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No. IX.—"UNLIKELIES."

THE Unlikely Mine is not its real name, but it bears some resemblance to the sound of the real name, and has replaced it for common or City use. And it certainly is just about the unlikeliest mine in New Zealand.

When it was offered to the public, Mr. Horace Fall, J.P., read the prospectus, and observed that here was an enterprise which only demanded a moderate capital. If the mine had been all that fancy and the expert painted it, this view would have been correct. But the rest of the investing public seemed to be possessed with the idea that a thing that was worth nothing was dear at twopence. And so it happened that when Mr. Horace Fall applied for two thousand ordinary pound shares, he got—to his pain and surprise—the whole two thousand allotted to him. He paid for them and put them away in his safe. He could have bought them for eight shillings apiece a few months later.

Fall was a man of some means, and the loss, though serious, was not enough to affect his health or his manner of living. The reasons why a year afterwards he cut his throat had nothing to do with "Unlikelies" or with this story. He bequeathed to his intelligent and hard-working niece, Dora Merton, his holding in "Unlikelies," and also Consols producing an income of about £200.

Dora Merton had taken the equivalent of a fairly high degree at Cambridge; but she had been expected to do much better, and it was thought either that she had been lazy, or that she had not worked with discretion. The latter, from an examination point of view, was true enough. She was a little, mouse-like woman, with brown hair and white teeth, neither plain enough to be ugly, nor pretty enough to be beautiful. She was very quiet, and her manner suggested a timidity that she did not possess. For a short time she was governess to the family of a stockbroker; then—partly through his influence, generously used when he saw her rather remarkable capabilities—she obtained a more remunerative employment, doing difficult statistical work for an insurance company. Her favourite reading was the principal financial articles, and she could distinguish between solid sense and the other thing. As a rule, wise men of business do not talk much business out of hours, and do not talk it to women at all. But she had a few intimate friends who had begun by chaffing her for her unfeminine interests, and had ended by respecting her knowledge and capability. She did not bother them for tips; she did not want half an hour of serious discussion on the grave question whether or not the moment had arrived for selling five Lake Views. In a word, she was not as other women. She did not speculate, in spite of her interest in speculation; she had no money to play about with. And she had ideas; men that she knew had more than once found them to be profitable ideas.

The death of her Uncle Horace did not greatly afflict her. All that she knew of him was that he had quarrelled with her father. She had never expected him to leave her a penny; she took the legacy as a way of saying that he limited his ill-will to the period of his lifetime. What was she to do with it?

She was an independent mouse, living in her own flat in Bloomsbury, going her own ways, forming her own opinions. She made her own inquiries as to "Unlikelies," and she formed her own decision as to the line to take. It was only then that she wrote a note to Peter Bafray. Bafray was a sardonic person of thirty-three. He was tall, and almost grotesquely ugly in a strong, clean-shaven way. The Bafrays and Mertons had been friends for two generations, and Peter and Dora had, at a considerably previous period, bowled hoops together. Peter was now a solicitor in partnership with his father, and possessed of more money than is good for a single man. To him, knowing him to be a loyal friend and no fool, the mouse wrote as follows:—

 

"Dear Peter, " Please dine with me at the Twentieth Club on Saturday at eight. I've got something rather in your line, and we can talk it over. We shall be alone.

"Yours ever,
"Dora Merton."

 

The Twentieth is a ladies' club, and very pretty in its interior, being all white and purple and gold, with Corinthian pillars where they are required and also elsewhere. The male guest goes to the upstairs dining-room. It was in a corner of this room that Dora and Peter dined.

"And what about the business?" Peter asked when dinner was half over.

"Well," said Dora, "to begin with, have you got any money?"

"Just borrowed my cab-fare from my man."

"No, but really?"

"I dare say I might be able to find some," Peter admitted reluctantly.

"That's all right. Then I am going to tell you about a little scheme of mine that I want you to join me in. To begin with, I must tell you that I am now an heiress in a small way, through the death of that wicked old man, Uncle Horace."

She told him all about her legacy. "Now," she continued, "what do you think I ought to do?"

"If you were an ordinary woman I should tell you to sell your 'Unlikelies' for whatever they will fetch, and buy some more Consols with the money. But you are not an ordinary woman. You would keep an eye on your investments; you don't want to go to sleep on them. Of course, I still say, Sell your 'Unlikelies.' They are quite neglected, and I doubt if they will ever go any better. But Consols are not good enough for you. You'd better come out of them, and try to get a few first-class mortgages—that would make a bill of costs for us, you know, and perhaps you might—but what's the use of my talking? You've made up your mind already."

