "James said if I could
not get a suit, I would be counted down and out.  I," and he drew
himself up, "I do not have to take advantage of a mere technicality. I
scorn to win by default."

"True nobility," said Mike, "is in them words."

"Aw, cut the gas!" growled James. "Where’d you get the blooming outfit?"

"I win, do I?" persisted the Watermelon.

"Mike’s the judge," returned James, losing interest in what was too
obviously a one-sided contest.

"In this competition, there are three points to decide," declared Mike,
not quite sure whom he feared the more, James or the Watermelon. "Beauty
of face, beauty of clothes and beauty of soul.  The one who gets two
points out of the three wins."

The Watermelon nodded, James grunted.

Mike glanced thoughtfully from one to the other and decided that danger
lay in either choice.  "Neither of you," said he slowly and wisely,
"win.  For unexcelled art in raiment, me young friend here might be said
to be the only competitor.  For rare physical beauty and winning charm
in looks, unaided by mere externals, me friend and fellow-citizen,
James, gets the just reward, and for pure, manly beauty of the soul,
truth, which I always follow, compels me to give the prize to me humble
self."

"Aw," growled James, "this ain’t no show. We will have another."

The Watermelon hitched up his trousers and chose a clean seat on a
fallen log.  When coat and trousers legs were adjusted so as best to
keep their faultless creases, he spoke with the bored accents of the
weary scion of great wealth.

"I’m starting for a motor tour with some of me friends," said he.

"I," said Mike, "have always felt for you as for a dear and only son."

"Gwan," said James imperiously.  "Where did you get the glad rags?"

The Watermelon told them briefly how from a nameless hobo a few short
hours before, he had become a famous young financier, hobnobbing with
generals and millionaires.  He chuckled as he told it with the
half-cynical amusement of the philosopher for the follies of the poor,
seething, hurrying, struggling crowd of humanity, too busy in their rush
for gold and social position to see their own laughable pitiful shams
and affectations.  Poverty clears the eyesight as nothing else can, and
the Watermelon had been poor so long and was so indifferent to his
position that he had lost none of his clearness of vision in the
strenuous endeavor of the others, and he saw, unconsciously, but
nevertheless keenly, the dead level of human nature, with its artificial
hills of gold and social position.

"Me father, I believe, is a policeman," said he.  "Me mother a
wash-woman.  If I had a grandfather, no one knows.  I’m fortunate to
have a father and no questions asked, yet just because I can write me
check, as they think, for a million and have it honored, I’m ’my boy’ to
the elite of the land, the ’best people.’  Gosh, it’s enough to make an
ass bray."

"It is that," said Mike.  "For me, only the intrinsic worth of the soul.
Maybe there was a bit of change in the pockets?" he added as an
afterthought.

"Yes, there was quite a bit.  He’s fresh at the game and carries a roll
to show off with," returned the Watermelon, pulling a roll of bills from
his pocket.  Mike edged a bit nearer. "See here, I want you fellers to
do something for me."

"For you," said Mike, "I would give me immortal soul."

"I want something more than that, Mike," said the Watermelon.

"Me plug of baccy?" asked Mike with feeling.

The Watermelon shook his head as he slowly pulled a greenback from the
bunch he held.  "I want you two to go to that lake, get my clothes out
of the log and give ’em to the poor devil."

"Don’t be a fool," advised James.  "He’s all right.  Nothing will happen
to him."

"I know, but I keep thinking of him.  He can afford to lose what he is
going to lose, but all the same, he’s cold and tired."

"Aw, don’t go and do that," pleaded Mike. "He’ll have youse arrested—"

"I ain’t going to be around here; besides, no one would think of looking
for me with the swell bunch I’m going with."

"Maybe not," admitted James gravely, "but there’s always the danger that
some cop will have brains.  And he’s bound to get away to-night, all
right, and have the bulls on you the minute he does.  You had better
take all the time you can to get away and don’t try to shorten it none."

The Watermelon slowly unwound another bill and nodded.  "I know, but I’m
sorry for him.  A few hours won’t make much difference. He hasn’t the
slightest idea who swiped his clothes.  He’ll think some tramp did and
that the feller is getting out of the country by cross-cuts and as fast
as he can.  Don’t you see? No one will look for me with the general and
Bartlett.  I’m going to have a week of fun—"

"Maybe," said James gloomily.  "Hardly, if you give that bloke his
clothes before you need to."

The Watermelon waved the statement aside. "We are going to leave about
five," said he. "They are waiting for me, now.  It will take you a bit
of a walk to find the place.  I put the clothes in an empty log near a
pile of rocks at the foot of three tall pines, standing together about
ten yards from the lake.  You can’t help but find it.  Give him the
clothes and this check-book and fountain pen.  I can’t use them and you
two won’t get gay with them ’cause Mike’s a coward, and James has too
much sense."

"You’re a damn fool," said James shortly.

"He’s all right," argued Mike, meaning the man in the forest shades.
"What can hurt him?"

"I know, but he’s mighty uncomfortable. Can’t sit down, maybe, and there
may be flies and mosquitoes—"

"Naw," protested Mike.  "He’s just comfortable. If it was the style, I
would like to have gone naked to-day."

"He’ll have the police after youse," warned James, "as soon as he can
reach the village."

"Sure he will.  Gratitude is a flower," said Mike grandiloquently, "that
I have never picked."

"And never will," added James with grim pessimism.

"That’s all right," returned the Watermelon. "I ain’t gathering any
flowers this trip.  Here’s a ten-spot for each of you, and mind you do
what I say."

"For you," said Mike, "I’d give me heart’s blood."

"Where do we find this pond?" asked James.

"Come with me and I’ll take you to the road that leads by it.  You give
me time to get to the hotel, though, before you give him his clothes."

"Trust me," said Mike, lovingly concealing the greenback in the dark
dirty recesses of his rags.

They parted in the road where the Watermelon had come upon the big red
touring car. Mike and James watched him until he disappeared over the
top of the hill, then climbed the wall and made their way through the
woods to the little mountain lake.

"We won’t get the clothes," said James, "until we have had a talk with
the guy and tried to get him into a reasonable frame of mind.  It’s just
likely that he may be somewhat put out."

There was no one in sight as they made their way cautiously to the edge
of the lake.  The trees grew nearly down to the narrow, pebbly beach and
were reflected in the quiet depths of the water.  The little brook,
tumbling over its miniature waterfall, with a ripple and splash, was the
only sound that broke the all-pervading silence.  Nothing stirred in the
underbrush, neither man nor beast, and James and Mike were about to slip
away as quietly as they came when a stick snapped behind them sharply
and Mike wheeled.

A man was peering at them eagerly over the tops of a few bushes.  His
face was white and his teeth chattering.  His arms, dimly discerned
through the branches, were wrapped around his shivering form with fervor
and he was standing gingerly on first one foot and then the other.

"Hello," said Mike facetiously.  "Going in?" and he nodded casually
backward to the lake.

"Been in," chattered the miserable wretch, trying to control his teeth
so that he could say more.

"Oughtn’t to stay in too long," advised James solicitously.  "Your lips
look blue."

"Bad for the heart," said Mike.

"We ain’t ladies," added James with delicacy.  "You might come out from
them bushes."

"Some—some one stole my—my—my clothes," stammered the young man,
stepping carefully forth.  "Been here—here since this—this morning."  He
looked sharply at the shabby pair before him, with quick distrust in his
bloodshot eyes and added coldly, "Some—some tramp."

"Did you see him?" asked James.

"No—no—no.  But who else could have stolen them?"

"I," said Mike, drawing himself up to his five feet five and throwing
back his pudgy shoulders, "I am a tramp.  I trust, sir, you meant no
insult to me profession?"

The stranger waved the question aside. "Get me some clothes and I’ll
give you some money."

"What money?" asked James.

"I will send you some.  I am rich.  My car is in the road.  Maybe you
saw it.  I was coming through the woods to the hotel to get a tow up,
for I was out of gasolene, when I saw the lake.  It was early and I
thought I would take a swim.  Maybe you saw my car by the side of the
road?"

"I didn’t see no car," said Mike.

"Did you come by the road?"

"Yes, a narrow wood road."

"Yes, yes; that’s where I left it.  The damned thief has probably gone
off with my car, too."

"Then he couldn’t be a tramp," said James judiciously.  "Tramps don’t
know nothing about motor-cars."

"Maybe he took it up to the hotel," said Mike, cheerfully helpful.

The stranger shook his head.  "No, he wouldn’t do that.  He would get
out of the country as fast as he could."

"If there wasn’t no gasolene," suggested James tentatively.

"He could easily get some from the hotel. It was early when he stole my
clothes."  And James realized with relief that the youth before him was,
in his own eyes, always right, and advice wholly superfluous.

"I saw a big red car," said Mike, "down the road a bit, over the other
side of the village, going south.  But maybe your car wasn’t red."

"Yes, yes, it was," cried the stranger. "What was the make?  Could you
tell?"

"A Thomas car—"

"Ah, my car.  Get me something to put on and I’ll make it worth your
while.  I’m William Hargrave Batchelor.  Maybe you have read about me in
yesterday’s papers?"  And the poor, shivering, naked wretch drew himself
up proudly and smiled with much complacency.

"I," said Mike, tapping himself on his breast, "am George V., of
England."

"No, no," protested the stranger.  "I’m not fooling.  Get me, some
clothes and come with me to the nearest telegraph office and I’ll show
you."

"How much," asked Mike, "will you give me?"

"Us," corrected James.

"How much do you want?"

"How much will you give?"

"Ten dollars."

"For a suit of clothes?"  Mike’s fat red face depicted his horror.

"Twenty," cried the stranger.

"Apiece?" asked James.

"Apiece," declared the unhappy youth.

"Apiece, James," said Mike, turning inquiringly to his companion.

"Make it thirty," said James, "and we may be able to help you."

"All right, thirty apiece.  Get me the clothes."

"You might write us each a check," suggested James, and drew forth the
pen and check-book.

"For innocence," groaned Mike, "commend me to me loving comrade, James."

The stranger’s eyes glittered as he recognized his book and pen.  He
glanced from one ragged specimen before him to the other, from James’
crafty face to Mike’s sly visage, but he said nothing, merely took the
pen and book.

"Your names?" he asked, opening the book and resting it against a tree
for support.

"Better put ’to bearer,’" said James.  "Simplicity is always the best."

The stranger wrote the checks, signed them and turned to the two
watching him.  "Bring me the suit," he said quietly, "and these are
yours."

Mike shuffled off into the trees and James and the stranger waited in
silence for his return.  He came back presently and threw the suit at
the stranger’s feet.

"You’ll notice," said he, "that this nobby spring suit in our latest
style is cheap at the price.  Fancy, a thing like that for only sixty
dollars!"

"I see," said the stranger.

"Payable in advance," said James.

The stranger handed them each a check and thoughtfully drew on the
shabby clothes of the Watermelon.  It had not been long since he had
worn rags of a necessity, and he hitched them up with the skill bred of
familiarity.  He thrust the pen and book into a pocket he had first made
sure was holeless.  Then he turned to the two and his eyes gleamed.

"How much for the car?" he asked.

Mike raised his hands to Heaven.  "The car?  James, does he think we
stole his car?"

"A stock-broker," said James, "would suspect his own mother."

"If you want youse car," said Mike, "go to the hotel."

"Bah," snapped the stranger.  "Do you think I was weaned yesterday?  Be
quick and tell me your price."

"I have no price," said Mike proudly, not sure where the car was.

They started through the woods to the village, the stranger leading and
Mike and James following.  At the edge of the village, they paused
instinctively and without a word.

"Tell me where the car is and who your accomplice is," said the stranger
in the short sharp tones of one born to command, "and you two can go
free.  If you don’t tell, I’ll do my best to have you arrested and sent
up for grand larceny.  Understand?"

"Oh, yes," said Mike, "I understand.  When I was young I learned
English, foolishly, as I haven’t used it since."

"We don’t know where your damn car is," declared James.  "And we didn’t
steal your blooming outfit.  What do you take us for, anyway?"

"Very well, then," snapped the stranger.  "I see that you won’t tell.
Remember, I gave you your chance."

He turned and hurried down the village street.  The two watched him as
he stopped a pedestrian and apparently asked to be directed to the
justice of the peace, then they slipped away in the woods and quietly,
simultaneously, turned north, falling into a gentle lope that took them
far with the minimum of effort.

"I hope the kid ain’t pinched," said James, after a while.

Mike sighed and shook his head.  "Grand larceny," he murmured.  "That’s
gratitude for you."



                              *CHAPTER IX*

                             *ON THE ROAD*


The general never went anywhere without a well-stocked library,
guide-books, instruction books, maps.  All were consulted long and
often, and with a childlike faith that Henrietta’s sarcasm and the
sign-posts had not been able to shake.

If the guide-book read, "White rock on left," the general stopped the
car if the rock were not immediately seen where it should be according
to the book and refused to go farther until it had been discovered.  If
the rock could not be located, the general ran back a little way or
ahead a little way and if the white rock still refused to be seen on the
left, the general did not see what right any one had to remove valuable
landmarks.  Henrietta’s tentative endeavor to point out the possibility
that the book was mistaken, doubtless unintentionally, but still
mistaken, was simply waved aside as one more indication of woman’s
inferiority to man.  If the book said that there was a hill at such and
such a place and there was in fact no hill there, the book was still
correct.  There was something the matter with the landscape.

Bartlett knew of this unfortunate tendency of the general’s and resolved
to get rid of those books and maps and papers.  With every mile
indicated and nicely tabulated, every turn and landmark mentioned, it
would be almost impossible to get off the beaten route, and they must
avoid telegraph stations and post-offices as much as possible.  The
success of the scheme lay in keeping Batchelor away from all touch and
communication with the city.  They must, if possible, get lost, and with
the multitudinous books and maps they would not be able to.  Therefore,
they must get rid of the books and maps.

When they had separated to prepare for the trip, Bartlett returned
hastily to the garage. No one was in sight except a strange chauffeur
lounging in the doorway.  Bartlett collected all the literature from the
general’s car and hastened back to the hotel.  Surreptitiously, he
entered an empty room near the one assigned to him and when he emerged
again, his arms were burdenless and he was smiling gently.

They waited for the Watermelon on the porch, intending to have an early
supper and start while it was still light.  Bartlett greeted the
returning youth with relief and lead the way to the dining-room.  He
mentioned a small village some thirty miles to the north, where they
could find accommodations for the night in an old farm-house.

"Friends of mine," said he.  "I go there every fall."

The general rose to get his blue book.  "We will look it up," said he.

Bartlett stopped him.  The town was not in the book.  He knew, for he
had tried to find it.

"The maps will do," said the general, who liked to locate every town
visually on the maps or in the books before he undertook to motor there.

Desperate, Bartlett declared that it was not on the maps.  But the
general would not be daunted.  They could put it on the maps themselves
if they knew in which county it was, near what post-office—

"We don’t want to locate it," said Bartlett, growing stern and cross of
a necessity.

They found the cars waiting at the steps and a small crowd to see them
off and wile away the time before supper.

Bartlett said, as he knew the way, he would lead.  "We need only two
cars.  Mr. Batchelor’s car can be left until we return."

"Three cars might come in handy," protested the general, who objected to
every suggestion not his own, on principle.

"Why?" asked Bartlett coldly.

"Mr. Batchelor might become offended at us and want to ride by himself,"
suggested Henrietta, laughing.

"Yes," agreed Billy, who, though young and charming, was sometimes
lacking in that reserve that should have stamped her father’s daughter.
"He and dad are fighting each other now on ’Change."

Henrietta flushed, the Watermelon laughed and the general looked pained
at the thought of any possible lack of congeniality.

"My dear Billy," said Bartlett, "the third auto would be extremely handy
for you and your tongue, at least."

Billy glanced miserably from one to the other.  "Why, Daddy, you told
me, yesterday—"

"I have told you many things," said Bartlett, "both yesterday and the
day before."

He took the general by the arm and gently but firmly thrust him into his
car, getting in himself and taking the wheel.  The young folk could ride
in the tonneau and Alphonse follow in the general’s car with the
luggage.

The cars started down the hill in the first sweet flush of evening.
Birds were going to bed with noisy upbraidings.  A few cows at the
pasture bars watched them pass with great, stupid, placid eyes, jaws
going slowly, rhythmically, as they waited for the milking time. Now
they flashed from the shadows of the woods to the open country, pastures
and rolling grain fields on each hand.  Now they plunged among the trees
again with the drowsy twitter of birds and the clear babbling of a brook
somewhere off among the ferns and brambles.

The Watermelon leaned back in the deep soft cushions of the big car and
smiled a smile of calm and peace and comfort.  The car ran smoothly,
noiselessly, little breezes laden with the sweetness of the approaching
night wandered by, on each side of him was a pretty girl. Tramping
idealized!  It was living idealized. And that morning, hungry, shabby,
unshaved, he had been content to lie in the sweet lush grasses of a
chance meadow, under a butternut tree, with the convivial James and the
corpulent Mike!  He crossed one well-pressed, silken leg over the other
and saw by the wayside, lounging in the shadows, waiting for the car to
pass, the two, James and Mike—Mike, fat, red-faced, dirty, his frowsy
hat pulled aslant over his small, bleary eyes, shoulders humped from
long habit in cold weather, toes coming out of his boot ends; James,
clean shaven, but otherwise no better dressed, no cleaner, both chewing
tobacco with the thoughtful rumination of the cows watching over the
pasture bars at the end of the wooded lane.

Over the trees, the sun was dropping from sight.  Clearly and sweetly on
the quiet air of the eventide, the church bells began to toll from the
village below them in the valley.

Billy nudged the Watermelon to call his attention to the two weary
figures by the wayside.

"Poor fellows," said Henrietta softly, lest they hear her.

The Watermelon glanced at them in lofty disgust and catching James’ eye,
his own flickered the fraction of an inch and he raised his hands
languidly to adjust the brown silk tie at his throat.  When they had
passed, he turned and waved a graceful farewell.  He explained to Billy
as they swept on into the deepening dusk.

"You might as well encourage the poor fellows.  They probably want to
ride as well as I."  And Henrietta fancied that possibly his father had
looked thus on a Sunday, in the pulpit of a country church.

"Yes," agreed Billy.  "They may be perfectly dandy fellows."

"Assuredly," laughed Henrietta.  "The stout one fairly radiated truth
and nobility, a manly, upright youth."

"I don’t care," declared Billy warmly. "You can’t always tell from
appearances.  You ought to know that, Henrietta.  Clothes don’t make the
man."

"Nor his manners," laughingly retorted Henrietta.

"Sure," said the Watermelon.  "Father used to say that manners didn’t
count any more than the good apples on the top of the box to hide the
rotten ones beneath."

"I think your father was a cynic," said Henrietta sharply, into whose
ears Billy had been recounting the sayings of the absent divine.

"Yes," admitted the Watermelon, "he was."

"Cynicism is a sign of failure," quoted Henrietta.  "Surely your father
wasn’t a cynic."

"Yes, he was," declared the Watermelon, "and you didn’t make that up
yourself.  You heard some failure say it.  Father used to say, and he’s
right, that if a man reached forty without becoming a cynic, he was a
fool and might better never have reached forty.  A success can be a
cynic, for cynicism is simply a pretty good idea of the meanness of
human nature and no unfounded expectation of anything especially decent
coming from it, isn’t that so?  Father used to say that love was divine,
hate devilish and meanness just cussed human nature, and a mixture of
the three in more or less degree made man."

"Your father was a philosopher," laughed Henrietta.  "I would like to
have met him."

"I thought the papers said—" began Billy, in her slow, anxious way to
get things right.

"Yes, they did," interrupted the Watermelon, "and they were right."

It was quite dark now.  Bartlett stopped a moment while Alphonse lit the
lamps, and then they went on and on, faster and faster, into the summer
night.  Once in a while they passed a lighted farm-house and a dog
rushed out and barked at them.  Twice they whirled through small
villages and the villagers, going home from church, paused to watch them
pass and be swallowed up in the dark ahead.  The air was full of
fireflies.  A whippoorwill called plaintively from the bushes, and low
in the west were flashes of heat lightning, with now and then an ominous
rumble of distant thunder. Silence had settled on all, even Billy mused
in her corner, half asleep.

The general had been worried for some time. They were apparently getting
nowhere.  He felt that he should have consulted the blue book.  He was
about to suggest that they stop and get the book from the rear car, when
Bartlett waved toward the dark bulk of a house looming out of the night,
some little way ahead.

"That’s the place," said he.  "We can spend the night there and get one
of the best chicken breakfasts I ever ate."

The general looked at the place and rallied his sinking spirits.  It
appeared dark and he should say it was deserted, but Bartlett doubtless
knew what he was talking about.  The people probably lived in the
kitchen.  He was hungry and tired and the thought of hot sausages, bread
and jam and milk and then a soft cool bed was nearly as good as the
reality.  He turned gaily to the quiet three in the tonneau.

"Wake up and hear the birds sing."

Bartlett glanced back and laughed.  "Asleep, eh?  We’re there," he
added, turning the car neatly into the open driveway.  "Guess you won’t
refuse a good supper very strenuously."

The drive was rough and they rolled slowly tip to a great dark house,
standing on a slight rise of ground, a typical New England farmhouse,
square and gaunt and unadorned, with a small front stoop and a long side
porch. From the trees behind the house, came the dismal cry of a hoot
owl, as the cars came to a rest, and an answering cry from the grove
across the road.

"Ghosts," whispered the general.

"Oh, hush," pleaded Billy.  "There is no need of fooling with things
like that."

"This house ain’t lived in," said the Watermelon, as he slipped from the
car to straighten his cramped legs.

"Folks gone to bed," explained Bartlett cheerfully, since he was not the
one who had gone to bed.  "We will just have to rout them out."

He shut off the power and alighted from the car, pulling off his gloves.
Alphonse came up in the other car and peered out at the dark, quiet,
lonely house and shook his head with forebodings.

"There isn’t any one here," insisted the Watermelon, "asleep or awake."

The general climbed out.  "If we had consulted the book—"

"My dear sir," interrupted Bartlett, a bit irritated, "the book could
not possibly have told us that the family had moved since last fall when
I spent two weeks here, hunting."

"Certainly not," laughed Henrietta, who spent a good part of her life
steering with infinite care and constantly growing skill between the
Scylla of her father’s wrath and the Charybdis of the hurt feelings of
those whom the general had offended.  "This is simply one of the
unforeseen misfortunes of the road."

"Besides," said Bartlett, "we don’t know that the Higginses have gone!"

"Don’t you see that there aren’t any signs of life?" demanded the
Watermelon.  He had lived by his wits so long that he noticed
instinctively the little things which mean so much and are generally
overlooked.  "If there was any one here some window would be open on a
night like this, wouldn’t it?"



                              *CHAPTER X*

                          *THE DESERTED HOUSE*


"Wonderful, wonderful!" murmured Henrietta in the tones of the famous
Watson.

Bartlett looked at the house and nodded gloomily.  "I guess you are
right.  Funny they should have left without writing me about it. I have
known them for years."

"I will get the blue book," said the general, with the calm satisfaction
of one who at last comes into his own.  "We can return to the nearest
village—"

"What do we want a blue book to do that for?" sneered Bartlett.  "I
should think two motor-cars could do it, provided we followed the road."

"Hold on a shake," said the Watermelon. "I will get in a window and open
the door."

"We had better not," objected Henrietta, "Wouldn’t that be
house-breaking?"

The general agreed.  "Certainly.  It is warm and we can spend the night
outside quite comfortably if you do not want to return to the village."

Billy shuddered and glanced appealingly at the Watermelon.  A deserted
house was bad enough, but outside where the owls called dismally from
the woods and where bats flitted by in the dark held possibilities
infinitely worse.

"I have known these people longer than I have Billy," said Bartlett.  "I
used to come here when I was a kid.  It will be all right to break in.
They are like my own folks."

The Watermelon immediately jumped to the porch, disdaining the few
steps, and disappeared behind the vines which covered one end and
concealed the window.

Bartlett turned reassuringly to the general. "It will be all right,
Charlie.  Don’t worry about it.  Why, I’ve always called Mrs. Higgins,
Aunt Sally."

Visions of hot sausages, bread and milk die hard when one is hungry and
the general snorted.  "That’s all right.  I am hungry enough to break
into the Bank of England if it resulted in something to eat, but what
can we find in an empty house?"

