FICTION

The Little Flier

CLELAND LUNDY February 1 1934
FICTION

The Little Flier

CLELAND LUNDY February 1 1934

The Little Flier

CLELAND LUNDY

MR. WILLET K. SARGENT frowned with august displeasure at the young woman seated across the desk.

Dorothy Sargent was not a young woman at whom one generally frowned; in fact, the distinct opposite was true. She was personable in a fall ensemble of tan. topped by a tan hat on her fair hair. At the moment her chin was tilted and her eyes were rebellious a condition of affairs which did not in any way detract from her attractiveness.

Nevertheless. Mr. Sargent continued to frown. Since lie had taken his stand on the matter of young Bill Brooks, youthful editor of the Avonford Weekly Express and suitor for Dorothy’s hand, he considered that the least a dutiful daughter could do was to bow gracefully to his decision and forget all about the young man.

At the moment he was particularly impatient, because there was a man waiting to see him. An important-looking man. Over Dorothy’s head, he had seen the stranger come into the outer shop, enquire of the assistant, and pause until the proprietor should be free.

Mr. Sargent liked receiving visitors, especially im[x>rtant-looking visitors, and he was anxious to discover what brought this stranger to Sargent’s Hour and feed store. He decided to cut the conversation short.

’’Well.” he snapped peevishly, pointedly shuffling pajiers on his desk, "I’ve told you what I thought about young Brooks, and that’s all there is to it. Sou’ll have to abide by it. I can’t have all this back talk.”

"But you haven’t been able to give me one reason for disliking Bill.” Dorothy protested with some spirit.

"I’ve told you a dozen times he’s not making any money with the Express.”

“Is that a reason?”

"Reason enough.” snapped Mr. Sargent. “But I can’t argue like this. I’ve got work to do.”

Dorothy, though she rose to leave, showed no intention of allowing herself to be thus incontinently routed.

“I know,” she said. ‘Tve seen you at work. And as for Bill, you really have no reason for disliking him. You just think it looks big and important to act like this.” A quick Hush of anger Hooded Mr. Sargent’s face as he looked up at his daughter.

“Whereas,” concluded Dorothy, in some triumph as she saw that this home truth had found a mark, "it merely looks silly.”

Before Mr. Sargent could explode into reply, his daughter had made a cool and dignified exit.

For an instant after her departure Mr. Sargent, fumed and gurgled. In the next instant, when the important-looking stranger presented himself in the doorway, he was his usual bland, important, pompous self.

The stranger introduced himself as Mr. Arthur Buller and sat down. An hour later, despite the press of work that had speeded Dorothy’s departure, he was still sitting there, basking in the light of Mr. Sargent’s genial approval.

Mr. Sargent would have found it difficult to state exactly the aim and purpose of Mr. Buller’s visit. He remembered hazily that the dapper gentleman had introduced himself in general terms as the representative of a large banking house, and that he had spoken particularly of Mr. Sargent’s unquestioned competence to discuss business conditions locally.

Mr. Sargent had been flattered. He had, he considered, been singled out of all the business men in Avonford to give advice to a bank you couldn't construe it any other way. And his satisfaction was not decreased by the fact that Mr. Buller had listened with very' marked deference and respect to whatever views Mr. Sargent had chosen to express.

Mr. Sargent expanded. He beamed and glow'ed, and his guileless eyes shone. He polished his spectacles with increasing satisfaction, popixd them on his nose, locked his fingers over the swelling curve of his waistcoat, and delivered opinions w ith freedom and complacency. For who was more competent to speak with authority than a man who had made upwards of $30,000 in flour and feed and whose name was already being mentioned in connection with the mayoralty for next year?

Mr. Buller had continued to hang upon his words with gratifying intentness until the rux>n hour was upon them.

Being a stranger in town and distinguished as he was. Mr. Buller could not have been stopping at any hotel other than The Avon. And nothing was more natural than that he suggest the pursuit of the conversation over the best luncheon to be provided by that hostelry.

THE WALK TO the hotel, the splendid entrance to the rotunda of two business men about to discuss weighty matters over the luncheon table, were savored to the utmost by Mr. Sargent. But the little incident in the foyer, just outside the glass doors of the dining room, proved even more delightful.

Mr. Sargent was just about to push through the doors, through which was possible a glimpse of snowy-draped tables and luncheon guests busy with gleaming silver, when Mr. Buller grasped his sleeve and stayed him. To the surprised merchant he indicated a table in a secluded corner of the dining room, over which a distinguished white-haired gentleman busied himself at lunch and dictation simultaneously, while a young man, obviously a secretary, scribbled in a notebook.

