He did not have a very good walk and his thoughts while walking were not as closely centered about ancient inscriptions, either Egyptian or East Wellmouthian, as was usually the case upon such excursions. Miss Martha Phipps was worried, she had said so, herself. Yes, and now that he thought of it, she looked worried. She was in trouble of some sort. A dreadful surmise entered his mind. Was it possible that he, his presence in her house, was the cause of her worry? He had been very insistent that she take him as boarder and lodger. The sum he paid each week was ridiculously small. Was it possible that, having consented to the agreement, she had found it a losing one and was too kind-hearted and conscientious to suggest a change? He remembered agreements which he had made, and having made, had hesitated to break, even though they turned out to be decidedly unprofitable and unpleasant. He had often been talked into doing things he did not want to do, like buying the yellow cap at Beebe's store. Perhaps he had talked Miss Phipps into taking him as boarder and lodger and now she was sorry.
By the time Galusha returned from his walk he was in what might be described as a state of mind.
As he entered the Phipps' gate he met some one coming down the path toward it. That some one, it developed, was no less a person than Mr. Horatio Pulcifer. Raish and Galusha had not encountered each other for some time, weeks, in fact, and Mr. Bangs expected the former's greeting to be exuberant and effusive. His shoulders and his spirit were alike shrinking in anticipation.
But Raish did not shout when he saw him, did not even shake hands, to say nothing of thumping the little man upon the back. The broad and rubicund face of East Wellmouth's leading politician and dealer in real estate wore not a grin but a frown, and when he and Galusha came together at the gate he did not speak. Galusha spoke first, which was unusual; very few people meeting Mr. Horatio Pulcifer were afforded the opportunity of speaking first.
"Ah—good-morning, Mr. Pulcifer," said Galusha, endeavoring to open the gate.
"Huh!" grunted Raish, jerking the gate from Mr. Bangs' hand and pushing it somewhat violently into the Bangs' waistcoat. "Mornin'."
"It is a nice—ah—cool day, isn't it?" observed Galusha, backing from the gateway in order to give Horatio egress. Mr. Pulcifer's answer was irrelevant and surprising.
"Say," he demanded, turning truculently upon the speaker, "ain't women hell?"
Galusha was, naturally, somewhat startled.
"I—I beg your pardon?" he stammered.
"I say ain't women hell? Hey? Ain't they, now?"
Galusha rubbed his chin.
"Well," he said, doubtfully, "I presume in—ah—certain instances they—My experience has been limited, but—"
"Humph! Say, they make me sick, most of 'em. They haven't any more business sense than a hen, the heft of 'em ain't. Go into a deal with their eyes open and then, when it don't turn out to suit 'em, lay down and squeal. Yes, sir, squeal."
"Ah—I see. Yes, yes, of course. Squeal—yes. The—the hens, you mean."
"HENS? No, women. They make me sick, I tell you.... And now a lot of dum fools are goin' to give 'em the right to vote! Gosh!"
He strode off along the road to the village. Galusha wonderingly gazed after him, shook his head, and then moved slowly up the path to the house. Primmie opened the door for him. Her eyes were snapping.
"Hello, Mr. Bangs!" she said. "I 'most wisht he'd drop down dead and then freeze to death in a snowbank, that's what I wish."
"Why, bless my soul!" he exclaimed. "Of whom are you speaking?"
"That everlastin' Raish Pulcifer. I never did like him, and now if he's comin' around here makin' her cry."
"Eh? Making her cry?"
"Sshh! She'll hear you. Makin' Miss Martha cry. She's up in her room cryin' now, I'll bet you on it. And he's responsible.... Yes'm, I'm comin'. Don't say nothin' to her that I told you, will you, Mr. Bangs?"
She hurried away in response to her mistress' hail. Galusha said nothing to Miss Phipps nor to any one else, but during the rest of that day he did a great deal of thinking. Martha Phipps was worried, she was troubled, she had been crying; according to Primmie Horatio Pulcifer was responsible for her tears. Galusha had never fancied Mr. Pulcifer, now he was conscious of a most extraordinary dislike for the man. He had never disliked any one so much in all his life, he was sure of that. Also he was conscious of a great desire to help Martha in her trouble. Of course there was a certain measure of relief in learning that Pulcifer and not he was responsible for that trouble, but the relief was a small matter in comparison with the desire to help.
He could think of but one way in which Horatio Pulcifer could cause worry for Martha Phipps and that was in connection with some business matter. Certain fragments of conversations occurred to him, certain things she had said to him or to Captain Hallett in his hearing which were of themselves sufficient to warrant the surmise that her trouble was a financial one. He remembered them now, although at the time they had made little impression upon his mind. But Raish Pulcifer's name was not mentioned in any of those conversations; Captain Jethro's had been, but not Raish's. Yet Primmie vowed that the latter had made Miss Martha cry. He determined to seek Primmie and ask for more particulars that very evening.
But Primmie saved him the trouble of seeking her. Miss Phipps and her maid left him alone in the sitting room as soon as supper was over and neither came back. He could hear the murmur of voices in the kitchen, but, although he sat up until ten o'clock, neither Primmie nor her mistress joined him. So he reluctantly went up to his room, but had scarcely reached it when a knock sounded on the door. He opened it, lamp in hand.
"Why, Primmie!" he exclaimed.
Primmie waved both hands in frantic expostulation.
"Sshh! shh! shh!" she breathed. "Don't say nothin'. I don't want her to hear you. PLEASE don't let her hear you, Mr. Bangs. And PLEASE come right downstairs again. I want to talk to you. I've GOT to talk with you."
More bewildered than he had before been, even on that bewildering day, Galusha followed Miss Cash down the stairs, through sitting room and dining room to the kitchen. Then Primmie put down the lamp, which she had taken from his hand, carefully closed the door behind them, turned to her companion and burst out crying.
"Why—why, Primmie!" exclaimed Galusha. "Oh, dear me! What is it?"
Primmie did not answer. She merely waved her hands up and down and stood there, dripping like a wet umbrella.
"But—my soul, Primmie!" cried Mr. Bangs. "Don't! You—you mustn't, you know."
But Primmie did, nevertheless. Galusha in desperation turned toward the door.
"I'm going to call Miss Phipps," he declared. Primmie, the tears still pouring down her cheeks, seized him by the arm.
"Don't you do it!" she commanded. "Don't you dast to do it! I'll—I'll stop cryin'. I—I'm goin' to if you'll only wait and give me a chance. There! There! See, I'm—I'm stoppin' now."
And, with one tremendous sniff and a violent rub of her hand across her nose, stop she did. But she was still the complete picture of misery.
"Why, what IS the matter?" demanded Galusha.
Primmie sniffed once more, gulped, and then blurted forth the explanation.
"She—she's canned me," she said.
Galusha looked at her uncomprehendingly. Primmie's equipment of Cape Cod slang and idiom, rather full and complete of itself, had of late been amplified and complicated by a growing acquaintance with the new driver of the grocery cart, a young man of the world who had spent two hectic years in Brockton, where, for a portion of the time, he worked in a shoe factory. But Galusha Bangs, not being a man of the world, was not up in slang; he did not understand.
"What?" he asked.
"I say she's canned me. Miss Martha has, I mean. Oh, ain't it awful!"
"Canned you? Really, I—"
"Yes, yes, yes! Canned me, fired me. Oh, DON'T stand there owlin' at me like that! Can't you see, I—Oh, please, Mr. Bangs, excuse me for talkin' so. I—I didn't mean to be sassy. I'm just kind of loony, I guess. Please excuse me, Mr. Bangs."
"Yes, yes, Primmie, of course—of course. Don't cry, that's all. But what is this? Do I understand you to say that Miss Phipps has—ah—DISCHARGED you?"
"Um-hm. That's what she's done. I'm canned. And I don't know where to go and—and I don't want to go anywheres else. I want to stay here along of her."
She burst into tears again. It was some time before Galusha could calm her sufficiently to get the story of what had happened. When told, flavored with the usual amount of Primmieisms, it amounted to this: Martha had helped her with the supper dishes and then, instead of going into the sitting room, had asked her to sit down as she had something particular to say to her. Primmie obediently sat and her mistress did likewise.
"But she didn't begin to say it right off," said Primmie. "She started four or five times afore she really got a-goin'. She said that what she'd got to say was dreadful unpleasant and was just as hard for her to say as 'twould be for me to hear. And she said I could be sartin' sure she'd never say it if 'twan't absolutely necessary and that she hadn't made up her mind to say it until she'd laid awake night after night tryin' to think of some other way out, but that, try as she could, she didn't see no other way. And so then—so then she said it. Oh, my savin' soul! I declare I never thought—"
"Hush, hush, Primmie. Ah—control yourself, please. You promised not to cry, you know."
"Cry! Well, ain't I tryin' not to cry, for mercy sakes? She was cryin', too, I tell you, afore she finished. If you'd seen the pair of us settin' there bellerin' like a couple of young ones I cal'late you'd a thought so."
"Bellowing? Miss Phipps?"
"Oh, I don't mean bellerin' out loud like a—like a heifer. I guess likely I was doin' that, but she wan't. She was just cryin' quiet, you know, but anybody could see how terrible bad she was feelin'. And then she said it—oh, dear, dear! How CAN I tell it? How CAN I?"
Galusha groaned, in harassed desperation.
"I don't know," he admitted, "But I—really I wish you would."
Miss Phipps had, it seemed, told her maidservant that, owing to the steadily increasing cost of living, of food and clothes and every item of daily expense, she was finding it more and more hard to get along. She said her income was very small and her bills continually growing larger. She had cut and scrimped in every possible way, hoping against hope, but at last she had been driven to the point where even the small wage she was paying Primmie seemed more than she could afford. Much as she hated to do it, she felt compelled to let the girl go.
"She said she'd help me get another place," said Primmie, "and that I could stay here until I did get one, and all sorts of things like that. I told her I didn't want no other place and I didn't care a bit about the wages. I said I'd rather work here without a cent of wages. She said no, she wouldn't let me do that. If she couldn't pay me I couldn't work here. I said I could and I should and she said I couldn't and shouldn't. And—and we both cried and—and that's the way it ended. And that's why I come to you, Mr. Bangs. I CAN'T go away and leave her. I CAN'T, Mr. Bangs. She can't keep this whole house a-goin' without somebody to help. I've GOT to stay. You make her keep me, Mr. Bangs. I don't want no pay for it. I never was no hand to care for money, anyhow. Pa used to say I wan't. None of our folks was. Matter of that, we never had none to care for. But you make her keep me, Mr. Bangs."
