Torchy, Private Sec.
by Sewell Ford
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I. The Up Call for Torchy 1 II. Torchy Makes the Sir Class 19 III. Torchy Takes a Chance 37 IV. Breaking It to the Boss 56 V. Showing Gilkey the Way 75 VI. When Skeet Had His Day 95 VII. Getting a Jolt from Westy 113 VIII. Some Guesses on Ruby 129 IX. Torchy Gets an Inside Tip 148 X. Then Along Came Sukey 170 XI. Teamwork with Aunty 188 XII. Zenobia Digs Up a Late One 206 XIII. Sifting Out Uncle Bill 223 XIV. How Aunty Got the News 243 XV. Mr. Robert and a Certain Party 259 XVI. Torchy Tackles a Short Circuit 275 XVII. Mr. Robert Gets a Slant 290 XVIII. When Ella May Came By 306 XIX. Some Hoop-la for the Boss 323





Well, it's come! Uh-huh! And sudden, too, like I knew it would, if it came at all. No climbin' the ladder for me, not while they run express elevators. And, believe me, when the gate opened, I was right there with my foot out.

It was like this: One mornin' I'm in my old place behind the brass rail, at the jump-end of the buzzer. I'm everybody's slave in general, and Piddie's football in particular. You know—head office boy of the Corrugated Trust.

That's description enough, ain't it? And I'd been there so long—— Honest, when I first went on the job I used to sneak the city directory under the chair so my toes could touch. Now my knees rub the under-side of the desk. Familiar with the place? Say, there are just seventeen floor cracks between me and the opposite wall; it's fifty-eight steps through into Old Hickory's roll-top and back; and the ink I've poured into all them desk-wells would be enough to float a ferry-boat.

At 8.30 on this special mornin' there I am, as I said; and at 2.21 P.M. the same day I'm—— Well, of course, there was a few preliminaries, though I didn't tag 'em as such when they come along. I expect the new spring costume helped some. And the shave—oh, I was goin' it strong! No cut-price, closing-out, House-of-Smartheimer bargain, altered free to fit—not so, Lobelia! Why, I pawed over whole bales of stuff in a sure-enough Fifth-ave. tailor works; had blueprint plans of the front and side elevations drawn, even to the number of buttons on the cuffs, and spent three diff'rent noon hours havin' it modeled on me before they could pull a single bastin' thread.

But it's some stream line effect at the finish, take it from me! Nothing sporty or cake-walky, you understand: just quiet and dignified and rich-like, same as any second vice or gen'ral manager would wear. Two-button sack with wide English roll and no turn-up to the trousers—oh, I should ripple!

The shave was an afterthought. I'd worked up to it by havin' some of my lurid locks trimmed, and as Giuseppe quits shearin' and asks if there'll be anything else I rubs my hand casual across my jaw and remarks:

"Could you find anything there to mow with a razor?"

Could he? He'd go through the motions on a glass doorknob!

Then it's me tilted back with my heels up and the suds artist decoratin' my map until it looks like a Polish weddin' cake. Don't it hit you foolish the first time, though? I felt like everybody in the shop, includin' the brush boy and the battery of lady manicures, was all gathered around pipin' me off as a raw beginner. So I stares haughty at the ceilin' and tries to put on a bored look.

I'd been scraped twice over, and was just bein' unwrapped from the hot towel, when I turns to see who it is has camped down in the next chair, and finds Mr. Robert gazin' at me curious.

"Why!" says he, chucklin'. "If it isn't Torchy! Indulging in a shave, eh?"

"Oh, no, Sir," says I. "Been havin' my eye teeth tested for color blindness, that's all."

Mr. Robert grins amiable and reaches out for the check. "This is on me then," says he. "I claim the privilege."

As he comes in after luncheon he has to stop and grin again; and later on, when I answers the buzzer, he makes me turn clear around so he can inspect the effect and size up the new suit.

"Excellent, Torchy!" says he. "Whoever your tailor may be, you do him credit."

"This trip I paid cash, though," says I. "It's all right, is it?"

"In every particular," says he. "Why, you look almost grown up. May I ask the occasion? Can it be that Miss Verona is on the point of returning from somewhere or other?"

"Uh-huh," says I. "Bermuda. Got in yesterday."

"And Aunty, I trust," goes on Mr. Robert, "is as well as usual?"

"I'm hoping for the worst," says I; "but I expect she is."

We swaps merry expressions again, and Mr. Robert pats me chummy on the shoulder. "You're quite all right, Torchy," says he, "and I wish you luck." Then the twinkle fades out of his eyes and he turns serious. "I wish," he goes on, "that I could do more than just—well, some time, perhaps." And with another friendly pat he swings around to his desk, where the letters are stacked a foot high.

Say, he's the real thing, Mr. Robert is, no matter if he does take it out in wishin'! It ain't every boss would do that much, specially with the load he's carryin'. For you know since Old Hickory's been down South takin' seven kinds of baths, and prob'ly cussin' out them resort doctors as they was never cussed before, Mr. Robert Ellins has been doin' a heap more than give an imitation of bein' a busy man. But he's there with the wallop, and I guess it's goin' to take more'n a commerce court to put the Corrugated out of business.

Too bad, though, that Congress can't spare the time from botherin' about interlockin' directors to suppress a few padlockin' aunties. Say, the way that old girl does keep the bars up against an inoffensive party like me is something fierce! I tries to call Vee on the 'phone as soon as I've discovered where she is, and all the satisfaction I get is a message delivered by a French maid that "Miss Hemmingway is otherwise engaged." Wouldn't that crust you?

But I've been up against this embargo game before, you know; so the first chance I gets I slips uptown to do a little scoutin' at close range. It's an apartment hotel this time, and I hangs around the entrance, inspectin' the bay trees out front for half an hour, before I can work up the nerve to make the Brodie break. Fin'lly I marches in bold and calls for Aunty herself.

"Is she in, Cephas?" says I to the brunette Jamaican in the olive-green liv'ry who juggles the elevator.

"I don't rightly know, Suh," says he; "but you can send up a call, Suh, from the desk there, and——"

"Ah, let's not disturb the operator," says I. "Give a guess."

"I'm thinking she'll be taking her drive, Suh," says Cephas, blinkin' stupid.

"Then I'll have to go up and wait," says I. "She'd be mighty sore on us both if she missed me. Up, Cephas!"

"Yes, Suh," says he, pullin' the lever.

I should have known, though, from one look at that to-let expression of his, that his ideas on any subject would be vague. And this was a bum hunch on Aunty. Out? Why, she was propped up in an easy-chair with a sprained ankle, and had been for three days! And you should have seen the tight-lipped, welcome-to-our-grand-jury-room smile that she greets me with.

"Humph!" she says. "You! Well, young man, what is your excuse this time?"

I grins sheepish and shuffles my feet. "Same old excuse," says I.

"Do you mean to tell me," she gasps, "that you have the impudence to try to see my niece, after all I have——"

"Uh-huh," I breaks in. "Don't you ever take a sportin' chance yourself?"

She gurgles somethin' throaty, goes purple in the gills, and prepares to smear me on the spot; but I gives her the straight look between the eyes and hurries on.

"Oh, I know where you stand, all right," says I; "but ain't you drawin' it a little strong? Say, where's the harm in me takin' Verona out for a half-hour walk along the Drive? We ain't had a chat for over two months, you know, not a word, and I'd kind of like to——"

"No doubt," says Aunty. "Are you quite certain, however, that Verona would like it too?"

"I'm always guessin' where Vee is concerned," I admits; "but by the latest dope I had on the subject, I expect she wouldn't object strenuous."

Aunty sniffs. "It is quite possible," says she. "Verona is a whimsical, wilful girl at times, just as her poor mother was. Keeping up this pretense of friendship for you is one of her silly notions."

"Thanks awfully, Ma'am," says I.

"Let me see," goes on Aunty, squintin' foxy at me, "you are employed in Mr. Ellins's office, I believe?"

I nods.

"As office boy, still?" says she.

"No, as a live one," says I. "Anybody that stays still very long at the Corrugated gets canned."

"Please omit meaningless jargon," says Aunty. "Does my niece know just how humble a position you occupy? Have you ever told her?"

"Why," says I, "I don't know as I've ever gone into details."

"Ah-h-h!" says she. "I was certain that Verona did not fully realize. Perhaps it would be as well that she——" and here she breaks off sudden, like she'd been struck with a new idea. For a second or so she gazes blank over the top of my head, and then she comes to with a brisk, "That will do, young man! Verona is not at home. You need not trouble to call again. The maid will show you out. Celeste!"

And the next thing I knew I was ridin' down again with Cephas. I'm some shunter myself; but I dip the colors to Aunty: she does it so neat and sudden! It must be like the sensation of havin' a flight of trick stairs fold up under you,—one minute you're most to the top, the next you're pickin' yourself up at the bottom.

What worries me most, though, is this hint she drops about Vee. Looks like the old girl had something up her sleeve; but what it is I can't dope out. So all I can do is keep my eyes open and my ear stretched for the next few days, watchin' for something to happen.

Course, I had one or two other things on my mind meanwhile; for down at the gen'ral offices we wa'n't indulgin' in any spring-fever symptoms,—not with three big deals under way, all this income mess of deductin' at the source goin' on, and Mr. Robert's grand scheme for dissolvin' the Corrugated—on paper—bein' worked out. Oh, sure, that's the easiest thing we do. We've split up into nineteen sep'rate and distinct corporations, with a diff'rent set of directors for each one, and if the Attorney General can sleuth out where they're tied together he's got to do some high-class snoopin' around.

