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 situation.

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 Connorton.

"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 predicament.

"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 you."

"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 sort."

"Much too impractical, I should say," added Talbot, and Peyton nodded approval.

"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 you."

"Awfully good of you," laughed Hartley. "How you do love me, Connorton!"

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 consequence.

"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, isn't it?"

"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 do?"

"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 crazy."

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 interpret that.

"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 again!"

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 Connorton.

"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, Connorton."

"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 invention, too."

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!"