"I'm going to keep mine, too," Bobby informed him quite cheerfully. "I have just found that I have one, and I like it."
Stone brushed this triviality aside with a wave of his heavy hand.
"Quit kidding," he said, "and come out with it. I see you're no piker, anyhow. You're playing for big game. What is it you want?"
"As I said before, not very much," declared Bobby. "I only want to grind your machine into powder. I want to dig up the rotten municipal control of this city, root and branch. I want to ferret out every bit of crookedness in which you have been concerned, and every bit that you have caused. I want to uncover every man, high or low, for just what he is, and I don't care how well protected he is nor how shining his reputation, if he's concerned in a crooked deal I'm going after him—"
"There won't be many of us left," Stone interrupted with a smile.
"—I want to get back some of the money you have stolen from this city," continued Bobby; "and I want, last of all, to drive you out of this town for good."
Stone rose with a sigh.
"This is the only chance I'll give you to climb in with the music," he rumbled. "I've kept off three days, figuring out where you were leading to and what you were after. Now, last of all, what will you take to call it off?"
"I have told you the price," said Bobby.
"Then you're looking for trouble and you must have it, eh?"
"I suppose I must."
"Then you'll get it," and without the sign of a frown upon his brow Mr. Stone left the office.
The next morning things began to happen. The First National Bank called up the business office of the Bulletin and ordered its advertisement discontinued. Not content alone with that, President De Graff called up Bobby personally, and in a very cold and dignified voice told him that the First National was compelled to withdraw its patronage on account of the undignified personal attacks in which the Bulletin was indulging. Bobby whistled softly. He knew De Graff quite well; they were, in fact, upon most intimate terms, socially.
"I should think, De Graff," Bobby remonstrated, "that of all people the banks should be glad to have all this crookedness rooted out of the city. As a matter of fact, I intended shortly to ask your cooeperation in the formation of a citizens' committee to insure honest politics."
"I really could not take any active part in such a movement, Mr. Burnit," returned De Graff, still more coldly. "The conservatism necessary to my position forbids my connection with any sensational publicity whatsoever."
An hour later, Crone, the advertising manager, came up to Bobby very much worried, to report that not only the First National but the Second Market Bank had stopped their advertising, as had Trimmer and Company, and another of the leading dry-goods firms.
"Of course," said Crone, "your editorial policy is your own, but I'm afraid that it is going to be ruinous to your advertising."
"I shouldn't wonder," admitted Bobby dryly, and that was all the satisfaction he gave Crone; but inwardly he was somewhat disturbed.
He had not thought of the potency of this line of attack. While he knew nothing of the newspaper business, he had already made sure that the profit was in the advertising. He sent for Jolter.
"Ben," he asked, "what is the connection between the First National and the Second Market Banks and Sam Stone?"
"Money," said the managing editor promptly. "Both banks are depositories of city funds."
"I see," said Bobby slowly. "Do any other banks enjoy this patronage?"
"The Merchants' and the Planters' and Traders' hold the county funds, which are equally at Stone's disposal."
Bobby heard this news in silence, and Jolter, after looking at him narrowly for a moment, added:
"I'll tell you something else. Not one of the four banks pays to the city or the county one penny of interest on these deposits. This is well known to the newspapers, but none of them has dared use it."
"Go after them," said Bobby.
"Moreover, it is strongly suspected that the banks pay interest privately to Stone, through a small and select ring in the court-house and in the city hall."
"Go after them."
"I suppose you know the men who will be involved in this," said Jolter.
"Some of my best friends, I expect," said Bobby.
"And some of the most influential citizens in this town," retorted Jolter. "They can ruin the Bulletin. They could ruin any business."
"The thing's crooked, isn't it?" demanded Bobby.
"As a dog's hind leg."
"Go after them, Jolter!" Bobby reiterated. Then he laughed aloud. "De Graff just telephoned me that 'the conservatism of his position forbids him to take part in any sensational publicity whatsoever.'"
Comment other than a chuckle was superfluous from either one of them, and Jolter departed to the city editor's room, to bring joy to the heart of the staff.
It was "Bugs" Roach who scented the far-reaching odor of this move with the greatest joy.
"You know what this means, don't you?" he delightedly commented. "A grand jury investigation. Oh, listen to the band!"
Before noon the Merchants' and the Planters' and Traders' Banks had withdrawn their advertisements.
At about the same hour a particularly atrocious murder was committed in one of the suburbs. Up in the reporters' room of the police station, Thomas, of the Bulletin, and Graham, of the Chronicle, were indulging in a quiet game of whist with two of the morning newspaper boys, when a roundsman stepped to the door and called Graham out. Graham came back a moment later after his coat, with such studied nonchalance that the other boys, eternally suspicious as police reporters grow to be, looked at him narrowly, and Thomas asked him, also with studied nonchalance:
"The candy-store girl, or the one in the laundry office?"
"Business, young fellow, business," returned Graham loftily. "I guess the Chronicle knows when it has a good man. I'm called into the office to save the paper. They're sending a cub down to cover the afternoon. Don't scoop him, old man."
"Not unless I get a chance," promised Thomas, but after Graham had gone he went down to the desk and, still unsatisfied, asked:
"Anything doing, Lieut.?"
"Dead as a door-nail," replied the lieutenant, and Thomas, still with an instinct that something was wrong, still sensitive to a certain suppressed tingling excitement about the very atmosphere of the place, went slowly back to the reporters' room, where he spent a worried half-hour.
The noonday edition of the Chronicle carried, in the identical columns devoted in the Bulletin to a further attack on Stone, a lurid account of the big murder; and the Bulletin had not a line of it! A sharp call from Brown to Thomas, at central police, apprised the latter that he had been "scooped," and brought out the facts in the case. Thomas hurried down-stairs and bitterly upbraided Lieutenant Casper.
"Look here, you Thomas," snapped Casper; "you Bulletin guys have been too fresh around here for a long time."
In Casper's eyes—Casper with whom he had always been on cordial joking terms—he saw cruel implacability, and, furious, he knew himself to be "in" for that most wearing of all newspaper jobs—"doing police" for a paper that was "in bad" with the administration. He needed no one to tell him the cause. At three-thirty, Thomas, and Camden, who was doing the city hall, and Greenleaf Whittier Squiggs, who was subbing for the day on the courts, appeared before Jim Brown in an agonized body. Thomas had been scooped on the big murder, Camden and G. W. Squiggs had been scooped, at the city hall and the county building, on the only items worth while, and they were all at white heat; though it was a great consolation to Squiggs, after all, to find himself in such distinguished company.
Brown heard them in silence, and with great solemnity conducted them across the hall to Jolter, who also heard them in silence and conducted them into the adjoining room to Bobby. Here Jolter stood back and eyed young Mr. Burnit with great interest as his two experienced veterans and his ambitious youngster poured forth their several tales of woe. Bobby, as it became him to be, was much disturbed.
"How's the circulation of the Bulletin?" he asked of Jolter.
"Five times what it ever was in its history," responded Jolter.
"Do you suppose we can hold it?"
"How much does a scoop amount to?"
"Well," confessed Jolter, with his eyes twinkling, "I hate to tell you before the boys, but my own opinion is that we know it and the Chronicle knows it and Stone knows it, but day after to-morrow the public couldn't tell you on its sacred oath whether it read the first account of the murder in the Bulletin or in the Chronicle."
Bobby heaved a sigh of relief.
"I always had the impression that a 'beat' meant the death, cortege and cremation of the newspaper that fell behind in the race," he smiled. "Boys, I'm afraid you'll have to stand it for a while. Do the best you can and get beaten as little as possible. By the way, Jolter, I want to see you a minute," and the mournful delegation of three, no whit less mournful because they had been assured that they would not be held accountable for being scooped, filed out.
"What's the connection," demanded Bobby, the minute they were alone, "between the police department and Sam Stone?"
"Money!" replied Jolter. "Chief of Police Cooley is in reality chief collector. The police graft is one of the richest Stone has. The rake-off from saloons that are supposed to close at one and from crooked gambling joints and illegal resorts of various kinds, amounts, I suppose, to not less than ten to fifteen thousand dollars a week. Of course, the patrolmen get some, but the bulk of it goes to Cooley, who was appointed by Stone, and the biggest slice of all goes to the Boss."
"Go after Cooley," said Bobby. Then suddenly he struck his fist upon the desk. "Great Heavens, man!" he exclaimed. "At the end of every avenue and street and alley that I turn down with the Bulletin I find an open sewer."
"The town is pretty well supplied," admitted Jolter. "How do you feel now about your policy?"
"Pretty well staggered," confessed Bobby; "but we're going through with the thing just the same."
"It's a man's-size job," declared Jolter; "but if you get away with it the Bulletin will be the best-paying piece of newspaper property west of New York."
"Not the way the advertising's going," said Bobby, shaking his head and consulting a list on his desk. "Where has Stone a hold on the dry-goods firm of Rolands and Crawford?"
"They built out circular show-windows, all around their big block, and these extend illegally upon two feet of the sidewalk."
"And how about the Ebony Jewel Coal Company?"
"They have been practically allowed to close up Second Street, from Water to Canal, for a dump."
Bobby sighed hopelessly.
"We can't fight everybody in town," he complained.
"Yes, but we can!" exclaimed Jolter with a sudden fire that surprised Bobby, since it was the first the managing editor displayed. "Don't weaken, Burnit! I'm with you in this thing, heart and soul! If we can hold out until next election we will sweep everything before us."
"We will hold out!" declared Bobby.
"I am so sure of it that I'll stand treat," assented Mr. Jolter with vast enthusiasm, and over an old oak table, in a quiet place, Mr. Jolter and Mr. Burnit, having found the sand in each other's craws, cemented a pretty strong liking.
