Slowly and when it seemed as if the end was nigh, the tide turned—the brain cleared, restful sleep came, and my life was saved.
Doctor Burling had done everything that science, skill, and faithfulness could accomplish, but the nurse was the Guardian Angel who brought me out of the Dark Valley just as its shadows were closing around me.
My convalescence was slow, but as soon as my strength permitted, with my wife I went to Block Island for a few weeks. There I gained rapidly.
We took no part in the hotel amusements but kept to ourselves, spending our days reading and chatting on the shore in the shade of the bluffs and retiring early for long restful sleep at night.
Block Island is a beautiful spot and we enjoyed our visit there greatly. It is to be expected that at a summer hotel in the height of the season, if a young couple go off day after day by themselves, never mingling with the other guests nor participating in their pleasures, that some comment would be excited, but we were much amused when, the day before we left for home, the major-domo came to us and said, "I understand you are going to leave us to-morrow and I want to tell you, before you go, that the people in the house call you the model bridal couple of the season"—and we had three children at home!
On my return to the office early in September I found it was time for me to perfect my plans for the contemplated change in my business. During my absence very little money had been made. My clerk, I at that time employed but one, had done his best, but as my business was a personal one, my presence was necessary to its success.
The change entailed much labor. Lists of names must be compiled, covering all the buyers in the United States and Canada. These had to be prepared with great care and arranged in classes. There were consumers, dealers, railroad purchasing agents. There were the small and the large buyers in each class. To get these lists required many hours spent in searching through "Bradstreet's," and it was a work I could not delegate and consequently had it to do myself.
The various forms for daily mail quotations were to be arranged and printed, also a complete telegraph code for the use of customers.
Then, too, a vast amount of statistical information had to be gone over and a basis taken for the circulars which I meant to issue to the trade semimonthly. The detail seemed endless, but by the first of October all was in readiness and the change was made.
Before the month was over I became convinced that my move had been a wise one. I had practically no competition worthy of the name and I was finding new customers every day.
So successful was the business from the start that with the help of those last two months of the year my income in 1880 was twenty-one thousand dollars, and this notwithstanding the fact that I had lost two months through my illness. It was really the result of but ten months' business.
On the ninth of November when I returned from the city it was to find that our family circle had again widened, and at "Sunnyside" all hearts were open in joyful greeting to another little girl.
My wife as she returned my caress and exhibited to me this fourth jewel in her crown, noticed that I was agitated, and with the smile and the intention of calming me with a joke, said, "Darling, are not two pair a pretty good hand"? We neither of us play poker, but I could appreciate the joke.
What a joyful holiday season we had that year!
As we drank at our Christmas dinner a toast to the health, happiness, and prosperity of all our friends, we felt that we ourselves were getting our full share.
My wife, beloved by all, had become a sort of Lady Bountiful to the poor of a neighboring village, and the thought of the many others we had made happy that day added zest to our pleasure.
A SUCCESSFUL MANEUVER
Elation expressed my feeling at the result of the change in my business. The material benefit already was demonstrated and the mental satisfaction at the correctness of my judgment added much to the pleasure of reaping the profit.
Apparently 1881 was to be a banner year.
My firm was growing rapidly into prominence. From Maine to California and throughout the Canadas we were now well known.
I say we, for as my readers will remember, in 1876 when my partner, Allis, retired, I continued doing business as W. E. Stowe & Company, though I never after had a partner and all acts of or reference to the firm will be understood as relating to myself individually.
Our statistics, in the absence of any official figures, were accepted by the trade as an authority, and in the foreign markets also, so far as the American figures were concerned, they were regarded in the same light.
As the business between London and New York was large and I foresaw that it must increase greatly I was desirous of having a London connection. A dozen reputable firms were open to me but I was ambitious. I looked forward to become the leading firm in the trade in this country and I wanted a connection with the leading firm in London.
This firm had been for some months consigning occasional parcels to a large banking house. The bankers sold through any broker. A share of the business came to our office but it was unimportant. I wanted it all, not so much for its present as for the future value.
So far as this market was concerned I knew we were in a position that was unique.
We enjoyed the confidence of the large importers and dealers and were in close touch with the consuming trade throughout the country. Our facilities for getting information as to stocks in the aggregate and individually were unequalled. The large consumers posted us in advance of what their requirements would be for certain periods. If the large city dealers were manipulating the market it was done through our office and we knew their plans.
Information of this character must be of value to the London firm and we knew it was not getting it.
That was my keynote.
I wrote the firm a newsy, chatty market letter, saying nothing of doing business together. After that first letter I never let a mail steamer leave New York that did not carry a letter to the firm from our office.
While those letters gave enough information to show the recipient our position in the trade, I wish to emphasize the fact that not one word was written that in the remotest degree was a violation of any confidence reposed in us by our New York friends.
The weeks went by and we received from the London firm—nothing. Finally came a brief communication acknowledging with thanks our various letters and requesting their continuance, ending with an offer, if at any time they could be of service to us in the way of giving information on their market, to reciprocate.
To this I replied with a request that the monthly European statistics, which the firm published, should be cabled us at the end of each month that we might publish them with ours.
This request was complied with, and thereafter we kept up our letters, always endeavoring to make them more interesting and occasionally receiving brief letters in acknowledgment.
This one-sided correspondence continued for several months, then I wrote that we purposed forming a London connection and would much prefer to do so with their firm if open for it. If not, we should of course be compelled to cease our advices and make an arrangement with some other firm.
As I had hoped, the taste of our quality had encouraged an appetite for more, and after brief negotiations an arrangement was entered into by which we controlled the firm's business in the American markets.
It proved a very profitable arrangement for both firms.
With this London connection secured I had taken the last step necessary for doing business on the broadest scale.
The wheel had been built starting from the hub, the tire was elastic, and as the spokes lengthened the circumference became so large that we were gathering force with each revolution and all the business in sight was coming our way.
Up to this time I had done nothing in the way of seeking speculative customers and I now began to think seriously of doing so.
The field was large, the only difficulty was to get people who had been accustomed to speculate in grain, cotton, and petroleum to try a new commodity. I knew the opportunities for money making, but it was necessary to convince the speculator that the chances of gain were better, the possibility of loss less than in the well-known great speculative commodities of the age.
I commenced the preparation of educational literature with which I meant to circularize the country. I did not want the small fry, the little speculator with only a few hundreds or thousands of dollars. What I was after was men of financial ability and the nerve to go into large operations and see them through to a finish.
Before I made a move, our first speculative client put in an appearance.
He was in the trade, senior partner of the largest firm in Baltimore, and no argument from us was necessary. Calling at the office he gave us an order for his individual account, the transaction to be carried in our name.
It was not a large order, the margin he deposited with us being but two thousand dollars.
When the transaction was closed and we returned him his margin, we had the pleasure of including in our cheque thirty-nine hundred dollars profit, after deducting our commissions, which amounted to five hundred and seventy-five dollars.
This experience gave me a hint I was quick to take. If an individual member of one firm in the trade would speculate, why not members of other firms? The ethics of the case, the propriety of a partner speculating on his own account in a commodity in which his firm was dealing, did not concern me.
Here was a field I had not counted on and I determined to explore it before going to the general public.
I had one hundred letters mailed in plain envelopes to individual members of the larger firms which we were regularly selling. The result astonished me. This was in December, 1881, and before the following February sixty-seven of the men written to had accounts on our books.
Some of the novel experiences in this branch of the business will be related in a later chapter.
As I had anticipated, 1881 was a banner year. My profits were nearly twenty-eight thousand dollars.
"Sunnyside" had become too small for us.
Our life had been so happy there we could not bear to think of leaving it. I had an architect look the house over and prepare plans for an extensive addition.
This was done, though he strongly disadvised it. I could not but admit the force of his argument that it was foolish, regarded from an investment point of view, to expend on the place the amount I contemplated. Far better to sell and build a new house was his opinion.
Then we talked of moving the house to another plot and building on the old site. To this there were two objections. The site was not suitable for the style of house I wanted and there was too little land, with no opportunity to add to it as the land on either side was already occupied.
The matter was settled by the appearance of a buyer for "Sunnyside," at a price that paid me a fair profit, and I made the sale subject to possession being given when the new house was completed.
Within a stone's throw of "Sunnyside" was a plot of land, a little less than two acres in extent that we had always admired. I bought the land for five thousand dollars and the architect commenced at once on the plans.
