The Impractical Man by Elliott Flower
"I am sorry to inform you," said Shackelford, the lawyer, "that you
have been to some trouble and expense to secure a bit of worthless
paper. This—" and he held up the document he had been examining—"is
about as valuable as a copy of last week's newspaper."
It is possible that Shackelford really regretted the necessity of
conveying this unpleasant information to Peter J. Connorton, Cyrus
Talbot, and Samuel D. Peyton; but, if so, his looks belied him, for
he smiled very much as if he found something gratifying in the
Connorton was the first to recover from the shock.
"Then it's a swindle!" he declared hotly. "We'll get that fellow
Hartley! He's a crook! We'll make him—"
"Oh, no," interrupted Shackelford, quietly, "it's no swindle.
According to your own story, you prepared the paper yourself and paid
him for his signature to it."
"We paid him twenty-five thousand dollars for his patent," asserted
"But you didn't get the patent," returned Shackelford. "He has
assigned to you, for a consideration of twenty-five thousand dollars,
all his rights, title, and interest in something or other, but the
assignment doesn't clearly show what. There are a thousand things that
it might be, but nothing that it definitely and positively is. Very
likely he doesn't know this, but very likely somebody will tell him.
Anyhow, you've got to clear an unquestioned title before you can do
anything with the patent without danger of unpleasant consequences."
Deeper gloom settled upon the faces of the three, and especially upon
the face of Connorton, who was primarily responsible for their present
"What would you advise?" asked Connorton at last.
"Well," returned the lawyer, after a moment of thought, "you'd better
find him. As near as I can make out, he had no thought of tricking
"Oh, no, I don't believe he had," confessed Connorton. "I spoke
hastily when I charged that. He's too impractical for anything of the
"Much too impractical, I should say," added Talbot, and Peyton nodded
"In that case," pursued the lawyer, "you can still clinch the deal
easily and quickly—if you get to him first. I see nothing
particularly disturbing in the situation, except the possibility that
somebody who is practical may get hold of him before you do, or that
he may learn in some other way of the value of his invention. Do you
know where he is?"
"No," answered Connorton. "That's the trouble."
"Not so troublesome as it might be," returned the lawyer. "He is not
trying to hide, if we are correct in our surmise, and his
eccentricities of dress and deportment would attract attention to him
anywhere. I have a young man here in the office who will get track of
him in no time, if you have nothing better to suggest."
They had nothing better to suggest, so Byron Paulson was called in,
given a description of Ira Hartley, together with such information as
to his associates and haunts as it was possible to give, and sent in
quest of news of him.
"Meanwhile," observed the lawyer, "I'll prepare something for his
signature, when we find him, that will have no loopholes in it."
Connorton and Paulson had no difficulty in securing permission to talk
with Hartley, and they approached with considerable confidence the
cell in which he was detained. It had occurred to them, upon
reflection, that they were now in a most advantageous position in the
matter of their business relations with the inventor. He was
friendless in a strange city. He was believed to be of unsound mind,
and his actions had been erratic enough to give color to that belief.
He could hardly hope to secure his release without their help, and if
so, they could impose their own terms before extending that help.
To their surprise, they found him quite cheerful and apparently
indifferent or blind to the seriousness of his predicament.
"Hullo, Connorton!" he cried, when he saw them approaching. "Any other
proposition to make now?"
"Why, no, certainly not," replied Connorton. "We came to see about
"Awfully good of you," laughed Hartley. "How you do love me,
Connorton's face reddened, but he ignored the thrust. "You've got
yourself in a nice fix, Hartley," he remarked.
"Oh, it's of no consequence," exclaimed Paulson.
"Not to me," asserted Hartley. "It may be to you, of course."
The impractical man appeared to be able to take a very practical view
of some matters, and Connorton was the more perturbed and uneasy in
"They say you're crazy," suggested Connorton.
"And I guess they can prove it, too," rejoined Hartley, cheerfully.
"You've said the same thing yourself, and I know you wouldn't lie
about a mere trifle like that. Then, the conductor, the engineer, and
the fireman of the train we came down on will swear to it ... not to
mention the cooper, the hotel clerk, a few bell-boys, and the
policeman who arrested me. Yes, I guess I'm crazy, Connorton. Too bad,
"It's likely to be bad for you," said Connorton.
"Oh, no," returned Hartley, easily, "I'm not violent, you know, just
mentally defective; unable to transact business, as you might say.
They'll find that out and let me go; but there will be the taint, the
suspicion, the doubt. Very likely a conservator will be appointed when
I get back home—some shrewd, sharp fellow, with a practical mind."
Such a very impractical man was the inventor, and so very troublesome
in his impracticality! Connorton could only begin at the beginning
again, and go slow.
"Suppose we get you out," he ventured, "what would you be willing to
"What would you be willing to do?" retorted Hartley.
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Connorton.
"I'm sure I don't know," replied Hartley, with an air of the utmost
frankness. "I seldom mean anything, of course, and it is such a lot of
trouble to find out what I do mean when I mean anything that I usually
give it up. But you are so deeply interested in me—so much more
interested in me than I am in myself—that I thought you might want to
keep me sane; that you might not like to feel that you had driven me
Paulson was about to interrupt, but Connorton motioned to him to be
silent. Connorton was in the habit of handling his own business
matters, and he wanted his lawyer to speak only when a legal
proposition was put directly up to him. It may be admitted that he was
sorely perplexed now; but he found nothing in the inventor's face but
a bland smile, and he did not think Paulson could help him to
"Hartley," he said at last, "I'll get you out of here and add five
thousand to what you've already had the moment that patent is properly
transferred to me."
"Connorton," returned the inventor, "I believe I'm crazy. When I think
of the events of the last few days—of your more than brotherly
interest in me, which I have pleasurably exploited during our
delightful association—I believe I am crazy enough to say, come
Connorton drew a long breath and conceded another point. "Hartley," he
proposed, "you may keep the money I have already given you—"
"Thank you," said Hartley; "I shall."
"—and you may also have a quarter interest in the patent," concluded
"It's all mine now," suggested Hartley.
"If so," argued Connorton, who well knew that much of the money had
been spent, "you owe me twenty-five thousand dollars."
"If so," returned Hartley, the impractical man, "I infer from your
anxiety and extraordinary generosity that I can sell it for enough to
pay you and make a little margin for myself. Besides, you can't
collect from a crazy man, Connorton; and I'm getting crazier every
minute. Business always goes to my head, Connorton. You must have
noticed that up in the woods. I'm really becoming alarmed about
myself. But perhaps, you'd rather do business with a conservator,
"A half interest," urged Connorton, desperately, as he mentally
reviewed the weakness of his own position in view of the unsuspected
perspicacity of the inventor. "Consider that I have paid you
twenty-five thousand dollars for a half interest, and the other half
is yours. I'll defray whatever expense is incurred in marketing the
Hartley reflected, seeming in doubt. "Connorton," he said at last, "I
think I am still getting the worst of it somewhere, but an impractical
fellow like me deserves to get the worst of it. Go ahead! Have that
agreement put in legal form, and then you may get me out while there
is yet time to save my reason."
Connorton had finished his appeal for the release of Hartley. "Of
course," he was told, "if you and Mr. Paulson will assume the
responsibility and will immediately take him away, we shall be glad to
let you have him; but he is undoubtedly demented."
"Demented!" snorted Connorton. "Say! you try to do business with him,
and you'll think he's the sanest man that ever lived!"