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   Chapter 3 MR. TURNER APPLIES BUSINESS PROMPTNESS

The Early Bird: A Business Man's Love Story By George Randolph Chester Characters: 21500

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


TO A MATTER OF DELICACY

Morning at Meadow Brook was even more delightful than evening. The time Mr. Turner had chosen for his outing was early September, and already there was a crispness in the air which was quite invigorating. Clad in flannels and with a brand new tennis racket under his arm, he went into the reading-room immediately after breakfast, bought a paper of the night before and glanced hastily over the news of the day, paying more particular attention to the market page. Prices of things had a peculiar fascination for him. He noticed that cereals had gone down, that there was another flurry in copper stock, and that hardwood had gone up, and ranging down the list his eye caught a quotation for walnut. It had made a sharp advance of ten dollars a thousand feet.

Out of the window, as he looked up, he saw Miss Westlake and Miss Hastings crossing the lawn, and he suddenly realized that he was here to wear himself out with rest, so he hurried in the direction the girls had taken; but when he arrived at the tennis court he found a set already in progress. Both Miss Westlake and Miss Hastings barely nodded at Mr. Turner, and went right on displaying grace and dexterity to a quite unusual degree. Decidedly Mr. Turner was being "cut," and he wondered why. Presently he strode down to the road and looked up over the hill in the direction he knew Hollis Creek Inn to be. He was still pondering the probable distance when Mr. Westlake and Billy and young Princeman came up the brook path.

"Just the chap I wanted to see, Sam," said Mr. Westlake heartily. "I'm trying to get up a pin-hook fishing contest, for three-inch sunfish."

"Happy thought," returned Sam, laughing. "Count me in."

"It's the governor's own idea, too," said Billy with vast enthusiasm. "Bully sport, it ought to be. Only trouble is, Princeman has some mysterious errand or other, and can't join us."

"No; the fact is, the Stevenses were due at Hollis Creek yesterday," confessed Mr. Princeman in cold return to the prying Billy, "and I think I'll stroll over and see if they've arrived."

Sam Turner surveyed Princeman with a new interest. Danger lurked in Princeman's black eyes, fascination dwelt in his black hair, attractiveness was in every line of his athletic figure. It was upon the tip of Sam's tongue to say that he would join Princeman in his walk, but he repressed that instinct immediately.

"Quite a long ways over there by the road, isn't it?" he questioned.

"Yes," admitted Princeman unsuspectingly, "it winds a good bit; but there is a path across the hills which is not only shorter but far more pleasant."

Sam turned to Mr. Westlake.

"It would be a shame not to let Princeman in on that pin-hook match," he suggested. "Why not put it off until to-morrow morning. I have an idea that I can beat Princeman at the game."

There was more or less of sudden challenge in his tone, and Princeman, keen as Sam himself, took it in that way.

"Fine!" he invited. "Any time you want to enter into a contest with me you just mention it."

"I'll let you know in some way or other, even if I don't make any direct announcement," laughed Sam, and Princeman walked away with Mr. Westlake, very much to Billy's consternation. He was alone with this dull Turner person once more. What should they talk about? Sam solved that problem for him at once. "What's the swiftest conveyance these people keep?" he asked briskly.

"Oh, you can get most anything you like," said Billy. "Saddle-horses and carriages of all sorts; and last year they put in a couple of automobiles, though scarcely any one uses them." There was a certain amount of careless contempt in Billy's tone as he mentioned the hired autos. Evidently they were not considered to be as good form as other modes of conveyance.

"Where's the garage?" asked Sam.

"Right around back of the hotel. Just follow that drive."

"Thanks," said the other crisply. "I'll see you this evening," and he stalked away leaving Billy gasping for breath at the suddenness of Sam. After all, though, he was glad to be rid of Mr. Turner. He knew the Stevenses himself, and it had slowly dawned on him that by having his own horse saddled he could beat Princeman over there.

It took Sam just about one minute to negotiate for an automobile, a neat little affair, shiny and new, and before they were half-way to Hollis Creek, his innate democracy led him into conversation with the driver, an alert young man of the near-by clay.

"Not very good soil in this neighborhood," Sam observed. "I notice there is a heavy outcropping of stone. What are the principal crops?"

"Summer resorters," replied the driver briefly.

"And do you mean to tell me that all these farm-houses call themselves summer resorts?" inquired Sam.

"No, only those that have running water. The others just keep boarders."

"I see," said Sam, laughing.

A moment later they passed over a beautifully clear stream which ran down a narrow pocket valley between two high hills, swept under a rickety wooden culvert, and raced on across a marshy meadow, sparkling invitingly here and there in the sunlight.