Even at this remote distance Buller hushed his voice reverently.

‘‘Ward Beechman,” he said impressively. “One of the biggest men in the country.” Mr. Sargent looked again at the great man.

“A financial wizard,” continued Buller. “They call him the Baron of St. James Street.”

Mr. Sargent made hurried mental excursions, but, although he was tolerably familiar with the names of such figures as allowed themselves to be conspicuous in the public press, he could not recall the name of Ward Beechman.

Nevertheless, he decided. Buller was right; there was no question of this stranger’s importance. Only a captain of industry would carry about a private secretary and work while he ate.

“Well, well,” he murmured, moving to obtain a better view.

“1 le’s coming out,” observed Buller. Mr. Sargent saw that the great man was rising, and that the secretary was hurriedly thrusting papers into a brief case. “We’ll wait here,” Buller whispered, “and it’s just possible I can get a chance to introduce you.”

Mr. Sargent gulped. He licked his lips and furtively adjuster! the set of his business suit on his shoulders. The glass doors opened before the eminent stranger, and Mr. Sargent’s great moment was ujxm him.

As the d(x>rs swung behind him, Mr. Beechman paused for an instant to glance around the foyer. Tall, dignified, with white hair and groomed white mustache, clear, pink complexion, and an air of silent jxjwer and quiet but firm decision becoming to a man of many affairs, he looked every inch the captain of industry.

Mr. Beechman remained posed only for an instant, for his glance fell ujxm Mr. Buller almost at once. His face was overspread by incredulity and surprise, giving way to pleased recognition.

“Well, well, Buller!” he exclaimed in a deep, rich voice, stepping forward with extended hand. “What brings you here?” Mr. Buller chuckled deferentially as he shook hands.

“I’ll wager you know as much about that as I do, Mr. Beechman. There isn't much that g*s on in the upper circles that you don’t know about.” And on a serious note: “Er—by the way, may I present Mr. Willet Sargent, Mr. Beechman? Mr. Sargent and I have been in conference together most of the morning.”

“Sargent?” Beechman repeated doubtfully, putting out a tentative hand. “You are in business, Mr. Sargent?”

Mr. Sargent, hurriedly licking his lips, murmured, “Flour and feed,” and for the first time in thirty years doubted the adequacy of dispensing fodder as an avocation.

Mr. Beechman, however, appeared to have no doubts as to the importance of the flour and feed business.

“Exactly, exactly,” he beamed, now smiling broadly and shaking Mr. Sargent's hand cordially. “I am delighted to have met you,

Mr. Sargent. It is always a pleasure to meet another business man.”

Standing before the drs of the dining room, watching the lordly passage of Beechman and secretary to the elevators, Mr. Sargent’s cup was full.

He was still goggling when the elevator doors clicked shut upon Beechman, and Buller cut in upon his thoughts.

“Well,” said the banker, suddenly brisk, “let’s push along inside, Mr. Sargent. Say, they’ve got Beechman's table cleared.” I íe chuckled at his own whimsicality. “Let’s sit there. It may bring us luck.”

And so Mr. Sargent presently found himself installed in the very chair that the distinguished financier had recently graced, arranging a napkin and beaming appreciatively at the soup, Mr. Buller, and tinworld in general.

As soon as they were settled Buller glana d cautiously around, leaned across the table and became confidential.

"I gave you a hint this morning,” he murmured with cabalistic secrecy, "that things were going to happen sn in Avonford. Well, just between you and me. Beechman’s presence here is more than a coincidence.”

“Is that so?” demanded Mr. Sargent eagerly. “You mean he’s going to invest some money here?”

Mr. Buller deliberately winked one eye.

“A deep secret, of course. But you can bank on it that a certain town not a mile from here is going to have a new business concern that’ll cost at least three quarters of a million.”

Mr. Sargent stared at the banker.

“You don’t say !” he panted.

“Of course,” Buller hastened to remind him, “I’m naming no names, mind you. If this thing ever leaked out, a lot of people around here would make their fortunes.”

Mr. Sargent was as near to ecstasy as he. had ever been in his prosaic life. That such deep-laid plans were flourishing under the placid surface of Avonford 's everyday affairs and that he had been permitted to glimpse them, filled him to the bursting jxfint with imixance and suix-rioritv.

lie glanced around the room at Uncommon folk lunching there, proudly conscious of his inside information. Once Inthought he felt something on the fkxir, near his fixit, but in the excitement of the moment he disregarded it.

