"And we need more money, too," urged the old man. "I was reading a piece the other day about the big fortunes in New York. Why, we ain't one, two, three, with the dinky little twelve or thirteen millions we could swing. You don't want to be a piker, do you? If you go in the game at all, play her open and high. Make 'em take the ceiling off. You can just as well get into the hundred million class as not, and I know it. They needn't talk to me—I know you have got some brains. If you was to go in now it would keep you straight and busy, and take you out of this pin-head class that only spends their pa's money."
"You're all right, Uncle Peter! I certainly did need you to come along right now and set me straight. You founded the fortune, pa trebled it, and now I'll get to work and roll it up like a big snowball."
"That's the talk. Get into the hundred million class, and show these wise folks you got something in you besides hot air, like the sayin' is. Then they won't always be askin' who your pa was—they'll be wantin' to know who you are, by Gripes! Then you can have the biggest steam yacht afloat, two or three of 'em, and the best house in New York, and palaces over in England; and Pish'll be able to hold up her head in company over there. You can finance that proposition right up to the nines."
"By Jove! but you're right. You're a wonder, Uncle Peter. And that reminds me—"
He stopped in his walk.
"I gave it hardly any thought at the time, but now it looks bigger than a mountain. I know just the things to start in on systematically. Now don't breathe a word of this, but there's a big deal on in Consolidated Copper. I happened on to the fact in a queer way the other night. There's a broker I've known down-town—fellow by the name of Relpin. Met him last summer. He does most of Shepler's business; he's supposed to be closer to Shepler and know more about the inside of his deals than any man in the Street. Well, I ran across Relpin down in the cafe the other night and he was wearing one of those gents' nobby three-button souses. Nothing would do but I should dine with him, so I did. It was the night you and the folks went to the opera with the Oldakers. Relpin was full of lovely talk and dark hints about a rise in copper stock, and another rise in Western Trolley, and a bigger rise than either of them in Union Cordage. How that fellow can do Shepler's business and drink the stuff that makes you talk I don't see. Anyway he said—and you can bet what he says goes—that the Consolidated is going to control the world's supply of copper inside of three months, and the stock is bound to kite, and so are these other two stocks; Shepler's back of all three. The insiders are buying up now, slowly and cautiously, so as not to start any boom prematurely. Consolidated is no now, and it'll be up to 150 by April at the latest. The others may go beyond that. I wasn't looking for the game at the time, so I didn't give it any thought, but now, you see, there's our chance. We'll plunge in those three lines before they start to rise, and be in on the ground floor." "Now don't you be rash! That Shepler's old enough to suck eggs and hide the shells. I heard a man say the other day copper was none too good at no."
"Exactly. You can hear anything you're looking to hear, down there. But I tell you this was straight. Don't you suppose Shepler knows what he's about?—there's a boy that won't be peddling shoe-laces and gum-drops off one of these neat little bosom-trays—not for eighty-five or ninety-thousand years yet—and Relpin, even if he was drunk, knows Shepler's deals like you know Skiplap. They'll bear the stocks all they can while they're buying up. I wouldn't be surprised if the next Consolidated dividend was reduced. That would send her down a few points, and throw more stock on the market. Meantime, they're quietly workin' to get control of the European mines—and as to Western Trolley and Union Cordage—say, Relpin actually got to crying—they're so good—he had one of those loving ones, the kind where you want to be good to every one in the world. I'm surprised he didn't get into a sandwich sign and patrol Broadway, giving those tips to everybody.".
"Course, we're on a proposition now that you know more about it than I do; you certainly do take right hold at once—that was your pa's way, too. Daniel J. could look farther ahead in a minute than most men could in a year. I got to trust you wholly in these matters, and I know I can do it, too. I got confidence in you, no matter what other people say. They don't know you like I do. And if there's any other things you know about fur sure—"
"Well, there's Burman. He's plunging in corn now. His father has staked him, and he swears he can't lose. He was after me to put aside a million. Of course if he does win out it would be big money."
"Well, son, I can't advise you none—except I know you have got a head on you, no matter how people talk. You know about this end of the game, and I'll have to be led entirely by you. If you think Burman's got a good proposition, why, there ain't anything like gettin' action all along the layout, from ace down to seven-spot and back to the king card."
"That's the talk. I'll see Relpin to-day or to-morrow. I'll bet he tries to hedge on what he said. But I got him too straight—let a drunken man alone for telling the truth when he's got it in him. We'll start in buying at once."
"It does sound good. I must say you take hold of it considerable like Dan'l J. would 'a' done—and use my money jest like your own. I do want to see you takin' your place where you belong. This life of idleness you been leadin'—one continual potlatch the whole time—it wa'n't doin' you a bit of good."
"We'll get action, don't you worry. Now let's have lunch down-stairs, and then go for a drive. It's too fine a day to stay in. I'll order the cart around and show you that blue-ribbon cob I bought at the horse show. I just want you to see his action. He's a beaut, all right. He's been worked a half in 1.17, and he can go to his speed in ten lengths, any time."
In the afternoon they fell into the procession of carriages streaming toward the park. The day was pleasantly sharp, the clear sunshine enlivening, and the cob was one with the spirit of the occasion, alertly active, from his rubber-shod, varnished hoofs to the tips of his sensitive ears.
"Central Park," said Uncle Peter, "always seems to me just like a tidy little parlour, livin' around in them hills the way I have."
He watched the glinting of varnished spokes, and listened absently to the rhythmic "click-clump" of trotting horses, with its accompanying jingle of silver harness trappings.
"These people must have lots of money," he observed. "But you'll go in and outdo 'em all."
"That's what! Uncle Peter."
Toward the upper end of the East Drive they passed a victoria in which were Miss Milbrey and her mother with Rulon Shepler. The men raised their hats. Miss Milbrey flashed the blue of her eyes to them and pointed down her chin in the least bit of a bow. Mrs. Milbrey stared.
"Wa'n't that Shepler?"
"Yes, Shepler and the Milbreys. That woman certainly has the haughtiest lorgnon ever built."
"She didn't speak to us. Is her eyes bad?"
"Yes, ever since that time at Newport. None of them has spoken to me but the girl—she's engaged to Shepler."
"She's a right nice lookin' little lady. I thought you was kind of taken there."
"She would have married me for my roll. I got far enough along to tell that. But that was before Shepler proposed. I'd give long odds she wouldn't consider me now. I haven't enough for her with him in the game."
"Well, you go in and make her wish she'd waited for you."
"I'll do that; I'll make Shepler look like a well-to-do business man from Pontiac, Michigan."
"Is that brother of hers you told me about still makin' up to that party?"
"Can't say. I suppose he'll be a little more fastidious, as the brother-in-law of Shepler. In fact I heard that the family had shut down on any talk of his marrying her."
"Still, she ought to be able to do well here. Any man that would marry a woman fur money wouldn't object to her. One of these fortune-hunting Englishmen, now, would snap her up."
"She hasn't quite enough for that. Two millions isn't so much here, you know, and she must have spent a lot of hers. I hear she has a very expensive suite back there at the Arlingham, and lives high. I did hear, too, that she takes a flyer in the Street now and then. She'll be broke soon if she keeps that up."
"Too bad she ain't got a few more millions," said Uncle Peter, ruminantly. "Take one of these titled Englishmen looking for an heiress to keep 'em—she'd make just the kind of a wife he'd ought to get. She certainly ought to have a few more millions. If she had, now, she might cure some decent girl of her infatuation. Where'd you say she was stoppin'?"
"Arlingham—that big private hotel I showed you back there."
Percival confessed to his mother that night that he had wronged Uncle Peter.
"That old boy is all right yet," he said, with deep conviction. "Don't make any mistake there. He has bigger ideas than I gave him credit for. I suggested branching out here in a business way, to-day, and the old fellow got right in line. If anybody tells you that old Petie Bines hasn't got the leaves of his little calendar torn off right up to date you just feel wise inside, and see what odds are posted on it!"
Concerning Consolidated Copper and Peter Bines as Matchmakers
Consolidated copper at 110. The day after his talk with Uncle Peter, Percival through three different brokers gave orders to buy ten thousand shares.
"I tried to give Relpin an order for five thousand shares over the telephone," he said to Uncle Peter; "but they're used to those fifty and a hundred thousand dollar pikers down in that neighbourhood. He seemed to think I was joshing him. When I told him I meant it and was ready to take practically all he could buy for the next few weeks or so, I think he fell over in the booth and had to be helped out."
Orders for twenty thousand more shares in thousand share lots during the next three weeks sent the stock to 115. Yet wise men in the Street seemed to fear the stock. They were waiting cautiously for more definite leadings. The plunging of Bines made rather a sensation, and when it became known that his holdings were large and growing almost daily larger, the waning confidence of a speculator here and there would be revived.
At 115 the stock rested again, with few sales recorded. A certain few of the elect regarded this calm as ominous. It was half believed by others that the manipulations of the inner ring would presently advance the stock to a sensational figure, and that the reckless young man from Montana might be acting upon information of a definite character. But among the veteran speculators the feeling was conservative. Before buying they preferred to await some sign that the advance had actually begun. The conservatives were mostly the bald old fellows. Among the illusions that rarely survive a man's hair in Wall Street is the one that "sure things" are necessarily sure.
