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 At the appointed hour Hugh came. He had made the concession of blacking his shoes, and shaving, and the unkempt hair of the noon hour, though obviously still in need of the barber, had been brushed until its dark auburn waves lay thickly in place. John Ogden had secured a table for two in a retired corner and ordered a dinner, the first couple of courses of which seemed to cheer the gloom of his guest.
“I suppose I ought to call you Major,” said the boy.
“Not if it does violence to your feelings. I am plain John Ogden again, you know. I would like to forget the war.”
“Same here,” returned Hugh, swallowing a mighty mouthful of red snapper.
When the meat course was well under way, Ogden began his investigation again.
“You haven’t told me much about yourself,” he said. “It seems as if you must have relatives in town. Why should you be living in a boarding-house? It’s too bad. I thought I remembered connections of your father’s.”
“There were some odd cousins of his about when I was a kid,” said Hugh, “but they have disappeared. I wouldn’t live with ’em on a bet, anyway.”
“Then there was some one else,” persisted the host. “Your father had a very wealthy aunt, I remember.”
The filet was so extremely good that under its influence Hugh smiled at this reminiscence. “Oh, that old dame,” he remarked. “Yes, she’s still in the ring. You couldn’t kill her with an axe. She must be a hundred and fifty by this time; but she doesn’t live here, you know.”
“I thought she did.”
“No, old Sukey lives in Farrandale”—naming a rural city some hundred miles distant from the metropolis.
John Ogden admired beauty in man, woman, or child, and the light of contemptuous amusement which now played over the face of his guest so relieved its habitual sullenness that the host allowed himself the pleasure of staring for a silent space. He was very conscious of the glances bent upon Hugh from other tables, but the boy himself was entirely engrossed in the best dinner he had enjoyed for many a moon.
“There was some quarrel, I remember,” said[12] Ogden; “some trouble between her and your father.”
“Well, slightly,” returned Hugh. “She didn’t have any children, so my father, being her nephew, she set out to run him. Dad had a pretty stiff upper lip, and she claimed he ruined her life by disobeying her in his marriage, and in his business, and in the place he chose to live, and so on ad infinitum.”
“So she let him die without forgiving him.”
“Let him die! She’d have made him die if she could.”
“And she ignores the existence of you and Carol.”
“Well, rather.”
“It is all very vague in my remembrance because I didn’t notice anything much but Carol in those days. So”—the speaker paused again—“you are very much alone in the world, Hugh.”
“Yes,” said the boy carelessly. “What’s the difference? I don’t want any relatives bothering.”
When the meat course was finished, he took out a package of cigarettes. “Have a tack on me?” he said, and his host accepted one, but offered his guest a cigar which the boy refused with a curt shake of the head.
“Of course, if I could have Carol, I’d like it,” he went on. “Carol’s never a nuisance. It would be good for me, too. I know that. If the Volstead Act hadn’t been sneaked in on us, I know perfectly well I wouldn’t last long. I haven’t any way of making hootch and no money to buy it, so I still cumber the ground.”
“I don’t like to hear a young fellow talk like that,” said John Ogden, and he was not so unconscious of the servant class as to feel easy under the waiter’s entertainment.
“A young fellow doesn’t like to talk that way either,” retorted Hugh, “but what is there in it? What’s the use of anything? Of course, I’ve thought of the movies.”
“Thought of going into the movies.” Hugh did not lower his voice, and the waiter was indefatigable in his attentions.
“I’m a looker,” went on the boy impersonally, as he attacked the salad. “Wallie Reid and Valentino—any of those guys wouldn’t have anything on me if I chose to go in for it.”
“Why don’t you, then?” John Ogden thought he might as well share the waiter’s entertainment.
“Oh, it’s too much bother, and the director yells at you, and they put that yellow stuff all[14] over you when you know you’re yellow enough already.”
The boy laughed, and sending out a cloud of smoke from his Grecian nose again attacked his crab-meat.
After they had finished the ices and while they were drinking their coffee, Ogden succeeded in driving off the reluctant waiter.
“I’m interested in that inexorable grand-aunt of yours,” he said. “What is her name?”
“Susanna Frink,” returned Hugh, “affectionately known in the bosom of the family as ‘Old Sukey the Freak.’”
His host sat up and leaned forward. “Not possible! Susanna Frink your aunt?”
“’Tisn’t my fault,” said Hugh, raising the smooth dark eyebrows his host had been admiring.
“But I know her,” said Ogden. “There’s a masterful old lady for you!”
“You bet your life,” agreed Hugh. “I’ve always believed she must be a descendant of that old galoot—I mean Canute, that commanded the proud wave—thus far and no farther!”
“Well, I never knew that Susanna Frink was Mr. Sinclair’s aunt. He never said much about her to me, but Carol used to laugh about a[15] family fortune that was so near and yet so far. Miss Frink is a personage, Hugh. I’ve had business dealings with her, and she prides herself on being a lady of the old school. She told me so herself. All alone in the world, and feels it, I know, for all her proud front.”
