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The Early Bird: A Business Man's Love Story By George Randolph Chester Characters: 18157

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

They followed the stream down to the road, at every step gaging with the eye the height of the lake and judging the altered scenic view from the level of the water. There would be room for dozens and dozens of boats upon that surface without interference. Sam calculated that from the upper spring there would be headway enough to run a small fountain in the center, surrounded by a pond-lily bed which would be kept in place by a stone curbing. In the hill to the right there was a deep indenture. Back in there would go the bathing pavilions. They even went up to look at it, and were delighted to find a natural, shallow bowl. By cementing the floor of that bowl they could have a splendid swimming-pool for timid bathers, where they could not go beyond their depth; and it was entirely surrounded by a thick screen of shrubbery. Oh, it was delightful; it was perfect! At the road they looked back up over the valley again. It was no longer a valley. It was a lake. They could see the water there. Sam drew from his pocket a pencil and an envelope.

"The hotel will have to be long and tall," he observed, "for there will not be much room on that ledge, from front to back. The building will stretch out quite a ways. Three or four hundred feet long it will be, and about five stories in height," and taking a letter from the envelope, he sat down upon a fallen log and began rapidly to sketch.

He drew the hotel with wide-spreading Spanish roofs and balconies, and a wide porch with rippling water in front of it, and rowboats and people in them; and behind the hotel rose the broken sky-line of the hills and the trees, with an indication of fleecy clouds above. It was just a light sketch, a sort of shorthand picture, as it were, and yet it seemed full of sunlight and of atmosphere.

"I hadn't any idea you could draw like that," she exclaimed in admiration.

"I do a little of everything, I think, but nothing perfectly," he admitted with some regret.

"It seems to me you do everything excellently," she objected quite seriously; and she was, in fact, deeply impressed.

He walked over to the stream, a trifle confused, but not displeased, by any means, by the earnestness of her compliment.

"I must have the water analyzed to see if it has any medicinal virtue," he said. "The spring out of which we drank has a sweetish-like taste, but the water here-" and he caught up some of it in his hand and tasted it, "seems to be slightly salt."

He had left her sitting on the log with the sketch in her lap. Now the sketch fluttered to the ground and the letter turned over, right side up. It was a letter which Sam had written to his brother Jack and had not mailed because he had suddenly decided to come down to the scene of action. As she stooped over to pick it up her eyes caught the sentence: "I love her, Jack, more than I can tell you, more than I can tell anybody, more than I can tell myself. It's the most important, the most stupendous thing-" She hastily turned that letter over and was very careful to have it lying upon her lap, back upward, exactly as he had left it there, and when he came back she was very, very careful indeed to hand it nonchalantly over to him, with the sketch uppermost.

"Of course," he said, looking around him comprehensively, "this is only a day-dream, so far. It may be impossible to realize it."

"Why?" she asked, instantly concerned. "This project must be carried through! It is already as good as completed. It just must be done. I never before had a hand, even in a remote way, in planning a big thing, and I couldn't bear not to see this done. What is to prevent it?"

"I may not be able to get the land," returned Sam soberly. "It is probably owned by half a dozen people, and one or more of them is certain to want exorbitant prices for it."

"It certainly can't be very valuable," she protested. "It isn't fit for anything, is it?"

"For nothing but the building of Lake Jo," he agreed. "Right now it is worthless, but the minute anybody found out I wanted it it would become extremely valuable. The only way to do would be to see everybody at once and close the options before they could get to talking it over among themselves."

"What time is it?" she demanded.

He looked at his watch.

"Ten-thirty," he said.

"Then let's go and see all these people right away," she urged, jumping to her feet.

He smiled at her enthusiasm, but he was none loath to accept her suggestion.

"All right," he agreed. "I wish they had telephones here in the woods. We'll simply have to walk over to Meadow Brook and get an auto."

"Come on," she said energetically, and they started out on the road. They had not gone far, however, when young Tilloughby, with Miss Westlake, overtook them in a trap. He reined up, and Miss Westlake greeted the pedestrians with frigid courtesy. Jack Turner had accidentally dropped her a hint. Now that she had begun to appreciate Mr. Tilloughby-Bob-at his true value, she wondered what she had ever seen in Sam Turner-and she never had liked Josephine Stevens!

"Gug-gug-gug-glorious day, isn't it?" observed Tilloughby, his face glowing with joy.

"Fine," agreed Sam with enthusiasm. "There never was a more glorious day in all the world. You've just come along in time to save our lives, Tilloughby. Which way are you bound?"

"Wuw-wuw-wuw-we had intended to go around Bald Hill."

"Well, postpone that for a few minutes, won't you, Tilloughby, like a good fellow? Trot back to Meadow Brook and send an auto out here for us. Get Henry, by all means, to drive it."

"Wuw-wuw-wuw-with pleasure," replied Tilloughby, wondering at this strange whim, but restraining his curiosity like a thoroughbred. "Huh-huh-huh-Henry shall be back here for you in a jiffy," and he drove off in a cloud of dust.

Miss Stevens surveyed the retiring trap in satisfaction.

"Good," she exclaimed. "I already feel as though we were doing something to save Lake Jo."

They walked back quite contentedly to the valley and surveyed it anew, there resting now on both of them a sense of almost prideful possession. They discovered a high point on which a rustic observatory could be built; they planned paths and trails; they found where the water-line came just under an overhanging rock which would make a cave large enough for three or four boats to scurry under out of the rain. They found delightful surprises all along the bank of the future lake, and Miss Stevens declared that when the dam was built and the lake began to fill, she never intended to leave it except for meals, until it was up to the level at which they would permit the overflow to be opened.

Henry, returning with the automobile, found them far up in the valley discussing a floating band pavilion, but they came down quickly enough when they saw him, and scrambled into the tonneau with the haste of small children. Henry watched them take their places with smiling affection. He had not only had good tips but pleasant words from Sam, and Miss Stevens was her own incentive to good wishes and good will.

"Henry," said Sam, "we want to drive around to see the people who own this land."

"Oh, shucks," said Henry, disappointed. "I can't drive you there. The man that owns all this land lives in New York."

"In New York!" repeated Sam in dismay. "What would anybody in New York want with this?"

"The fellow that bought it got it about ten years ago," Henry informed them. "He was going to build a big country house, back up there in the hills, I understand, and raise deer to shoot at, and things like that; got an architect to make him plans for house and stables and all costing hundreds of thousands of dollars; but before he could break ground on it him and his wife had a spat and got a divorce. He tried to sell the land back again to the people he bought it from, but they wouldn't take it at any price. They were glad to be shut of it and none of his rich friends wanted to buy it after that, because, they said, there were so many of those cheap summer resorts around here."

"I see," said Sam musingly. "You don't happen to know the man's name, do you?"

"Dickson, I think it was. Henry Dickson. I remember his first name because it was the same as mine."

"Great!" exclaimed Sam, overjoyed. "Why, I know Henry Dickson like a book. I've engineered several deals for him. He's a mighty good friend of mine too. That simplifies matters. Drive us right over to Hollis Creek."

"To Hollis Creek!" she objected. "I should think you'd drive to Meadow Brook instead and dress for the trip. Aren't you going to catch that afternoon train and go right up there?"

"By no means. This is Saturday, and by the time I'd get to New York he couldn't be found anywhere; and anyhow, I wouldn't have time to deliver you at Hollis Creek and make this next train."

"Don't mind about me," she urged. "I could go to the train with you and Henry could take me back to Hollis Creek."

"That's fine of you," returned Sam gratefully; "but it isn't the program at all. I happen t

o know that Dickson stays in his office until one o'clock on Saturdays. I'll get him by long distance."

They were quite silent in calculation on the way to Hollis Creek, and Miss Josephine found herself pushing forward to help make the machine go faster. Breathlessly she followed Sam into the house, and he obligingly left the door of the telephone booth ajar, so that she could hear his conversation with Dickson.

"Hello, Dickson," said Sam, when he got his connection. "This is Sam Turner.… Oh yes, fine. Never better in my life.… Up here in Hamster County, taking a little vacation. Say, Dickson, I understand you own a thousand acres down here. Do you want to sell it?… How much?" As he received the answer to that question he turned to Miss Josephine and winked, while an expression of profound joy, albeit materialized into a grin, overspread his features. "I won't dicker with you on that price," he said into the telephone. "But will you take my note for it at six per cent.?"

He laughed aloud at the next reply.

"No, I don't want it to run that long. The interest in a hundred years would amount to too much; but I'll make it five years.… All right, Dickson, instruct your lawyer chap to make out the papers and I'll be up Monday to close with you."

He hung up the receiver and turned to meet her glistening eyes fixed upon him in ecstasy. "It's better than all right," he assured her. He was more enthusiastic about this than he had ever been about any business deal in his life, that is, more openly enthusiastic, for Miss Josephine's enthusiasm was contagion itself. He took her arm with a swing, and they hurried into the writing-room, which was deserted for the time being on account of the mail having just come in. Sam placed a chair for her and they sat down at the table.

"I want to figure a minute," said he. "Now that I have actual possession of the property, in place of a mere option, I can go at the thing differently. First of all, when I go up Monday I'll see my engineer, and on Tuesday morning I'll bring him down here with me. Then I shall secure permission from the county to alter that road and we'll build the dam. That will cost very little in comparison to the whole improvement. Then, and not till then, I'll get out my stock prospectus, and I'll drive prospective investors down here to look at Lake Jo. I'll be almost in position to dictate terms."

"Isn't that fine!" she exclaimed. "And then I suppose you can secure-control," she ventured anxiously.

"Yes, I think I can if I want it," he assured her.

"I'm so glad," she said gravely. "I'm so very glad."

"Really, though, I have a big notion to see if I can't finance the entire project myself. I'm quite sure I can get Dickson to give me a clear deed to that land merely on my unsupported note. If I can do that I can erect all the buildings on progressive mortgages. Roadways and engineering work of course I'll have to pay for, and then I can finance a subsidiary operating company to rent the plant from the original company, and can retain stock in both of them. I'll figure that out both ways."