Percival watched Consolidated Copper go back to 110, and bought again—ten thousand shares. The price went up two points the day after his orders were placed, and two days later dropped back to 110. The conservatives began to agree with the younger set of speculators, in so far as both now believed that the stock was behaving in an unnatural manner, indicating that "something was doing"—that manipulation behind the scenes was under way to a definite end. The conservatives and the radicals differed as to what this end was. But then, Wall Street is nourished almost exclusively upon differences of opinion.
Percival now had accounts with five firms of brokers.
"Relpin," he explained to Uncle Peter, "is a foxy boy. He's foxier than a fox. He not only tried to hedge on what he told me,—said he'd been drinking absinthe frappe that day, and it always gets him dreamy,—but he actually had the nerve to give me the opposite steer. Of course he knows the deal clear to the centre, and Shepler knows that he knows, and he must have been afraid Shepler would suspect he'd been talking. So I only traded a few thousand shares with him. I didn't want to embarrass him. Funny about him, too. I never heard before of his drinking anything to speak of. And there isn't a man in the Street comes so near to knowing what the big boys are up to. But we're on the winning cards all right. I get exactly the same information from a dozen confidential sources; some of it I can trace to Relpin, and some of it right to Shepler himself." "Course I'm leavin' it all to you," answered Uncle Peter; "and I must say I do admire the way you take hold and get things on the move. You don't let any grass grow under your heels. You got a good head fur them things. I can tell by the way you start out—just like your pa fur all the world. I'll feel safe enough about my money as long as you keep your health. If only you got the nerve. I've known men would play a big proposition half-through and then get scared and pull out. Your pa wa'n't that way. He could get a proposition right by its handle every time, and they never come any too big fur him; the bigger they was, better he liked 'em. That's the kind of genius I think you got. You ain't afraid to take a chance."
Percival beamed modestly under praise of this sort which now came to him daily.
"It's good discipline for me, too, Uncle Peter. It's what I needed, something to put my mind on. I needed a new interest in life. You had me down right. I wasn't doing myself a bit of good with nothing to occupy my mind."
"Well, I'm mighty glad you thought up this stock deal. It'll give you good business habits and experience, say nothing of doubling your capital."
"And I've gone in with Burman on his corn deal. He's begun to buy, and he has it cinched this time. He'll be the corn king all right by June 1st; don't make any mistake on that. I thought as long as we were plunging so heavy in Western Trolley and Union Cordage, along with the copper, we might as well take the side line of corn. Then we won't have our eggs all in one basket."
"All right, son, all right! I'm trustin' you. A corner in corn is better'n a corner in wild-oats any day; anything to keep you straight, and doin' something. I don't care how many millions you pile up! I hear the Federal Oil people's back of the copper deal."
"That's right; the oil crowd and Shepler. I had it straight from Relpin that night. They're negotiating now with the Rothschilds to limit the output of the Rio Tinto mines. They'll end by controlling them, and then—well, we'll have a roll of the yellow boys—say, we'll have to lay quiet for a year just to count it."
"Do it good while you're doin' it," urged Uncle Peter, cheerfully. "I rely so much on your judgment, I want you to get action on my stuff, too. I got a couple millions that ought to be workin' harder than they are."
"Good; I didn't think you had so much gambler in you."
"It's fur a worthy purpose, son. And it seems too bad that Pishy can't pull out something with her bit, when it's to be had so easy. From what that spangle-faced beau of hers tells me there's got to be some expensive plumbing done in that castle he gets sawed off on to him."
"We'll let sis in, too," exclaimed her brother, generously, "and ma could use a little more in her business. She's sitting up nights to corner all the Amalgamated Hard-luck on the island. We'll pool issue, and say, we'll make those Federal Oil pikers think we've gnawed a corner off the subtreasury. I'll put an order in for twenty thousand more shares to-morrow—among the three stocks. And then we'll have to see about getting all our capital here. We'll need every cent of it that's loose; and maybe we better sell off some of those dead-wood stocks."
The twenty thousand shares were bought by the following week, five thousand of them being Consolidated Copper, ten thousand Western Trolley, and five thousand Union Cordage. Consolidated Copper fell off two points, upon rumours, traceable to no source, that the company had on hand a large secret supply of copper, and was producing largely in excess of the demand every month.
Percival told Uncle Peter of these rumours, and chuckled with the easy confidence of a man who knows secrets.
"You see, it's coming the way Relpin said. The insiders are hammering down the stock with those reports, hammering with one hand, and buying up small lots quietly with the other. But you'll notice the price of copper doesn't go down any. They keep it at seventeen cents all right. Now, the moment they get control of the European supply they'll hold the stuff, force up the selling price to awful figures, and squeeze out dividends that will make you wear blue glasses to look at them."
"You certainly do know your business, son," said Uncle Peter, fervently. "You certainly got your pa's head on you. You remind me more and more of Dan'l J. Bines every day. I'd rather trust your judgment now than lots of older men down there. You know their tricks all right. Get in good and hard so long as you got a sure thing. I'd hate to have you come meachin' around after that stock has kited, and be kickin' because you hadn't bet what your hand was worth."
"Trust me for that, Uncle Peter. Garmer tried to steer me off this line of stocks the other night. He'd heard these rumours about a slump, and he's fifty years old at that. I thanked him for his tip and coppered it with another thousand shares all around next day. The way Garmer can tell when you're playing a busted flush makes you nervous, but I haven't looked over his license to know everything down in the Street yet."
The moral gain to Percival from his new devotion to the stock market was commented upon approvingly both by Uncle Peter and by his mother. It was quite as tangible as his money profits promised to be. He ceased to frequent the temple of chance in Forty-fourth Street, to the proprietor's genuine regret. The poker-games at the hotel he abandoned as being trivial. And the cabmen along upper Broadway had seldom now the opportunity to compete for his early morning patronage. He began to keep early hours and to do less casual drinking during the day. After three weeks of this comparatively regular living his mother rejoiced to note signs that his breakfast-appetite was returning.
"You see," he explained earnestly to Uncle Peter, "a man to make anything at this game must keep his head clear, and he must have good health to do that. I meet a lot of those fellows down there that queer themselves by drink. It doesn't do so much hurt when a man isn't needing his brains,—but no more of it for me just now!"
"That's right, son. I knew I could make something more than a polite sosh out of you. I knew you'd pull up if you got into business like you been doin'."
"Come down-town with me this afternoon, and see me make a play, Uncle Peter. I think I'll begin now to buy on a margin. The rise can't hold off much longer."
"I'd like to, son, but I'd laid out to take a walk up to the park this afternoon, and look in at the monkeys awhile. I need the out-doors, and anyway you don't need me down there. You know your part all right. My! but I'd begin to feel nervous with all that money up, if it was anybody but you, now."
In pursuance of his pronounced plan, Uncle Peter walked up Fifth Avenue that afternoon. But he stopped short of the park. At the imposing entrance of the Arlingham he turned in. At the desk he asked for Mrs. Wybert.
"I'll see if Mrs. Wybert is in," said the clerk, handing him a blank card; "your name, please!"
The old man wrote, "Mr. Peter Bines of Montana City would like a few minutes' talk with Mrs. Wybert."
The boy was gone so long that Uncle Peter, waiting, began to suspect he would not be received. He returned at length with the message, "The lady says will you please step up-stairs."
Going up in the elevator, the old man was ushered by a maid into a violet-scented little nest whose pale green walls were touched discreetly with hangings of heliotrope. An artist, in Uncle Peter's place, might have fancied that the colour scheme of the apartment cried out for a bit of warmth. A glowing, warm-haired woman was needed to set the walls afire; and the need was met when Mrs. Wybert entered.
She wore a long coat of seal trimmed with chinchilla, and had been, apparently, about to go out.
Uncle Peter rose and bowed. Mrs. Wybert nodded rather uncertainly.
"You wished to see me, Mr. Bines?"
"I did want to have a little talk with you, Mrs. Wybert, but you're goin' out, and I won't keep you. I know how pressed you New York society ladies are with your engagements."
Mrs. Wybert had seemed to be puzzled. She was still puzzled but unmistakably pleased. The old man was looking at her with frank and friendly apology for his intrusion. Plainly she had nothing to fear from him. She became gracious.
"It was only a little shopping tour, Mr. Bines, that and a call at the hospital, where they have one of my maids who slipped on the avenue yesterday and fractured one of her—er—limbs. Do sit down."
Mrs. Wybert said "limb" for leg with the rather conscious air of escaping from an awkward situation only by the subtlest finesse.
She seated herself before a green and heliotrope background that instantly took warmth from her colour. Uncle Peter still hesitated.
"You see, I wanted kind of a long chat with you, Mrs. Wybert—a friendly chat if you didn't mind, and I'd feel a mite nervous if you're bundled up that way."
"I shall be delighted, Mr. Bines, to have a long, friendly chat. I'll send my cloak back, and you take your own time. There now, do be right comfortable!"
