The Come On by Eugene Manlove Rhodes

"Fair fellow, said Sir Ector, knowest thou not in this country any adventures that be here nigh hand? Sir, said the forester,… strike upon that basin with the butt of thy spear thrice, and soon after thou shalt hear new tidings, and else hast thou the fairest grace that many a year had ever knight that passed through this forest…. Then anon Sir Ector beat on the basin as he were wood."

Chapter I

"Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go!"

Steve Thompson had sold his cattle. El Paso is (was) the Monte Carlo of America. Therefore—The syllogism may he imperfectly stated, but the conclusion is sound. Perhaps there is a premise suppressed or overlooked somewhere.

Cash in hand, well fortified with paving material, Thompson descended on the Gate City. At the expiration of thirty-six blameless hours he perceived that he was looking through a glass darkly, in the Business Man's Club, intently regarding a neatly-lettered placard which ambiguously advised all concerned in this wise:

IF DRINKING INTERFERES WITH YOUR BUSINESS, STOP IT.

A back-room door was opened. A burst of merriment smote across the loneliness. A head appeared. The tip of its nose quivered.

"Hey, old-timer! Will you walk into my parlor?" it jeered.

Steve walked over with dignity and firmly closed the door, closing it, through sheer inadvertence, from the inside. A shout of welcome greeted him.

With one exception—the Transient—they were all old friends; the Stockman, the Judge, alike darkly attractive; the supple-handed Merchant, with curly hair and nose; and the strong quiet figure of the Eminent Person. A wight of high renown and national, this last, who had attained to his present bad Eminence through superior longevity. As he was still in the prime of life, it should perhaps be explained that his longevity was purely comparative, as contrasted with that of a number of gentlemen, eminent in the same line, who had been a trifle dilatory at critical moments, to them final.

The Merchant, sometime Banker-by-night, as now, began evening up chip-stacks. "How much?" he queried. The Judge and the Eminent Person hitched along to make room between them.

"I'm not playing to-night," Steve began. He was cut short by a torrent of scoffing advice and information.

"Only one hundred to come in—all you got to get out."

"Another victim!"

"Bet 'em high and sleep in the streets!"

"Table stakes. Cuter goes for aces and flushes."

"Just give us what you can spare handy and go to bed. You'll save money and sleep."

"Straight flush the best hand."

"All ties go to the sweaters."

"A man and his money are soon parted!"

"You play the first hand for fun, and all the rest of the night to get even!" Thus, and more also, the Five in hilarious chorus.

"Any man caught bluffing loses the pot," added the Eminent Person, gravely admonitory. "And a Lalla-Cooler can only be played once a night."

"Nary a play play I," said Steve aggrievedly. "I stole just one measly horse and every one's called me a horse-thief ever since. But I've played poker, lo! these many years, and no one ever called me a gambler once. The best I get is, 'Clear out, you blamed sucker. Come back when you grow a new fleece!' and when I get home the wind moans down the chimney, 'O-o-o-gh-h! wha-a-t have you do-o-one with your summer's w-a-A-a-ges!"

"Aw, sit down—you're delayin' the game," said the Stockman. The Banker shoved over three stacks of patriotically assorted colors and made a memorandum. The Five howled mockery and derision, the cards danced and beckoned luringly in the mellow lamplight, the Judge pulled his coat-tail, the Major Premise tugged. Steve sat down, pulling his sombrero over his eyes.

"He that runneth after fools shall have property enough," he quoted inaccurately. "I'll have some of your black hides on the fence by morning."

The cards running to him, it was not long before Steve doubled his "come-in" several times on quite ordinary hands, largely because his capital was so small that he could not be bluffed out. The betting was fierce and furious. Steve, "on velvet," played brilliantly. But he was in fast company—too fast for his modest means. The Transient seemed to have a bottomless purse. The Stockman had cattle on a thousand hills, the Merchant habitually sold goods at cost.

As for the Judge—his fine Italian hand was distinctly traceable in the frenzied replies to frenzied attacks upon certain frenzied financial transactions of his chief, a frenzied but by no means verdant copper magnate, to whom he, the Judge, was Procureur-General, adviser legal and otherwise. The Judge took no thought for the morrow, unless his frequently expressed resolve not to go home till that date may be so regarded.

The Eminent Person, a Republican for Revenue Only, had been awarded a remunerative Federal position as a tribute to his ambidextrous versatility in the life strenuous, and his known prowess as a "Stand-Patter."

Upon all these things Steve reflected. With caution, some caution, and again caution, a goodly sum might well be abstracted from these reckless and capricious persons; provided always that he had money on the table to play a good hand for what it was worth.

For long his luck held good. Having increased his gains manyfold, he was (being quite a natural person) naturally incensed that they were not more. Yielding to his half-formed resolve, he dug up his herd of cattle and put them on the table. "I am now prepared to grab old Opportunity by the scalp-lock," he announced.

He played on with varying success. Presently, holding aces up, and being persistently crosslifted by the Eminent One and the Judge, after a one-card draw all around, he became obsessed with the fixed idea that they were both bluffing and afraid to show down. When this delusion was dispelled, he noted with chagrin that the spoils of Egypt had departed, taking with them some plenty of real money.

That was the turning-point. By midnight he was hoarse with repeating, parrot-wise, "That's good—give me another stack." His persistent losses won him sympathy, even from these hardened plungers.

"Bad luck, old man—sure!" purred the consolatory Stockman, raking the pot. "I drawed out on you. Sometimes the cards run against a fellow a long time, that way, and then turn right around and get worse."

"Don't you worry about me," retorted Steve. "You're liable to go home talking to yourself, yet, if the cards break even."

In the early stages of the game Steve had been nervous and restless from the fever in his blood. Now he was smiling, easy, serene, his mind working smoothly, like a well-oiled machine. Collecting all his forces, counting the chances coolly, he played a steady, consistent game.

The reckless plunging ceased so far as it was against him. The others, for most part, merely called his tentative bets with wary respect. Men of his type are never so formidable as in defeat. Things had come to such a pass that many good hands netted him little or nothing. Then came a rally; his pile crept slowly up until he was nearly even.

With twenty dollars each in a jackpot, the Eminent Person dealing, the Stockman modestly opened for two hundred. The Transient stayed, as did the Merchant and the Judge, the latter mildly stating that he would lie low and let some one else play his hand. Steve stayed.

"Happy as the dealer in a big jackpot," warbled the Eminent Person. "And now we will take an observation." He scrutinized his cards, contributed his quota, and raised for double the amount. "I'll just play the Judge's hand for him," he remarked blandly. The Stockman cheerfully re-raised five hundred.

The Transient, momentarily low in funds, stayed for all he had before him. "I've got a show for this much," he said, pushing back the side money. "And a pretty good one. Bet your fool heads off! You've got to beat a hectic flush to finger this pot!"

The Merchant laid down three sevens, of diamonds, spades and clubs.
"Any one got the seven of hearts?" he wondered. The Judge called.
Steve, squeezing his hand carefully, drew out the seven of hearts,
flashed it at the Merchant, replaced it, and stayed.

The Eminent Person, after due consideration, saw the five hundred and raised it to a thousand. "To dissuade you all from drawing out on me," he explained, stroking his mustache with deliberate care.

The Stockman called without comment. The Judge hesitated, swore ferociously, and finally called.

Steve squeezed his cards with both hands for a final corroborative inspection, scratched his head and rolled his eye solemnly around the festal board.

"Eleven hundred dollars of my good coin in there now, and here I sit between the devil and the deep, blue sea. One thousand bucks. Much money. Ugh! One thousand days, each day of twenty-four golden hours set with twenty near-diamond minutes! Well! I sure hate to give you fellows this good gold."

"Steve's got one of them things!" surmised the Stockman.

"A fellow does hate to lay down a bobtail straight flush when there's such a chance for action if he fills," chimed in the Eminent dealer.

"It's face up, Steve. You'd just as well show us. My boy, you ought to wear a mustache," said the Judge, critically. "Your lips get pale and give you away when you try to screw your courage up. Of course, you've got a sweet, little, rosebud mouth; but you need a big, ox-horn mustache in this vocation."

"Don't show it, Steve," advised the Stockman. "I judge his Honor's got one of them same things his black self. You might both fill—and you don't want to let him see how high yours is."

"If I only don't fill the wrong way," said Steve. "Want to split the pot or save stakes with me, Judge?"

"That would be a foolish caper. If I fill—I mean," the Judge corrected himself hastily—"I mean, I've got the money won now, unless you draw out, and that's a 52 to 1 shot."

"Me, too," said the dealer. "We both got it won. But I'll save out a hundred with you, Steve. That'll pay your bills and take you home."

"That'll be nine hundred to draw cards for a chance at nine thousand and action on what I got left. Faint heart never won a jackpot. Here goes nothin'!" said Steve, pushing the money in. "One from the top, when you get to me. If I bet after the draw, you all needn't call unless you're a mind to."

"Got that side money and pot straight?" queried the dealer lightly. "All right?" He stretched out a long left arm and flipped the cards from the pack with a jerk of the wrist. "Cards and spades? (I'm pat, myself, of course.) Cards to you? None? Certainly. None to you, and one to you, one to you, none——"

Steve's card, spinning round as it came, turned over and lay face up on the table—the three of hearts. (Laymen will please recall that, as already specified, a straight flush was, in this game, the Best.) As the dealer was sliding the next card off to replace it, Steve caught the thin glint of a red 8 on the corner.

With a motion inconceivably swift he was on his feet, his left hand over the pack. "Hold on!" he cried. "Look at this!" He made a motion as if to spread out the four cards he had retained, checked himself and glared, crouching.

"Sit down, Steve. Don't be a fool," said the Stockman. "You know you've no right to an exposed card, and you know he didn't go to do it."

Steve bunched his four cards carefully and laid them on the table, face down. "Certainly not. Oh, no! He didn't go to do it. But he did it, just the same," he said bitterly. "Now, look here! I don't think there's anything wrong—not for a minute. Nothing worse'n dumb, idiotic thumb-hand-sidedness. I specially don't want no one else to get mixed up in this," with a glance at the Stockman. "So you and the Judge needn't feel called upon to act as seconds. But I'm vexed. I'm vexed just about nine thousand dollars' worth, likely much more, if my hand hadn't been tipped. Mira!" addressing the dealer, who sat quietly holding the pack in his left hand, his right resting on the table. "I've a right to call for my card turned up, haven't I?"

"Sure thing," said the dealer equably.

"All right, then. One bad turn deserves another. But—plenty cuidado! If any card but the eight of hearts turns up, protect yourself, or somebody's widow'll be in a position to collect life insurance, and I ain't married! Turn her over." He leaned lightly on the table with both hands. Their eyes met in a level gaze.

"Let her zip!" said the Eminent Person. Without hesitation he dropped the card over. No slightest motion from either man, no relaxing of those interlocked eyes. A catching of breaths—

"The eight of hearts!" This in concert by the quartette of undisinterested witnesses.

The two Principals looked down, then. That the Eminent Person's free hand had remained passive throughout bore eloquent testimony to nerve and integrity alike. Nevertheless, he now ran that hand slowly through his hair and wiped his forehead. "That was one long five seconds—most a week, I guess. Did you ever see such a plumb dam-fool break in your whole life?" he said, appealingly, to the crowd.

