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CHAPTER XXVII


THE PANIC


Although a little apprehensive that Smith and his gang might make trouble for him, Dick leisurely made his preparations for going back East, when, late in the afternoon, after a long slumber, he awoke much refreshed. But the miner and his men did not appear in Yazoo City. Dick called on the government assayer and told him what he and his chums had seen.

"That's a new way of 'salting' a mine," the official said. "A very good one, too, from a swindler's standpoint. Now, if you want to, you can make a complaint against those men and have them arrested."

"I'm afraid it wouldn't make the mines any good, or save the money dad and I put into them," said Dick.

"No, I don't believe it would. Besides, they are a slick crowd, I suppose, and you'd have trouble convicting them. Perhaps it is better to let it drop. I'll be on the watch, however, and if I hear of anyone about to invest in the stock of any mines Smith and his men are interested in I'll warn him."

Dick called to say good-bye to Simon. He found the bad boy a little improved, and when informed that he would be well taken care of the tears came into the eyes of the youth who had done so much to injure Dick.

"You—you're a brick!" he stammered. "I don't deserve it, but if—if I ever get well maybe I can do something for you."

"0h, that's all right," replied Dick, somewhat affected by Simon's misery. "You'll soon be as well as ever, and when you do get around again, you'd better steer clear of such men as Colonel Dendon."

"I will," promised Simon, and he tried to return the pressure of Dick's hand, but it was hard work, for he was very weak.

Early the next morning Dick and his friends started for home. Dick was a little thoughtful, and Frank asked:

"Worrying about your lost money, Dick?"

"Well, not so much about the money as I am over the consequences. I counted on this mine investment being a good one. But, I have another. I guess my stock in the milk concern will pan out pretty well."

"If it don't youse had better come to N' York wid me, an' sell papes," advised Tim.

"I'll think of it," promised Dick, with a smile.

The ride back home was uneventful. Tim decided he would not go back to Hamilton Corners, as he was anxious to get to New York.

"Got to look after me paper business," he said, with a laugh. "I left me pardner in charge an' he's a little chap. Some of de big guys might drive him offen de swell corner we has. It's de best corner in N' York fer doin' business," he explained. "I stands in wid de cop on de beat an' he sees I ain't bothered. But I'm gittin' worried. I see some of de yellow journals is predictin' bad times an' I wants to be prepared for 'em. Besides, I've got some customers what owe me—one man run up a bill of a quarter jest 'fore I went on dat fresh-air racket, an' I want to collect it. So I t'ink I'll git back to little old N' York."

The boys parted from Tim with regret, for they liked his sterling character, which shone out through a coat of rough manners. He changed at a junction point for a train that went direct to the big city, and gaily waved his hand to them as it departed. He had profited much by coming to Hamilton Corners, for Dick had fitted him up with some good clothes, and, at parting, had slipped a bank bill into his hand.

Mr. Hamilton was glad to see his son back, and listened with interest to the account of the western trip.

"And so our money is gone," finished Dick.

"Well, there's no use crying over spilled milk, as the farmer's wife used to say," remarked the millionaire, with a calmness that Dick could not help envying. "It isn't the first time I've lost money by unwise speculation, but it's all in the game. I'm sorry for you, though, Dick."

"I'm sorry for myself. It looks as if I had a poor head for business."

"Oh, you'll learn," consoled his father. "It takes time."

"Yes, and there's Uncle Ezra waiting for me," went on Dick, as though he could see the harsh old man outside in a carriage, waiting to carry him off to the gloomy Firs. "When he hears of this he'll think sure I'm doomed to go and board with him."

"The year is quite a way from being completed," said Mr. Hamilton. "Lots of things may happen before your next birthday."

"I hope they do," said Dick, rather ruefully. "Anyway, I have my milk stock. They didn't send for another assessment while I was away, did they?"

"No, and I see the stock has advanced in value a point or two."

"Then I may be all right, after all. But I think I'll be on the lookout for another investment, and it's not going to be a gold mine, either," finished Dick.

It was about a week after this that, coming down to breakfast one morning, Dick was met by the butler.

"There's a gentleman waiting to see you, Master Dick," said the servant.

"To see me, Gibbs? Who is it?"

"I don't know, but he came very early and he says he has something to show you. He says he wants you to help him with it."

"Maybe it's another of those reporters," said Dick. "I will see him right after breakfast."

"I'd rather you see me now," interrupted a voice, and to Dick's astonishment there walked into the dining-room, from the library where he had been waiting, a little man, whose hair seemed to stick out at every point of the compass. His clothes were rather ragged, and, as he advanced, he kept running his hands through his hair. To do this he had to transfer, first from one arm to the other, a large box he carried.

"I'll not take much of your time," said the little man. "All I want is your assistance in having a lot of these machines made. You see how this one works," and, stooping over, he placed the box on the floor. From it came a clicking sound, as the little man, with his head tilted to one side, waited with watch in hand.

"It will go off in three minutes," he said.

Following the startling announcement of the little man Dick and Gibbs, the butler, seemed paralyzed. The room was so still that the ticking of the machine on the floor sounded like an immense alarm clock. Then, as the seconds passed and the stranger stood calmly looking alternately at Dick, Gibbs, and the box, the butler, with a sudden start back to life, exclaimed:

"Jump out of the window, Master Dick! I'll attend to this lunatic!"

"I'm not a lunatic!" shouted the little man. "I'm Professor Messapatomia!"

