THE WOULD-BE ACTOR

THE remainder of the day proved uneventful. Frank collected for all of
the books sold, and took two orders. He also left his card with a
druggist who was very much interested in the set of famous novels, and
who promised to write to the young book agent later on the subject.

Business proved to be far from encouraging in Camperville, and after one
day spent in the village, the young book agent took again to the farms
lying for a distance of five miles on all sides. Here in the first day
he sold four books, and once more his spirits arose.

“It’s a sort of see-saw game—first up and then down,” he thought. “But
as long as I can make ten dollars or more a week at it I’ll stick to
it.”

On Wednesday afternoon our hero had a rather amusing experience. As he
was passing a brook he discovered a boy who was fishing and talking
loudly to himself.

“I’d not do it for all the gold in the world! Stand back, I tell you,
stand back!” came from the youth, who was seated on a rock.

“Hullo! that fellow must be crazy,” murmured Frank.

“Stand back, I say!” went on the youth, “or with my trusty blade I will
slay you!”

“Crazy as a loon,” thought Frank, when of a sudden the boy looked up at
him and turned red in the face.

“What yer want?” asked the boy, surlily.

“Nothing,” answered our hero. He knew that crazy folks were ofttimes
dangerous.

“Was you listening to my talk?”

“I was.”

“Thought it funny, didn’t you?”

“Well, rather,” and now Frank began to smile, for he saw that the youth
was not crazy at all.

“That’s in a book I’m studyin’,” went on the lad. “It’s a play.”

“Then you are studying to be an actor?”

“That’s it.”

“What is the play?”

“It’s a three-act melodrama called ‘The Lost Pot of Diamonds; or, Adrift
on the Streets of London.’ I’m studying the part of Jack Merridale, the
hero. It’s a corker.”

“What are you going to do when you know the part?”

“Oh, I’m going to study up a whole lot of parts from different plays,
and then I’m going to New York to be an actor.”

“How much do you know of the play?”

“About half. It’s putty hard to learn, but I’ll have it in another
week.”

“Better give up acting and take to minding the cows,” said Frank, and
started to ride off.

“Ah, you go on!” growled the boy, and made as if to throw a stone after
the young book agent. But Frank was too quick for him and was soon out
of sight.

“He’s worse off for notions than Bobby Frost was,” thought Frank, as he
wheeled along. “One wanted to make a fortune in Wall Street, and the
other wants to become a famous actor. What notions some boys do get!”

Frank worked on a country road that was rather winding, and the next
morning found him not over half a mile from where he had met the boy. A
good-sized farmhouse was in sight and he rode up to this to see if the
folks there would purchase any of his wares.

He was just talking to the lady of the place when a small boy came
rushing up, his face full of terror.

“Mother, Jack’s crazy!” he screamed.

“Crazy?” queried the lady.

“Yes, crazy. He’s out in the barn, throwing around the pitchfork and
screaming like thunder!”

Alarmed by this statement, the lady of the house ran out to the barn,
with Frank at her heels, and the little lad following.

“Villain, beware of my wrath!” came from the barn, which declaration was
accompanied by a violent thrust of the pitchfork into a neighboring pile
of hay.

“Oh!” whispered the mother. “Yes, he is certainly crazy!”

“I shall kill you, base rascal that you are!” went on the boy in the
barn, and again he thrust out wildly with the pitchfork.

“Oh, Jack! that I should see you crazy!” went on the lady.

“He isn’t crazy,” put in Frank. “He is stage-struck; that’s all.”

“The pot of gold is mine!” went on the stage-struck Jack. “It is mine, I
tell you, all mine! And Lady Leonora shall be my bride!” And throwing
down the pitchfork, he stooped and caught up a bushel basket filled with
blocks of wood and hugged it to his breast.

“Jack, what _is_ the matter!” cried his mother, and caught him from
behind.

“Wha—what’s up?” stammered the would-be actor, and he dropped the bushel
basket like a hot potato. “I ain’t doin’ nothin’, ma!”

“What do you mean by carrying on so?” she asked, severely.

“Ain’t carryin’ on. I’m speakin’ a piece.”

“A what?”

“A piece.”

