Chapter XIII. A Young Insurance Agent
 

"You don't live in Elm Bank?" said the young girl, inquiringly.

"No," answered Walter, swelling with pardonable pride. "I am going there on business." "Have you ever been there before?" asked his fair companion.

"No."

"You look young to be in business."

"I haven't been in business long," returned Walter, wondering if he looked so very young. Then he added, with a sudden impulse, "I am an insurance agent."

"Are you? I--I thought--"

"What did you think?" asked Walter, a little curious.

"I would rather not say it."

"I wish you would."

"You will promise not to be offended?"

"Yes."

"I have been told that insurance agents are very cheeky."

Walter laughed.

"I don't know about that," he said. "I haven't been in the business long enough yet. Do you know if any insurance agents have visited Elm Bank lately?"

"No, I don't think so."

"Perhaps you would like to have your life insured?" said Walter, with a humorous look.

"Can you insure me fifty cents' worth?"

"I am afraid not."

"Then I must put it off, for that is all the money I have."

Conversation drifted into other channels, and was kept up till the cars slowed down and the conductor, putting his head in at the door, called out, "Elm Bank."

Walter and his companion rose and, leaving the car, stepped out on the platform. Walter asked leave to carry a small bundle belonging to the young lady.

"Could you recommend any one who is likely to want his life insured?" he asked.

His companion pointed to a small house some quarter of a mile distant, but plainly visible on account of its high location.

"That house belongs to a German named Louis Fishbach," she said. "He has a little money, and earns good wages in a shoe shop. He has a wife and four young children. Perhaps he will be willing to insure."

"Thank you. I will try him."

"I will leave you here, as I live in a different direction. I am sure I am much obliged to you for your politeness, Mr.--" Here she hesitated.

"Sherwood," supplied Walter.

"Mr. Sherwood. My name is Jennie Gilbert."

"Good afternoon, Miss Jennie," said Walter, politely removing his hat.

He stopped a moment and watched the retreating figure of the young girl.

"I hope I shall meet her again some time," he said to himself.

"I say, who be you?"

Walter turned quickly, and found himself confronted by a stout, hulking young fellow, broad-shouldered, and dressed in country fashion. He was, judging from his appearance, about twenty-one years of age. His tone and face indicated that he was displeased.

"Why do you want to know?" asked Walter coldly.

"Why do I want to know? I'll tell you why I want to know. I ain't goin' to have any city dude chinning up to my best girl."

"Is Miss Jennie Gilbert your best girl?" asked Walter.

"Well, she can be if she wants to be. I picked her out a year ago, and as soon as she is old enough I'm goin' to let her know it."

"Then she isn't your best girl now?"

"No matter whether she is or not. I ain't goin' to have you paying 'tentions to her."

"I don't see what business it is of yours," retorted Walter.

"You'll find out if I give you a lickin'!" growled the other, handling the stick which he carried in a suggestive manner.

Walter was inclined to retort in kind, but all at once it struck him as foolish to get into a quarrel about a girl whom he had known less than an hour.

"If it will make you feel any better," he said, "I'll tell you that I got acquainted with Miss Gilbert in the cars this afternoon. I never met her before, and, as I live in Chicago, I don't suppose I shall ever meet her again."

The young man's face cleared up.

"Come, that's honest," he said. "I thought you wanted to cut me out."

"If Miss Gilbert likes you I shan't interfere," said Walter. "Now I'm going to talk business. I would like to insure your life."

"What's that? You ain't a doctor, be you?"

"No."

Walter proceeded to explain in as simple terms as he could command the object and methods of life insurance.

The young man scratched his head.

"When do I get the money?" he asked.

"It is paid after your death."

"Then it won't do me any good."

"No; but suppose you have a wife and children--you would like to leave them something, wouldn't you?"

"I might live longer than my wife," suggested the young man triumphantly.

Walter found that his new acquaintance could only be influenced by considerations of personal advantage, and was compelled to give up the attempt to insure him.

He kept on his way till he reached the house of Mr. Fishbach, to whom he had been recommended.

Fortunately for his purpose, the shoe shop in which the German was employed was closed for the day, and Walter found him at home mending a wagon in the back yard.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Fishbach," said Walter, raising his hat politely.

"I don't know who you are," answered Mr. Fishbach, with a scrutinizing glance.

"I should like to insure your life."

"You want to insure my life--what's dat?"

"If you will tell me your age, I will explain to you." "I was forty- nine next Christmas. You ain't the census man, eh?"

"No; that is quite another matter. Now, Mr. Fishbach," continued Walter, referring to a pamphlet in his hand, "if you will pay to the company which I represent forty-four dollars every year, when you die a thousand dollars will be paid to your wife, or any one else you may name."

"You won't pay me till I am dead, eh?"

"No."

"How will I know you pay then?"

"We do business on the square. We keep our promises."

"You pay the money to my widow, eh?"

"Yes. If you pay twice as much we will pay two thousand dollars."

"What good will that do me, eh?"

"You will leave your wife comfortable, won't you?"

"If she gets much money she'll maybe marry again."

"Perhaps so."

"And the money will go to her second husband, eh?"

"If she chooses to give it to him."

"By jiminy, that won't suit me. I will spend my money myself."

"But if you die, how will your wife and children get along?"

"What makes you think I'm goin' to die, eh? Do I look delicate?"

As Walter surveyed the stout, rotund figure of Mr. Fishbach he could not help laughing at the idea of his being delicate.

"You look likely to live," he was forced to admit. "Still, life is uncertain." "You can't scare Louis Fishbach, young man. My father lived till seventy-seven and my mother was seventy-five. My children can take care of themselves when I die, and they can look after the old woman."

Walter used such other arguments as occurred to him, but his German friend was not to be moved, and he rather despondently put his documents into his pocket and went out into the street.

"I had no idea I should find it so difficult," he reflected.

Life insurance seemed to him so beneficent, and so necessary a protection for those who would otherwise be unprovided for, that he could not understand how any one who cared for his wife and children could fail to avail himself of its advantages.

After leaving the house of Mr. Fishbach he kept on in the same direction. Being unacquainted in Elm Bank, he had to trust to chance to guide him.

A little distance beyond was an old-fashioned, two-story house.

"Perhaps I had better call," thought Walter, and he entered the path that led to the side door. He had scarcely taken three steps when he was startled by a scream that seemed to proceed from the interior.

"Help! help!" was the cry that reached him.

He started to run, and on reaching the door opened it without ceremony. The sight that confronted him was one to test his courage.