NEW YORK boarding-houses shelter, from time to time, some extremely differing types, and it would be hard to imagine two couples more different than Grandma and Grandpa Bunker, and Colonel and Mrs. Jebberson, who had rooms on the same floor at Mrs. Wimmer's. Jabez Bunker was as sweetly innocent as a baby, and with his bald, pink head, kindly eyes and little nubbin of a nose, he looked like a baby. He was round and cheerful and guileless, and his gold-rimmed spectacles and little bunch of white chin-whiskers only emphasized all this. He looked, as he was, an innocent mid-West retired farmer; and nothing but his desire to do New Yorkers as they like to be done had induced him to give up the comforts of his home at Oroduna, Iowa, and come to the great metropolis to enter the profession of bunco-steerer and confidence man.
Dear old Grandma Bunker—than whom no gentler and sweeter old lady ever lived—was right proud of the way in which Grandpa Bunker has thus far succeeded in buncoing New Yorkers.
"Jabez," she often said to him, "it aint right becomin' for your own wife to praise ye, but I must say that I'm downright glad you aint loafin' around the grocery at Oroduna, listenin' to land knows what shameful gossip. A hundred times a day I thank my stars you've got a nice, clean, honest bunco-business to keep you busy."
Mr. Bunker agreed with her. Not for all the money in the world would he have turned his hand to anything dishonest, but bunco-steering was an easy, respectable. calling. It kept Mr. Bunker from getting rusty, and as the cashier of the Oroduna Bank had once told Mr. Bunker: "It's a favor to take money from them New Yorkers; when they aint being stung, they don't know they're alive."
The Jebbersons were a different couple entirely. Colonel Jebberson was an elderly and distinguished-looking gentleman, but at the time Mr. and Mrs. Bunker first entered Mrs. Wimmer's boarding-house, he seemed in evident hard luck. It was understood, vaguely, by Mrs. Wimmer and her hoarders that Colonel Jebberson had some connection with Wall Street, but just what he had do with that money lane no one seemed to know. In any event Colonel Jebberson was quite evidently waiting for the hard times to take a turn for the better. He was a large and ruddy-faced man, somewhat Southern in appearance, and this he emphasized by wearing a long, black frock coat, a wide-brimmed soft hat and a goatee.
Mrs. Jebberson was, in a way, a holdover. She might have been called, if you chose, a remnant of one of Colonel Jebberson's jags of prosperity, for she still retained seemingly unending supplies of once fashionable and expensive gowns. She had jewels, too, but these faded from sight week after week as the Jebberson remained at Mrs. Wimmer's.
In spite of his aristocratic Southern bearing, there was something sporty about Colonel Jebberson. He did not at all give the impression of a Virginia gentleman who had come to New York to wither peacefully among the high-balls. His wife's appearance increased this effect. Her hair was a mass of that yellow that comes naturally from no place but the peroxide-of-hydrogen bottle; her complexion quite evidently came in tubes and boxes. For all this. Mrs. Jebberson was, as Grandma Bunker said, "a real nice lady."
And so she was. The Colonel's lady could not help her looks. During one of his periods of prosperity the Colonel had snatched her from the front row of the chorus of the "Giddy Widow" burlesque troupe, but Mrs. Jebberson was a kindly, simple creature at heart. The weeks spent at Mrs. Wimmer's were intoxicating to her. She looked back on her many years of champagne suppers quite as ordinary mortals look back on Mother's cooking, and the gay life of Broadway was to her what to me or you would be the old life back on the farm. She enjoyed Mrs. Wimmer's boarding-house, and she loved Mrs. Bunker. They were great friends. One thing, however, Mrs. Jebberson never did: she never touched on the subject of Colonel Jebberson's past.
YOU may remember, if you have a a good memory, that in 1915 things began to look better down Wall Street way. If you can't remember that far back, you can look it up in the newspapers of that year, and you will see that Bethlehem Steel went to shocking heights, and an entire long list of stocks tagged along. Brokers who had been eating dry crackers, and wishing they had not used the cheese-rinds to bait mousetraps seven years before, began once more to scold the waiters because the pheasant was browned a bit too much. Little Bo Peep, the patron goddess of Wall Street, was leading whole droves of lambs back to be sheared. Everybody was gathering wool.
By the beginning of 1916 everyone was feeling fine.
