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´╗┐Title: Mark Tidd in Business
Author: Kelland, Clarence B.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: WE SHUT UP THE DOORS AND COUNTED UP TO SEE WHAT WE'D
DONE]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                         MARK TIDD IN BUSINESS

                                   BY

                          CLARENCE B. KELLAND

                         AUTHOR OF "Mark Tidd"
                     "THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER" ETC.

                            GROSSET & DUNLAP
                        PUBLISHERS      NEW YORK

                 By arrangement with Harper & Brothers

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                         MARK TIDD IN BUSINESS

                 Copyright, 1915, by Harper & Brothers
                Printed in the United States of America

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                         MARK TIDD IN BUSINESS



                               CHAPTER I


The Wicksville paper told how there wouldn't be any school for six
weeks, on account of somebody getting diphtheria. That same afternoon
my father didn't get out of the way of an automobile and got broke
inside some place, so he had to go to the hospital in Detroit to have
it fixed.

"James," says my mother--that's my real name, but the fellows call me
Plunk--"I've--I've got to go with--your father." She was crying, you
see, and I wasn't feeling very good, I can tell you. "And," she went
on, "I don't know what--we shall ever do."

"About what?" I asked her, having no idea myself.

"The store," she says.

I saw right off. You see, my father is Mr. Smalley, and he owns
Smalley's Bazar, where you can buy almost anything--if father can find
where he put it. With father gone and mother gone there wouldn't be
anybody left to look after the store, and so there wouldn't be any
money, because the store was where money came from, and then as sure as
shooting the Smalley family would have a hard time of it. It made me
gloomier than ever, especially because I didn't seem to be able to
think of any way to help.

Mother went up-stairs to father's room, shaking her head and crying,
and I went outdoors because there didn't seem to be anything else to
do. I opened the door and stepped out on the porch, and right that
minute I began to feel easier in my mind, somehow. The thing that did
it was just seeing who was sitting there, almost filling up a whole
step from side to side. It was a boy, and he was so fat his coat was
'most busted in the back where he bulged, and his name was Mark Tidd.
That's short for Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus Tidd, and you maybe have
heard of him on account of the stories Tallow Martin and Binney Jenks
have told about him. Yes, sir, the sight of him made me feel a heap
better.

"Hello, P-plunk!" he stuttered. "How's your f-f-father?"

"Got to go to the hospital," says I, "and mother's goin', too, and
there won't be anybody to mind the store, and there won't be any money,
and we don't know what we're a-goin' to do." I was 'most cryin', but I
didn't let on any more than I could help.

"W-what's that?" asks Mark.

I told him all over again, and he squinted up his little eyes and began
pinching his fat cheek like he does when he's studying hard over
something.

"L-looks bad, don't it?" he says.

"Awful," says I.

"M-must be some way out," he says, which was just like him. He never
bothered fussing about how bad things looked. As soon as they began
looking bad he started in to find some way of fixing them up so they'd
be better. Always. He kept on thinking and then he turned to me, and I
saw right off he'd seen something to do.

"N-no school for six weeks," says he.

"I know," I says, not seeing what that had to do with it.

"G-gives you and me and T-tallow and Binney all the t-time to
ourselves," says he.

"Sure," says I, not seeing yet.

He wrinkled his pudgy nose sort of disgusted at me.

"D-don't you figger," says he, "that four b-boys is 'most equal to one
m-m-man?"

"Maybe," says I.

"Even if the man is your f-f-father?"

Then I saw it, and it sort of scared me. It looked to me like a bigger
job than Mark ever tackled yet.

"You don't mean for us boys to run the store?" I says.

"Sure," says he.

"But runnin' a store's business," says I.

"B-b-business," says Mark, "hain't nothin' but makin' m-money out of
somethin' you like to do. P-poor business men is them that tries to
make money out of somethin' they d-don't like to do."

"Um," says I.

"We'll enjoy runnin' the Bazar," says he, as if the whole thing was
settled.

"I'm afraid," says I. "S'pose we was to bust the business."

"We won't," says he. "L-let's talk to your ma about it."

We went in, and after a while my mother came down-stairs. I felt sort
of foolish when I told her Mark's idea, and it didn't get any better
when she said, "Bosh!"

But I was forgetting about Mark. He started in to talk to mother, and
he spluttered and stuttered along for fifteen minutes, arguing and
wiggling his stumpy fingers, and explaining to her how easy running a
bazar was, and just why he and Tallow and Binney and I were a lot
better able to do it than anybody else on the face of the earth. Why, I
began to believe him myself! So did mother. Mark knew just how to go at
it. At the start, when she didn't want to listen, he talked so fast she
couldn't find a chance to tell him to keep quiet, and by the time he
was beginning to slacken up mother was bobbing her head and almost
smiling, and saying, "Yes, yes," and, "Do you honestly think you
could?" and, "I _don't_ see why I didn't think of it myself," and
things like that.

"Why," says Mark, "you d-d-don't need to worry about the Bazar a
minute. Just look after Mr. Smalley."

"I wish I could ask your father's advice," mother said to me, finally,
"but I daren't. I'll just have to decide myself. And it seems like
there wasn't but one way to decide. I won't say a word to father about
it.... You can try, boys ... and it will be a--miracle--a blessed
miracle if it--comes out all right." Then she started to cry again.

Mark, he waddled over and patted her on the back and says,
soothing-like, "Jest you t-t-trust _me_, Mrs. Smalley--and don't
worry--not a mite."

It ended up by mother giving me the keys to the Bazar, and kissing me
and Mark, and telling us she was proud of us, and--hurrying out of the
room so we couldn't see her cry any more.

Mark looked at me and scowled. "Looky there, now," he says. "Looky
there. Guess we g-g-got to make a go of it. Calc'late she's got trouble
enough without us makin' it worse.... C-come on."

We went out and found Binney and Tallow. At first they wouldn't believe
us when we told them, but when they did believe they set up a whoop
like somebody'd up and given them a dollar to spend for peanuts.
Anybody'd think running a bazar was some kind of a circus, which it
isn't at all, because I've worked for dad holidays and Saturdays
sometimes, and I know.

"When do we start?" asks Tallow.

"F-f-first thing in the mornin'," says Mark.

"When they goin' to take your father?" Binney asks me.

"On the five-forty to-night," I told him, "and I guess I'll be goin'
home to see if there hain't somethin' I can help with."

"Where you goin', Mark?"

"Home, too. I got consid'able th-thinkin' to do. How'd you expect me to
m-make money with this business if I don't study it some?"

Anybody'd 'a' thought it was his business, to hear him talk, and I
guess he'd already begun thinking it was. No matter what he tackled, he
was just that way. Every time he set his heart on doing something,
whether it was for himself or for somebody else, he went at it like he
owned the whole shebang and had to come out on top or get dragged off
to the poorhouse.

I started to walk off, but Mark called after me:

"B-b-better gimme those keys. I'll be down 'fore you are in the
mornin', and maybe I'll have to go down to-night."

Well, sir, I handed over the keys and didn't say a word. I could see
who was going to be the head of that business while dad was gone, and
that feller's name wasn't Plunk Smalley.

"I hope," says I, after thinking it over a minute, "that you'll at
least give me a job."

"Huh!" snorts Mark. "If you don't git wider awake than you usually be I
dun'no's the business can afford to h-have you around." But right after
that he grinned, and when Mark Tidd grins nobody can be mad with him or
envy him or think he is bossing the job more than he ought to.

"T-tell your mother not to worry," he yelled after me.

It was possible for mother to go with father and leave me at home
because Aunt Minnie was there. Aunt Minnie was my father's sister, and
she lived with us because if she hadn't she would have had to live
alone, and she couldn't live alone because she was afraid. One day I
started to count up the things Aunt Minnie was afraid of, but it wasn't
any use. I guess if she was to set out and try she could be afraid of
_anything_. She was afraid of pigs, and of thunder, and of tramps, and
of bumblebees, and of the dark, and of sun-stroke, and of book agents,
and of-- Why, once she lay awake all night and shivered on account of a
red-flannel undershirt hanging on the line. I'd rather have stayed at
Mark's house or somewheres than with her, but it wasn't any use.
There's no fun staying with a woman that's all the time squealing and
squinching and jumping like somebody shoved a pin into her.

That night, after father and mother were gone, Aunt Minnie wouldn't let
me go out of the house, because, says she, like as not burglars have
been watching for just such a chance for years, hanging around
Wicksville, waiting for this house to be left with nobody but her in
it. It didn't seem to me like it would be worth a burglar's time to
wait many years for a chance at what was in our house. But you couldn't
reason with Aunt Minnie, so I had to sit in the house right when I
wanted to see Mark Tidd the worst kind of way.

Along about half past eight there come a rap at the door, and Aunt
Minnie let out a yell that startled me so I was close to seeing
burglars myself. It wasn't, though; it was Mark.

"Come in," I says to him. "I'm pretty busy keepin' out robbers, but I
guess I can find a minute to talk with you."

He just grinned, because he knew Aunt Minnie.

"I've b-been down to the store," says he.

"Oh!" says I.

"Just lookin' around," says he, "to g-git an idee."

"Did you git one?" says I.

"I did," says he. "I got the idee that n-n-nobody could find what he
was lookin' for in that Bazar 'less he did it by accident."

"Pa used to have that trouble," says I. And it was a fact. I've
known pa to spend the whole morning looking for a spool of
darning-cotton--hours after the customer that wanted it had got
tired and gone home. But pa never got provoked about it; he always
kept on till he found it, and then put it handy. Next day if
somebody come in for a brush-broom that pa couldn't find, he'd try
to sell them the darning-cotton instead. Old Ike Bond, the
'bus-driver, used to say that if pa didn't have anything to sell but
one spool of thread, and that was hanging by a string in the middle
of the store, he never would find it without the sheriff and a
search-warrant.

"F-first thing for us to do," says Mark, "is to f-find _everything_.
Got to know what we got to sell 'fore we can sell it."

That sounded likely to me.

"And," says he, "we got to hustle."

"Why?" says I.

"To get a head start," says he.

"A head start of what?"

"The other bazar," says he.

I grinned because I thought he was joking, and said to git out, because
there wasn't any other bazar.

"Worse'n a bazar," says he. "It's one of those five-and-ten-cent
stores."

"Be you _crazy_?" I says.

"They've rented that vacant s-s-store of Jenkins's, and there's a big
sign sayin' they'll be open for b-business Monday."

Well, sir, I was what Aunt Minnie calls flabbergasted. Why, Wicksville
wasn't big enough for two bazars--it was hard enough for _one_ to make
a living.

"I--I hope it's a mistake," says I.

"Oh, I dun'no'," says Mark, sort of squinting up his little eyes. "I
g-guess we'll git along somehow--and it'll be more fun."

"Fun?" I says.

"Fun," says he. "Hain't it more f-f-fun to play a ball game against
another team than it is to bounce a ball against the side of the house
all alone?"

Now, wasn't that just like him! If a thing was easy he didn't take any
interest in it, but just the minute you put some kind of a _contest_
into it, then Mark couldn't start in fast enough.

"Maybe it'll be fun for you," I told him, "but what about the Smalley
family that expects that Bazar to pay for what they eat?"

"Plunk," says Mark, "don't git licked before the f-f-fight begins."

"We can't sell as cheap as those five-and-ten-cent stores. I've heard
pa say so."

"I hain't so s-sure," says Mark. "We'll cross that bridge when we come
to it.... You be d-down to the store at seven o'clock," says he, and
waddled off home.

Now, wouldn't anybody think it was _his_ store? Wouldn't they? It
looked to me like he was trying to be the whole thing, but you can bet
I didn't feel that way before we were through with it. I was all-fired
glad Mark Tidd was around with his schemes and his plans and his way of
running everything in general.



                               CHAPTER II


I thought I'd steal a march on Mark Tidd next morning, and got to the
Bazar at half past six instead of seven. I figured he'd come mogging
along in half an hour and I'd have some pretty smart things to say. But
when I got there I found the door open, and inside was Mark with his
coat off and dust on his nose and dust on his hands, digging around
among the stock to see what was there.

"There's enough st-stuff here for three bazars," he says to me like he
judged it was _my_ fault.

"All the more to sell," says I.

"There's truck here you couldn't t-t-trade to Injuns for pelts," says
he, and then he grinned, "but maybe we can sell 'em to white folks for
m-money."

"When does the new store open?"

"Monday."

"And this is Wednesday." I expect I said it sort of downhearted, for
Mark wrinkled his nose like he does when he doesn't like anything, and
says:

"Figger on shuttin' the door and lettin' 'em have the t-town to
themselves?"

"No," says I.

"Then," says he, "git a box of starch from the grocery and f-f-fix up
your spine with it."

"They'll have a grand openin'," says I.

"To be sure. And we'll have somethin' that'll make a grand openin' look
like scratchin' a match at the eruption of Vesuvius." Right there I saw
he had a scheme already hatched, but he didn't go any further with it
and I knew it wasn't any use to ask questions. He'd tell when he was
ready.

"Come on," says he, "and let's find out what's here to sell."

We began rummaging around, and every minute or so we'd find something
that father had tucked away years ago and forgot. Every shelf was full.
There'd be a row of things in front, and then rows of other things
behind that had been pushed out of sight. I had a sort of an idea it
was that way, but in half an hour I was so surprised at the things we'd
dug up that there wasn't any more room for surprise in me.

By that time Binney and Tallow got there and Mark set them to work.

"Th-there's goin' to be _system_ in this store," he says. "Each of you
has got to be one of these things they call specialists."

My, how he spluttered on that word!

"As how?" asked Binney.

"Each feller will take so much of the s-store, and he's got to know
where every single thing in his department is so he can put his hand on
it in the d-dark."

We poked around and overhauled things and sorted and fixed up till
'most noon. A couple of folks came in to buy things and stopped to talk
and grin at us, and one old lady predicted we'd turn the Bazar into
what she called a Bedlam in a week. Nobody seemed to think it was
anything but a joke, but it wasn't any joke to us, I can tell you. We
were _working_. Yes, sir, if anybody ever worked, we did.

Along about eleven in come a man I never saw before. He was pretty
tall, and half of him looked like it was neck. That neck stuck out
through his collar so far you had to keep lifting your eyes a full
minute before you got to his head. His hair was kind of pinkish, and
his eyes were so close together they almost bumped when he winked.
Outside of that he looked like any other man except for a wart just on
one side of his nose. It was the finest wart you ever saw, and he must
have been proud of it. I don't know as I ever saw a wart that came
anywhere near it.

I went up to wait on him.

"Howdy, my lad?" says he, sort of oozy-like.

It made me mad right off, because there's nothing that riles a boy so
as to have some man grin soft-soapy and call him a lad. What is a lad,
anyhow? I never saw one, and I never saw anybody that would own up to
being one. But you mustn't get mad at customers, so I was as polite as
a girl at a party.

"Pretty well, sir. What can I do for you?"

"Is the proprietor in?" he wanted to know.

"No, sir," says I. "He's out of town and we don't know just when he'll
be back."

"Who's in charge durin' his absence?" says the man, talking like a
college professor looking for a job.

I was going to say I was, but before I spoke up I knew _that_ wasn't
the truth. Not a bit of it. Mark Tidd was in charge, and don't you
forget it. Being in charge was a habit he'd got, and nobody will ever
cure him of it.

"Why," says I, "Mark Tidd is the boss right now."

"I'd like to speak to him," says he, so I turned and called.

Mark came waddling up with the dust still on his nose and more dust on
his fingers, and what you might call a freshet of sweat cutting streaks
down his face.

"This," says I, "is Mark Tidd, our manager," and then I stood off to
see what would happen.

Mr. Long Neck wrinkled his nose till his wart moved up almost to his
eyebrows and squinted at Mark.

"I hain't here to be made fun of," says he, mad-like.

Mark turned his head on one side, and that's a dangerous sign. When you
see him pull his cheek or turn his head on one side or go to
whittling--well, you want to look out, for something is going to happen.

"What can I do for you?" Mark asked, without a stutter.

"I want to see somebody in authority," says Mr. Long Neck.

"I'm the b-b-best we got," says Mark, smiling sweet as honey.

The man looked all around and didn't see anybody older than we were, so
I guess he must have believed Mark. He took hold of the end of his nose
and bent it back and forth a couple of times as if he expected it was
going to help him talk better.

"I," says he, "am Jehoshaphat P. Skip. The P. stands for Petronius."

"I know him," says I before I could think. "He's in _The Decline and
Fall of the Roman Empire_. Mark's father knows that by heart."

"Huh!" Mr. Long Neck sniffed.

Mark looked at me out of the corner of his eye, and after that I kept
still.

"P-p-pleased to meet you," says Mark. "What can I do for you?"

Mr. Skip straightened up and lengthened his neck till he looked as
dignified as a turkey gobbler. "I," says he, "am the sole proprietor of
the Gigantic Five-and-Ten-Cent Stores, a branch of which is now being
located in your village."

You could see right off that Mr. Skip wouldn't start to argue with
anybody who said he was a great man.

Mark didn't say anything; he just waited.

"I came," says Mr. Skip, "to talk business--serious business."

Right off Mark looked serious. He did it fine. I don't believe there's
an undertaker can look more serious than Mark when he's a mind to.

"I came," says Mr. Skip, "to warn you."

"Oh," says Mark, "to warn us? Oh."

"I," says Mr. Skip, "propose to sell articles for five and ten cents.
In some measure your Bazar will conflict with me--you will be almost a
competitor." He stopped and bent his nose back and forth again.

"Yes," says Mark, "I calc'late we will--almost."

"But," says Mr. Skip, "it will not be a real competitor."

"Um," says Mark. "Why?"

"Because," says Mr. Skip, "I'm here to warn you not to encroach on my
business."

"Um," says Mark, again. "What was your ideas about en-encroachment?"

"Simple," says Mr. Skip. "I sell things for five and ten cents. You
mustn't. You can sell for a penny or for fifteen cents or for five
dollars--but not for a nickel or a dime. That's _my_ business."

Mark began tugging at his fat cheek. "I calc'late," says he, as gentle
as a lamb, "that there's some such law, eh? You got a law passed sayin'
nobody but you could s-s-sell for five and ten cents."

"I don't need any law. I say you mustn't. That's enough."

"T-to be sure," says Mark. "But if anybody was to g-go right along and
pay no attention, what then? Eh, Mr. Skip? What if somebody did?"

"In that case," says Mr. Skip, scowling until his two eyes looked like
one slit, "in that case I'd bust 'em. Bust 'em, is what I'd do. Nobody
can go against Jehoshaphat P. Skip and be the better for it."

"You're willin'," says Mark, "that we should s-s-sell for fifteen
cents, and for a quarter, and for a d-d-dollar?"

"Yes," says Mr. Skip, beginning to smile like the cat that ate the
canary-bird.

Mark thought a minute; then he says, "We'll m-make a trade with you,
Mr. Skip."

"What is it? Glad to oblige if possible," says Mr. Long Neck.

"We'll swap you the r-right to open a store in Wicksville for the right
to sell whatever we please," says Mark.

Mr. Skip kind of clouded up and I judged he was getting ready to
thunder a bit. He did. He roared and grumbled, and made a sight of
noise about it, too.

"Don't make fun of me, young feller. Don't make fun of Jehoshaphat P.
Skip. Nobody ever did and failed to regret it. I've told you you can't
interfere with my trade, and you can't. This is the first and last
warnin'. Don't dare sell a nickel's worth or a dime's worth or you'll
suffer the consequences."

Mark looked sort of meek. "My f-f-father says competition is the life
of trade," he says.

"I won't have no competition," says Mr. Skip.

"Maybe not," says Mark, still as meek as a sheep. Then all of a sudden
he perked up and looked right into Mr. Skip's narrow eyes. "Maybe not,"
he says, again, this time some louder, "but I'm calc'latin' you _will_.
I'm calc'latin' you hain't ever seen any competition till n-n-now." He
swept his hand around the store. "This Bazar," says he, "is full of
stuff to sell for five and ten cents--and it's goin' to be sold. It's
g-g-goin' to be made a _specialty_ of. I was plannin' on bein' fair. I
was figgerin' on makin' it as easy for you as I could, but now, Mr.
Skip, you're goin' to find your store's got the liveliest
c-c-competition in Michigan. We'll s-sell what we like for how much we
like.... Now, Mr. Skip, good mornin'. We're pretty b-busy."

Not another word did he say, but turned his bulging back on Mr. Long
Neck and walked to the back of the store. Mr. Long Neck swallowed a
couple of times so you could see it all the way from his collar to his
ears, and went out muttering to himself. Mark grinned at me and winked
encouraging.

"There," says I, "now see what we're up against."

"Hain't it b-b-bully? Better 'n I hoped," says he.

"He'll bust us," says I.

"He's more likely to bust his neck," says Mark.

"What you going to do?"

"I'm goin' to give Mr. Skip the time of his life," says Mark. "I'm
goin' to give him c-c-competition till he's so sick of it he won't be
able to eat it with molasses."

"But he's a business man, and he's got lots of money."

"Hum!" says Mark.

"His Grand Openin' 'll draw everybody in Wicksville, and maybe they'll
never come here any more."

"Plunk," says Mark, "Mr. Skip 'll think his Grand Openin' has a
smallpox sign stuck up on it."

"How?" says I.

"Folks'll never n-n-notice it's goin' on," says he.

I was beginning to feel some better, for it was as plain as the wart on
Mr. Skip's nose that Mark had hit on a scheme. "Why won't they?" I
asked.

He asked a question back: "What had Wicksville folks rather g-g-g-go to
than anythin' else?"

"Fires and weddin's and auctions," says I.

"We won't have a f-fire," says Mark, "nor a weddin', but you can kick
me seven times, Plunk, if we don't have the rippin'est, roarin'est,
bang-up-est auction ever held in the county."

I sat right down on the floor, kerflop. I might have known it. He'd hit
on the very thing, and done it as easy as wiggling your thumb. Almost
anybody can cook up a scheme, but Mark Tidd always cooked up _the_
scheme, the one that was copper-bottomed and double-riveted, and
guaranteed to do just the business where it was most needed.

"Where," says I, "will you git an auctioneer?"

"M-me," says he, and walked off to go to work just like he'd said he'd
play a game of miggles.



                              CHAPTER III


"What'll we auction off?" I asked Mark.

"That," says he, "is what we've g-got to find out."

"Let's auction everything," says Binney.

Mark just looked at him. It was enough. You could see how disgusted he
was, and I can tell you Binney kept pretty quiet after that.

"We'll auction old stuff," says Mark. "There's l-l-lots of things here
nobody could sell any other way. Whatever we get out of them 'll be
clear gain."

So we went to rummaging, and the mess of things we found was enough to
make you blink. We took all the rest of the day for that. Next morning
Mark had us clean tables up in front. About eleven o'clock we got that
part pretty well done.

"Now," says Mark, "we got to advertise."

"How?" says I. "We hain't got money to spend in the paper, and,
besides, it don't come out till the auction's over."

"L-lots of ways," says Mark. "Binney, can you get your pa's horse?"

"I guess so," says Binney.

"And the spring wagon?"

"Sure."

"All right, then. Now come on."

He led us to the storeroom back of the Bazar and set us to work making
a frame. This didn't take long. The frame was shaped like a tent. When
it was done we tacked some white cloth on the sides so it was tight and
smooth, and Mark got the lampblack and the brush and began to paint
signs on it. He could make letters as good as a regular sign-painter,
too, and that fast you wouldn't believe it. The same sign was on both
sides of the tent. It said:

                           GRAND AUCTION SALE

           Anything You Want For What You Want To Pay For It

                                   AT

                            SMALLEY'S BAZAR

                          Monday, September 30

                         MARK TIDD, Auctioneer

"Now," says Mark, "f-fetch down your horse and wagon, Binney. We'll set
this sign on the wagon. You can drive, and Tallow 'll sit inside and
bang on this drum."

"Where'll we go?"

"Out in the c-country this afternoon. To-morrow you'll ride around
town."

As soon as they had their dinner they started off, and Mark and I were
left in the store.

"F-first thing's to fix the windows," says he.

We picked out the showiest things and put them where folks could see
them--and there was everything from a patent churn to a toy duck that
waggled its head. One window was like that--just everything put in so
folks could get an idea what was going to be sold. The other window
Mark fixed up like a town. He used a lot of toys to do it, but we had a
lot to do it with. When we were through it was a regular sight, and
I'll bet nobody in Wicksville ever saw anything like it before. There
were streets and houses and horses and wagons driving along, and a
train coming into the depot, and a band playing in the square, and a
fire-engine going to a fire that Mark fixed in a house with yellow
paper for flames. It looked pretty real. There were churches and
stores, and folks shopping, and kids playing. It was pretty fine.

Next Mark made some more signs--one great big one to stretch across the
front of the store, and others on stiff paper to tack upon fences
around town. We were to do that after we closed up at night.

All this time we didn't see a thing of Jehoshaphat P. Skip, but we
found out he'd gone to the city about some of his stock that was slow
coming. We were just as glad, because he'd be more surprised than
anybody when he saw what we were up to.

"Bet Mr. Skip 'll most strangle all the way down his neck," I says,
"when he sees what's goin' on."

Mark's little eyes got bright and twinkly, but he didn't say a word.

Next day was Friday, and we spent that arranging stock. Mark had tables
moved to the middle of the store, and we covered them with all sorts of
things. This wasn't for the auction, but for regular business. The
first table was a five-cent one, the next was a ten-cent one, and so
on. You didn't have to ask the price of a thing. That made it handy for
us and for customers.

"L-lots of folks'll buy things they hain't got any use for," says Mark,
"just because they look cheap."

"Shouldn't think so," says I.

"Wait," says he. "Let 'em rummage around and see things all marked
plain. Right off they'll b-begin wantin' things. And they'll buy. You
see."

And I did see, Saturday. Those signs and windows got folks all riled up
with curiosity, and they began droppin' in to see what kind of a mess
we were making of it. Everybody acted like they thought it was a big
joke for Mark and us to be keeping store, but we didn't care. Mark said
that was a good thing, because good-natured folks buy more than folks
that don't think they've got something to laugh at.

We had more folks in the store that day than we ever had before, I
believe, unless maybe nights before Christmas. We let them joke us all
they wanted and didn't try to sell them things. What we wanted them to
do was walk around and sell things to themselves. That was Mark's idea.
You haven't any idea how people like to poke around by themselves and
stick their noses into things. They right down enjoy it. The more they
poked the more they bought. It kept Mark and me busy, and we wished a
lot of times that Binney and Tallow were there to help us. But we did
the best we could, and they were there after supper, of course. We kept
open till ten o'clock, and anybody'd have thought we were running a
free show to see how the place was jammed.

Mark got the idea of setting a phonograph going, and we had music all
the while.

Along about nine o'clock we saw Mr. Long Neck come pussy-footing in. He
stood in the door a minute and scowled and then walked all around slow,
and slinking, to see what we were doing and how we were doing it. Mark
said to let on we didn't know him, and then went up to him like he
thought he was a customer, and says:

"Anythin' s-s-special you was lookin' for, sir?"

Mr. Skip was like to have swelled up so he cracked his long neck right
there, and the way he woggled his nose back and forth was enough to
have put it out of joint.

"You're a-havin' that auction Monday just to interfere with my Grand
Openin'," he says, savage-like.

"Was you havin' a Grand Openin', Monday?" asks Mark, innocent as could
be.

"You know I be," says Mr. Skip.

"N-now hain't that too bad!" says Mark, still looking as serious as a
wall-eyed pike. "I hope it won't draw away from your crowd any."

"You better mark my word, young feller," says Mr. Long Neck, "and put
it off. I won't have no interferin' with my plans."

"Um!" says Mark.

"And these here five-and-ten-cent tables," says Mr. Skip. "You got to
do away with 'em."

"We're doin' away with 'em now," says Mark, with just the beginning of
a grin, and he pointed at the tables that were surrounded by folks like
flies on a lump of sugar. "Don't look like there'd be much l-left, does
it?"

"You're a young smart Alec," says Mr. Skip, and then he hurried out
like he was afraid he'd burn up if he stayed.

Mark turned and winked at me.

Everybody was interested in the auction and we were answering questions
about it all day. You could see folks picking out things they figured
on bidding for and making memorandums of them, and that pleased us a
good deal and made me feel a whole heap better about our chances of
making a showing against Mr. Skip.

When everybody was gone we counted the money we had taken in, and it
was a hundred and sixty-two dollars and ninety-five cents. Once I heard
pa say a hundred and forty-five was the biggest day he ever had. I tell
you we were tickled. And the best of it was everything we sold was at
regular prices. Yes, sir. We didn't reduce a cent.

Before we left the store I wrote mother a long letter and told her
about it all and bragged considerable, and let on I guessed we were
going to get as rich as Mark Tidd's father had out of the
turbine-engine he invented. Then we all signed it and sent it off. I
was pretty proud, but when you come to think of it, there wasn't
anything for _me_ to be very stuck up about. Mark was the fellow who
had a right to think he was some pumpkins, but he didn't act like he'd
done anything out of the ordinary. That was the way with him. If he was
to be elected President of the United States to-morrow, it wouldn't
even make him blink. He'd just go ahead and _be_ President like he was
used to it all his life. Sometimes it made me mad to see how cool he
took things. But he says you can think a lot better when you're
calm-like than you can when you're all het up and flabbergasted. I
guess he's right about it, too.



                               CHAPTER IV


Sunday afternoon Mark came and got me to go for a walk.

"Where to?" I asked him, because I was pretty tired and didn't feel
like I needed to do any unnecessary scattering around.

"Uncle Ike Bond's," says he.

Then I knew there was a reason for it, so I didn't make any complaint.
Uncle Ike drives the 'bus in Wicksville when he isn't too busy
fishing--which is mostly. He's a great friend of ours, and if anybody
in the world admires Mark Tidd more than he does then I want to see
that person. Uncle Ike would get up in the middle of the night to stand
on his head in the middle of the road if Mark was to ask him.