We thought that the new house was to be our home for the rest of our days and naturally the greatest interest was taken in every detail. The first plans submitted were satisfactory, after a few minor changes, and ground was broken on July 2d, 1881. How we watched the progress.
From the time the first shovelful of earth was taken out for the excavations until the last work was finished, not a day passed that we did not go over it all.
"Redstone," taking its name from the red sandstone of which it was built, was, and is to-day, a fine example of the architecture then so much in vogue for country houses.
The Matthews House on Riverside Drive, New York City, so much admired, was designed by the same architect and modelled after it.
Standing on a hill its three massive outside chimneys support a roof of graceful outlines and generous proportions. From the three second-story balconies one gets views near and distant of a beautiful country. The fourteen-feet wide piazza on the first floor, extending across the front and around the tower, with its stone porte cochere and entrance arch is most inviting. With grounds tastefully laid out, driveways with their white-stone paved gutters, cut-stone steps to the terraces, great trees, and handsome shrubs the place was a delight to the eye, and at the time, of which I write there was nothing to compare with it in that section.
Through a massive doorway one enters a hall of baronial character, thirty-three feet long, eighteen feet wide, and twenty-one feet high, finished in oak with open beam ceiling and above the high wainscot a rough wall in Pompeian red.
Two features of the hall are the great stone fireplace with its old-fashioned crane and huge wrought iron andirons and the stained glass window on the staircase, a life-sized figure of a "Knight of Old."
This hall was illustrated in Appleton's work on "Artistic Interiors."
On the right is the spacious drawing-room in San Domingo mahogany and rich decorations in old rose and gold, and back of it the large library in black walnut with its beautifully carved mantel and numerous low book-cases. Then came the dining-room in oak and Japanese leather and a fountain in which the gold fish sported—but enough of description. This was our home and when we had completed the appointments they were tasteful and in keeping.
We moved in on April 28th, 1882. Here then we were settled for life, so we said. If a new painting was hung or a piece of marble set up we had the thought it was there to remain.
We loved the house and everything in it. We loved the friends we had made. Our life was all that we would have it—peaceful, happy, contented.
My craving for books has always been a trait in my character and with the commencement of my prosperity I began to form a library. I had no taste for rare editions.
My model for a book is convenient size for reading, good type and paper, fine binding, and illustrations, if any, the best. My wife was in full accord with me in this as in everything. Wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmas always brought me from her something choice in literature and I soon had hundreds of fine volumes of standard works on my shelves.
They were not allowed to remain there untouched. We both read much and aimed to cultivate the taste in our children.
For autographs, I cared not as a collector, but I love to read a book that has, bound in, an autograph letter from the author or from some character in the book. Many of my volumes were so honored.
Of course in the case of authors of a past generation, these letters were purchased, but most living authors of my time were good enough to respond to my requests with a personal note and with some of them I enjoyed an acquaintance.
When we moved to "Redstone" we had been residents of Knollwood three years, long enough to become thoroughly acquainted with the characteristics of each individual in our social circle.
While with all our relations were cordial, it is essential in this narrative to refer only to the three families with which we formed a close friendship. These were the Woods, Lawtons, and the new owners of "Sunnyside," the Slaters.
Frank Slater was a partner of Mr. Wood. Without exception he was the most attractive man I have ever met. Possessing in a high degree every attribute of a true gentleman, he had withal a genial, winning way that was peculiarly his own and made every one who knew him his friend. We were drawn to each other at once and soon became most intimate. His wife, a woman charming in every way, became my wife's intimate friend.
Charlie Wood was rather a queer combination. That we were fond of him and he of us there is no doubt, but he was a man of moods. Intellectual, a good talker, and an unusually fine vocalist, his society as a rule was very enjoyable, but there were times when in a certain mood he was neither a pleasant nor cheerful companion.
Perhaps a remark which he made to me one day at "Sunnyside" will show better than anything I can write the true inwardness of the man.
We were discussing some business affair of his, over which he was feeling blue. I was trying to cheer him up, when he said, "I tell you, Walter, I could be perfectly contented and happy, no matter how little money I had, if everybody around me had just a little less."
George Lawton, a jolly, good-natured fellow, was liked by everybody, and his wife, a pleasant, cheerful, good-hearted little woman, was equally popular.
The Lawtons were the least prosperous of any of our little circle. George was always just a little behind in his finances, but so constituted that this did not worry him.
The time will come in this narrative when the author will be upon the defensive and he deems it necessary that his readers should fully understand certain relations existing within this circle of friends, even though, that they shall do so, he is compelled to violate the scriptural injunction, "Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth." [Footnote: Under ordinary conditions the author would never think of advertising to the world the good that he has done. Before the conclusion of this narrative there will be much that is far removed from the ordinary. Errors to atone for, misunderstandings to explain, false innuendos and charges to indignantly deny and disprove. It is the narrative of a life and the good in that life is certainly a part of it. In later chapters, when certain matters are set forth, my readers will be good enough to bear this in mind.]
The Woods and Lawtons came to Knollwood together. They were intimate friends before that time. Not one detail of the affairs or life of one but was known to the other. It was the same as one family only under two roofs.
George Lawton was always in need of money. His expenditures exceeded his earnings year after year and he borrowed to make up the deficiency. Wood was as well able as I to loan him the money and as a closer and an older friend should have been the one to do it.
On the train one day, when sitting together he said to me, "Walter, how much does George owe you"? To which I replied, "Oh, a small matter." It was at that time nearly six hundred dollars. "Well," he said, "I am glad you can help him out, but he don't get into me more than two hundred dollars; that's the limit, for I doubt if he ever pays it back."
I went on with my loans just the same, and when, some years later, the family left Knollwood he owed me more than two thousand dollars that had been borrowed in small amounts.
At one time George was fortunate in getting an interest in a patent motor for use on sewing machines. He told Wood all about it and of one weak feature in connection with the battery, which, however, he thought was about overcome.
Without telling George, Wood at a small expense employed a man who succeeded in perfecting the battery, then going to George, said: "You cannot use your motor without my battery. I will turn it over to you for half your interest."
There was no escape, and though George made some thousands out of his interest his profits were cut in half by the shrewdness of his friend.
He never said much about it, but his mother, who resided with him, was very outspoken on the subject.
In 1883, in connection with my business, I established a trade journal. After running it a few years I could no longer spare the time. It was then paying about eighteen hundred dollars a year profit and was capable of doing better. I offered it to George Lawton, telling him if he ever felt he could pay me a thousand dollars for it, to do so.
The day I turned it over to him I gave him a few hundred dollars, remittances for advertising received that morning. In a few years he sold the paper, and in one way and another he secured twelve thousand to fifteen thousand dollars out of it.
He never paid me one dollar for the property, nor did I demand it of him.
AN UNEVENTFUL YEAR
The year 1883 was uneventful.
At home, life moved on serenely in its accustomed channels. We were very happy and did all we could to make others so.
For the summer months, thinking that a change might be good for the children, we rented a cottage at Oyster Bay. This was a pleasant experience, but we were glad to get home early in the fall. Our elder son was now nearly ten years old, the school at Knollwood was not satisfactory, and we entered him at the Academy at Media, Pennsylvania. His mother and I went over with him, and though the little fellow was brave enough to keep a stiff upper lip when we said good-by, I knew he was homesick, and so were we. It was a very hard strain to leave him behind us.
Business had fallen off a little during the first half of the year, but this was made up later and I did about as well as in the year previous, making a little over twenty-five thousand dollars.
I had taken no further steps toward seeking speculative clients, as the trade speculators who had come in were sufficient in number to absorb all that class of business I cared for in the market conditions then existing.
Some of the incidents in that business are well worth relating.
We had one case where the president of one of the largest manufacturing concerns in Connecticut was the client. His concern was a regular customer of ours and we were carrying for him some speculative contracts not yet matured. The market was against him a few thousand dollars, and when he called one day I suggested his buying an additional quantity at the lower price to average his holdings. "Average nothing," said he, "if when that stuff comes in there is any loss on it, I bought it for the company."
There was a loss and under his instructions we made delivery to the company. This looked like a "heads I win, tails you lose" sort of game for him, but as he owned most of the stock in the company it was very like taking money out of one pocket and putting it in the other.
Another episode, still more peculiar, was in the case of the firm of A & B.
The firm had placed in our hands for discretionary sale a parcel of fifty tons due to arrive in November.
Shortly after, A called at the office and gave us an order to sell for his individual account fifty tons November delivery. He was a bear and it was a short sale.
The same day and before the sale had been made B called and gave us an order to buy him fifty tons November delivery. He was a bull.