"Here's running water without a summer resort," observed the passenger, still smiling.

"It's too much shut in," replied the chauffeur as one who had voiced a final and insurmountable objection. All the "summer resorts" in this neighborhood were of one pattern, and no one would so much as dream of varying from the first successful model.

Sam scarcely heard. He was looking back toward the trough of those two picturesquely wooded hills, and for the rest of the drive he asked but few questions.

At Hollis Creek, where he found a much more imposing hotel than the one at Meadow Brook, he discovered Miss Stevens, clad in simple white from canvas shoes to knotted cravat, in a summer-house on the lawn, chatting gaily with a young man who was almost fat. Sam had seen other girls since he had entered the grounds, but he could not make out their features; this one he had recognized from afar, and as they approached the summer-house he opened the door of the machine and jumped out before it had come properly to a stop.

"Good morning, Miss Stevens," he said with a cheerful self-confidence which was beautiful to behold. "I have come over to take you a little spin, if you'll go."

Miss Stevens gazed at the caller quizzically, and laughed outright.

"This is so sudden," she murmured.

The caller himself grinned.

"Does seem so, if you stop to think of it," he admitted. "Rather like dropping out of the clouds. But the auto is here, and I can testify that it's a smooth-running machine. Will you go?"

She turned that same quizzical smile upon the young man who was almost fat, and introduced him, curly hair and all, to Mr. Turner as Mr. Hollis, who, it afterward transpired, was the heir to Hollis Creek Inn.

"I had just promised to play tennis with Mr. Hollis," Miss Stevens stated after the introduction had been properly acknowledged, "but I know he won't mind putting it off this time," and she handed him her tennis bat.

"Certainly not," said young Hollis with forcedly smiling politeness.

"Thank you, Mr. Hollis," said Sam promptly. "Just jump right in, Miss Stevens."

"How long shall we be gone?" she asked as she settled herself in the tonneau.

"Oh, whatever you say. A couple of hours, I presume."

"All right, then," she said to young Hollis; "we'll have our game in the afternoon."

"With pleasure," replied the other graciously, but he did not look it.

"Where shall we go?" asked Sam as the driver looked back inquiringly. "You know the country about here, I suppose."

"I ought to," she laughed. "Father's been ending the summer here ever since I was a little girl. You might take us around Bald Hill," she suggested to the chauffeur. "It is a very pretty drive," she explained, turning to Sam as the machine wheeled, and at the same time waving her hand gaily to the disconsolate Hollis, who was "hard hit" with a different girl every season. "It's just about a two-hour trip. What a fine morning to be out!" and she settled back comfortably as the machine gathered speed. "I do love a machine, but father is rather backward about them. He will consent to ride in them under necessity, but he won't buy one. Every time he sees a handsome pair of horses, however, he has to have them."

"I admire a good horse myself," returned Sam.

"Do you ride?" she asked him.

"Oh, I have suffered a few times on horseback," he confessed; "but you ought to see my kid brother ride. He looks as if he were part of the horse. He's a handsome brat."

"Except for calling him names, which is a purely masculine way of showing affection, you speak of him almost as if you were his mother," she observed.

"Well, I am, almost," replied Sam, studying the matter gravely. "I have been his mother, and his father, and his brother, too, for a great many years; and I will say that he's a credit to his family."

"Meaning just you?" she ventured.

"Yes, we're all we have; just yet, at least." This quite soberly.

"He must talk of getting married," she guessed, with a quick intuition that when this happened it would be a blow to Sam.

"Oh, no," he immediately corrected her. "He isn't quite old enough to think of it seriously as yet. I expect to be married long before he is."

Miss Stevens felt a rigid aloofness creeping over her, and, having a very wholesome sense of humor, smiled as she recognized the feeling in herself.

"I should think you'd spend your vacation where the girl is," she observed. "Men usually do, don't they?"

He laughed gaily.

"I surely would if I knew the girl," he asserted.

"That's a refreshing suggestion," she said, echoing his laugh, though from a different impulse. "I presume, then, that you entertain thoughts of matrimony merely because you think you are quite old enough."

"No, it isn't just that," he returned, still thoughtfully. "Somehow or other I feel that way about it; that's all. I have never had time to think of it before, but this past year I have had a sort of sense of lonesomeness; and I guess that must be it."

In spite of herself Miss Josephine giggled and repressed it, and giggled again and repressed it, and giggled again, and then she let herself go and laughed as heartily as she pleased. She had heard men say before, but always with more or less of a languishing air, inevitably ridiculous in a man, that they thought it about time they were getting married; but she could not remember anything to compare with Sam Turner's na?veté in the statement.