So we went to his house, which is close to the river and just outside
of town. Uncle Ike was sitting on the front stoop, whittling out one of
the things he's always working on--this time it was a double chain with
ten links and a sort of a bird-cage with a ball in it at the end.

"Howdy, Uncle Ike!" says Mark.

"Um?" says Uncle Ike, not speaking to us at all, "if 'tain't that Mark
Tidd ag'in. Um! Alfiredest smartest kid in town is what I say, and I
been drivin' 'bus here long enough to know."

"G-goin' to be busy to-morrow, Uncle Ike?" asked Mark.

"Middlin' busy, middlin' busy."

"We're goin' to have an aw-aw-auction," says Mark.

"Um!" says Uncle Ike. "Auction, eh? Um! Calc'late I may find a minnit
or two somehow. Auction. Um! Where?"

"Haven't you seen our signs?"

"To be sure. To be sure." We knew he was just pretending, and that he
knew all about the auction all the time. "Was them your signs?"

"Yes," says Mark. Then he wrinkled up around his eyes like he does when
he's going to think of something especially smart. "What's the m-main
difficulty with auctions, Uncle Ike?"

"Auctioneer's wind gives out," says the old fellow.

"N-no," says Mark.

"Nobody to buy," guesses Uncle Ike.

"N-no. It's gittin' f-folks to bid as much as you want 'em to."

"'Course," Uncle Ike said. "Never'd 'a' thought of that. Never! Beats
all how this Mark Tidd thinks of things. Quicker 'n greased lightenin'
he is. Twicet as quick."

"If there was s-somebody in the crowd," says Mark, "that folks didn't
suspicion b'longed to the auction, it might help some."

"F'rinstance?" says Uncle Ike, making one word of it.

"If," says Mark, "the real bid wasn't h-high enough, then the
auctioneer could m-make some kind of a sign, and the feller in the
crowd could give her a boost."

"Um!" says Uncle Ike.

"S'pose the bid was a d-d-dime," says Mark, "and the thing you was
sellin' was worth more. What happens? Why, the auctioneer he wiggles
his thumb like this--and the feller in the crowd bids fif-fifteen
cents. See?"

"Calc'late to," says Uncle Ike.

"Comin' to the auction?" says Mark, grinning like everything.

"Calc'late to," says Uncle Ike, grinning back.

"Got t-time to stay around?"

"Put in the whole day," says Uncle Ike.

"Wigglin' the thumb means raise it a nickel," says Mark. "Wigglin' both
thumbs means raise it a d-dime."

"Listen to that, now," says Uncle Ike to himself. "Easy, hain't it?
Jest as easy as swallerin' slippery ellum. But it took _him_ to think
of it." Then he looked at Mark and says, "Your Uncle Ike'll be there,
you can bet you; and will he bid? Jest you lissen to him holler."

"You m-might sort of act mean, too," says Mark. "That'll make the other
folks that's biddin' get _mad_. If they get good and mad they'll bid
high just out of spunk."

Uncle Ike slapped his knee and laughed all over, though you couldn't
hear a noise. That's the way he always laughed. To see him you'd think
he was hollerin' loud enough to bust a gallus, but there isn't a
particle of sound.

"G'-by, Uncle Ike," says Mark.

"G'-by, boys," says he, and Mark and I came away.

Monday morning bright and early all four of us boys were at the Bazar,
getting things ready. The first thing we did was to fix up a place for
Mark to do his auctioning from. That was easy. We put two big
packing-boxes side by side against the front of the store, and on one
of them we put a smaller box to use for a table. We covered these all
over with flags and bunting and signs. This was done before another
store on the street opened up. Even Jehoshaphat P. Skip wasn't stirring
around yet.

The whole front of his place was covered with big signs and flags.
Between us we made Wicksville look like it was the Fourth of July.
Pretty soon we saw Skip come down from the hotel. He walked past our
place with his nose in the air and never looked. My! but he was mad! He
went into his store and opened up. For his Grand Opening he had four
clerks he'd brought from some of his other stores, because he figured
he'd have a whale of a crowd. His store did look nice and attractive. I
went snooping past, and in that little time I could see a bunch of
things I'd like to buy--but I'd have gone without them till a week from
next year before I'd have bought from him.

Our auction was set for ten o'clock. You see, Mark Tidd knew the
Wicksville folks. Everybody had something to do early in the morning,
and nobody would have time to go down-town before ten. But Jehoshaphat
P. he didn't know. He started right off to boom things--hired a fiddle
and a horn and an accordion to sit inside his place and play tunes. But
there wasn't anybody to play to, and wouldn't be for a couple of hours.

"Tallow and Binney'll stay inside," says Mark, "to l-look after folks
that want to buy things--"

"But," says Binney, "we want to be out at the auction."

Mark he looked at them for half a minute without saying a word. "This
here," says he, "hain't a movin'-p-p-picture show or a picnic. It's
business."

They didn't have another word to say, because they knew Mark would have
discharged them in a second if he had thought it was necessary.

"There'll be folks nosin' around," says Mark, "and they g-got to be
looked after. Plunk'll help me."

We had piled a lot of things up in front that we figured would tempt
folks, and everything was ready for the auction. We didn't open the
store door till it was time, but at half past nine Mark sent Binney and
me out with big bells.

"Walk up and d-down the street and ring 'em," says he, "and carry these
signs."

Each of the signs had printed on it: "All ready for the auction. She's
going to start."

Binney went one way and I went the other, which was right past
Jehoshaphat P. Skip's new store. There were a couple of folks in there
and the music was a-going it as tight as it could, but Mr. Skip didn't
seem like he was happy. I stuck my head inside his door and hollered,
"Auction's goin' to begin," and then ducked. He started after me,
poking his long neck ahead of him like a giraffe, but I knew he
wouldn't chase me, so I walked off--when I'd got outside--as calm as a
parade of Odd Fellows.

Just before ten o'clock I hustled back. Mark had put the phonograph
outside and it was doing the best it knew how. Quite a crowd was
beginning to gather around. I looked at Mark to see if he was scared.
Scared! He looked tickled to death.

"Come on," says he.

We opened the front doors and out we went. The folks let out a laugh; a
couple of fellows cheered. Some kids that were hanging around began to
holler at us, and it made me mad, but Mark let on he didn't hear. He
climbed up on his platform and looked at the folks without saying a
word. A kid on the other side of the street yelled, "Look at what's
tryin' to be a auctioneer," and folks laughed some more.

I saw Mark sort of squint up his eyes and pinch his cheek.

"Aw," yelled the same kid, "better git started 'fore the box busts in."

If there's one thing Mark _hates_ it's having anybody joke him about
being fat. He squinted his eyes so you could hardly see them and
waddled up to the edge of his platform.

"L-ladies and gentlemen," he stuttered, "the auction is about to
commence, but before the first article can be sold I got to have a boy
to help me." He looked all around, and then pretended he just saw the
kid that had been yelling at him. "Sam Jenks," says he, "will you come
here and help me just a m-minute?"

Sam puffed up important-like and pushed his way across the road and
scrambled up by Mark, and Mark took hold of his arm. When you look at
Mark he don't seem to be anything but fat, but he's strong. He's got a
grip in his fingers like you wouldn't believe.

"L-ladies and gentlemen," says he, again, "I have the p-pleasure of
presentin' to your notice a ree-markable spectacle. This is it," says
he, pointing to Sam. "It l-looks like a boy. It's got arms and legs and
a head. But it hain't really a boy, ladies and gentlemen. It's nothin'
but a noise. In the mornin' this n-noise gits up and starts to goin';
it goes all day; and it don't stop at night, 'cause it snores."
Everybody hollered and laughed fit to kill, and Sam tried to pull
himself away, but Mark hung on to him. "It's a novelty, ladies and
gentlemen. Nobody in Wicksville ever owned such a thing--so I'm a-goin'
to auction it off."

"Lemme go," says Sam, wiggling like a basketful of eels.

"The defect in this article," says Mark, "is that it's jest noise. We
can't guarantee that b-brains goes with it. If you buy, it's at your
own risk."

Well, sir, you should have heard those folks laugh, and you should have
seen Sam's face. You could have auctioned him pretty cheap if you sold
him for as much as he felt like.

"What am I offered?" says Mark.

Folks started to bid. One man offered a dead dog, and another bid a
plugged cent, and another the squeak of a pig and another the hole in a
fried cake. All the time Sam was straining and tugging, but Mark didn't
let go. Then a man back in the crowd yelled, "I bet Sam Hoskins's
yaller dawg."

"Sold," says Mark, and he let loose of Sam. You never saw a kid
disappear as quick as that kid did. He just _vanished_. You can bet no
more kids interfered with Mark's auction _that_ day.

As soon as folks had quit laughing Mark started in to sell things in
earnest. First thing was a wash-bowl and pitcher, and to hear Mark talk
about it you would have thought the King of England was all broken up
because he was so far off he couldn't be there to bid on it.

Mrs. Sanders bid a dime. Mark just looked at her and pretended he
couldn't hear. He put his hand up to his ear and asked her to repeat
it. She got sort of red in the face and bid a quarter.

"A q-quarter--a quarter I'm bid for a bowl and pitcher the Queen of
Sheeby'd be tickled to death to wash her f-face in." Mark was sort of
excited and the way he stuttered was a caution. "What lady or gentleman
desirin' an heirloom to hand down to their g-g-great-g-g-grandchildren
raises that bid?" It was worth a dime to hear him splutter
"great-grandchildren."

"Thirty cents," says somebody.

"Huh!" snorted Mark. "It cost more'n that to paint the pictures on it."
He wiggled two thumbs at Uncle Ike Bond, who opened up his mouth and
roared "Forty cents," and then looked as proud of himself as if he'd
sung a solo in church.

Mrs. Sanders shot a mad look at Uncle Ike and bid forty-five. Mark
wiggled one thumb and Uncle Ike bid fifty. Mrs. Sanders turned around
and scowled at him. I could hear her whisper to Mrs. Newman, "That ol'
scalawag sha'n't have it." Mark heard her, too, and he gave me just the
beginning of a wink. "Sixty cents," snapped Mrs. Sanders. Marked
wiggled a thumb. "Sixty-five," says Uncle Ike. "Seventy-five," says
Mrs. Sanders, setting her mouth in a straight line and shaking her
head. "Eighty," yelled Uncle Ike. Mrs. Sanders straightened up and
glared at him--glared! I wouldn't 'a' had her look at me like that for
a quarter. Her eyes 'most bored holes in him, but Uncle Ike only
grinned aggravating, like Mark told him to. "A dollar," says Mrs.
Sanders, and then put her fists on her hips and tossed her head.

"Dollar ten," says Uncle Ike.

"Dollar 'n' a quatter," snaps Mrs. Sanders.

"Dollar thutty."

"Dollar fifty," says Mrs. Sanders, "and if you're fool enough to bid
more you kin have it."

Mark pretended to try to get more bids, but there weren't any, so he
stuttered, "G-goin', goin', g-gone to Mis' Sanders for a dollar 'n' a
half."

I wrapped up the sale and handed it to her and she gave me the money. I
was trying hard to keep my face straight--for that pitcher and
wash-bowl had been standing in our window for two months with
ninety-eight cents marked on it as plain as the nose on Jehoshaphat P.
Skip's face.

The next thing was a new-fangled carpet-sweeper that father had bought
a year ago and never got anybody interested in. Mark he explained it
careful, and threw a handful of papers and things on the floor and
swept them up to show how well it worked. Then he looked the crowd over
slow and calculating. Over at one side stood old man Meggs, who was an
old batch and kept house by himself.

"L-labor-savin'," says Mark. "Just the thing for a single man. No
broom. Gits all the dirt. Almost works by itself. Make me an offer, Mr.
Meggs."

Mr. Meggs scratched his nose and hunched his shoulders and pulled down
his hat and cleared his throat. "Calc'late she's wuth a quatter," says
he.

"It's worth more to Miss Mullins than that," says Mark, looking over at
her where she stood. Miss Mullins wasn't married, either, and she wore
clothes like a man and talked about running for town clerk. She and
Meggs didn't like each other, for some reason, and wouldn't even speak
on the street. "You ain't g-goin' to let him have this splendid
carpet-sweeper for a quarter, are you?"

She tossed her head. "Fifty cents," says she, just to show Meggs there
was some real bidding going on.

Meggs says something under his breath that wasn't what you could call a
compliment, and boosted it to seventy-five.

"No man that's too lazy to support a wife can outbid _me_," says Miss
Mullins. "A dollar."

"Dollar ten," says Meggs, scowling like everything.

Miss Mullins edged over toward him where she could look right into his
face, and says, "Dollar 'n' quatter."

"I'm goin' to have that sweeper," says Meggs to Uncle Ike, "if I have
to sell my hoss.... Dollar 'n' half."

Well, sir, those two folks, just because they didn't like each other
kept on a-bidding and a-bidding till they got up to five dollars, which
was twice what the sweeper was worth. And then Meggs quit. He let on he
didn't want it, anyhow, and said he never did have any use for them
patent contraptions.

"He never had no use for anythin' he had to spend money for," says Miss
Mullins, passing up a five-dollar bill.

The auction went along like that for an hour, everybody having the
finest kind of a time. It was better than a circus. Mark knew just how
to get them, too. He played folks against each other and used grudges
he knew about until the prices he got were a caution. It looked like we
were going to get rich right there.

I looked down the street to the new Five-and-Ten-Cent Store--and it was
as deserted as the Desert of Sahara. But coming up the street I saw
Jehoshaphat P. Skip, waving his arms and twisting his nose and talking
loud and fast to Town-Marshal Sprout. They came right up and pushed
their way through the crowd. The marshal walked up to Mark's platform.

"Mark," says he, "lemme see your permit to have this here auction in
the street."

Mark looked sort of funny.

"P-permit?" says he.

"Yes," says the marshal, "you have to have one when you use the public
street."

"Um," says Mark, "guess I sort of overlooked that."

"Then," says the marshal, "you'll have to quit. Sorry. I wouldn't 'a'
said a word if somebody hadn't complained, but this here feller
complained, so I got to perform my duty."

"Sure," says Mark. "D-don't blame you a mite." He turned to the crowd
and says, "Owin' to the law bein' called down on me, this auction is
called off. Folks that want to buy--and buy cheap--will step inside."

It made everybody kind of mad, because Wicksville loves to be at an
auction, and people scowled at Skip, but he didn't care. He just went
hurrying back to his store and got his music to playing loud, and then
stood in front with one of those megaphone things and yelled:

"Grand openin' now in progress. Greatest bargains ever offered in
Wicksville. Step right this way."

Well, maybe folks were mad at Mr. Skip, but they were down-town to have
some fun and see something and buy something, so they started stringing
down his way, and pretty soon the whole crowd was jamming into his
store. We were all alone. I looked at Mark and was feeling pretty glum.
I expected he would look glum, too, but he didn't. His jaw was sticking
out like I'd never seen it stick out before.

"We're licked," says I. "I knew we couldn't go against a grown-up
business man."

"Licked?" says Mark. "Huh!"

"We might as well close up," says I.

"There's only one th-thing we might as well close," says he, "and
that's croakin'. We thought we had Jehoshaphat P. Skip licked this
m-mornin', but did he quit? Huh? He didn't quit, but he played low-down
mean. We won't quit, and we won't play low-down mean--but Mr.
Jehoshaphat P. Skip'll wish he had _two_ noses to wiggle 'fore this
l-little fuss is over. Come on," says he, "and look a little happier.
We hain't licked," he says, "till the sheriff takes the store away from
us."

"But what'll we do?"

"How do I know?" says he. "We'll do somethin'. I'm goin' back to set
d-down and think."



                               CHAPTER V


For the next three days things were pretty slack with us. What business
there was seemed to be going to Jehoshaphat P. Skip, though of course
there was just a little trickle of folks into our store. Mark Tidd
didn't pay much attention--just sat around and squinted and pinched his
fat cheeks and _thought_. We couldn't get anything out of him and there
wasn't any use trying. When he had a scheme all cooked up he'd come and
tell us--and we had to be satisfied with that.

Once he looked up when I went past and says, half to me and half to
himself, "What I want is somethin' that'll shoot two barrels at once.
H-hit Jehoshaphat P. with one and fetch down the Wicksville f-f-folks
with the other."

"Sure," says I, "but any old kind of a scheme that will do any old
thing to bring a little business is what we need. We haven't sold
enough stuff in three days to pay wages to an invalid cat."

"Huh!" says he; "I can bring business in. Anybody could. But so l-long
as Skip stays here it'll mean one scheme after another--and that's hard
work."

"I'd rather go huntin'," says I, "and shoot the first rabbit I see--and
_git_ it--than to sit around waiting for two to stand in a row so's I
could shoot 'em both to once. 'Cause they might never git in a row."

"All right," says Mark, with a sigh, "if you're so all-fired impatient.
We'll s-start somethin' to-morrow." He stopped and wagged his head.
"Nope, not to-morrow. 'S Friday. 'Tain't s-safe to start things Friday."

"Saturday's a better day, anyhow. Farmers'll be comin' in."

"Saturday it is," says Mark. "We'll b-begin gittin' ready."

"For what?" says I.

"For the votin' contest," says Mark. "Plunk, we're a-goin' to do a lot
of good in Wicksville." His little eyes were twinkling and glowing, but
his face was as solemn as a ball of putty. "We're a-goin'," says he,
"to settle a question that's been b-b-botherin' some folks I could name
for years."

"Well," says I, "what is it?"

"Who is the h-h-h-han'somest man in Wicksville?" says he.

"What?" says I, and I could feel my nose wrinkle, I was that disgusted.

"Votin' contest," says Mark. "But this one'll be different. Folks have
voted for the most popular girl, and the m-most beautiful girl, and
sich like. But nobody, so far's I ever heard, has t-t-tried to pick the
han'somest man."

"Why should they?" I wanted to know. "Besides," says I, "there wouldn't
be no votes cast in a election to pick Wicksville's handsomest man.
There hain't no sich thing." It made me mad to have Mark fooling with
me like that when things was so serious. "Jest look at the men that
live here," says I. "There hain't enough handsomeness in Wicksville to
keep a self-respectin' scarecrow from dyin' of disgust."

"It hain't the han'someness that _is_," says Mark, "it's the
han'someness that homely folks thinks there is."

"Huh!" says I.

"Plunk," says Mark, patient-like, "have I got to draw a picture of this
thing?"

"I guess you have," says I.

"Well," says he, "there's half a dozen old coots here that set
consid'able store by their looks. There's Chet Weevil, eh? How about
him?"

"Runs to yaller neckties," says I.

"Always s-s-stoppin' to look in the glass, hain't he?"

I was beginning to get a glimmer of light, so I just nodded and didn't
say anything.

"And there's Chancy Miller--always w-w-wearin' a flower in his
buttonhole, hain't he?"

"Yes," says I.

"And you was here yestiddy when Mis' Bloom was bragging to Mis'
Peterson about what a upstandin', fine-lookin' feller her husband was.
Eh?"

"Yes," says I.

"Well," says he, again, "wimmin kin s-s-see beauty in a feller that a
hoss would shy at. There's this, too: even if a woman d-d-don't think
her husband's han'some, she hain't g-goin' to let on, is she? Not much,
she hain't. Thing to do, Plunk, is to git the wimmin mad about it. Git
them wimmin mad and the m-m-men jealous of one another, and there'll be
votin', Plunk."

"There'll be fist-fights," says I.

"Hope so," says Mark; "it'll advertise."

"How we goin' to work it?"

"One v-v-vote with every ten-cent purchase," says he. "Any voter can
enter a candidate. We'll paste a l-list of candidates in the window and
every afternoon at two o'clock we'll put up the vote.... The p-p-prize
to the han'somest m-man," says he, with the first grin he'd let loose,
"will be that mirror back there with an imitation silver Cupid on top
of it."

"Some folks'll make a joke of it."

"Sure," says Mark. "Some smart Alecs 'll be votin' for ol' Stan Brazer,
like's not. That'll only make them that takes it serious madder 'n
git-out. Every v-v-vote's a dime sale, Plunk."

"All right," says I, "go ahead. But this'll stand Wicksville on its
head."

Mark only grinned and wagged his head. Then he went back and printed a
big sign:

                       WATCH THIS WINDOW FOR OUR
                         ANNOUNCEMENT SATURDAY

      Every Man, Woman, and Child in Wicksville Vitally Interested

       A Question That Has Been Argued For Years Will Be Settled

When that was done Mark stood tugging at his cheek for a minute.
"B-better send Tallow and Binney out with the wagon again," says he.

So he went to work making more signs for the wagon. One of them says:

                     WICKSVILLE'S BURNING QUESTION
                     SMALLEY'S BAZAR WILL SETTLE IT

                          Particulars Saturday

The other says:

                   MISTER, IS YOUR WIFE PROUD OF YOU?
                     YOU WILL SOON BE ABLE TO TELL
                        SMALLEY'S BAZAR--SATURDAY

We called in Tallow and Binney and explained things to them. They were
more tickled with the scheme than I was, though that last sign of
Mark's did make it look more likely. By printing that thing and sending
it around town he'd practically fixed it so every woman would _have_ to
do some voting for her husband or let him think she didn't set much
store by him. It beat all how Mark seemed to understand folks. He could
sit and figure and come pretty close to guessing what anybody would do
if this thing or that thing should happen. Sometimes it seemed almost
like mind-reading.

"Now," says he, "we'll get tickets printed for votin'."

"How many?" I says. "A hundred?"

"Hundred," he snorted; "we'll start with f-five thousand." He was a
little mad I could see--he always stuttered worse when he was mad.

I thought he was crazy, but there wasn't any use arguing. When once
Mark Tidd gets his head set you can't move it with a crowbar. So I said
all right, and he went over to the printing-office and gave his order.

Just before noon who should we see coming into the store but
Jehoshaphat P. Skip. It made me mad to see him and I'd have gone right
up and told him to use the door for going out and never to use it for
coming in again, but Mark saw what I was up to, I guess, and grabbed me
by the arm.

"B-better let me talk to Jehoshaphat," says he, and off he went before
I could say a word.

"G-good mornin', Mr. Skip," says he, as sweet as molasses. "How's
business with you?"

"Huh!" grunted Jehoshaphat P., and he set to twisting the little bulb
on the side of his long nose.

"Hope things are openin' up w-well for you," says Mark.

"You do, eh? You do, do you?" snapped Mr. Skip, and you could see the
red start 'way down by his Adam's apple and begin to crawl up his neck.
It took quite a while to get to his face. Somehow he made you think of
a giraffe that was provoked. "I hain't come here for no talk," says he.
"I've come for business. Once and for all, will you stop sellin'
five-and-ten-cent goods?"

"Once and f-f-for all," says Mark, "we won't."

Then Mr. Skip he grinned sort of mean.

"Ever hear of a chattel mortgage?" he says.

"Seems like I'd heard 'em mentioned," says Mark.

"Know how they work?"

"Can't say I d-do."

"They're sim'lar to a mortgage on land," says Skip, "only they hain't
on land, but on chattels--which is things sich as furniture and
animals--and bazars."

"Oh," says Mark, "bazars, eh?"

"Yes," says Skip. "You give a chattel mortgage when you got to have
money, and you put up your furniture or your animals--or your bazar--to
secure the loan. That means if the loan hain't paid the man with the
chattel mortgage can take your furniture or your animals or
your--bazar--instead of his money."

"Um," says Mark; "looks like a d-d-dangerous kind of a deal, don't it?"

"I'm a-goin' to show you how dangerous it is," says Skip, squinting at
Mark out of his mean, narrow little eyes. "I've got one of them on this
Bazar."

I almost flopped over on the floor, but Mark didn't turn a hair. He was
as startled as I was, _I'll_ bet, but he didn't let on but what he was
more pleased about it than anything else.

"Oh," says he, "you got one of 'em, eh? How'd you come to git it?"

"Bought it," says Skip. "Did you know this Bazar was pretty near
busted?"

"We calc'lated she'd hang together a s-s-spell longer," says Mark.

"It's been runnin' down for years," says Skip. "It would of busted
more'n four months ago if this here Mr. Smalley that owns it hadn't of
borrowed money to pay his debts. He up and borrowed five hundred
dollars and give his note and a chattel mortgage on this Bazar. That's
what he done. And I was lookin' around yestiddy and found out about it.
That's me, Jehoshaphat P. Skip. I look around--and I find out. Folks
don't want to git me down on 'em or they're sorry for it."

"To be sure," says Mark.

"This here mortgage and note is due six weeks from to-day," says Skip.

"Six weeks," says Mark, slow-like. "Guess there won't be any trouble
about that, mister." Jehoshaphat P. choked and gurgled and blinked his
eyes.

"There won't, eh? Think you can pay off five hundred dollars in six
weeks, do you?" He grinned again as mean as a cornered alley cat.
"Don't matter what you _think_," says he, "it can't be done. Six weeks
from to-day _I'm_ goin' to be the owner of this Bazar."

"If I was you," says Mark, "I w-wouldn't go spendin' any m-m-money
you're goin' to make runnin' this store--yet. Mister," says he,
"there's fair business and there's rotten business. There's things it's
right to do to a competitor, and things a skunk would b-be ashamed of.
Mister, a skunk that was well brought up, and had a f-f-family to think
about, wouldn't stay in the same town with _you_." He stopped for
breath and to give his jaw a rest, for the way he'd been stuttering was
enough to knock chips off his teeth. "That's what we th-th-think of
_you_, mister. Now about that chattel mortgage--it'll be paid, on the
m-m-minute. We've got six weeks. When the six weeks are up you've got
something to say--but if you come into this place again before that
note's due--if you even stick your long nose inside the door--we'll
throw you out and r-r-roll you in the mud for the whole town to see....
Now, mister, git."

I'd seen Mark pretty worked up before, but I don't recollect ever
watching him when his lips got white the way they were then. His lips
were white and his cheeks were gray, and his little eyes sort of glowed
like there was a slow fire in them that was apt to break into a blaze.

Jehoshaphat P. Skip looked at Mark and sort of caught his breath and
began to look uneasy.

"Git!" says Mark, again, before Skip could open his mouth.

Jehoshaphat didn't offer to say another word--he just turned around
quick and slunk out of the store.

Mark stood right in his tracks for more than a minute, looking after
Skip. Then he sighed 'way down deep and blinked and turned around to me.

"Fellers like that," says he, "ought to be shut up in the pen with the
p-p-pigs. They hain't got any right minglin' with human beings."

I was about ready to cry. There was my father in the hospital, and my
mother with him. Every single thing in the world they had to support
them was this Bazar. If it went I couldn't see what would happen--and
it looked to me like it was gone. Mark saw how I felt, I guess, for he
came over and put his big hand on my shoulder, gentle-like. You
wouldn't believe how gentle and sort of comforting it was!

"Plunk," says he, "it's a hard b-b-bump, all right. But don't get
downhearted. We'll pay that note, Plunk, and that hain't all. Before
we're through with Jehoshaphat P. we'll tie him into a d-double
bow-knot with a pin in the middle of it.... Keep your b-backbone stiff,
Plunk. We'll pull her through."

"Mark," says I, and I wasn't much used to saying things like that,
"you're--you're all _right_." And deep down inside I felt he _was_ all
right--and maybe he was a bigger sort of fellow than even we three boys
had thought he was. My worry wasn't all gone, but I did feel better and
a little hopeful. But five hundred dollars--and in six weeks! For the
life of me I couldn't see where it was to come from--and father's
expenses and mother's living, too!



                               CHAPTER VI


My father always went to Lawyer Sturgis when he needed any law, so we
figured he'd be likely to know about that chattel mortgage. Mark went
over to see him and found out that every word Jehoshaphat P. had said
was true. Father had needed money and borrowed five hundred dollars
from Hamilcar Wilkins, who didn't do anything but lend money. Somehow
Skip had found out about it and had bought the note. So there we were.

"Well," says Mark when he got back, "th-that's settled. Now all we got
to do is dig up that five hundred."

"Yes," says I, sarcastic-like, "that's all."

"We'll do it," says he. "I've noticed," says he, "that if you've got to
do a thing or b-b-bust you usually do it--or bust." He grinned all over
his fat face. "Now let's forget about the mortgage and start to makin'
money."

"Suits me," says I.

By this time we had our stock pretty well arranged. You wouldn't have
known the old store. Everything was in order and arranged so it could
be found. The most expensive things were at the front, the
five-and-ten-cent things were at the back. That was Mark's idea.

"Folks is after bargains," says he, "and they'll walk to get 'em. When
they come in they'll be after somethin' cheap. But we'll m-make 'em
walk past the other things. They can't h-help lookin' at 'em, and
chances are they'll see somethin' they need."

It was so, too. I can name three or four folks who came in to buy
something for a dime, but did buy something for a half a dollar or a
dollar just because they saw them on the way back. Things we calculated
folks would want we had set up conspicuous, with the price marked on
them plain--and it was generally a price that ended in odd cents. Mark
says folks are used to paying even money, and if you make it
ninety-eight cents or sixty-three cents, why, right off they think it's
a bargain.

But don't get to thinking business was good. It wasn't. It wasn't any
better Friday, though quite a few folks came in to ask what we were up
to next. This tickled Mark because he said it meant folks were watching
us and thinking about us and wondering what sort of scheme we were
going to work off on them. That, says he, is good advertising.

Wicksville is full of folks with curiosity. I'll bet I was asked
questions about our signs a dozen times, but wouldn't tell. Mark said
to keep them guessing till we were ready, which was Saturday about ten
o'clock. Then Mark put up in the window a big sign explaining about the
beauty contest. Lots of folks stopped to look at it, and grinned and
laughed, just like I thought they would. Once there was quite a little
crowd looking in. Along came Chet Weevil. Uncle Ike Bond was there, and
as soon as he saw Chet he commenced to yell at him.

"Ho, Chet!" says he, "here's somethin' 'll int'rest you. Han'somest-man
contest! You and them neckties of yourn 'll be enterin', eh? Got to
settle whether you or Chancy Miller is the beautifulest. Seems like I
can't sleep till I git the judgment of folks on that."