"Ghosts," said Henrietta.

Billy pinched her.  "If you think there are ghosts in there, Henrietta,
I simply won’t go in."

"Certainly there are ghosts," said Henrietta. "There always are in empty
houses.  Where else do you find them?"

"We will return to the village," declared the general, "and get
something to eat.  I will get the book—"

"An empty house is better than the countryside," said Bartlett.  "And we
have plenty to eat in that basket Henrietta put up."

"If there is something to eat—" wavered the general.

A light gleamed a moment through the crack of the door and then the door
opened and the Watermelon grinned at them in the light of a small smoky
lamp he held.

"Where did you get the lamp?" asked the general as the Watermelon led
the way in.

"Found it," said the Watermelon.  "The place is furnished.  The family
is probably only away for a visit."  He set the lamp on the table and
from long habit wiped his dusty hand on his trouser leg.  "I fell over
everything in the room before I got next to the fact."

He glanced about with some pride and the others stood in a semicircle
and stared around. The room was a typical country kitchen, a huge stove
side by side with a large chintz-covered rocking-chair.  A dresser for
the crockery and a haircloth lounge took up one side.  There was a
center-table with a red checked cloth, a few chairs and a sewing-machine
near the window.  On the walls were a number of cheap prints and several
huge advertising calendars With gay pictures of young women in large
hats and low-cut dresses.

Bartlett glanced around and at every unfamiliar object his heart sank
lower and lower and his first sickening suspicion became a painful fact.
He had never been in that room before.  The Higginses had never lived
there. Everything was strange, the furniture, the rugs, the very shape
of the room.  Where were they?  Whose house had they unceremoniously
broken into?  A clammy chill crept down Bartlett’s back and his florid
face grew still redder.

None of the others was noticing him.  The general was prowling around to
see that the enemy could not come upon them unawares. The Watermelon had
lifted the basket on to the table and the girls were preparing gaily to
set forth the repast, all three rummaging in closets and drawers for
plates and knives and forks.

The general returned to the table.  "All serene along the Potomac," said
he, thrusting his hands into his pockets and peering into the basket
with renewed hope.  Henrietta smiled gaily.  She had pushed aside her
auto veil, her cheeks were flushed with the joy of the adventure and her
eyes bright.

"Father," said she, "in all our lives, we have never had an adventure
before, because you persist in using those blue books."

The general laughed and helped himself to a sandwich.

Billy opened the dresser and peered gingerly in, her small nose wrinkled
for any unforeseen emergency.  She had taken off her hat, and her soft
yellow hair, bound back by a black velvet snood, escaped around her
temples in tiny waves.  Her eyes, thought the Watermelon, were brighter
than the lamp upon the table and her laughing, kissable mouth redder
than the crimson lips of the fair creatures in the gay calendars on the
wall.  Her hand upon the latch of the door was so near his own, that he
was tempted to put his on it, but instead slipped his into his pocket
with a delicacy he did not recognize in himself.  She was a girl, young
and sweet and attractive, and because she was attractive, she had been
flung into the maw of the Street, a victim of the age’s insane desire
for money and more money. Each dainty curl, each flash and disappearance
of her single dimple had been reckoned as so much in dollars and cents.
So the Watermelon put his hand in his pocket and only watched her with
poorly veiled admiration.

"Do you know what I am looking for?" she asked, glancing at him, her
eyes full of mischief.

"For the family silver," said the Watermelon. "We might as well take
some souvenir of our visit."

"I don’t believe the family silver is silver," said she.  "I am trying
to find a bucket which you can take to the well and fill for tea.  It
will give you an appetite."

"We will let Alphonse go for the water," said the Watermelon, turning
over the articles on the dusty, crowded shelves.  "The general sees to
the cars.  We will give Alphonse a chance to earn his pay."

"You should do something to earn yours," said she.

"What is mine?" he asked, trying to see into her eyes.

"We must find that bucket," said she, gazing innocently upward at the
higher shelves. "I love to muss around among other people’s things.
They are so much more interesting than your own.  I wonder why."

"We can’t be amused with ourselves and our things," said the Watermelon.
"We are too important.  Father used to say nothing else was really
important but ourselves and what affected us."

Henrietta, fussing with the alcohol lamp at the table, laughed.  "Why
didn’t your father write a book," she asked, "a philosophy?  It would
have been a deal more interesting than James or Spencer or Decant."

"He used to say that a man who knew life never wrote about it.  It would
be too painful.  It wouldn’t sell."

There was a heavy step on the porch and Bartlett turned quickly with
sickening fear.  It was Alphonse come from putting the cars away in the
shed beside the barn.  Bartlett wiped his brow and swallowed heavily.
This was terrible, this being in another man’s house unlawfully.  The
utterly hopeless inability to explain satisfactorily took all one’s
nerves away.  He glanced at the other four, merrily unconscious of his
ghastly discovery, their thoughts filled only with the desire to eat.

"Billy," said he sharply, "what are you doing in that closet?  Come away
at once."

"I was only trying to find a bucket," stammered Billy.

"Those things don’t belong to you.  You have no right there."  And
Bartlett sternly and promptly shut the door.

Billy drew back hurt.  "I don’t see why it is so wrong to break into a
man’s pantry," said she, "after you have broken into his house. Besides,
Daddy, you have known these people all your life."

"That’s the trouble," said Bartlett desperately, with a rush, "I don’t
know these people. I have never been here before."  He glared defiantly
at the general, daring him to suggest the blue book.

For a moment no one spoke.  Alphonse at the door, hat in hand, the
general by the table, another prematurely acquired sandwich in his hand
half way to his mouth, Henrietta, busy with the flame of the tiny
alcohol lamp, Billy before him, the Watermelon on the edge of the
dresser where he had seated himself, all stared in dull surprise.  The
Watermelon broke the silence.

"Better to break into another man’s house than have him break into
yours," said he.  He glanced at Bartlett with just the flicker of
amusement in his mild gray eyes, thinking that Bartlett had got lost
already, deliberately, with the intention of spending the greater part
of the following day finding themselves, and so successfully passing one
day of the seven. Bartlett glanced at the young man and flushed. It
seemed to him for one fleeting moment that the youth with the sleepy
eyes knew a bit more than Bartlett cared to have him know, cared to have
any one know, that he even seemed to suspect him of having got lost on
purpose. Then the sleepy eyes turned again to Billy and the older man
told himself that he was mistaken.  He was growing nervous and reading
his own intentions in every one’s eyes.  He strove to regain the mastery
of his nerves by airy indifference.

"A slight mistake," said he.

"Ah, yes," said Henrietta, "as when you go off with another man’s
umbrella."

She turned down the flame, which threatened a conflagration, and put the
cap on, extinguishing the lamp.  One did not take tea in another’s house
when one had entered by mistake and through the window.  One merely got
out again, quietly and with no unavoidable delay.

The general, with rare nerve, took a bite from the sandwich and laid it
on the table.  He drew his handkerchief and wiped his hands.  "I will
get the blue book," he began busily, his mouth still rather full.

"We don’t need the blue book to tell us to get out," said Henrietta, a
bit tartly.  She looked at the dainty pile of sandwiches, the cold
chicken, cakes and olives on the table with the wooden plates and gay
paper napkins she had arranged for the coming feast and hesitated.  She
wished some one was courageous enough to suggest that they eat before
they leave.

"Certainly not," said the general.  "But if we had consulted them before
we left—"

"Sort of in the fashion of an oracle," sneered Henrietta as she began
slowly to gather up the napkins and the wooden plates.

"Tell me," said Bartlett calmly, impersonally, not as one desiring an
argument, but simply as a humble seeker after knowledge, with no prior
views on the subject, "tell me, can you never make a mistake if you have
a blue book?"

"No," said Henrietta, "never.  With the blue book one could go directly
to Heaven.  It would be impossible not to."

Billy laughed.

"Billy would laugh at her funeral," said Bartlett coldly.

"We haven’t anything to cry about," said the Watermelon, frankly
unconcerned.  "It’s for the man who owns the house to do the crying."

"How did we get here?" demanded the general, as Alphonse went to get the
blue book, for the general could no longer be gainsaid in his desire for
his book.  "Is this where the Higgins’ home should be?"

"Why, no, father," said Henrietta, "or it would be here."

"I meant, Henrietta, did we come the right way?  If we took every turn
and have come far enough and not too far, this should be the Higgins’
house."

"It should be," admitted Bartlett.  "But it isn’t."

Through the open door came the many noises of the summer night, the
incessant hum of insects, the plaintive cry of the whippoorwill, the
strident chorus of the frogs in the pond back of the bam.  A moth,
fluttering around the dingy lamp, fell on the table with scorched wings
and Billy tenderly pushed it on a plate and carried it to the door.

"Why not eat here?" suggested the Watermelon, unimpressed by the aspect
of the affair as it struck the others.  "We can hunt for the Higginses
afterward.  They ought to be around somewhere unless we’re helplessly
lost."

Henrietta smiled and took out the napkins she had laid back in the
basket.  "It won’t take us long," she agreed.  "We don’t need to have
any tea."

"No," protested Bartlett, glancing at the door and listening for the
crunch of wheels on the gravel without, "no, we must leave at once. We
aren’t lost.  The Higginses’ is probably the next house."

"Suppose it isn’t," said Billy.

"Just so," said the general.  "We will return to the village and put up
at the hotel.  It isn’t late."

"It’s half-past eleven," said Henrietta, glancing at her watch.

Alphonse returned, blasé, indifferent. "There are no books," said he,
devoid of all interest in the affair.

"No books?" cried the general.  "Alphonse, what has become of them?  Did
you take them out of the car before we left?"

"No," said Alphonse, and violent, positive protestations could not have
been more convincing.

"But where are they?  I left them in the car."

"They probably fell out, father," said Henrietta.

"They have never fallen out before," snorted the general, with base
suspicions against Henrietta.

"We can get another to-morrow," said Henrietta. "We will simply return
to the hotel in the village for the night."  And once more she replaced
the napkins in the basket.

"Yes," agreed Bartlett.  "There is a good hotel near the railroad
tracks."

"Where are the railroad tracks?" asked the general, who had lost all
faith in Bartlett’s knowledge of the country.  "We passed no railroad
tracks."

"Just before you come to the village," retorted Bartlett, irritated as a
badgered animal. "You have to cross them as you come up the main
street."

"We crossed none," said the general, with the indifference of one who
realizes that there is no more to hope for.  The boat is sinking, let it
sink.  The last cent gone and the landlord coming for two months’ rent.
Let him come.

"No," said Billy gently, "we didn’t, father."

"Why, we did, we must have," protested Bartlett.  "I always come here on
the railroad train.  They have to flag it, but it stops.  Why, I know
there are tracks there."

The general did not attempt to argue.  "We are lost," said he, and one
knew that the unfortunate event was entirely due to the scorn of others
for the blue book.

"No," said Henrietta kindly, "there were no tracks.  I remember saying
to Billy I was glad there was one town not spoiled by the garish
contamination of the world.  Didn’t I, Billy?"

"Yes, she did," admitted Billy, looking pityingly at her father.

"If we didn’t pass through Wayne, we are lost and the Higgins’ home is
probably miles from here and there is no use looking for it," said
Bartlett, and smiled—grimly, the general thought; happily, the
Watermelon thought.  It would be rare luck to be lost thus early.

They were all gathered around the table, except the Watermelon and
Alphonse. Alphonse still stood by the door, hat in hand.  He was merely
a paid hireling.  His master’s affairs were none of his.  The Watermelon
still sat on the dresser and swung his feet.  The predicament was only
one of the many he was more or less always involved in and not worth
thinking about.  Batchelor and the police did not worry him that night.
It was too early.

"Why not eat something before we go?" he said.  "We have been here about
an hour now, and another hour won’t make our crime any the worse."

"Yes," agreed Henrietta promptly, surprised at her own depravity.
"Let’s," and again she took out the plates and napkins.

"Suppose they come back," softly whispered Billy.

Instinctively they all glanced at the door, and Henrietta paused with
her hands on the edge of the basket.

The Watermelon laughed.  "You ain’t worrying because you broke into
another’s house," said he.  "What’s fretting you is that you may be
found out."

"It’s awful," acknowledged Billy.  "I feel funny in my stomach and have
creeps up my back."

"So have I," said Henrietta, and nodded grimly.

"Do what you please," said Bartlett.  "But don’t get caught."

"They won’t come," said the Watermelon. "They have been gone for quite a
time and aren’t coming back."

"Ah, my dear Holmes," said Henrietta, "explain your deductions."

"They’ve been gone long because there is so much dust on everything and
the house smells so close.  They won’t be back to-night because none of
the neighbors have been in to leave anything for them to eat and there
aren’t any chickens in the chicken-house.  Alphonse would have stirred
’em up if they had been there."

"Suppose some one passes and sees the light," suggested the general,
tempted to the breaking point by the dainty supper so near at hand and
the thought of the terrible apology of a meal they would get at the
dilapidated hotel they had passed in the village.  And above all things,
the general loved his meals.

"We are at the back of the house and it is almost twelve.  Every one is
in bed and those who aren’t are drunk and wouldn’t be believed anyway."

"It’s five miles to the village," added Bartlett with no apparent
relevance.

"Aw, be game," encouraged the Watermelon. "Be sports."

"Just being hungry is enough for me," declared Henrietta, taking the
last of the edibles from the basket.



                              *CHAPTER XI*

                          *A NIGHT’S LODGING*


The general hesitated.  It was not lawful, not right.  They had broken
into another man’s house and should leave at once. But all his life he
had lived by rules and regulations, followed life’s blue book as
persistently and as well as he did the auto blue book. Now he was lost,
the blue book was gone and there was an indefinable pleasure in letting
go the rules and regulations that had governed him so long.  In the warm
June night, with the youthful, foolish Billy, and the irresponsible
Watermelon, the general’s latent criminal tendency came uppermost, that
tendency in all of us once in a while to do wrong for the sake of the
adventure in it, for the excitement and fascination, rather than for any
material gain. In the experience of being in another man’s house unknown
and uninvited by the owner, of listening for the rattle of a wagon
turning in at the gate, for the crunch of a foot on the gravel without,
there was an exhilaration he had not known for years.  He felt that a
bold lawlessness which he had never had and had always felt rather
proudly was only kept under by the veneer of civilization, was rising in
him and that he was growing young again.  He had always believed that if
the occasion arose, he could out-Raffle Raffles.

"It will not do any harm," he thought with the remains of his old
conscience.  "We will go directly after supper."

It was a jovial meal.  The conversation waxed merrier and merrier.  The
general grew younger with every mouthful and Bartlett more and more
genial.  He forgot that he was kidnapping a famous young financier, and
told all his most enjoyable stories with the skill of many repetitions.
When they had finished, no one for a while made any motion to clear up
the table preparatory to leaving.  Billy, with her chin on her hand,
thoughtfully gathered up the crumbs still on her plate and transferred
them to her mouth.  Henrietta leaned back in her chair, her hands
clasped behind her head, gazing dreamily at the flickering lamp.
Bartlett and the general smoked in contented silence and the Watermelon
rolled a cigarette with his long, thin fingers, his old clay pipe
discarded with his rags.  Alphonse was already asleep. A snore from his
corner drew their attention.

The Watermelon licked his cigarette paper and glanced at Billy.  "He’s
got his nerve," said he, putting the cigarette in his mouth and reaching
for a match.

"I don’t think that any of us have been lacking in nerve to-night," said
the general, with no little pride.

"You’re dead game sports," admitted the Watermelon.  "Let’s stay all
night."

"It’s morning already," said Henrietta.  "We have stayed all night."

"Let’s sleep here," said the Watermelon. "We can leave early."

"Er—er—are there any beds?" asked the general.

"Father, father," cried Henrietta, "you are backsliding."

The general protested, immensely flattered.

"Father used to say if you didn’t backslide once in a while, goodness
wouldn’t be goodness but a habit," said the Watermelon.

The general always looked back on that night and the week that followed
with wonder, thankfulness and pride.  When the Watermelon, waiting for
no further consent, picked up the lamp and started to investigate the
bedrooms, the general was the first to follow him.

They found two bedrooms on the ground floor, and though the beds only
had mattresses and pillows on them, even the Watermelon did not suggest
a search for sheets and pillow-cases. The girls took one room, the men
the other.  Alphonse was aroused enough to be dragged to the haircloth
sofa in the kitchen, from which he kept falling during the course of the
night with dull thuds that woke no one but himself.

The Watermelon was having the time of his young life.  Abstract problems
of right and wrong did not trouble him.  He took each event as it came
and never fretted about it when it was over or worried about the next to
come.  Last night in the open with the fat Mike and the languid James,
all dirty, all tired, all tramps, he had slept as peacefully and had
fallen asleep as quickly, as he did that night in a comfortable bed with
an austere member of the New York Stock Exchange as bedfellow and a
retired general of the United States army on the couch at the foot.  The
whole adventure was diverting, amusing, nothing more.  He took each day
as it came and let the morrow take care of itself.  Batchelor would
probably try to make trouble, but if Bartlett were as successful as he
hoped to be, and kept on getting lost, there was little danger from that
source.  Bartlett, desiring secrecy as much as the Watermelon, had
effectually silenced the enterprising reporter at the hotel.

It was early when Bartlett awoke.  The birds were singing riotously in
the vines over the porch and the sun streamed through the cracks in the
shabby window shade.  He yawned and stretched, glancing with amusement
at the general, still raising melodious sounds of slumber from the couch
at the foot of the bed.  Then suddenly he became aware that the place at
his side was empty, that the Watermelon was gone.  He crawled stealthily
out of bed and dressed, filled with misgivings.

Batchelor had consented so readily the day before to come with them that
now, when he had had time to think it over, he might have regretted his
decision and be already on the way to the railroad, somewhere.  His had
been the master mind to conceive the check and ruination of the cotton
scheme, and surely he would see the folly in what he had done the day
before, when lured on by the pretty, bewitching Billy.  He would realize
now in the clear light of day that he must return to the city or get
word to his brokers somehow.  He might even then be in a telegraph
office, sending a despatch of far-reaching importance.

Bartlett dressed with feverish haste and hurried out to the side porch.
The Watermelon was there, sitting in the sun, his feet hanging over the
edge of the porch, talking carelessly with the immobile Alphonse.  Both
were smoking and both had apparently been up for some time.  Had
Batchelor been to the village and telegraphed already?  He would have
had time to go and return if he had used one of the cars.

The Watermelon looked up.  "Hello," said he.

"Hello," said Bartlett.  "Been up long?"

"Not so long," said the Watermelon.

"Are the cars all right?" asked Bartlett.

"I haven’t been to see," returned the Watermelon, rolling another
cigarette.

Bartlett drew a sigh of relief and started after Alphonse for the shed
beside the barn.

The Watermelon had not had time to walk to the village and back, besides
telegraphing. Bartlett paused and glanced over his shoulder.

"Aren’t you coming?"

"No," said the Watermelon.  "I ain’t bugs about the gasolene buggies."

Bartlett walked on, shrewdly guessing that the languid youth was waiting
for Billy.  Her charms, it seemed, had not grown any less effective.  He
decided that he would not try to get in touch with his broker.  He could
trust him to take care of the city end of the business if Batchelor were
to be eliminated until the following Sunday.  Batchelor was an ordinary
youth and if Billy’s charms were not enough to hold him, finding himself
an equal and on friendly footing with people in what his policeman
father and washerwoman mother reverently called "society," would
probably turn his otherwise level head completely. Bartlett admitted to
himself, as he gazed abstractedly at the shining cars, that the young
man had not appeared visibly impressed either by himself or the general.
But Batchelor was clever and would hide his elation.

The Watermelon’s slow drawl at last aroused him.

"Cut it," said the Watermelon.  "The cops are coming."

One of New York’s leading citizens, bank president and corporation
director, felt a slow, cold, clammy chill creeping up his spinal column.
His first instinctive desire, like that of the small boy caught robbing
an apple orchard, was to hide.  Last night was one of those unfortunate
occurrences it were best to pass over in silence.  He turned and glanced
at the house. The place looked deserted in the morning sunshine.  The
blinds were drawn, the doors shut. The general and the girls apparently
still slept, and no country variety of New York’s "finest" with warrant
and shotgun could be seen approaching.  Alphonse looked up from the car
and gazed a moment at the house with the scornful indifference for the
law and its minions of the confirmed joy-rider.

"I do not see any one," said Bartlett with calm dignity.

"They are creeping up on us," said the Watermelon cheerfully.  "Trust
the rube to do the thing up in style.  Three men came along.  They
stopped down by the gate and talked, pointing up here, then one ran on
to the village to get help, I suppose, and the other two are waiting
down there."

"I will go and explain that it was a mistake," said Bartlett.

"Now, don’t do that," adjured the Watermelon. It was just possible that
the police had already picked up his trail and he preferred the chance
of escaping in a car to stealing away by himself, through the woods, a
tramp again, leaving behind him Billy and a week of fun. "Alphonse can
bring up the cars and we can slip away before the reinforcements come.
See?"

"I will explain that it was a mistake—"

"Mistakes," said the Watermelon coldly, "aren’t on the cards in school
and the law. Come up to the house and see the others first, anyway."

"One can afford mistakes as well as any other luxury," said Bartlett.
"Money is all the fellows want."

"Let’s talk it over first with the others, anyway," urged the
Watermelon, feeling that it might be that money was not all they wanted.

They found the general and the girls in the kitchen putting it in order.

"Certainly," said the general with the calmness of one immune from the
law.  "We will explain."

"What?" asked Henrietta, as she drew shut the basket lid and slipped in
the catch.

"Father used to say that if what you’ve done makes a fight, explanations
will only make another," said the Watermelon.  While he had the time he
realized that he should slip away, but there was a chance that the
police, finding their youthful quarry in the society of a general and a
reputable and wealthy citizen of New York, could be impressed with the
belief that they had made a mistake, and the Watermelon was always ready
to take chances.  Still, there was no need of running needless risk, and
if he could persuade them all to escape with him in the cars, he would
do it.

Henrietta nodded.  Billy was for an instant flight.  "We might as well,"
she explained lucidly, eying her father questioningly.

"Not at all," said Bartlett.  "Money is all they want."

"An explanation," said the general, "will be sufficient.  We do not want
any tampering with the law."  He picked up his hat and started for the
door as he would sally forth and demand the surrender of a beaten foe.

"But, father," Henrietta’s clear voice made him pause, "what can we
explain?"  She pushed back her auto veil and gazed from one to the other
in gentle deprecation.  "How we got in?  But they wouldn’t want us to
explain that.  You see, they can surmise that."

The general came back to the table.  A little firmness, tempered with a
lucid explanation in words of one syllable had always been his method in
dealing with the weaker sex.  "My dear Henrietta, we can explain why we
are here."

"Why are we?" asked Henrietta meekly.

"Why are we?" demanded the general.  "Because we took it for the house
of a very old and dear friend."

"But as soon as we entered, father, we knew our mistake."

"Henrietta," said the general, "I can not argue with you."

"No, father," agreed Henrietta.  "But when we found out our mistake, why
didn’t we leave?"

"I can not argue with you, Henrietta," repeated the general.

"Money," said Bartlett, "is all they want. They always fine all
motorists for breaking speed laws.  It becomes a sort of habit with
them."

"This ain’t breaking the speed laws," warned the Watermelon.  "This is
house-breaking."

"Sir," demanded the general, "do you accuse me, me, of house-breaking?"

"The whole damn family," said the Watermelon bruskly.  He wanted to slip
away quietly, whether the men at the gate were waiting for him alone or
for all of them, having a tramp’s dislike for anything that smacked of a
possibility of falling into the hands of the law.  "This is some
different from speed-breaking," he added gloomily.

"This is preposterous!" cried the general. "That I, _I_, should be
arrested!  Why, I refuse to be.  No one has a right to arrest me."

"If you break into another person’s house, father—" began Henrietta.

"But, Henrietta, I am not a house-breaker. I deny the charge."

"We all are," said Henrietta.  "That is all I can see to it."

"Money—" began Bartlett again, the refrain of his life.  He felt he
could not be arrested and haled before a magistrate, even such an humble
one as a country justice of the peace. His whole scheme would be ruined.
Batchelor would probably want to return to the city as soon as he could
bail himself out, and not care to have anything more to do with motor
trips run on similar lines.

"No," snapped the general, "we will have no graft."