Soup disappeared and was replaced by another course. During its disjxsal Mr. Buller talked.

Mr. Sargent’s satisfaction was complete when the conversation, wandering from business for a moment, touched ujx>n municipal politics in Avonford. ( hr this subject Mr. Sargent was prepared at all times to talk with fluency and authority.

“Well, yes,” he admitted, taking care to exhibit a natural modesty, an understandable reluctance to mention his own achievements. “I have been--er—approached by several parties with regard to ah offering myself as a candidate for the mayoralty in the next elections.”

“Is that a fact !” exclaimed Mr. Buller, properly impressed.

Mr. Sargent was prepared even to neglect his luncheon for sue!) an absorbing topic. I íe cleared his throat.

“Of course— ” he began judicially. And stopped abruptly.

This time he was sure he felt something near his feet. Under his feet, now. Something round and firmly yielding.

HE PUSHED BACK his chair, lifted the tablecloth with both hands, and peered between his knees at the floor. There, on the rich carpet under the table, reposed a stout black wallet, its costly leather bulging comfortably over its contents. When Mr. Sargent came to himself he was hunched forward, holding up the tablecloth

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The Little Flier

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with both hands as he peered over its edge with startled eyes at Mr. Buller. Hurriedly assuming a more decorous posture, he wondered in a flurry what was the conventional manner of announcing to a business associate that a fat wallet reposed under the table.

Finally, bridling his excitement with what reserve he could muster, he stated :

“By the way. There’s a—er—wallet or something under the table.”

Mr. Buller was plainly incredulous, but he looked for himself.

“By Jove!” he exclaimed. “So there is. It ’s over on your side. Pick it up. ”

Oblivious of his blood pressure, Mr. Sargent stooped, groped, and came up with the wallet. lie turned it over in his hands, staring at its snug black flanks.

“Open it,” commanded Buller.

Mr. Sargent thrust his luncheon plate aside and attacked the wallet. A little catch came unfastened at the first attempt, and the wallet uncoiled in his hands under pressure of the contents.

A slit gaped along one side, into which Mr. Sargent promptly peeped—and gasped. For, in a neatly compact bundle, were exposed to view more yellow-backed bank notes than are customarily seen at one time by even the proprietor of a flourishing flour and feed business.

“It’s money!” he panted, dignity and pomposity going completely by the boards in the stress of the moment. He put in a thumb and riffled the edges of the crisp notes. “A whole wad of it. ”

For an instant merchant and banker stared at each other in bewilderment, and then a light broke over Buller’s face.

“I’ll wager I know the owner!” he exclaimed. “Is there a name on it?”

Mr. Sargent collected his faculties sufficiently to look again. Sure enough, under a little pane of isinglass, appeared a card. A card on which, Mr. Sargent saw, was engraved the name of no less a personage than the great financier, Mr. Ward Beechman.

Mr. Sargent began to experience a fuddled sensation. So much had happened this morning that he was becoming bewildered. Indeed, so different had been the course of events from his customary placid routine that he began to suspect himself of dreaming.

“I thought so,” said Buller triumphantly when Mr. Sargent named the owner. “Suspected it as soon as I saw the wallet.” He chuckled at his own wit. “I told you sitting here would bring us luck.”

Mr. Sargent tried to speak but could not. Instead, he fell to riffling the bank notes, watching fascinated as they flickered past.

“But say,” continued Buller, suddenly serious. “It really was lucky for Beechman that two of his friends sat here. If anybody else had found that purse he might never have seen it again.”

Mr. Sargent nodded.

“I suppose it will keep till after lunch,” added Buller. “But we’d better go up to his room as soon as possible and hand it over.

It might look funny if we were caught with it.”

It was not until coffee had been served that Mr. Sargent got himself under a semblance of control. At that stage he made a great effort, tucked the wallet safely into an inner pocket, and rallied sufficiently to take a meagre share in the conversation.

As the cigars were shortening, Mr. Buller recalled the affair of the wallet, and proposed that they return it forthwith. With a thrill of anticipation Mr. Sargent placed his cigar in his mouth, rose, and turned to leave the dining room. He took two paces and stopped dead.