Chet was all primped up with a checked suit and yellow shoes and a
necktie that looked like it would burn your finger if you touched it.
He didn't grin--not Chet. He sort of drew himself up and looked at his
reflection in the window and felt of his tie to see if it was on
straight.

"Hum!" says he. "I don't lay no claim to beauty." Then he sort of put
his head on one side and looked at himself again.

"Course not," says Uncle Ike. "You're one of the modestest fellers in
town, but, Chet--it's a secret and don't whisper it to a soul--folks
have said to me as how they ree-garded you as a feller of strikin'
appearance. Honest, Chet."

"Hum!" says Chet again. "I aim to keep myself lookin' as good as I kin.
It's a feller's duty."

"To be sure. That's the way Chancy looks at it. I heard him sayin' no
later than yestiddy that he took consid'able pains with himself. He
says you was perty good-lookin', too. Yes, sir. Says he, if it wasn't
for him, you'd be about the best-lookin' feller in the county."

"Did, eh?" says Chet, mad-like. "Did, eh? Mind, I hain't claimin' to be
handsomer 'n anybody else, but this I do say, and this I'll stand by:
if I wasn't better-lookin' than Chancy Miller I'd buy me a mask or
raise whiskers, that's what I'd do. Why," says he, "Chancy's pants bags
at the knee."

"So they do," says Uncle Ike. "But Chancy alluded to your hair. Says
your hair was all right as _hair_, but, says he, as a ornament it would
be better if Chet was bald-headed."

"Hair!" says Chet. "Does that there gangle-legged, pig-eyed,
strawberry-topped imitation of a punkin' lantern go around makin'
personal remarks about me? Maybe my hair hain't curly, but, b' jing, it
looks like hair, and not like no throwed-away bed-springs."

Well, just then who should come in sight but Chancy Miller, his hat on
the back of his head so his frizzes would show, and a posy in his
buttonhole. Uncle Ike spied him.

"Just alludin' to you, Chancy," he says. "We was discussin' them
ringlets of yourn. Chet here declares as how they favor worn-out
bed-springs consid'able."

Chancy scowled at Chet and took off his hat like he thought it was hot.
That was a way of his. He was always looking for excuses to put his
hair on exhibition.

"Chet hadn't better do no talkin' about hair," says he. "If he was to
get his shaved off and then tie a handkerchief over his head so what
was left wouldn't show, he'd look a sight more like a human bein'."

"Well," says Uncle Ike, "I see there's a sight of rivalry amongst you
two on this here beauty question. But it's goin' to be decided, Chancy;
it's goin' to be decided. Read this sign, Chancy, and be happy."

Chancy he read the sign and then took off his hat again and smoothed
back his hair. He looked at Chet sort of speculating and Chet looked at
him. Then both of them stuck up their noses simultaneous.

"Who's been spoke of so far?" Chancy asked.

"Nobody but you and Chet," says Uncle Ike.

"I thought," says Chancy, "it was goin' to be a _contest_. Not," says
he, "that I got any idee I'm what you'd call handsome"--he stopped to
take a squint at himself in the window--"but--but compared to Chet,"
says he, "I'm one of these here Greek statues alongside of a
packin'-box."

"You be, eh?" yelled Chet. "You think you be? Well, Chancy Miller, all
I got to say is this: if my mother'd 'a' had any idee I was goin' to
look like you she wouldn't of tried to raise me. She'd drownded me when
I was a day old. Why," says Chet, getting madder and madder, "the only
resemblance between you and a good-lookin' feller is that you got two
arms and legs. It 'u'd take six college professors with microscopes a
year to pick out a point to you that don't class as homely. Handsome!
Oh, my!"

At that Chancy started to move toward Chet and Chet started to move
toward Chancy, but they didn't go far. They weren't the sort of fellows
to get themselves mussed up in a fight. Nobody offered to stop them, so
they stopped themselves, about six feet apart, and took it out in
scowling.

"We'll let the votes of the people decide," says Chet, as grand as an
emperor.

"Huh!" says Chancy. "You'll have to git a stiddy job now and spend your
wages in the Bazar, or you won't git a vote."

Just then along came Mrs. Bloom and Mrs. Peterson, and they stopped to
see what was going on. First they read the sign and then they listened.

Uncle Ike grinned to himself and says:

"We men has figgered the contest is narrowed down to Chet and Chancy.
'Tain't likely anybody will enter agin 'em, is it, Mis' Bloom?"

Mrs. Bloom sniffed. "I thought this was goin' to be a contest for the
handsomest _man_," says she. "If 'tis, neither of them whipper-snappers
is eligible. Let 'em wait till they git their growth. For a handsome
man gimme somebody that's old enough to wash his own face without his
mother's helpin' him. The best-lookin' time in a man's life is when
he's about forty-three."

"Forty-seven, to be exact," says Mrs. Peterson, her eyes snapping.

"Forty-three," says Mrs. Bloom. "Forty-three is Peter Bloom's age, and
I ought to know. When I was young I could 'a' had the pick of the young
fellers in this town, but I took Peter, and hain't never regretted it.
I guess you folks hain't seen Peter in his new Sunday suit, or you
wouldn't be talkin' about these--these gangleshanks."

Mrs. Peterson blinked and swallowed hard and opened her mouth a couple
of times before she could speak.

"If you was to stand Peter Bloom alongside of Jason Peterson," says
she, in a voice that sounded like somebody tearing a piece of tin, "I
guess you'd change your mind. Maybe Peter was fair-lookin' once," says
she, "but Jason's been eatin' _good_ cookin' for twenty-two year--and
that tells."

Uncle Ike winked to himself and says, sober-like, "It looks, fellers,
as if Chet and Chancy wasn't goin' to have the field to themselves."

"No, they hain't," says Mrs. Bloom, "and I'm goin' right in now to
spend a dollar--a dollar--and vote ten votes for Peter. There." She
jerked her head and turned on her heel and marched into the store.

"Gimme that pair of scissors I was lookin' at the other day," says she,
"and a paper of pins, and six spools of forty white thread, and if that
don't make up a dollar just say so."

"It c-c-comes to a dollar and six cents," says Mark.

"Then gimme somethin' for four cents to make up the other ten," says
she. "And gimme them votes so's I can cast 'em for Peter Bloom."

Mrs. Peterson came in right after, and _she_ spent a dollar and thirty
cents, casting _her_ votes for Jason Peterson.

Mark looked at me and his eyes twinkled.

"What d'you think of the s-s-scheme now?" he asked in a whisper.

"It begins to look," says I, "like there might be somethin' to it."

It began to look like it still more as the day went on. Chet Weevil met
me as I was coming back from dinner.

"Plunk," says he, "kin you keep a secret?"

"Like throwin' it down a well," says I.

"What d'you think of Chancy's chances?" says he.

"Well," says I, hardly able to keep my face straight, "I hain't much of
a judge, but that curly hair of his--"

"Huh!" he growled. "Hair hain't goin' to count. Got any bang-up
neckties? The kind folks can't help seein'?"

"We got some," says I, "that you could flag a train with on a dark
night."

"How much?" says he.

"Forty-nine cents apiece."

He reached down into his pocket and pulled out two dollar bills. "This
here," says he, "is secret between you and me. I want four of them
ties--and you needn't mind the change. Vote them twenty votes for me
like somebody else did it--and if Chancy goes votin' for himself, just
you lemme know, and I'll beat him or--or bust a gallus."

From that on I was more cheerful. Things began getting exciting and,
somehow, I almost forgot about Jehoshaphat P. Skip and his chattel
mortgage.



                              CHAPTER VII


When I got back to the Bazar from dinner that Saturday noon Mark had a
big sign in one window that said the list of candidates with their
votes would be put up at two o'clock. In the other window was just a
line across the top that said:

CANDIDATES AND THEIR VOTES

There wasn't anything under--it was just waiting there, staring folks
in the face.

Along about a quarter past one in came a delegation of ladies from the
Methodist church, nominating their parson, Rev. Hamilton Hannis. They
were buzzing away, and all excited as a meeting of crows in a
maple-tree. Somehow the Congregationalists had got hold of the news and
in came six of them before the Methodists had cleared out. They
nominated Rev. Orson Whipit, _their_ minister. We got a matter of six
dollars and seventy cents out of the two parties.

"Binney," says Mark, "hain't your f-f-folks Baptists?"

"Yes," says Binney.

"Skin home, then," says Mark, "and tell your ma."

Off went Binney with the news, and in twenty minutes in came seven
Baptist ladies with their pocketbooks and determined expressions, ready
to stand up for _their_ parson, Rev. Jenkins McCormick. They invested
three dollars and forty cents. That made ten dollars and ten cents we
got out of those three denominations.

There were three others to hear from--the United Brethren, the
Universalists, and the Catholics, but they didn't get wind of what was
going on till later in the day. We got the whole six of them in the
end, but the main contest turned out to be between the first three.

Six other women came in to put up their husbands' names, and four
school-teachers got there separately and privately to nominate Mr.
Pilkins, the principal.

"If they v-v-vote as hard as they nominate," stuttered Mark, "we'll
have to order more goods."

We put up the list at two o'clock. Just before it went up Chancy Miller
came sneaking in the back door with two dollars and twenty cents, and
nominated himself. He bought a pair of military brushes and a bottle of
perfume. He let on he was going to buy some kid gloves as soon as he
saved up another dollar.

"I calc'late," says he, "that folks'll sort of flock in to vote for me
as soon's they see my name."

"Well," says Mark, "they'll f-f-flock in, all right, Chancy, but I
calc'late you got to depend on the unmarried vote. It beats all what a
p-p-pile of han'some husbands and ministers there is here."

"Ministers!" Chancy was like to choke. "Is _ministers_ comin' in? Now I
don't call that fair. Why," says he, "them Prince Albert coats of
theirn give 'em a head start right off. Besides," says he, "ministers
have more time to slick up."

"Sure," says Mark, "but not a one of 'em has c-c-curly hair."

"I'd buy me one of them coats," says Chancy, "but I hain't got the
money. Besides," says he, "what money I git has got to go for votes."

Mark was quick as a flash.

"We can order a suit to your m-m-measure," says he, "from a Chicago
catalogue. That'll give you a sight of votes and us a little profit."

But Chancy didn't have the money and we didn't give any credit, so that
deal was off.

There was quite a few folks waiting in front to see the list go up, so
we went and got it ready. There were a lot of names on it, but the
three ministers were ahead, with Chancy and Chet next and the school
principal next, and then Mr. Peterson and Mr. Bloom and the handsome
husbands in a string, pretty much together.

All told there were two hundred and twenty-six votes cast. That made
our morning's business twenty-two dollars and sixty cents. That was
pretty good for the first half-day.

First off most of the men in town looked at it as a joke and put in
considerable time laughing. That was mostly early in the day, though.
By the middle of the afternoon their women folks had done more or less
talking, and the men got around gradual to seeing it wasn't so awful
funny, after all. The women never saw anything funny about it at all.
It was pretty serious to them, I can tell you, especially to them that
had husbands a person could look at without smoked glasses on.

Probably not a woman in Wicksville ever thought whether her man was
handsomer than somebody else until Mark schemed up this contest. But,
as Mark says, as soon as somebody else lets on he's handsomer or bigger
or smarter than you are, you get mad and say he isn't. It don't matter,
says Mark, whether you ever thought you were handsome or big or smart
before. You begin to think so then. Even if you don't really think so
you let on you do and are willing to back it up.

Everybody got it--even old Peasley Snell. His name wasn't on the list,
and if you was to ask me, it wasn't likely to be, for old Peasley was
about the weazenedest, orneriest, dried-up, scraggly-haired critter in
Wicksville. But Peasley he stopped and read the list. His wife was with
him. Peasley read from top to bottom. Then he began talking to his wife:

"Pete Bloom!" says he, and sniffed. "Huh! Handsome! Huh!... Jason
Peterson. Whee! And them others! Who d'you calc'late nominated 'em,
Susie?"

"I dun'no'," says Susie.

"It was their wives," I says from the door.

"Wives," grunted old Peasley. "Wives, is it? Huh! Why, young feller?
Why?"

"I guess they nominated 'em," says I, "because they wanted to let on
they thought their husbands was as good as anybody else's husbands."

Old Peasley stopped and thought and blinked and chewed on his tongue.
Every once in a while he'd look at his wife and scowl. Pretty soon he
raised his bony finger and tapped her on the shoulder:

"Susie," says he, "my name hain't on that list."

"No," says she.

"Why?" says he.

"I dun'no'," says she.

"Peterson's there," says he, "and Bloom."

"Yes," says she.

"Their wives done it."

Mrs. Snell nodded her head.

"Mis' Snell," says old Peasley, "don't you calc'late I got any pride?
Don't you calc'late I got any feelin's? Say! Do I want folks rushin'
around sayin' Peasley Snell's wife says her husband is homely as a
squashed tomato? Eh? Well? Maybe," says he, "I hain't what you'd call
_handsome_, but b'jing! I don't have to wear no veil--not when Pete
Bloom and Jase Peterson's around, anyhow. What'll folks think? Eh?"

"I dun'no', Peasley," says his wife.

"I know," says he. "They'll say Peasley Snell's wife don't love, honor,
and obey him, that's what they'll say. They'll say Peasley Snell hain't
of no account in his own family. They'll say his wife'd rather have any
other man in town than him.... And, Mis' Snell, I hain't a-goin' to
endure it. Mark me! Your duty is plain before your eyes. You git into
that Bazar, Mis' Snell, and you git my name on that list. And you see
to it that your husband has as many votes after his name as Bloom or
Peterson. That's what. Now Mis' Snell, march."

She marched, and old Peasley's name went on the list with one vote more
than Bloom.

That's the way it went. Fellers that were nominated started worrying
about how many votes they were going to get, and fellers that weren't
nominated got mad about it. Also there were others besides Chet and
Chancy that nominated themselves.

Till 'most midnight customers kept us so busy we couldn't hardly
breathe. At last we shut the doors and counted up to see what we'd
done. A hundred and thirty-two dollars and fifty-seven cents for one
day! That wasn't the best of it, either, for we'd got rid of a lot of
old stuff that had been cluttering up the store for years. In a little
more we'd be down to real stock.

"Calc'late," says Mark, "we better be castin' our eyes around for
somethin' new and special to sell. We want our stock to be b-b-better
than Jehoshaphat P. Skip's."

"Sure," says I.

"We got to stock up on first-class s-s-staples," says Mark, "and git,
besides, some specialties that'll stir folks up a leetle."

We were pretty tired and sleepy, so we didn't talk about it any more
that night. Next morning all of us went to church, but after dinner we
went to Mark's house, and his mother made molasses taffy--and kept
scolding about it all the time and saying we'd ruin the furniture and
mess up our clothes. That was the way with Mrs. Tidd. She was always
stirring around, busy as could be, and mostly she was sort of scolding
at Mark or Mr. Tidd--but she didn't mean a bit of it. I never knew
anybody so free with pies and fried cakes and things as she was.

Along about the middle of the afternoon we heard a jangling and
rattling, and above it all somebody whistling like all-git-out. Well,
sir, we jumped for the window, because we knew _that_ racket. There,
just turning into the yard, was a red peddler's wagon. To-day, it being
Sunday, the pots and pans and brooms and whips and things that usually
were stuck all over it were out of sight inside, but they jangled just
the same. On the seat was a man whistling "Marching Through Georgia"
with runs and trills and funny quirks to it. His nose was pointed
straight up and his eyes were shut. His horse was finding its way
without any help from him. If you didn't look at anything but the man's
face you'd have said he was about six feet and a half high, but when
you looked at the rest of him you saw right off that things had got
mixed--he had the wrong body. He was less than five feet tall, and he
was more than three feet wide--or he looked so, anyhow.

All of a sudden his horse stopped. The little man raised his big head
with a snap and jerked it first in one direction and then in another.
Then he took hold of the end of his nose and gave it a tweak as if it
had managed to get out of shape. Then slow as molasses he began to get
down.

At that we boys rushed out of the house, and Mr. Tidd and his wife
followed a little slower. The little man saw us, put his hand on his
stomach and made a low bow; then he put a thumb in the armhole of his
vest and straightened up as dignified as a senator.

"You are not mistaken, my friends. Your eyes do not deceive you. It is
Zadok Biggs. None other. I am entranced--delighted is the more ordinary
expression--to see you. I am more than delighted to see that
prodigious--remarkable is the commoner word--youth, Marcus Aurelius
Fortunatus Tidd. There's a name! The parents who gave that name to
their son are remarkable parents! Parents, I salute you.... And there,
too, are my three young friends, Plunk and Binney and Tallow." He waved
his hand at us as though we were a block away.

He didn't give anybody a chance to say a word, but led us into the
house and invited us to sit down.

"Ah, this is magnificent, this is glorious. How Zadok Biggs has looked
forward to it! Madam, aside from a seat on the Supreme Bench at
Washington, I most aspire to this one. Tell me all about yourselves;
you, Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus Tidd, tell me all about yourself. Have
you been finding opportunities? Ah, there's a word! Opportunities are
everywhere. There's Plunk, now, missing an opportunity. There's a
chair, a comfortable chair, yet he remains erect--standing is the more
usual expression. Seize your opportunity, Plunk, and be seated. Now
Marcus, I listen. My ears yearn for the news you have to tell."

Maybe you never met Zadok Biggs before, but we had, I can tell you. We
got acquainted with him when Mr. Tidd come close to losing the
turbine-engine he had invented and which made him rich, and Zadok did a
lot to help us get it back. I really don't believe we ever would have
got it back if it hadn't been for him. So we were pretty good friends,
and every time he was near Wicksville with his tin-peddler's wagon he'd
stop overnight with Mark, and we'd all spend the evening together.

"Relate--tell is the less dignified term--the news, Marcus," he
directed a second time.

Mark started in and told him all about everything: how father was hurt
and had to go to the hospital, and how we four boys were running the
store, and about Jehoshaphat P. Skip, and about the chattel mortgage,
and about the handsomest-man contest. When Mark was done Zadok got up
and rushed over to me and patted me on the shoulder. There were tears
in his eyes.

"Plunk," says he, "my heart bleeds for your father and mother. I could
weep for them in their trouble. I will visit your father in the
hospital--be sure of that, Zadok Biggs will visit him and cheer him.
Ha! That is something. Also I shall tell him about his son. A father
loves to hear good of his son. It will help him on the road to
recovery. I am proud of you, Plunk. I am proud of all of you. You
are--indeed, I may say it with honest pride--you are a credit to me."
Then he hurried back and sat down.

"I'm afraid," I says, after a while, "that we've bit off more'n we can
chew comfortable--countin' in that chattel mortgage."

"It is an obstacle. Oh, there is no doubt of that! Alone you might
fail, but is not Marcus Tidd with you? Ha! That counts for much. And
Zadok Biggs! What of him? He is heart and soul with you. From this
minute Jehoshaphat P. Skip is his enemy. Zadok will help you. Zadok
will advise you. Best of all, Zadok will look about him for
opportunities." Looking for opportunities was Zadok's specialty. "We
will show this Jehoshaphat P. Skip--a detestable name; I abhor such a
name--we will show him!"

He turned to Mark.

"You are in business," says he. "Business is the game that keeps the
world going. Business is checkers; business is football; business is
Brains. Would you hear my business rules? They will aid you--help is
the more common word. I will write them in a row so you can see them
and remember them."

He pulled a piece of paper and a pencil out of his pocket and wrote:

                      ZADOK BIGGS'S BUSINESS RULES

    First--Find out what people want.

    Second--Give it to 'em.

    Third--Buy it cheap.

    Fourth--Only a fair profit.

    Fifth--Never spend a cent that won't bring back a cent.

    Sixth--Every man is a customer--treat him so.

    Seventh and last--Never sell a thing you wouldn't be glad to
    buy yourself at the price.

He stood up, bowed like he was going to speak a piece, and read it off
to us. Folks may think Zadok is a little peculiar, but I want to tell
you that every inch of room in his big head is stuffed full of brains.
A half-witted cat could see the sense in those business rules of his.



                              CHAPTER VIII


It seems the ministers didn't hear how they were nominated in the
beauty contest till Sunday afternoon--at any rate, none of them said
anything about it. But Sunday afternoon they met and palavered and made
up their minds it wasn't dignified and that sort of thing for preachers
to get mixed up in such an affair. So that night they got up in their
pulpits and said so. I was a Baptist and heard Rev. Jenkins McCormick
state his views. I gathered he didn't withdraw because he thought
ministers wasn't handsomer than other men, or because he didn't view
himself as being as handsome as any other minister, but because, to his
way of thinking, beauty and Baptists hadn't ought to run together.

Rev. Whipit, of the Congregationalists, and Rev. Hannis, of the
Methodists, got off their views on the subject. The result was that
there were a few hundred votes that would have to be changed. And there
was where the trouble started.

The first thing Monday morning about a dozen women came down to the
Bazar to ask what they should do about it.

"Well," says Mark Tidd, "th-there's the votes. So long as the parsons
won't have 'em, somebody else'll have to. You can vote 'em for anybody
you w-w-want to."

Then there was a _racket_. The Methodists got off in a group and the
Congregationalists huddled together and the Baptists sheered off where
they could talk it over. And they talked! My goodness! You could have
heard the clatter on the other side of the river. Every married woman
insisted on having the votes of her church cast for her husband, and
the four old maids that were scattered through the three denominations
were all for Mr. Pilkins, the school principal--him being an old
bachelor. At last the noise got so bad and the women got so mad Mark
made up his mind he'd have to do something about it--and he wanted to
do something that would help out the Bazar while he was at it. He got
up on the counter, and that was quite a job, considering how much of
him there was to get up.

"L-ladies," he yelled, "the m-meetin' is called to order."

Well, sir, they stopped off short to see what was going on, just like
hens in the yard will stop fussing if you step out with a pan of feed
in your hand.

"I got a p-plan to propose," says Mark.

"Let's have it," says Mrs. Goodwillie.

"D-draw lots for 'em," says Mark. "I'll fix three boxes, one for each
denomination, and put into 'em a slip of p-paper for each lady. Then
you draw. One slip will say 'Votes' on it--and that one wins in each
box. The votes belong to the three ladies d-drawin' the winnin' slips,
and they can do as they please with 'em."

"Never," says Mrs. Goodwillie. "That's gamblin'!"

"Beg pardon, ma'am," says Mark, "b-but 'tain't. Characters in the Bible
drew lots. B-besides," says he, "there was Lot's wife. How came she by
her n-name, d'you s'pose, if d-drawin' lots wasn't customary? Eh?"

For a minute the ladies quarreled about it, but it _did_ look like the
most sensible way to go at it, and they agreed. We fixed up the boxes,
and the drawing started. Every woman grabbed her slip and ran off with
it like a hen that finds a worm. Then Miss Snoover yelled, "I got it!"
She was a Methodist. But right on top of her yell came another "I got
it!" and this one belonged to Mrs. Peterkin--and she was a Methodist,
too. Somehow two winning slips had got into the Methodist box! The
Baptist box came out all right with Mrs. Jenks a winner; but there
wasn't any winning slip at all in the Congregational box! It was a
pretty situation, but Mark didn't appear flustered a bit--he just
looked solemn and interested, and when nobody was looking he winked at
me sly. For some reason or other he'd gone and fixed those boxes like
that on purpose!

Well, _mister_! Maybe there wasn't a squabble! Miss Snoover and Mrs.
Peterkin gripped their slips and glared at each other and screeched
that the votes were theirs and they'd drawn fair and square and
nobody'd ever get them away. All the other Methodist ladies joined in
because they saw a chance for another drawing, when maybe _they'd_ win.
The women that won wouldn't consent to another drawing, and the ones
that lost insisted there should be one--and there we were.

In the mean time the Congregationalists had drawn all over and Mrs.
Johnson won. That disposed of them.

I just kept my mouth shut and waited to see what Mark would do. He
didn't do anything but look sort of satisfied with the world--why, I
couldn't see. I wished I was a mile away, because you couldn't tell how
mad these women were going to get, nor what they'd do when they got
there.

"Why not d-divide 'em equal between the winners?" Mark says.

"Never," yelled Mrs. Goodwillie. "We'll draw all over again!"

"Them votes is mine," says Miss Snoover, "and I'm a-goin' to keep 'em."

"What for?" asked Mrs. Peterkin, mean-like. "What you calc'latin' to do
with 'em? Eh?"

Miss Snoover sort of choked and spluttered and got red in the face, and
says it wasn't anybody's business what she was goin' to do with 'em,
even if it was to paper the inside of her hen-house--and maybe she was
an old maid, but it wasn't anybody's business, and she didn't need to
be if she didn't want to, and a lot better to be one than married like
some she knew--and she'd carry the matter into court and hire a lawyer
to defend her rights, and everybody was trying to rob a lone woman.
That was all she mentioned before she drew a breath, but I thought that
was pretty good. Most folks would have had to breathe a lot sooner. The
minute she was through she turned and ran out of the store, still
grabbing her slip of paper.

The rest of them stayed awhile and argued, but pretty soon they went,
too, because they couldn't do anything without Miss Snoover.

"Well," says I when they were gone, "that's a pretty mess to clean up."

"Um!" says Mark, and he smacked his lips like he'd had something good
to eat.

"What ever," says I, "did you put two slips in that Methodist box for?"

"To start a s-s-squabble," says he.

"Well," says I, "you done it, all right."

"Plunk," says he, "excitement is the makin' of a beauty contest. The
more folks gets m-mad the more votes is cast. The more squabbles there
is the more money we make--and the more advertisin' we get. Don't you
calc'late this thing'll be talked of more'n a simple drawin' with no
row at all would have b-been?"

"I do," says I, and let it go at that. There didn't seem to be anything
to say.

Binney Jenks, who had been down to the express-office, came in just
then.

"Enemy's takin' flight," says he.

"What enemy?" says I, "and where is he takin' flight to?"

"Jehoshaphat P.," says Binney, "and he's goin' to Detroit. Took the
ten-fifty train."

"F-flight," says Mark, with a sort of grunt. "More likely some kind of
attack. Um!... Wisht I knew what he was up to."

"If it's anything to hurt us we'll find out quick enough," says I.

"The way," says Mark, "to win b-battles is to find out the enemy's plan
and beat him to it."

"You might telegraph Jehoshaphat P.," says I, sarcastic-like, "and ask
him what his idea is."

"Who's in charge of his store?" Mark asked.

"That clerk he brought with him. Don't know what his name is."

"Does he know you?" Mark asked me.

"Don't think I ever saw him but once," I says.

"Well," says Mark, "it's about time you bought somethin' at the
t-t-ten-cent store. Take a quarter, Plunk, and spend it judicious. Take
consid'able time to it, Plunk, and get friendly with the clerk. If you
get curious you might ask a question or so. Good way would be to make
b'lieve you thought the clerk was the boss. See? Then you could ask
about the boss. Maybe this clerk is one of these t-t-talkative,
loose-jawed fellers. Worth tryin', anyhow. Might drag a crumb of
information out of him."

"And git hanged for a spy," says I; but for all that I was glad to go.
To tell the truth I was sort of tickled that Mark wanted me to go
instead of going himself. It showed he had some confidence in me and
thought I was sharp enough to do what he wanted.

I took a quarter and went across to the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store. The
clerk was lazying around without much to do but look at himself in a
little hand-glass. He had one of those little pocket-combs and he was
busy with it, fixing his hair just _so_. It was kind of straw-colored
hair with a wiggle to it. He had a kind of strawberry complexion and
blue eyes and chubby cheeks. Sort of cunning, he was. I says to myself
he ought to be entered in our beauty contest.

I went along the counter, looking at things, but he didn't pay much
attention. He got through with his hair and then began bringing up his
mustache. It was a cute mustache. Yellow like his hair, it was, but you
couldn't see it from some directions. When the light was right on it,
though, you got a good view. I kept getting closer and closer. When I
was almost in front of him I dropped my quarter and had to go chasing
after it. That attracted his attention away from his mustache.

"What'll you have?" says he, crosslike.

"Oh," says I, "dun'no'. I got a quarter to spend and I'm lookin'."

"All right," says he, "look."

"You got a fine store, mister," says I.

"Yes," says he.

"Do you own all of it?" I says, "or have you got a partner?"

He felt around till he got hold of his mustache and pulled at it
careful so as not to pull any out. He couldn't have spared much.

"Well," says he, "to tell the truth I hain't the proprietor. I'm just
sort of manager. More money in _that_ than ownin' the store--and no
risk."

"Oh," says I. "Who does own it, then?"

"Feller by the name of Skip."

"Hain't he ever here?"

"Sure. Just went to town, though. Important business."

Hum! thought I, this is one of those talking jackasses. He's all
excited about what a man he is and he'll just naturally lay himself out
to make an impression.

"It's a big responsibility to be left in charge, hain't it?" I says.

"Oh, Skip gives me all sorts of responsibility," says he. "He knows
_me_."

"I'll bet he don't," says I to myself, "or he wouldn't have you
around." But I only grinned at him admiringly. "Say," I told him, "them
clothes of yourn wasn't just _bought_, was they? They look different.
Bet a real tailor made 'em."

"Course," says he. "_I_ couldn't wear store clothes. Man in my position
has to look _swell_."

"You do it, all right," says I. Then I got an idea. "Are you figgerin'
on winnin' the contest?"

"What contest?"

"Handsomest man in Wicksville," says I. "Everybody's votin'."

"Oh, that," says he. "No. I dassent be in that? Boss wouldn't like it."

"Shucks!" says I. "You ought to enter. You'd win easy."

He took another look at himself in the glass and didn't seem
disappointed by what he saw.

"Well," says he, "I might have a _chance_."

"Chance!" I says. "Why, there wouldn't be anybody else in it!"

"I don't know many folks here," he says.

"Bet lots of folks wished they did know you. All you'd have to do would
be enter the contest, and the way they'd vote for you would be a
caution."

"Boss wouldn't like it," says he.

"If somebody put up your name without your knowin' it he couldn't
object."

I could see him sort of thinking that idea over. It was one that
attracted him like a bald head attracts flies.

"I sure would like to git my name in," says he, "but the boss hain't
got any use for that Bazar. He's mad at the folks that run it and he
says he's goin' to put it out of business. He's a bad one, Jehoshaphat
P. Skip is, and when he gits after anybody they want to look out."

