"I'm not so sure about that," said Bobby. "Look up everything connected with it in the morning, and I'll see you at noon."
When they met the next day at noon, however, before Bobby could talk about the business in hand, Chalmers, with a suppressed smile, handed him a folded slip of paper.
Bobby examined that legal document—a dissolution of the injunction which had tied up a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in his bank for more than two years—with a sigh of relief.
"It seems," said Chalmers dryly, "that at the time you laid yourself liable to Madam Villenauve's breach-of-promise suit she had an undivorced husband living, Monsieur Villenauve complacently hiding himself in France and waiting for his share of the money. Let this be a lesson to you, young man."
Bobby hotly resented that grin.
"I'll swear to you, Chalmers," he asserted, "I never so much as thought of the woman except as a nuisance."
"I apologize, old man," said Chalmers. "But at least this will teach you not to back any more grand opera companies."
"I prefer to talk about the electric situation," said Bobby severely. "What have you found out about it?"
"That the Ebony Jewel Coal Company, a former Stone enterprise, has threatened suit against the Consolidated for their bill. The Consolidated is in a pinch and must raise money, not only to buy that allotment of the new waterworks bonds, but to meet the Ebony's and other pressing accounts. It must also float this bond issue, for it is likely to fall behind even on its salary list."
"Fine!" said Bobby. "I can see a lot of good citizens in this town holding stock in a bankrupt illuminating concern. Just watch this thing, will you, Chalmers? About this nice, lucky hundred and fifty thousand, we may count it as spent."
"What in?" asked Chalmers, smiling. "Do you think you can trust yourself with all that money?"
"Hush," said Bobby. "Don't breathe it aloud. I'm going to buy up all the Brightlight Electric stock I can find. It's too bad, Chalmers," he added with a grin, "that as mayor of the city you could not, with propriety, hold stock in this company," and although Chalmers tried to call him back Bobby did not wait. He was too busy, he said.
His business was to meet Agnes and Mrs. Elliston for luncheon down-town, and during the meal he happened to remark that Clarence Smythe had determined to shake the dust of the city from his feet.
"I thought so," declared Agnes. "Aunt Constance, I'm afraid you'll have to finish your shopping without me. I must call upon Mrs. Smythe."
Mrs. Elliston frowned her disapproval, but she knew better than to protest. Before Agnes called upon Mrs. Smythe, however, she dropped in at the manufacturing concern of D. A. Elliston and Company.
"Uncle Dan, how much money of mine have you in charge just now?" she demanded to know.
"Cash? About five or six thousand."
"And how much more could you raise on my property?"
"Right away? About fifteen, on bonds and such securities. This is no time to sacrifice real estate."
"It isn't enough," said Agnes, frowning, and was silent for a time. "You'll just have to loan me about ten thousand more."
"Oh, will I?" he retorted. "What for?"
"I want to make an investment."
"So I judged," he dryly responded. "Well, young lady, as your steward I reckon I'll have to know something more about this investment before I turn over any money."
With sparkling eyes and blushes that would come in spite of her, she told him what she intended to do. When she had concluded, Dan Elliston slapped his knees in huge joy.
"You shall have all the money you want," he declared.
Upon that same afternoon Bobby started to buy up, here and there, nearly the entire stock of the Brightlight, purchasing it at an absurdly low price. Then he went to De Graff, to Dan Elliston, and to others to whose discretion he could trust. His own plans were well under way when the Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company announced, with a great flourish of trumpets, its new bond issue. The Bulletin made no comment upon this. It merely published the news fact briefly and concisely—an unexpected attitude, which brought surprise, then wonder, then suspicion to the office of the Chronicle. The Chronicle had been a Stone organ during the heydey of Stone's prosperity; the Bulletin had fought the Consolidated tooth and toe-nail; the already criminally overcapitalized Consolidated was about to float a new bond issue; the Bulletin did not fight this issue; ergo, the Bulletin must have something to gain by the issue.
The Chronicle waited three days, then began to fight the bond issue itself, which was precisely the effect for which Bobby had planned. Grown astute, Bobby realized that if the bond issue failed the Consolidated would go bankrupt at once instead of a year or so later. The newspaper, however, which would force that bankruptcy would, by that act, be the apparent means of losing a vast amount of money to the poor investors of the town, and Bobby left that ungrateful task to the Chronicle. He even went so far as to defend the Consolidated in a mild sort of manner, a proceeding which fanned the Chronicle into fresh fury.