Seated four tables away, where he had had an excellent view of Messrs. Sargent and Buller, was Bill Brooks, young editor of the Avonford Weekly Express. Young Bill— who, now that Mr. Sargent remembered it, lunched downtown on week days—had

evidently been waiting for Mr. Sargent to turn round.

Now that he had attracted the merchant’s attention, Bill behaved surprisingly. After a lightning glance at Buller, his eyes flashed back to Mr. Sargent, and he frowned and shook his head decisively. Apparently lie was trying to convey some message.

Mr. Sargent had on hand at the moment matters vastly removed from youthful tomfoolery. He couldn’t be bothered with any message. Besides, he had scant respect for youpg Brooks anyway.

He scowled with pontifical displeasure. He looked at Bill disdainfully.

As they left the dining room he passed young Brooks’s table with complete indifference and lordly lack of recognition. Which, he privately considered, was the proper way for a business man, about to return a wallet to another business man, to deal with an inconsequential young squirt of an editor.

T> EECHMAN RECEIVED THEM at the door of his suite in an informal but costly silk dressing robe, with aristocratic reserve at their presumption in calling unbidden.

Moreover, when informed that he had lost his wallet, he was austerely incredulous; when Mr. Sargent made bold to offer the purse, he let go of the door and received it with reluctance and disbelief. He examined it, unconvinced until he had opened it and seen everything in order. -

The masterful frown faded from his face, the lordly displeasure vanished. A gracious smile overspread his countenance.

“By Jove!” he exclaimed with dignified enthusiasm. “So it is mine. I must have dropped it when I was getting a pourboire for the waiter. And you gentlemen found it. What a fortunate coincidence that you happened to be sitting there !”

“Mr. Sargent found it,” declared Buller at once, disclaiming all personal credit. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“Indeed!” exclaimed Mr. Beechman, turning pleased eyes on Mr. Sargent. “Then I am indebted to you, Mr. Sargent.”

Mr. Sargent swallowed hard and laughed in embarrassment.

Mr. Beechman, apparently awakening to his inhospitality in keeping them standing in the hall, immediately held wide the door.

“But come in, gentlemen—come in !” And after the door was closed and the gentlemen seated; “lam particularly indebted to Mr. Sargent for this kindness because this four thousand dollars is all the cash I have with me. I should most likely have been embarrassed without it. You must allow me to express my appreciation.” Mr. Beechman paused and smiled in apology. “I regret that circumstances do not permit me to offer you —er—refreshments but—”

Mr. Beechman paused again, extracted several bank notes from the wallet, and held them tentatively above it.

“Perhaps you would allow me—”

Mr. Buller was instantly loud in his disclaimers. Regardless of the fact that Mr. Sargent had the honor in the matter of acceptance or refusal, Buller pooh-poohed the idea of financial reward.

Mr. Beechman smiled regretfully and restored the notes to the wallet. For an instant silence fell upon the group as the financier puzzled to find some way of reimbursing his benefactors.

Suddenly and visibly, an idea occurred to him.

“By Jove !” he exclaimed, with enthusiasm ringing through his rich tones, “I believe I have it. That is, if Mr. Sargent would care to—Mr. Sargent, since you refuse—er— financial reward, you really must allow me to—ah—put you in the way of a profitable investment.”

Beechman, obviously pleased with the excellence of this idea, waited expectantly. Mr. Sargent was called upon to speak, and found it somewhat difficult because he had

no idea of what Beechman was talking about. However, the phrase “profitable investment” sounded favorable, and Mr. Sargent plunged.

“Well,” he piped, smiling foolishly, “I guess I wouldn’t have any objection to that.”

“Splendid!” exclaimed the financier. “I will provide you with the name of the stock, and you may take a little flier in the market. Mr. Sargent. As a matter of fact, 1 am picking up a few thousand shares myself this afternoon and—” The prince of commerce broke off abruptly as further amplification of his idea occurred to him.

“By the w-ay,” he interrupted himself, “you might care to embody your order with mine, Mr. Sargent. In that way you could handle it without inconvenience.”

Mr. Sargent, knowing even less than before of what all this was about, nodded dazedly.

“I s’pose that would be all right,” he murmured.

“Fine,” enthused Mr. Beechman. He turned to the doorway of a bedroom and said crisply: “Hodge!”

At once the secretarial young man in the dark suit appeared in the doorway.

“When you wire that order to Montreal,” directed Beechman, “you might include another four shares—er—for a friend of mine. And Hodge,” he added as the other turned away, “you will order in code, of course.”

“Certainly, sir.”