"Graft," sputtered Bartlett.  "Who suggested graft?  A wise manipulation
of the financial end of a difficulty will more often save you than not.
There is no graft in paying for a night’s lodging."

"Under the present circumstances, paying for a night’s lodging is
graft," declared the general.

"It’s graft, then, or prison," snapped Bartlett.

"Prison," said the general heroically.

"Prison is foolish," said Billy, "when one has a motor-car and can get
away."

"Besides," said Bartlett, "graft is not dishonest for the man who gives
the bribe."

"It ain’t," agreed the Watermelon, "if the man has money enough to give
publicly to some college or institution."

Henrietta drew on her gloves.  "I think you are all cynics," said she.
"Graft is dishonest."

"Why?" asked Bartlett, turning to her. "Why, Henrietta?"

"Because," said Henrietta firmly.

"The only dishonor is playing on another man’s weakness, using that for
your own ends. If I know a man has a price, am I dishonest to take
advantage of the knowledge?  No, certainly not.  The dishonor is in him
who has a price, whose dirty little soul cares so much for money that he
lets his manhood go at so much in dollars and cents, like merchandise."

"Ah," cried Henrietta with quick sympathy for the tempted.  "Poverty is
so terrible and money such a temptation.  It doesn’t seem to be fighting
fair to take advantage of it."

"Father used to say that it would take the constitution of an ostrich,
the empty head of a fool and the nerves of a prize-fighter to stand
poverty," said the Watermelon, thinking of those days when there were
eight children and no money.

"I think," said Billy, as one propounding a wholly original suggestion,
"that we should go at once."

"If we have done wrong," said the general, "we should suffer for it.  We
should not attempt to evade the consequences of our acts."

There was a heavy step on the porch without. The general turned pale,
Bartlett reached for his pocket-book and Billy leaned weakly against the
knobby end of the haircloth sofa. Only Henrietta and the Watermelon were
quite calm, the latter with the calmness of desperation, the former, of
despair.



                             *CHAPTER XII*

                       *THE KEY TO THE SITUATION*


The Watermelon accepted the inexorable with the tramp’s sang-froid;
Henrietta with a sweet dignity, though slightly flushed. The door had
been shut before the conference began and the person on the porch had
not come in sight of the windows.  With a slow wink at Henrietta, the
Watermelon strode to the door.  Instinctively the general started to lay
his hand on the young man’s arm as he passed, to detain him a moment,
but instead picked up his hat from the table and hoped that no one had
seen that involuntary little gesture. The Watermelon threw open the door
with a bit of a flourish and Alphonse, stolid, unsmiling, entered.

There was an involuntary sigh of relief from all, even the general.

"Well," asked the Watermelon, "what are the sleuths doing?"

"Where are the cars, Alphonse?" asked the general sternly, in the
reaction of the suspense of the moment before.

"I left them at the back door," answered Alphonse, as one who understood
perfectly the whole aspect of the case and realized that sometimes a
quiet exit is more to be desired than great acclaim.  "I thought you
would not want them seen from the front."

"I have no objection to my car being seen by everybody," returned the
general with a wave of his hand, which appeared to include the universe.

The back door was locked and the key gone, and the Watermelon had
hurried to the door into the sheds and was struggling with the rusty
lock.  "This is the way," said he, "through the woodshed.  That door’s
locked and there ain’t a key; family probably left that way.  I noticed
the woodshed route this morning."

"We can shut this door on the side porch and lock it just as we found
it," said Henrietta.

She shut the door and Alphonse as quietly turned the key.  She lowered
the window the Watermelon had opened and, finding that he had broken the
lock in doing it, she slipped a dollar from her purse and left it on the
ledge. It seemed to Henrietta to leave more, to pay for their night’s
lodging, would simply be adding insult to injury.  One can not take
unpardonable liberties with another’s possessions and then pay for it in
the gold of the land.

"Come," said she.

The Watermelon had already opened the door and was working on the lock
of the one in the woodshed.  Henrietta paused in the house door, the
basket on her arm, and glanced back at the others.  "Come on," said she.

"I will explain," began the general, with a firmness that was fast
weakening.

"Father," said Henrietta, "you can not explain. Graft is dishonest.  The
only thing we can do is to run."

Billy grabbed up her gloves and obeyed with alacrity.  Bartlett and the
general followed in dignified majesty.  Alphonse came last and shut each
door as they passed through.  With no undue haste, and yet with no
loitering to admire a perfect summer morning, they climbed into the
cars; Alphonse alone in the general’s, the other five in Bartlett’s,
with Bartlett at the wheel.

"Shall we rush them?" suggested the Watermelon with happy anticipation.

Alphonse, like the voice of reason, calm, unemotional, blasé, spoke:
"There is a cow lane back of the barn.  It is wide enough for the cars.
It leads into the road farther on.  I left the bars down."

"You’re a man, Alphonse," said the Watermelon.

They glided without further comment through the barnyard into the rocky,
tree-shaded cow lane.  The general glanced behind. No one was in sight.
The lane was narrow and rough, last spring’s mud having hardened into
humps and ridges from the passing of many feet.  The cars ran slowly of
a necessity, and while the engines throbbed, the noise was not loud, and
the slight hill on which the house stood deadened the sound and
concealed the cars from any one in front.

Henrietta leaned toward the Watermelon, who sat on the small seat just
in front of her and just behind the general.  "On such an occasion as
this," she asked, "what did ’father’ used to say?"

"Nothing," said the Watermelon.  "There were two times when he never
said anything, one was when he was asleep and the other was when he was
escaping from the police."

"Oh," cried Billy, "he was a minister, why should he have had to escape
from the police?"

"He left the ministry," explained the Watermelon.

"What did he say when he left it?" teased Henrietta.

"Good-by," said the Watermelon.

Then the cars turned into the road and two men stepped from the bushes
on either side. They were tall, raw-boned country men, in flapping straw
hats and blue jeans.  Each carried a shotgun in the crook of his arm
with a tender pleasure in the feel of it, each chewed a big piece of
tobacco and each was apparently more than enjoying the situation.  The
Watermelon, leaning forward, with wary eyes, was pleased to see a look
of surprise flit across their square-jawed, sun-tanned faces as they saw
the second car slowly following the first, and four men instead of one,
as the telegram had said "one man in a big red touring car," the make
and engine number given.

For a moment the general could think of nothing to say.  If he had been
permitted to sally forth from the front door, he could have explained
clearly, emphatically, with all his old-time belief that being himself
no one could possibly doubt him or his good intentions.  But now, caught
thus, acknowledging his guilt by his surreptitious leave-taking, he did
not know what to say, where to begin.  Bartlett reached for his
pocket-book.

"What’s the make of your car?" demanded the taller of the two of
Bartlett, laying his hand on the fender.

[Illustration: "What’s the make of your car?"]

Surprised, Bartlett told, thankful that he had not been asked for his
name.

"Engine number?" demanded the man.

Bartlett gave it.

"License number?"

"Great Scott!" snapped Bartlett.  "What do you want next?  My age?  My
number is on the back of my car.  I have so many cars I have forgotten
it.  Go and look, or ask my man. Alphonse, what’s the number on the
back?"

"97411," droned Alphonse coldly.

"Be both these cars yours?" asked the man, puzzled and a bit
disappointed.

"That car," said the general pompously, "is mine.  Allow me."  He drew
his card-case from his pocket, and to the tall man’s consternation and
Bartlett’s horror, presented him with his card.  The two withdrew and
consulted a moment.  Clearly the family party before them was not the
young man wanted in Wilton for stealing a motor-car and a suit of
clothes, but for all that, what were they doing in an empty house?

"We can arrest ’em and get a fine anyway," said the taller of the two,
and the other agreed.

The Watermelon leaned forward with languid interest, his hat on the back
of his head. "How d’ye do?" he drawled.  "What are you doing with the
popguns?"

"Hunting," grinned the spokesman pleasantly.

"Any luck?" asked the Watermelon.

"Bet cher life!" said the man.  "Got what we were after."

"Bear?" asked the Watermelon innocently.

"Autos," said the man.

"Sir," began the general.  He felt a pressure on his shoulder so firm,
that, irritated, he turned to remonstrate with Henrietta.  One could not
explain the situation with any degree of pride in the first place, still
less so, if some one behind were apparently endeavoring to suppress one.

The Watermelon frowned.  "We weren’t breaking any speed limit, unless
the snail is the standard you regulate your speed laws by."  The men no
longer believed that they had caught the thief, but if they insisted on
taking the party before a magistrate, each would have to give his name.
With the general present, fictitious names would only be so much waste
of breath, and the Watermelon had no desire to give his assumed name to
any one in the employ of the law.

"Naw," sneered the man, spitting with gusto. "There’re other things to
break besides speed laws."

"Yes," agreed the Watermelon, "your empty head."

"Now, don’t get sassy," warned the man, growing angry.  "I’m an officer
of the law and I’m not going to take any of your sass."

"An officer of the law can’t arrest a law-abiding citizen," snapped the
Watermelon with righteous indignation.

"Law-abiding?" jeered the man.

"What have we done?"

"Try to guess," suggested the man pleasantly and the other laughed.

"I can’t guess," said the Watermelon.  "Is it for riding through the cow
lane?  We didn’t hurt the lane any.  I rode through this same lane last
summer and the Browns didn’t kick up any row over it.  In fact, they
were with me, that is, Dick and Lizzie were."

The man stared and the Watermelon frowned coldly.

"Do you know the Browns?" demanded the fellow.

"Not very well," admitted the Watermelon. "I was through here last
summer and stopped over night at their place.  They were fine people,
all right.  They told me if I ever came this way again to drop in and I
said I would.  It was a sort of joke.  They gave me a latch-key."  He
drew a key from his pocket and held it out as proof of his integrity.

"Huh," said the man dully, gazing from the key to the Watermelon.

The second man took it.  "Which door does it fit?" he asked.

"The front door," said the Watermelon promptly.  "Go try it if you want
proof."

"Not so fast," said the second man, who had taken the affair into his
own hands.  "If you know the Browns, tell me something about them?  No,
you chuffer feller, hold on, back there.  Don’t try to slip by, for you
can’t. You automobilists think that the Lord created Heaven and earth
for your benefit and then rested on the seventh day and has been resting
ever since.  That’s better.  Now, then—" turning again to the
Watermelon—"how many in the family?"

"How many?" queried the Watermelon.  "I don’t know.  I only saw Ma and
Pa and the three kids, Dick and Lizzie and Sarah.  Sarah was a young
lady about twenty, if I remember rightly; Lizzie was eight and Dick was
a bit older, ten or twelve—twelve, I think he said.  I remember his
birthday came in January, anyway."

"Well, goldarn it," laughed the first man, thoroughly convinced.  "Well,
say, ain’t we the easy marks?"

"Don’t blame yourselves," said the Watermelon gently.  "Father used to
say that anything colossal, even stupidity, was worthy of admiration."

"What did Dick look like?" demanded the second man, loath to give up.

The Watermelon straightened up.  "See here, my man," said he sternly,
"we are in a hurry.  You have detained us long enough.  I have told you
as much as I am going to about the Browns.  It’s a year ago this summer
that I was there and I haven’t been dwelling on their beautiful
countenances in rapt and joyful contemplation ever since.  I have seen a
few people during the interval.  Dick was fairly good looking, but
Lizzie was the cutest.  I took them through the cow lane to show them
how they could go for the cows in a motor-car, farming up-to-date, see.
Now move aside and let us pass, please."

"No, you don’t," returned the man sharply. "Let that chuffer feller in
the back car come up to the house with me while I try this key. Tom, you
keep the others here, till I come back."

The Watermelon leaned back wearily indifferent and drew out his
cigarette papers. Alphonse climbed obediently from the car, with his
usual imperturbability.  Calmly and willingly he scaled the stone wall
and set off across the field with his captor.  Tom thoughtfully examined
his gun, one eye on the motor-cars.

The general’s desire to explain was superseded by a still greater desire
to get away.  The grim faces of the two men impressed him with the
gravity of the event.  If they were to escape, now was the time, when
the forces of the enemy were divided, but there was his car.

He could not leave that behind and the man in the road was a fairly good
reason for him to remain where he was and make no attempt to reach it.
Batchelor had put up a clever bluff, but it had been called, and they
had to sit there until the return of the other man, when they would be
exposed, for of course the key wouldn’t fit.  That second man was a
stubborn brute.  The Lord had made mules.  He didn’t intend men to be.

The general turned irritably and glanced at the Watermelon, lolling
gracefully in his seat and humming a ridiculous little song between airy
puffs of his cigarette.

Henrietta repressed a wild wish to scream aloud.  Never, never again
would she go into another man’s house unless expressly asked to do so by
the owner.  She glanced behind, up the hill, toward the house.  Alphonse
and his captor had just come into sight again and were returning through
the field.  Henrietta breathed heavily.  This was awful.  When the two
reached the stone wall, she hoped she would faint.  She knew she
wouldn’t, she never fainted.  She turned around that she might not see
them.  Nothing could be done, apparently, but simply wait for the hand
of the law to fall upon them.  The Watermelon had made a good guess as
to the children, it seemed; why hadn’t he been content to let it go at
that?  Why had he hauled out that useless key?  She had ceased to feel,
to think.  She looked at Billy. Billy was frozen dumb.  This was the
end. Bartlett glanced at the man in the road and tried to figure his
price.

The Watermelon turned carelessly and spoke to Henrietta.  "That was a
pretty bird up there. Did you see it?"

"Yes," said Henrietta automatically, though she had seen no bird.  She
heard the two men now right behind the car and she sank back limply.
All was over.

"Well?" queried the Watermelon.

"By gum," admitted the man with the key. "It fits."



                             *CHAPTER XIII*

                           *ONLY TO BE LOST*


Bartlett grinned and removed his hat to wipe his brow.  The general
strove not to show a guilty surprise, Billy giggled and Henrietta began
to live again.

The Watermelon held out his hand.  "My key, please.  Kindly remove that
piece of artillery from the road and we will go on."

The man, covered with perspiration and embarrassment, handed back the
key.  "When the Browns come back, shall we tell them you called?"

"Certainly," said the general pompously, and in the exuberance of the
reaction, he drew a half dollar from his pocket and handed it to the
fellow.  "Kindly give that to Dick," said he with the benevolence of a
grandfather.

Billy waved to the crestfallen two and Henrietta gave them a gracious,
forgiving bow.

"Never again," said she, "shall I do wrong. The possibilities of
discovery are too nerve-racking."

"Father used to say—" began the Watermelon.

"I’ll bet your mother didn’t talk much," laughed Bartlett.

But the general had passed through an unhappy half hour and had no heart
for jesting.

"If you knew the Browns, Mr. Batchelor," said he, "it was your duty to
have told us so."

"Yes," said Henrietta.  "I have aged ten years, and at my time of life
that is tragedy."

"And why," asked Billy, "if you had the key, didn’t we go in by the
front door last night?"

The Watermelon stared from one accusing face to the other in frank
surprise.  Even Mike with his fat wits would have grasped the situation.
"I didn’t know them," he protested. "When I can go in by a door, I don’t
choose the window."

"But the key," objected Billy.

"Dick and Lizzie," added Henrietta.

"Their very ages," climaxed the general.

"It was only a bluff," said the Watermelon wearily.  "I remembered their
names and ages from books I had seen around the room last night and on
the dresser, sort of birthday presents and things, you know.  I never
saw one of them."

The general roared and loved the boy. Henrietta leaned forward and
patted him on the shoulder.  "Wonderful, wonderful Holmes!" said she.

"Did you take the key on purpose?" asked Billy, all athrill with
admiration.

The Watermelon flushed.  He had taken the key if by any chance he should
ever be in that neighborhood again, and the family away, he could spend
the night in a comfortable bed instead of under a hayrick.  Besides keys
always came in handy.  He didn’t look at Billy.  Like a sudden flash of
lightning on a dark night, he had seen the difference between them,
between what he had become and what he had been.  But it came and was
gone and the old careless indifference rushed back.  He laughed and
changed his seat to the one between the two girls.

"When I locked the front door, I slipped the key out without thinking, I
suppose," said he. "Besides, keys are handy.  When you are stony broke,
you can rattle them and make the other fellow think maybe they’re the
mon."

"Now for breakfast," cried the general gaily, never long forgetful of
his meals.

"Tell me," begged Henrietta, "what would father say?"

"Grace," said the Watermelon.

The general, as he informed Henrietta at the first roadhouse they came
to and at which they stopped for breakfast, was full of the old Nick. He
felt that there might be no limit to his daring, he might go as far as
to rob an apple orchard and make no attempt to repay the owner, that
was, if the apples were ripe.  Henrietta’s own spirits were rising.  One
never realized what liberty was until one threw aside
conventionality—not honor, but conventionality, the silly, foolish laws
of senseless ages.  Billy as usual laughed at every remark, while the
general, the tramp and the financier grew fairly brilliant beneath the
spur of two pretty women’s laughing eyes.

The Watermelon, in his silk socks, his soft panama and fine linen, was
too much in the habit of taking fate as he found it, without wonder or
protest, to marvel now at his change of fortune or to be disturbed or
embarrassed at the unexpected society in which he found himself.
Between him and Bartlett was only the difference of a few millions, both
lived by their wits, and if one preferred to walk while the other rode,
it was merely a matter of choice—no sign of inferiority between man and
man.

They stopped that evening at a small town in the north of Vermont, as
far from a railway and telegraph office as Bartlett could bring them.
He had watched Batchelor carefully for signs of restlessness, but the
young man appeared entirely absorbed in the present, with no thought for
anything but the moment and Billy and Henrietta.

After supper, they loitered a while on the porch.  The night was dark
and warm.  Across the road and over the fields, the frogs in a distant
pond were croaking, and the air was thick with fireflies.

"Isn’t it dark and still," said Billy, her hands thrust into the pockets
of her linen coat, her feet slightly parted, as a boy would stand, her
small head thrown back.

The Watermelon watched her covertly from the cigarette he was rolling,
the clear oval of her dainty profile, her slender throat and well-shaped
head with its coronet of braids.

"Dark as misery," said Henrietta dreamily.

"In the day, one sees a world," quoted Bartlett, standing beside her
where she leaned, a slender figure, against the post of the porch. "In
the night one sees a universe," and he waved his lighted cigar vaguely
toward the myriads of stars above them.

"What good does that do," asked the Watermelon, "seeing a universe?
It’s miles away and can’t help you any."

"Ah, but it’s beautiful," cried Henrietta, who had never had much
experience with misery.  "It teaches one to look up, the night-time
does."

The Watermelon lighted his cigarette in the cup of his hands and tossed
his match away. "If you are trying to walk in the dark," he objected,
"trying to get out of your troubles, say, and not standing still in the
same old place, you can’t look up."

"You have no beauty in your soul," declared Henrietta.  "I think the
idea is beautiful, seeing a universe."

"When you are down and out, you don’t take any pleasure in looking at a
universe," said the Watermelon.  "A dollar, or even a quarter, will look
a darned sight more beautiful."

"I wouldn’t like to be poor," said Billy.  "It must be so terrible to
have no motor-car, for one thing."

"It is," agreed the Watermelon, who would have agreed to anything Billy
said.  "It’s simply awful."

"What did you mind most," asked Billy, "when you were a newsboy?"

"Let’s go look at the universe," suggested the Watermelon hastily.  "We
can see it much better down the road a bit."

Billy consented, and they strolled away in the dark.  The general, who
thought he was talking politics, was laying down the law to the hotel
clerk, and Henrietta and Bartlett were left alone.  They lingered a
moment on the porch and then quietly disappeared up the road in the
opposite direction from that taken by Billy and the Watermelon.

Bartlett’s desire was to reach Maine as soon as possible and get lost
over Saturday, but to avoid every city and larger town on the way and to
hurry by the smaller places where there might be telegraph or telephone
connections.

"Out of touch of the world for a week," he was fond of repeating, "no
letters, no papers, no worries and no nerves."

And his desire was the Watermelon’s.  The more they avoided towns, the
better the youth liked it.  Telegraph and telephone stations were
zealously shunned.  He would have liked to have seen a paper, so as to
judge what the police thought in the case of the theft of the wealthy
young stock-broker’s car, provided Batchelor had allowed the thing to
become public, which he very much doubted, from the little he knew of
the man’s character.  It was hardly an episode one would care to see in
print if one was dignified and self-made.  And the Watermelon chuckled.

It took them longer than Bartlett hoped, sticking to narrow, unused
country roads, and the next night found them still in Vermont. They
spent the night at the village boarding-house, and once again Billy and
the Watermelon went down the road a bit to look at the universe, and
Henrietta and Bartlett went up the road.

The following day, to Bartlett’s satisfaction, they got lost.  It was
late in the afternoon when they stopped at Milford, a small town in New
Hampshire, and made inquiries about the next town.  Was it far and would
the accommodations be good?  It wasn’t far, the farmer whom they
questioned, assured them, only five miles. He directed them how to go
and they thanked him and pushed on.

They went on and on and nightfall found them in a lonely bit of wooded
road apparently miles from any town or habitation.  Bartlett was
pleased.  They were lost, and by great good luck they might remain lost
for a considerable length of time.  The general, too, was delighted.
They would make a night of it.  It was what he had long wanted to do and
now they would have to.  The lunch basket had been filled earlier in the
day at a country store, so there would be enough to eat.  The seats of
the autos were soft and one could sleep in the cars or on the ground, as
one preferred.  It was warm and the rugs and shawls would be covering
enough.

They ran the cars out of the road to a convenient clearing.  Henrietta
got out the basket, shawls were spread on the ground in the light of the
two cars and they prepared to make the best of things.

"This is like old times," declared the general genially; "a night on the
march, far out on the prairies, not a thing in sight, not a sound but a
coyote yelping or the cry of a wolf."

"And Indians," said Henrietta, "hiding back of the nearest hillock,
creeping up on you unawares."

Billy glanced behind her at the woods and wished they had chosen a more
open place to dine.

"Yes," agreed the general cheerfully, "or down in some southern swamp,
with the Johnny Rebs stealing through the bushes."

"Oh, please," begged Billy.  "What’s the use of telling about things
creeping up on you?"

And she glanced again at the bit of wood she could see in the light of
the lamps.  Far in the west the moon was sinking and here and there a
star twinkled between the rolling clouds.  A thunder-head was now and
then revealed distinctly by flashes of distant lightning, and thunder
rumbled ominously in the sultry night. A whippoorwill called steadily
and once a bat on graceful wing flew by in the eery light.

The general laughed.  "That was living in those days, Billy," he said.
"A man was a man and not an office automaton, a dimes saving bank."



                             *CHAPTER XIV*

                       *BILLY, BILLY EVERYWHERE*


Bartlett nodded.  He had been watching Henrietta through half-lazy,
half-closed lids, leaning against a fallen log. Somehow out there in the
coolness and sweetness of the summer night, in the open country, with
only the drumming of the insects and the shrill clamor of frogs to break
the silence, nothing seemed to matter, to be worth struggling for. He
felt that he hardly cared what was happening in his absence, back there
in the hot, crowded, dirty city.  A few more millions added to the
useless many he already owned, what did it matter?  What amount could
buy the night, the peace and sweetness and content? He glanced at the
Watermelon and felt no triumph in the thought that this was Wednesday
and so far not a paper had been received, not a letter sent to spoil his
plans.  He wondered lazily that he had gone to the bother of planning
the small, petty intrigue of the small, petty city, like dogs snarling
over a worm-eaten bone.  How trivial it all was!

"You’re right, General," said he, watching the play of Henrietta’s thin
white hands in the lamp light, as she and Billy arranged the evening
meal.  "A man’s not a man in the city—nothing but a dirty,
money-grubbing proposition. Dollars and cents, dollars and cents, the
only reason of his being."

"I know," agreed Henrietta, nodding.  "I sometimes wonder why it was so
arranged—the world, you know.  Why couldn’t love, courage, honor have
been made the medium of exchange, the most vital necessity of life?
Every one has to have money, so every one has to struggle for it.  Why
couldn’t things have been started differently?"

"Potatoes, two kisses a peck," suggested the Watermelon.

"Three," said Bartlett, "if the purchaser is young and pretty.  A smile
would be enough, if she were old and wrinkled and unwed."

"A motor-car would probably necessitate a wedding," said the general.

"No, no, no," protested Henrietta.  "How silly!  You don’t understand me
at all."

