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Ned's Stroke of Business by Lucy Maud Montgomery

"Jump in, Ned; I can give you a lift if you're going my way." Mr. Rogers reined up his prancing grey horse, and Ned Allen sprang lightly into the comfortable cutter. The next minute they were flying down the long, glistening road, rosy-white in the sunset splendour. The first snow of the season had come, and the sleighing was, as Ned said, "dandy."

"Going over to Windsor, I suppose," said Mr. Rogers, with a glance at the skates that were hanging over Ned's shoulder.

"Yes, sir; all the Carleton boys are going over tonight. The moon is out, and the ice is good. We have to go in a body, or the Windsor fellows won't leave us alone. There's safety in numbers."

"Pretty hard lines when boys have to go six miles for a skate," commented Mr. Rogers.

"Well, it's that or nothing," laughed Ned. "There isn't a saucerful of ice any nearer, except that small pond in Old Dutcher's field, behind his barn. And you know Old Dutcher won't allow a boy to set foot there. He says they would knock down his fences climbing over them, and like as not set fire to his barn."

"Old Dutcher was always a crank," said Mr. Rogers, "and doubtless will be to the end. By the way, I heard a rumour to the effect that you are soon going to take a course at the business college in Trenton. I hope it's true."

Ned's frank face clouded over. "I'm afraid not, sir. The truth is, I guess Mother can't afford it. Of course, Aunt Ella has very kindly offered to board me free for the term, but fees, books, and so on would require at least fifty dollars. I don't expect to go."

"That's a pity. Can't you earn the necessary money yourself?"

Ned shook his head. "Not much chance for that in Carleton, Mr. Rogers. I've cudgelled my brains for the past month trying to think of some way, but in vain. Well, here is the crossroad, so I must get off. Thank you for the drive, sir."

"Keep on thinking, Ned," advised Mr. Rogers, as the lad jumped out. "Perhaps you'll hit on some plan yet to earn that money, and if you do—well, it will prove that you have good stuff in you."

"I think it would," laughed Ned to himself, as he trudged away. "A quiet little farming village in winter isn't exactly a promising field for financial operations."

At Winterby Corners Ned found a crowd of boys waiting for him, and soon paired off with his chum, Jim Slocum. Jim, as usual, was grumbling because they had to go all the way to Windsor to skate.

"Like as not we'll get into a free fight with the Windsorites when we get there, and be chevied off the ice," he complained.

The rivalry which existed between the Carleton and the Windsor boys was bitter and of long standing.

"We ought to be able to hold our own tonight," said Ned. "There'll be thirty of us there."

"If we could only get Old Dutcher to let us skate on his pond!" said Jim. "It wouldn't hurt his old pond! And the ice is always splendid on it. I'd give a lot if we could only go there."

Ned was silent. A sudden idea had come to him. He wondered if it were feasible. "Anyhow, I'll try it," he said to himself. "I'll interview Old Dutcher tomorrow."

The skating that night was not particularly successful. The small pond at Windsor was crowded, the Windsor boys being out in force and, although no positive disturbance arose, they contrived to make matters unpleasant for the Carletonites, who tramped moodily homeward in no very good humour, most of them declaring that, skating or no skating, they would not go to Windsor again.

The next day Ned Allen went down to see Mr. Dutcher, or Old Dutcher, as he was universally called in Carleton. Ned did not exactly look forward to the interview with pleasure. Old Dutcher was a crank—there was no getting around that fact. He had "good days" occasionally when, for him, he was fairly affable, but they were few and far between, and Ned had no reason to hope that this would be one. Old Dutcher was unmarried, and his widowed sister kept house for him. This poor lady had a decidedly lonely life of it, for Old Dutcher studiously discouraged visitors. His passion for solitude was surpassed only by his eagerness to make and save money. Although he was well-to-do, he would wrangle over a cent, and was the terror of all who had ever had dealings with him.

