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Title: 6,000 Tons of Gold
Author: Chamberlain, H. R.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                      SIX THOUSAND TONS OF GOLD.



                                 6,000

                             TONS OF GOLD

                                  BY

                           H. R. CHAMBERLAIN
            _London Correspondent of “The Sun,” New York._



                            Copyright, 1894
                          By FLOOD & VINCENT

                 _Entered at Stationer’s Hall, London_
                         By H. R. CHAMBERLAIN


       _The Chautauqua-Century Press, Meadville, Pa., U. S. A._
         Electrotyped, Printed, and Bound by Flood & Vincent.



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER.                                                             PAGE.

   I. THE SECRET OF THE CORDILLERAS                                     7

  II. INVADING NATURE’S TREASURE-CHAMBER                               34

 III. WHERE GOLD WAS AS DROSS                                          58

  IV. THE VOYAGE OF THE RICHMOND                                       85

   V. A MOLE-HILL THAT BECAME A MOUNTAIN                              107

  VI. THE FATE OF THE WALL STREET BEARS                               128

 VII. STRANGE EVENTS IN THE FINANCIAL WORLD                           150

VIII. FABULOUS BUT MYSTERIOUS BENEFACTIONS                            181

  IX. AN EPOCH-MAKING VOYAGE AND ITS EFFECT UPON A EUROPEAN WAR-CLOUD 202

   X. SHADOWS OF GREAT EVILS                                          231

  XI. A STRUGGLE AND A SACRIFICE                                      257

 XII. A CONSULTATION AT THE WHITE HOUSE                               281

XIII. THE VERDICT OF THE WORLD’S WISE MEN OF FINANCE                  305

 XIV. A BURIAL AT SEA                                                 327



SIX THOUSAND TONS OF GOLD.



CHAPTER I.

THE SECRET OF THE CORDILLERAS.


The steamship _Elbe_ had crossed the equator on her long passage from
Southampton to Buenos Ayres in September, 1893. All but the final phases
of a well-regulated, fair-weather voyage on a big passenger ship had
duly presented themselves. The first irksomeness of the long monotony
had worn off; the invalids had begun to enjoy the slow, lazy rolling
which at first had been their hopeless undoing; companions of a
fortnight were exchanging confidences which the friendship of years on
land would not have induced. The frankness, the unrestraint, the
offguard good fellowship of life at sea held full sway.

We are concerned with only two of the numerous ship’s company. Strangers
to each other and to all on board at the outset of the voyage, they had
by this time formed rather an odd intimacy. Men of widely different
types, it would be difficult to discover any natural bond of sympathy
between Robert Brent and Duncan Fraser. The one an American, whose
quiet, self-possessed bearing had in it that indescribable ease of
manner which is the unfailing mark of thorough acquaintance with men and
affairs in the best phases of _fin de siècle_ existence. The other a
Scotchman, of rougher mold, more advanced in years, and whose natural
keenness had been sharpened into an intuitive suspicion by much grinding
against the unpolished side of human nature.

Physically the two men were in marked contrast. It would have puzzled
you to say whether or no the American had reached his thirtieth
birthday. He was rather above the medium height, neither light nor dark,
and of well-built, athletic frame. Few would have called him handsome,
but his face combined strength, intelligence, and refinement, with a
touch of something which at first you might have described as cynicism
or melancholy. The Scotchman had evidently been a typical representative
of his race. The large-boned, sturdy, close-knit body was well-preserved
after fifty years spent, many of them, under suns less kind than those
of his native moors and mountains. But the sandy complexion and almost
flaxen hair had given place to a grizzled head and that peculiar
deep-tanned, almost leathery skin which is always a record of whole
chapters of adventure. The left cheek and tip of the left ear bore an
index to some special record of violence. A furrow in the skin just over
the high cheek-bone and a bit missing from the top of the ear
immediately back of it seemed to mark the course of a bullet that had
failed by the smallest margin in the accomplishment of a deadly mission.

The vicissitudes of life ashore would seldom throw two such men into
companionship, much less into close friendship. The sea fortunately is
sometimes responsible for delightful bits of social phenomena. Perhaps
after all it was the lottery of seats at table that brought it about.
One must be at least conventionally sociable with one’s _vis-à-vis_ and
nearest neighbors, in a steamship saloon. Fraser and Brent were assigned
adjoining seats and after a day or two the acquaintance begun at table
was continued on deck and in the smoking-room. They became interested
each in the opposite tastes, antecedents, and manner of life of the
other. Brent speedily gained a high respect for the Scotchman’s deep,
though rather uncouth philosophy and downright hard sense. Fraser
admired the American’s alert, broad-minded mastery of all the absorbing
topics of the day. Both were men naturally reserved and each respected
this quality in the other. Their talks did not become personal for some
days, save for an occasional anecdote from the Scotchman’s varied
experience. It came out that Fraser was well acquainted with Argentina
and other parts of the continent to which the ship was bound, while it
was Brent’s first trip below the equator.

The young man’s close inquiries about Buenos Ayres led at length to some
explanation of his mission there and the causes of it. He had suddenly
found himself a month before face to face with the necessity for earning
his living. The silver panic in America in the summer had swept away all
but a few thousands of a comfortable fortune, which had enabled him to
indulge a too enervating love of ease. His indulgences had not been
vicious, they were intellectual rather than physical, and he had
strength of character enough after the first disappointment of loss to
welcome the coming struggle. He had been in London when the blow fell.
His first determination was to return to New York and undertake the
practice of law. He had prepared himself for admission to the bar after
leaving college, but the sudden death of his father deprived him of his
last family tie and led him to postpone active work at his profession.
He went abroad to be gone a few months and his absence had lengthened
into three years, when the disaster to his property compelled him to
rouse his dormant talents to action.

When the necessity was upon him his energy was unbounded. He dreaded the
dull days that would probably come before he could secure any
opportunity for an active display of his powers. Besides he was not
particularly in love with his profession. His sudden afflux of energy
tempted him to challenge fortune in some more desperate struggle. The
trip to Argentina, however, was not an unreasoning whim. Two or three of
his London friends had suffered severely by the financial misfortunes of
the Argentine Republic in 1892-93. They had been informed by agents in
Buenos Ayres that the prevailing depression offered tempting
opportunities for the investment of fresh enterprise and capital in
several directions, notably in mines, real estate, and manufacturing.
Brent had decided to make a trip for investigation, partly on his own
account and partly on the assurance of his friends that they would join
him financially in any promising enterprise.

These plain facts about his recent life and prospects Brent made known
to his companion while they sat sheltered from the already tropical sun
under the deck-awning one hot afternoon. The Scotchman was a sympathetic
listener. It was, indeed, his genuine and apparent interest which
induced the narration of most of the points in the simple biography. He
did not refuse confidence in return, but what little he said about
himself was in such general terms that Brent felt that it was modesty as
well as natural reticence which withheld the details of a most
adventurous career. He had evidently taken a strong fancy to the
younger man and he discussed with greatest interest the chances of
success in his search for fortune amid the many difficulties then
existing in the struggling republic. He was silent, however, about his
own immediate plans and about the nature of the interests which were
occupying him. His offers of assistance to his new friend in the strange
city to which he was going were coupled with the announcement that he
should remain only a few days in Buenos Ayres, because business called
him further south immediately.

The heat of the tropics was unrelieved even by one of the sudden storms
which often break the monotony of the long southern voyage. Those who
hoped for something out of the ordinary to make the trip memorable had
begun to content themselves with anticipations of early arrival in port,
when they were informed that the steamer had already entered the waters
of the Rio de la Plata. No land was in sight. The sea was apparently as
boundless as it had been for three weeks past. Most of the passengers
thought it was a joke of the steward. There was only one river in the
world, the Amazon, into whose mouth one could sail without sighting
land--so, at least, they had read in their geographies. They were wrong,
though, as they found when they applied to the first officer for
information and had looked the matter up on the large map in the saloon.
Buenos Ayres was still more than one hundred miles distant and they
would see no land during the remaining two hours of daylight.

But an experience much more exciting than the first sight of land was
vouchsafed them. A white line upon the sea appeared suddenly on the port
bow away off to the southwest. It was seen from the bridge first and two
or three quick orders set sailors and stewards flying in their hasty
execution. Awnings were taken down in a trice, passengers were driven
from their comfortable lounging chairs on deck, everything movable was
taken away or made fast. To most of the passengers the sudden excitement
was inexplicable and alarming.

“The pampero” was the only explanation anybody would stop to give. It
was not many moments before ample explanation arrived. The pampero was
soon upon them and it explained itself. The wind-storm, or dry
hurricane, which comes off the land from the southwest and without
warning lashes the Rio de la Plata and the sea beyond with a fury
sometimes worse than the heaviest ocean storms, is a phenomenon peculiar
to these latitudes. It never lasts long but its violence is often
terrible. The _Elbe_ faced the furious blast at first with dignified
steadiness. Then as the sea became white, tempestuous, cyclonic, the
ship forgot her dignity and struggled with trembling, straining frame
against her merciless enemies. It was a test of her sternest resources.
It was not a new peril. She had faced it before, not always unscathed,
and this time again she survived the struggle. With only a few hurts,
she emerged from the hour’s battle, shaken but safe.

It had been a trying hour below. Neptune’s transformation was full of
terror for the passengers. His anger under the sudden assault of the
winds seemed directed against those who had complained of his monotonous
tranquillity. The wise ones among the ship’s company acted on the advice
of the stewards and sought their berths at the beginning of the
outbreak. Those whose curiosity to witness the fury of the sea kept them
upon their feet were glad to seek a safer anchorage before the storm
reached its height. Fraser and Brent were among these latter. Both were
fairly good sailors and nature’s outburst of passion was a sublime
spectacle which they were loth to leave. But they had no choice. The
pitching of the ship became wilder and more erratic every moment. It was
impossible to stand upright at a port-hole to watch the chaos of wind
and water without. They did not abandon the attempt until two or three
sudden lurches had thrown them into violent contact with tables,
chairs, and other fixed objects.

They started at last to go to their staterooms below, but locomotion by
this time was a dangerous experiment. They steered a zigzag course to
the staircase, which they did not reach without several collisions, and
Brent began to descend. He clung to the reeling railing and had gone
down half the steps, when there was a cry and a blow from behind. He was
wrenched from his hold and in a moment both men were pitched headlong to
the deck below. A great lurch of the ship added violence to the fall,
and they lay for a moment almost senseless upon the rubber mat at the
bottom of the staircase.

“Are ye hurt, lad?” said the Scotchman, finding voice presently and
trying to rise. He sank back again with an exclamation of pain, saying,
“A broken leg, I’m afraid.”

Brent sat up rather dazed. “I don’t know,” he began, trying to raise his
voice above the roar of the storm and the creaking of the ship’s
timbers. “My arm is hurt, I think. Let me help you.” But the movement to
aid his friend gave him a twinge that made him desist. They called for
aid, but when a steward managed with some difficulty to reach them he
could do little.

“Lie flat on your backs till the worst of this is over. It won’t last
much longer,” was his advice. It was the only thing to do, though every
motion of the ship was full of suffering, especially for Fraser.

The wind subsided almost as suddenly as it had risen. The doctor was
summoned as soon as the ship became steadier. He found, as the Scotchman
had feared, a broken leg and in Brent’s case a broken fore-arm, besides
a few trifling bruises. The painful experience of transfer to his
stateroom in the still restless ship and the setting of the fractured
limb did not seem a very dreadful matter to the hardy Scotchman. But he
was much worried over the consequences of his accident.

“I can’t abide this bad luck,” he said anxiously to Brent, who made
light of his own hurts and visited his friend after the doctor had
finished his work. “This means six weeks on my back and I can’t stand
it. I’ve engagements that must be kept. It means all the difference
between riches and poverty,” and the grizzled head shook in such
exasperation of helpless revolt against fate that Brent did his best to
relieve his bitterness of spirit.

“Oh, not so bad as that, I hope,” he responded cheerfully. “What you
cannot do yourself, I can do under your direction. We are going to the
same place. I have nothing pressing to require my attention and shall be
delighted to see you out of this mishap. You just make a business of
mending that broken leg and the other business will be taken care of
all right. You shall tell me about it to-morrow and then we’ll see. Get
a good night’s rest now.”

“You’re the right sort, lad, and I’ll trust you,” said the other
gratefully, gripping Brent’s uninjured hand. “Perhaps you can help me,
and you won’t suffer for it if you do. I’ll think it over and we’ll have
a good talk to-morrow.”

That night the _Elbe_ reached Buenos Ayres. Brent sought the services of
the best surgeon in the city, who came aboard and put Fraser’s damaged
leg in a plaster cast. He assured the impatient Scotchman that with good
care he might hope to be on foot again in about five weeks, but he must
not attempt to get about even with crutches under a month.

Fraser did not attempt to bring up the subject of his business
disappointments with his friend until he had been safely transferred to
pleasant quarters in a hotel on the afternoon of the 6th of October. He
had been preoccupied and silent most of the time and Brent had found it
hard work to rally him into even passing interest in his surroundings.
The young man superintended the landing and storage of a dozen or more
large cases belonging to Fraser from the cargo of the _Elbe_. When the
invalid had been made comfortable upon an adjustable cot procured from a
nearby hospital, he invited Brent to return after he had got a glimpse
of the city. They would dine together and then have a long consultation.

Brent readily assented and they enjoyed a very good but very awkward
meal by the Scotchman’s bedside. They became quite merry over their
respective infirmities. Brent with one arm in a sling was even more
helpless than Fraser upon his back but with both hands free. They had a
jovial hour over the repast before approaching serious subjects. When
the waiter had been finally dismissed, the Scotchman dropped his gay
mood.

“I like you, lad,” he remarked suddenly, after looking rather
quizzically from under his heavy brows at his companion for some
moments. “And because I like you and because I’m certain you’ll stick to
a friend through thick and thin, I’m going to ask you to join me in an
adventure that may make us both richer than anybody in all this
country--or in any other maybe.”

“Have you found a new El Dorado?” asked Brent half banteringly, but a
good deal impressed nevertheless by the other’s manner and words.

“Not that exactly, but I know a man who has or who has known about it
for years and has never used his knowledge till now. I have some of the
products of his secret in that box over there,” answered the Scotchman
pointing to the smaller of his trunks on the other side of the room. “I
took something like a hundredweight of clean virgin gold to the Bank of
England bullion-room a couple of months ago and it was so pure they
allowed me weight for weight in new sovereigns for it.”

“And is there much more where that came from?” asked the now thoroughly
interested American.

“I solemnly believe, lad, that there are millions more waiting to be
carried away,” said the grizzled old man with grim emphasis, half
raising himself in his earnestness and watching the effect of his words
upon his companion.

Brent stared at the crippled figure before him in half stupefied
amazement. There was such a convincing sincerity in the bearing of the
old Scotchman that the young man could not receive his astonishing
statement with any incredulity. So it was with a full conviction of the
other’s truthfulness that he finally found words to say:

“My friend, if you have such wealth within your reach, you should not
intrust the secret to a stranger such as I. I am proud of the confidence
you show in me, but you must not make me the object of such generosity
as you suggest.”

“Well said, my lad, and I know you mean it,” replied the old man warmly,
“but I don’t intend to make you a present of this gold. I haven’t it to
give you. I don’t even know where it is, and there’s many a difficulty
and probably danger before we shall see it. What I propose is that you
join me in the enterprise of securing it. I grant I should not have made
the offer but for that confounded tumble,” pointing to his plaster leg,
“but now I am compelled to seek assistance or to forfeit all chance of
ever getting any of the treasure. So I invite you to share with me a
rough experience of several weeks, perhaps months, and the much or
little that may come of it.”

“That is what I came here hoping for,” responded Brent heartily, “and I
would have undertaken it under much smaller temptation than you offer.
Your proposition is most generous and flattering in spite of your modest
way of putting it.”

“Wait till you hear the particulars before you commit yourself,”
interrupted Fraser settling back among his pillows. “I’ll spin you a
little yarn. It’s not long and I don’t think you’ll find it dull.”

“Go on; and don’t cut it short,” assented Brent keenly interested.

“You know that I’ve knocked about the world a good deal and among all
sorts of people,” began the old man deliberately. “Somehow I have spent
nearly all of my life in new countries. Thirty years ago I went to
California. I was for a long time in Australia, and for the last eight
years I have been in the southern countries of South America. I have
tried mining, ranching, fruit farming, cattle raising, made and lost
small fortunes at each, and on the whole have enjoyed life. About
eighteen months ago, I visited the small colonies along the Argentine
coast well down into Patagonian latitudes. I stopped finally at a little
settlement near the mouth of the Rio Negro or Black River. There were
strong indications there of mineral wealth. Then, too, the climate was
agreeable, game was abundant, and I thought I might do a little
profitable trading with the Indians. I had taken with me from Buenos
Ayres quite a collection of small things in order to make the trip
profitable if possible.

“I suppose you have heard the usual stories about the native
Patagonians--that they are all giants and terribly ferocious and that
they kill all foreigners who try to intrude into their country for fear
they will discover the fabulous treasures that the Indians have been
guarding for centuries. Well, those yarns are all bosh. I have traded
with the Indians, picked up some of their lingo, hunted with them, and
visited some of their villages. They are much like other primitive
races, more intelligent in some respects, better made physically but not
giants, and there are no buried cities or ancient temples filled with
gold for them to guard. They have some admirable qualities not ruined
yet by civilization, but they will not survive long after they become
better acquainted with the trader and the whisky barrel.

“It’s a wonderful country, lad, that the Tehuelches live in. That’s the
name of the general tribe of natives in all the region south of the Rio
Negro. There isn’t a rougher, more inhospitable coast-line on all the
footstool than the thousand miles or so from Rio Negro to Santa Cruz.
The Indians themselves say it would take one of them at least two years
to follow the coast by land from one point to the other. But there’s a
fine country inland, back of nature’s barricade. Never mind about that
now; you’ll see it for yourself. I spent more than six months previous
to last May in and around the little settlement at the mouth of the Rio
Negro. I cultivated the natives from the first and managed to get on
good terms with some of them. I made them small presents, traded with
them, and taught them some new points in hunting and fishing. I
prospected a good deal and became convinced that there was valuable
mineral wealth in the rocky districts near the coast. I could do very
little, however, toward testing this point with my primitive appliances,
though I did manage to collect a few ounces of free gold in the course
of several weeks’ search. I found that the Indians were familiar with
the metal, but they were absolutely close-mouthed on the subject. All my
attempts to gain information about gold deposits served only to make
them suspicious and silent.

“Most of the Indians I met belonged to a division or sub-tribe known as
the Caillitchets, or non-speakers. For many years they have been morose
and almost dumb. The story is that three or four of their chiefs, or
caciques, whom they believed to be immortal and invulnerable were killed
in battle three or four generations ago. Ever since the entire tribe has
been gloomy, indifferent, and given up to a sort of savage cynicism.
They used to bring gold-dust to the occasional traders who touched at
points along the coast, but the yellow metal excited such evidences of
cupidity in the white men that the Indians apparently became afraid it
would tempt an invasion of their domicile. At all events they stopped
all barter, having nothing else of value to offer in exchange for
traders’ goods. There are some interesting stories among the settlers at
Rio Negro about those days. The same thing is said about these Indians
that is told about the natives of Ecuador, that they brought quantities
of gold-dust to the traders, made their bargains, and then threw into
the river all they had remaining of the precious metal. Two or three
small expeditions at one time or another about thirty years ago
attempted to follow the Indians back into the country, but none of the
adventurers were ever heard of again.

“They are a tamer people now. A white man who takes care to treat them
well is comparatively safe among them. They are not treacherous like
their North American brethren and I have spent weeks with them without
meeting any suggestion of hostility.

“I made especial effort to gain the confidence of their principal
cacique, a fine old warrior whom they call Casimiro. He is a wonderful
old man, more than ninety years old he says, and I believe him.
Centenarians are by no means rare among these people and I met one old
fellow who claims more than one hundred and twenty birthdays. Casimiro
is remarkably intelligent, remarkably broad in his ideas, for a savage.
I became quite attached to him, hunted and fished with him, and we had
many long talks together. He has picked up a good deal of Spanish, and
he taught me enough of his language to enable me to get along very well
with the others of the tribe. He took very deeply to heart the decadence
of his people. In all Patagonia now there are not above twenty-five
thousand of the native tribesmen remaining, while a century ago their
numbers were probably almost ten times as great. Casimiro lamented the
growth of the white colonies, denounced indiscriminately the traders and
the missionaries who had come among his people, and predicted gloomily
the speedy extinction of his race. I sympathized with him and tried to
convince him that there was good as well as bad in the civilization
which he denounced.

“Finally a bit of adventure gave me a stronger hold upon the old chief’s
regard. We had been wandering one afternoon last April through a very
rough, half-wooded valley some miles inland. Making our way along the
side of a steep declivity, we came to a spot where there had been a
recent landslide. I stopped to examine what I thought were traces of
gold in the fresh surface. Casimiro, picking his way some yards in
advance of me, started somehow another movement of the loose earth and
stones. He was swept off his feet in a moment, and before I realized
what had happened I saw him whirled over and over in a great mass of
_débris_ toward the bottom of the defile more than a hundred yards
below. I gave him up for lost, but about a third of the distance from
the bottom, before the descent became almost perpendicular, was a large
jutting rock, which divided the small avalanche, and the old man managed
to catch and cling to it.

“Of course I went to his assistance. It was a matter of great
difficulty to reach him. There was danger of starting fresh slides which
would sweep us both away and it was not easy to get a footing in the
insecure earth. Two or three times I slipped a few feet, but by digging
toes and fingers into the hillside I checked myself with no worse damage
than a few scratches. The old Indian was badly shaken and bruised but he
seemed to have no bones broken. I got him into a more comfortable
position on the rock and in a few minutes his strength came back, so
that with a little help from me he was finally able to scramble up the
steep slope to an easier angle where we could stand on our feet again
and make our way to sound earth.

“Well, the old man persisted in making a hero of me for my part in the
incident and declared I had saved his life. Two or three days later, he
came to the settlement and invited me to go with him to one of the
principal native villages where he declared he wished to ‘make a big
talk’ with me and intrust to me a great secret. I made up my mind,
principally on account of his solemn manner, that he really had
something more important on hand than a native celebration of his
deliverance from the landslide and so I decided to go with him. It was
nearly a week’s journey on foot and horseback to the west. When I
arrived, I was invited to attend a council of four caciques, Waki,
Orkeke, Cuastro, and Casimiro. They had met, the old chief explained to
me, to consider a great difficulty and peril which threatened the tribe.
They needed a white man’s advice and assistance. He had in his
intercourse with me for several weeks been testing my knowledge, my
judgment, and my good faith. The adventure of the avalanche had
completed my establishment in his confidence. I did not feel
particularly complimented by this expression of their esteem until they
had described their problem. Then you will readily believe, I was
dumfounded.