“It didn’t sound much like a piece to me. What reader did you get it
from?”

“Didn’t git it from no reader.”

“Then you made it up.”

“Didn’t nuther. I bought the book from Tom Johnson for ten cents. It’s a
great theater piece.”

“Let me see the book.”

It was lying on a feed box, and before the luckless Jack could get it,
his mother snatched it up and began to peruse it.

“What worthless trash!” she cried, and tore it into a dozen pieces.

“Oh, ma! Don’t tear it up.”

“Don’t you talk to me,” said the lady, severely. “I don’t want any more
such goings-on around here. You march yourself to the corn patch, and be
quick about it. If I hear of any more theater pieces, I’ll send you to
bed without your supper.”

“It didn’t do no hurt to learn the piece,” whined Jack, with a dark look
at Frank.

“Yes, it did. If you want to learn anything, you learn your history and
geography and spelling,” answered the lady of the house.

Jack procured a hoe and walked off to a distant cornfield. But when his
mother and his little brother were not looking he shook his fist at
Frank.

The young book agent had been amused by the scene. Now, however, he grew
serious.

“That boy thinks I am responsible for this,” he thought. “And he will
get square if he can.”

“Such tomfoolery I never saw in my life,” said the lady to Frank.
“Stage-struck indeed! I’ll have to watch him.”

She was so out of patience that she scarcely paid attention to what the
young book agent had to say.

“No, I don’t want any books,” she said. “We have more now than we can
read.”

“Have you any to sell?” asked Frank.

“Do you buy old books?”

“Sometimes.”

“I’ll sell you these,” she went on, and after a few minutes’ search
brought out half a dozen cheap cloth-covered novels.

“I don’t buy that kind of books,” said Frank.

“I’ll let you have the lot for a dollar.”

“They would not be worth twenty-five cents to me, madam.”

“Oh, you book agents want to make all you can,” she sniffed, and shut
the door in his face.

“What a family to deal with,” thought Frank, as he rode away. “I
declare, I’m almost glad I didn’t sell her a book.”

Close at hand was a small side road where were located two other
farmhouses. To these places, our hero next made his way. One place was
closed up, but at the other he met a young couple who treated him
cordially.

“I’d like to have both of those books,” said the young husband,
referring to the health and the cattle and poultry works. “But to tell
the truth I can’t afford them. Just now, six dollars is a heap of money
to me.”

“I can deliver the books whenever you say,” returned Frank. “Perhaps
you’ll be able to take them next week.”

“No; I don’t want to give an order for them unless I am sure I can pay.
‘Pay as you go’ is my motto.”

“And a good motto it is,” said Frank. Then he continued: “Perhaps you
have some old books you’d like to exchange for these new ones.”

“I’ve got a box full of old books that were left to my wife by her Uncle
Alexander. Millie, do you want to make a trade?”

“I might,” answered the wife.

“Let me see the books,” said the young book agent.

He spent a few minutes in looking the volumes over. They were not of
great value, to his manner of thinking, yet he thought they might bring
him six dollars or more.

“If you wish it, I’ll give you the two new books for those old ones,” he
said. “I am not particular about it, but I’d like to do a little to-day
before stopping work.”

“Don’t you think the books are worth more?” asked the young wife.

“Honestly, I do not.”

“Then take them and give us the new books.”

“It’s hard luck, Millie,” said the young husband. “You didn’t get much
out of your Uncle Alexander after all.”

“No, Samuel,” and the young wife heaved a deep sigh.

“You see, it was this way,” explained Samuel Windham. “My wife nursed
her uncle for over two years. He promised to leave her a thousand
dollars or more when he died. But when he did die he didn’t leave
anything but some old furniture and these books and just enough to pay
for his funeral.”

“That was hard luck,” said Frank.

“I didn’t nurse him for the money,” said Mrs. Windham. “I nursed him
because I thought it was my duty.”

“All the same you should have had something,” answered her husband.

“Did he leave anything to anybody else?”

“No, he left what he had to me. But we thought it might be more than it
was.”

“It was certainly hard.” Frank paused after a moment. “I’ll leave the
two new books now and make a package of the old ones and take them to
the Camperville hotel with me.”

“Are you stopping there?”