"Pretty smart man, hain't he?"

"You bet he is--smarter 'n a weasel."

"Don't b'lieve he could put the Bazar out of business, though," I says,
shaking my head.

"You don't know Skip," says he. "Why, kid, what d'you s'pose he's up to
now? Eh?"

"Hain't the slightest idea," says I, as if I didn't care much.

"He's got 'em pretty near busted now. Bought a chattel mortgage they'll
never be able to pay off. He's goin' to see to it they _don't_ pay it
off. That's one reason he's in Detroit. Yes, sir. Take the wind plumb
out of their sails, I tell you."

"Huh!" says I. "Easier said than done."

"He's goin' to the wholesale houses," says the clerk in a whisper.

"What of it?"

"The Bazar owes money," says he. "He's goin' to tell the wholesale
houses they better look out or the Bazar'll bust. See? Then the
wholesale houses'll demand their money. Besides that, the Bazar won't
be able to buy no more stock. Skip'll fix their credit, and no store
can git along without credit. See?"

Did I see? I should say I did see! This was almost worse than the
chattel mortgage.

"Another thing," says he, "the Bazar's got the local agency for
Wainright's sheet music. Must be a pretty good thing. Skip's going to
get that away from 'em. Hurt some, I calc'late. And he's goin' to take
away their agency for phonographs and records. Bet that'll hit 'em a
wallop. Eh? Skip says he'll take away every one of their agencies."

"But," says I, "this is a five-and-ten-cent store. How can he sell
things that come to more?"

"Oh," says the clerk, "he's goin' to open a separate department and
sell every single thing the Bazar does--and cut prices. Guess this
beauty contest won't get much for the Bazar folks against lower prices."

That was the way I looked at it, and my heart went 'way down into my
boots, but I wouldn't let him see it.

"About that contest," says he, "I'd like to get my name in. But I
wouldn't like Skip to know I went in myself. He'd have to think
somebody else did it without me knowing."

"Sure," says I.

He looked all around to make sure nobody was looking, and then handed
me half a dollar.

"Here," says he in a whisper. "Buy me a necktie with this, and have my
name entered. Will you? Eh?"

"Course," says I; "glad to do it for you."

I hurried right out of the store and across the street, not waiting to
spend my quarter at all. I had to see Mark Tidd, and see him _quick_.
Something had to be done. Something had to be done in a minute. If we
lost these agencies and had our credit cut off we might as well close
our doors. Here was Mark's chance to show if he was as great a man as
folks thought he was.



                               CHAPTER IX


"Mark!" I yelled as soon as I got to the front door. "Hey, Mark! Quick!"

"T-take it easy," says he. "Where's the fire?"

"Fire!" says I. "You'll wish it _was_ a fire."

"Um!" says he. "Out with the sad news, Plunk. Let's weep t-t-together."

I told him as fast as I could. His little eyes began to glow and you
could see his chin setting under the fat. He was mad, mad clear through
the whole of him.

"That J-j-jehoshaphat P. Skip," says he, "is about as low down as they
make 'em. He's a human skunk." Then he shut up like a steel trap.

"Well?" says I.

"Stay here," says he. "I'm goin' out--and I'll be b-b-back when I git
here." My! how he stuttered!

"Where you goin'?" says I.

"Telegraph-office first," says he. "Don't know where then." At that he
waddled out of the door as fast as he could go. He had some scheme, and
he was after Jehoshaphat. Somehow I felt as if I'd rather be somebody
else than Mr. Skip, too. When Mark has that look on his face you want
to look out for him.

He went to the telegraph-office and sent half a dozen telegrams to the
folks we did business with in Detroit. They were all the same:

  Look out for a man named Skip. Make no deal till I come.

                                                            MARK TIDD.

After that he rented a horse and buggy and drove off somewhere into the
country. I didn't know where, and nobody else did. He was gone till
almost five o'clock. Then he came dashing in, looking pretty pleased
about something, and says:

"Got to g-go to Detroit on the five-thirty. Comin'?"

"Yes," says I. "When'll we be back?"

"T-to-morrow," says he.

He left Tallow and Binney in charge of the Bazar, and we hurried off to
get our nightgowns and tooth-brushes. The train was five minutes late
as usual, or we never would have caught it.

It was 'most midnight when we got into Detroit, so we went to a hotel
right across the road from the depot and went to bed. Mark told the man
at the desk to call us at six o'clock.

I went to sleep right off because I was tired, and I guess Mark did,
too. Sleeping was one of the things he was good at. He could sleep and
eat more than any fellow I ever knew--and stay awake more when it was
necessary.

We were waked up by the telephone-bell and got dressed and went down to
breakfast.

"Now what?" says I.

"Wholesale houses first," says he.

Neither of us knew anything about the city, so we had to ask our way,
but we didn't get lost. It was quite a walk to the first place we
wanted--Spillane & Company--and when we got there it wasn't open yet.
We sat down in the doorway to wait.

After a while an old gentleman came along in an electric automobile and
got out and came up to the door. We moved over to let him through.

"Early birds, aren't you?" says he, sort of squinting at us under his
gray eyebrows.

"Yes," says Mark, "but the w-w-worm hasn't come yet."

"Who's the worm?" says he.

"Spillane & Company," says Mark.

The old gentleman kept on squinting at us under those eyebrows without
ever the sign of a smile.

"What do you want of Spillane & Company?" says he.

"Want to talk business to 'em," says Mark.

"Haven't any jobs for boys," says he, and stuck the key in the lock.

"I've got all the j-j-job right now I need," says Mark, with a twinkle
in his eye.

"What do you want, then?"

"I want to talk to the man that runs this business," says Mark. "The
boss of the whole th-thing."

"What about?"

"Are you him?" Mark asked.

"What if I'm not?" says the man.

"Then," says Mark, his mouth setting stubborn-like, "I'll wait till he
comes."

"Huh!" says the old gentleman, and it was hard to tell if it was a
growl or a chuckle. "My name's Spillane, and I'm president of this
concern. What is it, now? Don't keep me standing here all day."

"I want to t-talk to you about Jehoshaphat P. Skip."

"What's your name?"

"Mark Tidd."

The old gentleman grunted again and scowled--actually scowled. I edged
off because it looked to me like he was going to do something
unpleasant. "So you're Mark Tidd, are you? You're the one that sends
mysterious telegrams? What do you mean by it? Eh? What do you mean by
sending telegrams nobody can make head or tail to?"

"I meant business when I sent it, and I m-mean business _now_," says
Mark.

"Come in," says Mr. Spillane.

We followed him into the office and he jerked his head toward a couple
of chairs.

"Always get down first," says he. "Open the door myself. Get in half an
hour's thinking before the help comes."

Mark and I nodded polite.

"Well," says Mr. Spillane, "what about Jehoshaphat P. Skip?"

"Jehoshaphat P. Skip," says Mark, "was here to see you yesterday. I
d-don't know what he told you--maybe it was true and maybe it was lies.
We've come to tell our side of it."

"And who are you?"

"We're Smalley's Bazar," says Mark.

"Where's Mr. Smalley?"

"In the hospital. We're runnin' the business."

"Four kids," says Mr. Spillane.

"He told you, didn't he? Yes, sir, four kids--but we play fair. We
don't go s-s-sneakin' off to spoil a competitor's credit, and we don't
lie and we don't cheat."

"Smalley's Bazar is on the verge of bankruptcy," says Mr. Spillane. "I
am writing you a letter to-day refusing further credit and demanding a
settlement of the account now standing."

Mark thought a minute. "The more retail businesses there are," says he,
"the more goods wholesale houses sell. Every t-time a little store is
killed off it costs the wholesaler money, doesn't it?"

"Yes."

"Then it's to your advantage to keep the l-little stores going."

"Yes."

"It's to your advantage to keep Smalley's Bazar going."

"That's another matter. You owe us money you can't pay. It would be
poor business to let you owe us more."

"It would be if we couldn't pay," says Mark, "but if we get a square
deal we can p-pay--every cent. Yes, sir, and make money besides."

"Smalley's Bazar never did amount to much."

"It's going to.... Just lemme t-t-tell you about this Skip and what
we're d-doin' and what we're goin' to do."

"I don't think it will make any difference. Our credit man has looked
you up and he advises against further dealings."

Well, Mark set in and began to talk. He told about how we boys started
into the Bazar and about how Skip came to town and about the auction
Skip broke up and about the threats he made and the chattel mortgage
and about his trip to town. He told about his plans and how they were
going to work, and then he ended up:

"Skip may have money now--but he ain't honest. Nobody's honest that'll
do what he's d-done. We haven't his money--but--but you can ask anybody
in Wicksville about us--anybody. If we're let alone we'll pull through.
If creditors come down on us we'll b-bust--and there won't be much for
the creditors. Here's your chance, Mr. Spillane, to give us a chance to
make good or to play into the hands of a feller like Skip. The
d-difference between us and Skip is, we'll pay if we can and he'll
cheat you if he can. Now, sir, is it Skip or us?"

"Who thought up that auction scheme?"

"I did," says Mark.

"Who thought up the beauty contest?"

"I did," says Mark.

"Who thought up these other things you've told me?"

"I did," says Mark.

"Young fellow," says Mr. Spillane, "how'd you like to work for me?"

"F-f-fine," says Mark, "but I've got something else to do now."

"I'll give you more than you can make out of the Bazar."

"I'm making nothing out of it," says Mark. "I d-d-don't get paid."

"What?" says Mr. Spillane.

"None of us does," says Mark.

"Ummmm!" says Mr. Spillane.

We waited and didn't say a word. The old gentleman didn't say a word,
either, for quite a while; then he grunted ferocious-like again, and
says:

"Where else are you going?"

We told him the names of the other firms, and then he turned around to
his desk and began working at some papers just as if we weren't there.
I thought it was a funny sort of thing to do, and it made me mad. He
had a right to refuse to do what we wanted, but he didn't have any
right to treat us like that. I started to get up, but Mark looked at me
and winked and shook his head. So I sat back.

It was twenty minutes before Mr. Spillane paid any more attention to
us. By that time other men had come in and there was a pile of mail on
his desk. He looked that over and then turned around.

"Come on," he said, reaching for his hat.

We followed him without any idea where he was going. He made us get
into his electric and drove us across town. There he stopped at a big
building and we got out. It was The Wolverine Novelties Company,
another of our wholesalers. He went right in and pushed past a clerk
that wanted to know what he wanted, and into a private office where a
fat man was sitting at a desk.

"Hello, Jake!" says Mr. Spillane.

"Hello, Pat!" says the other man.

"Here's a couple of kids, Jake. From Wicksville. Fat one's the author
of the telegram you got yesterday about Skip. Runs Smalley's Bazar."

"Goin' to shut 'em up, Pat?"

"I was--but I've arranged differently." Mr. Spillane turned and scowled
at us. "This kid"--he stuck his thumb at Mark--"has argued me out of
it. I'm going to give 'em a new line of credit."

"Not feeling sick, are you? Better get more fresh air, Pat."

"And," says Mr. Spillane, just as if he hadn't been interrupted,
"you're going to extend their credit, too." He jerked his head at Mark.
"Tell him about it, Tidd."

Mark sailed in and told it all over again, while the fat man began to
grin and grin. When Mark was done the fat man says:

"Looking for a job, Tidd?"

"N-no, sir," says Mark. "Not till I get this Bazar off my hands."

"Well, when you _do_ want a job come around to see me."

"He's mine," says Spillane. "Keep off."

"Tell you what I'll do," says the fat man. "You write me a letter so I
get it every Saturday, telling me everything that goes on and what
schemes you work, and--you can have any reasonable credit you want. You
won't be pushed, either."

Marked thanked him and then Spillane hauled us off in a hurry. Mark
tried to thank _him_ when we were outside, but he only growled at us,
so it wasn't possible. From The Wolverine Novelties Company he took us
to every other wholesaler we did business with, and to the sheet-music
people, where he fixed it so Skip couldn't take away our agency. He
fixed _everybody_. Then he went back to the office and dictated letters
to the phonograph company and other folks whose goods we were
handling--folks in New York and Chicago and Cincinnati, and they were
real bang-up letters, too. When he got through there wasn't a thing for
us to worry about on the score of credit. Then he took us to dinner at
a big hotel and drove us to the train.

We got back to Wicksville toward evening, tired, but pretty average
well satisfied with things in general, I can tell you. The Bazar was
closed, of course, so we went right home.

"Wish I could see Jehoshaphat P. Skip's face when he hears about it,"
says I.

"He's goin' to hear about somethin' he'll like worse," says Mark, in
the way he talks when he's done something big but isn't ready to tell
about it.

"What's up?" says I.

"You'll find out pretty soon," says he. "It'll m-make Mr. Skip swaller
his false teeth."



                               CHAPTER X


Old Mose Miller came slouching into the Bazar just before noon next
day. Old Mose lived up the river in a little shanty, but he had a big
farm and fine barns and a herd of Holstein cattle that would make your
eyes bung out. He lived all alone. Seemed like he didn't like folks.
Mostly he wouldn't speak to anybody, and the man who went through his
gate without good and sufficient business was taking a chance. I
suppose every boy in Wicksville had been chased by Old Mose--and quite
a lot of the men.

Well, Old Mose came in and began snarling around and making faces like
everything he saw hit him on the wrong side of his temper. He was the
homeliest old coot you ever saw. Downright homely, he was! He didn't
have a hair on his head, and his eyebrows and eyelashes were gone. If
that was all he wouldn't have had much chance to be thought
good-looking, but it wasn't all. His nose was broken and came
zigzagging down the middle of his face like a rail fence, and he had
only about every second tooth in front. That's all that ailed his head
if you forgot about his ears--and they were so big they flapped when he
walked.

The rest of him was just as bad, but I expect his feet were his
strongest point. They were flat--flat as pancakes. And big! Well, say,
folks was used to saying that in winter he didn't need to use
snow-shoes. If the rest of him had grown up to match his feet he'd have
been eleven feet tall.

Mark stepped up to wait on him.

"W-what can I do for you, Mr. Miller?" he asked, as polite as could be.

"You kin talk like a human bein'," says Old Mose, "and not like a buggy
joltin' over a corduroy road."

I ducked down back of the counter so Mark couldn't see me laugh, for he
does hate to have anybody make fun of his stuttering. I listened sharp,
expecting him to give Old Mose as good as he sent, but not a word did
he say. In business hours he tended to business, and so long as a
customer didn't go too far Mark would be patient as a lamb. So he just
waited.

"Folks," says Old Mose, "is a pesky nuisance."

"Yes, sir," says Mark.

"Shet up," says Mose. "What d'you know about it?"

I could see Mark's eyes begin to twinkle and knew he was enjoying
himself. Pretty soon Old Mose snapped at him again.

"I won't have no folks in the house with me. Not me. Can't make 'em
shet up when you want 'em to. Talk, talk, talk, that's the way with
folks. Never run down."

"Yes, sir," says Mark.

"_Yes, sir! Yes, sir!_ Can't you say nothin' but 'Yes, sir'?"

"Yes, sir," says Mark, as innocent to look at as a head of cabbage.

Old Mose reached for his ears and took one in each hand. Then he
stamped on the floor, and while he stamped he pulled. That's how his
ears got so big, likely. Mad! My! he was mad. He jabbered and growled
and called Mark an "idjit," and allowed that of all idjits he was the
worst, and how came anybody to take the trouble to raise him? He went
on quite a spell before he quieted down. Then he started off on folks
in general again.

"I don't like folks," he says in his cracked voice. "I don't like to
have 'em around. But I git tired of the sound of my own voice. Mighty
tired. Lots of times I don't talk to myself for a whole day, b'jing!
There's times when I want somebody to talk to me. But you can't trust
folks. They wouldn't shut up. Not them. Can't turn 'em off. That's why
I come here." He glared at Mark as though he was to blame for the whole
thing. "Heard one of them talkin'-machines, that's what! Human voice
comin' out of it. Talk! Sing! Whistle! Likewise playin' of bands and
sich-like. Better'n a human. Better comp'ny. Kin turn the screw and
shut 'em off.... Got one of them talkin'-machines to sell?"

"Yes, sir," says Mark, and Old Mose scowled at him like he was ready to
take a chunk out of his leg. "We g-got three kinds. Forty dollars,
seventy dollars, and hundred and ten dollars."

"More'n they're wuth! More'n they're wuth. It's a cheat, I say. Forty
dollars! Whoosh!"

"Let me p-play them for you," says Mark.

He started the seventy-dollar one off with a woman singing, and then
played a band piece, and another with a fellow telling jokes, and some
more and some more. Right in the middle of a piece Old Mose yelled:

"Shut 'er off! Lemme see you shut 'er off."

Mark snapped it off short, and Old Mose looked almost pleased--and I
guess he came as close to it as he could.

"Always shet up like that?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," says Mark.

"How much do them wax plates come at?"

"Different p-prices," says Mark. "Here's the list."

"Don't want to see it. Don't want to see it." He pulled a wallet out of
his pocket and laid down a hundred-dollar bill. "Here," says he, "gimme
that machine and enough of them wax things to make up a hundred
dollars' worth. Hear me? Want to keep me waitin' all day?"

"All ready for you in a s-second, sir," says Mark, and quicker than I
can tell you about it he had picked out the records and was packing
them careful so they wouldn't break.

"This'll give you a th-thousand votes," he says to Old Mose.

"Votes? What votes? What do I want of votes?"

"Handsomest-man contest," says Mark. "Folks in Wicksville is votin' to
see who he is."

Old Mose glared. "Young feller," says he, "if you're a-makin' fun of me
I'm a-goin' to lay you acrost my knee and give you what your pa's
neglected to."

"It's not a j-joke, sir. Everybody's votin'. 'Most every man in
t-town's entered."

Old Mose chuckled. "Kin I vote 'em for anybody I want to?"

"Yes, sir."

He chuckled again, sort of mean-like.

"Gimme them votes. I calc'late I'll take 'em home and think it over.
'Tain't no easy job to pick the handsomest man in this town.
Wicksville's that full of handsome men they're stumblin' over each
other in the street. Handsome! If there's a feller in this town that
kin look at his own reflection without feelin' timid of it then _I_
hain't seen him. Gimme them votes, I say. What's ailin' you?"

Mark counted out the votes and then we helped Old Mose load his
phonograph into his wagon. He climbed on to the seat and went off
without even looking at us again. Crusty old codger, _I_ say.

"Plunk," says Mark, "d-don't hesitate about spreadin' the news."

"What news?"

"Why, that Old Mose has g-got a thousand votes--and that he hain't made
up his mind who to cast 'em for."

"What good 'll that do?"

"Remember the time Old Mose sicked his d-dog on us?"

"You bet I do."

"Here's our chance to g-git even. Mose don't like folks. As soon as
this news gits out he'll see plenty of 'em--mostly wimmin. Everybody
that's g-got a man entered in this contest'll be after Old Mose.
There'll be a procession out to his house. He'll have more folks
campin' on his trail than he thought was in the county."

It was plain enough. I could just see Mrs. Peterson and Mrs. Bloom and
the Presbyterian ladies and the Baptist ladies trotting out to Old
Mose's and honeying around him and making his life miserable. It would
be as good as a show. They'd catch him in the morning and they'd catch
him in the afternoon, and it would be as much as his life was worth to
show his face in town. I just threw back my head and laughed like I
haven't felt like laughing since father was hurt.

Mark didn't laugh, but his eyes twinkled. When I sobered down he says:

"We don't want to l-let this beauty contest take all our time. We got
to think up other schemes."

"Sure," says I.

"I been th-thinkin'," says he, "that we ought to find out somethin'
everybody'll be wantin' about now--and git some we can sell cheap."

"Good idee," says I. "What'll it be?"

"I dun'no'--yet," says he.

We stood and thought and thought. Finally I remembered right off I knew
something every woman in Wicksville would be buying about then.

"Cannin' season," says I.

"Course," says he. "Mason jars. Wonder what they cost?"

"I'll run over to the grocery and see," I says, and off I went.

The clerk said they were selling for fifty-five cents a dozen without
the rubbers.

"Hum," says Mark. "That's about a n-nickel apiece. If we could sell 'em
three for a dime and make any profit at all we'd do consid'able
b-business."

"Where d'you buy 'em?" I wanted to know.

"Spillane & Company handle 'em," says he. "I'll write 'em a letter....
No, I'll telegraph 'em. Save time." He went back to the desk to write a
message, but he stopped and thought.

"Price 'd d-depend on how many we was goin' to use," says he. "Wonder
how many we'd sell?"

"No way of tellin'," says I.

"There m-must be," says he in that arguing way of his. "We got to find
out.... Say, you fellers go home and ask your mothers and my mother how
many they're goin' to buy this fall."

We went off obedient as little sheep. Mark's mother was going to need
two dozen new ones, Binney's mother figured on three dozen, and
Tallow's mother allowed as how she needed about two dozen and a half.

Mark blinked and pinched his cheek and whistled a little.

"There's about two hundred h-houses in Wicksville. The population of
the township's about four thousand, so that means about two hundred
more farm-houses. That's figgerin' five folks to the house for town and
country. Looks like the average number of cans was about two d-dozen
and a half. But that's high. Lots of folks don't set as good a table as
your f-folks. But 'most everybody in Wicksville cans some. Let's guess
low. Say a dozen cans to every house. How about that?"

"Too high," says I.

"Maybe so," says he; "b-better be safe and figger 'way low. Say eight
cans to a house. How many's that?"

"Thirty-two hundred cans," says I.

"Course we couldn't sell _all_ of 'em--even if the p-price was low. But
we could sell most--if we let folks know about it. Ought to sell two
thousand of those cans."

"Ought to," says I, "but it'd be better to turn some f-folks away than
to have a couple of hundred cans left on hand."

"Um!... Well, say ten g-gross. That's fourteen hundred and forty. How
about that?"

"Sounds safe to me," I says, and Tallow and Binney agreed.

"Then we'll wire for a price on that m-many," says Mark, and he turns
and makes out the message.

  Wire best price ten gross quart Mason jars for sale.

                                                      SMALLEY'S BAZAR.

We sent off the message, but the answer didn't come till next morning.
It said:

  Can quote special price three ninety-five per gross delivered.

                                                   SPILLANE & COMPANY.

We sat down to figure. That would make the cans cost two and
three-quarter cents apiece. We could sell them three for ten cents and
make a profit of a cent and three-quarters. That would give us a total
profit of eight dollars and forty cents. That wasn't much, but it was a
brand-new profit in addition to everything else. We thought it was
worth trying, so we wired Spillane & Company to send on the goods.

They wired back that the goods would be shipped immediately and would
get to Wicksville the next afternoon.

"Now for the advertising," says Mark.

He brought the horse and wagon and Tallow and Binney into commission
again. This time the signs were about the Mason jars and the great sale
we were going to have on Friday--three cans for ten cents. They drove
all over town and out through the country, banging on a drum. I guess
folks were getting used to this way of telling them things, for when
they heard the drum whanging women would come running to the door to
see what new thing we were up to. Mark put a big sign up in the window,
too, and as the paper came out Thursday he put an advertisement in that
told all about it. That was about all we could do. Now the Wicksville
folks would have to do the rest.

I can tell you we were all anxious. That deal meant an investment of
thirty-nine dollars and fifty cents. Not very much, maybe you will say.
But it was a lot to us, fixed the way we were. If we should be stuck
for nearly forty dollars just at that time we would be in a hard way,
and don't ever forget it. We _had_ to sell those jars!

Friday morning the jars were there and displayed in the window.
Everything was ready for the sale, which was to start at ten o'clock.
Mark had fixed up special tables and arranged things so that two of us
would sell, one would handle the money, and the other would wrap up the
jars folks bought. By nine o'clock we were ready--and there wasn't
anything to do but wait. It was a long, anxious hour.

Well, sir, about a quarter past nine we heard a bell ringing fit to
bust itself out in the street. Then we heard another bell. All of us
ran to the door. There, just starting out from the Five-and-Ten-Cent
Store, were three boys with big signs on the ends of poles--and those
signs said:

                       GREAT SALE OF MASON JARS!
                           FOUR FOR TEN CENTS
                     AT THE FIVE-AND-TEN-CENT STORE
                             SALE OPEN NOW!

_Four for ten cents!_ That was a quarter of a cent less than we had to
pay Spillane & Company for them!



                               CHAPTER XI


"There," says I, "goes thirty-nine dollars and a half."

Tallow and Binney were pretty discouraged, too, and Mark looked more
downhearted than I ever saw him. Mr. Jehoshaphat P. Skip had about
knocked us all off our feet.

"We'll have to go on with the sale," I says. "Maybe we can get rid of
some--and that'll save us a dollar or so, anyhow."

Mark didn't say a word. I saw him fumbling around in his pocket after
his jackknife--and that meant business. He had done a lot of thinking
since we started to run the Bazar, but this was the first time he had
wanted to whittle. That was about the last help he depended on. When
everything else failed Mark Tidd whittled.

He went back behind the counter with a piece of box and started
littering up the floor. We stayed away from him and waited. It was
fifteen minutes, maybe, before we saw his head coming up into sight. He
didn't look happy and his eyes didn't twinkle. But he _did_ look
determined. We fellows have been in some tight places with Mark, and
have met some pretty mean men, but Jehoshaphat P. Skip was the first
one to get Mark mad clean through and through.

"Well?" says I, as he came around the end of the counter.

"This man Skip," says he, "hasn't had time to get in a fresh s-s-stock
of Mason jars."

"What of it?"

"D-don't b'lieve he's got many. Just his regular stock."

"But he's spoiled our sale, anyhow."

Mark shook his head. "Maybe so--but we'll see. Got some friends we can
depend on? Grown-up folks?"

"There's Uncle Ike Bond--and I'll bet Chet Weevil and Chancy Miller 'd
do 'most anything for us, with the beauty contest going on."

"G-good," says Mark. "Who else?"

"Dad," says Binney.

"My dad, too," says Tallow.

"F-fine. Need more, though."

We thought up a dozen folks and Mark asked us to run to see them and
find out if they would come to the Bazar just a minute. He said to tell
them it was important.

In another fifteen minutes they were there--a dozen of them. Mark stood
up and says:

"I want you f-f-folks to buy Mason jars--from Jehoshaphat P. Skip. He's
sellin' 'em for less than we can buy them for. D-don't b'lieve he's got
many dozen."

"What's the idee?" says Uncle Ike.

"We got a sale on," says Mark. "Th-three jars for a dime. This man
Skip--just to bust up our sale--goes and advertises f-four jars for a
dime. What we got to do is buy every last jar he's got--_quick_! We got
to buy 'em before Wicksville folks start buyin'. When they come to buy
from the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store there mustn't be any there to b-b-buy."

Uncle Ike slapped his leg. "Smartest kid I ever see," says he to
himself. "Greased lightenin's slow. Folks, I've been drivin' a 'bus a
good many years, and you git to know a lot on a 'bus. Grand eddication.
But never in all them years have I seen the beat of this here Mark
Tidd. No, sir. He tops the pile."

Everybody was willing to help us out, so Mark gave them money out of
the till and they straggled off to the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store. Each
one was to buy all he could.

Uncle Ike came first with two dozen, and Binney's dad brought two
dozen--seems that's all Skip would sell to one person. Then the rest
straggled in with two dozen apiece till it came to Chet Weevil.

"Only got half a dozen," says he, grinning all over. "The last
half-dozen there was. We've cleaned him out. Every last can's bought."

Then Mark grinned--and said thank you to everybody and told us to get
to our places, for the sale was going to start. He went back to paint a
new sign. It said:

                        WHEN YOU COME BACK FROM
                      THE FIVE-AND-TEN-CENT STORE
                         WITHOUT ANY MASON JARS
                             BUY THEM HERE
                            THREE FOR A DIME
                             WE HAVE PLENTY

He put that up and then we waited.

I stood in the door where I could watch the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store.
Quite a lot of folks went in--and came out again looking sort of mad.
Most of them came back up the street, and when they saw our new sign
they turned in. Provoked! Say, they believed, I guess, that Skip had
played a joke on them.

"Have _you_ got any Mason jars?" old Mrs. Stovall says, sharp-like.

"L-lots of 'em, ma'am," says Mark. "Three for a dime."

"Gimme two dozen," says she. And then she shook her black bonnet till
the jet beads rattled. "I went into that other place," says she, "and
that smart Alec of a clerk says they was all sold out. Fine way to
treat folks! Advertise a thing and then not have it to sell."

"Yes, ma'am," says Mark. "You'll find this Bazar always has what it
advertises, and as g-g-good as it advertises."

"I hain't never been cheated here," she says, "and I won't never be
cheated _there_. I'll never step a foot inside that store again if it
was the last place on the footstool."

Mark began to look cheerful, and as time went along he looked more
cheerful. We had a steady stream of customers--and most of them had
been to the other store first. And they were mad. Skip had done his
business more harm that morning than as if he'd locked up his door to
shut folks out. He'd made them mad--and he'd fixed it so they were
suspicious of him. Mark says if you get folks to distrusting you you
might just as well shut up shop, and I guess it's so.

By noon eight gross of our cans were gone and we were beginning to
worry for fear we would run out--and we would have run out, too, if it
hadn't been for those we bought from Skip--almost a gross. They just
saved our bacon. When we shut the store at six o'clock there were
exactly six cans left in the house. We had made a profit of eight
dollars and forty cents on our own cans, and on the one hundred and
twenty-six jars we bought from Skip at two cents apiece we had cleared
just one dollar--and lots of satisfaction. It was a total profit of
nine dollars and forty cents instead of a loss of thirty-nine dollars
and a half. And Mark Tidd had done it. With that _thinking_ brain of
his he'd got us out of the worst kind of a hole--and put Jehoshaphat P.
Skip into one. He's done a lot of things that got bigger results, but I
don't believe he ever did anything that was any _smarter_.

"Wish somebody'd tell Skip just what happened to him," I says.

"Me, too," says Binney and Tallow, and Tallow said he guessed he'd go
tell Skip himself.

