Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On The Rocks of Success, Top Notch March 1, 1913

Here is another story from the Top Notch Twice-a-Month Magazine,  March 1, 1913 issue.

It's an average length short story, but it was published with the notation: "(Complete in this Issue)."  Why? I think it's because it's got chapters. Most of the pulps of this time had many different lengths of story, and nearly every issue had a serial story tucked in.  The serials always had chapter headings, the shorts and novelettes might or might not. This was a way of keeping it clear.

This story is about a shop keeper who is a little too greedy for his own good....

* * *

On the Rocks of Success
by Howard Dwight Smiley
(illustrator unknown)


THIRTY-FIVE THOUSAND dollars was a lot of money to fall into as once.  When Hugh Cranson received Lawyer Patterson's letter apprising him of his good fortune he experienced much the same sensation of surprise as one would diving into a warm lake in August and striking cold spring water, except that the shock was decidedly pleasant.

Still, he never could have endured that old, dark store; the stuffy, old-fashioned counters, piled half to the ceiling with dusty good; the space between the ounters set with ungainly benches that nearly filled it and made it impossible for two people to pass in the aisle without turning sideways; the dingy kerosene lamps that served dimly to illuminate the place in the evening, and the general haphazard, jumbled-up arrangement of everything.

But he was going to change all that now.  He would throw out those dusty old counters that had done service for nearly half a century, and replace them with double-deck plate-glass show cases.  He would install electric lights, and give the whole interior a vigorous redecorating that would brighten it up.

Of course, Mr. Potts would object to all this; that was to be expected. But Hugh now owned a half interest in that store, and if he was to take an active part in the management there were certainly going to be some improvements made.

The train stopped at Brookton, and Hugh stepped off.  Old Jim Carpenter, who had driven the hotel bus for twenty years, greeted him cordially, and invited him to ride on the driver's seat as far as the hotel.

He left his bag at the hotel and walked directly to the store. He told himself as he entered that it was like reviewing an old picture.  Even a dead fly that hung dejectedly to the wire that was suspended from the ceiling and supported a smoky old kersene lamp looked strangely familiar.  Hugh assured himself that it was the same one that had hung there when he left the town, five years before.

The store was free from customers, and he found Mr. Potts going over the contents of a large cash register.  The young man gasped at the sight of this fixture.  Well, well!  They had actually acquired a cash register!  He could hardly believe it.

He advanced on Mr. Potts with a friendly smile and outstretched hand.  The old man glanced up from his money counting, bestowed on Hugh a grim, perfunctory nod, then jerked his head toward the rear of the store.

"Busy," he grunted shortly.  "Be back in a minute."

Hugh was taken aback by the curtness of the other's greeting, but walked, wondering, to the rear of the store, where the old high desk, the ponderous, antiquated safe, and a few rickety chairs gave it the semblance of an office.

He was still wondering at the other's coolness hwen the old man sauntered back and inspected Hugh from head to foot for a minute before speaking.

"Regular dude, aint you?" he observed, in a tone that startled the young man into surprised resentment.

"Mr. Potts--" he began.

"I been expecting you any minute," the storekeeper interrupted laconically.  "Knew you wouldn't lose no time getting here to spend your poor dead uncle's moneu, evem if the town wasn't good enough for you during his lifetime."

"Why, Mr. Potts!" cried Hugh, in a hurt tone. "What do you mean?"

"Be them all the clothes you've got here?" questioned the storekeeper, ignoring Hugh's question.

"Yes.  I--"

"Well, you'd better do down to Dobbins' and get something that's fit to wear.  I don't want no dudes hangin' 'round this store."

"These clothes are as good as yours!" retorted Hugh, angered at last by the other's manner.

"There now, don't go gettin' sassy 'round here," adminished Mr. Potts sternly.  "You go get some clothes, like I told you, and then get back to earn your way if you hang 'round here."

"Earn my way?" gasped the astonished Hugh.

"You bet you!  If you show you're worth it, I am goin' to pay you five dollars a week; otherwise you don't get nothin'."

"I wish you would tell me what you are talking about!" exclaimed Hugh, by now thoroughly exasperated by the other's attitude.  "I own half this store!"

"Mebbe you don't," retorted Mr. Potts mysteriously.  "Read the will yet?"

"Certainly not!  I've been in town only about a half an hour!"

"Well, you'd better go up and see Lawyer Patterson, then; he's executor," dryly suggested Mr. Potts.  "You won't be so sassy when you see how things are fixed."

"I gather from that, that there is a string attached to this property," said Hugh.

"Gather anything you like," grunted Mr. Potts.  "One thing you ay as well understand first as last is, that I'm boss of this store, and you're under my orders.  You can obey 'em, or get out and stay out, just as you like!"

"I am entirely at loss to understand you!" returned Hugh.  "On thing is certain, however, and that is, if I have anything to say about the management of this store--and I see no reason why I haven't--I am going to make you dance for the manner in which you have treated me!  It is entirely uncalled for, and I assure you I won't overlook it!"

"You're welcome to all the dancing you get out of me," growled the storekeeper, as Hugh stalked indignantly out.

Lawyer Patterson greeted his visitor heartily, and invited him to a seat.

Hugh then related to the lawyer the conversation that had taken place between himself and Mr. Potts.

"Well, well, so that is the attitude he is taking, eh?" said Mr. Patterson, when he had concluded.  "I was expecting something of the sort, but I hardly thought he would begin so soon."

"I wish you would tell me what it is all about," said Hugh.

"My friend," said the old lawyer kindly, "I am afraid you are up a stump.  Your Uncle Andrew's will gives Potts absolute control of the store.  He holds your share in trust, to be turned over to you when, in his estimation, you are capable of taking charge of it.  In the meantime you are to work under his orders at whatever wages he considers you are worth, for a term of at least five years, after which, if you have not fulfilled the requirements of the will, your interest reverts to him.

"What did Uncle Andrew do that for?" exclaimed Hugh, in surprise.

"I might have told you this in my letter," said the lawyer, "but I thought it better ot wait until I saw you.  Now I am going to talk frankly with you, and waht I say must be kept in confidence

"In the first place," he continued, "you incurred your uncle's displeasure when you left the store for the city several years ago.  He had hoped that you would grow into his place, but I am in a position to know that he was more hurt than angered; yet his old-fashioned ideas of dignity were such that he would not show that side of his feelings to you.  Now, between you and me, Potts had kown for some time that Mr. Collins intended willing you a half interest in the store. Potts wanted it himself, and tried to induce your uncle to turn it over to him, on the plea that they had built up the business, and had been associated for nearly half a century, and it was no more than fair that the survivor should own the store.  He argued that you deserved nothing after the way you had deserted them.  Your uncle was firm on that point, however, and when Potts found he could not influence him in that way, he resorted to other methods that were more successful."

"For instance?" asked Hugh interestedly.

"Well, the report reached your uncle that you were leading a dissolute, riotous life in the city-- drinking, and gambling, and having a gay time generally."

"Why, there isn't a word of truth in that!" cried Hugh indignantly.

"Of course there isn't!" replied the lawyer.  "I know you too well for that.  This information was given to your uncle to induce him to leave your interest in the store so that Potts would have absolute control.  Of course, you understand that Potts is under bonds to the probate judge to keep your share, valued at twenty thousand dollars, intact until the expiration of the five years, when it reverts to him if you have not lived up to the requirements."

"And what he intends to do is to make it so uncomfortable for me that I will throw up my hands before the expiration of that time!" exclaimed Hugh, beginning to see the light.

"Exactly," answered the lawyer.  "I realized what was coming at the time your uncle made his will, and had he sought my counsel I would have done waht I could to avert this more deplorable stat of affairs.  As it was, Mr. Potts was present when the will was made, and I could say nothing."

"I'll make him dance for this or know the reason why!" exclaimed Hugh.

"What are you going to do?" asked the lawyer curiously.

"Can't you take this matter up with the judge of probate?  He ought to be able to straighten it out when he finds how matters stand."

"I could try," answered Mr. Patterson doubtfully.

"All right; you do it!  In the meantime, I'll go back to my job in the city.  That is still open for me.  Has Potts got a string on the rest of Uncle Andrew's bequest?"

"No," answered the lawyer; "I have the deed to your uncle's old home, which is valued at five thousand dollars, also the ten thousand dollars life insurance.  You can have these any time."

"I'll take them now," answered Hugh promptely.


A MONTH AFTER Hugh's return to the city, Billy Donaldson, the grocery drummer, dropped into the old store.  Mr. Potts greeted him with surprise.

"Thought you'd quit the Rockford Grocery Company," he said.

"I have," answered Billy.  "Haven't been with them for three months. I am now representing the Quality Products Company, of Chicago, and I dropped in to see about your handling our goods in your town."

"I dunno," said Mr. Potts, with sudden coolness; "I ain't taking on any new brands. They're too hard to sell."

"Ours won't be," Billy assured him.  "We've got a very alluring proposition to make.  You see, this is a brand-new company, and our goods are all new and practically unknown to the public, but we have a system of introducing the goods that will no doubt be a winner."

"What is your system?" inquired Mr. Potts curiously.

"Well, we propose to give one of the stores here the exclusive agency for all our goods, and then sample the town and country with full-size packages of eery article we carry.  We will sample one article at a time, by mailing the customer a neat little letter, inclosing a coupon which will entitle him to a full-size package of one of our commodities, when presented at the store.  One advantage of this is that it will bring to your store many people who would not come here ordinarily.  Bring them not once, but many times, which may result in their becoming permanent patrons.  We furnish the samples to you absolutely free, the only expense to you being the cost of cartage from the depot, and the time consumed in passing out the samples.  You are not required to lay in a stock of our goods until the sampling is over, and you are satisfied as to the popularity of the Quality Products."

"That sounds pretty good," said Mr. Potts reflectively.  "You say you would give me exclusive agency if I took it up?"

"Yes, sir.  We will go under ten-thousand-dollar bonds to fulfill our part of the agreement, and we expect you to do the same."

"Me go under bonds!  What for?"

"Merely to guarantee that you will handle our goods conscientiously, and carry them for a period of at least two years; it being understood that this does not interfere with your carrying any other brands that you care to, and that we furnish you with our goods only after we have created a demand for them, and then only in such quantities as you may require.  The company further agrees to take back all unsold goods and refund the money, if you are dissatisfied at the expirations of the contract."

"Say, I'll take up that proposition!" exclaimed Mr. Potts.  "It's the best I ever had put up to me!"

"I knew you'd do it when you saw what we had to offer," said Billy.  "We'll go right out and have a lawyer draw up the contract.  I have some blanks with me."

Ten days later a consignment of coffee arrived for Mr. Potts. It was put up in one-pound tin cans, with attractive red labels, and made a handsome addition to the store shelves.