AN EXCITING GAME OF TIT FOR TAT WITH HIRED THUGS
The Bulletin, continuing its warfare upon Stone and every one who supported him, hit upon names that had never before been mentioned but in terms of the highest respect, and divers and sundry complacent gentlemen who attended church quite regularly began to look for a cyclone cellar. They were compromised with Stone and they could not placate Bobby. The four banks that had withdrawn their advertisements, after a hasty conference with Stone put them back again the first day their names were mentioned. The business department of the Bulletin cheerfully accepted those advertisements at the increased rate justified by the Bulletin's increased circulation; but the editorial department just as cheerfully kept castigating the erring conservators of the public money, and the advertisements disappeared again.
Bobby's days now were beset from a hundred quarters with agonized appeals to change his policy. This man and that man and the other man high in commercial and social and political circles came to him with all sorts of pressure, and even Payne Winthrop and Nick Allstyne, two of his particular cronies of the Idlers', not being able to catch him at the club any more, came up to his office.
"This won't do, old man," protested Payne; "we're missing you at billiards and bridge whist, but your refusal to take part in the coming polo tourney was the last straw. You're getting to be a regular plebe."
"I am a plebe," admitted Bobby. "What's the use to deny it? My father was a plebe. He came off the farm with no earthly possessions more valuable than the patches on his trousers. I am one generation from the soil, and since I have turned over a furrow or two, just plain earth smells good to me."
Both of Bobby's friends laughed. They liked him too well to take him seriously in this.
"But really," said Nick, returning to the attack, "the boys at the club were talking over the thing and think this rather bad form, this sort of a fight you're making. You're bound to become involved in a nasty controversy."
"Yes?" inquired Bobby pleasantly. "Watch me become worse involved. More than that, I think I shall come down to the Idlers', when I get things straightened out here, organize a club league and make you fellows march with banners and torch-lights."
This being a more hilarious joke than the other the boys laughed quite politely, though Payne Winthrop grew immediately serious again.
"But we can't lose you, Bobby," he insisted. "We want you to quit this sort of business and come back again to the old crowd. There are so few of us left, you know, that we're getting lonesome. Stan Rogers is getting up a glorious hunt and he wants us all to come up to his lodge for a month at least. You should be tired of this by now, anyhow."
"Not a bit of it," declared Bobby.
"Oh, of course, you have your money involved," admitted Payne, "and you must play it through on that account; but I'll tell you: if you do want to sell I know where I could find a buyer for you at a profit."
Bobby turned on him like a flash.
"Look here, Payne," said he. "Where is your interest in this?"
"My interest?" repeated Payne blankly.
"Yes, your interest. What have you to gain by having me sell out?"
"Why, really, Bobby—" began Payne, thinking to temporize.
"You're here for that purpose, and must tell me why," insisted Bobby sternly, tapping his finger on the desk.
"Well, if you must know," stammered Payne, taken out of himself by sheer force of Bobby's manner, "my respected and revered—"
"I see," said Bobby.
"The—the pater is thinking of entering politics next year, and he rather wants an organ."
"And Nick, where's yours?"
"Well," confessed Nick, with no more force of reservation than had Payne when mastery was used upon him, "mother's city property and mine, you know, contains some rather tumbledown buildings that are really good for a number of years yet, but which adverse municipal government might—might depreciate in value."
"Just a minute," said Bobby, and he sent for Jolter.
"Ben," he asked, "do you know anything about Mr. Adam Winthrop's political aspirations?"
"I understand he's being groomed for governor," said Jolter.
"Meet his son, Mr. Jolter—Mr. Payne Winthrop. Also Mr. Nick Allstyne. I suppose Mr. Winthrop is to run on Stone's ticket?" continued Bobby, breaking in upon the formalities as quickly as possible.
"Payne," said Bobby, "if your father wants to talk with me about the Bulletin he must come himself. Jolter, do you know where the Allstyne properties are?"
Jolter looked at Nick and Nick colored.
"That's rather a blunt question, under the circumstances, Mr. Burnit," said Jolter, "but I don't see why it shouldn't be answered as bluntly. It's a row of two blocks on the most notorious street of the town, frame shacks that are likely to be the start of a holocaust, any windy night, which will sweep the entire down-town district. They should have been condemned years ago."
"Nick," said Bobby, "I'll give you one month to dispose of that property, because after that length of time I'm going after it."
This was but a sample. Bobby had at last become suspicious, and as old John Burnit had shrewdly observed in one of his letters: "It hurts to acquire suspiciousness, but it is quite necessary; only don't overdo it."
Bobby, however, was in a field where suspiciousness could scarcely be overdone. When any man came to protest or to use influence on Bobby in his fight, Bobby took the bull by the horns, called for Jolter, who was a mine of information upon local affairs, and promptly found out the reason for that man's interest; whereupon he either warned him off or attacked him, and made an average of ten good, healthy enemies a day. He scared Adam Winthrop out of the political race entirely, he made the Allstynes tear down their fire-traps and erect better-paying and consequently more desirable tenements, and he had De Graff and the other involved bankers "staggering in circles and hoarsely barking," as "Bugs" Roach put it.
So far, Bobby had been subjected to no personal annoyances, but on the day after his first attack on the chief of police he began to be arrested for breaking the speed laws, and fined the limit, even though he drove his car but eight miles an hour, while his news carriers and his employees were "pinched" upon the most trivial pretexts. Libel suits were brought wherever a merchant or an official had a record clear enough to risk such procedure, and three of these suits were decided against him; whereupon Bobby, finding the money chain which bound certain of the judges to Sam Stone, promptly attacked these members of the judiciary and appealed his cases.
His very name became a red rag to every member of Stone's crowd; but up to this point no violence had been offered him. One night, however, as he was driving his own car homeward, men on the watch for him stepped out of an alley mouth two blocks above the Burnit residence and strewed the street thickly with sharp-pointed coil springs. One of these caught a tire, and Bobby, always on the alert for the first sign of such accidents, brought his car to a sudden stop, reached down for his tire-wrench and jumped out. Just as he stooped over to examine the tire, some instinct warned him, and he turned quickly to find three men coming upon him from the alley, the nearest one with an uplifted slung-shot. It was with just a glance from the corner of his eye as he turned that Bobby caught the import of the figure towering above him, and then his fine athletic training came in good stead. With a sidewise spring he was out of the sphere of that descending blow, and, swinging with his heavy wrench, caught the fellow a smash upon the temple which laid him unconscious. Before the two other men had time to think, he was upon them and gave one a broken shoulder-blade. The other escaped. There had been no word from any of the three men which might lead to an explanation of this attack, but Bobby needed no explanation; he divined at once the source from which it came, and in the morning he sent for Biff Bates.
"Biff," said he, "I spoke once about securing some thugs to act as a counter-irritant against Stone, but I have neglected it. How long will it take to get hold of some?"
"Ten minutes, if I wait till dark," replied Biff. "I can go down to the Blue Star, and for ten iron men apiece can get you as fine a bunch of yeggs as ever beat out a cripple's brains with his own wooden leg."
"I don't want them to go quite that far," he objected. "Are they men you can depend upon not to sell out to Stone?"
"Just one way," replied Biff. "The choice line of murderers that hang out down around the levee are half of them sore on Stone, anyhow; but they're afraid of him, and the only way you can use them is to give 'em enough to get 'em out of town. For ten a throw you can buy them body and soul."
"I'll take about four, to start on duty to-night, and stay on duty till they accomplish what I want done," and Bobby detailed his plan to Biff.
Stone had one peculiarity. Knowing that he had enemies, and those among the most reckless class in the world, he seldom allowed himself to be caught alone; but every night he held counsel with some of his followers at a certain respectable beer-garden where, in the summer-time, a long table in a quiet, half-screened corner was reserved for him and his followers, and in the winter a back room was given up for the same purpose. Here Stone transacted all the real business of his local organization, drinking beer, reviving strange-looking callers, and confining his own remarks to a grunted yes or no, or a brief direction. Every night at about nine-thirty he rose, yawned, and, unattended, walked back through the beer-garden to the alley, where he stood for some five minutes. This was his retreat for uninterrupted thought, and when he came back from it he had the day's developments summed up and the necessary course of action resolved upon.
On the second night after the attempted assault upon Bobby he had no sooner closed the alley door behind him than a man sprang upon him from either side, a heavy hand was placed over his mouth, and he was dragged to the ground, where a third brawny thug straddled his chest and showed him a long knife.
"See it?" demanded the man as he passed the blade before Stone's eyes. "It's hungry. You let 'em clip my brother in stir for a three-stretch when you could have saved him with a grunt, and if I wasn't workin' under orders, in half an hour they'd have you on slab six with ice packed around you and a sheet over you. But we're under orders. We're part of the reform committee, we are," and all three of them laughed silently, "and there's a string of us longer than the Christmas bread-line, all crazy for a piece of this getaway coin. And here's the little message I got to give you. This time you're to go free. Next time you're to have your head beat off. This thuggin' of peaceable citizens has got to be stopped; see?"
A low whistle from a man stationed at the mouth of the alley interrupted the speech which the man with the knife was enjoying so much, and he sprang from the chest of Stone, who had been struggling vainly all this time. As the man sprang up and started to run, he suddenly whirled and gave Stone a vicious kick upon the hip, and as Stone rose, another man kicked him in the ribs. All three of them ran, and Stone, scrambling to his feet with difficulty, whipped his revolver from his pocket and snapped it. Long disused, however, the trigger stuck, but he took after them on foot in spite of the pain of the two fearful kicks that he had received. Instead of darting straight out of the alley, the men turned in at a small gate at the side of a narrow building on the corner, and slammed the gate behind them. He could hear the drop of the wooden bolt. He knew perfectly that entrance. It was to the littered back yard of a cheap saloon, at the side of which ran a narrow passageway to the street beyond, where street-cars passed every half-minute.
Just as he came furiously up to the gate a policeman darted in at the alley mouth, and, catching the glint of Stone's revolver, whipped his own. He ran quite fearlessly to Stone, and with a dextrous blow upon the wrist sent the revolver spinning.
"You're under arrest," said he.
For just one second he covered his man, then his arm dropped and his jaw opened in astonishment.
"Why, it's Stone!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, damn you, it's Stone!" screamed the Boss, livid with fury, and overcome with anger he dealt the policeman a staggering blow in the face. "You damned flat-foot, I'll teach you to notice who you put your hands on! Give me that badge!"