Both requested that his partner should not be informed of the transaction. We matched the orders, selling for A to B. A closed his transaction first, and to cover his sale we sold him the lot belonging to his own firm. This was to be delivered to B and we then sold it for him.
Thus we had made commissions on sales of one hundred and fifty tons where there was only fifty tons of actual stuff, the rest all book-keeping.
In all the years in which we handled this business we had but one unpleasant experience in connection with it.
The treasurer of a manufacturing concern had been dealing with us on his own account for some months, always with profit to himself. The day came when he was not so fortunate. The market was against him and we called on him for additional margin. He asked for a few days' time, and as we had every reason to suppose he was responsible we granted it. Meantime, the market further declined, and when he put in an appearance at our office his account was about three thousand dollars short.
To our surprise he said he could not pay a dollar.
When asked where all the profits we had paid him had gone he replied:
The man died shortly after, and although he left an estate of fifty thousand dollars, he also left a large family and we waived our claim.
THE STREAM BROADENS
At the beginning of 1884 our business was increasing so rapidly it became necessary to have a larger office force to handle it. Orders poured in day after day and it was evident we were getting the preference from all the large and most of the small buyers throughout the country.
It had been our policy to give just as careful attention to the small business as to that of more importance, but we now began to consider the wisdom of letting the former go. In the aggregate it was a handsome business of itself, but in detail it required so much time and attention, it was a question in my mind whether it paid us to longer cater to it.
That the future had a much larger business in store for us we felt assured and we wanted to get ready for it in advance of its coming. Gradually we commenced to weed out the little fellows.
Some of these small concerns had become so accustomed to sending us their orders and were so well satisfied with the way we had treated them that they objected strongly to being turned down. Still, we were in the line of progress and had outgrown that class.
The argument we gave them was, that as we were selling the large dealers so extensively, it was unfair for us to take this small business, which ought to go to the dealers without the interposition of a broker. Ultimately we succeeded in getting most of them off our books without any hard feeling.
That we were wise in ridding ourselves of this small trade was soon evident. It strengthened us greatly with the large dealers, who now secured most of it direct, and that we could afford to part with so many customers, small though they were, added much to our prestige.
With more time now at my disposal I mapped out a campaign having for its objective the gathering of a speculative clientele.
The first step was the sending of a carefully prepared letter to a dozen or so of the wealthiest men in New York. No replies were received. Probably their secretaries tossed them in the waste-basket with many others. I know now better than I did then that the mail of even moderately rich men is crowded with schemes.
A second lot of letters was mailed to men a grade lower in wealth. Some of these brought replies but no business. We tried a third lot, this time to men estimated at half million to a million; same result.
That settled it as far as New York was concerned. Evidently the rich men of New York did not want to speculate in our commodity. Well, fortunately we could get on without them.
Now for the broader field. We had one thousand letters prepared and mailed at one time. These were addressed to a list of alleged wealthy out-of-town investors, which we had purchased from an addressing agency. Not one single reply did we receive.
Then we took our "Bradstreet's" and at random selected the names of five hundred firms, scattered over the United States, rating not less than five hundred thousand dollars. The letters were addressed to the senior partner of each firm. Before the end of the year nearly two hundred of those men were on our books. Every one of them made money.
This constituency was sufficient for the time being. I had in mind something on a much larger scale, the forming of a syndicate; but that is another story and belongs to a later period.
Toward the later part of the year there was a falling off in our trade with the customers, owing to a period of dullness in the manufacturing industries; but what we lost in this way was more than offset by the gain accruing from the business with speculative clients.
On December 3lst, I had the satisfaction of knowing that for the first time my profits for a single year exceeded thirty thousand dollars.
In my home life there had been nothing to mar in the slightest degree its serenity and delight; indeed, our happiness had been increased on the ninth of June by the arrival of our third daughter.
Although the conditions of general business were unsatisfactory at the beginning of 1885 and I had much doubt of the year proving as profitable as the one previous, I never dreamed of such a falling off as actually occurred.
Our legitimate trade, that carried on with dealers and consumers, we thought would be poor for some months, as it had been over-done, and all our customers were well supplied with spot stock, as also contracts for future delivery; but the speculative element we relied on to compensate us for this.
Our clients had done well and we expected they would continue their operations. We did not in our calculations make allowance for the fact that these men were all in active business. As a rule, such men do not go into outside matters when their own business is dull or unprofitable. It is in good times, when they are making money, that they enter the speculative field.
Before the winter was over our books were entirely cleared of speculative contracts.
We thought of making efforts to secure new customers but decided it would at that time be useless, for if men who knew the business and had made money at it were unwilling to go on, it was hardly possible to enlist the interest of people who knew nothing about it.
Month after month I saw the business decrease, but took it philosophically. I could afford to wait for better times and meanwhile did not worry, knowing that we were getting more than our share of what business there was.
These dull times were not without their compensation.
They brought me the opportunity to go off with my wife on little trips of a few days' duration. What delightful trips those were! Newport, Narragansett, Nantasket, Swampscott, Manchester-by-the-sea, Newcastle, and all the pretty places accessible via Fall River boats—these were the most attractive, for we enjoyed the sail and disliked train travel in warm weather. Frequently some of our friends accompanied us, but oftener we went alone.
What jolly times we had!
Then, too, in this dull year I made my business days shorter, a late train in the morning and an early one home in the afternoon giving me so much more time with my family.
Oh, it was a great year!
For better times I could wait with patience. I was not money-mad, not eager for the accumulation of great wealth; my real fortune I had already gained in the wealth of love bestowed upon me by the woman I adored. I valued money for the good it would do, the comfort and pleasure it would bring to those I loved; but for the reputation of having it, not at all.
I wanted to succeed. I felt I had succeeded.
In my twentieth year under the largest salary I was ever paid, my income was five hundred dollars—in my thirty-fourth year it was thirty thousand and earned by my own efforts, out of a business that I alone had created; for the business of that time bore no relation whatever to the one in which I succeeded my old employer. Surely I had cause for congratulation, no matter how dull business might be for the time being.
Knollwood had been growing these years with astonishing rapidity, and our social circle was now a fairly large one.
The characteristics, so attractive the first year of our residence there, were still unchanged. The newcomers were all nice people and the right hand of good-fellowship was extended and accepted in the true spirit.
In addition to the many beautiful new houses there had been erected a small but very pretty stone church of Episcopalian denomination.
At the time the building of the church was planned, I remember a conversation on the subject that afterwards seemed prophetic.
I was talking on the train with a gentleman, an officer of the New York Life Insurance Company, who, while he did not reside in the Park, lived in the vicinity and mingled socially with our people. I told him we were going to build a church. "What"? he said. "Don't do it; you have a charming social circle now that will surely be ruined if you do." I expressed surprise at his remark, and he only shook his head and with more earnestness added, "Mark my words, that church will be the commencement of social trouble; cliques will form, friction and gossip will arise, and your delightful social life will be a thing of the past."
It is a fact that his words came true, and yet I contributed to the cost of the building and support of the church, and under the same conditions would do it again.
At the end of December I found my income had been cut in half. I had made but fifteen thousand dollars, but the year had been so enjoyable in my home life I was entirely satisfied. The additional time dull business had permitted me to spend with my family was worth all it cost.
THE DAM GIVES WAY
Dull business, the dam which checked the onward flow of the stream of our prosperity in 1885, was slowly but steadily carried away in the early months of 1886. Consumers and dealers again became liberal buyers and their lead was soon followed by the speculative fraternity. Our office was crowded with business and a further increase in the clerical force was imperative. Long hours and hard work was the rule, while resulting profits continually mounting higher was the reward.
Our customers as a class were a fine lot of men, all of substantial means, most of them wealthy. We had no friction, we were popular with all, and other things being equal we commanded the preference from almost the entire trade.
Of course, some competition had developed—our success was sure to attract it; but it was still of insignificant proportions, and we gave it no thought. We had been first in the field and our position was well entrenched.
As to the speculative branch, there we had no competition. It required banking facilities and credit to do that business, Our competitors had neither, while we were prepared to handle any proposition that might be presented, regardless of the amount of money involved.
Our London connection had now become very valuable to us and was the source of a good proportion of our profits. Business between the two markets was of almost daily occurrence, while the quantities dealt in were large. Our speculative customers were of great help to us in this direction and indeed we could not have properly taken care of them if we had depended on the New York market alone. They had increased in numbers, and finding the business profitable their individual operations became more important.