The next morning Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Addison, and Mrs. Shippy entered the store simultaneously.  Mrs. Shippy had been a regular customer for thirty years.  The other two women traded at Cromin's, on the corner.

Mr. Potts, who was presiding behind the grocery counter, noted this with gratification.  Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Addison fluttered up and presented yellow slips of paper, and after Mr. Potts had adjusted his spectacles, he found these to be coupons issued by the Quality Products Company, and that each entitled the bearer to one full-size can of Quality Coffee, absolutely free of charge.

Mr. Potts wrapped up the coffee, and watched the ladies depart, with a broad smile.  This trick was going to bring him a lot of new customer, he was sure.  Then he reached for Mrs. Shippy's coupon.

Mrs. Shippy had none. She had heard that a great many others received letters through the post office the night before, containing coupons, but none had come for her.

"Now, that's strange!" exclaimed Mr. Potts, in a distressed tone.  "I'm sure I sent your address in!  Oh, it will surely be along to-day or to-morrow, Mrs. Shippy.  Is there anything else I can help you to?"

"I came in for a pound of coffee," answered Mrs. Shippy, a bit coldly.

"Well, now, that's too bad!" said the storekeeper. "I'd give you a sample if I could, but I'm under contract not to give out any without the coupon."

"Then I guess I'll wait until mine comes," decided Mrs. Shippy.  "But," she added, with a suggestion of sarcasm in her tone, "it seems to me you'd see to it that your own customers get theirs firrst, instead of folks who never trade here."

Mr. Potts watched her leave the store with an expression of dismay.  He had probably offended her.  Well, it was the fault of the Quality Company; he must write them at once, and tell them to be more careful.  He had sent in the addresses in two separate lists, just as Billy Donaldson instructed him to do; one of his own customers, and one of the outsiders.  There was no excuse for such a blunder.

Mr. Potts did not write, however -- he telegraphed.  Following the exit of Mrs. Shippy the women began to flow in, and before noon he had exchanged three hundred and ten cans of coffee for coupons, and in every instance, as he noted with growing alarm, to outsiders.  Not one of his own customers received a sample, for the simple reason that they had no coupons.

At noon he rushed to the telegraph office and wired the company again.

Two hours later, he recieved his laconic and brief reply, sent collect:

Nothing in the contract binds us to send coupons to any one except those we choose.

The boy who delivered the message also brought notice that a shipment of baking powder had just arrived by freight for Mr. Potts.


BY NOON THE next day, Mr. Potts had distributed all of the coffee, and  as no more coupons were presented, it became apparent to him that the company had sent him exactly the number of cans required by the issue of coupons.  Not one of his regular customs had received a coupon.

Furthermore, he was now passing out pound cans of Quality Baking Powder to presenters of coupons, and while several hundred people had been in and carried away their cans, not one among them was a customer of the store.  His own customers came in, it is true, but it was to inquire indignantly why they were excluded from this remarkable free sampling.

Mr. Potts tried to explain, but seemed to be unable to make any one understand.  One or two left the store satisfied with his assurance that they would surely receive their coupons later, but the majority departed indignant, with the conviciton that they were being flimflammed by the store which they had stood by for years.

A remarkable change took place.  The town turned over, as it were.  For years, the firm of Collins & Potts had carried fifty percent of the trade of the community.  The rest was divided between three smaller stores in the town.

A highly indignant fifty percent suddenly ceased trading at Collins & Potts, and invaded the three smaller stores, almost swamping them.  The other fifty percent breezed cheerfully into the old store, received free samples of coffee and baking powder, and breezed out again -- and purchased the balance of their necessities at their usual trading places.

The day following the arrival of the baking powder, a consignment of soap was received.  This was distributed, six cakes for each coupon.  The next day brought yeast cakes, and the next tea, and so on.

Mr. Potts was frantic.  He wired the company repeatedly, and wrote them long letters at night, telling them his woes, and in every instance he received curt and brief replies to the effect that the company was living up to its part of the contract, and that Mr. Potts was expected to do the same.  Not once did they offer any explanation for their extraordinary conduct.

Mr. Potts had a stormy interivew with Lawyer Patterson in the latter's office.  The contract was carefully gone over, and the lawyer assured the frantic storekeeper that he was nailed up tighter than a sheep's hide to the side of of a barn.  There was nothing that withheld the company from sampling the public with their products. There was no clause that compelled them to send coupons to any except those they chose.  They could continue distributing samples for two years if they cared to, and Mr. Potts was bound to deliver the samples or forfeit his contract and the ten-thousand-dollar bond.

Mr. Potts returned to the store a saddened man.  He locked his doors, and went home and sent for a doctor.  Then the rumor started that the storekeeper was in bed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It became evident that the ordeal had become too much for him.

Two days later he received a letter from the Quality Products Company calling his attention to the fact that he was not living up to his part of the contract.  Two consignments of goods, one of Quality Oatmeal, and the other of Quality Pancake Flour, were waiting on the siding for distribution.  Unless he attended to these at once, the company would consider the contract broken, and would take immediate measures to collect the ten thousand dollars.

Tearing his hear in despair, Mr. Potts dragged himself from his house to the store and reopened it.  He had to admit, even to himself, that the company had him "nailed to the barn."  Why they were doing it, he couldn't imagine.

In the meantime, Lawyer Patterson had been viewing the proceedings with an apprehensive eye.  In his estimation, everything had gone to smash, and the trade at the store was irretrievably ruined.  He felt that it was his duty to apprise Hugh Cranson of the situation.

Two days later Hugh arrived in town in high dudgeon.

"What right have you got to sign such a contract without my sanction?" he indignantly demanded of Mr. Potts.

"Ain't it been pointed out to you that I'm boss of this store?" retorted Potts.  "It ain't none of your business what I do!"

"Is that so?" returned Hugh, with considerable heat.  "You evidently overlook the fact that you are under forty-thousand-dollar bonds to the judge of probate to see that my interest in this establishement is kept intact until it is either turned over to me or forfeited!  I think it is decidedly my business, when I come back here and find the store gone to smash, and the trad cleaned out!  My interest is--or rather was-- worth twenty thousand dollars, and it is up to you to make good!"

This phase of the situation hadn't occurred to Mr. Potts.  He was liable for Hugh's interst, and would have to make it good out of his own pocket in case the business failed.  The trade was indeed ruined; not a customer remained, and as each of them held a personal grudge against him, he doubted if he would ever be able to get them back.  The stock wouldn't bring forty cents on the dollar at a forced sale, and, even if it did, there would not be enough to pay Hugh his share.  Mr. Potts was indeed in desperate straits; he thought deeply for a minute, then turned to the young man.

"I reckon I'm licked so far as the store is concerned," he said.  "I can never get back the trade I've lost, and there is no use trying.  You're a bright young man, and mebbe you could do something, so if you'll agree to it, I'll turn the whole shootin' match over you and get out."

"Do I understand by that that if I release you from all liabilities so far as my interest in the store is concerned, that you will turn it over to me absolutely, and step down and out?"

"I do," averred Mr. Potts, glad to get out of the muddle on any terms.

"Come along up to Lawyer Patteron's office," said Hugh promptly.


MR. POTTS HEAVED a sigh of relief when the papers were at last signed that released him from all responsibilities, so far as the store was concerned.  It was true that he had lost his business, and that he didn't have much money left, but if he had had to make that twenty thousand dollars good out of his own pocket it woudl have ruined him absolutely.  As the matter stood, he felt that he had got out extremely easy, for he was convinced that the store was not not worth a dollar, so far as trade was concerned.  He felt that he had got the best of Hugh, after all.

His trouble were not over by any means, however.  Three days later a young man dropped off the train from Chicago, and hunted him up.

"I am an attorney representing the Quality Products Company," he informed Mr. Potts.  "I am here in the matter of that contract."

"I ain't got nothin' to do with it," averred Mr. Potts.  "I've turned over my store and all my interests in it to Hugh Cranson.  You'll have to see him."

"You gave your personal bond in that contract," answered the lawyer coldly. "Mr. Cranson is not in any way responsible for it.  You'll have to make good."

After they had threshed this out at great length, and with much heat, in Mr. Patterson's office, Mr. Potts began to see where the lawyers were right.  He was still nailed to the barn.

"I ain't got ten thousand dollars," groaned the old man brokenly.  "I'm cleaned out.  Why can't you fellers let me alone?"

"We can't afford to lose the cost of free sampling we have done," the lawyer informed him.  "But we don't want to be too hard on you, Mr. Potts, and if you will make good the amount the company has expended, together with my fee, I think they will let the matter drop."

"How much will that be?" asked Mr. Potts.

"About thirty-three hundred dollars."

"I reckon I'll have to pay it," said the old man resignedly.  "I'll have the money ready for you at three o'clock."

He went to the bank and put a mortgages on his home, and paid the company's claim.  It cleaned him out, but he was glad to get away with even a mortgaged roof to sleep under.  Truly the Fates had been exrtremely hard on the parsimonious old man.

One day, two months after these events, Mr. Potts timidly entered his old store.  A wonderful change had taken place.  The old counters and benches had vanished, and in their place were double-decked plate-glass show cases.  Electric lights had replaced the old, smoky lamps, and the whole interior had been redecorated until Mr. Potts hardly recognized the place.

The store was well filled with customers, and the clerks were busy.  Mr. Potts made his way to the rear, where he found Hugh seated at a roll-top desk, writing a letter.

"Good morning, Hugh," began the old man hesitatingly.

The new proprietor glanced up with a show of irritation.  "Busy!" he said shortly.  "Sit down! I'll be through in a minute."

Mr. Potts winced, but seated himself in one of the new oak office chairs, and waited until Hugh had finished writing his letter.

"Well?" said the young man suddenly, spinning around in his swivel chair.

"I--I was thinkin' that mebbe you needed another clerk," faltered Mr. Potts.  "If you do, I'd be mighty glad to get the job."

"Are those all the clothes you have?" questioned Hugh coldly.

"Why--er--yes.  What's the matter with 'em?" answered Mr. Potts, looking down at his shappy garments.

"They're old and baggy and slovenly.  Go down to Dobbins' and get yourself a decent suit, then come back here and hang up your coat and get to work.  Tell Dobbins that I'll stand for the suit, in case he won't trust you."

"Then you'll give me a job?" cried Mr. Potts eagerly.

Hugh contemplated the old man silently for a minute, then his manner changed.

"Yes, Mr. Potts, I am going to give you a job, and I am going to do better than that," he answered kindly.  "I think you have been punished enough, and I have not forgotten the fact that you are my uncle's old partner, and that you and he were associated in this business for over forty years, even if you tried to fleece me out of my share of this story by despicable methods.  I matched my wits against yours, Mr. Potts, and I won.  I am the Quality Products Company.  I bought those goods from the wholesale houses, and had them packed and labeled for me, and it was I who sent Billy Donaldson down here to get that contract form you.  I knew you would fall for it.  I have beaten you and made you pay all the expenses of the beating in the bargain.