The old man settled himself and bestowed upon his hostess a long look of approval.
"The reports never done you justice, Mrs. Wybert, and they was very glowin' reports, too."
"You're very kind, Mr. Bines, awfully good of you!"
"I'm goin' to be more, Mrs. Wybert. I'm goin' to be a little bit confidential—right out in the straight open with you."
"I am sure of that."
"And if you want to, you can be the same with me. I ain't ever held anything against you, and maybe now I can do you a favour."
"It's right good of you to say so."
"Now, look here, ma'am, lets you and me get right down to cases about this society game here in New York."
Mrs. Wybert laughed charmingly and relaxed in manner.
"I'm with you, Mr. Bines. What about it, now?"
"Now don't get suspicious, and tell me to mind my own business when I ask you questions."
"I couldn't be suspicious of you—really I feel as if I'd have to tell you everything you asked me, some way."
"Well, there's been some talk of your marrying that young Milbrey. Now tell me the inside of it."
She looked at the old man closely. Her intuition confirmed his own protestations of friendliness.
"I don't mind telling you in strict confidence, there was talk of marriage, and his people, all but the sister, encouraged it. Then after she was engaged to Shepler they talked him out of it. Now that's the whole God's truth, if it does you any good."
"If you had married him you'd 'a' had a position, like they say here, right away."
"Oh, dear, yes! awfully swagger people—dead swell, every one of them. There's no doubt about that."
"Exactly; and there ain't really any reason why you can't be somebody here."
"Well, between you and I, Mr. Bines, I can play the part as well as a whole lot of these women here. I don't want to talk, of course, but—well!"
"Exactly, you can give half of 'em cards and spades and both casinos, Mrs. Wybert."
"And I'll do it yet. I'm not through by any means. They're not the only perfectly elegant people in this town!"
"Of course you'll do it, and you could do it better if you had three or four times the stake you got."
"Dollars are worth more apiece in New York than any town I've ever been in."
"Mrs. Wybert, I can put you right square into a good thing, and I'm going to do it. Heard anything about Consolidated Copper?"
"I've heard something big was doing in it; but nobody seems to know for certain. My broker is afraid of it."
"Very well. Now you do as I tell you, and you can clean up a big lot inside of the next two months. If you do as I tell you, mind, no matter what you hear, and if you don't talk."
Mrs. Wybert meditated.
"Mr. Bines, I'm—it's natural that I'm a little uneasy. Why should you want to see me do well, after our little affair? Now, out with it! What are you trying to do with me? What do you expect me to do for you? Get down to cases yourself, Mr. Bines!"
"I will, ma'am, in a few words. My granddaughter, you may have heard, is engaged to an Englishman. He's next thing to broke, but he's got a title coming. Naturally he's looking fur money. Naturally he don't care fur the girl. But I'm afraid she's infatuated with him. Now then, if he had a chance at some one with more money than she's got, why, naturally he'd jump at it."
"Aren't you a little bit wild?"
"Not a little bit. He saw you at Newport last summer, and he's seen you here. He was tearing the adjectives up telling me about you the other night, not knowing, you understand, that I'd ever heard tell of you before. You could marry him in a jiffy if you follow my directions."
"But your granddaughter has a fortune."
"You'll have as much if you play this the way I tell you. And—you never can tell in these times—she might lose a good bit of hers."
"It's very peculiar, Mr. Bines—your proposition."
"Look at what a brilliant match it would be fur you. Why, you'd be Lady Casselthorpe, with dukes and counts takin' off their crowns to you. And that other one—that Milbrey—from all I hear he's lighter'n cork—cut his galluses and he'd float right up into the sky. He ain't got anything but his good family and a thirst."
"I see. This Mauburn isn't good enough for your family, but you reckon he's good enough for me? Is that it, now?"
"Come, Mrs. Wybert, let's be broad. That's the game you like, and I don't criticise you fur it. It's a good game if that's the kind of a game you're huntin' fur. And you can play it better'n my granddaughter. She wa'n't meant fur it—and I'd rather have her marry an American, anyhow. Now you like it, and you got beauty—only you need more money. I'll put you in the way of it, and you can cut out my granddaughter."
"I must think about it. Suppose I plunge in copper, and your tip isn't straight. I've seen hard times, Mr. Bines, in my life. I haven't always wore sealskin and diamonds."
"Mrs. Wybert, you was in Montana long enough to know how I stand there?"
"I know you're A1, and your word's as good as another man's money. I don't question your good intentions."
"It's my judgment, hey? Now, look here, I won't tell you what I know and how I know it, but you can take my word that I know I do know. You plunge in copper right off, without saying a word to anybody or makin' any splurge, and here—"
From the little table at his elbow he picked up the card that had announced him and drew out his pencil.
"You said my word was as good as another man's money. Now I'm going to write on this card just what you have to do, and you're to follow directions, no matter what you hear about other people doing. There'll be all sorts of reports about that stock, but you follow my directions."
He wrote on the back of the card with his pencil.
"Consolidated Copper, remember—and now I'm a-goin' to write something else under them directions.
"'Do this up to the limit of your capital and I will make good anything you lose.' There, Mrs. Wybert, I've signed that 'Peter Bines.' That card wouldn't be worth a red apple in a court of law, but you know me, and you know it's good fur every penny you lose."
"Really, Mr. Bines, you half-way persuade me. I'll certainly try the copper play—and about the other—well,—we'll see; I don't promise, mind you!"
"You think over it. I'm sure you'll like the idea—think of bein' in that great nobility, and bein' around them palaces with their dukes and counts. Think how these same New York women will meach to you then!"
The old man rose.
"And mind, follow them directions and no other—makes no difference what you hear, or I won't be responsible. And I'll rely on you, ma'am, never to let anyone know about my visit, and to send me back that little document after you've cashed in."
He left her studying the card with a curious little flash of surprise.
Devotion to Business and a Chance Meeting
In the weeks that now followed, Percival became a model of sobriety and patient, unremitting industry, according to his own ideas of industry. He visited the offices of his various brokers daily, reading the tape with the single-hearted devotion of a veteran speculator. He acquired a general knowledge of the ebb and flow of popular stocks. He frequently saw opportunities for quick profit in other stocks than the three he was dealing in, but he would not let himself be diverted.
"I'm centering on those three," he told Uncle Peter. "When they win out we'll take up some other lines. I could have cleared a quarter of a million in that Northern Pacific deal last week, as easy as not. I saw just what was being done by that Ledrick combine. But we've got something better, and I don't want to take chances on tying up some ready money we might need in a hurry. If a man gets started on those little side issues he's too apt to lose his head. He jumps in one day, and out the next, and gets to be what they call a 'kangaroo,' down in the Street. It's all right for amusement, but the big money is in cinching one deal and pushing hard. It's a bull market now, too; buy A.O.T. is the good word—Any Old Thing—but I'm going to stay right by my little line."
"You certainly have a genius fur finance," declared Uncle Peter, with fervent admiration. "This going into business will be the makin' of you. You'll be good fur something else besides holdin' one of them dinky little teacups, and talking about 'trouserings'—no matter what people say. Let 'em talk about you—sayin' you'll never be anything like the man your pa was—you'll show 'em."
And Percival, important with his secret knowledge of the great coup, went back to the ticker, and laughed inwardly at the seasoned experts who frankly admitted their bewilderment as to what was "doing" in copper and Western Trolley.
"When it's all over," he confided gaily to the old man, "we ought to pinch off about ten per cent of the winnings, and put up a monument to absinthe frappe—the stuff Relpin had been drinking that day. They'll give us a fine public square for it in Paris if they won't here in New York. And it wouldn't do any good to give it to Relpin, who's really earned it—he'd only lush himself into one of those drunkard's graves—I understand there's a few left yet."
Early in March, Coplen, the lawyer, was sent for, and with him Percival spent two laborious weeks, going over inventories of the properties, securities, and moneys of the estate. The major portion of the latter was now invested in the three stocks, and the remainder was at hand where it could be conveniently reached.
Percival informed himself minutely as to the values of the different mining properties, railroad and other securities. A group of the lesser-paying mines was disposed of to an English syndicate, the proceeds being retained for the stock deal. All but the best paying of the railroad, smelting, and land-improvement securities were also thrown on the market.
The experience was a valuable one to the young man, enlarging greatly his knowledge of affairs, and giving him a needed insight into the methods by which the fortune had been accumulated.
"That was a slow, clumsy, old-fashioned way to make money," he declared to Coplen. "Nowadays it's done quicker."
His grasp of details delighted Uncle Peter and surprised Coplen.
"I didn't know but he might be getting plucked," said Coplen to the old man, "with all that money being drawn out so fast. If I hadn't known you were with him, I'd have taken it on myself to find out something about his operations. But he's all right, apparently. He had a scent like a hound for those dead-wood properties—got rid of them while we would have been making up our minds to. That boy will make his way unless I'm mistaken. He has a head for detail."
"I'll make him a bigger man than his pa was yet," declared Uncle Peter. "But I wouldn't want to let on that I'd had anything to do with it. He'll think he's done it all himself, and it's right he should. It stimulates 'em. Boys of his age need just about so much conceit, and it don't do to take it out of 'em."