"My dear," said Mrs. Jebberson to Grandma Bunker, early in January, "I'm just as happy! The Colonel is in business again, and when the Colonel gets into business, you can believe me—things hum. When it comes to this stock-and-bond thing, the Colonel is no slouch. Don't ask me anything about it; I'm a dead one when it comes to business, but the Colonel says we'll be rolling in wealth. Gee! do you know, I kind of hate to have to leave here. I've been happy!"
"Do you have to leave?" asked Grandma.
"Say, honest, you don't think the Colonel will stand for this hashery when he has a million in his pocket, do you? No," she sighed, "it will be Riverside Drive and a limousine and champagne for me again. Gee! but I hate it! It will be start the Swedish, and begin the Turkish baths, and commence the bant and do that 'Eat and Be Thin' stuff all over again! Honest, you don't know how I've enjoyed prunes and old clothes!"
"Poor thing!" said Grandma Bunker sympathetically.
"What's your husband makin' money at?" asked Jabez, looking up from his favorite book, "The Complete Confession of the King of Grafters."
"Oh! stocks, I guess!" said Mrs. Jebberson.
That evening, when they were alone together, Grandma spoke to Jabez.
"Pa," she said, "don't you think maybe you'd ought to speak to Mis' Jebberson's husband? Seems like he's such a nice, well-meanin' man, and sellin' stocks don't seem it was honest. Aint it kind of gamblin'?"
"All depends," said Mr. Bunker as he removed his shoes. "Some stock-sellin' aint gamblin'—it's straight bunco-business, Ma."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Banker, much relieved. "Then it's all right. Maybe the kind of stock-sellin' Mis' Jebberson's husband is doin' is bunco-business. If it is, I don't feel so bad. Jabez, do you reckon it is bunco stock-sellin' he is into?"
"Shouldn't wonder, Ma," said Mr. Bunker. "He sort of strikes me as the kind of feller that would sell bunco stocks."
"Yes," said Mrs. Bunker placidly, "he is a nice man, aint he?"
WITHIN a day or two after this conversation, newspapers in New York and several other large American cities blazed (if black and white can blaze) with advertisements of the Timpantee Oil Wells Company. The stock in this company was offered at the shockingly generous price of ten cents per share, but as the company was incorporated for $100,000,000 with a par value of one dollar a share, it was easy to see that, if all the stock was sold, the amount received would be ten million dollars.
What particularly interested Mr. Bunker was the fact that the firm of Jebberson & Hick was given as the fiscal agents of the Timpantee Oil Wells Company. Hardly a week later, another striking advertisement appeared in the newspapers, and this time it was the Podwolloger Munitions Company, and again Jebberson & Hick were the fiscal agents. The capital stock of the Podwolloger Munitions Company was $50,000,000, par value one dollar per share, and Jebberson & Hick offered the stock at twenty cents per share.
The advertising of these two companies was enticing, but it was safe. The fiscal agents of the Timpantee Oil Wells Company stated, in bold headlines, that hundreds of billions of dollars had been made in oil wells, and that millions had been made out of properties on either side of the Timpantee holdings, but they did not promise anything for the Timpantee. They avoided making any definite promise of returns: all they promised was to sell stock to whomever wanted it.
The same was, in a general way, true of the Podwolloger Munitions advertising. Bethlehem Steel and Dupont Powder were mentioned, but Podwolloger Munitions did not promise, in cold type, any such profits as those companies had reaped. It left that to the imagination of the possible investor. This was wise, because time and again fake companies that had seemed veritable gold mines for their promoters had jolted against the law by promising what they could not perform. Many an eager fiscal agent and promoter has had to drop a bonanza and fly into hiding because he was so careless as to promise some definite return on a sucker's investment. Such promises were often made before it was learned that no such bait was needed to catch the sucker. Many a promoter has gone out of sight forever because, in a moment of enthusiasm, he has written into his prospectus "We feel safe in promising—"
The week after Jebberson & Hick began advertising Podwolloger Munitions, they advertised with equal publicity Camera King Photoplay Company, capital stock $100,000,000.
"Well," said Mrs. Jebberson to Mrs. Bunker the Sunday morning the Camera King Photoplay Company advertisement first appeared, "I guess it's pack the trunks for me."
"Goin' to move?" asked Mr. Bunker.