For three months desperate attempts were made by the Consolidated to make the new bonds attractive to the public, but less than one hundred thousand dollars was subscribed. Bobby was tabulating the known results of this subscription with much satisfaction one morning when Ferris walked into his office.
"I hope you didn't come into town to dig up another scandal, old man," said Bobby, greeting his contractor-friend with keen pleasure.
"No," said Ferris; "came in to give you a bit of news. The Great Eastern and Western Railroad wants to locate its shop here, and is building by private bid. I have secured the contract, subject to certain alterations of price for distance of hauling and difficulty of excavation; but the thing is liable to fall through for lack of a location. They can't get the piece of property they are after, and there is only one other one large enough and near enough to the city. The chief engineer and I are going out to look at it again to-day. Come with us. If we decide that the property will do, and if we can secure it, you may have an exclusive news-item that would be very pretty, I should judge." And Ferris smiled at some secret joke.
"I'll go with pleasure," said Bobby, "and not by any means just for the news. When do you want to go?"
"Oh, right away, I guess. I'll telephone to Shepherd and have him order a rig."
"What's the use?" demanded Bobby, much interested. "My car's right within call. I'll have it brought up."
Shepherd, the chief engineer of the G. E. and W., when they picked him up at the hotel, proved to be an entire human being with red whiskers and not a care in the world. Bobby was enjoying a lot of preliminary persiflage when Shepherd incidentally mentioned their destination.
"It is known as Westmarsh," he observed. "I suppose you know where it is."
Bobby, who had already started the machine and had placed his hand on the steering wheel, gave a jerk so violent that he almost sent the machine diagonally across the street, and Ferris laughed aloud. His little joke was no longer a secret.
"Westmarsh!" Bobby repeated. "Why, I own that undrainable swamp."
"Swamp?" exclaimed Shepherd. "It's as dry as a bone. I looked it over last night and am going out to-day to study the possible approaches to it."
"But you say it is dry!" protested Bobby, unable to believe it.
"Dry as powder," asserted Shepherd. "There has been an immense amount of water out there, but it has been well taken care of by the splendid drainage system that has been put in."
"It cost a lot of money to put in that drainage system," commented Bobby; "but we found it impracticable to drain an entire river."
It was Shepherd's turn to be puzzled, a process in which he stopped to laugh.
"This is the first time I ever heard an owner belittle his own property," he declared. "I suppose that next you'll only accept half the price we offer."
Bobby kept up his part of the conversation but feebly as they whirled out to the site of the old Applerod Addition. He was lost in speculation upon what could possibly have happened to that unfortunate swamp area. When they arrived, however, he was surprised to find that Shepherd had been correct. The ground, though sunken in places and black with the residue of one-time stagnant water, was firm enough to walk upon, and after many tests he even ran the machine across and across it. Moreover, grass and weeds, forcing their way here and there, were already beginning to hide and redeem the ugly earthen surface.
Bobby surveyed the miracle in amazement. It was the first time he had seen the place in a year. Even in his trips to the waterworks site, which was just north, beyond the hill, he had chosen the longer and less solid river road rather than to come past this spot of humiliating memories.
"I can't understand it," he said again and again to the two men. "Why, Mr. Shepherd, I spent thousands of dollars in filling this swamp and draining it, with the idea of making a city subdivision here. Silas Trimmer, the man from whom I bought the place, imagined it to be fed by underground springs, but he let me spend a fortune to attract people out to see my new building lots so that he could, without cost, sell his own. That is his addition up there on the hills, and I'm glad to say he has recently mortgaged it for all that it will carry."
"How about the springs?" asked Shepherd with a frown. "Did you find them? You must have stopped them. Are they liable to break out again?"
"That's the worst of it," replied Bobby, still groping. "It wasn't springs at all. It was a peculiar geological formation, some disarranged strata leading beneath the hill from the river and emptying into the bottom of this pond. All through the year it seeped in faster than our extensive drainings could carry it away, and in the spring and fall, when the river was high, it poured in. I don't see what could have happened. Suppose we run over and see the engineer who worked on this with me. He is now in charge of the new waterworks."