She began to sob once more. Poor Galusha was very much distressed. The cause of Martha Phipps' worry was plain enough now. And her financial stress must be very keen indeed to cause her to take such drastic action as the discharge of Primmie the faithful.
"You'll make her keep me, won't you, Mr. Bangs?" pleaded Primmie, once more.
Galusha rubbed his chin. "Dear me," he said, perplexedly, "I—Well, I shall be glad to do all I can, of course, but how I can make her keep you when she has made up her mind not to, I—really, I don't see. You don't think, do you," he added, "that my being here is in any way responsible for a portion of Miss Phipps' financial trouble? You don't think it might be—ah—easier for her if I was to—ah—go?"
Primmie shook her head. "Oh, no, no," she declared, with decision, "You ain't a mite of bother, Mr. Bangs. I've heard Miss Martha say more'n a dozen times what a nice man you was and how easy 'twas to provide for you. She likes you, Miss Martha does, and I do, too. Even when we thought you was an undertaker huntin' 'round for remains we liked you just the same."
Galusha could not help feeling a certain satisfaction in this whole-hearted declaration. It was pleasant to learn that he was liked and that his hostess considered him a nice man.
"Thank you, Primmie," he said. "But what I meant was—was—Well, I pay what seems to me a ridiculously small sum for board and lodging. I begged to be allowed to pay more, but Miss Phipps wouldn't permit it. Now I am sure she must be losing money in the transaction and if I were to go—ah—elsewhere perhaps it might be—ah—easier for her. Candidly, don't you think so, Primmie?"
Miss Cash appeared to consider. Then she shook her head again. "No," she said, "I don't. You pay your board and I've heard her say more'n once that she felt as if you was payin' too much. No, 'tain't that. It's more'n that. It ain't anything to do really with you or me, Mr. Bangs. Miss Martha's lost some money somehow, I believe. She ain't got enough to get along on, 'cause she told me she hadn't. Now, she used to have and I believe she's lost some of it somewheres. And I believe that—"
Galusha felt it his duty to interrupt.
"Primmie," he continued, "you mustn't tell me anything which Miss Phipps wouldn't wish told. I wouldn't for the world have you think that I am unduly curious concerning her personal affairs. If there is any trait which I—ah—detest above others it is that of unwarranted curiosity concerning the—ah—private affairs of one's acquaintances. I... Why do you look at me like that? Were you about to speak?"
Primmie was staring at him in what seemed to be awe-stricken admiration. She drew a long breath.
"My Lord of Isrul!" she exclaimed, fervently, "I never heard anybody string talk along the way you can in all my born days, Mr. Bangs. I bet you've said as many as seven words already that I never heard afore, never heard ary one of 'em, I ain't. Education's wonderful, ain't it? Pa used to say 'twas, but all he had he picked up off fishin' and clammin' and cranberrin' and around. All our family had a kind of picked-up education, seemed so."
"Yes, yes, Primmie, but—"
"But why don't I mind my own business and stick to what I was goin' to say, you mean? All right, I will. I was goin' to say that I believe Miss Martha's lost money somehow and I believe that dressed-up stuffed image of a Raish Pulcifer is responsible for her losin' it, that's what I believe."
"Mr. Pulcifer! Why, Primmie, why do you say that? What proof have you?"
"Ain't got no proof. If folks could get proof on Raish Pulcifer he'd have been in jail long ago. Zach Bloomer said that only the other day. But a body can guess, can't they, even if they ain't got proof, and that's what I'm doin'—guessin'. Every once in a while Miss Martha goes up to the village to see this Pulcifer thing, don't she? Yes, she does. Went up twice inside of a fortni't that I know of. Does she go 'cause she likes him? I cal'late she don't. She likes him about the way I do and I ain't got no more use for him than a hen has for a toothbrush. And t'other day she sent for him and asked him to come here and see her. How do I know she did? 'Cause she telephoned him and I heard her doin' it, that's how. And he didn't want to come and she just begged him to, said she would try not to bother him again if he would come that once. And he came and after he went away she cried, same as I told you she did."
"But, Primmie, all that may be and yet Mr. Pulcifer's visit may have no connection with Miss Martha's monetary trouble."
"I want to know! Well, if that's so, why was she and him talkin' so hard when he was here this afternoon? And why was she askin' him to please see if he couldn't get some sort of an offer? I heard her ask that."
"Offer for what?"
"Search me! For somethin' she wanted to sell, I presume likely. And he says to her, 'No, I can't,' he says. 'I've told you so a dozen times. If I could get anybody to buy I'd sell my own, wouldn't I? You bet your life I would!' And she waited a minute and then she says, kind of low and more as if she was talkin' to herself than to him, 'What SHALL I do?' she says. And he heard her and says he—I'd like to have chopped his head off with the kindlin' hatchet when I heard him say it—says he, 'I don't know. How do you s'pose I know what you'll do? I don't know what I'll do, myself, do I?' And she answered right off, and kind of sharp, 'You was sure enough what was goin' to be done when you got father into this thing.' And he just swore and stomped out of the house. So THAT sounds as if he had somethin' to do with it, don't it?"
Galusha was obliged to admit that it did so sound. And when he remembered Mr. Pulcifer's remark at the gate, that concerning women and business, the evidence was still more convincing. He did not tell Primmie that he was convinced, however. He swore her to secrecy, made her promise that she would tell no one else what she had told him or even that she had told him, and in return promised to do what he could to bring about her retention in the Phipps' home.
"Although, as I said, Primmie," he added, "I'm sure I can't at present see what I can do."
Another person might have found little encouragement in this, but Primmie apparently found a good deal.
"You'll see a way, I'll bet you you will, Mr. Bangs," she declared. "Anybody that's been through the kind of times you have, livin' along with critters that steal the shirt off your back, ain't goin' to let a blowed-up gas balloon like Raish Pulcifer stump you. My savin' soul, no!"
Mr. Bangs smiled faintly.
"The shirt wasn't on my back when it was stolen," he said.
Primmie sniffed. "It didn't have no chance to be," she declared. "That camel thing got it onto HIS back first. But, anyhow, I feel better. I think now we're goin' to come out all right, Miss Martha and me. I don't know why I feel so, but I do."
Galusha was by no means as confident. He went back to his room and to bed, but it was long before he fell asleep. Just why the thought of Martha Phipps' trouble should trouble him so greatly he still did not understand, exactly. Of course he was always sorry for any one in trouble, and would have gone far out of his way to help such a person, had the latter appealed to him. But Martha had not appealed to him; as a matter of fact, it was evident that she was trying to keep knowledge of her difficulty from him and every one else. Plainly it was not his business at all. And yet he was filled with an intense desire, even a determination, to make it his business. He could not understand why, but he wasted no time trying to understand. The determination to help was strong when at last he did fall asleep and it was just as strong when he awoke the next morning.
He endeavored, while dressing, to map out a plan of campaign, but the map was but a meaningless whirligig of lines leading nowhere when Primmie called from the foot of the stairs that breakfast was ready. During breakfast he was more absent-minded than usual, which is saying a good deal, and Martha herself was far from communicative. After the meal he was putting on his hat and coat preparatory to going out for his usual walk when Primmie came hurrying through the hall.
"She wants you," said Primmie, mysteriously, her eyes shining with excitement. "She wants to see you in the settin' room. Come on, come on, Mr. Bangs! What are you waitin' for?"
As a general rule Galusha's thoughts started upon the morning ramble some little time before he did and recalling them was a rather slow and patience-taxing process. In this case, however, they were already in the sitting room with Martha Phipps and so had a shorter road home. But they came slowly enough, for all that.
"Eh?" queried Galusha, peering out between the earlaps of his cap. "Eh? What did you say, Primmie?"
"I say Miss Martha wants to see you a minute. She's in there a-waitin'. I bet you she's goin' to tell you about it. Hurry! hurry!"
"Tell me?... About what?"
"Why, about what 'tis that's worryin' her so. About that Raish Pulcifer and all the rest of it.... Oh, my Lord of Isrul! Don't you understand NOW? Oh, Mr. Bangs, won't you PLEASE wake up?"
But Galusha was beginning to understand.
"Dear me! Dear me!" he exclaimed, nervously. "Do you think that—Did she say she wished to see me, Primmie?"
"Ain't I been tellin' you she did? Now you talk right up to her, Mr. Bangs. You tell her I don't want no wages. Tell her I'll stay right along same as ever and—You TELL her, Mr. Bangs."
Martha was standing by the stove in the sitting room when her lodger entered. She turned to greet him.
"I don't know as I'm doin' right to keep you from your walk, Mr. Bangs," she said. "And I won't keep you very long. But I did want to talk with you for just a minute or two. I wanted to ask your advice about—about a business matter."
Now this was very funny indeed. It would have been hard to find a richer joke than the idea of consulting Galusha Bangs concerning a matter of business. But both parties to this consultation were too serious to see the joke at that moment.
Galusha nodded solemnly. He faltered something about being highly honored and only too glad to be of service. His landlady thanked him.
"Yes," she said, "I knew you would be. And, as I say, I won't keep you very long. Sit down, Mr. Bangs. Oh, not in that straight up-and-down thing. Here, in the rocker."
Galusha lifted himself from the edge of the straight-backed chair upon which he had perched and sat upon the edge of the rocking-chair instead. Martha looked at him sitting there, his collar turned up, his cap brim and earlaps covering two thirds of his face and his spectacles at least half of the remaining third, his mittened hands twitching nervously in his lap, and, in spite of her feelings, could not help smiling. But it was a fleeting smile.
"Take off your things, Mr. Bangs," she said. "You'll roast alive if you don't. It's warm in here. Primmie forgot and left the dampers open and the stove was pretty nearly red-hot when I came in just now. Yes, take off your overcoat and cap, and those mittens, for mercy sakes."
Galusha declared that he didn't mind the mittens and the rest, but she insisted and he hastily divested himself of his wrappings, dropping them upon the floor as the most convenient repository and being greatly fussed when Miss Phipps picked them up and laid them on the table.
