A BOY RUNAWAY

HALF an hour later found Frank on his way home by way of the stage which
ran between Bardon, Claster, and half a dozen other points. He had his
books in one hand and a fine, fat chicken, cleaned and dressed, in the
other.

“I’ve certainly had a splendid start,” said he to himself. “I’ve sold
thirty-nine dollars’ worth of books and made nine dollars and a quarter.
If I do as well every day I’ll soon be rich.”

It was dark when he reached home, and it must be confessed that he was
very tired, and his arms ached not a little from carrying the books. Yet
he could not help but whistle as he entered the house, so light was his
heart. Frisky greeted him with short, sharp barks of delight.

“Glad to see me, aren’t you?” cried Frank, and putting his books on the
hall rack, he patted the dog.

“You must feel happy, Frank,” cried Ruth, who came into the hall to
greet him.

“I do feel happy.”

“Then you got an agency for those books?”

“I did more, Ruth—I’ve sold some of the books.”

“Good for you!”

The family had already eaten supper, but a generous portion had been
saved for our hero.

“Here’s a chicken I brought from Bardon,” said Frank. “I bought it from
a man because he bought a book from me,” he explained.

“It is a nice fowl,” answered his mother, after an examination. “So you
got your books and have begun to sell them? You were fortunate.”

“Let’s go up to father’s room, and I’ll tell you all about it, mother.”

The whole family gathered in the patient’s room to hear what Frank might
have to say. Mr. Hardy was now able to move around the room a little
bit, but could not go downstairs.

It was a long story, but all listened with deep interest to all our hero
had to say.

“And you have really sold thirty-nine dollars worth of books, Frank!”
ejaculated his father, in amazement. “It is wonderful. I did not think
any agent could do so well.”

“And to think his commission is over nine dollars!” put in Ruth. “Oh,
Frank, you’ll be a millionaire!”

“Hardly,” he answered, with a short laugh.

“You must remember that Mr. Begoin’s order alone amounted to thirty
dollars. If it had not been for that my commission would have been only
two dollars and twenty-five cents.”

“But even that is very good,” put in Mrs. Hardy.

“I am glad you spoke to the lawyer,” came from Mr. Hardy. “I shall be
glad to see him. I want to know how I stand in this matter of damages
from the railroad, and also how I stand in this Garrison case. I am not
up in legal matters, and need somebody to straighten out the tangle for
me.”

“I’ve got to send in that order for the set of books to-night,”
continued Frank. “And I want to get those blank books too.” And he wrote
out the necessary orders without delay. For the blank books he obtained
a post-office money order, and sent off the letters before retiring.

It must be admitted that Frank slept but little that night. His head was
filled with schemes for selling books. He felt that, if he had not
struck a bonanza, he had at least struck something that promised very
well, and he was resolved to work it “for all it was worth,” as he
expressed it.

Like many another person taking up an agency, Frank had a feeling
against working close around home, and so resolved to cover a number of
towns and country places to the west of Claster. This would keep him
from home perhaps a few nights at a time, and he had his mother put some
things in a valise for his personal use.

“You’ll be loaded down, with your books and your valise,” said Mrs.
Hardy.

“Never mind, mother, I’ll get used to carrying them,” he answered,
bravely.

Frank left home at nine o’clock the following morning. He took the stage
for Fairport, which was fifteen miles away. Fairport was a center for
villages and farms several miles around, and the young book agent felt
he could find enough to do in that vicinity for at least a week, if not
longer.

He already knew of a cheap but respectable hotel at Fairport, and
arriving at the town made his way thither.

“How much will you charge me for a room, with breakfast and supper, for
a few days or a week?” he asked of the proprietor.

“Don’t want dinner?”

“No, sir! I’ll be away during the day.”

“A dollar a day as long as you stay.”

“All right, sir. Here is my valise, and I’ll start from supper
to-night.”

“Very well. You can register, and your room will be Number 21.”

Frank placed his name in the hotel book and then, after brushing up a
bit, set out with his case of books in his hand, to see what he could
do. The extra volumes he had brought along he left at the hotel.

He had an idea that he could do better just outside of the town than in
it, and so took to a road which led to another settlement two miles
away.

He soon came to a neat-looking farmhouse, and going up to the front
door, rang the bell. A tall, thin woman, with a hard face, came to
answer his summons.

“Good-morning, madam,” began Frank politely.

“What do you want, young man?” the woman demanded, briefly.

“If you have a few minutes to spare I’d like to call your attention to
several books I am selling.”

“Books! You get right out of this doorway, or I’ll set our dog on you!”
she cried, shrilly. “What impudence! To take me from my baking like
this!” And she slammed the door in Frank’s face.

It was certainly a cold reception, and the young book agent’s face grew
red with mortification. He was on the point of making an angry retort,
but checked himself, and, instead, left the yard whistling merrily.

“That was a flat failure,” he reasoned. “But as I am bound to have them
I must make the best of them.”

He visited three farmhouses in succession, but nobody cared to buy
books. Some said they had too many books already, and others said they
had no money to spare.

