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The Making of Bobby Burnit - Being a Record of the Adventures of a Live American Young Man
by George Randolph Chester
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"Well, anyhow, we're to be engaged at last," he said.

"No," she rebuked him, with a sudden flash of mischief; "that was perfectly wicked, and you mustn't do it again."

"But I will," he said, advancing with heightened color.

"You mustn't," she said firmly, and although she did not recede farther from him he stopped. "You mustn't make it hard for us, Bobby," she warned him. "I'm under promise, too; and that's all I can tell you now."

"The governor again," groaned Bobby. "I suppose that I'm not to talk to you about marrying, nor you to listen, until I have proved my right and ability to take care of you and your fortune and mine. Is that it?"

She smiled inscrutably.

"What brings you at this unearthly hour?" she asked by way of evasion. "Some business pretext, I'll be bound."

"Of course it is," he assured her. "This morning you are strictly in the role of my trustee. I want you to look at some property."

"But I have an appointment with my dressmaker."

"The dressmaker must wait."

"What a warning!" she laughed. "If you would order a mere—a mere acquaintance around so peremptorily, what would you do if you were married?"

"I'd be the boss," announced Bobby with calm confidence.

"Indeed?" she mocked, and started into the library. "You'd ask permission first, wouldn't you?"

"Where are you going?" he queried in return, and grinned.

"To telephone my dressmaker," she admitted, smiling, and realizing, too, that it was not all banter.

"I told you to, remember," asserted Bobby, with a strange new sense of masterfulness which would not down.

When she came down again, dressed for the trip, he was still in that dazed elation, and it lasted through their brisk ride to the far outskirts of the city, where, at the side of a watery marsh that extended for nearly a mile along the roadway, he halted.

"This is it," waving his hand across the dismal waste.

"It!" she repeated. "What?"

"The property that it was suggested I buy."

"No wonder your father thought it necessary to appoint a trustee," was her first comment. "Why, Bobby, what on earth could you do with it? It's too large for a frog farm and too small for a summer resort," and once more she turned incredulous eyes upon the "property."

Dark, oily water covered the entire expanse, and through it emerged, here and there, clumps of dank vegetation, from the nature and dispersement of which one could judge that the water varied from one to three feet in depth. Higher ground surrounded it on all sides, and the urgent needs of suburban growth had scattered a few small, cheap cottages, here and there, upon the hills.

"It doesn't seem very attractive until you consider those houses," Bobby confessed. "You must remember that the city hasn't room to grow, and must take note that it is trying to spread in this direction. Wouldn't a fellow be doing a rather public-spirited thing, and one in which he might take quite a bit of satisfaction, if he drained that swamp, filled it, laid out streets and turned the whole stretch into a cluster of homes in place of a breeding-place for fevers?"

"You talk just like a civic improvement society," she said, laughing.

"We did have a chap lecturing on that down at the club a few nights ago," he admitted, "and maybe I have picked up a bit of the talk. But wouldn't it be a good thing, anyhow?"

"Oh, I quite approve of it, now that I see your plan," she agreed; "but could it be made to pay?"

"Well," he returned with a grave assumption of that businesslike air he had recently been trying to copy down at the Traders' Club, "there are one hundred and twenty acres in the tract. I can buy it for two hundred dollars an acre, and sell each acre, in building lots, for full six hundred. It seems to me that this is enough margin to carry out the needed improvements and make the marketing of it worth while. What do you think of it?"

They both gazed out over that desolate expanse and tried to picture it dotted with comfortable cottages, set down in grassy lawns that bordered on white, clean streets, and the idea of the transformation was an attractive one.

"It looks to me like a perfectly splendid idea," Agnes admitted. "I wonder what your father would have thought of it."

"Well," confessed Bobby a trifle reluctantly, "this very proposition was presented to him several times, I believe, but he always declined to go into it."

"Then," decided Agnes, so quickly and emphatically that it startled him, "don't touch it!"

"Oh, but you see," he reminded her, "the governor couldn't go into everything that was offered him, and to this plan he never urged any objection but that he had too many irons in the fire."

"I wouldn't touch it," declared Agnes, and that was her final word in the matter, despite all his arguments. If John Burnit had declined to go into it, no matter for what reason, the plan was not worth considering.



CHAPTER VIII

BOBBY SUCCEEDS IN SNAPPING A BARGAIN FROM UNDER SILAS TRIMMER'S NOSE

Still undecided, but carrying seriously the thought that he must overlook no opportunity if he was to prove himself the successful man that his father had so ardently wished him to become, Bobby dropped into the Idlers' Club for lunch, where Nick Allstyne and Payne Winthrop hailed him as one returned from the dead.

"Just the chap," declared Nick. "Stan Rogers has written me that I'm to scrape the regular crowd together and come up to his new Canadian lodge for a hunt. Stag affair, you know. Real sport and no pink-coat pretense."

"Sorry, Nick," said Bobby, pluming himself a trifle upon his steadfastness to duty, "but I know what Stan's stag affairs are like. It would mean two weeks at least, and I could not spare that much time from the city."

"Business again!" groaned Payne in mock dismay. "This grasping greed for gain is blighting the most promising young men of our avaricious country. Why, it's positively shameful, Bobby, when your father must have left you over three million."

"Two hundred and fifty thousand, so far as I'm allowed to inquire just now," corrected Bobby; "and I'm ordered to go into business with that and prove that I'm not such a blithering idiot that I can't be trusted with the rest of it, whatever there is."

"But I thought you'd had your trial by fire and pulled out of it," interposed Nick. "I heard that you had sold your interests or something, and when I saw a new sign over the store I knew that it was true. Sensible thing, I call it."

"Sensible!" winced Bobby. "You're allowing me a mighty pleasant way out of it, but the fact of the matter is that I lost in such a stinging way I'm bound to get back into the game and do nothing else until I win," and he explained how Silas Trimmer had performed upon him a neat and delicate operation in commercial surgery.

They were properly sympathetic; not that they cared much about business, but if Bobby had entered any game whatsoever in which he had been soundly beaten, they could quite understand his desire to stay in that game until he could show points on the right side.

"Nevertheless," Nick urged, "you ought to take a little breathing spell in between."

All through lunch, and through the game of billiards which followed, they strove to make him see the error of his ways, but Bobby was obdurate, and at last they gave him up as a bad job, with the grave prediction that later he would find himself nothing more nor less than a beast of burden. When he left them Bobby was surprised at himself. For a time he had feared that in his declaration of such close attention to business he might be posing; but he found that to miss a stag hunting party, which heretofore had been one of his keenest delights, weighed upon him not at all; found actually that he would far rather stay in the city to engage in the game of finance which was unfolding before him! He came upon this surprising discovery while he was on his way across to a side street, where, on the fourth floor of a store and warehouse building, he let himself in at a wide door with a latch-key and entered the gymnasium of Biff Bates. That gentleman, in trunks, sweater and sandals, was padding all alone around and around the edge of the hall at a steady jog, which, after twenty solid minutes, had left no effect whatever upon his respiration.

"Getting fat as a butcher again," he announced as he trotted steadily around to Bobby, suddenly stopping short with an expansive grin across his wide face and a handshake that it took an athlete to withstand. "Got to cut it down or it'll put me on the blink. What's the best thing you know, chum?"

"How does this hit you?" asked Bobby, taking from his pocket the check Johnson had given him that morning.

Mr. Bates looked at it with his hands behind him.

"Pleased to make your acquaintance," he said to the slip of paper, nodding profoundly.

"Oh, everybody's friendly to these," said Bobby, indorsing the check. "It is for the new gymnasium," he explained. "Now, partner, turn loose and monopolize the physical training business of this city."

"Partner!" scorned Mr. Bates. "Look here, old pal, there's only one way I'll take this big ticket, and that is that you'll drag down your split of the profits."

"But don't I on this place?" protested Bobby.

"Nit!" retorted Mr. Bates with infinite scorn. "You put them right back into the business, but that don't go any more. If we start this big joint it's got to be partners right, see? Or else take back this wealthy handwriting. I don't guess I want it, anyhow. From past performances you need all the money in the world, and ten thousand simoleons will put a crimp in any wad."

"No," laughed Bobby; "you're saving it for me when you take it. I've just read a very nice note, left for me by the governor, that I'll be a fool and lose anyhow."

Mr. Bates grinned.

"You will, all right, all right, if you're going into business," he admitted, and stuffed the check in the upturned cuff of his sweater. "After these profit-and-loss artists get your goat on all the starts your old man left you, maybe I'll have to put up the eats and sleeps for you anyhow; huh?" and Mr. Bates laughed with keen enjoyment of this delicately expressed idea. "How are you going to divorce yourself from the rest of it, Bobby?"

"I'm not quite sure," said Bobby. "You know that big stretch of swamp land, out on the Millberg Road?"

"Where Paddy Dolan fell in and died from drinkin' too much water? Sure I do."

"Well, it has been suggested to me that I buy it, drain it, fill it, put in paved streets, cut it up into building lots and sell it."

"And build it full of these pale yellow shacks that the honest working slob buys with seventeen years of his wages, and then loses the shack?" Biff incredulously wanted to know.

"You guessed wrong, Biff," laughed Bobby. "Just selling the lots will be enough for me. What do you think of it?"

"I don't know," said Mr. Bates thoughtfully. "I know they frame up such stunts and boost 'em strong in the papers, and if any of these real-estate sharps is working just for their healths they've been stung from all I've seen of 'em. But the main point is, who's the guy that's tryin' to lead you to it?"

"Oh, that part's all right," replied Bobby with perfect assurance. "The man who wants me to finance this, and who has already bought some of the land, was one of my father's right-hand men for nearly thirty years."

"Then that's all right," agreed Mr. Bates. "But say!" he suddenly exclaimed as a new thought struck him; "it's a wonder this right-mitt mut of your father's didn't make the old man fall for it long ago, if it's such a hot muffin."

"He did try it," confessed Bobby with hesitation for the second time that day; "but the governor always complained that he had too many other irons in the fire."

"He did, did he?" Mr. Bates wanted to know, fixing accusing eyes on Bobby. "Then don't be the fall guy for any other touting. Your old man knew this business dope from Sheepshead Bay to Oakland. You take it from me that this tip ain't the one best bet."

Bobby left the gymnasium with a certain degree of dissatisfaction, not only with Mr. Applerod's scheme but with the fact that wherever he went his father's business wisdom was thrown into his teeth. That evening, drawn to the atmosphere into which events had plunged him, he dined at the Traders' Club. As he passed one of the tables Silas Trimmer leered up at him with the circular smile, which, bisected by a row of yellow teeth and hooded with a bristle of stubby mustache, had now come to aggravate him almost past endurance. To-night it made him approach his dinner with vexation, and, failing to find the man he had sought, he finished hastily. As he went out, Silas Trimmer, though looking straight in his direction, did not seem to be at all aware of Bobby's approach. He was deep in a business discussion with his priggish son-in-law.

"It's a great opportunity," he was loudly insisting. "If I can secure that land I'll drain and improve it and cut it up into building lots. This city is ripe for a suburban boom."

That settled it with Bobby. No matter what arguments there might be to the contrary, if Silas Trimmer had his eye on that piece of property, Bobby wanted it.

Applerod, though eagerness brought him early, had no sooner entered the study next morning than Bobby, who was already dressed for business and who had his machine standing outside the door, met him briskly.

"Keep your hat on, Applerod," he ordered. "We'll go right around and buy the rest of that property at once."

"I thought those figures I left last night would convince you," beamed Mr. Applerod.

There is no describing the delight and pride with which that highly-gratified gentleman followed the energetic young Mr. Burnit to the curb, nor the dignity with which, a few minutes later, he led the way into the office of one Thorne, real-estate dealer.

"Mr. Thorne, Mr. Robert Burnit," said Mr. Applerod, hastening straight to business. "Mr. Burnit has come around to close the deal for that Westmarsh property."

Mr. Thorne was suavity itself as he shook hands with Mr. Burnit, but the most aching regret was in his tone as he spoke.

"I'm very sorry indeed, Mr. Burnit," he stated; "but that property, which, by the way, seems very much in demand, passed out of my hands yesterday afternoon."

"To whom?" Mr. Applerod excitedly wanted to know. "I think you might have let us have time to turn around, Thorne. I spoke about it to you yesterday morning, you know, and said that I felt quite hopeful Mr. Burnit would buy it."

"I know," said Mr. Thorne, politely but coldly; "and I told you at the time we talked about it that I never hold anything in the face of a bona fide offer."

"But who has it?" Bobby insisted, more eager now to get it, since it had slipped away from him, than ever before.

"The larger portion of it, the ninety-two acres adjoining Mr. Applerod's twenty," Mr. Thorne advised him, "was taken up by Miles, Eddy and Company. The north eight acres are owned by Mr. Silas Trimmer, and I am quite positive, from what Mr. Trimmer told me, not two hours later, that this parcel is not for sale."

Bobby's heart sank. Eight acres of that land had already been gobbled up by Silas Trimmer, and, no doubt, that astute and energetic business gentleman was now after the balance.

"Where is the office of Miles, Eddy and Company?" Bobby asked, with a crispness that pleased him tremendously as he used it.

"Twenty-six Plum Street," Mr. Thorne advised him.

"Thanks," said Bobby, and whirled out of the door, followed by the disconsolate Applerod.

At the office of Miles, Eddy and Company better luck awaited them.

Yes, that firm had secured possession of the Westmarsh ninety-two acres. Yes, the property was listed for sale, having been bought strictly for speculative purposes. And its figure? The price was now three hundred dollars per acre.

"I'll take it," said Bobby.

There was positive triumph in his voice as he announced this decision. He would show Silas Trimmer that he was awake at last, that he was not to be beaten in every deal.

"Twenty-seven thousand six hundred dollars," said Bobby, figuring the amount on a pad he picked up from Mr. Eddy's desk. "Very well. Allow me to use your telephone a moment. Mr. Chalmers," directed Bobby when he had his new lawyer on the wire, "kindly get into communication with Miles, Eddy and Company and look up the title on ninety-two acres of Westmarsh property which they have for sale. If the title is clear the price is to be three hundred dollars per acre, for which amount you will have a check, payable to your order, within half an hour."

Then to Johnson—biting his pen-handle in Bobby's study and wondering where his principal and Applerod could be at this hour—he telephoned to deliver a check in the amount of twenty-seven thousand six hundred dollars to Mr. Chalmers. Never, since he had been plunged into "business," had Bobby been so elated with himself as when he walked from the office of Miles, Eddy and Company; and, to keep up the good work, as soon as he reached the hall he turned to Applerod with a crisp, ringing voice, which was the product of that elation.

"Now for an engineer," he said.

"Already as good as secured," Mr. Applerod announced, triumphant that every necessity had been anticipated. "Jimmy Platt, son of an old neighbor of mine. Fine, smart boy, and knows all about the Westmarsh proposition. Bless you, I figured on this with him every vacation during his schooling!"

An hour later, Bobby, Mr. Applerod and the secretly jubilant Jimmy Platt had sped out Westmarsh way, and were inspecting the hundred and twelve acres of swamp which the new firm of Burnit and Applerod held between them.

"It's a fine job," said the young engineer, coveting anew the tremendous task as he bent upon it an admiring professional eye. "This time next year you won't recognize the place. It's a noble thing, Mr. Burnit, to turn an utterly useless stretch of swamp like this into habitable land. Have you secured the entire tract?"

"Unfortunately, no," Bobby confessed with a frown. "The extreme north eight acres are owned by another party."

"And when you drain your property," mused Jimmy, smiling, "you will drain his."

"Not if I can help it," declared Bobby emphatically.

"You must come to some arrangement before you begin," warned the engineer with the severe professional authority common to the quite young. Already, however, he was trying to grow regulation engineer's whiskers; also he immediately planned to get married upon the proceeds of this big job, which, after years of chimerical dreaming, had become too real, almost, to be believed. "Perhaps you could get the owner to stand his proportionate share of the expense of drainage."

Bobby smiled at the suggestion but made no other answer. He knew Silas Trimmer, or thought that he did, and the idea of Silas bearing a portion of a huge expense like this, when he could not be forced to shoulder it, struck him as distinctly humorous.



CHAPTER IX

AGNES DELIVERS BOBBY A NOTE FROM OLD JOHN BURNIT—IN A GRAY ENVELOPE

That night, at the Traders' Club, Bobby was surprised when Mr. Trimmer walked over to his table and dropped his pudgy trunk and his lean limbs into a chair beside him. His yellow countenance was creased with ingratiating wrinkles, and the smile behind his immovable mustache became of perfectly flawless circumference as his muddy black eyes peered at Bobby through thick spectacles. It seemed to Bobby that there was malice in the wrinkles about those eyes, but the address of Mr. Trimmer was most conciliatory.

"I have a fuss to pick with you, young man," he said with clumsy joviality. "You beat me upon the purchase of that Westmarsh property. Very shrewd, indeed, Mr. Burnit; very like your father. I suppose that now, if I wanted to buy it from you, I'd have to pay you a pretty advance." And he rubbed his hands as if to invite the opening of negotiations.

"It is not for sale," said Bobby, stiffening; "but I might consider a proposition to buy your eight acres." He offered this suggestion with reluctance, for he had no mind to enter transactions of any sort with Silas Trimmer. Still, he recalled to himself with a sudden yielding to duty, business is business, and his father would probably have waved all personal considerations aside at such a point.

"Mine is for sale," offered Silas, a trifle too eagerly, Bobby thought.

"How much?" he asked.

"A thousand dollars an acre."

"I won't pay it," declared Bobby.

"Well," replied Mr. Trimmer with a deepening of that circular smile which Bobby now felt sure was maliciously sarcastic, "by the time it is drained it will be worth that to any purchaser."

"Suppose we drain it," suggested Bobby, holding both his temper and his business object remarkably well in hand. "Will you stand your share of the cost?"

"It strikes me as an entirely unnecessary expense at present," said Silas and smiled again.