"Yes," said the mouse. "At least, I've thought of something. But you may not like it. I sell the Consols, of course, but I keep the 'Unlikelies,' and I buy more 'Unlikelies' with the money that I get for the Consols."

"That sounds like madness, but I won't say that you're wrong until I hear the rest of the story. The mine's not a good property, it is not well managed, it has never paid a dividend, and most people think it never will. Is it worth it?"

"Is the price of a thing on a Stock Exchange regulated by what it's worth, or even by what the public think it's worth? What about the time when the bears were caught short of N. P. Commons?"

"There you are talking. But are we big enough to run a corner? And do we know how to do it? You see, you've got to make your bears before you can trap them."

"True. I'll give you the scheme. I'm not prepared to put every penny I possess into it, but I will put in a good deal. If you like it, you will put in two-thirds as much, and undertake all the business details—I'm too busy at the office to attend to them—and if there are any profits we will share them equally. Will you have any more wine? No? Then we'll come to the lounge, where you can smoke and listen."

In the lounge they talked eagerly, argued, calculated. At the end of an hour Peter had accepted the scheme and the partnership.

"Well," he said, as he rose, answering a previous question of hers, "it's difficult to particularise, but I should say that Way to Wealth was about the absolute rottenest. But there will be no difficulty in finding financial organs to serve our purpose. I'll begin on Monday. Will you be at the mater's Wednesday?"

"No; I can't get away from the office in the afternoon."

"You might give that up now."

"But I shan't. The work interests me. And I can't get it to do unless I work properly; besides, it will be something to fall back upon when the corner bursts up."

Peter Bafray laughed and said good-night.

On Monday, Peter Bafray called at the excessively shabby office of Way to Wealth, and interviewed the excessively shabby manager of that dishonest organ.

"I have been told," said Peter, "that you have exceptional facilities for making inquiries into the value of mining properties."

"That is so," said the manager gravely.

"If, in the course of investigation, you came across anything which could be said for 'Unlikelies,' it would make an interesting editorial item for your paper; and a friend of mine, who has a considerable holding, would be prepared to defray the cost of the investigation."

This was very nicely and delicately put, but the manager was not delicate, and did not make an unnecessary fuss about these things.

"What you want," he said, "is a ten-line puff in two issues, to come under 'The Man in the Market'—one of our best features. Well, we can do that at——" and he proceeded to quote his tariff for his conscience. It was most moderate.

The paragraphs duly appeared. The first began: "Those who clung patiently to their 'Unlikelies' are, we understand, about to be richly rewarded. We have received private advices that show that the mine is a splendid property, not over-capitalised, and would have been on the dividend-paying list long ago but for mismanagement. A sharp rise is intended in very strong quarters for next account. Speculators will take the hint and get in early. The good news has been kept very dark, but from what we happen to know we should think the shares cheap at £3."

One or two of the other inferior financial organs were also impressed with the chances of "Unlikelies," their inspiration also being directly derived from Peter Bafray for a consideration.

Now, it is wrong to think that favourable notices in papers of this class have no effect on dealers, supposing that the dealers happen to see the notices. They incline the man who knows to a very pessimistic view of the company that requires such rotten support, and Peter Bafray and Dora Merton were particularly anxious to discredit the buying of "Unlikelies" which was to follow.

Briefly, the partners disguised themselves as a herd of weak bulls. In the course of the next few days, about thirty people, with different names and dealing with different brokers, made purchases of "Unlikelies." The thirty were simply dummies—different incarnations of the partners. At the back of them all were Peter Bafray and Dora Merton.

Purchases of this description, following a prelude of bought puff notices, did not greatly affect the market in "Unlikelies." It looked exactly like the silly speculator with no money, and jobbers who took this view had it confirmed later. A lithographed post-card was sent round on the following lines: "A friend who has your interests at heart strongly recommends an immediate purchase of 'Unlikelies.’" One or two jobbers who had received these cards joked about them, but they had their effect, and the effect was precisely what was intended by the cards—to discredit the buying and to provoke solid people to sell a bear.