It was now noon, and Frank’s face grew sober as he realized that half
the day was gone and he had not sold a single volume. Was his bright
prospect of the day previous to vanish after all?

“I’ve got to sell something, that’s certain,” he muttered, as he set his
teeth hard. “Now, the very next call must mean a book sold.”

The next farmhouse soon came to view. As he walked up to the door he saw
that the woman of the place and two men, evidently a father and son,
were eating their dinner.

“Excuse me, madam,” said he, struck by a sudden thought. “But would you
care to sell me a dinner? I don’t care to go away back to the hotel at
Fairport.”

The farmer’s wife looked him over carefully.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Frank Hardy. I’m selling books for a living.”

“What does he want, Martha?” asked the husband.

“Wants to buy his dinner. He’s selling books.”

“Well, sell him a dinner if he wants it.”

“All right, you can come in, Mr. Hardy.”

“How much will it be?”

“Oh, I don’t know—about twenty cents, I guess.”

“Thank you, that’s cheap enough.”

Frank was soon in the house, and having washed his hands at the kitchen
sink, sat down to the table. A really liberal meal for twenty cents was
set before him.

“Like to look at some of my books?” he asked of the farmer, who had
about finished his repast.

“I dunno.”

“It won’t cost you anything. Here you are. Look them over all you
please,” and Frank passed over the health book and the cattle and
poultry work. Then, without saying more he continued to eat what was set
before him.

“This here cattle book is quite something,” said the farmer, after a
spell of silence. “I think Bill Judkins has one of ’em.”

“This is the latest and best—just issued last fall,” returned Frank. “It
is thoroughly up-to-date, and tells of the latest methods of treating
cattle and poultry for all sorts of diseases.”

“Samuel, you ought to have such a book,” put in the farmer’s wife.
“Don’t you think so, Hiram?”

“Might be a good idee,” responded the son, who was about twenty years of
age and six feet two inches in height. “Might be we wouldn’t hev lost
thet cow last month if we’d known what was the matter of her.”

“Here is a chapter on cows,” said Frank, turning to it. “Here are the
diseases, and here are the remedies.”

“By gum! That’s what was the matter o’ our cow!” exclaimed Hiram,
looking into the book. “Here’s the medicine to give fer it, too. It’s
too bad, pop, we didn’t have such a book when she tuk sick.”

“How much is a book like thet?” questioned the farmer, cautiously. “I
can’t afford no fancy figure.”

“There is the price right on the front page,” answered Frank. “Three
dollars, no more and no less, and the same price to all.”

The way he said this made the farmer’s son laugh.

“Reckon you’re a book agent right enough,” he observed. “Bet you kin
talk like one of them patent medicine men as travels around, can’t you?”

“I can talk about these books, because I understand them.” He turned to
the farmer’s wife. “It’s just like this pie. You know how to make it,
and that’s why it’s good.”

She smiled broadly.

“Do you want another piece?”

“Don’t know that I am entitled to it, ma’am—but it’s mighty good.”

“Yes, you can have it,” she answered, and got another piece from a side
table. Then she turned again to her husband. “You might better take the
book, Samuel.”

“Guess as how I will.” And the farmer went upstairs to get the money.

“You can pay me to-morrow, when I bring the book,” said Frank. “This is
only my sample. I’ll bring you a nice, clean copy.”

“Good for you.”

“What do you think of the other book?” went on the young book agent. “If
you have one book with which to doctor your cattle and poultry, you
ought to have another with which to doctor yourself.”

“Haw! haw! haw!” roared Hiram. “Thet’s a good joke.”

“Betty Daws has a family doctor book,” said the farmer’s wife. “She says
it saves her many a spell of sickness.”

“Do you ever have much sickness?” asked Frank.

“Sometimes. Father, he had chills and fever, and Hiram had an earache.”

“Here is an article on chills and fever, and here is another on earache
and how to cure it.”

“Gosh, if it tells how to cure earache I want the book,” put in Hiram.
“Tell you what I’ll do, ma. It’s your birthday next Tuesday. I’ll buy
you a book for a present.”

“Thank you, Hiram, it will be very nice,” answered his mother.

Frank remained at the farmhouse a short while longer, and then started
to pay for the dinner he had had.

“Never mind that,” said the farmer’s wife. “Take it out of the price of
the books when you bring them,” and so it was settled.

WHEN Frank left the farmhouse he felt in high spirits once more.
Stopping there for dinner had helped him to take orders for two books,
on which his profit would be a dollar and a half.

“I’d like to stop for dinner every day, on such terms,” he told himself.
“In fact, I think I’d try to eat two dinners a day.”

The next place was quite a distance away, and the walk was a hot and
dusty one. Yet he did not mind it, and went along whistling as
cheerfully as ever.

Presently he came to a bend in the road where there was a big elm tree,
and in the shade he paused for a while to rest.

He was about to move on when he saw a lad of twelve or thirteen with a
bundle, tied in a blue cloth, approaching. At first he took the stranger
to be a peddler, but soon saw that he was a farmer lad. He had evidently
traveled far and was tired out and covered with dust.