White-faced and with trembling fingers, and with a trickle of blood starting slowly from a cut upon his cheek, the man unfastened his badge.
"Now, go back to Cooley and tell him I broke you," Stone ordered, and turned on his heel.
By the time he reached the back door of the beer-garden he was limping most painfully, but when he rejoined his crowd he said nothing of the incident. In the brief time that it had taken him to go from the alley mouth to that table he had divined the significance of the whole thing. For the first time in his career he knew himself to be a systematically marked man, as he had systematically marked others; and he was not beyond reason. Thereafter, Bobby Burnit was in no more jeopardy from hired thugs, and for a solid year he kept up his fight, with plenty of material to last him for still another twelvemonth. It was a year which improved him in many ways, but Aunt Constance Elliston objected to the improvement.
"Bobby, they are spoiling you," she complained. "They're taking your suavity away from you, and you're acquiring grim, hard lines around your mouth."
"They're making him," declared Agnes, looking fondly across at the firm face and into the clear, unwavering eyes.
Bobby answered the look of Agnes with one that needed no words to interpret, and laughed at Aunt Constance.
"I suppose they are spoiling me," he confessed, "and I'm glad of it. I'm glad, above all, that I'm losing the sort of suavity which led me to smile and tell a man politely to take it, when he reached his hand into my pocket for my money."
"You'll do," agreed Uncle Dan. "When you took hold of the Bulletin, your best friends only gave you two months, But are you making any money?"
Bobby's face clouded.
"Spending it like water. We have practically no advertising, and a larger circulation than I want. We lose money on every copy of the paper that we sell."
Uncle Dan shook his head.
"Is there a chance that you will ever get it back?" he asked.
"Bobby's so used to failure that he doesn't mind," interjected Aunt Constance.
"Mind!" exclaimed Bobby. "I never minded it so much in my life as I do now. The Bulletin must win. I'm bound that it shall win! If we come out ahead in our fight against Stone I'll get all my advertising back, and I'll keep my circulation, which makes advertising rates."
The telephone bell rang in the study adjoining the dining-room, and Bobby, who had been more or less distrait all evening, half rose from his chair. In a moment more the maid informed them that the call was for Mr. Burnit. In the study they could hear his voice, excited and exultant. He returned as delighted as a school-boy.
"Now I can tell you something," he announced. "Within five minutes the Bulletin will have exclusive extras on the street, announcing that the legislature has just appointed a committee to investigate municipal affairs throughout the state. That means this town. I have spent ten thousand dollars in lobbying that measure through, and charged it all to improvements' on the Bulletin. Sounds like I had joined the ranks of the 'boodlers,' don't it? Well, I don't give a cooky for ethics so long as I know I'm right. I'd have been a simp, as Biff Bates calls it, to go among that crowd of hungry law jugglers with kind words and the ten commandments. I'm not using crossbows against cannon, and as a result I'm winning. I got my measure through, and now I think we'll put Stone and his crew of freebooters on the grill, with some extra-hot coals for my friend De Graff and the other saintly sinners who have been playing into Stone's hands. I have been working a year for this, and the entire politics of this town, with wide-reaching results in the state, is disrupted."
"You selfish boy," chided Aunt Constance. "You have been here with us for more than an hour, expecting this all the time, and have not breathed one word of it to us. Don't you trust anybody any more?"
"Oh, yes," replied Bobby easily; "but only when it is necessary."
Agnes smiled across at him in calm content. She had but very little to say now. She was in that blissful happiness that comes to any woman when the man most in her mind is reaping his meed of success from a long and hard-fought battle.
"Spoken like your father, Bobby," laughed Uncle Dan. "You're coming to look more and more like him every day. You talk like him and act like him. You have the same snap of your jaws. Your father, however, never dabbled in politics. He always despised it, and I see you're bound to be knee-deep in it."
"My father would have succeeded in politics," said Bobby confidently, "as he succeeded in everything else, after he once got started. I have his confession in writing, however, that he made a few fool mistakes himself along at first. As for politics, I am in it knee-deep, and I'm going to elect my own slate next fall."
"Another reform party, of course," suggested Uncle Dan with a smile.
"Not for Bobby," replied that decided young gentleman. "I am forming an affiliation with Cal Lewis."
"Cal Lewis!" exclaimed Uncle Dan aghast. Then he closed his eyes and laughed softly. "As notorious in his way as Sam Stone himself. Why, Bobby, that's fighting fire with gasolene."
"It's setting a thief to catch a thief. You must remember that for fifteen years Cal hasn't had any of the pie except in a minor way, and all this time he's been fighting Stone tooth and toe-nail. The late reform movement, which failed so lamentably to carry out its gaudy promises after it had won, left him entirely out of its calculations, and Lewis actually joined with Stone in overturning it. I propose to use Lewis' knowledge of political machinery, but in my own way. As a matter of fact, I have already engaged him and put him on salary; a good, stiff one, too. His business is to organize my political machine. I'm going to have a slate of clean men, who will not only conduct the business of this county and city with probity but with discretion, and I do not mind telling you that my candidate for mayor is Chalmers."
Agnes gave a little cry of delight, and even Aunt Constance clapped her hands lightly, for Chalmers, a young lawyer of excellent social connections, was a prime favorite with the Ellistons, and in the business he had transacted for the Burnit estate Bobby had found in him sterling qualities.
"Chalmers is a good man," agreed Uncle Dan, "though he is young, and practically without political influence; but, if you can make him mayor, I predict a brilliant political future for him."
"He will have it," said Bobby confidently, "for I intend to make him the attorney for the investigating committee, and through his work I expect to have not less than a hundred thousand dollars of stolen money turned back into the city and county treasuries."
As Bobby announced this he rose mechanically, and, still absorbed in the details of his big fight, walked out into the hall. It was not until he had his coat on and his hat in his hand that he came to himself; and with the deepest confusion found that he had been about to walk out without making any adieus whatever.
"Why, where are you going?" inquired Agnes, as he came back into the drawing-room.
He laughed sheepishly.
"Why," he explained, "ever since I received that telephone message I have been seeing before me the Bulletin extra that they are throwing on the street right now, and I forgot everything else. I'll simply have to go down and hold a copy of it in my hands."
"You're just a big boy," laughed Aunt Constance. "Will you ever grow up?"
"I hope not," declared Agnes, and taking his arm she strolled with him to the door in perfect peace and confidence.
MR. STONE LEAVES BOBBY A PARTING COMMISSION AND A LEFT-HANDED BLESSING
It looked good to Bobby, that late extra of the Bulletin, and the force that he had kept on duty to get it out greeted him, as he walked through the office, with a running fire of comment and congratulation that was almost like applause. He had bought a copy on the street as he came in, and as he spread it out there came upon him a thrill of realization that this ought to be the beginning of the end.
It was. The fact that Bobby, through the Bulletin, had forced this action, made him a power to be reckoned with; and straws, whole bales of them, began to show which way the wind was blowing.
One morning a delegation headed by the Reverend Doctor Larynx waited upon him. The Reverend Doctor was a minister of great ingenuity and force, who sought the salvation of souls through such vital topics as Shall Men Go Coatless in Summer? The Justice of Three-Cent Car Fares, and The Billboards Must Go. All public questions, civic, state or national, were thoroughly thrashed out in the pulpit of the Reverend Larynx, and turned adrift with the seal of his condemnation or approval duly fixed upon them; and he managed to get his name and picture in the papers almost as often as the man who took eighty-seven bottles of Elixo and still survived. With him were four thoroughly respectable men of business, two of whom wore side-whiskers and the other two of whom wore white bow-ties.
"Fine business, Mr. Burnit," said the Reverend Doctor Larynx in a loud, hearty voice, advancing with three strides and clasping Bobby's hand in a vise-like grip; for he was a red-blooded minister, was the Reverend Doctor Larynx, and he believed in getting down among the "pee-pul." "The Bulletin has proved itself a mighty fine engine of reform, and the reputable citizens of this municipality now see a ray of hope before them."
"I'm afraid that the reputable citizens," ventured Bobby, "have no one but themselves to blame for their past hopeless condition. They're too selfish to vote."
"You have hit the nail on the head," declaimed the Reverend Larynx with a loud, hearty laugh, "but the Bulletin will rouse them to a sense of duty. Last night, Mr. Burnit, the Utopian Club was formed with an initial membership of over seventy, and it selected a candidate for mayor of whom the Bulletin is bound to approve. Shake hands with Mr. Freedom, the Utopian Club's candidate for mayor, Mr. Burnit."
Bobby shook hands with Mr. Freedom quite nicely, and studied him curiously.
He was one of the two who wore side-whiskers and a habitual Prince Albert, and he displayed a phenomenal length from lower lip to chin, which, by reason of his extremely high and narrow forehead, gave his features the appearance of being grouped in tiny spots somewhere near the center of a long, yellow cylinder. Mr. Freedom, he afterward ascertained, was a respectable singing-teacher.
"Professor Freedom," went on the Reverend Doctor Larynx, still loudly and heartily, "has the time to devote to this office, as well as the ideal qualifications. He has no vices whatever. He does not even smoke nor use tobacco in any form, and under his regime the saloons of this town would be turned into vacant store-rooms, if there are laws to make possible such action."
"I do not want the saloons put out of business," declared Bobby. "I merely want them vacated at twelve every night, without exception."
When Doctor Larynx and his delegation went away in wrath the leader was already preparing his sermon upon The Iniquity of the Sons of Rich Fathers.
On the following day a delegation from the business men's club waited upon him. The business men's club wanted a business administration. This crowd Bobby handled differently. Upon his desk, tabulated in advance against just such an emergency, he had statistics concerning all the business men's administrations that had been tried in various cities, and he submitted this statement without argument. It needed none.
"Politics is in itself a distinct business," he explained. "You would not one of you take up the duties of a surveyor without previous training. The only trouble is that there are no restrictions placed upon politicians. I propose to use them, but to regulate them."