How true it is that "nothing succeeds like success."
Our success had become known by this time, not only to every one in the trade, but also to many outside of it. Large banking houses, known to us at that time only by reputation, sought our business, offering most flattering terms and unusual facilities. Friends, acquaintances, and not a few strangers begged of us to accept large amounts of money for speculative operations at our discretion. Large consumers discontinued asking us for quotations and sent us their orders without limit as to price. So great was the confidence of the consuming trade in our judgment that a letter from us advising them to cover their requirements for any specified period never failed to bring the orders.
With our speculative clients this was even more pronounced. We had but to say "Buy," and they bought; "Sell," and they sold. All this was a great responsibility and we realized it, never forgetting that only the utmost conservatism would maintain our position. That I was proud of that position was only natural.
Business activity was maintained until the close of the year, and again I had made a record. My profits were thirty-six thousand dollars.
Our social life at Knollwood this year had been going on at a rapid pace and its more formal character began to take shape.
The frequent pleasant little dinner-parties of four to six couples, where bright and entertaining conversation was general, had gone through a course of evolution and become functions where two or three times the number sat at the board and struggled through so many courses that one became wearied of sitting still. Those enjoyable amateur dramatic performances, followed by light refreshment and a couple of hours' dancing, had been displaced by the grand ball with its elaborate supper. But there still remained one feature, unique and delightful:
The New Year reception—every New Year's day for many years a reception was held at the Casino. The residents, loaning from their homes rugs, draperies, paintings, statuary, and fine furniture, transformed that large auditorium into an immense drawing-room. The green-houses contributed palms and blooming plants in profusion. In the enormous fire-place burned great logs. At one end of the room a long table from which was served, as wanted, all that could be desired by the inner man. The stage, set with pretty garden scene and rattan furniture, where the men lounged as they had their smoke. Music by a fine orchestra, interspersed with occasional songs by our own local talent.
The reception was from six until nine, then the rugs were gathered up, the furniture moved from the center of the floor, and dancing was enjoyed until midnight.
For miles around, every one that was eligible never failed to be present on those occasions. It was the one great social event of each year, and long after the circle was broken the custom was still kept up, until finally it died out owing to the indifference of the new-comers. For such a community it was a beautiful custom, and in its inception served to cement the spirit of cordiality and good-will.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
The new year opened as the old one had closed, with marked activity in all branches of my business; nor was there any perceptible change until late in the spring, then began a gradually diminishing demand that made a comparatively dull summer. Not but what there was a fair amount of business doing all the time, but the great rush was over.
It was only the calm before the storm. Early in the fall it became evident to me there was a new factor in the market. Somebody, outside the regular trade, was quietly buying up the odd lots floating around.
The buying was not aggressive, far from it. Whoever was buying wanted the stuff, not a higher market. The greatest caution was observed in making the purchases so that the market might be affected as little as possible. Every effort was made to conceal the source from which the demand emanated. I knew it was not from any of the New York trade, and I could not believe, judging from the broker who was doing the buying, that it could be for account of any American speculator. If I was right in this conclusion, then of necessity it must be for foreign account.
In order that my readers shall fully understand what follows it is necessary they should know the basis of our arrangement with our London friends, which was this:
They were to cable us daily limits for buying or selling as the case might be. These limits included our commission. We were to guarantee our customers, that is to say, the London firm took no risk of buyers. If we were to sell a parcel for future delivery and before the delivery was made our customer should fail we would have to stand the loss, if any, on the re-sale.
A few months after the connection was established the firm found fault because so little business was done, while in many cases the limit was so close to the market that only the commission or part of it stood in the way of a sale.
The original arrangement was then qualified and thereafter the limits were sent net, it being understood that when necessary we would sell at limit, that is, do the business for nothing; but to offset this concession, we were at all times to have for our commission all we could get over the limit.
It proved a most fortunate change for us.
The buying continued and the market moved slowly toward a higher level. After a few days steady buying there would be a cessation for a day or two to allow the market to sag, then it would commence again. The principal sellers were our London friends, and though we were earning many commissions we felt that our friends were making a mistake and not gauging the market correctly.
At this time our Boston correspondent offered us one hundred tons to arrive by sailing vessel due in about three months. We secured refusal over night and cabled the offer to London, advising the purchase and expressing fully our opinion of the market.
The following morning I sat at my desk, and opening a cable read, "Market advanced through operations of a few weak French speculators." Then followed a selling limit. I laid the cable down and took up the Boston telegram offering the hundred tons.
With the exception of my small interest in that purchase in January, 1880, I had refrained from speculation, and now I was considering whether or not I should buy those hundred tons. The option had nearly expired and action must be prompt. Calling a stenographer I dictated a telegram, "We accept"—and the deed was done.
On arrival of the vessel I sold out at a profit of twenty thousand dollars.
My profits for the year were sixty-one thousand dollars.
On February fourteenth, as a valentine, there came to "Redstone" our fourth daughter and the family circle was complete. With two sons and four daughters, the ban of "race suicide," theory of President Roosevelt, rests not on us.
"A FEW WEAK FRENCH SPECULATORS"
Just outside of the city of Paris was located one of the largest, most complete manufacturing plants in the world, doing an enormous business, employing an army of skilled artisans, consuming vast quantities of raw material and making in profits a fortune every year.
The controlling interest was a man of large wealth, estimated at sixty millions of francs, and of national reputation. His gallery of paintings was famous in art circles the world over. His family moved in the highest strata of society and in their magnificent home entertained with regal splendor. The man was universally respected in business, in art, and social circles.
On the board of directors of one of the great Paris banks were two other men, almost equal in wealth and station to this manufacturer.
These three men, with a few associates of minor importance, entered into a hare-brained scheme of speculation in our commodity, that in the very nature of things was bound to terminate in complete failure. When they realized this and the enormous losses which had been entailed, in an effort to recoup they took up another commodity, and then followed the wildest speculation, in any merchandise, that the world had ever seen.
When the final crash came, with their own magnificent fortunes swept away and the bank involved, the two directors found suicide's graves, and the other man went to prison.
Oh, the folly of it! This passion and greed for wealth.
"Market advanced through operations of a few weak French speculators"—so read our cable. It seemed to us that their strength was far more in evidence than their weakness, indeed of the latter we could detect no sign. They had by their purchases advanced the market already fifteen or twenty per cent and they continued buying in all the world's markets, at advancing prices, everything that was offered.
The increased price was commencing to tell on consumption. Dealers and consumers ceased buying until their surplus stocks had become exhausted, and then bought in small lots only as they were compelled to. Meanwhile, stocks in the hands of the syndicate were accumulating rapidly with no visible outlet for reducing them.
A feature in the trade which alone should have been sufficient to prevent men of brains from going into such an operation was that the production could not be contracted for in advance. The high price stimulated production and day after day the syndicate had to buy in the producing markets large quantities at current prices. These purchases at such high figures rapidly increased the average cost of the holdings.
The market advanced by leaps and bounds, until finally the price in London reached one hundred and sixty-seven pounds sterling per ton, with an equivalent value in all other markets. This represented an advance of more than one hundred per cent.
Then the members of the syndicate awakened from their pleasant dream to find a nightmare.
The hand of every man in the trade throughout the world was raised against them. They were in the meshes of an endless chain. For every ton they could sell they must buy five, or more, in order to sustain the price. If they stopped buying, even for a single day, the bottom would drop out. What was to be done?
In Wales was an industry, comprising many mills, that in the aggregate consumed large quantities of the article. The business had become almost paralyzed by the advance, and many mills were about to or had closed down. A representative of the syndicate communicated with all these mills and negotiated a contract for supplies covering requirements to April 30th, 1888.
The only possible way of making such a contract was by guaranteeing that the spot market should not fall below the price then ruling. This meant that every day the syndicate must bid (pounds)167 per ton for all the spot stuff the market would sell—but, it stopped buying futures. As fast as the stuff could be brought to market it had to take it, but only as it arrived.
That was the first step. But there was still an enormous stock to be disposed of, together with all that would have to be taken, up to the end of April. How was that to be sold?
Our London friends had fought the syndicate from the start with the utmost vigor. The plan of campaign was to load them with such quantities that the burden must become too heavy to carry.
The London firm usually carried a large spot stock. This was poured into the syndicate in parcels, at advancing prices. Then all the little markets on the Continent were scoured and every ton available brought to London and disposed of in the same way.