“Casimiro as spokesman told the story. There existed, he said, at a
secret spot in a spur of the Cordilleras within the tribe’s domain a
vast store of native gold. ‘How much?’ I inquired in astonishment.
‘More, much more, than a thousand mules could carry,’ the chief declared
solemnly. ‘But you mean ore, rock or sand with specks of gold in it,’ I
said to him in Spanish, thinking I had misunderstood. ‘No,’ he replied,
and going to a corner of the hut in which we were sitting, he produced
presently a small bag of skin. He opened it and poured upon the floor in
front of me a heap of yellow dust and nuggets--the purest virgin gold I
had ever seen. ‘All like that,’ the old man remarked laconically. I was
too amazed to speak. I put out my hand and took up a handful from the
shining pile. There was no doubt about it. It was perfectly
genuine--worth really four sovereigns an ounce, every speck of it. Then
I looked from one to another of the four chiefs. They were watching me
stoically.

“‘What do you want me to do?’ I asked finally.

“‘Take the gold away from our country,’ was Casimiro’s answer; whereat
my surprise was so great that I must have shown signs of approaching
idiocy. The four chiefs talked rapidly for a few moments in their own
tongue, but I was too dazed to try to understand what they said.
Involuntarily I was calculating roughly the amount of the treasure they
had described. A mule-load I knew was about two hundredweight. Could
there be two hundred thousand pounds, equivalent to twelve hundred
thousand pounds sterling, or sixty millions of your American dollars, in
this Patagonian treasure-bed? Presently Casimiro explained himself more
clearly. What he said amounted to this:

“‘My people have long known of this gold which you white men love, fight
for, suffer for, and die for. It is of no use to my people. It neither
feeds them nor clothes them. The traders tell us they will give us food
and clothing and much whisky for it. We know better. If they discover we
have it, they will come with many soldiers and seize our country and
drive us out and kill us. The white man knows no mercy in seeking gold.
We have tried to cover it up and keep it secret. We fear we have been
betrayed. Two or three times in recent moons white men have penetrated
near to its hiding-place. The first seeker met his death, the second
likewise. But more are coming. Our people are in peril. We must save
them. We love our country, we love our simple life. We want none of your
civilization, none of its cruelties, its vices, its death. With this
gold tempting the white multitude, we shall become as chaff before the
wind in front of you. So we say, Take the gold. We have nothing else to
excite your cupidity, take it and let us live in peace.’

“I was fairly humiliated, lad, before that grand old savage. His words
were simple; they were not spoken in anger. Yet he stood there
melancholy, powerless before a relentless fate, looking fearlessly into
a future full of peril for his people. There was something sublime in
the dignity of the old Patagonian that I had never seen in any other man
and for a moment I felt almost like going down in the dust before him.
He came back presently to his usual mood and noticing, I suppose, my
shamefacedness he assured me I was by no means included in the
denunciation into which the contemplation of his people’s wrongs had led
him. A renegade member of the tribe, it appeared, was held responsible
for the betrayal of the secret. They asked me if I thought they had
determined upon the right course to pursue. I told them they would be
foolish to let such a vast treasure go without providing for certain
lasting benefits to themselves in return. They might easily make
themselves free of the traders, and secure all necessary annual supplies
including harmless luxuries, besides providing for the practical
exclusion of the white man’s liquor, which was already becoming a grave
evil among them.

“They all seemed to think the suggestion a good one. When they had
discussed it for a little while among themselves, Casimiro finally made
me this proposition: His brother chiefs, he said, wished to make a test
of my good faith. They would deliver into my hands at the Rio Negro
settlement a small mule-load of gold. This I was to take to my own
country and spend on behalf of the tribe in the purchase of arms,
ammunition, supplies of various kinds, and necessary tools, receptacles,
etc., for the gathering and transportation of the treasure. I should
bring these things in a ship to Rio Negro and meet Casimiro at a point
near the settlement fourteen days previous to the longest day of the
coming summer, which will be the sixth of December, two months hence.
Casimiro would then accompany me on the ship to a point on the coast
farther south and nearer to the location of the treasure. If I failed to
appear on the day appointed our treaty would be at an end. Of course I
agreed. I received about one hundred and fifty pounds of gold-dust ten
days later and immediately sailed for Buenos Ayres. I did not dare
dispose of any considerable quantity of native gold here, for I am
pretty well known and the location of my wanderings in the South was
also known. Besides I wished to make a large portion of my purchases
elsewhere in order to avoid exciting suspicion. So I sailed to England
where I arrived early in August, turned my gold into money, bought all
my supplies except food-stuffs, and now here I am laid up with a broken
leg with none too great margin of time to keep my appointment with
Casimiro in December.

“So you see, my lad, I am compelled to seek assistance. If I were well
it would probably be impossible to charter a suitable sailing craft, do
all that must be done here in buying, fitting, and other preparations,
and sail before the end of the month. The five weeks remaining would be
none too much for the uncertainties of such a voyage in a small ship.
Now you know practically as much about this strange venture as I do. I
have money enough left for the trip to Rio Negro and back besides all
necessary purchases of supplies, etc. We may come back here penniless,
we may bring the most valuable cargo that ship ever carried. Will you
take the chances?”

Brent had listened to the Scotchman’s extraordinary narrative with ever
increasing interest. The Patagonian chief’s description of buried
millions in nature’s richest treasure-house bewildered him with its
prodigality of wealth, its prodigious massing of riches. The story was
almost incredible yet plausible. He knew not what to think. He was
unable at first to think at all with calmness. But he had only one
answer to Fraser’s fascinating proposition. If the prospect of success
had been but one in a thousand it would have been enough.

“Of course I will take the chances and gladly,” he exclaimed warmly.
“But do you not suspect,” he added presently, “that the Indians have
concocted this story in order to secure through you the purchase of a
large quantity of goods at much lower rates than they could obtain them
from the traders?”

“A very natural suspicion, my lad,” responded Fraser, “and it does
credit to your bump of caution. But I have absolute faith in them. My
reasons are not easy to define, perhaps. I have heard some wonderful
yarns in my time and I have grown even more suspicious than is
reasonable, I imagine, but I believe these Patagonians told me the
simple truth. That is far from saying we shall ever get possession of
this treasure. Now, as for terms of partnership, I will pay all the
expenses of the expedition and give you a third of whatever proceeds it
yields. You agree to see the thing through to the end, coöperating with
me of course in every way that circumstances may make necessary. Is that
satisfactory?”

“Perfectly, and generously liberal terms they are, too,” said Brent, and
the two men clasped hands to seal the compact.



CHAPTER II.

INVADING NATURE’S TREASURE-CHAMBER.


Brent never had worked so hard in his life as during the days that
followed his strange engagement for the pursuit of fabulous treasure.
The disabled Fraser, none too patient in his irksome imprisonment,
directed most of the young man’s movements. His first efforts were in
search of a suitable ship for a coasting and trading trip of indefinite
length. He succeeded after a few days in finding a trim schooner of
about two hundred and fifty tons which seemed to be just what was
needed. Her owners were unwilling at first to charter her for an
indefinite voyage that might last three months or possibly six. On
Brent’s description of her, the Scotchman was willing to buy the craft
outright if necessary, but a liberal offer finally secured possession of
her for six months.

Fraser hoped they might succeed in returning to Buenos Ayres by the
middle of February at latest. Casimiro had told him the gold was about
one hundred miles from the coast, so that the task of transportation of
the immense quantity he had described would be slow and difficult. But
he had explained that it was near a river, easily navigable for canoes
or rafts down stream but almost impossible of ascent by either means, so
rapid was the current at many places. He had promised to make such
preparations as he could with the primitive means at his command during
the Scotchman’s absence. Fraser hoped, therefore, that with the
assistance of the Patagonians the treasure might be brought to
tide-water within a month of his arrival at the nearest point on the
coast.

One point in their problem troubled both Fraser and Brent for some
little time. How were they to load the gold (provided they got it) upon
the schooner, bring it to Buenos Ayres, and transship it to England or
New York without the crew’s or other handlers’ discovering the nature of
the cargo? Both men agreed that every precaution must be taken to
prevent the disclosure of such a secret. They finally decided that
before being put upon the schooner the metal must be packed in strong
boxes securely made and practically unbreakable. When they came to
figure a little they found that on the basis of the chief’s calculation
of the quantity of gold, it would require a good many boxes to contain
it. Even if five hundred pounds should be packed in each case, which
would be as great a weight as could be conveniently handled, there would
be no less than four hundred boxes necessary to contain the two hundred
thousand pounds which Casimiro had roughly indicated to be the amount of
the treasure. The boxes would still be very small. The specific gravity
of gold is so high that it occupies about one fourth the space of iron,
weight for weight.

They determined that the boxes should be made of heavy two-inch timber,
and that they should be lined with sheet iron and fastened with long
stout screws. It was not an easy thing to procure the manufacture of
such boxes, four hundred of them, at short notice. Brent divided the
work among half a dozen carpenter shops and required that the work
should be completed according to specification within ten days. He
bought a large yawl which was put aboard the schooner. He hoped to use
it for carrying the gold-packed cases, six at a time, from the shore to
the ship as she lay at anchor. He procured also a windlass with
necessary tackle for hoisting aboard the heavy cases from the small
boat.

The schooner was thoroughly overhauled and refitted. Brent was fortunate
in finding an English captain, who picked up a crew of Englishmen and
Americans, four men only besides the mate and cook. They were good
seamen, the captain assured Brent, and glad to ship for such a trip
under promise of a bonus if the voyage was successful. The purchase of
supplies in great variety occupied several days, and it was not until
the very last week in the month that preparations for departure were
practically completed. They were still delayed two or three days by the
non-delivery of a few of the peculiar boxes that puzzled the sailors so
much as they stowed them away in the hold.

Fraser, meantime, had been mending rapidly. On the day before going
aboard the schooner, his damaged leg was taken out of its plaster cast,
and the surgeon promised him that at the end of another month it would
be as good as the other if he treated it properly. He was delighted with
the schooner when he went aboard on the morning of sailing. He insisted
on hobbling about the deck a little upon his new crutches and inspecting
all the equipment of the trim little craft.

It was a beautiful spring day, the 31st of October, when the schooner
picked her way gracefully among the shipping and out of Buenos Ayres
harbor before a light wind. There was speed as well as seaworthiness in
the craft, as the owners had promised, and the two fortune-hunters, who
were her only passengers, were enthusiastic over the happy auspices
under which they started on their extraordinary quest. The voyage was
not eventful. Storms and calms, head winds and currents, made it a trip
that taxed the patience of men with minds full of tremendous
possibilities. Still it was no use grumbling, as Fraser explained to his
companion. Nothing could be done until the 6th of December and they
might as well spend the time at sea as at Rio Negro.

There were still ten days to spare when they dropped anchor off the Rio
Negro settlement. They went ashore, and the Scotchman was heartily
welcomed by his friends in the little colony. He made inquiries about
the Indians, and learned that Casimiro had not been seen by any of the
colonists since Fraser’s departure six months before. None of the
natives had appeared often at the settlement within the same period, and
trade with them had almost ceased. Fraser did not regard this as a bad
sign.

Brent found the ten days’ waiting far from dull amid the picturesque
scenery of the wild coast and the primitive colonial life which was all
a charming novelty in his eyes. His partner was not yet able to make
very active use of his convalescent limb, and an Englishman in the
colony accompanied the young man on several long tramps through what was
to him a delightful country.

On the morning of the 6th of December, Fraser and Brent set off together
on foot at about ten o’clock. The Scotchman had almost discarded his
crutches, but he carried them with him on this occasion. They would
help to explain Brent’s presence to the chief, he intimated. The
rendezvous was at a small spring in the hills, about four miles from the
settlement, where Fraser and the Patagonian had often refreshed
themselves on their tramps. High noon was to be the hour of meeting.
They were fully an hour in advance of the time, and when they sat down
by the pool of bubbling water in a charming little hollow among the
rugged hills, there was no sign of any living creature hear them. They
talked together for half an hour or more about the possible results of
their venture, and then the younger man began to be anxious. He was
feverishly impatient to see the strange man upon whose simple, unsecured
promise they had based weeks of time and effort. As the minutes passed
and they saw and heard nothing save nature’s face and voice about them,
Brent was unable to conceal his fears of disappointment.

“Do you think he will come?” he asked impatiently looking again at his
watch and noting that the hands were close to the meridian.

“I wish I was as sure of getting the gold as I am that Casimiro will
keep his appointment,” said Fraser smiling. “Don’t judge him by your
watch. The sun will govern his movements.”

Scarcely had he spoken when the Scotchman sprang suddenly to his feet
and started rapidly upon his crutches toward a group of trees about two
hundred yards away on the opposite side of the little valley. Brent
looked and saw a man standing there motionless. Uncertain of his
welcome, the young man waited until his friend should explain his
unexpected appearance at the tryst. He saw the two men meet, greet each
other, and engage in conversation. Then they came slowly toward the
spring, talking earnestly together.

As they drew near, Brent watched the splendid figure of the Patagonian
with growing surprise and admiration. He could not believe it was a man
of ninety, this proud, unbent form with the bearing of an athlete, the
reserved vigor of a retired gladiator. His face alone and the white hair
upon his great bare breast gave token of age. His features were
Caucasian in type, almost Grecian in mold. The eyes were dark, still
brilliant and searching, but they had in them even greater depths of
melancholy than Fraser had described. Brent felt before a word had been
spoken an involuntary springing up within him of the same implicit
confidence in this man which he had been unable to understand in his
friend. He felt himself in the presence of one who commanded something
deeper than respect--a savage perhaps, but a personified force and power
and wisdom such as the young man had never encountered before. He
approached the newcomer with a deference which was not assumed and
greeted him with some words in the native tongue which Fraser had taught
him.

Casimiro received him gravely but kindly. He accepted the outstretched
hand and said a word or two of welcome which Brent was delighted to find
he could understand.

“I have told Cacique Casimiro,” said Fraser, “that it is to your
assistance that I owe my ability to keep my promise here to-day, that I
owe you much in many ways, that I have made you my friend and partner,
that in all things you will be to him and his people as I am, and that
you are more worthy than I to be intrusted with the mission he has
offered me.”

Brent endeavored in a mixture of Spanish and the native language of the
Patagonian to express his thanks for the welcome and his desire to
render to him and to his people every service in his power. Casimiro
watched the young man keenly for some moments. Presently he said
gravely:

“Your words are good, young man, which is nothing. Your face is true,
which is much. I trust your friend, who is my friend, therefore I trust
you. It shall be as he says.” And the old chief offered his hand, which
the young man took with genuine pride at the honor which he felt had
been conferred upon him.

Casimiro said no more upon the subject but forthwith asked the Scotchman
for an account of his adventures and stewardship, which the latter gave
at some length. The chief listened attentively but made no comments
until the story was finished. He expressed himself as perfectly
satisfied with what had been done. Then he sat very silent and very
grave for some time. Both Brent and Fraser grew a little apprehensive of
what might be coming and they were startled at Casimiro’s first words
when he finally spoke.

“I bring bad news for my people,” he began sadly. “We cannot, I fear,
expel from our country the gold which will surely crush us and blot us
out.” He noticed the involuntary dismay upon the faces of both the white
men. He went on with a touch of bitterness in his voice: “Do not fear.
You shall have all I promised and more. The gold is more, much more,
than I told you. We have been digging it up and storing it, that you
might take it away easily. We cannot move it all, not with many horses,
in many weeks. Many rafts cannot float it. The white men’s biggest ship
cannot carry it away. I fear we are lost.”

The two listeners were haggard with astonishment at the chief’s words.
They looked at him confused, half comprehending. When the significance
of the stern old Patagonian’s utterance came home to them its inherent
improbability did not arouse doubts of his truthfulness. There was an
intrinsic honesty about the man that disarmed suspicion and compelled
confidence. So it was that the minds of both his companions did not stop
to question his almost incredible declarations, but turned at once to
the problem which his statement presented. The Scotchman was the first
to find his tongue, and speaking in Spanish, which all three understood
fairly well, he said:

“Your words amaze us beyond expression, Casimiro. It is difficult for us
to conceive of so great a quantity of gold as you describe. It is
impossible for us to believe the amount is greater than can be moved.
The white man’s skill in such tasks is beyond anything that can be known
to you. He makes rivers where before was dry land, he digs a path
through the heart of vast mountains, he forces back the sea from the
shore, he builds ships larger by fifty or a hundred fold than those
which come to your coast. The task you set for us will not be
impossible. Neither shall we find it necessary to bring other white men
for its execution, which would be an offense to you and your people. We
will accomplish it with the help of your own strong men. We have brought
tools, which you will easily learn to use. We will build rafts so large
that they will carry more than five hundred horses can draw. Many of
these rafts will float your gold to the sea. We will bring a ship so
great that her length will stretch from this spot as far as yonder trees
where you appeared to us. You and your people shall yourselves put the
gold upon this ship, and no white man on board her shall put foot upon
your shores or ever again return to disturb you. Believe me, the
undertaking is not beyond our powers.”

“You speak of riddles and wonders, of works of God and not of men,”
responded Casimiro in incredulous awe, but deeply impressed nevertheless
by the Scotchman’s earnest confidence. Turning suddenly to a steep cliff
towering nearly one hundred feet above them, the chief raised his arm
toward it and asked, “Could you cut down yonder rock and carry it away?”

“Aye, ’tis often done and greater works than that in building the iron
path for the locomotive, which you know runs with faster speed than
horses between the white men’s settlements not very far now to the
north,” the Scotchman answered.

“Yes, my young men have seen it and told me of it,” said the chief.
“Your words give me hope. We will go to the spot where my people are
still at work separating the gold from the earth. You shall judge for
yourselves whether the task is too great for you.”

They decided to go immediately to the harbor and sail at once to the
mouth of the river which Casimiro had described as flowing from the
hiding-place of his treasure. Fraser judged from the chief’s words that
the point was two hundred miles or more down the coast. They reached the
settlement in an hour’s time and went on board the schooner.
Instructions had been given in advance for everything to be in readiness
for immediate departure, and before three o’clock the anchor was up and
they were under way.

Under baffling breezes and with the necessity for keeping within sight
of the coast that Casimiro might not lose the bearings, the voyage was a
slow one. On the fifth day, the chief sighted a landmark which he said
was close to their destination. The schooner soon ran into a large,
well-protected, natural harbor. The coast was still rugged and
forbidding and not a sign of human handiwork or habitation was visible.
It was not until they were well within the little bay that they
discovered that it concealed the mouth of a river of considerable size,
which found its way somehow through what appeared to be an impenetrable
wall of rocky hills. A quiet anchorage was found about two hundred yards
from the shore, but as it was nearly dusk no attempt was made to land
that night.

At daybreak the next morning Casimiro was on deck eagerly scanning the
shore near the mouth of the large stream, whose current swept into the
bay several hundred yards from where the ship lay. At length the old
chief sprang upon the railing and waved his arms as though signaling. A
few minutes later a boat or native canoe put out from the shore and came
rapidly toward the ship. Three Patagonians soon came on board. They
stood talking for a long time with Casimiro in the bow of the schooner,
while all others on board were still below and asleep. Their
consultation seemed to result in an agreement of some sort and, when it
was finished, Casimiro went below and aroused Fraser and Brent. It was
not yet six o’clock although the sun was almost two hours high. The two
men soon made their appearance, surprised to find guests already on
board. The Scotchman quickly recognized the three Indians as the chiefs
who had joined in their council eight months before and he greeted them
warmly. Brent was presented to them and they received him not unkindly.
They were all younger men than Casimiro, but past middle life and in the
prime of physical vigor. Each was more than six feet tall, well built,
muscular, and splendidly developed. In color they were neither as
coppery as the North American aborigines, nor as brown as the mulatto.

Their features were of the same general type as Casimiro’s, neither
sharply aquiline nor round like a Teuton’s.

Casimiro said to the two white men that he had explained the situation
to his brother caciques, including what Fraser had said about the
removal of the gold, and that they joined in his own opinions. The
younger chiefs expressed immediate interest in the cargo which the ship
contained, and while breakfast was being prepared Fraser and Brent
displayed to them many of the articles that they had brought. The
Indians said that a large number of horses and several of their
tribesmen were on shore near by ready to transport the supplies into the
interior. The Scotchman assured them that the work should begin that
very day.

They ate upon deck, the visitors preferring to squat cross-legged upon
the white floor and take their food in native fashion. The captain of
the schooner in a spirit of hospitality brought out a bottle of Scotch
whisky, with which he was about to regale his savage guests when Fraser
caught sight of it. He astonished the skipper with a sharp request to
put the liquor quickly out of sight. He explained in English that the
chiefs were much prejudiced against white men’s liquors, which had
worked great havoc with many of their followers, and that the chances
of profitable trading would be much diminished if whisky should be
offered to any Indians who might come on board.

In answer to Fraser’s questions, Casimiro said that there were about one
hundred members of his tribe in the hills near by and that they had with
them some two hundred horses which could be used to carry inland much of
the schooner’s cargo. Nearly all the other male Caillitchets were in the
vicinity of the Bed of Gold, where they had been engaged for weeks in
gathering up and putting the bright metal into caches. The spot lay two
days’ journey to the southwest. The chief proposed that a portion of the
ship’s cargo should be landed at once, its transportation arranged for,
and then the four caciques with Fraser and Brent should ride on ahead to
the goal the two white men were so anxious to reach. The plan was
adopted.

The Scotchman decided to land first the tools and materials for mining
and raft-building. He had brought for the latter purpose nearly one
hundred axes, some saws, a large supply of heavy spikes, and a liberal
quantity of small wire rope. The Indians were much interested as these
articles were brought out and their uses explained. They began evidently
to credit more fully Fraser’s confident assertion that the difficulties
which had been described were not insurmountable. A yawl-load of
miscellaneous articles was made ready at once and with Fraser and Brent
on board they followed the canoe of the four chiefs to a landing place
about six hundred yards from the ship. They found it in a tiny
rock-bound cove with a narrow beach so steep that as the heavy boat ran
upon it, the occupants were able to step dry-shod from the bows.

It was a novel experience for Brent, a New Yorker _blasé_ to all the
_fin de siècle_ features of civilization, but ignorant a few days before
of all but the existence of these savages and their wild, almost
untrodden country. Prudence suggested treachery and danger in placing
himself thus at the mercy of untried barbarians. He felt no alarm. The
streets of New York or Paris or London did not seem to him safer than
this virgin wilderness under the protection of its dark-skinned sons.
There appeared presently along a faint trail winding up among the rocks
others of the Patagonians. They greeted their caciques with a gutteral
sound or two and at once assisted in unloading the boat, whose contents
they examined with great curiosity.