"No need," says Mark, "the story's all over town. Everybody knows by
this t-time--and everybody 'll be laughin' at Jehoshaphat to-morrow. It
hain't a good th-thing for a b-business man to have the town laughin'
at him."

"Humiliatin'," says I, "and especially when he got caught in his own
trap by a kid he's 'most old enough to be granddad to."

Mark chuckled.

"We did pretty good," says he.

"_We!_" says I. "We didn't have anything to do with it. It was you--and
you get all the credit that's comin'."

Mark shrugged his shoulders so the fat at the back of his neck tried to
crowd his ears. He was willing enough to be praised and liked to have
folks think he was a wonder--but he wasn't mean about it. He never
tried to hog the glory and was willing the rest of us should get all we
could. But it did tickle him to know we appreciated him--and he
deserved to be tickled.

We passed Jehoshaphat P. on our way home and grinned at him
cheerful-like. I thought for a minute he was going to stop and say
something, but he strangled it back and went on as fast as his thin
legs would carry him. Tallow started to yell something after him, but
Mark made him shut up.

"That's all right for kids," says he, "but we're business men--for a
while, anyhow. Let's act like b-b-business men."

Wasn't that Mark all over! Whatever he did or whatever he pretended to
do--he was that thing. If we played cowboy he was a cowboy, and acted
and thought like a cowboy. I calculate if we were to make believe we
were aeroplanes he'd spread his arms and fly.

We passed my house and I turned in.

"To-morrow's Saturday," says I, "and a long day. Get a good sleep
to-night."

"Yes," says Mark. "We g-got to stir things up t-to-morrow. Folks 'll be
expectin' somethin' of us. Mustn't d-disappoint anybody. Good night."

I said good night and went in the house. There was a letter there from
mother. She said dad was getting along pretty well, but it would be a
month before he could leave the hospital. She said she told him what we
boys were doing and he was proud of us, and she was proud of us, too.

"I don't know what we'd ever do without our boy and his friends," she
said. "Especially Mark Tidd. You thank the boys for us, son, and tell
Mark Tidd the thing he is doing and the way he has come to help us is
something a very sick man and a troubled woman are grateful for to the
bottoms of their hearts. His mother must be proud of him."

I went over to Mark's house after supper and read him that. He was
quiet for a long time--and I saw him blink and blink because something
came into his eyes he didn't want me to see. Pretty soon he says:

"Plunk, there's different ways of gettin' paid for things. There's
money and fame and such-like, but, honest, seems to me, and you can
t-tell your mother so for me, that what she says in her letter is the
f-finest thing that ever happened." He blinked again a couple of times.
"When you're th-through with it, Plunk, I wish you'd give me that
letter. I'd--I'd like to keep it--always."

That was a side of Mark Tidd I never saw before. It sort of gave me a
look inside of him. Always before I'd thought about his being smart and
scheming and sharper than most folks, but now I saw there was something
more--maybe something better and worth more to have--a great big heart
that was full of sympathy for folks and that could be sorry when other
folks were sorry and glad when they were glad.

I was pretty embarrassed and couldn't find a word to say, but I gave
him the letter. He folded it carefully and put it in his pocket.

"Plunk," says he, "I'd s-sort of like to read this to dad and
m-mother.... I guess they'd like to hear it."

"Sure," says I, sort of pinched in my throat. I know how _my_ folks
would be glad to have somebody say such a thing about me. My mother 'd
cry, I know, but it wouldn't be because she was sorry. Not much. So I
says "Sure," and got out of there as fast as I could, because I didn't
know how much longer I'd last without getting messy and acting
like--like a fellow doesn't like to act.



                              CHAPTER XII


By Saturday our beauty contest was getting pretty warm. Folks had
talked about it and argued about it till they really got to believe
there was some importance to the thing. There were quarrels over
husbands, and Chet Weevil and Chancy Miller had to be separated every
time they met. Those two young men took it pretty serious. Chet said if
Chancy was to win he'd pick up and leave Wicksville for ever, and
Chancy said if Chet was to win he'd go off and live in a cabin in the
woods where he never would see another human being, he'd be that
ashamed.

Mrs. Peterson and Mrs. Bloom didn't speak to each other any more, but
put in all their spare time fussing around town trying to scrape up
votes for their husbands. There were a lot of others just as bad.

But when Wicksville heard how Old Mose Miller had a thousand votes and
didn't know who he was going to cast them for, there was excitement.
You can bet there was. Early Saturday morning Chancy came sneaking into
the store to find out about it.

"Mark," says he, "is it a fact that Old Mose has got a thousand votes?"

"Yes," says Mark. "He's got 'em, all r-right."

"Sort of an uncle of mine--Old Mose is," says Chancy, and he grinned
satisfied-like. "Blood's thicker 'n water. Guess I'll go out to see
him."

"I would," says Mark. "If I was you I wouldn't l-lose any time."

Chancy was no sooner gone than Chet came in with the same question.

"Huh!" says he when Mark told him the rumor was so. "Thousand votes.
That'll about win this contest, won't it?"

"Come p-pretty close," says Mark.

"Then," says Chet, "I got to have 'em. _Got_ to! I'm goin' out to see
the old skeezicks. I'm goin' this minnit."

"Good idee," says Mark. "But Old Mose is Chancy's uncle. Know th-that?
Blood's thicker 'n water."

"No sich thing," says Chet. "There hain't no sich hate as that between
relatives. Chancy's father and Old Mose had a row over their father's
will. Been hatin' each other twenty-odd years. Chancy 'll never count
them votes, you listen to me."

Well, sir, I looked toward the door, and who should be coming in but
Old Mose himself. Right behind him was Chancy. Chet he took one look
and made for the old fellow and grabbed him by the arm.

"Why, Mr. Miller," says he, grabbing for the old man's hand to shake
it, "I dun'no' when I've been so tickled to see anybody. How be you,
anyhow? Hope you're feelin' spry as a two-year-old."

Old Mose scowled at him.

"Do, eh? Do you, now? Huh! Who be _you_, anyhow? What call you got to
be mixin' up with my health? Glad to see me, be you? Well, young
feller, 'tain't mutual. Not none. Leggo that hand. Leggo."

"But, Mr. Miller, I am glad to see you. You and my father is old
friends. He often speaks of you. Honest he does. You hain't forgot
Henry Weevil, have you?"

"No, nor I hain't likely to, the shiftless old coot! Henry Weevil's
son, be you? Reckon you take after him, too. Necktie looks like it.
Henry had about gumption enough to spend his last quarter for a red rag
to tie around his neck."

Just then Chancy came springing forward and made a grab at Chet.

"You quit pesterin' and disturbin' this old gentleman," says he. "He's
my uncle, he is, and I hain't goin' to stand by to see no town loafer
molestin' him. You git."

Old Mose took one look at Chancy--and it was considerable of a look,
too.

"Uncle!" he snorted. "Uncle, is it? Don't let it git out. I hain't
proud of it. Don't go claimin' no relationship with me, you young
flapdoodle. I'd rather be catched stealin' sheep than to have folks
remember I was your uncle. Git out. Git away from me 'fore I up and
bust the toe of my boot on you."

Well, Chancy drew back a little, quite a little. He got clear out of
range. Chet grinned at him provoking. But Chancy was a persistent sort
of fellow; he tried Old Mose again.

"I don't see what for you hold anythin' agin me, uncle, I never done a
thing to you."

"Don't you dast call me uncle," says Old Mose, and he takes a step
forward, belligerent-like.

Chet put in his oar. "That's right, Mr. Miller. I'd hate to own he was
a relative of mine--him and his curly hair."

Old Mose turned his head slow so he could look at Chet, and says:

"One more peep out of you and I'll take you acrost my knee and fix you
like your ma ought to fix you often. I calc'late you figger you're
growed up past spankin's. Huh! You yaller-haired slinkum!"

Things looked pretty discouraging for Chet and Chancy when in came Mrs.
Bloom, all out of breath. Right at her heels was Mrs. Peterson, panting
like all-git-out. Up they rushed to Old Mose.

"Why, Mr. Miller," says Mrs. Bloom, almost putting her arm around him,
"I just heard you was in town. My! I'm that glad to see you! You're
a-goin' to come and take dinner with us, hain't you?"

Old Mose blinked. He didn't know what to make of it, and before he
decided what was going on Mrs. Peterson wedged herself in and got him
by the other arm.

"Mr. Miller's comin' to _our_ house to dinner," says she. "We're
a-goin' to have chicken and biscuits in gravy and punkin-pie. You're
a-comin' to our house, hain't you?"

Old Mose waggled his head and scowled, and waggled his head some more,
and opened his mouth to say something, and shut it again. He had to try
three times before he could get out a word.

"Hey!" he yelled, "you lemme be. You git away from me. What's the
matter with these here wimmin? Say! Dinner! Naw, I hain't goin' to
dinner with nobody. Me set and listen to female gabble! Whoo! You leggo
my arms. Hear me? Has this whole consarned town up and went crazy? Eh?
Or what?"

Well, right on top of all that three young women came pushing in and
rushing up to Old Mose. I knew what they were after--it was votes for
School-Principal Pilkins.

"Why, Mr. Miller," they says all at once, "as soon as we heard you was
in town we come right down to see you. How be you? My! it seems nice to
see you again!"

"Come right down to see me, did you?" Old Mose was about as mad as he
could get by this time. "Well, now you've saw me. Here I be from boots
to bald spot. I'm well. But I'm gettin' worse. I'm gettin' worse quick.
In a minnit I'm goin' to git vi'lent." He backed off and got around the
end of the counter where nobody could reach him. "Keep off'n me, the
whole dod-gasted passel of you. I hain't no idee of the cause of these
goin's-on, and I hain't no hankerin' to find out. But I hereby issues a
warnin' to all and sundry--keep off'n me! I'm a-goin' to git into my
buggy and make for home. I'm a-goin' to git out of this townful of
lunatics. When I come ag'in I'm a-goin' to fetch my dawg. He's the
meanest dawg in the county. And I'm a-goin' to sic him on to the first
man, woman, or child that comes gabblin' and flitterin' around me. Take
warnin'. Now git out of my way, for I'm a-comin'."

At that he began waving his arms and started pell-mell for the door.
The folks opened up a way for him and he scooted through like the way
was greased. Just a second he stopped in the door to shake his fist.
Then he made a jump into his buggy, whipped up his horse, and went
tearing for home.

Mark Tidd had stood watching the whole thing as solemn as an
undertaker's sign. Not even a little twinkle in his eye! When Mose was
gone he says:

"Don't seem like Old Mose was in g-good humor to-day."

"He's a rip-roarin', cross-grained, pig-headed, rat-minded old coot,"
says Mrs. Peterson, "but I'm a-goin' to git them votes of his'n yet."

"Think you be, do you?" snapped Mrs. Bloom. "Well, Mis' Peterson,
you'll have to git up earlier in the mornin' than you do on wash-days
if you beat _me_. So there."

"P-prob'bly," says Mark, "it would be b-better to see Old Mose out at
his house of an evenin'. Maybe he'd be more reasonable."

"We'll see him of an evenin', all right, and we'll see him of a
mornin'," says one of the young women that were after votes for
Pilkins. "And we hain't after his votes for ourselves, neither," she
says with a sarcastic look at Chet and Chancy.

"Ladies," says Mark, breaking right in on them, "have you seen the new
p-patent hooks and eyes we just got in from New York? Finest thing of
the kind ever was in Wicksville. Lemme sh-show you how they work."

He set in and described those hooks and eyes and told what they would
do, and showed how they did it. "And," says he, "we give votes with
th-these just like with anythin' else. How many cards, Mis' Peterson?"

"Gimme a quarter's worth," says she. "Sich things always come in handy."

Mrs. Bloom, she bought a quarter's worth, and each of those young women
bought a card for a dime. That was eighty cents sold that wouldn't have
been sold but for Mark taking advantage of things. But he was the sort
that took advantage. Maybe there wouldn't be much in it every time, but
add up a dozen or so times and it was quite a bit. He was business from
front to back.

"Mark," says I, when the folks were all gone, "I'm beginnin' to b'lieve
maybe we'll pull through and pay off Skip's mortgage."

"Hum!" says Mark. "You be, eh? Remember we got to raise five hundred
d-dollars and pay expenses and keep sendin' money to your f-folks.
'Tain't so easy as it looks. Comes perty clost to bein' impossible,
_I'd_ say."

"Not gittin' discouraged?" I says, frightened-like.

"No," says he, "but I h-hain't gittin' over-confident, neither. Maybe
we'll pull through if somethin' don't hit us an extra wallop. But we'll
keep a-tryin'."

"You bet," says I. "How do we stand now?"

"There's ninety-six d-dollars in the bank," says he, "that we can
figger on for the mortgage."

"Fine," says I; "'most a fifth of it."

"But we've had l-luck. There was sellin' that phonograph. Twenty
dollars clear. Don't happen every day."

"But our daily sales are keeping up pretty well."

"If we d-depend on our daily sales to pull us through," says he,
"Jehoshaphat P. Skip 'll be foreclosin' his mortgage. We g-got to keep
a-thinkin' up schemes. We got to crowd the business and keep crowdin'
it. Then, if somethin' we d-don't foresee now don't happen, we got a
chance. But if somethin' does happen--" He stopped and shrugged his fat
shoulders as much as to say that would be the end of the Bazar.

But I was feeling pretty good. Ninety-six dollars in the bank! That
seemed like a lot; and we had put it there ourselves. It seemed to me
we were coming along fine.

That night I got a telegram from mother. It says:

Father must have operation. Cost hundred dollars. Can you send money?

I just sat down limp in a chair with all the stiffening gone out of my
backbone. There was the extra wallop Mark Tidd was afraid of. I ran
right over to his house and showed him the telegram.

"Hum!" says he. "L-lucky we got that money in the bank. Send it
to-morrow."

"Course," says I. "But it licks us."

He stuck out his jaw and his eyes got sort of hard and sparkly.

"D-does, eh?" says he. "Well, Mr. Plunk, we hain't licked yet. I felt
in my bones bad luck was comin'--and here it is. But we're a-goin' to
stick to it, you can bet. Skip hasn't put us out of b-business yet."

There you were. That very day he'd said something like this would dump
our apple-cart for us--and now that it had happened he was as much for
keeping on as ever. Looked like he didn't know when he was licked. But
that was Mark Tidd all over. He wouldn't let on he had the worst of it
till the sheriff had come and closed up the Bazar. And then, maybe,
there'd be something else he'd think up to try as a last resort.

Next morning we sent mother the ninety-six dollars in the bank with
four dollars besides. It left us with only enough money in the till to
make change with.

Mark looked at it and scowled.

"Got to m-make it grow," says he, "and grow quick."

"All right," says I; "but how?"

"I'm goin' b-back to whittle," says he. "In an hour we'll start
somethin' goin'."



                              CHAPTER XIII


In half an hour Mark came up to the front of the store and we stopped
talking to listen to him.

"We n-never can raise five hundred dollars just by s-sellin' things
over the counter--not in the time that's left to us before Jehoshaphat
P. Skip's chattel mortgage is due. Even sales and schemes for makin'
folks buy more won't be enough."

"That's as good as sayin' we're busted," says I.

"C-close to it," says Mark.

"Be you givin' up?" I says.

"No. And what's more I hain't goin' to give up till Jehoshaphat P.
wishes he never heard of Wicksville. But just ordinary retailin' won't
save our b-bacon. We've got to get in a lump of money somehow."

"Let's be gettin' at it then," says I.

"If this man Skip only had p-played fair," says Mark. "But he hasn't.
Fellers, he's the right-down meanest man I ever heard of.... And that's
the only excuse we g-got for makin' use of the scheme I've got ready.
We got to use every way that's honest--even if it is sort of m-mean.
Maybe it hain't right for me to feel that way, but the meaner the thing
is the better I like to do it to him."

"Same here," says I.

"I was hopin' to save up this scheme," says he, "and maybe not use it
at all. But we g-got to. So come on."

"Where?" says I.

"Lawyer Sturgis's," says he.

Mark and I went across the street and climbed up to Mr. Sturgis's
office. He was one of those dignified men that always wear silk hats
and long coats that flop around their knees, and he talked like he'd
been exposed to grammar and rhetoric and had caught them both so bad he
couldn't be cured. He made speeches at election-times and at any other
times when there was any excuse. For that matter, everything he said
came close to being a speech. My, my, but he was a talker! He knew
words that the man who made the dictionary hasn't heard of yet. But
folks said he was a good lawyer and honest and dependable. They said
other things about him, too--that he was _good_. In spite of the
high-and-mighty way he carried himself, and the way he barked at folks,
he was said to be the kind of man who goes out of his way to do folks a
favor. Heaps of poor folks had got law from him without paying a cent.
Everybody in Wicksville laughed at him a little--and liked him a heap.
Wicksville folks could laugh at him if they wanted to, but you let a
man from Sunfield come over and start to make fun of Lawyer Sturgis and
there'd be a fight in a second. It makes a heap of difference who does
the laughing.

Well, we knocked at his door and he yelled to come in so loud people
could have heard it across the street. We went right in. He was sitting
in front of his desk, with one hand shoved through the front of his
vest and the other on his hip--just like pictures of the signing of the
Declaration of Independence; and he was frowning like pictures of
Daniel Webster.

"Ah-ha!" says he, "what have we here? To what, if I may be permitted to
inquire, do I owe the honor of this call? Ha! Marcus Aurelius
Fortunatus Tidd, is it not? Indeed! And young Smalley. Will you enter
and be seated?"

We entered and were seated.

"Now," says Lawyer Sturgis, "let us to business, laying aside all our
several and conflicting employments. You have, I judge, come to consult
me professionally. Am I right?"

"You are r-right," says Mark. "It's about Jehoshaphat P. Skip."

"Ah, indeed! Jehoshaphat P. Skip! Extraordinary individual."

"It's about that lease, Mr. Sturgis, the one you h-helped me get the
other day."

"To be sure. I recall the circumstance. And now, may I ask, what do you
desire concerning this so-called lease?"

"I want to shoot it off," says Mark.

"What?" says Mr. Sturgis. "You want--what do you want to do to it?
Shoot it off, did you say?"

"Yes, sir. Don't you remember sayin' it was a regular gun pointed at
Jehoshaphat P. Skip's head? Well, sir, I want to sh-shoot it off."

"Hum! Figure of speech, eh? I did not follow you. I did not recall my
own metaphor. Good. Your wit is nimble, my young friend."

"We've g-got to have some money--a chunk of it," says Mark. "We had
quite a bit in the bank, but we had to send it to Plunk's father for an
operation. I th-thought maybe we could use that lease to raise quite a
bit--maybe more'n a hundred dollars."

"How? What method did you contemplate?" says Mr. Sturgis.

At this I broke into the talk. "What's this all about?" I asked. "I'm
hearin' about leases and sich-like, but I don't know what leases nor
nothin'."

"Remember the d-day I went into the country?" says Mark.

"Yes."

"I drove out to see Sheridan Mogford, who owns the store Skip is in. I
f-found out Skip didn't have a lease. He just rents it by the month. If
he had a lease we couldn't do anything. A lease is a kind of a written
agreement that says how long a man can rent a p-piece of property at so
much a month. If Skip had a lease for a year he could keep on s-stayin'
in that store a year and we c-couldn't interfere with him. But he
didn't have. He said he didn't want to get tied up to any lease till he
found out how business was. So he just rents by the m-month."

"All right," says I, "but what of it?"

"Why, I w-went out to see Mr. Mogford and I talked to him and told him
how Skip had acted to us--and I got him to make out a lease of Skip's
store to Mr. Sturgis, here. Only, really, it was to us. Mr. Sturgis has
his name there in our place like. He's our--what-d'you-call-it?"

"Attorney-in-fact," says Mr. Sturgis. "In simpler language--your agent."

"Hum!" says I. "Pretty mixed up for me."

Mark grunted. "Why," says he, "when we got that lease we were entitled
to move into the store. But we'd have to give Skip a m-month's notice.
We could force him out--and there isn't another store in Wicksville
f-for him to go to. See?"

"Let's do it," says I. "That'll fix everything."

Mark shook his head. "That wouldn't f-fix anythin'," says he. "What'd
happen? We'd have Skip out of b-business, but we'd still owe him f-five
hundred dollars on that chattel mortgage. And we'd be stuck for the
rent of two stores, because we'd have to pay rent where the Bazar is
now and for Skip's store, too. Be worse off'n ever."

"Then what good is your old lease, anyhow?"

"I g-got it in the beginning because I knew it would come in handy. I
d-didn't know just how I'd use it. But I know now."

"How?"

"I'm g-goin' to make Mr. Skip pay himself part of that five hundred
dollars. Wish I could make him pay himself all of it."

"What method of procedure have you chosen?" asked Mr. Sturgis.

"I f-figgered it out you could get Skip over here and tell him about
the lease and make him pungle over. You can sell the lease, can't you?
Can't you sell it to him like it was a horse or cow or a p-piece of
property?"

"A lease, my young friend, is a piece of property and is so recognized
by law. We can follow your suggestion. How much do you consider your
lease to be worth?"

"H-haven't any idee, but we want to git all we can. Hundred dollars at
least."

"I am confident we can secure a greater sum than that. Possibly two
hundred dollars."

"F-fine," says Mark, and his eyes glistened. "We won't let him know we
have anything to do with it--not now. But won't he be hoppin' mad when
he finds out he's gone and bought that chattel mortgage and then has
had to p-pay it himself? Won't he, though? Oh, my!"

The scheme hadn't been very clear to me, but I saw it now. Mark could
make Skip move out of his store, and Skip would lose a lot of money if
he had to move, because there wasn't any place else for him to go in
Wicksville. The only way he could stay and run his store was to buy
that lease from Mark. Well, sir, I don't know how Mark thinks up
schemes like that, but he does. This was such a bully scheme, because
it couldn't help working. I made up my mind I'd ask him how he came to
think of it, because a fellow his age hasn't business understanding
about leases and law and such things.

"I g-guess you'd better send for Mr. Skip and break the news to him,"
says Mark, "and," says he, "I wish Plunk and I could be in the next
room where we c-could hear it."

Mr. Sturgis almost smiled. I bet he would have smiled right out if he
hadn't practised being dignified so many years his face wouldn't work
the way it used to. But his eyes smiled and the corners of his mouth
wiggled a little.

"To be sure," said he; "right in there. Leave the door ajar and you can
hear perfectly. I can--I can readily appreciate your desire to witness
the demeanor of Mr. Skip in the circumstances you have arranged for
him. I'll send my boy over for him at once."

Mark and I went into the next room as soon as we saw Jehoshaphat P.
Skip coming down the street, but we left the door open about an inch so
we would be sure to hear. Mark got down on all-fours and put his ear to
the crack. I stood over him. Mark was heaving and rolling all over him,
he was so tickled. It was one of those laughs of his without any noise
to it. I felt pretty tickled myself.

In a minute Skip came into Mr. Sturgis's office and said good afternoon
and wanted to know why he was sent for.

"It is in reference to the store you occupy at present," said Mr.
Sturgis. "You have no lease, as the facts come to me, but only rent
from month to month."

"Exactly," says Skip. "What of it?"

"The store has been leased to another party," says Mr. Sturgis.

"Leased? How can they lease it? Hain't I occupyin' it? Say, what you
talkin' about, anyhow?"

"Other parties approached Mr. Mogford, owner of the building; he has
granted them a lease for a period of two years. The next proceeding on
the part of my client will be to notify you to leave the premises in
thirty days."

Well, sir, you should have seen Skip! His long neck looked like it
stretched six inches to get his head closer to Mr. Sturgis, and his
pinkish hair bristled, and his little squinty eyes snapped and
glittered. Then he caught hold of his nose like he always does when he
is excited and began bending it back and forth till I thought likely
he'd crack it off.

"Who's gone and sneaked behind my back and got that lease? Hey? What
slinkin', underhanded, sheep-stealin' pirate did me sich a mean trick?
It's agin the law, I tell you. 'Tain't honest. I'll git me a lawyer and
show you. That's what I'll do."

"As far as that point is concerned," says Mr. Sturgis, "my client is
amply protected by the laws of this state. As for any action you may
take with reference to keeping possession of this property, my client
will be perfectly able to meet you and, if I may say so, to cause you
to regret such a waste of time and money. The lease belongs to my
client. If he wishes to force you out in thirty days, he will be able
to do so."

"But where'll I go? What'll I do? I got money invested here. There
hain't another store to move to."

"That, Mr. Skip, does not, so to speak, worry my client. Indeed, if I
be not wrongly informed, my client would not object to causing you a
trifle of annoyance."

"Who is your client? Who is he?"

"I am not at liberty to state."

"He's a skinflint, that's what he is. What kind of a way of doin'
business is this, anyhow? 'Tain't fair. 'Tain't just. No business man
would treat another like this."

"H'm! I'm not so sure, Mr. Skip. While we're on that subject I might
say I've heard of dealings of your own that might have been more
upright. I have been informed, Mr. Skip, that you have resorted to
means which are, to say the least, reprehensible. I, sir, have been
practising law in Wicksville for thirty-five years. I can assure you,
sir, that, had I not considered my client justified in the course he
follows in this matter, I should have declined to act for him. I do
believe him justified. I believe, sir, that it will do you no harm,
sir, to have, so to speak, a dose of your own medicine."

Skip got up out of his chair and paced up and down and waggled his nose
and craned his neck. He just didn't know what to do. He was scared and
excited and mad--my! my! but he was mad! He was caught, and he knew it.
You could tell by his face he knew it, and you could see he was pretty
wrought up with himself for not getting a lease in the beginning. The
more he walked up and down and thought it over the more scared he
got--scared of losing some money. Pretty soon he stopped before Mr.
Sturgis and says:

"I can't move, Mr. Sturgis. I've _got_ to stay in that store. Won't you
see your client and find out if we can't make some sort of an
arrangement? Say, won't you do that, Mr. Sturgis?" He was all worked up
and his voice sounded like he was going to break down and cry.

I looked down at Mark. His face had an expression I never saw on it
before--sort of _grim_. He didn't look like he was enjoying the misery
Skip was in. That wasn't his expression at all. But he did look like he
was doing something he knew he ought to do, and was getting
satisfaction out of it. I suppose maybe a general looks like that when
he catches one of his officers being a traitor and orders him to be
executed. Yes, that's the sort of look it was.

"I have full authority to deal with you," says Mr. Sturgis. "Though my
client may think you deserve to be ejected, he will not object if I
take less severe measures. What, if anything, would you suggest?"

"Can't--can't I buy the lease? Won't he sell it to me?"

"Well, now, Mr. Skip, possibly something of that sort could be
arranged. How much, for instance, would you be willing to pay for the
lease?"

"Fifty dollars."

"A-hem! Fifty dollars. Ah, you consider the lease worth fifty dollars,
do you? I, on my part, believe it is worth more than that to my client.
I think I do not make a misstatement when I say my client would rather
keep his lease than sell it for that amount."

"Seventy-five."

"Mr. Skip, if it is going to mean a severe money loss to you to move,
if there is no other store building in Wicksville, it seems to me your
offer, considering the circumstances, is low--too low."

"What do you want, then? How much? If it's too high I may as well move.
I'd rather lose my money moving than to give it to a man that rigged up
a scheme to hold me up, anyhow."

That sort of scared me and I nudged Mark, but he shook his head for me
to be quiet.

"Two hundred dollars is the price, Mr. Skip. That is final. You can
take it or leave it. My time, I may say, is of value. You have used
considerable of it. Two hundred dollars. Is it yes or no?"

Skip thought a moment, and wriggled like there was a burr inside his
shirt, and groaned, but he came around.

"It's a skin game," says he, "and a hold-up, but I'll pay it."

"All right," says Mr. Sturgis. "Pay it, then."

That was the shortest and most businesslike speech I ever heard him
make. He pulled the lease out of his pocket and waited. Skip, still
muttering and mumbling and groaning, took out his check-book and wrote
a check. Then Mr. Sturgis signed the lease over to him.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Skip," says Mr. Sturgis. "I hope you will ponder
over this transaction. You will find material for thought in it, I am
certain. In Wicksville we believe in competition, in fair competition.
We believe in doing by others as we would like to have others do by us.
An old saying, Mr. Skip. In this instance you have had done to you what
you have done to others.... It is not, I believe I am safe in saying,
particularly pleasant. Good afternoon, Mr. Skip."

Skip grabbed the lease and plunged out of the door and down the stairs.
As soon as it was safe Mark and I came out. I was almost busted open
with curiosity.

"Say, Mark," says I, "how in tunket did you think up that scheme? How'd
you ever hear about leases and sich? And law?"

"I d-dun'no's I know much about 'em," says Mark. "When I went to see
Mr. Mogford I wasn't more'n half sure what a lease was. It all come
from readin' the papers. There was a big lawsuit in Detroit about
leases, and I read accounts of it. It told consid'able. Then I asked
around some. Perty soon I come to the conclusion there was somethin' to
it.... And that's all."

"Um!" says Mr. Sturgis. "Um!... Young man, have you chosen a
profession? Have you, if I may put it so, chosen the walk of life you
will follow?"

"Why," says Mark, "don't b'lieve I have. I've got to g-go to college
first."

"I advise you, my young friend, to consider the law. I do. Should you
decide to enter this most dignified and pleasant profession and return
to Wicksville to practise, I shall be glad, exceedingly glad, to have
you in my office--with a view to partnership at an early date. You are
young, my friend, but years soon pass. How old might you be?"

"Almost s-s-sixteen," says Mark.

"In six or seven years you will be ready.... Think it over."

"Thank you, sir," says Mark. "I'll think about it, but I guess, so
far's I can see, I sort of l-like business. I calc'late to go into
business, buyin' and sellin'. I hain't sure, yet, but that's how I've
been figgerin'."

We talked a minute more with Mr. Sturgis, and then went back to the
store. It was time, for it was Saturday and things were beginning to
liven up.



