Bock stood by the wheel with his long, curly tongue running in and out over his teeth. I hesitated a moment, thinking just how to phrase my attack, when the elderly gentleman called out:
“Where’s the Professor?”
I was beginning to realize that Mifflin was indeed a public character.
“Heavens!” I said. “Do you know him, too?”
“Well, I should think so,” he said. “Didn’t he come to see me last spring about an appropriation for school libraries, and wouldn’t leave till I’d promised to do what he wanted! He stayed the night with us and we talked literature till four o’clock in the morning. Where is he now? Have you taken over Parnassus?”
“Just at present,” I said, “Mr. Mifflin is in the jail at Port Vigor.”
The ladies gave little cries of astonishment, and the gentleman himself (I had sized him up as a school commissioner or something of that sort) seemed not less surprised.
“In jail!” he said. “What on earth for? Has he sandbagged somebody for reading Nick Carter and Bertha M. Clay? That’s about the only crime he’d be likely to commit.”
“He’s supposed to have cozened me out of four hundred dollars,” I said, “and my brother has had him locked up. But as a matter of fact he wouldn’t swindle a hen out of a new-laid egg. I bought Parnassus of my own free will. I’m on my way to Port Vigor now to get him out. Then I’m going to ask him to marry me—if he will. It’s not leap year, either.”
He looked at me, his thin, lined face working with friendliness. He was a fine-looking man—short, gray hair brushed away from a broad, brown forehead. I noticed his rich, dark suit and the spotless collar. This was a man of breeding, evidently.
“Well, Madam,” he said, “any friend of the Professor is a friend of ours.” (His wife and the girls chimed in with assent.) “If you would like a lift in our car to speed you on your errand, I’m sure Bob here would be glad to drive Parnassus into Port Vigor. Our tire will soon be mended.”
The young man assented heartily, but as I said before, I was bent on taking Parnassus back myself. I thought the sight of his own tabernacle would be the best balm for Mifflin’s annoying experience. So I refused the offer, and explained the situation a little more fully.
“Well,” he said, “then let me help in any way I can.” He took a card from his pocket-book and scribbled something on it. “When you get to Port Vigor,” he said, “show this at the jail and I don’t think you’ll have any trouble. I happen to know the people there.”
So after a hand-shake all round I went on again, much cheered by this friendly little incident. It wasn’t till I was some way along the road that I thought of looking at the card he had given me. Then I realized why the man’s face had been familiar. The card read quite simply: