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The Early Bird: A Business Man's Love Story By George Randolph Chester Characters: 11048

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Old man Gifford was not at home in his squat, low-roofed farm-house, but a woman shaped like a pyramid of diminishing pumpkins directed them down through the grove to the corn patch. It was necessary to lift strenuously upon the sagging end of a squeaky old gate, and scrape it across gulleys, to get the automobile into the narrow, deeply-rutted road, and with a mind fearful of tires the chauffeur wheeled down through the grove quite slowly, a slowness for which Sam was duly grateful, since it allowed him to take a careful appraisement of the walnut trees, interspersed with occasional oaks, which bordered both sides of their path. They were tall, thick, straight-trunked trees, from amongst which the underbrush had been carefully cut away. It was a joy to his now vandal soul, this grove, and already he could see those majestic trunks, after having been sawed with as little wasteful chopping as possible, toppling in endless billowy furrows.

Old man Gifford came inquiringly up between the long rows of corn to the far edge of the grove. He was bent and weazened, and more gnarled than any of his trees, and even his fingers seemed to have the knotty, angular effect of twigs. A fringe of gray beard surrounded his clean-shaven face, which was criss-crossed with innumerable little furrows that the wind and rain had worn in it; but a pair of shrewd old eyes twinkled from under his bushy eyebrows.

"Morning, 'Ennery," he said, addressing the chauffeur with a squeaky little voice in which, though after forty years of residence in America, there was still a strong trace of British accent; and then his calculating gaze rested calmly in turns upon the other occupants of the machine.

"Good morning, Mr. Gifford," returned the chauffeur. "Fine day, isn't it?"

"Good corn-ripenin' weather," agreed the old man, squinting at the sky from force of habit, and then, being satisfied that there was no threatening cloud in all the visible blue expanse, he returned to a calm consideration of the strangers, waiting patiently for Mr. Turner to introduce himself.

"I understand, Mr. Gifford, that you are open to an offer for your walnut trees," began Mr. Turner, looking at his watch.

"Well, I might be," admitted the old man cautiously.

"I see," returned Sam; "that is, you might be interested if the price were right. Let's get right down to brass tacks. How much do you want?"

"Standin' or cut?"

"Well, say standing?"

"How much do you offer?"

Miss Stevens' gaze roved from the one to the other and found enjoyment in the fact that here Greek had met Greek.

Sam's reply was prompt and to the point. He named a price.

"No," said the old man instantly. "I been a-holdin' out for five dollars a thousand more than that."

Things were progressing. A basis for haggling had been established. Sam Turner, however, had the advantage. He knew the sharp advance in walnut announced that morning. Old man Gifford would not be aware of it until the rural free delivery brought his evening paper, of the night before, some time that afternoon. In view of the recent advance, even at Mr. Gifford's price there was a handsome profit in the transaction.

"The reason you've had to hold out for your rate until right now was that nobody would pay it," said Sam confidently. "Now I'm here to talk spot cash. I'll give you, say, a thousand dollars down, and the balance immediately upon measurement as the logs are loaded upon the cars."

The old man nodded in approval.

"The terms is all right," he said.

"How much will you take F. O. B. Restview?"

"Well, cuttin' and trimmin' and haulin' ain't much in my line," returned the old man, again cautious; "but after all, I reckon that there'd be less damage to my property if I looked after it myself. Of course, I'd have to have a profit for handlin' it. I'd feel like holdin' out for-for-" and after some hesitation he again named a figure.

"You've made that same proposition to others," charged Sam shrewdly, "and you couldn't get the price." Upon the heels of this he made his own offer.

The old man shook his head and turned as if to start back to the corn field.

"No, I can get better than that," he declared, shaking his head.

"Come back here and let's talk turkey," protested Sam compellingly. "You name the very lowest price you'll take, delivered on board the cars at Restview."

The old man reached down, pulled up a blade of grass, chewed it carefully, spit it out, and named his very, very lowest price; then he added: "What's the most you'll give?"

Miss Stevens leaned forward intently.

Sam very promptly named a figure five dollars lower.

"I'll split the difference with you," offered the old man.

"It's a bargain!" said Sam, and reaching into the inside pocket of his tennis coat, he brought out some queer furniture for that sort of garment-a small fountain pen and an extremely small card-case, from the latter of which he drew four folded blank checks.

He reached over and borrowed the chauffeur's enameled cap, dusted it carefully with his handkerchief, laid a check upon it and held his fountain pen poised. "What are your initials, please, Mr. Gifford?"

"Wait a minute," said the old man hastily. "Don't make out that check just yet. I don't do any business or sign any contracts till I talk with Hepseba."

"All right. Climb right in with Henry there," directed Sam, seizing upon the chauffeur's name. "We'll drive straight up to see her."


walk," firmly declared Mr. Gifford. "I never have rode in one of them things, and I'm too old to begin."