Maybe you think too, that little Sunny Haired Hank, guardin' the brass gate, ain't wise to every move. Say, I make that part of my job. If I didn't, I'd be towin' a grouchy bunch of minority kickers in where the reorganization board was cookin' up a new stock-transfer game, or make some other fool break that would spill the beans all over the pantry floor.

"Torchy," says Mr. Robert, chewin' his cigar nervous and pawin' through pigeonholes, "ask Mr. Piddie what was done with those Mesaba contracts."

"Filed under Associated Developments," says I.

"Oh, yes, so they were," says he. "Thanks. And could you find out for me when we organized General Transportation?"

"Wa'n't that pulled off the day you waited for that Duluth delegation to show up, just after Easter?" says I.

"That's it," says he, "the fifteenth! Has Marling of Chicago been called up yet?"

"Nope," says I. "He'll be waitin' for the closing quotations, won't he? But there's that four-eyed guy with the whiskers who's been hangin' around a couple of hours."

"Ah!" says Mr. Robert, huntin' out a card on his desk. "That Rowley person! I'd forgotten. What does he want?"

"Didn't say," says I. "Got a roll of something under one arm—crank promoter, maybe. Will I ditch him?"

"Not without being heard," says Mr. Robert. "I haven't time myself, though. Perhaps Mr. Piddie might interview him and——"

"Ah, Piddie!" says I. "He'd take one look at the old gink's round cuffs and turn him down haughty. You know Piddie?"

Mr. Robert smiles. "Then suppose you do it," says he. "Go ahead—full powers. Only remember this: My policy is to give everyone who has a proposition to submit to the Corrugated a respectful and adequate hearing. Get the idea?"

"I'm right behind you," says I. "The smooth stuff goes; and if we must spill 'em, grease the skids. Me for Rowley!"

And, say, you should have heard me shove over the diplomacy, tellin' how sorry Mr. Robert was he couldn't see him in person; but wouldn't he please state the case in full so no time might be lost in actin' one way or the other? Inside of three minutes too, he has his papers spread out and is explainin' his by-product scheme for mill tailings, with me busy takin' notes on a pad. He had it all figured out into big money; but of course I couldn't tell whether he had a sure thing, or was just exercisin' squirrels in the connin' tower.

"Ten millions a year," says he, "and I am offering to put this process in operation for a five-per-cent. royalty! I've been a mine superintendent for twenty years, young man, and I know what I'm talking about."

"Your spiel listens like the real thing, Mr. Rowley," says I; "only we can't jump at these things offhand. We have to chew 'em over, you know."

Rowley shakes his head decided. "You can't put me off for six months or a year," says he. "I've been through all that. If the Corrugated doesn't want to go into this——"

"Right you are!" I breaks in. "Ten days is enough. I'll put this up to the board next Wednesday week and get a decision. Much obliged to you, Mr. Rowley, for givin' us first whack at it. We 're out for anything that looks good, and we always take care of the parties that put us next. That's the Corrugated way. Good afternoon, Mr. Rowley. Drop in again. Here's your hat."

And as he drifts out, smilin', pleased and hopeful, I glances over the spring-water bottle, to see Mr. Robert standin' there listenin' with a grin on.

"Congratulations!" says he. "That peroration of yours was a classic, Torchy; the true Chesterfield spirit, if not the form. I am tempted to utilize your talent for that sort of thing once more. What do you say?"

"Then put it over the plate while I'm on my battin' streak," says I. "Who's next?"

"A lady this time," says he; "perchance two ladies." And he develops that eye twinkle of his.

"Huh!" says I, twistin' my neck and feelin' of my tie. "You ain't springin' any tea-pourin' stunt, are you?"

"Strictly business," says he; "at least," he adds, chucklin', "that is the presumption. As a matter of fact, I've just been called over the 'phone by Miss Verona Hemmingway's aunt."

"Eh!" says I, gawpin'.

"She holds some of our debenture bonds, you know," says Mr. Robert, "and I gather that she has been somewhat disturbed by these reorganization rumors."

"But she ought to know," says I, "that our D.B.'s. are as solid as——"

"The feminine mind," cuts in Mr. Robert, "does not readily grasp such simple facts. But I haven't half an hour or more to devote to the process of soothing her alarm; besides, you could do it so much more gracefully."

"Mooshwaw!" says I. "Maybe I could. But she's only one. Who's the other?"

"She failed to state," says Mr. Robert. "She merely said, 'We shall be down about three o'clock.'"

"We?" says I. Then I whistles. So that was her game! It was Vee she was bringin' along!

"Well?" says Mr. Robert.

I expect I was some pinked up, and fussed, too, at the prospect. "Excuse me," says I, "but I got to sidestep."

"Why," says he, "I rather thought this assignment might be somewhat agreeable."

"I know," says I. "You mean well enough; but, honest, Mr. Robert, if that foxy old dame's comin' down here with Miss Vee, I'm—well, I don't stand for it, that's all! I'm off; with a blue ticket or without one, just as you say."

I was reachin' for my new lid too, when Mr. Robert puts out his hand.

"Wouldn't that be—er—rather a serious breach of office discipline?" says he. "Surely, without some good reason——"

"Ah, say!" says I. "You don't think I'm springin' any prima donna whim, do you? It's this plot to show me up through the wrong end of the telescope that gets me sore."

"Scarcely lucid," says he, lookin' puzzled. "Could you put it a little simpler?"

"I'll make it long primer," says I. "How do I stand here in the Corrugated? You know, maybe, and sometimes I give a guess myself; but on the books, and as far as outsiders go, I'm just plain office boy, ain't I, like 'steen thousand other four-dollar-a-week kids that's old enough to have work papers? I've been here goin' on four years now, and I ain't beefed much about it, have I? That's because I've been used white and the pay has been decent. Also I'm strong for you and Mr. Ellins. I expect you know that, Mr. Robert. Maybe I ain't got it in me to be anything but an office boy, either; but when it comes to goin' on exhibition before certain parties as the double cipher on the east side of the decimal—well, that's where I make my foolish play."

"Ah!" says he, rubbin' his chin thoughtful. "Now I fully understand. And, as you suggest, there has been for some time past something—er—equivocal about your position here. However, just at this moment I have hardly time to—— By Jove!" Here he breaks off and glances at the clock. "Two-fifteen, and a general council of our attorneys called for half-past in the directors' room! Someone else must attend to Miss Verona's estimable aunt—positively! Now if there was anyone who could relieve you from the gate——"

"Heiny, the bondroom boy," says I.

"Why not?" says Mr. Robert. "Then, if you should choose to stay and prime yourself with facts about those debentures, there is that extra desk in my office, you know. Would you mind using that?"

"But see here, Mr. Robert," says I, "I wa'n't plannin' any masquerade, either."

"Quite so," says he; "nor I. It so happens, though, that the gentleman whose name appears as president of our Mutual Funding Company is—well, hardly in active business life. It is necessary that he be represented here in some nominal capacity. The directors are now meeting in Room 19. I have authority to name a private secretary pro tem. Do you accept the position?"

"With a pro-tem. salary, stage money barred?" says I.

"Oh, most certainly," says he.

"Then I'm the guy," says I.

"Good!" says Mr. Robert. "These debentures come in your department. I will notify Mr. Piddie that——"

"Say, Mr. Robert," says I, grinnin' once more, "I'd break it gentle to Piddie."

I don't know whether he did or not; for five minutes after that Heiny has my old seat, and I'm inside behind the ground-glass door, sittin' at a reg'lar roll-top, with a lot of file cases spread out, puzzlin' over this incorporation junk that makes the Fundin' Comp'ny the little joker in the Corrugated deck.

And next thing I know in comes Heiny, gawpin' foolish, and trailin' behind him Aunty and Vee. I wa'n't throwin' any bluff about tryin' to look busy, either. I was elbow-deep in papers, with a pen behind one ear and ink on three fingers.

You should have heard the gasp that comes from Aunty as she pipes off who it is at the desk. My surprise as I'm discovered is the real thing too.

"Chairs, Boy!" says I, snappin' my fingers at Heiny.

But Aunty catches her breath, draws herself up stiff, and waves away the seats. "Young man," says she, "I came here to consult with Mr. Robert Ellins about——"

"Yes'm," says I, "I understand. Debenture six's, ain't they? Not affected by the reorganization, Ma'am. You see, it's like this: Those bonds were issued in exchange for——"

"Young man," she breaks in, aimin' her lorgnette at me threatenin', "I prefer to discuss this matter with Mr. Robert."

"Sorry," says I, "but as he's very busy he asked me to——"

"And who, pray," snaps the old girl, "are you?"

"Representin' the president of the Mutual Funding Comp'ny," says I.

"Just how?" she demands.

"Private secretary, Ma'am," says I.

"Humph!" she snorts. "This is too absurd of Mr. Robert—wholly absurd! Come, Verona."

And as she sails out I just has time for a glance at Vee, and catches a wink. Believe me, though, a friendly wink from one of them gray eyes is worth waitin' for! She follows Aunty through the door with a handkerchief stuffed in her mouth like she was smotherin' a snicker; so I guess Vee was on. And I'm left feelin' all warmed up and chirky.

Mr. Robert comes in from his lawyer session just before closin' time; rubbin' his hands sort of satisfied too.

"Well," says I, jumpin' up from the swing-chair, "it was some jolt you slipped Aunty. I expect I can resign now?"

