ページの画像
PDF
ePub

evidently considered it to be worthy his permanent bareheadedness. He therefore tossed the hat into the seat behind him. “To tell the truth and shame the devil, there's no Biddle. I just invented it to sound good. Hopkins is a kicky sort of name. Biddle is the ballast to keep Hopkins down. I'm HopkinsHunnerton Hopkins, very much at your service, Miss McAllister."

All the time he was talking he was plainly thinking of something else, and thinking hard.

He had the round, innocent face of a schoolboy, but it was criss-crossed with the wrinkles of forty odd years and of the persistently happy smiles which the real estate business engenders. He could have added that he was widely known as "Honey-tongue Hopkins."

“My, my, but this is the land, isn't it, Miss McAllister?"

Taking a handkerchief he mopped his forehead and surveyed with unfeigned affection the brooding, piney, heat-soaked solitudes of Seminole County. His large blue eyes were as ingenuous as a lad's filled with romance, first love, rabbit-dogs, and dreams, but his kindly mouth was always puckered shrewdly over projects of fencing in some of the adored solitudes and selling them for grove land at a high profit.

"Florida takes a hold of you till you can't shake off the spell of it, Miss McAllister. You see if it ain't so. Some folks allow that you get lazy down here, but 'tain't lazy so much as it's meditative. That's itmeditative.” His deep voice was soothingly caressing. It crooned as comfortably and comfortingly as a darky mammy's. So drawling was it, so filled with the sweet singsong of the south that Laurie was sur

prised to hear him say, “I'm a northerner myself, miss.” But his concluding words explained much. “A northerner, yes, miss, from Kentucky, and I wouldn't go back north not if you paid me.”

To hear Kentucky mentioned as the north jogged Laurie into remembering that she was very far indeed from Times Square, and that she had a vast deal of house-settling to do before nightfall.

Mr. Hunnerton Hopkins was so evidently copying Talleyrand in the respect of employing language to conceal thought, she had small compunctions about cutting him short.

"Please come and meet my grandfather, Mr. Hopkins. Then we are ready to go-if you are." "My, my, your grandfather?

I'm certainly pleased,” said Mr. Hopkins slowly and with a noticeable access of mournfulness. He let himself out of his car, and went over and shook hands with The McAllister, who was fuming and fretting considerably at having been overlooked for too long. “Mr. Laurence McAllister?” asked Hopkins, scrutinizing him with a wary care, much as a housewife might examine a bit of rich old cheese for possible but undesired mites.

Andrew, sir!" spluttered the patriarch. Why commoners did not know the "Andrew" by instinct was always an annoying mystery to him.

“My, my, but this is the warm and gentle land for such as you, Mr. Andrew!"

McAllister, sir!

Again there came into Mr. Hopkins' round blue eyes the badgered, pie-hunting expression with which he had searched the wharf at the time of his arrival.

Laurie began to understand his perplexity. “There's no one else in the party, Mr. Hopkins,"

she said, smiling at a bit of knowledge she held in re

serve,

“Don't say that 'Laurence' has backed out?” besought Mr. Hopkins. He was now worried. There was no doubt about it. He mopped his forehead as though faint and afraid.

“No, Laurence has not backed out, for I am Laurence,” she said, smiling shyly and very happily. Her letters having been mistaken for a man's letters, she felt now as she had felt then—wonderfully complimented. Business ability which bore the masculine stamp could not fail but be of the right kind.

One of those letters Mr. Hopkins now ripped from his pocket. He opened it, struck it flat with his hand, and pointed to her signature.

“What's that?” he demanded. “Laurie and I'm Laurie. I bought the grove."

“You? You?” This situation was clearly a shock to him, and more than a shock, for lines of honest dismay and regret creased his round face. He folded the letter so slowly that the ceremony became aweinspiring. In the silence the "tap, lap," of the river sounded like sobs. It had a dreary question in it. With a more ear-splitting creak than ordinary the impudently hooded blue jay did some derisive bird-calisthenics on the dead pine branch. Mr. Hopkins presently whistled the most lugubrious bars of “Old Black Joe.” When he spoke it was eruptively.

“My, my, if I had only known—why, I never would have My, my, but you've give me the quaint and quisby qualms, Miss McAllister!" Then, wretchedly vocalizing, “I think I hear the angels calling Old Black Joe! ... Miss McAllister, do you reelly mean to say that this is all the family you have?” He pointed down

to the old gentleman, the trunks, and the furniture, indiscriminately. “Mean to tell me that you haven't any man along?"

"I am here, sir!" reminded The McAllister, so feeble with indignation that he had to cling to his cane as an inebriate to a lamp-post.

“Yes, you're here—I see you're here," admitted Mr. Hopkins, without in the least bettering his state of mind.

Mr. Hunnerton Hopkins jerked himself away from the immediate center of disturbance and walked back to his car, against which he ruminatingly leaned with head drooped like a criminals.

“What is the matter?” asked Laurie, swiftly following him. Then, under an anguishing doubt that took possession of her, she utterly gave way, as a girl is apt to do now and then when she is hourly bearing a strain too heavy for her youth. "Oh, don't say

that you have deceived me in any way about the property, Mr. Hopkins! I couldn't stand it! I wouldn't know what to do! He is getting so old, nearly eighty, and has no one in the world but me. He needs a ome so much-we both do—everybody belonging to us is dead, and we have no money. I spent all I had on the grove -every cent except a few dollars, not even enough to pay our passage back in case anything is wrong. . And your face frightens me. You are frightened yourself. Tell me the worst. Isn't there any house? Isn't there any grove? Isn't there any crop?”

CHAPTER II

A

BILITY to recover with rapidity and complete ness from a moral shock being one of the neces

sary accomplishments of a good real estate man, Hunnerton Hopkins, instead of wilting under the girl's pathetically unreserved outbreak, revived. Its diversity provided him with legitimate reason for recovering. The land business is not a business at all, but an art, and a fine art at that, because before an agent can convince a customer he must first convince himself, and to convince oneself becomes harder and harder as years go by. After forty it is wellnigh im-1 possible. The fact that Hunnerton Hopkins at fortytwo was still able to sell was in itself a monument to his skill. When it can be further stated and proved that he could sell high pine land to a person who wanted a lake front, nothing additional need be put forth to establish the genius of the man.

“My, my, my, Miss McAllister," he now crooned in his tenderést mammy tones, crinkles of an amused integrity appearing around his eyes while he patted her shoulder with respectful encouragement, “no house, no grove, no crop? Why, how long do you suppose I'd last if I did business that way? Not five minutes, honey, not five minutes ! Sure there's a house-nicest six-room frame building as ever I saw for the money. Home, sweet home, be it ever so humble, there's no place like home; sure there's a grove and a crop-all yours

« 前へ次へ »