"I—I beg your pardon," he stammered. "Really, I DON'T know why I am so thoughtless. I—I should be—ah—hanged or something, I think. Then perhaps I wouldn't do it again."
Martha shook her head. "You probably wouldn't in that case," she said. "Now, Mr. Bangs, I'm going to try to get at that matter I wanted to ask your opinion about. Do you know anything about stocks—stockmarket stocks, I mean?"
Her lodger looked rather bewildered.
"Dear me, no; not a thing," he declared.
She did not look greatly disappointed.
"I didn't suppose you did," she said. "You—well, you don't look like a man who would know much about such things. And from what I've seen of you, goodness knows, you don't ACT like one! Perhaps I shouldn't say that," she added, hastily. "I didn't mean it just as it sounded."
"Oh, that's all right, that's all right, Miss Phipps. I know I am a—ah—donkey in most matters."
"You're a long way from bein' a donkey, Mr. Bangs. And I didn't say you were, of course. But—oh, well, never mind that. So you don't know anything about stocks and investments and such?"
"No, I don't. I am awfully sorry. But—but, you see, all that sort of thing is so very distasteful to me. It bores me—ah—dreadfully. And so I—I dodge it whenever I can."
Martha sighed. "Some of the rest of us would like to dodge it, too," she said, "if we only could. And yet—" she paused and regarded him with the odd expression she had worn more than once when he puzzled her—"and yet I—I just can't make you out, Mr. Bangs. You say you don't know anything about money and managin' money, and yet those Egypt trips of yours must cost a lot of money. And somebody must manage them. SOMEBODY must 'tend to payin' the bills and the wages and all. Who does that?"
Galusha smiled. "Why, I do," he admitted, "after a fashion. But it is a very poor fashion. I almost never—I think I may safely say never come in from one of those trips without having exceeded the—ah—estimate of expenses. I always exceed it more or less—generally more."
He smiled again. She looked more puzzled than ever.
"But some one has to pay the extra, don't they?" she asked. "Who does pay it, the museum people?"
"Why—ah—no, not exactly. It is—ah—ah—generally provided. But," he added, rather hastily, as if afraid she might ask more questions along this line, "if I might make a suggestion, Miss Martha—Miss Phipps, I mean—"
"Plain Martha will do well enough. I think you're the only one in East Wellmouth that calls me anything else. Of course you can make a suggestion. Go ahead."
"Well—ah—well, Miss Phipps—ah—Miss Martha, since you permit me to call you so.... What is it?"
"Oh, nothin', nothin'. I was goin' to say that the 'Miss' wasn't necessary, but never mind. Go on."
"Well—ah—Mar—ah—Miss Martha, I was about to suggest that you tell me what you intended telling me. I am very anxious to help—ah—even if I can't, you know. Only I beg of you not to think I am actuated by idle curiosity."
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Even if you were I don't know that I shouldn't want to tell you, just the same," she observed. "The fact is I've just GOT to talk this over with some one. Mr. Bangs, I am so worried I don't know what to do. It is a money matter, of course, that's worryin' me, an investment father made a little while before he died. Mr. Bangs, I don't suppose it's likely that you ever heard of the Wellmouth Development Company? No, of course you haven't."
And yet, as she looked into her lodger's face, she was surprised at its expression.
"Why, you never have heard of it, have you?" she demanded.
Galusha stroked his chin. "That day in the cemetery," he murmured. "That day when I was—ah—behind the tomb and heard Captain Hallett and Mr. Pulcifer speaking. I may be mistaken, but it seems to me that they mentioned the name of—ah—ah—"
"The Development Company? Of course they did and you told me so when you got home. I remember now. Well, Cap'n Jeth and Raish were both mixed up in it along with father. Yes, and Doctor Powers and a lot more, though not so much. Raish, of course, was at the back of it in the beginnin'. He got 'em all in it, got himself into it, as far as that goes. You see, it was this way."
She told the story of the Wellmouth Development Company. It—the story—began when the Eagle Fish Freezing Company of Denboro, a concern then running and operating one large cold storage plant in that village, were looking about for a favorable spot upon which to build a second. The spot which appealed to their mind to purchase was the property at the mouth of Skoonic Creek in East Wellmouth.
"It's a real pretty place," said Martha, "one of the prettiest spots alongshore, and the view from the top of the bluff there is just lovely. You can see miles and miles out to sea and all up and down the shore—and back over the village, for that matter. But, come to think of it, you know the place, Mr. Bangs. It's only a little way from the old Baptist buryin' ground."
Galusha nodded. "Isn't it where my—ah—late lamented hat set sail?" he asked.
"Why, of course it is. Just there. Well, the Eagle Fish folks made their plans to buy all that property, the hills on both sides, and the low land down by the creek. It was just the place for 'em, you see. And they were quietly makin' arrangements to pick up the different parcels of land from the owners here and there, when Raish Pulcifer got wind of it. There's precious little goin' on down this part of the Cape that Raish doesn't get wind of, particularly if it's somebody else's secret. He's got a reg'lar pig's nose for rootin' up other people's private concerns. Well, Raish found out what the Eagle Company was up to and he started bein' up to somethin' himself."
Mr. Pulcifer, so Miss Phipps went on to say, conceived the idea of buying the Skoonic Creek property before the Eagle Company could do so. The principal difficulty was that just then his own limited capital was tied up in various ways and he lacked ready money. So, being obliged to borrow, he sought out Captain Hallett, got the shrewd old light keeper's cupidity aroused—not a very difficult task at any time—and Captain Jethro agreed to help finance the deal.
"It didn't need a whole lot of real money," explained Martha. "Most folks that owned that land had owned it for mercy knows how long and had done nothin' but pay taxes on it, so they were glad enough to sell for somethin' down to bind what Raish and Jethro called 'options.' Anyhow, when the Eagle people finally started in to put their grand plan into workin', they bumped bows on into a shoal, at least that's the way father used to tell about it. They found that all that Skoonic Creek land was in the hands of Raish Pulcifer and Cap'n Jeth Hallett; those two either owned it outright or had options where they didn't own."
At first the Eagle Company declined to have anything to do with the new owners. They declared the whole affair off, so far as the Skoonic Creek location was concerned, and announced their intention of going elsewhere. But there was no sufficiently attractive "elsewhere" to go. There followed much proposing and counter-proposing and, at last, an entirely new deal. A new corporation was formed, its name The Wellmouth Development Company.
"I don't know a great deal about it," confessed Martha, "that is, not about the reasons for it and all, but, as near as I can make out, Raish and Jethro wouldn't sell outright to the Eagle Company, but wanted to come in on the profits from the cold storage business, which were pretty big sometimes. And they couldn't get into the reg'lar Eagle Fish Freezing Company, the old one. So they and the Eagle folks together undertook to form this new thing, the Development Company, the name meanin' nothin' or a whole lot, 'cordin' to how the development developed, I presume likely. The capital stock—I know all this because Cap'n Jethro and father used to talk it over so much between 'em and Cap'n Jeth and I have talked so much since—was fifty thousand. An awful lot of money, isn't it, Mr. Bangs?"
Her tone was awe-stricken as she mentioned the amount. Galusha gravely admitted that it was an "awful lot of money." All sums were awful to him; he would have agreed if the Wellmouth Development Company had been capitalized from one thousand to a million. Miss Phipps went on.
"They put out the stock somethin' like this: The Eagle folks took pretty near half, somewhere around twelve hundred shares, I think they had. And Raish he took five hundred shares, and Cap'n Jeth four hundred, and father—after listenin' to Jethro and Raish talk about dividends and profit sharin' and such till, as he said, the tar on his top riggin' began to melt, he drew out money from the savin's bank and sold some other bonds and stocks he had and went in for two hundred and fifty shares. Twenty dollars a share it was; did I tell you that? Yes, five thousand dollars father put into that Development Company. It seemed like a lot even then; but, my soul and body, WHAT a lot it seems to me now!"
She paused for an instant, then sighed, and continued.
"If you've figured this all out in your head, Mr. Bangs," she said, "which I suppose you haven't—?"
Galusha, surprised by the direct question, started, colored, and guiltily admitted the correctness of her supposition.
"I—I haven't," he faltered. "Dear me, no. In fact I—ah—doubt if I am capable of doing such a thing."
"Well, never mind, you don't have to. What it amounted to was that the Eagle folks had twelve hundred shares and Raish and Jeth and father had eleven hundred and fifty together. You see, neither side would let the other have more'n half, or even quite half, because then whichever had it could control things. So the remainin' one hundred and fifty shares was sold around Wellmouth and Trumet. Doctor Powers has a few shares and Eben Taylor's got some, and so have lots of folks, scattered around here. You see, all hands were anxious to get in, it looked like a real good investment.
"'But,' says father—right here in this very room I heard him say it one night—'it's that one hundred and fifty shares that worry me. If the Eagle crowd ever COULD buy up those shares they would control, after all, and freeze us out. Freezin' is their business, anyhow,' he said, and laughed that big laugh of his. Seems as if I could hear him laugh now. Ah, hum!... But there, let's get under way again or you'll go to sleep before the ship makes port. I declare, that was father's word, too, I'm always quotin' him.... Let me see.... Oh, yes.... When father said that about the one hundred and fifty shares controllin' Cap'n Jethro looked at Raish and Raish looked at him. Then Raish laughed, too, only his laugh isn't much like father's.
"'I got those extra shares taken up,' he said, 'and I was particular who took 'em. There's mighty few of those shares will be sold unless I say the word. Most of the folks that bought those shares are under consider'ble obligation to me.' Just what he meant by that I don't know, of course, but I can guess. Raish makes it a point to have people under what he calls 'obligations' to him. It comes in handy for him, in politics and other ways, to have 'em that way. He lends money and holds mortgages and all that, and that's where the obligations come in.... Well, anyhow, that's what he said and, although father didn't look any too happy at the time and wouldn't talk about it afterward, it seemed to settle the objection about the hundred and fifty shares. So the new company got under way, the stockholders paid their money in, old Cap'n Ebenezer Thomas of Denboro was made president and Raish Pulcifer was vice president and Judge Daniel Seaver of Wellmouth Centre was secretary and treasurer. The Judge was Wellmouth Centre's biggest gun, rich—at least, that's what everybody thought then—and pompous and dignified and straight-backed as an old-fashioned church pew.