"Then it won't be drained," snapped Bobby.

Later in the evening he caught Silas laughing at him, his shoulders heaving and every yellow fang protruding. The next morning, keeping earlier hours than ever before in his life, Bobby was waiting outside Jimmy Platt's door when that gentleman started to work.

"The first thing you do," he directed, still with a memory of that aggravating laugh, "I want you to build a cement wall straight across the north end of my Westmarsh property."

Mr. Platt smiled and shook his head.

"Evidently you can not buy that north eight acres, and don't intend to drain it," he commented, stroking sagely the sparse beginning of those slow professional whiskers. "It's your affair, of course, Mr. Burnit, but I am quite sure that spite work in engineering can not be made to pay."

"Nevertheless," insisted Bobby, "we'll build that wall."

The previous afternoon Jimmy Platt had made a scale drawing of the property from city surveys, and now the two went over it carefully, discussing it in various phases for fully an hour, proving estimates of cost and general feasibility. At the conclusion of that time Bobby, well pleased with his own practical manner of looking into things, telephoned to Johnson and asked for Applerod. Mr. Applerod had not yet arrived.

"Very well," said Bobby, "when he comes have him step out and secure suitable offices for us," and this detail despatched he went out with his engineer to make a circuit of the property and study its drainage possibilities.

From profiles that Platt had made they found the swamp at its upper point to be much lower than the level of the river, which ran beyond low hills nearly a mile away; but the river made a detour, including a considerable fall, coming back again to within a scant half-mile of the southern end of the tract, where it was much lower than the marsh. Between marsh and river at the south was an immense hill, too steep and rugged for any practical purpose, and this they scaled.

The west end of the city lay before them crowding close to the river bank, and already its tentacles had crept around and over the hills and on past Westmarsh tract. Young Platt looked from river to swamp, his eyes glowing over the possibilities that lay before them.

"Mr. Burnit," he announced, after a gravity of thought which he strove his best to make take the place of experience, "you ought to be able to buy this hill very cheaply. Just through here we'll construct our drainage channel, and with the excavation fill your marsh. It is one of the neatest opportunities I have ever seen, and I want to congratulate you upon your shrewdness in having picked out such a splendid investment."

This, Bobby felt, was praise from Caesar, and he was correspondingly elated.

He did not return to the study until in the afternoon. He found Johnson livid with abhorrence of Applerod's gaudy metamorphosis. That gentleman wore a black frock-coat, a flowered gray waistcoat, pin-striped light trousers, shining new shoes, sported a gold-headed cane, and on the table was the glistening new silk hat which had reposed upon his snow-white curls. His pink face was beaming as he rose to greet his partner.

"Mr. Burnit," said he, shaking hands with almost trembling gravity and importance, "this day is the apex of my life, and I'm happy to have the son of my old and revered employer as my partner."

"I hope that it may prove fortunate for both of us," replied Bobby, repressing his smile at the acquisition of the "make-up" which Applerod had for years aspired to wear legitimately.

Johnson, humped over the desk that had once been Bobby's father's, snorted and looked up at the stern portrait of old John Burnit; then he drew from the index-file which he had already placed upon the back of that desk a gray-tinted envelope which he handed to Bobby with a silence that was more eloquent than words. It was inscribed:

To my Son if he is Fool Enough to Take up With Applerod's Swamp Scheme

Rather impatiently Bobby tore it open, and on the inside he found:

"When shrewd men persist in passing up an apparently cinch proposition, don't even try to find out what's the matter with it. In this six-cylinder age no really good opportunity runs loose for twenty-four hours."

"If the governor had only arranged to leave me his advice beforehand instead of afterward," Bobby complained to Agnes Elliston that evening, "it might have a chance at me."

"The blow has fallen," said Agnes with mock seriousness; "but you must remember that you brought it on yourself. You have complained to me of your father's carefully-laid plans for your course in progressive bankruptcy, and he left in my keeping a letter for you covering that very point."

"Not in a gray envelope, I hope," groaned Bobby.

"In a gray envelope," she replied firmly, going across to her own desk in the library.

"I had feared," said Bobby dismally, "that sooner or later I should find he had left letters for me in your charge as well as in Johnson's, but I had hoped, if that were the case, that at least they would be in pink envelopes."

She brought to him one of the familiar-looking missives, and Bobby, as he took it, looked speculatively at the big fireplace, in which, as it was early fall, comfortable-looking real logs were crackling.

"Don't do it, Bobby," she warned him smiling. "Let's have the fun together," and she sat beside him on the couch, snuggling close.

The envelope was addressed:

To My Son Upon his Complaining that His Father's Advice Comes too Late!

He opened it, and together they read:

"No boy will believe green apples hurt him until he gets the stomach-ache. Knowing you to be truly my son, I am sure that if I gave you advice beforehand you would not believe it. This way you will."

Bobby smiled grimly.

"I remember one painful incident of about the time I put on knickerbockers," he mused. "Father told me to keep away from a rat-trap that he had bought. Of course I caught my hand in it three minutes afterward. It hurt and I howled, but he only looked at me coldly until at last I asked him to help. He let the thing squeeze while he asked if a rat-trap hurt. I admitted that it did. Would I believe him next time? I acknowledged that I would, and he opened the trap. That was all there was to it except the raw place on my hand; but that night he came to my room after I had gone to bed, and lay beside me and cuddled me in his arms until I went to sleep."

"Bobby," said Agnes seriously, "not one of these letters but proves his aching love for you."

"I know it," admitted Bobby with again that grim smile. "Which only goes to prove another thing, that I'm in for some of the severest drubbings of my life. I wonder where the clubs are hidden."

He found one of them late that same night at the Idlers'. Clarence Smythe, Silas Trimmer's son-in-law, drifted in toward the wee small hours in an unusual condition of hilarity. He had a Vandyke, had Mr. Smythe, and was one who cherished a mad passion for clothes; also, as an utterly impossible "climber," he was as cordially hated as Bobby was liked at the Idlers', where he had crept in "while the window was open," as Nick Allstyne expressed it. Ordinarily he was most prim and pretty of manner, but to-night he was on vinously familiar terms with all the world, and, crowding himself upon Bobby's quiet whist crowd, slapped Bobby joyously on the shoulder.

"Generous lad, Bobby!" he thickly informed Allstyne and Winthrop and Starlett. "If you chaps have any property you've wanted to unload for half a lifetime, here's the free-handed plunger to buy it."

"How's that?" Bobby wanted to know, guessing instantly at the humiliating truth.

"That Westmarsh swamp belonged to Trimmer," laughed Mr. Smythe, so bubbling with the hugeness of the joke that he could not keep his secret; "and when Thorne, after pumping your puffy man, told my clever father-in-law you wanted it, he promptly bought it from himself in the name of Miles, Eddy and Company and put up the price to three hundred an acre. Besides taking the property off his shoulders you've given him nearly a ten-thousand-dollar advance for it. Fine business!"

"Great!" agreed blunt Jack Starlett. "Almost as good a joke as refusing to pay a poker debt because it isn't legal."

Bobby smiled his thanks for the shot, but inside he was sick. The game they were playing was a parting set-to, for the three others were leaving in the morning for Stanley's hunt, but Bobby was glad when it was over. In the big, lonely house he sat in the study for an hour before he went to bed, looking abstractedly up at the picture of old John Burnit and worrying over this new development. It cut him to the quick, not so much that he had been made a fool of by "clever" real-estate men, had been led, imbecile-like, to pay an extra hundred dollars per acre for that swamp land, but that the advantage had gone to Silas Trimmer.

Moreover, why had Silas put a prohibitive valuation upon that north eight acres? Why did he want to keep it? It must be because Silas really expected that his tract would be drained free of charge, and that he would thus have the triumph of selling it for an approximate six thousand dollars an acre in the form of building lots. In the face of such a conclusion, the thought of the cement wall that he had ordered built was a great satisfaction.

It was a remarkably open winter that followed, and outdoor operations could thereby go on uninterrupted. In the office, the pompous Applerod, in his frock-coat and silk hat, ground Johnson's soul to gall dust; for he had taken to saying "Mr. Johnson" most formally, and issuing directions with maddening politeness and consideration. An arrangement had been effected with Applerod, whereby that gentleman, for having suggested the golden opportunity, was to reap the entire benefit of the improvement on his own twenty acres, Bobby financing the whole deal and charging Applerod's share of it against his account. Applerod stood thereby to gain about seventy-six thousand dollars over and above the price he had paid for his twenty acres; and, moreover, Bobby had decided to call the improved tract the Applerod Addition! When that name began to appear in print, coupled with flaming advertisements of Applerod's devising, there was grave danger of the rosy-cheeked old gentleman's losing every button from every fancy vest in his possession.