He paid no attention to the laughter, for he had suddenly leaned forward to the chauffe

ur.

"There is another clump of walnut trees," he said, eagerly pointing them out. "Are there many of them in this locality?"

"A good many scattered here and there," replied the boy; "but old man Gifford has a twenty-acre grove down in the bottoms that's mostly all walnut trees, and I heard him say just the other day that walnut lumber's got so high he had a notion to clear his land."

"Where do you suppose we could find old man Gifford?" inquired Mr. Turner.

"Oh, about six miles off to the right, at the next turning."

"Suppose we whizz right down there," said Sam promptly, and he turned to Miss Stevens with enthusiasm shining in his eyes. "It does seem as if everything happens lucky for me," he observed. "I haven't any particular liking for the lumber business, but fate keeps handing lumber to me all the time; just fairly forcing it on me."

"Do you think fate is as much responsible for that as yourself?" she questioned, smiling as they passed at a good clip the turn which was to have taken them over the pretty Bald Hill drive. Sam had not even thought to apologize for the abrupt change in their program, because she could certainly see the opportunity which had offered itself, and how imperative it was to embrace it. The thing needed no explanation.

"I don't know," he replied to her query, after pausing to consider it a moment. "I certainly don't go out of my road to hunt up these things."

"No-o-o-o," she admitted. "But fate hasn't thrust this particular opportunity upon me, although I'm right with you at the time. It never would have occurred to me to ask about those walnut trees."

"It would have occurred to your father," he retorted quickly.

"Yes, it might have occurred to father, but I think that under the circumstances he would have waited until to-morrow to see about it."

"I suppose I might be that way when I arrive at his age," Sam commented philosophically, "but just now I can't afford it. His 'seeing about it to-morrow' cost him between five and six thousand dollars the last time I had anything to do with him."

She laughed. She was enjoying Sam's company very much. Even if a bit startling, he was at least refreshing after the type of young men she was in the habit of meeting.

"He was talking about that last night," she said. "I think father rather stands in both admiration and awe of you."

"I'm glad to hear that," he returned quite seriously. "It's a good attitude in which to have the man with whom you expect to do business."

"I think I shall have to tell him that," she observed, highly amused. "He will enjoy it, and it may put him on his guard."

"I don't mind," he concluded after due reflection. "It won't hurt a particle. If anything, if he likes me so far, that will only increase it. I like your father. In fact I like his whole family."

"Thank you," she said demurely, wondering if there was no end to his bluntness, and wondering, too, whether it were not about time that she should find it wearisome. On closer analysis, however, she decided that the time was not yet come. "But you have not met all of them," she reminded him. "There are mother and a younger sister and an older brother."

"Don't matter if there were six more, I like all of them," Sam promptly informed her. Then, "Stop a minute," he suddenly directed the chauffeur.

That functionary abruptly brought his machine to a halt just a little way past a tree glowing with bright green leaves and red berries.

"I don't know what sort of a tree that is," said Sam with boyish enthusiasm; "but see how pretty it is. Except for the shape of the leaves the effect is as beautiful as holly. Wouldn't you like a branch or two, Miss Stevens?"

"I certainly should," she heartily agreed. "I don't know how you discovered that I have a mad passion for decorative weeds and things."

"Have you?" he inquired eagerly. "So have I. If I had time I'd be rather ashamed of it."

He had scrambled out of the car and now ran back to the tree, where, perching himself upon the second top rail of the fence he drew down a limb, and with his knife began to snip off branches here and there. The girl noticed that he selected the branches with discrimination, turning each one over so that he could look at the broad side of it before clipping, rejecting many and studying each one after he had taken it in his hand. He was some time in finding the last one, a long straggling branch which had most of its leaves and berries at the tip, and she noticed that as he came back to the auto he was arranging them deftly and with a critical eye. When he handed them in to her they formed a carefully arranged and graceful composition. It was a new and an unexpected side of him, and it softened considerably the amused regard in which she had been holding him.

"They are beautifully arranged," she commented, as he stopped for a moment to brush the dust from his shoes in the tall grass by the roadside.

"Do you think so?" he delightedly inquired. "You ought to see my kid brother make up bouquets of goldenrod and such things. He seems to have a natural artistic gift."

She bent on his averted head a wondering glance, and she reflected that often this "hustler" must be misunderstood.

"You have aroused in me quite a curiosity to meet this paragon of a brother," she remarked. "He must be well-nigh perfection."