"Well, I'm pretty near to the end, although it may not seem that way. For the first few months all hands were talkin' about what great things the Wellmouth Development Company was goin' to do. Then Judge Seaver gave 'em somethin' else to talk about. He shot himself one night, and they found him dead and all alone in the sittin' room of his big house. And when they came to look over his papers and affairs they found that, instead of bein' rich, he hadn't a cent in the world. He had lost all his own money gamblin' in stocks, and, not only that, but he'd lost all that other folks had given him to take care of. He was treasurer of the Eagle Fish Freezin' Company and he'd stolen there until that company had to fail. And, bein' secretary and treasurer of the Wellmouth Development Company, he had sent the fifty thousand its stockholders paid in after the rest of his stealin's. All there was left of that new Development Company was the land over here by Skoonic Creek. He couldn't steal that very well, although, when you think of the stealin' he did do, it's a wonder he hadn't tried to carry it off by the wheelbarrow load.
"It isn't worth while my tellin' you all the hullabaloo that came after the smash. It would take too long and I don't know the ins and outs of it, anyway. But the way it stands now is this: The Eagle Fish Freezin' Company is out of business. Their factory is run now by another concern altogether. The Wellmouth Development Company is still alive—at least it's supposed to be, but nobody but a doctor could tell it wasn't dead. The Denboro Trust Company has the Eagle Company's twelve hundred shares—I don't know how it got 'em; a long snarled-up tangle of loans, and security for loans, and I don't know what—and the rest of us have got ours. All that's back of those shares—all that the Development Company owns—is that Skoonic Creek property and that is goin' to be worth a lot some day—maybe. But I guess likely the some day will be a long, long time after MY day. There, Mr. Bangs, that's the story of the Wellmouth Development Company. And I presume likely you're wonderin' why I tell it to you."
Galusha, who had been faithfully endeavoring to grasp the details of his hostess' narrative, passed a hand in bewildered fashion across his forehead. He murmured that the story was—ah—very interesting, very interesting indeed—yes. Martha smiled faintly.
"I'm glad you think so," she said. "It is interestin' enough to some of us here in Wellmouth, those of us who have our money tied up in it, but I shouldn't think a stranger would find much in it to amuse him. But, you see, Mr. Bangs, I didn't tell it to amuse you. I told it because—because—well, because, I—I wondered if in any way you knew, or could find out, how I could sell my two hundred and fifty shares. You see, I—I've GOT to sell 'em. At least, I've got to get more money somehow or—or give up this house. And I can't tell you what it would mean to me to do that."
Galusha murmured something, something meant to be sympathetic. Miss Phipps' evident distress and mental agitation moved him extraordinarily. He wanted to say many things, reassuring things, but he could not at the moment think of any. The best he could do was to stammer a hope that she would not be obliged to sell the house.
She shook her head. "I'm afraid I shall," she said. "I don't see how I can possibly keep it much longer. When father died he left me, so he thought, with enough income to get along on. It wasn't much—fact is, it was mighty little—but we could and did get along on it, Primmie and I, without touchin' my principal. But then came the war and ever since livin' costs have been goin' up and up and up. Now my income is the same as it was, but what it will buy is less than half. It doesn't cost much to live down here, but I'm afraid it costs more than I can afford. If I begin to take away from my principal I'll have to keep on doin' it and pretty soon that will be all gone. After that—well, I don't want to look any further than that. I shouldn't starve, I presume likely; while I've got hands I can work and I'd manage to keep alive, if that was all. But it isn't all. I'd like to keep on livin' in my own home. And I can't do that, Mr. Bangs. I can't do that, as things are now. I must either get some more money somehow, or sell this house, one or the other."
Galusha leaned eagerly forward. He had been waiting for an excuse and now he believed he saw one.
"Oh, Miss Phipps," he cried, "I—I think I can arrange that. I do indeed. You see, I have—ah—more money than I need. I seldom spend my money, you know, and—"
She interrupted him and her tone was rather sharp.
"Don't, Mr. Bangs," she said. "Don't say any more. If you've got the idea that I'm hintin' for you to LEND me money—you or anybody else—you never was more mistaken in your life. Or ever will be."
Galusha turned red. "I beg your pardon," he faltered. "Of course I know you were not hinting, Miss Martha. I—I didn't dream of such a thing. It was merely a thought of my own. You see, it would be such a favor to me if you would permit me to—to—"
"But, Miss Phipps, it would be doing me such a GREAT favor. Really, it would."
He was so very much in earnest that, in spite of her own stress of mind, she could not help smiling.
"A great favor to help you get rid of your money?" she asked. "You havin' such a tremendous lot of it, I presume likely."
"Yes—ah—yes, that's it, that's it."
Her smile broadened. "And 'twas because you were so dreadfully rich that you came here to East Wellmouth to live, I suppose. Mr. Bangs, you're the kindest, best-hearted man that ever stepped, I do believe, but truly I doubt if you know whether you're worth ten dollars or ten hundred. And it doesn't make the least difference, so far as I am concerned. I'll never borrow money while I'm alive and I'll try to keep enough one side to bury me after I'm dead. So don't say any more about lendin'. That's settled."
Galusha reluctantly realized that it was. He tried a new idea.
"I fear," he stammered, "that my being here may have been a contributory cause to your—ah—difficulties. Dear me, yes! I have realized since the beginning that the amount I pay you is ridiculously small."
"WHAT? The board you pay SMALL? Rubbish! You pay me altogether too much and what I give you to eat isn't worth half of it. But there, I didn't mean to go into all this at all. What I told you all this long rigmarole for was to see if you could think of any way for me to turn those Development Company shares of mine into money. Not what father paid for them, of course, or even half of it. But SOME money at least. If I thought they weren't worth anything I shouldn't think of tryin' to sell 'em. I don't want to cheat—or steal. But they tell me they are worth somethin', maybe will be worth quite a good deal some day and I must wait, that's all. But, you see, that's what I can't do—wait."
She had been, she said, to every one she could think of, to Pulcifer, who would not give her any encouragement, declaring that he was "stuck" worse than she was and was only hoping some one might make a bid for his holdings; to Captain Jethro, who, relying as usual upon his revelations from the beyond, blandly told her to wait as he was waiting. It had been communicated to him that he was to sell his own shares at a profit; if she waited she might do likewise. The president of the Denboro Trust Company had been very kind, but his counsel was not too encouraging. The Development shares were nonsalable at the present time, he said, but that did not mean that they were valueless. The Skoonic Creek property was good. Shore land on the Cape was becoming more valuable every year. Some time—perhaps ten years from now—she might—
"And where will I be in ten years?" asked Martha, sadly. "Goodness knows, Mr. Bangs, I don't. I tried to get the Trust Company man to take my shares at almost any price and do the waitin' for me, but he didn't see it that way. Said the bank was goin' to hold on to what it had, but it certainly didn't want any more. So there I am.... And yet, and yet if I COULD sell—if I COULD get two thousand dollars, yes, or even fifteen hundred just now, it might tide me over until the cost of livin' comes down. And everybody says they ARE comin' down. Mr. Bangs, can you see any way out for me? Can you think of any one who would know about—Oh, my soul and body! Look OUT!"
She sprang to her feet with a little scream. Her lodger's rocking-chair, with its occupant, had suddenly tilted over backward. Fortunately his proximity to the wall had prevented a complete overturn, but there sat Galusha, the back of the chair against the wall and his knees elevated at a very acute angle. The alarming part of it was that he made no effort to regain his equilibrium, but remained in the unusual, not to say undignified, posture.
"What IS the matter?" demanded Miss Phipps, seizing him by the arm and pulling him forward. "What was it? What happened?"
Galusha's face was beaming. His eyes shone with excitement.
"It—it struck me at that moment," he cried. "At that very moment."
"Struck you?" Miss Phipps looked about the room. "What struck you? Where? Are you hurt?"
Mr. Bangs' beaming smile broadened.
"I mean the idea struck me," he declared. "Dear me, how odd that it didn't do so before. Yes, he is exactly the right person. Exactly. Oh, dear me, this is VERY good!"
Martha said afterward that she never in her life felt more like shaking a person.
"What do you mean?" she demanded. "What was it that struck you?"
"Why, Cousin Gussie," announced Galusha, happily. "Don't you see? He will be EXACTLY the one."
When, at last—and it took some time—Martha Phipps was actually convinced that her lodger's "Cousin Gussie" was no less a person than the senior partner of the famous banking firm of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot, she was almost as excited as he.
"Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot," she repeated. "Why, everybody knows about them! They are the biggest bankers in New England. I have heard father say so ever so many times. And this Mr. Cabot, is he really your cousin?"
Galusha nodded. "Oh, yes," he said. "He is my cousin—really he is. I have always called him Cousin Gussie; that is," he added, "except when I worked for him, of course. Then he didn't like to have me."
"Worked for him?"
"Yes, in his office, in the—ah—banking house, you know."
"Do you mean to say you used to work for Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot? Were you a banker?"
Galusha shook his head. "No," he said. "Dear me, no! But once I tried to be."
"Oh! And you gave it up?"
"I was given up—as a bad job. If you don't mind," he added, apologetically, "I'd rather not talk about that. I've gotten over it a long while ago, or I thought I had, but for a time I—I felt very badly—ah—ungrateful, you know."
Martha didn't know, nor did she in the least understand, but she did not, of course, press the subject.
"Why, I can hardly believe it," she said. "That about your bein' that Mr. Cabot's cousin, I mean. But of course I do believe it, if you say so, Mr. Bangs. And you think he would tell me what to do with this Development stock of mine, whether it is worth anything or not? He would know, if anybody did, that's a fact."
Galusha nodded assent.
"He knows all about everything," he declared; "everything of that kind, I mean. He is used to making all sorts of—ah—investments for people, and taking care of their money, and all that sort of thing. Why," he added, as a final clincher, "he takes care of all my money, really, he does."
Miss Phipps laughed.
"And that I suppose is enough to keep one man busy," she observed.
Galusha was too much in earnest to notice the sarcasm.
"I'm sure it must be," he said. "I never could do it myself."
"I can believe that without any trouble. Now what is your idea, Mr. Bangs; to write to your cousin, tell him everything I've told you, and then ask his advice? Is that it?"