"I guess," said Steve sagely, pushing the eight-spot in with his other cards—"I guess if you'd separated from a thousand big round dollars to draw a card and then got it turned over, you wouldn't have cared a whoop if your left eye was out, either. It is warm, ain't it?" He sat down with a sigh of relief.

The Stockman bunched his cards idly and tapped the table with them. The Judge was casually examining the chandelier with interest and approval. Presently, he looked down and around.

"Oh, thunder! What are you waiting for, Thompson? I pass, of course!" he said testily.

Steve shoved in his pile. "As I mentioned a while ago, you're not obliged to call this," he said demurely. "Just suit yourselves."

One card at a time, with thumb and forefinger, the Eminent Person turned over his hand with careful adjustment and alignment. After much delay, he symmetrically arranged an Ace-full, face up, and regarded it with profound attention.

"That was a right good-looking hand, too—before the draw," he remarked at last, sweeping them into the discard.

"Ye-es," assented the Stockman, mildly dubious. "It might have taken second money—maybe." He tossed in four deuces.

The Transient spread out a club flush. "Do you know?" he said confidentially—"do you know, I was actually glad to see that hand when I first picked it up?"

"Won't you fellows never learn to play poker?" said the Judge severely. "Why don't you stay out till you get something?" He laid his hand down. "Four tens and most five! The Curse of Scotland and Forty Miles of Railroad! For-ty miles, before the draw—and gone into the hands of a deceiver!"

"Oh!" Leaning over, Steve touched the ten of spades lightly. "So that's why I couldn't fill my hand!" he remarked innocently.

"Get out!" snorted the Judge. "No use throwing good money after bad. I wouldn't call you, not if I had five tens!"

He slammed in his hand. The Eminent Person thoughtfully took out the hundred he had saved. "Some one press the button, and I'll do the rest," said Steve. He removed the side-money, placidly ignoring the "pot" of some fifteen hundred dollars, for which the Transient, having his money all in, was entitled to a showdown.

The Transient's jaw dropped in unaffected amazement. Dealer and
Stockman drummed their fingers on the table unconcernedly. And the
Judge saw a great light.

"You, Thompson!" he roared. "Turn over that hand! I feel that you have treated this Court with the greatest contemptibility!" He pawed the discard with frantic haste, producing the seven of hearts.

"Why, you pink-cheeked, dewy-eyed catamaran! What——have you got, anyway?"

"Why, Judge," said Steve earnestly, "I've got a strong case of circumstantial evidence." He turned over the eight of hearts; then, after a pause, the ace, king, queen and jack of spades; and resumed the stacking of his chips. "I discarded that seven of hearts," he said, smiling at the Merchant.

A howl of joyous admiration went up; the Transient raked in the pot.

"The Crime of the Century!" bellowed the Judge. "I'm the victim of the
Accomplished Fact! Cash my checks! I'm going to join the Ladies' Aid!"

"Aw, shut up," gasped the Transient. "No sleep till morn where youth and booty meetsh! Give ush 'nother deck!"

But Steve, having stacked his chips, folded the bills and put them in his pocket.

"What's the matter with you, you old fool?" demanded the Eminent
Person affectionately. "You can't quit now."

Steve rose, bowing to right and left, spreading his hand over his heart. "Deeply as I regret and, as I might say, deplore, to quit a good easy game," he declaimed, "I must now remove myself from your big midst. For a Lalla-Cooler can only be played once in one night. Besides, I've always heard that no man ever quit ahead of the game, and I'm going to prove the rule. I will never play another card, never no more!"

"What—not in your whole life?" said the Stockman, chin on hand, raising his eyebrows at the last word.

"Oh—in my whole life!" admitted Steve. He drew a dollar from his pocket, balanced it on his thumb, and continued: "We will now invoke the arbitrament of chance to decide the destinies of nations. Heads, I order an assortment of vines and fig trees, go back to the Jornado and become a cattle-king, I proceed to New-York-on-the-Hudson, by the Ess-Pee at 3:15 this A.M. presently, and arouse that somnolent city from its Rip Van Winkle."

The coin went spinning to the ceiling. "Tails!" said the Merchant, picking it up. "I must warn my friends on Wall Street, Hello! this is a bad dollar!"

"I'll keep it for a souvenir of the joyful occasion," said Steve.
"Just one more now, and we'll all go home!"

"Hold on, you abandoned profligate!" said the Judge. "You don't know any one in the Big Burgh, do you? Thought not. Without there! Ho, varlet!" He thumped on the table, demanding writing materials. "I'll fix you out. Give you a letter to a firm of mining experts I'm in touch with."

After an interval devoted to refreshments, the Judge read with all the pride of authorship:

Messrs. Atwood, Strange & Atwood, 25 Broad Street, New York City.

Gentlemen:

This will introduce to you Mr. Stephen Thompson, of Dundee, New Mexico. You will kindly consider yourself in loco parentis to him, charging same to my account.

On presentation of this letter, please pay Mr. Thompson's fine or go his bail, as the case may be, furnish him with pocket-money and a ticket home, and see him safely on the right train.

Should the matter be more serious, wire me at once. Periodical insanity can be readily proved. He has just recovered from a paroxysm at this writing. He is subject to these attacks whenever his wishes are crossed, having been raised a pet. Therefore, you will be doing yourself a great favor by acceding to any request he may make, however unreasonable it may seem. It is unlucky to oppose or thwart him; but he is amenable to kindness. Kindly apprize municipal and Federal authorities for the preservation of public safety. Your loss is our eternal gain.

* * * * *

During the ensuing applause he signed this production. Steve pocketed it gravely. "Thank you," he said. "When I get down to husks I'll look up my locoed parent."

"The Bird of Time," said the Transient vociferously, "hash but a little way to flutter. Cash in! The bird ish on the wing! Tomorro'sh tangle to the winds reshign. Come, all ye midnight roish-roishterers! A few more kindly cupsh for Auld Lang Shine. Then let ush eshcort thish highwayman to the gatesh of the city and cash him forth to outer darknesh! Let ush shing!

    I stood on a flush at midnight,
       When my money was nearly gone,
    And two moonsh rosh over the city
       Where there shouldn't have been but one."

* * * * *

In Ohio, one of rough appearance, clad in a fire-new, ready-made suit, began to pervade Thompson's car; restlessly rushing from one side to the other in conscientious effort to see all there was to be seen; finally taking to the vestibule as affording better conveniences for observations. He was, however, not so absorbed in the scenery but that he took sharp note of the cowboy's unsophisticated garb and guileless mien. Later, when Steve went into the smoker, he struck up acquaintance with him; initiated by the mere demand for a light, continued through community of interest, as both being evidently non-urban.

A voluble and open-hearted person, the stranger, displaying much specie during their not infrequent visits to the buffet for refreshment of the jocund grape, where they vied with each other in liberality, and one who naively imparted his private history without reticence. A lumberman, who had risen from the ranks; a Non-Com. of Industry, so to speak, who, having made his pile, was now, impelled by filial piety, revisiting his old New England Home.

This touching confidence so ingratiated the bluff and hearty son of toil to the unsuspicious cowboy, that he, in turn, began, to ooze information at every pore. Steve Thompson was his name; miner of Butte, Montana. He had, after years of struggle and defeat, made a lucky strike. He had bonded his mine to New York parties—the Copper-bottom, just to the left of the High Line Trail from Anaconda to Philipsburgh; receiving $10,000 down for a quarter interest, giving option on two-thirds remainder for $50,000, if, after six months' development work, the mine justified its promise. It had proved all his fancy painted it; he was on his way to the big town, to be paid the balance on the sixteenth, at the office of—where is that letter? Oh, yes, here it is—"Atwood, Strange & Atwood, 25 Broad St."—retaining a one-fourth interest. He was going to see the sights. Possibly he would take a trip round the world.

Incited by judicious interest of his auditor, he prattled on and on, till the lumberman—(Dick Barton, the name of him)—was possessed with the salient points of his past, present and future; embellished by a flood of detail and personal reminiscence. It is to be regretted that the main points were inaccurate and apocryphal, the collateral details gratuitous improvisations, introduced for the sake of local color.

"For," Steve reasoned, "evidently this party is a seeker after knowledge; it is better to siphon than to be pumped. Doubtless it will be as bread upon the waters."

Freely did he gush and freely buy—(the bulk of his money, in large bills, was safely wadded at the bottom of the six-shooter scabbard under his arm, his .45 on guard—but his well-filled billbook was much in evidence). So thoroughly charmed was Barton that he lamented loud and long that he and his new acquaintance might not have their first view of the metropolis in company. But he had promised his aged parents to come to them directly, by way of Albany. However, he was a day ahead of his schedule; neither of them had seen Niagara; if Thompson would excuse him, he would write his father, that the letter would go on to herald the hour of his coming. Then they both would take one day's lay-over at Buffalo, visiting the famous cataract entirely at his, Barton's, expense. Thence, exchanging addresses, on their respective ways, to meet in Manhattan later. To which Thompson agreed with cordiality.

The letter Barton mailed at Buffalo was addressed:

J.F. MITCHELL

Binghamton

The Arlington N.Y.

Chapter II

"A goodly, portly man, i's faith, and a corpulent: of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage; and, as I think, his age some fifty, or by'r lady, inclining to three score."

It had been a good morning, thought Mendenhall. If only more citizens like this big, talkative, prosperous looking stranger would settle in Elmsdale! Over a thousand dollars' worth in one bill—not bad, that, for a little rural New York town. Moreover, the stranger had evinced a taste in his selection of furniture and carpets scarcely to be expected from his slightly overdressed appearance and his loud, dominating talk. His choice had been always swift and certain, wholly unaffected by prices. Obviously, a self-made man, with a long purse, this.

The big man threw up his hands in mock surrender. "Time—King's X—'nuff!" he bellowed, a pervading and infectious smile spreading over his broad, jovial, smooth-shaven face. "Police! Nine—eleven—twelve hundred, sixty-eight. I'll pay you a hundred to bind the—No, I'll just pay you now and have done with it. Don't want the stuff delivered till some time next week, though. Wife'll run up to-morrow or next day to take her choice of the two houses I've been looking at. Then, paper-hanging, mantels, plumbing and all that—Make it even twelve-fifty?" he demanded, pen poised in a plump, white hand, eying the dealer with shrewd expectancy.

"Certainly, certainly," Mendenhall murmured, rubbing his hands with a thought of future custom.

Scratch-tch-ch! The check was made out with a flourish. "Here you are.
I'll come round when I'm ready and tell you where to send the stuff.
By the way, where do you bank? Want to send in checks for collection."

"At the Farmers' and Citizens', mostly. The First National is right around the corner, first turn to your left. Thank you very much, Mr."—he glanced at the check—Britt—Mr. N.C. Britt. I hope for the pleasure of your better acquaintance, Mr. Britt."

"Oh, you will!" laughed Britt. "Nice little town, here. If I like it as well a year from now as I do to-day I'll stick. Time for an old fellow like me to settle down. I've worked hard all my life. But I've got enough. What's the good of more? No dying in the harness for mine. I want to retire, as they call it, and let the young bucks do the work."

"Oh, you're not an old man," protested Mendenhall with reason. "Your amazing vitality—your energetic——" Britt pulled at his luxuriant white hair.

"Oh, good enough for an old has-been!" He laughed with pardonable vanity. "Pretty hearty yet, owing to having lived a clean and wholesome life, thank God; but aging, sir—aging. 'The evil days draw nigh!'" He shook his head with a sober air, which at once gave way to the satisfied smile habitual on his round, contented face. Briskly, he consulted a heavy gold repeater, replacing it with the quick movement of one to whom seconds are valuable. "Well, well! Twelve-thirty! Been here all morning, picking and choosing! Take luncheon with me? No? All right—see you later!" He swung out through the door.

Turning the corner, he crossed the street to the First National, bounced in and presented himself at the teller's window, lighting a cigar, puffing like a tugboat. "To open a small account—two of 'em. Checks for collection," he announced. Tone and manner were breezily self-assertive; the president, from his desk, turned and looked. He indorsed, blotting with a swift dab, and a final fillip through the window. "Chicago, thirty-three hundred—credit to Britt & Stratton. Here's our signature. Denver, eight hundred, to private account H.E. Stratton. He'll be here next week. I'll bring him around and identify. Draw on this by Wednesday? Good! Gimme checkbook. Excuse haste; yours truly!" He popped out.

The president smiled. "An original character, apparently," he said.
"He doesn't aim to let grass grow under his feet."

Between two and three Britt bustled into Mendenhall's, making for the office.

"Oh, I say!" he puffed, as Mendenhall rose. "Banked that check yet?"

"Not yet," replied the other sedately. "It is our custom to send the day's checks for deposit just before three. Nothing wrong, I trust?"

Britt dropped into a chair, mopping his face. "Oh, no, nothing wrong; but I'm afraid I've made a little mistake. I'm not a good business man—not systematic—though I worry along. Like the young wife's bookkeeping—'Received fifty dollars from John—spent it all.' Fact is, I never entirely got over the days when a very short memory was enough to keep track of all my transactions. Always forgetting to fill out my stubs," he explained. "So I don't remember what bank I checked on. But I'm pretty sure 'twas the Commercial, and my balance there is low—not enough to cover your bill, I'm thinking." He leaned back, his portly sides shaking with merriment. "By Jove!" he roared. "It would have been a good joke on me if I hadn't remembered. Nice introduction to a town where I expect to make my home. Oh, well, even so, you had the furniture safe in your warehouse. Guess you wouldn't have been much scared, eh?" He poked Mendenhall playfully with a stubby finger. "Well, let's see about it."

Secretly, the other resented the familiarity, deprecated the boisterous publicity with which the stranger saw fit to do business. Business, with Mendenhall, was a matter for dignified and strictly private conference. With stately precision he took up the neat bundle of checks which he had just indorsed, ran them over, slipped one from under the rubber band, and scanned it with great deliberation. He could not afford to offend a good customer, but he could thus subtly rebuke such hasty and slipshod methods.

"Yes, it is on the Commercial." He held it out inquiringly.

"Thought so!" snorted the other. "Dolt! Imbecile! Ass! I'll apply for a guardian. Fix you out this time!" He whipped out fountain pen and checkbook. "National Trust Company (guess I've got enough there). Pay to J.C. Mendenhall & Co.—how much was that?"

He took the check from the unresisting Mendenhall, spread it out on the desk with a sprawling gesture, tore it to strips with the same impetuous vehemence, and threw it in the waste-basket. After this brief outburst of anger his good humor returned. "Twelve-fifty. Here you are. No mistake this time. Say, old man, that's the drinks on me—come along!"

"Thank you, I never drink," returned Mendenhall primly. He had not relished the roughness with which the other had snatched the check from him, though making allowance for the natural annoyance of one who had been betrayed into a mortifying mistake.

"All the better, all the better. Seldom do myself, but sometimes—Have a cigar? No? Well, I must toddle along!"

It may here be mentioned that during his moment of impulsive vexation Mr. Britt had inconsiderately substituted for the "Commercial" check another, precisely similar save for the important particular that it lacked the Mendenhall indorsement. The original had slipped between the leaves of Britt's check book, under cover of his large hands. Those hands were most expert in various amusing and adroit feats of legerdemain, though Mr. Britt's modesty led him to a becoming, if unusual, reticence in this regard. The substitute, as we have seen, was in the waste-basket.

Just before three Britt ran heavily up the steps of the First National, puffing down the corridor, cocking a hasty eye at the clock as he came.

"Hey, there, sonny! I was almost too late, wasn't I?" was his irreverent greeting to the cashier. "Time to cash this before closing up?" he demanded breathlessly, but with unabated cheerfulness. He flopped the check over. "Mendenhall's indorsement. Hi! Mr. President! Just a minute! I'm a stranger here, but if you'll let us slip in at a side door I'll trot around and fetch Mendenhall. Need this money to-night."

The president took the check from the indignant young cashier, nodded at the familiar signature with the cabalistic peculiarities which attested its authenticity, glanced indulgently at the bobbing white head in window, with difficulty suppressing a smile.

"It will not be necessary, Mr.—Mr. Britt," he said courteously. "Not necessary at all. You have an account here, I believe?"

"It won't be here long," retorted Britt, with garrulous good nature. "Draw it all out next week. Eleven, twelve—and fifty. Thanks to you. There goes the clock. Good day!"

"Quite an odd character, that Mr. Britt?" said the president casually at the club that night. "Boyish old chap."

"Yes, isn't he?" said Mendenhall, folding his paper. "I sold him a pretty stiff bill of goods this morning. Warmish, I take it. He's going to settle here."

"Friend of yours?"

"Oh, no, I never saw him before."

"Why, you indorsed his check for twelve hundred and fifty," said the president, interested, but not alarmed. Doubtless the man had references. Besides, his face was a letter of credit in itself.

"Oh, yes," said Mendenhall unsuspiciously, thinking of the check sent to the Farmers' and Citizens' Bank. The president, thinking of the other, was fully reassured, and was about to pass on. Here the matter might have dropped, and would in most cases. But Mendenhall, a methodical and careful man, wished to vindicate his business prudence by explaining that he had taken no risk in indorsing for a stranger, since he retained possession of the goods.

The rest is too painful.

"I do not rhyme for that dull wight" who does not foresee that New York, Chicago and Denver checks were returned in due course, legibly inscribed with the saddest words of tongue or pen, "No funds." Or that Mr. Britt fully justified his self-given reputation for absence of mind by neglecting to call for his furniture.

Meanwhile, Mr. Britt unostentatiously absented his body as well, taking the trolley for an inland village. At the time of Mendenhall's interview with the president he was speeding southward across country in a livery rig, catching the Lackawanna local for Binghamton about the time the wires were working and he was being searched for on all Lehigh Valley trains.

"Hello, Kirkland!" he said to the night clerk at the Arlington. "Back again, like a bad sixpence! Have my trunk sent up, will you? No—no supper!"

"Letter for you, Mr. Mitchell. Just came," said the clerk respectfully. "So we were expecting you. Haven't seen you for a long time."

Britt-Mitchell thrust the letter in his pocket unopened. "It'll keep till morning. I'm for bed. Good-night, Frank."

He turned in, weary with his exertions to be sure, but with the pleasing consciousness that

                   …some one done
    Has earned a night's repose
.

Elmsdale never learned these particulars, however. His genial and expansive smile and the unobtrusive manner of his fading away are there vaguely associated with Cheshire Puss, of joyful memory, whose disappearance, like his, began with the end of the tale.

Chapter III

"There's a franklin in the wilds of Kent, hath brought three hundred marks with him in gold … a kind of auditor."

It was quite late when Britt-Mitchell arose like a giant refreshed. First ringing for breakfast, he bathed and shaved and arrayed himself carefully in glad habiliments of quiet taste and cut, in which he bore slight resemblance to the rough-and-ready Britt of Elmsdale.

Sitting indolently sideways to the table, his feet on a chair, he discussed an excellent breakfast leisurely, as one at peace with the world. His paper was propped before him; he chuckled as he read. Breakfast finished, he pulled his coffee over, lit a cigar and puffed luxuriously. Not till then did he open the letter taken from the discarded coat of yesterday. It read:

Well, old man, I am sending you an easy one. Crack him hard for me. He's the rankest sucker yet. I was going to work the Scholar's Gambit on him, but he'll get his hooks on a whole bunch of money when he gets down town, so I turn him over to you. 'Fifty thou. to be paid him by Atwood, Strange & Atwood. You know of them—Mining Engineers and Experts, 25 Broad. Let him get the boodle and hand him a sour one.

Name, Steve Thompson, en route to New York. Section 5, Sleeper Tonawanda, Phoebe Snow. Brown, smooth-shaved, hand-me-down suit, cowboy hat. From Butte, Montana. Has sold his mine, the Copper-bottom (on right of trail northeast of Anaconda). Former partner, Frank Short, killed by powder explosion at Bozeman, two years ago. Appendix subjoined with partial list of his friends, details about his mine, his ten years of unsuccessful prospecting, etc. Am not so explicit as usual, because he is such a big-mouthed damfool he'll tell you all he knows before you get to Hoboken. Also I am in some haste. I am to take him to Niagara with me to give you time to get this and join him at Binghamton, if you are there as planned. If not, I have wired Jim to meet train at Hoboken and keep in touch with him till you come, scraping acquaintance if necessary. Then he can disappear and leave you to put the kibosh on him. Jim is all right, but he lacks your magnetism, and your light, firm touch. You can beat us all putting up a blue front.

RUBE.

Mr. Mitchell rose to instant action. In a very few minutes his trunk was packed, his bill paid. He then hied him in haste to the Carnegie Library, where, till train time, he fairly saturated himself with information concerning Butte and vicinity.

When the train pulled out from Binghamton, Mitchell sat across the aisle from Thompson, deep in his paper. A visorless black cap adorned his head, beneath which flowed his reverend white hair; rimless eye-glasses imparted to his unimpeachable respectability an eminently aristocratic air. These glasses he wiped carefully from time to time with a white silk handkerchief, which he laid across his ample knees, resuming his reading, oblivious to all else.

The paper was laid aside and the big man became immersed in a magazine. The handkerchief slipped from his knees into the aisle. Thompson politely restored it.

"Thank you, young man, thank you," said Britt. Then a puzzled look came over his brow. Polishing the glasses he took another sharp look. He leaned across the aisle.

"I beg your pardon," he said, with stately courtesy. "But I am sure I have met you somewhere. No, don't tell me. Pardon an old man's harmless vanity, but it is my weakness to make my memory do its work unaided, when possible. I have a famous memory generally, and yours is not a face to be easily forgotten. Let me see—not in New York, I think—Philadelphia—Washington? No—you would be from the West, by your hat. Um-m-Omaha—Chicago, St. Louis?—Butte!" he said, with a resounding thwack on his knee. "Butte! 'Where every prospect pleases, and only man is vile'!"

"Right you are," said the Westerner, well pleased. "I seem to remember you, too."

"I have it!" said Mitchell. "Don't remember your name—but you're the very man Judge Harney pointed out to me as the unluckiest prospector in Montana. Said you could locate a claim bounded on all sides by paying property and gopher through to China without ever striking ore."

