Read CHAPTER IX - SHARP PRACTICE of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

For a few days after his interview with John Nason Albert tried to find some plausible excuse for leaving Frye. He did not want to make an enemy of him, and more especially now that he was to succeed him as John Nason’s legal adviser. He knew that Frye would know he could not easily better himself, and would reason that, unknown and without money in a great city as he was, it would be some unusual opening that would make him turn away from what Frye considered a large salary. Then again, he had promised Mr. Nason not to disclose their agreement to Frye, and more than that, he felt in honor bound not to let Frye even suspect it. It was while perplexed with the situation and trying to solve it that it solved itself in an unexpected way.

Frye was out that day, and Albert was, as he had been for three days, thinking how to escape, when a red-faced and rather bellicose sort of a man came in and inquired for Frye.

“My name is Staples,” he said, “and I’ve got a lawsuit on my hands. I’ve laid the facts before your partner, I s’pose, but I thought I’d just drop in and give him a few pointers that might help my case.”

“What is your case?” asked Albert, a little amused at being taken for Frye’s partner.

“Wal, the facts are,” replied Staples, “I’ve had to sue a miserable whelp in self-defence. I live in Lynnfield. It’s a small place about ten miles out, and last spring I bought the good will, stock in trade, an’ all of a man by the name of Hunt, who was in the meat business. He signed a paper, too, agreein’ not to engage in the business in or within ten miles o’ Lynnfield for a period o’ five years, and a month ago he opened a shop almost ‘cross the street from me and is cuttin’ my prices right and left, confound him.”

“And you are bringing an action for breach of contract?” interposed Albert, thinking to have a little fun at the expense of his caller.

“I’m a-suin’ him for ten thousand dollars’ damage, if that’s what you mean,” replied the belligerent Staples. “I won’t get it all, but then, as your partner said, we may get more than if we sued for less. Law’s a big game of bluff, I reckon.”

Albert smiled. “And so you are basing your suit on this signed agreement, are you?” he said; “well, you might as well stop just now, for you have no case in law, though no doubt a good one in justice.”

“But the agreement is all signed and witnessed,” exclaimed Staples, “and Mr. Frye said I had good reason to bring suit, and I’ve paid him two hundred dollars on account to do it.”

“That may be,” said Albert, realizing he had put his foot in it, so to speak, “and perhaps you have other grounds to base a suit for damages on, but as for the agreement this man Hunt signed, it’s of no value whatever.”

“Then why in thunder did Frye tell me I had a good case, and take my money?” gasped the irate Staples.

“That I can’t say,” replied Albert, foreseeing the rumpus he had started, “you’d better come to-morrow and have a talk with him. He may have seen some loophole for you to win out through that I do not see, but so far as your agreement goes, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”

When the law-thirsty Staples had departed it dawned upon Albert that he had unintentionally paved the way for his own escape from Frye. “I’ll stay away to-morrow,” he said to himself, “and let Staples get in his work, and then face the inevitable storm that I have started.” He had surmised the results accurately, for when, two days later, he purposely reached the office late, Frye did not even bid him good morning.

“Where were you yesterday?” he said curtly, as Albert entered.

“I was availing myself of your express wish that I cultivate young Nason,” was the answer. “We went to Beverly to see to the housing-in of his yacht for the winter.”

“And what did you say to Mr. Staples the day before, I would like to know?” continued Frye in a sneering tone. “He has retained me for an action for breach of contract, and you have told him he had no grounds for suit. He came in yesterday, mad as a wet hen, and wanted his money back. Are you a fool?”

“Maybe I am,” replied Albert, trying hard to keep cool, “but I do not care to be told of it. Mr. Staples explained his case to me, and I inadvertently told him that the agreement he held was of no value in law, which is the truth.”

“And what has that to do with it?” said Frye, with biting sarcasm. “I didn’t hire you to tell the truth and lose me a paying client. If that is your idea of law practice you had better go back to Sandgate and hoe corn for a living. I knew very well his agreement was of no value, but that was a matter for him to find out, not for us to tell him. You have made a mess of it now, and lost me several hundred dollars in fees.”

Albert had remained standing through all this tirade, and looking squarely at his irate employer.

“You need not say any more,” he put in, when Frye had paused for breath; “if you will further oblige me with a check for the small balance due me, I will not again upset your plans. You need not,” he added, feeling himself blush, “consider that you owe me any part of the increase you recently promised. I do not want it.”

It was Frye’s turn to be astonished now. That this verdant limb of the law, as he considered Albert to be, could have the manliness to show any resentment at his scourging, and what was more surprising, coolly resign a good position, he could not understand. For a few minutes the two looked at each other, and then Frye, for reasons of his own, weakened first.

“You are foolish,” he said, in a modified tone, “to act so hastily. Perhaps I have spoken rather rudely, but you must admit you gave me provocation. Do not throw away a good chance for a few hasty words.”

“I do not care to discuss it,” answered Albert firmly; “the rôle of private detective that you want me to assume is not to my taste, anyway, and your words have convinced me we can never get along together. I will not remain longer on any terms.”

“And what will you do now?” sneered Frye, a sinister look entering his yellow eyes, “steal or starve?”

“Neither,” replied Albert defiantly; “I’ll go back to Sandgate and hoe corn first.”

Then, as a realizing sense of how much he was in the power of this courageous stripling came to Frye, his arrogance all melted, and as he turned and began to play with a paper-cutter he said meekly:

“Come, Mr. Page, overlook it all. I spoke too hastily, and I apologize.”

It was the guilty coward conquering the brute instinct, but it availed not.

“Will you oblige me with the small balance due me to-day,” asked Albert, “or shall I call again for it?”

“And if we part company now,” muttered Frye, “what am I to expect? Are you to be a friend or an enemy?”

“If you refer to your scheme to blackmail John Nason,” replied Albert resolutely, and not mincing words, “I am too ashamed to think I ever listened to your proposals to even speak of it.”

It was a hard blow and made Frye wince, for it was the first time he had ever been openly called a villain, but, craven hypocrite that he was, he made no protest. Instead, he silently wrote a check for Albert’s due and handed it to him.

“I am much obliged, Mr. Frye. Good morning, sir,” said Albert in a chilly tone, and putting on his hat, he left the office.

When the door was closed behind him he turned, shook his fist at it, and muttered: “You miserable old villainous vulture! I am glad I saved one victim from being robbed by you!”

But Albert cooled off in time. We always do.

That night when he met Frank at the club he grasped one of that young man’s hands in both of his and as he shook it, exclaimed:

“If you were Alice now, I would hug and kiss you!”

“Well,” responded Frank, “if you were Alice now, all I can say is, it would meet my entire approbation; but tell me what ails you? Have you had a fortune left you?”

“Yes and no,” replied Albert; “your father has given me the chance of a lifetime and I am free from old Frye. I have you to thank for the chance, I am sure.”

“Well, I put in a good word for you when I had the opportunity,” said Frank modestly, “and the sermon you preached me once, and which I reported to dad, may have had some weight with him.”

In a week Albert had his office fitted up, and then he presented himself to John Nason, and after that he not only had all the responsibility thrust upon him that he was able to assume, but he no longer felt himself in the position of a menial. To one of his proud spirit it meant self-respect, life, and sunshine.