That was not exactly it, apparently. Galusha thought that perhaps he might go to Boston forthwith, on the very next train, and consult Cousin Gussie in person. But Martha did not think this advisable.
"I certainly shouldn't put you to all that trouble," she said. "No, I shouldn't, so please don't let's waste time arguin' about it. And, besides, I think a letter would be a great deal better."
Galusha said that a letter was so slow.
"Maybe so, but it is sure. Truly now, Mr. Bangs, do you believe if you went to your cousin that you could tell him this Development Company yarn without gettin' it all tangled up? I doubt if you could."
He reflected for a moment, and then ruefully shook his head.
"I'm afraid you are right," he admitted. "I presume I could learn it—ah—by rote, perhaps, but I doubt if ever I could understand it thoroughly."
"Well, never mind. My plan would be to have you write your cousin a letter givin' him all the particulars. I'll help you write the letter, if you'll let me. And we'll ask him to write right back and tell us two things: Number One—Is the Development stock worth anything, and what? Number Two—If it is worth anything, can he sell it for that? What do you think of that idea?"
Naturally, Galusha thought it a wonderful idea. He was very enthusiastic about it.
"Why, Miss Phipps—Miss Martha, I mean," he declared, "I really think we—ah—may consider your troubles almost at an end. I shouldn't be in the least surprised if Cousin Gussie bought that stock of yours himself."
Martha smiled, faintly. "I should," she said, "be very much surprised. But perhaps he may know some one who will buy it at some price or other. And, no matter whether they do or not, I am ever and ever so much obliged to you, Mr. Bangs, for all your patience and sympathy."
And, in spite of her professed pessimism she could not help feeling a bit more hopeful, even sharing a bit of her lodger's confidence. And so when Primmie, in tears, came again that afternoon to beg to be retained in service, Martha consented to try to maintain the present arrangement for a few weeks more, at least.
"Although the dear land knows I shouldn't, Primmie," she said. "It's just postponin' what is almost sure to come, and that isn't right for either of us."
Primmie's grin extended from ear to ear.
"You bet you it's right for one of us, Miss Martha," she declared. "And you ain't the one, neither. My Lord of Isrul, if I don't feel some better'n I did when I come into this room! Whew! My savin' soul! Zach Bloomer he says to me this mornin'. 'What's the matter, Posy?' he says. 'Seems to me you look sort of wilted lately. You better brace up,' he says, 'or folks'll be callin' you a faded flower.' 'Well,' says I, 'I may be faded, but there's one old p'ison ivy around here that's fresh enough to make up.' Oh, I squashed HIM all righty, but I never took no comfort out of doin' it. I ain't took no comfort for the last two, three days. But now—Whew!"
The letter to Cousin Gussie was written that very afternoon. Mr. Bangs wrote it, with helpful suggestions, many of them, from Miss Phipps. At Martha's suggestion the envelope was marked "Personal."
"I suppose it is foolish of me," she said, "but somehow I hate to have my affairs talked all over that office. Even when I was a little girl, and things went wrong in school, I used to save up my cryin' until I got home. I'm the same now. This Development Company milk is spilled, and, whether any of it can be saved or not, there is no use callin' a crowd to look at the puddle. If your cousin thinks it's necessary to tell other Boston folks, I presume he will, but WE won't tell anybody but him."
Galusha hoped to receive an answer the following day, but none came. Nor did it come the next day, nor the next. That week passed and no reply came from Cousin Gussie. Galusha began to worry a little, but Miss Phipps did not.
"Perhaps he's away for a day or two, sick or somethin'," she suggested. "Perhaps he's lookin' up some facts about the Development Company. Perhaps he hasn't had time to read the letter at all yet. Mercy me, you mustn't expect as busy a man as the head of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot to drop everything else and run around in circles attendin' to my little two-for-a-cent business!"
The relative of the great man admitted that there was reason in this line of argument, but he was impatient, nevertheless. His daily walks now included trips to the post office. On one of those trips he caught a glimpse of Mr. Pulcifer's hemispherical countenance through its wearer's office window, and, on the spur of the moment's impulse, went in.
Horatio, who was smoking his customary cigar, reading a political circular and humming "Beautiful Lady" all at the same time, looked up from the reading and greeted him boisterously.
"Well, well, well!" exclaimed Raish. "If it ain't the Perfessor again! Welcome to amongst our midst, as the feller said. Have a chair, Perfessor. How's things in the graveyard these days? Kind of dead around there, eh? Haw, haw, haw!"
He enjoyed his joke and laugh and Galusha smiled because he felt that politeness required it. When the laugh and smile had run their course, he endeavored to come to the point.
"Mr. Pulcifer," he said, "I—if you are not too greatly occupied I should like to ask—ah—a business question. Ah—may I?"
He most assuredly could. In fact, he was urged to ask it then and there.
"Never too busy to talk business, a feller usually ain't; eh, Perfessor? Haw, haw! I'd say he wan't, eh? Set down, set down and ease your mind. What's the business question? Let 'er go."
Mr. Bangs let her go to the extent of stammering a request to be given his companion's candid opinion concerning the shares of the Wellmouth Development Company. He was—ah—somewhat interested in them, so he said.
Raish leaned back in his chair and scrutinized the questioner. He shot at least five deep-drawn puffs of smoke into the already murky air of the little office before replying.
"Humph!" he grunted, after the fifth puff. "Wellmouth Development Company, eh? You're interested in that, are you?"
"Why—ah—yes, yes. To a certain extent, yes, Mr. Pulcifer."
"Humph! What d'you mean, interested? How interested?"
"Why, as—ah—as an investment, you know. As something to put one's money into."
"Humph! Was you thinkin' of puttin' some of yours into it?"
"Why, not exactly. But, you see, a friend of mine—But, really, I think I shouldn't give any further particulars at the present time. You'll excuse me under the circumstances, Mr. Pulcifer, I'm sure. Dear me, I hope you will."
He was forgiven. Mr. Pulcifer assured him to that effect. But Raish was still uncertain just how to proceed. He continued to puff and scrutinize.
"What I wish to know," continued his caller, after another moment's interval, "is—well, in short, I should like to know your opinion of Wellmouth Development shares as an investment security."
"Um—ye-es. Well, you said that before."
"Did I? Dear me, I believe I did. Well, then, suppose, just suppose that I actually did wish to buy some of those shares. Would you consider it a good thing for me to do?"
Here at last was something tangible—and promising. Mr. Pulcifer's puffy lids drew nearer together to hide the gleam behind them. He took the cigar from his mouth and held it between the fingers of his right hand. During his next speech he gesticulated with it.
"Would I consid—" he began, and then paused, apparently overcome by his feelings. The pause was not long, however. "Would I consider Wellmouth Development a good thing for you to put your money in? WOULD I?"
"Ah—yes. Would you?"
"Say, Perfessor, you listen to me. I know all about Wellmouth Development. You've come to the right place. You listen."
Galusha listened, listened for a long time. The red of the Pulcifer cigar tip died out and that of the Pulcifer face brightened.
"And so I say," vowed Raish, in conclusion, "with all that property behind it and all that future ahead of it, if Development ain't a good investment, what is?"
"I don't know, I'm sure," confessed Galusha. "But—"
"Don't know? You bet you don't know! Nor nobody else. Not for quick returns, maybe—though you can't never tell. But for a feller that's willin' to buy and put away and hang on—say, how can you beat it?"
"I don't know, but—"
"You bet you don't know! The main thing is to buy right. And I'm goin' to put you wise—yes, sir, wise to somethin' I wouldn't let every Tom, Dick, and Harry in on, by a consider'ble sight. I think I can locate a fair-sized block of that stock at—well, at a little bit underneath the market price. I believe—yes, sir, I believe I can get it for you at—at as low as eighteen dollars a share. I won't swear I can, of course, but I MAY be able to. Only you'll have to promise not to tell anybody how you got it."
"Eighteen dollars a share? Is that a fair price, do you think, Mr. Pulcifer?"
"FAIR price?" Mr. Pulcifer was overcome by the absurdity of the question. "A fair price!" he repeated. "Man alive, it's a darned LOW price! You buy Wellmouth Development at that price and then set back and hang on. Yes, sir, that's all you'll have to do, just hang on and wait."
To his surprise, Mr. Bangs seemed to find something humorous in this suggestion. Instead of appearing thrilled, as he certainly should, he smiled.
"Ah—yes," he observed, quietly. "That is what my friend has been doing, I believe. Yes, indeed, just that."
Raish did not smile. He looked puzzled and a bit perturbed.
"What friend?" he demanded. "Been doin' what?"
"Hanging on and waiting, as you advise, Mr. Pulcifer. She has had—ah—several shares of the Development stock and she—"
"Hold on! Did you come here to SELL somebody's stock for 'em?"
"Why, no, not exactly. But, as I say, a friend of mine has some and she was anxious to know what it was worth at the present time. When I tell her that you will give eighteen dollars a share for it—"
"Here!" Raish's smile and his urbanity had vanished. "Here," he demanded, "what are you talkin' about? Who the devil said anything about my givin' eighteen dollars a share?"
"Why, I understood you to say that the—ah—shares were cheap at that figure, that it was a very low price for them. You did say that, didn't you?"
Mr. Pulcifer seemed to find articulation difficult. He blew and sputtered like a stranded porpoise and his face became redder than ever, but he did not answer the question.
"I understood—" began Galusha, again, but a roar interrupted him.
"Aw, you understand too darn much," shouted Raish. "You go back and tell Martha Phipps I say I don't know what them shares of hers are worth and I don't care. You tell her I don't want to buy 'em and I don't know anybody that does. Yes, and you tell her that if I did know anybody that was fool enough to bid one dollar of real money for 'em I'd sell him mine and be darn glad of the chance. And say, you tell her not to bother me no more. She took her chance same as the rest of us, and if she don't like it she can go—Eh? What is it?"
His caller had risen, rather suddenly for him, and was standing beside the desk. There was a peculiar expression on his thin face.
"What's the matter?" demanded Mr. Pulcifer. Galusha's gaze was very direct.
"I wouldn't say that," he said, quietly.
"Eh? Say what? I was just goin' to say that if Martha Phipps didn't like waitin' same as the rest of us she—"
"Yes, yes," hastily, "I know. But I shouldn't say it, if I were you."
"You wouldn't. Why not, for thunder sakes?"