The agent of our friends, in the producing market, bought large quantities daily. It was a six-weeks' voyage to London. In the interim there would be a heavy advance in price and as soon as the steamer arrived the syndicate had to buy these lots. There was no escape. The leading member of the syndicate went to London and a secret interview with our correspondent was arranged. His widely known antagonism to the syndicate made him the only man who could build a bridge for that unfortunate combination to cross on. He made his own terms, they were accepted, and that was the beginning of the end of the syndicate's operations in our commodity.
The year 1888 from start to finish was one whirl of excitement in my business life. The mental effort of handling the enormous business—it must be remembered ours was a one-man concern—was most exhausting. I became weary of making money and longed for a dull period that I might rest. But there was no dull period that year.
In January we received from our London friends confidential information of the arrangement with the syndicate.
Its enormous holdings were, so far as possible, to be unloaded on American buyers. This was for us to accomplish. The spot stock had to be sold against for future delivery and held until maturity of the sales. Of course, the sales were made at a discount from the spot price, and as time went on this increased. When the buyers at one level were filled up, the price was lowered until a new level, that would tempt further buyers, was reached, and so it went on.
The trade conceived the idea that our London friends and ourselves were selling the market short. They never dreamed that we were unloading for the syndicate, which was daily bidding (pounds)167 for spot, while we were selling futures far below that figure. They did not know that at four o'clock London time, when the official market closed on the thirtieth day of April, the syndicate would cease buying and that a collapse would then be inevitable. It was not our business to enlighten them, and strange to relate, not one man asked us our opinion of the market. They bought of us day after day and apparently believed that when the time for delivery came we would be unable to make it and would have to settle with them at their own figure.
A great many of our sales were made on the Exchange. On this business we could and did call margins, but there were some weak people whom we could not avoid selling and in such a market there were sure to be failures among that class.
As previously explained we guaranteed all sales, and whenever a customer defaulted we at once sold double the quantity we had sold him, to some strong concern. This made us short of the market, and while we made some loss on the initial transaction, our profit on the second sale always more than extinguished it.
The first man who defaulted brought to our office a deed for a farm in Pennsylvania and offered it to us for the four thousand dollars he owed. I handed it back to him, told him to give it to his wife, and forgave him the debt.
The next man was a bigger fish. He owed us nineteen thousand eight hundred dollars. We made up the account, and when I handed him the statement I told him we would not press him and if he was ever able to pay us twenty-five cents on the dollar we would give him a receipt in full. In later years he was worth a good deal of money, though I believe he has since lost it, but he never paid us a dollar.
After him came a few small men, who altogether owed us perhaps ten thousand dollars. We told them all if they ever felt able to pay we would be glad to have the money, but would never press them for it.
Of the whole lot, only one ever paid. His account was only a few hundred dollars, and I had forgotten it, when one day he called at the office, said his father had died, leaving him a little money, and he wanted to pay us. He asked, "What rate of interest will you charge me"? I replied, "Nothing; and if you cannot afford it, you may leave us out entirely." He insisted on paying the principal.
Our treatment of these people was not good business in the general sense. We could have put them all off the floor of the Exchange and to a small degree it would have been to our advantage to do so, but they had our sympathy in their trouble and we could afford to lose the money.
The weeks flew by and we were approaching the end of April. The discount on future deliveries was now enormous. In London (pounds)167 was bid daily for spot and we were selling futures at (pounds)50 discount. Under normal conditions futures should be at a slight premium over spot.
In London in 1888 the last business day of April was on Friday; I think it was the 29th. Saturday the market was closed, and as Monday was a holiday, the first business day of May was on Tuesday.
Just before the gavel fell at the London Exchange at four o'clock on Friday, (pounds)167 was bid for spot and the syndicate ceased buying. On the curb, five minutes later, there were sellers, but no buyers, at (pounds)135; but this price was not official. The last official price was (pounds)167. On Tuesday morning the first offer to sell spot was at (pounds)93 and the market had collapsed.
The losses were frightful. On the last day of April and on the first two or three days of May we made all of our April and part of our May deliveries on contracts. The differences between the contract prices and the market on those deliveries amounted to three hundred thousand dollars and we had thousands of tons yet to be delivered over the summer and fall months. Fortunately the losses fell upon firms well able to stand them and there were no failures.
We had a very narrow escape from slipping up on the last of our May deliveries.
Through some misunderstanding the London steamer by which the stuff should have reached us. sailed without it. It was then rushed to Liverpool and shipped by the Oceanic of the White Star Line. The steamer arrived at New York on the afternoon of the 29th; the 30th was a holiday, and we had to make our delivery before two o'clock on the 3lst. Meanwhile the stuff must be taken out of steamer, weighed up and carted to store, warehouse receipts and weighers' returns delivered at the office and invoices made out, all of which took much time. Through our influence with the steamer people and the expenditure of a little money, work was carried on day and night and the deliveries went through all right.
As our profit on that lot was thirty thousand dollars it was a matter of some importance.
When the syndicate commenced operations in the second commodity, a large New York firm, with foreign branches, in order to conceal its operations requested us to act for it as a selling agency on the Exchange, all the business being done in our name. The commissions on this account ran into large figures and contributed materially to my income that year.
An incident in connection with this business, showing how good fortune was favoring us at that time, I will relate:
One of our sales for future delivery was a lot of two hundred thousand pounds. After 'Change it was, with the other transactions, reported to the firm. When, the following morning, the contract was sent to the buyer, he returned it, claiming it was a mistake and that he had not made the purchase. Having reported the sale the day previous and the market now being a little lower, we did not like to explain the matter to our principal and let it stand as a purchase of our own.
Before the time for delivery matured, we resold at a profit of exactly ten thousand dollars.
By midsummer we had accumulated a large sum of money. In addition to this capital of our own, our resources through our credit with banking connections made it easy for us to accept a proposition from a certain firm to finance for it on very liberal terms an operation which the firm had undertaken. This was in a commodity of which we were well informed though not doing business in it.
The operation proved a failure and in October the firm suspended.
We were carrying an enormous quantity of the stuff, and when liquidation was completed had made a loss of sixty-eight thousand dollars, of which we never recovered a single dollar.
At the end of the year, after charging off all the losses, amounting to about one hundred thousand dollars, I had made a net profit of one hundred and twenty thousand dollars.
"COME AND DANCE IN THE BARN"
Although very fond of horses and driving it was not until 1888 that we indulged ourselves in that direction.
When we built "Redstone" we planned where we would put the stable when ready for it, but were in no hurry about building.
For fast horses I had no liking. My taste was for high-stepping carriage horses. A pair that could pull a heavy T-cart with four people eight or nine miles an hour and keep it up without urging, were fast enough in my opinion. I wanted high-spirited, blooded animals, fine carriages, and perfect appointments. Until I could afford such, I preferred to go without.
In the spring I bought a pair of Black Vermont Morgans. They were beauties and the whole family fell in love with them at once. For the summer I secured the use of a neighbor's unoccupied stable and then commenced the erection of my own. After this was finished I matched my first horses with another pair exactly like them and also bought a small pony for the younger children and a larger one for the boys.
It was not long before I had trained my horses to drive either tandem, four-in-hand, or three abreast, and with an assortment of various styles of carriages my equipment was complete.
From the Paris-built drag carrying eight passengers besides my two men, down to the pony cart, everything was of the best. All was in good taste and expense had not been considered.
My combination carriage-house and stable was architecturally a very handsome building, and in its interior every detail, useful and ornamental, had received careful attention. The building cost me about seven thousand dollars, but judging from its appearance and size my neighbors thought that my investment was larger. As it approached completion I suggested to my wife the idea of giving a barn-dance, something unique in the annals of Knollwood. We immediately went into a committee of two on plans and scope and as a result evolved an evening of surprise and delight for our friends.
The invitations, engraved in usual note-sheet form, had on the upper half of the page a fine engraving of the front of the stable, and beneath in old English, "Come and dance in the barn." We received our guests in the hall and drawing-room, fragrant with blooming plants. From a rear piazza a carpeted and canvas-enclosed platform extended across the lawn to the carriage-house. The floor had been covered with canvas for the dancers. Brilliantly illuminated, in addition to the permanent decorations, a life-sized jockey in bronze bas-relief and numerous coaching pictures, was the work of the florist. The large orchestra was upstairs surrounding the open carriage trap, which was concealed from below by masses of smilax. The harness-room was made attractive with rugs and easy chairs for the card players.