"May I come over there and talk?" said Steve. "Mighty glad to see some one from my town. You didn't live there though, or I should have met you."

"Certainly," said Mitchell, making room. "Glad to have you. Live there? Oh, no, I only made a couple of trips. Some associates of mine were in with Miles Finlen—you know him, I reckon?—on the Bird's-eye proposition, and I took a flyer with them," he explained. "I lost out. Dropped several dollars," His face lit up with comfortable good-humor. "It was a good mine, but it got tied up in the courts. Let me see—what did Harney call you—Townsend, Johnson?"

"Thompson," said Steve, smiling. "Steve Thompson."

"So it was—so it was. Well, I was getting close. Glad to meet you, Mr. Thompson. That is my name." He handed over a bit of pasteboard, inscribed;

MR. J.F. MITCHELL

"On Vesey Street now, just south of Barclay Street Ferry. I'll jot down the number—you want to come round and look me up. Sorry I can't ask you to use my house for headquarters. Wife's away to Bar Harbor for the summer, and I'm camping out in a hotel. Tell you what, though—you put up at my caravanserai—the Cornucopia—good house, treat you well. I'll be busy a day or so catching up after my trip up-state, but after that I'll show you around. But perhaps you've been here before?"

"Not I," said Steve. "My first trip. Haven't been out of Montana since
I was a kid. I'm sure glad to meet a friend so soon."

"Lots of Montana people here," said Mitchell cheerily. "We'll look 'em up. Probably find some of your old friends. People here from everywhere. Say—Judge Harney got into a bad mix-up, didn't he? That young Charley Clark is a devil. I've met him up here." With this he launched into a discussion of Butte, with inquiries as to various figures of local prominence, from which Steve was fain to escape by turning the talk on his final good luck, the sale of his mine and his rosy prospects. For Mitchell had "crammed up" on Butte industriously. Steve lacked his facilities, his sole source of information being certain long-past campfire tales of Neighbor Jones.

"Made it at last, did you? Glad to hear it. Can't keep a good man down, as the whale said to Jonah," said Mitchell heartily. "'But with all thy getting, get understanding,'" he quoted with unctuous benevolence. "The city is full of traps for the unwary. You can't be too careful, young man. Don't be drawn into gambling, or drinking, or fast company, or you'll be robbed before you know it. Watch out for pickpockets, and, above all, be chary of making acquaintance with strangers. They're sly down here, my boy—devilish sly. Have you any friends in town? If you have, get them to go around with you till you learn the ropes."

"Don't know a soul but you," said Steve truthfully. "But I have a letter here to the people who are putting the sale through. Do you know these people?"

"Atwood, Strange & Atwood," Mitchell read. "A good, reliable firm. I don't know them, but I know of 'em. They will advise you just as I do."

"But," objected Steve, "I want to see a good time. That's what I come for. For instance, I want to see the races. And naturally, I want to put up a few dollars to make it interesting."

"Bad business—bad business," admonished the elder man wisely. "I don't object to a quiet game of cards myself, among friends, and for modest stakes. But I can't afford to do anything to hurt my business reputation. Let a man of small means, like myself, play the ponies, or affect shady company, and what happens? All the banks know it at once, and shut down on loans instanter. They keep tab on all business men religiously."

"What's your line?" said Steve, impressed.

"Mainly buying on commission for Mexican and South American trade—though I handle a good many orders for country dealers, too," replied Mitchell. "My specialty is agricultural implements, barbed wire, machinery and iron stuff generally, for the export trade. There's things about it would surprise you. Why, such things, farm machinery more especially, retail in Buenos Ayres at from 40 to 60 per cent, of what they do here, after paying freight charges and a snug commission to me."

"How can they do it?" asked Steve, interested.

Mitchell plunged into an explanation of the workings of the tariff and its effect on home prices. He had it at his fingers' end. Under his skillful hands the dry subject became really interesting, embellished with a wealth of illustration and anecdote. He was still deep in his exposition, when, beyond Scranton, a hand was laid on his arm. A dapper, little, dark man, with twinkling, black eyes and pointed black beard, stood in the aisle.

"Well, Mitchell!" he said, with an affectionate pat. "Still riding your hobby?"

The fat man jumped up, beaming. "Loring! by all that's holy! Let me make you acquainted with my friend. Mr. Thompson—Mr. Loring. Mr. Loring is one of our rising young artists."

"The rising young artist," said Loring with a flash of white teeth, "is trying to get up a whist game, to pass away the time. Will you gentlemen assist?" He turned aside in a paroxysm of coughing.

"Certainly, certainly—that is, if Mr. Thompson plays.——That's a bad cough you've got there, Loring."

"Yes—caught cold fishing," said the artist. "Will you join us, Mr.
Thompson?"

"Glad to," said that worthy. "Only my game is bumble-puppy. You can hardly call it whist. Who's the fourth?"

"Yet to be found," laughed Loring. After a few rebuffs they picked up a drummer, and adjourned to the smoker, buying a deck from the train boy. The little dark man and Steve played against the other two, a suitcase on their knees serving as a table. They played a rubber. Steve verified his statements as to his style of play.

"Well, that's enough—nearly in," said Loring, as they drew near their destination.

"Yes, indeed. I must go back to my car. We've had a pleasant game," said the fourth man, taking his leave.

"Have a smoke—you'll find these A 1," said the artist. "Say, Mitchell, I've learned a new trick to illustrate the old saying that the hand is quicker than the eye." Sticking a cigar in the corner of his mouth, he ran over the cards swiftly, took out the two red jacks, and held them up, one in each hand, backs toward himself, faces to Mitchell and Steve.

"Now," he said, "you can put these two jacks in the deck wherever you wish, shuffle them all you please, let me give them just one riffle, and you'll find them both together." He put his handkerchief to his lips and turned away to cough, laying the two jacks face downward on the table.

With a nudge to Steve, Mitchell threw the jack of hearts under Loring's seat, where it lay, face up, substituting therefor the five of clubs from the top of the deck.

Loring held the cards up again. "There are the two jacks, gentlemen: the two inseparable jacks. Put them in for yourselves, and watch me—close!"

Steve took the five of clubs and put it in the middle. Mitchell put in the jack of diamonds. Both shuffled. Loring cut the pack into two equal parts, using only the extreme tip ends of his fingers, and shoved them together in the same fashion. Balancing the deck on the open palm of his left hand, he turned the cards carefully with his right thumb and forefinger, keeping up a running fire of comment.

"Now watch me! This trick won't work with any other cards but the jacks. The reason is easy to see. Where you find one knave there's always another close by. 'Birds of a feather flock together,' you know. Ah! here we are!" He turned over the knave of diamonds, and laid the deck down. "Now," he said to Mitchell, "what'll you bet the next card isn't the knave of hearts?" Here he was again attacked by that excruciating cough.

As he turned away Mitchell slyly turned up the corner of the next card, winking at Steve. It was the five of clubs. Evidently Loring had done the trick right, except for the substituted card.

"I'll bet you five hundred dollars!" said Mitchell jubilantly. He drew out a billbook and shook a handful of notes at the artist. "A thousand, if you like!"

"Nobody wants to rob you, Mitchell," laughed Loring. "Put up your money. I don't need it. I'll do the trick, of course." Steve was laughing immoderately.

"Rob me! Go ahead! You're welcome!" said Mitchell, riotously radiant. He waved the bills before Loring's eyes. "Money talks! Yah! You haven't the nerve to bet on it," he taunted, his knee touching Steve's under the table.

Loring's black eyes snapped maliciously. "Oh, well, you insist on it," he said. "I've warned you now, remember! No rebate on this. How much?" He pulled out a fat rubber-banded roll and began stripping bills from the outside.

"A thousand—all you want!" shouted Mitchell, in high glee. "Getting on, Thompson?"

Steve, still laughing, shook his head. "I'll be stakeholder," he said in a choking voice.

The black-eyed man shot a malevolent glance at him as they put up the money in his hands. For he had a supernumerary jack of hearts, neatly palmed, to turn up if Steve "bit." This quickly disappeared, however, or rather did not appear at all. With an expectant smile the artist turned up from the top of the deck the five of clubs. He looked at it in stupefied amazement, which, if not real, was well invented.

Mitchell roared and pounded the suitcase. "Oh, Loring!" he gasped, drying his eyes. "You will teach an old dog new tricks, will you? My stars, but you're easy!" Retook the cash from the grinning stakeholder, counted out Loring's half and pushed it over to that much discomfited gentleman. "I don't want to rob you!" he quoted mockingly. "But if I had time I'd have kept you on the anxious seat a while. There's your jack of hearts, under your feet!"

"Why, you fat, old swindler! You white-headed outrage—you—you Foxy Grandpa!" cried Loring in blushing chagrin—not wholly dissembled, either. "I ought to make you eat it. Come, have a drink." He led the way, the others following with gibe and jeer.

"Why didn't you bet with him, Thompson?" demanded Mitchell, still shaking with Homeric laughter. "Say, I should have kept his money, by good rights. 'Twould have been the joke of the season!"

Steve raised his glass. "I would," he replied innocently, "but I knew you'd give it back, anyhow, so what's the use—among friends? If it had been a stranger, now, I'd 'a' hopped on the band-wagon too quick. I like a little easy money as well as anybody. Well, here's to our next meeting!"

"Hello!" said Mitchell. "Here's the tunnel and Hoboken. Let's go back to our belongings. Now, Thompson, business first and pleasure after, you know. You take the Barclay Street boat. If I don't get time to see you before noon to-morrow you run up to the office and see me. It's only a block from the Cornucopia. I've got to go the other way, and so does Loring—at least his studio's uptown. I say, Loring, tell Mr. Thompson what's doing at the theatres. That's in your line."

Loring named several plays, recommending one as particularly good. In the waiting-room they parted with warm handshakings and great good-will.

"Do you suppose he's wise?" said Loring, on the ferry.

Mitchell guffawed. "That bumpkin? Not he. The poor, dumb idiot took it all as a practical joke among friends. Naturally, just as he said, he thought I'd give you your money back. Glad you had presence of mind enough to go on through with the five-spot. It's fine business to be able to think on your feet, especially for us moon-minions. Good thing it turned out the way it did. He's got perfect confidence in me now—he's seen me tried, and knows I'm straight. We'll get more out of him in the long run." He explained Steve's mining expectations at length.

"I don't like it much," said Loring. "It's a bad sign. My experience is that it's hard to overreach a man that isn't on the hog himself. When they're eager to annex something dishonestly you get 'em every time. Maybe you'll lose him. Why didn't you stay with him? He may not go to the Cornucopia at all."

"Oh, yes, he will!" said Mitchell confidently. "I am going to play him for all he's worth, and I want him to feel sure I'm O.K. It might make him suspicious if I kept at his coat tails. Plenty of time. I won't even look him up to-morrow. Rig the old joint as my office, and wait there till he hunts me up. Let him make all the advances, d'ye see? Teach him bridge, on the square, at night. Let him win a little—just enough to keep him satisfied with himself—you'll see. Wait till he draws his wad, and we'll throw the gaff in him to the queen's taste. If he won't nibble at one hook try another. But, I say, Billy, you'll have to furnish the scads for bait, in case he don't? rise to something easy. I know you're flush from that Manning job."