Casimiro suggested that while the boat returned to the ship for another
load, they should visit the native camp not far away. Fraser and Brent
followed the old chief for nearly a mile up the steep trail until they
came suddenly upon a little plateau still surrounded by hills. The
American was astonished to find grazing upon the luxuriant grass a large
herd of the finest horses he had ever seen assembled together. His
exclamations of admiration pleased the Patagonian. The old man proudly
made known to him that his people were the best horsemen and possessed
the best horses in all the world. Brent was a lover of horses and a good
judge of their qualities. He had not been among the Patagonians
twenty-four hours before he was willing to admit without reservation
both points of Casimiro’s somewhat sweeping boast. Horsemanship that was
a marvel of skill, strength, bravery, recklessness, and endurance was
matched only by the speed, training, intelligence, and beauty of the
splendid animals that made the wonderful exploits possible.

The American’s attention was divided between the horses and their
masters. Three or four score Indians were in the camp, and they watched
the white visitors curiously. Nearly all these natives were men of
superior physical qualities. Brent thought they would average somewhat
greater in height and general proportions than a similar number of
Americans or Englishmen, but they were by no means giants. He went about
among them without hesitation, and tried to profit by a month’s
instruction from Fraser in their native language by expressing his
admiration of the horses. Their stoical silence soon gave way to evident
surprise and pleasure, both at hearing their own tongue spoken by a
white man and by his tribute to their one great pride. The Indians
caught several of the finest horses and led them up to the young man for
his inspection. He was delighted and his pleasure was so manifest that
it soon won the confidence and friendship of the Patagonians. Several of
them mounted and performed feats in riding that he had never seen
attempted even in the circus-ring. He was so absorbed in the exciting
scenes that he was quite loth to accompany his friend back to the boat
and would not believe it when he was told he had been for three hours
admiring Patagonian horses and horsemanship.

With the help of the Indians and four or five canoes, besides the big
yawl, rapid progress was made in discharging the schooner’s cargo. The
boxes intended for packing with gold, it was decided to leave on board
until after the trip to the interior. On the third day, Brent, Fraser,
and the four chiefs started on their journey toward the Cordilleras.
Mounted on six of the best horses in the herd they set off at a sharp
lope soon after daybreak. Brent had a blanket for a saddle, and the
others rode bareback. The two white men and one of the Indians carried
rifles; the others were contented with the bolas with which all the
Indians were armed. It is a peculiar weapon, if weapon it be called. It
consists of two heavy balls of metal or stone connected with a strong
thong or cord. The Indians are wonderfully expert in using it against
all manner of game or human enemies. They bring down a wild horse at an
almost incredible distance. The bola goes flying through the air and
twists itself about the fore or hind legs of the running animal throwing
it violently to the ground. It is sometimes used also with deadly effect
as a single or double slung-shot, the wielder holding the cord in the
middle.

The route for many miles over a faint trail was rough and difficult. The
country through which they passed was picturesque almost to grandeur. It
was far from being the “bleak and uninhabitable region” which the
geographies only a few years ago would have us believe was a truthful
description of Patagonia. Late in the day the path became smoother and
the landscape more even. They were upon a high table-land, fertile and
delightful. But nature’s charms had few attractions for Brent during the
last three or four hours of the drive. Riding without a saddle for ten
or eleven hours with only a brief halt at midday was no joke to a man
who had not been on horseback for six months and who was physically
quite out of training. For the others in the party, even Fraser, there
seemed to be little fatigue in the trip, and Brent did his best to
conceal his feelings. There was something very like a twinkle in the eye
of old Casimiro, when they finally halted for the night and the American
limped very unsteadily from his horse to the spot chosen for a
camp-fire. The chief made no comment at the time.

It was a hungry group that did full justice to the supper Cuastro
prepared. Some few delicacies from the schooner’s stores had been
brought along for the benefit of the two strangers, but the viand which
Brent enjoyed most of all was a liberal piece of a tender fillet or
steak which was roasted over hot embers. The young man remarked
enthusiastically that it was the most appetizing morsel he had tasted
for many a day.

“Do you know what it was?” asked Fraser with a peculiar smile.

“No, why?” replied Brent noticing the odd expression on the face of his
friend.

“It was one of the best cuts from a well-fatted mare,” said the
Scotchman. “Nearly all the meat the Patagonians eat is horseflesh and
they think it the best in the world. I’m glad you like it.”

Brent turned pale, but he rallied bravely before his feelings could
overcome him. “Great Scott,” he exclaimed, “have I been eating
horseflesh? I’m glad you didn’t tell me before. Perhaps it was hunger
that made it seem so good. It thinks bad, but it didn’t taste bad.”

Fraser laughed heartily. “I was afraid you wouldn’t eat it if I told
you, and I didn’t want you to offend the chiefs,” he said. “Really there
is nothing unwholesome about it. It isn’t as though it were an old,
worn-out animal that had spent its life in city streets. They prepare
horses for food with more care than we do beef and mutton. Animals that
do not come up to their high standards of speed and strength furnish the
most esteemed delicacies of their bill of fare.”

Soon after eating, Brent was fain to wrap himself in his blanket and
rest his aching limbs. Casimiro called him away from the fire and
suggested that they should walk for a time. The young man pleaded
fatigue and he felt indeed scarcely able to keep his feet. The chief
explained partly by signs that if he would walk briskly until the
cramped muscles were limbered up, he would be much better able to
continue the journey in comfort on the morrow; otherwise he would have a
painful experience. Brent acted on the advice, though at the expense of
an uncomfortable half-hour. He felt better for the exercise even before
he slept.

The next day’s journey was easier and more rapid. Their destination
lay, the chiefs said, in a group of high mountains which were in sight
all day. They were a spur or offshoot of the Cordilleras of the Andes,
the main range lying still two or three hundred miles to the west. In
the afternoon the landscape again became broken. At length Casimiro led
the party into a narrow defile which grew wilder and grander with every
furlong. The trail, which no stranger could have discovered, crept along
the side of a mountain, craggy and bare. For a time they were just above
the verdure of a narrow valley, which below was bright and fresh along
the banks of a twisting river, while over them hung black and
threatening masses, flung into grotesque and insecure shapes by some not
remote cataclysm of nature.

The path became narrow and shelf-like. The verdure below them
disappeared. The valley grew narrower and more wild. The river was
condensed almost out of sight between steep black precipices. Their
horses walked in single file and the riders made no attempt to guide
them. The strange scene awoke a conflict of emotion in the minds of the
two white men. The sense of danger could not overcome the mingled
admiration and awe which some of nature’s weird manifestations aroused
in them. The marks of a terrific convulsion of gigantic forces were all
about them. There were no signs of volcanic action, but the disturbance
seemed to have been even more violent than that which accompanies the
eruption of a volcano.

Turning after a time a bend in the trail, the leader of the file
suddenly stopped, waited till the white men had approached, and then
pointed silently with his long arm to the opposite side of the gorge.
Brent gave an exclamation of amazement. His companion was too astonished
to speak. They saw the opposite mountain, which had seemed more massive
and regular than the one they were circling, apparently cleft in two by
a narrow line from peak to deepest base. It was as though the stroke of
a mighty knife or the blow of a colossal ax had split the vast mass in
twain. The heart of the great mountain had become transparent and they
looked through it to bright sunshine and green fields in the plain
beyond. It was a narrow glimpse, a single, thin column of light that
pierced the black cone from summit to foundation. If they moved a few
steps forward or back the phenomenon was not visible, the mountain
became as dense and impenetrable as the rock upon which they were
standing.

The two white men gazed in silent wonder at this evidence before them of
a fit of mighty fury to which some natural or supernatural power had
given vent. Nature’s wildest, maddest chaos was all about them. Even
the Indians, to whom the scene was not new, were awed by the grim
grandeur, the anarchy of matter that reigned supreme in this domain of
Titanic wrath. The six horsemen grouped themselves in a small niche,
where the pathway widened into the side of the mountain. The horses
seemed to partake of the mute solemnity of the spot. They stood silent
and statue-like as though the intrusion of life was a desecration amid
these monuments of a vanished rage. Minutes passed without a word being
spoken. At length, when the first spell of a dead but mighty power had
relaxed its hold upon them, Casimiro raised his hand, pointed with long,
bony finger into the heart of the valley below them, and said:

“White men, there lies the curse from which you must rescue my people.”

They looked and amid the gathering shadows in the depths they saw a
single gleam of white. And presently they hurried on.



CHAPTER III.

WHERE GOLD WAS AS DROSS.


It was dusk when the six horsemen, descending the still tortuous path,
reached the bottom of the mountain-guarded valley. They had been
challenged by a small band of Indians when they first entered the narrow
pass between the mountains two hours before. Now again three
dark-skinned sentinels suddenly barred their way with a gruff command
which the white men did not understand. Casimiro responded, giving what
was probably a countersign. The shadows were so dark that the three
guardsmen of the pass did not recognize their chief until he spoke. When
they heard his voice they made obeisance to him, and he conversed with
them for a few moments.

The party moved on presently and came at once upon a scene quite
different from the wild and barren chaos of the mountain-side. It was a
bit of nature’s most peaceful loveliness thrown down in the midst of her
most majestic confusion; it was an emerald in a setting of jet, an oasis
of beauty in a desert of shapeless grandeur. There were nodding flowers,
waving grass, and a grove of stately trees. The twilight softened the
grim shapes of the surrounding heights. Nature’s face had changed
suddenly from frowns to smiles and the transformation was bewildering.
The visitors were puzzled and delighted. They had seen no sign of
verdure from the pass above, when Casimiro pointed out what seemed to be
but a tiny patch of white sand. It was not a wide expanse, this spot of
fertility in a sterile wilderness, but it afforded pasturage for quite a
large herd of horses and among the trees beyond was a village of huts.

A number of natives caught sight of the party and came to meet them.
They received the chiefs, Casimiro especially, with many signs of
respect and pleasure. The white men they regarded with curious interest.
Dismounting at the edge of a small forest, the newcomers were conducted
to the center of the village, where a fire burned in front of a group of
larger huts. Food was prepared and they were soon satisfying an appetite
so vigorous that even in Brent’s case it was not disturbed by any
suspicion of the viands provided. After the meal, Casimiro explained
that the golden sands lay just beyond the forest, a few minutes’ walk
from the village. Little could be gained by a visit that night, for the
darkness in the valley was by that time intense. Great as was the
eagerness of Brent and Fraser to see the treasure which had tempted
them into this far-away wilderness, they wisely restrained their
impatience. They were well content, after the excitement of the
afternoon’s wonders had worn off, to indulge the heavy fatigue which
followed by early retirement to the large hut and beds of skins and
leaves which were assigned to them.

Very early in the morning they were ready to accompany Casimiro.
Somewhat to their surprise, he led them first in a different direction
from that in which he had indicated the deposit of gold lay. They came
in a few minutes to the sandy, shelving bank of the river, whose course
they had watched for many miles on their journey. Casimiro quickly
disrobed and plunged into the sparkling water, inviting his companions
to follow. Brent imagined the baptism might be some religious or
purifying rite which he must perform before being allowed to touch the
Patagonian treasure. Inasmuch as the bath was most tempting in itself,
the young man was nothing loth, and all three were soon swimming about
in the very cool stream. Brent enjoyed himself immensely until he
discovered that they were not alone. Other Indians appeared above and
below them on the bank of the river and in a few moments the whole
tribe, men, women, and children, were in the river enjoying their
morning bath.

Brent did not notice what was going on till it was impossible to escape
from the situation. As soon as he realized the dilemma he shouted in
such horror-stricken accents to his friend that the Scotchman thought a
cramp or a wandering crocodile had seized the young man. He swam rapidly
to his assistance. Brent explained his alarm.

“I’m afraid we’ll have to take rather a long bath, lad,” responded the
Scotchman ruefully, “and the water’s getting cold already. I ought to
have thought of this. The Patagonians always take a plunge, every
mother’s son and daughter of them, every morning.”

“Good gracious, how long will they be about it?”

“Not long, I hope. We might swim over to the opposite bank and stay in
shallow water till they clear out.”

They paddled across stream and found a place where they could sit upon a
sunken rock with the water up to their necks. Presently Casimiro caught
sight of them, swam across, and suggested that they should return with
him, dress, and have breakfast. The two men were at a loss to explain
their embarrassment to the chief. They feared he would not understand
and might misconstrue their motives for not desiring to join the
promiscuous bathing party.

“We want to stay in the water a little longer,” said Brent in rather
shaky accents, while his teeth belied his tongue by beginning to rattle
violently.

“No, no, bad, very bad, too cold stay long,” said Casimiro paddling
about uneasily and plainly puzzled by the behavior of the two white men.
There was an anxious expression upon the two faces, perched side by side
on the rock, while cold little wavelets rippled against their chins.
They were attracting attention from the opposite bank where most of the
natives were already donning their scanty clothing. Some of the bathers
began to leave the bank, and Fraser and Brent were pleased to note that
most of the women were among those going away.

“I think we’d better risk it, lad, and swim back, or they’ll all be
coming over here to see what’s the matter,” said the shivering Fraser
presently. “Besides, we’ll get a cramp if we stay here any longer.”

Casimiro was immensely relieved when his odd guests left their perch and
struck out vigorously for the opposite bank. He followed them with
strong strokes. The two were thankful to see only men about when they
reached shoal water. They didn’t wait to investigate further but made a
dash for their clothes, into which they scrambled and then began running
violently up and down in the early sunshine in order to restore warmth
to their chilled blood. Casimiro shook his head in still greater
mystification.

The exercise and a hearty meal quite neutralized the bad effects of the
morning episode, and before the sun was two hours high, Brent, Fraser,
and a party of natives sought the spot which nature had made her richest
treasure-house. Five or ten minutes’ walk through the trees brought them
to a bare, barren spot, scarcely more than four hundred yards in extent,
apparently a mere waste of sand which had been much thrown and tossed
about.

“The gold lies there,” said Casimiro, indicating the center of the white
field where the surface had been much disturbed.

Brent was surprised and disappointed. He saw nothing but worthless heaps
of sand in a spot whose only interest was the mighty works of nature
which surrounded and shut it in. Fraser’s trained eye sparkled with
anticipation.

“I see it all,” exclaimed the Scotchman looking rapidly about him at the
general topography of the situation. “This used to be the bed of the
river. There were falls over that straight line of rock there at the
boundary of the sand, and all this is the gathered accumulation of ages
in a great hollow or cup just before the water poured over the barrier.
Does the river flow through the gap in the mountain we saw yesterday?”
he asked turning to the Patagonian.

“Yes. We believe in the early days of our fathers it flowed here,”
answered the chief.

“Exactly,” went on the Scotchman. “That convulsion, whenever it took
place, changed the whole course of the river and left this basin full of
gold, brought down bit by bit for centuries from the hills behind us and
many miles away. But what an ideal placer mine! Nothing to do but to
sift the gold from the sand!” And they went toward the primitive
workings.

They found much more extensive excavations than they expected. The
natives had, in fact, very completely tested the extent and value of the
deposit. Casimiro explained that on the borders of the sandy expanse the
depth of earth was only a few inches and practically no gold was mixed
with it. Beneath the sand was a solid, sloping bed of rock, almost
saucer-shaped, as Fraser discovered. The gold lay mostly at the bottom
and in greatest richness within a space of only about one hundred yards
square. The depth of sand to the gold and bed-rock was scarcely ten
feet. None of these facts were at first apparent to the visitors. They
saw no gold. Fraser and Brent picked up handfuls of the coarse sand here
and there, but they found no trace of the precious metal. They went down
into some of the older trenches, but discovered nothing. At length
Casimiro led them to what was evidently a newer working. Some poor,
wooden tools had been dropped by the users just where they had stopped
work.

Fraser sprang into the trench suddenly and got down upon his hands and
knees. He scraped about among the earth with his bare fingers. In a few
moments he rose to his feet, called his friend to the edge of the ditch,
and put into his hand a yellow nugget, so heavy that Brent almost
dropped it. It was the size of a small hen’s egg.

“It’s thicker than plums in a Christmas pudding down here,” the old
miner exclaimed in great excitement. “Come and see.”

Brent, nothing loth and as much excited as his companion, leaped down
and began scratching in the earth at the bottom of the ditch as madly as
the Scotchman had done. Fraser clawed at the loose sand a few feet away.
The lust of gold seized both men like a fever. They tore out the shining
nuggets from their envelope of earth in frenzied haste, cramming them
one after another into their pockets. They shouted to each other in
exclamations of glee and disjointed words over each yellow lump, bigger
than the last. They toiled on almost frantically, still on hands and
knees and with only fingers for tools. They became breathless with their
exertions, but panting they worked on.

At last Brent looked up. He saw Casimiro a few feet above him. The old
chief was standing silent as a statue, with folded arms, watching the
mad outburst of the passion for gold in the two men at his feet. Upon
his face was a melancholy but proud superiority, mingled with something
of pity and of contempt. Brent rose to his feet. His hands fell at his
side and he hung his head. His face, already dripping with sweat,
flushed a deeper crimson under a sudden sense of shame. He stood abashed
and humiliated before this savage, who became in his eyes the
personification of a higher virtue than his own. Then as the revulsion
of feeling grew upon him, the young man plunged his hand into his
pockets and flung back into the trench the yellow treasure he had
gathered. Casimiro stopped him.

“The white man loves gold; let him keep it,” said the old man quietly.

The Scotchman’s attention was attracted by the incident, and he, too,
shamefacedly recovered his self-control. He endeavored to apologize for
his own and Brent’s greedy excitement. Casimiro indicated that no
apology was necessary. The effect of gold upon them, in whose integrity
and virtue he had high confidence, was but another proof of the danger
of allowing such a temptation to remain and attract white men to his
country. Both men felt thoroughly uncomfortable as they clambered out
of the ditch and proceeded in saner fashion to inspect the marvelous
deposit of treasure.

They gathered from Casimiro’s explanation that fully two thirds of the
sand-filled basin had been carefully gone over within the last few
months and all the gold removed down to bed-rock. They found upon
examination that the natives had not merely dug trenches through the
sand. They had begun the work systematically at one side of the deposit
by separating the gold from the sand along a long line. They advanced
regularly and slowly in this line, throwing behind them the sand as fast
as it had been treated. In this way they had shifted and cleaned two
thirds of all the earth in the whole basin. About five hundred men had
been engaged in this task, Casimiro said, and he believed they would be
able to complete it in three or four months more.

They walked all over the deposit, and Fraser examined carefully some
samples of the sand that had been worked.

“They have done it very thoroughly,” he remarked in considerable
surprise. “I don’t discover a trace of free gold in what is left.”

Then in calmer frame of mind he entered again the trench which separated
the barren from the gold-bearing earth and studied the nature of the
deposit more critically. The gold lay almost entirely in the very
lowest stratum, resting upon or within five or six inches of the
bed-rock which had been the bottom of the river. Casimiro said that in
several quite large areas they had found nearly two inches of pure gold,
unmixed with sand, lying upon the smooth rock at the bottom of the
basin. In five minutes a digger had often scooped up all that a bearer
could carry away. So easy and rapid had been the work of taking the gold
from its bed and separating it from the gravel, that no less than thirty
men on the average had been employed daily merely in carrying the metal
from the trenches to the caches, or pits, which had been dug for its
reception near by.

Casimiro led the way finally to these sunken depositories, only a few
hundred feet away upon the bank of the river. Only one mound of earth,
beside what seemed to be a large open grave, was visible. The chief said
that sixteen other pits had been filled and covered over with earth and
_débris_ very carefully so as to leave no trace of their existence. They
walked to the side of the excavation still open and looked in.

It would have shaken the sanity of some men to have gazed into that pit.
Naked treasure was heaped up there enough to ransom a state. Both men
were fascinated. The sun shone upon the virgin gold and dazzled their
eyes with the yellow glare. Brent turned his face away after a moment
and drew his hand across his forehead as though in a maze. Fraser gazed
on in apparent indifference. Presently he seemed to be measuring the pit
and the pile of earth beside it with his eye and remarked musingly:

“About twelve feet by six--I wonder how deep it is?”

The gold filled the pit to within two feet of the surface of the ground.
The Scotchman had no means of judging the quantity or value of the
metal. Its great weight occupies such small space that he was quite
confident that several hundred tons of the precious stuff lay before
him. And worth one hundred and twenty thousand pounds a ton! It wasn’t
worth while estimating such a treasure in pounds sterling or
avoirdupois. Fraser shook his head and looked round at his companions.
They too were silent and distrait.

Just then an Indian bending under a very small but evidently very heavy
load came up to them. He stopped at the edge of the pit, lifted down a
bag from his shoulder, opened it, and poured carelessly upon the
accumulation beneath a shower of fresh gold. Then he shook the bag and
walked slowly away. Both Fraser and Brent drew long breaths as they
watched him. When the man had gone, Casimiro turned to his silent
companions, waved his hand toward the treasure before them, and
remarked with a grim smile:

“It is yours. When will you take it away?”

“We must think, Casimiro,” said Fraser presently. “We are overcome by
the sight of such treasure. It is beyond anything we have dreamed of.”

It was some time before the effect of the demonstration of the truth of
Casimiro’s promises enabled the two white men to think calmly on the
situation and on the problem before them. They told each other that they
would be perfectly content if they might take away with them a small
fraction of that last great pitful of gold and leave all the rest. But
this they could not do. They were under pledge to despoil these
Patagonians of all their riches or go away empty-handed. If they
succeeded in the apparently feasible task of carrying away this fabulous
treasure, they were to be made rich far above any of their fellows for
practically nothing in return. It seemed like robbery. They had not
looked at it in that light before, but the sight of the gold itself
aroused their scruples. They went over together two or three times
Casimiro’s statement of the case from the standpoint of his people and
they were unable to find serious moral or economic flaws in it.

After they had discussed the matter, they invited Casimiro to consult
with them. They pressed him to suggest additional services which they
might render in exchange for the stupendous gift he was about to bestow
upon them. The wise old man shook his head.

“The white man’s luxuries would but corrupt and destroy us,” he said.
“It were better that we died by his sword than by his vices. I fear the
effect of even a too liberal supply of food and clothing and arms which
you will send us. It will encourage sloth and soften too much the
wholesome rigor of our simple life. No, no, you shall not kill us with
kindness.”

Brent, who knew something of the crime his own countrymen had committed
in sapping the life and spirit of the North American Indians by a
mistaken liberality in supplying their physical appetites, admired and
indorsed the wisdom of the old chief’s words. Casimiro exacted a pledge
from both men that the danger which he feared should be carefully
guarded against by them in the selection of the annual shipload of goods
which they agreed to send to his people.