“Hullo,” said Frank. “How far is it to the next house?”

“Hullo,” returned the boy, wearily. “The next house is just beyond
yonder trees.” He paused and threw down his bundle in the shade. “Say,
it’s hot, ain’t it?”

“Pretty warm,” answered our hero. “You look as if you had done some
traveling to-day.”

“Tramped ever since six o’clock this morning.”

“Is that so! Then you’ve covered a good many miles.”

“I haven’t covered as many as I thought I would. I was going to get to
Fairport by dinner time. What time is it now?”

Frank consulted a silver watch he carried.

“Nearly two o’clock.”

“I thought so—by the feeling in my stomach.”

“Then you haven’t had any dinner?”

“Haven’t had any breakfast yet, excepting one doughnut.”

“Why—er—what’s the matter?”

“You won’t tell, will you?”

“I don’t understand you.”

“I suppose it won’t make much difference if I do tell you. I’m running
away from home.”

“Running away? What for?”

“Dad wants me to work all the time. He won’t give me no time to play.”

“That’s too bad.”

“I’m going to the city to make my fortune.”

“That’s uphill work.”

“Maybe it is. But I read in a book how a boy went to the city and helped
a Wall Street man, and got to be worth three million dollars. I’m going
to help a Wall Street man if I can find one.”

“I’m afraid you’ll never find that kind. What kind of a book did you
read that story in?”

“A book they called a five-cent library. It had a colored picture on the
cover. The story was called ‘Clever Carl; or, From Office Boy to
Millionaire.’ Say, but Carl was a wonder!”

“He must have been—in the book. Don’t you know all such stories are
fiction pure and simple.”

“Fiction? What do you mean?”

“They are not true. If Carl went to the city it’s more than likely he’d
have to work as hard as anybody to make a living. Of course, he might,
in the end, become a millionaire, but the chances are a million to one
against it.”

At this announcement the boy’s face fell, and he wiped his perspiring
and dusty face with a handkerchief.

“Don’t you think I can make my fortune in the city?”

“You mean in New York?”

“Yes.”

“No, I don’t—at least, not for many years. You’ll be lucky if you strike
any kind of a job. Thousands of boys are looking for work every day
without finding it.”

“Can’t I get in Wall Street?”

“Not any quicker than in any other street. Somebody might hire you to
clean the office and run errands, for two or three dollars a week.”

“I shouldn’t care to do that.”

“What would you want to do?”

“I should want to be a cashier. That’s what Carl was.”

“My advice to you is, to turn around and go home,” said Frank, severely.
“If you get to New York more than likely, unless you have money, you’ll
starve to death.”

“I’ve got eighty-seven cents.”

“That won’t keep you more than a day or two. Don’t you go to school?”

“Of course, when it’s open.”

“How much work do you have to do?”

“More than I want to do. Yesterday I wanted to go fishing, but dad made
me stay home and chop wood.”

“How much wood?”

“Six basketfuls.”

“That isn’t so much. One day last week I chopped wood enough to fill a
dozen baskets.”

“Do you chop wood?”

“Certainly—whenever it is needed.”

“Where do you belong?”

“Over to Claster.”

“What are you doing out here?”

“I sell books for a living.”

“Story books?”

“I sell a set of famous novels, but the other books are not story
books.”

“And do you have to tramp around from house to house?”

“Yes.”

“It must be hard work.”

“It is.”

The boy heaved a long sigh. Evidently walking such a long distance had
taken away some of the romance of leaving home.

“What will your mother say to your running away?” went on Frank, kindly.

“I—I don’t know.”

“She’ll be awfully worried. More than likely she won’t sleep a wink
to-night, thinking about you.”

At this the boy grew very sober.

“What is your name?”

“Bobby Frost.”

“Then, Bobby, take my advice, and go straight home. It’s the very best
thing you can do.”

“Dad’ll lick me for running away.”

“Maybe not, if you promise to behave in the future.”

“I’d go back if I was sure he wouldn’t lick me.”

“Go back by all means.”

“I’m awfully hungry and thirsty,” said Bobby, after a long pause.

“Maybe they’ll let you have a dinner at the next farmhouse, if you’ll
pay for it.”

“I’ll pay.”

“Then come on with me. And maybe you can get a ride part of the way
back.”

Frank arose and so did the boy. Soon they were tramping the road side by
side, and kept on until the next farmhouse was reached. A tidy-looking
young woman came to greet them.

“Good-afternoon,” said our hero, politely. “I know it is rather late,
but this boy is very hungry and I would like to know if you cannot fix
him up some sort of dinner. He’ll pay you for it, or else I will.”

“I’ll pay for it,” put in Bobby, promptly, and pulled out a handful of
cents and nickels.

“Everything is put away,” said the young woman, but bent a kindly glance
at the dusty and tired youngster. “Didn’t I see you pass here a while
ago?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, I’ll get you what I have. Have you had your dinner?” she asked of
Frank.

“Yes, ma’am—I got it at the place below here.”

The lady of the house passed into the kitchen and Frank followed her and
motioned her to the back door, out of hearing of the boy.