Reports of the most encouraging character came from Burman. The deal in corn was being engineered with a riper caution than had been displayed in the ill-fated wheat deal of the spring before.
"Burman's drawn close up to a million already," said Percival to Uncle Peter, "and now he wants me to stand ready for another million."
"Is Burman," asked Uncle Peter, "that young fellow that had a habit of standin' pat on a pair of Jacks, and then bettin' everybody off the board?"
"Yes, that was Burman."
"Well, I liked his ways. I should say he could do you a whole lot of good in a corn deal."
"It certainly does look good—and Burman has learned the ropes and spars. They're already calling him the 'corn-king' out on the Chicago Board of Trade."
"Use your own judgment," Uncle Peter urged him. "You're the one that knows all about these things. My Lord! how you ever do manage to keep things runnin' in your head gets me. If you got confidence in Burman, all I can say is—well, your pa was a fine judge of men, and I don't see why you shouldn't have the gift."
"Between you and me, Uncle Peter, I am a good judge of human nature, and I know this much about Burman: when he does win out he'll win big. And I think he's going to whipsaw the market to a standstill this time, for sure. Here's a little item from this morning's paper that sounds right, all along the line."
"COPPER, CORN, AND CORDAGE.
"There are just now three great movements in the market, Copper Trust stock, corn, and cordage stock. The upward movement in corn seems to be in the main not speculative but natural—the result of a short supply and a long demand. The movements in Copper and Cordage Trust stocks are purely speculative. The copper movement is based on this proposition: Can the Copper Trust maintain the price for standard copper at seventeen cents a pound, in face of enormously increased supply and the rapidly decreasing demand, notably in Germany? The bears think not. The bulls, contrarily, persist in behaving as if they had inside information of a superior value. Just possibly a simultaneous rise in corn, copper, and cordage will be the next sensation in the trading world."
"You see?" said Percival. "They're beginning to wake up, down there—beginning to turn over in their sleep and mutter. Pretty soon they'll begin to stretch lazily; when they finally hear something drop and jump out of bed it will be too late. The bulls will be counting their chips to cash in, and the man waiting around to put out the lights. And I don't see why Burman isn't as safe as I am." "I don't, either," said Uncle Peter.
"'A short supply and a long demand,'—it would be a sin to let any one else in. I'll just wire him we're on, and that we need all of that good thing ourselves."
In the flush of his great plans and great expectations came a chance meeting with Miss Milbrey. He had seen her only at a distance since their talk at Newport. Yet the thought of her had persisted as a plaintive undertone through all the days after. Only the sharp hurt to his sensitive pride—from the conviction that she had found him tolerable solely because of the money—had saved him from the willing admission to himself that he had carried off too much of her ever to forget. In his quiet moments, the tones of her clear, low voice came movingly to his ears, and his eyes conjured involuntarily her girlish animation, her rounded young form, her colour and fire—the choked, smouldering fire of opals. He saw the curve of her wrist, the confident swing of her walk, the easy poise of her head, her bearing, at once girlish and womanly, the little air, half of wistful appeal, and half of self-reliant assertion. Yet he failed not to regard these indulgences as utter folly. It had been folly enough while he believed that she stood ready to accept him and his wealth. It was more flagrant, now that her quest for a husband with millions had been so handsomely rewarded.
But again, the fact that she was now clearly impossible for him, so that even a degrading submission on his part could no longer secure her, served only to bring her attractiveness into greater relief. With the fear gone that a sudden impulse to possess her might lead him to stultify himself, he could see more clearly than ever why she was and promised always to be to him the very dearest woman in the world—dearest in spite of all he could reason about so lucidly. He felt, then, a little shock of unreasoning joy to find one night that they were dining together at the Oldakers'.
At four o'clock he had received a hasty note signed "Fidelia Oldaker," penned in the fine, precise script of some young ladies' finishing school—perhaps extinct now for fifty years—imploring him, if aught of chivalry survived within his breast, to fetch his young grandfather and dine with her that evening. Two men had inconsiderately succumbed, at this eleventh hour, to the prevailing grip-epidemic, and the lady threw herself confidently on the well-known generosity of the Bines male—"like one of the big, stout nets those acrobatic people fall into from their high bars," she concluded.
Uncle Peter was more than willing. He liked the Oldakers.
"They're the only sane folks I've met among your friends," he had told his grandson. He had dined there frequently during the winter, and professed to be enamoured of the hostess. That fragile but sprightly bit of antiquity professed in turn to find Uncle Peter a very dangerous man among the ladies. They flirted outrageously at every opportunity, and Uncle Peter sent her more violets than many a popular debutante received that winter.
Percival, with his new air of Wall Street operator, was inclined to hesitate.
"You know I'm up early now, Uncle Peter, to get the day's run of the markets before I go downtown, and a man can't do much in the way of dinners when his mind is working all day. Perhaps Mauburn will go."
But Mauburn was taking Psyche and Mrs. Drelmer to the first night of a play, and Percival was finally persuaded by the old man to relax, for one evening, the austerity of his regime.
"But how your pa would love to see you so conscientious," he said, "and you with Wall Street, or a good part of it, right under your heel, just like that," and the old man ground his heel viciously into the carpet.
When Percival found Shepler with Mrs. Van Geist and Miss Milbrey among the Oldakers' guests, he rejoiced. Now he would talk to her without any of that old awkward self-consciousness. He was even audacious enough to insist that Mrs. Oldaker direct him to take Miss Milbrey out to dinner.
"I claim it as the price of coming, you know, when I was only an afterthought."
"You shall be paid, sir," his hostess declared, "if you consider it pay to sit beside an engaged girl whose mind is full of her trousseau. And here's this captivating young scapegrace relative of yours. What price does he demand for coming?" and she glanced up at Uncle Peter with arch liberality in her bright eyes.
That gentleman bowed low—a bow that had been the admiration of the smartest society in Marietta County, Ohio, fifty years and more ago.
"I'm paid fur coming by coming," he replied, urbanely.
"There, now!" cried his hostess, "that's pretty, and means something. You shall take me in for that."
"I'll have to give you a credit-slip, ma'am. You've overpaid me." And Mrs. Oldaker, with a coy fillip of her fan, called him a naughty boy.
"Here, Rulon," she called to Shepler, "are two young daredevils who've been good enough to save me as many empty chairs. Now you shall take out Cornelia, and this juvenile sprig shall relieve you of Avice Milbrey. It's a providence. You engaged couples are always so dull when you're banished from your own ciel a deux."
Shepler bowed and greeted the two men. Percival sought Miss Milbrey, who was with her aunt at the other side of the old-fashioned room, a room whose brocade hangings had been imported from England in the days of the Georges, and whose furniture was fabricated in the time when France was suffering its last kings.
He no longer felt the presence of anything overt between them. The girl herself seemed to have regained the charming frankness of her first manner with him. Their relationship was defined irrevocably. No uncertainty of doubt or false seeming lurked now under the surface to perplex and embarrass. The relief was felt at once by each.
"I'm to have the pleasure of taking you in, Miss Milbrey—hostess issues special commands to that effect."
"Isn't that jolly! We've not met for an age."
"And I've such an appetite for talk with you, I fear I won't eat a thing. If I'd known you were to be here I'd have taken the forethought to eat a gored ox, or something—what is the proverb, 'better a dinner of stalled ox where—'"
"'Where talk is,'" suggested Miss Milbrey, quickly.
"Oh, yes—.' than to have your own ox gored without a word of talk.' I remember it perfectly now. And—there—we're moving on to this feast of reason—"
"And the flow of something superior to reason," finished Shepler, who had come over for Mrs. Van Geist. "Oldaker has some port that lay in the wood in his cellar for forty years—and went around the world between keel and canvas."
"That sounds good," said Percival, and then to Miss Milbrey, "But come, let us reason together." His next sentiment, unuttered, was that the soft touch of her hand under his arm was headier than any drink, how ancient soever.
Throughout the dinner their entire absorption in each other was all but unbroken. Percival never could remember who had sat at his left; and Miss Milbrey's right-hand neighbour saw more than the winning line of her profile but twice. Percival began—
"Do you know, I've never been able to classify you at all. I never could tell how to take you."
"I'll tell you a secret, Mr. Bines; I think I'm not to be taken at all. I've begun to suspect that I'm like one of those words that haven't any rhyme—like 'orange' and 'month,' you know."
"But you find poetry in life? I do."
"Plenty of verse—not much poetry."
"How would you order life now, if the little old wishing-lady came to your door and knocked?"
And they plunged forthwith, buoyed by youth's divine effrontery, into mysteries that have vexed diners, not less than hermit sages, since "the fog of old time" first obscured truth. Of life and death—the ugliness of life, and the beauty of death—
"... even as death might smile, Petting the plumes of some surprised soul,"
quoted the girl. Of loving and hating, they talked; of trying and failing—of the implacable urge under which men must strive in the face of certain defeat—of the probability that men are purposely born fools, since, if they were born wise they would refuse to strive; whereupon life and death would merge, and naught would prevail but a vast indifference. In fact, they were very deep, and affected to consider these grave matters seriously. They affected that they never habitually thought of lesser concerns. And they had the air of listening to each other as if they were weighing the words judicially, and were quite above any mere sensuous considerations of personality.