"Now," he went on, "I am not going to nag your any further, but we are going to forget everything.  You can take a position in the store and show me!"  Hugh put a strong emphsis on the "me."  "And at the end of one year, if you show yourself to be square and fair with me, I am going to give you back your half interest in this store.  The trade is building up again very nicely since the change of management."

Mr. Potts could hardly believe his ears.

"Goin' to give me back my store?" he murmured ecstatically.  "Goin' to give me back my store!  You don't mean it, Hugh!"

"Yes, I do; every word of it," the young merchant assured him.  "And now," he said, with a wave of his hand, "you go along and get that new suit and get into harness again."


This story is from the March 1, 1913 issue of Top-Notch Twice-a-Month Magazine. The entire issue is available at the Internet Archive, but only as image files -- that is, a png image of each page. You can find the info page here, and the actual collection of page links here.

* * * * * This story brought to you by * * * * *

Find The Man Who Did Too Much, a Starling and Marquette mystery, at these online ebook stores:
Amazon.com. (Amazon International Stores: United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain), Barnes & Nobel Nook Store, Kobo Books, Apple iBookstore, Diesel eBook Store, Sony eReader (coming soon), or get it in all formats at Smashwords.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Letter In The Mail, Detective Story Mag, Jan 1917

Here is a pre-noir crime story about a bank clerk who gives in to temptation, from Detective Story Magazine, January 5, 1917.  (This magazine did not have illustrations, and I haven't had time to do one myself.)

The Letter in the Mail
by Alfred Plowman

IT was Saturday morning, and the hands on the dial of the great clock in the main banking room of the Third National stood at half past eleven.

Before the windows of each of the three paying tellers was a long line of impatient customers, cashiers of commercial firms, paymasters of factories, and the usual miscellany of the week-end. Some had checks in their hands which they fingered nervously; some shifted restlessly from foot to foot; all kept glancing impatiently down the line, half angry when a customer delayed a teller for a moment more than seemed necessary.

The line before the window of teller No. 1 was unusually troublesome. Teller No. 1, as the brass sign in the window announced, was Mr. Haskell, a middle-aged man with thinnish light hair on the top of his head, which made his forehead seem very high. He had watery blue eyes, a fair complexion, and when he was nervous or excited the blood would mount from his throat to the high wall of his forehead, seeming to lose itself under the thin strands of his carefully parted hair.

Mr. Haskell was a bachelor, had been with the bank for many years, and was head paying teller. Because the other tellers worked under him, he occupied cage No. 1; and because cage No. 1 was nearest to the door, Mr. Haskell handled more customers than any of the other tellers.

On this Saturday morning, the line before window No. 1 was so troublesome that even such an experienced teller as Mr. Haskell was to be excused for becoming peevish. The next man in line stepped up and pushed a check under the bars. "Good morning! Five hundred in twenty-dollar gold pieces."

Mr. Haskell grunted and looked up. The man was paymaster of a large hat factory. "Confound it! Everybody wants what I haven't got! Won't twenty-dollar bills do?"

"No. The directors voted tokens of appreciation to old employees. My special instructions were to pay it in gold."

Mr. Haskell glanced at his stack of gold pieces. "I haven't got it here. I'll have to go down to the vault." The line moved angrily. "Confound it all! Look at the string--and almost twelve!" He picked up his bunch of keys, and turned around--paused--then threw the keys upon a desk in the corner of the cage, where a young man sat, listing checks on an adding machine. "Go down to my vault, Moore, and bring up that sack of gold lying on the floor just inside the door."

He turned to the window again. "Step aside, please; he'll be back in a moment." The next man in line moved up and laughed. Mr. Haskell looked at him, saw that his eyes were directed to the corner of the cage, and glanced around. The assistant teller sat at his desk, immovable, his hand poised over the keyboard of the machine, his eyes fixed on the bunch of keys. "Looks like he's hypnotized," said the man.

"Well, well, get busy, Moore!" ordered Mr. Haskell sharply.

"Yes, sir--yes, sir!" And the young man sprang up, a frightened look on his white face. Mr. Haskell eyed him a moment, undecided, then turned reluctantly to the window again.

The young man pressed back the spring lock on the door in the rear of the cage, and passed out. He threaded his way through the maze of bookkeepers' desks, the bunch of keys clasped in his hand, his eyes fixed straight before him. He knew now that he would do it--knew that he had always thought of doing it--knew that he had only been waiting for a favorable moment. The plan which had been lurking in the hidden chambers of his mind sprang into sudden birth, and he was powerless before the strong temptation.

He passed down the steps to the basement, where the vaults were located. As he approached, the bunch of keys swinging from his hand, the watchman rolled back the iron gate, and admitted him to the vault room. Before him was an immense cavern, with the great door of many tons thrown wide open. He stepped inside--into the money vault--into the very heart of the bank.

The vault was divided into compartments, each a miniature vault in itself, guarded by a steel door which closed with lock and key. In some were kept the reserve funds of the bank--currency and securities. There was a compartment, also, for each of the tellers, and the first one on his right was Mr. Haskell's. He inserted the key into the lock, and threw open the door. When he had done this he was completely shielded from outside observation, as the door of the subvault extended more than halfway across the main entrance.

As he stood there, packages of money stacked high on the shelves--money in sacks--bills, gold, silver--the very air freighted with its odor--as he stood thus, a dizziness seized upon him. Impulse--that destroyer of multitudes of men--laid its hot hand upon his reason. He fought against it--hesitated--yielded.

With eager, trembling fingers, he unbuttoned his office coat, then his vest, then his shirt. He tightened the belt around his waist, reached up to the topmost shelf, and from the farthest corner took a bundle of bills. The top one was for fifty dollars, and upon the bands which held the package together, was stamped two thousand dollars. He slipped the bundle inside his shirt, and reached up again, then again and again, until he had seven packages pressed close against his body.

Afraid that more might bulk too large and arouse suspicion, he quickly buttoned his shirt and vest and coat, ran his hands over himself to feel that the bundles lay flat and even, and stooped to pick up the sack of gold.

In that moment of stooping, a lightning flash of reason illumined the madness of his act. Outraged conscience sprang up in arms. He saw himself a malefactor, the hand of society against him, branded a felon by the law, lashed by the scourge of his own guilt. He straightened up, and began to tear open his coat; then he heard voices without the vault.

"I say, Tom, did you see Moore down here?"

"Yes; he's inside the vault," replied the watchman.

Footsteps approached. Moore hastily buttoned his coat, and reached for the sack of gold. The head of an office boy appeared in the doorway. "Say, Moore, old Haskell's about to have a fit upstairs. He sent me to look for you," said the boy, with a grin.

Moore did not answer. He closed the door, locked it, and, with the bag of money in his hand, he left the vault. Fate had intervened. One mad moment had changed the course of his life.

At the rattling of the cage door, Mr. Haskell stepped back and released the lock. "It took you a long time!" he grumbled, taking the sack and keys from the young man's hand.

Moore muttered something about "stopped to get a drink of water," and, taking his seat at the desk, resumed his operations on the adding machine.

Soon the hands on the great clock touched twelve, and the official banking day was over. The last few stragglers were served. Mr. Haskell hung out the tin sign bearing the word "Closed" before his window, and began to count his cash. Moore worked steadily away on the machine. The other tellers, their currency counted, turned out the lights in their cages, and carried their trays of money down to their compartments in the vault. One by one the clerks and bookkeepers, through with the day's work, left the building.

Presently Mr. Haskell stepped back and looked down the line of darkened cages. "All gone, eh? Great Scott, this was a beastly day! I'm glad to-morrow's Sunday. About through, Moore?"

"Just finished," answered the assistant, clearing the machine.

"Good! Help me carry this stuff down to the vault. I've got to hurry. Got an engagement for two o'clock."

Moore picked up several sacks of money, and waited while Mr. Haskell turned out the light in the cage. They passed out into the deserted banking room.

"All right, Mr. Wade," said Mr. Haskell, as they passed the cashier's desk.

The three of them--Moore first with the bags of money, then Haskell carrying the tray of bills, last the cashier--descended to the vault room.

The trying moment had come. Moore hardly breathed with suppressed excitement. Haskell thrust the key into the lock of his compartment, and threw open the door. He placed his tray upon a shelf, then turned and took sacks from Moore. These he put beside the tray. He stepped back, shut the door, and locked it. As they passed out of the vault, Moore drew a long breath, and wiped the sweat from his face.

The cashier was setting the time locks. "Forty-three and one-half hours, Mr. Haskell," he said, working on the dials.


The watchman swung the ponderous door into place. The cashier laid hold on the wheel and turned it. There was a clicking of bolts, a falling of levers into place, and Moore knew that until half past eight Monday morning his secret was safe.

He wished the others "Good night" in a strange, unnatural voice. His lips were so dry that they cracked as he parted them to speak. He went upstairs to the lockers, put on his hat and coat, and five minutes later was on the street.

As he passed down the crowded sidewalk he was conscious of a curious sense of elation which mingled strangely with the hateful torture of his thoughts. Did he not have pressed warm and close against his body what all this hurrying throng was striving for? Money--money! Truly it was money made the world go round. He had it--it was his--a fortune--thousands of dollars. Power was his. Freedom was his. Could he keep them? He smiled grimly at the thought.

His plan began to shape itself in his mind. He would take a train to Philadelphia in order to baffle pursuit, and at once embark for South America. By midnight he would be miles out on the Atlantic. With forty hours' start, he should be able to elude the hue and cry. He stepped into a cigar store and telephoned the railroad ticket office. A train left for Philadelphia at four o'clock. He had no time to lose.

He boarded a street car, and in twenty minutes dismounted at his corner. He walked halfway up the block, ran quickly up a flight of stone steps to the door, and thrust his key into the lock. As he opened the door he was met by the dank, musty smell peculiar to boarding houses of the second class.

He glanced down the empty hall, then, softly closing the door, he tip-toed to the stairway, and cautiously ascended to the second floor.

Safely in his own room, he locked the door, and, taking a cigarette box from his pocket, placed the last cigarette it held between his lips, and threw the empty box into a corner.

For a moment he stood puffing rapidly, his face pale and nervously twitching, his hand trembling as he took the cigarette from his feverish lips. At last he unbuttoned his shirt and took the money, package by package, from its hiding place, throwing it upon a small center table.

When he had taken it all out, he sank down upon a chair and stared at it.

And so it was for this--this handful of faded and dirty bills--that he had bartered his honor, his peace of mind, his quietude of soul? For this he had become an outcast, a wonderer upon the face of the earth! Who for all this wealth would give him back the right to walk with honest men? How now could he look upon the world and say that it was good? All was black and murky, discolored by the guilt upon his soul. He laughed aloud discordantly, and rocked his body to and fro in an agony of vain remorse.