For several days Fraser and Brent devoted themselves assiduously to the
problem--how to convey safely and with reasonable speed to the coast the
great mass of treasure which had been spread before them. It was no
trifling task, and the American was inclined to be almost hopeless of
its accomplishment. He felt himself unable to contribute anything to the
solution of it, and he chafed under the ignorance which made him
helpless against a practical difficulty, while his partner was full of
resources.

First, they set about ascertaining as closely as possible the quantity
or weight of the metal which was to be moved. In this matter, Brent, who
was expert at figures, was able to be of assistance. They made
calculations in two or three ways. They estimated by various rude tests
that the load carried by each bearer from the trench in the sand to the
hoarding-pits was about one hundred pounds in weight. Casimiro was able
to inform them that each pit contained about five thousand such loads.
This meant about two hundred and fifty tons of virgin gold in each pit,
or a total of about four thousand tons!

Fraser managed to contrive a serviceable pair of balances, with the aid
of his pocket knife, string, bits of wood, and other material at
command. They tested them by balancing weights in the improvised
scale-pans and then shifting them from one arm to the other. The exact
weight of their rifle cartridges was printed upon the cartridge boxes.
Using several of these in place of standard weights they balanced them
with gold-dust. The Scotchman after some difficulty managed to
construct a cubical receptacle which his pocket rule assured him
measured exactly twelve inches in each of its dimensions. Its capacity
therefore was just one cubic foot. Into this he poured gold from his
scale-pan after balancing it with cartridges and keeping account of the
number of weighings. It was a slow process and it took a long time to
fill his cubic-foot box. He was surprised to find that the weight of a
cubic foot of closely-packed, loose gold, according to his rough test,
was about one thousand pounds avoirdupois. Then they measured the last
pit which had been dug and which Casimiro assured them was the same as
the others in size. They found that the space designed to be occupied by
the gold was about four hundred and thirty-six cubic feet. That quantity
of gold would weigh then about two hundred and forty tons--practically a
confirmation of their first estimate.

After all this work had been done, Brent suddenly called to mind the
school-book information that the weight of a cubic foot of water is
sixty-two and one half pounds and that the specific gravity of gold is
nineteen--simple facts, which, if he had recollected them sooner, would
have saved them more than a day’s labor.

The truth was before them, at all events, that the prodigious treasure
already awaiting removal amounted to about four thousand tons, while if
Casimiro’s estimate of what remained proved correct the final total
would be no less than six thousand tons. The figures were almost
meaningless to their comprehension at first. Brent figured out on a bit
of paper what it meant in money. Gold he knew was worth about three
hundred dollars a pound when pure. Six thousand tons, or twelve million
pounds avoirdupois, at that rate amounted to three billion six hundred
million dollars! He showed the figures to Fraser.

“More than seven hundred million pounds sterling!” the Scotchman
exclaimed. He was silent for some moments, and then he said: “Well, lad,
I wish it was only six tons instead of six thousand. It would be far
more tempting. One means comfort and no worry for each of us. The
other--I’m afraid to think what it may mean for us.”

“It will mean a life of the most galling publicity and notoriety, unless
we can conceal the existence of the bulk of the treasure from the
world’s knowledge,” said Brent earnestly, as the apprehension of the
penalties of great wealth suddenly dawned upon him.

“You are right,” answered Fraser. “We cannot guard the secret too
carefully, and all our plans must bend to that end.” From that hour,
Brent never lost sight of this danger. It furnished the dominant motive
in all his dealings with the gold of the Cordilleras.

After the fourth day following their arrival in the golden valley, the
two strangers and the native chiefs took careful account of the
facilities at their command for transporting the immense weight of
treasure which nature had surrendered to them. Fraser was much pleased
to discover that the material for raft-building was very abundant. The
change in the bed of the river had left a great level area below and in
front of the rocky barrier over which the water had formerly poured. The
new course of the stream after passing through the riven mountain
returned to the old bed at a sharp angle just below this point. At times
of high water this former river-bottom was flooded, and it had become
the depository of great quantities of _débris_ which the receding waters
in their annual or semi-annual freshets had left behind. Fraser noted
that an immense number of well-seasoned logs or tree-trunks were
included in the accumulation.

The supplies from the schooner, including all the tools and other
appliances, arrived by the time the Scotchman was ready to make use of
them. He tried the experiment of raft-building at once. The Indians
proved ready pupils, and the novelty of the work attracted them. The
horses easily dragged the heavy timber by means of log-chains to the
water, and in a single day Fraser constructed a large raft, capable of
floating safely seventy-five tons in any but a most violent stream. He
was astonished to find the wood so buoyant. It was of light grain, but
not porous, and it easily sustained more than twice its own weight in
the water. The Scotchman estimated that the building of a series of
rafts that would carry one hundred tons each might easily be
accomplished.

The problem of transportation appeared, therefore, to find its solution
provided by nature, who in her lavish generosity had supplied even the
means for making the rifling of her treasure-house a pastime. Fraser
explained his plans to Casimiro, loaded his trial raft with stones to
show its carrying capacity, and made it clear that the means were at
hand for conveying safely away even the immense load of wealth that had
appalled him. The chief expressed his admiration and satisfaction in
strong terms. He was fully convinced that his plans regarding the gold
which menaced his people would be successfully executed.

The new year had arrived before all the elements of the situation had
been thoroughly examined and the two white men were able to make
comprehensive plans for the future. Fraser estimated that the work of
taking out the remainder of the gold, building rafts, floating the
treasure to the coast, and there unloading and re-burying it before
putting it on shipboard, would occupy fully six and perhaps eight
months. To carry it away to London or New York would require a vessel of
the largest capacity. In view of their wish to conceal the existence of
the treasure from the world, elaborate precautions must be taken. Not an
ounce of the gold must be allowed to leave the country except under
secure cover, where it could masquerade as ore. Fortunately, the very
vastness of the treasure was the best security against suspicion. Six
tons of gold packed in mysterious boxes might lead its handlers to guess
its identity; but six thousand tons, never. Nothing approaching such a
quantity of the precious metal ever existed under one control and
everybody would scout such an idea as preposterous.

After many long talks they decided upon a general plan of operation.
Fraser would remain and direct the work of transporting the gold to the
coast. Brent would take with him to New York about two million dollars’
worth of the metal. There he would buy or build a suitable private vault
for the storage of the rest of the treasure. In the following summer he
would charter a steamship of the largest size, and provide a partial
cargo of stores for the Indians and a sufficient number of suitable
cases for containing the gold. He would sail south on this vessel,
timing his arrival in the harbor where the schooner now lay as nearly as
possible on the first of September. The work of transshipping the gold
and carrying it to New York would then be carried out as speedily as
possible. This plan was explained to Casimiro and he approved it without
hesitation.

They proceeded at once to act upon it. It was decided to send Brent’s
preliminary fund and as much more as possible down the river upon the
experimental raft that had been constructed. Brent determined to make
the trip himself in the same way. Twenty Indians were assigned the task
of loading the raft with gold. Fraser limited the quantity to about
sixty tons. Three days of hard work were required before the score of
natives had deposited this heavy weight of metal upon the structure. It
occupied very little space, but a good deal of difficulty was
experienced in stopping up the chinks between the logs and providing a
resting-place sufficiently secure so that the gold would not sift
through.

At length the primitive craft was ready for its first and last voyage,
as the bearer of a cargo far more precious than any pretentious
treasure-ship ever carried. Brent finally made ready to depart, with a
great deal of regret. He had found genuine pleasure, as well as many
wonders, in this strange valley. The simple life of the inhabitants,
their contempt for civilized wealth, the character of some of their
leaders, all had a strong charm for him. His own thirst for gold had
slackened. Its prodigal accumulation no longer aroused any emotion in
him. The ambition for great riches had never been as strong in him as it
is in many men, but he was himself surprised at his growing indifference
to wealth. He assured himself that he would become again as other men,
as soon as he should again be among his fellows.

On the eve of the sailing of the raft, Fraser and Brent had a last talk.
The friendship between the two men had grown into a deep and strong
affection on both sides. The parting was a sincere sorrow to each. The
hard-shelled old Scotchman was even a little superstitious about it. The
eight months’ separation did not seem to threaten serious danger to
either of them, but he was vaguely apprehensive.

“Take good care of yourself, lad,” he said earnestly, “and remember, if
anything happens to me, you are to see this thing through alone. I have
Casimiro’ s promise to deliver the gold to you, if I should knock
under.”

Brent reassured the stanch old man with a promise to greet him safe and
sound on the deck of their treasure-ship eight months later. They bade
each other an affectionate farewell just as the raft shoved off into the
current at daybreak next morning, and the last thing Brent saw as the
raft swept around a turn in the stream was the sturdy figure of Fraser
waving him good-by.

Casimiro and three other Indians manned the treasure-raft. The chief
assured Brent that the navigation would not be difficult, for although
the current in places was very swift there were no rocks to encounter.
The young man expected nothing more than a pleasure trip, and he gave
himself up to admiration of the scenery of the marvelous valley as it
disclosed itself from new points of view. There was much that was
wonderful, but the outlook was not as imposing as from the mountain
trail by which they had entered the strange wilderness. A part of the
way high precipices shut out all but a narrow strip of sky above and
deep shadows and solemn echoes made their swift passage along the black
stream uncanny and fearsome.

The Indians seemed a little anxious as the raft approached the entrance
of the valley. The stream was rather high and the current swifter than
they had expected. Armed with paddles, they prepared to guide the
fast-moving raft from either bank toward which it might approach too
near. Brent saw the danger and sprang to assist. The momentum which
their heavy cargo gave them carried the unwieldy craft perilously near
the right bank, where the stream turned slightly in the opposite
direction. Their speed was so great that a touch against the steep rocks
meant destruction. The four Indians plied their paddles with all their
strength to swing the head of the raft toward midstream. It was useless
to attempt to use poles against the unyielding rocks which they were
passing so rapidly.

Brent did not know this danger. He picked up a pole, sprang to the side,
and tried to fend off the raft by pushing the pole against the bank. The
pole was quickly dashed out of his hands, and, before he could recover
himself, over he plunged into the rushing stream.

The Indians heard his cry as he fell. Casimiro sprang toward him. The
young man had gone down in the still closing gap between the raft and
the precipitous bank. The chief shouted to the others to stick to their
paddles and pull still harder. Keenly he searched the dark water. In a
moment he caught sight of the body as it rose. Standing ready with a
pole, the Indian prepared to assist the young man aboard, but he
perceived when the body reached the surface that it was motionless. It
floated for a moment, only two yards from the raft and almost touching
the rocky bank past which it swept. Instantly the old man threw himself
into the water, seized the already sinking man, and with a couple of
strong strokes succeeded in getting hold of the raft. The chief called
to one of the Indians and a moment later both men were back upon the
raft.

The danger of collision was over by this time, and two minutes later
they were out under smiling skies, floating peacefully between the green
banks of the plains. Brent did not regain his senses for some time and
the Indians feared for a little that he was not merely stunned. They
found a small gash in the scalp which might mean a fractured skull, and
Casimiro was mightily relieved when the young man finally opened his
eyes. Soon he was able to make light of an adventure which had almost
put an end to his interest in Patagonian treasure-beds and all other
terrestrial affairs.

The remainder of the raft’s trip was without important incident. It was
a novel journey, not too monotonous to be boresome, and it came to a
successful end the second day in the little cove where the schooner’s
cargo had been landed nearly a month before. They grounded the raft
without attracting the attention of any one on the schooner, which still
lay anchored in the same spot in the harbor. Brent and Casimiro boarded
the ship the next morning. Her captain and crew had grown heartily tired
of their long idleness, and they welcomed the two men heartily. The work
of landing the boxes intended for containing the gold was begun at once.
Meantime, Brent instructed the mate and one of the sailors of the
schooner to take a small boat and make careful soundings of the
entrance and anchorage in the harbor. They were to prepare a rough chart
of the small bay, which would serve for navigating the steamship in
which the young man expected to return later in the year. He did not
explain, however, the purpose for which he desired the survey.

He landed all the boxes which had been made in Buenos Ayres. Twenty,
which he intended to use at once, he put upon the raft, the others he
stored upon shore where they could be filled during his absence. He did
not fill his twenty boxes quite full of gold. He spread a covering of
earth and gravel over the surface of the metal before screwing down the
cover. Within three days his cargo was aboard ship, the harbor soundings
were finished, and he was ready to sail. The task of landing the rest of
the gold from the raft was left to the Indians.

The voyage north was begun on the 12th of January. Buenos Ayres was
reached after an uneventful trip three weeks later. The twenty
enormously heavy boxes were transshipped to a steamer which was to sail
in three days for Rio Janeiro. In the three days, Brent purchased a
large supply of wire rope, spikes, saws, anchors, and other
raft-building material which Fraser believed he would need, and sent the
schooner back with them to the Patagonian coast. Then he took passage
north. He lost a week at Rio Janeiro, waiting for a boat bound to New
York, and it was finally the 15th of March when he found himself one
morning alongside the wharf at Roberts’ Stores in Brooklyn.

The custom-house inspector who came aboard did not seem particularly
interested in Brent’s twenty cases of “mineral ores.” The owner removed
the cover of one of them and the inspector poked his fingers into the
harmless looking contents and promptly passed the lot. This ordeal
passed, Brent hurried to the ferry and a few minutes later stepped
ashore in his native city.



CHAPTER IV.

THE VOYAGE OF THE RICHMOND.


New York seemed strange to Brent for several days after his arrival.
Life itself impressed him as unnatural and unreal. More than once he
became suspicious that memory was playing him a trick, and he half felt
that he ought not himself to believe the story of the last half-year, a
story he was sure nobody else would credit on the security of his mere
assertion.

Resolved as he was not to share his secret, he was a little puzzled at
first as to the best practical course for turning his present resources
into available cash. After making some general inquiries, he decided
that the most direct method would be best. He would take his boxes of
gold to the Mint, have the metal coined under the terms of the Free
Coinage of Gold Act, and make no explanations to anybody. He presumed
that so large a deposit of virgin gold might cause some comment at the
Mint, but the sum was not great enough to be of general business
importance and there seemed to be no reason for fearing any widespread
curiosity or inquiry.

He hired for a month a small room in the basement of an office building
in one of the less busy down-town streets. His twenty small, amazingly
heavy boxes were safely stored there within a week of his arrival in the
city. He then undertook the tedious and by no means easy task of
separating the gold from the covering of sand with which he had
disguised it. He did this in order that he might meet the requirements
of the Mint and offer only the clean and pure metal. He grew heartily
tired of the job before he had finished it, for it occupied him several
hours daily for a full fortnight. At last it was completed and the cases
were shipped to Philadelphia.

Brent went with them. He had them transferred from the express car to a
truck, got into the wagon himself and with two or three truckmen drove
to the Mint. He was directed to the proper department for the reception
of gold bullion, and he asked the clerk in charge where he should
deliver a quantity of gold for coinage.

“I will take it here,” responded the functionary.

“It is outside in a wagon; shall I have it brought in here?” asked
Brent.

The reply was in the affirmative, and in a few moments two brawny men
staggered in with a small box between them. The clerk seemed much
surprised by the great weight of the burden, and remarked with interest
that it was evidently a very valuable ingot.

“Have we got to bring ’em all in this way?” inquired one of the
truckmen, wiping his forehead.

“Are there any more?” asked the clerk in surprise.

“Yes, twenty of them, and they weigh four hundred pounds apiece, if an
ounce.”

The Mint official dropped his routine, red-tape manner and became a very
much astonished man.

“Do these boxes contain pure gold?” he exclaimed, turning to Brent.

“Yes, I believe so,” was that individual’s matter-of-fact reply. “There
are about four tons of it.”

The first box was taken behind the counter. The clerk, still agitated,
produced a screw-driver at Brent’s request, and the cover was taken off.

“Nuggets and dust, not bullion,” said the government employee, taking up
a little in his hand and examining it critically. “Yes, and wonderfully
pure. Four tons! Almost two and a half millions.”

When he had mastered his astonishment, the clerk told the truckmen that
they might take the team to the entrance of the bullion reception
department and deliver their load direct, without bringing it into the
office. Then he excused himself for a moment and returning presently he
invited Brent to visit the director of the Mint, who was in the
building.

The owner of millions in virgin gold was greeted with much respect by
the head of Uncle Sam’s money-coining establishments. He asked several
questions about the remarkable deposit, all of which Brent answered
except one as to the source of the newborn wealth. This he respectfully
explained he was unable to disclose. He requested the director to use
his good offices to prevent as far as possible any unnecessary publicity
in connection with the reception of so unusual a quantity of gold from
private hands. The director promised to take such precautions as could
be taken, and after waiting some time for his weighing receipt, Brent
withdrew.

A few days later, the young man had on deposit to his credit in the
Chemical National Bank of New York, the substantial sum of $2,445,152 in
cash. Then he set about the detailed work called for by his agreement
with Fraser. He found it necessary to have such a vault as was needed
for the safe storage of the treasure specially constructed. He bought a
suitable site on a quiet street south of Fourteenth Street and west of
Broadway, and a large force of men was speedily at work in the
construction.

A little figuring made it plain that storage capacity equivalent to at
least 36,000 cubic feet would be required for the reception of six
thousand tons of gold packed in such boxes as he intended using. The
vault or vaults, as he designed and finally ordered them, measured in
their internal dimensions eighty feet long, forty feet wide, and twelve
feet high. It was an expensive undertaking. The contract price for the
construction of granite, steel, and cement, to be completed within five
months, was $250,000.

Early in April, Brent contracted for the manufacture of twenty-four
thousand boxes similar in most respects to those he had had made in
Buenos Ayres. They were to be twenty inches long, thirteen inches wide,
and ten inches deep, external measurement, and they were designed to
contain five hundred pounds each of gold. Lined with iron and held
together by screws, it was hardly possible that any ordinary rough
handling would injure such a receptacle sufficiently to disclose its
contents.

These matters disposed of, Brent found himself with two or three months
of almost idle time on his hands. He would have preferred to spend it
among the strange people and scenes he expected soon to revisit, but New
York was not unattractive even during the suspense under which he
labored. When was the metropolis of the New World ever unattractive to a
young man with money and with tastes not yet jaded by indulgence?

As the time approached for making preparations for his long journey
south, he made inquiries in vain for a steamship suitable for the trip.
He required a boat of at least nine thousand tons, and aside from the
well-known Atlantic greyhounds and a few men-of-war, few ships of that
size existed. It began to appear that only by chartering some famous
liner at an enormous expenditure would he be able to keep his
appointment in the Patagonian harbor. He was averse to taking so bold a
step, chiefly because of the danger of publicity which it involved. It
would be impossible to withdraw a well-known crack flyer from her
regular Atlantic service at the height of the passenger season and to
send her off on a mysterious voyage without attracting much public
attention and curiosity.

There seemed to be no other course open, and Brent was about to make to
the American line an offer of three quarters of a million for three
months’ use of their steamer _New York_, when he learned of the arrival
from Bremen of a giant cargo steamship, the _Richmond_, on her first
voyage. She was a crack boat of her kind, 9,580 tons, twin screws,
enormous cargo capacity, and built very much on the lines of the
ill-fated _Naronic_. Brent lost no time in putting himself in
communication with the representatives of her owners. His negotiations
were easily successful, and an offer of four hundred thousand dollars
secured possession of the great boat from August till mid-November.

In addition to the twenty-four thousand queer little boxes which puzzled
the crew very much, Brent put on board a considerable miscellaneous
cargo for the benefit of his Patagonian friends. He kept in mind,
however, Casimiro’s wise warning and included little or nothing of the
luxuries of civilization.

On the morning of August 4, the _Richmond_ cleared for Rio Janeiro, with
Brent as the only passenger. The run to Rio was easily made in eighteen
days. The steamer was re-coaled and again sailed under papers providing
for a cruising trip, touching at coast points. Brent had endeavored as
far as possible to prevent any idea of mystery getting possession of the
officers or crew of the ship. He had said that he was going to trade
with some of the natives farther south and that he had arranged to take
back to New York a cargo of ore or gold-bearing placer gravel. After
leaving Rio, he pointed out the destination on the general chart to the
captain and produced his private chart of the natural harbor in which
they would find shelter.

Approaching the coast on the morning of August 30, Brent soon recognized
the rugged topography about the entrance to his unnamed harbor. The ship
proceeded with the greatest caution. She felt her way with constant
soundings. Brent had warned the captain that the chart which he supplied
had been made with some haste and not the greatest thoroughness. After
creeping along almost inch by inch for fully three hours, the _Richmond_
reached what seemed to be a safe anchorage at a little greater distance
from the shore, as Brent remembered it, than the schooner had stopped on
his previous visit.

While the ship was slowly seeking her moorings, Brent examined the shore
searchingly with a powerful glass. He could discover no sign of life,
not a trace of the presence of a human being. A nervous apprehension
began to rise within him when the anchor had been dropped and only the
wild and desolate coast appeared to welcome him. He dreaded to discover
the fate of his Patagonian friends, his partner in the treasure-quest,
and the vast prize itself which he had come to bear away. As soon as the
steamer was at rest, he asked for a small boat and a couple of sailors
to row him ashore. Soon he entered the little cove where he had first
landed and where he had left the raft and its precious load eight months
before. His forebodings increased as he grounded upon the narrow beach
and stepped ashore without discovering anything to suggest the previous
presence of man. There were not even logs or driftwood from abandoned
rafts. The empty boxes which he had landed from the schooner had
disappeared. There was simply a silent, desolate, narrow beach, with
almost a precipice rising back of it.

Concealing his agitation, Brent directed the boatmen to wait for him and
sought the natural trail leading to the higher land above. This he found
and hastily followed up the steep ascent. A few minutes’ hard climbing
brought him to the beautiful bit of pasture-land where he had first met
the native Indians, and made acquaintance with the remarkable qualities
of Patagonian horses and horsemanship. The little plain was deserted.
Its verdure in the cool spring air was not as luxuriant as it had been
under the warm summer sun of the previous December.

The young man looked about in dismay. The solitude appalled him. Not
even a bird-note made the silence less oppressive. He began to fancy
himself the victim of a delusion. The uncanny impression that the record
in his mind of the past year had no material existence returned to
torment him. His common sense came to his rescue after a little, and he
tried to consider reasonably the cause of this desolation, where he had
expected to find life and activity. That something had gone wrong was
almost certain, but he could only conjecture what it might be. He sat
down upon a rock to think the matter over, but his meditations brought
him little satisfaction.