"Very well," said Sam cheerfully, jumping out of the machine with great promptness. "I'll walk with you. Back to the house, Henry," and he started anxiously to trudge up the road with Mr. Gifford, leaving Henry to manoeuver painfully in the narrow space. After a few steps, however, a sudden thought made him turn back. "Maybe you'd rather walk up, too," he suggested to Miss Stevens.

"No, I think I'll ride," she said coldly.

He opened the door in extreme haste.

"Do come on and walk," he pleaded. "Don't hold it against me because I just don't seem to be able to think of more than one thing at a time; but I was so wrapped up in this deal that- Really," and he sank his voice confidentially, "I have a tremendous bargain here, and I'll be nervous about it until I have it clenched. I'll tell you why as we go home."

He held out his hand as a matter of course to help her down. The white of his eyes was remarkably clear, the irises were remarkably blue, the pupils remarkably deep. Suddenly her face cleared and she laughed.

"It was silly of me to be snippy, wasn't it?" she confessed, as she took his hand and stepped lightly to the ground. It had just recurred to her that when he knew Princeman was walking over to see her he had said nothing, but had engaged an automobile.

Old man Gifford had nothing much to say when they caught up with him. Mr. Turner tried him with remarks about the weather, and received full information, but when he attempted to discuss the details of the walnut purchase, he received but mere grunts in reply, except finally this:

"There's no use, young man. I won't talk about them trees till I get Hepseba's opinion."

At the house Hepseba waddled out on the little stoop in response to old man Gifford's call, and stood regarding the strangers stonily through her narrow little slits of eyes.

"This gentleman, Hepseba," said old man Gifford, "wants to buy my walnut trees. What do you think of him?"

In response to that leading question, Hepseba studied Sam Turner from head to foot with the sort of scrutiny under which one slightly reddens.

[Illustration: Hepseba studied him from head to foot]

"I like him," finally announced Hepseba, in a surprisingly liquid and feminine voice. "I like both of them," an unexpected turn which brought a flush to the face of Miss Stevens.

"All right, young man," said old man Gifford briskly. "Now, then, you come in the front room and write your contract, and I'll take your check."

All alacrity and open cordiality now, he led the way into the queer-old front room, musty with the solemnity of many dim Sundays.

"Just set down here in this easy chair, Mrs.- What did you say your name is?" Mr. Gifford inquired, turning to Sam.

"Turner; Sam J. Turner," returned that gentleman, grinning. "But this is Miss Stevens."

"No offense meant or taken, I hope," hastily said the old man by way of apology; "but I do say that Mr. Turner would be lucky if he had such a pretty wife."

"You have both good taste and good judgment, Mr. Gifford," commented Sam as airily as he could; then he looked across at Miss Stevens and laughed aloud, so openly and so ingenuously that, so far from the laughter giving offense, it seemed, strangely enough, to put Miss Josephine at her ease, though she still blushed furiously. There was nothing in that laugh nor in his look but frank, boyish enjoyment of the joke.

There ensued a crisp and decisive conversation between Mr. Gifford and Mr. Turner about the details of their contract, and 'Ennery was presently called in to append to it his painfully precise signature in vertical writing, Miss Stevens adding hers in a pretty round hand. Then Hepseba, to bind the bargain, brought in hot apple pie fresh from the oven, and they became quite a little family party indeed, and very friendly, 'Ennery sitting in the parlor with them and eating his pie with a fork.

"I know what Hepseba thinks," said old man Gifford, as he held the door of the car open for them. "She thinks you're a mighty keen young man that has to be watched in the beginning of a bargain, because you'll give as little as you can; but that after the bargain's made you don't need any more watching. But Lord love you, I have to be watched in a bargain myself. I take everything I can."

As he finished saying this he was closing the door of the car, but Hepseba called to them to wait, and came puffing out of the house with a little bundle wrapped in a newspaper.

"I brought this out for your wife," she said to Mr. Turner, and handed it to Miss Josephine. "It's some geranium slips. Everybody says I got the very finest geraniums in the bottoms here."

"Goodness, Hepseba," exclaimed old man Gifford, highly delighted; "that ain't his wife. That's Miss Stevens. I made the same mistake," and he hawhawed in keen enjoyment.

Hepseba was so evidently overcome with mortification, however, and her huge round face turned so painfully red, that Miss Stevens lost entirely any embarrassment she might otherwise have felt.

"It doesn't matter at all, I assure you, Mrs. Gifford," she said with charming eagerness to set Hepseba at ease. "I am very fond of geraniums, and I shall plant these slips and take good care of them. I thank you very, very much for them."

As the machine rolled away Hepseba turned to old man Gifford:

"I like both of them!" she stated most decisively.

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