* * * * *

Meantime, with unspoiled and sparkling eye, the inlander saw, broad sweeping before him, mist-bordered, dream-vast, dim-seen beneath the lowering sky, the magic city whose pulsings send and call a nation's life-blood.

The salt tang of the sea was in his nostrils; greetings, many-keyed, hoarse-whistled by plying craft, were in his ears; creamy-foamed wakes of turbulent keels, swift-sent or laboring, boiled their swirling splendor against the black water. Mysterious, couchant, straining, the bulwarked city rode the waves; a mighty ship, her funnels the great buildings beyond, where sullen streamers of smoke trailed motionless and darkling; the indescribable, multitudinous hum of the city's blended voices for purring of monster engines, deep in her hold; bold and high, her restless prow swung seaward in majestic curve, impatient to beat to open main.

This simple young man actually found impressiveness, glamour, even beauty, in this eye-filling canvas; the crowding of crashing lights and interwoven shadows, massed, innumerable, bewildering; the turmoil of confused and broken line, sprawled with tremendous carelessness for a giant's delight.

Plainer proof of his utter unsophistication could not be. For it is traditional with, all "correct" and well-informed folk that New York is hopelessly ugly. It gives one such a superior air to disprize with easy scorn this greatest of the Gateways of the World.

Chapter IV

"A good plot, good friends, and full of expectation: an excellent plot, very good friends."

Steve went, not to a theatre, but to bed. In the morning, after a few inquiries, he sauntered round to get his bearings. He made these explorations afoot, opining that, at first, the use of street cars or the "L" would tend to confuse his orientation. He contented himself with locating 25 Broad Street, without presenting his letter. Incidentally, he left most of his cash in a safe-deposit drawer. "For," he mused, "the touching attachment of my open-handed, prepossessing friend may not always ad-here to the lofty plane recognized by business ethics. He may, at any time, abandon the refined and artistic methods of high finance for primitive, crude and direct means unworthy of his talents. The safe side of a safe is the inside of a safe."

So back by the water-front, where he spent a pleasant and interesting forenoon. At one o'clock there were still no signs of Mitchell. So Steve, Mahomet-like, sought his office.

The mise-en-scene was admirable. A well-littered desk, two 'phones, code-book, directory, typewriter, file-books, a busy bookkeeper, a fair stenographer—no detail was omitted. Mitchell, pacing the floor, paused in his dictation to give him a cheerful greeting.

"Hello, Thompson—up already? Just sit down till I'm through here, will you? Most done. How'd you like to walk around the docks? That ought to interest you. All right—thought it would. I've got some business at No. 4. Make yourself at home. There's the papers—Ready, Miss Stanley?" Clearing his throat, he put a hand under his coat-tails and resumed dictation:

"'Melquiades Sandoval y Hijos, Montevidio. Gentlemen: Your order shipped to-day by steamer Escobar as per your esteemed favor of the 5th. Invoices inclosed. In the item of mowing machines, was unable to fill order with Nonpareil as desired. Have taken liberty of substituting fifty Micas, the Mica being the same in every respect except the name plate. In fact, the two firms, with others, have a "gentleman's agreement" sharing patents, keeping up separate plants only to preserve the appearance of competition. (Confound it—excuse me, Miss Stanley—there's my hobby again. Shouldn't have said that, but let it go.) Trusting you will find this satisfactory in every particular, and hoping to be favored by your future orders, I am, etc.'—Got that? Next!

"'Brown, Small & VanRiper, Hartford, Ct. Gentlemen: Inclosed find my check for $27,000, to be used in the matter we discussed the other day. Kindly send papers to my lawyers, Reed, Reed, Perkins & Reed.

"'Am sorry I cannot more largely avail myself of the privilege so kindly extended me. At the present, however, my capital is tied up in various enterprises, and I am really crowding myself to raise this. Thanking you for past favors, etc.'—Here's the last. 'Mr. Joseph Yates, Rehobeth Beach, Delaware. Dear old Joe: Sorry to hear of your undeserved bad luck. While not exactly a financial Napoleon these days, I am able to accommodate you, and glad to do so. Have not forgotten the time you helped me out of a mighty tight place. Draw on me for $10,000 through the Marine. Take your time for repayment. If this is not enough, let me know. Kind regards to the wife—and take care of yourself, old man. In haste, your old friend——'

"Pound those off, Miss Stanley. Jim"—this to the silently industrious bookkeeper—"how much have we got at the Marine?"

After swift search in a little black book the bookkeeper looked up—"Seven thousand six hundred-twenty, sir," he replied respectfully.

"I'll give you enough to make out ten thousand to honor old Joe's draft," ruminated Mitchell, twirling the safe-knobs deftly. "You take it round and deposit it. On your way back jack Stevens up about those plows. Tell him if he don't get 'em round on time he loses one big customer—and that's me." Counting out the required amount, he stuffed the slight remainder in his pocket, slammed shut the safe, signed his letters briskly, and took up his hat. "Come on, Thompson, we'll be off."

"Now then," he resumed, in the elevator, "I've got to go down to slip
No. 4, to see about some stuff I'm shipping to Mexico. Walk or ride?
It's only a little ways."

"Let's walk, then," said Steve. "You can tell me about the boats as we go. That's what takes my eye. What's that big one coming in?"

"Rotterdammer. The one behind her is a coaster—Menacho, Puig & Co. Look up stream—there's a big Cunarder just swinging out. Hello, there's the Rosenthal and Montoya stuff now!"

A string of heavily-laden drays moved slowly down the rock-paved street. "Lights out! Protect yourself!" thought Steve. "I feel a presentiment that there'll be a heavy transportation bill on that stuff and that my friend won't have enough cash to settle it. Perhaps he will accept a temporary accommodation from me. Thompson, he pays the freight—nit!"

This unworthy suspicion proved unfounded. As they watched the rumbling wagons they were joined by one of businesslike appearance and swift step.

"Going down, Mitchell? That's your Argentine freights, I suppose? At least, I recognize your foreman."

Mitchell introduced him: Mr. Archibald, of the Bowring and Archibald line, in the coastwise and southern trade.

"Just going down to your place, Archie. We were going to walk, but if you're in a hurry——"

"Not at all. Have a cigar?" said the pseudo-Archibald urbanely.

"You can show my young friend over the boats, if you will," said
Mitchell. "Rank inlander, Thompson. Rather look at a boat than eat.
Been talking boat, boat, boat to me ever since we left the office."

"Happy to do so," said the merchant-mariner. "You'd better take a little trip with us, Mr. Thompson—say a run down to Havana. Any friend of Mr. Mitchell's——"

A young man came tearing across the street at a great rate. "Mitchell!" he shouted. "Mitchell! Look here!" He thrust a telegram into Mitchell's hand. "Just reached me by A.D.T. from the Carlton. Let me have some money, will you? About three thousand. Just got time to catch the next Pennsylvania train and make connections at Baltimore."

Mitchell spread out the yellow slip and read it aloud. "H'm! 'Ponce de Leon St Augustine Florida John E Bickford The Carlton New York—Come at once Father worse Doctor orders to Egypt Jennie.' Why sure, my boy. Here's what cash I got, and I'll give you a check. Too bad, too bad! By George, I hope your dad pulls through. What! Blame it, I mean dammit, I've come off without my checkbook. Got yours, Archie?"

Archie patted his pockets. "No, I haven't. Left it in the office. Got a couple of hundred cash you're welcome to, though."

The young man looked nervously at his watch. Mitchell turned hesitatingly toward Thompson. But the Westerner did not wait for an appeal to his generosity. He volunteered, eager to oblige a man of such large affairs as his substantial friend.

"I'll write you a check. You can just run in to the nearest bank with me and indorse it, Mr. Mitchell. Sorry I haven't the cash with me." Thus Steve, his clumsy innocence eluding the toils with all the grace of an agile hippopotamus.

The grafters glanced at each other. But Mitchell was equal to the emergency.

"No need to bother you, Mr. Thompson, thanks, all the same," he said suavely. "Archibald, just give me what you've got and I'll run over to Jersey City with John. Traffic Manager of the Pennsylvania is a friend of mine. If he's in his office I'll get it of him. Otherwise, I'll start John on, and wire balance to him at St. Augustine when I get back. Wait a minute, John. Got plenty of time to catch the boat. Look here, Archie—you're not busy, are you?"

"I'm always busy," said the shipowner gayly, "but no more so to-day than any other day. Why?"

"Oh, well, you can get off. I promised Thompson, here, to do him the honors, and now I've got to help John out. Oh, you two are not acquainted, are you? Ex_cuse_ me! Mr. Archibald, Mr. Bickford—Mr. Thompson, Mr. Bickford. Mr. Bickford's father was a dear old friend of mine. Once very wealthy, too, but has had reverses. Bless me, how I do ramble on! Old age, sir, old age! Osler was half right. Now, Archie, 'phone up to your office that you're unavoidably detained and all the rest of it, like a good fellow, and take my place as cicerone. Never mind your dinky little boats—take him up and show him the big fellows—the ocean greyhounds."

"But," objected Archibald, "I've got to go down to the office to get some money. You've broke me, you shanghaier."

"So I have, so I have!" He peeled off a hundred-dollar-bill, ignoring Steve's protest. "That enough? I'll fix John up, some way. You're at Mr. Thompson's orders. Mind, his money isn't any good. I pay for both of you. Wish it was more, but you see how I'm hooked up. You'll have a better time with a young fellow like Archie than you would with an old fogy like me, anyhow. Here, we'll be left!" He made for the ferry slips with the anxious Bickford.

Thus did the wily Mr. Mitchell justify his headship. In these profuse strains of unpremeditated art, apparently the merest of rambling commonplace, he had plainly conveyed to his henchmen that, though foiled by the countryman's straightforward single-mindedness, they were not to adopt a policy of scuttle, but persevere in the paths of manifest destiny to benevolent assimilation; at the same time adroitly extricating his embarrassed lieutenant from a very present predicament. Because "Archibald" felt a certain reluctance about accompanying Steve to Pier Number 4 in the capacity of owner, for the sufficiently obvious reason that he might be summarily kicked off. Such a contretemps might give cause for conjecture even in one so green as his companion, reflected Archie.

He saluted with easy grace. "Orders, captain? Happy to oblige. My friend's friend is my friend."

Steve saw the big steamships. Thence, at his artless suggestion, they went to Brooklyn Bridge. Followed rides on the Subway and Elevated, a viewing of skyscrapers and such innocent and exhilarating delights. Noting Archibald's well-groomed and natty appearance, Steve naively asked his advice in matters sartorial, purchasing much raiment and leaving an order with a fashionable tailor. But, after an amazing dinner at an uptown house of call, Archibald took the reins into his own guidance, and led him forth to quite other distractions—in the agricultural quarter of the city, where that popular and ever-blooming cereal, wild oats, is sown by night and by day.

Behind them the plausible Mr. Mitchell and his old friend's son held high commune.

"Why, the lantern-jawed, bug-eyed, rubber-necked, double-jointed, knock-kneed, splay-foot, hair-lipped, putty-brained country Jake! Did you see him sidestep that?" demanded the aggrieved Bickford, forgetting, in his pique, his stricken father. "What you want to do to him is to sandbag him, give him knockout drops, stab him under the fifth rib! He's too elusive—the devil-sent——" He was proceeding to further particulars when Mitchell checked him.