Beechman turned back to Mr. Sargent — Buller, singularly at ease in all this grandeur, having taken to sucking his teeth and staring at the ceiling—and smiled in his most gracious manner.

“I am delighted to have this opportunity of discharging my indebtedness, Mr. Sargent.”

“Not at all, not at all,” spluttered Mr. Sargent.

“Indeed I am,” insisted Beechman, moving as if to terminate the interview. “However, Hodge will attend to it for us. If you will leave your cheque for two hundred dollars it will cover your share of the investment nicely. With any—-er—luck you should make a handsome profit. At any rate. Hodge will deliver the cash tomorrow morning at the latest.”

One fact stood out clearly for Mr. Sargent. “You want my cheque for two hundred?” “In my favor, since the deal will be transacted under my name,” said Beechman, with some withdrawal of his cordiality. “A trifle, of course: but, if you prefer, I shall be glad to finance you. Perhaps you—”

Mr. Beechman’s words trailed off into silence. Mr. Sargent rallied strongly at this faint aspersion on his financial competence.

“Not at all, not at all,” he declared hastily. “Let you have my cheque at once.” He hitched his chair toward a table, produced spectacles and cheque book, and carefully filled out a cheque in Beechman’s favor.

“Thank you, Mr. Sargent,” said the financier, with fine unconcern as he rose. “Hodge will pick up the cheque as he goes to the bank. By the way, if you happen to be going that way, ixrhaj^s you will be kind enough to introduce Hodge at the bank. A stranger coming in with your cheque might encounter difficulty.”

“To be sure, to be sure,” said Mr. Sargent. “Be glad to.”

“That will be fine,” said Beechman. He summoned Hodge. “Take Mr. Sargent’s cheque to the bank,” he directed. “Mr. Sargent is going along with you to introduce you. Oh, by the way,” he added as an afterthought, turning again to Mr. Sargent and smiling graciously. “You will have no objection to our obtaining this in cash, I hope.” He smiled in tolerant amusement at his own foibles. “A little fad of mine, Mr. Sargent. When away from home I always prefer to deal in cash.”

Mr. Sargent, responding instantly to this appeal to his broad, tolerant outlook, smirked in agreement.

“That will be fine then,” said Mr. Beechman again with gracious dismissal. “Hodge will bring the money tomorrow morning.”

Mr. Sargent moved down the hall in the centre of a hazy but rosy cloud. And so. being an unlucky sort of person, he promptly had a disagreeable experience.

When he and Hodge stepped out of the elevator doors in the rotunda below, they encountered Bill Brooks, seated squarely before the dcxirs, obviously waiting.

Bill seemed to have taken leave of his journalistic duties for the express purpose of importuning Mr. Sargent. He rose and faced the merchant and came directly to the point.

“Say,” he began, “I know it’s none of my business but—”

Mr. Sargent glared, looked him up and down, and stepped around him. Bill thrust out a hand to detain him.

“Listen, Mr. Sargent—”

With lordly disdain the merchant continued on his way, leaving Bill with hand outstretched and message but half-spoken. Which was the last he saw of Bill for several days.

TVJRING DINNER and the early evening, the day’s events glowed rosily in retrospection. At this early stage, Mr. Sargent was still under the fascination of Beechman’s gracious personality, still enthralled by his brief glimpse of high finance in its natural setting.

Toward bedtime, however, the pristine glow began to fade. This diminution pro! gressed steadily as he pondered the affair, ¡ until in the wee small hours Mr. Sargent | suddenly encountered the fact that he had given $200 to a complete stranger, with no security whatever.

Mr. Sargent strove without avail to argue this fact away. Try as he might to overcome it, the uncomforting truth remained. As dawn approached there was a period in which the affair assumed a fanciful and unreal tinge, as something dreamed or imagined, in the midst of which Mr. Sargent fell into troubled slumber.

He was nervous and irritable, and still grumpy from lack of sleep when he arrived at the office next morning.

He had been there but one scant hour when all doubts were gloriously dispelled. For Hodge, inestimable secretary to Ward Beechman, appeared on the office threshold, obsequiously handed Mr. Sargent a sealed packet and silently withdrew.

Mr. Sargent turned the missive over in his hands. He opened it, and out tumbled a written note, on hotel stationery, and a { bundle of legal tender.

The merchant sucked in his breath sharply as he riffled the crisp bank notes. I íe popped ; his spectacles on his nose, and with mounting excitement read the note.