"Because—well, I am sure you were speaking hastily—without thinking."
"Is that so? How do YOU know I wasn't thinkin'?"
"Because I am sure no one who had stopped to think would send that sort of message to a lady."
"Humph!... Well, I swear!... Wouldn't send—I want to know!"
"Yes—ah—and now you do know. Good-day, Mr. Pulcifer."
He was at the door when the surprised and, to tell the truth, somewhat disconcerted Horatio called after him.
"Here! Hold on, Perfessor," he hailed; "don't go off mad. I didn't mean nothin'. Er—er—say, Perfessor, I don't know's there's any use in your tellin' Martha what I said about them Development shares bein' cheap at eighteen. Of course, that was all—er—more or less of a joke, you understand, and—Eh? What say?"
"I said I understood, Mr. Pulcifer."
"Yes—er—yes, yes. Glad you do; I thought you would. Now I tell you what to do: You tell Martha... you tell her... say, what ARE you goin' to tell her?"
"Nothing. Good-day, Mr. Pulcifer."
Galusha did not tell Martha of the interview in the real estate dealer's office, but the recollection of it did not tend to make him more easy in his mind concerning her investment in Wellmouth Development Company. And, as another week went by and still Cousin Gussie did not reply to the letter of inquiry, his uneasiness grew with his impatience. Another and more practical person would have called the Boston bankers by telephone, but Galusha did not think of that. Martha offered no suggestions; her advice was to wait.
"I don't think we ought to hurry your cousin, Mr. Bangs," she said. "He's probably lookin' into things, and he'll write when the time comes."
Galusha devoutly wished the time would come soon. He somewhat felt a great responsibility in the matter. This sense of responsibility caused him to assume more and more optimism as his nervousness increased. Each day of waiting found him covering his disappointment and anxiety with a more cheerful prophecy.
"I've been thinking, Miss Martha," he said, "that Cousin Gussie must be MOST interested in the—ah—Development Company. I really believe that he may be considering going into it himself—ah—extensively, so to speak. The more he delays replying to our letter, the more certain I am that this is the case. You see, it is quite logical. Dear me, yes. If he were not interested at all he would have replied at once, any one would. And if only a little interested, he would have replied—say, at the end of a week. But now he has taken almost three weeks, so—so—well, I think we may infer GREAT interest, personal interest on his part. Now, don't you think so, Miss Martha?"
Martha shrugged. "Accordin' to that reasonin," she said, "if he never answers at all it'll be because he's interested to death. Well, it begins to look as if that might be it. There, there, Mr. Bangs, I mustn't talk that way, must I? We won't give up the ship as long's the pumps work, as father used to say."
It was the first symptom of discouragement she had shown. The next morning Galusha crept downstairs before daylight, left a note on the dining table saying he would be back next day, and started on his long tramp to the railway station. At noon of that day he entered the Boston office of Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot.
Disappointment met him at the threshold, so to speak. The young, extremely young, gentleman at the desk by the door, informed him that Mr. Augustus Cabot was not in. Pressed still further, he admitted that he would not be in that day. No, he would not be in that week. No, he was not in Boston. Where was he? Well, he had gone away and the date of his return was extremely uncertain.
Galusha, his spirits at a low ebb, stroked his chin in sad perplexity.
"Dear me! Dear me!" he observed. And then added:
"Is—is anybody in?"
Considering that the space behind the mahogany and brass railings was crowded with clerks and that from the various inner offices people were constantly coming and going, the question was peculiar. The young guardian of the portal seemed to find it so. He regarded Mr. Bangs with the puzzled stare of one not certain whether he has to do with a would-be joker or an imbecile.
"Say, who do you want to see?" he demanded.
"Why, Mr. Cabot—Mr. Augustus Cabot."
"Mr. Cabot's away, I tell you. He's out of town."
A tall, thin man of middle age, who had just emerged from one of the private offices, paused beside them. He looked at Galusha through his eyeglasses, and then held out his hand.
"Why, Bangs!" he exclaimed. "It IS Bangs, isn't it? Glad to see you. Don't you know me? I'm Minor. How are you?"
Galusha remembered him, of course. Minor had been a young assistant bookkeeper in those far-off and dismal days when he, Galusha, had worked—or attempted to work—in that very office. That was—mercy, that was a great many years ago! Minor had changed very much.
They shook hands and Galusha was invited to come into Mr. Minor's private office.
"Let me see," said the latter, "you are—you are—What is your business now? I did hear, but I've forgotten."
Galusha told of his connection with the National Institute.
"I do—ah—archaeological work," he added. "Egyptology is my specialty."
Minor nodded. "Yes, yes," he said, doubtfully. "Just so."
Plainly he regarded it as a weird sort of business.
"And you are still a—ah—banker?" queried Galusha.
"Yes. Very much so. I'm second vice president here now."
"Dear me! dear me! You have been in this place ever since? Well, well!"
A pause, during which each regarded the other, trying not to show the pity they felt. Then Minor asked if there was anything he could do for his former associate. Galusha explained that he had come to town to see his cousin, Mr. Augustus Cabot, on a business matter. Mr. Minor was surprised, momentarily.
"That's so," he said, "he is a relative of yours, isn't he? I had forgotten."
"Yes, yes, he is. He—ah—you see, he looks after things for me—investments and—all that."
"Humph! Well, if you wanted to see him personally, you're out of luck. He is away out in the Sierras, somewhere. Been there for a month and he won't come back till the doctors tell him he may. Goodness knows when that will be."
Cousin Gussie had, it appeared, suffered a severe nervous breakdown. The physicians had ordered immediate dropping of business and business cares.
"He must drop everything, they said, and cut, if he wanted to head off something a good deal more serious. He must get out of doors and stay there; go to bed early at night—instead of early in the morning, which had been more in his line—and rough it generally."
"Why—yes, yes, indeed. That was almost precisely what the doctors told me I must do. Rest and—ah—good air, you know, and pleasant people. I was very fortunate, really. I am at—ah—Gould's Bluffs, Cape Cod, you know."
"Yes? Well, he's away out in California or Nevada or thereabouts. His secretary is with him—Thomas, the fellow he's had so many years; you remember him. Thomas has gone along to see that the chief—Mr. Cabot, I mean—doesn't get any business letters or wires or anything of that sort. He looks out for those that do come, the personal matters."
"Oh! Then perhaps my letter has been forwarded out there. That would explain why I have received no answer. Yes, of course."
"Sure! Thomas will write you by and by, no doubt. But now that you are here, why don't you see Barbour? Barbour is in charge of the chief's outside affairs while Thomas is away. That is, he is in charge of everything that can be handled here. The most important stuff goes to Thomas, of course. But come in and see Barbour. Perhaps he can tell you what you want to know."
Mr. Barbour was a bald-headed, worried-looking little man, who, in the seclusion of a rear office, sat behind a big desk. Minor introduced Galusha and Mr. Barbour extended a moist and flabby hand. Minor excused himself and hastened out to the really important matters of life. Galusha told Barbour the story of his letter to Cousin Gussie. He did not tell what was in the letter, further than to say that it was an inquiry concerning a certain investment security.
Barbour shook his head.
"Everything marked 'Personal' I forward to Thomas," he said. "He'll write you pretty soon, although I'm pretty sure he won't trouble the chief with your question. Doctors are mighty strict about that. Nothing we here can do to help, is there? Perhaps Mr. Minor might answer your question."
Galusha was thinking of Minor that very moment, but he shook his head. Martha had asked that no one but Cousin Gussie be told of her trouble. No, he would wait, at least until he heard from the secretary in the West.
"Why, thank you, Mr. Barbour," he said, rising. "I—I will wait, I think."
"All right, sir. Sorry, but you see how it is. Drop in again, Mr.—er—Barnes. Barnes was the name, wasn't it?"
"Why, not exactly. My name is Bangs, but it really doesn't matter in the least. Dear me, no. I am a relative of Mr. Cabot's. But that doesn't matter either. Good-morning, Mr. Barbour."
But it did seem to matter, after all. At any rate, Mr. Barbour for the first time appeared actually interested.
"Eh?" he exclaimed. "Bangs? Oh, just a minute, Mr. Bangs. Just a minute, if you please. Bangs? Why, are you—You're not the—er—professor? Professor Ga—Ga—"
"Galusha. Yes, I am Galusha Bangs."
"You don't mean it! Well, well, that's odd! I was planning to write you to-day, Professor. Let me see, here's the memorandum now. We look after your business affairs, I believe, Professor?"
Galusha nodded. He was anxious to get away. The significance of Cousin Gussie's illness and absence and what those might mean to Martha Phipps were beginning to dawn upon him. He wanted to get away and think. The very last thing he wished to do was to discuss his own business affairs.
"Yes," he admitted; "yes, you—ah—do. That is, Cousin Gussie—ah—Mr. Cabot does. But, really, I—"
"I won't keep you but a moment, Professor. And what I'm going to tell you is good news, at that. I presume it IS news; or have you heard of the Tinplate melon?"
It was quite evident that Galusha had not heard. Nor, hearing now, did the news convey anything to his mind.
"Melon?" he repeated. "Ah—melon, did you say?"
"Why, yes. The Tinplate people are—"
It was a rather long story, and telling it took longer than the minute Mr. Barbour had requested. To Galusha it was all a tangled and most uninteresting snarl of figures and stock quotations and references to "preferred" and "common" and "new issues" and "rights." He gathered that, somehow or other, he was to have more money, money which was coming to him because the "Tinplate crowd," whoever they were, were to do something or other that people like Barbour called "cutting a melon."
"You understand, Professor?" asked Mr. Barbour, concluding his explanation.
Galusha was at that moment endeavoring to fabricate a story of his own, one which he might tell Miss Phipps. It must not be too discouraging, it must—
"Eh?" he ejaculated, coming out of his daydream. "Oh, yes—yes, of course."
"As near as I can figure, your share will be well over twelve thousand. A pretty nice little windfall, I should say. Now what shall I do with it?"
"Yes.... Oh, I beg your pardon. Dear me, I am afraid I was not attending as I should."
"I say what shall I do with the check when it comes. That was what I intended writing you to ask. Do you wish me to reinvest the money, or shall I send the check to you?"
"Yes—ah—yes. If you will be so kind. You will excuse me, won't you, but really I must hurry on. Thank you very much, Mr. Barbour."