"Oh, I trust not," says he. "The board indorsed your appointment an hour ago. Keep your desk, Torchy. It is to be yours from now on."

"Wh-a-a-at?" says I, my eyes bugged. "Off the gate for good, am I?"

"We are hoping," says he, "that the gate's loss will be the Funding Company's gain."

I gurgles gaspy a couple of times before I catches my breath. "Will it?" says I. "Say, just watch me! I'm goin' to show you that fundin' is my long suit!"



Say, it's all right, gettin' the quick boost up the ladder, providin' you don't let it make you dizzy in the head. And, believe me, I was near it! You see, bein' jumped from office boy to private sec, all in one afternoon, was some breath-takin' yank.

I expect the full force of what had happened didn't hit me until here the other mornin' when I strolls into the Corrugated gen'ral offices on the new nine o'clock schedule and finds this raw recruit holdin' down my old chair behind the rail. Nice, smooth-haired, bright-eyed youngster, with his ears all scoured out pink and his knickerbocker suit brushed neat. He hops up and opens the gate real respectful for me.

"Well, Son," says I, "what does Mother call you?"

"Vincent, Sir," says he.

"Some class to that, too," says I. "But how do you know, Vincent, that I'm one of the reg'lar staff and not canvassin' for something?"

"I don't, Sir," says he, "until I see if you know where to hang your hat."

"Good domework, Vincent," says I. "On that I'm backin' you to hold the job."

"Thank you, Sir," says he. "I told Mother I'd do my best."

And with that he springs a bashful smile. It was the "Sir" every time that caught me, though. For more'n four years I'd been just Torchy or Boy to all hands in the shop, from Old Hickory down; and now all of a sudden I finds there's one party at least that rates me in the Sir class. Kind of braced me for swingin' past all that row of giggly lady typists and on into Mr. Robert's private office.

Thrill No. 2 arrived half an hour later. In postin' myself as to what this Mutual Fundin' Company really is that I'm supposed to be workin' for, I needed some papers from the document safe. And for the first time I pushes the buzzer button. Prompt and eager in comes Vincent, the fair haired.

"Know which is Mr. Piddie, do you?" says I.

"Oh, yes, Sir," says he.

"Well," says I, "tell him I need those—no, better ask him to step in here a minute."

Honest, I wa'n't plannin' to rub it in, either. Course, I'd done a good deal of trottin' for Piddie, and a lot of it wa'n't for anything else than to let him show his authority; but I didn't hold any grudge. I'd squared the account in my own way. How he was goin' to take it now I was the one to send for him, I didn't know; but there wa'n't any use dodgin' the issue.

And you should have seen Piddie make his first official entrance! You know how stiff and wooden he is as a rule? Well, as he marches in over the rug and comes to a parade rest by the desk, he's about as limber as a length of gas pipe. And solemn? That long face of his would have soured condensed milk!

"Yes, Sir?" says he. And to me, mind you! It come out a little husky, like it was bein' filtered through strong emotions; but there it is. Piddie has sirred me his first "Sir."

He knows a roll-top when he sees one, Piddie does, and he ain't omittin' any deference due. You know the type? He's one of the kind that was born to be "our Mr. Piddie"; the sort that takes off his hat to a vice-president, and holds his breath in the presence of the big wheeze. But, say, I don't want any joss-sticks burned for me.

"Ditch it, Piddie," says I, "ditch it!"

"I—er—I beg pardon?" says he.

"The Sir stuff," says I. "Just because I'm behind the ground glass instead of the brass rail don't make me a sacred being, or you a lobbygow, does it? I guess we've known each other too long for that, eh?" And I holds out the friendly mitt.

Honest, he's got a human streak in him, Piddie has, if you know where to strike it. The cast-iron effect comes out of his shoulders, the wooden look from his face. He almost smiles.

"Thank you, Torchy," says he. "I—er—my congratulations on your new——"

"We'll spread 'em on the minutes," says I, "and proceed to show the Corrugated some teamwork that mere salaries can't buy. Are you on?"

He was. Inside of three minutes he'd chucked that stiff-necked, flunky pose and was coachin' me like a big brother, and by the time he'd beat into my head all he knew about the Fundin' Comp'ny we was as chummy as two survivors of the same steamer wreck. Simple, I know; but this little experience made me feel like I'd signed a gen'ral peace treaty with the world at large.

I hadn't, though. An hour later I runs up against Willis G. Briscoe. He's kind of an outside development manager, who makes preliminary reports on new deals. One of these cold-eyed, chesty parties, Willis G. is; tall and thin, and with a big, bowwow voice that has a rasp to it.

"Huh!" says he, as he discovers me busy at the desk. "I heard of this out in Chicago three days ago; but I thought it must be a joke."

"Them reporters do get things straight now and then, don't they?" says I.

"Reporters!" he snorts. "Philip wrote me about it."

"Oh!" says I. "Cousin Philip, eh?"

And that gave me the whole plot of the piece. Cousin Phil was a cigarette-consumin' college discard that Willis G. had been nursin' along in the bondroom, waitin' for a better openin'; and this jump of mine had filled a snap job that he'd had his eyes on for Cousin.

"I suppose you're only temporary, though," says he.

"That's all," says I. "Mr. Ellins will be resignin' in eight or ten years, I expect, and then they'll want me in his chair. Nice mornin', ain't it?"

"Bah!" says he, registerin' deep disgust, as they say in the movie scripts. "You'll do well if you last eight or ten days."

"How cheerin'!" says I, and as he swings off with a final glare I tips him the humorous wink.

Why not? No young-man-afraid-of-his-job part for me! Briscoe might get it away from me, or he might not; but I wa'n't goin' to get panicky over it. Let him do his worst!

He didn't need any urgin'. With a little scoutin' around he discovers that about the only assignment on my hook so far is this Rowley matter: you know, the old inventor guy with the mill-tailings scheme. And the first hint I had that he was wise to that was when Mr. Robert calls me over after lunch and explains how this Rowley business sort of comes in Mr. Briscoe's department.

"So I suppose you'd better turn it over to him," says he.

"Just as you say," says I. "The old gent is due at two-fifteen, and I'll shunt him onto Briscoe."

Which I did. And at two-thirty-five Briscoe breezes in with his report.

"Nothing to it," says he. "This Rowley person has a lot of half-baked ideas about briquets and retort recoveries, and talks vaguely of big profits; but he's got nothing practical. I shipped him off."

"But," says Mr. Robert, "I think he was promised that his schemes should have a consideration by the board."

"Very well," says Willis G. jaunty. "I'll give 'em a report next meeting. Wednesday, isn't it? Hardly worth wasting their time over, though."

And here I'd been boostin' the Rowley proposition to Mr. Robert good and hard, almost gettin' him enthusiastic over it! I was smeared, that's all! My first stab at makin' myself useful in my new swing-chair job has been brushed aside as a beginner's bungle; and there sits Mr. Robert, prob'ly wonderin' if he hadn't made a mistake in takin' me off the gate!

I stares at a row of empty pigeonholes for a solid hour after that, not doin' a blamed thing but race my thinkin' gears tryin' to find out where I was at. This dummy act that I'd been let in for might be all right for some; but it didn't suit me. I've got to have action in mine.

So, long before quittin' time, I slams the desk cover down and pikes out on Rowley's trail. He might be a dead duck; but I wanted to know how and why. I had his address all right, and it didn't take me long to locate him in a fifth-story loft down on lower Sixth-ave. It's an odd joint too, with a cot bed in one corner, a work bench along the avenue side, a cook-stove in the middle, and a kitchen table where the coffeepot was crowded on each side by a rack of test tubes. Old Rowley himself, with his sleeves rolled up, is sittin' in a rickety arm chair peelin' potatoes. He's grouchy too.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" says he. "Well, you might just as well trot right back to the Corrugated Trust and tell 'em that Old Hen Rowley don't give two hoots for their whole outfit."

"I take it you didn't get on so well with Mr. Briscoe?" says I.

"Briscoe!" he grunts savage. "Who could talk business to a smart Alec like that! He knew it all before I'd begun. You'd think I was trying to sell him a gold brick. All right! We'll see what the Bethlehem people have to say."

"What?" says I. "Before you get the final word from us?"

"I've had it," says he. "Briscoe is final enough for me."

"You're easy satisfied," says I, "or else you're easy beat. I didn't take you for a quitter, either."

Say, that got to him. "Quitter, eh!" says he. "See here, Son, how long do you think I've been plugging at this thing? Nine years. And for the last four I've been giving it all my time, day in and day out, and many a night as well. I've been living with it, in this loft here, like a blessed hermit; testing and perfecting, trying out my processes, and fighting the Patent Office sharks between times. Nine years—the best of my life! Call that quitting, do you?"

"Well, that is sticking around some," says I. "Think you've got your schemes so they'll work?"

"I don't think," says he; "I know."

"But what's the good," I goes on, "if you can't make other folks see you've got a good thing?"

"I can, though," he says. "Why, any person with even ordinary intelligence can——"

"That's me," says I. "My nut is just about a stock pattern size, six and seven-eighths, or maybe seven. Come, try it on me, if it's so simple. Now what about this retort business?"

That got him goin'. Rowley drops the potatoes, and in another minute we're neck-deep in the science of makin' an ore puddin', doin' stunts with the steam, skimmin' dividends off the pot, and coinin' the slag into dollars.