Dear Sargent: Herewith an enclosure of $325 —your little investment plus profit. I regret that the market did not react as favorably as I had hoped : otherwise your profit would have been larger.

Beechman.

P.S. I expect to be ordering again this afternoon; if you are free you might care to drop in.

Mr. Sargent lay back in his chair and breathed hard. He looked at the money and again at the note. A hundred and twentyfive dollars profit in less than twenty-four hours ! More profit than he made in a month sometimes, in the flour and feed business.

So this was the way big business was done.

Mr. Sargent’s blood pressure went rocketing. He removed his spectacles and polished them avidly while he gazed across the desk with shining eyes. And that afternoon he showed up at Beechman’s suite at the very earliest moment that propriety permitted —to receive a welcome that flattered even so blasé a businessman as the proprietor of Sargent’s Flour and Feed.

That afternoon he took advantage of Beechman’s generosity to the extent of investing $500, and left on a wave of cordiality—with a definite appointment for tomorrow. That night he was untroubled by doubts and fears; in a bright pink glow, in which his fancy achieved stupendous things,

! now that he had been admitted to the inner ! circle, he passed the rosy hours. And in the morning Hodge delivered currency totalling j .$814.

Almost $500 in two days!

As he trotted along the hall to Beechman’s door that afternoon, Mr. Sargent's tongue was all but hanging out.

When lie departed he left behind him his cheque for $24,000. Mr. Beechman liad intimated that this might be his last opportunity, and also that he had an excellent chance of doubling his money. Mr. Sargent, being a shrewd business man, had decided to make hay while the brief sun shone.

From the hotel he went directly to the ¡bank, according to Mr. Beechman’s own I suggestion; warned them that a sizable ; cheque was coming through, and directed I them to honor it. The bank manager, who liad been a good friend to Mr. Sargent for ! several years, looked searchingly at him.

“Are you sure you know what you’re ! doing?”

Mr. Sargent ruffled up immediately. That a mere bank manager should question the judgment of a man whose opinion was accepted with respect in the upixjr ranges of financial circles, who dealt in collaboration witli a nationally known industrial figure was sheer impertinence.

“Why certainly I know what I’m doing,” he snapped. “When that cheque comes in, you do whatever they want done with it. It’s nothing to you, anyway.”

The banker shrugged, and Mr. Sargent ; left in a royal huff.

I'‘THE HOUR AT WHICH he expected Hodge next morning found Mr. Sargent seated at his desk, polishing his spectacles j and breathing hard. An hour later he was : ‘-.till sitting there, gasping for breath, the j hands that held the spectacles trembling I violently.

I Unfortunately he had no view of the 1 street and the front door from his sanctum, j A hundred times he gathered himself together to go out into the shop, to see whether or not 1 hxlge was coming. And just as often he changed his mind. Hodge might lx coming now, might be in the very act of I turning in at the front door. And Mr. Sargent wanted to be seated unconcernedly j at his desk when the big moment arrived.

1 He sat there in suspense that was agony, i and waited. Occasionally, when the front I d opened and a footstep sounded in the shop, his heart leaped into his mouth, only j to fall hack as the visitor spoke prosaically to the assistant of business matters and i departed.

Toward noon Mr. Sargent’s bkxxl pressure 1 had long since passed the danger jxjint. The ; tension was more than he could bear. In ! reaction he sat slumped in apathy, staring j dully before him.

The noon whistles sound«!, and Mr. Sargent looked toward his hat. He ran his j tongue across dry lips. Vaguely, he decided that Hodge was not coming this morning, that something must have detained him. He supposed he might as well go home for lunch.

But lie was Ux apathetic to move. He ( continued to sit there. He was still sitting j there when footsteps sounded in the outer shop, and an unfamiliar voice enquired for Mr. Sargent.

He struggled upward in his chair. By a terrific effort he cast aside his apathy, shook off some of his stupidity.

He had not yet got himself properly in hand when in the doorway of the sanctum appeared two men. Two men, neither of whom was Hodge—nor Beechman, nor Buller. Mr. Sargent had never seen these two men before.

They sat down unbidden and regarded Mr. Sargent in silent appraisal. About them was an intangible, semi-belligerent air which marked them as belonging to a class with which Mr. Sargent had never come in contact in the course of his innocent career.

Fr an interval they sat silently appraising ! the merchant. Mr. Sargent star«! piteously j at them and began to pluck hysterically at I his vest buttons. One of them sucked his I teeth and examined Mr. Sargent as if he j were a specimen on exhibition.