“I picked him up on the road,” he whispered. “I talked to him and found
he was running away from home. He hasn’t had any breakfast or dinner. I
talked to him, and he has promised to go back.”

“For the land sakes! Did you ever!” murmured the woman, in amazement.
“Do you know, when he passed, I thought he might be a runaway. How
foolish! And I suppose he left a good home too!”

“More than likely.”

“Did he tell his name?”

“Bobby Frost.”

“From Oakwood?”

“I don’t know. He said he had been walking since six o’clock this
morning.”

“Then he must belong to the Frosts of Oakwood. I’ll ask him.”

“Are they nice people?”

“They are good farming folks. Mr. Frost is rather strict, but he is a
good man, and they have a lovely home.”

Bobby had seated himself on the doorstep, and was waiting as patiently
as possible for the dinner to appear.

“Aren’t you from Oakwood?” questioned the woman.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I know your folks. Your father is Wilson Frost.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Well, I’ll give you your dinner for nothing.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Can’t you get a stage to Oakwood?” put in Frank.

“He can get a mail stage from Barrettsville,” said the woman. “That’s a
mile west of here,” and she pointed out the direction. “My son is going
to drive to Barrettsville in about an hour.”

“Then you had better go with him, Bobby,” said Frank.

“I will—if he’ll take me,” returned the boy, who did not relish the long
tramp home. Soon he was eating the meal the woman set before him. While
doing so he told his story over again, and the woman gave him some good
advice.

“It was nice of you to advise him to go back,” she said to our hero.

“I thought it no more than right to do so,” answered Frank.

He spoke to her about books, but she did not wish to buy, and he did not
press the matter. Soon her son drove up, and Bobby climbed into the
carriage with him.

“Thank you both,” he cried.

“You’re welcome,” said the woman.

“Good-by,” came from Frank. “Don’t ever try to run away again.”

“I guess I won’t,” answered the boy.

THE remainder of the afternoon proved uneventful. Frank visited nine
farmhouses, and succeeded in selling one more cattle and poultry book.
He returned to the hotel at Fairport utterly tired out with his day’s
tramping.

“Only three sales to-day,” was his mental comment. “That is not so good.
My commissions amount to two dollars and a quarter, and my expenses will
be a dollar and forty-five cents. That leaves a profit of just eighty
cents. Well, that is better than nothing. I might have sold more if the
houses weren’t so far apart.”

He found that the hotel keeper had assigned him to a small, but clean
and comfortable room. Supper was plain, but substantial, and Frank ate
all that was set before him.

“Traveling salesman, I suppose?” remarked the hotel man, when Frank
joined him on the hotel stoop, where there were a row of armchairs for
guests.

“I sell books,” answered the young agent. “Maybe I can sell you some.”

“No, I’ve got about all the books I want. Had any success?”

“I sold three books at three dollars each.”

“That’s pretty good.”

“I might sell more if I could cover more ground.”

“Why not hire a horse and buggy? I’ll let you have one for two dollars a
day.”

“Thank you, but my business won’t warrant the outlay. But I tell you
what I wish I did have,” continued Frank, suddenly.

“What is that?”

“A bicycle. The roads around here are pretty fair for wheeling.”

“My boy has a wheel. Perhaps he’ll rent you that.”

“Where is he?”

“Down around the barn, I think.”

Frank walked to the barn, and soon found Tom Grandon, the hotel keeper’s
son. He also saw the wheel, which was in the carriage shed.

“So you’d like to hire my wheel, eh?” said Tom. “I’m willing, if you’ll
promise to take good care of it.”

“I’ll do that. I have a wheel at home, but I didn’t think to bring it.”

“What will you give me for its use?”

“Twenty-five cents a day.”

“Make it fifty cents and I’ll take you up.”

“Let us split the price and make it a dollar for three days,” went on
Frank; and to this Tom Grandon agreed, and the bicycle was turned over
to the young book agent. As tired as he was Frank tried the machine, to
see that it was in running order, and to adjust the seat and the handle
bars to suit him.

“Now I’ll be able to visit twice as many places,” he told himself.

The following day Frank started away early, with his case of books
strapped over his shoulder. In the hotel office he had found a map of
the county and had studied the roads carefully, and he had also asked
about their condition.

It was a perfect day, and as he was a good wheelman he made rapid
progress, so that he reached the first place at which he wished to stop
by eight o’clock. He found the lady of the house in the garden cutting a
bouquet.

“Books?” she said, in answer to his question. “Oh, dear, no, we have all
the books we want. Why, there is a box of books in the garret which we
wish to sell.”

“What kind of books?” questioned the young agent, for he had heard that
some old volumes were rare and valuable.

“Oh, all kinds. Do you buy?”

“I might—or I might make a list of what you have, and get you a price on
them.”

“Well, you can look at them,” said the lady.

The garret was dark and dusty, but taking off his coat and collar, Frank
went to work and sorted out the books, about a hundred in number. Many,
he could readily see, were of small value, but others looked as if they
might be worth considerable money. He made a list of the latter in a
blank book he carried.