I ain't lettin' him slip over any gen'ral propositions on me, either. I'm right there with the Missouri stuff. He has to go clear back to first principles every time he makes a statement, and work up to it gradual. Course, I was keepin' him jollied along too, and while it must have been sort of hopeless at the start, inoculatin' a cauliflower like mine with higher chemistry, I fin'lly showed one or two gleams that encouraged him to keep on. Anyway, we hammered away at the subject, only stoppin' to make coffee and sandwiches, until near two o'clock in the mornin'.

"Help!" says I, glancin' at the nickel alarm clock. "My head feels like a stuffed sausage. A little more, and I won't know whether I'm a nitrous sulphide or a ferrous oxide of bromo seltzer. Let's take the rest in another dose."

Rowley chuckles and agrees to call it a day, I didn't let on anything at the office next morning; but by eight A.M. I was planted at the roll-top with my elbows squared, tryin' to write out as much of that chemistry dope as I could remember. And it's surprising ain't it, what a lot of information you can sop up when you do the sponge act in earnest? I found there was a lot of points, though, that I was foggy on; so I makes an early getaway and puts in another long session with Rowley.

And, take it from me, by Tuesday I was well loaded. Also I had my plan of campaign all mapped out; for you mustn't get the idea I was packin' my bean full of all this science dope just to see if it would stand the strain. Not so, Clarice! I'd woke up to the fact that I was bein' carried along by the Corrugated as a sort of misfit inner tube stowed in the bottom of the tool-box, and that it was up to me to make good.

So the first openin' I has I tackles Mr. Robert on the side.

"About that Rowley proposition?" says I.

"Oh, yes," says he. "I fear Mr. Briscoe thinks unfavorably of it."

"Then he's fruity in the pan," says I.

"We have been in the habit of accepting his judgment in such matters," says Mr. Robert.

"Maybe," says I; "but here's once when he's handin' you a stall. And you're missin' out on something good too."

Mr. Robert smiles skeptical. "Really?" says he. "Perhaps you would like to present a minority report?"

"Nothin' less," says I. "Oh, it may listen like a joke, but that's just what I got in mind."

"H-m-m-m!" says Mr. Robert. "You realize that Briscoe is one of the leading mining authorities in the country, I suppose, and that we pay him a large salary as consulting engineer?"

I nods. "I know," says I. "And the nearest I ever got to seein' a mine was watchin' 'em excavate for the subway. I'm admittin' all that."

"I may add too," goes on Mr. Robert, "that he has a way of stating his opinions quite convincingly."

"Yep," says I, "I should judge that. But if I think he's bilkin' you on this, is it my play to sit behind and chew my tongue?"

"By Jove!" says Mr. Robert, his sportin' instincts comin' to the top. "You shall have your chance, Torchy. The directors shall hear your views; to-morrow, at two-thirty. You will follow Briscoe."

"Let's not bill it ahead, then," says I, "if it'll be fair to spring it on him."

"Quite," says Mr. Robert; "and rather more amusing, I fancy. I will arrange it."

"I'd like to have old Rowley on the side lines, in case I get stuck," says I.

"Oh, certainly," says he. "Bring Mr. Rowley if you wish. And if there are any preparations you would like to make——"

"I got one or two," says I, startin' for the door; "so mark me off until about to-morrow noon."

Busy? Well, say, a kitten with four feet stuck in the flypaper didn't have anything on me. I streaks it for Sixth-ave. and lands in Rowley's loft all out of breath.

"What's up?" says he.

"The case of Briscoe et al. vs. Rowley," says I. "It's to be threshed out before the full Corrugated board to-morrow at two-thirty. I'm the counsel for the defense."

"Well, what of it?" says he.

"I want to use you as Exhibit A," says I, "in case of an emergency."

"All right," says he. "I'll go along if you say so."

"Good!" says I. And then came the hard part. "Rowley," I goes on, "what size collar do you wear?"

"But what has that to do with it?" says he.

"Now don't get peeved," says I; "but you know the kind our directors are,—flossy, silk-lined old sports, most of 'em; and they're apt to size up strangers a good deal by their haberdashery. So I was wonderin' if I couldn't blow you to a neat, pleated bosom effect with attached cuffs."

"Oh, I see," says Rowley, glancin' at his gray flannel workin' shirt. "Anything else?"

"I don't expect you'd want to part with that face shrubbery, or have it landscaped into a Vandyke, eh?" says I. "You know they ain't wearin' the bushy kind now in supertax circles."

"Would you insist on my being manicured too?" says he, chucklin' easy.

"It would help," says I. "And this would be my buy all round."

"That's a generous offer, Son," says he, "and I don't know how long it's been since anyone has taken so much personal interest in Old Hen Rowley. Seems nice too. I suppose I am rather a shabby old duffer to be visiting the offices of great and good corporations. Yes, I'll spruce up a bit; and if I find it costs more than I can afford—now let's see how my cash stands."

With that he digs into a hip pocket and unlimbers a roll of corn-tinted kale the size of your wrist. Maybe they wa'n't all hundreds clear to the core, but that's what was on the outside.

"Whiffo!" says I. "Excuse me for classin' you so near the bread line; but by your campin' in a loft, and the longshoreman's shirt, and so on——"

"Very natural, Son," he breaks in. "And I see your point all the clearer. I've no business going about so. The whiskers shall be trimmed. But your people up at the Corrugated have evidently made up their minds to turn us down."

"Maybe," says I; "but if they do, it won't be on any snap decision of Briscoe's. And unless I get tongue tied at the last minute we're goin' to have a run for our money."

That was what worried me most,—could I come across with the standin' spiel? But, believe me, I wa'n't trustin' to any offhand stuff! I'd got to know in advance what I meant to feed 'em, line for line and word for word. By ten o'clock that night I had it all down on paper too—and perhaps I didn't chew the penholder and leak some from the brow while I was doin' it!

Then came the rehearsin'. Say, you should have seen me risin' dignified behind the washstand in my room, strikin' a Bill Bryan pose, and smilin' calm at the bedposts as I launched out on my speech. Not that I was tryin' to chuck any flowers of oratory. What I aimed to do was to tell 'em about Rowley's schemes as simple and straight away as I could, usin' one-syllable words for the most part, cannin' the slang, and soundin' as many final G's as my tongue would let me. Before I turned in too, I had it almost pat; but I hardly dared to go to sleep for fear it would get away from me.

Say, but it ain't any cinch, this breakin' into public life, is it? The obscure guy with the dinner pail and the calloused palms thinks he has hard lines; but when the whistle blows he can wipe his trowel on his overalls and forget it all until next day. But here I tosses around restless in the feathers, and am up at daybreak goin' over my piece again, trembly in the knees, with a vivid mental picture of how cheap I'd feel if I should go to pieces when the time came.

A good breakfast pepped me up a lot, though, and by noon I had them few remarks of mine so I could say 'em backwards or forwards. How they was goin' to sound outside of my room was another matter. I had my doubts along that line; but I was goin' to give 'em the best I had in stock.

It was most time for the session to begin when Vincent boy trots in with a card announcin' Mr. Henry Clay Rowley. And, say, when this smooth-faced party in the sporty Scotch tweed suit and the new model pearl gray lid shows up, I has to gasp! He's had himself tailored and barbered until he looks like an English investor come over huntin' six per cent. dividends for a Bank of England surplus.

"Zowie!" says I. "Some speed to you, Mr. Rowley. And class? Say, you look like you was about to dump a trunkful of Steel preferred on the market, instead of a few patents."

"I'm giving your advice a thorough trial, you see," says he.

"That's the stuff!" says I. "It's the dolled up gets the dollars these days. Be sure and sit where they'll get a good view."

Then we went into the directors' room and heard Willis G. Briscoe deliver his knock. He does it snappy and vigorous, and when he's through it didn't listen like anything more could be said. He humps his eyebrows humorous when Mr. Robert announces that perhaps the board might like to hear another view of the subject.

"Torchy," goes on Mr. Robert, "you have the floor."

For a second or so, though, I felt like spreadin' out so I wouldn't slip through a crack. All of a sudden too, my mouth had gone dry and I had a panicky notion that my brain had ossified. Then I got a glimpse of them shrewd blue eyes of Rowley's smilin' encouragin' at me, the first few sentences of my speech filtered back through the bone, I got my tongue movin', and I was off.

Funny how you can work out of a scare that way, ain't it? Why, say, the first thing I knew I'd picked out old D. K. Rutgers, the worst fish-face in the bunch, and was throwin' the facts into him like I was shovelin' coal into a cellar chute. Beginnin' with Rowley's plan for condensin' commercial acids from the blast fumes, explainin' the chemical process that produced 'em, and how they could be caught on the fly and canned in carboys for the trade, I galloped through the whole proposition, backin' up every item with figures and formulas; until I showed 'em how the slag that now cost 'em so much to get rid of could be sold for road ballastin' and pressed into buildin' blocks at a profit of twenty dollars a ton. I didn't let anything go just by statin' it bald. I took Briscoe's objections one by one, shot 'em full of holes with the come-backs Rowley had coached me on, and then proceeded to clinch the argument until I had old Rutgers noddin' his head.

"And these, Gentlemen," I winds up with, "are what Mr. Briscoe calls the vague, half-baked ideas of an unpractical inventor. He's an expert, Mr. Briscoe is! I'm not. I wouldn't know a supersaturated solution of methylcalcites from a stein of Hoboken beer; but I'm willin' to believe there's big money in handling either, providing you don't spill too much on the inside. Mr. Rowley claims you're throwing away millions a year. He says he can save it for you. He wants to show you how you can juggle ore so you can save everything but the smell. He's here on the spot, and if you want to quiz him about details, go as deep as you like."