"Oh, yes!" sighed Mrs. Jebberson. "Back to the champagne belt for me and the Colonel! It's perfectly awful, the Colonel says, how money is coming in. His partner, Mr. Hick, is a wonder."
"Old hand at it, I reckon," suggested Mr. Bunker.
"That's just what he aint." said Mrs. Jebberson. "He's new and fresh at it. The Colonel says that's why he is so good. He aint afraid to cut loose."
"Young man, hey?" said Mr. Bunker.
"Twenty-eight," said Mrs. Jebberson. "but wise—wise as Noah, or whoever the feller was."
"Solomon," suggested Mrs. Bunker.
"Seems like this fiscal agenting was a good business," said Mr. Bunker.
"Well, I'll tell you one thing," said Mrs. Jebberson. "The office took in forty-seven thousand dollars week before last from Timpantee Oil Wells alone, and last week sixty-five thousand from Timpantee and Podwolloger, and goodness knows what it will be this week with this Camera King added on. And the Colonel is going West to-night to pick up a couple of flivver copper prospects so they can spring the Rory O'Doris Copper Company week after next. Honest, I feel all wined up already!"
"Colonel going to be gone long?" asked Mr. Bunker.
"Ten days," said Mrs. Jebberson. "He's got to be back then to help launch the Ultra-oceanic Mercantile Marine Company."
THAT evening Mr. Bunker sat long studying the advertisement of the Camera King Photoplay Company.
"Pa," said Mrs. Bunker, "ain't you ever goin' to bed to-night?"
"In a minute, Ma, in a minute!" said Grandpa. "I'm tryin' to figger out what kind o' bunkin' I'll do this week."
"Oh!" said Grandma, "I thought maybe you was wastin' your time readin' the Sunday paper. If it's business, Pa, you can set up as long as you like."
"Well, I guess I wont set up no longer," said Jabez. "I guess I got a kind of idea I can sort of work up, somehow."
The next morning Mr. Bunker was up bright and early. He chuckled from time to time as he drew on his socks and laced his shoes, and Grandma Bunker, as she dressed, cast loving glances at the bald top of his head, for she liked to see Jabez happy in his work. After breakfast she gave him a kiss and nestled his scarf neatly under his overcoat collar.
"Well, Jabez," she said. "I hope you'll have good luck. Don't do nothin' you'll be ashamed of, but if you have a chance to bunk, bunk good and hard. A man had ought to put his whole heart in his work."
"Yes, Ma," he answered; "I wouldn't feel honest if I slighted my work."
Once before, Mr. Bunker had had occasion to do business with a small printer in one of the side streets off Fifth Avenue, and now he went there again. The printer looked up as Mr. Bunker entered.
"Hello!" he said. "How's the Italian-American War Supply Company?" for that was the name Mr. Bunker had had printed on certain stock-certificates at his former visit. "Come back to have a few more bales of that stock printed?"
"Why, no, I aint," said Mr. Bunker as he unbuttoned his coat and removed his scarf. "I reckon I wont bother with no more of that stock. I wonder if you could print me up some nice, likely-lookin' gold-mine stock?"
"Sure!" said the printer. "Sure! but between you and me, sir, gold-mine stock aint what folks are crazy for now. If you want to catch 'em now, you ought to have oil-well or copper or motion-picture stock printed, or stick to this war-baby kind—munitions or something like that. Look at how this Timpantee and Podwolloger and Camera King is advertising!"
"Seems like I did take notice of it," said Mr. Bunker. "I guess maybe you're right; fashions change, don't they? One time the easy marks don't want nothin' but gold mines, and another time copper mines, and another time the style runs to something else. But I don't know! I been wearin' the same style of pants for goin' on forty years, and I reckon I aint stylish, anyway. I guess an old feller like me had better stick to what he's used to. In my day gold-mine stock was what we was buyin' out to Oroduna, Iowa, and I guess if it's all the same to you. I'll let you print me up a hunk of nice goldmine stock."
"You're the boss!" said the printer.
"I sort of figgered on gold-mine stock with some sort of name like Orobotoro Gold Mining Company. Something with, say, about five hundred thousand dollars capital, five dollars par per share, one hundred thousand shares."
"Now, listen!" said the printer earnestly. "Folks don't fall for five-hundred-thousand-dollar-capital companies any more. You take my advice and make it one hundred million, or something like that, and—"
"I kind o' set my heart on havin' it one of them old-style conservative companies," said Jabez, so reluctantly that the printer waved his hand.