“I’m going to stop.”

The old books were done up in some newspapers and Frank put a strap
around them. Then he passed over the two new volumes, and bid the young
couple good-by. Soon he was wheeling up the side road into the main road
once more.

He had passed less than half a mile when he came to a bend. Here the
highway was narrow, and on either side were masses of trees and bushes.

“Here he comes now!” he heard a voice shout, and a moment later he found
himself confronted by three farmer boys, all armed with clubs. They
compelled him to halt and then surrounded him.

THE farmer lads had cloths tied over the lower parts of their faces, and
had their hats pulled far down over their foreheads, so as to conceal
their features as much as possible. One, the smaller of the trio, had
his jacket turned inside out.

“What do you want?” demanded Frank, as he leaped to the ground.

“We want to speak to you,” said one of the big boys, in a rough voice.

“What about?”

“You’ll soon see.”

“Make him a prisoner, fellers,” cried the lad who had his coat turned
inside out.

The voice appeared familiar to Frank, but he could not, for the moment,
place it.

“You can’t make me a prisoner,” said the young book agent, and tried to
back out with his bicycle.

[Illustration: “THEY OVERTURNED BOTH FRANK AND HIS WHEEL.”–P. 163.]

“Can’t we, though?” came from the lad who had not yet spoken. “Don’t you
try to run. If you do, you’ll get a taste of this.” And he brandished
his club.

“We’re goin’ to give you a good lickin’!” came from the boy with the
turned jacket.

“Oh, so it’s you!” ejaculated Frank, for he now placed the speaker as
the stage-struck farm boy.

“You don’t know me,” said the boy in quick alarm.

“Yes, I do.”

“You don’t.”

“You’re the boy that wanted to become an actor.”

“It ain’t so. I’m Joe Small.”

“Your name is Jack, and you live in the yellow house over yonder hill.”

“Don’t talk to him,” put in the biggest of the trio, who had been
offered five cents to help “polish off” the young book agent. “Give him
what he deserves and let him go.”

“He’ll tell on me,” whispered Jack.

“No, he won’t. Just help make him a prisoner and leave the rest to Ollie
and me.”

Watching their chance, the three boys crowded in on Frank, and
overturned both him and his wheel. Then, despite the fact that he hit
out vigorously, they sat down on him. Jack tried to kick him, but our
hero pulled him down by the leg, and gave him a severe blow in the nose
that drew blood.

“Oh! oh! my nose!” roared the would-be actor, and clapped a hand to that
organ.

Frank had been hit several times, but at last he managed to throw off
his assailants, and then he struck out in a lively fashion. Yet, with
their clubs, they were at an advantage, and he was speedily getting the
worst of the encounter when a man appeared in the distance, carrying a
basket of eggs in his hand. It was Samuel Windham.

“Hi! hi! What does this mean?” cried the young farmer, in amazement.

“Help me, please!” gasped Frank, who was almost out of wind from his
exertions.

“Highway robbers, eh?” cried the young farmer, and setting down his
basket he leaped forward, and threw one of the masked youths headlong.

“Don’t!” screamed the other. “We ain’t no robbers. We’re only havin’ a
bit of fun.”

“Pretty rough fun,” came from Samuel Windham, and he made after the lad,
who took to his heels, and disappeared behind the trees. Seeing this the
others also ran off at top speed, leaving the field to Frank and his
friend.

“Thank you; you came in the nick of time,” said our hero, as he brushed
off his clothing.

“Hurt much?”

“Not very much. I got a nasty crack in the shoulder and one on the left
hand, but I’ll soon get over them.”

“What made ’em attack you, I wonder.”

“It was on account of the smallest boy,” said Frank, and then told of
the lad’s stage tendencies. Samuel Windham laughed uproariously at the
story.

“Just like him,” he said. “That boy always was a queer stick. His folks
had better take him in hand. Will you make a complaint?”

“I guess not. I don’t expect to visit this neighborhood again in a
hurry. They got about as good as they gave.”

“Wonder who the other boys were?”

“I’m sure I don’t know.”

As he was in no hurry, Frank pushed his wheel along, and walked into
Camperville with Samuel Windham.