"But I don't quite understand which you wish me to do, Professor. Of course, Thomas usually attends to all this—your affairs, I mean—but I am trying not to trouble him unless it is absolutely necessary. Shall I send the check direct to you, is that it?"
"Yes—yes, that will do very nicely. Thank you, Mr. Barbour. Good-morning."
He hurried out before Barbour could say any more. He cared nothing about Tinplate melons or checks; in fact, he forgot them both almost before he reached the street. But Martha Phipps—he had assured and reassured Martha Phipps that Cousin Gussie would help her out of her financial difficulties. And Cousin Gussie had not as yet learned of those difficulties, nor, in all probability, would he be permitted ever to learn of them.
Galusha Bangs' trip back to East Wellmouth was by no means a pleasure excursion. What should he say to Martha? How could he be truthful and yet continue to be encouraging? If he had not been so unreasonably optimistic it would be easier, but he had never once admitted the possibility of failure. And—no, he would not admit it now. Somehow and in some way Martha's cares must be smoothed away. That he determined. But what should he say to her now?
He was still asking himself that question when he turned in at the Phipps' gate. And Fate so arranged matters that it was Primmie who heard the gate latch click and Primmie who came flying down the path to meet him.
"Mr. Bangs! Oh, Mr. Bangs!" she cried, breathlessly. "It's all right, ain't it? It's all right?"
Galusha, startled, stared at her.
"Dear me, Primmie," he observed. "How you do—ah—bounce at one, so to speak. What is the matter?"
"Matter? I cal'late we both know what's the matter, but what I want to know is if it's goin' to keep ON bein' the matter. Is it all right? Have you fixed it up?"
"Fixed what up? And PLEASE speak lower. Yes, and don't—ah—bounce, if you don't mind."
"I won't, honest I won't. But have you fixed up Miss Martha's trouble; you and them Bancroft folks, I mean? Have you, Mr. Bangs?"
"Bancroft folks?... How did you know I—"
"I seen it, of course. 'Twas in that note you left on the table."
"Note? Why, Primmie, that note was for Miss Phipps. Why did you read it?"
"Why wouldn't I read it? There 'twas laid out on the table when I came down to poke up the fire and set the kettle on. There wasn't no name on it, so 'twan't till I'd read it clear through that I knew 'twas for Miss Martha. It said: 'Have gone to Boston to see—er—what's-his-name and Somebody-else and—' Never mind, Bancroft's all I remember, anyhow. But it said you'd gone to them folks to see about 'stock matter.' Well, then I knew 'twas for Miss Martha. I didn't have no stock matters for folks to see about. My savin' soul, no! And then you said, 'Hope to settle everything and have good news when I come back.' I remember THAT all right.... Oh, Mr. Bangs, have you settled it? HAVE you got good news for her?"
By this time she had forgotten all about the request to speak in a low tone. Galusha glanced fearfully at the open door behind her.
"Sshh! shh, Primmie," he begged.
"But have you? Have you, Mr. Bangs?"
"Why—why, perhaps, Primmie. I mean—that is to say—"
He stopped. Miss Phipps was standing in the doorway.
"Why, Mr. Bangs!" she exclaimed. "Are you here so soon? I didn't expect you till to-night. What are you standin' out there in the cold for? Come in, come in!"
And then Primmie, to make use of the expressive idiom of her friend, the driver of the grocery cart, Primmie "spilled the beans." She turned, saw her mistress, and ran toward her, waving both hands.
"Oh, Miss Martha!" she cried, "he—he's done it. He says it's all right. He does! he does!"
"He says he's been to them—them Bancroft what's-his-name folks and he's got the good news for you. Oh, ain't it elegant! Ain't it!"
This wild perversion of his guarded statement took Galusha completely by surprise. He started forward aghast. And then he saw Martha Phipps' face. Upon it were written such hope and relief and joy that the words of expostulation and protest remained unspoken. And it was Martha who spoke first.
"Oh, Mr. Bangs!" she gasped. "Oh, Mr. Bangs!"
Galusha's chin quivered. His face became very red.
"Why—why—why, Miss Martha, I—I—"
His agitation caused his teeth actually to chatter. Martha noticed the chatter and misinterpreted the cause.
"Mercy me!" she cried. "You're standin' out there and freezin' to death. Of course you are. Come right in! Primmie, open those stove dampers. Put the kettle on front where it will boil quick.... No, Mr. Bangs, you mustn't tell me a word until you're warm and rested. You would like to go to your room, wouldn't you? Certainly you would. Primmie will bring you hot water as soon as it's ready. No, don't try to tell me a word until after you are rested and washed up."
It was a welcome suggestion, not because Galusha was so eager to "wash up," but because he was eager, very eager, to be alone where no one could ask more embarrassing questions. Yet the last thing he saw as he closed his room door was the expression upon Miss Phipps' face. Hope, relief, happiness! And what he had to tell would change them all.
Oh, if he had not been so foolishly optimistic! What should he say? If he told the exact truth—the whole truth—
But there, what was the whole truth? After all, he did not KNOW that nothing would come of his letter to Cousin Gussie. Something might come of it. Yes, even something very good might come. If Cousin Gussie himself never saw the letter, Thomas, the secretary, would see it and very likely he would write encouragingly. He might—it was quite likely that he would—give the names of other Boston financiers to whom Wellmouth Development might be of interest. In this case, or even the probability of such a case, he, Galusha, would certainly not be justified in making his story too discouraging.
When, at last, he did descend to the sitting room, where Miss Phipps was awaiting him, the tale he told her bore very little resemblance to the hopeless, despairful narrative he had, while on the way down in the train, considered inevitable and the telling of which he had so dreaded. In fact, when it was finished Martha's expression had changed but little. She still looked happy.
She drew a long breath. "Well!" she exclaimed, "I can hardly believe it; it seems almost too good to believe. And so that secretary man told you that he felt sure that your cousin, or his other secretary—how many secretaries does one man have to have, for mercy sakes?—would attend to the Development thing and it would be all right if we would just wait a little longer? Was that it?"
Galusha, who, in his intense desire not to be discouraging, had not until now realized how far he had gone in the other direction, blinked and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.
"That was it, wasn't it?" repeated Martha.
"Why—why—ah—yes, about that, as—ah—one might say. Yes."
It was the first lie Galusha Bangs had told for many, many years, one of the very few he had ever told. It was a very white lie and not told with deliberation or malice aforethought. But, as so often happens, it was destined to be the father of a pestilential pack which were neither white nor unintentional.
About the Phipps' home hung now the atmosphere of expectancy. It had so hung for several weeks, ever since the first letter to Cousin Gussie had been posted, but now there was in it a different quality, a quality of brightness, of cheer. Martha seemed more like herself, the capable, adequate self which Galusha had met when he staggered into that house out of the rain and wind of his first October night on Cape Cod. She was more talkative, laughed more frequently, and bustled about her work with much, if not all, of her former energy. She, herself, was quite aware of the change and commented upon it rather apologetically in one of her talks with her lodger.
"It's ridiculous," she said, "and I know it, but I can't help it. I'm as excited as a child and almost as sure everything is goin' to come out right as—well, as Primmie is. I wasn't so at all in the beginnin'; when we first sent that letter to your cousin I didn't think there was much more than one chance in a thousand that he would take any interest in Wellmouth Development stock. But since you got back from your Boston cruise, Mr. Bangs, I've felt altogether different. What the Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot folks said wasn't any too definite; when I sit right down and think about it I realize it wasn't. But it was encouraging, real encouraging. And that bit of real encouragement has made me over, like an old dress. Which reminds me that I've got to be makin' over some of MY old dresses pretty soon, or summer'll be here and I won't have a thing fit to wear. I declare," she added, with a laugh, "this is the first time I've even thought about clothes since last fall. And when a woman forgets to be interested in dressmakin' she's pretty far gone.... Why, what makes you look so sorrowful? Is anything wrong?"
Galusha replied that nothing whatever was wrong; there was, he said, no reason in the world why he should appear sorrowful. Yet, this answer was not the exact truth; there were reasons, and speeches such as Miss Martha's reminded him of them. They awoke his uneasy conscience to the fear that the encouragement she found in his report from Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot was almost entirely due to his interpretation of that report and not to the facts behind it. However, as she must on no account guess this to be the case, he smiled and assumed an air more than ever carefree.
One afternoon, when, on his way home after an unusually lengthy walk, he stopped at the post office, he found that the Phipps' mail had already been delivered.
"Zach Bloomer stopped along in and took it," explained Miss Tamson Black, the postmaster's sister-in-law. "I told him I presumed likely you'd be here after it yourself pretty soon, but it didn't make no difference. He said—but maybe I better not tell you."
"Oh, yes—no doubt," observed Galusha, who was, as usual, paying little attention.
Tamson, plainly disappointed at his lack of curiosity, elevated her thin nose.
"Well," she observed, "what he SAID was that, fur's things bein' here was concerned, Christmas would be here, give it time enough. Pretty sassy kind of talk, I call it, but maybe you ain't so partic'lar, Mr. Bangs."
"Dear me! Of course. Well, well!... Oh, were there any letters for—ah—for me, may I ask?"
"Why, yes, there was, two of 'em. That's what made me cal'late you might like to get 'em first yourself. I knew you didn't get letters very often, Mr. Bangs; that is, I've noticed you ain't since I've been helpin' in this office. Anyhow, 'most anybody would rather get their own mail private than have Zach Bloomer cartin' it from land-knows-where to never-and-gone, smellin' it all up with old tobacco pipes and fish or whatever else he carries 'round in his pockets. Course I don't mean he lugs fish around in his pocket, 'tain't likely—He, he, he—but that old coat of his always smells like a—like a porgie boat. And I don't know's I mean that those letters of yours were any more 'special private than common; anyhow, both envelopes was in MALE handwritin'—He, he, he! But I noticed one was stamped from way out in—in Nevada, seems if 'twas, so—"
"Eh?" Galusha came to life with astonishing quickness. "From—from Nevada, did you say?"
"Um-hm. I remember it real plain now. You see, it kind of caught my eye as I was sortin.' We don't never get much mail from Nevada—not in this office we don't never hardly. So when I see... Well, my good land!"
The exclamation was caused by the unceremonious suddenness of Mr. Bangs' exit. He was well across the road by the time Miss Black reached the window.