"Have it your own way!" he said. "How's this for the sample of the certificate?"
"Kind of nice, aint it?" said Mr. Bunker as he examined the golden yellow engraved sheet. "I guess you can print me up about a quire or two like that."
"And how do you spell this name, Orobotoro, or whatever it is?"
"Spell it any way you want to," said Mr. Bunker. "It don't make much difference how it's spelled. I aint particular."
MATTERS being thus nicely arranged, Mr. Bunker left the affair in the hands of the printer, and when he returned, later in the day, the printer had the stock-certificates ready. Mr. Bunker took the package under his arm and went home with it.
When Mr. Bunker entered his room, he found Mrs. Jebberson and Grandma Bunker having tea together for the last time before Mrs. Jebberson's removal to her superb apartments on Riverside Drive.
"Well, Jabez," asked his wife after he had greeted her with a kiss and had shaken Mrs. Jebberson's hand, "have you done good?"
"I got started, Ma," he said cheerfully, and he unwrapped the stock-certificates.
"My! them look real nice!" said Mrs. Bunker, and Mrs. Jebberson agreed.
"They certainly ought to make the heart of an easy mark happy," she said. "The Colonel was saying to me that the time for him to make money out of this stock game was right now, because everybody would jump into it as soon as they saw what a lot of money Jebberson & Hick were making. If this don't prove it, I don't know what does, but I don't know who I would rather see make money than your husband, Mrs. Bunker. Only—"
"Only what?" asked Mr. Bunker.
"Only I do think you hadn't ought to have blown your cash for gold-mine certificates. Gold mines are back numbers. You might as well try to make a Broadway audience go crazy over a 'Black Crook' show as to get the easy marks to buy gold-mine stock in this day and age. There was a time not so long ago when the Colonel went in for gold-mine stocks, but—never again! Not until the style changes back to gold mines, anyway."
"Pshaw, now!" said Mr. Bunker; and Grandma Bunker looked glum for just a moment, until Jabez winked at her slyly. Then, her faith renewed in her husband's wisdom, she was happy again.
"Ma," said Mr. Bunker, looking at his thumb, "these here certificates aint right dry yet, and I don't want to fold 'em up whilst they're wet. S'pose you and Mis' Jebberson help me spread 'em out to dry?"
Mrs. Jebberson and Grandma were glad to be of assistance. They spread the certificates over the bed and over the chairs until the room glowed with yellow, and then Jabez seated himself at the table, and with a stub pencil, began composing the document advertising the Orobotoro Gold Mine stock. Again and again he erased a word with the greasy rubber in the end of the pencil, until at last he had the document to his satisfaction; then he set his gold-rimmed spectacles firmly on his nose, and like a boy reading a school composition of which he is proud, he read it aloud.
To dear old Grandma Bunker it seemed a work of genius, but when Jabez had completed the reading. Mrs. Jebberson wrinkled her brow and shook her head.
"Let me see it," she said, holding out her hand. "I don't pretend to be up in such things,—if the Colonel was here, he could tell you easily enough what is wrong about it,—but there's one thing I do know: this is dangerous."
"Hey?" asked Mr. Bunker. "Dangerous?"
"This line here," said Mrs. Jebberson. "There's one thing the wife of a man who has been selling stocks as long as the Colonel has gets to know in spite of herself. Hick could tell you; he's a wise boy; but I know enough to know this is all wrong. This line says: 'We guarantee enormous profits.' You had better scratch that right out, Mr. Bunker, because that is where fraud comes in, and the post-office people come right down on you."
Mr. Bunker took the paper and held the stubby pencil poised over it.
"You think that's enough to get me into jail?" he asked.
"Oh, absolutely!" said Mrs. Jebberson, and Mr. Bunker ran his pencil through the offending sentence.
IT was still early, and Mr. Bunker went out with the manuscript, leaving the ladies to their own devices. There was a small printer near at hand (for printing a circular was less of a job than printing the stock-certificates), and Mr. Bunker confided the printing of the circular to him; but before he handed the manuscript to the Printer, he added a line in which the name of T. Jebberson appeared; and he carefully rewrote the sentence, "We guarantee enormous profits."
The printer noticed the offending sentence the moment his eye fell on the circular manuscript.