Once they emerged long enough to hear the hostess speaking, as it were of yesterday, of a day when the new "German cotillion" was introduced, to make a sensation in New York; of a time when the best ballrooms were heated with wood stoves and lighted with lamps; and of a later but apparently still remote time when the Assemblies were "really, quite the smartest function of the season."
In another pause, they caught the kernel of a story being told by Uncle Peter:
"The girl was a half-breed, but had a fair skin and the biggest shock of hair you ever saw—bright yellow hair. She was awful proud of her hair. So when her husband, Clem Dewler, went to this priest, Father McNally, and complained that she would run away from the shack and hang around the dance-halls down at this mining-camp, Father McNally made up his mind to learn her a lesson. Well, he goes down and finds her jest comin' out of Tim Healy's place with two other women. He rushes up to her, catches hold of this big shock of hair that was trailin' behind her, and before she knew what was comin' he whipped out a big pair of sharp, shiny shears, and made as if he was going to give her a hair-cut. At that she begins to scream, but the priest he wouldn't let go. 'I'll cut it off,' he says, 'close,' he says, 'if you don't swear on this crucifix to be a good squaw to Clem Dewler, and never set so much as one of your little feet in these places again.' She could feel the shears against her hair, and she was so scared she swore like he told her. And so she was that afraid of losin' her fine yellow hair afterward, knowin' Father McNally was a man that didn't make no idle threats, that she kept prim and proper—fur a half-breed."
"That poor creature had countless sisters," was Miss Milbrey's comment to Percival. And they fell together once more in deciding whether, after all, the brightest women ever cease to believe that men are influenced most by surface beauties. They fired each other's enthusiasm for expressing opinions, and they took the opinions very seriously. Yet of their meeting, to an observer, their talk would have seemed the part least worth recording.
Twice Percival caught Shepler's regard bent upon them. It amused him to think he detected signs of uneasiness back of the survey, cool, friendly, and guarded as it was on the surface.
At parting, later, Percival spoke for the first time to Miss Milbrey of her engagement.
"You must know that I wish you all the happiness you hope for yourself; and if I were as lucky in love as Mr. Shepler has been, I surely would never dare to gamble in anything else—you know the saying."
"And you, Mr. Bines. I've been hearing so much of your marriage. I hope the rumour I heard to-day is true, that your engagement has been announced."
"Come, now! That's all gossip, you know; not a word of truth in it, and it's been very annoying to us both. Please demolish that rumour on my authority next time you hear it, thoroughly, so they can make nothing out of the pieces."
Miss Milbrey showed genuine disappointment.
"I had thought, naturally—"
"The only member of that household I could marry is not suited to my age."
Miss Milbrey was puzzled.
"But, really, she's not so old."
"No, not so very old. Still, she's going on five, and you know how time flies—and so much disparity in our ages—twenty-one years or so; no, she was no wife for me, although I don't mind confessing that there has been an affair between us, but—really you can't imagine what a frivolous and trifling creature she is."
Miss Milbrey laughed now, rather painfully he fancied.
"You mean the baby? Isn't she a little dear?"
"I'll tell you something, just between us—the baby's mother is—well, I like her—but she's a joke. That's all, a joke."
"I beg your pardon for talking of it. It had seemed so definite. They're waiting for me—good night—so glad to have seen you—and, nevertheless, she's a very practical joke!"
He watched her with frank, utter longing, as she moved over to Mrs. Oldaker, tender, girlish, appealing, with the old air of timid wistfulness, kept guard over by her woman's knowledge. His fingers still curved, as if they were loth to forget the clasp of her warm, firm little hand. She was gowned in white fleece, and she wore one pink rose where she could bend her blue eyes down upon it.
And she was going to marry Shepler for his millions. She might even yet regret that she had not waited for him, when his own name had been written up as the wizard of markets, and the master of millions. Since money was all she loved, he would show her that even in that he was pre-eminent; though he would still have none of her. And as for Shepler—he wondered if Shepler knew just what risks he might be taking on.
"Oh, Muetterchen! Wasn't it the jolliest evening?"
They were in the carriage.
"Did you and Mr. Bines enjoy yourselves as much as you seemed to?"
"And isn't his grandfather an old dear? What an interesting little story about that woman. I know just how she felt. You see, sir," she turned to Shepler, "there is always a way to manage a woman—you must find her weakness."
"He's a very unusual old chap," said Shepler. "I had occasion not long since to tell him that a certain business plan he proposed was entirely without precedent. His answer was characteristic. He said, 'We make precedents in the West when we can't find one to suit us.' It seemed so typical of the people to me. You never can tell what they may do. You see they were started out of old ruts by some form of necessity, almost every one of them, when they went West, and as necessity stimulates only the brightest people to action, those Westerners are apt to be of a pretty keen, active, and sturdy mental type. As this old chap says, they never hang back for lack of precedents; they go ahead and make them. They're not afraid to take sudden queer steps. But, really, I like them both."
"So do I," said his betrothed.
The Amateur Napoleon of Wall Street
At the beginning of April, the situation in the three stocks Percival had bought so heavily grew undeniably tense. Consolidated Copper went from 109 to 103 in a week. But Percival's enthusiasm suffered little abatement from the drop. "You see," he reminded Uncle Peter, "it isn't exactly what I expected, but it's right in line with it, so it doesn't alarm me. I knew those fellows inside were bound to hammer it down if they could. It wouldn't phase me a bit if it sagged to 95."
"My! My!" Uncle Peter exclaimed, with warm approval, "the way you master this business certainly does win me. I tell you, it's a mighty good thing we got your brains to depend on. I'm all right the other side of Council Bluffs, but I'm a tenderfoot here, sure, where everybody's tryin' to get the best of you. You see, out there, everybody tries to make the best of it. But here they try to get the best of it. I told that to one of them smarties last night. But you'll put them in their place all right. You know both ends of the game and the middle. We certainly got a right to be proud of you, son. Dan'l J. liked big propositions himself—but, well, I'd just like to have him see the nerve you've showed, that's all."
Uncle Peter's professions of confidence were unfailing, and Percival took new hope and faith in his judgment from them daily.
Nevertheless, as the weeks passed, and the mysterious insiders succeeded in their design of keeping the stock from rising, he came to feel a touch of anxiety. More, indeed, than he was able to communicate to Uncle Peter, without confessing outright that he had lost faith in himself. That he was unable to do, even if it were true, which he doubted. The Bines fortune was now hanging, as to all but some of the Western properties, on the turning of the three stocks. Yet the old man's confidence in the young man's acumen was invulnerable. No shaft that Percival was able to fashion had point enough to pierce it. And he was both to batter it down, for he still had the gambler's faith in his luck.
"You got your father's head in business matters," was Uncle Peter's invariable response to any suggestion of failure. "I know that much—spite of what all these gossips say—and that's all I want to know. And of course you can't ever be no Shepler 'less you take your share of chances. Only don't ask my advice. You're master of the game, and we're all layin' right smack down on your genius fur it."
Whereupon the young man, with confidence in himself newly inflated, would hurry off to the stock tickers. He had ceased to buy the stocks outright, and for several weeks had bought only on margins.
"There was one rule in poker your pa had," said Uncle Peter. "If a hand is worth calling on, it's worth raising on. He jest never would call. If he didn't think a hand was worth raising, he'd bunch it in with the discards, and wait fur another deal. I don't know much about the game, but he said it was a sound rule, and if it was sound in poker, why it's got to be sound in this game. That's all I can tell you. You know what you hold, and if 'tain't a hand to lay down, it must be a hand to raise on. Of course, if you'd been brash and ignorant in your first calculations—if you'd made a fool of yourself at the start—but shucks! you're the son of Daniel J. Bines, ain't you?"
The rule and the clever provocation had their effect.
"I'll raise as long as I have a chip left, Uncle Peter. Why, only to-day I had a tip that came straight from Shepler, though he never dreamed it would reach me. That Pacific Cable bill is going to be rushed through at this session of Congress, sure, and that means enough increased demand to send Consolidated back where it was. And then, when it comes out that they've got those Rio Tinto mines by the throat, well, this anvil chorus will have to stop, and those Federal Oil sharks and Shepler will be wondering how I had the face to stay in."
The published rumours regarding Consolidated began to conflict very sharply. Percival read them all hungrily, disregarding those that did not confirm his own opinions. He called them irresponsible newspaper gossip, or believed them to be inspired by the clique for its own ends.
He studied the history of copper until he knew all its ups and downs since the great electrical development began in 1887. When Fouts, the broker he traded most heavily with, suggested that the Consolidated Company was skating on thin ice, that it might, indeed, be going through the same experience that shattered the famous Secretan corner a dozen years before, Percival pointed out unerringly the vital difference in the circumstances. The Consolidated had reduced the production of its controlled mines, and the price was bound to be maintained. When his adviser suggested that the companies not in the combine might cut the price, he brought up the very lively rumours of a "gentlemen's agreement" with the "non-combine" producers.