In the meantime, thoroughly in love with the vast enterprise which he had projected, Bobby spent his time outdoors, fascinated, unable to find any peace elsewhere than upon his Titanic labor. His evenings he spent in such social affairs as he could not avoid; with Agnes Elliston; with Biff Bates; in an occasional game of billiards at the Idlers'; but his days, from early morning until the evening whistle, he spent amid the clang of pick and shovel, the rattling of the trams, the creaking of the crane. It was an absorbing thing to see that enormous groove cut down through the big hill, and to watch the growth of the great mounds which grew up out of the marsh. The ditch that should drain off all this murky water was, of course, the first thing to be achieved, and, from the base of the hill through which it was to be cut, the engineer ran a tram bridge straight across the swamp to the new retaining wall; and from this, with the aid of a huge, long-armed crane which lifted cars bodily from the track, the soil was dumped on either side as it was removed from the cut. By the latter part of December the ditch had been completed and connected with the special sewer which, by permission of the city, had been built to carry the overflow to the river, and, the open weather still holding, the stagnant pool which had been a blot upon the landscape for untold ages began to flow sluggishly away, displaced by the earth from the disappearing hill.

The city papers were teeming now with the vast energy and public-spirited enterprise of young Robert Burnit and Oliver P. Applerod, and there were many indications that the enterprise was to be a most successful one. Even before they were ready to receive them, applications were daily made for reservations in the new district, and individual home-seekers began to take Sunday trips out to where the big undertaking was in progress.

"You sure have got 'em going, Bobby," confessed the finally-convinced Biff Bates after a visit of inspection. "Here's where you put the hornet on one Silas Tight-Wad Trimmer all right, all right. But the bones don't roll right that the side bet don't go for Johnson instead of Applegoat. He's a shine, for me. I think he's all to the canary color inside, but this man Johnson's some man if he only had a shell to put it in. Me for him!"

The unexpressed friendship that had sprung up between the taciturn bookkeeper and the loquacious ex-pugilist was both a puzzle and a delight to Bobby, and it was one of his great joys to see them together, they not knowing why they liked such companionship, not having a single topic of conversation in common, but unconsciously enjoying that vague, sympathetic man-soul they found in each other.



CHAPTER X

AGNES AND BOBBY DISCERN DIAMOND-STUDDED SPURS FOR THE LATTER

About the first of February the filling and grading were finished and the construction of the streets began, and the middle of March saw the final disappearance of everything, except that dark, eight-acre spot of Silas Trimmer's, which might remind one of the tract once known as the Westmarsh. In its place lay a broad, yellow checker-board, formed by intersecting streets of asphalt edged with cement pavements, and in the center, at the crossing of broad Burnit and Applerod Avenues, there arose, over a spot where once frogs had croaked and mosquitoes clustered in crowds, a pretty club-house, which was later to be donated to the suburb; and a great satisfaction fell upon the soul of Bobby Burnit like a benediction.

Also one Oliver P. Applerod added two full inches to his strut. He seldom came out to the scene of actual operations, for there was none there except workmen to see his frock-coat and silk hat; but occasionally, from a sense of duty inextricably mingled with self-assertiveness, he paid a visit of inspection, and upon one of these his eyes were confronted by a huge new board sign, visible for half a mile, that overlooked the Applerod Addition from the hills to the north. It bore but two words: "Trimmer's Addition." Applerod, holding his broadcloth tight about him to keep it from yellow contamination as a car rumbled by, looked and wiped his glasses and looked again, then, highly excited, he called Bobby to him.

"Why didn't you tell me of this?" he demanded, pointing to the sign.

Bobby, happy in sweater and high boots and liberal decorations of clay, only laughed.

"The sign went up only yesterday," he stated.

"But it is competition. Unfair competition! He is stealing our thunder," protested Applerod.

"He has a perfect right to lay out a subdivision if he wants," said Bobby. "But don't worry, Applerod. I've been over there and the thing is a joke. The tract is one-fourth the size of ours, it is uphill and downhill, only a little grading is being done, streets are cut through but not paved, and a few cheap board sidewalks are being put down. He's had to pay a lot more for his land than we have, and can not sell his lots any cheaper."

"There's no telling what Silas Trimmer will do," said Applerod, shaking his head.

"Nonsense," said Bobby; "there is no chance that people will pass by our lots and buy one of his."

Applerod walked away unconvinced. Had it been any one else than Silas Trimmer who had set up this opposition he would not have minded so much, but Applerod had come to have a mighty fear of John Burnit's ancient enemy, and presently he came back to Bobby more panic-stricken than ever.

"I'm going to sell my interest in the Applerod Addition the minute I find a buyer," he declared, "and I'd advise you to do the same."

"Don't be foolish," counseled Bobby, frowning. "You can't lose."

"But man!" quavered Applerod. "I have four thousand dollars of my own cash, all I've been able to scrape together in a lifetime, tied up in this thing, and I mustn't lose!"

Bobby regarded his father's old confidential clerk more in sorrow than in anger. He was not used to dealing with men of any age so utterly lacking in gameness.

"Four thousand," he repeated, then he looked across his big checker-board. "I'll give you ten thousand for it right now."

"What!" objected Applerod, aghast. "Why, Burnit, the work is nearly done and I have already in sight seventy-six thousand dollars of clear profit over my investment."

Bobby did not remind Applerod that his four thousand dollars represented only a trifling part of the investment required to yield this seventy-six thousand dollars' profit. Yet, after all, there was no flaw in Applerod's commercial reasoning.

"I didn't expect you to accept it," replied Bobby. "If you were determined to get out, however, you've had an offer of six thousand profit, with no risk."

"I'd be crazy," declared Applerod. "I can get a better price than that."

Bobby was thoughtful for an hour after Applerod had left him; then he hurried into the club-house and telephoned to Chalmers. This was in the forenoon. In the afternoon Applerod was served with an injunction based upon an indivisibility of interest, restraining him from disposing of his share; and in his anger he let it slip out that he had already been trying to open negotiations with Trimmer!

"Honestly, it hurts!" said Bobby wearily, telling of the incident to Agnes that night. "I didn't know there were so many unsportsmanlike people."

"I think that is precisely what your father wanted you to find out," she observed.

"I don't want to know it," protested Bobby. "I'd stay much happier to believe that everybody in the world was of the right sort."

She shook her head.

"No, Bobby," she said gently; "you have to know that there is the other kind, in order properly to appreciate truth and honor and loyalty."

"I could almost believe I was in a Sunday-school class," grinned Bobby. "No wonder it's snowing."

Agnes looked out of the window with a cry of delight. Those floating flakes were the very first snow of the season; but they were by no means the last. The winter, delayed, but apparently all the more violent for that very reason, burst suddenly upon the city, stopping the finishing touches on both suburban additions. Came rain and sleet and snow, and rain and sleet and snow again, then biting cold that sank deep into the ground and sealed it as if with a crust of iron. March, that had come in like a lamb, went out like a lion, and the lion raged through April and into May. Then, as suddenly as it had come, the belated winter passed away and the warm sun beat down upon the snow-clad hills and swept them clean. It penetrated into the valleys and turned them into rivulets, thousands of which poured into the river and swelled its banks brimming full. The streets of the Applerod Addition were quickly washed with their own white covering and dried, and immediately with this break-up began the great advertising campaign. The papers flamed with full-page and half-page announcements of the wonderful home-making opportunity; circulars were mailed to possible home-buyers by the hundred thousand; every street-car told of the bargain on striking cards; immense electric signs blazoned the project by night; sixteen-sheet posters were spread upon all the bill-boards, and every device known to expert advertising was requisitioned. Not one soul within the city or within a radius of fifty miles but had kept constantly before him the duty he owed to himself to purchase a lot in the marvelous Applerod Addition; and now indeed Oliver P. Applerod, reassured once more, began to reap the fruit of his life's ambitions as prospective buyers thronged to look at his frock-coat and silk hat.

June the first was set for the date of the "grand opening," and though it was not to be a month of roses, still the earth looked bright and gay as the time approached, and Bobby Burnit took Agnes out to view his coming triumph. This was upon a bright day toward the end of May, when those yellow squares were tempered to a golden green by the tender young grass that had been sown at the completion of the grading. She had made frequent visits with him through the winter, and now she gloried with him.

"It looks fine, Bobby," she confessed with glowing eyes. "Fine! It really seems as if you had won your spurs."

"Diamond-studded ones!" he exulted. "Why, Agnes, the office is besieged with requests for allotments. In spite of the fact that we have over eleven hundred lots for sale at an average price of six hundred dollars, we're not going to have enough to go around. The receipts will be fully seven hundred thousand dollars, and our complete disbursements, by the time we have sold out, will not amount to over two hundred and twenty-five thousand. Of course, I don't know—I haven't asked, and you wouldn't tell me if I did—just by what promises you are bound, but when I close up this deal you're going to marry me! That's flat!"

"You mustn't be too sure of anything in this world, Bobby," she warned him, but she turned upon him a smile that made her words but idle breath.



CHAPTER XI

BOBBY DISCOVERS AN ENEMY GREATER THAN SILAS TRIMMER

One circumstance only had occurred to give Bobby any anxiety. With the beginning of the thaw the water in Silas Trimmer's eight acres had begun slowly to rise, and he saw with some dismay that by far the larger part of the great natural basin from which the surface water had been supplied to this swamp sloped from the northern end. Not having that expanse of one hundred and twenty acres to spread over, it might overflow, and in considerable trepidation he sought Jimmy Platt. That happy young gentleman only smiled.