Did they? Say, that seance didn't break up until six-fifteen, and before the board adjourns Rowley had a whackin' big option check in his fist, and a resolution had gone through to install an experiment plan as soon as it could be put up. An hour before that Willis G. Briscoe had done the silent sneak, wearin' his mouth droopy.

Mr. Robert meets me outside with the fraternal grip and says he's proud of me.

"Thanks, Mr. Robert," says I. "It was a case of framin' up a job for myself, or else four-flushin' along until you tied the can to me. And I need the Corrugated just now."

"No more, I'm beginning to suspect," says he, "than the Corrugated needs you."

Which was some happy josh for an amateur private sec to get from the boss! Eh?



Say, I expected that after I got to be a salaried man, with a swing-chair in Mr. Robert's private office, I'd be called on only to pull the brainy stuff, calm and dignified, without any outside chasin' around. I had a soothin' idea it would be a case of puttin' in my mornin's dictatin' letters to gen'ral managers, and my afternoons to holdin' interviews with the Secretary of the Treasury, and so on. I was lookin' for plenty of high-speed domework, but nothin' more wearin' on the arms than pushin' a call button or usin' a rubber stamp.

But somehow I can't seem to do finance, or anything else, without throwin' in a lot of extra pep. No matter how I start, first thing I know I'm mixed up with quick action, and as likely as not gettin' my clothes mussed. This last stunt, though—believe me I couldn't have got more thrills if I'd joined a circus!

It opens innocent enough too. I was moochin' around the bondroom when I happens to glance over the transfer book and notices that a big block of our debenture 6's are listed as goin' to the Federated Tractions. And the name of the party who's about to swap the 6's for Tractions preferred is a familiar one. It's Aunty's. Uh-huh—Vee's!

Maybe you remember how Aunty played up her skittish symptoms about them same bonds a few weeks back, the time she planned to exhibit me to Vee in my office boy job and got so badly jolted when she finds me posin' as a private sec instead? Went away real peeved, Aunty did that time. And now it looks like she was takin' it out by unloadin' her bond holdin's. It's to be some swap too, runnin' up into six figures.

"Chee!" thinks I. "That's an income, all right, with Tractions payin' between 7 and 9, besides cuttin' a melon now and then."

They have their gen'ral offices three floors below us, you know. Not that I wouldn't have had a line on 'em anyway; for whatever that bunch of Philadelphia live wires gets hold of is worth watchin'. Say, they'd consolidate city breathin' air if they could, and make it pay dividends. It's important to note too, that they're buyin' into Corrugated so deep. I mentions the fact casual to Mr. Robert.

"Really," says he, liftin' his eyebrows surprised. "Federated Tractions! Are you certain?"

"Unless our registry clerk has had a funny dream," says I. "The notice was listed yesterday. And you know how grouchy the old girl was on us."

"H-m-m-m!" says he, drummin' his fingers nervous. "Thanks, Torchy. I must look into this."

Seemed to worry Mr. Robert a bit; so maybe that's why I had my ears stretched wider'n usual. It wa'n't an hour later that I runs across Izzy Budheimer down in the Arcade. He's on the Curb now, Izzy is, and by the size of the diamond horseshoe decoratin' the front of his silk shirt he must be tradin' some in wildcats. Hails me like a friend and brother, Izzy does, tries to wish a tinfoil Fumadora on me, and gives me the happy josh about bein' boosted off the gate.

"You'll be gettin' wise to all the inside deals now, eh?" says he, winkin' foxy. "And maybe we might work off something together. Yes?"

"Sure!" says I. "I'll come down every noon with the office secrets and let you peddle 'em around Broad street from a pushcart. Gwan, you parrot-beaked near-broker! Why, I wouldn't trust tellin' you the time of day!"

Izzy grins like I'd paid him a compliment. "Such a joker!" says he. "But listen! Which side do the Tractions people come down on?"

"Federated?" says I. "North corridor, just around the corner. Sleuthin' around that bunch, are you? What's doing in Tractions?"

"How should I know?" protests Izzy, openin' his eyes innocent. "Maybe I got a customer on the general staff, ain't it?"

"You'd be scoutin' up here at this time of day after a ten-dollar commission, wouldn't you?" says I. "And with that slump in Connecticut Gas in full blast! Can it, Izzy! I know a thing or two about Tractions myself."

"Yes?" he whispers persuasive, almost holdin' his breath. "What do you hear, now?"

"Don't say I told you," says I, "but they're thinkin' of puttin' in left-handed straps for south-paw passengers."

Izzy looks pained and disgusted. He's got a serious mind, Izzy has, and if you could take a thumbprint of his brain, it would be all fractions and dollar signs.

"I have to meet my cousin Abie Moss," says he, edgin' away. "He has a bookkeeper's job with Tractions for a month now, and I promised his aunt I would ask how he's comin'."

"How touchin'!" says I as he moves off.

I gazes after him curious a minute, and then follows a sudden hunch. Why not see just how much of a bluff this was about Cousin Abie? So I slips around by the cigar stand, steps behind a pillar, and keeps him in range. Three or four minutes I watched Izzy waitin' at the elevator exit, without seein' him give anyone the fraternal grip. Then he seems to quit. He drifts back towards the Arcade with the lunch crowd, and I was about to turn away when I lamps him bein' slipped a piece of paper by a short, squatty-built guy who brushes by him casual. Izzy gathers it in with never a word and strolls over to the 'phone booths, where he lets on to be huntin' a number in the directory. All he does there, though, is spread out that paper, read it through hasty, and then tear it up and chuck it in the waste basket.

"Huh!" says I, seein' Izzy scuttle off towards Broadway. "Looks like there was a plot to the piece. I wonder?"

And just for the fun of the thing I collected them twenty-eight pieces of yellow paper, carried 'em over to my lunch place, and spent the best part of my noon-hour piecin' 'em together. What I got was this, scribbled in lead pencil:

Grebel out. Larkin melding. Teg morf rednu.

"Whiffo!" thinks I. "What kind of a Peruvian dialect is this?"

Course the names was plain enough. Everybody knows Grebel and Larkin, and that they're the big wheezes in that Philly crowd. But what then? Had Grebel gone out to lunch? And was Larkin playin' penuchle? Thrillin', if true. Then comes this "Teg morf rednu" stuff. Was that Russian, or Chinese?

"Heiney," says I, callin' the dough-faced food juggler. "Heiney," I repeats solemn, "Teg morf rednu."

Not a smile from Heiney. He grabs the bill of fare and begins to hunt through the cheese list panicky.

"Never mind," says I, "you won't find it there. But here's another: What do you do when you meld a hundred aces, say?"

A look of almost human intelligence flickers into Heiney's face. "Ach!" says he. "By the table you pud 'em—so!"

"Thanks, Heiney," says I. "That helps a little."

So Larkin was chuckin' something on the table, was he! But this other dope, "Teg morf rednu?" Say, I'd come back to that after every bite. I wrote it out on an envelope, tried runnin' it together and splittin' it up diff'rent, and turned it upside down. Then in a flash I got it.

When Mr. Robert sails in from the club I was waitin' for him. He'd heard a rumor that Grebel was to retire soon. Also he'd met young Larkin in the billiard room, and found that the fam'ly was goin' abroad for the summer.

"But all that may mean nothing at all, you know," says Mr. Robert.

"And then again," says I. "Study that out and see if it don't tally with your dope," and I produces a copy of Izzy's wireless.

Mr. Robert wrinkles his forehead over it without any result. "What is it?" says he.

"An inside tip on Tractions," says I, and sketches out how I'd got it.

"Oh, I see now," says he. "That about Grebel? But what is melding? And this last—'Teg morf rednu'? I can make no sense of that."

"Try it backwards," says I.

"Why—er—by Jove!" says he. "Get from under, eh? Then—then there is a slump coming. And with all that new stock issue, I'm not surprised. But that hits Miss Vee's aunt rather heavily, doesn't it? That is, if the deal has gone through."

"Who's her lawyers?" says I. "They ought to know."

"Of course," says Mr. Robert, reachin' for the 'phone. "Winkler, Burt & Winkler. Look up the number, will you? Eh? Broad, did you say?"

And inside of three minutes he has explained the case and got the verdict. "They don't know," says he. "The transfer receipts were sent for her to sign last night. If she's signed them, there's nothing to be done."

"But if she hasn't?" says I.

"Then she mustn't," says Mr. Robert. "It would mean letting that crowd get a foothold in Corrugated, and a loss of thousands to her. See if the tape shows any recent fluctuations."

"Bluey-ooey!" says I, runnin' over the mornin' sales hasty. "Opened at seven-eighths, then 500 at three-quarters, another block at a half, 300 at a quarter—why, it's on the toboggan!"

"She must be found and warned at once," says Mr. Robert.

"Am I the guy?" says I.

"You are," says he. "And minutes may count. I'll get the address for you. It's in that——"

"Say," I throws over my shoulder on my way to the door, "whose aunt is this, anyway?"

Looked like a simple matter for me to locate Aunty. And if she was out takin' her drive or anything—why, I could be explainin' to Vee while I waited. That would be tough luck, of course; but I could stand it for once.

At their apartment hotel I finds nobody home but Celeste, the maid, all dolled up like Thursday afternoon. She hands it to me cold and haughty that Madame and Ma'mselle are out.

"I could almost guess that from the lid you're wearin'," says I. "One of Miss Vee's, ain't it?"