It occurred to him presently that the time fixed for his coming with the
steamer was the 1st of September, which was still two days off. It had,
however, been no absolute appointment for a set day and hour, and he
felt sure that Fraser and many of the natives, according to the plans at
the time of his departure, would be in the vicinity for days if not
weeks before the time. There seemed nothing for him to do but to wait.
He would at least take no step, he decided, until the 1st of September
had passed. Perhaps then he would undertake to visit overland the
wonderful valley in order to seek the solution of the mystery. He
dreaded such a journey. He had no horses or means of getting them, and
he doubted very much if he could make his way on foot, unguided, to the
spot where the gold had lain. It would be a difficult and perilous
undertaking under any circumstances.

He banished from his manner as far as possible all symptoms of
perturbation and made his way back to the steamer. He told the captain
that they were likely to make a long stay in the harbor, and that no one
from on board must be allowed at any time to land near the mouth of the
river which he had just visited. The natives, he explained, would resent
the intrusion of white men at that point, and any violation of their
wishes would interfere with trading and might lead to trouble. Then
Brent composed himself with as much patience as he could command to wait
for some indication from the shore. The next day passed without a sign,
and nobody left the ship. Anxious use of strong field-glasses directed
toward all parts of the land-locked bay discovered nothing.

Late that night, Brent decided that if the next day should pass without
any solution of the mystery, he would attempt the ascent of the river
upon which he had made one almost fatal trip. He had on board the
_Richmond_ a powerful naphtha launch, which he had expected to use for
towing rafts or small lighters from the shore alongside the steamer. He
believed this craft might succeed in forcing a passage through even the
swiftest part of the river, up to the original treasure-bed in the
mountain-locked valley. At all events, it was worth trying, and the
young man succeeded in sleeping upon his resolution.

The next morning brought no communication from the shore, and Brent
ordered the launch made ready for a cruise. He was watching the men at
work upon it, just before noon, when the second officer called to him
suddenly that a boat was approaching the steamship from the shore. Brent
hurried to the side. He saw a canoe containing three men rapidly nearing
the ship. The two at the paddles were native Patagonians, the third
Brent recognized instantly as Casimiro. He motioned to the chief to
bring the canoe to the foot of the ladder at the side of the steamship,
and in a few moments the old man was on deck, receiving Brent’s
greetings with the grave native dignity peculiar to himself. The great
ship upon which he stood evidently impressed the Patagonian deeply. He
looked about him, forward, aft, aloft, at the immense smoke-tunnel, at
the height above the water where he stood, and then shook his head in
dumb marvel.

Brent waited a moment for his surprise to pass off and then pressed with
some anxiety his inquiries for Fraser. The old man’s face changed
instantly. His awe became sadness, and again his head shook silently,
this time with the dejection of grief.

“Tell me,” exclaimed Brent in much alarm, speaking in Spanish, “is my
friend dead?”

Slowly the old man replied in broken Spanish phrases: “I bring you
saddest grief. It is true. The good white cacique is dead. He fell
fighting for my people, fighting for the accursed gold.”

The news overwhelmed the young man. The blow was so unexpected, in spite
of his vague forebodings, that it unmanned him. He leaned against a
stanchion, silent and pale. He was unable to ask for the particulars of
the tragedy. Casimiro looked on in manifest sympathy with the other’s
genuine grief. Presently he invited the young man to go with him to the
shore, promising to give him there the whole history of events during
his absence.

Brent went with him at once, asking no questions. The canoe took them,
not to the little cove where they had landed before, but to the
opposite side of the river’s mouth, some rods farther away. The country
here seemed as deserted as the opposite bank, and there was the same
rugged, forbidding coast-line. Casimiro led the way, and a few minutes’
rough walk brought them to another concealed camp, situated somewhat
similarly to that which Brent had first visited. But the young man felt
neither surprise nor interest in what he saw. He went at once with the
chief to the temporary hut which the latter occupied. Brent sat down
upon a pile of skins and for the first time asked Casimiro to tell him
his story.

The old Patagonian’s narrative was not long, as he told it. The
limitations of a strange tongue prevented any elaboration of detail. The
story as he gave it to Brent was less complete than even the brief
version of it which follows:

After Brent’s departure in January, the work of emptying the old
river-bed of its remaining store of gold and transporting it to the
coast had been pushed vigorously and systematically. Fraser’s practical
suggestions and superintendence had simplified the task wonderfully. He
had sought to float as much of the gold as possible to the river-mouth
before the advent of winter should make the operation difficult and
dangerous. After he had thoroughly instructed the natives in
raft-building, he made a trip with a large treasure-load, as Brent had
done. He examined with Casimiro the facilities for concealing the gold
on the shore, and decided as a precaution against possible discovery
that half the treasure should be buried on the bank of the stream
opposite the little cove. He had then returned to the treasure valley
and had devoted himself with great energy to the severe task in hand.

Rapid progress was made and only one serious mishap occurred. This
happened at almost the exact spot where Brent’s gold-seeking career had
almost ended with his life. Some undiscoverable cause, perhaps a local
deluge at the sources of the stream, had considerably swollen the
current. The swift water carried one of the rafts too near the rocky
bank. The end of a log touched the flinty wall. In an instant the
ponderous mass was a scattered procession of drift-wood. The millions of
treasure which it had borne sank into dark depths whence only another
convulsion such as rent the divided mountain could resurrect it. One of
the raftsmen was crushed to death, the others clung to the floating
timber until they were borne to smoother water and could swim ashore.

In April, Fraser made another trip to the coast. Work at both ends of
the line was making excellent progress. More than half the gold which
had been recovered and stored when he and Brent arrived in Treasure
Valley had been safely carried to the shore. Most of it had been buried
in the new spot which had been selected, opposite their first
landing-place. That which was yet to come down the river, it was
intended to conceal in the sands of the little cove. The native camp was
transferred for this purpose to the small plateau where the two white
men had first seen it.

Soon after the camp was stirring one morning, Fraser and the Indians
alike were startled by the sound of firearms coming from the direction
of the beach below the plateau. The Scotchman seized a rifle, shouted to
the natives to arm themselves and follow him, and then ran hastily down
the narrow path toward the shore. The Indians, including Casimiro, who
were soon on the heels of their leader, saw him stop just before
reaching the bottom of the trail and motion them to approach cautiously.
They did so and they saw a sight which filled them with alarm and rage.
Five of their fellows, who had gone early to the shore, lay dead upon
the sand. A raft had been moored upon the beach the day before and the
work of unloading its treasure had been begun. Most of its burden of
gold still lay naked upon the timbers. Around this were now gathered a
dozen white men and another Indian, who, Casimiro explained in a savage
whisper to Fraser, was the renegade member of the tribe whose treachery
they had feared.

The white men seemed to be in wildest excitement over the heap of
treasure before them. Disregarding all prudence, they had flung down
their rifles, and now they knelt beside the gold and madly plunged their
hands into the shining pile. Some of them began frantically to fill
their pockets with the yellow nuggets. Presently, judging by their
movements, one or two of them suggested bringing the two boats, in which
they had come and which lay upon the beach near by, to the side of the
raft and loading them with gold.

By this time the Indians concealed along the secret path were no longer
to be held back from avenging their murdered comrades. Casimiro by a few
signs to his followers and a word or two to Fraser ordered an attack
while the white adventurers were still crazy with the fever of gold.
They began creeping quietly nearer the beach, when the Indian on the
raft caught sight of a movement among the rocks and shouted a warning to
his white companions. At the same moment that the invading party picked
up their guns, Fraser, Casimiro, and fifty Patagonians sprang toward
them only fifty yards away. There was a double volley of rifle shots.
Five of those on the raft fell and three of the attacking party. There
was no more shooting. The eight men remaining on the raft tried to reach
their boats. Access by land was cut off. They threw themselves into the
water and tried to swim toward them. Instead of swimming they sank from
sight. Two of them never rose again. The other three tore off their
gold-loaded coats and rose to the surface. It was only a choice of
deaths for them. Instantly they were seized by revengeful hands and the
blue water was reddened with their blood.

The traitor died by Casimiro’s own hand. He had been wounded by the
first discharge of firearms. He leaped to his feet when the avenging
party reached the raft and faced them, knife in hand. The chief was in
the van. He motioned to the others to stand back and, himself a picture
of vengeance, rejuvenated and implacable, sprang upon the doomed man.
The defiance of the wretch at bay seemed at the last moment to change to
terror. He cringed. The yellow heap which was to have been the prize of
his treachery was literally the pillow upon which he drew his last
breath.

It was not a fight but a slaughter. In five minutes it was over. Not one
of the invaders remained alive. Casimiro for the first time missed the
Scotchman. He looked quickly from one to another of the prostrated forms
upon the beach and raft, and then ran swiftly to a figure lying upon the
sand, where the volley from the raft had met the charging Patagonians.
The Scotchman lay upon his face. Casimiro turned him. A groan relieved
the worst fears, and he sought to revive the wounded man. Fraser
regained consciousness presently, but shook his head in answer to the
look in the chief’s face. A ball had passed through his body just below
the breast-bone, and the injured man knew his case was hopeless. He
protested against being moved, and the Indians brought skins for a
softer couch and tried to ease his sufferings where he lay.

The dying man gave little thought to himself. He asked eagerly about the
result of the short battle. He suggested sending to reconnoiter at once
in order to ascertain whence the invaders came and whether there were
more of them. Casimiro told him a small ship lay anchored in the harbor,
but she seemed to be deserted. Then the sufferer advised the removal of
all the gold in the cove to the hiding-place on the opposite side of the
river. He reminded Casimiro of his promise to carry out the agreement
with Brent in case of his own misfortune, and urged the thorough
execution of the original plan as the only safeguard against such
tragedies as they had just witnessed.

Casimiro acquiesced sadly in all the dying man said, and when the end
came rather suddenly at the last, he closed the eyes of his stanch ally
and friend with a grief as deep as he would have felt for any of his own
kindred.

“Tell the lad,” said Fraser just before the end, “that his
responsibility will be greater than mine--greater than I could have
borne--greater than any man bears to-day. I love the lad. He will be
true.”

The struggle to exorcise the curse which the presence of gold meant to
the Patagonians went on more earnestly than ever after this. Some
feeling of rebellion against the heavy labor which the task imposed
quite disappeared after the tragic demonstration of the dangers lurking
in the useless treasure which encumbered their land. The ship in which
the white men had come proved to be quite deserted. The Indians took it
outside the harbor and sank it in the sea. The two or three loads of
gold which had been landed in the little cove were taken to the opposite
bank of the river. All the remaining gold had been brought from Treasure
Valley, safely landed and concealed, and all trace of treasure or
anything else unusual had been removed nearly a month before Brent’s
arrival. Casimiro had simply waited for the hour when he understood
Brent was to appear and then he had presented himself.

Brent gleaned the principal points in this history from Casimiro’s
narration. His grief over his friend’s fate quite destroyed for the time
all interest in the treasure which had been the primary cause of it.
There arose, in fact, a revulsion in his mind against this gold which
for him would always be blood-stained, a sinister and evil treasure. He
talked long with the old man about his dead friend, and Casimiro strove
to satisfy his thirst for knowledge of the man they both had loved with
an affection not less strong than a brother’s.

When Casimiro turned at last to the work still at hand, Brent brought
himself to the subject with the greatest aversion. He explained very
briefly his facilities for shipping the gold, and it was agreed to begin
work on the morrow. It was a comparatively simple task. The position of
the steamship was changed a few rods to facilitate the work, and then
the unloading of the cargo and boxes went on rapidly from day to day.
All the work, except placing the goods upon the floats at the ship’s
side and hoisting the loaded boxes of gold on board, was done by the
Indians. No one from the ship except Brent was allowed to step foot
ashore at the point where the cargo was landed and the mysterious boxes
were reshipped. The crew of the _Richmond_ marveled much at the
extraordinary weight of the small cases when they came back from the
shore. A rumor gained currency among them that the boxes contained
quicksilver ore, and ignorant as the men were of such subjects this
report quite satisfied their curiosity.

On the 3d of October, the _Richmond’s_ cargo was all on board, and
instead of appearing to be in ballast only she sank deep in the water
under the small but heavy load. Brent had a last and affectionate
interview with Casimiro, who seemed to consider that the service was on
Brent’s part and not on his own in carrying away the gold. The young man
arranged for the annual delivery of a cargo of supplies in December
midsummer, and then just at noon, with steam up, the _Richmond_ startled
the echoes and sent terror to the hearts of the Patagonians with a
tremendous blast of her whistle. A few moments later she was under way,
creeping slowly out into the ocean and then turning her prow to the
north.

The steamer’s cargo was so heavy that she was unable to carry a full
supply of coal. She put in again at Rio Janeiro to partially refill her
bunkers. Otherwise the voyage to New York was without stop or unusual
incident. Sandy Hook was sighted on the 2d of November, and the steamer
lay at quarantine that night while Brent went up to the city to arrange
for docking.

The only point which gave the young man any anxiety was the customs
inspection. His cargo was not dutiable, so that he would be guilty of no
fraud upon the government in failing to declare its real nature. He was
also confident that if the arrival of such a vast quantity of gold
should transpire through a custom-house declaration, it would inflict a
great and unnecessary calamity upon the business world. His conscience
felt justified, therefore, in resorting to the same expedient which he
had adopted on landing his small consignment of gold a few months
before. Fortune seemed to favor him, for the same inspector came aboard
who had examined his boxes before. He remembered the occasion, and his
examination this time was almost as superficial as the first.

This ordeal passed and the ship docked near the foot of West Tenth
Street. Brent felt that the worst of his difficulties were over. He
found the vault completed to his satisfaction, and the work of storing
his strange cargo therein was begun at once.



CHAPTER V.

A MOLE-HILL THAT BECAME A MOUNTAIN.


It was five o’clock in the afternoon of Tuesday, the 20th of November,
when the last box of the _Richmond’s_ mysterious cargo was raised to its
place on top of one of the tiers of closely-packed cases in the steel
and granite chamber. Robert Brent watched the rather awkward exertions
of the brawny truckmen as they tugged and pushed the rough box over
small rollers on a long skid which rested against the top of the row.

“We can’t get used to ’em, sir,” remarked one of the men, when they
rested for a moment at the end of their task. “It isn’t the heavy
weight; it’s the small size. If they were solid lead they wouldn’t be
harder to handle.”

“There is a good deal of metal in them,” replied Brent sententiously.

The men went away. Brent followed them to the outer door, locked it on
the inside, and went back to the great vault. He threw himself in sudden
weariness into an old wooden chair the workmen had left, and sat
listless, scarcely thinking. His energy was gone. Body and mind became
suddenly inert. Nerves that for more than a year had been under the
strain of an anxiety and excitement more intense than he himself had
realized, finally relaxed. A sense of unreality in it all overwhelmed
him. It had been a stupendous dream. There was no Valley of Gold down
there at the world’s southernmost outpost. Fraser and his dreadful end
were a horrible nightmare. The dark-skinned, lithe Patagonians were
myths. So was this silent tomb of treasure in which he was sitting. He
would awake presently and find that the last morsel of biscuit and
cheese eaten in the smoking-room of the Victoria last night was
responsible for it all. So strong did the impression grow within him
that he roused himself in quite a panic of fear. He got upon his feet,
walked over to the last high breastwork of gold-laden cases and struck
it smartly. The blow bruised his knuckles, and he was himself again.

“The air must be bad here,” he said to himself, “to give me such a turn.
I’ll have a sharp walk up to Del’s and dine.” And he put his hand into
his pocket for the key to the inner door of the vault.

“Hullo!” he exclaimed suddenly, “I’ve no money.” And then as the
situation dawned upon him he sat down again and laughed. The
predicament amused him immensely. “Six thousand tons of gold and
penniless. It’s just as well that I want to walk up town, for I couldn’t
pay car-fare. Stupid of me to get caught in this fashion. I wonder if
the cashier at Del’s would take a small handful of gold-dust for a
dinner. Be apt to make a sensation, I imagine, if I should put a few
pinches of yellow dust on the plate when the waiter brought the bill. I
must hunt up Wharton and borrow a few dollars.” He put out the electric
light, locked the inner door, closed one by one the other steel
barriers, drew the bolts, turned the dials of the combination locks, and
left the building.

For several days Brent gave himself up to aimless idleness. He admitted
that he needed rest. He was tired from the crown of his head to the
soles of his feet. The unrelenting pressure of his task--a pressure that
he had scarcely felt, so stimulating had been the attending
excitement--was gone, and he yielded to the demand for rest which the
reaction made upon brain and body. He reveled in the freedom from care
and responsibility. The instincts and tastes which he had cultivated in
his European wanderings reasserted themselves. He was half inclined to
seal up his treasure-house and spend the winter amid the luxurious
delights of Nice or southern Italy. He need be in no haste to execute
any of the ideas which had occurred to him for the employment of some
of his wealth. As a matter of fact he had made no plans, and no
comprehensive scheme for the utilization of any considerable portion of
his treasure had suggested itself to his mind. He had allowed various
fancies to run riot in his imagination occasionally since the gold had
come into his possession, but he had given little serious thought to the
subject. The task in hand had been quite enough to absorb any man’s
energies.

Now, however, he sat himself down to consider the opportunities, the
privileges, the responsibilities, the duties, which the situation thrust
upon him. He faced the problem buoyantly, hopefully, and without
anxiety. The facts with which he must deal were without precedent, to be
sure, and of unparalleled importance to the people of his own country
and to all Christendom. He was about to make the greatest contribution
to the world’s wealth, as he regarded it, that humanity had ever
received. Such a gift, if judiciously bestowed, could be naught but a
blessing. There was no room for any sordid motive in deciding how to
employ the bulk of his treasure. He could not conceive of any human
ambition which money could gratify that would call for a tenth part of
the treasure locked in his storehouse. His motives were honest and
generous. He was willing, nay, desirous, to administer his wealth as a
monster trust-fund for the benefit of all humanity.

He reached this determination very early in his deliberations. Then he
began to be puzzled a little. He realized that he could not put any
considerable portion of his treasure to work in the financial or
commercial world without its adding to itself an increment. To invest
it, in the ordinary sense, in enterprises which “didn’t pay” would be
serious folly. It would encourage bad business methods and those who
least deserved it would profit by such a policy. And yet he did not feel
justified in adding to his immense store by accumulations in the shape
of interest or dividends. He could compel the whole industrial and
commercial world to pay tribute to him with his billions. He had no
desire to use such a power.

How could he diminish his fortune year by year without doing violence to
any sound business principle? That was the form in which the problem
soon presented itself to Robert Brent, and he did not find it as easy of
solution as he expected. It was a problem new to human experience. Brent
was very sure that no other man ever was troubled by it. He did not
doubt, however, that his humblest acquaintance would undertake to manage
it for him without the least hesitation.

One escape from his dilemma was obvious and easy. He could leave his
gold where he had buried it, as non-existent to the world as if it had
remained in its native bed. A few millions a year, not enough to disturb
the monetary and commercial conditions of society, might be distributed
in benefactions, while the great mass remained untouched. Brent debated
this policy a long time, and then he rejected it. He turned from it
rather regretfully. He began to understand that any other course
involved tremendous responsibility, grave anxieties, and unremitting
labor. He would have been glad to escape all these. But it was a burden
which he did not quite dare to shirk. He could not have said just why.
He would not have acknowledged a trace of superstition in his instincts,
but a strong conviction possessed him that it was his duty to the world
to make the best use possible of the treasure which he controlled. The
more clearly he realized how gigantic and how difficult was the task,
the more he shrank from it and yet the more convinced he became that he
could not honorably avoid it. To an American mind more than to any
other, perhaps, it was repugnant to think of such a great force lying
idle.

His six thousand tons of gold should become an active factor in shaping
the destinies of men and especially of his own countrymen. Brent became
very determined on that point as soon as he had given it thorough
consideration. But that was as far as he could get for some time. He
could give away many millions. He could advance the cause of education
with a greater impetus than it had ever received. He could promote
science on a larger scale than the world had known. He could endow
charities with a liberality that would minimize suffering throughout the
nation. Ah, but could he? Was it as simple as it seemed at first
thought? Was it possible to accomplish these good things without doing
greater harm? He tried to trace out in a single example the effect of
such a policy.

Suppose he should endow a college with a fund of $20,000,000. According
to all precedent and to every principle of sound finance, that money
must be safely invested, so that it would yield a return of $800,000 or
$1,000,000 a year to pay the expenses of the institution. There was one
fact in connection with the management of his own financial affairs
after he came of age that he remembered very clearly--good investments
are scarce. Stocks, bonds, anything paying a fair return without too
great an element of risk, are hard to find. It would not be difficult
probably to place safely and without appreciable harm to others the sum
of twenty millions. But that was a mere bagatelle compared with nearly
four thousand millions. The investment of such a treasure meant the
overturning of all the world’s standards of value. It would be doing
indirectly what he had determined not to do. It would mean that he
should put the industrial and commercial world under tribute to such
objects, good in themselves perhaps, as he might choose to designate.
Had he the right to assume such a power, and what would he be giving the
world in exchange for such an arbitrary assumption of authority? He
began to doubt if a man who discovered a gold mine, however good his
intentions, was a public benefactor. Perhaps the man who drove a
railroad spike or plowed a field was of greater value to society after
all.

Brent’s meditations from being hopeful became gloomy. His golden burden
threatened to become an incubus not only to himself but to humanity. He
must not keep it, he must not invest it, he must not give it away.

One other consideration added to his difficulties. Above all things he
was resolved to preserve the secret of his riches. Every plan must bend
to that end. He would avoid at any cost the notoriety which public
knowledge of the possession of such wealth would bring him. It would
mean infinite annoyance and even danger. He was absolutely selfish on
this point, and he felt that he had a right to be. This determination
cut him off from counsel and advice which he would have been glad to
seek and of which he knew he stood sadly in need. He knew it would be
necessary to make several partial confidences. No man should know, if he
could prevent it, the whole truth or any large part of it. He was
willing to pose as a man of great wealth in the ordinary sense, but
nobody must suspect him of being a billionaire or even compare his
riches with those of the Astors, the Vanderbilts, or the Goulds.

It was hampered by these restrictions and harassed by the impotent
result of his unaided struggles with his great problem, that Brent began
to study the affairs of the day early in December. Fortunately he
admitted without reserve his ignorance and his incompetence for the task
which he had assumed. His present duty, he wisely decided, was to seek
information. He could do this in books, in newspapers, and in his
character as a wealthy gentleman of leisure among men of business. He
was not hopeful, however, of finding any definite suggestions for the
disposal of the most enormous treasure that had ever been suddenly added
to the world’s banking account.

His first practical step was to provide for turning some small portion
of his store into money. That would be necessary in any event, for
gold-dust and nuggets are not legal tender, and the metal must be in
the form of coin or duly stamped and certified bullion before it will
pass current in the world’s markets. He saw that he must adopt careful
and strict precautions. He must guard not only the secret of his own
connection with this gold, but the fact of the metal’s existence must be
kept from the world. If it became known that such an overwhelming flood
of new-born treasure might at any moment be poured into the ebbing and
flowing tide of human traffic, the consequences would be something quite
beyond the power of the imagination to estimate. Brent did not undertake
to say what would happen.