"I calculated upon that," he informed Bobby, "and built your retaining wall two feet higher than the normal spring level for that very reason. It will carry all the water than can shed down from those hills."

Relieved, Bobby went ahead with the preparations for turning the Applerod Addition into money, and though he saw the water creeping up steadily against the other side of his wall, he displayed no anxiety until it had reached within three or four inches of the top. Then he took Platt out with him to have a look at it.

"Don't you think you ought to get busy?" he inquired. "Hadn't we better add another foot to this wall?"

"Not necessary," said Jimmy, shaking his head positively. "This has been an unusual spring, but the wet weather is all over now, and you can see by the water-mark where the level has gone down a half inch since morning. All the moisture that has been trickling down here during the past week has been from the thawing out of the frozen hillsides, but those slopes are almost dust dry now."

"Suppose it should rain again?" insisted Bobby, still worried.

"It couldn't rain hard enough to fill up these four inches," declared Platt with decision. "Look here, Mr. Burnit, I'd worry myself if there was any cause whatever. Do you suppose I'd want anything to happen to my biggest and best job so close to my wedding-day?"

"So you've set the time," said Bobby, with eager pleasure. He had met Platt's "best girl" and her mother out at the Addition, and liked her, as he did earnest young Platt.

"June the first," replied Jimmy exultantly. "The date of your opening—in the evening."

"Don't forget to send me an invitation."

"Will you come?" said Platt. He had wanted to ask Bobby before, but had not been quite sure that he ought.

"Come!" replied Bobby. "Indeed I shall—unless I happen to have a wedding of my own on that date."

Bobby went away satisfied once more, and quite willing to give up the additional foot of wall. The work would entail considerable cost, and expense now was much more of an item than it had been a few months previously. Already he had spent upon this project over two hundred and ten thousand dollars; ten thousand he had given to Biff Bates; ten thousand he had used personally, so there was but an insignificant portion left of his two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Their "grand opening" would eat up another tidy little sum, for it was to be an expensive affair. The liberal advertising that had already appeared was augmented as the great day approached, a brass band had been engaged, a magnificent lunch, sufficient to feed an army, had been arranged for, and every available 'bus and carry-all and picnic wagon in the city had been secured to transport all comers, free of charge, from the end of the car line to the new Addition. The price of vehicles was high, however, for Silas Trimmer had already engaged quite a number of them to run between the Applerod Addition and his own. During the week preceding June first, there had appeared, in the local papers, advertisements of about one-fourth the size that Bobby was using, calling attention to the opening of the Trimmer Addition, which was to be upon the same date.

On the evening of May twenty-ninth, Bobby found Silas pacing the top of the retaining wall which held in his swamp, and waited for the spider-like figure to come across and join him.

"Too bad you didn't come in with me, or sell me your property at a reasonable figure," said Bobby affably, willing, in spite of his recent bitter experience, to meet his competitor upon the same friendly grounds that he would a crack polo antagonist on the eve of contest. "It's a shame that this could not all have been improved at one time."

"I'd just as lief have my part of it the way it is," said Silas. "It's no good now, but it's as good as yours," and he climbed into his buggy and drove away laughing, leaving Bobby strangely dissatisfied and doubtful over that strange remark.

While he was still trying to unravel it, he noted that the water in Silas' pond, which but a day or so previously had been down to fully nine inches from the top, was now climbing rapidly upward again; and there had been no rain for more than two weeks! The thing was inexplicable. He was still puzzling over this as he drove down the road and turned in at broad Burnit Avenue toward the club-house. The asphalt and the pavements were bone dry and as clean as a ball-room floor, and it seemed to him that the young grass was growing greener and higher here than anywhere.

Suddenly he ordered his chauffeur to stop the machine. He had just passed a lot where, amid the tufts of green, his eye had caught the glint of water. Running back to it he saw that the center of that lot was covered by a small pool scarcely half an inch deep, through which the grass was growing dankly. This, too, was queer, for the hot sun and strong breeze of the past few days should have dried up every vestige of moisture. He walked along the sidewalk, studying each of the lots in turn. Here and there he discovered other small pools, and every lot bore the appearance of having just been freshly and too liberally watered. He stepped from the pavement upon the earth, and to his surprise his foot sank into it to the depth of an inch or more. For a while he was deeply worried, but presently it flashed upon him that all this soil had been dumped into the marsh, displacing the water, and that in this process it had naturally become soaked through and through. Of course it would take a long time to dry out and it would be all the better for its moisture. The rate at which grass was growing was proof enough of that.

On the next day, kept busy by the preparations for the big opening, Bobby did not get out to the Applerod Addition until evening again. As he neared it he met Silas Trimmer coming back in his buck-board, that false circle around his mouth very much in evidence.

"You ought to have had your opening yesterday. I'd have been tempted to buy a lot myself then," shouted Silas as he passed, and Bobby was sure that the tone was a mocking one.

Consumed with anxiety, he hurried on to see how Silas' swamp stood. Aghast, he found the level of the water a full inch higher than any point that it had ever before reached. Connecting this condition vaguely with that other phenomenon that he had noted, he whirled his runabout and ran back into Burnit Avenue. In twenty-four hours a remarkable change had been wrought. There were pools everywhere. The lot where he had first noticed it was now entirely covered with water, with barely the tips of the grass showing through. Frightened, he drove over the entire Addition, up one street and down another. In many places the lots were flooded. One entire block had become no more nor less than a pond. At other points the water, carrying with it the yellow soil, was flowing over his beautiful clean sidewalks and spreading its stain upon his immaculate streets. The darkness alone drove him from that inspection, and then it occurred to him to send once more for Jimmy Platt. At the first suburban telephone station he tried for nearly an hour to locate his man, but in vain. Later he tried it from his club, but could not reach him. That night was a sleepless one, and the next morning's daybreak found him speeding out the roadway to the Applerod Addition.

Early as he was, however, he found young Platt there ahead of him and in despair. He had good cause. The whole north end of the Applerod Addition had turned black, and over the top of Bobby's now grimy cement wall poured a broad, dark sheet of the murky swamp-water which had stained it. The pond of Silas Trimmer had overflowed in spite of all Platt's confident figuring that it could not, and in spite of the fact that dry weather had prevailed for two solid weeks. That was the inexplicable part. Clear weather, and still the entire suburb was becoming practically submerged! With solid, dry soil surrounding it, wherever the eye could reach it had become but a morass of mud! Mud was smeared upon every path and every roadway, and Bobby's automobile slipped and slid in the oily, yellow liquid that lay sluggishly in every gutter and blotched every rod of his clean asphalt.

Young Platt's face blanched as he saw Bobby.

"I've made a miserable botch of it," he confessed, torn with an agony of regret at his failure; "and I can't see yet what I overlooked. I'd no right to tackle a man's job like this!"

"You!" replied Bobby vehemently. "It was Trimmer who did this; somehow, someway he did it, and he flaunts it in our faces. Look there!" and he pointed to a huge signboard that had been erected overnight just opposite the entrance to Burnit Avenue. In huge, bold letters, surmounted by a giant hand that pointed the way, it told prospective investors to buy property in the high and dry Trimmer Addition, the words "High and Dry" being twice as large as any other lettering upon the board.

"It is surely a lot of nerve," admitted Platt, "but it is rank nonsense to say that the man had anything to do with this catastrophe. It would have been impossible. Let's look this thing over. Drive past the club-house to the extreme west side."

Once more they traversed the mud of Burnit Avenue, and upon the dry, sloping ground the young engineer, cursing his inexperience, alighted and walked along the edge of the property, seeking a solution to the mystery. Still perplexed, he ascended the rising ground and looked musingly across at the yet swollen and clay-red river. Suddenly an exclamation escaped his lips.

"There's your enemy," he said to Bobby who had climbed up beside him, and pointed to the river. "The river bank, I am sure, must edge upon a tilted shale formation which dips just below this basin. Probably at all times some of the water from the river seeps down between two sand-separated layers of this formation to find its outlet in the marsh, and it is this water which, through a geological freak, has supplied that swamp for ages. In the spring, however, and in extraordinary flood times, it probably finds a higher and looser stratum, and rushes down here with all the force of a hydraulic stream. This spring it took it a long time to wet thoroughly all our made ground from the bottom upward. The frost, sinking deeper in this loose, wet soil than elsewhere, held it back, too, for a time, but as soon as this was thoroughly out of the ground the river overflow came up like a geyser.

"Mr. Burnit, your Applerod Addition is ruined, and it can never be saved, unless by some extraordinary means. Nature picked out this spot, centuries and centuries ago, for a swamp, and she's going to have one here in spite of all that we can do. In five years this basin won't be a thing but black water and weeds, with only that club-house as a decaying monument to your enterprise."

Bobby controlled himself with an effort. His face was drawn and white; but part of that was from the anxiety of the past two days, and he took the blow stiff and erect, as a good soldier stands up to be disciplined. His eye roved over the work in which he had taken such pride, and already he could see in fancy the dank weeds growing up, and the croaking frogs diving into the oily surface, and the clouds of mosquitoes hovering over it again. Over the top of his retaining wall still poured the foul water which was to leaven all this, and he gazed upon it with a sharp intake of the breath.