"I'd leave this out," he said, indicating it. "Maybe you know this game, but somebody told me once that that was the sort of thing that gets all you stock fellers into trouble."
"Leave it in!" said Mr. Bunker.
"All right. I suppose you know your business,' said the printer, "but you must have a jim-dandy of a mine if you are willing to take a chance like that. You must have a mine that will make good."
"I guess maybe I have," said Mr. Bunker.
"And about how many of these do you want printed?" asked the printer.
"Well, now." said Mr. Bunker, beaming through his spectacles, "I reckon one might get torn or something. Print up two of them."
"It wont cost any more to print a hundred."
"Well, I guess two will be about plenty," said Mr. Bunker, and he seated himself cosily until the printer had set up and struck off two copies of the circular. These Mr. Bunker folded carefully and placed in his pocket, after which he returned to his rooms.
MRS. JEBBERSON had departed when Mr. Bunker returned; Mrs. Bunker was gathering up the Orobotoro certificates, which were now thoroughly dry. Mr. Bunker wet one of the printed circulars in the water pitcher and hung it behind the gas-jet. After supper he and Grandma spent a pleasant evening folding the Orobotoro stock-certificates.
The next day was Tuesday, and opened with snow which turned to slush as it fell. By nine o'clock one of the pleasant New York drizzles had set in, but Mr. Bunker did not care. He did not intend to go out until noon. All morning he sat at the table in his room, folding and refolding one of the circulars he had had printed, until it was limber at the creases and greasy at the folds. Long before noon it looked as if it had been carried in a pocket many days, and then Mr. Bunker placed it in his pocket. From the closet he dragged his empty oil-board telescope valise, and into this he threw a few garments. From the neat pile of Orobotoro Gold Mine shares he selected enough to represent three thousand dollars par value, and these he placed in the telescope valise on top of the garments.
"Pa," asked Mrs. Bunker anxiously, "be you goin' to take a trip somewheres?"
"Yes, Ma, I be," said Mr. Bunker, his eyes twinkling; "us bunco men don't ever know when we got to go travelin'."
"Are ye goin' to be gone long, Jabez?" asked his wife.
"Well, I sort o' figger on gettin' back in time for dinner to-night," chuckled Mr. Bunker. "Matter of fact, Ma, I aint startin' for nowhere; I'm arrivin' from Oroduna, as you may say. I'm an old fool of an Iowa farmer arrivin' in New York and gawkin' up at the tall buildings. I'm a jay with straw clingin' to my heel, and the stable smell not quite wafted out o' my clothes."
"Jabez!" said Mrs. Bunker sharply, "don't you talk to me that way! Where be you makin' this trip to?"
"Well, Ma," said Mr. Bunker seriously, "I'm goin' down to Wall Street to bunk folks there. I'm goin' down to sell some o' this Orobotoro Gold Mine stock before it gets fly-specked. Don't you fret, Ma; I'll be back in time for dinner."
IMMEDIATELY after the light lunch Mrs. Wimmer provided for such of her boarders as did not take lunch elsewhere, Mr. Bunker issued from the boarding-house with his telescope valise in his hand and walked to the subway station. Here he boarded a train for Brooklyn Bridge, where he changed cars to the Brooklyn Express, which, as all the world must know, stops at Wall Street and other downtown stations before it plunges under the river. At Wall Street, Mr. Bunker left the train and climbed the stairs to the street. Three boys (one newsboy and two W. U. messengers) laughed at him the moment he reached the street, which is Broadway.
Unmindful of their mirth, Mr. Bunker stood awhile looking up at the tall buildings while the hurrying pedestrians bumped into him and pushed him from side to side. He seemed confused and lost when he next gave his attention to the street, and a policeman stepped up to him.
"Well, Uncle," he said to Mr. Bunker, "lost? What are you looking for?"
Mr. Bunker placed his telescope valise on the walk and put a foot on either side of it. He searched his pockets until he found a crumpled clipping and unfolded it. It was an advertisement of "The Timpantee Oil Wells Company, Jebberson & Hick, Fiscal Agents."
"Where kin I find them folks at?" he asked.
The policeman grinned. It was not his duty to steer innocent country folk away from Jebberson & Hick. He took Mr. Bunker by the arm and pointed down Wall Street.