"I would hate to be a clerk at a bargain sale," said the Watermelon,
pilfering a cracker from the box Billy held.

"Yes," agreed Bartlett, "think of the microbes—"

"Microbes?" asked Billy who had not been following the conversation.
"Where?"

"In kisses, Billy," said the general.  "I should think you would have
found it out by this time.  Everybody you kiss—"

"I never kiss anybody," protested Billy, blushing delightfully.

"Father used to say—" began the Watermelon.

"Look here," interrupted Bartlett, "that father of yours was a minister,
you say.  I vow he could know nothing about this subject."

"He married more people than you have," said the Watermelon.

"Yes," said Henrietta kindly, "he must have known all about it.  Do tell
us what he said."

"He used to say that kissing was just the reverse of poker—"

"Poker," cried Bartlett.  "No wonder your father left the ministry."

"It says in the papers that your father was a policeman," declared the
general.

"A policeman of souls," said Henrietta softly.

The general waved the sentiment aside as immaterial.  "How could he have
been a policeman and a minister?"

"I can’t say," answered the Watermelon, and turned to help Billy with a
sardine can as the best way out of a tight place.

"How is kissing the reverse of poker?" asked Henrietta, always amused by
the Reverend Mr. Batchelor’s remarks.

"A pair would beat a royal flush," replied the Watermelon.

"Surely," persisted the general, "if your father were a minister—"

The Watermelon looked up from the key of the tin he was laboriously
turning and glanced gently at the general, his woman’s eyes amused and
pitying, the expression they always wore for the general.

"Why, you see that is just what I always fancied.  He used to preach and
have a church—but if the papers say he was a cop, he probably was."

"It’s a wise child that knows his own father," said Henrietta.  "Come to
supper everybody."

Bartlett spread the filmy paper napkin on his knees and taking the plate
Henrietta handed him, balanced it on his lap with great nicety.  He was
so sure that the Watermelon was William Hargrave Batchelor that it never
occurred to him to doubt it.  There were the cards, the monogram on the
automobile and the general to vouch for it.  The papers were a bit
wrong.

Supper over, the general conceived the sudden inspiration of tinkering a
while with the cars.  Alphonse stood by to assist and the others
wandered off down the road before turning in for the night.

Billy and the Watermelon soon drifted away by themselves up a tiny cow
lane, fragrant with sweetbrier.  They wandered up it side by side, like
two children, neither saying a thing, content to be together.  At the
end of the lane, they leaned for a while on the pasture bars. The
sultriness of the earlier part of the evening had passed.  The thunder
was less ominous and only sheet lightning, low on the horizon, was
visible.  A breeze, cool and sweet, whispered by.  The fireflies danced
in gay little flashes of light among the shadows.

The two stood side by side, their elbows on the top rail, their hands
before them.  They said nothing.  There was nothing to say, just the
night and they two, alone, among the sweetbriers and the fireflies.

Now and then Billy sighed, unconsciously and happily.  A great silence
had enwrapped Billy for the last two days, a silence in which she was
content to dream and in which words seemed superfluous and uncalled for.
She wondered that Henrietta could talk so much.  What was there to say?
Billy had never been in love. She wondered vaguely if the enfolding
content, the longing for solitude and her own thoughts were forerunners
of approaching death.  The good die young, and Billy felt that she was
content to go, to drift away into the eternal peace of the after life.
She was not of an analytical disposition and she only knew that she was
happy, causelessly happy, and did not ask the reason.  The Watermelon
stood so closely beside her that once when he turned she could smell the
tobacco on his breath.  She wanted to rub her head on his shoulder like
a kitten, and wondered if she were growing weak-minded.

Without warning the bushes at her side parted and a cow with great
gentle eyes peered out at them, so near that Billy could feel the
breath, warm and sweet, upon her cheek.  With a little cry, she shrank
close to the Watermelon.

He felt her slender body, soft and yielding, nestling against him, smelt
the fragrance of her curly hair, and suddenly a great tide of longing,
of passion, of desire welled up in him and choked him.  He wanted to
crush her to him, to cover eyes and hair with kisses, to hold her so
tightly that she would cry for release.  All the ungoverned feelings of
the past few years surged over him and threatened to carry both for ever
out of sight of land and decency.  But, blindly, not knowing what he
did, he turned from her and picked up a stick to hurl at the cow.  She
had turned to him in her fear, and with the honor of his clerical
father, he controlled himself.

Billy laughed and straightened up, as the cow, grieved and surprised,
backed off in the dark.  "I’m not afraid of cows, Willie," said she.
"Don’t you know it?  She just came so suddenly I was startled."

"Yes," agreed the Watermelon dully.  "So was I.  Why did you call me
Willie?"

"Short for William, and William is your name, goose.  Don’t you remember
your own name?" crooned Billy, leaning toward him in the dark.

"Yes, surely," said the Watermelon.  "But I hate my name.  Call me
Jerry.  That’s what the boys call me."

He did not add that his name was Jeroboam Martin.  He being the seventh
young Martin to arrive, his distracted parents had turned to the Bible
for help in names as well as in the more vital necessities.

"Jerry?" laughed Billy questioningly.

"Yes," said Jeroboam gravely, and added abruptly, "Let’s go back."

They turned and retraced their steps, Billy all athrill with she knew
not what, singing a foolish little song beneath her breath, the
Watermelon staring angrily before him, denying hotly to himself what
would not be denied, that he loved Billy.  He loved her, not as he had
loved other women, not as a careless, lazy tramp, taking what offered,
good, bad or worse, with airy indifference, but as the son of his poor
virtuous, mother and of his gentle, reverend father would love and
cherish the one woman.

But who was he to love like that?  The past few years had branded him as
a thing apart from Billy.  He tried to think it out, but the blood
pounded in his temples and he could not think, could only know that he
loved her more than he did himself, with a love stronger than the mad
passion and longing for her that throbbed in his pulses like leaping
fire.  The knowledge had come so suddenly, he was so unprepared, that he
could not reason it out, could only know that Billy must never dream of
such a thing.  A companion of Mike and James, who was he to talk of love
to Billy?  God!

His head moved restlessly as though in pain and his hands, unconsciously
jingling the keys in his trousers pockets, clenched tightly.  Billy
swayed against him in the dark and straightened up with a laugh and a
smothered yawn.

"Oh, law," said she, "I’m tired."

"So am I," said the Watermelon moodily. "Tired of living."

"Do you know," said Billy, "I was just thinking that death might not be
so awful, just to close your eyes and drift out into space, on and on
and on."

"It would be a darned sight better than living," answered the
Watermelon.  "Hell would be preferable.  I beg your pardon."

"Aren’t you well?" asked Billy anxiously. "As for me, I never really
want to die unless I am feeling perfectly well."

Henrietta and Bartlett strolled up as they approached the cars, where
they found the general pacing up and down the road, filled with
righteous indignation and anger.

It seemed Alphonse had long ago taken his rug and pillow and retired to
the edge of the woods and slumber.  Left alone the general had lighted a
cigar and was walking slowly back and forth in front of the cars,
waiting for the others to return, when a buggy, with two men in it,
passed, the horse shying a bit and the general offering his assistance
and advice. To his surprise they had not gone by more than three yards,
when they stopped, tied the horse and came back on foot.

"First," said the general, as the four gathered around him in the light
of the car lamps, "first I thought they were hold-up men.  The lamps on
my car had gone out and they did not see it, thought that there was only
one car, so there would not be many to defend it; besides, I was the
only one they had seen, and doubtless they surmised I was alone and they
could have held me up easily."

"Father," cried Henrietta, "what did you do?"

"Before I could do anything they asked me the make of my car.  I told
them.  They said it didn’t look like a Packard, and I saw that they were
looking at Will’s car and hadn’t seen mine, back near the wall and with
the lights out.  I pointed to it and said that was my car. They seemed
surprised to see two cars.  I told them my name, gave them my card, and
told them I was motoring to Maine with a party of friends and asked them
what they were going to do about it."

"What did they say?" asked Bartlett, while the Watermelon slowly rolled
a cigarette.

"Oh, they apologized," admitted the general. "But what I want to know,
and what I don’t like at all, is why every one is so curious to know the
make of my car, the engine number and the license number.  What business
is it of theirs?"

The two girls slept in one car, Bartlett and the general in the other.
The Watermelon lay on the grass on Billy’s side of the car and sought to
reason the thing out, to plan what to do.  Alone in the dark, he did not
sleep, but stared before him, ears attuned to the many sounds of the
summer night.

In every whir of insects’ wings, in every whispering breeze that passed,
he heard Billy’s soft sweet voice.  He stared up at the stars and
likened them to Billy’s eyes, twinkling points of light as far above him
as Billy was, for Billy was Billy, and he was a tramp, a hobo—a Weary
Willie.



                              *CHAPTER XV*

                           *LOVE IN IDLENESS*


One not born a vagabond in heart can never understand a vagabond’s love
for the open places, for absolute freedom, to go where he wants, see
what he wants, work when he wants.  To a vagabond an office is
intolerable, the accumulation of dollars, grinding another man to gain a
petty advance for oneself, utterly uninspiring, conventionality, the
ceaseless humdrum round of existence as a clerk at ten per, revolting.
Following step by step in the well-worn, beaten path, where no man dares
step aside lest he be jeered at, where none dares fall, lest he be
pushed from the road and another take his place, where all think alike,
look alike, act alike, spending one’s days in an office, bent over a
littered, dusty, shabby desk, one’s nights at some cheap play-house,
seeking to find an outlet for the battered nerves, for the ceaseless
strain of the day by stupefying the senses with some garish parody of
life, is not living to a vagabond.  He is willing to work if the work is
a part of himself, a development of that clamorous ego that must find
peace in the open, in the physical side of existence.  If he is born
rich, he will become a traveler, a mountain climber, an aviator; if
poor, a tramp, and the Watermelon was born poor.

For the last few years his feet had followed his errant will, now here,
now there.  He was impervious to hardship while he could wander as he
wished, indifferent to good clothes when the price was eight hours a day
spent in a stuffy office, bent, round-shouldered, hump-backed, over a
column of figures.  Beneath good clothes or shabby, there was nothing
but a human body, all more or less alike.  So the Watermelon had gone
his careless, contented way, now resting here, now working there,
unworried by rent days falling due, by collars fraying around the edges,
coats getting shabby and shiny at the seams, and then Billy came along,
Billy, young, sweet, conventional, an honored member of convention’s
band, walking around and around the same well-beaten path, in the same
small inclosure.  If he had elected to be one of the throng, he would
never have met her.  Struggling along at ten per, he would have been so
far down the line, plodding painfully on, that Billy would never have
seen him.

But now he was out and a fence unscalable was between them.  If he
climbed the fence again, it would do no good.  No vagabond can ever fall
in line and keep step, and there is not room enough in the inclosure for
the man who has dared to climb the fence and drop down the other side.

Bartlett, like Billy, wondered if he were growing simple-minded.  A
desire to confide in Henrietta, to tell her what he was up to, had come
upon him and seemed too strong to be resisted.  Last night, up the quiet
country road, alone with Henrietta, he had been forced to suppress the
desire sternly, and now in the garish light of day it was still upon
him.  He took a seat beside her on the stone wall where she tried to be
comfortable as she fished olives from a nearly empty bottle, the remains
of last night’s supper.

"I wonder," said he, hovering on the edge of his foolish desire, "if any
one can become a man with nothing to regret."

"Certainly not," said Henrietta.  "There would always be the years."

"I mean something that he had done himself," explained Bartlett soberly,
a sandwich in one hand, a buttered roll in the other.

"Don’t tell me your troubles," said Henrietta, thinking miserably of the
years it would soon be so hard to deny.  "I have enough of my own.
Confession may be good for the soul, but it’s the death-blow to your
reputation."

"Father used to say that if there were public confession instead of
private in the Catholic church, there would be no Catholics," said the
Watermelon, helping Billy to the last of the sardines.

"Let’s have a public confession," cried the artless Billy.  "Everybody
tell the worst thing that they ever did in their lives."

The Watermelon laughed and leaned toward her, a moth flirting with the
candle flame.  "Oh, kid; I’ll bet the worst you ever did was to swipe
the jam-pot when ma wasn’t looking."

"No," said Billy, "I did an awful thing once."

"Let’s hear it."

Billy took the olive bottle from Henrietta, speared an olive and passed
the bottle on before she spoke.  "Will you confess, if I do?" she asked,
pausing with the olive half way to her mouth.

"Sure," said the Watermelon.  "I robbed an apple orchard once."

"You’re fooling," accused Billy.  "I’m not. I’m really serious."

"So am I," vowed the Watermelon.

"Billy," said Henrietta, "spare us.  I am too young to listen to a tale
of depravity."

But the lure of the confessional held Billy and she passed Henrietta’s
remark without notice.  She turned to the Watermelon.  "If I tell you
the worst thing I ever did, will you tell me the worst you ever did?"

"I haven’t done the worst yet," explained the Watermelon.

The general having nearly wrecked the cars and seen the damage repaired
by Alphonse, hurried to the four sitting on the stone wall.

"Come on," said he.  "It is time we were going.  We have no blue book,
you know."

"I shouldn’t wonder," said Henrietta, "if there were not a rare chance
for some one to confess a heinous crime."

She looked at Bartlett as he held out his hand to help her down and her
eyes laughed deep into his.

"In self-defense—" he pleaded in a whisper.

It was very early.  The freshness of night still clung to fields and
wood.  The air was full of the clamor of birds and from the valley below
came the stentorian crow of a rooster. Little wisps of white clouds
drifted by in the deep blue of the sky and a breeze played gently with
the girls’ long auto veils.

So in the freshness of the early morning they dipped down the hill into
the valley, passed farm-houses and corn lands.  They stopped about nine
at a farm-house and partook of a breakfast of coffee, bacon and eggs.
Alphonse filled the cars at a village store and they went on.  The glory
of the day, the close proximity of Henrietta, who sat beside him,
dainty, merry, feminine, the success so far of his plan, which in his
saner moments he still cherished, raised Bartlett’s spirits higher and
higher and they went faster and faster.  They swept over the boundary
line into Maine with a rush, taking the hills at high speed and skimming
into the valleys, now entering a stretch of cool dark wood, now tearing
into the sunshine again, past corn-fields, hay-fields, and rocky
pastures.  Cows whisked their tails at the cars’ approach and dashed
awkwardly away from the fence rails.  Chickens squawked and tore madly
to safety with flapping wings. Farmhouses appeared and disappeared in a
cloud of dust.  Lakes were seen one moment and gone the next.  They
swept around a bend in the road and into a man trap, a pile of wood
across the road and three farmers waiting grimly with loaded guns.

The Watermelon in the tonneau of the general’s car, with Billy,
straightened up with a sickening fear of being arrested in her presence.
The fun and excitement of the adventure had disappeared.  In their stead
stalked the grim reality of the fear of exposure, of the surprise,
scorn, perhaps anger, maybe pity, he would see in Billy’s eyes.  When
they parted and the Bartletts returned to the city, they would learn how
they had been deceived, and Billy would be angry, scornful and a bit
amused, for Billy enjoyed a joke even against herself and her ideas of
humor were young and of the same style, more or less, as those of the
Watermelon. But if he could he would drop out of her sight, first, the
good-natured, successful young financier, not slink away, the shiftless,
beaten tramp.

The general for a moment considered it merely another means taken by the
conspiracy to rob him of his car and contemplated stern defiance of the
law’s command to stop.

"It’s not highway robbery, Charlie," laughed Bartlett.  "We’ve been
going a bit fast and have to pay up, that’s all."

Haled before the justice of the peace in the village store, Bartlett
paid his fine with casual indifference, the general with the haughty
disapproval of a judge presiding at the bar of justice, while Henrietta,
with gentle condescension, bought some highly-scented soap, "to help
them out," she explained, meaning the owners of the store, and the
Watermelon, to all outward appearances, frankly bored by the
proceedings, presented Billy with a choice assortment of gaily tinted,
dusty candy.

They put up for the night at a small town in Maine.  It consisted of
four or five scattered houses, a school, a store, and a barrel factory.
They found rooms in one of the houses and after supper, Henrietta,
Bartlett and the general sat on the stoop, while the men smoked and the
stars came out one by one, the frogs croaked dismally and the
whippoorwills called and called.

The Watermelon asked Billy to take a walk with him and she consented.
She must never know, thought the Watermelon, with boyish self-loathing,
that he had dared to insult her by thinking of love, but it would not
hurt any one but himself to walk with her. There was only a day or two
more at the most before they parted, she to go to Newport and Bar
Harbor, and he to drift out on the tide again, one with James and Mike.

They walked up the road in the soft beauty of the summer night.  Billy
was tired and thoughtful, her girlish eyes catching a far off vision of
womanhood and what it meant. Unconsciously to both, a man’s soul had
spoken and her woman’s soul had stirred in answer, stirred, but would it
fully waken?

The Watermelon rolled a cigarette and puffed moodily, too busy himself
with thoughts to talk, and the Watermelon did not like to think.  He was
not used to it.

"Darn it," he mused, "what did the Lord give us bodies for to want and
want and then add minds to think?"

They came to a New England graveyard, perched on a rise of ground, where
the road cut through a hill, a lonely, neglected place, overgrown with
weeds and tall rank grasses, the gravestones flat or falling.  Hardly
aware of what they did, they turned in and picked their way among the
sunken graves.

"God’s acre," whispered Billy softly, for youth loves sadness, at
certain times.

The Watermelon tossed away his cigarette and took off his hat.
Somewhere, over there among the Green Mountains, in just such another
place, his tired little mother slept.  Was her grave sunken, he
wondered, her tombstone flat or falling limply sidewise?

The moon was sinking slowly in the west, a silver crescent just above
the dark outlines of the woods.  The sky was bright with stars, like the
kindled hopes of those who have gone.  A wind stole softly by, rustling
the tall grasses and swaying the tree tops.  But there among the graves,
it was very dark and still.

Billy sat down on the bank by the driveway, and the Watermelon sat
beside her, not too near.  There was at least a foot between them.

"We are all alone," said the Watermelon, thinking aloud half of his
thoughts.  "All alone, but for the dead."

Alone, and the seven seas could not have parted them farther.

"And God," added Billy piously.

"If there is one," admitted the Watermelon.

Billy looked at him quickly, earnestly.  "Oh, Jerry, of course there is
a God.  Don’t you know it?"

"No," said the Watermelon.  "When a person is happy, they know there is
a God; when they are wretched, they say, every one does, ’There is no
God.’  If there is one, why doesn’t He let the miserable wretch realize
it instinctively as well as the happy person?"

Billy had never suffered, had never felt the foundations of her world
falling around her in ruins, had never cried aloud in anguish, "How
long, oh Lord, how long?"  She answered from her inexperience, from the
faith that had never been tested, "Of course there is a God. Every one
knows it, every one prays.  Why, if your father was a minister, I should
think you would know that there is a God."

"That’s the trouble.  He was a minister and he lost faith, and when he
who should have known, wondered if there was a God, we kids knew there
wasn’t.  I suppose it’s the same if a boy finds that his mother has lost
her virtue.  He thinks there is none."

Billy placed her hand on the bank between them and leaned toward him on
her straightened arm.  "Poor old Jerry!  But if your mother still
believed?"

"A mother always believes in God and her worthless sons.  It’s a part of
being a mother, I suppose."



                             *CHAPTER XVI*

                         *A THIEF IN THE NIGHT*


Billy laughed a low, throaty gurgle, and laid her hand an instant on his
sleeve. "Don’t you see, she believed in God and she believed in you.
You didn’t go back on her. Would God?"

The Watermelon did not answer.  He was busy with a scene of the long
ago.  He and the youngest Miss Martin had been engaged in a set-to which
hardly savored of brotherly love, and parental authority had separated
them and passed judgment.

"Sister should not have struck you," the mother said as she stood him
grimly in the corner.  "But, Jeroboam, you should not have deceived
sister.  If you men would only keep faith with your women, this world
would be too good to leave, even for Heaven," she had added with her
usual tired sigh.

How had he kept faith with Billy?  The question stared him in the face
and he felt like the child again, standing in the corner, unable to
answer.  For the sake of an amusing week of her society, he had
practically betrayed her father, had branded himself a thief by keeping
the clothes, the watch, the money, which he had taken wrongly, for a few
hours’ fun, but which he had intended to return.  In the love he felt
for the girl, his long-stifled conscience slowly stirred again.

Billy was talking, crooning her comfort with the maternity latent in all
women for the men they love.  "Don’t you see, Jerry, there is a God?
Think of what you did for your mother, think of how proud she was of you
when you did so well.  By sheer grit you have made yourself what you
are.  You are tired and blue to-night, poor old boy."

The Watermelon was not listening.  He took a roll of bills from his
pocket and counted them.  Billy watched him in perplexity.  Was he
worrying over money, she wondered.  One hundred and seventy-four dollars
left.  He had not had an opportunity to spend more of that roll of bills
which he had betrayed a woman and lowered his manhood to steal.  He
crushed the bills back into his pocket and rose.

"We had better go back," said he shortly. "It’s late."

They found Henrietta and Bartlett on the front porch, talking in low
voices, oblivious to all else.  The general had long since sought the
doubtful comfort of the country bed for city boarders.

Billy held out her hand to the Watermelon, a little ceremony she had
heretofore neglected, wishing in her tender little heart that she
understood his strange mood better and could comfort him.

"Good night," said she gently.

"Good night," said the Watermelon.

Henrietta rose.  "I didn’t know it was so late.  Wait, Billy, I am
coming with you.  Good night, all."

Bartlett followed the girls, but at the door he stopped and glanced back
at the Watermelon, standing on the grass by the steps.

"Better come to bed," said he.

The Watermelon nodded abstractedly and Bartlett went in, leaving him out
there alone.

Without thinking of Billy other than as a pretty girl with whom to
flirt, moved by the mischief of the moment, he had placed her father
financially at the mercy of his enemy. And now to right the wrong to
Billy, the only thing he could do would be to tell them who he was, a
tramp, masquerading with decent people in his stolen finery.  Petty
thieving, the sharp tricks of the road, had passed quickly from his
conscience, but this was different.  A woman had been thrown into the
bargain, the woman he loved, and Henrietta and the general trusted him.
Bartlett deserved all he got, and Batchelor he dismissed with the
comforting conviction that he was doing him a good turn. But Billy,
Henrietta and the general!  A wry smile twisted the Watermelon’s mouth
as he thought of the horror on the general’s face when he learned that
he had spent the week in the company of a nameless hobo.  For a while he
contemplated hurling away the watch along with the rest of the
"hardware" and stealing away in the dark, hitting the trail again and
catching up with Mike and James on their annual pilgrimage north.  He
drew the bills from his pocket and thought of all Bartlett would lose if
he crept away without explaining, and Bartlett was Billy’s father.

He heard a step on the porch and turned to see Billy hesitating in the
doorway.  "Jerry," she whispered softly and glanced behind her as though
fearful of seeing her father or Henrietta peering at her over the
banisters.

He went toward her, the bills still in his hand.  "Billy," said he,
thrusting the money into his pocket, "what are you doing at this time of
night?"  And he looked down at her tenderly in the dark where the hall
lamp could not reveal his face.

Billy hesitated.  She had seen the bills again and knew that he was
worried.  To worry over money matters was an unknown experience to
Billy.  She felt a delicacy in mentioning her errand.

"I—I—I came to see if the moon had set," she faltered.

"It’s set," said the Watermelon.

"Well," said Billy, "then I will go back."

"Good night," said the Watermelon.

"Good night," said Billy, and lingered.

Then she laid her hand on his arm and spoke in a rush.  "Oh, Jerry,
please don’t worry. If you want any money, father has heaps. You can
have all you want."

The Watermelon drew a bit nearer.  "Billy, Billy," said he softly.

"I think it must be terrible to worry about money," Billy hurried on.
"It’s not worth it."

"I’m not worrying about money, kid," said the Watermelon with a laugh.
"I have a bunch. What made you think I was?"

"Twice to-night you’ve counted your money."

"Esau’s bowl of pottage," sneered the Watermelon, turning unconsciously
to the old familiarity with the Bible.  "Say, Billy, if he found he
didn’t like his pottage, could he give it back and get his birthright
again?"

Billy blushed.  She was not sure who Esau was.  In a dim way she
remembered the name and vaguely associated it with the Bible. "Couldn’t
he have gotten something else?" she asked judiciously.