"I want you to bear in mind that this is no strong-arm gang, and I'm neither dip nor climber." His emphasis was withering. "My credit is involved in this affair now, and I'm going through with it. If he'd had the dough with him he'd handed it out just like he did the check. He floundered out through pure, unadulterated innocence. I'll land him yet. Next time I won't leave the shirt to his back. I tried him with covetousness. I've tried him with distress. Now I'll tempt him with a business opportunity—one that he'll have to have cash for. Keep your eye on your uncle. He'll see you through."

The next day being Sunday, Mitchell took the cowboy to the Speedway, and back through Central Park, in an auto, frankly hired.

"I can hardly afford to set up one," he confided. "And anyway, I haven't much leisure. Of course, when a good fellow like you comes along I can take a day off, once in a way. But generally my nose is down to the grindstone."

On their way home he pointed out a fine building, ornamented with a "To Let" sign in the window. "There's a place I used to own, Thompson," he said. "Belongs to a friend of mine, young Post. One of the best families—but, poor fellow, he's in trouble now." He dismissed the subject with a benevolent sigh. "Would you like to go in and look at it? The caretaker will show it to you. He'll think you're a prospective buyer. You needn't tell him so, but then again you needn't tell him any different. There's no harm and it's well worth seeing."

Thompson, nothing loth, agreed. It was a fine house, as Mitchell had guessed.

"Gracious!" said Steve, when the inspection was over. "What's such a house worth?"

"I sold it for forty thousand. It's worth more now."

Steve gazed at him wide-eyed. "My! I shouldn't have thought it worth that much." (It was, in fact, worth a great deal more.)

"It's the ground that makes it cost so," explained Mitchell. "That's why the value has increased. The house itself is not worth as much as when I had it, but land values are coming up by leaps and bounds. Young man, the ground valuation alone of the six square miles adjoining Central Park is more than the value of all real estate in the great commonwealth of Missouri. And it is going higher every year."

"I don't understand it," said Steve, much impressed.

"Do you understand the philosophy of an artesian well? Yes? Then you understand this. Every farm cleared, every acre planted, every mine developed, every baby born, enhances the value of all city property—and New York's got the biggest standpipe. The back country soaks up the rain and it is delivered conveniently at our doors through, underground channels, between the unleaking walls that confine its flow; our price on the surplus you have to sell and our price on the necessities you buy. Every city taps this flow, be the pipe large or small; and as I said before, New York has the biggest gusher.

"We've got the money. So you may do the work and we allow you to get enough to sustain life, and just as little more as possible. Sell at our price, buy at our price—we've got you coming and going. You can't get away.

"You're poor, you take what you can get to pay your debts. That keeps down prices on what you sell. You've got families, you've got to play. Yes, yes, quite right, the rules are not entirely fair; we'll revise them to-morrow, maybe, some time. Let you do it? Tut, tut, no, no! Why, you object to 'em! That won't do at all. Let the rules be revised by their friends and beneficiaries, to-morrow, next day, by and by; busy to-day, stockholders' meeting, dividend declared, good-by! You're virtually peons. Fourth of July, elections and war-times you're the sovereign people, Tommy this and Tommy-rot; but for all practical purposes you're peons.

"We're rich, we can afford a scratch-my-back-and-I'll-scratch-yours tariff that keeps our prices up arbitrarily, that takes fifty dollars out of your pockets to put in ours for every dollar it puts into the national treasury."

"If the tariff was repealed," said Steve diffidently, "if we raised money for the National Government, just as we do for county government——"

"Hush-sh!" said Mitchell, shocked. "That's High Treason—that's Unconstitutional! Some one will hear you! Then there's another. You sell at a sacrifice to pay your debts. If we get in debt that's exactly what we won't do. A poor man goes broke, but a rich man goes bankrupt. Ever think of that?

"That baby I spoke of will grow up, produce corn, cotton, cattle or copper, maybe—but the net result of his life will be to enrich the rich. If, by any means—industry, opportunity, invention, speculation, dishonesty, chance or inheritance—he gets on top, then the workers will be working for him by the same law. The fact remains that every dollar's worth of betterment in the country increases the value of city property one dollar, without effort to the owner. A city is an artesian well. Take it from me, Thompson, a man of your ability ought to make connections and get your little tin pail under."

Chapter V

"A man so various that he seemed to be Not one, but all mankind's epitome."

Thompson sat in his room alone, meditating on Mitchell, statesman and Political Economist. On the table lay his letter of introduction and his bad "Souvenir" dollar.

"The meeting will please come to order!" he said, rapping the table smartly. "The Gentleman from Montana has the floor."

"I move you, Mr. Chairman," said the Gentleman from Montana, "that the letter of introduction be laid upon the table, and that this House do now go into Committee of putting the other fellows in the Hole."

No objection being heard, this was done. Steve stared at the tabled letter with a puzzled frown.

"Gentlemen, the Chair awaits your pleasure," he announced, at last.
"Have you any suggestions to make?"

The Gentleman from Montana again obtained recognition.

"Mr. Speaker, I see here present an ex-member, my alter ego, Mr. Reuben Rubber-Neck, who once parted with six months' wages on another man's game. Mr. Rubber-Neck is a graduate of the celebrated and expensive school of Experience, of which it is written that a large and influential class will learn of no other. As an ex-Member, he is entitled to the privilege of the floor. I, for one, would like to have his counsels at this juncture."

Thus appealed to, Mr. Rubber-Neck got stumblingly to his feet with a gawky and timid demeanor.

"Mr. Chairman, it is not a theory but a hell of a condition that confronts us," he said, uncertainly. "I think that we should use the letter so providentially er—um—provided to make friends with the mammon of righteousness. Two heads are proverbially better than one, if one is an Expert. It behooves us, for the sake of the near and dear kinsmen, the Mark brothers, that we should so bear ourselves toward our generous hosts as to make them feel that they have entertained a devil unawares. Avenge now the innumerable wrongs of me and my likes. Before deciding on our line of action, however, I should like to hear from a learned gentleman in our midst, whose brain is ever fertile in expedients. I refer to the only one of us who has been through college—in at the front door and out the back. I call on the representative of the class of Naughty-naughty!"

He sat down amid vociferous cries of "Hear! Hear!"

The Bookman arose gracefully. "While I thank the gentleman who has preceded me for his encomiums," he said, with deprecatory modesty, "yet I can lay no claim for scholastic honors, owing to an unfortunate difference of opinion with the Faculty in the scorching question of turning state's evidence concerning the ebullition of class feeling, in which I was implicated by a black eye or so. I fought the good fight, I kept the faith, but I did not finish my course. But to return to our sheep.

"In every crisis, I have always found precedent for action in the words of the immortal Swan of Avon. What does Will say? He says:

'Put money in thy purse!'

"Follows naturally the advice of the melancholy Dane, bearing directly on the case in hand:

                      'Let it work.
    'For 'tis the sport to see the engineer
      Hoist with his own petard.
'

"Again,

'Look on this picture, then on that! The counterfeit.'

"Where is that counterfeit, anyhow?" He took from his pocket a good silver dollar, compared it thoughtfully with the bad one on the table, and continued.

"What else? Why, this:

'Art thou not horribly afeared?… Could the world pick thee three such enemies again as that fiend Douglas, that spirit Percy, and that devil Glendower?'

"Having thus pointed out the danger, he plainly indicates the remedy:

'Where shall I find one that will steal well? O! for a fine thief of the age of two-or-three and twenty! I am heinously unprovided.'

"Gentlemen, in my opinion we need three things. First, the services of a skillful and discreet silversmith. Second, a pair of eye-glasses fitted with a powerful microscopic lens, able to distinguish good from evil. Third, a confederate who can steal well, such as we can doubtless find in or about Broad Street. By these simple and feasible means we shall be enabled to whip-saw our redoubtable opponents or, to use the local term, 'give 'em the double-cross.'"

He sat down amid boisterous applause.

"The Watch-dog of the Treasury!" said Steve icily. The Watch-dog stood apologetically, twisting nervous fingers together. "It strikes me, Mr. Speaker," he stammered, "that my eminent colleague might aptly have quoted from the same high authority two maxims in praise of prudence. 'Discretion is the better part of valor,' he says, and also,

'He who fights and runs away Will live to fight another day.'

"It appears to me the part of prudence——"

Here he was howled down by disapproving groans.

"The Chair will take great pleasure in recognizing the Gentleman from
New Mexico," suggested Steve, with a gracious nod.

Wildcat Thompson, cowboy, sprang to his feet; lithe, active, eager. Swiftness, alertness, poise, certainty were in every line of his splendid body. His was the assured, resourceful bearing of the man of action, whose hands have kept his head, contrasting sharply with the Miner's heavy and tentative slowness, the awkward self-consciousness of the Easy One, the Objector's furtive and apprehensive manner, or the Near-Collegian's languid affectation of dilettantism.

"Be a sport!" He threw out a hand, his confident voice ringing with decision. "We are seven!—(or at least we will be when we pick up a financier at Atwood's). Get together! Let us adopt our learned brother's ingenious device. Should fraud fail, we can always fall back on——

                      'the simple plan
    That each should take who hath the power.
      And he should keep that can
.'

"As alternative, or, I should say, as reserve, I offer—this!" A swift gleam of silver and steel: he laid a cocked .45 beside the other exhibits.

"The sword of Brennus! Woe to the vanquished!" murmured the School-man, when the cheering had abated. "Mr. Chairman, the amendment is accepted."

The entire meeting then lit a cigarette.

The Chair arose, using the six-shooter as gavel. "Gentlemen, have you anything more to offer? If not will you hear the question? Is it the sense of this meeting that united we fall upon this infamous coalition with the jaw bone of an ass and get their money; dishonestly if we can, and if not, then by main strength and awkwardness? Those in favor of the motion will please rise. I am unanimous, and it is so ordered. This resolution will be spread all over the minutes, right off. The Chair will appoint as committee to get a move on, Mr. Stephen Thompson of Montana; the earnest Shakespearian student, Mr. Thompson-Stephen; Mr. Wildcat Thompson of New Mexico; and myself. Having no further use for a sucker or a quitter, the other two gentlemen may go to the devil, and I hereby stand adjourned."

So saying, he gathered up his resources and departed.

At a later hour Steve presented himself in a body to the senior
Atwood, with his letter from the Judge as credentials.

"Bless my soul!" ejaculated that person, when he had read a few lines. His eyes dropped to the signature. "Oh—the Judge!" he said, enlightened, and read on, chuckling.

He wheeled his chair around. "Well, Mr. Thompson, what is it—fine or bail?" he queried.

"I want to borrow a man," Steve began mildly. Here he was interrupted. The ante-room door opened. One entered—no, floated in—faultlessly arrayed, with an air at once languid and gloomy.

"Wyatt!" said Atwood, cordially. "Man! You're good for sore eyes! What fair wind blows you here?"