"You see that building down that street?" he said. "That's Wall Street, and that's the building you're looking for. You go into that building, and you'll find a man there in uniform. He's the elevator starter. You ask him where to find Jebberson & Hick and he'll tell you. Don't be afraid to go right into the elevator; they're safe, those elevators. And when you get to the floor where the elevator man tells you to get out, you just look around and you'll find the name on a door."
"Much obliged, Officer," said Mr. Bunker, and insisted on shaking the officer's hand. He picked up his burden and crossed Broadway and entered the gully called Wall Street. As the policeman had said he would find the elevator starter, so he found him, and in a few moments he was before the entrance to Jebberson & Hick's offices on the eighteenth floor of the building. He opened the door cautiously and entered.
THERE were some eighteen or twenty clerks in the office, and many of them seemed to have nothing to do but open mail and take out checks and money-orders. Boys were carrying heaps of these from desk to desk, and through an open door Mr. Bunker had a view of seeming dozens of bookkeepers and other clerks. There was an unending rattle of typewriters and jingling of telephones and call-bells. Across the front of the office, shutting Mr. Bunker off from this busy enclosure, was a mahogany railing with a small gate, and just inside the gate sat a young woman, alert, saucy and overdressed for her position. As Mr. Bunker stood staring, she turned her head toward him, and he walked up to the gate.
"Hooja wanta see?" she asked.
Mr. Bunker looked past her at the clerks.
"I don't see no sight of him in there," he said. "Maybe this aint where he stays at."'
"Whatsiz name?" asked the girl.
"Well, now," said Mr. Bunker, "I reckon it's Jebberson. Tall, fine-lookin' feller, with a sort of goatee and a reddish face. Looks sort of like a Confederate gen'ral."
"It's Jebberson," said the girl. "Sowix town."
"Pshaw now!" said Mr. Bunker regretfully. "Jebberson, hey? Yes, that's the name. Well, I guess maybe it don't matter; I guess maybe you can give me my money back."
The look the young woman gave Mr. Bunker indicated that, in her opinion, he must be the prize easy mark of the world. Money back! Who ever heard of such a thing!
"Fyou gottany Timpantee 'r Podwolloger, you better hang onto it. 'S goinup." she said briskly.
"Well, now, I dare say maybe you're right," said Mr. Bunker, "but I aint got any of them stocks. I've got Orobotoro Gold Mine stock, a whole hunk of it, and seein' as Mister Jebberson said when I bought it that it was goin' to make a lot of money, and as it aint made a durn cent, I reckoned maybe he'd buy it back. Bill Ransom, he's the county attorney out to Oroduna, Iowa, and he says all I got to do is show a post-office detective the letter I got from Mister Jebberson, and I can have Mister Jebberson jailed, but I don't want to do nothin' as mean as that, 'less I have to. But I guess I can't spend no great time around New York. I'm figgerin' on startin' back to Oroduna to-morrow and I guess if Mr. Jebberson aint in town, I'll go to the post office and—"
" 'Staminute! Maybe Mr. Hick 'll see you." said the young lady, and she hurried into an office opening into the main room. Mr, Rick came out not a minute later. He walked right up to the gate and opened it and invited Mr. Bunker inside and led him into the private office. He waved Mr. Bunker into a chair and thrust a cigar at him.
MR. HICK was a brisk young man with a face as hard and keen as a flint. His eyes were like bits of metal. Jebberson & Hick were making money so rapidly he was almost frightened. It was pouring in on them by every mail, and he saw new deluges of money threatening as soon as the new ventures were launched. He was keen, and he had a high-priced attorney go over every form letter and advertisement to make sure Jebberson & Hick were well within the law, but the rapid growth of the firm's mail had attracted the attention of the post-office authorities, and he had no doubt his firm was being investigated. It was evident that if the golden flood was to continue for a while, Jebberson & Hick must bear a decent reputation.
"What's this Miss Miggs is telling me?" he snapped. "Did you buy some stock from Jebberson? When? Where? What kind 'of stock?"
"Out to Oroduna, Iowa, by mail," said Mr. Bunker, unstrapping his telescope valise. " 'Bout eight years ago. Three thousand dollars. Orobotoro Gold Mine."
"Never heard of it!" said Mr. Hick.