"No," said the Watermelon.  "He had nothing more to sell."

"What did he sell?"

"His birthright—for a mess of pottage."

"Why’d he do that?"

"He was stony broke, he wanted something to eat, see, and he sold his
all for a mess of pottage.  Now, if he found he didn’t like his pottage,
could he have given it back and gotten his birthright again?"

"Yes, indeed," chirped Billy.  "I don’t see why not.  But why didn’t he
get something better than a mess of pottage?"

"Don’t ask me, kid.  But, I guess you’re right.  No one can keep your
birthright unless you’re willing they should."

"I usually know more about the Bible," stammered Billy, fearful of the
impression her ignorance must have made.  "I know about Moses and Ruth."

The Watermelon nodded.  "You see, I was raised on the Bible," he said
kindly.

"Yes," agreed Billy, "and I was raised on Mellen’s food."

A step was heard on the floor above and she started hastily.  "I guess I
had better be going," she whispered.  "Good night, Jerry."

"Good night, Billy."

She slipped away and the Watermelon was again alone.

"She’s right.  If you don’t like your pottage, you can get your
birthright back.  I can leave a note," he thought and laughed bitterly.
"Haven’t a thing, name, clothes, honor.  Sneak away like a whipped cur.
Gosh, I’ll be hanged if I can’t do something respectable.  I will tell
them in the morning and they can do and say what they please.  If you’ve
sold your birthright to the Old Man, you have to go after it in person
to get it back.  Why the deuce did I fall in love with Billy?  I had fun
in the beginning—but now!"

When the Watermelon awoke next morning he lay for a time, stretching and
yawning in the comfortable bed and the pea-green silk pajamas he had
found in the suit-case in Batchelor’s car.  He glanced at the general
slumbering beside him, his mouth open and his round fat face as pink as
the pink cotton pajamas he wore.

"Here’s me in silk and him in cotton," thought the Watermelon.  "He
couldn’t tell a lie to save his soul, and I—  Stick to your pink cotton,
general," he whispered and slipped quietly out of bed.  He crossed the
room to the bureau where he had left the watch the night before to see
the time.  The watch was not there and he turned to look in his trousers
pockets, thinking he might have left it in them. But his pockets were
empty, save for a few old keys, his knife and "the makings."  Money,
watch, cigarette case, all were gone.  He turned to the bureau.  Cuff
links and stick pin were also gone.  Gingerly he felt in the general’s
pockets.  They, too, were empty.  He stood a moment in the middle of the
room in his pea-green silk pajamas and gently stroked his back hair,
then he chuckled softly and glanced at the bed.

The general was awake, looking at him with half-shut, sleepy eyes.

"Robbed, General," said the Watermelon.

"Robbed?" repeated the general, sitting up.

"Everything gone," said the Watermelon, "or I’ll eat my hat."

The general rose and they made a systematic search through empty pockets
and rifled bureau.

Bartlett came in gloomily.  Without a cent among them they could not
continue the trip. They would have to make for the nearest telegraph
station and wire for help, and Batchelor, his whereabouts known to his
brokers, would probably receive an urgent call to return at once.

"Robbed?" asked the general.

"They left me my name," said Bartlett grimly.  "Who steals your purse
steals trash, I suppose.  We have that comfort."

"Not my purse," said the Watermelon. "Mine had money in it."

"My watch," said the general, "was a family heirloom.  My great
grandfather carried it."

"I wonder if the girls lost anything," said Bartlett.

"We will have to go to the nearest telegraph station and telegraph for
money," declared the general.

"I suppose so," growled Bartlett, and trailed from the room to finish
dressing.

They found the girls in the dining-room, unaware of what had befallen
them.  They had slept late and the clock on the mantel registered
half-past nine as the three men filed into the room.  The general was
calm, pompous, austere, but Henrietta had not lived with him for five
and thirty years without having acquired the ability to read his every
mood.

"Father," she asked, "what’s the matter? Have your sins found you out?"

The general waited for the slatternly maid-servant to give them their
breakfast and leave the room before he spoke.

"We have been robbed," he said calmly, casually, as one would mention
the weather.  His tones implied that he was perfectly willing to listen
to reason, but that he knew who the thief was and anything stated to the
contrary was not reason.

"I spend my whole life, father," said Henrietta, "finding the articles
you have been robbed of.  Your system is all right.  You have a place
for everything, but you never remember the place."

The Watermelon pulled out the linings of his empty pockets and held out
his wrists that they might see the cuffs tied together by a bit of
string.

Henrietta and Billy stared.

"I have never had a thief in my room," cried Billy.  "I would like to
see how it feels."

"I’m not robbed," said Henrietta, making a hurried examination of the
small-sized trunk she carried as a hand-bag.

"It’s the stable-boy," said the general.  "I noticed him carefully last
night.  He would not look any one in the face."

"He goes home every night," objected Henrietta.  "Mrs. Parker told me
so."

"That’s no reason he couldn’t come back," said the general.

"No," said Henrietta.  "But because a boy won’t look at you is no reason
to say that he is a thief."

"He does look at you, anyway," said Billy innocently.  "He looked at
me."

"It was clever in him to take our checkbooks," said Bartlett.

"He will forge our names," declared the general.  "I made a check out to
pay for the board here, signed it, too, I remember, and then I found
some cash and thought I would use that and went to bed and forgot to
destroy the check.  I know it was the stable-boy for my room has a
balcony in front, over the porch, and last night it was so warm I left
the door open."

"Maybe it was," agreed Henrietta.  "I hate to suspect him, though."



                             *CHAPTER XVII*

                         *ALPHONSE RIDES AWAY*


"The stable-boy would have access to the back of the house, too," said
the general, who felt that if he had not become a general and had
escaped being a master mechanic, he would have been a famous detective.

"Yes," agreed the Watermelon.  "But I don’t think it is the boy.  I was
out until after eleven, and just before I came in I saw him drive up
with the girl.  They had been out to some dance and he left her and
drove on."

The girl appeared in the doorway wiping a plate, slip-shod and awkward.
Henrietta blushed, the general was painfully confused and the other
three turned their attention hastily to their food.

"Want anything?" asked the girl.

"No, thank you," replied Henrietta gently, feeling that in judging the
stable-boy she had somehow injured the girl.

The girl lingered a moment, glanced significantly at the clock, and went
out.

"Who could it be?" asked Billy, pleasantly excited.

"Why, this is terrible," said Henrietta.  "If the boy didn’t do it,
there is no one else who could have, but the family."

"It looks that way," admitted the Watermelon.

"What shall we do?" gasped Billy.  "What shall we pay them with?"

The slatternly girl again appeared in the doorway much to the general’s
nervousness.

"Want anything?" she asked, and glanced again at the clock.

"No," said Henrietta.  "No, thank you."

"I will speak to Parker," declared the general as the girl left.

"I wish you didn’t have to," sighed Henrietta. "It’s horrid to lose your
money, but it must be so much worse to need money so that you would
steal it."

"But that’s the test of honesty," declared the general.  "To need money
and not steal."

"I know," admitted Henrietta, pushing aside her coffee cup.  "I do
admire strong people who can resist, but I’m so much sorrier for the
weak who can’t.  It’s pitiful, that’s what it is."

"Yes," cried Billy, as usual carried away by her feelings.  "Let’s not
say a thing."

The door opened for the third time, but instead of the ineffective
maid-servant, the farmer’s wife, fat, red-cheeked, good-natured,
entered.

She approached the table and smiled jovially from one to the other.

"I hope you liked everything," she said with a gentle hint in her tones
that they had lingered around the breakfast table long enough.  "Have
you had plenty, General? Can’t I get you some more coffee, Miss
Crossman?"

"No, thank you," said the general, confused and unhappy.

Mrs. Parker smiled still.  "I am glad you liked everything.  Your man
should be back soon.  He hasn’t had any breakfast yet."

"Where’d he go?" asked the general, feeling that that was safe enough
ground.

"My husband thinks that he went out in one of the automobiles very
early, for he found one of them gone."

"Did your husband see him go?" asked Bartlett.

"Oh, no, but he thinks he must have gone because there is only one
automobile—"

"Oh, yes," said Henrietta, and stared at the others, fearful of reading
her own crushing suspicion in their eyes.

Alphonse, the quiet, blasé, peerless Alphonse?  Could it be he?  That
Alphonse had gone for an early morning spin lured by the dew on the
clover fields, by the sweet chorus of awakening birds, borne by the
unsuppressible desire to see the shy, sweet advent of a new day creeping
up the flushed and rosy sky, was wholly out of the question.  Alphonse’s
soul, in the early morning hours, was filled only with the beauty and
glory of bed.  The general had always been forced to arouse his
serving-man and the process had often been painful, calling for
sternness and suppressed wrath on the general’s part.  Alphonse a thief
was more believable than Alphonse getting out of bed uncalled.

Billy was the first to speak.

"The car," she whispered.

"Oh, yes," said the landlady hastily, not quite sure what had happened
or was to happen by the expression on the faces before her.  "Oh, yes,"
reassuringly, "he took the car.  My husband wasn’t up when he went—"

The general rose, his face red with anger. "If he has taken my car," he
thundered, "I shall have him prosecuted whether Henrietta likes it or
not."

"It’s an outrage," sympathized Bartlett. "We can telegraph the police."

"Oh," moaned Henrietta, "I did love that car."

The landlady sought to reassure them in a calm, placid manner that
savored of a big, gentle-eyed cow.  "Why, he has only gone for a ride.
He went—"

The general paused in the doorway.  "He went last night, madam," said he
coldly, and slightly dramatically, for the general never believed in
spoiling a good story by a mild delivery.  "And he took not only the
car, but all our money."

Led by the general and followed by the landlady, they made for the barn.
There, in the middle of the floor where last night two cars had stood
side by side, a red and a blue, was now only one, a big, blue Packard.
A few hens stepped daintily here and there, around and under it, while
the cat cleaned her paws contentedly from her seat on the running-board.

The general stopped in the doorway and stared.  His car?  And such a
wave of thanksgiving rushed over him that it was not his car that was
missing that he felt he owed Alphonse a debt of gratitude and forgave
him immediately.

"My car," said he, and chuckled with relief.

"Where’s mine?" demanded Bartlett, growing red and angry.

"Where’s Alphonse?" suggested the Watermelon significantly.

Henrietta laughed with positive gratitude to her erstwhile serving-man.
"Why," she cried, "he left us ours."

"Alphonse was very fond of me," said the general with some little pride,
as he patted his car tenderly.

"Yes," agreed Bartlett, "I can see that.  He demonstrated it fully.  I
am glad he didn’t love you or he might have killed Billy and me."

The landlord, followed by the slatternly maid-servant and the
shifty-eyed stable-boy, trailed into the barn.

"Man gone off with your car?" asked the landlord.  "I locked up last
night about twelve. He must have left before then."

"The general’s man did," said Bartlett, who felt that the general was in
some way to blame.

"He has taken all our money," added Henrietta.

"A thief, eh?" said the landlord.

"Can’t we follow the car by the tracks?" asked Henrietta.  She went to
the door and peered eagerly at the many wheel tracks in the dust of the
drive.

The general waved the suggestion scornfully aside.  "You can’t tell
whether the tracks are coming or going," said he.

"All detectives do," said Billy, following Henrietta to the door.

"I’m sorry," whispered the Watermelon in Billy’s ear.

Billy laughed.  "We have more cars at home," said she.  "It doesn’t
bother me at all. That’s the trouble of being rich, you can’t be robbed
and feel badly about it."

"Batchelor, you say that you were up until after eleven," said the
general, feeling that the occasion called for intelligence.  "Did you
see Alphonse go out?"

"No," said the Watermelon.

"The landlord says, however, that he must have gone before twelve," went
on the general. "Then don’t you see how Alphonse could not have stolen
the money?  Those thefts were not committed until after twelve."

"I don’t see how you work that out," said Henrietta, puzzling over it
with knit brows.

"Don’t you see, Henrietta, that if Alphonse stole our money after
twelve, he could not have gone out in the car before eleven, so if he
went out in the car before twelve, he did not steal the money.  He
either stole the money or the car."

"Maybe he didn’t take the money," said Henrietta, feeling vaguely and
disappointedly that she was not a person with detective-like instincts.

"You see," said the general, "if Alphonse took the car, he did not take
the money; if he took the money, he did not take the car."

"He certainly did take the money," snapped the farmer.

"And my car," added Bartlett angrily.

"He could not have taken both," declared the general.

"You were robbed last night, weren’t you?" demanded the farmer.  "Well,
then?"

"And my car is gone, isn’t it?" demanded Bartlett.

"Yes, yes," acknowledged the general, feeling that every word he said
only made the other two angrier, but still clinging to his deductions as
to his life’s principles.  "Yes, of course; but Alphonse could not have
done both. He went off with the car before eleven, so he could not have
robbed us after twelve—"

"Sir," interrupted the farmer with a quiet dignity that was impressive,
"do you accuse any of us of stealing?"

"No, no," protested the general, now hopelessly rattled.  "But if
Alphonse stole the money—"

"Alphonse swiped both," said the Watermelon, and that settled it as far
as the general was concerned, for the general had boundless faith in the
young man’s deductive abilities.  "I went in about eleven.  He took the
car out, ran it down the road a bit and then came back and sneaked our
things."

"Certainly," said Bartlett, who could not help feeling irritated with
the general for the fault of his man.

Billy laughed.  "All this bother about nothing," said she.  "Dad, what’s
one car, more or less?"

"A car is a car, Billy," said Bartlett coldly, refusing to be comforted
for the ruin of his plan to keep Batchelor away from the city over
Saturday.

"Yes," agreed Henrietta sympathetically, "any one hates to lose a car."

"But when you have seven," objected Billy.

"We haven’t got them here, have we?" asked Bartlett.

"No, but we have one, and that’s enough for five," declared Billy,
finding the usual difficulty in persuading people to count their
blessings. "We didn’t need two, anyway."

"Yes, we did," said the Watermelon, thinking of the tonneau with only
Billy and him, the general in front completely absorbed with the car.

"Why?" asked Billy.

"Why," stammered the Watermelon, who no longer cared to flirt with Billy
and who had spoken without thinking, "why, so the general and your
father could each run a car," he explained weakly.

"Oh, yes," chirped Billy.  "What will they do now?"

The Watermelon turned and glanced out of the wide doors, down the
tree-shaded road, and thought pityingly of the unfortunate Alphonse,
gone off at the wrong time, with the whole country-side on the watch for
a lone youth in a big red touring car.  That the car was of a different
make from the one they were hunting for would not impress the sheriffs
so forcibly as the fact that the youth also carried a time-piece as big
as a clock, along with a cigarette case, cuff links and stick pin, all
marked plainly and beyond question, with the damning initials, W.H.B.

The Watermelon laughed softly, and glancing at Billy, laughed again.
With Bartlett going directly back to the city, he would not have to
confess to make things right.  He could leave them at the telegraph
office and drift away on some pretext or another, leaving Billy gaily,
head up, as became a successful financier, not slink away like a whipped
dog, with only the scorn and loathing in her eyes to remember, to
obliterate all the other memories of that one nearly perfect week.



                            *CHAPTER XVIII*

                           *OH, FOR A HORSE*


The farmer forgave the general with lofty dignity and turned to Bartlett
with suggestions and offers of help.  There was a telephone in the
village store.  They could telephone Boston or Portland, or they could
telephone Harrison and Harrison could telegraph the larger cities.  With
the police notified promptly, Alphonse would not be able to get far.

Bartlett meditatively chewed a straw and pondered the suggestion,
leaning against the nearest stall and frowning thoughtfully at the
general’s car, while the others stood around him in a semicircle.

They were ten miles from the nearest railroad, and the train service,
when they did strike a road, was decidedly poor in that out-of-the-way
locality.  Still, by good luck, quick work and prompt connections,
Batchelor would be able to reach Boston late that afternoon or evening
and New York before ten A.M., Saturday morning, and at ten A.M. Saturday
the last fight was to be fought, the last stand made. Without their
brilliant young leader, the opponents to the cotton ring would be
outnumbered and outclassed, hopelessly beaten. Bartlett’s fighting blood
was up at the thought. Was he to have his week spoiled by the worthless
Alphonse’s deviltry?  Batchelor should not run the slightest chance of
reaching Boston that day, if he could help it.  Henrietta had a little
money in her bag that would tide them over.  Better avoid anything to do
with telegraph and telephones as long as possible.  They could make an
attempt to reach Harrison and get lost.  But getting lost wasn’t as easy
as it appeared, when the general was along, thoroughly determined not to
get lost.  Bartlett’s thoughts were broken in on by the Watermelon in a
way that caused him quick alarm.  The young man had at last awakened to
the gravity of the situation, as Bartlett had been expecting him to do
ever since the trip began.

"We had better telephone," said the Watermelon, "as Parker says.  We can
telephone for money and have it sent to Harrison, and we can ride to
Harrison and probably get there the same time as the money does and get
the train for Boston.  It’s time we were back in New York, anyway."

The trip was ended and the sooner he left Billy the better.  He could
give them the slip at Harrison and once more hit the road.

"Telephoning from here won’t help matters at all," objected Bartlett,
fighting for that opportunity to get lost again, just for one more
day—twelve hours would be enough.  "We can drive to Harrison and
telegraph from there. It is only a ten-mile drive.  We can make it in
fifteen minutes."

"No joy-riding," warned Henrietta, "when we haven’t any money to pay the
fines.  I don’t want to do my time in the workhouse."

"We will do it in twenty minutes, then," laughed Bartlett, who saw
another way to create a delay that might be used with advantage. The
Parkers scorned to accept the few dollars Henrietta still had in the
dark recesses of her bag.

"You can send it to us," said they, and the farmer added, heaping coals
of fire on the general’s unfortunate head, "We trust you perfectly."

The Watermelon looked sharply at Bartlett and wondered if he were up to
any tricks.  The Watermelon had only ten more miles of Billy and he
didn’t want to shorten the precious time by a confession if there were
no need for one.

"Let’s hurry," said he.  There was no need of prolonging the misery in
the thought of the parting.

"Worrying over his affairs," thought Bartlett. "He has come to at last."

The general insisted upon driving, and as it was his car, Bartlett
perforce had to be content. He protested, however, that he knew the road
thoroughly, and could direct the general with no instructions at all
from the farmer, waving them all good-naturedly aside.

They were all quiet as they started down the road.  Henrietta was
depressed thinking about Alphonse.  She had always stood in awe of his
superlative virtues, and the fact that he lacked several was a bit of a
shock.  The general also was grieved.  He had trusted Alphonse and
Alphonse had failed him.  Billy was silent, for she wanted to think, and
all her thoughts were of the youth beside her, tall, slim, good-looking,
with his merry eyes and devil-may-care indifference.

They could all go to New York together, she planned, and later, when her
father and herself went to their summer place on the coast of Maine,
they would get him to visit them there in their own home.  And in the
winter—and Billy’s thoughts lost themselves in the hazy rosy glow of the
future, with its possibilities and pleasures.

It was after three.  The day was intensely warm, even in the shady
wooded road on which they found themselves.  They had been running
through the woods for nearly an hour, and apparently had not reached the
end of it. The last abandoned farm-house, gray, weather-beaten, forlorn,
had long ago been passed.  The birds chattered shrilly in the leafy
profusion overhead; somewhere out of sight in the underbrush a brook
gurgled refreshingly over its stony bed, and once, far away and very
faintly, they heard the wild loon’s dismal cry.

The general stopped the car and turned sidewise to face those on the
back seat.  "We are lost," said he.  "Look at the odometer.  We have
come twenty miles since we left Stoneham and we are no nearer Harrison
than when we started."

"Lost again," wailed Henrietta.  "How very stupid we are!"

"It’s my fault," admitted Bartlett truthfully, but with contrition.  "I
said to take this turn back there near that barrel factory."

"We can go back," suggested Billy.

"Parker told me last night," said the general gloomily, "that there was
no settlement north of here for forty miles.  We have probably come
north."

"If we have come twenty miles, we can go twenty more without dying,"
said Bartlett.

"I don’t know," laughed Henrietta.  "I am famished now."

"So am I," wailed Billy.  "Henrietta, haven’t we a thing to eat?"

"Not a thing," said Henrietta.

"Hit her up," cried Bartlett jovially.  "We will break some more speed
laws, by George. I want something to eat."

"We have heard nothing from father," teased Henrietta, her laughing eyes
on the Watermelon’s face, full of tender amusement. He was so young and
looked so serious and almost unhappy that she was unhappy herself.

The Watermelon was unhappy.  By this time they should have been in
Harrison, with the parting over, and he wanted it over.  The thought
that they would probably be together a day longer did not please him.
The sooner he took to the road again and became a bum and a hobo, the
better.  Billy did not care for him.  He was the only one who would
suffer, and every moment he was with her only made the suffering worse.
He turned to Henrietta with relief from the thoughts that were
insistently bothering him and would not let him alone.

"Father was never in a motor-car," said he. "He used to say that his
funeral would be just another irony of fate.  The only chance he had to
ride, he wouldn’t be able to appreciate it."

"I know that it is terrible to be poor," said Henrietta, "but I think
people ought to enjoy other things than just those that money can give."

"What things?"

"Why, the woods and fields, a beautiful day—"

"Rent day, probably, and no rent money. Father used to say when you’re
poor, every day is rent day."

"We’re nearing the end of the woods," cried Bartlett.  "And I think I
see a house."

And then the car stopped.

"Gid ap," chirped Bartlett.

Henrietta leaned forward.  The general was hastily trying all the
brakes, slipping one lever then the other, fussing here and fussing
there, and Henrietta knew the symptoms of approaching trouble.

"Father, is there anything the matter?"

"Oh, no," pleaded Billy.  "Not here?"

The Watermelon leaned forward and opened the door.  "Every one get out,"
he ordered. "We can walk to the house.  We mustn’t monkey with the car
unless we want a pile of junk on our hands."

He stepped out and turned to help the girls.

"Not at all," declared the general.  "I know all about a car.  I can fix
it directly."  He alighted and started to raise the bonnet.  The
Watermelon intervened.

"Look in the gasolene tank first," he begged.

The general was already deep in the mechanism, oblivious to all else.
"It’s the carburetor—"

"Carburetor nothing," pleaded the Watermelon. "It’s the gasolene."

"Yes," agreed Henrietta indiscreetly, "maybe it is."

"That won’t help us any," snapped the general angrily.  "Where can we
get more?  Much better to have something else wrong—"

"Not for the car," said the Watermelon. "None of us would be able to fix
it."

"My dear sir," said the general warmly, "I have owned this car for a
year—"

"I know," murmured the Watermelon.  "I think it marvelous."

"I am perfectly capable—"

"Will you bet with me," interrupted the Watermelon, "that it’s the
gasolene?  Alphonse may have filled the other car at the expense of this
one."

It was the gasolene, or rather the lack of gasolene, that had stopped
the car.

"That’s where a horse beats a car," lamented Henrietta.  "You don’t have
to keep bothering with their works."

She sat down on the car step and clasped her hands in her lap.  "We
could spend the night here, but in the morning we wouldn’t be any nearer
gasolene than we are now."

"I’m not fretting about gasolene," said Bartlett. "I want something to
eat.  Let’s all go to that house—"

"We can’t leave the car," objected the general.

"No one could go off with the car," argued Henrietta.

"And we can get them to send a horse," added Bartlett.  "I am starving."

"I feel like the car," said Billy.  "I have no gasolene."

"I can not leave the car," reiterated the general, and Henrietta
realized that that settled it as far as the general was concerned, and
that it would take her greatest tact to unsettle it.

"I will go and get a farmer and a horse," said the Watermelon,
unexpectedly siding with the general.  "We would have to be here anyway,
to see that they towed it in right."

"A horse would do," said Billy gravely. "We don’t need the farmer."

"I have hopes of Billy sometimes," said Bartlett, regarding his daughter
quizzically.  "I sometimes even think that she may grasp the difference
between sunshine and rain and realize it’s best to keep out of the
latter."

Billy looked hurt.  "Father doesn’t like me any more," said she, adding
shrewdly, "He thinks I’m getting rather too old for him, anyway."

Bartlett blushed, Henrietta laughed and the general roared.

"You grown-up daughters are so hard to explain," said he.  "Not once do
you offer to be a sister to us."