"Of course, there's Calumet and Hecla. I know that couldn't be gunned into the combination. They could pay dividends with copper at ten cents a pound. But the other independents know which side of their stock is spread with dividends, all right."
When it was further suggested that the Rio Tinto mines had sold ahead for a year, with the result that European imports from the United States had fallen off, and that the Consolidated could not go on for ever holding up the price, Percival said nothing.
The answer to that was the secret negotiations for control of the European output, which would make the Consolidated master of the copper world. Instead of disclosing this, he pretended craftily to be encouraged by the mere generally hopeful outlook in all lines. Western Trolley, too, might be overcapitalised, and Union Cordage might also be in the hands of a piratical clique; but the demand for trolley lines was growing every day, and cordage products were not going out of fashion by any means.
"You see," he said to his adviser, "here's what the most conservative man in the Street says in this afternoon's paper. 'That copper must necessarily break badly, and the whole boom collapse I do not believe. There is enough prosperity to maintain a strong demand for the metal through another year at least. As to Western Trolley and Union Cordage, the two other stocks about which doubt is now being so widely expressed in the Street, I am persuaded that they are both due to rise, not sensationally, but at a healthy upward rate that makes them sound investments!'
"There," said Percival, "there's the judgment of a man that knows the game, but doesn't happen to have a dollar in either stock, and he doesn't know one or two things that I know, either. Just hypothecate ten thousand of those Union Cordage shares and five thousand Western Trolley, and buy Consolidated on a twenty per cent margin. I want to get bigger action. There's a good rule in poker: if your hand is worth calling, it's worth raising."
"I like your nerve," said the broker.
"Well, I know some one who has a sleeve with something up it, that's all."
By the third week in April, it was believed that his holdings of Consolidated were the largest in the Street, excepting those of the Federal Oil people. Uncle Peter was delighted by the magnitude of his operations, and by his newly formed habits of industry.
"It'll be the makings of the boy," he said to Mrs. Bines in her son's presence. "Not that I care so much myself about all the millions he'll pile up, but it gives him a business training, and takes him out of the pin-head class. I bet Shepler himself will be takin' off his silk hat to your son, jest as soon as he's made this turn in copper—if he has enough of Dan'l J.'s grit to hang on—and I think he has."
"They needn't wait another day for me," Percival told him later. "The family treasure is about all in now, except ma's amethyst earrings, and the hair watch-chain Grandpa Cummings had. Of course I'm holding what I promised for Burman. But that rise can't hold off much longer, and the only thing I'll do, from now on, is to hock a few blocks of the stock I bought outright, and buy on margins, so's to get bigger action."
"My! My! you jest do fairly dazzle me," exclaimed the old man, delightedly. "Oh, I guess your pa wouldn't be at all proud of you if he could see it. I tell you, this family's all right while you keep hearty."
"Well, I'm not pushing my chest out any," said the young man, with becoming modesty, "but I don't mind telling you it will be the biggest thing ever pulled off down there by any one man."
"That's the true Western spirit," declared Uncle Peter, beside himself with enthusiasm. "We do things big when we bother with 'em at all. We ain't afraid of any pikers like Shepler, with his little two and five thousand lots. Oh! I can jest hear 'em callin' you hard names down in that Wall Street—Napoleon of Finance and Copper King and all like that—in about thirty days!"
He accepted Percival's invitation that afternoon to go down into the Street with him. They stopped for a moment in the visitors' gallery of the Stock Exchange and looked down into the mob of writhing, dishevelled, shouting brokers. In and out, the throng swirled upon itself, while above its muddy depths surged a froth of hands in frenzied gesticulation. The frantic movement and din of shrieks disturbed Uncle Peter.
"Faro is such a lot quieter game," was his comment; "so much more ca'm and restful. What a pity, now, 'tain't as Christian!"
Then they made the rounds of the brokers' offices in New, Broad, and Wall Streets.
They reached the office of Fouts, in the, latter street, just as the Exchange had closed. In the outer trading-room groups of men were still about the tickers, rather excitedly discussing the last quotations. Percival made his way toward one of them with a dim notion that he might be concerned. He was relieved when he saw Gordon Blythe, suave and smiling, in the midst of the group, still regarding the tape he held in his hands. Blythe, too, had plunged in copper. He had been one of the few as sanguine as Percival—and Blythe's manner now reassured him. Copper had obviously not gone wrong.
"Ah, Blythe, how did we close? Mr. Blythe, my grandfather, Mr. Bines."
Blythe was the model of easy, indolent, happy middle-age. His tall hat, frock coat with a carnation in the lapel, the precise crease of his trousers, the spickness of his patent-leathers and his graceful confidence of manner, proclaimed his mind to be free from all but the pleasant things of life. He greeted Uncle Peter airily.
"Come down to see how we do it, eh, Mr. Bines? It's vastly engrossing, on my word. Here's copper just closed at 93, after opening strong this morning at 105. I hardly fancied, you know, it could fall off so many of those wretched little points. Rumours that the Consolidated has made large sales of the stuff in London at sixteen, I believe. One never can be quite aware of what really governs these absurd fluctuations."
Percival was staring at Blythe in unconcealed amazement. He turned, leaving Uncle Peter still chatting with him, and sought Fouts in the inner office. When he came out ten minutes later Uncle Peter was waiting for him alone.
"Your friend Mr. Blythe is a clever sort of man, jolly and light-hearted as a boy."
"Let's go out and have a drink, before we go up-town."
In the cafe of the Savarin, to which he led Uncle Peter, they saw Blythe again. He was seated at one of the tables with a younger man. Uncle Peter and Percival sat down at a table near by.
Blythe was having trouble about his wine.
"Now, George," he was saying, "give us a real lively pint of wine. You see, yourself, that cork isn't fresh; show it to Frank there, and look at the wine itself—come now, George! Hardly a bubble in it! Tell Frank I'll leave it to him, by Gad! if this bottle is right."
The waiter left with the rejected wine, and they heard Blythe resume to his companion, with the relish of a connoisseur:
"It's simply a matter of genius, old chap—you understand?—to tell good wine—that is really to discriminate finely. If a chap's not born with the gift he's an ass to think he can acquire it. Sometime you've a setter pup that looks fit—head good, nose all right—all the markings—but you try him out and you know in half an hour he'll never do in the world. Then it's better to take him out back of the barn and shoot him, by Gad! Rather than have his strain corrupt the rest of the kennel. He can't acquire the gift, and no more can a chap acquire this gift. Ah! I was right, was I, George? Look how different that cork is."
He sipped the bubbling amber wine with cautious and exacting appreciation. As the waiter would have refilled the glasses, Blythe stopped him.
"Now, George, let me tell you something. You're serving at this moment the only gentleman's drink. Do it right, George. Listen! Never refill a gentleman's glass until it's quite empty. Do you know why? Think, George! You pour fresh wine into stale wine and what have you?—neither. I've taught you something, George. Never fill a glass till it's empty."
"It beats me," said Uncle Peter, when Blythe and his companion had gone, "how easy them rich codgers get along. That fellow must 'a' made a study of wines, and nothing worse ever bothers him than a waiter fillin' his glass wrong."
"You'll be beat more," answered Percival, "when I tell you this slump in copper has just ruined him—wiped out every cent he had. He'd just taken it off the ticker when we found him in Fouts's place there. He's lost a million and a half, every cent he had in the world, and he has a wife and two grown daughters."
"Shoo! you don't say! And I'd have sworn he didn't care a row of pins whether copper went up or down. He was a lot more worried about that champagne. Well, well! he certainly is a game loser. I got more respect fur him now. This town does produce thoroughbreds, you can't deny that."
"Uncle Peter, she's down to 93, and I've had to margin up a good bit. I didn't think it could get below 95 at the worst."
"Oh, I can't bother about them things. Just think of when she booms."
"I do—but say—do you think we better pinch our bets?"
Uncle Peter finished his glass of beer.
"Lord! don't ask me," he replied, with the unconcern of perfect trust. "Of course if you've lost your nerve, or if you think all these things you been tellin' me was jest some one foolin' you—"
"No, I know better than that, and I haven't lost my nerve. After all, it only means that the crowd is looking for a bigger rake-off."
"Your pa always kept his nerve," said Uncle Peter. "I've known him to make big money by keepin' it when other men lost theirs. Of course he had genius fur it, and you're purty young yet—"
"I only thought of it for a minute. I didn't really mean it."
They read the next afternoon that Gordon Blythe had been found dead of asphyxiation in a little down-town hotel under circumstances that left no doubt of his suicide.
"That man wa'n't so game as we thought," said Uncle Peter. "He's left his family to starve. Now your pa was a game loser fur fair. Dan'l J. would'a' called fur another deck."
"And copper's up two points to-day," said Percival, cheerfully. He had begun to be depressed with forebodings of disaster, and this slight recovery was cheering.
"By the way," he continued, "there may be another gas-jet blown out in a few days. That party, you know, our friend from Montana, has been selling Consolidated right and left. Where do you suppose she got any such tip as that? Well, I'm buying and she's selling, and we'll have that money back. She'll be wiped off the board when Consolidated soars."