If only the boy had stayed away one little moment longer! If only one of the other clerks had been sent for the gold! If only--- Cursed, cursed fate that had conspired to undo him!

Once he thought of taking the money back and confessing. No, that was impossible. The irrevocableness of his act sickened him. How could he erase from men's minds the knowledge of his guilt? Would they not rather pity him as a weak fool, too cowardly to carry out the thievery he had devised?

And the others--clerks, bookkeepers, tellers, Mr. Haskell, honest men all, poor hard-working, struggling along on meager salaries, heads of families all-- all-- upon all would fall the shadow of his guilt. Mistrust would light upon all.

Once before a clerk had stolen, and had been detected. It took six months to dissipate the vague suspicion which hovered over the bank.

Philip jerked upright in his seat, and seized a pad of paper which lay upon the table. He would do what he could in reparation. So far as lay within his power, he would make amends. Having no pen and ink, he took a lead pencil from his pocket and wrote:


Mr. Haskell: The letter will not be delivered to you before nine o'clock Monday morning, and by that time I will be out of reach. God help me, I cannot tell why I have done what I have done. It was a moment of madness. Already I repent and am miserable. I write you this, not in the spirit of bravado, but merely so that no innocent party shall suffer. I have no accomplices--no one else is guilty--I am alone. I hope that no one else will be implicated. I assume all responsibility. Thank you for past kindnesses.

Philip Moore.


He put the note in an envelope, which he addressed to Haskell, care City Bank.

He sealed the letter, feeling a warm glow of charity and good will run through him at the act of justice he had done. At least, he would bear the consequences of his wrongdoing. He felt almost heroic. His crime had been dignified. With returning ease of mind came thoughts of escape. He dragged a battered suit case from beneath the bed. Into this he packed the money, then filled the case with clothes from his trunk.

This done, he searched his pockets for a cigarette, then remembered that he had used the last one. He glanced at his watch. It was two o'clock. To idle away an hour or more without the solace of tobacco was impossible. He arose from his chair, and, picking up the letter, left the room, locking the door after him.

He dropped the letter into the mail box on the corner; then, as the lid fell with a clang, thought that he might just as well have waited until later. However, it did not matter--the bank's mail was not delivered until Monday morning. He purchased four packages of cigarettes from the corner druggist, and returned to his room. All was as he had left it.

He busied himself going through his trunk, seeing if there was anything else he cared to take, and burned a few letters. He moved about leisurely, taking a mental farewell of the cheap little room and its contents. He took a five-dollar bill from his pocket, and put it on the dresser for the landlady, then remembered that he would need money for his railroad and steamship tickets. It would not do to be always unpacking his bag.

Undoing the fastenings of the suit case, and, reaching under the clothing, he drew out a bundle of bills. He slipped ten or twelve bills from beneath the bands, and then--with mouth agape and starting eyeballs--stood looking at what he held. He dropped the package, and, in an ecstasy of madness, tore open the other bundles. All were the same. They were dummies. Someone had been before him. The top and the bottom bill of each package were genuine--all between were worthless.

He sank down upon the bed, and for a long time he sat staring straight before him, his mind a wild jumble of unmanageable thoughts. What did it mean? Who had done it? What was he to do with this secret he had stumbled on? Flight was impossible now that he had practically no money. Should he go back to the bank on Monday morning and resume his duties as usual? And then there flashed across his mind the remembrance of the letter he had posted.

With the thought he leaped to his feet in an agony of fear. He had convicted himself of a crime of which, thought guilty in intention, he was almost guiltless of execution. The room swirled around him, and he was near to fainting; and then out of his madness came the way of escape. He would go to Mr. Haskell, confess all, and throw himself upon the teller's mercy. No other course was possible. There was nothing else to do.

In feverish haste, he crammed the bundles into the suit case, locked it, and thrust it beneath the bed. He left the room, locking the door after him, and almost ran to the corner drug store.

Moore was so nervous that he could hardly find the number in the telephone directory of the hotel where Mr. Haskell lived. It seemed an age before the operator gave him the connection. He was told by the clerk that Mr. Haskell was not in his room.

He remembered that the teller had spoken of an engagement for the afternoon. He left the drug store, and wandered up and down the street. In a half hour he tried again, with the same result. He kept on telephoning every half hour, but it was almost eight o'clock when he got Mr. Haskell on the wire.

"Hellow, Mr. Haskell! This is Moore. I must see you at once--but it is most important; it's about the bank. I will come to your rooms--all right; I'll be there in twenty minutes."

Hanging up the receiver, he wiped the sweat from his forehead. A clerk was watching him curiously, but he paid no attention to him, and hastily left the store.

He boarded a street car, and stood on the rear platform, trying to think how he should word what he had to say. Mr. Haskell was a bachelor, with apartments at the Buckingham Hotel. He had told Philip over the telephone that he had an engagement for the evening, and the young man was in a turmoil of anxiety lest the teller leave his rooms before he could get to him.

At last he reached the hotel, and was shown to Mr. Haskell's rooms by a bell boy. He knocked upon the door with a hand that shook until his knuckles rattled against the panel.

At the word to enter, he opened the door and stepped into the room. He was in a magnificently furnished library, or study, lined with books and pictures. The furniture was heavy and luxurious. In the center of the room stood a massive table, on which was an electrolier, whose colored globe threw the recesses of the room into shadow. Just beyond the table stood Mr. Haskell, in evening dress, a lighted match held to the cigar between his lips. Philip closed the door and crossed the room.

"Hellow, Moore! What the deuce brings you here at this time of night? You'll have to make your visit short. I'm just going out."

Philip placed his hat upon the table, and, coming around, stood before his superior. "I'm sorry, Mr. Haskell, but I'm afraid that what I have to tell you will spoil your evening's pleasure. It's about the bank."

"Well, go on."

"Mr. Haskell, I've been a clerk at the Third National five years. I've always been honest, but lately something has been the matter with me. At first I had great hopes for the future, but advancement was slow--very slow. I didn't seem to attract much attention. I began to get discontented, and my life seemed gray and monotonous. Then there was the money--money everywhere. When a man gets to feeling like I did, he must watch himself all the time when there is money around.

"I can't tell you how I came to do it. I've been afraid of it for a long time. Several times I was on the point of giving up my position because I couldn't trust myself. I lost my head to-day, and did it."

"Did what?" asked Haskell, in a harsh voice.

"Stole. I had been thinking about it for six months-- thinking that I would until I came to believe that I must. I tried to put the thought away from me, but I couldn't. The harder I tried to get it out of my mind, the more I thought of it. By trying to reason myself into being an honest man, I badgered myself into being a thief. I'm sick--that's what I am--brain sick."

"Here's the deuce to pay!" ejaculated Haskell, pushing forward a couple of chairs. "Sit down. Why do you tell me this? How much have you taken?"

"Next to nothing," replied Philip, sitting down on the edge of the chair, and boring one hand nervously into the other. "You remember when you sent me down for that bag of gold this morning?"

"Yes; go ahead."

"While I was there in the vault I took seven bundles of bills from your compartment, and put them inside my shirt."

"Good Heavens!" Haskell leaned forward in his seat, the blood rushing up his face in waves, his eyes blazing. "From where did you take this money?"

"From your reserve currency on the top shelf," answered Philip, watching the other in amazement.

Haskell leaped to his feet and paced the room, cursing under his breath, puffing furiously at his cigar. Philip watched him--astonished at the other's passion.

"Well, go ahead!" burst out Haskell, after a turn or two. "Don't sit there like a graven image! What next? Did virtue triumph in the end?"

"No, sir, I'm sorry to say it didn't. I went home, fully resolved to take a steamer to-night and leave the country. When I got home I happened to open one of the bundles; then I opened them all. Mr. Haskell, some one has been tampering with your reserve funds. I had seven bundles of old Confederate bills. Only the top and bottom bills were genuine."

Haskell took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. "Good heavens, Moore, this is dreadful! Whom do you suspect?"

"Mr. Haskell, you don't know how glad I am to hear you say that. You believe what I'm telling you?" asked Philip eagerly.

"Of course I believe you. If you were not speaking the truth, you wouldn't be here. Why should I not believe you?"

Philip drew a long breath. "Thanks for your confidence. It makes the rest easy. I'm sure you will help me."

"Why--what do you mean?"

"Before I discovered that the packages were dummies, I mailed a letter to you, confessing to the robbery and freeing anyone else of suspicion."

"You--you did what?"

"Mailed you a confession. I didn't want any one else to bear the blame. The letter will be delivered to you Monday morning. I came here to-night to ask you to give it back to me--unopened."

"The letter is in the mails now?"

"Yes, sir."

For fully a minute Haskell stood before Philip, staring into his face; then he turned away, put his cigar into his mouth, and, finding that it had burned out, lighted a fresh one. He walked up and down the room a few times; finally he came up to Philip, and, in slow, even words, said: "Moore, I am the man who tampered with the reserves."

"You!" cried Philip, staggering back.

"Yes, I. Do you think that no one ever steals except a professional thug and a half-starved forty-dollar-a-month clerk? I've lost money in speculation--all I had. Then I tried to get it back--with other people's money--like the fool I am! I fixed up the dummy packages, and stole from the reserve funds. I lost again, and stole more. I've lived in a hell for the past three months. Every time a teller asked me for money I thought I was discovered. Every time a bank examiner entered the door I broke into a cold sweat. At every meeting of the directors I had to half fill myself with whisky to brace myself for the shock I thought was coming. I've been walking the plank, and expected every moment to come to the end. Heavens! It's awful, awful, I tell you!" The words rushed from his lips in a torrent, tripping over each other. He paced the room, carried away with excitement.

Philip stared at him, speechless.

Haskell came quickly toward him, talking rapidly: "But that's all over now, Moore. We'll fix it--fix it so that we both get what we want. You--money. Me--peace."

They stood close together, staring into the other's pale face. "Don't you see?" breathed Haskell. "I'll give you a thousand dollars to-night. You can catch a steamer in an hour. Monday I'll express you nine thousand dollars to Paris. I'll take the money from the reserves. I've stolen so much now, that a few thousand more will make no difference. I'll find excuses for your absence--lull suspicion--delay investigation. When you are safely out of reach I'll bring out your confession. Then we'll laugh at them, Moore--you in Paris--I here--safe--in peace!" He sank down into a chair, and covered his face with his hands, his body shaken by a paroxysm of hysterical sobs.

Philip watched the bowed figure, striving to comprehend. At last--- "I'll not do it!" he burst out passionately. "I'll not do it!"

Haskell lowered his hands and looked blankly up. "Not do it!" Then, springing to his feet: "Why, you fool, weren't you going to steal the money?"

"Yes; but I didn't get away with it, and I'm glad of it. Do you think I want to change places with you? Did the money make you happy? Look at what you are now--a wreck, a liar, a thief, and a coward--yes, a coward. You want to shift the responsibility for what you have done to another. Bah! I'm a hundred times better man than you are. I accepted the consequences of my wrong; I even wrote a letter proclaiming myself the thief. I didn't shirk. I was willing to pay for what I had done."

"Curse your heroics! Will you do as I say?"

"No--once and for all--no!"

Haskell looked steadily at him for a moment; then, going to the door, he locked it, and put the key into his pocket. Coming back to the table, he pulled open a drawer, and took out a revolver. "By Heaven, you will, though!" he said, with a snarl. "You'll take the money, and leave town to-night, or else to-morrow morning you'll be in jail."

"What do you mean?" stammered Philip, starting back.

"Simply that I'll have you arrested for stealing from the bank. Have you forgotten the confession you mailed me?"

"You wouldn't use that against me!" cried Philip wildly. "Why, I'll tell the truth! I'll tell them what you have told me to-night."

"That for what you'll tell them!" jeered Haskell, snapping his fingers. "Do you think they'll listen to you? What is your word against mine, backed up by your written confession? I'll send you to the penitentiary for ten years."

"Let me out of here!" panted Philip, losing all self-control. "Let me out of here! I'll go to the postal authorities. I'll beg them to give me back the letter. You shan't have it."

"I will have it!" said Haskell coldly. "Now, sit down, and don't make a fool of yourself. Will you leave the city if I give you the money?"

"No--a thousand times!"

"All right--now, listen to me. I'm going to keep you here all night. I have a lock box at the post office in which all my personal mail, even if it is addressed to me in care of the bank, is placed. I rented it to receive my numerous communications from bucket shops and stockbrokers. It would never do to have such mail coming to the bank. I had no idea it would serve me such a good turn as it has to-day. Early to-morrow morning I will send a bell boy down for the mail. When your confession is in my hands I'll give you one last chance to decide. If you refuse my offer, I'll have you arrested, and accuse you of the theft as certain as my name is Wilbur Haskell. Now that's all. There is no use arguing about this thing. Go into my bedroom if you like, and lie down. I'll sit up and watch. If you prefer to keep me company, all right."

He took off his dress coat, and, putting on a lounging robe which lay on a chair, he dropped the revolver into the capacious pocket of the gown. He brought cigars, cigarettes, and a decanter of brandy from a cellarette, and placed them upon the table. "Sit down, Moore; we might as well be comfortable. We have a long wait before us." He drew a chair to the table, and poured out liquor for them both.

Philip sank down into a seat, his face white and agonized. "Mr. Haskell--please--please don't make me do this thing! Look at me! I'm not a thief. Think of the temptation, think of the gray sameness of my life! Give me another chance!"

Haskell slowly placed his glass upon the table. "What's the use, Moore? You would do it again. You talk about the sameness of your life. What about mine? You couldn't stand it for five years; I've been up against it for twenty. I tell you, it would get you again--a man can't fight it down forever. Now, what's the use of sitting there hugging up to your misery like a sick kitten to a hot brick? Here are your friends, my boy--make the most of them." He tapped his fingers on the decanter, then rattled the loose sliver in his pocket. His manner and speech chilled Philip to the heart.

The hours dragged wearily into the past. Few noises came up from the street. Passing footsteps ceased to echo in the corridor. In the brooding silence the two men sat, Philip rousing himself now and then to make a plea for mercy, plunging back again into a sea of trouble at the cold, heartless reply to his appeal, struggling vainly in the net which enmeshed him. Haskell, sure of his power, watched his victim, now sneering, now snarling, now amused, now half angry. Then would come a long term of silence, broken only by the scratching of a match or the tinkle of a glass.

The east began to redden. Presently a beam of sunlight flashed into the room and put the electric light to shame. Haskell pushed back his chair and arose. "At last the day is here!" He went to the window, and, raising it a little, stood drawing the crisp air into his lungs with thrown-out chest.

Philip watched him, his face gray and drawn from the long strain. "Mr. Haskell," he asked, "do you still intend to do as you said you would?"

Haskell closed the window, and, coming to the table, turned out the electrolier. "I most assuredly do. Have you made up your mind?"

Philip did not answer, and after a moment's silence Haskell pressed a call for a bell boy. He came back to the table, and removed the decanter and glasses, whistling softly.

At a knock on the door, he took the key from his pocket, and opened the door a little way. "Oh, it's you, is it, Peter? I want you to bring me up some coffee and some sandwiches--any kind will do. Bring two cups and saucers, and come back here yourself."

In a few moments the boy returned with a coffee percolator and some sandwiches upon a tray. Haskell opened the door for him, and he brought the things forward to the table.

"Now, Peter," said Haskell, standing before the boy, with his hands in his pockets and a smile on his lips, "I want you do something for me. Here is some money and a key. Take a taxi-cab, and go down to the post office. The key is for lock box No. 68. Open the box, and bring the mail here. You may keep the change. Hurry, now!"

When the boy had left the room Haskell started toward the door as if to lock it, then turned around, with a laugh. "No need to keep you under lock and key, eh, Moore? I guess you are just as anxious to stay as I am to have you." He went to the percolator, and drew two cups of coffee. "There's something will make things look brighter, Moore. Help yourself to sugar and cream." He took up a sandwich, and began to eat.

"Mr. Haskell," said Philip, with dry lips, pushing aside the cup, "this is a dreadful thing you are about to do. Do you realize that, either way, you are ruining my life?"

"Oh, come now; I'm only obeying the first law of nature. You don't suppose I am anxious to change all this" -- waving his hand -- "for a striped suit and a four-by-eight cell? You wouldn't either. I wish you would take my advice and my--or, rather, the bank's -- money, and make tracks for Europe. You've help me out of a mess, and I appreciate it. I'm not a bad sort; I'm mighty sorry for you. But as long as it must be one of us, why, naturally, I'd rather it would be you than me."

"But why me?" asked Philip bitterly. "Why don't you play the man, and pay for it yourself? I haven't done you any wrong."

"Well, console yourself with the thought that it is often the innocent who suffer. I'm not going to argue my actions on moral grounds. I'm satisfied with the results as they are." He lighted a cigarette, and sipped his coffee.

Philip arose, and began to pace the floor. Ad he neared the door he heard a step in the corridor, then a knock. Instantly he called out: "Is that you, Peter?"

"Yes, sir."

"How many letters have you?"

"Three, sir."

"One addressed in pencil--the stamp upside down?"

"Yes, sir."

"Remember that letter!"

He turned around, and faced Haskell. The teller was on his feet, his revolver leveled at Philip.

"Get away from that door!" Haskell snarled under his breath.

Philip's face was white, and the hand of death seemed on his heart. He did not move.

"Get away form that door, or I'll kill you!"

"You wouldn't dare! They'd know the letter wasn't in your hands."

"Haskell's face was fearfully distorted. His eyes seemed starting from his head. He had the appearance of a man completely unnerved. The crisis had taken him off his guard.

Philip backed slowly toward the door, keeping his eyes fixed on the spasmodically working face of Haskell. It was horrible--the sight of this man trying to work himself up to the point of killing another man.

"You don't dare shoot!" Philip spoke in a whisper, forcing the thought rather than the words across the space which separated them. "You don't dare! You're a coward--that's what you are. You're afraid of blood--red blood. You're a coward--a coward!" His hand slid along the door and found the knob.

"You haven't the nerve to shoot! It's an awful thing to kill a man. You see the death watch--the little door--the chair." He turned the doorknob slowly. "And then you're a coward--don't forget--a coward!" He waited.

"My God, you're right! I can't!" The cry was wrung from Haskell's agonized lips. "I can't--I can't!" He turned suddenly and rushed toward the bedroom, stumbled blindly, cursing incoherently, the revolver clutched tightly in his hand.

Philip jerked open the door, and, seizing the startled bell boy, pulled him into the room. "Get the police--quick! Something--something dreadful will happen!"

He grasped the letters from the boy's hand, then pushed him toward the door.

Suddenly a shot rang out from the inner room, followed by a groan and the crash of a heavy fall. Then silence. Philip stared into the blanched face of the boy. A wreath of blue smoke floated through the bedroom doorway.

The End

This story is from the January, 1917 issue of Detective Story Magazine. The entire issue is available at the Internet Archive, but only as image files -- that is, a png image of each page. You can find the info page here, and a zip file of the page images here.

* * * * * This story brought to you by * * * * *

Find Have Gun, Will Play at these online ebook stores:
Amazon.com. (Amazon International Stores: United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain), Barnes & Nobel Nook Store, Sony eReader, Apple iBookstore, or get it in all formats at Smashwords.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Why, Of Course, Top Notch Magazine, Feb 1, 1912

Another tale from Top-Notch, February 1912. This one is very short, and light, and fun. A strange customer seems up to something...or maybe not...or maybe so....

Why, of Course
by James Edmond Casey

How easy, when it is all over, to see just what was in the wind, all the time!

THE STOUT, loud-waistcoated man struck out of the swirl of the Broadway crowd and into the dazzling jewelry store of Radlang & Co., at Oakland, California.

"I want to buy a diamond ring for my daughter," he informed the first clerk behind the polished glass counter. "Doubtless you've read about my daughter and her coming marriage," he pompously went on, as his thick fingers fumbled amid the array of rings. "Dorothea De los O'Brien, you know. I'm Pedar De los O'Brien." And he proffered a card.

The clerk was astounded. For he had judged the man, from appearances and manner, a cheap sport, or politician of the prosperous saloon-keeper brand. But De los O'Brien! That was a name to conjure with across the bay in San Francisco. Here, in Oakland, O'Brien was known only by reputation as the lumber and shipping king of the Pacific Coast.

"This about hits what I want." The expensively though flashily dressed Mr. De los O'Brien held up a plain band gold ring set with a handsome diamond. "What may be the price of this?"

"Two hundred and ten dollars, sir."

Without another word, the portly money king drew out as portly a wallet. But, after a quick examination of its contents, it appeared something was wrong. Mr. De los O'Brien looked up.

"I have only a hundred and sixty-five dollars here," he explained. "And worse luck, I haven't got my check book on me. But--oh, I forgot----" And he withdrew from another recess of the wallet a crisp pink check.

He handed that to the waiting clerk.

"This is for one thousand dollars," he said. "You can take it out of that."

But the clerk seemed doubtful.

"I don't think we can cash it," he hesitatingly explained. "You see, sir, it is a rule with us never to accept a check for more than the amount of the purchase. But, if you'll pardon me a moment, I'll see Mr. Radlang, the boss, and find out just what we can do for you in this case."

Quickly the clerk reappeared, in the wake of a small, gray, wizened man, who was red of face and evidently angry.