She pinks up and goes gaspy at that. "Please," she begins pleadin', "if you would not mention——"

"I might forget to," I breaks in, "if you'll tell me where I can find 'em quickest."

And Celeste gets the information out rapid. They're house-partyin' at the Morley Beckhams, over at Quehassett, Long Island. "Rosemere" is the name of the joint.

"Me for Quehassett!" says I, dashin' for the elevator.

But, say, I needn't have lost my breath. Parts of Long Island you can get to every half-hour or so; but Quehassett ain't one of 'em. Huntin' it up on the railroad map, I discovers that it's 'way out to the deuce and gone on the north shore, and the earliest start I can get is the four o'clock local.

Ever cruise around much on them Long Island branch lines? Say, it must be int'restin' sport, providin' you don't care whether you get there this week or next. I missed one connection by waitin' for the brakeman to call out the change. And when I'd caught another train back to the right junction I got the pleasin' bulletin that the next for Quehassett is the theater train, that comes along somewhere about midnight.

So there I was hung up in a rummy little commuter town where the chief industry is sellin' bungalow sites on the salt marsh. Then I tackles the 'phone, which results in three snappy conversations with a grouchy butler at sixty cents a throw, but no real dope on the Beckhams or their guests.

Well, it's near two A.M. when I fin'lly lands in Quehassett, which is no proper time to call on anybody's aunt. Everything is shut tight too; so I spreads out an evenin' edition on a baggage truck and turns in weary. I'd overlooked pullin' down the front shades to the station, though, and the next thing I knew the sun was hittin' me square in the face.

I wanders around Quehassett until a Dago opens up a little fruitstand. He sold me some bananas and a couple of muskmelons for breakfast, and points out which road leads to Rosemere. It's down on the shore about a mile and a half, and I strolls along, eatin' fruit and enjoyin' the early mornin' air.

Some joint Rosemere turns out to be,—acres of lawn, and rows of striped awnin's at the windows. The big iron gates was locked, with nobody in sight; so I has plenty of time to write a note to Vee, beggin' her for the love of soup, if Aunty hasn't signed the transfer papers, not to let her do it until she hears from me. My scheme was to get one of the help to take the message to Vee before she got up.

Must have been near seven o'clock when I gets hold of one of the gardeners, tips him a dollar, and drags out of him the fact that cook says how all the folks are off on the yacht, which is gen'rally anchored off the dock. He don't know if it's there now or not. It was last night. I can tell by goin' down. The road follows that little creek.

So I gallops down to the shore. No yacht in sight. There's a point of land juts out to the left. Maybe she's anchored behind that. Comin' down along the creek too, I'd seen an old tub of a boat tied up. Back I chases for it.

Looked simple for me to keep on; but when I get started on a trail I never know when to stop. I was paddlin' down the creek, bound for nowhere special, when along comes a sporty-dressed young gent, wearin' puttee leggin's and a leather cap with goggles attached. He's luggin' a five-gallon can of gasoline, and strikes me for a lift down the shore a bit.

"Keepin' your car in the Sound, are you?" says I, shovin' in towards the bank.

"It's an aerohydro," says he.

"Eh?" says I. "A—a which?"

"An air boat, you know," says he. "I'm going to try her out. Bully morning for a flight, isn't it?"

"Maybe," says I. "Get aboard. Always have to cart your gas down this way?"

At that he grows real chatty. Seems this is a brand-new machine, just delivered the night before, and he's keepin' it a dead secret from the fam'ly, so Mother won't worry. He says that's all nonsense, though; for he's been takin' lessons on the quiet for more than a year, has earned his pilot's license, and can handle any kind of a plane.

"Just straight driving, of course," he goes on. "I don't attempt spiral dips, or exhibition work. I've never been up more than five hundred feet. And this is such a safe type. Oh, the folks will come around to it after they've seen me up once or twice. I want to surprise 'em. There she is, up the shore. See!"

Hanged if I hadn't missed it before, when I was lookin' for the yacht! Spidery lookin' affairs, ain't they, when you get close to, with all them slim wire guys? And the boat part is about as substantial as a pasteboard battleship. While he's pourin' in the gasoline I paddles around and inspects the thing.

"Five hundred feet up?" says I. "Excuse me!"

He grins good natured. "Think you wouldn't like it, eh?" says he. "Why?"

"Too cobwebby," says I. "Why, them wings are nothin' but cloth."

"Best quality duck, two layers," says he. "And the frame has a tensile strength of three hundred and fifty pounds to the square foot. Isn't that motor a beauty? Ninety-horse."

"Guess I'll take my joy ridin' closer to the turf, though," says I. "Course, I've always had a batty notion I'd like to fly some time; but——"

"Hello!" he breaks in. "There goes the Katrina!" and he points out a big white yacht that's slippin' along through the water about half a mile off. "It's the Beckhams'," he goes on. "They're our neighbors here at Rosemere, you know. They have guests from town, and my folks are aboard. By Jove! Here's my chance to surprise 'em. I say, would you mind paddling around and giving me a shove off?"

But I stands gawpin' out at the yacht. "The Morley Beckhams?" says I.

"Yes, yes!" says he. "But hurry, please. I want to catch them."

"You—you——?" But I was thinkin' too rapid to talk much. Vee and Aunty was out on that boat, and maybe at the next landin' Aunty would mail them transfers. If it was goin' to hit her alone, I might have stood it calmer; but there was Vee.

"Say," I sputters out, "ain't there room for two?"

"Why, ye-e-e-es," says he sort of draggy. "I've never taken up a passenger, though; but I've thought that——"

"Then why not now?" says I. "I want to go the worst way."

"But a moment ago," he protests, "you——"

"It's different now," says I. "There's a party on that yacht I want to get word to,—Miss Hemmingway. I got to, that's all! And what's a neck more or less? I'll take the chance if you will."

"By Jove!" says he. "I'll do it. Shove off. Here, stick your oar into the mud and push. That's it! Now climb in and give that old tub of yours a shove so she'll clear that left plane. Good work! Here's your seat, beside me. Don't get your knees in the way of that lever, please, or put your feet on that cross bar. That's my rudder control. Now! Are you ready? Then I'll start her."

Say, I didn't have time to work up any spine chills, or even say a "Now-I-lay-me." He reaches up behind him, gives the crank a whirl, and the next thing I know we're shootin' over the water like an express train, with the spray flyin', the wind whistlin' in my ears, and eight cylinders exhaustin' direct within two feet of the back of my neck. Talk about speedin'! When you're travelin' through the water at a forty-mile-an-hour gait, and so close you can trail your fingers, you know all about it. Although it's a calm mornin', with hardly a ripple, the motion was a little bumpy. No wonder!

Then all of a sudden I has a sinkin' sensation somewhere under my vest, the bumpin' stops, and I feels like I'd shuffled off somethin' heavy. I had—a billion tons or more! Glancin' over the side, I sees the water ten or a dozen feet below us. We were in the air. And, believe me, I reaches out for something solid to hold onto! All I could find was a two-inch upright, and I takes a fond grip on that. If it had been a telephone pole, I'd felt better.

My sporty-dressed friend smiles encouragin' over his shoulder. I hope I smiled back; but I wouldn't swear to it. Not that I'm scared. Hush, hush! But I wa'n't used to bein' shot through the air so impetuous. I takes another glance overboard. Hel-lup! Someone's pullin' Long Island Sound from under us. The water must have been fifty or sixty feet down, and gettin' more so. For a while after that I looks straight ahead. What's the use keepin' track of how high you are, anyway? You'll only bore just so big a hole in the water if you fall.

But it's funny how soon you can get over feelin's like that. Inside of three minutes I'd quit grippin' the stanchion and was sittin' there peaceful, enjoyin' the ride. We seemed to be sailin' along on a level now, about housetop high, and so far as I could see we was as steady as if we'd been on a front veranda. There's no sway or rock to the machine at all. I'd been holdin' myself as rigid as if I'd been in a tippy canoe; but now I took a chance on shiftin' my position a little. I even leaned over the side. Nothing happened. That was comfortin'. How easy and smooth it was, glidin' along up there!

Meanwhile we'd taken a wide sweep and was leavin' the yacht far behind.

"Say," I shouts to my aviatin' friend, "how do we get to her?"

But it's no use tryin' to converse with that roar in your ears. I points back to the boat. He nods and smiles.

"Wait!" he yells at me.

With that he pulls his plane lever and we begins to climb some more. You hardly know you're doin' it, though. Up or down don't mean anything in the air, where the goin' is all the same. Only as we gets higher the Sound narrows and Long Island stretches further and further. And, take it from me, that's the way to view scenery! Up and up we slid, just soarin' free and careless. He turns to me with another grin, to see how I'm takin' it. And this time I grins back.

"About three hundred!" he shouts, puttin' his mouth close. "Eighty an hour too!"

"Zippy stuff!" says I.

Then he gives me a nudge, juggles his deflectors, and down we shoots. I never had any part of the map come at me so fast. Seemed like the Sound was just rushin' at us, and I was tryin' to guess how far into the bottom we'd go, when he pulls the lever again and we skims along just above the surface. Shootin' the chutes—say, that Coney stunt seems tame compared to this!

In no time at all we've made a circle around the yacht and are comin' up behind her once more. We could see the people pilin' out on deck to rubber at us. In a minute more we'd be even with 'em. And how was I goin' to deliver that message to Vee? Just then I looks in my lap, where I was grippin' my straw lid between my knees, and discovers that I've lugged along one of them muskmelons in a paper bag. That gives me my hunch.