                              CHAPTER XIV


When I told Tallow and Binney how we'd harpooned Mr. Skip for two
hundred dollars they were so tickled they almost jumped out of their
shoes. Tallow wanted to go over and stand in front of the
Five-and-Ten-Cent Store to gibe at Jehoshaphat, but Mark wouldn't have
it. He said Skip didn't know who was at the bottom of the scheme, and
wasn't going to find out yet. Mark had his reasons, and, because he
owned the scheme, so to speak, we did as he said.

Two hundred dollars! That made up for the hundred we had to send mother
and gave us an extra hundred into the bargain--and about a million
dollars' worth of satisfaction. It beats all how you can make money if
you happen to know how. Mark Tidd didn't spend more than a couple of
hours earning this--but I suppose he did two hundred dollars' worth of
thinking, or he wouldn't have made a go of it. He says if you want to
make money you've either got to do the money's worth of work or the
money's worth of figuring. I expect he's right.

Business was pretty fair the rest of the day. We didn't close until
half past ten, and we were good and tired, I can tell you. Our beauty
contest was getting along fine. Nobody forgot to ask for votes when
they bought a dime's worth, and the big talk of the day was about Old
Miller and his thousand votes. I don't suppose there was anybody in
that contest who didn't hope to pry those votes away from Old Mose, and
everybody was looking for a hint about how to go at it. Mark Tidd was
the chief hinter. He told every one the same thing.

"If I was you," says he to everybody that asked his advice, "I'd
w-w-wait till sometime when Mose was likely to be alone. Sometime like
Sunday afternoon. Then I'd go out to his place like I was j-just makin'
him a call. 'Twouldn't do any harm to talk about cats. Just mention
cats casual-like. It'll s'prise you how it'll strike him. Then you
might edge along and m-mention that you got a kitten. Tell him you hate
to spare that kitten, but, seein' who he is and what a high regard you
got for him, you'll fetch it out for him. Don't mention votes yet. See
if you can't git him to m-mention 'em himself. Yes, sir, if I was you
I'd go out about half past two; he'll be through dinner then and
feelin' perty good."

That's the answer Mark had for everybody. Cats! We found out a couple
of months ago how Old Mose hates cats--hates 'em and is afraid of 'em.
He'd rather pet a rattlesnake than a cat.

That night as we were walking home Mark says:

"Guess we b-better meet about two o'clock and slide out to Old Mose's.
Shouldn't be s'prised if there was somethin' there to see that 'u'd be
worth watchin'."

We wouldn't be surprised, either, and you can bet we agreed to meet him.

Sunday morning everybody in Wicksville went to church and the young
folks stayed to Sunday-school. I hurried through my dinner and was at
Mark's house before he was through. _He_ didn't hurry his dinner. Not
much! Anybody that finds Mark Tidd slighting a meal wants to report it,
for it'll be one of the wonders of the world. No, he wasn't through yet
and Mrs. Tidd made me come in and eat a piece of apple-pie. Mark was
just finishing up his second piece and was looking covetous-like at the
third, but his mother put her foot down and wouldn't let him have it.
So he finished off with an apple and a banana and a bit of rice-pudding
left from yesterday and then said he guessed he'd put half a dozen
cookies in his pocket to eat on the way.

By that time Tallow and Binney came along and we started out the river
road to Old Mose's.

We began going cautious before we got in sight of the farm, because we
didn't want Mose to see us and we didn't want anybody from Wicksville
to know we had put up a joke on them--that would be bad for business.
So we turned off the road and dodged closer, all the time keeping out
of sight behind shocks of corn in the field that was next to Old Mose's
farm-yard. We crept up behind a clump of lilac-bushes and then craned
our necks to see where we could find a good place to hide and watch
what went on.

Old Mose was out on his porch, playing his phonograph. He had one of
those talking-records going--we could hear it plain as could be.

All at once we heard him yell:

"Shut up! Shut up! I tell you. Hain't you been jawin' enough? Say!
Hain't you goin' to give a man no peace?"

Then he jumped up and shut off the machine. Of course the talking
stopped. Old Mose grinned proud-like, just as if he'd done something
worth while.

"Haw!" says he, "you will, eh? You will set there and jaw and jaw! I'll
show you. Jest like all folks, hain't you? Want to keep wagglin' your
tongue all the time. But I kin shut you up. Old Mose is the feller that
kin turn you off."

He sat down and chuckled and talked to himself and paid his respects to
the way folks like to talk for quite a spell. Then he got up and
started off another talking-record. He let it run about two minutes and
then up and began yelling at _it_.

"Whoa-up! You've talked enough, mister. Close your mouth and give a
body a chance to think." And up he jumped to turn off the machine
again. He acted just as tickled this time as he did before. I never saw
anybody get so much pleasure out of anything.

"He d-didn't buy that phonograph to run," says Mark. "He bought it to
sh-sh-shut off."

Yes, sir, that was it. The thing he wanted that machine for was to have
something that talked that he could shut up whenever he wanted to. The
satisfaction he got out of ordering wax records to keep quiet and then
making them mind him was a caution.

About a dozen feet to our right was a shed with a roof that sloped back
toward the fence. The front of it wasn't over eight feet from the
porch. A clump of sumach grew toward the road and would hide anybody
who was of a mind to lie on top of it, and a maple-tree grew right up
behind. It was the bulliest kind of a hiding-place. We made for it one
at a time, and in three minutes and a half we were all up there, lying
in a row, overlooking Old Mose and his porch and his phonograph. We
could see and hear everything that went on without a bit of danger of
anybody seeing us.

"'Most t-time the folks were comin'," says Mark in a whisper.

"Yes," says I. "Here comes a buggy up the road now."

Sure enough, there was a buggy, only there were two of them, and they
were coming pell-mell for election. It was a race. We could hear the
drivers yelling at their horses and leaning over the dashboards to
larrup them with their whips. Side by side they came, rolling and
pitching and looking for all the world as if they were going to bang
into each other or turn bottom side up any minute. At first we couldn't
see who was in them for the dust they kicked up, but pretty soon they
came near enough so we could tell it was Chet Weevil and Chancy Miller.

They galloped their horses right up to Old Mose's front gate and then
pulled them in so quick they almost busted the lines. Neither one
waited to tie up, but just jumped over the wheel and made for the gate.
It wasn't a very wide gate, and it opened outward. Chet got there just
a tenth of a second ahead, but before he could get the gate open Chancy
banged into him and began clawing at him and pushing to get past. Chet
hung on to the gate and Chancy hung on to Chet. Old Mose got up and
stood looking at them with his jaw dropped down and his eyes big as
turnips. He was so surprised he couldn't even move.

Chet kept on hanging to the gate and fumbling for the catch. Chancy
tugged and jerked and braced his feet--and all at once the gate swung
open and down they went, with Chancy on the bottom. Chet's elbow went
kerplump into his stomach, and Chancy let loose a yell that was
mournfuler than a cow mooing when she's lost track of her calf. Chet
jumped up quick to make a dash into the yard, but Chancy reached out
and grabbed his foot, and down he went on his nose. Then it seemed like
both of them forgot just why they came. For a while votes and Old Mose
left their minds entirely, and they set themselves to the job of
pulling each other to pieces.

By this time Old Mose was coming to a little, but hadn't got so he
could talk much yet. But his mad was getting up. First he began to step
up and down like the porch was too hot for his feet. Then he began
waggling his head and working his jaw. Then he began sawing the air
with his arms. All that exercise cleared out his throat so it could be
used, and out came a yell. It wasn't a word and didn't mean anything;
it was just a yell, but it was a mad yell. I've heard a lot of yells at
one time and another, but I don't remember any one of them that beat
this one of Mose's much.

He went hobbling down the path to the gate and slammed it shut. Outside
in the sand Chet and Chancy were wallowing and clawing around and
pulling hair and kicking and trying to rub each other's faces in the
dirt. Old Mose leaned over the gate and watched them. All of a sudden
he chuckled. It wasn't a good-natured chuckle, by any means, but the
sort of a chuckle a mean man gives when he sees something disagreeable
happening to somebody he doesn't like. He leaned over farther and began
yelling at Chet and Chancy.

"Give it to him. That's the way. Come squabblin' around my gate, will
you! Git a holt on to his nose, there. Whee!... Shove his face in the
dirt. Who! Consarn ye--both of ye! Hope ye git them dude clothes fixed
for once. Grab him by the collar. Ya-aah! Whoop!"

He was going on at a great rate when another buggy stopped and out
climbed Mrs. Bloom. She looked for a minute, and then swooped down on
Chancy and Chet like a mad turkey hen and grabbed each of them by the
handiest part she could get a hold of.

"Git right up," says she. "Hain't you ashamed of yourselves, fightin'
like two roosters--and on Sunday afternoon! Where's the town marshal?
Git right up out of a body's way. I want to git through that gate. Git
up, I say, and let a body by."

"Want to git through this gate, do ye?" says Old Mose. "I got somethin'
to say about that. What d'ye want to git through this gate for? I don't
want ye. Hain't got no use for wimmin folks, anyhow, and special I
hain't got no use for gabblin' wimmin folks. You jest git into that
buggy of yourn and go away from here."

"Why, Mr. Miller!" says she, sweet as honey all of a sudden. "I didn't
see you standin' there. How be you this afternoon?"

"Sick," says Old Mose, "and gittin' worse fast."

Before Mrs. Bloom could say anything back two more buggies came to a
stop and out got Mrs. Peterson and two young women that were after
votes for Professor Pilkins. By this time Chet and Chancy got
untangled, and two such looking critters you never saw. Dirty! And
their clothes were torn, and their collars were half off, and they were
daubed and scratched and red and panting and pretty clost to crying.
All they could do was lean on the fence and glare at each other and try
to get back their breath. The three last women started for the gate.
Old Mose looked at them and began backing off. All of a sudden he
started on a run for the house and slammed inside. In just a minute he
came back with a pail of steaming water. He was getting ready to defend
his fortification. He went down close to the gate and held the pail
threatening-like, and says:

"Don't ye open that gate, not any of ye. The fust one to set foot on my
land gits this b'ilin' water. Git, now! Git right out of here 'fore I
send for the sheriff of this here county. Git!"

But nobody got. Instead of that more folks began arriving. As far as I
could see down the road buggies were coming--more than a dozen of them.
There were men and women and kids, and they all congregated in a knot
outside of the gate. But nobody offered to go in--not with that pail of
boiling water to face.

Mrs. Peterson spoke up.

"Why, Mr. Miller," says she, "what's the meanin' of this? Here I drive
'way out here of a Sunday afternoon just to fetch you this punkin-pie,
and this is how I git treated." She glowered at the rest of the crowd.
"What's these folks doin' here? They ought to be ashamed of
themselves--pesterin' a poor old defenseless man."

"Poor old defenseless man, eh? Jest you stick a foot this side of my
gate and you'll see how defenseless I be. Jest stick a _toe_ inside!"

Everybody began to talk at once. They crowded up to the gate and sassed
each other and tried to be polite to Old Mose at the same time. 'Most
everybody had brought him a pie or a cake or something. The old man was
so mad he just hopped up and down and raved at them.

Right there Mark Tidd made a noise like a cat. He could imitate a
kitten so it sounded more natural than the kitten doing it himself. Old
Mose straightened up and cocked his ear. Mark let him have it again.

"Scat!" he yelled, looking around scared-like. "Scat!"

Well, that reminded folks of the cat. Mrs. Bloom spoke up and says:

"Mr. Miller, I got the cunnin'est kitten to home. I set a heap of store
by it, but knowin' how fond you be of cats I dun'no' but I'd be willin'
to give it to you--"

She never got any farther because everybody in the crowd--and there
were twenty if there was one--set up a yell about _their_ kittens. A
couple of folks actually had brought cats along and held them up in the
air for Old Mose to see.

The old man just took one look and let his pail of water go swoosh
right into the crowd. Pretty lucky it had time to cool, but it was just
as wet as ever. You never saw such a mess! Chet and Chancy got first
choice of it, but everybody got all he had any use for. Those two young
fellows, though, looked like they had taken their Sunday baths with
their clothes on. Nobody waited. Everybody decided he wanted to be
somewhere else, and they scattered like a bunch of quail when you walk
into the middle of them.

Old Mose began yelling after them. Then he charged through the gate in
pursuit, and first off he grabbed Chancy.

"Hey, you," says he, giving him a shake that must have loosened his
curly hair, "what's this about, anyhow? What's the reason everybody in
Wicksville's pesterin' around my front door? Eh? What's the reason?" He
gave Chancy another shake. "Out with it. What's fetched this gang of
lunatics here? Tell me 'fore I shake the ears off'n you."

Chancy choked and coughed and got his voice.

"Votes," says he in a sort of husky whisper.

"Votes?" says Old Mose. "What votes?"

"Beauty contest," says everybody, crowding around. "You got them
thousand votes and nobody to vote 'em for.... Handsomest man in
Wicksville--"

"Huh!" says Old Mose. "And you lunatics come out here hopin' to pry
them votes out of me, eh? Thought you'd fool Old Mose Miller with pies
and cakes, eh? Votes.... I'll vote ye. If this here was the
homeliest-man contest, nobody'd git them votes, I can tell ye. Vote 'em
myself, then. Take study, though. Homeliest man in Wicksville. There'd
be a contest! Everybody could git into it. Hain't much to choose.
Votes.... Jest stand there a minute, and don't a one of you dast step
on to my premises."

He turned and went into the house. In a couple of jiffies he was back
with his hands full of votes. The folks drew a long breath and crowded
closer.

"Ye want votes, eh?" says he as he got to the fence. "Well, then, help
yourselves."

At that he began chucking handfuls of them into the faces of the crowd,
and chuckling. Handful after handful he threw--and everybody began a
scramble. It was the worst mix-up that ever happened within a hundred
miles of Wicksville. Everybody was in it--and in it to get votes. I
never saw such a tangle of human beings. I bet there wasn't one of them
could have sorted himself out and got his own arms and legs to save his
life. And noise! It's lucky it was so far out in the country. Squealing
and gouging and kicking and scratching. My! my! And all the time Old
Mose leaned over the fence to sic them on and chuckle. The air was full
of votes and arms and legs and noises!

That sort of thing can't keep up long, but it's fine to watch while it
keeps on. In two or three minutes folks began to feel around to find if
they were all there and to scramble out of the mess. It didn't take
them long to get separated--and there they stood, everybody clutching a
few votes in his hand and glaring at everybody else. Then all of a
sudden it seemed like everybody got ashamed. A scurry for the buggies
set in, and the whole crowd, still as anything and, I expect, wishing
they hadn't come, started off for town. The only folks who were pleased
all the way through were Old Mose Miller and us fellows on top of the
shed.

Mark Tidd was laughing that still laugh of his till I was afraid he'd
roll off the roof.

"B-b-beauty contest!" says he.

"Don't seem like folks would make such idiots of themselves over a
contest that don't make any difference to anybody!" I says.

Mark chuckled again.

"'Tain't the reason for the c-c-contest that counts," he says, "it's
that it _is_ a contest. The whole idee of the thing is that nobody
likes to have anybody else b-b-beat them at anything."

"That's so," says I. "Seems like I'd be sorrier to have Jehoshaphat P.
Skip beat us than I would be to lose the Bazar."

"Um!" says Mark. "Neither of these things is l-l-likely to happen."

And then we sneaked back home.



                               CHAPTER XV


In spite of all we could do, business fell off. It was just as I had
argued from the very beginning--there wasn't enough trade in Wicksville
for two stores like ours and Jehoshaphat P. Skip's. Even if we got half
or more than half, it wouldn't keep us running. Of course I know as
well as anybody else that Mark Tidd's schemes had made folks buy more
than they usually did, and for a couple of weeks we sold more than my
father generally sold in that much time, but pretty soon everybody was
stocked up with the sort of stuff we had and things were about as bad
as ever.

The week after the rumpus at Old Mose Miller's things started out
pretty fair, but along about Wednesday it got dull, and from then on
there weren't enough customers to pay to keep the doors open. It seemed
like we just couldn't draw them in, and I expect it was as bad at
Skip's. In fact, I _know_ it was, for we kept watch on him pretty
close. If things kept on like they were going, neither one of the
stores could last. Skip would put us out of business, but he would put
himself out of business doing it. I said so to Mark and he told me to
keep thinking about it if I got any particular satisfaction out of it,
which I didn't.

Saturday came along, and though we advertised and trimmed our windows
and fixed up special-bargain-tables, it didn't do a bit of good. And
right there, that very morning, along comes Jehoshaphat P. with an
announcement that with every dollar's purchase he would give a ticket
to the moving-picture show that had started up in the opera-house.

Mark Tidd was so mad at himself he could have taken a bite out of his
own ear if he could have got hold of it.

"Sh-should have thought of that myself," he says, and went sulking to
the back of the store and wouldn't have anything to do with anybody for
a couple of hours. There he sat, scowling and whittling--and we kept
away from him as far as we could. I know just how bad he felt.

For once he didn't have a scheme. Yes, sir. Right there he seemed to go
dry. We expected him to come up with a new idea that would stand Skip
and his moving-picture show on their heads, but he didn't. He never
said a word. I guess he'd been thinking up so many plans that he was
about run dry. And I don't blame him. I'd have run dry long before.

But just the same it was the most discouraging thing that had happened
to us yet. So long as Mark Tidd kept going there was hope, but if he
began to slip we might just as well close the doors and give the Bazar
to Jehoshaphat.

That day we did a little business, and for the next week we sold enough
so there was something to send mother at the end of the week, but we
didn't lay a cent aside. We paid expenses and a little over. If there
had been clerks to pay we would have come out behind. Most of the time
Mark sat back on a packing-box and whittled. We left him alone. He was
as worried as we were, and we knew he was trying, trying every minute.

I guess the only thing that kept our heads above water was that beauty
contest. Folks kept right on being interested in that and watched for
results every time we put up names. Principal Pilkins, with a lot of
young ladies working for him, was climbing up pretty fast. Mr. Peterson
was coming strong, too. His wife stirred up a lot of votes for him, and
so did Mrs. Bloom for her husband. One week one of them would be ahead,
and the next week the other would shoot into the lead. Then there were
Chet and Chancy! I guess those two gave up everything else to run down
votes. They begged them and borrowed them and worked for them and
traded for them. Yes, that is a fact. Votes got to be a sort of money
among the boys. You were always sure you could swap them for something.
Most of the time there was a boy or so hanging around the front of the
Bazar to ask everybody that came out for the votes they'd got. Some
people weren't interested a bit, and would toss them over. So the boys
managed to get a stock. Those five were in the lead a little. You never
could tell which one would come out ahead until there was a count. But
at least a dozen more men were up where they had a chance. So everybody
was interested, and almost everybody was mad at somebody else. That's
all that kept us going.

The next week Mark managed to think up a couple of things to interest
folks. One was a guessing-contest. He filled a big bottle with beans
and put it in the window. Everybody who bought a nickel's worth could
have a guess at how many beans there were, and the one who came nearest
was to get a prize. If it was a lady she got a pair of gloves, and if
it was a man he got a patent safety razor that looked like a cross
between the cow-catcher on an engine and a hoe.

Wicksville was quite a place to guess, so we got in a little trade with
that. That week we did better than the week before. But after we had
sent mother what she needed we only put by five dollars in the bank. We
were still nearly three hundred dollars away from having enough to pay
Jehoshaphat P. Skip his five hundred dollars and get free from the
chattel mortgage.

"Mark," says I, that Saturday night as we were closing up, "how about
it? Of course we've got to hang on as long as we can for the folks'
sake, but we're beat, hain't we? Jehoshaphat has sunk our ship."

Mark was mad in a minute. "S-sunk nothin'!" says he. "We got a couple
of weeks more, and who knows what'll turn up? I'm a-goin' to think of
somethin'. I know I am. It'll come. So don't you go gittin' any more
downhearted than you can help. Jehoshaphat P. Skip isn't goin' to
b-b-bust this business while I got a leg to stand on."

"All right," says I, "but your leg's gettin' sawed off fast."

He didn't say anything to that. I guess there wasn't anything to say.
After a while he says:

"There's ways of makin' m-m-money--of makin' a lot of it at once.
That's what I've been figgerin' on. If we could just pay off Skip I
believe this business will go along. I don't b-believe two businesses
like his and ours can make a living in Wicksville. But I do b-believe
we'll be the one that's left. He can't afford to keep on, and we can't
afford to quit. And there you are."

"Then," I says, sarcastic-like, "all we got to do is raise three
hundred dollars in six or eight days."

He squinted at me, but didn't say anything.

"We've been tryin' to raise that money for five weeks," I says. "Five
weeks! And what have we got to show for it? Two hundred dollars! That's
how much. Just git out your pencil and figger it up: if it takes four
boys five weeks to raise two hundred dollars, what chance have they got
to raise three hundred in one week?"

Then we went home.

Sunday, just before dinner--I was invited over to Mark's for dinner
that day--Zadok Biggs came driving his peddler's wagon into the yard.
We could hear him coming for a block, his tin dishes rattling and his
whistle going. "Marching Through Georgia" was what he whistled, and you
should hear the way he can rip it out. There are trills and runs and
wiggles and bird-calls and all sorts of things. I expect he's the best
whistler in Michigan.

He sat on the seat looking down as important as a brand-new poll-parrot
and didn't say a word for a minute. Then he put his hand on his hip and
stuck out his chest and says:

"Opportunity. Have you heard Zadok Biggs mention that word before? Eh?
I believe I have mentioned it. I am sure I have pronounced it in your
hearing. Have I not?"

"You have," says I.

"Zadok Biggs has been thinking of you--of all four of you boys engaged
in the mercantile enterprise--business is the more usual expression--of
running Smalley's Bazar. I have thought of you often. I have asked
myself if I could be of assistance to you. I have looked about me to
discover an opportunity to offer you." He drew himself up again and
cocked his head as if he'd done something to be mighty proud of. "It
was not in vain, says I. I looked--and I saw. I come to-day bringing
you an opportunity. What have you to say to that? An opportunity. I
bring it to-day."

"I say," says Mark Tidd, "that it comes at a l-l-lucky time."

"Get down and come in," says Mrs. Tidd. "Dinner's all ready and there's
chicken and biscuits in gravy and pumpkin-pie and--"

Zadok didn't let her finish.

"Don't repeat the bill of fare, ma'am. It is not necessary. What there
will be I do not care. That I am to dine with the parents of Marcus
Aurelius Fortunatus Tidd is enough. Any food prepared by the hand of
Mrs. Tidd is better than a banquet. I will come down. I am coming down.
See--I am down."

It was a fact. He was down, and went trotting ahead of us into the
house.

"The opportunity--" he started in; but Mrs. Tidd cut him off.

"You can fuss around with your opportunity after dinner," she says. "I
don't want these vittles to get cold. Set right down and 'tend to
eatin'."

So we sat down, and you can bet we did 'tend to eating. I expect Mrs.
Tidd is one of the reasons why Mark is so fat. Anybody would be that
ate the kind of things she cooks every day. Why, Mrs. Tidd can take a
cold potato and the hoop off a barrel and a handful of marbles and make
a meal out of them that beats anything you can get even at a city hotel!

After dinner we went into the parlor and Mr. Tidd got down his _Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire_ and started to read to us, but Mrs. Tidd
stopped _him_. Mrs. Tidd was boss around there. "Now, pa," says she,
"you put that book right up. Mr. Biggs has something he wants to tell
the boys."

"Um!" says Mr. Tidd, "that's so. I was clean forgetting all about it. I
guess the _Decline and Fall_ will wait a spell. But I would like to
read 'em jest this leetle piece here--" He started to open up the book
again, but Mrs. Tidd took it right out of his hand and put it on the
table.

"Go on, Mr. Biggs," says she. "I'll see you don't get interrupted."

"Thank you, ma'am. Thank you a thousand times. A wonderful woman, boys.
A remarkable woman. Also a remarkable man. Did he not invent a turbine
that has made him rich? Eh? He did. Zadok Biggs knows well that he did.
Did he not name his son Marcus Aurelius Fortunatus? Eh? He did. That
was an achievement, boys. Where is another name like that? Where--"

"You're interruptin' yourself," says Mrs. Tidd.

"Um," says Zadok, making a little face. "Well, ma'am, I'm on the right
track now.... I have an opportunity--an opportunity for anybody in the
bazar business. Especially anybody who has to compete with a
five-and-ten-cent store. The opportunity is in Sunfield. Where, you may
ask, is Sunfield? It is a village not thirty miles from here." We knew
that as well as he did. "It is a little village, a pretty village. It
is a village you will always think of kindly when I tell you of the
opportunity that is to be found there."

"Well, then," says Mrs. Tidd, "why don't you tell about it?"

Zadok swallowed hard, but he grinned and went on.

"There's a man in Sunfield who started up a five-and-ten-cent store.
Pretty store. Good stock. Nice man. Then what did he do? Why, friends,
he got sick. His doctor says he must go West. He is going West. What,
then, becomes of the store? It is to be sold. The owner is even now
looking for a purchaser--for somebody to buy it is the more common
phrase." He stopped and beamed around at us. "There," says he, "is the
opportunity."

Right along I'd been hoping. I thought maybe Zadok had hit on
something that would help us out, but when I heard what it was my
heart plopped right down into my boots. What good was the stock of a
five-and-ten-cent store to us? We couldn't buy a postage-stamp to send
a letter to Sunfield, let alone a stock of goods. I looked at Mark. He
didn't look like he was disappointed. He didn't look happy, either,
but he did look thoughtful. Right off I saw he thought he could see
something in it.

"How m-much does he want for it?" Mark says.

"It can be purchased cheaply. The owner must have cash. He will
sacrifice. That stock must be worth close to a couple of thousand
dollars. I believe, and my belief is not without foundation, that you
can buy it for half of that."

"Hum!" says Mark. "Hum!... Complete stock?"

"As fine a stock as you'd wish to see."

"We'll go over to s-see it to-morrow, Plunk," says Mark.

I shrugged my shoulders. "What's the use?" says I. "We can't buy it,
and if we could, what would we do with it?"

"I dun'no'," says he. "Maybe we could figger on s-some way of buyin'
it. I've seen sicker horses 'n that g-git well."

"But not on the kind of medicine we got to give 'em," says I.

"Anyhow," says Mark, "we'll go over t-to-morrow. You don't need to,
though, Plunk, if you don't think it's worth while. But I'm goin'. I'm
goin' to see that stock. I'm goin' to have a look at Zadok Biggs's
opportunity."

"I knew it," said Zadok. "I knew Marcus Aurelius would not disappoint
me. I knew he would see the possibilities of this opportunity. I do not
blame you, Plunk Smalley, for failing to see them. It was not to be
expected. There is only one Marcus Tidd. Only one."

"Yes," says I, "and that one has bit off a leetle more'n he can chaw
comfortable this time."

Mark didn't even look at me. He was pinching his cheek and squinting up
his eyes like he does when his mind is about as busy as it can be.
Pretty soon he looked up at Zadok.

"Say," says he, "can you tell me, Zadok, what an option is, and how it
works?"

Well, sir, Zadok jumped right up and danced. "I knew it," says he. "I
knew Marcus Tidd would see the opportunity. I knew he would never miss
it. What is an option? That's what he asks. You heard him. Now listen
and Zadok Biggs will explain. He will make an option so clear to you
that--that even Plunk Smalley will be able to make one with his eyes
shut."

"Well," says Mrs. Tidd, "what _is_ an option?"

"The man who wrote the dictionary," Zadok explained, "says an option is
a right to make a deal or not to make it before a certain time. Not
very clear, is it? I will enlighten you--make it plain to you is the
customary way of saying it. Suppose I want to buy a cow from Mr. Tidd.
I want that cow, and I don't want anybody else to get it before I do.
But, alas! I haven't enough money to pay what Mr. Tidd asks. What do I
do? I take an option. I go to Mr. Tidd and say, 'Mr. Tidd, I will give
you a dollar if you will agree not to sell that cow to anybody else
before next Tuesday, and if you will agree to sell it to me any time
before Tuesday for forty-one dollars.'"

"That's too much for a cow," says Mrs. Tidd.

"This is an imaginary cow," says Zadok. Then he grinned all over. "That
kind is more expensive, ma'am, because they don't eat up any fodder....
Well, that's an option. It's where somebody else agrees to sell you
something on or before a certain day, and not to sell it to anybody
else in the mean time. Understand?" He said that to me, because, _I_
expect, he thought if I understood it it must be clear to everybody
else.

"But," says I, "suppose you pay a dollar for the right to buy Mr.
Tidd's cow on Tuesday, and then when Tuesday comes you haven't any
money?"

"Why, then, Plunk, Mr. Tidd can sell his cow to anybody else he wants
to."

"But don't it cost me anything?"

"Nothing but the dollar you paid him to wait till Tuesday for you."

"Huh," says I, "I understand options, all right, but for the life of me
I can't see what good they're going to do us."

I looked over at Mark Tidd, expecting him to explain, but I guess he
was a little provoked at me because I didn't think much of the whole
scheme, whatever it was, and so he shut his mouth tight like the lid of
a trunk and wouldn't say a word.

"We'd better get an early start," says he, "and t-take no chances."

"Yes, indeed," says Zadok.

"Are you going to c-come, Plunk?" Mark asked.

"Sure," says I, "if I can be of any help."

"Well," says he, grinning a more cheerful grin than I'd seen on his
face for weeks, "you can't do any harm, anyhow."



                              CHAPTER XVI


On my way home from Mark Tidd's house--where I left Mark and Zadok
Biggs eating away at a big dishpanful of popcorn and about a peck of
apples--I walked down-town and past the store just to see that
everything was all right. It was, so I passed on by and crossed over to
take a look at the Five-and-Ten-Cent Store. Just as I got to the door
out came that clerk of Jehoshaphat P. Skip's. You should have seen him!
Dressed up? Well, I should say he was! And there was _perfumery_ on
him. Now, honest, what do you think of a full-grown man that'll douse
himself with smelly stuff? He looked like he'd just stepped out of a
picture in a magazine advertising some sort of a collar or patent
necktie or something.

"How'dy do?" says he. "How's the contest comin' along?"

"Good," says I. "It's anybody's race yet."

"D'you figger I got any chance?"