It was all Greek to her, this talk, but she knitted her brows in an earnest effort to understand, and crowded close to him to look over the figures he was putting down. The touch of her arm against his own threw out his calculations entirely. He could not add a row of figures to save his life.

"I'll go over the financial end of this later on," he said, but he did not put away the paper. He kept it there for them both to look at, touching arms.

"All right," she agreed, "but you must let me see you do it. Of course I can't understand, but I do want to feel as if I were helping when it is done."

"I won't take a step in it without consulting you or having you along," he promised.

At that moment the bugle sounded the first call for luncheon.

"You'll stay for luncheon," she invited.

"Certainly," he assured her. "You couldn't drive me away."

"Very well, right after luncheon let's go out and look at the place again. It will look different now that it is-" She caught herself. She had almost said "now that it is ours." "Now that it is secured," she finished.

After luncheon they drove back to the site of Lake Jo, and spent a delirious while planning the things which were to be done to make that spot an earthly Paradise. Never was a couple so prolific of ideas as they were that afternoon. With 'Ennery waiting down in the road they tramped all over the hills again, standing first on one spot and then another to survey the alluring prospect, and to plan wonderful new and attractive features of which no previous summer resort builder had ever even dared to dream.

During the afternoon not one word passed between them which might be construed to be of an intimately personal nature, but as they drove to Hollis Creek, tired but happy, Sam somehow or other felt that he had made quite a bit of progress, and was correspondingly elated. Leaving Miss Stevens on the porch he hurried home to dress for dinner, for it was growing late, but immediately after dinner he drove over again. When he arrived Miss Josephine was in the seldom used parlor with her father.

"I haven't seen you since breakfast," Mr. Stevens had said, pinching her cheek, "Hollis and Billy Westlake have been looking for you everywhere."

"Oh, they," she returned with kindly contempt. "I'm glad I didn't see them. They're nice boys enough, but father, I don't believe that either one of them will ever become clever business men!"

"No?" he replied, highly amused. "Well, I don't think they will either. Business is a shade too big a game for them. But where have you been?"

"Out on business with S-s-s-with Mr. Turner," she replied demurely. "I came in late for lunch, and you had already finished and gone. Then we went right back out again. Father, we have found the dearest, the most delightful, the most charming business opportunity you ever saw. You must go out with us to-morrow and look at it. Sam's going to build a lake and call it Lake Jo. You know where that little stream is between here and Meadow Brook? Well, that's the place. We found out this morning what a delightful spot it would make for a lake and a big summer resort hotel, and at noon Sam bought the property, and we have been planning it all afternoon. He's bought it outright and he's going to capitalize it for a quarter of a million dollars. How much stock are you going to take in it?"

"How much what?"

"How many shares of stock are you going to take in it? You must speak up quickly, because it's going to be a favor to you for us to let you in."

"Well, I don't know," said Mr. Stevens, resisting a sudden desire to guffaw. "I'd have to look it over first before I decide to invest. Sounds like a sort of wild-eyed scheme to me. Besides that, I already have a good big block of stock in one of Sam Turner's enterprises."

"Oh, yes," she said, puckering her brows. "Are you going to vote your pulp stock with his?"

Mr. Stevens' eyes twinkled, but his tone was conservative gravity itself.

"Well, since it's a purely business deal it would not be a very wise thing to do; and though Sam Turner is a mighty fine boy, I don't think I shall."

"But you will!" she vigorously protested. "Why, father, you wouldn't for a minute vote against your own son-in-law!"

"No, I wouldn't!" declared Mr. Stevens emphatically, and suddenly drew her to him and kissed her; and she clung about his neck half laughing and half crying.

Do you suppose there is anything in telepathy? It would seem so, for it was at this moment that Sam stepped up on the porch. They in the parlor heard his voice, and Mr. Stevens immediately slipped out the back way in order not to be de trop a second time. Now Sam could not possibly have known what had been said in the parlor, and yet when he found his way in there, he and Miss Josephine, without any palaver about it, without exchanging a solitary word, or scarcely even a look, just naturally fell into each other's arms. Neither one of them made the first move. It just somehow happened, and they stood there and held and held and held that embrace; and whatever foolishness they said and did in the next hour is none of your business nor of mine; but later in the evening, when they were sitting quietly in the darkest corner of the porch, and Sam had his hand on the arm of her chair with her elbows resting upon his fingers-it didn't matter, you know, where he touched her, just so he did-she turned to him with thoughtful earnestness in her voice.

"Sam," she said, and this time she used his first name quite consciously and was glad it was dark so that he could not see her trace of shyness, "I wish you would explain to me just what you mean by control in a stock company."

Sam Turner moved his fingers from under her elbow and caught her hand, which he firmly clasped before he began.

"Well, Jo, it's just this way," he said, and then, quite comfortably, he explained to her all about it.


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