"I wouldn’t be a sister to father for anything," protested Billy.  "He
must be fifty, at least."

Bartlett flushed angrily.  He dared not glance at Henrietta.  "I am
forty-five," said he coldly, which was at least two years and a half as
near the truth as Billy’s rash statement.

"Yes," sneered Billy.  "And I’m only eighteen."

Henrietta changed the subject.  When one is eighteen one can announce
the fact loudly and cheerfully.  When one is thirty-five, one prefers to
talk of other things.

"Why not all go for the horse?  The car will be all right, father; and I
am so hungry," she added pathetically.



                             *CHAPTER XIX*

                           *A BROKER PRINCE*


"I am going," said Billy with determination.

"We can’t leave the general alone," objected Bartlett.

"I don’t see how I would be able to help the general any," returned
Billy in injured accents.

"I thought you could push him in the car," explained Bartlett with
gentle sarcasm.

"You all wait here," said the Watermelon. "I will go and get you
something to eat and see about having the car towed, also about rooms
for the night."

"Why not all go?" pleaded Henrietta.  "Why wait here starving—"

"I can go faster alone," answered the Watermelon.

"Certainly, certainly," seconded the general. "We would have to help you
girls over every wooden fence and under every barb wire one we came to.
You would probably even then get stuck on one or under the other."

"I never get stuck on anything," contradicted Billy perversely.

Henrietta laughed.  "Billy, cheer up.  The worst is yet to come."

"That house may be empty," said the Watermelon. "Then we would be all
over there and have to come back."

"We’ve been in empty houses before," said Henrietta crossly.

"But what good would that do, to be over there without food?" asked the
Watermelon.

"What good to be here without gasolene?" retorted Henrietta.

"I can not leave the car," reiterated the general.

"Father," exclaimed the exasperated Henrietta, "some night I will find
that you have taken the car to bed with you."

"Suppose we leave the car here—" began the general argumentatively.

"We can’t," sighed Henrietta.  "Such a supposition would be impossible
with you the owner of the car."

The Watermelon laughed.  "Aw, cut out the conversation," said he.  "I
will be right back."

"So will I," said Billy.

Now the Watermelon objected.  He did not feel equal to a _tête-à-tête_
with the adorable Billy, adorable still, though a bit cross.

"Cut out the conversation," mimicked Billy, and scrambled with more
speed than grace under the broken bars of the worm-eaten fence.

The Watermelon leaped the fence after her. Henrietta slipped under the
fence after the Watermelon.  Bartlett hesitated one moment, glanced
guiltily at the deserted general and then followed Henrietta.

Billy and the Watermelon were young and light of foot and soon
outdistanced the stout Bartlett, who did his gallant best to keep up
with the nimble Henrietta, but found that the years of good living told
against him.

Henrietta waited politely for him at the stone wall which Billy had just
scaled and the Watermelon jumped.

"What are we hurrying for?" asked Bartlett, removing his hat to wipe his
heated brow.

"I am sure I don’t know," laughed Henrietta. "Monkey see, monkey do, I
suppose. That is why there is such a thing as style.  No one thinks."

"If we waited here," suggested Bartlett, "our dinner would come to us."

"As the office to the man," agreed Henrietta.

"Precisely."

Henrietta sat down on the wall and Bartlett leaned beside her, gazing
over the field to the distant woods.  He felt thoroughly comfortable and
contented.  No matter what happened now, Batchelor could not reach the
city by Saturday.  The cotton ring was saved.

The scene before them was a typical Maine landscape, rugged, hilly,
beautiful, with the long shadows of approaching evening creeping across
the fields.  From where they rested, the farm seen from the road was
hidden from sight.  The whole place seemed desolate, primeval, with a
beauty and a charm that were all its own.

Henrietta drew a quick sigh of pleasure and fell silent, with dreaming
eyes wandering into the mysterious shades of the distant woodland, her
hunger for the time forgotten.  The place, the time of day, just at
eventide, suggested romance, the one man and the one woman, and the
world not lost, but just attained.  She wished she was Billy, young and
foolish and pretty, and that Bartlett was the Watermelon, long-limbed,
broad-shouldered, with the glory of youth that sees only glory down the
pathway of the future.

Bartlett broke in upon her reveries.  "See that hill?" and he waved
toward the slope ahead of them.

Henrietta nodded, still wrapped in her dream.  "The hill of life," said
she, "with glory at its top."

"A railroad," said Bartlett, prosaically matter-of-fact, "a railroad has
been cut through the hill.  See, there go the children, suddenly out of
sight."

Henrietta came back to earth.  "How do you know?  Maybe there is just a
steep incline the other side and that is why they disappeared so
quickly."

"No, there is a cut up there.  Don’t you notice how abrupt it looks, and
there are no trees or bushes.  They haven’t had time to grow since the
cut was made.  And those big lumps, see, covered with grass, they are
the earth thrown up out of the cut.  It’s the Grand Trunk.  It runs
through Maine, you know, into New Hampshire."

Henrietta nodded and frowned.  "There is no more romance," and she threw
out her hands with a graceful gesture of hopeless disappointment.  "It
went when the first steam-engine came."

Bartlett looked at her, amused, with a man’s tolerance.  "What do you
want romance for? A railroad pays better."

"Pays, pays, pays," cried Henrietta.  "I want something that doesn’t
pay—that isn’t associated with returns.  You men have nothing but a
bank-book for a heart.  It’s so lovely here, so quiet.  Don’t you feel
it?  With the shadows creeping across the pasture?  I was young and
beautiful—"

"And a princess."

"No, a goose maid.  My hair was brown and thick and hung over each
shoulder in two long braids.  I was bare-headed, with sleeves rolled to
the elbows of my shapely arms—"

"You would have got malaria," said Bartlett. "It’s very damp here.  I
think there must be a pond over there in the woods.  You can hear the
frogs."

"Oh, yes," agreed Henrietta.  "I would have had malaria and rheumatism,
but I wouldn’t have cared, then—for you see, I had come after the geese,
and down here in the tiny glen, with the hush of evening over all, I had
met him—"

"Who?  Me?"

"My lover," said Henrietta.

"Me," said Bartlett softly, and to Henrietta’s surprise he laid his hand
gently on hers.

Henrietta blushed and looked away.  Her lover, this stout, grim,
hard-eyed man of business?  She raised her hands to her cheeks and her
heart fluttered so she could hardly breathe, while before her startled
gaze swam the vision the years had been unconsciously forming. Had
romance come to her thus late, in this guise?  Was a middle-aged member
of the New York Stock Exchange her prince?

"Henrietta," he asked gently, leaning toward her, "shall I finish the
story?"

"Why no," said Henrietta, "there was no finish.  It had just begun."

"Just begun," whispered Bartlett, and took her suddenly into his arms.

"Oh, please," begged Henrietta, feeling that modesty called for some
remonstrance.

"Please," he taunted.  "When you were the goose girl and I was the
prince, you didn’t say please."

Henrietta laughed.  "And neither did the prince," she dared him.

"No decent lover would," said Bartlett, bending and kissing her full on
her whimsical mouth.

After some little time they saw the others reappear over the top of the
hill.  Henrietta had returned to her seat on the fence and Bartlett was
beside her, his arm around her waist, her head on his shoulder with a
simplicity truly bucolic.  So might the Parkers’ shifty-eyed stable-boy
be wooing the slatternly maid-servant in some secluded place behind the
barn.

Henrietta straightened quickly and blushing crimson after the manner of
the maid-servant, raised her hands to her hair so that one side of her
coiffure might not appear unnecessarily flattened before the sharp eyes
of the youthful Billy.

"Aren’t we silly?" said she, glancing at Bartlett with the same
expression with which the maid-servant would have glanced at the
stable-boy.

"Why silly?" demanded Bartlett.  "We love each other, don’t we?  Why
shouldn’t I put my arm around you?"

"Oh," said Henrietta, "you should, but—er—er we seem so old for such
things."

"Old?" Bartlett laughed.  "Love is the oldest thing in the world."

"I know," agreed Henrietta, "but not before people."

"Why not before people?  People have become too artificial.  They must
not love, nor hate, nor have any feelings, apparently, before people.
Feelings are interesting and we ought to show them more."

Henrietta laughed.  "Oh, you are silly, silly, silly.  I never knew a
New York broker could be so silly, so mushy."

"There’s not a man living whom the right woman can’t make mushy.  Women
never realize how silly men are at bottom, my own.  They are frightened
by our exteriors, by the ingrain fear of the chattel for her master,
born in women since Eve handed the larger share of the apple to Adam."

"I always thought that I would be dignified and sweet—"

"You are, my love."

"No, I am as silly as you.  I put my head on your shoulder just as these
girls do whom you see in Central Park on Sunday afternoons.  I never
thought that I would be like that."

"You have never loved before—"

"Indeed, I have.  I have loved nearly every one I have ever met.  Most
all girls do."

"That isn’t love.  Merely an increased vibration of the muscles of the
heart.  Love—ah, Henrietta, do I have to tell you what love is?"

"No," whispered Henrietta.  "It’s just giving."

She paused, gazing before her into the deepening shadows of the evening
with misty eyes, for the first time realizing the completeness of life.

She nodded after a moment toward the approaching Billy and the
Watermelon.  "What’s the matter with the children?  They look so
serious, and yet they must have something to eat, for they are carrying
bundles."

"Probably couldn’t arrange for a tow for Charlie’s car and see where we
sit up with it all night and hold its head."



                              *CHAPTER XX*

                      *THE SEVEN O’CLOCK EXPRESS*


As Bartlett said, the hill was cut through by a railroad.  The deep
gully brought Billy and the Watermelon to a halt when they had
outstripped Bartlett and Henrietta, leaving them behind at the foot of
the hill.  The sides of the gully were overgrown with grass and tangled
briers, but a narrow foot-path led down to the tracks and up the incline
on the other side.  The Watermelon helped Billy down one side and
dragged her up the other.

"I would hate to be a tramp," panted Billy as she reached the other side
and paused a moment for breath.  "I would get so cross if I were hungry
and knew I couldn’t get anything to eat for a long time."

The Watermelon flushed hotly, but she was not looking, and when he spoke
he spoke carelessly enough.  "You would get used to it," said he.  "You
can get used to anything.  Father used to say that the idea of hell for
all eternity was an absurdity—you were sure to get used to it and then
it wouldn’t count any more as a punishment."

"I suppose that’s so," agreed Billy.  "But how do you know?  You weren’t
ever a tramp, were you, Jerry?"

"A tramp, kid, is the only man in America to-day, besides the
millionaire, who is his own master.  Do you know that?"

"I would kind of hate that sort of master," said Billy.

"A tramp never has to worry about rent—"

"I know, but I should think the house might be worth the worry."

The Watermelon changed the subject.

A grim, elderly woman, thin and work-worn before her time, listened to
their troubles in the faded, weather-gray farm-house.  Her man, she
explained, was out in the fields with the horses, but when he returned,
she would send him around and he would tow the car in for them.  She
never took boarders.  The house was a sight, but if they didn’t mind,
she did not and they could have two rooms.  She wrapped some bread,
fruit and cookies up for them in newspapers, and they started back to
wait with the others by the machine until the farmer came.

The still hush of evening was over everything, creeping with the
lengthening shadows across the pasture.  A flock of turkeys was making
noisy preparations for bed in some trees near by.  The frogs had begun
to croak and once in a while a whippoorwill called from the woods.  In
an adjoining hay-field, hurrying to get in the last load before dark,
the Watermelon saw the farmer.  A pair of sorry looking nags drooped
drearily, attached to the cart with its high, shaky load of new-mown
hay.

"I’m going to speak to him myself," said the Watermelon, stopping.  "It
will save time. You wait here.  I won’t be long."

"Give me the food," said Billy.  "I will take it to the others.  Poor
things, they must be starving."

"I won’t be long," objected the Watermelon. "You can’t carry it alone."

"Indeed, I can," protested Billy.

The Watermelon laughed down at her. "You couldn’t get up the other side
of the crossing," he teased.

"A girl," said Billy sagely, "is a lot more capable when she is alone
than when she is with a man."

She took the ungainly bundle and he watched her hurry away across the
fields, slim and graceful, dainty and sweet, while he was—a tramp!  His
eyes darkened with pain and he threw one hand out after the small figure
in a gesture that was full of mingled longing and hopelessness.

"Billy, Billy," he whispered, then turned from the thoughts which were
coming thick and fast and started toward the distant field and the
farmer.

[Illustration: "Billy, Billy," he whispered]

The farmer listened with blunt stupidity, hot and tired and cross.  Yes,
he would come for the car as soon as he could, but the hay had to be got
in first.  It was late now. That train whistle you could hear was the
seven o’clock express.  His horses were tired, too, but, of course, if
he were paid, why that made a difference.  He would be around as soon as
he could get his load in.  It was the last load, anyway.

The Watermelon turned and far in the distance, echoing and reëchoing
through the hills, he heard again the scream of the approaching train.

"Billy win be across the tracks by this time," he thought.  "I will have
to wait for it to pass. Glad it ain’t a freight."

He hurried moodily through the field.  His position had become
intolerable and yet he could find no chance to get away without
revealing his identity, and to do that now would do no good.  They could
not reach the railroad any sooner than they were trying to.  He longed
for the morrow that would end it all and yet dreaded the barrenness of
the future without Billy.

As he approached the cut, he saw the smoke of the train rising above the
bushes, an express, tearing its way through the evening calm like some
terrible passion searing the soul.  The Watermelon stepped to the edge
of the cut and glanced carelessly downward.

There was Billy on the track, struggling to free herself from the rail
which held one small foot.  Around the bend came the huge engine with
its headlight already lit for the wild night run.

The next two minutes were ever after a blank to the Watermelon.  He was
in the cut, beside the white-faced, struggling girl almost
simultaneously with seeing her.  As he shot down the bank, he felt for
and drew his knife. The engineer had seen them and the engine screamed a
warning, while the emergency brakes shrieked as they slipped, grinding
on the rails.  On his knees, with one slash, the Watermelon cut the
lacings which, becoming knotted, had held her prisoner, then with one
and the same move, he had regained his feet and forced her flat against
the bank, as the train whirled by in a cloud of dust and cinders, brakes
grinding, wheels slipping, whistle screaming, a white-faced engineer
leaning horrified from the cab window.

Trembling violently, Billy clung sobbing to the Watermelon, her face
hidden in his breast. The Watermelon crushed her to him as if he would
never let her go, his arms tightening with the agony of remembrance.  He
was trembling as much as she from the horror of that terrible moment.
His head rested on her hair and he talked, poured out his love in a rush
of misery and thankfulness.  Words tumbled over themselves and were
repeated again and again, in phrases hot from his lips came all his
pent-up longing for the girl.

"Sweetheart, sweetheart," he whispered with white lips as Billy still
sobbed.  "Darling, hush. Dear heart, my love, my Billy."

After a time her sobs stopped and she raised her face.  The Watermelon
bent his head and they kissed frankly with the simplicity of perfect
understanding, perfect love.  For a moment they clung together, still,
then Billy was the first to rally.

"We’ve got to go," said she, her hands raised to her tumbled hair as she
tried her best to laugh.

The Watermelon caught her hands and forced them down, drinking her in
with hungry eyes.  Then he bent his head and buried his face for a
moment in the backs of her small hands, while something like a sob shook
his shoulders.

"Jerry," whispered the girl, a woman now, tender, compassionate,
gracious.

The Watermelon dropped her hands and turned abruptly.  "I’m a damn
fool," he muttered and picked up the bundle, still beside the track.

"Why did you come?" she asked, all solicitude for him.  "You might have
been killed."

The Watermelon did not answer.  He stalked across the track to the other
foot-path and Billy perforce had to follow.

Henrietta and Bartlett had not even heard the wild scream of the engine
as it shrieked past, and when the Watermelon and Billy joined them, were
too preoccupied to notice anything for long in any one else.  All four
returned to the general, quiet and apparently depressed.  The general
was depressed himself. He did not see how it would be possible to get
gasolene in that neighborhood, and without gasolene they might as well
be without a car.

Billy divided the bread and fruit, and without a word, they sat side by
side and partook of their humble repast, the two girls, the general, the
tramp and the financier.  The color returned to Billy’s face and in her
eyes was a great and shining light every time she looked at the
Watermelon, where he sat on the step of the car, bread in one hand, an
apple in the other, a part of the paper spread on his knees to serve for
napkin.

But he would not look at her.  His face was still white and he read the
paper before him that he might not think.  Billy knew of his love and
loved in return, white, pure, decent Billy, and he a filthy piece of
flotsam washed for the moment from the slime of the gutter.  Slowly,
precisely, he reread the article he had just read without having
comprehended a word of it.

The parting that evening was slightly prolonged, much to the general’s
annoyance.  He was tired and wanted to go to bed, and why the others
should prefer to linger on the small stoop which served for porch, he
could not understand, and what he could not understand always vexed him.
Bartlett wanted to take a stroll before turning in, and when the general
kindly offered to accompany him, he decided suddenly and rudely, the
general thought, that he didn’t care to go.  Henrietta wanted to sit on
the stoop apparently all night.  Billy wanted to walk, too.  Walking,
the general decided, ran in the Bartlett family, but instead of taking a
stroll with her father, she hung around the stoop with Henrietta; while
the Watermelon did not know what he wanted to do as far as the general
could make out.  He was quiet, strangely uncommunicative, seemed to be
thinking deeply on some important subject. Worried over the past week,
thought the general. Irritated and tired, the general could not bother
with such nonsense and tramped off to bed.

The Watermelon felt that he could not say good night alone with Billy.
He had read the desire in her eyes for a bit of a walk with him and to
escape the temptation, he wished them all good night and followed the
general up to bed.

All the strength of the man cried constantly for the girl, for her
sweetness, her charm, her grace.  But he loved with the love that is
love, that will give all and ask nothing, a love that is rare and fine
and that comes to king and peasant alike, and to no one twice, to some
not at all.  His week was up.  He would slip away that night when they
were all asleep.  Billy would forget him and he would be better with his
old cronies, fat blear-eyed Mike and James of the bon-ton.

Long he lay on his narrow cot and stared at the gray square of the
window, while the gentleman he was born fought gallantly with the tramp
he had become.



                             *CHAPTER XXI*

                         *RICH AND POOR ALIKE*


He lay staring at the window while Bartlett’s and the general’s snores
rose and fell, mingling in a steadily growing crescendo of sound.  As he
stared, he noticed suddenly a faint glow in the east.  It was too early
for daybreak and the glow was of a different color, brighter, more
orange in tint.  He watched it a while without comprehending, waiting
until it was time for him to steal away from Billy, back to the road
again.  And as he watched, he was brought to quick consciousness of what
it was by a tiny crimson flame which appeared for an instant and was
gone.

The Watermelon leaped to the window.  The barn, which, fortunately, was
unlike Maine barns, stood some little way from the house instead of
being attached to it.  With a mighty burst of flames the roof caught
from the sides, which had been slowly smoldering.  Every moment the
flames mounted higher and higher, fanned by a bit of a wind that had
arisen when the sun went down.  The place was filled with the summer
hay, and even as the Watermelon took in the scene, he knew that there
was no hope to do more than to save the live stock, if they could do
that.

Turning he aroused the general and Bartlett.

"Get up," he whispered, not to disturb the girls, "the barn’s on fire."

Bartlett was up and half in his clothes before the general had opened
his eyes.  The Watermelon had already slipped quietly from the room.

"Fire," cried the general hoarsely, at last awake.  He stood a moment in
the window, brightly lighted now from the dancing flames in the summer
darkness.  Then he swore.

"My car!"

"Quick."  snapped Bartlett.  "The gasolene—"

"There was no gasolene," said the general sadly, as one would talk about
a loved and dying friend.  He turned mournfully from the window.

The fire had gained too much headway to leave the slightest possibility
of saving the barn.  The farmer, with the help of the Watermelon,
Bartlett and the general, had barely time to lead out the horses and
turn the cows into a temporary shelter.  When that was done there was
nothing more that could be done but to watch the walls crumble and the
roof fall in a shower of sparks and a roar of flames, leaping and
dancing in a mad riot of destruction. All night the fire burned and all
night the four men and the three women turned their efforts to protect
the house.

The general, by right and instinct, took command.  He formed a bucket
brigade, stationing the Watermelon on the roof, at one end of the line,
and the girls and the farmer’s wife at the well to fill the buckets at
the other end of the line.  They worked hard and quietly, as people work
when face to face with the grim forces of nature.  Under the general’s
able management the few sparks which did threaten were quickly
extinguished and save for a slight scorching here and there the house
was safe.  In the excitement no one but the general thought of the
general’s car.

The cold, gray streaks of dawn found them worn out, excited and hungry.
Unable to console the farmer and his wife, the five drew in a semicircle
around the smoldering heap which had been the barn, and forlornly
watched the last tiny flames licking around the twisted, blackened ruin
that had once been a motor-car.

"Gone," said the general sadly.

And Billy sniffed.

"Better Alphonse had taken it," lamented Henrietta.

"What shall we do now?" asked Bartlett. It was Saturday and Batchelor
would not be able to reach New York now no matter what happened.  He had
won, the ring was safe, but he turned sadly to the general, and laid his
hand kindly on his old friend’s shoulder. "Hard luck, man," said he.
"Hard luck."

"We will have to go home," said Henrietta dully.

"We have no money," replied the general quietly, unmoved by his
penniless condition, thinking only of the motor-car that was no more.

"I have a little," said Henrietta.  "About six dollars."

"We owe at least all of that here for supper and rooms," said Bartlett.

Henrietta glanced from one to the other, then laughed, a gay little
bubble of mirth. They had no money, but what did that matter? What did
anything matter when one loved and is loved?  She felt guilty because
she was not sorrier over the loss of the car, and she patted the general
lovingly on the shoulder.

"Cheer up, daddy, we haven’t a cent, none of us," she crooned.

"We can telegraph," suggested Billy.

"From where?" asked Bartlett shortly.

"Why, we can drive somewhere where we can," returned Billy desperately,
under her father’s calm scrutiny of amusement.

"Drive what?" asked Bartlett.

"A horse," said Henrietta mildly.

"What horse?" questioned Bartlett.  "There are two.  The farmer wants
them both to help clear up and to go to a neighbor’s for assistance.
What shall we drive?"

"Shank’s mare," said Henrietta.  "At the nearest farm, we can get a team
and drive to some town where we can telegraph."

Bartlett and Billy agreed.  The general said nothing.  There was nothing
to say.  The dream of his heart, the occupation of his days, was gone.
What was there to say?

The Watermelon also was silent.  He felt that he could not leave them,
now that they were again in trouble.  When they reached the town and had
telegraphed, he would go—back to the road.  He was chewing a straw,
hands in his pockets, gazing with the others in dull apathy at the
remains of the car, and he raised his head instinctively to read the sky
for approaching storms.  There would be a moon that night and a good
breeze, which would make walking easy.

"Hungry?" asked Billy gaily, smiling at him, her eyes asking what the
matter was. Had she done anything to offend him since the evening before
when they had climbed the railroad cut together?

"I’m always hungry, Billy," said he and joined the general on the way to
the house.

Billy stood a moment, hurt and flushed, then she followed the others in
to breakfast.

The farmer’s wife had made some hot coffee, strong and black, and fried
some bacon, and with thick slices of bread and butter, they all ate
ravenously at the bare deal table in the kitchen, with no pretense
whatever of tablecloth or napkins.  The Watermelon and the farmer’s wife
stood alone in the kitchen after the others had left and he looked down
kindly at her with the camaraderie felt only by one unfortunate in
trouble for another in a like place.

"It’s damn hard on you," he said.

"And on him," said the woman.  "All the hay was just in."

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures—" murmured the Watermelon
laconically, instinctively turning to the Bible on every occasion.
"Pity you aren’t a man.  Then you could chuck the whole show and hit the
road with me.  I’m stony broke, too."

He patted her shoulder gently and tears leaped into the woman’s tired
eyes.  She cried a bit and he soothed her softly as one would soothe a
tired child.

"Those others," said she, wiping her eyes on her coarse apron, "they are
kind, but they don’t understand."

"They mean well," said the Watermelon, "but you have to go through the
mill yourself, to _do_ well.  I know what poverty means.  Its ways ain’t
ways of pleasantness by a dog-gone sight."