“What will you take for the lot?” he asked.

“Five dollars,” was the reply.

“Will you hold them for one week for me?”

“Yes.”

He took down her name and address. “If I don’t want them I’ll drop you a
postal card,” he added.

“Very well.”

Jumping on the bicycle he pedaled to the next house. Had he walked the
distance it would have taken him ten minutes or more. As it was, it took
hardly any time at all. Here he met an old man, and after a good deal of
talking took an order for one of the health books.

“One order anyway,” he thought, grimly. “I won’t be whitewashed to-day.”
He dreaded to put in a day without an order.

He obtained his dinner at another farmhouse. It was a scant meal and
cost him twenty-five cents. The folks did not want to talk books, and
were so disagreeable that he was glad to leave.

Up to four o’clock he visited sixteen additional places. Although he
talked his best he could sell nothing. It was now beginning to cloud up
and he knew a storm could not be far off.

“I suppose I ought to be getting back to the hotel,” he said to himself.
But he hated to think of going back with just one order.

Some distance ahead was the entrance to a very fine grounds. In the
midst, between some beautiful trees, a new mansion had been erected. He
wondered if he could sell any books there.

“Nothing like trying,” he said, half aloud, and wheeled into the grounds
with all speed. He left his bicycle under a carriage shed and then
walked up the piazza steps and rang the bell.

Nobody answered his summons, and after waiting a few minutes, he rang
again, this time as hard as he could. Still nobody came to the door.

“Perhaps they saw me coming and don’t want to let me in,” he mused.

While he was waiting a sudden gust of wind came up, followed by some big
drops of rain. Then came more wind, and a sudden downpour that would
have soaked him to the skin had he been out in it.

“Well, I am under cover anyway,” he reasoned, and then he rang the bell
once more. Still not a soul appeared.

Close at hand were several windows, and all of them were wide open. The
wind blew the lace curtains furiously, and soon the rain began to beat
into two rooms, which Frank could see were handsomely furnished.

“I believe the folks must be out,” he said, at last. “And they certainly
won’t want those windows open in such a storm as this.” And then he
began to close the openings from the outside. It was rather hard work,
and he grew quite wet doing it. All told there were eight windows on the
lower floor which were open and three upstairs, but the latter he could
not, of course, reach.

Frank had all but two windows on the lower floor shut up when a carriage
drove into the grounds at a furious rate. It contained a colored driver,
a lady, a maid, and four children.

“Hi, dar, wot you doin’?” demanded the colored coachman.

“I’m closing the windows,” answered Frank. “It’s raining in.”

The carriage came up to the piazza, and the lady and the children leaped
out, followed by the maid. All stared at the young book agent
inquiringly.

“Excuse me, madam,” said Frank, touching his cap. “But I got here just
as the storm started. I saw all the lower windows of your house open and
thought nobody could be home.”

“Where is Sarah?” demanded the lady.

“I have seen nobody. I rang the bell several times.”

The lady went up and rang the bell just as our hero had done.

“She must have gone out or else she is asleep. Marie, run around and try
the back door,” this to the maid.

“Ze back door ees locked,” said the maid, on returning. “Sarah, she must
be at ze next house, madam.”

“I told her not to go away while we were on our little picnic. Have you
a key, Marie?”

“I haf not, madam.”

“I’ll climb in a window, mamma,” said one of the children, a boy of
about seven.

“You can’t unlock the door, Freddie.”

“Shall I go in and unlock the door for you?” asked Frank, politely.

The lady of the mansion gave him a close look, and was evidently
reassured by his gentlemanly appearance.

“If you will be so kind.”

Without waiting further, Frank opened the nearest window again and
stepped into the house. Then he hurried around to the front door, and
threw it open. A fierce gust of wind tore through the mansion, and all
who were on the piazza hurried inside.

“Excuse me while I look after the windows,” said the lady. “Come, Marie,
run to the top of the house, and close everything. The storm is growing
very severe.”

Frank took a seat in the hallway, and one of the little boys came up to
him.

“We were on a picnic in the woods with mamma,” said he. “We were just
having a beautiful time when it began to rain, and John had to drive us
home.”

“You were lucky to get home so soon,” answered Frank, pleasantly. “See
how it is pouring.”

“And, oh, how the wind is blowing!” put in one of the little girls. “I’m
sure it will blow a tree down if it keeps up like that.”

Frank heard a number of windows being shut, and then the lady of the
place rejoined him, and invited him into the parlor.

“I left the house in charge of one of my servants,” she explained. “I
told her not to go away, but she has disobeyed me. She has a cousin
living half a mile from here.”

“She took a big risk to leave the house wide open,” was the young book
agent’s comment.

“You are right. A thief might have looted the place from end to end.
Even as it is, the rain has done quite some damage. I am very thankful
to you that you shut down the windows as you did.”

“You are welcome.”

“Did you come here to see me, or just to get out of the storm?”

“I came to see you—or somebody living here. I am selling books.”

“Oh! What sort of books?”

“I will show you,” answered Frank.