“I shall not forget you,” said our hero, on parting with the young
farmer. “If you hadn’t come up I don’t know what I should have done.”

“Oh, that’s all right.” And then they shook hands, and Samuel Windham
walked on to a grocery store, where he traded his eggs for table
commodities.

Reaching his room at the hotel, Frank placed the books he had purchased
in the closet. He had expected to look them over before retiring, but
felt too tired to do so. He procured his supper, and after a glance at a
local weekly paper, returned to his apartment and went to bed.

Business around Camperville continued rather poor, and by the end of the
week, Frank moved on to the next town, six miles westward. He crossed
the Delaware River, and now found himself in Pennsylvania. Here business
was a little better, and he took up his quarters at a hotel called the
Grandmore House, which was partly filled with summer boarders.

At the hotel Frank fell in with rather a pleasant man by the name of
Sinclair Basswood, who had at one time been the mayor of a New Jersey
town. Mr. Basswood had a great idea of his own importance, and never
grew tired of speaking of his rise in life.

“Stick to your work, my lad,” said Sinclair Basswood to Frank,
graciously, “and some day you may become a mayor, as I did.”

“I don’t know as I want to become a mayor,” answered our hero. “I’d
rather become a book publisher. Not but what it’s a great thing to be a
mayor,” he added hastily.

“A very responsible position, I assure you,” responded the ex-mayor.

“A mayor must have his hands full?”

“Quite true, my lad; the duties are arduous enough. But I felt that I
owed something to the town in which I was born and raised, so I
consented to run on the ticket when they asked me, and I was elected by
two hundred and six majority,” responded Sinclair Basswood.

One day the ex-mayor was sitting on a side veranda, smoking a cigar,
when a small-built, shrewd-looking individual approached him.

“Excuse me, but is this Mr. Sinclair Basswood,” said the newcomer,
politely, after making certain that the ex-mayor was alone.

“I am that individual.”

“I mean the ex-mayor.”

“The same.”

“Very glad to meet you, Mr. Basswood; very glad indeed.” The newcomer
shook hands warmly. “Excuse me, but do you know I have desired to know
you for a long time.”

“Really you flatter me,” said the gratified Mr. Basswood.

“Not in the least, my dear sir—not in the least. And now let me tell you
what motive has prompted me—a stranger—to intrude myself upon you.”

“Oh, no intrusion, sir.”

“Thank you—thank you a thousand times for saying so. But in a word, I
wish to obtain your autograph.”

“I fear,” replied the ex-mayor, “that it is scarcely worth the giving.”

“Let me judge of that, Mr. Basswood. I have already secured the
autographs of some of the most distinguished men of our country,
including the President and his Cabinet. I wish to place your autograph
in that collection of celebrities.”

“Well, you are welcome,” said the ex-mayor, secretly tickled to be
thought of such importance.

“Please write your name here,” went on the stranger, and produced a
stylographic pen and a small sheet of paper, and, without hesitation,
Sinclair Basswood complied with the request. In finishing up with a
flourish he made a small blot on the edge of the sheet.

“That’s too bad,” he said, in a disappointed tone.

“Oh, I can easily remove that, sir,” said the stranger. “Very much
obliged, sir, for your kindness. I shall prize the autograph
exceedingly.” And then, before Sinclair Basswood could question him
regarding his name, he bowed and withdrew.

The man who had obtained the autograph was just passing through the
hotel when he met Frank.

“Hullo, are you stopping here?” exclaimed our hero, as he recognized the
slick features of Gabe Flecker.

“No, I am not,” was the quick reply, and then the dapper young man lost
no time in leaving the hotel and disappearing.

“Do you know that young man?” demanded Sinclair Basswood, who had seen
Frank address the dapper individual.

“Not very well. I met him once on the road.”

“He asked me for my autograph.”

“Is that so? What did he want to do with it?”

“Said he wished to put it in a collection he owns. He has that of our
President, his Cabinet, and other celebrities.”

“He told me he was buying butter from the farmers,” said Frank, bluntly.
“But, even so, he may be an autograph collector.”

“Well, the autograph didn’t cost me anything,” responded Sinclair
Basswood, loftily. “He supplied the pen, and the paper too.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t an order you signed?”