In five minutes they were over there. Jimmy Platt, out in his shirt-sleeves under a broad-brimmed straw hat, greeted them most cordially, but when Bobby explained to him the miracle that had happened to the old Applerod Addition, Platt laughed until the tears came into his eyes; and even after he stopped laughing there were traces of them there.
"Come down here and I'll show you," said he.
Leading south from the pumping station, diagonally down the steep bank to the river, had been built a splendid road, flanked on both sides by very solid, substantial-looking retaining walls.
"You see this wall?" asked Jimmy, pointing to the inside one. "It runs twenty feet below low-water level, and is solidly cemented. You remember when I got permission to move this road from the north side to the south side of the pumping station? I did that after an examination of the subsoil. This wall cuts off the natural siphon that fed the water to your Applerod Addition. I have been going past there in huge joy twice a day, watching that swamp dry up."
"In other words," said Bobby, "you have been doing a little private grafting on my account. How many additional dollars did that extra-deep wall cost?"
"I'm not going to tell you," asserted Jimmy stoutly. "It isn't very much, but whatever it is the city good and plenty owes you for saving it over a million on this job. But if I'd had to pay for it myself I would have done it to correct the mistake I made when I started to drain that swamp for you. I guess this is about the most satisfactory minute of my life," and he looked it.
"A fine piece of work," agreed Shepherd, casting a swift eye over the immense and busy waterworks site, and then glancing at the hill across which lay Bobby's property. "You're lucky to have had this chance, Mr. Platt," and he shook hands cordially with Jimmy. "I'm perfectly satisfied, Mr. Burnit. Do you want to sell that property?"
"If I can get out at a profit," replied Bobby. "Otherwise I'll regrade the thing and split it up into building lots as I originally intended."
"Let's go back down to the hotel and talk 'turkey,'" offered Shepherd briskly. "What do you think of the place, Ferris? Will it do?"
"Fine!" said Ferris. "The property lies so low that we won't have to cart away a single load of our excavation. If we can only get a right-of-way through that natural approach to the northeast—"
"I think I can guarantee a right-of-way," interrupted Bobby, smiling, with his mind upon the city council which had been created by his own efforts.
"All right," said Shepherd. "We'll talk price until I have browbeaten you as low as you will go. Then I'll prepare a plat of the place and send it on to headquarters. You'll have an answer from them in three days."
As they whirred away Bobby's eyes happened to rest upon a young man and a young woman rowing idly down-stream in a skiff, and he smiled as he recognized Biff Bates and Nellie Platt.
On the day Bobby got the money for his Westmarsh property old Applerod came up from the office of the Brightlight Electric Company, where he held a lazy, sleepy afternoon job as "manager," and with an ingratiating smile handed Bobby a check for five thousand dollars.
"What's this for?" asked Bobby, puzzled.
"I have decided to give you back the money and take up again my approximate one-fifth share in the Applerod Addition," announced that gentleman complacently.
Bobby was entirely too much surprised at this to be amused.
"You're just a trifle too late, Mr. Applerod," said he. "Had you come to me two weeks ago, when I thought the land was worthless, out of common decency I would not have let you buy in again. Since then, however, I have sold the tract at a profit of forty thousand dollars."
"You have?" exclaimed Applerod. "I heard you were going to do something of the kind. I'm entitled to one-fifth of that profit, Mr. Burnit—eight thousand dollars."
"You're entitled to a good, swift poke in the neck!" exclaimed the voice of wizened old Johnson, who stood in the doorway, and who, since his friendship with Biff Bates, had absorbed some of that gentleman's vigorous vernacular. "Applerod, I'll give you just one minute to get out of this office. If you don't I'll throw you downstairs!"
"Mr. Johnson," said Applerod with great dignity, "this office does not belong to you. I have as much right here—"
Mr. Johnson, taking a trot around Bobby's desk so as to get Mr. Applerod between him and the door, made a threatening demonstration toward the rear, and Applerod, suddenly deserting his dignity, rushed out. Bobby straightened his face as Johnson, still blazing, came in from watching Applerod's ignominious retreat.
"Well, Johnson," said he, ignoring the incident as closed, "what can I do for you to-day?"
"Nothing!" snapped Johnson. "I have forgotten what I came for!" and going out he slammed the door behind him.
