In about two minutes a light flashed in the hall, the front door was unlocked, and Martin appeared, half-dressed. Bart relievedly put up his watch. It was just three minutes of twelve.
He instantly placed the express envelope in Martin’s hands, slipping into the vestibule.
“Mr. Martin,” he said, “it is necessary for you to verify the contents of this package. An accident happened to it, as you see.”
Martin tore the envelope clear open, and glanced over fifteen bills of one thousand dollar denomination each.
“All right,” he said gruffly.
“Will you sign this receipt?” asked Bart politely, tendering the slip of paper he had prepared at the office for this especial occasion. “Thank you,” he added, as the pickle man scrawled a penciled signature at the bottom of the paper.
“I take this money,” said Mr. Martin, looking up with a peculiar expression on his face, “because it is delivered by you, but I shall return it to Dunn & Son to-morrow.”
“That is your business, Mr. Martin,” said Bart politely.
“It is, and—something more! I call on you and your witnesses to notice that the fifteen thousand dollars was not delivered to me until six minutes after twelve, too late to make the tender legal, which makes the contract null and void.”
Mr. Martin, with a triumphant sweep of his hand, pointed to a big clock at the end of the long hall.
“I beg your pardon,” said Bart, holding up his watch, “but I keep official time, and it is exactly thirty seconds to midnight. Listen!”
And thirty seconds later, from the Pleasantville court house tower, the town bell rang out twelve musical strokes.
BROUGHT TO TIME
“I’ll go!” said Colonel Jeptha Harrington, magnate of Pleasantville.
“All right,” said Bart Stirling, express company agent.
It was three o’clock in the morning, and the scene was the little express office where so many unusual and exciting happenings had transpired within twenty-four hours.
The colonel’s announcement was given in the tone of a man facing a hard proposition and forced to accept it—or something worse.
Bart’s reply was calm and off-handed. During a two hours’ siege with the military man he had never lost his temper or his wits, and had come off the victor.
When Bart had concluded his very creditable piece of business with Mr. Martin of the pickle factory, he had sent Darry and Bob Haven back to bed, and had forthwith returned to the express office.
Colonel Harrington, scared-looking and sullen, was still there. He seemed to have met his match in the young express agent, and dared not defy him.
Bart found McCarthy, the night watchman, on guard outside, who told him that they had got Lem Wacker clear of the bumpers, had carried him into the express office, made up a rude litter, and had sent for a surgeon.