"Beggars all, beggars all," cried Henrietta, as they started up the
road, in the dewy freshness of early morning.

It was still early and quite cool, with the breeze of the night
following them, laden with the depressing odor of charred timbers and
burning leather.  The road wound around a hill, sloping now and again
into the valley and rising again to the heights.  The view swept fields
and hills and woods, all of the deep green of mid-June, and over all
bent the blue sky of a summer day.

The air was like ozone.  It was a physical joy simply to walk, to
breathe the odor of fields and woods and open places and to let one’s
eyes dwell on the beauty and the glory of the land.

"I am glad it pleases you, Henrietta," said the general tartly.

Henrietta sobered.  "Father, I feel as badly as you do about the car.
But I can’t go into mourning for it."

"You needed another one anyway," consoled Billy, with the kindly
reassurance and hopeless misunderstanding of the rich.  "The last model
is out now, you know."

"Billy," said Henrietta, "do you think we can buy a car every time the
humor moves us? You don’t understand."

"I know," said Billy humbly, crushed under repeated rebuffs from every
one.  "I am a perfect fool, Henrietta, but I can’t help it."

If the general could have forgotten the car for a while, he would have
been agreeably pleased and flattered by the Watermelon’s sudden apparent
infatuation for him.  The young man insisted on walking with him,
suiting his long, lazy strides to the general’s best endeavors.
Bartlett, Henrietta and Billy swung along briskly ahead.  Henrietta was
touched. The boy was trying to show his sympathy, she thought, and liked
him more than ever.

It was nearly noon when they came in sight of their destination, a gaunt
gray farm-house, perched on the top of the gentle slope overlooking the
valley and the winding river to the woods on the hills beyond.  They
came to the bars of a cow pasture and a narrow cow path leading across
the field to the house, a shorter way than by the road.

Henrietta and Billy, seeing no cows in sight, allowed the Watermelon to
let down the bars and to pass through.  Billy waited inside the fence,
standing by the path, among the sweet fern, until all had entered and
all but the Watermelon had started up the path for the house.

Quietly she watched the Watermelon as he slowly and reluctantly replaced
the bars.

"Jerry," said she, when he had at last finished, "what’s the matter?"
She had stepped into the path in front of him and he had to stop and
face her.

He flushed hotly and would not look at her. "There is nothing the
matter," said he.  "Why? What makes you think so?"

She drew herself up with pretty dignity. "You need not have told me what
you did yesterday in the railroad cut, if it were not so," said she,
quite simply.



                             *CHAPTER XXII*

                          *THE TRUTH AT LAST*


"Billy," began the Watermelon, turning aside with darkening eyes, his
flushed face growing slowly white as he realized that the reckoning had
come.  Billy must know all now, know who her companion of the past week
was, know the status of the man who had told her he loved her.  Then he
turned to her again with all his mad, wild, foolish, hopeless longing in
his eyes and voice and held out his arms.

"Oh, kid, I love you," he whispered, as she went to him, frankly and
happily.  "I love you so I can’t marry you."

"It’s old-fashioned to love your wife, I know," chirruped Billy, "but
let’s be old-fashioned."

"It isn’t that, Billy," said the Watermelon slowly.  He held her a
moment, looking down into her eyes as she looked up at him, her hands on
his shoulders, her head back.

"What is it?" she asked, frankly puzzled, but refusing to be dismayed.
"You can’t afford a wife, you who made three—four—millions this year?"

"Yes," said the Watermelon, grim and quiet, "that’s it."  He let her go
and thrust his hands into his pockets.  "I haven’t a cent, haven’t ever
had one.  I’m not Batchelor with a few millions.  I’m a tramp without a
cent, stony broke.  That suit-case," kicking Batchelor’s suit-case which
he had carried with him, "is another’s and I’m going to chuck it
to-night."

Billy stared, mouth slightly parted, her brows drawn together in wonder,
unbelieving. "Not Batchelor?" she stammered.  "William Hargrave
Batchelor?"

"I am Jeroboam Martin of Nowhere and Everywhere," said the Watermelon
bitterly. "That Sunday I met you, I found Batchelor in bathing down in
the woods.  I swiped his clothes, Billy, for the dinner I could get at
the hotel.  Then I saw you.  I wanted the week with you and I just went
on being Batchelor. See?"

"How?" asked Billy through white lips, staring at him from where she
stood in the middle of the tiny cow lane, winding away up the hill among
the sweet fern and the bracken.

The Watermelon raised his hand to his head and gently brushed his back
hair with futile embarrassment.  "Why, you know that guy we heard
coughing in the bushes?  Well, he put me wise to the fact that your
father—er—that your father and Batchelor were enemies on the Street and
I thought—maybe—er—if—why, your father asked me to go with you on the
trip, you know, and I thought—er—that if Batchelor was in the city alone
and your father thought he was with him—why, Batchelor could beat him on
the Street and not mind the loss of the few things I had to take—er—see,
I deceived the gang of you for a week’s fun. See what a cheap guy I am,
Billy?  A bad egg."

"Yes," said Billy.  "Father asked you to go. Why did he do that?"

The Watermelon flushed.  "Why—er—"

"Father knew you were an enemy.  He told me that you, Batchelor, I mean,
had made him lose a lot of money last week and would probably make him
lose more next week.  Maybe father thought as you did, that if you were
out of the city—" she knitted her brows and gazed off across the valley.
"Father telegraphed just before we went to that place behind the bam,
right after dinner.  I know, for I saw him go to the office.  Why don’t
you tell me the truth, Jerry?"

"God, Billy, ain’t I giving you the straight goods?"

"Not about father," replied Bartlett’s daughter gravely.

"Why—er—he may have telegraphed—"

"Certainly, he did," said Billy.  "This whole trip was father’s idea."
She brushed the subject aside as one to be returned to later.  "Tell me,
Jerry, isn’t your father a minister?"

"Yes, that’s straight.  He was poor, darned poor.  We were all poor.  He
used to say that a man with more children than brains had no place in
the ministry."

"I should think that possibly your father had brains," suggested Billy.

"Yes," admitted the Watermelon.  "But they didn’t keep pace with the
children."

"What happened to you all?  Why—er—why couldn’t you have worked at
something?"

She was gazing at him bewildered, trying to get a grasp on the new state
of affairs.

"Aw, we went from bad to worse," muttered the Watermelon sullenly.
"Father left the ministry.  He used to say that you could appreciate the
glory of the Almighty much better in a dollar bill than in the Bible."

"Maybe he had—er—no leanings toward the ministry," murmured Billy,
endeavoring to express as politely as possible her growing conviction
that the Reverend Mr. Martin was not a godly man.

"Maybe not," agreed the Watermelon.  "But when a man’s down, every one’s
down on him. Nothing father did went right.  Ma died and the home broke
up—I don’t know what’s become of all the others—working, I suppose, day
after day, like slaves in a galley, you know.  I tried it, and every
night I drank to drown the damnable monotony and stupidity of it all.
So, you see what I am, a bum—a tramp."

"And yourself, my love, my Jerry."

Billy held out her hands and he caught them and held them tightly in
both his own for a moment, then dropping them, turned away with half a
sob.

"Don’t, Billy.  Don’t make it so hard for me, dear.  We can’t marry.
I’m filth and you’re sweetness and purity."

"But other men have married.  You aren’t the only one who isn’t clean."

"I know, but I love you.  See?  When you love a person, you don’t make
them suffer for it.  You can’t understand, Billy, for you have never
known life.  You don’t begin to know what it means.  I will probably
marry a girl from the streets, or one with no brains and no soul.  But,
you see, I love you."

Billy’s eyes blazed.  "You will never marry any one else with me alive,"
said she.

"How could I marry you, dear?  I have nothing—absolutely nothing.  We
couldn’t have a home anywhere."

"We can make a home," pleaded Billy.  She leaned toward him and laid her
hand on his arm, smiling into his moody face with all the charm, the
daring, the tenderness of a woman who loves and is fighting for her
happiness with every weapon at her command.

"You can’t make a home with nothing to make it on," said the Watermelon.

"Ah, but we have something to make it on," cried Billy.  "We have you
and me."

"But no money."

"Why, Jerry, I have money; hundreds, thousands, dear."

But the Watermelon shook his head. "Money wouldn’t be any good when I’m
rotten," said he.

"Dear," crooned Billy, and kissed him on the chin, for she could reach
no higher.

"Billy," he groaned.

"Tell me you love me, Jerry."

"Tell you I love you?  Ah, sweetheart."

"Tell it to me, Jerry."

"Billy, I love you so, that if there is a God, I will thank Him all my
life for this week and the thought of you."

"You may not," said Billy, "when we have been married a year."

"We can’t marry, dear.  Don’t you understand? I am a tramp."

"And so am I."

"Your father will kick me out when he knows—"

"It’s none of my father’s business," said Billy with a saucy tilt of her
small chin.  "He’s marrying whom he pleases and I shall do the same."

"Wait until I speak to him—"

"No," said Billy promptly.  "I will speak, Jerry.  Promise me that you
won’t say a thing until we get to the town where we can telegraph. Oh,
Jerry, my love, promise me."

"I promise, Billy, kid."

"Promise you won’t say a thing until I speak."

"I won’t say a thing until I can’t help it, but what good will that do?"

"Let’s be happy while we can," returned Billy, with a pretty evasion.
"We have one more day."

"Oh, Billy," whispered the Watermelon.

Billy turned and led the way up the path to the house while the
Watermelon picked up the two suit-cases and followed her.

At the house they found the general with his usual inability to conceal
a thing, explaining that they had no money, but wished to have a
two-seated team and a driver to take them to the nearest town.

The farmer did not hail the proposition with unalloyed joy.  He looked
thoughtfully from one to the other while Bartlett explained earnestly
who he was, who the general was, who they all were, in a vain attempt to
undo the general’s commendable, if mistaken, frankness. Upon promising
to let the driver keep his watch as a guaranty of good faith, to be
returned when the money they were to telegraph for arrived, Bartlett
persuaded the man to give in and go to the barn for the horses.

Billy drew her father aside, while the general, Henrietta and the
Watermelon retired discreetly to the well for a drink.

"Father," said Billy, coming directly to the point and evading it with a
skill that befitted her father’s daughter.  "Jerry wants to marry me.
Oh, father, I love him so.  I love him as much as you do Henrietta."

Bartlett flushed and dismissed Henrietta from the conversation.  "My
dear Billy, you have only known him a week."

"I know, father," agreed Billy, "but a week is long enough to fall in
love in.  Truly, it is, father.  And we both care so much, so very
much."

Bartlett was secretly elated at the idea.  He and Batchelor, with their
differences reconciled, fighting together, instead of each other, would
become rulers of the Street, could attain to any height.  Batchelor was
young, clever, lovable.  There seemed nothing to object to.  But he felt
that he should.  Conventionality, Henrietta, Mrs. Grundy, one or all
would clearly see that there was something wrong, would counsel delay,
waiting.  He had never given a daughter away in marriage and was not
sure what to do.  He hemmed and hawed and wished that he could consult
Henrietta.

"We don’t want the others to know," went on Billy guilefully.  "Wait
until we get to the town before you say anything, won’t you, father?"

"But, Billy, a week."

"Now, father," advised Billy, "just forget it. And I will forget about
you and Henrietta."

"About me and Henrietta?" snapped Bartlett.

"Yes," said Billy, "and last night on the porch when you thought we had
all gone in."

"That will do, Billy.  We did nothing at all but say good night.  I have
no objection to Batchelor as a son-in-law from what I know of him; but
only a week—"

"It was only an hour," said Billy.  "I loved him that very first day.
And please, father, you won’t say anything, will you, even to him, about
it?  Just be nice to him, you know.  And then I won’t say anything."

"Certainly I won’t say a thing if you don’t want me to, Billy—but there
is nothing whatever that you could say."

"No," said Billy, "only what I heard."

The carriage drove up at that moment, which was well.



                            *CHAPTER XXIII*

                           *BACK TO THE ROAD*


Bartlett took the telegram the clerk handed him in an elation it was
hard to conceal from Batchelor, who leaned against the counter of the
store and telegraph office combined, and watched him moodily.

"Realizes that it was a piece of foolishness, his taking that trip,"
thought Bartlett with the sympathy of the victor for the beaten.  "Has
probably forgotten Billy for the time.  Poor Billy!"

He tore open the telegram quickly and read it eagerly and then slowly
and still again more slowly, while his florid face grew first red and
then white.

"Come back, for God’s sake.  B. here all the time.  Where have you
been?" signed by his broker’s name.

After the third reading, Bartlett raised his eyes and glanced dully at
the Watermelon, leaning against the counter, among the gay rolls of
calico and boxes of rubber overshoes and stockings, watching him with
thoughtful wary eyes, and Bartlett wondered if he were going mad.

It was late in the afternoon.  The general and the girls, having
telegraphed for money, had gone to the hotel to wait for the answers,
while Bartlett and the Watermelon had remained in the store, Bartlett
eager to receive the answer to the joyful congratulations he had sent
his broker on the success of his plan, and the Watermelon because he
scorned to run away like a whipped cur, preferring Bartlett to know who
he was.

"To ask me for Billy," Bartlett had at first decided, but changed his
mind as the youth’s gloom became apparently impenetrable.

Bartlett’s jaw was set squarely, sternly, his eyes gleamed angrily and a
small pulse beat in his cheek.  He handed the Watermelon the telegram
and watched him as he read it.

"Who are you?" he demanded hoarsely, when the Watermelon had finished
reading the message and returned it.

"Jeroboam Martin," said the Watermelon slowly, a grim amusement in his
half-shut eyes.

"Jero—what?"

"Jeroboam Martin."

"But Batchelor," stammered Bartlett, confused.  The power of suggestion
had been so strong that, though he occasionally thought the youth a bit
eccentric for a stock-broker, it had never entered his head to question
his identity.

"Batchelor is in New York," returned the Watermelon.  "I just
telegraphed him, C.O.D., where he could find his blooming car. Don’t
suppose the police had sense enough to look for it at the hotel."

"A low dirty trick," sputtered Bartlett.

The Watermelon agreed.  "Typical of the Street," he sneered.  "Yah, it
fairly reeks with the filth of money, your plan and mine."

"My plan?" Bartlett flushed and looked away.  "Stung," said he humbly,
and crumpled the telegram in his hand as he gazed moodily through the
open door to the village street, impotent to refute the words of the
Watermelon.

The Watermelon nodded without any undue elation, in fact, not thinking
at all about Bartlett, he was too entirely absorbed in his own troubles.

"I suppose you are his partner—friend?" questioned Bartlett, after a
moment’s painful readjusting of ideas.

"No, I am a stranger.  We met by chance, as you might say.  I am a
tramp."

"A tramp!"  Bartlett’s business chagrin vanished before the rush of his
paternal alarm and surprise.  "But, by heavens, man, I told Billy she
could marry you."

The horror in his tones angered the Watermelon. The hot blood leaped
into his face and his hands clenched.

"Well, why not?" he demanded.  "I am a man if I am a tramp."

"Bah," sneered Bartlett.  "A man?  A cow, rather, an animal too lazy to
work.  I suppose you stole your clothes."

Both talked in low voices that the clerk, who only restrained himself
from approaching by the exertion of tremendous will power, might not
hear them.  The Watermelon’s face was very white, and he spoke slowly,
carefully, as he retold the episode of the swimming-hole and the stolen
car, still leaning against the varied assortment of dress goods.  "I
borrowed these clothes," he concluded, "to keep you away from New York
for a week.  That object may not sound original to you, and it wasn’t.
You were the one who suggested it to me through the telegraph clerk last
Sunday."

"That boy would take candy from the baby," swore Bartlett gently.

"You were stung, that’s all.  I love Billy and she loves me.  I hate
work, but for Billy I will work and am going to work.  I love her."

"Does she know you are a tramp?"

[Illustration: "Does she know you are a tramp?"]

"Yes."

"You haven’t a cent, I suppose."

"No, but I can earn some."

"How?"

"Working."

"At what?"

"Something."

"What?"

"Anything.  Damn it, I ain’t incapable of anything but sleep!"

"I’ve lost thousands through that dirty trick of yours—"

"Yours.  You originated it, you know."

Bartlett leaned against the counter beside the Watermelon and glared at
the floor. Neither thought to leave the store, and even forgot the
clerk, who gazed at them dubiously from a discreet distance and wondered
how many more telegrams they wanted.

Bartlett knew Billy.  Billy said that she was going to marry this man
and so she would marry him—unless something more effective than verbal
opposition were used.  He had never exerted any authority over Billy and
knew that it would be too late to begin now. Billy would only laugh at
him.  But after all, he was Billy’s father, he loved the girl and had
some right to object to her marriage with a tramp.

He glanced at the thin clever face beside him and admitted that the man
had brains and apparently was not besotted or brutalized, merely
indifferent, lazy and wholly unambitious; besides, very young, impatient
of restraint and the dull grind of a poor man’s life.

"Who are your people?" asked Bartlett to gain time.  He must make a plan
to separate Billy from this impecunious suitor.  Authority was useless.
He must use tact, finesse.

"My father was a minister," returned the Watermelon.  "Yours was a
grocer.  Billy told me.  Families don’t count in America."

Bartlett nodded agreement.  "Why did you become a tramp?"

"Through inclination, not the whisky bottle. Not that I am above getting
full once in a while, ’cause I ain’t.  Just, I’m not a drunkard. See?  I
didn’t keep on losing jobs through drink and finally had to take to the
road because I was a bum.  I took to tramping because I hate to work.
It takes too much of your time.  An office is like a prison to me.  A
man loses his soul when he stays all day bent over a desk.  He isn’t a
man.  He’s a sort of up-to-date pianola to a desk, that’s all.  There’s
a lot of things to think about that you can’t in an office.  I wanted to
think and so I took to tramping.  Besides, I don’t like work."

"Lazy—"

"Yes," snapped the Watermelon, "but a man.  I love your Billy—my Billy,
and I can work for her."

Bartlett nodded indifferently, hardly hearing what the other said.  He
frowned thoughtfully at the floor as he pondered the situation.  If he
objected to the youth in Billy’s presence, she would stand up for him,
all her love would be aroused to arms and she would see no wrong in her
hero.  If the fellow snapped his fingers, she would run away with him.
What did Billy, tender, gently-guarded Billy, know of tramps, of the
rough, unhappy side of existence? Nothing.  But if she caught a glimpse
of it with her own eyes, saw this lover of hers in his true light,
dirty, drunk, disreputable, the shock would kill her love utterly and
Bartlett would not have to use that authority of his which was no
authority, which Billy would refuse to obey.  She had been free too long
for any one to govern her now.  The only person who could effectually
break the unfortunate tangle was the Watermelon himself.  Bartlett
glanced at the gloomy face beside him and read it as he had grown used
to reading men and events.

The Watermelon was young, hardly older than Billy; he was desperately in
love, with a love that was pure and true and generous.  He was thinking
of Billy and not of himself.  His opposition to Bartlett was merely the
anger aroused by Bartlett’s sneers.  He was in reality filled with
humility and repentence to a degree that he would do anything to kill
the love Billy bore for him, knowing with his man’s knowledge that he
was not worthy of her, and longing with his youth and love to sacrifice
himself for her best good, seeing through young, unhappy eyes, only the
past, his own shame and profession.  Forgetting the possibilities of the
future, he had gone to the extreme of self-loathing.  The one thing he
saw was his past, that past that was wholly unfit for Billy. It blocked
the entire view, crushed him with the weight of inexorable facts.  To
the young there are but two colors, black and white, and the Watermelon
was very young.  Bartlett looked at him keenly and decided that his plan
would work, that he would not have to take a last desperate and
ineffectual stand against Billy.

"See here.  In August we are going to our place in Westhaven.  It’s a
small town in this state, up the coast away north of Portland. Come to
her there at the end of August, come as you are, a tramp, dirty, shabby,
drunk—"

"I don’t drink, not as the others do."

"Come drunk.  Let her understand what being a tramp means, what your
life has been. If she still wants you, I hardly see how I can stop her.
That’s only fair, for what does she know about you and your life?  You
know all about her, what she has done and been and is going to do.
Leave her now, this evening.  Go on being a tramp and then come to her,
at the last of August.  Come as a tramp, mind.  Don’t let her think that
it is a test she is being put to or she will only laugh at it and us and
go on wanting you just the same, scorning to be tested, to think that
her love could fail.  Give her some other excuse for your going.  You
must see that it is only fair to the little girl to let her see what she
is up against."

"Yes, I see.  I tried to tell her," agreed the Watermelon gloomily.

"If she loves you through it all, she can have you, and I suppose I will
have to consent.  I can afford a penniless son-in-law and I guess an
American tramp is preferable to a European noble."

"I won’t be penniless," said the Watermelon. "I could work like a nigger
for a month and own forty dollars, thirty of which I would owe for
board."

"That’s just it," declared Bartlett promptly. "You can’t support Billy
in the way she is used to being supported, can’t give her the things
that have become necessities to her."

"I can support her in my own way," said the Watermelon, trying to reason
down his own benumbing repentence and humiliation as well as to convince
Bartlett of that which he himself knew to be all wrong.

"But that isn’t Billy’s way.  You couldn’t give her a servant, for
instance, and servants to Billy are like chairs to some people,
absolutely necessary."

"We love each other," said the Watermelon simply.

"That’s all right.  But you can’t always be sure your love is like
elastic and stretchable. Come as a tramp and I will give my consent."
Bartlett grew bold, positively convinced that Billy could no longer care
when she had once seen the drunken sot, promised as he had grown used to
doing on the Street, to do that which he knew he would not have to do.
"I will give my consent, if Billy still can care. I know that Billy
would be a lot happier with my consent, too, than without it.  For,
though the modern child has no respect for her parent’s authority, she
likes to have her wedding peaceful and conventional."

"Can I say good-by to her?"

"Yes, but I trust you not to let her know that she is to be put to a
test.  If you love her, you can see that I am right."

"Yes," said the Watermelon, "I love her and will not let her know."

He straightened up and pushed his hat farther back, with the slow,
inbred languor of the thoroughly lazy man.  "I love Billy, and that is
why I consent.  I tried to make her understand what I am, have been, but
I couldn’t."  He took a handful of beans from a near-by barrel and let
them run slowly through his fingers. "I suppose she will give me the
double cross."

"I hope so," answered Bartlett.  "I’m not very particular, but a tramp—"

"A gentleman pedestrian," suggested the Watermelon, with a faint flicker
of his usual sublime arrogance.

Bartlett laughed and held out his hand. "Well, good-by.  I’ve enjoyed
the week immensely, for all this rotten ending.  That scurvy trick of
yours—"

"Of yours," corrected the Watermelon.

"Yes, yes, I suppose so.  I hope that Henrietta won’t ever know.  Do you
think Billy does?"

"Billy isn’t as simple as you think," returned the Watermelon.

"What did she say?"

"’Father suggested the trip and he telegraphed after dinner,’ or
something like that."

"You didn’t tell her it was my plan?" begged Bartlett.  "I have to go on
living with her."

"No, I didn’t tell her, but she’s next to the fact."

"I will speak to her," said Bartlett hastily. "I wouldn’t like Henrietta
to find out about it. Billy has wanted a motor boat for some time. I may
give her one."

They walked slowly toward the door and once more shook hands.

"I would gladly have given the thousands I have lost to have you
Batchelor, boy," said Bartlett gently.

"Aw, thanks," said the Watermelon.

"Tell the others I will be around when I have sent another telegram."

The Watermelon found Billy sitting on the steps of the only hotel in
town.  It was a big, square, uncompromising affair, blank and
unattractive, and Billy, alone on the top step, looked somehow small and
forlorn and child-like.  The Watermelon sat down beside her.

"Where’s Henrietta?" he asked, ignoring her eyes and the question they
asked.

"Up-stairs," said Billy, "fixing up."  She raised her hands to her own
soft hair and bit her lip to get up courage to voice the question her
eyes had already asked.

"Where’s the general?" asked the Watermelon.

Billy nodded backward.  "In the office, trying to convert the landlord.
The landlord’s a democrat, you know."

"Come and walk down the road with me a bit?" asked the Watermelon.  He
rose and held out his hand to help her up.

Billy rose with a trembling laugh that failed miserably in its manifest
attempt to be brave.