FRANK found Mrs. Carsdale a very nice lady with whom to deal. She was
well educated and rich, and she took him to her library to show him the
many volumes she possessed.

“You can see I already have the majority of authors represented in your
famous set,” said she. “If it were not so, I believe I would give you an
order.”

“You certainly have a nice collection of books here,” was our hero’s
comment. “That set of Scott must have cost a good bit of money.”

“A hundred and twenty dollars.”

“I see you have some books here that are quite rare.”

“Yes, I like some old books better than the new ones.”

“I have a few old books to sell,” went on Frank, thinking of the list he
had made out earlier in the day.

“Indeed? What books are they?”

The young book agent got out the list, and read off the names of the
volumes, with the authors, bindings, and dates of publication.

“What will you take for that volume of Dante you just mentioned?” asked
Mrs. Carsdale.

“I haven’t set a price on it. I’d like you to make an offer.”

“Is it in good condition?”

“Quite fair. It is a bit dingy, and the back cover has some water
spots,” added our hero, who could recall the volume very well. “It looks
about like this book,” he went on, picking up one before him.

“If it is in as good condition as that book I’ll give you twenty dollars
for the volume.”

At this answer Frank’s heart gave a bound. Twenty dollars, and the other
woman had offered him all the books in the garret for five dollars! Here
was a chance for business truly.

“Is that the best you could do,” he said, cautiously. “The book is quite
rare, you know.”

“Well, I might give you twenty-five dollars.”

“I’ll let you have it for that,” answered the young book agent.

He remained at the mansion for an hour longer, during which the storm
cleared away as rapidly as it had come.

“Thank you for giving me shelter,” he said, on leaving. “I’ll bring that
book to-morrow or the day after.”

“There is no especial hurry,” answered Mrs. Carsdale. “And it is I must
thank you for closing the windows.”

As Frank wheeled down the muddy wagonway he met a woman who looked like
a cook, coming towards the house. She was out of breath from rapid
walking.

“Is Mrs. Carsdale home?” she demanded.

“Yes, long ago,” was our hero’s answer.

“Oh, pshaw!” came from the cook, and on she went towards the house.

“I guess she’ll catch it,” thought Frank, and he was right.

“Sarah, why did you go away?” demanded Mrs. Carsdale, as soon as the
servant appeared.

“Please, ma’am, I had a—a toothache and I had to get some medicine for
it from my cousin.”

“This is the second time you have left the house without my permission.”

“It shan’t happen again, Mrs. Carsdale.”

“You left all the windows open. If it hadn’t been for an utter stranger
who came up and shut them, many things in the house would have been
ruined.”

“Please, ma’am, the toothache was that dreadful I didn’t know what I was
doing,” pleaded the cook.

“You have been drinking too,” continued the lady of the mansion, as she
caught a whiff of the cook’s breath.

“It’s the toothache cure, ma’am.”

“I warned you before about leaving, and about drinking, Sarah. Your
month will be up next Wednesday. I think I’ll get another cook.”

“Oh, ma’am, don’t say that! Give me just another chance.”

“And if I do, will you promise to obey me after this?”

“I will that.”

“Very well then. But if you disobey me once again it will be for the
last time,” answered Mrs. Carsdale.

Frank had expected to go direct to the hotel, but as it cleared off so
nicely he decided to wheel down a side road and purchase the books the
lady had offered him early in the day. The highway was rather heavy in
spots, and twice he had to dismount to avoid large mud puddles, but with
it all he considered traveling on the wheel much better than walking the
distance.

“Back already,” said the lady. “Have you decided to take those books?”

“Is five dollars the lowest price you will accept?” asked Frank, whose
bump of business caution was developing rapidly.

“Yes, I told my husband about them and he said not to sell for a penny
less than five dollars.”

“Then I’ll take them on one condition.”

“What is that?”

“That your husband will deliver them for me to the hotel at Fairport. I
can’t carry them, and I haven’t any horse and wagon.”

“Very well; he can deliver them to-morrow, when he goes to town for
feed. He’ll go in the morning.”

“That will be satisfactory. I will write out a bill of sale, and you can
sign it.”

For the purpose of having book orders signed in ink, Frank carried a
stylographic pen with him, and soon he had the bill of sale written out
in due form. In it he mentioned the most important volumes, and added,
“and eighty-four others.”

“Now, please sign this and I’ll pay you,” he said, and handed over the
money. The receipt was signed, and he placed it away carefully in his
pocket. Then he said he would take three or four of the books with him.

“And your husband can leave the rest with the hotel keeper,” he added.

When he returned to the hotel he had the precious volume of Dante and
two other rare books in his possession. He placed them in his traveling
bag and went to bed with a good deal of satisfaction.

“It seems to me I’m getting along famously,” was his thought. “Even if I
can’t sell any more of that lot of books I’ll clear twenty dollars by
the transaction.”

The next morning was as bright and clear as ever, and, much to the
satisfaction of the hotel keeper’s son, the young book agent spent half
an hour in cleaning and oiling the bicycle.

“You’re the kind to rent a wheel to,” said Tom Grandon.