He did not convert the delegation by this one interview, but he did by cultivating these men and others of their kind separately. He ate luncheons and dinners with them at the Traders' Club, played billiards with them, smoked and talked with them; and the burden of his talk was Chalmers. When he finally got ready for his campaign the business men were with him unanimously, at least outwardly. Inwardly, there were reservations, for the matter of special privileges was one to be very gravely considered; and special privileges, at a price not entirely prohibitive, was the bulwark of Stone's regime.
"But the Stone regime," Bobby advised them, coming brutally to the point and telling them what he knew of their own affairs and Stone's, "is about to come to an end. The handwriting is on the wall, and you might just as well climb into the band wagon, for at last I have the public on my side."
At last he had. For a solid year he had been trying to understand the peculiar apathy of the public, and he did not understand it yet. They seemed to like Stone and to look upon his wholesale corruption as a joke; but by constant hammering, by showing the unredeemable cussedness of Stone and his crowd, he had produced some impression—an impression that, alas! was of the surface only—until the investigating committee began its sessions. When it became understood, however, that certain of the thieves might actually be sent to the penitentiary, then who so loud in their denunciation as the public? Why, Stone had robbed them right and left; why, Stone was an enemy to mankind; why, Stone and all his friends were monsters whom it were a good and a holy thing to skewer and flay and cast into everlasting brimstone!
Facts were uncovered that set the entire city in turmoil. More than fifty men who had never been born had been carried upon the city and county pay-rolls, and half of their salaries went directly into Stone's pocket, the other half going to the men who conducted this paying enterprise. Contracts for city paving and other improvements were let to favored bidders at an enormous figure, and Stone personally had one-fourth of the huge profits on "scamped" work, another fourth going to those who arranged the details and did the collecting. Innumerable instances of this sort were brought out; but the biggest scandal of all, in that it involved men who should have been unassailable, was that of the banks. The relentless probe brought out the fact that all city and county funds had been distributed among four banks, the deposits yielding no revenue whatever to either commonwealth. These funds, however, had paid privately two per cent. interest, and this interest was paid in cash, in sealed envelopes, to the city and county auditors and treasurers, who took the envelopes unbroken to Stone for distribution. The amounts thus diverted from the proper channels totaled to an enormous figure, and, as this money was the most direct and approachable, Chalmers, who had the interesting role of inquisitor, set out to get it. The officials who had been longest at the crib, grown incautious were now men of property, and by the use of red-hot pincers Chalmers was able to restore nearly sixty thousand dollars of stolen money, with the possibility of more in sight.
It was upon the heels of this that Chalmers' candidacy for mayor was announced, and the manner in which the Stone machine dropped to pieces was laughable. Chalmers, and the entire slate so carefully prepared by Bobby in conjunction with the shrewd old fox, Cal Lewis, won by a majority so overwhelming as to be almost unanimous. Immediately upon Chalmers' election heads began to drop, and the first to go was Cooley, chief of police, in whom, four years later, Bobby recognized the driver of his ice wagon. Coincident with the election came well-founded rumors of grand jury indictments. Two of Stone's closest and busiest lieutenants, who were most in danger of being presented with nice new suits of striped clothing, quietly converted their entire property into cash and then just as quietly slipped away to Honduras.
Late one afternoon, as Bobby sat alone in his room in the almost deserted Bulletin building, so worried over his business affairs that he had no time for elation over his political and personal triumphs, the door opened and Stone stood before him. The pouches under Stone's eyes were heavier and darker, his cheeks drooped flabbily and he seemed to have fallen away inside his clothes, but upon his face there sat the same stern impassiveness. Bobby instantly rose, having good cause to want to be well planted upon his feet with this man near him. Stone carefully closed the door behind him and advanced to the other side of Bobby's desk.
"Well, you win," he said huskily.
Bobby drew a long breath.
"It has cost me a lot of money, Mr. Stone. It has left me almost flat broke—but I got you."
"I give you credit," admitted Stone. "I didn't think anybody could do it, least of all a kid; but you got me and you got me good. It's been a hard fight for all of us, I guess. I'm a little run down," and he hesitated curiously; "my doctor says I got to take an ocean trip." He suddenly blazed out: "Damn it, you might as well be told! I'm running away!"
Bobby found himself silent. For two years he had planned and hoped for this moment of victory. Now that the exultant moment had come he found himself feeling strangely sorry for this big man, in spite of his unutterable rascality.
"I ain't coming back," Stone went on after a pause, "and there's something I want to ask you to do for me."
"I should be glad to do it, Mr. Stone, if it is anything I can allow myself to do."
"Aw, cut it!" growled Stone. "Look here. I got a list of some poor mutts I been looking out for, and I've just set aside a wad to keep it going. I want you to look after 'em and see that the money gets spread around right. I know you're square. I don't know anybody else to give it to."
To Bobby he handed a list of some fifty names and addresses, with monthly amounts set down opposite them. They were widows and orphans and helpless creatures of all sorts and conditions, blind and deaf and crippled, whom Stone, in the great passion that every man has for some one to love and revere him, and in the secret tenderness inseparable from all big natures, had made his pensioners.
"There ain't a soul on earth knows about these but me, and every one of 'em is wise to it that if they ever blat a word about it the pap's cut off. I don't want a thing, not even a hint, printed about this—see? I ain't afraid that you'll use it in the paper after me asking you not to, so I don't ask you for any promise."
"I'll do it with pleasure," offered Bobby.
"Well, I guess that's about all," said Stone, and turned to go.
Bobby came from behind his desk.
"After all, Stone," he said, with some hesitation, "I'm sorry to lose an enemy so worth while. I wish you good luck wherever you are going," and he held out his hand.
Stone looked at the proffered hand and shook his head.
"I'd rather smash your face," he growled, and passed out of the door.
It was the last that Bobby ever saw of him, and all that the Bulletin carried about his flight was the "fact," not at all too prominently displayed for the man's importance as a public figure, that Stone's health was in jeopardy and that he was about to take an ocean voyage upon the advice of his physician; and on that day Stone's picture disappeared from the place it had occupied upon the front page of the Bulletin.
It was a victory complete and final, but it was not without its sting, for on that same day Bobby faced an empty exchequer. It was Johnson who brought him the sad but not at all unexpected tidings, at a moment when Chalmers and Agnes happened to be in the office. Seeing them, Johnson hesitated at the door.
"What is it, Johnson?" asked Bobby.
"Oh, nothing much," said Mr. Johnson with a pained expression. "I'll come back again."
He had a sheet of paper with him and Bobby held out his hand for it. Still hesitating, old Johnson brought it forward and laid it down on Bobby's desk.
"You know you told me, sir, to bring this to you."
Had the others not been present he would have added the reminder that he had been instructed to bring this statement a week in advance of the time when Bobby should no longer be able to meet his payroll. Bobby looked up from the statement without any thought of reserve before these three.
"Well, it's come. I'm broke."
"Not so much a calamity in this instance as it has been in others," said Agnes sagely. "Fortunately, your trustee is right here, and your trustee's lawyer, who has two hundred and fifty thousand dollars still to your account."
Bobby listened in frowning silence, and old Johnson, who had prepared himself before he came upstairs for such a contingency, quietly laid upon Bobby's desk one of the familiar gray envelopes and withdrew. It was inscribed:
To My Son Robert, Upon the Turning Over to Him of His Sixth and Last Experimental Fund
"If a man fails six times he'd better be pensioned and left to live a life of pleasant ease; for everybody has a right to be happy, and not all can gain happiness through their own efforts. So, if you fail this last time, don't worry, my boy, but take measures to cut your garment according to the income from a million and a half dollars, invested so safely that it can yield you but two per cent. If the fault of your ill success lies with anybody it lies with me, and I blame myself bitterly for it many times as I write this letter.
"Remember, first, last and always, that I want you to be happy."
Bobby passed the letter to Agnes and the envelope to Chalmers.
"This is a little premature," he said, smiling at both of them, "for I'm not applying for the sixth portion."
Agnes looked up at him in surprise.
"Not applying for it?"
"No," he declared, "I don't want it. I understand there is a provision that I can not use two of these portions in the same business."
Both Chalmers and Agnes nodded.
"I don't want money for any other business than the Bulletin," declared Bobby, "and if my father has it fixed so that he won't help me as I want to be helped, I don't want it at all."
"There is another provision about which you perhaps don't know," Chalmers informed him; "if you refuse this money it reverts to the main fund."
Bobby studied this over thoughtfully.
"Let it revert," said he. "I'll sink or swim right here."
The next day he went to his bank and tried to borrow money. They liked Bobby very much indeed over at the bank. He was a vigorous young man, a young man of affairs, a young man who had won a great public victory, a young man whom it was generally admitted had done the city an incalculable amount of good; but they could not accept Bobby nor the Bulletin as a business proposition. Had they not seen the original fund dwindle and dwindle for two years until now there was nothing left? Wouldn't another fund dwindle likewise? It is no part of a bank's desire to foreclose upon securities. They are quite well satisfied with just the plain interest. Moreover, the Bulletin wasn't such heavy security, anyhow.
Bobby tried another bank with like results, and also some of his firm business friends at the Traders' Club. In the midst of his dilemma President De Graff of the First National came to him.
"I understand you have been trying to borrow some money, Burnit?"
It sounded to Bobby as if De Graff had come to gloat over him, since he had been instrumental in dragging De Graff and the First National through the mire.
"Yes, sir, I have," he nevertheless answered steadily.
"Why didn't you come to us?" demanded De Graff.
"To you?" said Bobby, amazed. "I never thought of you in that connection at all, De Graff, after all that has happened."
De Graff shrugged his shoulders.
"That was like pulling a tooth. It hurt and one dreaded it, but it was so much better when it was out. Until you jumped into the fight Stone had me under his thumb. The minute the exposure came he had no further hold on me. It is the only questionable thing I ever did in my life, and I'm glad it was exposed. I admire you for it, even though it will hurt me in a business way for a long time to come. But about this money now. How much do you need at the present time?"
"I'd like an account of about twenty-five thousand."