It was late afternoon, sweet and cool as they left the village behind.
The deep quiet of the last of the day was over fields and woods and
road, the heat and strenuous business of the morning done.  Cows were
slowly meandering across the pastures to the familiar bars, empty teams
rattled by on the way home, the driver humped contentedly over the
reins, thinking of the day’s bargains and of the supper waiting for him.
The shadows were lengthening, long and graceful across the village
green.

Neither Billy nor the Watermelon spoke until they had left the village
some little way behind and had come to four cross-roads with the usual
small dingy school-house, door locked, dirty windows closed for the
summer and shabby, faded blinds drawn.

Billy knew from the Watermelon’s face that the interview with her father
had been far from satisfactory.  She feared that the Watermelon had not
"stood up" for himself, that her speaking to her father that morning had
not helped matters as she had hoped it would.  She tried to think of
something to say that would influence the boy, something she could do to
show him how she cared, so he would not think of leaving her.  The
Watermelon was silent, for, now that the hour of parting had come, he
did not know what to say, could not bring himself to leave her, gay,
foolish, light-hearted Billy.

He, however, was the first to speak.  The school-house recalled
miserable days of long dull confinement, and he nodded toward it,
pausing in the grass by the wayside.  "A standing monument," said he,
"to buried freedom."

"I never went to school," said Billy.  "It must be awful."

"Awful," the Watermelon shrugged.  "It’s taken ten years from my life.
Schools should be abolished."

They sat down on the tiny, weather-stained step, side by side, in the
gathering dusk.

"Billy," began the Watermelon earnestly, and then stopped.

Poor little Billy’s heart fluttered and she put her hand to her hair in
her nervousness. "You know," she said firmly, irrelevantly, "I love you,
Jerry."

"I know, dear," replied the Watermelon. "And I love you.  No matter
where I am, Billy, no matter what happens, you are the best in me and I
will keep you best.  I’m shiftless, lazy, no ’count, but Billy, kid,
I’ll always love you."

"And we will get married and live happily ever after," crooned Billy.

"I’m going away to-night, Billy, back to the road."

"Oh, Jerry, please, clear.  If father knew how much I care—"

"No, Billy, your father’s right.  He said to give you time; for me to go
away for a while and maybe you would get—over it."

"And if I did," demanded Billy, "if I loved another, wouldn’t you be
jealous?  Wouldn’t you kill that other, Jeroboam Martin?"  She clenched
her small fist and pounded him on the knee to emphasize the passion in
her voice.

"If he were a decent chap—" stammered the Watermelon, "it would be
better for you."

"It’s terrible," interrupted Billy, "when the girl has to do all the
loving."  She pushed the hair out of her hot face and stared angrily
before her, across the road.

"You only love me, but I love you.  See the difference?" asked the
Watermelon.  "It’s simply impossible for your love to be as great as
mine for that reason.  Your father said I could come to you the last of
August at Westhaven, and I’m coming, Billy."

"And then we can marry, did father say that?" asked Billy, turning to
him.

"If you care still," muttered the Watermelon.

"Care," Billy laughed the contrary to merry scorn.  "Care?  Why,
Jeroboam Martin, when will I not care?"

The Watermelon flushed and rose as the wisest course under the
circumstances.  "I’m off.  Say good-by to the others for me, will you,
Billy?"

"You will be my knight," whispered Billy. "And I will be your lady, and
no knight ever went back on his lady, yet, Jeroboam."

"You’ve got a darned poor knight," grunted the Watermelon.  Suddenly he
turned and caught her in his arms, dragging her to him and forcing back
her head to see into her eyes. "Billy, Billy," he cried, "will you be
true to me, for ever and for ever, no matter what happens, no matter
what I do?  Could you, will you love me always?"

"Always, always," whispered Billy.

"Dirty, drunk?"

"Dirty and drunk and sick and always," promised Billy.  "Only you won’t
drink, because I love you."

"Love never yet stood between a man and the whisky bottle," sneered the
Watermelon. "You don’t know men, kid."

He let her go and turned away with a shamed laugh.  "Good-by, Billy."

"Good-by, Jerry," replied Billy, frightened at she knew not what,
realizing that there were after all things in men’s lives of which she
knew nothing.  She walked with him to the fence and watched him swing
over it.

"Cross-cuts for me," he explained, holding out his hand.  She placed
hers in it and he crushed her small fingers until they hurt, then
turning abruptly, left her there among the brambles, watching him across
the bars.



                             *CHAPTER XXIV*

                        *THE POET OR THE POODLE*


The day was unusually hot for late August in Maine.  The grass was brown
and dry, the leaves hung limply on the trees and the dust in the roads
was ankle deep.  No breeze came from the sea, while the sails of the
pleasure boats drooped in warm dejection. Every one had sought shelter
from the sun, and wharfs, streets and houses of the small seaport town
appeared deserted.

Bartlett had taken himself off to the dim seclusion of the house, where
he lounged with windows opened, blinds drawn and a small table of
cooling beverages near at hand.  The heat, the drowsy, shrill hum of the
crickets and the muffled, monotonous roar of the sea had a soothing
influence and Bartlett let his book fall from his hands and slept,
stretched at ease in the steamer chair.  A door gently opening and
softly shutting aroused him.  He sat up, yawned and grunted.

"Hello," drawled a voice, slow, indifferent, familiar.

Bartlett recalled a week in June, when, with rare credulity, he had
kidnapped a stranger and had discovered that he had been the one in
truth to be kidnapped.  He turned his head and saw the Watermelon
crossing the room.  He knew that it was the boy by the size of the
shoulders and the grace of the long limbs, but the thin, good-natured
face was covered with a month’s growth of light hair, the brown suit
with the pale green and red stripe was a suit no longer, merely a bundle
of rags.  The shirt was opened at the throat, without a tie or button,
while the panama was shapeless and colorless, but worn with the familiar
jaunty ease.

"Ah," said Bartlett.  "Jeroboam Martin."

He smiled as one who meets an old and congenial friend, for Jeroboam
Martin had shown a fine capability for getting out of a tight place and
carrying through a desired project with success and nerve, and Bartlett
had grown to like the lad.

"Am I bum enough?" asked the Watermelon, with no answering smile.  When
one has come to test love, life is too grim for smiles.

"You are fairly dirty and shabby," agreed Bartlett.  "You look thin."

"I have had hard luck," said the Watermelon. "How’s Billy?"

"Pretty well, thanks."

"Expecting me?" asked the Watermelon, taking off his hat and gently
patting his back hair as he had a way of doing.

Bartlett nodded.  "Yes, but not exactly as you are."

"It’s tough on the little girl," muttered the Watermelon.  He sank into
a chair and stretched out his long legs with the weather-stained
trousers and dirty, broken shoes.  "Oh, mama, I’m tired.  Been hoofing
it since sun-up yesterday with hardly a stop, I wanted to see the kid
so."

"Well, go and get drunk," returned Bartlett. "And then you can see her."

The Watermelon frowned.  "See here, I don’t drink, necessarily.  I’m not
a brand to be plucked from the burning, a sheep strayed from the fold.
The whisky bottle wasn’t my undoing and didn’t make me take to the
highway.  I’m not fallen.  I was always down, I guess.  I hate work; I
hate worry and trouble, slaving like a Swede all day for just enough
money to be an everlasting cheap guy.  I like leisure and time to
develop my own soul."  He waved his hand in airy imitation of James.

"That’s all right," said Bartlett.  "But get drunk.  If she can stand
you soused, she can stand you sober.  She has got to know what she’s
getting, if she decides to take you after all."

The Watermelon’s tired face grew a bit whiter under the tan and beard.
He shrugged hopelessly and rose.  "All right, if you say so. I hope to
hell it will kill her love on the spot and she won’t suffer for it
afterward.  I suppose it will."  He started for the door and paused, one
hand on the knob.  "Shall I have it on you?" he asked with a smile.
"I’m broke."

Bartlett tossed him a bill.  "Is that enough?"

"Yes," said the Watermelon and slipped it into his pocket.

"Have one with me before you go," said Bartlett, pushing a glass and the
bottle across the table.

The Watermelon filled his glass and raised it.  "To Billy," said he.

"To Billy’s happiness," amended Bartlett.

Maine is a prohibition state, but the Watermelon had been there before
and knew just where and how to obtain what he was looking for.  With the
bottle in his pocket, he sought the beach and made his way up it to some
secluded place where he could drink in peace and out of the heat of the
sun.  A sea-gull flew wheeling gracefully by to the distant cliffs, the
waves, long, purring, foam-flecked, ran indolently up the gleaming
sands, broke with a gurgling splash of seaweed and tumbled stones and
ran back to meet the next one.  The ocean stretched limitless before him
and behind rose the rocks, hiding him completely from the sight of land.
With a grunt of dissatisfaction, he sat down and drew the cork of the
whisky bottle.

As the day advanced, the sun crept around the headland until it streamed
unchecked upon the Watermelon, sprawled, drunk and warm and dirty in the
lee of the rocks.  The combined heat of the sun and the poison he had in
him, called by courtesy whisky, grew unbearable, and he rose in drunken
majesty to find some cooler place.  The sun would soon have thrown long
shadows on the beach, but the Watermelon could not wait for that.  He
must get cool at once, and in the waves splashing, gurgling, laughing,
breaking at his very feet, he found a suggestion.  Where could one get
cool if not in the sea itself?  A steam yacht far away like a streak of
white, was seen creeping slowly landward, but the Watermelon did not
trouble about such a thing.  He began to undress, solemnly, stubbornly,
with the one thought to get cool.


The yacht, _Mary Gloucester_, was a gay little bark, all ivory white and
shining brass work. A brightly striped awning covered the deck, there
were large, comfortable chairs, with many-colored pillows and ribbons
and chintz, and daintily arranged tables to assuage one’s thirst and
offer cooling bodily comfort on a hot day.

The _Mary Gloucester_ was named after a poem of Kipling’s, and her owner
was explaining this fact, ensconced gracefully, if solidly, in a
many-cushioned chair, her feet a bit awkwardly on the rest before her, a
fan in one hand and a small, fat, white, woolly dog on her lap, his fore
feet on the railing, his mouth open and his tiny red tongue flapping
moistly from between his teeth.

"Whom do you love the more," asked Bertie Van Baalen, "Kipling or this
angel child?" and Bertie sought to pull one fluffy white ear near his
hand.  But the little dog snarled angrily and snapped sharply at the
hastily withdrawn fingers.

"Ah, the duckems, naughty man shan’t tease him," crooned the lady,
slapping at Bertie with the fan, while the little dog turned again to
the sea.

"Yes, indeed, Mrs. Armitage," said Henry Bliven solemnly.  "Tell us
truthfully, whom do you love the better, Kipling or the blessed
duckems?"

"Do not hesitate or seek to spare either of their feelings," urged
Bertie.

Mrs. Armitage laughed, fat, contented, placid.  "Oh, you silly boys,
comparing a poet and a dog, a blessed little doggie."

"I know it’s hard on the dog," agreed Henry, gracefully launching a
smoke wreath upward from his fat, red lips, moist like a baby’s.  "No
dog would care to be compared with a thing so far beneath him as a poet,
but all the same, are you a sport or an intellect?"

"An intellect?" questioned the lady, wrinkling her brows and gazing
puzzled at the youth in the chair beside her.

"Are you, in other words," explained Henry, "of intellectual or sporting
tendencies?"

"Think," warned Bertie, "before you answer. Kipling, a great poet,
author of sentiments that will stir mankind for all ages, sentiments
that will ennoble, strengthen—"

"Do you know," confessed the widow with the gleeful naiveté of a child,
"I like Kipling because he’s so bad.  He says such wicked things."  She
nodded and glanced audaciously from one youth to the other.

Henry reached wearily for his glass on the table beside him and Bertie
Van Baalen sighed heavily.  "You women!  You make us bad. Don’t you know
you do?  You want us bad, so we are—anything to please you beauteous
creatures."

"I don’t want you _men_ bad, just poets," explained the widow, fanning
herself slowly, cheerfully.

Henry waved the digression aside.  "Now, tell us frankly, truthfully,
black and blue, cross your heart, do you prefer a small, dyspeptic,
overfed, snapping bundle of cotton wool which is, for the sake of
euphemism, called a dog, to one of the greatest minds of the day?"

"Yes," said Bertie.  "Suppose we sat here now, and you had the blessed
angel, mother’s pet, and one volume of Kipling complete, the only book
of his in the world, and the only one there could ever be, the only book
in which we could hand on to our children and our children’s children
such sublime thoughts, the only book, mind you, and if you had to throw
one or the other overboard, a piece of sticking plaster or the greatest
poet of modern times, which would it be?"

"If I threw my blessed pet over, would you go after him, Bertie?"
demanded the widow, to whose mind a question of grave import had just
presented itself.  "Henry, would you? You know how I love my dainty
little kitty kit, would you save him from cruel death for me? For my
sake?"

"No harm," said Henry with feeling, "shall befall the angel child while
I live to protect it—her—him."

"For your sake," said Bertie, "I would die."

"Then," said the widow placidly, "I would sacrifice my own for the sake
of posterity.  For you would rescue him for me and you wouldn’t an old
book."

"Ah, no," protested Bertie, "that was not our proposition.  Neither the
book nor the latest thing in worsted—"

There was a splash, a gurgle and a horrified scream from the widow, as
with a sudden lurch of the boat, the little dog lost his balance and
fell overboard.

"Oh, my precious, my lamb," cried the widow.  "Bertie, save him for me."

"Yes, yes," declared Bertie, hanging over the rail and watching the
struggling dog in the water below.  "Yes, yes, certainly."

"Henry," pleaded the widow.  "If you love me—"

"Trust me," said Henry soothingly, hiding a gleam of satisfaction in his
mild blue eyes.  "I will have the boat stopped."

The widow’s daughter and chaperon appeared in the companionway, flushed
and sleepy.  "Mama, what _is_ the matter?"

"Caroline, my precious lamb," and the widow motioned dramatically
seaward. "Henry, you said—"

"I will," said Henry.  "I will have the boat stopped."

"I will do that," cried the widow.  "You jump overboard and save him."

Caroline yawned and raised her soft white hands to her tumbled hair.
"Do save him, Bertie, I’m not equal to the task of comforting mama, just
now."

Bertie looked at his immaculate yachting clothes and hesitated.

"Ah, you do not love me," cried the widow. "Oh, my baby, my own."

"I love you so," said Bertie solemnly, "I refuse to leave you in your
grief even for a moment."

A long white arm shot over the crest of a tumbled wave and was followed
by a man’s head and long, thin body.  The man swam well and quickly and
was making straight for the now swimming dog.

"A rescue, a rescue," cried Henry, and added softly to himself, "Oh,
poppycock!"



                             *CHAPTER XXV*

                         *AS HE SAID HE WOULD*


The widow leaned far over the side. "Oh," said she, "the man is naked."

"As truth," agreed Bertie.  "You might retire, you know."

"I won’t look," promised the widow, turning her back and peering over
her shoulder.  "But is he near my lamb now?  Will he, can he save him?"

"Unfortunately, yes, mama," said Caroline.

Bertie and Henry leaned over the rail and watched the rescue, the long,
easy strokes of the swimmer and the amusement on his face as a wave
carried the struggling dog within reach and he grabbed the little woolly
back.

"Saved!" cried Bertie, and turned just in time to grab Mrs. Armitage,
who was also turning to see over the rail, by her fat shoulders and
whirl her around again.  "Safe, dear lady, but look the other way.  Our
hero is clothed in the seafoam and his own nobility, nothing else."

Henry was already disappearing down the companionway, the yacht was
stopping and the crew standing by on the lower deck to lend assistance
to rescued and rescuer.

The evening was warm and sultry.  What little breeze there had been
during the day had gone down with the sun, while the ocean heaved and
moaned in long, green swells and ran softly whispering up the beach and
splashed against the rocks with hardly a flake of foam.  The sun,
sinking behind the hills, cast long orange and pink streaks across the
waves, and turned the small white clouds overhead a dainty, rosy mass of
drifting color.

Bartlett and Billy strolled down the winding street of the little
seaside town, out on the pier and stood idly waiting for the evening
mailboat to arrive.  Henrietta and the general were coming on the
evening boat to spend the autumn in a small cottage which the general
was pleased to call his "shooting-box."  But Bartlett’s pleasure at
seeing Henrietta once more was mingled with worry and uneasiness over
Billy and the Watermelon.  He smoked thoughtfully and watched Billy
warily, tenderly.  She leaned against a pile and gazed over the vast
unrest of the ocean to the distant horizon, with dreaming, unfathomable
eyes. Bartlett knew of whom she was thinking, whom waiting for more and
more eagerly every day now as August drew to a close and still he did
not come.  But this evening he had come, he was in the same
neighborhood, drunk and probably hungry.  When they met, as they must
and that shortly, would he make a scene, become loud-mouthed, foul,
abusive?  It would be hard on Billy, and Bartlett wished vainly that he
could spare her.  But it was best that she should know, should
understand fully and with a sudden quick cut it would be over with, the
June madness when one is young and pretty and care-free.  Billy would
read her folly in the bleared eyes of a shiftless fool. Yet the boy was
clever in getting out of a tight place, and Bartlett admired cleverness
intensely, not being slow himself when it came to a hard bargain.  The
boy had gentle blood in his veins, too, more’s the pity.  It was simply
a case of a good family gone to seed.  Poor little Billy and her puppy
love!  A most unfortunate affair, the whole mistaken, unhappy business!

"There comes the _Mary Gloucester_," said Billy, breaking into his
thoughts.  She nodded toward the yacht, steaming majestically around the
headland, pennons gaily waving and the bright awning a splash of color
in the afterglow.

"The _Mary Gloucester_," chuckled Bartlett. "That woman hasn’t the sense
of her ugly little poodle dog."

"I know," said Billy, "that is why I have always been so afraid of her."

"Why afraid of her?"

"For a mother," explained Billy unfortunately, but characteristically
saying the wrong thing.

Bartlett flushed.  "You just admitted that she was a fool.  Do you think
I would marry that kind of a woman?"

"Men always do," said Billy.  "A fool’s bad enough, but a fool and money
are simply irresistible."

"You know too much for your age," said Bartlett coldly.

"I don’t exactly know it," blundered Billy. "I just see it."

"Billy, have you ever seen me—"

"Yes, father.  That night in the pavilion at the Ainsleys’—"

"That will do, Billy."

Billy was hurt.  "I don’t mean to be nasty, father; but you asked me—"

"There comes the mail boat," interrupted Bartlett firmly.

Billy looked at it and sighed.  It was the last of August and Jeroboam
Martin had not come. Had he forgotten her in two short months?

Bartlett laid his hand tenderly on her shoulder. "Forget him, girlie.
He’s not worthy of you."

"He said he would come," whispered Billy.

"If he doesn’t, dear, you have me.  We have stood together through
everything for eighteen years and will stand, still, eh, Billy?"

Billy bent her head and rubbed her cheek against the hand on her
shoulder with a half laugh and a half sob.

With the first sight of the smoke on the horizon, heralding the approach
of the principal event of the day, the arrival of the evening mail, a
crowd had begun to gather, the usual motley crowd of a summer resort on
the coast. Townspeople hung indifferently on the outskirts, while the
summer visitors, in dainty dresses and baggy trousers, sun-burnt,
jovial, indefatigable, pressed to the front.  The hum of talk and
laughter grew as the crowd grew, good-natured, meaningless chatter.  The
sight of the _Mary Gloucester_, steaming gracefully into port, was
greeted with a gay flutter of handkerchiefs and straw hats, and Billy
and Bartlett, standing where the yacht would dock, were soon the center
of the laughing, merry crowd, ready and eager to welcome home the stout
widow, her unfortunate chaperon and the two "supplements," as a village
wag called the fat Henry and the slim Bertie.

As the yacht drew near, the widow’s corpulent form was seen by the rail,
on one side a tall youth, and on the other, two, side by side and
apparently in no very good humor.

"Three, by George," cried Blatts, a prosperous brewer from Milwaukee.
"She left here with two and returns with three.  Where did she get him,
Bartlett?"

But Bartlett did not answer, did not hear. The gang-plank had been
lowered and he was watching in numb fascination, the tall youth walking
beside the widow, her ridiculous dog in his arms.  It was Jeroboam
Martin in an immaculate white suit of Bertie’s.  His hat was off and his
hair, after the swim, gleamed soft and yellow.  For the sake of the
widow upon whose boat he found himself, he had shaved as well as he
could with Henry’s razor, and while his cheeks were smooth enough, he
still wore a small yellow mustache and goatee. Both were brushed until
they shone like his hair and they lent a fascinating and distinctly
foreign air to his long, thin, clever face.  In his arms was the little
dog with its enormous bow of sky-blue ribbon.

Bartlett wondered if he were going mad and seeing things that were not
so.  At two, or thereabouts, he had seen Martin, dirty, shabby, tired,
and had given him money on which to get drunk.  At seven, a yacht, which
had not been in Westhaven for over a week, carefully deposits the youth,
clean, fresh, well-dressed at his very side.  Was he mad?

Billy, too, had seen, but did not wonder. She knew he was a tramp, for
he had said he was, but she never thought of him or pictured him other
than well-dressed, well-cared for, gently blasé and a bit languid.  She
looked at him now over the heads of the intervening crowd and her heart
did not question how he came there, only rushed out to him with the
gladness in her eyes, the joyous smile on her parted lips.  He had said
he would come, and there he was.  Further she did not question. Their
eyes met over the heads of the people, eager questioning in his, joyful
answer in hers.

Hastily he dropped the pup with the sky-blue bow upon the wharf, among
the plebeian feet there assembled, and reaching Billy’s side through the
crowd, grabbed both small hands and stood laughing down at her.

[Illustration: And stood laughing down at her]

"Billy," he whispered, "Oh, you Billy."

There was, there must be some explanation, Bartlett told himself
desperately.  It could not be that this was not Martin?  Bartlett had
not slept with the youth for nearly a week without being pretty familiar
with the long lank form, the thin, careless face.  And it was equally
impossible that the forlorn piece of humanity who had stood that
afternoon in the drawing-room and inquired for Billy was not Martin.
They were one and the same and once more he and Billy had met on equal
footing.  To ask the boy again to get drunk was an absurdity.

"I suppose I can give him a job where he won’t have much more to do than
draw his pay," thought Bartlett, hopelessly, dazedly.

The Watermelon dropped Billy’s hands and turned to her father in
well-bred greeting, but their eyes met and in the Watermelon’s was grim
defiance.  He had seen Billy again and nothing could part them now.  All
his humility and repentance had gone, and in their place was his
old-time arrogance and sublime self-assurance.  Fate in the form of a
little white dog had brought him and Billy together again, with the
Watermelon, still clean, still well-dressed, and to all outward
appearances the same as the other gay youths of Billy’s acquaintance.
With head up, jaw shut, he scorned to lower himself for any one.  He
would prove himself worthy, not unworthy of Billy.  Out of his
repentance had grown his manhood.  He was no nameless hobo of the great
army of the unemployed.  He was Jeroboam Martin, son of the late
Reverend Mr. Martin, in temporary financial embarrassment that could be
soon remedied.  He would work for Billy and they would be happy on his
wages.  He drew himself up and held out his hand.  Bartlett could take
it or not as he pleased.  The Watermelon had sought or desired no man’s
favor, and Jeroboam Martin would not stoop to do so.

For one second the two stared at each other grimly, square jaws shut,
lips unsmiling, then Bartlett’s hand shot forth and he clasped the
Watermelon’s.

"Ah, Martin," said he, "how are you, boy?"

And still holding him by the hand, he patted the Watermelon on his arm,
jovially.  After all he liked the boy, and right or wrong, wise or
foolish, fate was against any other action, fate in the form of a
half-drowned poodle dog.

The Watermelon rested his arm on Bartlett’s shoulder with boyish
affection.  "Say, Bartlett," said he in a low voice, "I got drunk,
honest to rights.  But it was so blamed hot, I cooled off in the ocean
before I knew what I was about and that sobered me up again.  Then I saw
something fall from the yacht and I thought it was a kid from the noise
they were making, not just a pup.  I swam out to help and of course they
hauled me on board, and now the widow is planning to marry me."

Bartlett roared.  "Say, boy, er—er—maybe you need a loan until I can see
about that job for you."

Once more their eyes met and this time in complete and tender accord.

"You’re all right," whispered the Watermelon, his face softening.  "And
don’t you worry about Billy," he added, "I’ll take care of her."



                                THE END





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