At the end of the account the weak bulls began, with one consent, to carry over; not a single share was lifted. At the same time Way to Wealth came out with another paragraph to the effect that "Unlikelies" would be worth £10 apiece before Christmas. It was too tempting. More than one jobber sold an absolute bear, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred they would have been right. Peter Bafray and Dora Merton took what they offered, and began to feel a little easier in their minds; it was going all right.

The same tactics were pursued at the end of the next account. It looked, as it was meant to look, as if the bulls were in a very bad way. The jobbers carried over, but they made the rate pretty stiff. And again they sold, and Bafray and Miss Merton took all they could get. It became a popular tip to sell a few "Unlikelies" and make your holiday expenses. That tended to check the more important selling of the bigger people. It began to be whispered that the bearing of "Unlikelies" had been overdone. About this time men at his club found Peter Bafray slightly absent-minded. He seemed always to be thinking of something else.

Dora dined at the house of Peter's father, and Peter had some talk with his partner afterwards in the drawing-room. He did not look much gloomier than usual, but the figures that he showed Miss Merton were not entirely satisfactory.

"Well, there it is," he said. "We've not got as many shares as we thought we should, and, to my mind, we've got as many as we need. It may come all right. The bears will be short of stock, of course, and they will have a good deal to find. But it's not quite the certainty that we had hoped. Upon my word, I almost wish I hadn't put you in it."

"It was rather the other way."

"No, you wouldn't have gone on if I had known enough to stop you. In dealings like this you can't absolutely depend on anything. A whisper or a wet day may affect the feeling of the market—or, on the other hand, it may not. It was outside my line of business, and I ought to have let it alone and persuaded you to let it alone, too. My word! I wonder what the governor would say if he knew!"

At that moment the elder Bafray came up and inquired genially what the conspiracy was.

At half-past four the following afternoon the partners met in Oxford Street by chance.

"You look depressed," said Peter.

"So I am," said Dora. "It's something at the office—a question of figures—it wouldn't interest you, I am afraid."

"And in the meantime, have you seen the papers?"

"No, I've not looked at them. I've had this thing on my mind. It's one of those cases where you can see that there is a mistake, but you cannot find out where it is. I've been doing sums in my sleep all night."

"I, on the other hand, have seen the papers, and a few interesting telegrams. I have also talked with a few interesting people, including a director of 'Unlikelies.' Providence is watching over us, and we are all right. Come and have tea at that place in Bond Street—we can afford it." He stopped a passing hansom.

"Strictly speaking," said Dora, "I was going back to my flat to have another turn at those figures."

"You've done with them for ever. You'll never do any work again."

"I think I should hate that." But she got into the cab.

"Well, when this is all finished, I don't quite see myself going to an office at ten every morning. No, I think I'll do nothing for about twenty years, and then go after the bears again—put the screw on, grind them to powder, and blow them away, which is precisely what we are going to do now."

"No, Peter, we're not," said the mouse quietly. "We make a lot of money—an awful lot—anyway, if the bears are really caught, as you tell me. That will do. We're not going to ruin anybody."

"They wouldn't have thought twice about ruining us, if they had had the chance."

"They would have done what they liked; then why shouldn't we do what we like? You don't want to ruin people."

"Not as a rule. Still, if they will come in my way——"

"You took a fair amount of trouble to get them there."

"True. Anyhow, it's your scheme. And we can afford to be merciful. Ah! here we are."

In the tea-shop Peter told her how it was that they could afford to be merciful.

"It's simply a gigantic stroke of luck. I won't say that it has saved us, because I don't think we should have been beaten altogether in any case. But I own I was a bit nervous, but now I am not. Briefly, the 'Unlikely' has struck it rich. I've seen a good many cablegrams, and they don't all tell the same story. According to the more flamboyant of them, 'rich' is hardly the word. You would imagine that the ore had stopped, and they were going on with plain gold—cutting it out in slabs, and nothing more to do but blow the dust off. It's certain they are on to something good, but how good and how long it will last I can't say, and I don't care. There are influential people buying 'Unlikelies,' and that is all we want. I've taken up our shares and paid for them. The bears are in no end of a stew, and are trying to cover themselves, and are not doing it. We bought a fairly big block, at five shillings a time. They were bidding £3, and not getting them, this afternoon. They've come on strength where they expected to find weakness; and in addition, the luck is not being good to them. The public will start buying to-morrow. And we are on the very best velvet."

"It's a pity there's such a thing as luck!" said Dora. "If this deal had simply been a question of figures and of accurate judgment of the way the market would view things, it would have been so much more satisfactory."