In the course of an hour Bobby was through with his morning allotment of mail and his daily consultation with Jolter, and then he called Johnson to his office.
"Johnson," said he, "I want you to do me a favor. There is one block of Brightlight stock that I have not yet bought up. It is in the hands of J. W. Williams, one of the old Stone crowd, who ought to be wanting money by this time. He holds one hundred shares, which you should be able to buy by now at fifty dollars a share. I want you to buy this stock in your own name, and I want to loan you five thousand dollars to do it with. I merely want voting power; so after you get it you may hold it if you like and still owe me the five thousand dollars, or I'll take it off your hands at any time you are tired of the obligation. You'd better go to Barrister and have him buy the stock for you."
"Yes, sir," said Johnson.
Bobby immediately went to De Graff.
"I came to subscribe for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars' worth of additional stock in the New Brightlight. I have just deposited two hundred and eighty-five thousand dollars in your bank."
"You're becoming an expert," said De Graff with a quizzical smile. "With the million dollars' valuation at which we are to buy in the present Brightlight, the two hundred and fifty thousand subscribed for by Dan Elliston, and the ten thousand held by Miss Elliston, this new subscription about gives you control of the New Brightlight, don't it?"
"That's what I want," Bobby exulted. "You don't object, do you?"
"Not on my own account," De Graff assured him; "but you'd better have Barrister buy this in for you until we are organized. Then you can take it over."
"I guess you're right," agreed Bobby. "I'll send Barrister right over, and I think I shall make him take up the remaining ten thousand on his own account. A week from to-night is the council meeting at which the Consolidated must make good to renew their franchise, and we don't want any hitch in getting our final incorporation papers by that time. The members of the Consolidated are singing swan songs in seven simultaneous keys at this very moment."
Bobby's description of the condition of the Consolidated was scarcely exaggerated. It was a trying and a hopeless period for them. The bond issue had failed miserably. It had not needed the Chronicle to remind the public of what a shaky proposition the Consolidated was, for Bobby had thoroughly exposed the corporation during the Bulletin's campaign against Sam Stone. Bond-floating companies from other cities were brought in, and after an examination of the books threw up their hands in horror at the crudest muddle they had ever found in any investigation of municipal affairs.
On the night of the council meeting, Sharpe and Trimmer and Williams, representing the Consolidated, were compelled to come before the council and confess their inability to take up the bonds required to renew their franchise; but they begged that this clause, since it was an entirely unnecessary one and was not enjoined upon gas or electric companies in other cities, be not enforced. Council, however, was obdurate, and the committee thereupon begged for a further extension of time in which to raise the necessary amount of money. Council still was obdurate, and by that obduracy the franchise of the Consumers' Electric Company, said franchise being controlled by the Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company, became null and void.
Thereupon Bobby Burnit, President De Graff and Dan Elliston, representing the New Brightlight Electric Company, recently organized for three million dollars, came forward and prayed for a franchise for the electric lighting of the entire city, agreeing to take over the poles and wiring of the Consolidated at a fair valuation; and council was not at all obdurate, which was scarcely strange when one reflected that every member of that municipal body had been selected and put in place through the direct instrumentality of Bobby Burnit. It was practical politics, true enough, but Bobby had no qualms whatever about it.
"It may be quite true that I have not been actuated by any highly noble motives in this," he confessed to a hot charge by Williams, "but so long as in municipal affairs I am not actuated by any ignoble motives I am doing pretty fairly in this town."
There was just the bare trace of brutality in Bobby as he said this, and he suddenly recognized it in himself with dismay. What pity Bobby might have felt for these bankrupt men, however, was swept away in a gust of renewed aggressiveness when Trimmer, arousing himself from the ashen age which seemed all at once to be creeping over him, said, with a return of that old circular smile which had so often before aggravated Bobby:
"I am afraid I'll have to draw out of my other ventures and retire on my salary as president and manager of Trimmer and Company."
Vengefulness was in Bobby's eyes as he followed Trimmer's sprawling figure, so much like a bloated spider's in its bigness of circumference and its attenuation of limbs, that suddenly he shuddered and turned away as when one finds oneself about to step upon a toad.
IN WHICH, BEING THE LAST CHAPTER, EVERYTHING TURNS OUT RIGHT, AND EVERYBODY GETS MARRIED
At the offices of the New Brightlight Electric Company there was universal rejoicing. Johnson was removed from the Bulletin to take charge of the new organization until it should be completed, and Bobby himself, for a few days, was compelled to spend most of his time there. During the first week after the granting of the franchise Bobby called Johnson to him.
"Mr. Johnson," said he quite severely, "you have been so careful and so faithful in all other things that I dislike to remind you of an overlooked duty."
"I am sorry, sir," said Johnson. "What is it?"
"You have neglected to make out a note for that five-thousand-dollar loan. Kindly draw it up now, payable in ten years, with interest at four per cent. after the date of maturity."
"But, sir," stammered Johnson, "the stock is worth par now."
"Would you like to keep it?"
"I'd be a fool to say I wouldn't, sir. But the stock is not only worth par,—it was worth that in the old Brightlight; and I received an exchange of two for one in the New Brightlight, which is also worth par this morning; so I hold twenty thousand dollars' worth of stock."
"It cost me five thousand," insisted Bobby, "and we'll settle at that figure."
"I don't know how to thank you, sir," trembled Johnson, but he stiffened immediately as Applerod intruded himself into the room with a bundle of papers which he laid upon the desk.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Burnit," began Applerod, "but I have five thousand dollars I'd like to invest in the New Brightlight Company if you could manage it for me."
"I'm sorry, Applerod," said Bobby, "but there isn't a share for sale. It was subscribed to the full capitalization before the incorporation papers were issued."
Applerod was about to leave the room in deep dejection when Johnson, with a sudden happy inspiration, called him back.
"I think I know where you can buy five thousand," said Johnson; "but you will have to hurry to get it."
"Where?" asked Applerod eagerly, while Bobby went to the window to conceal his broad smiles.
"Just put on your hat and go right over to Barrister," directed Johnson; "and take a blank check with you. I'll telephone him, to save time for you. The stock is worth par, and that lonesome fifty shares will be snapped up before you know it."
"You will excuse me till I go up-town, Mr. Burnit?" inquired Applerod, and bustled out eagerly.
He had no sooner left the building than Johnson grabbed Bobby's telephone and called up Barrister.
"This is Johnson," he said to the old attorney. "I have just sent Applerod over to you to buy fifty shares of New Brightlight at par. Take his check and hold it for delivery of the stock. I'll have it over to you within an hour, or as soon as I can have the transfer made. It is my stock, but I don't want him to know it."
Hanging up the receiver old Johnson sat in the chair by Bobby's desk and his thin shoulders heaved with laughter.
"Applerod will be plumb crazy when he finds that out," he said. "To think that I have fifteen thousand dollars' worth of this good stock that didn't cost me a cent, all paid for with Applerod's own five thousand dollars!"
Johnson laughed so hard that finally he was compelled to lay his head on the desk in front of him, with his lean old fingers over his eyes.
"Thanks to you, Robert; thanks to you," he added after a little silence.
Bobby, turning from the window, saw the thin shoulders still heaving. There was a glint of moisture on the lean hands that had toiled for so many years in the Burnit service, and as Bobby passed he placed his hand on old Johnson's bowed head for just an instant, then went out, leaving Johnson alone.
It was Applerod who, returning triumphantly with Barrister's promise of the precious block of New Brightlight for delivery in the afternoon, brought Bobby a copy of his own paper containing so much startling news that the front page consisted only of a hysteria of head-lines. Sudden proceedings in bankruptcy had been filed against the Consolidated Illuminating and Power Company. These proceedings had revealed the fact that Frank L. Sharpe, supposed to have left the city on business for the company, had in reality disappeared with the entire cash balance of the Consolidated. This disappearance had immediately thrust the Middle West Construction Company into bankruptcy. By Stone's own acts the Stone enterprises had crumpled and fallen, and all his adherents were ruined.
Out of the chaos that the startling facts he was able to glean created in Bobby's mind there came a thought of Ferris, and he immediately telephoned him, out at the site of the new G. E. and W. shops, where ground was already being broken, that he would be out that way.
Half an hour later he took Ferris into his machine and they whirled over to the waterworks site, where the work had stopped as abruptly as if that scene of animation had suddenly been stricken of a plague and died. On the way Bobby explained to Ferris what had happened.