"Jump!" shouted Gibbs to Dick. "It isn't far to the ground. This thing will go off in a minute!"

"Half a minute," calmly corrected the stranger, as he snapped his watch shut. At that instant Mary, the waitress, came into the room with a large pitcher of water. As Dick turned to flee, for he realized that he might be courting death to remain, should the lunatic's infernal apparatus go off, Gibbs grabbed the pitcher.

"I'll fix it!" the butler cried, throwing the water at the ticking machine. "But jump, all the same, Master Dick!"

As Dick prepared to jump from one of the dining-room windows, believing that, as he had often read of such things occurring, he was to be made the victim of a crank, the machine gave a louder click. Professor Messapatomia, with a sudden motion of his arm, diverted the aim of Gibbs, and the water flew to one side of the box. At the same moment there was a jar, as from a heavy spring, and a shower of white objects scattered about the room.

"There!" exclaimed the professor, triumphantly, "that's how it works! Very simple, you see, and it scatters the bait all around. Then all you have to do is to take your pole and line and catch all the fish you want."

"Fish!" repeated Dick, somewhat in a daze. He had expected the house to be half-blown apart, yet the machine only scattered harmless pieces of paper about.

"Fish, of course," replied the professor. "What did you think this was?"

"Aren't you an Anarchist, and isn't that an infernal machine?" demanded Gibbs, wiping away some of the water he had accidentally spilled over his head when the professor knocked up his arm.

"Anarchist? Infernal machine?" repeated Professor Messapatomia. "Why, my dear sir, that is my latest invention of a fish-catching device. You see, you wind up the spring, and you set it to go off at any hour you wish. Then you put some finely chopped pieces of meat in this top pan. That is the bait. Only in this case, as I didn't want to muss up the room, I used bits of paper. At the proper time the machine, which you have set beside the stream where you desire to fish, goes off. The bait is thrown all over the surface of the water. It attracts the fish, and when you throw in your line you have no end of bites. It's the greatest idea of the age! It will revolutionize fishing! It's simply marvelous!

"I have just perfected the invention, but I need money to put the machine on the market. You, sir," turning to Dick, "are just the person to help me. I read of your immense wealth and that you are fond of all sports. Fishing is a sport, therefore I came to you. All I need is ten thousand dollars and it will make both of us rich in a year. Now, if you will kindly write me out a check for that amount, I'll bid you good-morning, and you can go on with your breakfast which I have interrupted."

He began to pick up the scattered bits of paper, Mary helping him, while Gibbs gazed rather stupidly at the queer figure with the bristling hair. Then Dick laughed.

"Well, you certainly gave me a scare," he said. "I thought you wanted to blow the place up. But I'm sorry I can't invest ten thousand dollars in that machine. It seems to me it would be just as easy to stand on the shore and throw the pieces of meat in the water by hand."

"Yes, of course, you could do it that way," admitted the professor, "but it isn't half so scientific. However, I'll not urge you," and, picking up his apparatus, he left the room after a low bow to Dick.

"He went away with less trouble than I expected," remarked Dick, as he looked at the wet place on the floor and at some of the bits of paper that still remained. "Well, Gibbs, I admit I was scared for a minute."

"So was I, Master Dick. I shouldn't have let him in, only you had given orders that all respectable-looking visitors were to be treated nicely, and I'm sure he looked respectable in spite of his queer hair."

"Oh, yes, he was respectable, all right. It's not your fault, Gibbs. I guess I'll have to draw the line about callers a little closer," concluded Dick as he sat down to breakfast.

The summer passed away and fall came. Dick returned to the academy, where he renewed his studies. Several times he was on the point of making another investment, but, as the stock of the milk company went up in value, he felt that this would answer the requirements of his mother's will, and furnish the profit called for. So, though he investigated many schemes that seemed to promise well, he did not take any stock in them.

It was in May of the following spring, when, having looked at a quotation of his milk stock, and found that it was a little higher than it had ever been before, Dick walked down to his father's bank to consult him about certain matters.

He found Mr. Hamilton in his private office, but the millionaire did not have a cheerful smile on his face. Instead he looked troubled.

"What's the matter, dad?" asked Dick.

"Well, I don't like the way the money market looks in New York," was the answer. "I've just heard by telegraph that several large banks have failed."

"Does it involve you?"

"To a certain extent, yes. Things look like a panic, such as we had a few years ago. Still, it may blow over."

"I wonder if it will affect the milk company?"

"It might. But there, Dick, don't go to worrying. You'll have enough of that to do when you get older. Things may turn out all right" But the worried look did not leave Mr. Hamilton's face, in spite of his attempt to cheer up his son.

The next morning when Dick came down to breakfast he saw his father at the table. But, instead of eating, the millionaire was eagerly looking at a newspaper. Dick glanced over his father's shoulder. There, staring at him, in big black letters, was the heading of a long article:


GREAT MONEY PANIC!


"Are things—are things in bad shape, dad?" asked Dick.

"Pretty much so," replied Mr. Hamilton, not looking up. "It's not as bad as I feared, though, and our bank will not suffer. However, lots of small concerns, and some big ones, have failed."

Then Dick caught sight of another part of the paper. He could hardly believe his eyes, for, in a prominent part of the page, was an article telling of the failure of the big milk concern in which he had invested.

"Dad!" he exclaimed, taking hold of the paper, and pointing to the account.

"Yes," replied Mr. Hamilton. "I saw it. Your investment is a failure, Dick."