AS ell,” he said at last, in a brassy, passion!» ss voice, “they certainly took you for plenty, didn't they?”

"What what do you mean?” quavered Mr. Sargent.

'The man sighed wearily.

"Provincial police,” he explained. “We come down here on a hot tip to make a sure pinch. W e bin after these birds fer months, an’ we had ’em this time. But you were t(x; easy. You didn’t keep ’em long enough. So we go back without ’em.”

Mr. Sargent’s head began to whirl, and his fingers on his vest fluttered like spent birds.

“You—you mean Mr. Beechman?” he quavered.

“Yeah. I mean Mr. Beechman.” said the other succinctly.

“He’s he’s gone?”

“Gone,” said the policeman flatly.

“But—but my cheque!” fluttered Mr. Sargent, beginning to bounce around in his chair. “My money! I I’ll tell them at the bank. I’ll stop payment.”

He snatched the telephone to call the bank, and cast it aside. In this awful moment he wanted something more direct and personal. He would run to the bank —

He lurched to his feet and started toward the door, his mouth open and his eyes protruding.

“Say,” said the officer flatly.

Mr. Sargent paused, panting. “The

bank - ” he gasped.

“Siddown,” ordered the policeman peremptorily. “It’s no use goin’ to the bank. We bin there. First place we went. The birds are gone—an’ so’s your money. They pulled the plug ten minutes after the bank opened this morning.”

Mr. Sargent tottered backward and crashed into his chair. The world reeled and went dark before his eyes. When it had cleared somewhat he found the policemen preparing to leave.

“Well,” said the officer, getting heavily to his feet, “we’ll wish ya better luck next time. They tell me at the bank ya got $3,000 or so left. You’re lucky. They usually clean ’em better than that. Àn’ if it’s any consolation to you, you got lotsa company. There’s plenty other boobs in the country them guys has took.”

W ith the instinct of the wounded animal Mr. Sargent crept home. With the last vestiges of his strength he pushed open the front door and tottered into the hall.

The maid met him but he didn’t see her. As a meaningless murmur came her information that Dorothy had gone to the country j club, and that his lunch was waiting in the ! dining r»xm. With no sign of recognition, Mr. Sargent climbed the stairs on trembling knees, passed down the hall and collapsed on his bed.

AN HOUR passed. Mr. Sargent lay there d like a hurt dog. The front d;x>r opened I and dosed, signalling the maid’s determina; tion to have her day off regardless of the eccentricities of employers, and silence descended on the house. Air. Sargent lay spent and beaten for another hour, and another, until the early shades of late fall twilight began to fill the room.

More than he had for years he longed for his dead wife. He was so alone. Even Dorothy could not have helped him, had she been here, estranged as she was since their disagreement.

Mr. Sargent must have dozed. Although he liad heard no one enter, the shaded lamp at his bedside suddenly clicked into brilliance and Dorothy was bending anxiously over him.

Dorothy, strangely, was not unfriendly. When she saw that he was in trouble she immediately dropped her gloves and kneeled beside him, taking his head in her arms. And presently, with his head cradled against her young breast, tears began to slip down Mr. Sargent’s cheeks as he brokenly recounted his story.

When it was finished, he lay exhausted. Although his eyes were closed, he knew that while his daughter clutched him fiercely to her. the line, proud young head was up and her eyes flashing.

There was a long silence. Presently, as Dorothy considered the affair, her bosom began to heave under his cheek—only to be suddenly stilled as the doorbell shrilled imperiously.

At once, before she had time to restore his head to the pillow and run to the top of the stairs, there was the sound of the door opening and footsteps approaching the bottom step. Mr. Sargent, listening acutely, heard the surprising sound of Bill Brooks's voice in a stage whisper.

“Dot!”

“Bill !” exclaimed Dorothy, running partly down and pausing. “What in the world—?”

“Where’s your dad?”

‘Up here,” said Dorothy. “Lying down.”

“I’m coming up,” said Bill cheerily.

There followed the sound of Bill’s feet mounting sturdily, coming along the hall accompanied by Dorothy’s, and the two young people came into view in the doorway.

Mr. Sargent jerked his head off the pillow and stared.

Bill Brooks, ordinarily the acme of welldressed young journalists, was in a state of splendid dishevelment. His collar was dirty and torn and his tie hung like a rope: his coat was ripi>ed, and his trousers rumpled and muddy; his brown hair was in disorder, one eye looked out of an indigo nimbus, and a smear of blood graced one cheek. And he carried a black, battered bag.