Wyatt sank into a chair. "Doldwums. Nothing at all," he said listlessly. "Mewest chawnce, I assuah you. Fawct is, I was—er—howwidly boahed, y' know. It's no good. All of it!" He spread out his immaculate pink palm in a comprehensive gesture. "All wot!—Dinnahs and dawnces and bwidge, the hawse-show—and—ah—all the west of it.—Vahnity fawr, y' know. If you have whatevah you want diwectly, of cow'se you cawnt want anything you daunt have, y' know. Doocid unpleasant. I find myself like the boy that wanted to leah'n to shivah and shake, y' know. Needin' the excitement of what this fellah—ah—at Washington, y' know—Woosevelt!—of what Woosevelt calls the stwenuous life. Saht in the club thinkin' it ovah, and decided to sally fowth to seek adventuah——"

"Adventure! You?" Atwood threw back his head and roared.

"—adventuah. In a hansom," returned the new-comer placidly. "So the dwivah ahsked me 'Whah to?' y' know. I was feelin' nawsty enough, so I told him 'To pwugatowy!—like that! He was—ah—a vewy litewal-minded puhson." There was a faint flicker of amusement in his gray eyes. "He—ah—bwought me to the Stock Exchange. Aftah I got out, y' know, I wemembahed that you—ah—did something heah. So I thought I'd just wun ovah and see you." He relapsed into moody silence.

"You've come to the right shop, I do believe," said Atwood. "Mr.
Thompson, let me make you acquainted with my old friend Wyatt."

"Chawmed, I'm suah!" muttered Wyatt, adjusting his monocle.

"You have probably heard of him," pursued Atwood. "He appears regularly in the Sunday Supplements as a Horrible Example—Anson Walworth Wyatt, nephew to his uncle. But for all he seems such a silly, supercilious ass, he's a good old chap at heart, a 'weal' lion in an ass-skin. Mr. Thompson, have I permission to share this letter with my friend?"

"Why not?" said Steve.

"This is a Western man's business letter," explained Atwood. The clubman listened with a well-bred stony stare.

"Aw!" he said. "How vewy extwaohdinawy!"

"Now, old fellow, Mr. Thompson was just about to negotiate the loan of a man from me when you came. Here we have the adventure seeking the man, and the man seeking the adventure. It sounds promising. Of course, I shall expect a commission both ways. Now give us your plans and specifications, Mr. Thompson."

"I want to borrow a young man, as I said before, of good appearance"—with a glance at Wyatt's sumptuous apparel—"and some little brains"—another and a sharper glance, "One who will obey orders if he breaks owners, who will stand without being tied, and who doesn't especially care whether school keeps or not. I would particularly request that he leave his money, his memory, acquired good habits, if any, and his conscience, in your safe-keeping till he is returned."

"That sounds like the makings of a pretty adventure, Wyatt," said
Atwood, delighted, "Are you for loan, old chap?"

Wyatt laid his affectation aside. "That depends on the interest, the security, and length of the term. It certainly appears, from your very flattering description, that you were searching for me, Mr. Thompson." His eyes were dancing.

"Interest from the word Go. The security's all right, too, if you take a gun," said Steve reassuringly. "You might get a long term, but it can be avoided with luck and good management. I think the parties concerned will hardly make a complaint."

"You are not contemplating anything illegal, I trust?" Atwood was enjoying himself to the full.

"I don't know. Really hadn't given it much attention," returned the
Committee, simply. "But now you mention it, I think probably I am."

"Will you allow my accomplice and myself to use your private room for executive session?" asked Wyatt.

* * * * *

"But why don't you have them arrested?"

"Arrested? O no!" cried Steve, in pained surprise. "That wouldn't be fair. That isn't done! Besides, don't you see, that wouldn't hurt their feelings like this?"

"I see," said Wyatt. "I'm your man. And I say, old chap, before I go back to my Cholly-talk again, advise me. Would I look any more idiotic, do you think, if I should suck my cane? I don't want to disappoint any one."

"I would not," said Steve. "You're too good to be true, without that."

"Wouldn't you naturally suppose," sighed Wyatt, "that people would know that no man could be as big a fool as I am, unless he did it on purpose? But they don't. They swallow it, hook, bob and sinker!"

Chapter VI

"If the bowl had been stronger My tale had been longer."

Steve entered Mitchell's office with the painful uprightness and precise carriage of one who has lunched not wisely but rather too well. His speech, too, was of ponderous brevity. The man of affairs chided him with fatherly kindness.

"This won't do, my boy—this won't do. I like you, Thompson. I'm sorry—I'm pained to see this. Don't go in for this sort of thing, or your good fortune will prove a curse in disguise."

Steve hung his head, muttering something incoherent about not being used to wine and that he'd soon get over it.

"Oh, young men will be young men, I suppose," sighed Mitchell tolerantly. "Tell you what. Archibald's going for a spin over to East New York. I'll just 'phone him to drop by on his way and take us along. Fresh air'll do you good."

Steve assented, and fell to poring over the immense wall map of New
York with preternatural gravity.

But Mitchell's benevolent plan was doomed to be frustrated. Hardly had Archibald arrived and the employees been dismissed, when the sordid, busy, money-making city intruded in the person of Loring.

There were merry greetings all around. The artist was much pleased to renew his acquaintance with Thompson, to whom he had taken a fancy. Loring, it seemed, was an old friend of Archibald's and was promptly invited to make one of the party.

"Oh, I can't," demurred Loring. "And I hate to spoil sport, but I've got a good thing which must be put through to-night or not at all. I ran in to get Mitchell to handle it for me. I've got the opportunity, but not the wherewithal." He made the candid admission with a delightful smile.

"I fear that you are leaning on a mighty nearly broken reed," said Mitchell. "I'm all tied up in money matters this week. But spit it out, anyhow. I've got six or seven thousand loose. If it's more than that perhaps Archie can swing it—if it's a safe proposition."

"Safe as United States bonds, and good for thirty per cent, profit. Come back, Thompson!" Steve was making for the door, with apologies. "You're not in the way a bit. Sit down, man! Your six thousand won't be a starter, Joe. I've got some four thousand myself, in red, red gold. All I have in the world—wish it was more." His blithe insouciance was irresistibly charming.

"Get down to business, old fellow," said Archibald. "What's the lay?"

"This is all confidential, between gentlemen, you understand?" All nodded. "You know young Post is in hiding? Well, I've been in touch with him all along. He's tired of skulking and wants me to sell that house his mother left him, strictly on the Q.T. He's got a chance to slip away on a private yacht to-night. Said I could have all I could get over thirty thousand. It's worth fifty, at least. I know where I could get forty-five, but I dare not approach those people now, because they are unfriendly to Post and would make him trouble. Once he is safely away——" He waved his hand.

"That ought to be a good thing," said Archibald thoughtfully. "It rents for six thousand a year, and values going up. I've a good mind to go into it for a permanent investment. Let's see—he'd want spot cash, wouldn't he?"

"Naturally. Cash on the nail. He could hardly afford to be identified, you know."

"Can't raise that much to-day," said the shipowner. "Maybe, by borrowing from my partner, I could get enough to pool with you and Mitchell. What's your proposition? About cutting profits, I mean."

"I think I should have ten per cent. net, besides the proportionate earning of my four thousand—for giving you fellows the first chance. There's plenty would jump at it."

"That's fair enough," said Archibald. "Mr. Thompson, you will excuse us? Our trip will only be postponed. I'll have to fly around to rustle ready money. I'll see Bowring first."

"Hold on," said Mitchell. "Why don't you let my friend in on this?
He's got the scads, and he's a good fellow."

"Oh, he would have to go and see the place," objected Archibald, his eye evidently on the main chance.

"No, he won't. We looked it over yesterday. I showed it to him because I used to live there. Don't be selfish, Archie. There's plenty of chances for you to make money. Get your pail, Thompson!"

"We-ll," said Archibald grudgingly. "So long as it's not sure that Bowring can spare me the money, let him take over a third if he wants to."

"Sure I do," grinned the prospective buyer, highly elated, "and much obliged to you, too, Mr. Archibald.

"That's all right," said that person gruffly. "Now then, Loring, come out of it! Time's flying. Where? When? How? Never saw an artist yet that could think on straight lines," he grumbled.

"All of you get your money, meet at Mitchell's rooms. I'll let Post know and join you there later. We'll wait till dark, get a tried and acquitted notary of my acquaintance, slip around to Post's lair after dark and do the deed. I'll stand a ripping dinner for the bunch out of my ten per cent. Put deed on record to-morrow morning. That'll give him start enough. Is that all clear?"

"Clear as a bell. I'm off!" said Archibald.

"Archie's a good sort, but he does hate to let a dollar get by him." The artist laughed indulgently. "I say, Thompson, did you see how he stuck on letting you have a whack at it?"

"Where do you bank?" inquired Mitchell. Steve told him where his money was deposited. Mitchell shook his head. "I was hoping we would go the same way, but I go uptown."

Ten minutes after they left the industrious bookkeeper returned with navvies and draymen, and removed the office furniture to parts unknown.

* * * * *

When the four financiers got together in Mitchell's room Steve proposed to continue his lessons in the fascinating game of bridge.

He drank freely and his game was the apotheosis of bumble-puppy.
Archibald, his partner, was much irritated by his stupidity.

A bellboy came to the door. A gentleman in the parlor would like to see Mr. Thompson.

Mr. Thompson looked at the card. "Mr. A.W. Wyatt," he announced sneeringly. "You can tell Mr. A.W. Wyatt, if he wants to see me, he can just naturally mosey himself up here."

"Not the A.W. Wyatt—Anson Walworth Wyatt?" asked Loring. "I know him—I mean, I know him by sight."

"I believe it is," said Steve with surly indifference. "If you know him, you know an overbearing jabberwock. He's head devil of the push that bought the Copperbottom and I don't like his style even a little bit. He seems to think I'm the dirt under his feet. I'll show him. I know what he wants, and that's the other fourth of my mine." He thumped the table viciously. "He'll pay for all he gets from me, I'll tell you that."

Mr. Wyatt was ushered in; irreproachable, flawless, exquisite. ("It's him!" breathed Loring.) He remained standing, hat in hand, fitted his glass with vacuous care and surveyed the room with deliberately insolent scrutiny. Thompson kept his seat, fairly prickling with antagonism. The others rose with exemplary good breeding.

"Aw!" said the newcomer, after an eloquent pause.

"Mistah—er—Townsend, cawn I have a few moments of quite pwivate convehsation with you?"

"No, you cawnt!" retorted Thompson truculently. "Sit down, boys. Sit down, I say! These gentlemen are my friends. Anything you got to say? If there is, say it. And my name's Thompson, if you please."

"Aw!—what an extwemely wemahkable ahttitude!" Wyatt fixed his monocle on the offending miner with bland and exasperating condescension. "Weally, you quite intewest me, y' know! I appwoach you, quite civilly, y' know, with an offah decidedly to youah ahdvahntage, Mistah—ah—Tomlinson, and you tweat it——"

"Thompson!! By Heavens, you say Tomlinson again and I'll pound your face into shape!" roared the misnamed one, jumping up. Mitchell and Loring vainly tried to quiet him.

"Weally, I shall be obwiged to wefeh you to my lawyehs——" Wyatt began.

"Refer me—you animated outrage—you libel! Turn me loose, you fellows! I don't want to see you or your durn lawyers! I know what you want, well enough. You want to bamboozle me into selling my interest in the Copper-bottom for less than it's worth. Here's my last word to you—Mr.—ah—White! If you want my fourth at forty thousand, to-day, all right. It's worth more—it's paid from the grass-roots down. But that'll make me the round six figures, and that's enough. I can make money—I know my little way about," he boasted, with insufferable complacency.