“I like to have a bicycle look nice,” answered our hero. “Besides, it
runs easier if it’s clean and well oiled.”

“How are you making out?”

“Pretty fair.”

“I don’t think I’d care to sell books.”

“And I shouldn’t care to run a hotel,” returned Frank. “It’s a good
thing everybody doesn’t want to do the same thing.”

By the middle of the forenoon Frank was at Mrs. Carsdale’s residence
once more. He carried the volume of Dante and also two others he thought
she might wish to look over.

“This Dante is certainly just what you said it was,” said the lady. “And
I will pay you twenty-five dollars, as I promised.”

“Here are two other books that may interest you,” said Frank, and passed
them over.

Mrs. Carsdale gave each a thorough examination.

“I do not think I can use them,” she said, “but I know a friend of mine
in Trenton who may buy both from you at a fair price. He collects just
such books.”

“Please give me his address.”

“I will.”

When Frank left the residence he was just twenty-five dollars richer
than he had been. His high spirits made him put on an extra spurt, and
his bicycle flashed over the road like a meteor.

“That is what I call doing business,” he said to himself. “It beats the
old feed store all to pieces. Won’t the folks at home stare when they
learn how I am getting along!”

The young book agent had his case of samples with him, and also some
volumes to be delivered, and put in a full day delivering and
collecting, and in trying to get new orders. But new business was slow,
and by nightfall he found he had but one extra order for the cattle and
poultry work to his credit.

“Never mind; I’ve got to take matters as they come,” he said to himself.
“The best of marksmen can’t hit the bull’s-eye every shot.”

He found that the books he had bought had been delivered, and placed in
a corner of the bedroom he occupied.

“Buying, as well as selling, eh?” said the hotel keeper.

“I buy sometimes,” answered our hero, cautiously.

“If you want any more old books, I’ve got a lot in the back office you
can have cheap.”

“Let me look at them to-morrow,” answered Frank. “I’m too tired to do it
to-night.”

In the morning the hotel man took him into the office, and pointed to a
row of volumes on a top shelf. All were covered with dust and cobwebs.

“Before I look at them I want to know what you want for them,” said
Frank.

“Make an offer.”

“No; I prefer to have you set your own price.”

“Then make it ten dollars.”

“Why, I only paid five for all those other books.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes; and here is the receipt.”

“Hum! Then I’ll let you have this lot for the same price.”

“Make it three dollars and I’ll see if I can use them.”

The hotel keeper consented after some talking, and Frank dusted off the
books, and began to examine them. The majority were of small value, but
he saw several he fancied might bring in some money.

“I’ll risk taking them,” he said, at last. “I’ll pay you now, and take
them away when I take the others.”

“All right, Hardy. But you can’t leave them here too long, or I’ll make
you pay storage,” returned the hotel keeper.

THE following week was a busy one for the young book agent. He spent one
day in collecting all the old books he had bought, and sent them to his
home, where they were stored in a vacant bedroom, which was thus turned
into what the family called “Frank’s bookery.” He also ordered the new
books he wished.

“You are certainly doing remarkably well,” was Mr. Hardy’s comment, when
Frank had told the story of his week’s work. “I never dreamed you would
do half as well.”

“I don’t suppose I’ll do so well right along,” answered the son. “But
I’m going to do my best.”

Mr. Hardy also had news to tell. Mr. Begoin, the lawyer, had called upon
him, and a letter had been sent to the officials of the railroad
company, notifying them that damages for the accident would be demanded.
As a consequence, a lawyer in the employ of the railroad company had
appeared.

“He was a very slick fellow,” said Mr. Hardy. “He tried his best to get
me to accept two hundred dollars in full for my claim. When he saw that
I wouldn’t take two hundred, he advanced to three hundred, and then to
four hundred. He said I was very foolish not to accept four hundred.”

“And what did you tell him, father?” questioned Frank.

“I told him, after he had talked for half an hour, that I meant to leave
the matter entirely with my lawyer, Mr. Begoin.”

“And what did he say to that?”

“He was much disturbed, and before he went wanted to know if I’d sign
off my claim for five hundred dollars. He said if I sued the company
they would fight to the bitter end.”

“Do you think they will fight?”

“Perhaps; but Mr. Begoin says I have a perfectly clear case and need not
be afraid of them.”

“How much does he think you ought to have?”

“He says he will sue them for five thousand dollars. I don’t think,
though, that I’ll get more than half that. But if I get only a thousand
it will be better than accepting five hundred now.”

“You are right, father. I’d let Mr. Begoin go ahead. He must know just
what he is doing. What did he say about the Jabez Garrison affair?”

“He cannot help me much in that matter. Our only hope is to find
Garrison, and make him give up whatever money he still possesses.”

“Do you imagine he took much cash with him?”

“It’s more than likely he took some. But you must remember he owes some
large amounts. Those would have to be squared up before I could get back
the amount of my bond.”

“But wouldn’t the claim of the benevolent order be a prior claim to
ordinary business claims?”

“I think so, since that was actual cash entrusted to him.”

“When do you expect to hear from Mr. Begoin again?”