"Look here, sir!" said this little person, leaning across the glass case. "you sure have got your nerve with you! Coming in here and trying to work off a bad check and pocket the change! But I'm too wise to fall for any such old game as that! Tut, tut! I don't care who you say you are! I never saw you before in my life! But I think you----"

"That'll do, sir!" The portly man had drawn himself up, indignant. "You've gone far enough. So I am trying to swindle you-- I, Pedar De los O'Brien! I'll have you know, sir, that I could buy your store ten times over and never feel it. Bad check! I wouldn't have offered it, only I never for a minute thought there was anyone in business in Oakland who didn't know Pedar De los O'Brian, of San Francisco."

The stranger's hurt, confident manner, and his quiet repetition of that powerful name, all had an effect on the little jeweler. He calmed down with surprising suddenness, and when he spoke again, it was in a more reasonable tone of voice.

"But can't you see it's a business proposition, Mr. De los O'Brien?" Radlang expostulated. "My attitude is only businesslike and perfectly proper. Personally, I would take your word for it and cash your check right now. But that isn't good business."

Mr. De los O'Brien saw that.

"You're right," he said. "You're perfectly right. But, just the same, it roiled me a bit to be mistaken for a swindler." Suddenly his face brightened, as though with an inspiration. "Jingo!" he exclaimed. "I'll tell you what I'll do. I can't let you take my word for it and cash this check. No; that isn't good business, as you say. But I'll prove to you who I am, and that will show you I am far above committing any swindle."

His enthusiasm was contagious.

"How!" from Radlang. "What is it?"

"This, just this: I'm going away for a few days--up to Eureka to look over some shipments of timber. I'll call in when I return. In the meantime, you can find out whether my check is good by putting it through the bank. You will keep both check and ring till I look in again. Now, what do you think of it?"

The jeweler failed to see how he ran any risk so long as he retained both check and ring. Added to this, his curiosity had been aroused in regard to his would-be customer. For his own benefit, he wanted to determine the true status of the man.

"I guess the old fellow's Pedar De los O'Brien all right, after all," he said to himself, as he indorsed the check and inclosed it with the others for the banks.

And, as the days passed, the stronger his convictions grew that the check was good. Why, otherwise, should the portly stranger so desire to have it put through and proven? Imagine his surprise, then, when, three days later, the check for one thousand dollars came back from the bank on which it was drawn, with a little slip attached which read: "No funds."

"Well, I see it all now," the jeweler said, communing with himself, after the first shock. "He was just saving his face by trying to make good on his bluff. Anyhow, I'll keep this as a souvenir of Pedar De los O'Brien, or whatever his real name is. For I know I'll never see him again."


THAT very afternoon, who should stride largely into the store but the smiling, portly Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien.

"Well, how about that check of mine?" were his first words.

Radlang broke into that "I-told-you-so" smile so common after elections and prize fights. Without a word, he laid before the stranger the pink check and the attached "no funds" slip.

A look of blank amazement came over the other's face. He studied the check as though unable to believe the evidence of his eyes. Then, of a sudden, he burst out laughing, his ample stomach heaving up and down and his broad face growing red with merriment.

"Well, and no wonder!" he exclaimed when he had regained sufficient control of himself. "No wonder it came back! I asked the clerk up at my hotel for a blank check on my bank--and he gave me this. Why, it is drawn on the wrong bank. Ha, ha! No wonder it came back. But no matter----"

He drew out his now well-filled wallet, and deposited the check therein. Then he withdrew two one-hundred-dollar bills and a gold eagle, which he tendered, amid profuse apologies, in payment for the diamond ring.

"I guess you won't object to taking this kind of money," he laughed. And, pocketing the ring, he departed.

Behind him, he left a sadly muddled little gray jeweler. What in the world , Radlang asked himself, was beneath all this jugglery? That something was afoot he felt in his bones; but what it was, old business man though he was, he could not tell. He had an uncomfortable feeling of being the victim of an exceedingly clever swindler. It was uncanny, like a premonition of danger; but all he could do to combat it was to breathe the hope that he had seen the last of the suave, well-fed Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien, of San Francisco.


IT was the intention of the portly check giver that he should see no more of the uncheatable Mr. Radlang. Yet that fact did not account for his going to another jewelry store that day.

It appears that Radlang was not the only jeweler in Oakland whom Pedar had favored with his patronage. For when he called at Hatton & Jenkil's "Diamond Palace" that afternoon, the head of the firm, Mr. Jenkil, gave him a nod of recognition.

The store was pretty full with the Saturday afternoon shopping crowd. De los O'Brien went to the repair counter, presented a ticket, and received a diamond ring which he had left there to be reset. He had decided to give this commission to Hatton & Jenkil after Mr. Radlang had cruelly refused to favor him with change in real money on the thousand-dollar check.

Strangely enough, however, the usually wise Pedar De los O'Brien had not profited by that humiliating experience. For here he was standing at the cashier's window, bill for the resetting of the ring in hand, and again tendering that scorned thousand-dollar check in payment.

To be sure, the check now bore the indorsement of a certain financially sound jeweler--Mr. Radlang, to be exact.

Mr. Jenkil, who was taking cash that day, said, after examining the check on both sides:

"I beg your pardon, sir, but we have never done business with you, except to the extent of resetting this ring; and this is rather a large check--one thousand dollars--to offer in payment for that service. There would be nine hundred and seventy-eight dollars change."

Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien's face began to take on a look of indignation which he could so easily summon to his aid. He did not have a chance to speak, for, noting the change in his countenance, Mr. Jenkil went on, in a conciliatory tone:

"As Mr. Radlang has indorsed this check and put his O. K. on it, it must be good. It's after banking hours, as you say, and there is no other way you can cash the check, so----"

He did not finish the sentence. Instead, he stepped off his high seat, packed out of the cash cage, slammed the grated door behind him, and stepped briskly to the rear of the store, where there was a telephone.

De los O'Brien's first impulse was to "beat it"; but by the time he got to the door, he reflected that he might be throwing away a chance to get that nine hundred and seventy-eight dollars change.

He had lived on chances several years, and his waist measurement had increased steadily. Chances were his stock in trade. The present one was rather desperate, he had to admit. He knew that Jenkil had gone to the phone to ask Radlang about his indorsement of that check. Of course--well, time enough to lay down your cards when you see the other chap has you beaten.

Mr. De los O'Brien decided to remain just where he was, standing at the door; and when Jenkil came away from the phone he would be able to see from the man's face just what had happened--whether the reply had come from Radlang himself, exposing the attempted game, or whether the reply had come from a clerk, Radlang being absent.

De los O'Brien had figured that it was about time for Radlang to be absent from his store, on his way to the ball game. If some one else answered the inquiry the information given about the check might be such as to make Jenkil waver and possibly cash it. A slim chance, to be sure; but a chance nevertheless; and Mr. De los O'Brien did not find it in his heart to throw it away. If it became necessary to beat a swift, undignified retreat, he had a taxi-cab awaiting him.

So he stood by the door, pretending to be looking at articles of jewelry, but really with his sharp eyes fixed on the telephone and the man before it.

Presently Mr. De los O'Brien saw the jeweler rattling the hook excitedly, and heard him crying "Hello!" repeatedly. Evidently the connection had been broken before his talk was finished with whomever the person was who had answered the call.

After a while, Jenkil hung up the receiver and walked back to the cashier's cage, an annoyed look on his face. The watcher at the door saw him take up the check again, put it in a drawer, and begin counting out the cash.

Expanding his chest, with renewed courage and a tolerant smile on his ample countenance, Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien moved toward the cashier to receive his hard-earned change.


RADLANG, the rich jeweler, but poor casher of strange checks, was an ardent baseball fan. It was his delight on Saturday afternoons to take off his collar and sweat on the grand stand, rooting riotously for the Oakland team. Usually he was accompanied by a man the public believed to be his bitterest rival, Mr. Jenkil, of Jenkil & Hatton, manufacturing and retail jewelers, of Broadway.

Radlang was about to call up his friend to see if he were going to the game that afternoon, when a call came from Jenkil himself.

"Say, Radlang," came over the wire, "there's a man named Pedar De los O'Brien here with a check for a thousand dollars bearing your indorsement. Did you indorse it?"

By the time Jenkil had got to his question, Radlang was so excited that he burst into hysterical laughter. "Oh, yes, I indorsed it," he answered, his fingers twitching so that he could scarcely hold the receiver to his ear. "Oh, yes. But don't you pay it, Jenkil! Don't you take it. I'll be right around. Hold the scoundrel, and I'll pick up a policeman on the way, and we'll have him locked up. Be sure you hold him, now. Get me?"

There was no response.

"Jenkil!" shouted Radlang into the transmitter. "Do you understand?"

Still no answer. Then the jeweler began to rattle the hook, just as Jenkil was doing at his end. Blessing the girl at central, and realizing that there was not a moment to be lost, Radlang caught up his hat and tore out of the store.

"Afraid of missing the first of the game," sneered one of the clerks.

"Yes," chimed in another. "The boss is getting to be a bigger bug every day on baseball."

As Radlang dashed through the street, it all came to him in a staggering flash. It was plain to him now that the purchase of the diamond ring and the putting through the one-thousand-dollar check was only a brilliant scheme to get his good indorsement on a worthless check. Then the portly swindler, by means of having a ring reset, or something, had scraped a business acquaintance with Jenkil. And now in payment he was proffering that bad check with the excuse that he could not change it elsewhere because the banks were closed.

And poor Jenkil was falling for the swindle--until he had been told not to pay it. A horrible thought entered Radlang's mind. Had Jenkil heard that part of the message? Had it reached him before the connection was broken?

With a cold shiver from head to foot, the little gray jeweler vaulted into control of himself. He arrived at the store, and stepped forward just in time to block the way of Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien.

But the latter was not in the trade of swindling business men because of any lack of brains on his part or presence of mind. His right hand shot forward to grasp that of Mr. Radlang.

"Why, how d'ye do?" he beamed. "So glad to meet you again. But I'm in a fierce hurry to get a train for Los Angeles! Good-by!"

But the jeweler, though a small man, held so tightly to the swindler's hand that he could not wrench away.

"Not so fast, Mr. O'Brien," he said loudly, to attract attention and help. "It was a close shave, but I got you by the skin of my teeth. And I'll trouble you, before I hand you over to the police, to return Mr. Jenkil his one thousand dollars."

"Wrong again, sir," returned Pedar, still calm, although a policeman now appeared at the door. "The amount is nine hundred and eighty-seven. As well be precise in business matters."


This story is from the February 1, 1912 issue of Top-Notch Magazine. The entire issue is available at the Internet Archive, but only as image files -- that is, a png image of each page. You can find the info page here, and the actual collection of page links here.