He remembered that the financial disaster which swallowed up his own
fortune eighteen months before had been caused primarily by the
production of too much silver. It had become impossible to preserve the
proportion of value which the white metal had held to the yellow in
previous history. America had persisted longer in the attempt than any
other country. When she abandoned the task, she suffered the severest
penalties for her efforts. All this was clear in Brent’s mind, and he
feared that the plethora of gold which would be created by the unlocking
of his treasure-house would prove even more disastrous. He meant to
guard against the possible calamity.

He decided to send to the Philadelphia Mint thirty of the boxes from the
steel vault, the equivalent of about $4,500,000, which could be coined
promptly. One hundred boxes more, worth say $15,000,000, he would turn
into bullion at the United States Assay Office in Wall Street. He would
thus be provided with an available capital of nearly $20,000,000, which
would be sufficient probably for his immediate purposes. The greatest
safety against suspicion he decided lay in treating his boxes as
ordinary merchandise. He shipped thirty cases to Philadelphia as
second-class freight. When they arrived there he allowed them to remain
unguarded for a day or two in the railroad freight depot. He employed a
private truckman to deliver them at the Mint.

His request for a private audience with the director of the Mint was
granted at once.

“Have you a few tons of gold about you, this time, Mr. Brent?” was the
official’s greeting after a cordial hand-shake.

“Not in my pockets,” was the young man’s smiling reply, “but my errand
is much the same as the one which brought me here last spring, and I
have the same favor of secrecy to ask of you.”

The director leaned forward in astonishment.

“Do you mean that you are bringing me several more truck-loads of native
gold to be coined?” he asked.

“Well, yes, that’s what it comes to. It isn’t a fabulous amount; rather
more than last time; about fifteen thousand pounds, I should judge.”

The look of amazement settled upon the director’s face. “Fifteen
thousand pounds,” he repeated, “and worth more than $300 a pound, for
that was the purest metal that ever came to the Mint. Close to five
million dollars. Is the new lot like the last?”

“Pretty much the same, I think you will find it.”

“Free gold has seldom been found in such quantities before, Mr. Brent. I
suppose the location of your mine is still a secret?”

“It may as well remain so for it is practically exhausted. I may
possibly bring you more of its products. I don’t know. You’ll be able
once more, I hope, to prevent any annoying rumors about the matter
getting into the newspapers?”

“Oh, I think so. It would not be proper for me to conceal the facts
about so important a transaction from the Department, but I will mention
your wish and I have no doubt the secretary of the treasury will respect
it.”

The usual formalities of weighing and receipts were completed and
arrangements were made for shipping the coin to New York a few days
later. Brent returned home. The difficulties in the way of turning a
larger quantity of native metal into commercial bullion without
connecting his name with such wealth puzzled him for some time. He
considered the feasibility of establishing a private assay office in
which his gold might be cast into bars or ingots which would soon be
recognized as of standard purity in the bullion market. The risks in
such a plan would be too great, he concluded. It involved trusting a
large portion of his secret to too many strangers.

The metal must therefore pass through the government Assay Office and
receive the government stamp. He resolved not to appear in any way in
these transactions. He was compelled to choose an agent. Naturally, he
turned to his chum of college days. He had always found John Wharton
trustworthy. He believed he could trust him now. Wharton was the junior
member of the firm of Strong & Co., brokers in New Street. It was not a
large house or very prominent in big operations in the market, but it
was sound, conservative, and respected. During the few weeks Brent had
spent in New York in the spring and summer, Wharton was one of the few
old friends whom he had sought out, and their intimacy had been in some
degree renewed. The jovial, generous qualities of the college lad had
not disappeared in the keen, energetic man of business, but he was not
in the fast set in the Exchange. He was thoroughly a man of affairs,
genial and popular. Brent credited him with a sound judgment,
conservatism, and reserve capacity which a new acquaintance might not
at once have perceived. He was not deceived. His confidence in Wharton’s
loyalty and ability was well placed.

The day after Brent returned to New York he hunted up his friend and
easily secured his promise to join him that evening in a _tête à tête_
dinner at his Waldorf rooms. It was a jolly meal. Brent was glad enough
to throw off the rather depressing load which his situation was again
putting upon him, and he enjoyed keenly the revival of college
experiences and the budget of anecdotes about the fortunes of mutual
friends which Wharton supplied. It was not until the waiter had cleared
the table of all but the _café noir_ and cigars had disappeared, that
the rather grave air which was becoming habitual to him returned to
Brent’s face. His guest noticed it and presently broke in on him with
frank friendliness:

“Look here, old man, something’s on your mind. Let’s have it. You know
you can command me--advice, sympathy, anything--and the indebtedness
will still be on my side. Which is it, girl or money?” There was a warm
cordiality beneath the playfulness of the young man’s tone which
attested his sincerity.

“You are right, John. I am puzzled about some money, but not in the way
you imagine. Tell me, by the way, what you think of the financial
situation.”

“Business, eh? I’m disappointed. I hoped it was romance. Well, things
are rather in a mess. We haven’t recovered from last year’s smash by any
means. It isn’t a good time to speculate either way. Prospects are too
uncertain. About investments, it’s a question of detail. If I had
certain things I’d sell them. There are a few sound securities that I
believe it would be safe to buy at present prices and lay by. How have
you been hit, Bob?”

“I haven’t been hit. My difficulty is quite of the other sort. I am
going to tell you something of the story, Jack, and then ask your
assistance. I am concerned chiefly in keeping the facts secret, and I
know I can trust you. I have here in New York the product of a very rich
gold mine. This gold is solely my own property and it is for me to
decide what to do with it. How much? Well, I don’t know exactly. There
will be about $5,000,000 to my credit at the Chemical National Bank in a
few days, and--“

“Five millions! And such a fortune makes you sad? I’d like to have a
touch of that sort of melancholy. My congratulations, old man,” and
Wharton seized his friend’s hand enthusiastically.

“But you haven’t heard the worst,” responded Brent, with a not very
mirthful smile. “I have at least four or five times as much more in
native metal which I want to turn into bullion.”

Wharton searched his friend’s face, amazed and then incredulous. “See
here, Bob. Are you joking?” he exclaimed.

“Does this look like it? It is the director of the Mint’s receipt for
fifteen thousand odd pounds of native gold for coining,” and Brent
tossed the slip of paper across the table. Wharton read it and was
silent for a few moments.

“I am clean knocked out, Robert,” he observed presently. “Twenty-five or
thirty millions in gold! That is more cash than the richest man in
America possesses to-day. Where is this mine? Is it still producing? Is
this all or is it to keep on indefinitely? What are you going to do with
this money? It will make you one of the most powerful operators in the
market.”

“I am under obligation not to disclose the secret of the mine and I
admit I have not told you the whole truth about its value, but its
future product will not be worth considering. It is with present
difficulties that I want you to help me. I am fully determined on two
points. I am willing to be known as ordinarily rich, as a millionaire
perhaps, but I mean to escape if it is possible the notoriety that goes
with vast wealth. In gratifying this desire I hope to rely chiefly on
your aid. My other resolve you may think eccentric and foolish, but I am
firm in it also. I have decided not to increase my fortune by
investment, speculation, or in any other way. You will look upon me as a
philanthropic crank, perhaps, but we will discuss that point another
time. My question now is whether you can devote yourself, old fellow,
pretty largely to my interests, quite within the lines of your regular
business and of course under liberal conditions.”

“You have no need to ask that question, Bob. You know very well, or
ought to, that you are making me one of the most flattering offers that
one man could make to another. I accept, and gratefully. You may trust
my fidelity, if not my judgment, and there’s my hand on it,” and the two
clasped hands in the earnest, manly fashion that is a surer pledge than
a man’s bond.

They fell into a discussion of plans for sending a quantity of the gold
through the Assay Office. It was arranged finally that Brent should send
one hundred and twenty-five boxes of the metal to the office of Strong &
Co. Thence it would be transferred in smaller consignments, as fast as
it could be handled, to the Assay Office in Wall Street for smelting.
The transaction was to be in the name of the firm, and secrecy about the
real ownership of the metal was, of course, to be maintained by Strong &
Co. The resulting bullion, they decided, should be sold or used in
whatever financial operations might be undertaken, as rapidly as might
be without creating any serious disturbance in the market.

It was long after midnight when the two men separated. This was only one
of many and frequent consultations between them. Brent learned much in
these talks, but the light which he gained upon the real nature of his
problem was only partial and incidental. Wharton was completely in the
dark as to the size of his friend’s fortune. He naturally supposed that
it did not much exceed the millions which had already been disclosed to
him. His suggestions were most of them, therefore, of little value to
Brent in seeking a channel for the distribution of the golden contents
of his reservoir.

“If your fortune was five or ten times greater,” Wharton remarked one
day, after several millions of the crude gold had already been turned
into bullion, “you might do the public, and yourself too, a great
service by smashing the bear clique that is having things all its own
way in the market.”

Brent seized the point with genuine interest. “Do you think it would be
really a good thing if prices were put up by heavy buying?” he asked.

“Most assuredly I do,” was the reply. “The market has been growing worse
for weeks. Public confidence is so shaken that it is locking up its
money in secret hiding-places again, as it did eighteen months ago.
Pretty soon we shall have another money famine and then the bottom will
go out of the market again. The intrinsic values of securities are not
falling. Earnings and dividends are good. The trouble is not commercial;
it is financial purely. When our financial Moses appears he will set
things right again, but he isn’t in sight yet. It is quite true that
fear of what may be done at Washington, or fear that nothing will be
done, is the chief cause of the distrust which is daily aggravating the
situation. How could it be otherwise than a boon, then, if public
confidence should be strengthened by the introduction of fresh capital
and the consequent advance of prices in the stock market? Why, my dear
fellow, the addition of $100,000,000 in gold to the circulation in this
country would settle in five days the silver question that has been
tormenting us for the last five years.”

Brent pondered a few moments. Then in sudden determination:

“John, I’ll try the experiment. I’m not sure that you are right, but it
sounds reasonable. I will add $100,000,000 in gold to the circulation,
and at the same time I’ll advance prices a few points in the stock
market. You may begin buying for me to-morrow morning. I’ll give you
_carte blanche_.”

Wharton’s amazement was speechless for some time, and Brent, who had
heartily realized the startling nature of the revelation which his
declaration involved, watched his friend in some amusement. There was a
nearer approach to awe in John Wharton’s voice when he finally spoke
than that rather unemotional young man ever manifested before.

“Do you mean to tell me, Robert, that you are able to speak of spending
one hundred millions as easily as another rich man would talk of as many
thousands? How much gold is there, for heaven’s sake, in that storehouse
of yours?”

“I don’t know, John; but I can spare one hundred millions. Can you
invest it for me? I told you, to be sure, that I did not wish my fortune
to earn any increase, and that is still my determination. It seems
necessary, however, to put this sum temporarily into investment
securities, but I think I can devise means for turning the income back
into its former channels without its going to augment my capital. Will
you undertake the commission?”

“It is too great a responsibility,” responded Wharton, still rather
dazed by the other’s announcement. “No, you must not ask me to spend
such a colossal sum according to my own whim. Give me definite orders
and I will execute them.”

“Well, we should go about it carefully, making as little disturbance as
possible and distributing our operations over several weeks or months, I
should say. Suppose we buy twenty-five thousand shares of stock daily
for a time, would that be enough to turn the current?”

“Immediately and effectually, I assure you. Very well, name the stocks
and the amounts and I’ll buy them for you. You have about $16,000,000 in
working capital with us now and it can be increased with the gold still
on hand to fully $25,000,000 within a week. Any more that you may send
us can be changed into bullion as fast as we shall need it.”

They arranged the details of the first two or three days’ operations and
Brent prepared to watch the result of his experiment. When he thought
the matter over alone he was disturbed by many doubts about his plan. He
determined, nevertheless, to carry it out. Only by experiment, he
decided in some discouragement, could the course of wisdom be
discovered.



CHAPTER VI.

THE FATE OF THE WALL STREET BEARS.


When the gong rang in the New York Stock Exchange at ten o’clock one
morning just before the 1894 Christmas holidays, the attendance of
brokers upon the floor was smaller than usual. The signal for beginning
business was not followed by the loud roar of voices which marks the
days of “good business” in Wall Street. “The public” was not there and
hadn’t been there for a long time. The lambs had learned discretion
months ago. Not even “the tails they left behind them” remained to
wrangle over. The practice of financial cannibalism had gone on for so
long in a “traders’ market” that brokers looked forward to the New
Year’s balance sheets with the gloomiest forebodings.

The outlook was so bad that a strong clique apparently had begun
operations a few weeks before for the purpose of hastening and profiting
by the crash which many believed to be inevitable. The bears seemed in a
fair way to accomplish their purpose. Prices, already low, had yielded
easily. The rallies had been few and insignificant. The market was
already blue and even panicky at times. Nobody seemed to think, however,
that the crisis was at hand. For two or three days, the best of the
active stocks, New York Central, Lake Shore, Northwest, Western Union,
and C. B. & Q., had been steadily hammered. They had yielded an average
of two points each and were still weak. The largest groups of brokers
this morning were around the poles where these stocks were dealt in.
Western Union was the most active at the outset. It had closed the night
before at 77¾. It was offered freely just after trading began at 77½ and
then at 77⅜. There was little support, and when one of the sellers
offered 1,000 shares at 77¼, there was some surprise that a little man
who had hurried over from another part of the room should accept the lot
and promptly bid the same price for more. He got 2,500 shares before
offers ceased and then he bid an eighth and a quarter higher still, for
1,000 share lots. He had to offer 78 before he gained 5,000 shares and
then no more were forthcoming.

There were signs of animation around the Western Union pole by this
time, and the nervous young broker bolted over to the Lake Shore and New
York Central crowd. He bid up the price of each of these stocks a full
point, accumulating nearly 8,000 shares by the operation.

Before eleven o’clock the sudden strength of these leading securities
had given a better tone to the whole market. There was heavy buying of
Northwest and C. B. & Q., also, and although the bears renewed the
attack an hour later their stock was taken without any yielding of
prices.

By the time trading closed for the day, the losses of the past week had
been fully recovered, and the bear operators found they had put out
nearly 30,000 shares of stock on a rising market. It was a severe check
to them, and the more so because they were unable to account for the
sudden strength of the lines they were assailing. They did not regard
the situation with the least alarm. Things had been going their way too
long for that. They were “short” more than 100,000 shares. They had
sold, for instance, 30,000 shares of Western Union at from 84 to 79 and
had borrowed the stock to deliver to the purchasers. They could afford
to buy it back at several points higher than the present quotation and
still make a handsome profit. So they determined to put the screws on a
little tighter the next day and break, if possible, the new support
which the market was receiving.

They tried it. They threw out again about 30,000 shares. The result was
that Western Union advanced to 79½ and the other stocks which they
attacked gained from one and a half to two points each. The bear
syndicate was much disturbed. What was this new influence in the market?
What was its motive, when the tendency of the time was toward worse
instead of lesser financial difficulties? How strong was it, and who was
directing it? What alarmed them most was that they found some difficulty
in borrowing the necessary stock which they had sold for delivery. The
buyers, whoever they might be, were taking their purchases out of the
market. This indicated investment rather than speculative buying, or at
all events it gave assurance of heavy capital at command of the bulls.
And then there had been mysterious additions within two or three days to
the New York gold supplies.

There had been almost a gold famine for weeks, the drain from abroad had
been so great, and this fact had more than anything else encouraged the
bear movement which had been undertaken. Within a week, however, nearly
fifteen millions of bullion had been added to the stock in the hands of
New York holders. General attention had not yet been attracted to the
activity at the Assay Office, but the big operators in the market on
both sides knew about it and it puzzled them exceedingly. Within three
or four days after the sudden check came to the bear campaign, the
managers of the syndicate were using their utmost endeavors to discover
the source and extent of this unexpected influx of gold. They had good
reason to be alarmed as well as bewildered. They had not undertaken the
campaign without the most exhaustive study of the whole monetary
situation. They knew almost to a dollar the free gold resources of the
country. They had estimated shrewdly the timidity or distrust which
characterized the general financial public opinion. They possessed
sufficient capital and skill to make their scheme an almost certain
success, if the situation was really what their inquiries indicated it
to be. Whence, then, this unexpected obstacle? They made use of every
source of information which ingenuity could suggest, and then on the
last day of the year they met in the Broad Street Office of the chief
member of the bear pool to decide on their future policy.

It had been another disastrous day for them in the market. Prices had
recovered almost to the point where they had begun operations and yet
they were “short” many thousand shares. Their position was critical and
they knew it. So it was not a sanguine group which gathered about a
large table in the private office of the big operator. They got down to
business at once. First they listened to a statement of the business
done by the syndicate to date. By this it appeared that if all contracts
should be closed at that day’s closing quotations, the net result would
be a loss of just $2,135,225. This was serious, but it was not all. The
pool was still “short,” that is, it had contracted to deliver 195,200
shares of stock. To attempt to buy in this immense block of stock in the
existing state of the market would send prices kiting higher than ever.
It might more than double the losses already incurred. This meant little
less than ruin for more than one of the half-dozen men around the
green-baize table. But they were men of nerve, every one. They were
accustomed to face emergencies boldly, and they proceeded to discuss the
situation with calmness and cool logic.

The grizzle-headed, keen-eyed, energetic man at the head of the table, a
millionaire ten times over, and holding nearly fifty per cent interest
in the pool, first expressed himself in the terse, jerky sentences
characteristic of him:

“It looks bad, gentlemen, very bad indeed, on the face of things. I hope
some of you know who is fighting us. I don’t. General conditions haven’t
changed since we began operations. Everything is going our way. There
hasn’t been any professional buying in the rally of the last week.
Everybody in the market thinks we have made the boom by taking profits.
So nobody suspects that we have been hurt. That’s our safeguard. I
believe we can make another raid without immediate danger of suspicion,
if the chances warrant risking renewed attack. If we can break the
market now there will be nothing to prevent our covering at our own
figures. But can we break it? I can’t get even a decent hint of the
source of the support the market is receiving. We can be sure it is
confined to one source. I don’t believe it is any individual or private
pool. There are none of the marks of any of the big operators. There is
no man in the market able to raise the money, who is fool enough to
fight the current at almost certain loss. I tell you, gentlemen, it has
taken at least fifteen millions in cash to give prices the turn they
have taken in the last ten days.

“Where has it come from? Are the banks supporting the market in order to
stave off a panic? I should know it if they were, but they can’t afford
to do it, and I get nothing but denials from them. Is it a big Treasury
scheme? I don’t believe it. The government wouldn’t dare interfere even
indirectly, and I am sure the Assay Office disbursements are not
Treasury gold. Is there a London pool at work against us? It’s out of
the question. I’ve had the closest inquiries made on the other side, and
my correspondent cables this afternoon that it is impossible.
‘Americans’ were never so unpopular in the English market, and you
couldn’t get the boldest London operator to touch them. I can think of
nothing else. I am completely in the dark, but our salvation depends on
the solution of the mystery. What do you hear, Forbes?” and he turned to
the broker at his left.

“Nothing satisfactory. I agree that it is the new bullion from the Assay
Office that is being used against us, but I am quite unable to trace the
connection. One of our confidential men learned from an Assay Office
clerk to-day that Strong & Co. have been the heaviest dealers in bullion
there recently.

“I can hardly believe it, and if it is true, it doesn’t help us much.
It’s a small house, you know, and very conservative. I haven’t the
slightest idea who would operate through them. I am as much in the dark
as the rest of you about our opponents, but you may depend upon it they
are much stronger than we credit them with being. Their apparent
foolhardiness in risking almost certain ruin is proof of their great
resources. They have spent, we’ll say, fifteen millions in supporting an
almost panic-stricken market in the face of the most discouraging
circumstances. If they are able to do that they have the power to carry
out the rest of the game, whatever it may be. My advice, gentlemen, is
to go slow. It is time to act on the defensive and save what we can.”

“I don’t agree with you,” broke in a sharp-featured, nervous little man
whose agility on the floor of the Exchange was a by-word in Wall Street.
“I tell you it is a desperate game that is being played against us and
we have only to sit tight a little longer to win. Some of the Clearing
House crowd are in it and so are two or three moss-backed old houses
that you would never suspect, but which couldn’t stand up for a day in a
storm. They are loaded up and I predict that they’ll begin to unload
within three days. The minute they do, things will go our way without
our lifting a finger. There’s nobody to buy stocks. Let’s give them a
little more rope. I’ll stand my proportion of 50,000 shares to break the
market day after to-morrow. Once turn the scale and the battle is won.
It would be suicide for us to try to cover now. The least sign of
weakness from us will only encourage them to keep up the fight.”

“Do you see any sign of their ammunition giving out?” asked the
chairman.

“I think there were signs of it in the last half-hour to-day,” replied
the nervous broker. “There was no buying to speak of after two o’clock,
and the market became so heavy that if we had had the courage to throw
in a few thousand-share lots I believe the collapse would have begun
then and there. We should start a selling movement in London before the
New York market opens Wednesday morning and follow it with a sharp raid
all along the line the moment business begins here.”

The discussion became general and animated. Nobody had any real light to
throw upon the nature of the forces opposed to them. All agreed that it
was almost incredible that any secret combination of capital could be
made strong enough to stem successfully the natural flow of the
financial tide which was manifestly toward the sea of liquidation. Only
two courses were open to them. One was to await the discomforture of the
enemy under the overpowering influence of natural laws; the other was to
hasten his downfall by increasing the load which he was trying to carry.
To surrender to an enemy who was probably himself on the point of
retreat was out of the question. One more bold stroke upon which
everything should be staked was the policy finally decided upon. The
details were carefully arranged and the conference came to an end.

The onslaught was made the morning after the New Year’s holiday. It was
a battle royal, quite unlike any of the earlier field days of the Stock
Exchange. A sharp selling movement began the moment the market opened.
Stocks were offered right and left in large blocks. Prices went off at
once, but not seriously. Within a few minutes, when it seemed that the
market must give way under the crash of 1,000 and 5,000 share lots
thrown out like a bombardment by the forces of the syndicate, there was
a determined rally. The decline was checked, and although the buying
party showed no disposition to do more than support the market against
the sudden attack, the danger of a break seemed to be over. But there
was a feverish apprehension in the air. The situation was in the hands
of two great opposing cliques. Outsiders dared not follow the lead of
either party. The issue was too much obscured. The outlook was critical
in the estimation of operators on both sides, and the tendency was to
close short and long contracts alike.