In the stable each of the six stalls had been converted into a cozy nook where soft light from shaded lamps fell on rugs and draperies. On each stall post was a massive floral horseshoe. The orders of dancing, besides the usual gold-embossed monogram, bore an engraving of a tandem cart with high-stepping horses and driver snapping his long whip. Attached to each was a sterling silver pencil representing the foreleg of a horse in action, the shoe being of gold. Supper was served in the dining-room from a table decorated in keeping with the event, the center-piece being a model in sugar of the tandem design on the order of dancing.
The affair was a great success in every way, and the following evening we allowed our colored servants to entertain their friends at the stable. With a few of our neighbors we witnessed the "cake-walk" and found much fun in it. The next day the horses were in possession.
AN IMPORTER AND DEALER
While during 1888 we were nominally brokers, a considerable portion of our business was actually in the nature of that of an importer and dealer. This position was really forced on us by circumstances beyond our control. To protect ourselves from loss in our sales for London account we had to take from time to time an interest in the market and this made us dealers. To complete our sales we were compelled to import the material and thus became importers.
With the opening of the year 1889 we found ourselves possessed of fairly large capital and a firmly established credit with bankers. These facts, combined with the best facilities for doing the business, decided us to eliminate the brokerage phase entirely, except in our transactions with our speculative clients. From that time on we bought and sold for our own account.
We had a very large trade with consumers throughout the country, and we knew we had but to say the word to increase this by calling back all the small buyers with whom we parted company in 1884. As brokers we did not care for that small trade, but as dealers it was an entirely different proposition.
Of course as soon as the New York dealers learned of our new departure they would give us sharp and active competition for the orders, but we felt so strong in our position we did not fear it.
We made no public announcement, but quietly bought the necessary spot stock in the cheapest market, and as soon as we were ready, when the orders came to us, filled them ourselves instead of passing them on to the dealers as heretofore.
Only a few days passed before the dealers, missing the orders they had been accustomed to receive through our hands, commenced to investigate. When questioned we told them frankly what we were doing. At first, argument was used to dissuade us from such a policy, but when we were told we had no right to the business I replied that we were not dealing in a patented article and I knew of no law to prevent us from trading as dealers if we so desired.
That ended the argument, and men who for years had been in close business intimacy and friendship with us, became our enemies.
I knew well what that meant. Henceforth I was to get my share of the personal animosity that in this trade superseded the spirit of fair competition.
Those men held up before the world as models of Christian piety, who never missed a church service, whose names appeared in the papers as subscribers to charitable and mission funds; those Sunday-school teachers who would not have in their homes on the Sabbath day a newspaper, who would not take a glass of wine at dinner because of the example to their boys, and yet in their efforts to injure a business rival never hesitated to break the Ninth Commandment—not in words, oh no, too cautious for that, nothing that one could put his finger on; but the shrug of the shoulder, the significant raising of the eye-brows, the insinuation, the little hint to unsettle confidence. Bah! on such Christianity.
And now those men were to train their guns on me.
I had been twenty years in the trade and knew how others had fared. I grant, in many cases, it was tit-for-tat, the man injured had done his best to injured others. With few exceptions the entire trade were "birds of a feather."
We had not long to wait for the first shot and it fell very flat, the honors in that engagement all being with us.
A broker had offered us a parcel for future delivery at a price he thought cheap and we accepted it. Later he called and said when he gave up our name as the buyer, the seller declined to confirm unless we would deposit with him, the seller, five thousand dollars as security.
This concern knew we were perfectly responsible, but took this method of discrediting us, expecting that the broker would help the matter on by gossiping through the trade about it.
We heard his story and then said to him, "Go back and say to your principal that we will not deposit with him one dollar; but if he will deposit with any trust company five thousand dollars, we will deposit twenty-five thousand against it."
The seller declined to deposit anything and the sale was cancelled. The broker did gossip about it, but as his account of the incident was correct, it added to our prestige.
Every now and then we would hear of something that one or another of our competitors had intimated to our discredit, but treating all such rumors with silent contempt, we kept up the even tenor of our way and closed the year with a profit of seventy-two thousand dollars.
SAD HEARTS AT KNOLLWOOD
The spring of 1890 brought with it two great sorrows. Following closely on the death of my beloved mother came the death at "Sunnyside" of Frank Slater. The latter was unexpected in its suddenness and a terrible shock to all his friends. I had become so deeply attached to Frank that he seemed like a dear brother and my grief was most profound.
The day after his death, Mr. Pell, Mrs. Slater's father, asked me to represent the family in the settlement of the business affairs. There was no will and there were many complications.
Mr. Pell, entirely without reason, I thought, had not the fullest confidence in Frank's partner, Mr. Wood. He did not believe he would be any too liberal to the estate in the settlement of the firm's affairs. It was in compliance with Mr. Pell's earnest request that I took charge and my doing so was entirely acceptable to Mr. Wood.
Although I regret the test of my reader's patience, it is essential to my defense in certain matters to be related in later chapters, that the complications and settlement of this estate should be set forth. In reading these pages I beg that the footnote on page 112 may be remembered.
The business of Wood and Slater for several years had been the acquiring and holding of certain corporate properties, some of which the firm managed. With the exception of one property, a recent acquisition, the interest of each partner was defined by the individual holdings of stock. In the one property referred to the interest was equal but the stock had not been issued.
At the time of Mr. Slater's death he had a joint liability on the firm account in certain notes which had been discounted at the firm's bank, and also in a loan made to the firm by the Standard Oil Company. His individual liabilities were nearly seventy-five thousand dollars. Only a few of these need be specified.
For several years he had profitable business relations with me and carried an account in our office, drawing on it at his convenience. At the time of his death this account was overdrawn nine thousand dollars. In addition our name was on his paper, falling due after his death, to the extent of eleven thousand dollars. Another liability was a note for forty-seven hundred dollars discounted by a Pennsylvania banker, a personal friend. There was also an agreement to refund to a friend under certain conditions ten thousand dollars which he had invested in a manufacturing plant in Connecticut which Mr. Slater was backing.
The assets consisted almost entirely of the interest in the corporate properties which the firm had acquired and stock in the Connecticut concern. There was also a library which realized, when sold at auction, about five thousand dollars.
The real estate was in Mrs. Slater's name and belonged to her.
In the most valuable properties of the firm Wood & Slater owned but two-thirds interest, the remaining third being held by the original owner, a Mr. Mallison.
This gentleman, possessed of considerable means, was a creditor of the estate to the amount of about sixteen thousand dollars. I found that he was disposed to buy the estate's interest in these properties and finally sold it to him for one hundred thousand dollars. An additional consideration was the securing through him an investment of half the amount, for a period of ten years at a guaranteed return of ten per cent per annum.
The Connecticut investment looked to me most unpromising. With extensive advertising it might be made a profitable business but there was no money for this; on the other hand, additional capital was needed at once to keep the concern alive. The note held by the Pennsylvania banker had been issued for the benefit of this business and must be paid. Unless new capital was found to keep the concern going, the ten thousand dollars guaranteed by Mr. Slater must be refunded at once. In other words, if the business was abandoned the estate would be immediately depleted to the extent of fourteen thousand seven hundred dollars.
A meeting was held at my office at which were present all the parties interested and also Mr. Wood. After a general discussion, in which Mr. Wood took part and expressed great confidence in the future success of the business, the gentleman who had invested the ten thousand dollars made a proposition that if Mr. Slater's friends would go in, for every dollar they subscribed he would subscribe two. If they would not do this, then he would call upon the estate to return him the ten thousand dollars.
Taking Mr. Wood aside, I said, "Charley, personally I don't like the investment, but to save the estate, if you will join me, I will make it." His reply was, "Walter, I cannot. If I could I would, for I believe it is a good thing, but I cannot go into any outside investment at present."
My decision as to my course was made before I had spoken to him, but I thought I would offer him a chance to share that investment with me, after telling him my poor opinion of it.
My heart was heavy with sorrow for the loss of my friend and for his family I felt the deepest sympathy. I believed then, as I believe to-day, that what I did was no more than he would have done for my loved ones under similar circumstances.
In that Connecticut concern I invested in all about five thousand dollars, which proved, as I thought very probably it would, practically a total loss. I waived my claim for nine thousand dollars on that overdrawn account and I personally paid those notes for eleven thousand dollars, one in June and the other in August following the death of my friend.
The only remaining asset to be disposed of was the recently acquired property for which stock had not been issued.
Mr. Wood was personally managing this, and he represented to me that it was in bad shape and that if anything was made out of it, it would be by his efforts and he did not want an estate for a partner.