"Well," says I, looking him over careful, "if everybody in Wicksville
was to get a look at you now I don't see how anybody else would have a
chance."

"'Most everybody's seen me," says he, smirking like a sick puppy. "I
went to the Methodist church this mornin', and to the young folks'
meetin' at the Congregational church this afternoon, and I'm goin' to
the Baptis' church right now. I calc'lated I'd stir around consid'able
so folks'd have a chance to judge me, so to speak."

"They'll see you, all right," says I, "unless they've all got cataracts
in their eyes. The way you look right now, mister, it 'u'd be pretty
hard to miss you."

"Think so?" says he, grinning again as pleased as could be.

"How's Jehoshaphat?" says I.

"Kind of crusty," says he. "He's always a-pickin' at me. I'm always
glad when he goes off somewheres for a day. Then I git a minnit or so
to myself. He's a-goin' off to-morrow," says he.

"Where?" says I, not out of curiosity, but just to say something.

"Sunfield," says he. "It's a leetle town nigh to twenty-five miles
over."

"What ever's he goin' to Sunfield for?" says I, beginning to get
interested.

"I don't really know exact, but from things he's said I guess he's
calc'latin' on startin' up another five-and-ten-cent store there.
There's a feller that wants to sell out, as near as I kin git the
facts, and Mr. Skip is hankerin' to buy."

Well, sir, what do you think of that? It looked like we were bound to
run up against this Skip man wherever we went and whatever we did. Now
he was trying to buy the same stock of goods Mark Tidd had his heart
set on buying.

I couldn't see what Mark wanted of that stock, for we had all we could
look after, and, anyhow, we didn't have any thousand dollars to spend
for it. It looked like a crazy notion to me, but just the minute I
heard Skip was after it I felt different about it. I wanted to get
there first. I was going to help Mark Tidd all I could. It didn't
matter what we did with that store when we got it, I was for getting it
so Skip couldn't. Maybe that was a mean way to feel--but Skip was the
kind of man that makes you feel mean.

I got rid of Mr. Perfume-smelling Clerk as soon as I could and hurried
up to Mark Tidd's. He and Zadok were still at the popcorn. I calculate
that between them they'd eaten more of it than any two folks ever ate
before in one afternoon. I didn't wait to knock, but went busting right
in.

"Skip's after it," says I.

"After what?" says Mark.

"The Sunfield five-and-ten-cent store," says I.

"Oh!" says Mark, and he grinned at Zadok. "D-don't get excited, Plunk."

"Excited," says I. "We got to beat him, hain't we?"

"Yes," says Zadok, "you must beat him. You must arrive first on the
scene."

"You act like you knew Skip was goin'," says I. I felt a little sore
because they didn't seem to think my news was important.

"We didn't know," says Mark, "b-but we hoped."

"Hoped?" says I.

"Yes," says Mark. "We was hankerin' to have J-jehoshaphat start for
Sunfield."

"But how come he to hear of it?"

Zadok stuck out his chest and looked important. "Zadok Biggs," says he.
"It was Zadok Biggs that did it. Zadok Biggs told the man Skip about
it."

You could have knocked me over with a feather. What in the world had
Zadok told Skip for? I could see it was some sort of scheme Mark Tidd
and he had cooked up, but it looked funny to me. They didn't offer to
explain, though, so I says:

"Do we git an early start?"

"Yes," says Mark. "Five o'clock."

"But we weren't going to start till six."

"Didn't know for sure Jehoshaphat was goin' then," says he.

"Then my finding it out did amount to somethin'?" says I.

"You bet it did, Plunk," says he, and he got up and banged me on the
back. "You can just b-b-bet it did."

Well, I felt some better after that, and went off, leaving Mark and
Zadok to talk about their old plan that they were so close-mouthed
about. I shouldn't have been put out, though, for I found out afterward
that Mark hadn't told me because it would be such a big disappointment
to me if it didn't come out right. I might have known there was a good
reason. Mark Tidd was the sort of fellow who always thinks about other
folks' feelings.

There wasn't any train that would take us from Wicksville to Sunfield,
so there was nothing to do but drive. Mark brought along his father's
horse and buggy. Since Mr. Tidd got rich he kept a horse. He could have
afforded half a dozen automobiles if he'd wanted to, but he didn't have
them. It wasn't because he was stingy, for he didn't care anything in
particular about money. It was just because he was such a
simple-minded, dreamy sort of man. And Mrs. Tidd was that sensible
there wasn't anybody like her. They lived in the same house and lived
in the same way they had lived when they were poor. It seemed like all
their money hadn't made a cent's worth of difference in them.

Well, Mark drove up to my house just before five o'clock, and we
started out. Binney and Tallow were around to see us off, and Mark told
them to keep watch and telephone to the hotel in Wilkinstown as soon as
Skip started and leave a message for us. Wilkinstown was nine miles
over toward Sunfield. Then we started off.

You'd never believe it, but just as we were getting into Wilkinstown
the horse went lame. We got out and looked him over, but we didn't know
enough about horses to tell what the matter was, so we drove on slow
and cautious to the livery barn.

The man there took a look at the horse and mentioned some kind of a
thing that gets the matter with a horse's foot and said the horse
mustn't be driven again for at least a week. Not for a week! That was a
pretty kettle of fish.

"H'm!" says I to Mark. "Looks like we walk back."

"Back!" says Mark. "If we do any walkin' it'll be ahead."

"Sixteen miles to Sunfield," says I.

Mark turned around to the liveryman. "Got a good horse to rent us?"

"Nary horse," says the man. "Every rig I got's engaged. Travelin' men
rented 'em last night."

"Anybody else r-rent horses here?"

"Nobody," says the man.

"We g-got to git to Sunfield," says Mark. "How'll we manage it?"

"Walk," says the man.

"Hain't there an automobile?" says I.

"Nary a soul in this burg owns one of them things," says he.

"Nine miles to Wicksville--sixteen miles to Sunfield," says I to myself.

"Come on up to the hotel," says Mark. "Let's see if the f-fellers have
telephoned."

They had telephoned. The hotel man gave us the message.

"Skip left at seven-thirty in an auto," it says.

There you are! Skip had left in a machine--that could get to Sunfield
three times as fast as a horse. We were in Wilkinstown without even a
horse.

"I calc'late," says I, "that here's where Jehoshaphat gits to buy a
five-and-ten-cent store."

Mark's little eyes were sparkling and his lips were pressed tight and
his jaw was set.

"We're a-goin' to git to Sunfield," says he, "and we're a-goin' to git
there f-f-first." My, how he stuttered it!

"Sure," says I. "I forgot all about my new airoplane. You kin just as
well use it as not."

He didn't say anything back, but in a minute he asked me, "Know
anything about automobiles, Plunk?"

"They're contraptions," says I, "with four wheels--one at each
corner--and they've got an engine in 'em, and a thing to steer 'em by.
Sure I know about 'em."

He started talkin' to himself.

"It's fair," says he. "It's fair to d-do it. He's done things to
us--and we _got_ to win out. It won't do any d-damage. It won't h-hurt
anybody.... It's f-fair, and I'm goin' to do it."

I could see he was arguing out something or other. Some scheme he had
was a little doubtful to him. Now there's one thing about Mark Tidd, no
matter how much he wants to win, or what it would mean for him to lose,
he plays fair. He wouldn't use a scheme that wasn't honest and
aboveboard, no matter how certain it was to win. That's the kind of a
fellow he was.

"Plunk," says he, "we've got to stop that auto."

"All right," says I, "let's tie a rope across the road."

He knew I was joking and grinned a little.

"No," says he, "we got to stop it so Jehoshaphat won't know he's been
stopped on purpose."

But before we had a chance to do anything we heard an auto coming up
the road. I got up and looked. It was Skip and a fellow I didn't know
in a little runabout.

"It's him," says I to Mark.

Mark didn't say anything, but his little eyes were sending off sparks
and his face looked sort of set. It looked as though we'd never get a
chance at the Sunfield store.

In another minute she went whizzing by. I looked at Mark and he looked
at me. Somehow it didn't seem possible he'd gone right by and left us
there. But then came a surprise. The car went right along to the hotel,
and then it stopped. Skip went inside for something, and Mark and I
sneaked down and hid behind a shed. We heard Skip telephoning inside.

He came out in about five minutes. Just as he was getting into the car
he looked down and scowled and said something under his breath.

"You've got a flat tire, Clancy," says he, and then he up and expressed
his opinion of flat tires in words and syllables and sentences. I
gathered he didn't think much of them.

Clancy got out and looked.

"Flat tire," says he. "Three flat tires, mister. It's a regular
epidemic," says he.

"Well," says Skip, "you might as well git at fixin' 'em. We can't spend
all day on the road."

At that he turned around and went into the hotel again, and didn't come
out till Clancy had the tires all fixed up and ready to go. But Clancy
didn't hurry any. First he took off his coat and then he wiped his
face, for the dust had been flying, and then he lifted the hood of the
car and peeked inside. There wasn't any reason for it in particular, I
guess, but automobile men seem to like to look at their engines
whenever they get a chance.

"I wonder," says he to himself, "if I can git some oil in this
metropolis."

He started out to find if he could, and left the car standing.

"There's your chance," stuttered Mark.

"Good-by," says I, waving my hand. "Tell the folks I went agin the
enemy as brave as a lion."

Then I went for the car. It was no trick at all to reach inside for a
wire that would put the ignition out of business. I unscrewed it at
both ends. Unscrewing one end would have stopped the machine, but there
would have been a wire dangling, and any idiot would know that was what
the matter was. But I took the wire clean out. It would take a pretty
good repair-man to trace the trouble, especially when there wasn't any
way for a wire to get out of the car, and when the car had been running
along as nicely as possible.

I stuck the wire in my pocket and slid back where Mark was.

"I guess," says I, "that Mr. Skip'll stay put for a while, anyhow."

"C-come on, then," says he. "We'll light out for Sunfield."

"Sixteen miles," says I.

"We'll git to ride part of it, anyhow," says he.

"But," says I, "I want to stay and watch Jehoshaphat when that car
won't start. I want to see that man Clancy crank. It'll be a reg'lar
three-ring circus with a menagerie tent and a side-show."

He sort of hesitated a minute, for Mark enjoyed a joke as well as
anybody else, but he shook his head and says:

"Nope, Plunk, we got to hoof it for Sunfield. We've g-got to git there
first. We've _got_ to, Plunk."

"All right," says I. "I don't see any sense in it, but here we go."

We started off through the fields, keeping out of the road so nobody
would see us. There wasn't much to the village but the general store
and the hotel and a couple of houses, so we were in the country again
in a couple of minutes. We crossed a stubbled field and then started to
cut through an orchard to the road. My! but that was a fine orchard!
The trees were trimmed and the ground was not all grown up to grass the
way most orchards are, but it was plowed and cultivated the way the
government expert who lectured in Wicksville said it ought to be. And
apples! You never saw such Spies as loaded half of the trees!

"Um-m-m!" says I.

"Leave 'em be," says Mark. "Most farmers d-don't mind if you take an
apple to eat, but a lot of 'em are crusty as anything."

So I took it out in looking, and looking at a big red apple doesn't
help the appetite much.

We were about half-way across the orchard when I felt as if a house had
fallen on my shoulder. Something dropped and jerked me back off my
feet. I just caught a glimpse of Mark out of the corner of my eye--and
he was getting considerable of a jerk, too. Then a great big booming
voice says:

"I got ye, consarn ye! Come a-sneakin' through a man's orchard, will
ye? I'll show ye. Stealin' a man's apples, eh? Oh, he! Maybe yes and
maybe no. Didn't calc'late Hamilcar Janes was a-layin' for you behind a
tree, eh? Oh, he!" He didn't sound mad exactly, just sort of tickled
with himself for being smart enough to catch us.

"Boys have been a-stealin' and a-stealin' my apples. Thought I wasn't
goin' to do nothin', too. Didn't think Hamilcar Janes had
git-up-and-git enough to catch 'em. Hasn't, eh? Oh, he! Just look at
what Hamilcar Janes has up and done. He's catched two--a fat one and a
lean one--and into the smoke-house they go. Oh, he!" He might have made
a song of it if he'd been of a mind to.

We tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't listen to a word. He just
grinned and bragged about how he'd caught us, and marched us along by
the collars. I tried to squirm loose, but I might as well have tried to
jump over the moon like the old cow in the poem. That Hamilcar Janes
came close to being the biggest man I ever saw. And his hands! Those
hands of his were as big as blankets.

"Into the smoke-house you go," says he. "I'll show ye. Won't I show ye?
Well, I should guess!"

And he did that very thing. He dragged us along and kicked open the
door to his smoke-house and pushed us in. Then he shut the door and we
could hear him barring it.

"There," says he. "Try that a spell. Apples, eh? Oh, he!" Then we heard
him walking off.

I didn't feel much like talking, and neither did Mark, but I couldn't
help saying:

"Jehoshaphat'll have to be delayed consid'able if he don't git to
Sunfield ahead of us."

Mark nodded doleful-like. "Seems like luck was d-dead against us," says
he. "But," he says, "Skip hain't got there yet--and it's early in the
mornin'."



                              CHAPTER XVII


We started right in to nose around, but that smoke-house was pretty
nearly air-tight. Dark! Mister, but it was dark! And it was full of
cobwebs and smell and dirt. There was just as much chance of getting
out of there till Mr. Hamilcar Janes let us out as there would be of
sawing a bar of steel with a chunk of cheese. There wasn't a thing to
do but sit down and be as patient as we could--which wasn't very
patient, when you come to consider all the circumstances. One thing
that made me mad was that I hadn't eaten some of Hamilcar's apples. We
couldn't have been shut up a bit more if we'd eaten a bushel.

Time passes pretty slow when you're sitting in the dark. I don't know
how long it was before we heard a sound outside, but it seemed like it
must be the next week Tuesday. Then we heard somebody holler from the
road:

"Hey, there, are you Mr. Janes?"

"That's me," roared back the man who had captured us. "Hamilcar Janes."

"Down to the hotel," says the voice, "they told me you had a horse you
might rent for the day."

I nudged Mark and he nudged me all at once.

"Skip!" we both said.

That's who it was--Jehoshaphat P. Had got tired of trying to start up
that automobile, and here he was trying to hire a horse. Luck was
against us hard.

In a minute Hamilcar Janes spoke up and says:

"I've got a hoss, mister, and I calc'late I've rented her some. But
that there hoss, mister, is a sort of friend of mine. Pertty good
friend, too. I hain't rentin' her to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that
comes along with feet that's too lazy to carry 'em. Kin you drive a
hoss, mister, like a hoss ought to be drove?"

"I'll treat your animal all right," says Skip.

"Where'd you want to drive her?"

"Sunfield," says Skip.

"Sixteen mile, nearly," says Hamilcar. "Um! Ho, hum! Give her a good
rest there, mister? See she gits water and feed? Eh?"

"Of course," says Skip.

"Come over here closer," says Hamilcar. "I want to git a better look at
you. Hain't goin' to trust that hoss to nobody I don't like the looks
of."

There was a little while when nobody said anything and I judged Skip
was coming closer. Then Hamilcar says:

"You hain't much for looks, mister, and that's a fact. I dun'no's I'd
care to send my hoss off under your care."

"How does that ten-dollar bill look?" says Skip.

"Good-lookin' bill," says Hamilcar. "Dun'no's I ever seen a
nicer-lookin' bill--but that hain't got nothin' to do with it. If I
didn't calc'late my hoss'd git used well you couldn't hire her, mister,
not if you was a-goin' to paper my house with ten-dollar bills. No,
sir. It's like I said. That hoss and me is friends."

"Plunk," says Mark to me, "I hain't very scared of Mr. Janes."

"No?" says I. "Why?"

"Hear what he s-says about his horse?"

"Yes," says I.

"Well," says he, "that kind of a man hain't very dangerous to boys....
He's all right, Mr. Janes is, whether he's l-locked us up or not."

"I hope so," says I, "but if he keeps us here and then rents his horse
to Skip he might as well be the meanest slinkin' scalawag in the state.
It'll do us as much harm."

"I dun'no'," says Mark, and then shut up tight to listen.

Hamilcar was talking again.

"Come to look you over, mister, I dun'no's you look _bad_. 'Tain't
that, I calc'late. But, mister, you're so mortal homely it raises
doubts in a feller's mind. Maybe, mister, you're as good as George
Washington, but you don't look it."

"I can't help what I look like," says Skip, as mad as a weasel. "What's
that got to do with it?

"Easy, mister, easy," says Hamilcar. "You're wantin' to rent a
hoss--not me urgin' you to take her. You won't git no place by r'ilin'
yourself all up. Calm down, mister, calm down."

Skip said something I couldn't hear.

"Well, mister," says Hamilcar, "I'll take you back and show you to the
hoss. If she don't make no objection, I guess maybe you can take her.
But if she don't like you, mister, you couldn't have her if you was to
offer me seven dollars a mile and a new buggy throwed in. Come on."

They started to come back our way. I could hear them coming closer and
closer. Right in front of our door they stopped, and Hamilcar says:

"What d'you calc'late I got in here, mister?"

"Hams," says Jehoshaphat, sharp-like.

"No," says Hamilcar. "Boys."

"Boys!"

"Two of 'em. Fat one and thin one. Caught 'em stealin' apples. Grabbed
'em by the collars. Shoved 'em in the smoke-house. Good idee. Teach 'em
a lesson. Scare 'em some. Bet they'll keep out of my orchard after
this."

"Should have given 'em a lickin'," says Skip.

"Uh-uh, mister. Never licked a hoss nor a boy. 'Tain't good trainin'.
Mister, I calc'late you hain't got no boy."

"No," says Skip, "and I hain't hankerin' after one."

"There, you see! Well, mister, I hain't got no boy, either, nor no
wife, nor no folks of any kind. But I'd like a boy. Yes, sir, I'd like
_two_ of 'em. But I wouldn't lick 'em, mister. There's other ways and
better ways.... Want to take a look at these fellers?"

Well, you can believe Mark and I pretty near jumped out of our skins.
What if Hamilcar showed us to Skip and Skip knew us, which he would,
and put two and two together? He'd smell a rat right off--and then the
fat would splash over into the fire. We held our breath and waited.

"No," says Skip, "I hain't any desire to see 'em."

"They're bad ones," says Hamilcar, but his voice didn't sound like he
thought we were so very bad. "You never see a pair of worse ones."

"Haven't time," says Skip. "Let's fix up about the horse, because I'm
in a hurry to get to Sunfield. I've got a big business deal on there."

Then they passed on by and we couldn't hear them any more, but in about
ten minutes we heard carriage-wheels, and so we judged the horse hadn't
shown any signs of disliking Skip. He'd got his carriage and was off
for Sunfield while we were here, shut up in a smoke-house, with nothing
but our legs even if we could get out.

But right away Hamilcar Janes came to the door and says, ferocious-like:

"Hello in there!"

"Mr. Janes," says Mark, "we want to t-talk to you."

"I'll bet you do," says he, and I could hear him chuckle. He came
closer and unbarred the door and opened it.

"Come out," says he, in a voice that would have frightened the stripes
off a tiger.

We came out as quick as we could, and it was fine to have decent air to
breathe again.

"There you be," says Hamilcar. "A perty pair, eh? Hain't you, now?
Apple-stealers!"

"We're not apple-stealers," says Mark. "We didn't go into your orchard
to steal a-a-apples. We were just walking through."

"To be sure," says Hamilcar. "Just strollin' among the trees. Of course
you were."

"We were tryin' to keep out of sight of that f-feller you just rented
your horse to."

Hamilcar wrinkled up his forehead and frowned.

"Chasin' you, was he?"

"No. He didn't know we were here, and we d-didn't want him to."

Hamilcar scratched his head. "I dun'no's I ever had any boy tell me
just that story. Them I've caught before has told me lots of things.
Some walked in their sleep, and some didn't know they were in an
orchard at all, and others was stealin' for a sick grandmother, but I
don't call to mind any story just like yours."

"If you'll l-listen, Mr. Janes, I'll tell you about it," says Mark.

"Go ahead, young feller. I hain't got much to do just now. I calc'late
it'll be int'restin'."

"It will," says Mark, and he started in from the beginning and told Mr.
Janes all about the Bazar, and about father being hurt, and about Skip
and the things he'd done to us, and how we'd fought back. He told him
we were going to Sunfield now to get the best of Skip. There wasn't
anything he left out. When he was through Hamilcar hit his big hands
together and says:

"So you're Mark Tidd, eh? Ho, hum! Know Ike Bond?"

"Uncle Ike Bond?" says I. "Well, I should say we do know him."

"Him and my father was in the war together," says Hamilcar. "Comes to
see me. Told me about you. Mark Tidd, eh? Ho, hum! And that scalawag
has been tryin' to bust you up in business, eh? I sort of suspected
him, he was so blamed homely. But the hoss she never let on, so I
harnessed her and let him drive off.... Wish I'd 'a' knowed about this
before."

"So do I," says Mark. "Now it's too late. Skip'll b-b-beat us to
Sunfield and make the deal and--But what's the use? We're beat."

"Beat!" says Hamilcar. "You bet you hain't beat. Not by a long shot.
One hoss hain't all Hamilcar Janes owns. He owns a faster hoss than
that one, too. Just you wait a jiffy, Mark Tidd, and we'll be after
this Skip. We'll make him skip, that's what we'll do. I'll hitch up and
we'll take after him, and if he gits to Sunfield first you can take a
bite out of my leg. There!"

We hurried back to the barn with him, and he hitched up a team--as
fine-looking a team it was--to a two-seated rig. Then he got in the
front seat and motioned us up behind.

"I'm a-goin' to drive myself. We'll pass that Skip in fifteen minutes."

"We mustn't pass him," says Mark. "He m-m-mustn't see us. We've got to
get there first without his knowing we're anywhere around."

"All right," says Hamilcar; "we'll take the woods road. We can go right
around him, and him never be the wiser. Giddap, there! Giddap! Earn
your feed now, hosses. Dig in, for there's a man tryin' to git the best
of two boys. We can't have that. No, siree, Bob. Not any."

"We won't get there much ahead of him," says I.

"Maybe ten minutes," says Hamilcar. "Maybe fifteen."

"Do you know Mr. Hoffer--the m-man that wants to sell his store?" Mark
asked.

"Know him? To be sure. It's Sunfield we're a-goin' to, Mark Tidd, and
if there's a man, woman, child, or critter in that town that don't know
Hamilcar Janes, then I hope apples sells for fifty cents a barrel."

"We've got to get him away from his store," says Mark. "There ain't
time to d-dicker with him there. Skip'd come bangin' right into the
middle of it. And if he was to see Plunk and me the whole plate of soup
'u'd be spilled."

"Um!" says Hamilcar. "Calc'late we kin manage it. Leave it to Hamilcar
Janes. He's your man." Then he started talking to himself. "Try to bust
up a couple of boys, would he? Skip! I'll make him skip. If he's
mistreated that hoss of mine he'll skip and he'll jump--and, b'jing!
he'll holler, too."

It was a fine drive to Sunfield. The air was just a bit chilly, but it
was a bright day and the woods were getting all colored up. It made me
want to go nutting. I said so to Mark.

"If th-this deal goes through," says he, "you and I will go n-nutting
Wednesday. We'll deserve a day off."

We drove along at a good clip and got to Sunfield before noon. Hamilcar
Janes drove us right to Mr. Hoffer's five-and-ten-cent store and drew
up his horses. I looked around where he said the other road came into
town, and there, a quarter of a mile off, was a buggy coming along.
There was one man in it, but it was too far off for me to see if it was
Skip. Hamilcar took a look and banged his knee with his big fist.

"It's him," says he. "At any rate, it's my hoss. We'd better git a
hustle on."

We jumped out of the carriage and went pell-mell into the store. There
was a young woman and a middle-aged man there. He was Mr. Hoffer, and
he was German, and he looked pretty tired and sick.

"Hoffer," says Hamilcar, "you're a-goin' for a drive."

"_Nein_," says Hoffer. "Here must I stop. Business is business."

"You need a rest, Hoffer. You're a-lookin' peeked. And you're a-goin'
for a drive. Hamilcar Janes says you're a-goin', and he can't afford to
tell a lie. Git your hat, Hoffer."

Mr. Hoffer smiled, feeble-like, but shook his head.

"Where's his hat?" says Hamilcar to the young woman.

She pointed to it, and Hamilcar took it and tossed it to Mark. Then he
walked right over to Hoffer and picked him up in his arms and carried
him out of the store and set him in the back seat of the carriage.

"There," says he. "Now set there and enjoy yourself."

For a minute Mr. Hoffer looked a little upset and flustered and didn't
appear to know what to make of it. But then he smiled, and it was a
gentle, grateful kind of a smile that made me feel choky in the throat.

"Hamilcar," says he, "you are one goot friend to me. How I haff longed
for to ride by the woods! _Ach_, but it wass impossible. Always must I
sit in mein store and hope somebody comes to buy.... But you steal me,
Hamilcar, und it iss that I cannot help myself, so I am glad. We will
drive, Hamilcar, und for the day I will be happy."

Hamilcar didn't lose a minute. He started us up the street at a gallop.
We went around the next corner on three wheels--just as Skip and his
horse slackened up at the store. Then for a couple of minutes I saw
some driving. Whee! but that was a team, and Mr. Janes was a driver! We
went, and the cool air slashed past our cheeks and made water come into
our eyes. I looked back at Mr. Hoffer--and choked again. He was so
happy about it all that--well, that a fellow couldn't look at him
without wanting to sort of pat him on the back and tell him it was all
right and that kind of thing.

Pretty soon Hamilcar slowed down.

"I calc'late we've give him the slip," says he. "Now, Mark Tidd, you
can git to business. Hoffer, this here is Mark Tidd, and this other kid
is Plunk Smalley. You kin depend on 'em. I know 'em. What they say you
kin put your faith in."

Now that was a pretty fine thing for him to say, and it made me feel
considerable proud. It made Mark feel so, too. You could see him sort
of stiffen up and his eyes gleam.

"Mr. Hoffer," says Mark, "we want to buy your stock."

"Veil, she iss for sale. Cheap, also. It is that I must go away for
mein health."

"We have got to hurry. There isn't t-time to take an inventory, but we
have an idea what you have on hand. A friend looked into it for us." He
reached into his pocket. "Here's twenty-five dollars, Mr. Hoffer, to
p-pay for an option on your stock till Thursday. We'll offer you eight
hundred dollars."

"Option, eh? _Ja_, I understand option. Till Thursday. Twenty-fife
dollar. _Ja._ But eight hundred dollar! _Nein._ It iss too little."

"How much d-do you ask?"

"T'irteen hundred," says Mr. Hoffer.

Mark shook his head, but didn't say a word. Neither did Mr. Hoffer, and
we drove a mile without anybody's speaking. Then Mr. Hoffer said:

"Twelluf hundred."

Mark shook his head, and we all kept still for another mile. Then Mark
says:

"Eight h-hundred and fifty."

Mr. Hoffer shook his head. We were almost through the big woods when
Mr. Hoffer spoke up and says:

"Eleven hundred and fifty."

"Eight hundred and s-s-seventy-five," says Mark.

After that nobody said a word for twenty minutes; then Mr. Hoffer says:

"Eleven hundred, efen money."

Mark shook his head. "Mr. Hoffer," says he, "I'll make one more offer
and that's my last. You'll have to t-t-take it or leave it. Nine
hundred d-d-dollars. Not a cent more. N-not a cent."

Mr. Hoffer blinked and peered at Mark with a sort of twinkle in his
blue eyes.

"Young man," says he, "you haff a head for business. If it iss that you
can sell as well as you can buy, den you are one business man. For
surely.... Vell, den, I take your offer. Nine hundred it iss, und a
option till Thursday. Ve go py the lawyer for that option, eh?"

Mark shook his head. "No," says he, "I have it ready."

And would you believe me, but he pulled out of his pocket a paper all
drawn up by our own lawyer in typewriting. It had even the right amount
set down--nine hundred dollars!

Mr. Hoffer read it and chuckled. "Hamilcar," says he, "did you seen
this? Ho! For nine hundred dollars! So sure wass he that he has the
paper drawn. Ho! Nefer in mein life haff I such a boy seen. For nine
hundred dollars. Ho! ... Veil, Mark Tidd, I sign this. _Ja_, I sign him
for you."

Hamilcar stopped the horses so the buggy wouldn't jar, and Mark pulled
out a fountain pen. He was ready for everything. Mr. Hoffer grinned
some more and signed his name on a line at the bottom of the option,
and Hamilcar signed as a witness. Then Mark sighed like he had
something pretty heavy lifted off his mind.

"Plunk," says he, "chances are good. We're not out of the woods yet,
b-but we can almost see the other side.... Mr. Skip, you should 'a'
played fair.... Now drive us to the edge of town, Mr. Janes, and let us
out where Skip can't see us. He'll be waiting at the store for Mr.
Hoffer."



                             CHAPTER XVIII


Hamilcar drew up just at the outskirts of Sunfield and we got out.

"Mr. Hoffer," says Mark Tidd, "when you g-get back to your store
there'll be a m-man there by the name of Jehoshaphat P. Skip, who'll
want to buy your stock."

"So?" says Mr. Hoffer.

"Yes," says Mark. "We've bought it ourselves just to b-beat him, and
I'll tell you why."

Then he set to and told Mr. Hoffer all about it just like he had told
Hamilcar Janes. When he was through Mr. Hoffer shook his head in that
mild way of his and says:

"That wass not goot. He iss not a fair man. Me, I will haff no dealing
with him whatever. So."

"M-maybe you'll help us a little?" says Mark.

"I vill help. _Ja_, I will do what I can."

"Well, then, just tell him nothing about this option. Tell him you have
nothing to d-do with the sale, though, and he'll have to see-- Who's
your best lawyer here?"

"A young man, also a goot man, I think. He iss from college only a
leetle while. His name it is Hamilton."

"Well, you tell Skip Hamilton is handling the deal and to go to him.
D-don't tell him another word."

"_Ja_, so I will do. _Ja_.... Goot-by, mein young friend. To see you
again I shall hope. Goot-by."

"Good-by, Mr. Hoffer, and we h-hope you get well and everything comes
out fine."

"I will do mein best. But, Mark Tidd, if t'ings go not as I like to
haff them, I shall not cry. No, I shall be patient, and not such a
coward as I like not to be."

We shook hands all around and Hamilcar and Mr. Hoffer drove off. As
soon as they were away Mark and I lit out for Mr. Hamilton's
law-office. We hadn't had any dinner, but Mark didn't seem to mind, and
I wasn't going to be the first to speak about it, you can bet. If he
could stand it to starve to death, I guess I could, too.

We found Mr. Hamilton's office in a little one-story wooden building on
Main Street. He was there, but he seemed a little surprised to see us.

"How d'you do?" says he. "Were you looking for a doctor or a lawyer."

"L-l-lawyer," says Mark.

Mr. Hamilton sighed with relief. "I was sure you'd made a mistake.
Didn't think you could possibly be looking for me. But come right in.
Shall I bring out my trained law-book for you? Or would you rather
watch a baseball game between the Compiled Statutes and the Court
Rules?"

He laughed, pleasant-like. I took to him right away and so did Mark. He
was middling big, and he looked like he was a lot of fun.

"We want a l-l-lawyer," says Mark.

"Um!... Criminal case, I expect. You're the miscreants that threw a
bomb at the Czar of Russia?"

"No," says Mark. "But we want to th-th-throw a bomb at Jehoshaphat P.
Skip."

"Say that again," says Mr. Hamilton. "Is it a name or something to eat
from Sweden?"

"Name," says Mark; "and let's get down to b-business. I'll tell you
what we want and you can say whether you want to d-do it or not."

"Let her go," says Hamilton, and we all sat down.

Mark went over all the things that had happened to us, and then for the
first time I got an idea what the scheme was that brought us to
Sunfield.

"Now," says Mark, when he'd brought things up to date, "we've got this
option on Mr. Hoffer's stock. Skip wants to b-buy the stock. That
stock's worth twice what we paid for it, and Skip knows what it's
worth. What we want you to do is this: you dicker with him. The price
we want is twelve hundred dollars, not a cent more, and not a cent
less.... That is--maybe we'd b-better make him pay your fee. You charge
him, however, much more than the three hundred dollars' profit you
ought to be paid. Don't let on you're our _lawyer_. You don't need to
mention any names. Just talk about clients, eh? How'll that do? He'll
buy. No d-d-danger he won't, that I can see. Make him pay cash down for
the option, and g-git the cash before you turn it over. He'll have it
with him."

"H'm!" says Mr. Hamilton. "Who thought up this scheme?"

"I did," says Mark.

"Well," says Mr. Hamilton, "I hope you and I stay friends, that's all
_I've_ got to say about it. Do you have ideas like this often?"

"He has 'em in his sleep," says I.

"How about it?" says Mark. "Will you do what we want you to?"

"You bet," says Mr. Hamilton.

"We want to be around s-s-somewheres," says Mark, "where we can hear
it. Where can we hide?"

"Smalley here might get in the closet," says Hamilton, with a grin,
"but you weren't made to fit closets, Tidd. You'll have to have a room.
Suppose we try the woodshed there--and leave the door open. I guess
you'll be able to hear, all right."

"We'll go back there n-now," says Mark. "It wouldn't do for Jehoshaphat
P. to catch a glimpse of us."

So back we went. We didn't have to sit around long, either, for along
came Mr. Skip, looking as cross as all-git-out. He came stamping in and
scowled at Mr. Hamilton.

"Are you the feller that's lookin' after this sale for Hoffer?" says he.

"Yes," says Mr. Hamilton.

"He hain't got much of a stock," says Skip, "and what he's got don't
amount to much."

"Well," says Mr. Hamilton, "in that case I wouldn't bother about it if
I were you."

"Oh," says Skip, "I figgered if I could pick it up at a bargain--junk
prices--I could git some profit out of it. Use it for special sales and
sich in my store over to Wicksville."

"You know pretty well what's in the stock, don't you?"

"Trust Jehoshaphat P. Skip for that. He hain't buyin' no pig in a bag.
I hain't been hangin' around there three hours for nothin'."

"Do you want to make me an offer? Is that why you are here?"

"I calc'late I wanted to talk price some. Hoffer's got to sell. He
ought to be willin' to let it go cheap for ready cash."

"He is willing to sell cheap. What'll you offer?"

"Five hundred dollars," says Skip, and clamped his thin lips together
like he was afraid a breath would git out for nothing.

"Good afternoon," says Mr. Hamilton, getting on to his feet. "I'm
pretty busy. When you get ready to talk business, come around again."

Skip looked sort of startled, but he didn't get up. "I might raise that
offer a mite," says he.

"Yes," says Mr. Hamilton, "you'll raise it a whole swarm of mites.
There's one price on that stock and one price only. Twelve hundred and
twenty-five dollars is the price, and you can take it or leave it. I
haven't any time to dicker. Just think that over. It's so cheap I'm
ashamed to handle the deal. Now think it over. It's yes or no to that
price. No use talking anything else."

"Twelve hundred and twenty-five dollars!" says Skip. He sat there and
twiddled his fingers and waggled his nose and worked his Adam's apple
up and down so I nearly busted right out laughing. He didn't say a word
for a quarter of an hour, and Mr. Hamilton pretended he wasn't there at
all. Hamilton worked away at his desk and didn't so much as look at
Skip once. It was nearly four o'clock when Skip caved in.

"Sure that's the best price?" says he.

"Certain."

"Then," says Skip, hesitating a bit like it hurt him to say the
words--"then I'll--I'll take it. What terms?"

"Three hundred and twenty-five dollars _now_, and the balance
Thursday," says Hamilton. "I'll deliver a legal option to you now and a
bill of sale when you pay down the balance."

Skip pulled a wallet out of his pocket and counted out the money--three
hundred and twenty-five dollars. My! but it looked like a lot. He put
it on the desk. Then Mr. Hamilton pushed over our option. The option
was in my name, James Smalley, because we knew Skip never would
recognize it. Father's name is Mortimer Smalley, so Skip wouldn't think
of any connection. He didn't suspect a thing. That was Mark Tidd's
idea, too.

Mr. Hamilton had made me sign the option over, so it was all ready to
deliver to Skip. He took it and Mr. Hamilton took the money.

"You've got a good deal," says Mr. Hamilton.

"Not so good as I calc'lated on gittin'," says Skip, sour as vinegar.
"But I guess I won't lose no money on it."

He got up to go out.

"Good afternoon," says Mr. Hamilton as pleasant as pie.

"Huh!" grunts Skip. "G-by, mister." And out he went.

I almost jumped out of my skin. Three hundred dollars! It was ours, and
we'd made it as honest as could be. We had to have three hundred
dollars, and there was old Mark Tidd with a way to do it. I just looked
at him and couldn't say a word. He was looking at me out of the corner
of his eye to see how I took it, and he was looking pretty well
satisfied with himself, too. I guess it was plain for him to see what a
great man I thought he was, for he grinned as pleased as could be.

"Guess that fixes Skip and his chattel m-m-mortgage," says he.

"Yes," says I, "and it fixes other things. It fixes it so the Smalley
family has something to live on when my dad comes out of the hospital,
and it fixes it so my mother will think you're the greatest man that
ever lived. I hain't goin' to say thank you, Mark, not me. I couldn't
do it right; but you wait till I tell mother. She'll know what to say.
Don't forget that a minute. She'll know...." I quit talking right there
because I was afraid I'd choke up and have to quit and act foolish.

We went into the office and Mr. Hamilton handed us the money. He kept
shaking his head all the time and looking at Mark.

"Tidd," says he, "if I ever get a big case, one that takes more brains
than most men have got to win it, I'm going to send over to Wicksville
for you, I am. Will you come and help me out?"

Mark knew he was fooling, but all the same it was pretty complimentary
fooling.

"Glad to come," says he, "any time."

"What are you going to do now?" asked Mr. Hamilton.

"Find Hamilcar Janes," says Mark, "and thank him, and then see how we
can get back home."

"Any hurry?"

"L-l-like to get there to-night if we can."

"Tell you what I'll do," says Mr. Hamilton. "You take supper with me,
and I'll drive you over in father's automobile to-night. How about
that?"

"Fine," says I. I began to chuckle. It was the first good, satisfying
laugh I had laughed in weeks. "I wonder," says I, "if Skip's man Clancy
has found out why his car wouldn't run."

"I hope not," says Mark, and his face set with that sort of a stern
look he got every time he thought about Skip. "I hope Skip has to walk
from Janes's farm every inch of the w-w-way home."

That's just what I hoped myself.



                              CHAPTER XIX


I don't know how Jehoshaphat P. got back to Wicksville, but he did get
back, because I saw him next noon--passed him so our elbows touched. I
couldn't help looking right in his eye and grinning. I expect it was
pretty impudent, but--well, it was a special case. If he'd known what I
was grinning about he'd probably have taken me apart and put me
together wrong--but he didn't know. All he knew was that he had a
chattel mortgage on the Bazar that was due Friday, and that there
wasn't any chance for us to pay it. One of the worst things a man can
do is to know facts that aren't so.

Skip scowled at me and says, "You won't have much grinnin' to do after
Friday, young feller."

"Um!" says I. "You can't tell about grins. They grow promiscuous like
Canada thistles. Never can tell where one'll spring up."

"What you goin' to do about that chattel mortgage? Goin' to turn over
the stock without a fuss, or have I got to fetch in the constables and
dep'ty-sheriffs and court officers? Eh?"

"Well," says I, "if we're goin' to git busted up we might as well have
all the trimmin's. Can't you call out the militia, too?"

"Who's boss of your store, anyhow? You or that fat boy?"

"I calc'late," says I, "that Mark Tidd's in command."

"Guess I'll see him, then. Maybe I can git him to let go peaceable."

"He'll be glad to see you," says I, with another grin.

Jehoshaphat turned around and made for the Bazar. Mark was waiting on a
couple of customers and there were three other folks in the store. That
was unusual, but I says to Skip:

"Things is perty dull with us. Only five customers in the store."

He grunted, but didn't say a word. Mark looked up and saw him, but his
expression never changed.

"Mr. Skip wants to see you when you get time," says I.

He nodded, and in a minute he came over. The woman he'd been waiting on
didn't go out, but hung around to listen, I guess. Folks in Wicksville
was right on hand when curiosity was being handed out.

"What can I d-do for you?" says Mark to Jehoshaphat.

"Chattel mortgage 's due Friday. What you goin' to do about it?"

Mark got on the dolefulest, mournfulest look I ever saw.

"Mr. Skip," says he, good and loud, so everybody could hear him, "can't
you give us a l-little time?"

"Not a day," says Skip, snapping his jaws shut.

"I know we owe the money," says Mark, "but we didn't git it of you. You
went out of your way to buy up that chattel mortgage. You did it just
so as to bust up this b-b-business." He didn't say it mean, but just
like he was almost ready to cry. Skip's eyes was blinking with
satisfaction.

"We can p-pay you part of it," says Mark. "Won't you give us time on
the rest?"

"Not a minute," says Skip.

"But, Mr. Skip, think about Mr. Smalley. He's hurt and in the hospital.
Think about Mrs. Smalley. This store is all they've got. Nobody knows
what'll h-happen to 'em if you don't give us time." He was saying this
loud so everybody in the store could hear.

Skip looked around uneasy and says: "There hain't no use hollerin'.
This is private talk."

"Maybe it is," says Mark, but he didn't lower his voice. "But what're
you g-goin' to do? Like as not the Smalleys would have to go to the
p-poor-farm or somethin'. You'll git your money, Mr. Skip, if you'll
let us have a little time."

"Not a minute," says Skip, beginning to get mad.

"Then," says Mark, "you want to hurt Mr. Smalley in the hospital, and
fix it so his wife hasn't got a cent to buy a meal? Do you want to do
that, Mr. Skip?"

"I hain't got nothin' to do with that. The money's due me and I need
it. If you hain't got it to pay I'm goin' to take the stock."

"You won't take part and wait f-for the rest?"

"No," says Skip.

"All right, then," says Mark. "Friday's the day, I expect. It's perty
hard on the Smalleys, though."

Well, sir, you should have seen the customers that were hanging around
with their mouths open. They were eying Skip like they thought he was
the meanest man alive, and I could hear them saying things to each
other under their breath. Skip was getting some fine advertising.

"What I want to know," says Skip, "is, will you turn over the stock
without a lot of officers and papers?"

"I don't b-believe we can," says Mark. "If you take this stock you got
to take it the way the law says.... Now good-by, Mr. Skip. This store
is ours till Friday, and if you so much as step a foot in it again till
you c-come with the sheriff somethin' will happen to you that'll make
you wish you'd fallen down a well."

At that he turned his back and went behind the counter. Skip sneaked a
look at the women and slunk out as fast as he could go.

When he was gone you should have heard those five women sail into him.
My! the things they said about him! In another hour Wicksville would
know just what had been said and just what those five women thought
about it. Mark winked at me solemn. When the folks were gone he says:

"P-public opinion, Plunk. Ever hear of it?"

"Yes," says I.

"I'm s-sickin' it on Jehoshaphat. He'll be a popular feller in
Wicksville. Won't he be popular, though!"

"What's the idea?" says I. "Why didn't you pay him his money and kick
him out?"

"Because," says he, "I want to make folks love him. I want to fix it so
f-f-folks will go out of their way to buy from him. Do you think this
fight's over when the mortgage is paid? No, siree. We have got to get
the business of this town and keep it away from Skip. When I'm through
with Jehoshaphat Wicksville's goin' to think he's about the meanest man
that ever pinched a p-penny."

"What next?" says I.

"A l-little advertisin'," says he.

That afternoon he painted a lot of signs, big and little. Some were for
the wagon, and Binney and Tallow were to drive it around town, banging
on the drum. Others were for our windows and others were to tack up on
fences. The one in our window says:

  Jehoshaphat P. Skip holds a chattel mortgage on this stock. He
  bought it just to bust this business. He won't give us time. Friday
  he's going to seize the Bazar. Everybody come. At two o'clock. Come
  to see Jehoshaphat P. Skip foreclose his mortgage.

That was one sign, others were like it, but every one said something
different and something that wasn't calculated to make folks fond of
Skip. All day Wednesday and all day Thursday we kept them going,
inviting folks to be on hand to see the end of the Bazar.

"How do you know it'll be at two o'clock?" says I.

Mark grinned. "I saw the sheriff," says he, "and f-fixed it up."

Wouldn't that beat you? He'd thought of everything.

Friday came along just as the calendar said it would, but it seemed to
us it took quite a while to do it. When you've got a surprise in your
pocket all ready to spring, it always takes the right minute a long
time to get there. In the mean time we went along just as if nothing
was going to happen, and we didn't let on to a soul what we had in
pickle for Jehoshaphat. We just kept advertising the foreclosure at two
o'clock Friday afternoon like it was some sort of bargain sale. It was
a novelty, all right. Folks don't usually brag about being busted, so
folks took quite an interest, and we were certain to have a good crowd
on hand. I guess they figured something out of the ordinary would
happen. That was on account of Mark Tidd and his reputation.

Lots of folks stopped in to tell us how sorry they were and to tell us
their opinion of Jehoshaphat P. Sympathy doesn't cost a cent, so you
can always get more of it than you need. But it did show that Mark had
fixed things so Skip wouldn't be the best-loved man in our county,
which was something, anyhow.

Friday morning seemed like it could have held all the seven days of the
week. We took lunch in the Bazar. At a quarter to two Mark had us put a
big sign in each window that said:

                     ALL READY FOR THE FORECLOSURE
                           EVERYBODY WELCOME

There was a good crowd there--probably fifty or sixty people--when Skip
and the officer came in. The officer went over to Mark and says:

"I've come to take charge of this stock, young feller."

"But," says Mark, "d-don't you have to give folks a chance to pay up
before you seize the store?"

"Yes," says the officer, "but I understood there wasn't any chance of
that."

"Um!" says Mark, and he scrambled up on top of the counter. "Folks,"
says he, as calm and cool as a chunk of ice, "here's Jehoshaphat P.
Skip and the officer to put us out of business. They've got a chattel
mortgage for f-five hundred dollars, and if we can't pay it the Bazar
is b-busted. You know about Mr. Smalley. You've all been friends of his
for years. What d'you think of a man who'll take away everything Mr.
Smalley's got, just out of m-meanness?"

"Here," says the officer, "none of that, now. Git off'n that counter
and keep quiet."

Mark looked down at him and says:

"I've talked this thing over with my lawyer, and I know what I can do
and what I c-can't. I can keep possession of this store till twelve
o'clock to-night if I want to. So, if you want to have your
f-foreclosure to-day just hold your horses till I get through talkin'."

The officer scowled a bit and then grinned and said to go ahead with
the celebration.

"Mr. Smalley didn't borrow this f-five hundred dollars from Mr. Skip.
But what does Mr. Skip do? He sneaks around and finds out about it, and
b-buys up the mortgage so he can use it to put the Bazar out of
business. He knew there wasn't room for his store and this one in
Wicksville, so he started in to git rid of us. He's been m-mean and
underhanded from the start. He tried to get our credit cut off with the
wholesale houses, and whatever he could d-do to hurt us he's gone ahead
and done it."

Skip stood and scowled and wabbled his nose back and forth, but he
didn't say a word.

Mark went on: "We had to m-make money for Mr. Smalley in the hospital,
and we had to keep the business running. That took all we could make.
So if we paid this chattel mortgage up we'd have to get the money some
other way.

"Well, folks, it happened that Mr. Skip didn't know how long he'd last
here, so he didn't t-take a lease of the store he's in. We found that
out. Then, folks, we went and got a lease of it ourselves. We could 'a'
kicked Skip out of it, but we didn't want to do that. We wanted to
p-pay off the mortgage."

He stopped and looked down at Skip and grinned. Folks all looked at
Skip, too. He was white, he was so mad, and if all the folks hadn't
been there I don't know what he'd have done, but he didn't dare wiggle.
Mark started in again.

"We wanted Skip to pay himself the f-five hundred dollars. That's what
we wanted. Right there, folks, he paid part of it. We made him p-pay
two hundred dollars to stay in his store. He didn't know he was payin'
it to us, but he was." He reached in his pocket and pulled out a bundle
of bills. "There's the very identical money he paid us. Two hundred
d-dollars of it.... There, Mr. Skip, is t-two hundred dollars on
account. It's from you to yourself." And Mark tossed the money down to
the officer. I thought Skip would choke.

"But that wasn't enough," says Mark. "There was three hundred
dollars more. It seemed like we couldn't raise that much, but this
week we arranged to have Mr. Skip p-pay that to himself, too. We did
it this way: over in Sunfield was a man named Hoffer who had a
f-f-five-and-ten-cent store. He wanted to sell cheap. We knew about
it and we fixed it so Skip heard about it, too. He started over to
buy. We started the same day--and we beat him there. But we didn't
have any m-m-money to buy with. That's where Skip came in handy
again. We went to Mr. Hoffer and got him to give us an option on his
stock at nine hundred d-dollars. Then we went to a lawyer to handle
it for us. Skip came to see the lawyer, not knowin' we had anything
to do with it, and the lawyer sold him the stock we had bought at
nine hundred dollars for twelve hundred and twenty-five
dollars--givin' us a p-p-profit of three hundred d-dollars and
payin' our lawyer for his services. Perty kind of Skip, wasn't it?
Eh, Mr. Skip? And, Mr. Skip, there's the three hundred dollars. The
same b-bills you gave us. That squares us, Mr. Skip. You've p-paid
yourself what we owed you and we're much obliged. 'Tain't every man
would be so kind." Here he tossed over the three hundred.

You should have seen Skip. He couldn't say a word. I don't believe he
could think. He just stood and trembled, he was so furious, and waggled
his nose, and his Adam's apple went up and down like an elevator in a
busy building. And the folks yelled. It wasn't a cheer; it was a laugh.
They hollered. Men and women threw back their heads and laughed like
I've never seen folks laugh before. And the things they said to Skip! I
wouldn't have had folks poke fun at me like that for seven times five
hundred dollars. Mark held up his hand.

"I advertised this f-foreclosure," he said, with a grin, "so all
Wicksville would know what kind of a man Skip is. I wanted Wicksville
to appreciate how generous he is. I hope after this f-folks won't
bother to trade here at the Bazar. We don't deserve it, for all we do
is give an honest bargain for every cent you spend here. Go to Skip....
And now, Mr. Skip, you've got your money. I calc'late you and the
officer hain't got anythin' more to d-do here, and I'll bet you've got
business somewheres else. So good afternoon, Mr. Skip; and, Mr. Skip,
you might carry off the thought that competition in business is all
right, but that folks that tries to squeeze and won't play f-fair is
apt to git into a pinch themselves.... Good afternoon, Mr. Skip."

Skip and the officer started for the door, with folks jostling them and
making funny remarks and laughing at them fit to bust. I'll bet he was
glad to get to the door, and the way he shot out into the street and
dodged toward his own place was enough to make you laugh if you had a
sore tooth.

Then folks crowded around Mark, and he stood and let them admire him,
and enjoyed it to beat everything. Mr. Bloom got up on a chair and says:

"Fellow-townsmen, that there man Skip hain't the sort of citizen we
want here. There's some way to git rid of him. You know what that is."

"You bet," says Chet Weevil, "just keep away from his store."

"That's the ticket," says Mr. Bloom. "Now, folks, see what you can do.
It won't take long."

"Jest you watch us," says Mr. Hoover. "We'll 'tend to Skip."

Mark stood up again. "Now, folks," he says, "the place is ready for
business again. You'll find us behind the counters, and we'll be there
six days a week, ready to g-g-give you your money's worth and a little
more every time."

The crowd hung around a spell, gabbling and talking and buying a few
things, but they finally left and we four were alone.

"Mark," says I, "I'm goin' to write mother now. Whatever else there is
to do can wait. And when her letter comes back I'm goin' to give it to
you. She'll say in it the things that I hain't got any idea of how to
say right."

"There don't need to anybody say anything," says he, but all the same I
knew he'd be pretty disappointed if nobody did, and I knew he'd want
mother's letter to keep always. There was Mark's little weakness. He
could do big things and fine things and he was honest and the sort of
fellow you could downright admire--but he did like to be admired. I
don't know as I blame him. I'd like to be admired myself if I could
find some way of making folks do it.



CONCLUSION


That's about all there is to it. Skip stuck it out two weeks, then he
moved over to Sunfield into Mr. Hoffer's store where he couldn't bother
us any more. And that was the last of him.

The business was a little slack at first, but it began to pick up in a
day or two, and just before the Saturday when the announcement of the
result of the beauty contest was to be made there was quite a rush.
Mark Tidd had stirred it up with advertising. The last time we put up
the names before the final count the contestants stood:

Mr. Pilkins, 967 votes.

Mr. Bloom, 958 votes.

Chet Weevil, 947 votes.

Chancy Miller, 941 votes.

Of course there were others, but these men were at the top and nobody
was near them.

Well, sir, on Saturday morning in came young Mr. Hopkins, whose father
owns the bank, and bought a phonograph just like Old Mose Miller's, and
a lot of records. It gave him eleven hundred votes.

"You can v-vote 'em for yourself," says Mark, with a grin, "and elect
yourself the handsomest m-man in town."

Mr. Hopkins, who was a bully fellow, grinned back. "What'll I do with
'em?" says he.

Mark's eyes twinkled. "It wouldn't be f-f-fair for me to suggest
anything," says he, "but if those votes were mine I'll bet I'd have
some f-f-fun with 'em."

Mr. Hopkins thought a few minutes and then began writing a name on
every ballot. It took him quite a while. I couldn't see who it was, but
all of a sudden Mark started to grin and I knew there was a joke on
somebody.

"Who is it?" says I.

"Peabody," says Mark. "Jupiter Peabody."

"Don't know him," says I. I didn't, either. I'd never heard of such a
man. "Who is he?"

"Oh, he's been living here a long time," says Mr. Hopkins. "Maybe you
never happened to meet him, though."

I racked my brains, but for the life of me I couldn't catch on to who
he was.

At half past two the list was to go up, and there was a crowd on hand.
Everybody was anxious, especially Chet and Chancy and some of the
women. The men mostly pretended it was a joke, anyhow, and they didn't
care how it came out--but they did care, all the same.

Prompt on the minute Mark stepped into the window and pasted up the
list. For a minute the folks were quiet; then there was a hubbub.
Everybody was astonished. Here, at the last minute, somebody had come
in and beaten everybody.

"Peabody," says a man, "who's Jupiter Peabody? I know Sam Peabody, but
he hain't got no relatives named Jupiter that I know of."

"Me, neither," says Mr. Bloom. "Anyhow he's handsomer'n I be. I'd like
to git a look at him."

Chet and Chancy both looked like they wanted to cry.

"Who is it?" says Chet.

"Never heard of him," says Chancy, "but I'll bet he's homelier'n you
be."

"Anyhow," says Chet, "he probably hain't got curly hair."

It looked for a minute like there might be a scrimmage, but just then
an old man came along, driving a dump-cart filled with pumpkins.

"There," says Mr. Bloom, "is Sam Peabody. Let's ask him if he knows
this Jupiter."

So they stopped the old fellow, and Mr. Bloom says:

"Got any relatives livin' here?"

"No," says Mr. Peabody, "nary relative."

"Any other Peabodys hereabouts that you know of?"

The old man shook his head slow and allowed he didn't know of any.

"Well," says Mr. Bloom, "this here is a mystery, all right. Here's a
Jupiter Peabody that's won the handsomest-man contest, and nobody knows
him."

"What?" says the old fellow. "What's that? Won the handsomest-man
contest? Got most votes for bein' the handsomest man in Wicksville?
Ho!" He threw back his head and roared. "Handsomest man! Whee! Think of
that, now." He sat a minute laughing like all-git-out; then he reached
out with his whip and touched his mule. "Giddap, Jupiter!" says he.
"Giddap!"

It was a minute before folks caught on--and then you should have heard
the laugh. Jupiter, Jupiter Peabody--a mule. And he'd been elected the
handsomest man in Wicksville. Everybody, including even Chet and
Chancy, roared so hard they almost choked, and they pounded each other
on the back and danced up and down and shrieked. It was the funniest
joke that ever happened in Wicksville.

Maybe if a real man had won the losers would have been mad, but nobody
won but a mule! And everybody saw the joke. I guess it was about the
best way the thing could have come out.

So that was the end of the beauty contest.

In another two weeks father came home, a little lame, but so he would
be all right in no time, and mother came with him. I'll never forget
the way she took Mark Tidd by the hand, nor what she said to him. It
made him blink his eyes, I can tell you.

"Mark," she says, "it's a fine thing to have brains that you can scheme
with, and it's fine to be brave, and it's fine to be able to stick to
things to the very end, but when you add to that a heart that's willing
to do things for other folks, and that is happiest when it's helping
somebody that needs help, you've got about the finest kind of a man
there is. And that's the kind of man you're going to be, Mark. I'm glad
my son is your friend."

I felt the same way about it myself.


                                THE END

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                 Books for Boys by a Master of Fiction

                         The Mark Tidd Stories

                     By CLARENCE BUDINGTON KELLAND

                               MARK TIDD

An ingenious fat boy and his three friends meet danger and excitement
in solving the mystery of the strange footprint in their secret cave.

                         MARK TIDD IN BUSINESS

Mark and his three friends take Smalley's Bazaar and make a success of
it, in spite of unfair competition from the villain of the story.

                           MARK TIDD, EDITOR

The resourceful fat boy runs a country newspaper. As editor, foreman of
the press room, circulation manager and business manager, he makes the
Wicksville Trumpet a paying proposition.

                        MARK TIDD, MANUFACTURER

The boys take over an old mill fallen into disrepair and soon have it
showing a profit. How Mark outwits the unscrupulous representative of a
big power company makes an irresistibly funny book.

                       MARK TIDD IN THE BACKWOODS

Mark turns detective and foils a scheme to defraud his pal's uncle--an
exciting story of mystery and fun.

                          MARK TIDD'S CITADEL

The boys run into mystery in a closed-up summer hotel where they rescue
a kidnapped Samurai boy from his pursuers.

                           MARK TIDD IN ITALY

Here is fun and action aplenty and a story that will hold Mark's old
friends and make many new ones.

                GROSSET & DUNLAP : Publishers : NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                             BOOKS FOR BOYS

          Thrilling best-seller tales of mystery and adventure

                          THE SPOTLIGHT BOOKS

          STOCKY OF LONE TREE RANCH               Chas. H. Snow
          CRIMSON ICE                            C. Fitzsimmons
          70,000 WITNESSES                       C. Fitzsimmons
          DEATH ON THE DIAMOND                   C. Fitzsimmons
          FLASH GORDON                             Alex Raymond
          TAILSPIN TOMMY                           Mark Stevens
          SMILEY ADAMS                            R.J. Burrough
          HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS                  W. L. Chester
          THE PONY EXPRESS                   Henry James Forman
          THE IRON HORSE                          Edwin C. Hill
          THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW TIE   Laurence Dwight Smith

                         THE LONE RANGER BOOKS
                            by Fran Striker

               THE LONE RANGER
               THE LONE RANGER AND THE MYSTERY RANCH
               THE LONE RANGER AND THE GOLD ROBBERY
               THE LONE RANGER AND THE OUTLAW STRONGHOLD
               THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO

                            THE G-MEN BOOKS

       THE G-MEN SMASH THE "PROFESSOR'S" GANG       William Engle
       THE G-MEN IN JEOPARDY                    Laurence D. Smith
       THE G-MEN TRAP THE SPY RING              Laurence D. Smith

                         THE JIMMIE DRURY BOOKS
                            by David O'Hara

               JIMMIE DRURY: CANDID CAMERA DETECTIVE
               JIMMIE DRURY: WHAT THE DARK ROOM REVEALED
               JIMMIE DRURY: CAUGHT BY THE CAMERA

               GROSSET & DUNLAP    Publishers    NEW YORK





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