"You were the lowest legitimate bidder on the job, I believe," he concluded.
"Yes, outside of the local company."
"If I were you I'd get busy with Jimmy Platt on an estimate of the work already done," suggested Bobby. "I think it very likely that the city council will offer the Keystone Construction Company the contract at its former figure, with the proper deductions for present progress. We will make up the difference between their bid and yours, and whatever loss there is in taking up the work will come out of the forfeit put up by the Middle West Company."
Jimmy Platt ran out to meet them like a lost soul. The waterworks project had become his pet. He lived with it and dreamed of it, and that there was a prospect of resuming work, and under such skilful supervision as that of Ferris, delighted him. While Jimmy and Mr. Ferris went into the office to prepare a basis of estimating, Bobby stayed behind to examine the carbureter of his machine, which had been acting suspiciously on the way out, and while he was engaged in this task a voice that he knew quite well saluted him with:
"Fine work, old pal! I guess you put all your lemons into the squeezer and got the juice, eh?"
Biff had a copy of the Bulletin in his hand, which was sufficient explanation of his congratulations.
"Things do seem to be turning out pretty lucky for me, Biff," Bobby confessed, and then, looking at Mr. Bates, he immediately apologized. "I beg pardon for calling you Biff," said he. "I should have said Mr. Bates."
"Cut it!" growled Biff, looking himself over with some complacency nevertheless.
From his nice new derby, which replaced the slouch cap he had always preferred, to his neat and uncomfortably-pointed gun-metal leathers which had supplanted the broad-toed tans, Mr. Bates was an epitome of neatly-pressed grooming. White cuffs edged the sleeves of his gray business suit, and—wonder of wonders!—he wore a white shirt with a white collar, in which there was tied a neat bow of—last wonder of all—modest gray!
"I suppose that costume is due to distinctly feminine influence, eh, Biff?"
"Guilty as Cassie Chadwick!" replied Biff with a sheepish grin. "She's tryin' to civilize me."
"Who is?" demanded Bobby.
"Oh, she is. You know who I mean. Why, she's even taught me to cut out slang. Say, Bobby, I didn't know how much like a rough-neck I used to talk. I never opened my yawp but what I spilled a line of fricasseed gab so twisted and frazzled and shredded you could use it to stuff sofa-cushions; but now I've handed that string of talk the screw number. No more slang for your Uncle Biff."
"I'm glad you have quit it," approved Bobby soberly. "I suppose the next thing I'll hear will be the wedding bells."
"No!" Biff denied in a tone so pained and shocked that Bobby looked up in surprise to see his face gone pale. "Don't talk about that, Bobby. Why, I wouldn't dare even think of it myself. I—I never think about it. Me? with a mitt like a picnic ham? Did you ever see her hand, Bobby? And her eyes and her hair and all? Why, Bobby, if I'd ever catch myself daring to think about marrying that girl I'd take myself by the Adam's apple and give myself the damnedest choking that ever turned a mutt's map purple."
"I'm sorry, after all, that you are through with slang, Biff," said Bobby, "because if you were still using it you might have expressed that idea so much more picturesquely;" but Biff did not hear him, for from the office came Nellie Platt with a sun-hat in her hand.
"Right on time," she said gaily to Biff, and, with a pleasant word for Bobby, went down with Mr. Bates to the river bank, where lay the neat little skiff that Jimmy had bought for her.
Bobby and Ferris and Platt, standing up near the filters, later on, were startled by a scream from the river, and, turning, they saw the skiff, in mid-stream, struck by a passing steamer and splintered as if it were made of pasteboard. Nellie had been rowing. Biff had called her attention to the approaching steamer, across the path of which they were passing. There had been plenty of time to row out of the way of it, but Nellie in grasping her oar for a quick turn had lost it. Fortunately the engines had been stopped immediately when the pilot had seen that they must strike, so that there was no appreciable underdrag. Biff's head had been grazed slightly, enough to daze him for an instant, but he held himself up mechanically. Nellie, clogged by her skirts, could not swim, and as Biff got his bearings he saw her close by him going down for the second time. Two men sprang from the lower deck of the steamer, but Biff reached her first, and, his senses instantly clearing as he caught her, he struck out for the shore.