Fortunately for Ned and his project, this did turn out to be one of Old Dutcher's good days. He had just concluded an advantageous bargain with a Windsor cattle-dealer, and hence he received Ned with what, for Old Dutcher, might be called absolute cordiality. Besides, although Old Dutcher disliked all boys on principle, he disliked Ned less than the rest because the boy had always treated him respectfully and had never played any tricks on him on Hallowe'en or April Fool's Day.

"I've come down to see you on a little matter of business, Mr. Dutcher," said Ned, boldly and promptly. It never did to beat about the bush with Old Dutcher; you had to come straight to the point. "I want to know if you will rent your pond behind the barn to me for a skating-rink."

Old Dutcher's aspect was certainly not encouraging. "No, I won't. You ought to know that. I never allow anyone to skate there. I ain't going to have a parcel of whooping, yelling youngsters tearing over my fences, disturbing my sleep at nights, and like as not setting fire to my barns. No, sir! I ain't going to rent that pond for no skating-rink."

Ned smothered a smile. "Just wait a moment, Mr. Dutcher," he said respectfully. "I want you to hear my proposition before you refuse definitely. First, I'll give you ten dollars for the rent of the pond; then I'll see that there will be no running over your fields and climbing your fences, no lighting of fire or matches about it, and no 'whooping and yelling' at nights. My rink will be open only from two to six in the afternoon and from seven to ten in the evening. During that time I shall always be at the pond to keep everything in order. The skaters will come and go by the lane leading from the barn to the road. I think that if you agree to my proposition, Mr. Dutcher, you will not regret it."

"What's to prevent my running such a rink myself?" asked Old Dutcher gruffly.

"It wouldn't pay you, Mr. Dutcher," answered Ned promptly. "The Carleton boys wouldn't patronize a rink run by you."

Old Dutcher's eyes twinkled. It did not displease him to know that the Carleton boys hated him. In fact, it seemed as if he rather liked it.

"Besides," went on Ned, "you couldn't afford the time. You couldn't be on the pond for eight hours a day and until ten o'clock at night. I can, as I've nothing else to do just now. If I had, I wouldn't have to be trying to make money by a skating-rink."

Old Dutcher scowled. Ten dollars was ten dollars and, as Ned had said, he knew very well that he could not run a rink by himself. "Well," he said, half reluctantly, "I suppose I'll let you go ahead. Only remember I'll hold you responsible if anything happens."

Ned went home in high spirits. By the next day he had placards out in conspicuous places—on the schoolhouse, at the forge, at Mr. Rogers's store, and at Winterby Corners—announcing that he had rented Mr. Dutcher's pond for a skating-rink, and that tickets for the same at twenty-five cents a week for each skater could be had upon application to him.

Ned was not long left in doubt as to the success of his enterprise. It was popular from the start. There were about fifty boys in Carleton and Winterby, and they all patronized the rink freely. At first Ned had some trouble with two or three rowdies, who tried to evade his rules. He was backed up, however, by Old Dutcher's reputation and by the public opinion of the other boys, as well as by his own undoubted muscle, and soon had everything going smoothly. The rink flourished amain, and everybody, even Old Dutcher, was highly pleased.

At the end of the season Ned paid Old Dutcher his ten dollars, and had plenty left to pay for books and tuition at the business college in Trenton. On the eve of his departure Mr. Rogers, who had kept a keen eye on Ned's enterprise, again picked him up on the road.

"So you found a way after all, Ned," he said genially. "I had an idea you would. My bookkeeper will be leaving me about the time you will be through at the college. I will be wanting in his place a young man with a good nose for business, and I rather think that you will be that young man. What do you say?"

"Thank you, sir," stammered Ned, scarcely believing his ears. A position in Mr. Rogers's store meant good salary and promotion. He had never dared to hope for such good fortune. "If you—think I can give satisfaction—"

"You manipulated Old Dutcher, and you've earned enough in a very slow-going place to put you through your business-college term, so I am sure you are the man I'm looking for. I believe in helping those who have 'gumption' enough to help themselves, so we'll call it a bargain, Ned."


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