"And to think that Silas Trimmer must have known all this, and led me to waste a fortune just so that he could reap the benefit of my advertising for his own vulture advantage!"

That, at first, was the part which hurt more than the overthrow of his plans, more than the loss of his money, more than the failure of his fight to carry out his father's wishes for his success: that any one could play the game so unfairly, that there could be in all the world people so detestable, so unprincipled, so unsportsmanlike!

Slowly the vanquished pair descended the hill to where the automobile stood upon the solid, level sward, but before they climbed in Bobby shook hands with his engineer.

"Don't blame yourself too much, old man," he said. "It wasn't a condition that you could foresee, and I'm mighty sorry if it hurts your reputation."

"It ought to!" exclaimed Platt with deep self-revilement. "I should have investigated. I should not have taken anything for granted. I ought to have enough money so that you could sue me for damages and recover all you lost."

"It couldn't be done," said Bobby miserably. "I've lost so much more than money."

He did not tell Platt of Agnes, but that was the one thought into which all his failure had finally resolved. Agnes! How much longer must he wait for her? They had just passed the club-house when a light buggy turned into Burnit Avenue, driven furiously by a white-haired man in a white vest and a high silk hat.

"I accept your offer!" cried Applerod, as soon as he came within talking distance, his usually ruddy face now livid white.

"My offer," repeated Bobby wonderingly.

"Yes; your offer of ten thousand dollars for my share in the Applerod Addition."

Bobby was forced to laugh. It had needed but this to make the bitter jest of fortune complete.

"You refused that offer the day it was made, Applerod!" put in Platt indignantly. "I heard you. Anyhow, you dragged Mr. Burnit into this thing!"

"He's not to blame for that," said Bobby. "But still, I don't think I care to buy any more of this property." And he smiled grimly at the absurdity of it all.

"I'll sue you for it!" shrieked Applerod, frantic from thwarted self-interest. "You prevented me from selling out at a profit when I had a chance! You bound me hand and foot when I knew that if Silas Trimmer had anything to gain by it we would lose! He knew all the time that this swamp was fed by underground springs. He bragged about it to me this morning as I passed him on the road. He told me last night I'd better come out here this morning."

"I see," said Bobby coldly, and he reached for his lever.

"Then you won't hold good to your offer?" gasped the other.

Pale before, he had turned ashen now, and Bobby looked at him with quick compunction. Applerod, always so chubbily youthful for a man of his years, was grown suddenly old. He seemed to have shrunk inside his clothes, his face to have turned flabby, his eyes to have dimmed. After all, he was an old man, and the little that he had scraped together represented all that he could hope to amass in a none too provident lifetime. This day made him a pauper and there was no chance for a fresh start. Bobby himself was young and strong, and, moreover, his resources were by no means exhausted.

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Applerod," said he, after a moment of very sober thought. "Your property cost you in the neighborhood of four thousand. Interest since the time you first began to invest in it would bring it up to a little more than that. I'll give you five thousand."

"I won't accept it.—Yes, I will! yes, I will!" he cried as Bobby impatiently reached again for his lever.

"Very well," said Bobby, "wait a minute." And tearing a leaf from his memorandum-book he wrote a note to Johnson to see to the transfer of the property and deliver to Applerod a check for five thousand dollars.

"That was more than generous; it was foolish," protested Jimmy Platt, as they whirled away.

"No doubt," admitted Bobby dryly. "But, if I'm forced to be a fool, I might as well have a well-finished job of it."



CHAPTER XII

AGNES DECIDES THAT SHE WILL WAIT

Applerod, his poise nearly recovered, bounded into the office where Johnson sat stolidly working away, his sense of personal contentedness enhanced by the presence of Biff Bates, who sat idly upon the flat-top desk, dangling his legs and waiting for Bobby. Mr. Applerod paid no attention whatever to Mr. Bates, that gentleman being quite beneath his notice, but with vast importance he laid down in front of Mr. Johnson the note which Bobby had given him.

"Mr. Johnson," he pompously directed, "you will please attend to this little matter as soon as possible."

"Applerod," said Johnson, glancing at the note and looking up with sudden fire, "does this mean that you are no longer even partially my employer?"

"That's it exactly."

"Then you, Applerod, don't you dare call me Mr. Johnson again!" And he shook a bony fist at his old-time work-fellow.

Biff Bates nearly fell off the desk, but with rare presence of mind restrained his glee.

Mr. Applerod, smiling loftily, immediately wielded his bludgeon.

"We should not quarrel over trifles," he stated commiseratingly. "We are once more companions in misfortune. There is no Applerod Addition. It is a swamp again."

"What do you mean?" asked Johnson incredulously, but suspending his indignation for the instant.

"This," said Applerod: "that the entire addition is a hundred-acre mud puddle this morning. You couldn't sell a lot in it to a blind man. Every cent that was invested in it is lost. The whole marsh was fed from underground springs that have come up through it and overflowed the place."

"Trimmer again," said Biff Bates, and slid off the desk; then he looked at his watch with a curious speculative smile.

"But if it is all lost," protested Johnson, looking again at the note and pausing in the making out of the check, "how do you come to get this?"

"He owed it to me," asserted Applerod. "I wanted to sell out when I first found that we were competing with Silas Trimmer, and young Burnit kept me from it by an injunction. He offered me ten thousand dollars for my interest once, but this morning when I went to accept that offer he would only give me this five thousand. It's just five thousand dollars that he's robbed me of."

"Robbed!" shrilled Johnson, jumping from his chair. "Applerod, you weigh a hundred and eighty pounds and I weigh a hundred and thirty-seven, but I can lick you the best day you ever lived; and by thunder and blazes! if you let fall another remark like that I'll knock your infernal head off!"

Mr. Johnson had on no coat, but he felt the urgent need to remove something, so he tore off one false sleeve, wadded it up in a little ball and slammed it on the floor with great vigor, tore off the other one, wadded it up and slammed that down. Biff Bates, quivering with joy, rang loudly upon a porcelain electric-light shade with his pencil and called: "Time!"

There was no employment for a referee, however, for Mr. Applerod, with astonishing agility, sprang to the door and held it half open, ready for a hurried exit in case of any other demonstration. It was shocking to think that he might be drawn into an undignified altercation—and with a mere clerk! Also, it might be dangerous.

"Nothing doing, chum," said Biff Bates disgustedly to his friend Johnson. "This bunch of mush-ripe bananas ain't even a quitter. He's a never-beginner. But you'll do fine, old scout. Come along with me. I got a treat for you."

Mr. Johnson, breathing scorn that alternately dented and inflated his nostrils, slowly donned his coat and hat without removing his eyes from Applerod, who, as the two approached the door, edged uncertainly away from it.

"I've got to go out, anyhow," said Johnson, addressing his remarks exclusively to Mr. Bates, but his glare exclusively to Mr. Applerod. "I'm going to put this check into the hands of Mr. Chalmers, so Mr. Robert don't get cheated by any yellow-livered snake in the grass!" And he spit out those last violent words with a sudden vehemence which made Mr. Applerod drop his shiny hat.

When Bobby came into the office a few minutes later he found Applerod, his hat upon his lap, waiting in one of the customers' chairs with stiff solemnity.

"Why aren't you at your desk, Applerod?" asked Bobby sharply. "You have an immense amount of unopened mail, and some of it may contain checks which will have to be sent back."

"Mr. Burnit," said Mr. Applerod, rising with great dignity and throwing back his shoulders, "I consider myself no longer in your employ. I have resigned."

Bobby looked at him thoughtfully and weighed rapidly in his mind a great many things. He remembered that his father had once said of the two men: "Johnson has a pea-green liver and is a pessimist, but he is honest. Applerod suffers from too much health and is an optimist, and I presume him to be honest, but I never tested it." Yet his father had seen fit to keep Applerod in his intimate employ all these years, recognizing in him material of value. Moreover, he had advised Bobby to keep both men, and Bobby, to-day more than ever, placed great faith in the wisdom of his father.

"Mr. Applerod," said he, "I dislike to be harsh with you, but if you don't put up your hat and get at that bundle of mail I shall be compelled to consider discharging you. Where's Johnson?"

"He went out with Mr. Bates, sir."

When Bobby left, Applerod was industriously sorting the mail on his desk, preparing to open it.

Bobby let himself into the big new gymnasium and walked back through the deserted hall to the small room that was used for individual training. As he neared the door he could hear the sound of loud voices and the shuffling of feet, and heard the commanding voice of Biff Bates shout "Break!"

The door was locked, but through the slide window at the side a strange tableau met his eyes. Stooped and lean Johnson, as chalk-white of face as ever, had paunchy and thin-legged Silas Trimmer by the collar, and over Biff Bates' intervening body was trying to rain blows into the center of the circular smile, now flattened to an oval of distress.

"Break, Johnson, break!" begged Biff. "Don't put him out till you feed him all he's got coming." Thereupon he succeeded in extracting Mr. Trimmer from the grasp of Mr. Johnson and forced the former back upon a chair, where he began to fan him with a towel in most approved fashion.

"Let me out of this!" gasped Mr. Trimmer. "I'll have you arrested for assault and conspiracy."

"They'll only pinch a corpse, for the cops'll find me tickled to death when they get here," responded Mr. Bates gaily. "Now you're all right. Get up!"

"Let me out of this, I say!" commanded Mr. Trimmer frantically. "I'll run you into the penitentiary! I'll break you up in business! I'll hire thugs to break every bone in your body!"

"Is that all?" inquired Biff complacently, and grabbed him as he started to run around the room in a wild hunt for an outlet. "Stand up here and put up a fight or I'll punch you myself. I've been aching to do it for a year. That's why I got Doc Willets to dope it out to you that you was dyin' for training, and why I kept shifting your hour to when there was nobody here. Go to him, chum!"

Then ensued the strangest sparring match that the grinning and stealthily silent Bobby had ever seen. Johnson, with a true "tiger crouch" which he could not have avoided if he had wished, began dancing around and around the spherical body of Mr. Trimmer, without science and without precaution, keeping his two arms going like windmills, and occasionally landing a light blow upon some portion of Mr. Trimmer's unresisting anatomy; but finally a whirl so vigorous that it sent Johnson spinning upon his own heel, landed squarely beneath the jaw of Silas. That gentleman, with a puffed eye and a bleeding lip and two teeth gone, rose from his feet with the impact of the blow, and landed with a grunt in a huge basket of soiled bath-towels.

"Johnson," called the laughter-shaken voice of Bobby through the window, "I'm ashamed of you!"

Mr. Johnson looked up happily from his task of wiping away a little trickle of blood from his already swollen nose.

"Did you see me do it?" he demanded, thrilling with pride. "Mr. Burnit, I—I never had so much fun in my life. Never, never! By the way, sir," and even upon that triumphant moment his duty obtruded, "I have a letter for you that I brought away from the office," and through the window he handed one of the inevitable gray envelopes. It was inscribed:

To My Son, Upon the Failure of Applerod's Swamp Scheme

"In the midst of pleasure we are in pain," murmured Bobby, and tore open the letter. In it he read:

"My Dear Boy:

"A man must not only examine a business proposition from all sides, but must also turn it over and look well at the bottom. I never knew what was the matter with that swamp scheme, except Applerod, but I didn't want to know any more. You did.

"Well, you don't need wisdom. I've put one-half your fortune where it will yield you a living income. Try to cut at least one eye-tooth with the other half. Your trustee is instructed to give you another start.

"YOUR LOVING FATHER."

His trustee! Once more he must face her with failure; go to her beaten, and accept through her hands the means to gain himself another buffeting. He had not the heart to see her now, but he was not turned altogether coward, for leaving the scene of the late conflict abruptly, all its humor spoiled for him, he telephoned her what had happened and that he would be out in the evening.

"No, you must come now. I want you," she gently insisted, and when he had come to her she went directly to him and put both her hands upon his shoulders.

"It wasn't fair, Bobby; it wasn't fair!" she cried. "None of it is fair, and your father had no right to bind me down with promises when you need me so. I'm willing to break them all. Bobby, I'll marry you to-morrow if you say so."

He drew a long, trembling breath, and then he put his hands gently upon both her cheeks and kissed her on the forehead.

"Let's don't," he said simply. "I have my own blood up now, and I want to take this other chance. I want to play the game out to the end. You'll wait, won't you?"

She looked up at him through moist eyes. He was so big and so strong and so good, and already through the past year of earnest purpose there had come firm, new lines upon his face, lines that meant something in the ultimate building of character; and she recognized that perhaps stern old John Burnit had been right after all.

"Indeed, I can wait," she whispered. "Proudly, Bobby."



CHAPTER XIII

IN WHICH A CHARMING GENTLEMAN OFFERS AN INVESTMENT WITHOUT A FLAW

It was pretty, in the succeeding days, to see Agnes poring over advertisements and writing down long lists of suggested enterprises for investigation, enterprises which proved in every case to be in the midst of an already too thickly contested field, or to be hampered by monopoly, or subject to some other vital drawback. There seemed to be a strange dearth of safe and suitable commercial ventures, a fact over which Bobby and Agnes together puzzled almost nightly. There was to be no false start this time; no stumbling in the middle of the race; no third failure. The third time was to be the charm. And yet too much time must not be wasted. They both began to feel rather worried about this.

Of course, there was a letter, in the familiar gray envelope. It had been handed to Bobby by Johnson upon the day the second check for two hundred and fifty thousand had been paid over by Chalmers upon Agnes' order, and it read:

To My Son Robert, Upon His Third Attempt to Make Money

"The man who has never failed has been either too lucky or too timid to have much tried and tested worth. The man who always fails is too useless to talk about. As you've failed twice you're neither too lucky nor too timid. It remains to be seen if you are too useless.

"Remember that money isn't the only audible thing in this world; but it makes more noise than anything else. A vast number of people call money vulgar; but, if you'll notice, this opinion is chiefly held by those who haven't been able to secure any of it.

"I wouldn't have you sacrifice any decent principle to get it, because that is not necessary; but go get money of your own, and see what a difference there is between dollars. A dollar you've made is as different from a dollar that's given to you as your children are from other people's."

"If only the governor had pointed out some good business for me to go into," complained Bobby as he read this letter over with Agnes.

She shook her head soberly. She realized, more than he possibly could, as yet, just where Bobby's weaknesses lay. She had worried over them not a little, of late, and she was just as anxious as old John Burnit had been to have him correct those defects; and she, like Bobby's father, was only thankful that they were not defects of manliness, of courage or of moral or mental fiber. They were only defects of training, for which the elder Burnit, as he had himself confessed, was responsible.

"That isn't what he wanted at all, Bobby," she protested. "The very fact of your two past failures shows just how right he was in making you find out things for yourself. The chief trouble, I am afraid, is that you have been too ready to furnish the money and let others spend it for you."

"I know," said Bobby. "I have been too willing to take everybody's word, I guess; but I have always been able to do that in my crowd, and it is rather a dash to me to find that in business you can not do it. However, I have reformed."

He said this so self-confidently that Agnes laughed.

"Yes," she admitted, "you are convinced that Silas Trimmer is a thief and a rascal, and you would not take his word for anything. You are convinced that Applerod's judgment is useless and that your own does not amount to much, but I still believe that the next plausible looking and plausible talking man who comes to you can engage you in any business that seems fair on the surface."

"I deserve what you say," he confessed, but somewhat piqued, nevertheless. "However, I don't think you are giving me credit for having learned any lesson at all. Why, only to-day you ought to have heard me turning down a proposition to finance a new and improved washing-machine. Sounded very good and feasible, too. The man was a good talker and thoroughly earnest and honest, I am sure. I really did want to help the fellow start his business, but somehow or other I could not seem to like the idea of washing-machines; such a sudsy sort of business."

Agnes laughed the sort of a laugh that always made him want to catch hold of her, but if he had any intentions in that respect they were interfered with just now by Uncle Dan, who strolled into the parlor in his dressing-jacket and with a cigar tilted in the corner of his mouth.

"How's the Commercial Board of Strategy coming on?" he inquired as he offered Bobby a cigar.

"Fine!" declared Bobby; "except that it can not think of a stratagem."

"I think you are very selfish not to help us out, Uncle Dan," declared Agnes. "With all your experience you ought to be able to suggest something for Bobby to go into that would be a nice business and perfectly safe and make him lots of money without requiring too much experience to start with."

"Young lady," said Uncle Dan severely, "if I knew a business of that kind I'd sell some of the stock of my factory and go into it myself; but I don't. The fact is, there are no business snaps lying around loose. You have to make one, and that takes not just money, but work and brains."

"I'm perfectly willing to work," declared Bobby.

"And you don't mean to say that he hasn't brains!" objected Agnes.

"No-o-o," admitted Uncle Dan. "I am quite sure that Bobby has brains, but they have not been quite—a—a—well, say solidified, yet. You're not allowed to smoke in this parlor, Bobby. Mrs. Elliston wants a quiet home game of whist; sent me to bring you up."

Secretly, old Dan Elliston was himself puzzling a great deal over a career for Bobby, but up to the moment had not found anything that he thought safe to propose. Not having a good idea he was averse to discussing any project whatsoever, and so, each time that he was consulted upon the subject, he was as evasive as this about it, and Bobby each morning dragged perplexedly into the handsome offices of the defunct Applerod Addition, where Applerod and Johnson were still working a solid eight hours a day to straighten out the affairs of that unfortunate venture.

Those offices were the dullest quarters Bobby knew, for they contained nothing but the dead ashes of bygone money; but one morning business picked up with a jerk. He found a mine investment agent awaiting him when he arrived, and before he was through with this clever conversationalist a man was in to get him to buy a racing stable. Affairs grew still more brisk as the morning wore on. Within the next two hours he had politely but firmly declined to buy a partnership in a string of bucket shops, to refinance a defunct irrigation company, to invest in a Florida plantation, to take a tip on copper, and to back an automobile factory which was to enter business upon some designs of a new engine stolen by a discharged workman.