How the Chinook Came to Wall Street
The loss of much money is commonly a subject to be managed with brevity and aversion by one who sits down with the right reverence for sheets of clean paper. To bewail is painful. To affect lightness, on the other hand, would, in this age, savour of insincerity, if not of downright blasphemy. More than a bare recital of the wretched facts, therefore, is not seemly.
The Bines fortune disappeared much as a heavy fall of snow melts under the Chinook wind.
That phenomenon is not uninteresting. We may picture a far-reaching waste of snow, wind-furrowed until it resembles a billowy white sea frozen motionless. The wind blows half a gale and the air is full of fine ice-crystals that sting the face viciously. The sun, lying low on the southern horizon, seems a mere frozen globe, with lustrous pink crescents encircling it.
One day the wind backs and shifts. A change portends. Even the herds of half-frozen range cattle sense it by some subtle beast-knowledge. They are no longer afraid to lie down as they may have been for a week. The danger of freezing has passed. The temperature has been at fifty degrees below zero. Now, suddenly it begins to rise. The air is scarcely in motion, but occasionally it descends as out of a blast-furnace from overhead. To the southeast is a mass of dull black clouds. Their face is unbroken. But the upper edges are ragged, torn by a wind not yet felt below. Two hours later its warmth comes. In ten minutes the mercury goes up thirty-five degrees. The wind comes at a thirty-mile velocity. It increases in strength and warmth, blowing with a mighty roar.
Twelve hours afterward the snow, three feet deep on a level, has melted. There are bald, brown hills everywhere to the horizon, and the plains are flooded with water. The Chinook has come and gone. In this manner suddenly went the Bines fortune.
April 30th, Consolidated Copper closed at 91. Two days later, May 2d, the same ill-fated stock closed at 5l—a drop of forty points. Roughly the decline meant the loss of a hundred million dollars to the fifteen thousand share-holders. From every city of importance in the country came tales more or less tragic of holdings wiped out, of ruined families, of defalcations and suicides. The losses in New York City alone were said to be fifty millions. A few large holders, reputed to enjoy inside information, were said to have put their stock aside and "sold short" in the knowledge of what was coming. Such tales are always popular in the Street.
Others not less popular had to do with the reasons for the slump. Many were plausible. A deal with the Rothschilds for control of the Spanish mines had fallen through. Or, again, the slaughter was due to the Shepler group of Federal Oil operators, who were bent on forcing some one to unload a great quantity of the stock so that they might absorb it. The immediate causes were less recondite. The Consolidated Company, so far from controlling the output, was suddenly shown to control actually less than fifty per cent of it. Its efforts to amend or repeal the hardy old law of Supply and Demand had simply met with the indifferent success that has marked all such efforts since the first attempted corner in stone hatchets, or mastodon tusks, or whatever it may have been. In the language of one of its newspaper critics, the "Trust" had been "founded on misconception and prompted along lines of self-destruction. Its fundamental principles were the restriction of product, the increase of price, and the throttling of competition, a trinity that would wreck any combination, business, political, or social."
With this generalisation we have no concern. As to the copper situation, the comment was pat. It had been suddenly disclosed, not only that no combination could be made to include the European mines, but that the Consolidated Company had an unsold surplus of 150,000,000 pounds of copper; that it was producing 20,000,000 pounds a month more than could be sold, and that it had made large secret sales abroad at from two to three cents below the market price.
As if fearing that these adverse conditions did not sufficiently ensure the stock's downfall, the Shepler group of Federal Oil operators beat it down further with what was veritably a golden sledge. That is, they exported gold at a loss. At a time when obligations could have been met more cheaply with bought bills they sent out many golden cargoes at an actual loss of three hundred dollars on the half million. As money was already dear, and thus became dearer, the temptation and the means to hold copper stock, in spite of all discouragements, were removed from the paths of hundreds of the harried holders.
Incidentally, Western Trolley had gone into the hands of a receiver, a failure involving another hundred million dollars, and Union Cordage had fallen thirty-five points through sensational disclosures as to its overcapitalisation.
Into this maelstrom of a panic market the Bines fortune had been sucked with a swiftness so terrible that the family's chief advising member was left dazed and incredulous.
For two days he clung to the ticker tape as to a life line. He had committed the millions of the family as lightly as ever he had staked a hundred dollars on the turn of a card or left ten on the change-tray for his waiter.
Then he had seen his cunningly built foundations, rested upon with hopes so high for three months, melt away like snow when the blistering Chinook comes.
It has been thought wise to adopt two somewhat differing similes in the foregoing, in order that the direness of the tragedy may be sufficiently apprehended.
The morning of the first of the two last awful days, he was called to the office of Fouts and Hendricks by telephone.
"Something going to happen in Consolidated to-day."
He had hurried down-town, flushed with confidence. He knew there was but one thing could happen. He had reached the office at ten and heard the first vicious little click of the ticker—that beating heart of the Stock Exchange—as it began the unemotional story of what men bought and sold over on the floor. Its inventor died in the poorhouse, but Capital would fare badly without his machine. Consolidated was down three points. The crowd about the ticker grew absorbed at once. Reports came in over the telephone. The bears had made a set for the stock. It began to slump rapidly. As the stock was goaded down, point by point, the crowd of traders waxed more excited.
As the stock fell, the banks requested the brokers to margin up their loans, and the brokers, in turn, requested Percival to margin up his trades. The shares he had bought outright went to cover the shortage in those he had bought on a twenty per cent margin. Loans were called later, and marginal accounts wiped out with appalling informality.
Yet when Consolidated suddenly rallied three points just at the close of the day's trading, he took much comfort in it as an omen of the morrow. That night, however, he took but little satisfaction in Uncle Peter's renewed assurances of trust in his acumen. Uncle Peter, he decided all at once, was a fatuous, doddering old man, unable to realise that the whole fortune was gravely endangered. And with the gambler's inveterate hope that luck must change he forbore to undeceive the old man.
Uncle Peter went with him to the office next morning, serenely interested in the prospects.
"You got your pa's way of taking hold of big propositions. That's all I need to know," he reassured the young man, cheerfully.
Consolidated Copper opened that day at 78, and went by two o'clock to 51.
Percival watched the decline with a conviction that he was dreaming. He laughed to think of his relief when he should awaken. The crowd surged about the ticker, and their voices came as from afar. Their acts all had the weird inconsequence of the people we see in dreams. Yet presently it had gone too far to be amusing. He must arouse himself and turn over on his side. In five minutes, according to the dream, he had lost five million dollars as nearly as he could calculate. Losing a million a minute, even in sleep, he thought, was disquieting.
Then upon the tape he read another chapter of disaster. Western Trolley had gone into the hands of a receiver,—a fine, fat, promising stock ruined without a word of warning; and while he tried to master this news the horrible clicking thing declared that Union Cordage was selling down to 58,—a drop of exactly 35 points since morning.
Fouts, with a slip of paper in his hand, beckoned him from the door of his private office. He went dazedly in to him,—and was awakened from the dream that he had been losing a fortune in his sleep.
Coming out after a few moments, he went up to Uncle Peter, who had been sitting, watchful but unconcerned, in one of the armchairs along the wall. The old man looked up inquiringly.
"Come inside, Uncle Peter!"
They went into the private office of Fouts. Percival shut the door, and they were alone.
"Uncle Peter, Burman's been suspended on the Board of Trade; Fouts just had this over his private wire. Corn broke to-day."
"That so? Oh, well, maybe it was worth a couple of million to find out Burman plays corn like he plays poker; 'twas if you couldn't get it fur any less."
"Uncle Peter, we're wiped out."
"How, wiped out? What do you mean, son?"
"We're done, I tell you. We needn't care a damn now where copper goes to. We're out of it—and—Uncle Peter, we're broke."
"Out of copper? Broke? But you said—" He seemed to be making an effort to comprehend. His lack of grasp was pitiful.
"Out of copper, but there's Western Trolley and that Cordage stock—"
"Everything wiped out, I tell you—Union Cordage gone down thirty-five points, somebody let out the inside secrets—and God only knows how far Western Trolley's gone down."
"Are you all in?"
"Every dollar—you knew that. But say," he brightened out of his despair, "there's the One Girl—a good producer—Shepler knows the property—Shepler's in this block—" and he was gone.
The old man strolled out into the trading-room again. A curious grim smile softened his square jaw for a moment. He resumed his comfortable chair and took up a newspaper, glancing incidentally at the crowd of excited men about the tickers. He had about him that air of repose which comes to big men who have stayed much in big out-of-door solitudes.
"Ain't he a nervy old guy?" said a crisp little money-broker to Fouts. "They're wiped out, but you wouldn't think he cared any more about it than Mike the porter with his brass polish out there."
The old man held his paper up, but did not read.
Percival rushed in by him, beckoning him to the inner room.
"Shepler's all right about the One Girl. He'll take a mortgage on it for two hundred thousand if you'll recommend it—only he can't get the money before to-morrow. There's bound to be a rally in this stock, and we'll go right back for some of the hair of the—why,—what's the matter—Uncle Peter!"