Fishin' out the note I'd written, I slits the melon with my knife and jabs it in. Then I shows the breakfast bomb to my friend and points to the yacht. He nods. Some bean, that guy had!

"I'll sail over her," he howls in my ear. "You can drop it on the deck."

There was no time for gettin' ready or takin' practice shots. Up we glides into the air right over the white wake she was leavin'. The folks on her was wavin' to us. First I made out Vee, standin' on the little bridge amidships, lookin' cute and classy in white serge. Then I spots Aunty, who's tumbled out in her boudoir cap and kimono. I leans over and waves enthusiastic.

"Hey, Vee!" I shouts. "Watch this!"

I'd picked out the widest part of the deck forward, where there's no awnin' up, and when it was exactly underneath I lets the melon go, hard as I could shoot it. Some shot that was too! I saw it smash on the deck, watched one of the sailors stare at it stupid, and then caught a glimpse of Vee rushin' towards the spot. Course I wa'n't sure she knew me at that distance, or had heard what I said; but trust her for doin' the right thing at the right time!

"There's Mother!" I hears my sporty friend roar out. "I say! Mother! It's Billy, you know."

No doubt about Mother's catchin' on. Maybe she'd suspicioned, anyway; but the last I saw of her she was slumpin' into the arms of a white-haired old gent behind her.

Another minute and we'd left the Katrina behind like she had seven anchors out. On we went and up once more, turnin' with a dizzy swoop and skimmin' past her, back towards where we started from. And just as I was wishin' he'd go faster and higher we settles down on the water, dashes in behind the dock, the motor slows up, the plane floats drag in the mud, and it's all over.

Took the yacht near an hour to get back to us. Mother had insisted, and when she found Billy all safe and sound she fell on his neck and forgave him.

As for me? Well, maybe I didn't have some swell report to turn in to Mr. Robert! I had him listenin' with his mouth open before I got through too.

"Aunty was mighty suspicious first off," says I; "but after she'd used the long distance and got a line on how Tractions was waverin', she warms up quite a lot, for her. Uh-huh! Gives me a vote of thanks, and says she'll call off the deal."

"Torchy," says Mr. Robert, "I am speechless with admiration. Your business methods are certainly advanced. I had not thought of flying as a modern requisite for a commercial career."

"The real thing in high finance, eh?" says I. "And, say, me for the air after this! I've swallowed the bug. I know how a bloomin' seagull feels when he's on the wing; and, believe me, it's got everything else in the sport line lookin' like playin' tag with your feet tied!"



I don't admit it went to my head,—not so bad as that,—only maybe my chest measure had swelled an inch or so, and I wouldn't say my heels wa'n't hittin' a bit hard as I strolls dignified up and down the private office.

You see, Mr. Robert was snitchin' a couple of days off for the Newport regatta, and he'd sort of left me on the lid, as you might say. So far as there bein' any real actin' head of the Corrugated Trust for the time being—well, I was it. Anyway, I'd passed along some confidential dope to our Western sales manager, stood by to take a report from the special audit committee, and had an interview with the president of a big bond house, all in one forenoon. That was speedin' up some for a private sec, wa'n't it?

And now I was just markin' time, waitin' for what might turn up, and feelin' equal to pullin' off any sort of a deal, from matchin' Piddie for the lunches to orderin' a new stock issue. What if the asphalt over on Fifth-ave. was softenin' up, with the mercury hittin' the nineties, and half the force off on vacations? I had a real job to attend to. I was doin' things!

And as I stops by the roll-top to lean up against it casual I had that comf'table, easy feelin' of bein' the right man in the right place. You know, I guess? You're there with the goods. You ain't the whole works maybe; but you're a special, particular party, one that can push buttons and have 'em answered, paw over the mail, or put your initials under a signature.

And right in the midst of them rosy reflections the door to the private office swings open abrupt and in pads a stout old party wearin' a generous-built pongee suit and a high-crowned Panama. Also there's something familiar about the bushy eyebrows and the lima bean ears. It's Old Hickory himself. I chokes down a gasp and straightens up.

"Gee, Mr. Ellins!" says I. "I thought you was down at the Springs?"

"Didn't think I'd been banished for life, did you?" says he.

"But Mr. Robert," I goes on, "didn't look for you until——"

"No doubt," he breaks in. "Robert and those fool doctors would have kept me soaking in those infernal mud baths until I turned into a crocodile. I know. I'm a gouty, rheumatic old wreck, I suppose; but I'll be dad blistered if I'm going to end my days wallowing in medicated mud! I've had enough. Where is everybody?"

So I has to account for Mr. Robert, tell how Mrs. Ellins and Marjorie and Son-in-Law Ferdie are up to Bar Harbor, and hint that they're expectin' him to come up as soon as he lands.

"That's their programme, is it?" he growls. "Think I'm going to spend the rest of the season sitting on a veranda taking pills, do they? Well, they're mistaken!"

And off he goes into his own room. I don't know what he thought he was goin' to do there. Just habit, I expect. For we've been gettin' along without Old Hickory for quite some time now, while he's been away. First off he tried to keep in touch with things by night letters, then he had a weekly report sent him; but gradually he lost the run of the new deals, and for the last month or so he'd quit firin' over any orders at all.

Through the open door I could see him sittin' at his big, flat-topped mahogany desk, starin' around sort of aimless. Then he pulls out a drawer and shuffles over some old papers that had been there ever since he left. Next he picks up a pen and starts to make some notes.

"Boy!" he sings out. "Ink!"

Course I could have pushed the buzzer and had Vincent do it; but seein' how nobody had put him wise to the change, I didn't feel like announcin' it myself. So I fills the inkwell, chases up a waste basket for him, and turns on the electric fan.

"Now bring the mail!" says he snappy.

He was back to; so it was safe to smile. You see, I'd attended to all the mornin' deliveries, sorted out what I knew had to be held over for Mr. Robert, opened what was doubtful, and sent off a few answers accordin' to orders. But, after all, he was the big boss. He had a right to go through the motions if he wanted to. So I lugs in the mail, dumps it in the tray, and leaves him with it.

Must have been half an hour later, and I was back at my own desk doping out a schedule I'd promised to fix up for Mr. Robert, when I glances up to find Old Hickory wanderin' around the room absent-minded. He's starin' hard at a letter he holds in one paw. All of a sudden he discovers me at the roll-top. For a second he scowls at me from under the bushy eyebrows, and then comes the explosion.

"Boy!" he sings out. "What the hyphenated maledictions are you doing there?"

Well, I broke it to him as gentle as I could.

"Promoted, eh?" he snorts. "To what?"

And I explains how I'm private secretary to the president of the Mutual Funding Company.

"Never heard of such an organization," says he. "What is it, anyway?"

"Dummy concern mostly," says I, "faked up to stall off the I. C. C."

"Eh?" he gawps.

"Interstate Commerce Commission," says I. "We beat 'em to it, you know, by dissolvin'—on paper. Had to have somebody to use the rubber stamp; so they picked me off the gate."

"Humph!" he grunts. "So you're no longer an office boy, eh? But I had you hopping around like one. How was that?"

"Guess I got a hop or two left in me," says I, "specially for you, Mr. Ellins."

"Hah!" says he. "Also more or less blarney left on the tongue. Well, young man, we'll see. As office boy you had your good points, I remember; but as——" Then he breaks off and repeats, "We'll see, Son." And he goes to studyin' the letter once more.

Fin'lly he sends for Piddie. They confabbed for a while, and as Piddie comes out he's still explainin' how he's sure he don't know, but most likely Mr. Robert understands all about it.

"Hang what Robert understands!" snaps Old Hickory. "He isn't here, is he? And I want to know now. Torchy, come in here!"

"Yes, Sir," says I, scentin' trouble and salutin' respectful.

"What about these Universal people refusing to renew that Manistee terminal lease?" he demands.

And if he'd asked how many feathers in a rooster's tail I'd been just as full of information. But from what Piddie's drawn by declarin' an alibi, it didn't look like that was my cue.

"Suppose I get you the correspondence on that?" says I, and rushes out after the copybook.

But the results wa'n't enlightenin'. We'd applied for renewal on the old terms, the Universal folks had sent back word that in due course the matter would be taken up, and that's all until this notice comes in that there's nothin' doin'. "Inexpedient under present conditions," was the way they put it.

"I expect Mr. Robert will be back Monday," I suggests cautious.

"Oh, do you?" raps out Old Hickory. "And meanwhile this lease expires to-morrow noon, leaving us without a foot of ore wharf anywhere on the Great Lakes. What does Mr. Robert intend to do then—transport by aeroplane? Just asked pleasant and polite for a renewal, did he? And before I could make 'em grant the original I all but had their directors strung up by the thumbs! Hah!"

He settles back heavy in his chair and sets them cut granite jaws of his solid. He don't look so much like an invalid, after all. There's good color in his cheeks, and behind the droopy lids you could see the fighting light in his eyes. He glances once more at the letter.

"Hello!" says he. "I thought their main offices were in Chicago. This is from Broadway, International Utilities Building. Perhaps you can tell me what they're doing down there?"

"Subsidiary of I. U.," says I. "Been listed that way all summer."

"Then," says Old Hickory, smilin' grim, "we have to do once more with no less a personage than Gedney Nash. Well, so be it. He and I have fought out other differences. We'll try again. And if I'm a back number, I'll soon know it. Now get me a list of our outside security holdings."