"I can let you have it at once," said De Graff, "and as much more as you need, up to a certain reasonable point that I think will be amply sufficient."
"Is this Stone's money?" asked Bobby with sudden suspicion.
De Graff smiled.
"No," said he, "it is my own. I have faith in you, Burnit, and faith in the Bulletin. Suppose you step over to the First National with me right away."
AUNT CONSTANCE ELLISTON LOSES ALL HER PATIENCE WITH A CERTAIN PROSAIC COURTSHIP
That night, with a grave new responsibility upon him and a grave new elation, sturdier and stronger than he had ever been in his life, and more his own master, Bobby went out to see Agnes.
"Agnes, when my father made you my trustee," he said, "he laid upon you the obligation that you were not to marry me until I had proved myself either a success or a failure, didn't he?"
"He did," assented Agnes demurely.
"But you are no longer my trustee. The last money over which you had nominal control has reverted to the main fund, which is in the hands of Mr. Barrister; so that releases you."
Agnes laughed softly and shook her head.
"The obligation wasn't part of the trusteeship," she reminded him.
"But if I choose to construe it that way," he persisted, "and declare the obligation null and void, how soon could you get ready to be married to the political boss of this town and one of its leading business men? Agnes," he went on, suddenly quite serious, "I can not do without you any longer. I have waited long enough. I need you and you must come to me."
"I'll come if you insist," she said simply, and laid both her hands in his. "But, Bobby, let's think about this a minute. Let's think what it means. I have been thinking of it many, many days, and really and truly I don't like to give up, because of its bearing upon our future strength. Yesterday I drove down Grand Street and looked up at that Trimmer and Company sign, and so long as that is there, Bobby, I could not feel right about our deserting the colors, as it were; that is, unless you have definitely given up the fight."
"Given up!" repeated Bobby quickly. "Why, I have just begun. I've been to school all this time, Agnes, and to a hard school, but now I'm sure I have learned my lesson. I have won a fight or two; I have had the taste of blood; I'm going after more; I'm going to win."
"I'm sure that you will," she repeated. "Think how much better satisfied we will be after you have done so."
"Yes, but think, too, of the time it will take," he protested. "First of all I must earn money; that is, I must make the Bulletin pay. I can do that. It is on the edge of earning its way right now, but I owe twenty-five thousand dollars. It is going to take a long, long time for me to win this battle, and in it I need you."
"I am always right here, Bobby," she reminded him. "I have never failed you when you needed me, have I? But maybe it won't take so long. You say you are going to make the Bulletin pay. If you do that counts for a business success, enough to release you on that side. But really, Bobby, how difficult a task would it be to get back control of your father's store?"
"Hopeless, just now," said he.
"How much money would it take?"
"Well, not so very much in comparison with the business itself," he told her. "I own two hundred and sixty thousand dollars' worth of stock, Trimmer owns two hundred and forty thousand, while sixty thousand more are scattered among his relatives and dependents. That stock is not for sale, that is the trouble; but if I could buy twenty-one thousand dollars of it I could do what I liked with the entire concern."
"Then Bobby, let's not think of anything else but how to get that stock. Let's insist on having that for our wedding present."
Bobby regarded her gravely for a long time.
"Agnes, you're a brick!" he finally concluded. "You're right, as you have always been. We'll wait. But you don't know, oh, you don't know how hard that is for me!"
"It is not the easiest thing in the world for me," she gently reminded him.
From the time that she had laid her hands in his he had held them, and now he had gathered them to him, pressing them upon his breast. Suddenly, overcome by his great longing for her, he clasped her in his arms and held her, and pressed his lips to hers. For a moment she yielded to that embrace and closed her eyes, and then she gently drew away from him.
"We mustn't indulge in that sort of thing very much," she reminded him, "or we're likely to lose all our good resolutions."
"Good resolutions," declared Bobby, "are a nuisance."
She smiled and shook her head.
"Look at the people who haven't any," she reminded him.
It was perhaps half an hour later when an idea which brought with it a smile came to her.
"We've definitely resolved now to wait until you have either accomplished what you set out to do, or completely failed, haven't we?"
"Yes," he assented soberly.
"Then I'm going to open one of the letters your father left for us. I have been dying with curiosity to know what is in it," and hurrying up to her secretary she brought down one of the inevitable gray envelopes, addressed:
To My Children Upon the Occasion of Their Deciding to Marry Before the Limit of My Prohibition
"What I can not for the life of me understand is why the devil you didn't do it long ago!"
Bobby was so thoroughly awake to the underlying principle of Agnes' contention that even this letter did nothing to change his viewpoint.
"For it isn't him, it is us, or rather it is me, who is to be considered," he declared. "But it does seem to me, Agnes, as if for once we had got the better of the governor."
They were still laughing over the unexpectedness of the letter when Aunt Constance came in, and they showed it to her.
"Good!" she exclaimed, dwelling longer upon the inscription than upon the letter itself. "I think you're quite sensible, and I'll arrange the finest wedding for Agnes that has ever occurred in the Elliston family. You must give me at least a couple of months, though. When is it to come off? Soon, I suppose?"
Carefully and patiently they explained the stand they had taken. At first she thought they were joking, and it took considerable reiteration on their part for her to understand that they were not.
"I declare I have no patience with you!" she avowed. "Of all the humdrum, prosaic people I ever saw, you are the very worst! There is no romance in you. You're as cool about it as if marriage were a commercial partnership. Oh, Dan!" and she called her husband from the library. "Now what do you think of this?" she demanded, and explained the ridiculous attitude of the young people.
"Great!" decided Uncle Dan. "Allow me to congratulate you," and he shook hands heartily with both Agnes and Bobby, whereat Aunt Constance denounced him as being a sordid soul of their own stripe and went to bed in a huff. She got up again, however, when she heard Agnes retire to her own room for the night, and came in to wrestle with that young lady in spirit. She found Agnes, however, obdurate in her content, and ended by becoming an enthusiastic supporter of the idea. "Although I did have my heart so set on a fine wedding," she plaintively concluded. "I have been planning it for ages."
"Just keep on planning, auntie," replied Agnes. "No doubt you will acquire some brilliant new ideas before the time comes."
So this utterly placid courtship went on in its old tranquil way, with Bobby a constant two and three nights a week visitor to the Elliston home, and with the two young people discussing business more frequently than anything else; for Bobby had learned to come to Agnes for counsel in everything. Just now his chief burden of conversation was the letting of the new waterworks contract, which, with public sentiment back of him, he had fought off until after the Stone administration had ended. Hamilton Ferris, an old polo antagonist of his, represented one of the competing firms as its president, and Bobby had been most anxious that he should be the successful bidder, as was Agnes; for Bobby had brought Ferris to dinner at the Ellistons and to call a couple of times during his stay in the city, and all of the Ellistons liked him tremendously. Bobby was quite crestfallen when the opening of the bids proved Ferris to be the second lowest man.
"I've tried hard enough for it," declared Ferris during a final dinner at the Ellistons that night. "There isn't much doing this year, and I figured closer than anybody in my employ would dared to have done. In view of my estimate I can not for the life of me see how your local company overbid us all by over a million dollars."
"It is curious," admitted Bobby, still much puzzled.
"It's rather unsportsmanlike in me to whine," resumed Ferris, "but I am bound to believe that there is a colored gentleman in the woodpile somewhere."
"That would be no novelty," returned Bobby. "Ever since I bought the Bulletin I have been gunning for Ethiopians amid the fuel and always found them. The Middle West Construction Company, however, is a new load of kindling to me. I never heard of it until it was announced this morning as the lowest bidder."
"Nobody ever heard of it," asserted Ferris. "It was no doubt organized for the sole purpose of bidding on this job. Probably when you delve into the matter you will discover the fine Italian hand of your political boss."
"Hardly," chuckled Uncle Dan, indulging in his recent propensity to brag on Bobby. "Our local boss was Sam Stone, and Bobby has just succeeded in running him and two of his expert wire workers out of the country."
"If anybody here is the political boss it is Bobby," observed Agnes, laughing.
"I'm sorry to have to suspect him," laughed Ferris. "Well, there is no use crying over spilled milk; but I had hoped to bring Mrs. Ferris out for a good long visit."
"Give your wife my regards, Mr. Ferris, and tell her she must come anyhow," insisted Mrs. Elliston. "Since I have heard that you married the daughter of my old schoolmate, I have been wanting the Keystone Construction Company to have a big contract here more than you have, I think."
"Sounds very nice, Constance," said her husband dryly, "but I doubt if any woman ever wanted to see the daughter of her old schoolmate as badly as any man ever wanted to make a million dollars. Bobby, I'll make you a small bet. I'll bet your new construction company is composed of the shattered fragments of the old Stone crowd. I'll even bet that Silas Trimmer is in it."
"If he is," suddenly declared Agnes, "I'm going to go into the detective business," whereat Uncle Dan enjoyed himself hugely. Her vindictiveness whenever the name of Silas Trimmer was mentioned had become highly amusing to him, in spite of the fact that he admired her for it.
"Go right ahead," said Bobby approvingly. "If you find anything that will enable me to give that gentleman a financial backset I'll see that you get a handsome reward. In the meantime I'm going to find out something about the Middle West Construction Company myself."
Accordingly he asked his managing editor about that concern the first thing in the morning.
Ben Jolter lit his old pipe, folded his bare arms and patted them alternately in speculative enjoyment.
"I have something like two pages of information about them, if we could use it," he announced. "I have been getting reports from the entire scouting brigade ever since the contract was let yesterday, and you may now prepare for a shock. The largest stock-holders of the concern are Silas Trimmer and Frank Sharpe, and the minor stock-holders, almost to a man, consist of those who had their little crack at the public crib under your old, time-tried and true friend, Sam Stone."
"I admit that I am properly shocked," responded Bobby.