The business of the Exchange amounted to more than 100,000 shares in the
first hour and then there was a brief lull. The bears soon broke it by
opening a fresh attack. It met at first the same stubborn resistance.
Then it became apparent that the Broad Street syndicate was playing a
more desperate game than it had planned. Its members had decided in
hasty conference to stake their fortunes on a final blow. Stocks were
pitched into the market in a reckless and wholesale fashion that almost
matched the scenes of Blue Monday. Prices held up bravely for a few
minutes and then they began to yield. Suddenly the market’s support
disappeared. Western Union dropped half a dozen points in as many
minutes. The wildest excitement seized the Exchange. The smaller
brokers and room traders thought they saw the end of the battle and
rushed in to take advantage of the bear panic. The crash had come. It
was a mad scramble to sell stocks. Fractions did not count in the
frantic rush to unload or sell short. The same stocks sold at two or
three different prices the same moment, so great was the confusion. The
roar of voices, the rushing to and fro, the struggles to get inside the
groups of shouting brokers, made one of those scenes which sometimes
suggest to spectators in the gallery that the New York Stock Exchange is
a madhouse turned loose. Half a dozen standard stocks fell twenty points
within an hour. Specialties and speculative securities were nowhere. The
bottom had dropped out and there was no end in sight.

The creators of the panic had no need to help it on after the break had
fairly begun. The greater part of the decline took place upon a very
small volume of business. One hundred and two hundred share lots carried
prices down more easily than blocks of 5,000 shares had done earlier in
the day. The crisis was desperate, appalling. A few of the governors of
the Exchange consulted hurriedly with the chairman. It was suggested
that business should be suspended for an hour to give an opportunity for
reason to reassert itself. Announcements of failures began to be made,
but none of them were important.

Just as the necessity for extraordinary measures to check the rushing
avalanche became imperative, the situation changed a little. There were
purchasers for securities of considerable amount at lowest prices. The
Broad Street syndicate had begun to take profits, to balance its
account. They were compelled to do this. The market had been fearfully
oversold. They must buy in some of the stock they had contracted to
deliver, for it would be impossible to borrow it. Their purchases
checked the panic more effectually than they hoped would happen. Soon
they were accepting all stocks that were offered, but the amounts were
small. Then they found it necessary to bid fractional advances, but this
did not bring out shares in any considerable quantities. The small
speculators were quick to take the cue and they began “to realize” also,
and they joined in the bidding. A natural reaction set in.

Suddenly an astonishing rumor flew through the Exchange. The Assay
Office had just received a fresh deposit of ten millions in gold. The
Broad Street syndicate was among the first to hear of it. They were
dumfounded. Their brokers used extraordinary efforts to accumulate
stocks without starting a boom. They met with indifferent success.

It was nearly one o’clock and excitement was still high in the
Exchange. The real crisis had come. The brokers who had supported the
market for two weeks past had taken no part in the wild scene of the
last two hours. Most of them had disappeared. Those who were still on
the floor had been talking and listening anxiously at telephones or had
been writing hurried notes and receiving replies from flying messengers.
They did not appear to be men for whom a crash in prices meant ruin, but
nobody paid any attention to them amid the mad whirl of events. Now,
they suddenly became actors again in the drama. They plunged into the
thick of the fight and began bidding up the very stocks in which the
bears were trying to cover. It was no longer a defensive campaign on the
bull side. It was the most terrifically aggressive one that Wall Street
had ever seen. There was no waiting for offers. Bids for shares in any
amount were made at recklessly rapid advances in price. There was a wild
half-hour which marked an epoch in the history of the New York Stock
Exchange. For a few minutes stocks went up point by point, almost as
rapidly as they had fallen two hours before. Everybody was amazed. This
was no taking of profits after a bear raid. It was a forced advance in
which the manipulators of the market squandered fortunes by offering and
paying much higher prices than sellers were willing to accept.

For a time the bear brokers endeavored to keep pace with the movement
and to buy as much stock as possible for delivery at the settling hour,
which was fast approaching. The rush quickly became overwhelming, and
they stopped for a moment in sheer panic and amazement. It was wrong,
perhaps, to accuse them of losing their heads even for an instant,
because no matter how insane a broker’s actions on the floor of the
Exchange may appear to be, he will never admit losing control of
himself. The sudden silence of the bear representatives must be ascribed
therefore to the necessity for seeking fresh instructions from their
principals. Such an emergency as that which had suddenly arisen had not
been provided for. So they rushed to their telephones. The slight delay
was fatal. Within scarcely five minutes, the scramble for stocks sent
prices up ten, twenty, even twenty-five points. The excitement and
confusion were maddening. Men fought with each other to get near the
bargain centers. Hats were smashed, coats torn off, and blows exchanged
in the wild struggle. A broker in one of the largest crowds fell
insensible to the floor. So money-mad were his companions that nobody
gave him a thought beyond thrusting his body unceremoniously out of the
rush, for the attendants to care for.

No accurate record was ever made of the events of the next few minutes.
Some transactions were taken down, many were not. There were sales of
Western Union, for instance, at 70, 80, and 82, at the same moment and
within ten feet of the pole. An hour before this stock had touched 60.
When the brokers of the bear syndicate rushed back into the turmoil,
they were too late to execute any of their new orders. Stocks were
beyond their reach and still bounding higher. Within another twenty
minutes, Western Union was at par and other securities in which the bear
syndicate had been operating were proportionately high. Meantime, the
wildest excitement had been transferred to “the loan crowd.”[A] The
demand for stocks from the now panic-stricken “short interest” soon
became frantic. It was plain that the market had been badly oversold.
Exorbitant rates were soon demanded for the loan of shares. The
suspicion quickly arose that certain stocks had been genuinely
cornered. The furious buying throughout the market continued and it was
plain that every share purchased would be taken out of the Street.
Lenders were prompt to take advantage of the situation. They demanded
first a point a day, then two points, and finally as high as five points
($5 per share per day) for the use of certain stocks. This was an
impossible rate. It meant what soon proved to be the case, that there
was no more of certain stocks available in the loan market. The
consequence to all who were still short of the cornered securities was
disastrous. They must purchase the necessary stocks for fulfilling their
contracts in the open market at no matter what exorbitant price, or take
refuge in insolvency.

The threatened calamity added to the excitement throughout the Exchange
until a mad panic raged. Failures were announced in rapid succession.
Big operators and important houses were among those suddenly swept upon
the rocks of bankruptcy. The scene grew worse until chaos reigned. Human
nature could not endure such a strain. It was again apparent, as it had
been in the morning, that extraordinary emergencies demanded
extraordinary measures. The suspension of business called for to check a
bear panic two hours earlier was resorted to now in order to check a
bull panic. The chairman of the Exchange ordered a half-hour’s recess.
The storm gradually subsided. The tension relaxed. Men who had grown
haggard and prematurely old within the hour began to reason again. They
were like soldiers after a desperate charge and hand-to-hand battle.
They wiped their brows, dazed at first and unrealizing. Then they began
to take account of their financial wounds and still threatening dangers.
No one knew what it all meant or what the outcome would be. The
situation was unprecedented and mysterious. The bears were completely
routed. That much was clear. But would the bulls make terms with their
victims or would they despoil them of all they possessed?

The brief respite had but half expired when the market received a fresh
surprise and one which nobody was able to account for. It was announced
that the principal buyers who were now in control of the market had
agreed to compromise with such sellers as were unable to meet their
contracts on a basis of about twenty per cent advance above the
morning’s opening prices. These terms were severe but they were
amazingly generous in view of the fact that it was within the power of
the bulls to put the prices of cornered stocks at any figure they saw
fit. There was little done in the way of fresh trading during the few
minutes that remained of the session when the recess had expired. No one
dared oppose or knew how to follow the mysterious controlling power of
the market. It was recognized, of course, that the corner in stocks
could be but temporary and that it was only its startling suddenness
that made it successful. The next day it would be broken by the opening
of strong boxes which were beyond reach in time to avail of the
unexpected situation. The bear syndicate and those who had been rash
enough to follow it were the only victims of the most remarkable day’s
operations Wall Street had ever seen.

The opening of the Exchange the next morning was awaited with the
keenest anxiety. Most bankers and financial men, the newspapers as well,
were of the opinion that the previous day’s operations had been a
wonderfully skilful _coup de main_ by a bold and strong combination
which nobody pretended to identify. It was a great fluke or flurry which
was quite passed and a sharp fall in prices would be the natural sequel.

It was evident the moment the session opened that there was plenty of
long or investment stock which was yesterday out of reach, now in hand
ready to take advantage of all that was left of the boom. The morning
news from London was that Americans were almost utterly neglected in
that market. London had not been included in the deal and was waiting
for New York to set the pace. Offers of stocks at prices quoted during
the greatest excitement the previous afternoon brought no response.
There was a rapid decline until the level of the compromise made by the
victors of yesterday was reached. Everybody became fearful of another
crash. No sooner, however, did a panicky feeling begin to manifest
itself than the same stalwart support came into the market. Its brokers
were compelled to take large blocks of shares, but there was no
hesitation or yielding, and the rush was soon over. Before the day’s
business was finished quotations averaged almost exactly in line with
the terms of the already famous settlement, and the great crisis was
ended.

The new year was only a few days old when a complete transformation
seemed to have taken place in the financial world. But the cause was too
much a mystery for anybody to have great faith in the permanence of the
new order of things. The newspapers said that the disbursement of
January dividends had maintained the boom. Careful observers of the
market saw no evidence of the small and widely distributed buying which
comes from such a source. The investing public had been too badly scared
these many months to be tempted back so easily. Besides, everybody knows
that careful, thrifty, conservative savers of money invest their
hoardings in only the very best securities, and at times when a booming
market demands inflated prices. Such is the value of that intangible but
very real commodity, “public confidence.” Englishmen maintain the
broadest margin to be found anywhere between investment and speculation.
It has come to be almost literally true that there is scarcely any
market in London for securities yielding between four and seven per cent
income on the market price. A six per cent stock or bond is far too
risky for prudent investors, while the temptation is not sufficiently
attractive to the speculator. Possible great rewards must be offered to
induce John Bull to venture his capital in anything less sound than his
consols; but when he does gamble he is as reckless as the rest. The same
tendency is growing stronger in America. The zone is broadening between
investment and gambling in the stock market. When the public speculates
it is always for a rise. Usually the “professional trader” and the “big
operator” who have foreseen all the conditions which were likely to
stimulate the tender courage of the gentle public, are ready to gratify
its sudden desire to pay 100 cents for what had been offered it in vain
at 50 cents a few weeks before.

But this common phenomenon was not taking place in January, 1895.
Gullible as the poor lambs usually are, it is necessary to allow their
fickle memories to forget before seeking to victimize them by a
repetition of a stale trick. A steady, persistent advance in prices went
on during the early days of the new year without any of the usual
accompanying conditions of “improved trade,” “better commercial
prospects,” “signs of a great business revival,” “sound state of the
banks and national Treasury.” The usual crop of sanguine interviews with
“leading business men” which appears in the newspapers every New Year’s
Day had been dubiously small and weak. In fact, Wall Street had none of
the common bait with which it allures old and new victims. Whence, then,
came the sudden strength which had supplanted the almost unerring
symptoms of pending collapse?



CHAPTER VII.

STRANGE EVENTS IN THE FINANCIAL WORLD.


The history of the financial world for the next two months was peculiar.
The markets of London and of all Europe were affected by the strange
conditions which developed in America. Prices of all classes of
securities continued abnormally high. There had been some advance above
the figures at which settlements had been made on that memorable 2d of
January. Sound dividend paying stocks commanded prices which yielded on
the average less than four per cent to the investor. No commercial or
industrial depression, no bad news from any quarter, no offerings by
holders of stock anxious to unload, had any effect upon Wall Street
quotations. But the market was by no means a healthy one. Speculation
had almost ceased--perhaps a good thing in itself, but the reason for it
had no virtuous significance. Even speculators will not play a game they
know they do not understand, and nobody understood the great game which
an unknown power was playing quite in its own way in the stock market.
There seemed to be no limit to its resources. Careful observers of its
operations in the Exchange estimated that it had expended fully
$125,000,000 in cash within two months.

Who was this new master of millions, this incognito king of finance? He
must be some new-come conqueror. Of that everybody was convinced. All
the veteran gladiators of the stock arena had one after another been
suspected, but had declared their innocence and had proved it. They were
as much in the dark as everybody else.

Even Congress had shown some disposition to search the mystery. A
booming stock market is usually considered the best proof of “good
times” and general prosperity, but discordant voices raised here and
there suggested that it was not altogether an unmixed blessing. So a
drag-net inquiry was proposed at Washington, and it probably would have
been ordered had not the day of adjournment been so near. The point most
dwelt upon in Washington, and in financial circles too, was the
marvelous increase in the country’s supply of gold bullion. Fully ten
millions per week of what was described as new or foreign gold had
passed through the New York Assay Office. The announcement had just been
received that a single deposit of nearly $25,000,000 had been made
within a few days. This movement of the precious metal nobody had been
able to account for. There had been no importations in the ordinary
way. On the contrary, the flow of gold had been in a steady though not
large stream out of the country, for the most part to London. The news
of the last large deposit had led the House of Representatives to ask
information upon the subject from the secretary of the treasury. The
answer had been that the recent unusual deposits had all been made by a
single firm of brokers in New York, but the government did not know who
the brokers were acting for or whence the gold came.

The subject was discussed for some hours, with more or less wisdom, in
both branches of Congress. Naturally it revived the by no means buried
silver question. An increase of fully twenty-five per cent in the
country’s supply of gold, the silver advocates argued, should be
followed by a proportionate addition to the monetary use of the despised
white metal. The mints were working at fullest capacity turning gold
into coin under the Free Coinage of Gold Act. Surely a country with such
a plethora of gold, in spite of the croakings of the monometallists less
than a year ago, could afford to admit some silver to the mints to take
its chance with the more valuable metal.

This special pleading had no influence upon the supporters of “sound
money” theories. It was solely because silver had finally been
demonetized, they pointed out, that the country was able to retain its
increasing supply of gold from whatever source it had come. The great
increase of the precious metal was not in the government Treasury, but
in private hands. It did not strengthen the government credit, which
would be ruined if it should open its mints to silver.

Nobody was quite able to demonstrate clearly even to his own
satisfaction that either side was entirely right or altogether wrong. So
the arguing convinced no one, and nothing came of it. Congress adjourned
on the 4th of March without meddling seriously with a matter which it
did not understand.

The enigma was not one which the financial world could dismiss or
ignore. It bore too vitally upon the welfare of the country. One hundred
and twenty-five million dollars in cash from nobody knew where had
completely changed the financial situation in two short months. It had
been an amazing demonstration of the superior power of actual money over
any other form of wealth.

The investment of this $125,000,000 had really increased the quoted
market value of stocks and bonds dealt in on the New York Stock Exchange
by an aggregate of fully $500,000,000. Western Union, for instance, had
sold in December below 80; now it commanded 115. The capital of Western
Union is $100,000,000. The advance in price of this stock therefore
represented an increased market value of no less than $35,000,000. But
it had required the purchase of very much less than $35,000,000 worth of
the stock to effect this advance in price. Many stocks and bonds which
had not been touched by the brokers who had managed the bull movement
had risen materially merely from sympathy with the rest of the market.

The situation, however, was not sound or satisfactory from any point of
view. The market was not self-sustaining. It required continued heavy
purchases to maintain the abnormally high range of prices. If this
mysterious support should be withdrawn a sharp collapse would be
inevitable. Sensible financiers recognized this fact and conservative
opinion was momentarily in fear of disaster. This feeling was so
widespread that it paralyzed ordinary financial affairs. Naturally it
led to such a general unloading of all manner of securities by
investment holders that it did not seem possible in the estimation of
competent judges that the tremendous burden could be borne much longer.

On the other hand, money became very cheap--on good security. This was
an advantage in the commercial world, and a considerable revival of
business set in. If the boom in Wall Street and easy money could be
maintained for some weeks or months longer, perhaps the country’s
general prosperity would warrant the inflation of prices that had taken
place under such strange circumstances. But nobody believed it could be
maintained, and so it was pointed out that if a collapse must come, the
sooner the paralyzing uncertainty was ended the better.

This opinion was very widely held in the early days of March, and it was
justified by all visible conditions. The unloading of stocks by
investment holders had been heavier than ever for a week or two. The
market had been peculiarly irregular for a few days. Stocks that were
systematically supported held their own steadily, no matter how freely
they were offered by investment holders. But others equally good sagged
in price. The influence of sympathy was not strong enough to keep the
whole market at a steady level, in face of the prevailing public
opinion. So there arose for a time the anomaly of quotations for stocks
of known superior intrinsic value at fifteen or twenty per cent lower
prices than others of lesser worth. This was abundant proof of the
unnatural and threatening condition of affairs. What nonplussed banking
men more than anything else was the fact that none of the great
quantities of securities which were being taken out of the market were
being used, as far as they could ascertain, as collateral for loans. It
is usually the case, when an important bull movement in stocks is
attempted, that the operators borrow of the banks large sums with which
to continue their operations, using the stocks as fast as they are
purchased as security for the loans. It was almost incredible that this
greatest of bull campaigns could be carried on without resorting to this
expedient. It must be, the New York bank men said, that loans were being
made in Europe and in other American cities instead of in the
metropolis.

But the real mystery was still the enormous deposits of gold made at the
New York Assay Office. The reports of these deposits were now watched
with greater interest and curiosity than any item of financial news.
They increased rather than diminished from week to week. It was noticed
that there was a close relation between the amount of these deposits and
the pressure to sell stocks in Wall Street. The average weekly deposit
of $10,000,000 for the past two months suddenly increased to $25,000,000
the first week in March. The following week the same enormous sum was
paid in. It was this fact more than the impregnable defense in the Stock
Exchange, which confounded the wiseacres of finance more than ever. They
began to waver in their gloomy forebodings. They sought again by every
means in their power to penetrate the mystery.

The newspapers tried it too, and some of the solutions which they
offered were amusing and absurd. One enterprising sheet asserted that it
had discovered a plot by the Chinese government to revenge itself for
the anti-Chinese legislation during the last two or three years in the
United States by getting control of the principal railroads and
telegraphs of the country, with a view to dictating a change of policy
or possibly in preparation for a sudden invasion. Another was confident
that the Standard Oil millionaires had undertaken a vast scheme in
finance. The story which obtained greatest credence, perhaps, was one
which credited a great English syndicate having the Bank of England at
its back with a plan for investing some of the millions which had been
saved from Argentina and South Africa in really sound “Americans.” There
were many speculations about the strength and scope of this syndicate.
It was explained that all the gold which made its appearance in the
Assay Office was shipped secretly from England, and that the flow of
gold from America to London was permitted to take place merely as a
blind.

It had come to be pretty generally understood that the enormous gold
deposits were being made at the Assay Office by Strong & Co. Of course
they were only agents. The newspapers tried direct inquiry at first, and
they obtained only polite refusals of information. Indirect attempts to
learn the secret were as futile. One enterprising journal set a watch
for several days upon the firm’s office. At last they made a discovery.
A new covered wagon, heavily built and drawn by a pair of powerful
horses, drove up to Strong & Co.’s office just before ten o’clock one
morning. The team was quickly backed up to the door and a pair of skids
was run out. Two men who were with the driver went inside the office. A
few moments later they reappeared, one of them pushing an ordinary
railway baggage truck upon which was a small wooden box, apparently very
heavy. This was deposited at the bottom of the skid. Then both men, big
muscular fellows, pushed and tugged it up the incline into the wagon.
Twenty such boxes were brought out and loaded in the same way. Then the
three men jumped on the team and drove off, with a knee-nosed reporter
in full chase.

The team went by a rather circuitous route to the Assay Office, where
the boxes were unloaded and taken inside. The wagon returned to Strong &
Co.’s, received another load, and delivered it also at the Assay Office.

Meantime, the energetic reporter had communicated with his office, and a
member of the artist staff armed with a kodak had been sent to his
assistance. When the wagon was being loaded the second time, one of the
mysterious boxes was quickly sketched by the half-concealed penciler
and a snap-shot was taken at the team and the teamsters. On leaving the
Assay Office the second time the wagon started up town at a rapid trot.
The reporter was quite prepared for this move. He jumped into a cab
which had waited for him around the corner in Nassau Street and he
easily kept the heavy team in sight. Before reaching City Hall Park, two
of the men jumped off and disappeared down a side street. The reporter
would have liked to follow them, but it seemed more important to keep on
after the team. The driver continued north through the Bowery and Third
Avenue to East Seventeenth Street. Then he turned east for a couple of
blocks and suddenly drove through an open gate into what seemed to be a
small private stable. The high board gate was closed as soon as the team
entered.

The reporter dismissed his cab and reconnoitered. The team apparently
did not belong to a public truckman; for that matter it bore no name or
number according to city requirement, and there was no business
announcement upon the stable entrance or the adjoining house. There was
nothing to be learned by observation, so the newspaper man resolved on a
bold stroke. Going to the stable gate, he tried to push it open, and
then knocked loudly. He got no response. He repeated the summons two or
three times without result. Then he went to the adjoining house and
rang the bell. The door was opened presently by a young girl.

“Will you please tell your father that a gentleman from Strong & Co.’s
office would like to see him?” remarked the young man in his most urbane
manner.

“Yes, sir. Will you walk in?” said the child.

The young man congratulated himself and took a seat in the reception
room. Presently the driver of the wagon, looking like a well-to-do man
of affairs and not like a truckman, came into the room. He looked at his
caller sharply, saying,

“You come from Strong & Co.?”

“Yes, I am not in their office, but I was just too late to see you this
morning,” responded the caller with the most business-like air he could
assume. “I wanted to see you about the transfer of some bullion--similar
work to that which you are doing for Strong & Co.”

“Oh, no, you don’t, young man,” interrupted the other in cold sarcasm as
he opened the door. “You were not sent here by Strong & Co., and you
don’t want any bullion moved. You are either a newspaper reporter or you
are trying to pry into Strong & Co.’s affairs for some Wall Street
concern. Good morning,” and the big man made a suggestive motion toward
the front door.

The other hesitated a moment, then he wisely abandoned his ruse. “Well,
I admit it,” he replied, smiling feebly. “I am a newspaper man and I
must learn all I can for the ---- about Strong & Co.’s supply of bullion.
I saw you carry two wagonloads of gold from their office to the Assay
Office this morning and I followed you here. Now, I hope you won’t send
me away quite as ignorant as I came.”

The big man allowed his resentment to disappear. He even grinned a
little as he said, “That’s right; don’t lie when it won’t do any good.
You’ve discovered quite enough already, and I haven’t a word to tell
you.”

“At least you will give me your name?”