But Bill, withal, was cheery enough.

“Ah!” he breathed, seeing Mr. Sargent reclining. “We have a patient. I see. Just as I exacted.” With reckless disregard for the household's stricken silence, he flipped a chair into jx>sition beside the bed, sat down doctor-wise, and smiled.

“You—you—” began Mr. Sargent, raging weakly at this unpardonable intrusion in his dark hour. “You young—”

Bill held up a restraining hand. “Still difficult, I see. Very well.” He took the black bag upon his knees and opened it. “I have here the ideal prescription for the case. It is sometimes known as the swag.”

He began to remove bundles from the bag and toss them on the bed beside Mr. Sargent. Bundles of bank notes. Counting them as he did so.

“—ten, eleven, twelve,” he concluded. “Twenty-three thousand and some odd dollars, according to a hurried count, which was all they had when I got to them.”

MR. SARGENT closed his eyes and once more collapsed on the bed.

Perhaps half an hour later Mr. Sargent was able to sit up with the aid of pillows, and with his daughter and Bill Brooks, to take a cup of coffee.

He was recuperating fast. He had even arrived at the stage where he was once more considering himself as a potential and very formidable candidate for the mayoralty.

Previous to Bill’s arrival with the black bag, the possibility of Mr. Sargent’s standing for election had perforce been considered as gone glimmering with his money. For the story of his downfall would not have failed to become noised abroad in the town; and mirth and laughter would have followed inevitably. A penniless man and a laughingstock would have had scant success at the polls.

But now he was no longer penniless, he remembered with satisfaction. And the electorate would be unaware of his - -er—

financial indiscretion. The affair could lxi hushed up. They would be officially bound ; to secrecy at the bank, and other than the bankers very few people knew anything 1 about it. Nobody but Bill and IV>mthy and j himself, in fact.

Mr. Sargent munched a sandwich with increasing satisfaction and savored his : coffee.

In fact, so rapidly was he becoming his j customary important self that he was inI dined to be a trifle critical of Bill’s conduct in the affair. Nor had he forgotten that Bill j was still technically in disgrace. It seemed j about time to reassert his fatherly authority, j

“What I can't see,” he said peevishly, "is j why you didn’t call the police if you knew so much. What did you have to wait around and follow them in your car for. and crowd them off the road and then fight for the bag, and all?”

“I did tell the police,” said Bill. “And they sent special officers, but they didn’t get here in time, so I had to handle it myself. As a matter of fact, though, I’m just as glad it turned out as it did. It makes the story complete.”

“The story?” related Mr. Sargent.

“For the Express.” explained Bill. “It’s the biggest story to break here in years. The public will eat it up.”

Mr. Sargent’s cup clattered on his saucer. Horror dawned in his eyes.

“You—you're not going to put it in the paper?”

“I'm not, eh?” said Bill, reaching for a sandwich. “It’s the chance of a lifetime.” He interrupted himself momentarily to attend to the sandwich, and quoted: “Prominent Local Merchant Fleeced by Confidence Gang. Flour and Feed Dealer Played for Sucker.”

Mr. Sargent writhed. “But—but you

can’t do that.”

“Think not?” said Bill cheerily. “Wait and see.”

Mr. Sargent set his cup carefully on the bedside table. In wordless miserv he stared at Bill.

Bill bit largely into his sandwich and grinned. “It'll be a feature. I’m going to run it on the front page unless I get an j announcement I’m hoping for.”

“An announcement?” repeated Mr. Sarj gent dully.

“Yes,” said Bill. “If I get the announcement I’ll leave the big story out altogether.”

“What what kind of announcement?” panted Mr. Sargent.

“Wedding announcement,” said Bill. “Daughter of one of Avonford’s most successful and highly respected merchants to wed young newspaperman, and soon.”

Bill looked pointedly at Mr. Sargent. And Mr. Sargent stared back at Bill. And presently a light began to break over the highly respected merchant’s face.

“You mean, if you get the announcement you won’t publish the the other thing?”

“Exactly.” said Bill.

“And nobody will ever know anything about it?”

“Never a soul.” Bill promised.

Mr. Sargent looked away, and gradually a smile of contentment dawned on his moon face. Automatically he procured his spectacles, and as he polished them he saw visions of great things.

“Go ahead and announce it,” he murj mured happily.