"It hinges together beautifully," Jolter went on. "The whole waterworks project was a Stone scheme, and Stone people—even though Stone himself is wiped out—secure the contract. The last expiring act of the Stone administration was to employ Ed Scales as chief engineer until the completion of the waterworks, which may occupy eight or ten years, and the contract with Scales is binding on the city unless he can be impeached for cause. Scales was city engineer under the previous reform spasm, but Stone probably found him good material and kept him on. The waterworks plans were prepared under his supervision and he got them ready for bidding. Now what's the answer?"
"Easy," returned Bobby. "The city loses."
"Right," agreed Jolter; "but how? I don't see that we can do anything. Scales, having prepared the plans, is the logical man to see that they are carried out, and he is perfectly competent. His record is clean, so that he owns no property, nor does any of his family—although that may be because he never had a chance. The Middle West Construction Company, though just incorporated, is financially sound, thoroughly bonded, and, moreover, has put into the hands of the city ample guarantee for its twenty per cent. forfeit as required by the terms of the contract. There isn't a thing that the Bulletin can do except to boost local enterprise with a bit of reservation, then lay low and wait for developments."
"I dislike to do it," objected Bobby. "It hurts me to think of mentioning Stone or Trimmer in any complimentary way whatsoever."
Jolter laughed. "You're a fine and consistent enemy," he said.
"I guess I came by it honestly," smiled Bobby, and from a drawer in his desk took one of the gray John Burnit letters.
"'Always forgive your enemies,'" read Jolter aloud; "'that is, after you are good and even with them.'"
"Here goes for them, then," said Jolter, passing back the letter with an approving chuckle. "We'll let them go right ahead, and in the meantime the Bulletin will do a lot of real nifty old sleuthing."
But the Bulletin's sleuthing brought nothing wrong to light, and work upon the big waterworks contract was begun with a rush.
In the meantime Agnes, true to her threat, was doing some investigating on her own account. She renewed her girlhood acquaintance with Trimmer's daughter, who was now Mrs. Clarence Smythe, and with others of the Trimmer connection, and she saw these women folk frequently for the sole purpose of gathering up any scraps of information that might drop. The best she could gather, however, was that Clarence Smythe and Silas Trimmer were no longer upon very friendly terms; that Mrs. Smythe had quarreled with her father about Clarence; also that Clarence's Trimmer and Company stock was in Mrs. Smythe's name. These scraps of information, slight as they were, she religiously brought to Bobby. When the new waterworks began Agnes saved all the newspaper clippings relating to that tremendous undertaking, and she frequently drove out there of evenings after the workmen had all gone home; with just what purpose she could not say, but she felt impelled, as she half-sheepishly confessed to her Uncle Dan, to "keep an eye on the job." She kept up her absurd surveillance in spite of all Uncle Dan's ridicule, and one evening she came home in a state of quivering excitement. She called up Bobby at once.
"Bobby," she wanted to know, "has the city decided to cut down expenses on the waterworks, or have the plans been changed for any reason?"
"Not that the public knows about," replied Bobby. "Why?"
"The pumping station is not so big as the newspapers said it was to be. It is over thirty feet shorter and over twenty feet narrower."
"How do you know?" demanded Bobby.
"I took Wilkins out there with me to-night and had him measure it for me with a yard-stick while the watchman had gone for his supper," replied Agnes triumphantly.
Bobby stopped to laugh.
"Impossible," said he. "You have measured it wrong or misunderstood it in some way or other."
"You go out and measure it for yourself," insisted Agnes.
Partly to humor her and partly because his interest had been aroused, Bobby went out the next night and measured the pumping station, the excavation for which was already completed, and to his astonishment found that Agnes' measurements were correct. He immediately wrote to Ferris about it, told him the present dimensions and asked him upon what basis he had figured. In place of replying Ferris came on. Arriving in the city on Saturday, on Sunday he and Bobby went out to the site, and Ferris examined the new waterworks with a deliberation which well-nigh got him into serious trouble with the watchman.
"Well, young man, your fair city is stung," declared Ferris. "The trenches are not so deep as specified by two feet, and from their width I can tell that the foundation walls are to be at least six inches thinner. I bid on the best grade of Portland cement for that job. It was spelled with a B, however, in my copy of the specification, and I asked your man Scales about it. 'Oh,' said he, 'that's a misprint in the typewriting,' and he changed the B to P with a lead pencil. Under that shed are about a thousand barrels of Bortland cement. I never heard of that brand, but I can tell cement when I see it, and this stuff will have no more adhesive power than plain mud. Bedford stone was specified. They have several car-loads of stone dumped down here which is not Bedford stone at all. I could tell a piece of Bedford in the dark. This is an inferior rock which will discolor in six months and will disintegrate in five years."
Bobby thought the thing over quietly for some minutes.
"About the dimensions of the building, Ferris, you might possibly be mistaken, might you not?" asked Bobby.
"Impossible," returned Ferris. "I have not figured on many jobs for years, but our chief estimator had been sent down to Cuba when this thing came up and I did the work myself, so I have a very vivid memory of it and can not possibly have it confused with any other bid. Moreover, we have all those things on record in our office and I looked it up before I came away. The dimensions of the power house and pumping station were to be one hundred and ninety by one hundred and sixty feet. The present dimensions are one hundred and fifty-eight by one hundred and thirty-three."
Bobby was thoughtfully silent for a while.
"Do you remember who else bid on the contract?" he inquired presently.
"Every one of them," smiled Ferris. "I can give you their addresses and the names of the people to wire to if that is what you want. We meet them on every big job."
"Do you mind wiring yourself?" asked Bobby. "They would be more apt to give you confidential information."
"With pleasure," agreed Ferris, and wrote the telegrams.
On the following morning Bobby received answers at his office to all but one of his telegrams, and the information was unanimous that the original plans had called for a building one hundred and ninety by one hundred and sixty feet.
"Now I begin to understand," said Ferris. "This was the first set of important plans I ever saw in which the dimensions were not marked, but they were most accurately drawn to scale, one-fourth inch to the foot. They are probably using the same drawings with an altered scale, although it would be an absurdly clumsy trick. If that is the case it is easy to see how the Middle West Construction Company could under-bid us by more than a million dollars and still make more money than we figured on."
Bobby reached for the telephone.
"Get me the mayor's office," he called to the girl at his private telephone exchange. "Will you 'stick around' to see the fuss?" he inquired with grim pleasure, as he hung up the receiver.
Ferris grinned as he noted the light of battle dawning in Bobby's eyes.
"I don't know," he replied. "It depends on the size and duration of the fuss."
"If you don't stay I'll have you subpoenaed. I may have to, anyhow. As for the size of the fuss, I can promise you a bully one if what you surmise is correct."
His telephone bell rang and Bobby turned to it quickly.
"Hello, Chalmers!" he began, then laughed. "Beg pardon, Agnes; I thought it was the mayor's office;" he apologized, then listened intently. There were a few eager queries, and when Bobby hung up the telephone receiver it was with great satisfaction. "I haven't seen as much fun in sight since I began my fight on Stone," he declared. "Miss Elliston, who has developed a marvelous new capacity for finding out other men's business secrets through their women folk, has just telephoned me the results of her last night's detective work. It seems that Silas Trimmer, one of the heavy backers of the Middle West Construction Company, has just negotiated a loan upon his stock in the mercantile establishment of Trimmer and Company, my share of which was known as the John Burnit Store until Trimmer beat me out of control. I understand that Trimmer has mortgaged everything to the hilt to go into this waterworks deal."
The bell rang again. This time it was Chalmers.
"Say, Chalmers," said Bobby, "I want you to get me some sort of a legal document that will allow me to take possession of and examine all the books, papers and drawings of the city engineer's department, including the waterworks engineer's office.... Yes, you can, Chalmers," he insisted, against an obvious protest. "There is some legal machinery you can put in motion to get it, and I want it right away. Moreover, I want you to secure me somebody to serve the writ and to keep it quiet."
Then he explained briefly what had been partly discovered and partly surmised. Next Bobby sent for Jolter and laid the facts before him, to the great joy of that aggressive gentleman. Then he called up Biff Bates, and made an appointment with him to meet him at Jimmy Platt's office in half an hour. He would have telephoned Platt, but the engineer had no telephone.
BIFF RENEWS A PLEASANT ACQUAINTANCE AND BOBBY INAUGURATES A TRAGEDY
"Is Mr. Platt in?"
Biff stood hesitantly in the door when he found the place occupied only by a brown-haired girl, who was engaged in the quiet, unprofessional occupation of embroidering a shirtwaist pattern.
The girl looked up with a smile at the young man's awkwardness, and felt impelled to put him at his ease.
"He's not in just now, but I expect him within ten or fifteen minutes at the outside. Won't you sit down, Mr. Bates?"
He looked at her much mystified at this calling of his name, but he mumbled his thanks for the chair which she put forward for him, and, sitting with his hat upon his knees, contemplated her furtively.
"I guess you don't remember me," she said in frank enjoyment of his mystification, "but I remember you perfectly. I used to see you quite often out at Westmarsh when Mr. Burnit was trying to redeem that persistent swamp. I am Mr. Platt's sister."
"No!" exclaimed Biff in amazement. "You can't be the kid that used to ride on the excavating cars, and go home with yellow clay on your dresses every day."
"I'm the kid," said she with a musical laugh; "and I'm afraid I haven't quite outgrown my hoydenish tendencies even yet."
Biff had no comment to make. He was lost in wonder over that eternal mystery—the transformation which occurs when a girl passes from fourteen to eighteen.
"Don't you remember?" she gaily went on. "You gave me a boxing lesson out there one afternoon and promised to give me more of them, but you never did."
Biff cleared a sudden huskiness from his throat.
"I'd be tickled black in the face to make good any day," he urged earnestly, and then hastily corrected the offer to: "That is, I mean I'll be very glad to—to finish the job."
Immediately he turned violently red.
"I don't seem to care as much for the accomplishment as I did then," observed the girl with a smile, "but I do wish I could learn to swing my nice Indian clubs without cracking the back of my head."
"I got a medal for club swinging," said Biff diffidently. "I'll teach you any time you like. It's easy. Come right over to the gym on Tuesday and Friday forenoons. Those are ladies' mornings, and I've got nothing but real classy people at that."