“An order?”

“Yes. I once heard of a good-for-nothing book agent who used to collect
autographs. After that he would write out an order for books over each
signature.”

“Good heavens! Perhaps that chap is a swindler!” ejaculated the
ex-mayor, turning pale. “Where is he?”

“He has left the grounds.”

A search was made, but Gabe Flecker had disappeared and could not be
traced.

“I’d give five dollars to have that autograph back,” groaned Sinclair
Basswood. “How foolish to give it to an utter stranger.”

“Let us hope that it is all right,” replied Frank. “Remember, there are
many honest autograph hunters in this world, and Mr. Flecker may be one
of them. But I must admit I do not like his looks.”

TWO days later, while out after orders, Frank met Samuel Windham. The
young farmer had an exceedingly sober look on his face.

“My wife is quite sick,” said he. “Had the doctor twice and have got to
have him again, I reckon.”

“I hope she recovers soon,” said our hero, sympathetically.

“Oh, I think she’ll be all right by next week. But it’s a big expense to
me. And in that heavy wind the other night my chimney blew down, and
that has got to be fixed, which means more money out of my pocket.”

“Does the farm pay?”

“I could make it pay if I had money to buy more cows and an extra horse.
But I haven’t the money, and folks around here don’t care to trust a
fellow.”

“I’m going to look over those books again to-night,” went on Frank. “If
I can make anything out of them, I’ll give you half.”

“Why, I ain’t entitled to nothing more. A bargain is a bargain,” said
the young farmer, in surprise.

“Never mind—I’ve not forgotten how you assisted me on the road.”

“That puts me in mind. Those boys are in trouble for keeps now. They
robbed an orchard of some extra fine pears, and the owner gave each of
’em a tremendous walloping.”

“Well, they deserved it,” answered Frank.

Having eaten his supper, Frank went directly to his room, and got out
the bundle of books he had procured from Samuel Windham. He piled the
volumes on the table and began to look them over. There were four
histories, an atlas, and several volumes of poetry.

“The histories won’t bring much—they are too much worn,” thought the
young book agent.

“But this book of Longfellow’s poems may——Goodness gracious me!”

Frank fairly gasped the last words, and his eyes bulged out of his head.
For from between the leaves of the book had dropped a hundred-dollar
bill.

“A hundred dollars!” he cried, and then checked himself. Arising, he
locked the door of the room, and pulled down the window shade.

With nervous fingers he thumbed over the volume. Before long he came
across another bill, and then another.

“Three hundred dollars—no, four hundred!” he murmured, and then shook
out two more. “Why, this is a regular gold mine!”

At last he had gone over the book carefully, and now he had before him
ten one-hundred-dollar bills—exactly a thousand dollars! The book
contained nothing more. He cast it aside and took up the remaining
volumes.

At last the examination was complete, and before him lay a total of
fourteen hundred dollars. Each of the bank bills was crisp and new, and
as he gazed at them his heart almost stopped beating. Fourteen hundred
dollars! It was a little fortune. With so much money he could open a
bank account of his own, or go into a store business.

But swiftly on the heels of this thought came another. This money was
not his. It was true he had purchased the books, but the original owner
had not known that this money lay hidden in the volumes.

“This is the fortune Mrs. Windham’s uncle, Alexander, promised to leave
her,” he told himself. “I must give it to her and at once.”

Fearful that the money might get away from him, Frank placed the crisp
bills in an envelope, and pinned this fast in an inner pocket of his
vest. Then he went below again, got out his bicycle, and lit the
lantern.

“You are going to take quite a late ride,” said Mr. Basswood, who was on
the hotel veranda, smoking.

“Yes, I have a little business to attend to,” answered Frank.

He was soon wheeling off in the direction of the Windham cottage. There
was no moon, but the stars shone brightly, and his lamp was a good one,
so he had little difficulty in keeping out of danger. In about an hour
he reached Samuel Windham’s place, and dismounting, walked to the door
and knocked.

“Why, hullo, is it you?” came from Samuel Windham, as he opened the
door, and looked at Frank in astonishment. “I didn’t expect a visitor so
late.”

“I’m sure you’ll forgive me when you know what I’ve come for,” returned
the young book agent. “How is your wife?”