He proposed to offset the estate's interest against the liability on the firm note held by the bank. I am not sure what that amounted to and have not the data at hand to ascertain, but think it was under five thousand dollars.
This property is now of great value and has, I believe, made Mr. Wood, who still owns it, a rich man.
At the time, I thought his proposition a fair one, though in later years, Mr. Allison, a good judge of the value of such properties, told me that he "never thought Wood treated Mrs. Slater just right in that matter."
When I made the sale to Mallison it left Wood a minority stockholder, which position he did not fancy. He tried to sell out to Mallison. These men had a mutual dislike for each other and Wood after repeated efforts found they could not agree on terms.
Then he asked me to make the sale for him. He was prepared to take and expected to get less than the estate had received. Technically it was worth less, for the buyer already had control. I succeeded in making the sale at the same price, one hundred thousand dollars.
On my way home that day I stopped at Wood's house to tell him what I had done. He was not at home and I saw his wife. I told her of the sale and asked her to tell her husband. She exclaimed, "Oh, Walter! What a friend you've been." That was in 1890. This is 1904.
A snap of the whip, horses prancing, and with the notes of the horn waking the echoes in the hills, we drove out from "Redstone" just after luncheon and commenced the first stage of our sixty-mile drive to Normandie-by-the-Sea, where we were to spend the rest of the summer.
This was on a Friday, about the middle of July, 1890. On the drag my wife sat beside me on the box-seat; behind us were the six children and maid, and in the rumble, my two men. It was a very jolly party as we went bowling along over the finest roads in the State, and we minded not the gentle rain falling steadily. All were dry in mackintoshes and under the leather aprons, and passing through one village after another we were of the opinion that there is nothing quite so inspiring as driving through the country behind four spirited horses in any kind of weather. Just at half-past five we crossed the bridge over the Raritan and drove into New Brunswick, where we were to stop over night.
After a good night's rest and an eight o'clock breakfast we were off again.
The rain had ceased and the day was bright and beautiful, with no dust to mar the pleasure of our drive. On through Old Bridge and Mattawan to Keyport, where we stopped for luncheon. Then away on the last stage of the delightful journey. Stopping at one of the toll-gates to water the horses the woman in charge looked up at the merry lot of children, and then turning to my wife asked, "Are those children all yours"? With a laugh I said "guilty," and away we went. The hands of the clock on the dashboard were at six as we drove up to the hotel, sharp on time.
We soon became acquainted with many of the guests at the hotel, who were a pleasant lot of people, and were particularly attracted to a Mr. and Mrs. Edward Banford of New York.
Ned Banford, a man then about thirty years of age, good looking, genial, and clever, was a manufacturing jeweler and is still in that business. His wife, a very charming woman, is now prominent in golfing circles. Before the season was over, we numbered the Banfords amongst our intimate friends. Ned and I were companions on our daily trips to and from the city, and before I had known him more than a few weeks he had voluntarily told me a good deal about his business affairs.
He said his own capital was very small and a wealthy friend, a Mr. Viedler, was backing him, and at that time had ten thousand dollars in his business. He enlarged on the liberality of this friend, saying, amongst other things, that when he went to him for money he never asked anything further than, "How much do you want, Ned"? and then writing a cheque would hand it to him.
He also told me that his business was very profitable and the only disadvantage he labored under was Mr. Viedler's frequent absence.
This sort of talk went on daily until one morning he told me that the day previous he had an offer of a lot of precious stones for five thousand dollars which he could have turned over inside of thirty days with a profit of two thousand dollars, but had to pass it because Mr. Viedler was out of town.
The same spirit which always moved me to do what I could to help everybody I knew led me to say to him, "Ned, I do not want to put any money in a sinking fund for a long pull, as I may have use for all my capital in my own business; but any time you want five thousand dollars for thirty days, I will be glad to let you have it."
He wanted it very soon. In a few days I loaned him five thousand dollars, and after that, until September, 1893, there was no time he did not owe me from five thousand to fifteen thousand dollars.
After we returned to "Redstone" we had the Banfords out for a visit, and a little later visited them in New York. They gave a dinner in our honor, and those amongst the guests who become prominent in this narrative hereafter were Mr. and Mrs. Albert Caine, Mr. and Mrs. William Curtice, and Mr. and Mrs. George Todd.
This dinner was the commencement of a long and intimate friendship with all of those I have named. Very many were the good times we had together, visits back and forth, dinners, driving trips, theatre parties, trips to Atlantic City, Lakewood, and other resorts, to Princeton and New Haven for the college games—nothing that promised a good time was allowed to get by us.
The birthdays and wedding anniversaries of all were duly celebrated, and gifts interchanged at Christmas between both parents and children. It was indeed a happy, joyous circle of friends.
My business affairs continued to prosper, and for my second year, as an importer and dealer, my books showed a profit of sixty-eight thousand dollars.
A SHORT YEAR AND A MERRY ONE
As memory carries me back to 1891, it seems as if it would have been impossible to crowd into a period of twelve months more social pleasures and jolly good times than we had in that year.
In the social life at Knollwood we had ceased to be active. We kept up and enjoyed our intimate friendship, now of more than ten years' duration, with our immediate neighbors; but the personnel of the Park had changed in recent years and with many of the new residents we were not congenial, though on pleasant terms with all.
There was still a good deal of dining, card parties, and entertainments at the Casino, in which we participated, but it was with our New York friends that most of our social life was passed. The circle there had been enlarged by the addition of many pleasant people, although the close intimacy still rested where it had started, with, however, the addition of Mr. and Mrs. William Viedler.
Mr. Viedler, a multi-millionaire at that time, has since largely increased his fortune and is now the controlling interest in a prominent trust of comparatively recent formation. They had been Brooklynites but bought a fine house on Fifth Avenue.
We first met them on the occasion of a dinner given in their honor by Mr. and Mrs. Curtice, to welcome them to New York. Mr. Curtice is a nephew of Mrs. Viedler.
The Caines, although intimate, were not of the inner circle. This comprised Mr. and Mrs. Curtice, Mr. and Mrs. Todd, Mr. and Mrs. Banford, Mr. and Mrs. Viedler, and ourselves. Curtice was our poet laureate, and in a song he composed and sang at a dinner were included these lines:
"Thus from the crowd that gathered then Has sprung to fame the immortal ten, And Stowe has been so generous since That all the crowd have dubbed him Prince."
After that event all our friends referred to the little circle as the "Immortal Ten;" my wife was called Lady Stowe, and I, by right of song, Prince.
It is very difficult to say what we did not do that year in the way of pleasure-seeking, but it is an easy matter to name the chief event.
As guests of Mr. Viedler a party of eighteen went camping in the Maine woods. In every detail the trip was a perfect success. Private car to Moosehead Lake, a banquet fit for Lucullus, prepared by his own chef, en route, exquisite Tiffany menus, and costly souvenirs. Headquarters at Mt. Kineo for a day or two, and then down the West Branch of the Penobscot in canoes, and over the carries until the comfortable camp at Cauquomgomoc Lake was reached. Deer, moose, partridge, and trout were in abundance. Every minute of that delightful outing was filled with pleasure.
Early in the fall we decided to try a winter in New York. The "San Remo," at Seventy-fourth Street and Central Park, West, had just been completed, and I rented three connecting apartments, which gave us parlor, library, dining-room, five bedrooms, and three baths, all outside rooms. I also rented in Sixty-seventh Street a stable, and on the first of October we took possession.
We were more than pleased With the life in town, and I commenced negotiations with Dore Lyon for the purchase of a handsome house he owned at West End Avenue and Seventy-fifth Street. Just as the trade was about to be closed my eldest daughter was attacked with typhoid. She became very ill, and this so alarmed us we concluded to return to "Redstone" in the spring and remain there.
When the holidays drew near the invalid was convalescent, and we opened "Redstone" for a house party. When we returned to New York it was with a feeling of regret.
Business had been good throughout the year. My profits were nearly eighty thousand dollars.
My life, both in business and socially, in 1892 was not essentially different from that of 1891. Business continued satisfactory, my profits running up to within a few thousand dollars of the previous year.
My senior clerk, George Norman, had been in my employ for eleven years, coming to me as an office-boy. His salary was now twelve hundred and fifty dollars. I told him that as a clerk he would never be worth more to us, and advised him to start as a broker, which he did.
We gave him a strong endorsement in a circular to the trade, and how well we supported him is shown by the fact that we paid him sixty-six hundred dollars in commissions the first year of his business.