The entrance of Mr. Platt interrupted Biff just as he was beginning to feel at ease, and threw that young gentleman, who always appropriated and absorbed other people's troubles, into much concern; for Mr. Platt was hollow-eyed and sunken-cheeked from worry. His coat was very shiny, and his hat was shabby. The dusty and neglected drawing on his crude drawing-table told the story all too well. The engineering business, so far as Mr. Platt was concerned, seemed to be a total failure. Nevertheless, he greeted Mr. Bates warmly, and inquired after Mr. Burnit.
"He's always fine," said Biff. "He had me come up here to meet him."
"I should scarcely think he would care to come here after the unfortunate outcome of the work I did for him," said Mr. Platt.
"You mean on old Applerod's Subtraction?"
"You couldn't hardly call it the Applerod Addition, could you?" responded Jimmy with a smile. "That was a most unlucky transaction for me as well as for Mr. Burnit."
Biff looked about the room comprehendingly.
"I guess it put you on the hummer, all right," said he. "It don't look as if you done anything since."
"But very little," confessed Mr. Platt. "My failure on that job hurt my reputation almost fatally."
Biff gravely sought within himself for words of consolation, one of his fleeting ideas being to engage Mr. Platt on the spot to survey the site of Bates' Athletic Hall, although there was not the slightest possible need for such a survey. In the midst of his sympathetic gloom came in Mr. Ferris and Bobby.
"Jimmy, how would you like to be chief construction engineer of the new waterworks?" asked Bobby, with scant waste of time, after he had introduced Ferris.
Mr. Platt gasped and paled.
"I think I could be urged, from a sense of public duty, to give up my highly lucrative private practice," he said with a pitiful attempt at levity, though his voice was husky, and his tightly clenched hand, where the white knuckles rested upon his drawing-table, trembled.
"Don't build up too much hope on it, Jimmy; but if what we surmise is correct you will have a chance at it," and he briefly explained. "We're going right out there," concluded Bobby, "and I want you to go along to help investigate. We have to find some incriminating evidence, and you'd be more likely to know how and where to look for it than any of us."
It is needless to say that Jimmy Platt took his hat with alacrity. Before he went out, with new hope in his heart, he turned and shook hands ecstatically with his sister. Still holding Jimmy's hand she turned to Bobby impulsively:
"I do hope, Mr. Burnit, that this turns out right for Jimmy."
Bobby turned to her abruptly and with a trace of a frown. It was a rather poorly trained office employee, he thought, who would intrude herself into conversation that it was her duty to forget, but Biff Bates caught that look and stepped into the breach.
"This is Nellie, Bobby—that is, it used to be Nellie," he stated with a quick correction, and blushed violently.
"It is Nellie still," laughed that young lady to Bobby, and the puzzled look upon his face was swiftly driven away by a smile, as he suddenly recognized in her traces of the long-legged girl who had been always present at the Applerod Addition, who had ridden in his automobile, and had confided to him most volubly, upon innumerable occasions, that her brother Jimmy was about the smartest man who ever sighted through a transit.
In the hastily constructed frame office out at the waterworks site, Ed Scales, pale and emaciated and with black rings under his eyes, looked up nervously as Bobby's little army, reenforced from four to six by the addition of a "plain clothes man" and Dillingham, the Bulletin's star reporter, invaded the place. Before a word was spoken, Feeney, the plain clothes man, presented Scales with a writ, which the latter attempted to read with unseeing eyes, his fingers trembling.
"What does this mean?"
"That I have come to take possession," said Bobby, "with power to make an examination of every scrap of paper in the place. Frankly, Scales, we expect to find something crooked about the waterworks contract. If we do you know the result. If we do not, the interruption will be only temporary, and you will have very pretty grounds for action; for I am taking a long shot, and if I don't find what I am after I have put myself and the mayor into a bad scrape."
Scales thrice opened his mouth to speak, and thrice there came no sound from his lips. Then he laid a bunch of keys upon his desk, shoving them toward Feeney, and rose. He half-staggered into the large coat room behind him. He had scarcely more than disappeared when there was the startling roar of a shot, and the body of Scales, with a round hole in the temple, toppled, face downward, out of the door. It was Scales' tragic confession of guilt. They sprang instantly to him, but nothing could be done for him. He was dead when they reached him.
"Poor devil," said Ferris brokenly. "It is probably the first crooked thing he ever did in his life, and he hadn't nerve enough to go through with it. I feel like a murderer for my share in the matter."
Bobby, too, had turned sick; his senses swam and he felt numb and cold. He was aroused by a calm, dispassionate voice at the telephone. It was Dillingham, sending to the Bulletin a carefully lurid account of the tragedy, and of the probable causes leading up to it.
"We'll have an extra on the street in five minutes," he told Bobby with satisfaction as he rose. "That means that the Chronicle men will come out in a swarm, but it will take them a half-hour to get here. We have that much time, then, to dig up the evidence we are after, and if we hustle we can have a second extra out before the Chronicle can get a line. It's the biggest beat in years. Come on, boys, let's get busy," and he took up the keys that Scales had left on the desk.
Dillingham had no sooner left the telephone than Feeney took up the receiver and called for a number. The reporter turned upon him like a flash, recognizing that call as the number of the coroner's office. Dillingham suddenly caught himself before he had spoken, and looked hastily about the room. In the corner near the floor was a little box with the familiar bells upon it, and binding screws that held the wires. Quickly Dillingham slipped over to that corner just as Feeney was saying:
"Hello! Coroner's office, this is Feeney. Is that you, Jack?... Well——"
At that instant Dillingham loosened a binding screw and slipped off the loop of the wire.
"Hello, coroner!" repeated Feeney. "I say, Jack! Hello! Hello! Hello, there! Hello! Hello!" Then Feeney pounded the mouthpiece, jerked the receiver hook up and down, yelled at exchange, and worked himself into a vast fever.
"What's the matter with this thing, anyhow, Dill?" he finally demanded.
"Exchange probably went to sleep on you," said Dillingham.
Easily he was now opening one by one the immense flat drawers of a drawing-case, and with much interest delving into the huge drawings that it contained.
"Come here, Mr. Platt," Dillingham went on. "You cast your eagle eye over these drawings while I do a little job of interviewing," and he walked over to the employees of the office, who, since they had been roughly warned by Feeney not to go near "that body," had huddled, scared and limp, in the far corner of the room.
Perspiring and angry, Feeney tried for five solid minutes to obtain some response from the dead telephone, then he gave it up.
"I've got to go out and hunt up another 'phone," he declared. "Biff, I'll appoint you my deputy. Don't let anybody touch the corpse till the coroner comes."
"I'll go with you," said Bobby hastily, very glad to leave the room, and both he and Mr. Ferris accompanied Feeney. No sooner was Feeney out of the place than Dillingham reconnected the telephone and went back to his investigations. He was thoroughly satisfied, after a few questions, that the present employees knew nothing whatever, and Platt reported to him that every general drawing he could find was marked three-tenths inch to the foot, none being marked one-fourth.
"That doesn't matter so much," mused Dillingham. "It will be easy enough to prove that these are the same drawings that were provided the contestants, and six firms will swear that they were marked one-fourth of an inch to the foot. What we have to do is to prove that the drawings the Middle West Company used as the basis of their bid were marked one-fourth inch to the foot."
The telephone bell rang violently while Dillingham was puzzling over this matter, and one of the employees started to answer it.
"No, you don't!" shouted Dillingham. "You fellows are dispossessed."
He took down the receiver.
"Waterworks engineer's office?" came a brisk voice through the telephone.
"Yes," said Dillingham.
"This is the Chronicle. The Bulletin has an extra——"
Dillingham waited to hear no more. He hung up the receiver with a grin, and it was music in his ears to hear those bells impatiently jangling for the next ten minutes. It seemed to quicken his intelligence, for presently he slapped his hand upon his leg and jumped toward the group of employees in the corner.
"Say!" he demanded. "Who figured on this job for the Middle West Company?"
"Dan Rubble, I suppose," answered a lanky draftsman, who, still wearing his apron, had slipped his coat on over his oversleeves and retained his eye-shade under his straw hat. "At least, he seemed to know all about the plans. He's the boss contractor. There he is now."
Looking out of the window Dillingham saw a brawny, red-haired giant running from the tool-house, carrying a cylindrical tin case about five feet long. He pulled off the cap of this as he came and began to drag from the inside of the case a thick roll of blue-prints. He was hurrying toward a big asphalt caldron underneath which blazed a hot wood fire.
"Come on, Biff," yelled Dillingham, and hurried out of the door, closely followed by Bates.
They both ran with all their might toward the caldron, but before they could reach the spot Rubble had shoved the entire roll into the fire. Biff wasted no precious moments, but, glaring Mr. Rubble in the eye as he ran, doubled his fist with the evident intention of damaging that large gentleman's countenance with it. He suddenly ducked his round head as he approached, however, and plunged it into the middle of Mr. Rubble's appetite; whereupon Mr. Rubble grunted heavily, and sat down quite uncomfortably near to the caldron. Biff, though it scorched his hands, dragged the blazing roll of blue-prints from the flames and, seizing a near-by pail of water, started for the drawings, just as big Dan regained his feet and made a rush for him.
Dillingham, slight and no fighter but full of sand, jumped crosswise into that melee, and with a flying leap literally hung himself about Rubble's neck. Big Dan, roaring like a bull at this unexpected and most unprofessional mode of warfare, placed his two hands upon Dillingham's hips and tried to force him away; failing in this, he ran straight forward with all this living clog hanging to him, and planted a terrific kick upon Biff's ribs, just as Biff had dashed the pail of water from end to end of the blazing roll of drawings. He poised for another kick, but Biff had dropped the pail by this time, and as the foot swung forward he grabbed it. Rubble, losing his balance, pitched forward, landing squarely upon the top of the unhappy Dillingham, who signified his retirement from the game with an astonishingly large "Woof!" to come from so small a body; moreover, he released his arms; but Rubble, freed from the weight on his chest, found another one on his back. Biff felt quite competent to manage him, but by this time half a dozen men came running from different directions, and as there were a hundred or more of them on the job, all beholden for their daily bread and butter to Mr. Rubble, things looked bad for Biff and Dillingham.