"Nobody left me my pile! Put up or shut up!"

"Mr. Wyatt," said Mitchell, "pardon me, but may I suggest that you call at a more favorable time?" He made, behind Thompson's back, the motion significant of an emptied glass.

"Aw! I see—I see! Thawnks awfully for the hint. Good-evening, gentlemen—and—ah—Mistah Tomkins!"

Thompson broke away, shaking his fist in Wyatt's face. "Say that again and I'll brain you—pawdon me, I should say, I'll smash your head in. Thompson's my name—T-h-o-m-p-s-o-n, T h o m p s o n! And you trade with me, now or never!"

"You see, gentlemen?" Wyatt appealed. "Mistah—ah—Tawmson, I offahed you twenty-five thousand on my own wesponsibility, as a—ah—business pwoposition. My—ah—associawates in this undehtaking aw all fwiends, quite congenwial, y' know, and I felt suah they would sanction that. I do not cyah to go futheh lengths without—ah—a confewence with them, as I believe that pwice quite ahmple, y' know. But if I could awwange fo' an option——"

"You pay me twenty thousand, cash, in this room, at eight o'clock to-night, and I'll give you an option for one week at forty thousand," persisted the morose miner. "After that, the price goes up."

"Fifty pehcentum down on an option! This is uttehly unpwecedented, y' know. I must wemonstwate, weally!"

"It's all the option you'll get from me, you jackanapes." He snapped contemptuous fingers under Wyatt's nose.

Wyatt buttoned his coat with dignity. "Weally, this pahsses all bounds!" he ejaculated. "Gentlemen, I accept this—ah—puhson's offeh. I cannot enduah such an associwate. You ah all witnesses. May I ahsk you-ah names, and may I wequest youah pwesence to-night, both to ensuah the—ar—fulfillment of the vehbal contwact which you have heahd, and to pwevent the wepetition of this scandalous scene?" He opened the door. "Aw wevoah, gentlemen!" By this time he was in the elevator. From this coign of vantage he sent a Parthian shaft.

"Till eight o'clock, Mistah—ah—Tomkinson!"

The three held the raging Thompson with some mutual dishevelment. They soothed him with flattery, stayed him with flagons, for he yearned for blood with a great yearning.

"Listen to your friends, boy," urged Mitchell. "Take his money, and don't do anything you'll be sorry for. Make out your papers and pay no attention to what he says. Come, brace up! It'll be time for dinner in a jiffy. Promise us not to drink any more, and not to make any trouble, or we'll 'phone him not to come."

Steve allowed himself to be pacified at last, but he regarded his mitigators with a malignant eye.

"Here's what I owe you on bridge, Mitchell—twenty-three dollars," he said sullenly. "Archibald can settle with Loring. I don't want no dinner—I'm going to sleep."

"Oh, come on now, that's a good fellow," purred Mitchell, picking up the two bills and the coins. "Say, old man—you haven't turned counterfeiter, have you?" he said good-naturedly. "This one's N.G."

Steve took it clumsily. "It's no such thing," he blurted. "Good as gold. Take it or leave it. I don't care."

"Oh, very well," said Mitchell, humoring him. Then he reflected. The indications were that their projected coup might fail if Steve's surly humor kept up. Why not improve the shining hour? The coin was obviously bad.

"I'll take it before it gets you into trouble," he insinuated.

Steve lurched to his feet, thrusting an undecorative face over the table. "You think' it's bad?" he queried darkly. "You think I'm a fool?" He flung a packet of bills on the table. "Cover that, if you dare," he said. "There's the money for the Post place—ten thousand dollars. It says that's a good dollar. Put up or shut up!"

"You'll lose your money!" warned Mitchell. "Then you'll say I took advantage of you."

"I know what you think," said Steve shrewdly. "You think I'm drunk, but I'm not. I know a good thing when I see it. Don't you—don't you lose no sleep about me. I'm—I'm all right, you bet! Now what'll you do or take water?" he fleered.

Surreptitiously Loring had tried the coin with his penknife during this controversy. The metal was quite soft—the knife left a great scar, which he flashed at Mitchell.

"Well—if you insist," said Mitchell reluctantly. He counted out ten one-thousand-dollar bills. "Who'll be the judge?"

"Anybody. Archie. I've got you skinned a mile anyway."

"I am sorry, Mr. Thompson," said Archibald, "but this dollar seems to be pewter, or something of that general description. Aw, give him back his money, Mitchell—he's drinking.

"I won't!" said Mitchell stubbornly. "He forced me into it. He wouldn't have given it back to me if I'd lost."

"Sure I wouldn't," assented Steve. "I'm no boy. I play for keeps, me. Don't be so fast, if you please. This money ain't won yet. Cut into that dollar! I was from Missouri before ever I saw Montana."

"Cut it, Loring," said Mitchell. "Show him!"

Loring scratched it with the penknife point. "You see? soft as cheese—rotten," he said. And then the knife struck something hard. A chill crept over him. Stupefied, he scraped the base metal back, revealing a portion of an irrefutably good dollar.

The dismayed rascals looked up. In Thompson's hand a large, businesslike gun wavered portentously from one head to the other.

"Go on!" he admonished. His tone was not particularly pleasant. "Peel her off! Yah! You puling infants! You cheap, trading-stamp crooks!" He raked off the money. "Be tran-tranquil! You doddering idiots, I'd shoot your heads off for two bits I Try to rob a countryman, will you? Why, gentle shepherds all, I've been on to such curves as yours ever since Hec was a pup! You and your scout Loring and your Bickford and your Post!" he scoffed. "Don't open your heads. Bah! Here, you skunks!" He threw an ostentatiously bad dollar on the table. "Take that, and break even if you can. That patronizing half-baked tailor's dummy that called me out of my name will be back bimeby, with his pockets full. I'd like to see him taken down a peg, but I dassent spoil the sale of my mine. Tell him I'm in bed, full, but'll be out in an hour or so. He'll come again to buy me out. Hates me like poison, he does. If you can get him to bite, go it! But I doubt if you'll find even that saphead as rank as you three wise guys. Anyway, I don't want to see him while I feel this way. My head aches, and I suppose there's some sort of law against shooting the likes of him—or you. I'm leavin' for another hotel, right now. Don't you fellows bother me if you value your hides. If you can skin, that puppy, why, sic 'em, Towse! and the devil take the hindmost! Oh, you Smart Alecks!"

He backed out with a traditional wiggle of his fingers.

It is to be regretted that the stringent regulations of the postal authorities will not permit us any report of the heart-to-heart talk that followed his departure, other than the baldest summary. It was marked by earnestness, sincerity, even by some petulance, interspersed with frank and spirited repartee. Mutual recrimination resulted.

Subdued and chastened, Mr. Mitchell was reduced to the ranks; Loring, by virtue of his own and Mitchell's vote, replacing him. Archibald's preference was for a third person still—namely, himself—and he acquiesced with ill grace.

They had but little over ten thousand dollars remaining for the return match; and this, as Loring pointed out with just indignation, would only put them even. They knew that Wyatt would have at least twice that much with him. So they scurried forth and made such good use of the scant time left them, by borrowing, by squeezing both Bickford and the hard-working bookkeeper, and by resource to certain nest-eggs laid by for case of extreme urgency (known among themselves as "fix money"), they scraped together some six thousand more. The "ripping" dinner went untasted. They were hardened, but human.

All ravages of carking care were smoothed away, and they were disposed in luxuriant and contented ease when Wyatt came.

"Aw, gentlemen, I am punctual, you see!" he announced gayly. "It is weally vewy kind of you to be so obliging—I'm suah. Is the—ah—mining puhson in?"

Mr. Loring, speaking for the trio, affably regretted that their young friend was not, in fact, at his best during Mr. Wyatt's previous call. They had remonstrated with him for his injurious conduct. At present he was sleeping off the effects of his slight exhilaration: they thought it would not be at all judicious to disturb him: they felt sure that, on awakening, he would prove amenable to reason. Meanwhile, the night was young; if Mr. Wyatt cared to join them in a friendly rubber they would be delighted.

"Chawmed, I'm suah!" said Wyatt. "I do not desiah any contwovewsy with that vewy wuffianly puhson while he is—ah—wuffled. So I shall wait and shall be happy to join you."

The score was close; it was only through ingenious manipulation by their opponents that Wyatt and his partner were forced to win a small sum.

"Weally, gentlemen," drawled Wyatt, looking at his watch, "I shall be fowced to leave you. I have an engagement at eleven, and I weally feah ouah Mr. Townshend will be, as I might say, hors de combat foh the night. I have to thawnk you fow a vewy agweeable evening, nevahtheless."

He was carelessly sweeping the money into his pocket when Mitchell, his partner, checked him.

"I beg your pardon, but is that not a bad dollar?" he said.

"Oh, no mattah—no consequence at all, I assuah you," said Wyatt liberally. He would have pocketed the piece, but Loring, who had paid it, gave him another, and flung the slighted coin over to Mitchell.

"If you're so set on this dollar being bad," he said angrily, "I'll bet you what you dare it's not bad."

"Done with you for twenty!" Mitchell covered it promptly.

Loring drew out a handful of bills. "Here you are. Any one else want any of this?" he inquired captiously.

Archibald shook his head and laughed. Wyatt screwed his monocle into his eye, regarded both sides of the coin attentively, and laid it down.

"Quite bad, I assuah you," he said. "I should pwonounce it about the wohst specimen extahnt."

"Maybe you'd like to bet on it?" said Loring, flaunting the big bills.

Wyatt was evidently nettled. "Weally, you aw wong—I assuah you," he said stiffly.

"If you aw—pawdon me—quite able to lose that money without—ah—inconvenience I am weady to covah it, at least, as fah as what I have with me goes."

"Done!" said Loring. This was not so bad, after all.

"How much?… Aw! Seventeen thousand. Exactly. The bet is made, gentlemen. I—ah—propose that we wing the bell foh the pwopwietah and, shahl we say, the clahk, to act as judge and stakeholdeh."

"That will be satisfactory," said Loring. "Allow me, in turn, to make a suggestion, Mr. Wyatt. Put the money in your billbook, hand it to the stakeholder, and let him give it, unopened, to the winner. Of course, you will first take out your other money. There is no need for them to know that more than a trivial sum is at stake. We do not want to court unpleasant notoriety."

"Quite twue! An excellent suggestion," said Wyatt gravely. He proceeded to put it in effect.

The summoned dignitaries arrived, the situation was explained, and Wyatt, handing the money to the proprietor and the questionable dollar to the clerk, requested judgment.

The clerk looked at the coin, rubbed it, rang it. It gave out a dull and leaden sound.

"Bad, beyond a doubt," he said.

"Try it with your knife," said Loring confidently.

The clerk complied. By mischance he bore on too hard. The knife went through to the table.

A sound of mirth swept to them. With horror frozen on their faces, the three rascals were aware of Thompson, leaning in the doorway—unmistakably sober, given up to reprehensible levity, holding out a bright tin pail with an expectant air.

Let us give even the devil his due. For Mitchell laughed.

THE END