We returned to "Redstone" early in May. Our home, after our New York experience, was more attractive than ever, and we did not believe we would again care to leave it.
My readers will remember my reference in a former chapter to a trade journal which I turned over to George Lawton. On July 9th, in celebration of the commencement of its tenth year, the publisher issued a special number, a copy of which is before me. An article it contains is so completely a confirmation of much that I have written, I insert it here verbatim, except for change of names to comply with my narrative and the omission of irrelevant matter. The article was written by the Secretary of the Exchange:
WALTER E. STOWE.
Since the father is properly considered before the child, it has seemed to us most appropriate in celebrating for the first time the birthday of the [name of the paper], that we should not only make some mention of its founder, but even that we should accord him the first place in our brief memorial; and we have accordingly, rather against his own wishes, prepared the fine portrait of him which serves as a frontispiece to this issue. It is hardly in the character of a journalist that our readers will generally think of Mr. Stowe, although most of them doubtless know that he originated and for several years managed what we have no hesitation in saying is facile princeps among * * * trade papers; but rather in his more permanent role of decidedly the most successful among the younger generation of * * * dealers—as a man who has carved out for himself a position as commanding in respect of the * * * market, especially, as is occupied abroad by his London correspondent, the famous A * * * S * * *
A trifle over a quarter of a century ago—in February, 1866—Mr. Stowe entered the office of John Derham as a clerk fresh from school, in which capacity he served for just four years, and then succeeded to the business of this firm as a broker on his own account. A broker in those days was an altogether different sort of cogwheel in the machinery of commerce from the broker of to-day; success depending primarily on geniality of manner, industry and intelligence in the execution of commissions intrusted to him by the jobbing houses; all of which qualifications, Mr. Stowe possessed in an eminent degree, and devoting himself particularly to dealing in * * * advanced rapidly to a position in which the major part of such transactions as were not made directly by importers to consumers, passed through his hands. But his business ability was of a broader type than was needed for such services only, and in the process of evolution, through which the old-fashioned broker was practically eliminated, his place being taken by a new type of dealer, who although not always or even usually trading for his own account, yet makes most of his transactions in his own name, and is chiefly differentiated from the jobber only from the fact that he buys and sells in round parcels and does not break them up to shop out into smaller lots. As this change took place, Mr. Stowe developed into a dealer of a newer and more progressive type than the * * * trade had hitherto known. To-day he stands rather as an importer, the entries to his firm's credit having steadily climbed the list of percentages until they are now far ahead of those belonging to any other house; and with his intimate relations with A. * * S. * * * & Co., of London, it would be making no invidious comparison to say that he is the recognized leader of the * * * trade of America.
For all his remarkably prosperous career, Mr. Stowe has been in no way spoiled by success, and is to-day the same quiet, unassuming gentleman as when these characteristics attracted the good will of older men in the trade and secured to him the beginning of a business which has since grown so largely. He was a late comer to the membership of the Exchange, which he joined only in 1886; but has served on its board of managers for four years past, and since the first of April has held the position of vice-president. Outside of his business, his life is a thoroughly domestic one, for which he has abundant excuse in his beautiful home, "Redstone," at Knollwood, N.J., where he is one of the most popular residents of that charming suburb and where he has a particular claim to distinction in the fine stable which he maintains, his chief hobby being horse flesh, though not on the sporting side, with which we are most likely to associate such a passion. In short, the [name of paper] has every reason to be proud of its parentage, and like all good children delights in doing filial honor and wishing its founder all possible prosperity in the future as in the past.
TWO SIDES TO THE QUESTION
It was the afternoon of a day in the first week of January, 1893. I sat in an easy chair in front of the open fire in my private office deep in thought. In my hand was the balance-sheet for 1892, showing a profit of over seventy thousand dollars. I was considering both sides of a momentous question. It was whether or not to retire from business.
I had for years looked forward with delightful anticipation to the time when I could do this. I wanted to travel extensively. In my library were many books of travel, all of which had been read with great interest. I had an eager longing to see for myself all parts of the civilized world; not in haste, but at my own leisure. I wanted to devote years to a journey that should cover the globe.
My affairs were in excellent shape. Within a period of sixty days I could liquidate my business and retire with about three hundred thousand dollars. I had my home, complete in its appointments; my library; my stable, with all that it could contribute to our pleasure and comfort; my health, and I was but forty-two years of age. That was one side, now for the other. The largest income I could expect with my capital securely invested would be fifteen thousand dollars. My balance-sheet showed that in 1892 I had drawn forty-four thousand. I considered where my expenditures could be cut down. There was the long list of pensioners, relatives, and friends who for years had been receiving regularly from me a monthly cheque on which they depended for their comfort. Could that be cut off? Surely not.
There was a still longer list of people, many of whom I knew but slightly, who from time to time called on me for help, always as loans but rarely returned. I kept no record of such things and never requested repayment. Could that item be cut out? No, for when a man appealed to me for assistance, I knew not how to refuse him. He always received it.
There were all the charities, St. John's Guild, Fresh-Air Funds, hospitals, home for crippled children, and the personal charities of my wife amongst the poor—could these be dropped? Again, no.
Then I looked at home. The education of our children—my elder son was at Harvard with a liberal allowance; my eldest daughter at Miss Dana's expensive school at Morristown; the rest of the children taught at home by a visiting governess; the girls taking music lessons—nothing could be done here. The education item was bound to increase materially as the children grew older.
Then I thought of the monthly bills from Altman, Arnold, Constable & Co., Lord & Taylor, and others. How about those? Oh no; I loved to see my wife in her beautiful gowns and as the girls developed into young ladies those bills would grow.
There seemed nothing left but the entertainment of our friends. A large expense, but essential to our pleasure and position in society.
I carried a very large life insurance, but did not for a moment think of reducing that.
Then my thoughts carried me farther. Suppose I could get my expenses down to my income, how about the people we were helping in another way, whose income would be seriously affected by my retiring?
There was one of our friends at Knollwood. He was employed on a moderate salary, and when his wife inherited nine hundred dollars he brought it to me and asked me to make some money for him. Now, as a result, he was living in a house he had bought for eleven thousand dollars and to cancel the mortgage of a few thousand he relied upon me. There were those three old gentlemen in Connecticut whose income from their investment with us was allowing them to pass in comfort their declining years. Could I cut this off? No; and there were many others.
It was clear to my mind that my labor was not yet at an end. I must still keep at the helm, but I made a resolution that on my fiftieth birthday I would retire.
THE PANIC OF NINETY-THREE
In the year 1893 there was one great controlling feature in our market that was to culminate on July first.
For years the commodity in which we dealt had been duty free. The McKinley Tariff Bill imposed a duty of four cents per pound, to go into effect on July 1, 1893, for a period of two years. It was the one senseless clause in an otherwise excellent bill and had been inserted as the only means of securing the necessary votes in the Senate. The sole object of the clause was to influence the speculative value of shares in a certain corporation which is now in the hands of a receiver.
When this corporation was first organized I subscribed for some stock and was in its first board of directors and its vice-president. If there was to be a new source of supply of the commodity I dealt in so largely, it was important I should know of it. As soon as I became satisfied that it was nothing but a scheme to make money by the sale of stock, I resigned and disposed of my holdings to one of the promoters at a profit of eight dollars per share.
Efforts to have the clause repealed had been unsuccessful, and as the duty was certain to be imposed, we thought it wise to import largely prior to July first. Others did the same, and when that date arrived the stock in New York was very large. We held on our own account about one-third of the entire stock and in addition a very large quantity which we had sold to our customers for delivery in July.
Of course, our purchases had been made of our London friends, and during this period our remittances were unusually large, running into several millions. An incident of our correspondence at that time was a postscript in one of their letters calling our attention to the fact that the letter from us, to which they were then replying, had been underpaid in postage and cost them six pence. They requested us to see to it in future that our letters were properly stamped. Think of that, from a concern with whom we were doing a business of millions!
Early in July came the panic. It seemed as if over night all the money in the country had disappeared. In Wall Street fabulous rates were bid for money. Banks and bankers said they had none. Where was it?
When the stock market collapsed and values had depreciated hundreds of millions, money was found by the large insurance companies and the powerful factors of Wall Street to pick up the bargains in shares, but it was some time before merchants could get it. Meanwhile, this class all over the country, after a long period of good times, were caught by the panic with their lines greatly extended. Great houses rating "a million and over" had no actual cash. Property?—Lots of it. Solvent?—Absolutely so, but they could not pay their obligations, nor take deliveries on contracts that required payments against delivery.