"Well, there she is!" said Mr. Bunker, slapping the pile of stock certificates on Mr. Hick's desk. "Never paid me a cent, and here's the letter Mr. Jebberson sent me; it says right here. 'We guarantee enormous profits.' "
"The swelled-up old idiot!" said Mr. Hick angrily, glaring at the crease-worn circular that Mr. Bunker had had printed Monday afternoon. "Orobotoro Gold! A nice name! That's what a soft-brained fellow like Jebberson does when he tries it on his own hook. Eight years ago?"
"Well, I reckon it was about eight years ago," said Mr. Bunker. " 'Twas the year my red cow got into the turnip-patch and—"
"I don't want to hear about your turnip-patch!" snapped Mr. Hick. "You say you paid three thousand dollars for this stuff?"
"That's what it says on the certificates." said Mr. Bunker, leaning forward to take one of them.
"Oh, tut!" exclaimed Mr. Hick angrily. "You wait here—understand?"
With the bundle of Orobotoro shares and the circular letter Mr. Hick went into another room. He closed the door. In a chair in this room sat an elderly man with an unusually large head, almost as bald as Mr. Bunker's head.
"Judge," said Mr. Hick, "here's a nice business! There's a jay in my office who brought in this stock and this circular. Some of Jebberson's brilliant work! Read that circular!"
The judge read it slowly, shaking his head as he read it.
"Penal offense, Hick," he said.
"Yes, and I had an inkling Jebberson had been in some dusky games," said Hick angrily. "He swore his skirts were clear, but I had a feeling, I tell you! A young man shouldn't tie up with a man as old as Jebberson; who knows what will pop up out of his past? Well?"
"Hick," said the lawyer, "buy him off! Buy his stock back! You might say wait until Jebberson comes back and let him buy his own dead horses—but can you take the chance? How much are you and Jebberson taking in now? Ten thousand a day? Twelve thousand? You and Jebberson are well inside the law in these new deals; they're making you a mint of money; you can afford to buy up all the old dead horses Jebberson has floating around, and you can't afford to have any scandal strike this firm now. Buy him off!"
"My idea exactly!" said Hick, and being a man of action, he walked back into his own office.
"You say you want three thousand for this stock?" he asked.
"Well, I sort of thought—" Mr. Bunker began.
"I'll buy it from you for three thousand, and not a cent more," said Mr. Hick. "Take it or leave it!"
Mr. Bunker sighed.
"I'll take it," he said, "but I feel sort of cheated. The letter said enormous profits was guaranteed."
"And the price includes the circular letter," said Mr. Hick.
"Well, I guess you can have that if you want it," said Jabez. " 'Taint worth nothin' to me. If you was to pay me in cash, I guess I can throw in the letter."
Mr. Hick pressed one of the numerous buttons at the side of his desk.
"Brownlee," he said to the man who appeared in answer, "bring me three thousand in bills and charge it to advertising expense."
WHEN Mr. Bunker had pocketed his three thousand dollars and re-strapped his telescope valise and disappeared down the elevator, Mr. Hick entered the judge's office.
"A thing like that we can't afford to have get out," he said.
"No," said the judge, who was still scanning the circular, "you are right, Hick. A thing like that you can't afford to have noised around. Why, hello!"
He bent his head closer over the circular.
"What is it?" asked Hick.
"Look here!" said the judge. "See this printer's mark on the bottom of this circular? 'P. Murphy. Printer, 963 W. 122 Street, New York.' Hick, there wasn't any printer there eight years ago. There wasn't any printer there five years ago. There wasn't any printer there two years ago. I know, because I own that property. Two years ago that was a vacant lot."
"Stung!" said Hick. "Worked for easy marks by a jay!"
"Yes, stung! Buncoed!" said the judge. "And Hick, that's another thing a prosperous firm of fiscal agents can't afford to have noised around!"
When Mr. Bunker returned home, Grandma Bunker was already in the dining-room; he took his seat at her side, and opening his napkin, tucked it in his collar and spread it across his broad front.
"Well, Jabez," said Mrs. Bunker, "I guess by the way you look you done some business."
"Yes, Ma," said Mr. Bunker, "I'm right proud of it, too. I stang the Wall Street folks themselves to-day. I sold 'em them certificates you and me folded last night."
"Well, I dunno as they'd feel bad about it," said Grandma Bunker. " 'Most anybody'd be glad to own them certificates—they're so pretty."
Another Jabez Bunker story next month.