"How did all these people find out that I have two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to invest?" impatiently demanded Bobby, after he had refused the allurements of a patent-medicine scheme, the last of that morning's lot.

There followed a dense silence, in the midst of which old Johnson looked up from the book in which he was entering a long, long list of items on the wrong side of the profit and loss account, and jerked his lean thumb angrily in the direction of Applerod.

"Ask him," he said.

Chubby-faced old Applerod, excessively meek of spirit to-day, suffered a moment of embarrassment under the accusing eyes of young Burnit.

"The newspapers, sir," he admitted, twisting uncomfortably in his swivel chair. "The reporters were here yesterday afternoon with the idea that since you haven't announced any future plans, the failure of our real estate scheme—my real estate scheme," he corrected in response to a snort and a glare from Johnson—"had left you penniless. Of course I wasn't going to let them go away with that impression, so I told them that you had another two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to invest, with probably more to follow, if necessary."

"And of course," groaned Bobby, "it is all in print, with ingenious trimmings."

From a drawer in his desk Johnson quietly drew copies of the morning papers, each one folded carefully to an article in which, under wide variations of embarrassing head-lines, the facts of Bobby's latest frittering of his father's good money were once more facetiously, even gleefully, set forth and embellished, with added humorous speculations as to how he would probably cremate his new fund. Bobby was about to turn into his own room to absorb his humiliation in secret when Applerod hesitantly stopped him.

"Another thing, sir," he said. "Mr. Frank L. Sharpe called up early this morning to know when he would find you in, and I took the liberty of telling him that you would very likely be here at ten o'clock."

Bobby frowned slightly at the mention of that name. He knew of Sharpe vaguely as a man whose private life had been so scandalous that society had ceased to shudder at his name—it simply refused to hear it; a man who had even secured advancement by obligingly divorcing his first wife so that the notorious Sam Stone could marry her.

"What did he want?" he asked none too graciously.

"I don't know, sir," said Applerod; "but he telephoned me again just as you were getting rid of this last caller. I told him that you were here and he said that he would be right over."

Bobby made no reply to this, but went thoughtfully into his room and closed the door after him. In less than five minutes the door opened, and Mr. Applerod, his voice fairly oily with obsequiousness, announced Mr. Frank L. Sharpe! Why, here is a man whose name was in the papers every morning, noon and night! Mr. Sharpe had taken a trip to New York on behalf of the Gas Company; Mr. Sharpe had returned from his trip to New York on behalf of the Gas Company; Mr. Sharpe had entertained at the Hotel Spender; Mr. Sharpe had made a speech; Mr. Sharpe had been interviewed; Mr. Sharpe had been indisposed for half a day!

Quite prepossessing of appearance was Mr. Sharpe; a tall, rather slight gentleman, whose features no one ever analyzed because the eyes of the observer stopped, fascinated, at his mustache. That wonderful adornment was wonderfully luxuriant, gray and curly, pretty to an extreme, and kept most fastidiously trimmed, and it lifted when he smiled to display a most engaging row of white, even teeth. Centered upon this magnificent combination the gaze never roved to the animal nose, to the lobeless ears, to the watery blue eyes half obscured by the lower lids. He was immaculately, though a shade too youthfully, dressed in a gray frock suit, with pearl-gray spats upon his shoes, and he was most charmed to see young Mr. Burnit.

"You have a very neat little suite of offices here, Mr. Burnit," he commented, seating himself gracefully and depositing his gray hat, his gray cane and his gray gloves carefully to one side of him upon Bobby's desk.

"I'm afraid they are a little too nice for practical purposes," Bobby confessed. "I have found that business isn't a parlor game."

"Precisely what I came to see you about," said Mr. Sharpe. "I understand you have been a trifle unfortunate, but that is because you did not go into the regular channels. An established and paying corporation is the only worth-while proposition, and if you have not yet settled upon an investment I would like to suggest that you become interested in our local Brightlight Electric Company."

"I thought there was no gas or electric stock for sale," said Bobby slowly, clinging still to a vague impression that he had gained five or six years before.

"Not to the public," replied Mr. Sharpe, smiling, "and there would not have been privately except for the necessity of a reorganization. The Brightlight needs more capital for expansion, and I have too many other interests, even aside from the Consumers' Electric Light and Power and the United Gas and Fuel Companies, to spare the money myself—and the Brightlight is too good to let the general public in on." He smiled again, quite meaningly this time. "This is quite confidential, of course," he added.

Bobby bowed his acknowledgment of the confidence which had been reposed in him, and generously began at once to reconstruct his impressions of the impossible Mr. Sharpe. You couldn't believe all you heard, you know.

"The Brightlight," went on Mr. Sharpe, "is at present capitalized for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and is a good ten-per-cent.-dividend-paying stock at the present moment; but its business is not growing, and I propose to take in sufficient capital to raise the Brightlight to a half-million-dollar corporation, clear off its indebtedness and project certain extensions. I understand that you have the necessary amount, and here is the proposition I offer you. Brightlight stock is now quoted at a hundred and seventy-two. We will double its present capitalization, and you may take up the extra two hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of its stock at par, or about three-fifths of its actual value. That is a bargain to be snapped at, Mr. Burnit."

Did Bobby Burnit snap at this proposition? He did not. Bobby had learned caution through his two bitter failures, and of caution is born wisdom.

"Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of stock in a five-hundred-thousand-dollar corporation won't do for me," he declared with a firmness that was pleasant to his own ears. "I don't care to go into any proposition in which I have not the controlling interest."

Mr. Sharpe, remembering the details of Bobby's Trimmer and Company experiment, hastily turned his imminent smile of amusement into a merely engaging one.

"I don't blame you, Mr. Burnit," said he; "but to show you that I am more willing to trust you than you are to trust me, if you care to go into this thing I'll agree to sell you from one to ten shares of my individual stock—at its present market value, of course."

"That's very good of you," agreed Bobby, suddenly ashamed of his ungenerous stand in the face of this sportsmanlike attitude. "But really I've had cause for timidity."

"Caution is not cowardice," said Mr. Sharpe in a tone which conveyed a world of friendly approbation. "This matter must be taken up very soon, however, and I can not allow you more than a week to investigate. I'd be pleased to receive your legal and business advisers at any time you may nominate, and to give them any advantage you may wish."

"I'll investigate it at least, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity," said Bobby, really very contrite that he had been doing Sharpe such a mental injustice all these years. "By the way," he suddenly added, "has Silas Trimmer anything whatever to do with this proposition?"

Mr. Sharpe smiled.

"Mr. Trimmer does not own one share of stock in the Brightlight Electric Company, nor will he own it," he answered.

"In that case," said Bobby, "I am satisfied to consider your offer without fear of heart-disease."

The departing caller met an incoming one in the outer office, and Agnes, sweeping into Bobby's room, breathlessly gasped:

"That was Frank Sharpe!"

"The same," admitted Bobby, smiling down at her and taking both her hands.

"I never saw him so closely," she declared. "Really, he's quite distinguished-looking."

"As long as he avoids a close shave," supplemented Bobby. "But what brings you into the—the busy marts of trade so early in the morning?"

"My trusteeship," she answered him loftily, producing some documents from her hand-bag. "And I'm in a hurry. Sign them papers."

"Them there papers," he kindly corrected, and seating himself at his desk he examined the minor transfers perfunctorily and signed them.

"I'm afraid I'm a failure as a trustee," she told him. "I ought to have had more power. I ought to have been authorized to keep you out of bad company. How came Mr. Sharpe to call on you, for instance?"

"To make my fortune," he gravely assured her. "Mr. Sharpe wants me to go into the Brightlight Electric Company with him."

"I can imagine your courteous adroitness in putting the man back in his place," she laughed. "How preposterous! Why, he's utterly impossible!"

"Ye-e-es?" questioned Bobby. "But you know, Agnes, this isn't a pink-tea affair. It's business, which is at the other end of the world."

"You're not honestly defending him, Bobby?" she protested incredulously. "Why, I do believe you are considering the man seriously!"

"Why not?" he persisted, arguing against his own convictions as much as against hers. "We want me to make some money, don't we? To make a success that will let me marry you?"

"I'm not to say so, remember," she reminded him.

"Father put no lock on my tongue, though," he reminded her in turn; "so I'll just lay down the dictum that as soon as I succeed in any one business deal I'm going to marry you, and I don't care whether the commodity I handle is electricity or potatoes."

"But Frank L. Sharpe!" she exclaimed, with shocked remembrance of certain whispered stories she had heard.

"Really, I don't see where he enters into it," persisted Bobby. "The Brightlight Electric Company is a stock corporation, in which Mr. Sharpe happens to own some shares; that is all."

She shook her head.

"I can't seem to like it," she told him, and rose to go.

The door opened, and Johnson, with much solemnity, though in his eyes there lurked a twinkle, brought in a card which, with much stiff ceremony, he handed to Bobby.

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