“She’s pretty fair to-night.”

“Who is that, Samuel?” came from a side room of the cottage.

“It’s that young agent, Mr. Hardy,” answered the husband.

“Oh!”

“Mr. Windham, I believe you told me once that your wife had an uncle
named Alexander,” said Frank.

“Exactly; Alexander Price.”

“May I speak to your wife about Mr. Price?”

“Certainly.”

“What do you wish to know?” asked Mrs. Windham. “You may come in here if
it is anything in particular.”

“Thank you, I will,” said our hero, and he followed Samuel Windham into
the apartment. The wife of the young farmer was in bed, looking pale and
worried.

“I am sorry to see you sick, Mrs. Windham,” began Frank.

“Yes; I’ve had a bad spell, but I am a little better now.”

“As I said before, I came to ask you about your uncle, Alexander Price.”

“What of him?”

“He was a bit eccentric, was he not?”

“Very eccentric indeed. He imagined that many folks were trying to get
the best of him.”

“He promised to leave you some money when he died, didn’t he?”

“Why do you ask that question?”

“Never mind just now. Please answer my question.”

“Yes, he said that when he died I was to have everything he left, and he
said something about a thousand dollars or more. But I never got the
money.”

“Did he say where he had placed the money?”

“No. We thought he had it in a savings bank, but we could never find any
bank book. Oh, tell me, have you found a bank book among those books we
let you have?”

“No, I haven’t found any bank book, I have found something better yet,”
and Frank smiled broadly.

“Something—better—yet?” said the woman, and raised herself from her
pillow. “Oh, Mr. Hardy, what have you found? Tell me, quick!”

“When I was looking over one of the books I found a hundred-dollar
bill.”

“Oh!”

“A hundred dollars!” cried Samuel Windham. “Of course you ain’t going to
try to keep it, Mr. Hardy?” he added, hastily.

“No, I think it belongs to your wife.”

“Oh, thank Heaven for that money!” burst out Mrs. Windham. “We need it
so much.”

“I got interested and began to look the book over more carefully,”
continued Frank. “Pretty soon, out dropped another hundred-dollar bill!”

“What!”

“Oh, Samuel!”

“Then I looked the book over from cover to cover, and got several more
one-hundred-dollar bills.”

“Mr. Hardy, do you mean it?” screamed Mrs. Windham.

“I certainly do.”

“And I am not dreaming? Oh, Samuel, this is too good to be true.”

“Where is the money?” asked the husband.

“I have it here,” said Frank, bringing out the envelope. “From one book
I went to the next, until I was certain that no more bills were hidden
away.”

“And how much did you find, all told?” asked Samuel Windham.

“How much do you think?”

“Did you really get the thousand dollars?” came faintly from the young
farmer’s wife.

“I got fourteen hundred dollars, ma’am, and here are the bills,” said
our hero, and brought them forth.

He spread them out on the bed cover, and Samuel Windham brought the lamp
closer, that he and his wife might gaze at the money.

“Oh, Samuel, it’s a fortune!” murmured the wife. “Just think of it! We
can have the house repaired, and you can buy that extra horse, and some
cows, and a new mower and reaper.”

“And to think we never looked into them books for this money,” answered
the husband. “Supposing the books had been burnt up.”

“Or we might have sold them to some dishonest man who would have kept
the bank bills, Samuel.” Mrs. Windham turned to Frank. “You are very
honest, Mr. Hardy.”

“By George, that’s true!” ejaculated Samuel Windham, and caught our hero
by the hand. “It ain’t one fellow out of a hundred would be as square.”

“I knew the money belonged to you folks, and that was all there was to
it,” said Frank, modestly.

“It’s a great blessing,” murmured Mrs. Windham. “Fourteen hundred
dollars! Why, I never saw so much cash before! Samuel, we must reward
Mr. Hardy for this.”

“I’m willing, Millie; but the money is yours, not mine.”

“No, Samuel, it is yours as much as mine.”

“I don’t know as I want a reward,” came from Frank. “I only hope the
money does you a whole lot of good.”

“You’ve got to take something,” insisted Samuel Windham. “I’ll talk it
over with my wife later.”