“False front probably,” put in Hugh.
“Perhaps.” Ogden smiled. “Anyway, it is dark—”
“What did I tell you!”
“And faultlessly waved, and she is straight as an arrow and slender, and she drives about in her victoria with the bay horses in the fashion of fifty years ago, scorning automobiles with her whole soul. Her bonnet ties under her chin, and her eyeglasses are attached to a black ribbon. She has personality plus. You ought to meet her.”
“Meet her!” Hugh leaned forward with a scowl of incredulous disgust. “Wrinkled old harridan in a black wig! What should I want to meet her for?”
Ogden studied him thoughtfully—“You don’t resemble your father. Neither did Carol. You must have had a beautiful mother.”
“We did.” Hugh felt in an inside pocket and took out a small rubbed morocco photograph case. Opening it, he handed it to his friend.
Color came into the latter’s face as he looked at it. “Carol!” he exclaimed.
“No. Mother. What do you think of old Sukey for trying to lay father off that peach?”
“I’d give a thousand dollars for this picture,” said Ogden, upon which Hugh took it from him without ceremony and returned it to his inside pocket.
“It was Carol’s,” he said. “She gave it to me to take over there. I guess it was a mascot, for I pulled through some tight places.”
John Ogden continued to gaze at him for sheer pleasure in the way his lips curved over the faultless teeth in an occasional smile, bringing back his romance with the gentle girl, who liked him, but not well enough—
“Well,” said Hugh, rising, “I mustn’t take any more of your time, Mr. Ogden. I had forgotten there were dinners like that in the world, and I thank you, I’m sure, for bothering yourself.” He held out his hand, but his host took him by the sleeve.
“Don’t be in a hurry, old man,” he said. “The party isn’t over yet. Have you any best girl you want to go to see?”
“Divil a girl. I called up one that I’d met one evening, and asked if I could drop in, and she said, ‘Certainly,’ and went on to ask what[17] we were going to do—what were we going to see? ‘Good-night,’ said I, and hung up with a click. My first and last offense.”
John Ogden laughed. “Sit down, then, if there is no meeting of the Reds to-night.”
Hugh laughed and dropped back into his chair.
“I’ve had an idea,” said his friend. “You liked the dinner. How would you like to have one like that every night?”
“Foolish question number 13,” responded Hugh.
“I know a way you can get it.”
“Well”—the boy regarded his dignified companion curiously—“so do I; but Bolshevism and safe-cracking aren’t the same thing.”
“A sufficient number of good dinners cure Bolshevism, I’ve noticed,” said Ogden. “I have hopes of you if you will do what I say.”
“Shoot,” remarked Hugh, still gazing at him imperturbably.
“You have had some thought of being an actor. I’m offering you a part.”
“I didn’t know what business you were in, Mr. Ogden. Are you a producer?”
“No; I’m in the wool business, and I’ll give you some to pull over your Aunt Susanna’s eyes.”
He smiled, and Hugh shook his head.
“I suppose you know what you are talking about.”
“The question is how much stamina have you, Hugh? Could you, for instance, stop your cigarettes? I believe that is the eighth you’re on now.”
“I can do anything I want to, of course,” said the young fellow coolly, “but I don’t believe you can make me want to do that.”
“Are you so in love with your present way of living?” asked Ogden dryly. “Your hall bedroom wouldn’t seem to indicate a very valuable business position.”
“I haven’t any position. I’ve got a job, packing boxes in the basement of a department store.”
“She owns the biggest department store in Farrandale.”
“Your Aunt Susanna.”
“What in thunder do I care what she owns?”
“Because, if you have any sporting blood, you can own it some day.”
Hugh leaned back in his chair. “Well, you know how to get around Volstead all right. I’d like a shot myself.”
“I won’t hint any longer. I’m willing to bet[19] a thousand dollars that you can make Susanna Frink change her will in your favor.”
Hugh gave a bored smile and did not change his easy position. “Sorry circumstances prevent my taking you up.”
“You can pay me when you get the money.” Ogden was leaning forward in his chair and smiling, and Hugh turned his head to face him.
“Well, I’ll say Carol made an escape,” he remarked with such unction that his companion’s smile became a laugh.
“Here’s the idea,” he said. “Your six feet of good looks nearly sent you into the movies. Now there’s a stage in Farrandale where you can vault right into a star part without having to go through the drudgery of atmosphere work.”
He paused and Hugh stared at him, no enthusiasm in his pensive eyes.
“You get yourself some good clothes—Miss Frink’s leery of the needy; she’s had a diet of them for fifty years—”
“I haven’t any money,” growled Hugh.
“I have. Don’t interrupt me. You must be very scrupulous about your personal appearance. You shave every day. Your shoes are always blacked.” Hugh looked down. “You[20] go every Sunday to the same church Miss Frink does, and you apply for a position in the Ross Graham department store. Miss Frink is Ross; likewise she is Graham. I supply them with blankets and I am on sufficiently good terms with the old lady.”