* * * * * This story brought to you by * * * * *

Find The Man Who Did Too Much, a Starling and Marquette mystery, at these online ebook stores:
Amazon.com. (Amazon International Stores: United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain), Barnes & Nobel Nook Store, Kobo Books, Apple iBookstore, Diesel eBook Store, Sony eReader (coming soon), or get it in all formats at Smashwords.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Out Of The Smash-Up, Top Notch Magazine, Feb 1, 1912

Top-Notch Magazine had a fun illustration style -- which combined the illustration with the title typography. Most of the time, the two elements are not so tightly intertwined, and I simply leave out the title so I can make the illustration bigger. But this week's story had them completely intertwined, so I thought it would be a good opportunity for you to see the whole thing.

Also note that the story says "Complete in this issue" at the beginning, even though the story is only a little over 4000 words. (15 pages or so). They often said such things, perhaps partly to aggrandize a story, but mainly because most magazines had a serial in each issue, and the customers wanted to know what they were getting before they started reading. As for the story:

A chance meeting on a train going west is maybe not quite as coincidental as it seems, as a trainwreck messes up the plans of a thief, two young lovers and a detective....

Out Of the Smash-Up
by Phil. Ashford

A girl, two men, a detective and a railroad disaster.
(Complete in this Issue)

Chapter 1
The Hunter and the Game

The calm white desert was slipping away under the stars. Mr. Cole, detective, smiled, and touched the water in a finger bowl which the waiter had just set before him.

"So you'd like to know," he said to the young man opposite, "how it happens that I've been on this train since we left Denver -- a day and a half ago -- and you haven't seen me until now. Well, I think I'll put the answer up to you," he went on, a bantering light in his eye. "Does it occur to you that you've been owning that observation platform ever since we hit the Royal Gorge? Who is she, Maddern?"

Justin Maddern leaned across the little table, and spoke in a low tone: "I was fortunate enough to do her a favor at the station in Denver, and before we'd been three hours out--well, we have been hogging that observation end, I admit. You'll laugh, Cole, but honestly I never had a girl affect me so seriously before."

The detective's glance was of mingled pity and contempt. The words from a man like Maddern did not ring true.

"She is an attractive girl," Cole admitted, "and I was fortunate enough to see your gallant act at the station. It really astonished me. So I watched you two. I'm interested in developments. That's one of my hobbies."

"We sat out on the platform until two this morning," Maddern went on. "I think the mountains and the moonlight had a lot to do with the affair. Anyway, we arrived at the point of exchanging personal history. She's bound for some place in Arizona."

Cole put a bill on the waiter's tray. "This is on me, Maddern. Now, please don't argue. You were saying---"

"Her name's Neva, and she's bound for Arizona."

"What else?"

"That's all. I mean that's all that could possibly interest you!" Maddern suddenly frowned. "I say, Cole, you didn't by any chance get commissioned by my father to shadow me, did you?"

"You admit you need it?" Cole asked, amused.

"I admit I have needed it," Maddern returned, grinning. "And I guess the governor thinks I need a guardian now, too. It's a wonder he'd trust me so far from home alone, isn't it? Gave me a thousand dollars, and said it had to last three months. Said that was every cent he'd allow me. If I spent it in one month, I'd starve for the next two."

"Maybe you'd work," Cole suggested.

Maddern lifted his eyes. "That's his game. Do you know he even gave me the address of a friend of his out in San Pedro. Said the chap would give me a position on the new breakwater. Think of me holding down a real job."

"I'd advise you to keep the address," the detective said. "You'll have to eat in California, and luck plays us some odd pranks."

"Thanks," returned Maddern dryly. "Let's talk of something pleasant. Where are you bound?"

"I don't know." Cole gazed reflectively from the window.

"You mean you won't tell?"

"I mean I don't know. It all depends."

Maddern fixed his eyes on the tablecloth a moment, then said: "I get you, Cole! You're dogging some one on this train."

"I won't deny it."

"Then it's not me."

The detective shook his head.

"But the governor sent you, didn't he?"

"Yes. The firm of Maddern & Miles is rather interestd in a certain bill clerk of theirs who dropped out of sight six months ago, with some money belonging to them."

"Oh, I understand!"

Glad you do."

"He's on the train, and you'll nab him when he leaves. Is that the program?"

"Patience," was all that Cole Replied.

Chapter II
Difference of Opinion

JUSTIN MADDERN, son of John Maddern, head of the banking firm of Maddern & Miles, of Denver, had been shipped to California by his father. Three eyars at an Eastern college had drained the senior's patience and worried his pocketbook.

"Get out!" the elder Maddern had exploded, when Justin blungly admitted being in several scrapes, and also in debt. "Get out to California. I'm disgusted! Get out there among strangers, and maybe you'll get a little sense knocked into your head. I'll start you with a thousand dollars, and it'll have to last you for three months." He said some other things, which you heard Justin tell the detective.

So the young man departed, bag and baggage. At the station he met the girl, and he played an important role in the little scene enacted there--a case of mis-checked baggage. After that they were friends. Many continuous hours alone, on the observation platform, are conducive to "development," as Cole had expressed it.

After the chat at the table the two left the ar, and walked back to the rear buffet and parlor coach. Here Cole excused himself, and stepped into the buffet for a cigar. Justin continued on to find Neva curled up in a big chair, engrossed in a magazine.

"Can't I bring you something to eat?" he asked, sitting beside her.

"Thank you, but I had the porter get me some tea and toast. It was plenty. I'm not the least hungry. I'm--nerous! I'm not used to traveling, and the thought of seeing my brother in a few hours takes away my appetite!"

"Going to live in Arizona?" Justin asked.

"I--I guess so. You see, there's only my brother and myself, and we're more like pals than anything else. We've been that way ever since we were left orphans." He eyes lighted up at the mention of her brother. "Oh, Dick is a wonderful chap. I'm wild with fear that some girl will come along and marry him!"

Justin laughed with her. "Jove, but a man's lucky to have a sister like you," he observed, in a low voice.

"Dick's working on a ranch. Likes it, too. He was always fond of the outdoors and horses. I'm glad he got out of the city."

They went out on the open platform, sank back in chairs, and for the moment gazed upon the vast expanse of sky and desert.

"To-morrow nignt I'll be traveling alone," he said presently. "I'll mis you a lot."

"You've been considerate to me," she returned. "I appreciate it."

"May I write you?" he asked; "or would your brother object?"

"He wouldn't object--if he knew you."

Justin fumbled for a card and pencil. He wrote her name--Miss Neva Douglass. "And the address?"

"Circle City, Arizona," she told him. "In care of Richard Douglass."

He dropped the card into his coat pocket. "When do we arrive there?"

"In about three hours, I think."

"Your brother will be at the station to meet you, I suppose?"

"Of course. Or he might show up at some town before that. I wired him this morning."

At eleven o'clock, when most of the passengers had left the parlor end of the car for their berths, Justin suggested lemonade, and went to the buffet to get it. While the porter was mixing it, Cole sidled in, and touched Justin's shoulder.

"When does your friend leave us?" he asked.

"You mean Miss Douglass? Oh, it depends upon the time the train gets into---"

Justin cut the remark short. A sudden, gripping suspicion entered his mind.

"Depends upon the time the train gets where?" Cole asked again.

Justin closed his fingers. "Great Scott!" he muttered.

"No such town as that," came from the detective.

"Cole!" Justin began. "The man you are after is named Douglass!"

"Yes, Richard Douglass."

"When did he take money from the firm?"

"Last Christmas."

"And the amount?"

"Nine hundred exactly."

"They know he took it?"

"Almost certain!"

Justin set his lips in a straight, hard line. "Pretty mean trick, Cole," he said evenly. "You're following the sister--letting her lead you to the brother."

Cole's shoulders went up. "Since you've guessed it, yes. My profession has its unpleasant duties; but a thief's a thief, and the law must---"

"Hang the law!" Justin burst out. "What's the use of digging into the past? You merely think that man took the money, and you are going to ruin his whole life becasue of that belief. What's nine hundred dollars to my father? Nine hundred dollars against a man's name and a sister's heart! This Douglass has been living a clean life--why don't you let him continue?"

"Sorry I can't accommodate you, Maddern," Cole observed quietly. "But your father's orders were---"

"Yes, I suppose dad is worried about the money. He always did do that. He'd spend a hundred to get fifty back! But just forget what he said, and listen to reason. This girl's a brick, and she's wrapped up in her brother. I'm sure she doesn't know about this affair he's charged with. If she did, it would kill her, that's all. Hang it all, man, haven't you any heart?"

"Hearts are not trumps in my business," the detective responded. "Now, look here," he said seriously. "When that money was missed from Douglass' department, he quietly dropped from view. We couldn't get the least trace of him. Isn't that pretty strone evidence? Finally I got wind of a sister--that girl you've been sitting out on the platform with--so I kept a watch on her. I knew she was in touch with him. When she left town the other day I was positive she would meet him. So I tagged along. Possibly she doesn't know the truth--and I do feel sorry for her; but you can't mix sentiment with law. When she greets her brother, I'll be right on the job with a warrant."

"Well, at least you don't know where she's to get off this train," snapped Justin, "and I'll take pains to see that you don't learn."

"Really?" The detective shook his head in a pitying manner. "I'm afraid you're about five minutes too late. I lifted a card from your pocket--you had her name and address on it. Oh, I wouldn't flare up. Your lemonade is waiting."

Chapter III.
Not Scheduled

WITH a pounding heart, Justin took the two glasses the porter held out, and made his way very carefully back to the rear platform; still, he spilled some of the lemonade. His mind was working in a strange manner. The last five minutes' conversation with Cole had brought a sudden realization hom to him. How peculiarly the once-forgotten affair had returned! How was it to work out? For the first and only time in his life Justin felt burdened with a vital responsibility.

As he stepped out of the rear door and called to the girl, the lights went out like a snuffed candle. A sickening rush of air tore at his lungs. In the inky darkness the hooded roof sank down; he pitched forward, blindly holding to the two glasses, and realizing, foolishly, that he was spilling the contents.

Steel shrieked on steel; the splintering of wood crashed to his ears; he shouted, but was unable to hear his own voice. He felt, in that flash of time, without in the least losing consciousness, as it a might whirlwind had picked him up, twisted him about, top-fashion, and finally hurled him brutally to the ground.

A vague, measureless interval followed. He found himself doubled up, not uncomfortably, under the hood of the observation car. Cautiously he tested each muscle, prodded himself expectantly. Nothing appeared to be wrong.

"Great guns!" he murmured reverently. "A smash-up, and I'm fit as a fiddle! What do you know about that for luck?"

Then he remembered, and his heart skipped a beat or two. Where was Neva? She had been at least within five feet of him the moment the lights went out. With a groan, he groped about in the limited space. Twisted steel, bits of jagged wood, rods, glass, and parts of chairs--everything, it seemed, sprang up under his touch except what he dreaded to feel. The girl was not there. Either she had been thrown away from the wreck, or---

He shuddered, wiped at his moist forehead, and found a match. This he struck, shielding it with a palm. Then he peered fearfully about. Nothing other htan what his fingers had disclosed met his gaze.