After that Frank had to tell all the particulars of just how the money
had been found, and then the Windhams told him how Alexander Price had
lived and died, and how queer he was in more ways than one. Mrs. Windham
had been his only living relative, so there could be no doubt but that
the bank bills were meant for her.

It was nearly midnight before Frank returned to the hotel. He felt very
light-hearted, for he had done his duty, and made two of his fellow
beings very happy.

ON the afternoon of the following day Frank was riding toward the hotel
when he heard a loud call from a side road, and looking in that
direction he saw Samuel Windham waving a hand to him. He leaped from his
bicycle, and waited for the young farmer to come up.

“I was going up to the hotel to see you,” said Windham.

“Anything wrong about that money?” questioned Frank, quickly.

“No, only if you don’t mind, I’d like to look through those books with
you.”

“Not at all. Come on,” was our hero’s reply.

He rode along slowly, and the young farmer walked by his side. When the
hotel was reached our hero led the way to his room and brought out the
package of books.

“I know you must have looked over ’em pretty carefully,” said Samuel
Windham. “But Millie wanted me to make certain that all of the bills had
been found.”

“I’d like to see you find half a dozen more, Mr. Windham.”

“Thank you; but I’d think I was lucky to find just one.”

Half an hour was spent over the books, but no more bank bills were
brought to light.

“I reckon we have all of them, Mr. Hardy.”

“I think so myself. Still, there was no harm in another look.”

“My wife and I talked this matter over this morning,” went on Samuel
Windham.

“How is she?”

“Much better. Such good news acts better on her than medicine. As I was
saying, we talked this matter over this morning. We want you to
understand that we appreciate what you’ve done for us.”

“Oh, that’s all right.”

“It ain’t many book agents would be so honest.”

“I think book agents are about as honest as other folks.”

“Oh, yes, so do I—but I mean most men wouldn’t be so honest when they
had such a good chance to pocket fourteen hundred dollars. We want to
reward you, Mr. Hardy.”

“I told you before, I wasn’t looking for a reward.”

“I know that, but my wife and I would feel better if you’d accept what
we want to give you. Here it is.”

As Samuel Windham spoke he brought forth a large wallet, and drew out
one of the hundred-dollar bills.

“What, do you want me to accept a hundred dollars!” cried Frank.

“That’s it. Take it with our best wishes.”

“It’s altogether too much, Mr. Windham.”

“No, it ain’t. We want you to take it. My wife says to me, ‘Don’t you
dare to bring it back, Samuel. You just tell him he’s got to take it
from me,’ so there you are.”

Frank hesitated, but he saw that the young farmer was in earnest.

“Very well,” he said, at last. “I’ll take the money. But on one
condition, that you let me send you a complimentary set of those famous
novels I mentioned to you, along with a bookshelf to keep them on.”

“Well, I shan’t stop you from sending us a present, Mr. Hardy. But you
haven’t got to do it if you don’t want to,” answered Samuel Windham, and
a little later he took his departure, after our hero had thanked him
warmly for the reward.

It must be confessed that the young book agent felt highly elated when
he stowed the hundred-dollar bill away in his pocketbook.

“Old books seem to be bringing me in more money than new books,” he
thought. “But I can’t expect to have such luck as this all the time.”

He lost no time in sending for the set of novels, stating he would pay
cash for them, and also requested Mr. Vincent’s head clerk to send a
nice bookshelf with the books. It may be added here that when the books
and the shelf came, the Windhams were very proud of the gift.

The next few days were quiet ones for the young book agent. Try his best
he could obtain but few orders, and by the end of the week he resolved
to try a new locality on the following Monday.

Frank attended a neighboring church on Sunday morning, and in the
afternoon went out for a short walk along the river.

He was on his way back when he passed a man who was driving furiously
along in a buggy. The person was Mr. Sinclair Basswood.

“Hi! hi! stop!” called out the ex-mayor, as he caught sight of Frank.

“What is it, Mr. Basswood?” questioned Frank, as he walked to the side
of the buggy.

“You were right, young man, and I was a fool.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do you remember about that autograph?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, I was taken in nicely.”

“Did the fellow swindle you?”