That was his first order; but, say, inside of half an hour he had everybody in the shop, from little Vincent up to the head of the bond department, doin' flipflops and pinwheels. Didn't take 'em long to find out that he was back on the job, either.

"Breezy with that now!" I'd tell 'em. "This is a rush order for the old man. Sure he's in there. Can't you smell the sulphur?"

In the midst of it comes a hundred-word code message from Dalton, our traffic superintendent, sayin' how he'd been notified to remove his wharf spurs within twenty-four hours and askin' panicky what he should do about it.

"Tell him to hold his tracks with loaded ore trains, and keep his shirt on," growls Old Hickory over his shoulder. "And 'phone Peabody, Frost & Co. to send up their railroad securities expert on the double quick."

That's the way it went from eleven A.M. until two-thirty, and all the lunch I indulged in was two bites of a cheese sandwich that Vincent split with me. At two-thirty-five Old Hickory jams on his hat and signals for me.

"Gather up those papers and come along," says he. "I think we're ready now to talk to Gedney Nash."

I smothered a gasp. Was he nutty, or what? You know you don't drop in offhand on a man like Gedney Nash, same as you would on a shrimp bank president, or a corporation head. You hear a lot about him, of course,—now givin' a million to charity, then bein' denounced as a national highway robber,—but you don't see him. Anyway, I never knew of anyone who did. He's the man behind, the one that pulls the strings. Course, he's supposed to be at the head of International Utilities, but he claims not to hold any office. And you know what happened when Congress tried to get him before an investigatin' committee. All that showed up was a squad of lawyers, who announced they was ready to answer any questions they couldn't file an exception to, and three doctors with affidavits to prove that Mr. Nash was about to expire from as many incurable diseases. So Congress gave it up.

Yet here we was, pikin' downtown without any notice, expectin' to find him as easy as if he was a traffic cop on a fixed post. Well, we didn't. The minute we blows into the arcade and begins to ask for him, up slides a smooth-talkin' buildin' detective who listens polite what I feed him and suggests that if we wait a minute he'll call up the gen'ral offices. Which he does and reports that they've no idea where Mr. Nash can be found. Maybe he's gone to the mountains, or over to his Long Island place, or abroad on a vacation.

"Tommyrot!" says Old Hickory. "Gedney Nash never took a vacation in his life. I know he's in New York now."

The gentleman sleuth shrugs his shoulders and allows that if Mr. Ellins ain't satisfied he might go up to Floor 11 and ask for himself. So up we went. Ever in the Tractions Buildin'? Say, it's like bein' caught in a fog down the bay,—all silence and myst'ry. I expect it's the headquarters of a hundred or more diff'rent corporations, all tied up some way or other with I. U. interests; but on the doors never the name of one shows: just "Mr. So-and-So," "Mr. Whadye Callum," "Mr. This-and-That." Clerks hurry by you with papers in their hands, walkin' soft on rubber heels. They tap respectful on a door, it opens silent, they disappear. When they meet in the corridors they pass without hailin', without even a look. You feel that there's something doin' around you, something big and important. But the gears don't give out any hum. It's like a game of blind man's bluff played in the dark.

And the sharp-eyed, gray-haired gent we talked to through the brass gratin' acted like he'd never heard the name Gedney Nash before. When Old Hickory cuts loose with the tabasco remarks at him he only smiles patient and insists that if he can locate Mr. Nash, which he doubts, he'll do his best to arrange an interview. It may take a day, or a week, or a month, but——

"Bah!" snorts Old Hickory, turnin' on his heel, and he cusses eloquent all the way down and out to the taxi.

"Seems to me I've heard how Mr. Nash uses a private elevator," I suggests.

"Quite like him," says Old Hickory. "Think you could find it?"

"I could make a stab," says I.

But at that I knew I was kiddin' myself. Why not? Ain't there been times when whole bunches of live-wire reporters, not to mention relays of court deputies, have raked New York with a fine-tooth comb, lookin' for Gedney Nash, without even gettin' so much as a glimpse of his limousine rollin' round a corner.

"Suppose we circle the block once or twice, while I tear off a few Sherlock Holmes thoughts?" says I.

Mr. Ellins sniffs scornful; but he'd gone the limit himself, so he gives the directions. I leaned back, shut my eyes, and tried to guess how a foxy old guy like Nash would fix it up so he could do the unseen duck off Broadway into his private office. Was it a tunnel from the subway through the boiler basement, or a bridge from the next skyscraper, or—— But the sight of a blue cap made me ditch this dream stuff. Funny I hadn't thought of that line before—and me an A. D. T. once myself!

"Hey, you!" I calls out the window. "Wait up, Cabby, while we take on a passenger. Yes, you, Skinny. Hop in here. Ah, what for would we be kidnappin' a remnant like you? It's your birthday, ain't it? And the gentleman here has a present for you—a whole dollar. Eh, Mr. Ellins?"

Old Hickory looks sort of puzzled; but he forks out the singleton, and the messenger climbs in after it. A chunky, round-faced kid he was too. I pushed him into one of the foldin' front seats and proceeds to apply the pump.

"What station do you run from, Sport?" says I.

"Number six," says he.

"Oh, yes," says I. "Just back of the Exchange. And is old Connolly chief down there still?"

"Yes, Sir," says he.

"Give him my regards when you get back," says I, "and tell him Torchy says he's a flivver."

The kid grins enthusiastic.

"By the way," I goes on, "who's he sendin' out with the Nash work—Gedney Nash's, you know?"

"Number 17," says he, "Loppy Miller."

"What!" says I. "Old Loppy carryin' the book yet? Why, he had grown kids when I wore the stripes. Well, well! Cagy old duffer, Loppy. Ever ask him where he delivers the Nash business?"

"Yep," says the youngster, "and he near got me fired for it."

"But you found out, didn't you?" says I.

He glances at me suspicious and rolls his eyes. "M-m-m-m," says he, shakin' his head.

"Ah, come!" says I. "You don't mean that a real sure-fire like you could be shunted that way? There'd be no harm in your givin' a guess, and if it was right—well, we could run that birthday stake up five more; couldn't we, Mr. Ellins?"

Old Hickory nods, and passes me a five-spot prompt.

"Well?" says I, wavin' it careless.

The kid might have been scared, but he had the kale-itch in his fingers. "All I know," says he, "is that Loppy allus goes into the William Street lobby of the Farmers' National."

"Go on!" says I. "That don't come within two numbers of backin' against the Traction Buildin'."

"But Loppy allus does," he insists. "There's a door to the right, just beyond the teller's window. But you can't get past the gink in the gray helmet. I tried once."

"Secret entrance, eh?" says I. "Sounds convincin'. Anyway, I got your number. So here's your five. Invest it in baby bonds, and don't let on to Mother. You're six to the good, and your job safe. By-by!"

"What now?" says Old Hickory. "Shall we try the secret door?"

"Not unless we're prepared to do strong arm work on the guard," says I. "No. What we got to frame up now is a good excuse. Let's see, you can't ring in as one of the fam'ly, can you?"

"Not as any relative of Gedney's," says Old Hickory. "I'm not built right."

"How about his weak points?" says I. "Know of any fads of his?"

"Why," says Mr. Ellins, "he is a good deal interested in landscape gardening, and he goes in for fancy poultry, I believe."

"That's the line!" says I. "Poultry! Ain't there a store down near Fulton Market where we could buy a sample?"

I was in too much of a rush to go into details, and it must have seemed a batty performance to Old Hickory; but off we chases, and when we drove up to the Farmers' National half an hour later I has a wicker cage in each hand and Mr. Ellins has both fists full of poultry literature displayed prominent. Sure enough too, we finds the door beyond the teller's window, also the gink in the gray helmet. He's a husky-built party, with narrow-set, suspicious eyes.

"Up to Mr. Nash's," says I casual, makin' a move to walk right past.

"Back up!" says he, steppin' square across the way. "What Mr. Nash?"

"Whadye mean, what Mr. Nash?" says I. "There ain't clusters of 'em, are there? Mr. Gedney Nash, of course."

"Wrong street," says he. "Try around on Broadway."

"What a kidder!" says I. "But if you will delay the champion hen expert of the country," and I nods to Old Hickory, "just send word up to Mr. Nash that Mr. Skellings has come with that pair of silver-slashed blue Orpingtons he wanted to see."

"Blue which?" says the guard.

"Ah, take a look!" says I. "Ain't they some birds? Gold medal winners, both of 'em."

I holds open the paper wrappings while he inspects the cacklers. And, believe me, they was the fanciest poultry specimens I'd ever seen! Honest, they looked like they'd been got up for the pullets' annual costume ball.

"And Mr. Nash," I goes on, "said Mr. Skellings was to bring 'em in this way."

The guard takes another glance at Old Hickory, and that got him; for in his high-crowned Panama the boss does look more like a fancy farmer than he does like the head of the Corrugated.

"I'll see," says he, openin' a little closet and producin' a 'phone. He was havin' some trouble too, tellin' someone just who we was, when I cuts in.

"Ah, just describe the birds," says I. "Silver-slashed blue Orpingtons, you know."

Does it work? Say, in less than two minutes we was being towed through a windin' passage that fin'lly ends in front of a circular shaft with a cute little elevator waitin' at the bottom.

"Pass two," says the guard.

Another minute and we're bein' shot up I don't know how many stories, and are steppin' out into the swellest set of office rooms I was ever in. A mahogany door opens, and in comes a wispy, yellow-skinned, dried-up little old party with eyes like a rat. Didn't look much like the pictures they print of him, but I guessed it was Gedney.

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