"My good land!" exclaimed Tamson again. Later she told her brother-in-law that she cal'lated that Nevada letter was maybe more private than she cal'lated first, and that she bet you she was goin' to look pretty hard at the handwritin' on the NEXT one that come.
Primmie, apparently, had been watching through the kitchen window for Galusha to appear. At any rate, she opened the door for him. Her mouth opened also, but he, for perhaps the first time in their acquaintanceship, spoke first.
"I know—I know, Primmie," he said, hastily; "or if I don't know you can tell me later on. Ah—please don't delay me now."
Primmie was struggling between surprise and disappointment.
"Well," she observed, as the little man hurriedly shed his hat and coat; "well, all right, Mr. Bangs. Only Zach, he told me to be sure and tell you, and tell you how sorry he was that it happened, and that he can't exactly figger out just how it did come to happen, neither."
"Eh?" Galusha paused, with one arm still in the sleeve of his overcoat. "Happen? What has happened to—ah—Mr. Bloomer?"
"Ain't nothin' happened to him. 'Twas him that made it happen to your letter. And THAT letter of all letters! You see, Zach he don't exactly remember when 'twas he got it from the post office, but it must have been much as a week ago, sartin sure. Anyhow, when he took out the lighthouse mail he left this letter in the pocket, and to-day, just now, when he got them other letters of yours and put 'em in the same pocket, he found the first one. And when I see that 'Cabot, What-d'ye-call-it and Cabot' name printed out right on the envelope and it come over me that 'twas THAT letter he'd forgot and had been totin' 'round with him, 'WELL,' says I. 'My Lord of Isrul!' I says—"
"Primmie! Primmie, stop! Stop—please! And tell me: Where are those letters?"
"Hey? I was goin' to tell you. I put 'em right here on the dinin' room table, but Miss Martha she carted 'em off upstairs to your bedroom. Said she presumed likely you'd want to open 'em by yourself. I don't see why—"
"Hush! Hush! Where is—ah—Miss Phipps?"
"She's in the settin' room. Told me not to disturb her, she wanted to be alone. I—"
Galusha hastened away, leaving the excited Miss Cash still talking. From the foot of the stairs he caught a glimpse of Martha in the chair by the front window of the sitting room, looking out. She must have heard him, but she did not turn her head. Nor did he speak to her. Time enough for that when he had read what was in those letters.
There they were, three of them, upon his bureau. He picked up the one on top. It bore upon the envelope the words "National Institute, Washington, D. C.," and was, he knew, merely a monthly report. Usually such reports were of great interest to him; this one was not. He had really important matters to claim his attention.
The second letter was, obviously, that which the forgetful Zacheus had carried about with him for a week. In the corner was the Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot name. He tore it open. An oblong slip of paper fell to the floor. He did not even stoop to pick this up, for there was a letter, too. It began:
"Prof. Galusha Bangs, East Wellmouth, Mass.
"Pursuant to your instructions in our conversation of recent date I am enclosing check representing your share of the new Tinplate re-issue, sale of rights, transfer of old stock, bonus, etc. The transfer has been, as I told you I felt sure it would be, very advantageous and profitable to stockholders like yourself. The amount due you, as shown in statement attached, is—"
Galusha read no further. What did he care for Tinplate, profits, business, or anything like that! There was not a word in the letter concerning Wellmouth Development. It was a bitter disappointment.
But there was the third letter, the letter from Nevada. He opened that. The first page which he looked at was that bearing the signature. Yes, the letter was from George L. Thomas, and George L. Thomas was Cousin Gussie's private secretary. At last!
The letter shook in Galusha's fingers as he began to read. Mr. Thomas was glad to hear from him, glad to learn that he was in better health, etc.... All right enough, this beginning, but not at all important. Thomas also felt sure that he, Professor Bangs, would be grateful to know that Mr. Cabot's condition was, so his physician seemed to think, steadily improving. The improvement was slow, of course, which was to be expected, but... a long paragraph here which Galusha skipped. He was highly pleased to know that Cousin Gussie was better, but at present that was sufficient; he could not waste time in reading details of the convalescence. WHY didn't the man get down to business?
Ah, here it was! Mr. Thomas wrote:
"In your letter to Mr. Cabot I note your inquiry concerning the stock of the Wellmouth Development Company, its desirability as an investment, the likelihood of present sale, and so on. I know nothing of the matter personally, and am not in a position to ascertain at the present time. Speaking in a general way, however, and with my only knowledge of the facts in the case that supplied by your letter, I should suggest that your friend keep his stock and await developments. I am quite sure that a forced sale—if such a sale could now be made at any price, which I doubt—would involve the sacrifice of almost the entire amount invested. I should suggest holding on and waiting."
Galusha passed his shaking hand across his perspiring forehead.
"Oh, dear me!" he said aloud.
"This would be my advice," went on the letter, "but if you wish a more positive answer I suggest your writing Mr. Minor at our Boston office. He will be very glad to look into the matter for you, I am sure, although I am practically certain his views will agree with mine. Of course, as you will understand, it is quite impossible to mention your inquiry to Mr. Cabot. He is here to regain his health, which is still very far from normal, his doctor is with him, and the one word which is positively forbidden is 'Business.' Mr. Cabot is supposed to forget that there is such a thing. By the way he spoke of you only the other day, and jokingly said he wondered how mummies and quahaugs were mixing. The fact that he is beginning to joke once more we all consider most encouraging...."
A paragraph or two more of this sort of thing and then Mr. Thomas' signature. Galusha stared at the letter dully. This—this was what he and Martha Phipps had awaited so long! This was the outcome of his brilliant idea which was to save the Phipps' home... and its owner's peace of mind... and Primmie... and ....
Oh, dear me! dear me!
Galusha walked slowly across the room to the chair by the window, and, sitting down, continued to stare hopelessly at the letter in his hand. He read it for the second time, but this rereading brought no comfort whatever. Rather, it served to bring home to him the hard realities of the whole wretched affair. Cousin Gussie's interest was what he had banked on, and that interest was absolutely unapproachable. To write Minor at the Boston office was a possibility, of course, but, in his present frame of mind Galusha felt no hope that such a proceeding would help. Thomas had written what amounted to that very thing; Thomas was "practically certain" that Minor's views would agree with his. And, besides, to write Minor meant another long wait, and Martha Phipps must be very close to her limit of waiting. How could he summon the courage to descend to the sitting room and tell her that she must prepare for another period of waiting, with almost certain disappointment at the end?
A temperament like Galusha Bangs' is capable of soaring to the heights and descending to the depths. Just now the elevator was going down, and down it continued to go to the very subcellar. It was dark in that subcellar, not a ray of light anywhere. Galusha realized now, or thought he did, that all his great scheme for helping Martha to dispose of her Development shares had been based upon nothing substantial, nothing but rainbow-tinted hopes which, in turn, were based upon nothing but wishes. Omitting the hopes and wishes, what was there left? Just what the president of the Trumet Trust Company had told Martha and what Raish Pulcifer, when angered into truthtelling, had told him. That is, that the shares of the Wellmouth Development Company might be worth something some day, but that now they were worth nothing, because no one would buy them.
Yes... yes, that was the truth.... But how could he go down to the sitting room and tell Martha Phipps that truth, having already told her so much that was quite different?
If she would only let him lend her the five thousand dollars, or whatever it was. He did not know how much Cousin Gussie was taking care of for him at present, but there had been a large sum at the time of Aunt Clarissa's death. He remembered that the figures had quite frightened him then. He had not thought much about them since, because they did not interest him. He always had enough for his needs and more than enough, and dividends, and interests, and investments and all such things bored him and made him nervous. But, now that he WAS interested in an investment—Martha Phipps' investment—it brought home to him the undisputable fact that he, Galusha Bangs, had plenty of money to lend, if he wished to lend it.
And if Cousin Gussie, or Cousin Gussie's representatives, would let him have it for such a purpose! Cousin Gussie always made such an unpleasant disturbance when he expressed a desire for any of his money, asked so many embarrassing questions as to what was to be done with it, and the like. If he should go now and ask for five thousand dollars to lend Martha Phipps, what...
But Martha Phipps would not accept a loan, anyway. She had told him that very thing, and he knew her well enough by this time to know she meant what she said.
Yet there remained the imminent and dreadful question: How, how, HOW could he go down to where she was sitting waiting and tell her that her hopes, hopes which he had raised, were based solely upon the vaporings of an optimistic donkey?
In his wrathful disgust with that donkey he shifted angrily in his chair and his foot struck a bit of paper upon the floor. It rustled and the rustle attracted his attention. Absently he stepped and picked up the paper. It was the slip which had fallen from the Cabot, Bancroft and Cabot letter and was a check drawn to his order for fourteen thousand, three hundred and ten dollars and thirty-eight cents, his share of the Tinplate "melon."
Fifteen more minutes passed before Mr. Bangs came down to the sitting room, but when he did he came in a great hurry. He dashed into the apartment and announced his intention of starting for Boston at once.
"And—and if you will be so kind as to let me have those—ah—shares of yours, Miss Martha," he said.
Martha looked at him. She had been rather pale when he entered, but now the color rushed to her face.
"Shares?" she repeated. "Do you mean—"
"Those—ah—Development shares of yours—yes. If you will be good enough to let me take them with me—"
"Take them with you?... Oh, Mr. Bangs, you don't mean you have heard from your cousin and that he is goin' to—"
"Yes—ah—yes," broke in Galusha, hastily. "I have heard. I am to—that is, I must take the shares with me and go to Boston at once. If you will be willing to entrust them to me, Miss Martha."
"I'll get 'em this minute." She started toward the stairs, but paused and turned.
"Is it really settled, Mr. Bangs?" she asked, as if scarcely daring to believe in the possibility. "Are they really goin' to buy that Wellmouth stock of mine?"
"Why—why—" Galusha was yawing badly, but he clutched the helm and kept on the course; "I—ah—hope so, Miss Martha, I hope so."
"And pay me—pay me MONEY for it?"
"I presume so. I hope so. If you will—"
"I declare, it doesn't seem possible! Who, for mercy sakes, is goin' to buy it? Mr. Cabot, himself?"
He had been expecting this and was prepared for it. He had rehearsed his answer many times before coming downstairs. He held up a protesting hand.