“He did. I have just been over to Riverview and there I met the banker
with whom I have occasionally done business. I am out just sixty-five
dollars.”

“What did the rascal do?”

“Turned my autograph into the signature on a check, and what is more, he
got the banker to cash the check.”

“Can’t you prove it was a swindle?”

“It will do me no good. The signature is mine, and I’ve got to stand the
loss,” fumed the ex-mayor from New Jersey.

“Can’t you catch Gabe Flecker—if that’s his real name?”

“I wish I could, but he seems to have disappeared.”

“It isn’t likely he’d stay around these parts after such a swindle as
that,” continued Frank. “He may be hundreds of miles away by this time.”

“I have notified the police. Perhaps they will catch him for me. I’d
give fifty dollars just to lay my hands on the rascal.”

“Why not offer a reward?”

“I’ll do it,” answered Sinclair Basswood, promptly.

He was as good as his word, and early on Monday morning Frank saw a
notice in the post office offering a reward of fifty dollars for the
capture of “One Gabe Flecker, a fugitive from justice.”

By Monday night the young book agent had moved on to a town I shall call
Brentwood. This was quite a trading center, with a population of six
hundred souls and a good surrounding territory of farms.

Strange as it may seem, our hero found the hotel full and so had to
apply to a private boarding-house for accommodations.

“I think I can let you have a room,” said Miss Littell, to whom he was
directed. “It is a small room, but comfortably furnished.”

“Can I see it?” asked Frank.

“Oh, yes.”

The room proved to be acceptable, and after some little conversation our
hero engaged it for the week, the terms being five dollars in advance,
for a room, with breakfast, and dinner in the evening.

“May I ask what your business it?” questioned Miss Littell, after Frank
had settled with her.

“I sell books for a living.”

“Indeed!” The landlady appeared much surprised. “How strange!”

“Strange that I sell books?”

“Oh, no, not that. But that two of you should come to me in the same
week.”

“Do you mean that you have another book agent here?” questioned Frank,
with interest.

“Yes, a Mr. Grant Deems, from Pittsburgh.”

“When did he arrive?”

“Saturday night. He is going to stay until next Sunday.”

“That is odd,” said Frank. “Do you know what he is selling?” he went on,
wondering if the stranger could be a rival.

“No, he didn’t show me his books.”

“Perhaps the place is big enough for two agents at a time. But I’d
rather have the field to myself.”

“I trust that you have no trouble with Mr. Deems, Mr. Hardy.”

“I’m sure I’m not looking for trouble,” returned Frank.

That evening Frank met Grant Deems at the supper table. He proved to be
a tall, lank individual of thirty or more years of age. He had a hard
voice and very insistent manner.

“What, are you a book agent?” he said, looking Frank over. “Why, you are
nothing but a boy!”

“Nevertheless I sell books,” answered our hero. He did not like the
manner in which he was addressed.

“What books are you trying to sell?”

“Those issued by Mr. Philip Vincent, of New York.”

“Pooh! And do you think they are of much account?” sniffed Grant Deems.

“I do.”

“Then you have never seen the line I carry, Mr. Hardy.”

“What house do you represent?”

“The Landon-Bolling Publishing Company, of Washington.”

Now, our hero had heard of the publishing house mentioned, and knew
their books were far inferior to those issued by Mr. Vincent. The
copyrights were old, the paper and binding poor, and the covers far from
lasting.

“I prefer Mr. Vincent’s books,” said Frank, quietly.

“Naturally—since you work for him.”

“No, because I think they are the best books on the market for the
price.”

“They can’t hold a candle to our publications. We have you beat to death
on our whole line,” went on Grant Deems, insistently.

“That is a matter of opinion,” replied Frank.

“Oh, pshaw!”

Frank was about to make a further reply, but thought better of it, and
changed the subject by asking Miss Littell about her little dog that was
running around the room. The landlady was grateful for the change, and
gave him a look of thanks. After that Grant Deems said nothing more, but
finished his meal and went out of the dining room.

“Evidently he is not very friendly,” said the landlady to our hero,
after the rival book agent had gone.

“It would seem so,” answered Frank. “But I don’t care. If he lets me
alone, I’ll let him alone.”