"But there is such a thing as luck," said Peter drily. "I'm sorry, of course, but we've got to put up with it."

Dora laughed. "Of course it must sound idiotic. I've made a fortune, and yet I grumble. Still, there is a peculiar satisfaction in seeing a thing work out practically just as you had calculated it would in theory."

"You're wonderful!" said Peter. "Have you ever thought of the possibility that I might ask you to marry me?"

"No," she said rather impatiently; "that kind of thing doesn't interest me at all, either to think about or to talk about."

"I don't see why on earth it shouldn't interest you."

"If it comes to that, I don't see why my feelings on a subject like that should interest you."

"Because I wish to marry you," said Peter gravely.

"But it won't break your heart when I refuse you, as I do definitely and finally?"

"No; that is one of the reasons why you should not refuse me."

"I don't see it."

"We are both fairly literal people; we do not believe much in romance; we do not——" But here Dora interrupted him.

"No, we may have points in common, but that's not one of them. I do believe in romance, and I have no belief in marriage without it. But I do believe that I have no capacity for romance; education has knocked it out of me; my interests are not there. I'm human enough—I'm far less cynical and merciless than you are—but I am not feminine enough. I can't risk the joys of my present independence for others which are—well, problematical. I won't say a word against marriage, or hear a word against it. For most women it's all right; but I am outside that kind of thing."

"Yet you can take risks. You have just risked a few thousand pounds—practically all you had—and you are going to be a rich woman in consequence. The partnership has begun well—why not continue it?"

"I'm satisfied with the results of the scheme; indeed, they will enable me to carry out an idea I have had next my heart for a long time. But I am not satisfied with my part in it. You have done the really difficult thing. It is easy enough to make a scheme which looks all right on paper, but you have carried it out to success in reality; and that I could never have done. If I had tried it, they would have turned on me and refused to carry over stuff that was only one remove, if that, from the rubbish-heap; you saw that and worked up enough appearance of an active market. You, as a solicitor, could find plenty of people who were willing to let you deal in their names and through their different brokers; there again I should have been in a fix; and even you have done much less for us than luck has done. I am pleased with the deal, but I can't feel proud of it. No, this has been a lesson to me; it will be my last speculation."

There was a minute's silence, during which the mouse gazed pensively at her gloves.

"I suppose," said Peter, "a penny wouldn't tempt you?"

"What for? Oh, for my thoughts, of course. I don't mind. I was thinking about that thing that's worrying me—the figures at the office, you know."

"And will you remain at the office? Or are you going to get a job at a 'Pearce and Plenty'?"

"Don't be bitter. I'm not going to do either. I will tell you. We have calculating machines, you know. They're pretty good, but I don't think the last word in calculating machines has been said yet. I've an idea in my mind for something which will do more, do it better, and do it more quickly. I've got the money now to work it out; it will cost a good deal to get the different models made that I shall want, and it will take a good many years' work. I'm looking forward to it."

"Yes," said Peter, "I was right. You're wonderful!"

The bears were finally let out on terms which were generally acknowledged to be generous, but were certainly not quixotic. Peter did his best to save everybody, but when very little boys will get playing with very big boys there is every chance that the little boys may get hurt accidentally.

One little boy who got hurt very badly over the deal was not a jobber at all, but an outside speculator, and also the manager of that seventeenth-rate rag Way to Wealth. He it was who had penned in his organ those two beautiful and thrilling passages with regard to the brilliant future of "Unlikelies." But in his private capacity he had sold a considerable bear of them. Almost more bitter than his ruinous loss was the duty which devolved on him of sitting down to write a triumphant leader, headed "Who was Right?" and pointing out how his paper had justified its name, and those who had taken its repeated advice of a few weeks before would now be rich men.

Peter informed his father as to the deal and its success, and the elder Bafray said a few words (for about one hour and a half) on the folly and criminality of going outside your legitimate business. Peter listened with every appearance of attention and politeness. He is still unmarried, and is in the habit of saying that he only met one woman in his life who was clever enough to be worth asking, and she was too clever to accept him.

The boom in "Unlikelies" did not continue, and it is to be feared that some of the cablegrams sent over were slightly exaggerated. If you wish to secure a few, I know a man who expressed, the other day, his willingness to part with his little lot of three hundred for an old knife.

And Dora Merton is still working at her new calculating machine.