The three men on shore immediately ran down the bank, and sprang into the water to help Biff out with his burden. He was pale, but strangely cool and collected.
"Don't go at it that way!" he called to them savagely, knowing neither friend nor foe in this emergency. "Get her loosened up someway, can't you?"
Without waiting on them, Biff ripped a knife from his pocket, opened it and slit through waist and skirt-band and whatever else intervened, to her corset, which he opened with big fingers, the sudden deftness of which was marvelous. Directing them with crisp, sharp commands, he guided them through the first steps toward resuscitation, and then began the slow, careful pumping of the arms that should force breath back into the closed lungs.
For twenty minutes, each of which seemed interminable, Jimmy and Biff worked, one on either side of her, Biff's face set, cold, expressionless, until at last there was a flutter of the eyelids, a cry of distress as the lungs took up their interrupted function, then the sharp, hissing sound of the intake and outgo of natural, though labored, breath; then Nellie Platt opened her big, brown eyes and gazed up into the gray ones of Biff Bates. She faintly smiled; then Biff did a thing that he had never done before in his mature life. He suddenly broke down and cried aloud, sobbing in great sobs that shook him from head to foot and that hurt him, as they tore from his throat, as the first breath of new life had hurt Nellie Platt; and, seeing and understanding, she raised up one weak arm and slipped it about his neck.
It was about a week after this occurrence when Silas Trimmer, coming back from lunch to attend the annual stock-holders' meeting of Trimmer and Company, stopped on the sidewalk to inspect, with some curiosity, a strange, boxlike-looking structure which leaned face downward upon the edge of the curbing. It was three feet wide and full sixty feet long. He stooped and tried to tilt it up, but it was too heavy for his enfeebled frame, and with another curious glance at it he went into the store.
The meeting was set for half-past two. It was now scarcely two, and yet, when he opened the door of his private office, which had been set apart for that day's meeting, he was surprised at the number of people he found in the room. A quick recognition of them mystified him the more. They were Bobby Burnit and Agnes, Johnson, Applerod and Chalmers.
"I came a little early, Mr. Trimmer," said Bobby, in a polite conversational tone, "to have these three hundred shares transferred upon the books of Trimmer and Company, before the stock-holders' meeting convenes."
"What shares are they?" inquired Silas in a voice grown strangely shrill and metallic.
"The stock that was previously controlled by your son-in-law, Mr. Clarence Smythe. Miss Elliston bought them last week from your daughter, with the full consent of your son-in-law."
"The dog!" Trimmer managed to gasp, and his fingers clutched convulsively.
"Possibly," admitted Bobby dryly. "At any rate he has had to leave town, and I do not think you will be bothered with him any more. In the meantime, Mr. Trimmer, I'd like to call your attention to a few very interesting figures. When you urged me, four years ago, to consolidate the John Burnit and Trimmer and Company Stores, my father's business was appraised at two hundred and sixty thousand dollars and yours at two hundred and forty. On your suggestion we took in sixty thousand dollars of additional capital. I did not know as much at that time as I do now, and I let you sell this stock where you could control it, virtually giving you three thousand shares to my two thousand six hundred. You froze me out, elected your own board, made yourself manager at an enormous salary, and voted your son-in-law another one so ridiculous that it was put out of all possibility for my stock ever to yield any dividends. All right, Mr. Trimmer. With the purchase of this three hundred shares I now control two thousand nine hundred shares and you two thousand seven hundred. I presume I don't need to tell you what is going to happen in today's meeting."
To this Silas returned no answer.
"I am an old man," he muttered to himself as one suddenly stricken. "I am an old, old man."
"I am going to oust you," continued Bobby, "and to oust all your relatives from their fat positions; and I am going to elect myself to everything worth while. I have brought Mr. Johnson with me to inspect your books, and Mr. Chalmers to take charge of certain legal matters connected with the concern immediately after the close of to-day's meeting. I am going to restore Applerod to his position here from which you so unceremoniously discharged him, and make Johnson general manager of this and all my affairs. I understand that your stock in this concern is mortgaged, and that you will be utterly unable to redeem it. I intend to buy it and practically own the entire company myself. Are there any questions you would like to ask, Mr. Trimmer?"
There was none. Silas, crushed and dazed and pitiable, only moaned that he was an old man; that he was an old, old man.