“Not until he hears from the railroad company, or from Philadelphia.”

Mr. Hardy could now hobble around the house with the aid of a cane, but
it was thought best not to let him go beyond the porch and the back
garden.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said to Frank. “I’ll make out several
lists of the books you have.”

“Just make out one nice list, father, and that will be enough,” returned
our hero. “I am going to New York again before long and see some dealers
in second-hand books. Perhaps I’ll do as well buying up old books as in
selling new books.”

“Perhaps you can make more sales, Frank, if you’ll agree to take old
books in part payment.”

“I’ve thought of that.”

It rained for two days so hard that to attempt to go out and sell books
was out of the question. Frank spent the time around the house, doing
whatever came to hand. He also put his bicycle in prime condition, for
in the future he intended to ride the wheel as much as possible, and
thus save railroad and stage fares.

He received a very complimentary letter from Mr. Vincent, in which the
publisher congratulated him on his success.

“You are undoubtedly cut out for this business,” wrote Mr. Vincent.
“Keep at it by all means, and some day you may become a publisher
yourself—provided you don’t come to the conclusion that you can make
more money by selling alone.”

As soon as it cleared off, Frank set out with a large package of books
which were to be delivered. He also carried his order case, and a small
valise, for he expected this time to remain away from home for some
time.

“You are pretty well loaded down,” said Mrs. Hardy, who was at the gate
to see him off.

“He is a peddler with a pack,” said Ruth. “But don’t you mind that,
Frank, so long as you are making money.”

“I don’t mind it a bit,” he answered, cheerfully, and then, with a wave
of his hand, he started for Camperville, twenty-two miles distant.

He had three calls to make on the road, and at the last of the three he
stopped for dinner. As he was entering the yard, he encountered a
small-built, sallow-faced man coming away, valise in hand. The stranger
had an air about him that was far from reassuring.

“I am so glad he has gone, ma,” Frank heard a girl in the kitchen say.

“So am I glad, Emma. I wonder where the money went to?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. We didn’t take it, goodness knows.”

“He was awfully angry.”

So the talk ran on, and Frank soon gathered that the stranger had lost
ten dollars while stopping at the house overnight.

“He almost accused us of stealing it,” said Mrs. Farley, the lady of the
place. “He said he had placed two five-dollar bills on the mantelshelf
in his room, and now they were gone. We hunted everywhere, but couldn’t
find the money.”

“What is he going to do about it?”

“Nothing—now. First, he asked where the constable lived, but at last he
said if we wouldn’t charge him anything for stopping here he wouldn’t
make any complaint. We didn’t want the notoriety, so we let him go.”

“Perhaps it was only a game to cheat you out of what was coming to you,”
suggested the young book agent.

“Oh, ma, maybe that’s so,” put in Emma.

“It might be,” answered Mrs. Farley, doubtfully. “But I shouldn’t want
to be dragged into court over the matter.”

“He looked like a sharper to me,” said Frank. “Still it is possible that
he lost the money. Maybe it blew out of the window.”

“We looked under the window and all over the dooryard.”

All during the meal the strange affair was discussed, but without
reaching a satisfactory conclusion. Frank had a health book to deliver,
and after collecting for this, and settling for his meal, he went on his
way.

About a mile down the road he came across the stranger once more. The
fellow was seated on a bridge that crossed a small stream, and was
munching an apple.

“You certainly don’t look like an honest man to me,” was our hero’s
mental comment. “I believe you’ve swindled Mrs. Farley out of her board
money.”

“Hullo there!” called out the man.

“Hullo!” returned Frank, briefly.

“How far is it to Camperville?”

“About two miles, I think,” and now Frank came to a stop.

“What are you doing? Peddling?” went on the man in a hard, unpleasant
voice.

“Hardly. I’m a book agent.”

“Oh! Hard work, isn’t it?”

“Rather hard; yes.”

“I tried it once, but there wasn’t enough money in it to suit me.”

“What do you do?” asked our hero curiously.

“Me? Oh, I’m in half a dozen things. What’s your name?”

“Frank Hardy. What’s yours?”

“Gabe Flecker. I’m buying up butter on commission just now.”

“For a New York house?”

“Yes—the Gasson & Flecker Company. Flecker is my uncle. Do you know
anybody who has butter to sell?”

“No.”

“We’ll pay the best price,” went on Gabe Flecker, handing out a card.
“Tell your friends around here to write to us, and send us their butter
on commission.”

Frank slipped the card into his pocket and mounted his wheel again.

“Guess I’ll have to get a wheel,” said Gabe Flecker. “It’s better than
walking.”

“You are right there,” answered the young book agent, and in a moment
more he was out of hearing.

Frank was more convinced than ever that the fellow was a sharper. His
eyes had a look in them that could not be trusted.

“I’d not trust him with a single tub of butter,” he told himself. “I
don’t believe he’d ever send a cent back for it. That company may be
nothing but a fake concern.” And in that latter surmise the young book
agent hit the nail on the head. He was destined to meet Gabe Flecker
again, and in a most unexpected manner.