“Supposing I don’t get the position—and then again supposing I do,” contemptuously. “What of it?”
“Here, here, boy, brace up. Did you leave all your fighting blood in France? You will get the position, for I shall make it plain that be it ever so humble, there’s no job so good for your purposes as one in Ross Graham’s.”
“You’ll make it plain. Say, do you think you’re writing a play?”
“Why, my dear boy, you’re going to carry a letter of introduction from me that will explain to Miss Frink that you are a young man whose connections have large dry-goods interests, and, as you wish to learn the workings of an up-to-date, perfectly equipped department store, I have advised you to examine the Ross Graham establishment as an example of thoroughly good management and success. Your desire is to begin at the bottom and learn the business from A to Z.”
“Oh, still pack boxes in a basement,” remarked[21] Hugh, but a light of curiosity began to shine in his eyes.
“I know Miss Frink; I know what she likes. She hates dawdlers; she hates failures. She herself is an example of a successful business woman. She didn’t inherit money. I have heard that a tea-room and a peculiarly delicious candy started her fortune fifty years ago. She is in the early seventies now, not a hundred and fifty as you estimated;—and what are the seventies in these days? Just the youth of old age.”
“Are you kidding?” returned Hugh.
“I never was more in earnest.”
The boy grunted. “Why, the very name of Sinclair would give Sukey hydrophobia.”
“That is why you can’t use it,” returned his mentor promptly. “What was your mother’s maiden name?”
“Draper, and I suppose that would be anathema, too.”
“Perhaps. She has a wonderful memory.”
“My middle name is Stanwood.”
“That would do. Then the initial on your clothing would be all right.”
Hugh’s attention was caught. John Ogden noted that his guest was letting his cigarette go out.
He waited a moment to allow cerebration to go on.
The boy finally met his eyes again. “You seem to mean all this business,” he said.
“Money talks,” returned Ogden sententiously.
“You really want to put up money on this fool idea?”
“It will only be a fool idea if you’re a fool.”
“Well, probably I am.” The boy’s broad shoulders relapsed against the back of his chair.
His companion frowned and sat forward more tensely in his own.
“You are Miss Frink’s legitimate heir,” he said, in a low voice, “but, believe me, there is no hope of her dying intestate. Are you going to continue tamely taking one cheap job after another, being a disgrace to the finest sister a boy ever had, listening to the disgruntled talk of a lot of grouchy fellows until you become as spineless as they are”—
“Say, now,” Hugh sat up, crimsoning.
“Keep still. Are you going on living in a cloud of cheap tobacco smoke, in a hall bedroom on a back street, with no ambition for anything better—”
“Look here—”
“No one stands still,” declared John Ogden[23] curtly. “You’re going down if you’re not going up. You, with your splendid physique, allowing your backbone to slump like boiled macaroni. Aren’t you man enough to take a brace and go to Farrandale and shove that pussy-footing secretary of your aunt’s out of the place that should be yours?”
Hugh regarded the suddenly fiery speaker with open lips.
“He expects to be her heir; everybody knows he does. He has Miss Frink under his influence so that the whole household are afraid of him. There she lives in this great house, with her servants and this secretary—Grimshaw, his name is. He has wormed himself into her confidence until she scarcely makes a move without him, though she doesn’t realize it herself. Will you stay here and let him have it all his own way?”
The speaker scowled into the dark eyes with the deep, pensive corners that were giving him their full attention.
“As soon as you told me you were Miss Frink’s nephew, I saw what you could do; and for the very same reason that you felt you could succeed in the movies. Isn’t it Shakespeare who said: ‘She is a woman, and therefore to be won’? They’re not a bit different at[24] seventy from what they are at seventeen when they get hold of a man like you.”
Hugh still gaped, and was silent.
“Of course, there must be something inside your head as well as out. You’ll have to make self-denials and sacrifices; but who doesn’t who gets anywhere?”
“You want me to go to Farrandale under an assumed name,” said Hugh slowly. “I know what Carol would say. She would say I was living a lie.”
“Then I should remind your sweet sister that Stanwood is your own name, and that you are going on an honorable mission—a rescue party of one: rescuing yourself from hookworm, and your aunt from the influence of a smooth-tongued hypocrite.”
“Hookworm, is it?” said Hugh, frowning, those curving lips taking a set line.
“Describes it to a T,” returned Ogden promptly. “Now to-morrow morning, give up your job. I’ll stay over another day, and we’ll fit you out and plan details.”
Hugh put out his hand impulsively, and the older man grasped it.
“Mr. Ogden, why do you take all this trouble?”
John Ogden smiled. “I’m a sport,” he returned.[25] “I’m enough of a gambler for this.”
“I do thank you,” said the boy. “I’ve never made good in my life—”
His companion could see that the strong teeth set together to hold the lips firm.
“Let’s do this, then,” Ogden returned in a low voice. “Let’s do it—for Carol.”

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