Bobby felt the gentle pressure of Agnes' hand upon his arm. There was a moment of silence.
Trimmer looked around at them piteously. Once more Bobby felt that touch upon his sleeve. Understanding, he went over to Silas and took him gently by the arm.
"Come over here to the window with me a minute," said he, "and we will have a little business talk."
"Business! Oh, yes; business!" said Silas, brightening up at the mention of the word.
He rose nervously and allowed Bobby to lead him, bent and almost palsied, over to the window, where they could look out on the busy street below, and the roofs of the tall buildings, and the blue sky beyond where it smiled down upon the river. It was only a fleeting glance that Silas Trimmer cast at the familiar scene outside, and almost immediately he turned to Bobby, clutching his coat sleeve eagerly. "You—you said something about business," he half-whispered, and over his face there came a shadow of that old, shrewd look.
"Why, yes," replied Bobby uncomfortably. "I think we can find a place for you, Mr. Trimmer. You have kept this concern up splendidly, no matter how much beset you were outside, and—and I think Johnson will engage you, if you care for it, to look after certain details of buying and such matters as that."
"Oh, yes, the buying," agreed Silas, nodding his head. "I always was a good buyer—and a good seller, too!" and he chuckled. "About what do you say, now, that my services would be worth?" and with the prospect of bartering more of his old self came back.
"We'll make that satisfactory, I can assure you," said Bobby. "Your salary will be a very liberal one, I am certain, and it will begin from to-day. First, however, you must have a good rest—a vacation with pay, understand—and it will make you strong again. You are a little run down."
"Yes," agreed Silas, nodding his head as the animation faded out of his eyes. "I'm getting old. I think, Mr. Burnit, if you don't mind I'll go into the little room there and lie on the couch for a few minutes."
"That is a good idea," said Bobby. "You should be rested for the meeting."
"Oh, yes," repeated Silas, nodding his head sagely; "the meeting."
They were uncomfortably silent when Bobby had returned from the little room adjoining. The shadow of tragedy lay upon them all, and it was out of this shadow that Bobby spoke his determination.
"I am going to get out of business," he declared. "It is a hard, hard game. I can win at it, but—well, I'd rather go back, if I only could, to my unsophistication of four years ago. I don't like business. Of course, I'll keep this place for tradition's sake, and because it would please my father—no, I mean it will please him—but I'm going to sell the Bulletin. I have an offer for it at an excellent profit. I'm going to intrust the management of the electric plant to my good friend Biff, here, with Chalmers and Johnson as starboard and larboard bulwarks, until the stock is quoted at a high enough rating to be a profitable sale; then I'm going to turn it into money, and add it to the original fund. I think I shall be busy enough just looking after and enjoying my new partnership," and he smiled down at Agnes, who smiled back at him with a trusting admiration that needed no words to express.
"Beg your pardon, sir," said old Johnson, "but I have a letter here for you," and from his inside pocket he drew one of the familiar steel-gray envelopes, which he handed to Bobby.
It was addressed:
To My Son Bobby, Upon His Regaining His Father's Business
The message inside was so brief that one who had not known well old John Burnit would never have known the full, full heart out of which he penned it:
"I knew you'd do it, dear boy. Whatever mystery I find in the great hereafter I shall be satisfied—for I knew you'd do it."
That was all.
"Johnson," said Bobby, crumpling up the letter in his hand, and speaking briskly to beat back his emotion, "we will move our offices to the same old quarters, and we will move back, for my use, my father's old desk with my father's portrait hanging above it, just as they were when Silas Trimmer ordered them removed."
Two of the stock-holders came in at this moment, and Agnes went down into the store to find Biff Bates and Nellie Platt, for there was much shopping to do. Agnes had taken pretty Nellie under her chaperonage, and every day now the girls were busy with preparations for certain events in which each was highly interested.
Up in the office there was a meeting that was a shock to all the stock-holders but one, and after it was over Bobby joined the shoppers. When the four of them had clambered into Bobby's automobile and were rolling away, Bobby stopped his machine.
"Look," he said in calm triumph, and pointed upward, his hand clasping a smaller hand which was to rest contentedly in his through life.
Over the Grand Street front of the building from which they had emerged, workmen were just raising a huge electric sign, and it bore the legend:
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