The old man had reeled, and then weakly caught at the top of the desk with both hands for support.
"Ruined!" he cried, hoarsely, as if the extent of the calamity had just borne in upon him. "My God! Ruined, and at my time of life!" He seemed about to collapse. Percival quickly helped him into a chair, where he became limp.
"There, I'm all right. Oh, it's terrible! and we all trusted you so. I thought you had your pa's brains. I'd 'a' trusted you soon's I would Shepler, and now look what you led us into—fortune gone—broke—and all your fault!"
"Don't, Uncle Peter—don't, for God's sake—not when I'm down! I can't stand it!"
"Gamble away your own money—no, that wa'n't enough—take your poor ma's share and your sister's, and take what little I had to keep me in my old age—robbed us all—that's what comes of thinkin' a damned tea-drinkin' fop could have a thimble-full of brains!"
"Don't, please,—not just now—give it to me good later—to-morrow—all you want to!"
"And here I'm come to want in my last days when I'm too feeble to work. I'll die in bitter privation because I was an old fool, and trusted a young one."
"Please don't, Uncle Peter!"
"You led us in—robbed your poor ma and your sister. I told you I didn't know anything about it and you talked me into trusting you—I might 'a' known better."
"Can't you stop awhile—just a moment?"
"Of course I don't matter. Maybe I can hold a drill, or tram ore, or something, but I can't support your ma and Pishy like they ought to be, with my rheumatiz comin' on again, too. And your ma'll have to take in boarders, and do washin' like as not, and think of poor Pishy—prob'ly she'll have to teach school or clerk in a store—poor Pish—she'll be lucky now if she can marry some common scrub American out in them hills—like as not one of them shoe-clerks in the Boston Cash Store at Montana City! And jest when I was lookin' forward to luxury and palaces in England, and everything so grand! How much you lost?" "That's right, no use whining! Nearly as I can get the round figures of it, about twelve million."
"Awful—awful! By Cripes! that man Blythe that done himself up the other night had the right of it. What's the use of living if you got to go to the poorhouse?"
"Come, come!" said Percival, alarm over Uncle Peter crowding out his other emotions. "Be a game loser, just as you said pa would be. Sit up straight and make 'em bring on another deck."
He slapped the old man on the back with simulated cheerfulness; but the despairing one only cowered weakly under the blow.
"We can't—we ain't got the stake for a new deck. Oh, dear! think of your ma and me not knowin' where to turn fur a meal of victuals at our time of life."
Percival was being forced to cheerfulness in spite of himself.
"Come, it isn't as bad as that, Uncle Peter. We've got properties left, and good ones, too."
Uncle Peter weakly waved the hand of finished discouragement. "Hush, don't speak of that. Them properties need a manager to make 'em pay—a plain business man—a man to stay on the ground and watch 'em and develop 'em with his brains—a young man with his health! What good am I—a poor, broken-down old cuss, bent double with rheumatiz—almost—I'm ashamed of you fur suggesting such a thing!"
"I'll do it myself—I never thought of asking you."
Uncle Peter emitted a nasal gasp of disgust.
"You—you—you'd make a purty manager of anything, wouldn't you! As if you could be trusted with anything again that needs a schoolboy's intelligence. Even if you had the brains, you ain't got the taste nor the sperrit in you. You're too lazy—too triflin'. You, a-goin' back there, developin' mines, and gettin' out ties, and lumber, and breeding shorthorns, and improvin' some of the finest land God ever made—you bein' sober and industrious, and smart, like a business man has got to be out there nowadays. That ain't any bonanza country any more; 1901 ain't like 1870; don't figure on that. You got to work the low-grade ore now for a few dollars a ton, and you got to work it with brains. No, sir, that country ain't what it used to be. There might 'a' been a time when you'd made your board and clothes out there when things come easier. Now it's full of men that hustle and keep their mind on their work, and ain't runnin' off to pink teas in New York. It takes a man with some of the brains your pa had to make the game pay now. But you—don't let me hear any more of that nonsense!"
Percival had entered the room pale. He was now red. The old man's bitter contempt had flushed him into momentary forgetfulness of the disaster.
"Look here, Uncle Peter, you've been telling me right along I did have my father's head and my father's ways and his nerve, and God knows what I didn't have that he had!"
"I was fooled,—I can't deny it. What's the use of tryin' to crawl out of it? You did fool me, and I own up to it; I thought you had some sense, some capacity; but you was only like him on the surface; you jest got one or two little ways like his, that's all—Dan'l J. now was good stuff all the way through. He might 'a' guessed wrong on copper, but he'd 'a' saved a get-away stake or borrowed one, and he'd 'a' piked back fur Montana to make his pile right over—and he'd 'a' made it, too—that was the kind of man your pa was—he'd 'a' made it!"
"I have saved a get-away stake."
"Your pa had the head, I tell you—and the spirit—"
"And, by God, I'll show you I've got the head. You think because I wanted to live here, and because I made this wrong play that I'm like all these pinheads you've seen around here. I'll show you different!—I'll fool you."
"Now don't explode!" said the old man, wearily. "You meant well, poor fellow—I'll say that fur you; you got a good heart. But there's lots of good men that ain't good fur anything in particular. You've got a good heart—yes—you're all right from the neck down."
"See here," said Percival, more calmly, "listen: I've got you all into this thing, and played you broke against copper; and I'm going to get you out—understand that?"
The old man looked at him pityingly.
"I tell you I'm going to get you out. I'm going back there, and get things in action, and I'm going to stay by them. I've got a good idea of these properties—and you hear me, now—I'll finish with a bank-roll that'll choke Red Bank Canon."
Fouts knocked and came in.
"Now you go along up-town, Uncle Peter. I want a few minutes with Mr. Fouts, and I'll come to your place at seven."
The old man arose dejectedly.
"Don't let me interfere a minute with your financial operations. I'm too old a man to be around in folks' way."
He slouched out with his head bent.
A moment later Percival remembered his last words, also his reference to Blythe. He was seized with fear for what he might do in his despair. Uncle Peter would act quickly if his mind had been made up.
He ran out into Wall Street, and hurried up to Broadway. A block off on that crowded thoroughfare he saw the tall figure of Uncle Peter turning into the door of a saloon. He might have bought poison. He ran the length of the block and turned in.
Uncle Peter stood at one end of the bar with a glass of creamy beer in front of him. At the moment Percival entered he was enclosing a large slab of Swiss cheese between two slices of rye bread.
He turned and faced Percival, looking from him to his sandwich with vacant eyes.
"I'm that wrought up and distressed, son, I hardly know what I'm doin'! Look at me now with this stuff in my hands."
"I just wanted to be sure you were all right," said Percival, greatly relieved.
"All right," the old man repeated. "All right? My God,—ruined! There's nothin' left to do now."
He looked absently at the sandwich, and bit a generous semicircle into it.
"I don't see how you can eat, Uncle Peter. It's so horrible!"
"I don't myself; it ain't a healthy appetite—can't be—must be some kind of a fever inside of me—I s'pose—from all this trouble. And now I've come to poverty and want in my old age. Say, son, I believe there's jest one thing you can do to keep me from goin' crazy."
"Name it, Uncle Peter. You bet I'll do it!"
"Well, it ain't much—of course I wouldn't expect you to do all them things you was jest braggin' about back there—about goin' to work the properties and all that—you would do it if you could, I know—but it ain't that. All I ask is, don't play this Wall Street game any more. If we can save out enough by good luck to keep us decently, so your ma won't have to take boarders, why, don't you go and lose that, too. Don't mortgage the One Girl. I may be sort of superstitious, but somehow, I don't believe Wall Street is your game. Course, I don't say you ain't got a game—of some kind—but I got one of them presentiments that it ain't Wall Street." "I don't believe it is, Uncle Peter—I won't touch another share, and I won't go near Shepler again. We'll keep the One Girl."
He called a cab for the old man, and saw him started safely off up-town.
At the hotel Uncle Peter met Billy Brue flourishing an evening paper that flared with exclamatory headlines.
"It's all in the papers, Uncle Peter!"
"Dead broke! Ain't it awful, Billy!"
"Say, Uncle Peter, you said you'd raise hell, and you done it. You done it good, didn't you?"
The News Broken, Whereupon an Engagement is Broken
At seven Percival found Uncle Peter at his hotel, still in abysmal depths of woe. Together they went to break the awful news to the unsuspecting Mrs. Bines and Psyche.
"If you'd only learned something useful while you had the chance," began Uncle Peter, dismally, as they were driven to the Hightower, "how to do tricks with cards, or how to sing funny songs, like that little friend of yours from Baltimore you was tellin' me about. Look at him, now. He didn't have anything but his own ability. He could tell you every time what card you was thinkin' about, and do a skirt dance and give comic recitations and imitate a dog fight out in the back yard, and now he's married to one of the richest ladies in New York. Why couldn't you 'a' been learnin' some of them clever things, so you could 'a' married some good-hearted woman with lots of money—but no—" Uncle Peter's tones were bitter to excess—"you was a rich man's son and raised in idleness—and now, when the rainy day's come, you can't even take a white rabbit out of a stove-pipe hat!"