The match went out, burning down to his fingers. He lay for a long time, gazing straight into the gloom that enveloped him. At times he heard the distant murmur of voices, the chopping of what might have been axes; once he heard an explosion that jarred the ground. The timbers creaked and settled about him. In the silence that followed he lifted his voice and called. He received no answer.

A tiny point of light first aroused his curiosity. As it grew larger he sat erect, rubbing at his eyes. When understanding finally regained its sway, he was conscious of a peculiar tremor passing up and down his spine; his body suddenly became moist, his pulses fairly jumped into a race.

With a quick intake of breath, he gripped at the nearest steel rod, and pulled at it. It yielded not the slightest part of an inch. Then he gained his knees, and with both hands worked at the tangled wreckage that held him trapped.

He cried aloud, desperately, as the light became brighter. It flared so high now that his surroundings were bathed in a dull, reddish, pulsating glow. Occasionally a heated wave fanned his wet face like the breath from some infuriated animal.

The wreckage was burning!

A puff of smoke, biting like acid to his eyes and lungs alike, serve as a spur. He attacked the immovable timbers with a fury little short of madness. His fingers became bleeding stumps--yet somehow, such was his fear, he felt no pain from them. The sweat poured into his eyes. The smoke increased. His trap was becoming unbearable.

He sank wearily exhausted against the side. This, then, was the end. The fire was gaining, inch by inch. Soon, very soon, it would reach his body.

Staring death in the face, Justin's mind went back to what has passed only a short time ago. The situation gripped his brain, sweeping, for the moment, al before it.

Subconsciously he fumbled, and found his card case. With a stub of a pencil, and by the aid of the glowing flames, he hurriedly wrote across the back, signing his own name. After a second's indecision he took out his cigar case, slipped the card into it, and then, with all his remaining strength, he hurled it through a small opening in the roof above his head. He saw it disappear.

The smoke thickened like a pall. He coughed. Then he lifted his voice for the last time. His reason left him like the breaking of a string.

Chapter IV
Professional Honor

HE drifted back to the world again with the cold night air on his face, and the white stars twinkling high above him. For the moment he oculd not recollect what had happened; then, with half a frown and an impatient move of his arms, he remembered.

As Justin sat erect, feeling stiff, but otherwise unhurt, he saw the line of wreckage below him, some of it still smoldering. Toward the east the sky was reddening. Dim forms moved back and forth. To the left he saw the glimmer of sickly yellow lights and the outlines of buildings--a station building, a water tank, and the tall, lifted arem of a semaphore. It pounded to his wandering brain that this was a tiny station in the heart of the desert, and that the wreck had taken place just outside the yard limits.

Justin got up and lurched along the embankment. The yellow light beckoned. At the door of the low shed he paused and looked in. It had been hurriedly fitted up as a hospital. Several women, passenters, evidently, flitted back and forth among the makeshifts of beds. A few lanterns offered the only light. As he swayed there, almost drunkenly--for his brain was still dazed, and his limbs weak--some one called his name, and he turned to look into the eager face of Neva Douglass.

"Oh, Mr. Maddern," she cried. "You--and unhurt?"

He wagged his head slowly. "Not the least hurt! Just a trifle dizzy, that's all."

He clung to her arm, conscious and happy for the slender support she made. "I never expected to see you--here," he said again.

"I was flunk clear of the car, and landed in the soft sand. I dind't even lose my senses. I've been helping the others who were not so fortunate."

"Brave girl," Justin said, and pressed her arm.

"There's a friend of yours--on the end cot," she went on. "He's been asking about you--over and over."

The detective, Cole! Justin had forgotten him until this moment.

"Badly hurt?" he asked thickly.

"Not seriously--but his legs are bruised. The doctor has just left him."

Justin swallowed hard. Cole injured. Could it possibly mean that the detective was unable to follow---"

"I'll go to him," he said.

In the faint light of the lantern, he sank down beside the last cot. The girl toptoed away in answer to a cry. Cole, opening his eyes, uttered a sharp exclamation:

"Hello, Maddern! Get out of that hell, did you? Hurt?"

"Not at all."

"Good! I wasn't so lucky. Got my legs bunged up some. Doctor said I'd have to stay in bed for a month. Can you beat that?"

"I'm sorry," Justin replied. But his heard beat just a trifle faster.

"Well, it can't be helped," Cole went on, as if resigned. "Might have been worse. I got bunged up--but I got Douglass!"

Justin jerked himself erect so violently as to jar the cot. He stared dully upon the sufferer for a moment before his lips could frame the two words:

"Got him?"

"Yes; and in a funny way. Part of that buffet car fell across my legs. There I lay like a trussed chicken, watching the fire creep toward me. I was about to give up when a big chap came along, sang out cheerfully, and chopped me free with an ax. When he was lifting me out I happened to get a good look at his face, and under the smut and grease and dirt I saw--Richard Douglass! Guess we both got wise to each other at the same time. He sort of trembled. I said: 'Hello, Douglass! Just been looking for you. Coming back without any fuss?' And he answered: 'Yes, I'll come with you; only let me work here until daylight; there's so much to do. There are dozens under these cars yet. Just let me work until daylight, won't you?'

"So I let him work!" Cole resumed, after a pause. "What else could I do--after the chap begging me with tears in his eyes? He's to come here at dawn and surrender."

"And his sister?" Justin asked. "Does she know?"

"Hardly think so. Thye've been working side by side for hours, I guess. Douglass has brought in a least a dozen men since I've been here. He's been a fiend for work! And the girl--well, I'm not much on sentiment, and I'll always scoff at it, but jingo! she's got the softest hands and the most healing touch Heaven ever gave to a woman!"

"And--and you're going to arrest Douglass--when he comes here?" Maddern exclaimed hoarsely.

Cole nodded. "At dawn!"

"He'll never come," Justin asserted.

"He gave me his word--and I took it," the detective said quietly.

Justin sank back against the wall, but continued to stare straight into the detective's white face. "A man pulls you from certain death--and instead of thinking him you arrest him! I've bene rotten in my time--but---"

"It's the profession, Maddern," Cole interrupted. "Don't forget that!"

Chapter V
A Prisoner Taken

THE dawn broke as swiftly as a stage sunrise. The flat, arid floor of the desert melted into pink and gold, and the skies trembled with their multifarious colors.

"I told you he wouldn't come," Justin said, after the long interval of silence. "Any man would be a fool deliberately to surrender--give up his liberty--especially when he kows you can't get him again."

Cole only looked out of the low door and said: "He's coming now."

The man came in; he seemed fairly to fill the doorway and the very room. He was wide-shouldered, bronzed by the desert su, coatless and hatless. He stood for the moment gazing back toward the wreck, now plainly visible in the dawn; his big hands clenched themselves. He turned and saw the detective.

"I'm here, Cole!" His voice was calm and even. "I said sunrise, didn't I? I'm a minute or two late. There was so much to do--out there."

The detective struggled erect in his cot, and Justin slipped a pillow behind him. "Douglass, shake hands with Mr. Maddern."

Justin gripped the man's hand. "I'm happy to meet you, Mr. Douglass!"

Douglass allowed his eyes to rest upon the other's face for a moment. "I recollect chopping you out of that observation end," he said. "Pretty narrow for you it was, too."

Something choked in Justin's throat. He tried to speak, but before his lips could form the right words, Cole interrupted:

"I guess there are plenty of us who owe our lives to you, Douglass!" The detective bit his lp, then resumed, his voice once more under control: "I guess there's no use in discussing a painful subject any longer. We three at least know the exact situation. Last Christmas a package of currency amounting to nine hundred dollars was missed from your department, Douglass. Evidently you were aware of it before the others, because you suddenly dropped from sight."

Douglass bowed his head. "I've been cowardly. I couldn't help myself. I didn't steal the money, but I knew all the evidence would be against me, and--and I did so want my freedom. So I came here."

"John Maddern put the case into my hands. We located your sister. When she left Denver I followed, confident she was to meet you."

Justin broke into a cry. "Wait--Cole," he stammered. "I want--to say--that---"

"When I've finished you can talk," Cole interrupted. "Meanwhile, it becomes my painful duty to get these bracelets on the guilty man!"

Cole reached for his coat at the head of the cot, and brought out a pair of handcuffs. Douglass paled, but he extended his hands, that the detective might easily adjust the steel loops. Justin in turn started forward. His hands, too, were outstretched, as if to plead for the other.

Cole, with a deft move, reached out and snapped the handcuffs about the nearest wrists--those of Justin Maddern!

Chapter VI
In The Cigar Case

HALF an hour later, when Cole and Justin were alone together, Douglass having left for the ranch with his sister, Maddern turned to the detective.

"When did you first suspect me?" he asked.

"I had my suspicions all along. But I wasn't positive until I found that confession of yours in the cigar case. Douglass picked it up and handed it to me, thinking I had dropped it."

Justin stared across the hot desert. The emergency train had arrived an hour ago, and they were carrying the injured into the special cars. His handcuffs had been removed.

"I've learned a wonderful lesson tonight," he said, after a while. "I think I've been tried by fire--and come out a man. That day I took the package of notes I was desperate--needed the cash to square some pressing debts. I knew my father wouldn't give it to me. I had no idea of any one being accused of the theft--although I might have known had I not been such a fool! And then to-night, when I saw those flames eating toward me, I realized that if I were to die and Douglass still be accused---" He broke off, with a sob.

"I think it best that your father learn nothing of this--he might not understand--the way I do," Cole said quietly. "I shall merely say that Douglass returned the money, and---"

Justin looked into the detective's face. The understanding dawned clear, and he smiled.

"I think it would be the bast way," he answered. He slipped a hand to his inner pocket and drew out an envelope. From it he passed over to Cole nine one-hundred-dollar bills. But on bill remained of the sum his father had given him.

"Sometimes," Cold said, smiling, "sometimes my profession isn't so bad; still, it isn't a game of hearts." He hesitated a moment before resuming. "I--I suppose you'll be returning with me--back to Denver?"

Maddern shook his head. "My ticket is still good--and it reads through to San Pedro. And I still have that card the governor gave me. I think I'm going to have a jolly time working on that new breakwater."


This story is from the February 1, 1912 issue of Top-Notch Magazine. The entire issue is available at the Internet Archive, but only as image files -- that is, a png image of each page. You can find the info page here, and the actual collection of page links here.

* * * * * This story brought to you by * * * * *

Find Have Gun, Will Play at these online ebook stores:
Amazon.com. (Amazon International Stores: United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain), Barnes & Nobel Nook Store, Sony eReader, Apple iBookstore, or get it in all formats at Smashwords.