"He is," replied Sam instantly, turning to her very earnest eyes. "He hasn't a flaw in him any place."

She smiled musingly as she surveyed the group of branches she held in her hand.

"It is a pity these leaves will wither in so short a time," she said.

"Yes," he admitted; "but even if we have to throw them away before we get back to the hotel, their beauty will give us pleasure for an hour; and the tree won't miss them. See, it seems as perfect as ever."

"It wouldn't if everybody took the same liberties with it that you did," she remarked, glancing back at the tree.

Sam had climbed in the car and had slammed the door shut, but any reply he might have made was prevented by a hail from the woods above them at the other side of the road, and a man came scrambling down from the hillside path.

"Why, it's Mr. Princeman!" exclaimed the girl in pleased surprise. "Think of finding you wandering about, all alone in the woods here."

"I wasn't wandering about," he protested as he came up to the machine and shook hands with Miss Josephine. "I was headed directly for Hollis Creek Inn. Your brother wrote me that you were expected to arrive there yesterday evening, and I was dropping over to call on you right away this morning. I see, however, that I was not quite prompt enough. You're selfish, Mr. Turner. You knew I was going over to Hollis Creek, and you might have invited me to ride in your machine."

"You might have invited me to walk with you," retorted Sam.

"But you knew that I was coming and I didn't know that you even knew-" he paused abruptly and fixed a contemplative eye upon young Mr. Turner, who was now surveying the scenery and Mr. Princeman in calm enjoyment.

The arrival at this moment of a cloud of dust out of which evolved a lone horseman, and that horseman Billy Westlake, added a new angle to the situation, and for one fleeting moment the three men eyed one another in mutual sheepish guilt.

"Rather good sport, I call it, Miss Stevens," declared Billy, aware of a sudden increase in his estimation of Mr. Turner, and letting the cat completely out of the bag. "Each of us was trying to steal a march on the rest, but Mr. Turner used the most businesslike method, and of course he won the race."

"I'm flattered, I'm sure," said Miss Josephine demurely. "I really feel that I ought to go right back to the house and be the belle of the ball; but it's impossible for an hour or so in this case," and she turned to her escort with the smile of mischief which she had worn the first time he saw her. "You see, we are out on a little business trip, Mr. Turner and myself. We're going to buy a walnut grove."

Mr. Turner turned upon her a glance which was half a frown.

"I promised to get you back in two hours, and I'll do it," he stated, "but we mustn't linger much by the wayside."

"With which hint we shall wend our Hollis Creek-ward way," laughed Princeman, exchanging a glance of amusement with Miss Stevens. "I think we shall visit with your father until you come back."

"Please do," she urged. "He will be as glad to see you both as I am," with which information she settled herself back in her seat with a little air of the interview being over, and the chauffeur, with proper intuition, started the machine, while Mr. Princeman and Billy looked after them glumly.

"Queer chap, isn't he?" commented Billy.

"Queer? Well, hardly that," returned Princeman thoughtfully. "There's one thing certain; he's enterprising and vigorous enough to command respect, in business or-anything else."

At about that very moment Mr. Turner was impressing upon his companion a very important bit of ethics.

"You shouldn't have violated my confidence," he told her severely.

"How was that?" she asked in surprise, and with a trifle of indignation as well.

"You told them that we were going to buy a walnut grove. You ought never to let slip anything you happen to know of any man's business plans."

"Oh!" she said blankly.

Having voiced his straightforward objection, and delivered his simple but direct lesson, Mr. Turner turned as decisively to other matters.

"Son," he asked, leaning over toward the chauffeur, "are there any speed limit laws on these roads?"

"None that I know of," replied the boy.

"Then cut her loose. Do you object to fast driving, Miss Stevens?"

"Not at all," she told him, either much chastened by the late rebuke or much amused by it. She could scarcely tell which, as yet. "I don't particularly long for a broken neck, but I never can feel that my time has come."

"It hasn't," returned Sam. "Let's see your palm," and taking her hand he held it up before him. It was a small hand that he saw, and most gracefully formed, but a strong one, too, and Sam Turner had an extremely quick and critical eye for both strength and beauty. "You are going to live to be a gray-haired grandmother," he announced after an inspection of her pink palm, "and live happily all your life."

It was noteworthy that no matter what his impulse may have been he did not hold her hand overly long, nor subject it to undue warmth of pressure, but restored it gently to her lap. She was remarking upon this herself as she took that same hand and passed its tapering fingers deftly among the twigs of the tree-bouquet, arranging a leaf here and a berry there.

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