"Back up there, you mutts, or I'll make peek-a-boo patterns out of the lot of you!" howled a penetrating voice, and Mr. Feeney, heading the relief party, which consisted only of Bobby and Mr. Ferris, whipped from each hip pocket a huge blue-steel revolver, at the same time brushing back his coat to display his badge.
Those men might have fought Mr. Feeney's guns, but they had no mind to fight that badge, and they held back while Bobby and Mr. Ferris helped to calm Mr. Rubble by the simple expedient of sitting on him.
Three days later Bobby induced Messrs. Sharpe, Trimmer and all of their associates, without any difficulty whatever, to meet with him in the office of the mayor.
"Gentlemen of the Middle West Construction Company," said Bobby; "I am sorry to say that you are not telling the truth when you claim that you figured in good faith on this absurd and almost unknown three-tenths-inch scale, when all the others figured on the same drawings at one-fourth inch. The rescue of these prints, covered with Rubble's marginal figures, does not leave you a leg to stand on," and Bobby tapped his knuckles upon the charred-edged blueprints that lay unrolled on the desk before him. Fortunately the three inside prints were left fairly intact, and these were plainly marked one-fourth inch to the foot. "Moreover, rolled up inside the blueprints was even better evidence," went on Bobby; "evidence that Mr. Trimmer has perhaps forgotten. Nothing has been said about it until now, and nothing has been published since we saved them from the fire."
From the drawer of his desk he drew several sheets of white paper. They were letter-heads of Trimmer and Company and were covered with Rubble's figures.
"Here's a note from Mr. Trimmer to Mr. Rubble, requesting him to prepare a statement showing the difference in cost 'between three-tenths and one-fourth.' He does not say three-tenths or one-fourth what, but that is quite enough, taken in conjunction with these summaries on another sheet of paper. They are set down in two columns, one headed three-tenths and the other one-fourth. I have had Mr. Platt go over these figures, and he finds that the first number in one column exactly corresponds to the number of yards of excavating in this job when figured on the scale of three-tenths inch to the foot. The first number in the next column exactly corresponds to the excavating when figured at the one-fourth-inch scale. Every item will compare in the same manner: concrete, masonry, face-brick, and all. Now, if you chaps want to take this clumsy and almost laughable attempt at a steal into the courts I'm perfectly willing; but I should advise you not to do so."
Mr. Sharpe cleared his throat. He, the first one to declare that the Middle West would "go into court and stand upon its rights," was now the first one to recant.
"I don't suppose it's worth while to contest the matter," he admitted. "We have no show with your administration, I see. We lose the contract and will step down and out quite peaceably; although there ought to be some arrangement by which we might get credit for the amount of work already done."
"No," declared Chalmers, with quite a reproving smile, "you may just keep on using the available part of it; for the point is that you don't lose the contract! You keep the contract, and you will build the power-house upon the original scale of one-fourth inch to the foot. Also you will carry out the rest of the work on the same basis as figured by other contractors. I want to remind you that you are well bonded, well financed, and that the city holds a guarantee of twenty per cent. of the contract price as a forfeit for the due and proper completion of this job."
"Why, it means bankruptcy!" shrieked Silas Trimmer, the deeply-graven circle about his mouth now being but the pallid and piteous caricature of his old-time sinister smile.
"That is precisely what I intend," retorted Bobby with a snap of his jaws. "I have long, long scores to settle with both of you gentlemen."
"But you haven't against the other members of this company," protested Sharpe. "Our other stockholders are entirely innocent parties."
"They have my sincere sympathy for being caught in such dubious company," replied Bobby with a contemptuous smile. "I happen to have a roster of your stock-holders, and every man of them has been mixed up in crooked deals in combination with Stone or Stone enterprises; so whatever they lose on this contract will be merely by way of restitution to the city."
"Look here, Mr. Burnit," said Sharpe, dropping his tone of remonstrance for one intended to be wheedling; "I know there are a number of financial matters between us that might have a tendency to make you vindictive. Now why can't we just get together nicely on all of these things and compromise?"
Chalmers rapped his knuckles sharply upon his desk.
"Kindly remember where you are," he warned.
"When I get around to settling day there will be no such thing as a compromise," declared Bobby with repressed anger. "I'll settle all those other matters in my own way and at my own time."
"One thing more, gentlemen," said Chalmers, as the chopfallen committee of the Middle West Construction Company rose to depart; "I wish to remind you that there is a forfeit clause in your contract for delay, so I should advise you to resume operations at once. Mr. Platt succeeds the unfortunate Mr. Scales as constructing engineer, and he will see that the plans and specifications of the entire contract are carried out to the letter."
Platt, who had said nothing, walked away with Bobby.
"You were speaking about following the plans exactly, Mr. Burnit," he said when they were alone upon the street. "I find on an examination of the subsoil that there will be a few minor changes required. The runway, for instance, which goes down to the river northward from the power-house for the purpose of unloading coal barges, would be much better placed on the south side, away from the intake. There is practically no difference in expense, except that in running to the southward the riprap work will need to be carried about three feet deeper and with concreted walls, in place of being thrown loosely in the trenches as originally planned."
"All those things are up to you, Jimmy," said Bobby indifferently. "You must use your own judgment. Any changes of the sort that you deem necessary just bring before the city council, and I am quite sure that you can secure permission to make them."
"Very well," said Platt, and he left Bobby at the corner with a curious smile.
He was a different looking Jimmy Platt from the one Bobby had found in his office a week before. He was clean-shaven now, and his clothing was quite prosperous looking. Bobby, surmising the condition of affairs, had delicately insisted on making Platt a loan, to be repaid from his salary at a conveniently distant period, and the world looked very bright indeed to him.
The next day work on the new waterworks was resumed. In bitter consultation the Middle West Construction Company had discovered that they would lose less by fulfilling their contract than by forfeiting their twenty per cent., and they dispiritedly turned in again, kept constantly whipped up to the mark by Platt and by the knowledge that every day's non-completion of the work meant a heavy additional forfeit, which they had counted on being able to evade so long as the complaisant Mr. Scales was in charge.
JIMMY PLATT ENJOYS THE HAPPIEST DAY OF HIS LIFE
The straightening out of the waterworks matter left Bobby free to turn his attention to the local gas and electric situation. The Bulletin, since Bobby had defeated his political enemies, had been put upon a paying basis and was rapidly earning its way out of the debt that he had been compelled to incur for it; but the Brightlight Electric Company was a thorn in his side. Its only business now was the street illumination of twelve blocks, under a municipal contract which lost him money every month, and it had been a terrific task to keep it going.
The Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company, however, Bobby discovered by careful inquiry, was in even worse financial straits than the Brightlight. To its thirty millions of stock, mostly water, twenty more millions of water had been added, making a total organization of fifty million dollars; and the twenty million dollars' stock had been sold to the public for ten million dollars, each purchaser of one share of preferred being given one share of common. As the preferred was to draw five per cent., this meant that two and one-half million dollars a year must be paid out in dividends. The salary roll of the company was enormous, and the number of non-working officers who drew extravagant stipends would have swamped any company. Comparing the two concerns, Bobby felt that in the Brightlight he had vastly the better property of the two, in that there was no water in it at its present, half-million-dollar capitalization.
It was while pondering these matters that Bobby, dropping in at the Idlers' Club one dull night, found no one there but Silas Trimmer's son-in-law, the vapid and dissolute Clarence Smythe, which was a trifle worse than finding the place entirely deserted. To-night Clarence was in possession of what was known at the Idlers' as "one of Smythe's soggy buns," and despite countless snubs in the past he seized upon Bobby as a receptacle for his woes.
"I'm going to leave this town for good, Burnit!" he declared without any preliminaries, having waited so long to convey this startling and important information that salutations were entirely forgotten.
"For good! For whose good?" inquired Bobby.
"Mine," responded Clarence. "This town's gone to the bow-wows. It's in the hands of a lot of pikers. There's no chance to make big money any more."
"Yes, I know," said Bobby dryly; "I had something to do with that, myself."
"It was a fine lot of muck-raking you did," charged Clarence. "Well, I'll give you another item for your paper. I have resigned from the Consolidated."
"It was cruel of you."
"It was time," said Clarence, ignoring the flippancy. "Something's going to drop over there."
"It's always dropping," he agreed.
"This is the big drop," the other went on, with a wine-laden man's pride in the fact of possessing valuable secrets. "They're going to make a million-dollar bond issue."
"What for?" inquired Bobby.
"They need the money," chuckled Mr. Smythe. "Those city bonds, you know."
"What bonds?" demanded Bobby eagerly, but trying to speak nonchalantly.
Mr. Smythe suddenly realized the solemn gravity of his folly. Once more he was talking too much. Once more! It was a thing to weep over. "I'm a fool," he confessed in awe-stricken tones; "a rotten fool, Burnit. I'm ashamed to look anybody in the face. I'm ashamed——"
"It's highly commendable of you, I'm sure," Bobby agreed, and took his hasty leave before Clarence should begin to sob.
Immediately he called up Chalmers at his home.
"Chalmers," he demanded, "why must the Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company purchase city bonds?"
"Originally so Sam Stone could lend money to the Consumers' Electric. It is a part of their franchise, which is renewable at their option in ten-year periods, and which became a part of the Consolidated's property when the combine was effected. To insure 'faithful performance of contract,' for which clause every crooked municipality has a particular affection, they were to purchase a million dollars' worth of city bonds. Each year one hundred thousand dollars' worth were retired. In the tenth year, in renewing their franchise for the next ten years, they were compelled to renew also their million dollars of city bonds. These bonds they then used as collateral. Stone carried all that he could, at enormous usury, I understand, and let some of his banker friends in on the rest; and I suppose the banks paid him a rake-off. The ten-year period is up this fall, and their bonds are naturally retired; but, of course, they will renew."