“Oh, you’re quite welcome to that. My name is John Holmes. Now you must
excuse me. Good morning.”

But the failure of the interview did not prevent the ---- from having a
big story about the great gold mystery next morning. It was a highly
embellished yarn told with all the emphasis of double leads and a “scare
head.” “The Gold Bugs Discovered” was the black line at the head of the
article on the first page, and a two-column picture of “the mysterious
wagon loaded with five tons of gold” was a prominent feature of the
story. The plain wooden box which the men were struggling to put into
the rear of the wagon was reproduced as graphically as possible. There
was a picture also of the modest dwelling and stable entrance in East
Seventeenth Street, but the reporter’s interview with Driver John Holmes
was not faithfully described. And the ---- newspaper praised itself
fulsomely for having been “the first to discover the true though only
partial solution of the great gold mystery which was paralyzing the
financial world.”

The next day the same journal established a fresh surveillance not only
over Strong & Co.’s banking house but over the Assay Office and the East
Seventeenth Street stable. But the heavy covered wagon and the powerful
chestnut horses were seen no more either in East Seventeenth Street, at
Strong & Co.’s, or at the Assay Office. The enormous deposits of gold
continued, however, at regular intervals. Several wagons carried loads
of bullion to or from the Assay Office nearly every day, and the
watchers were unable to identify the ones which brought the big gold
deposits.

The mystery grew deeper than ever. It baffled newspapers and financiers
alike. It became an important factor in the banking houses of London and
in the continental bourses. The governors of the Bank of England
discussed it with only less interest than the Clearing House Committee
of the New York banks. Meantime, stocks continued to be bought and
sold. The great selling movement of early March gradually ceased. It was
estimated that the supporters of the market had been compelled to expend
at least $75,000,000 during the first half of the month in order to
maintain prices at the prevailing high level. The market did sag a
little sometimes, but there was never anything like a break. The
conservative fears of a collapse began to subside. A power strong enough
to accomplish what had already been done, it was argued, could maintain
the present condition of the market without the expenditure of another
dollar. It had only to borrow money on the securities it had already
accumulated in order to keep control of the market as long as it liked.
Furthermore, money was plenty and cheap. That it was new money was
proved by the fact that gold coin was coming rapidly into circulation in
the Eastern States. Gold was being sent to the mints faster than it
could be coined. The export of a few millions in bullion occasionally,
seemed to have no effect upon the mysterious supply.

The people who complained were those having money to invest. Those who
had sold at a good profit stocks and bonds which they had held for a
long time as investments had no right to grumble. But those who wished
to invest their savings had a more genuine grievance. Three months
before they might have bought safe properties at thirty per cent below
present figures. Then their money would have earned six or seven per
cent. Now it would scarcely yield four, with the prospect of a
substantial shrinkage of the principal as soon as conditions changed, as
change they must, in almost everybody’s opinion.

Even though the danger of disaster seemed to have diminished, the
conviction was strong in the minds of sound financiers that the
financial status was still unhealthy, inasmuch as it was not controlled
by natural laws. The financial fate of America for the moment was in the
keeping of a single despotic will. As long as this remained true there
was no safety. It was useless apparently to complain or rebel.

This feature of the situation was not much discussed in public, but it
was the subject of many long private conferences among financial leaders
in New York. It was to them an octopus which threatened the very life of
trade. Private attempts to learn something about the identity,
resources, and intentions of the unknown dictator had all failed, and
yet it was felt that some information on these points was essential to
genuine business prosperity. This necessity was so great in the
estimation of the presidents of the principal banks that they finally
resolved upon a bold but straightforward course for solving some of
their doubts. They decided to ask the master of these new golden
millions, through his only known agent, for certain assurances
regarding his future plans.

The matter took shape in this way: The secretary of the treasury was
asked to come to New York and attend a conference of the members of the
Clearing House Committee of the New York banks and two or three private
bankers of New York and Philadelphia. He agreed to come. Then a polite
request was sent to Messrs. Strong & Co., inviting them to send a
representative to the same meeting.

Fifteen men sat in the big leather chairs in the directors’ room of a
Wall Street bank at noon on the 21st of March, in response to the above
call. John Wharton, the junior partner of a house but little known in
the financial world a few weeks before, looked somewhat out of place
among the grave and dignified masters of finance who represented as well
as any equal number of men could the monetary interests of the nation.
But it might have been noticed that the young man was greeted with as
much respect and cordiality by every one present as was the almost
white-haired secretary of the treasury himself.

No time was wasted in ceremony or purposeless talk. Wharton had been a
bit late. When he had been made acquainted with such of the company as
he did not know, and two or three others had come in, the chairman of
the Clearing House Committee briefly stated the object of the meeting.

“We find ourselves confronted,” he said, “by a peculiar condition of
monetary affairs and of the circulating medium. We have had for the past
few weeks industrial depression and widespread commercial disaster
throughout the country, coupled with a buoyant stock market and a
rapidly increasing supply of money. This unnatural situation has come
about by means quite unprecedented in our financial history. It is a
situation so important in all its bearings upon the material welfare of
the whole country that it demands our most earnest consideration. The
Clearing House Committee of the New York banks believes it is imperative
to prepare some general policy for meeting the crisis which the present
anomalous condition threatens. So we have invited you, Mr. Secretary,
and you, gentlemen, to meet us here for an informal consultation. We
thank you for coming and we hope you will contribute freely of your
advice and knowledge. May we hear from you first, Mr. Secretary?”

There had been hardly a hint in the chairman’s brief remarks of the real
object of the meeting, but that was scarcely to be expected. Every one
waited with interest for what the secretary of the treasury might say.
Drawing a memorandum slip from his pocket, that gentleman responded:

“I quite agree with your chairman that the financial phenomena which now
absorb the attention of the entire country demand of the managers and
students of our monetary system the most careful examination. I thank
you for the privilege of meeting you for that purpose. No facts or
figures need be quoted to prove the depression which has ruled for
months in industrial and commercial circles. With that side of the
question we are powerless to deal directly. We must confine ourselves
more exclusively to the financial phase of the subject. There we have a
strange paradox. You know what has taken place in the stock market. The
increase in the quoted market value of bonds and shares listed in the
New York Stock Exchange since the middle of December amounts to fully
$2,000,000,000. The changes in the circulating medium have been even
more surprising. There has been deposited in the government Assay Office
in this city for smelting into standard bullion during the past three
months no less a sum than $211,000,000. This, as you all know, is
something altogether unprecedented. I think I am justified in saying at
a private meeting called for this purpose that nearly $200,000,000 of
this gold was deposited by a single firm. The work of the mints is just
as significant. The amount of gold offered for coinage under the Free
Coinage Act during the same period has exceeded $170,000,000. Three
months ago the amount of gold in actual circulation in the country was
$474,000,000; now it has risen, or it will as soon as the mints have
finished the task imposed, to $644,000,000. This means an increase in
the total circulating medium of fully ten per cent, or nearly three
dollars per capita.

“No such radical change can be made in the currency without seriously
disturbing the conditions of trade. I admit that the country is to be
congratulated upon the enormous addition suddenly made to its wealth,
but it has come too rapidly. There is such a thing as too much gold,
just as we have found that there can be too much silver. It cannot be
assimilated at such a rate. Values outside of the stock market are
showing signs of disturbance. A plethora of money, whether in gold or
any other form, must invariably bring enhancement of prices. We have
seen it in the stock market; we are beginning to see it in other lines.
When it begins to affect standard commodities--the necessaries of
life--we shall have a serious state of affairs. The people are hard
pushed already. Times are very bad in the ordinary sense. None of this
new money is going into the pockets of the masses. It will be no less
than a calamity, therefore, if the cost of living is suddenly and
unnaturally increased at such a moment.

“Pardon me for dwelling upon what may be regarded as the philanthropic
side of the question, but in my opinion it is the most important side.
To return to the chairman’s suggestion, I agree that the uncertainty of
the present situation is its most demoralizing feature. We do not know
whence comes this sudden flood of gold; we are ignorant of what still
lies at its source. Naturally we are inclined to believe it must be
almost exhausted, because no such treasure was ever known to exist in
single hands before. But in my opinion it would be very hasty to come to
that conclusion. The hand that can pour so vast a sum into the channels
of commerce in three short months is not likely to have exhausted its
resources. But the great desideratum now is stability and confidence.
These can come only of knowledge. A power as great as we know this to be
can afford to give us that knowledge, unless its designs are evil. Nay,
more, I affirm it solemnly, it is a humane and patriotic duty upon us to
remove if possible the unnecessary incubus of uncertainty which is
killing trade. This is a matter in which the government is unfortunately
powerless to assist. But I do not believe that the man or men in
possession of a treasure apparently greater than any ever before in
individual control will turn it into an instrument of evil and
oppression.”

There was no mistaking the bearing and object of the secretary’s
remarks, although he had made no personal application of them. The
representative of Strong & Co. seemed to be a bit uncomfortable when the
custodian of the national Treasury had finished, but he did not attempt
to break the somewhat embarrassing pause which followed. The silence was
allowed to continue but a moment or two. The president of one of the
largest down-town banks, a man of genial, energetic, offhand manner, set
forth the real object of the meeting in a few terse, pointed sentences.

“I think, gentlemen,” he began briskly, in tones of easy good
fellowship, “that we should come to the point at once and deal with it
frankly and openly. I have no doubt we all share the sentiments which
the secretary of the treasury has expressed. Most of us will agree that
he has not exaggerated the importance of securing at least a partial
solution of the prevailing gold mystery. We have invited here the only
man, as far as we know, who has the key to that mystery. We have no
intention of asking him to betray confidences or to disclose
professional secrets. We have done an unprecedented thing in asking him
to come here under such peculiar circumstances. I trust he will credit
us with purity of motive. What we desire is simply this--that he will
lay before his principal the views which the secretary of the treasury
has expressed, and which I assume we all share, and that he will ask him
if he will not give us some assurance which will enable us to manage the
vast financial interests intrusted to us on a sound basis. Our request
is an unusual one, unjustified, perhaps, according to ordinary business
ethics, and one which our unknown friend has a perfect right to refuse.
But we base it on something broader than the sordid motives of trade,
and I hope it will be received in the spirit in which it is sent. I hope
we may hear from Mr. Wharton.”

Every one turned to the youngest man present, and the chairman cordially
indorsed the invitation just given. John Wharton addressed the assembled
magnates of finance rather diffidently. Each one of them was his senior
by many years. Most of them were men of world-wide reputation. He had
never been placed in a position which made so severe a test of his tact
and discretion. But he was quite equal to the situation. He had little
to say, and he said it to the point, and with evident sincerity.

“I will not pretend, gentlemen,” he responded, “that the firm of Strong
& Co. did not surmise the probable object of this conference. Your
request shall be faithfully transmitted to those for whom we have been
acting in the important transactions of the last three months. I am
here to give you the strongest assurance which words of mine can convey
of the absolute good faith and purity of motive back of those
transactions.”

The young man spoke with such emphasis and evident candor that his words
carried conviction even to these hard-headed and naturally suspicious
men of affairs. They interrupted him with hearty applause and
exclamations of satisfaction.

“I am authorized to say further,” he went on, “that any suggestions or
requests which you may make, far from being resented, will be received
with the utmost respect and with a sincere desire to conserve the best
welfare of the country.”

Again the men who were listening now with eager interest interrupted the
young speaker with applause.

“These general assurances are about all that I am able to give you at
this time. Upon three points I am compelled to be reticent--the source
of this gold, its total amount, and the identity of its owner or owners.
Regarding the first and second, I am as ignorant as you are. Your
request for information about further additions to the bullion
supply--for that is what the question amounts to--I, personally, do not
consider unreasonable. I will deliver it at once to my principals and
you shall have the answer promptly.”

“How soon will it probably be ready?” asked the chairman.

“I know of no reason why you should not have it to-morrow.”

“Why should we not discuss it at a quiet dinner at the Waldorf to-morrow
night?” suggested the chairman.

“I must return to Washington by the midnight train to-night,
unfortunately,” observed the secretary of the treasury. “Let me say
right here that I accept Mr. Wharton’s assurances in the fullest sense.
What he has already said has relieved me of a great anxiety, and I want
to express to him my hearty thanks for the commendable spirit which he
and those he represents show in a matter of vital importance to the
nation.” The words were uttered with a warm sincerity which manifestly
voiced the spirit of all in the room.

“We all join unreservedly in that sentiment,” was the cordial
indorsement of the chairman.

“If haste is important,” Wharton interrupted, “there is no reason why I
should not be able to communicate the reply to you this evening.”

“Just the thing,” responded two or three. “Let us have the dinner
to-night. If the answer is ready, well and good. If not, we can meet
again to-morrow.” And so it was arranged.

The party met again at seven o’ clock that evening in one of the finest
private dining-rooms of the most sumptuous of modern hotels. It was not
the serious gathering of the morning. Millionaires and other magnates
are much like other men. Finance was the one subject tabooed while the
dinner was before them, Wharton was rather surprised to find that no
delicate attempts to sound his secret knowledge were made by any one.
Beyond asking him if he had received a reply to the morning request, no
word was said about the matter which most concerned all present until
the dinner was finished and the last waiter had closed the door behind
him. Then, while the fumes of the best tobacco began to fill the air,
the general conversation flagged, and the company turned expectantly
toward the head of the table where sat the chairman of the bank
committee with the secretary of the treasury at his right and John
Wharton at his left.

“There are to be no formalities, gentlemen,” remarked the president
pleasantly. “We are all anxious to hear Mr. Wharton’s message, and I
will ask him to present it to us, if he is willing, without further
delay.”

“Gentlemen, I am glad to bring you a response which I hope will be
satisfactory,” responded Wharton. “As it is a matter of considerable
importance, I have brought it in writing, and with your permission I
will read it to you.”

There was silent assent, and Wharton read as follows:

“We have received the request preferred by you through Mr. Wharton, and
also his report of the views expressed at this morning’s conference. We
are in heartiest accord with all that was said at that meeting. We
affirm again what Mr. Wharton there said in our behalf--that it is our
sincere desire to promote in every way in our power the best welfare of
the financial, commercial, and industrial world. We recognize completely
the vital importance of coöperation to that end, and we accept
thankfully the implied offer which the sentiments expressed this morning
convey.

“Three months ago the country seemed to be on the verge of great
financial and other economic disasters. It appeared to us to be a wise
thing to ward off the blow by using a large quantity of gold then in our
hands to support the general market for stocks and bonds. It also seemed
desirable in our judgment to encourage trade by adding liberally to the
current supply of ready money. A free purchase of securities was the
only feasible way to accomplish this end. The result has been a very
substantial rise in prices. We realize as keenly as anybody can do that
a return of public confidence is still essential to a sound and healthy
improvement of general trade. We cannot supply that lack. It is more in
your power to do so than in ours. We have no doubt you will gladly
undertake this duty, provided you are convinced of the honesty of our
intentions in pending transactions, and of our ability to execute any
policy we may adopt.

“There are difficulties in the way of proving our good faith and
demonstrating the further strength of our resources, but we hope they
are not insuperable. The greatest obstacle lies in the fact that, for
personal and other good reasons, we wish to escape the notoriety that
attaches to great wealth. This makes it necessary to conceal also the
source of that wealth and its exact amount. Reserving these points, we
are ready to coöperate heartily in the best policy the situation may
demand. It seems to us advisable, for the present at least, to continue
the support of the market on about the existing basis. We shall be glad
to receive your advice upon this point. To demonstrate our ability to
maintain prices, we will deposit at the government Assay Office within
the coming week additional gold to the value of one hundred millions of
dollars. We note especially the warning of the secretary of the treasury
against the dangers of a too rapid increase in the circulating medium.
We shall endeavor to avoid doing serious mischief in that way, and we
crave your advice upon that point also.

“Finally, as a partial evidence that we have not undertaken to
manipulate the stock market for any speculative or other sordid end, we
have authorized Messrs. Strong & Co. to place in the hands of any three
men you shall name, stocks and bonds amounting in market value to
$100,000,000, to be retained in their charge for one year. We reserve
only the right to substitute for the securities deposited at any time
others of equal market value.

“If, after considering this statement of our position and intentions,
the situation appears to you to warrant it, we shall be glad if you will
make known in such a manner as seems best your confidence in the present
stability of values and the prospect of future improvement in trade
conditions.”

When Wharton finished reading there was absolute silence. All had
listened with closest attention from the first word. Curiosity changed
to amazement as the statement proceeded. When the full significance of
the announcement and the offer it contained dawned upon these men of
large affairs, they were apparently overwhelmed by emotions quite
strange to them in business dealings. Surprise naturally awoke
suspicions. A dominant consideration of the public welfare in great
financial operations was uncommon, to say the least. They looked for
other motives. They did not know how to take this utterance of a
financial power, far greater than any they supposed existed. Such was
the train of thought reflected in almost every one of the usually
impenetrable faces before any one ventured to speak.

At length the secretary of the treasury broke the silence in tones of
quiet emphasis.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I think we should accept this statement literally
and in good faith. It indicates the existence of capital under single
control amounting to at least $300,000,000. It is a sum so vast that
temptation to increase it by illegitimate or unworthy means seems to me
to disappear. It is too great a treasure to further excite human
ambition and greed, unless in the mind of an Alexander or a Cæsar. I do
not believe we are dealing with such a character as either of these.
Although we have been told just enough to arouse a very natural
curiosity, I think we should respect the reticence which withholds the
rest. We can all understand and appreciate the motive for seeking to
escape the notoriety which is one of the penalties of great wealth in
this country. I hope we shall act in sympathy with the suggestions made
in the paper which Mr. Wharton has read.”

The spirit in which the secretary of the treasury received the message
seemed to be that of all present after a few minutes. Many questions
were asked, bearing chiefly upon the $100,000,000 in reserve of which
mention had been made. Most of the bankers present, or the institutions
which they represented, were money-lenders, and they regarded the great
fund thus disclosed as a serious menace to the money market. Wharton
gave personal assurances that this gold should not be used to manipulate
rates or work demoralization in any way. It was only in case of abnormal
and unhealthy conditions arising, such as serious stringency, that it
would be used at all in that field.

Various phases of the situation were talked over in an informal way
until midnight had long passed. Then it was decided to meet again for
the consideration of the means to be employed for strengthening public
confidence, and relieving the general suspense. It was eventually
decided to accept the offer of a trusteeship for $100,000,000 in
securities, and three banks were named for the purpose. The public
effort to strengthen faith in the financial situation took the form of a
circular to the national banks issued by the Clearing House Committee
and indorsed by the bankers who had attended the private conference.
Nothing was made known in this circular about the source and nature of
the assurances given to the committee. Their guarantee of the soundness
of the situation, coupled with the great deposit of gold which was
announced, was quite sufficient to change completely the tone of the
market. Copies of the circular were given to the press, and it was
published broadcast. The pressure to sell on the Stock Exchange
diminished, and the market gave promise of soon becoming natural and
self-supporting.



CHAPTER VIII.

FABULOUS BUT MYSTERIOUS BENEFACTIONS.


The private mail of the president of Harvard College contained one
morning, the latter part of April, 1895, a letter which was ever
afterwards preserved as the most important document in the archives of
the great university. Its appearance before it was opened gave no
indication of its importance. It was enclosed in a plain, square, white
envelope, postmarked “New York,” and in addition to the address it was
marked “Personal” in bold letters, heavily underlined.

As the president opened it and took out the single sheet of note-paper
within, another slip fell upon the table, blank side uppermost. The
shape and the perforated edge around two sides of the slip suggested a
check, and the president carelessly turned it over before looking at the
note. It was a check, and when he caught sight of the figures in one
corner the serene dignity of the eminent _savant_ was betrayed into an
exclamation that made him seem for the moment quite like other men. He
readjusted his spectacles in genuine agitation and stared at the check
for some moments before he recovered his self-possession sufficiently
to read the letter. This was the epistle:

STRONG & CO., Bankers and Brokers,

     New Street, New York.

                                              NEW YORK, April 23, 1895.

     _My Dear Sir_:

     By direction of one of our clients I send you herewith my personal
     check for five million dollars ($5,000,000) payable to your
     personal order. This money you are at liberty to devote to the
     general uses of Harvard University, in such a manner as you and
     your associates, the Fellows and Overseers, shall deem most
     advantageous. The donor desires to remain entirely unknown in
     connection with the gift. His only suggestion regarding its use is
     that one million dollars more or less shall be devoted to the
     equipment or support of the astronomical observatories which the
     university has established in South America.

                                                         I remain, Sir,

                                                 Your obedient servant,

                                                          JOHN WHARTON.

     P.S.--I shall esteem it a personal favor if you will confine all
     information regarding my connection with the matter to as limited a
     circle as possible.--J. W.

That was all--just a curt, matter-of-fact business communication. It
could not be a hoax, for the check was certified by the Chemical
National Bank. It needed but the president’s name on the back to make it
worth the five millions in cash which it called for. The more he thought
about it the nearer the president’s mind approached to a condition of
excitement. He got up and took a turn around the room. His secretary
came in just then, but stopped in amazement on discovering evidences of
an agitation which he had never detected before in his chief.

“Is there anything the matter, sir?” he asked anxiously.

“Nothing at all,” responded the head of America’s greatest university,
with a partial return to his usual placid manner. “I am glad you came
in. I wish you would call a special meeting of the Fellows, to be held
here at four o’clock this afternoon. Send special messengers and
telegrams and say that the business will be of the utmost importance.”

The secretary’s apprehensions increased, but he hastened to obey
instructions. The next day the papers announced the magnificent gift to
Harvard and tried in vain to gratify the universal curiosity about the
unknown donor.

If there was any envy of Harvard’s good fortune at New Haven, it was
dissipated two or three days later when Yale rejoiced in the receipt of
a mysterious gift of the same magnificent proportions. In the case of
Yale, however, the endowment was coupled with a condition or request
which excited much surprise and made no end of talk. The mysterious
donor asked that half of the five millions should be set apart as a fund
to be used under the direction of the Yale Scientific School in
practical investigation of the subject of aërial navigation. This was a
trust which the university accepted with a good deal of misgiving. When
the matter was considered by the trustees there was even some opposition
to the acceptance of this portion of the donation on such terms.

“Must we set our professors to building flying machines, and compel them
to risk their necks in balloons?” exclaimed one of the older members of
the board in some asperity, and with small measure of gratitude to the
giver of such a fund. “For my part, I hope the university will not go to
the absurd extreme of turning our scientific school into a Darius Green
workshop to gratify a generous but whimsical millionaire.”

But the old gentleman was in a small minority, and he was quite silenced
by the remarks of a younger and more progressive member, whose
investigations in practical science had made him famous. Besides, who
ever heard of a gift of $2,500,000 being refused by an educational
institution, no matter how hard the conditions?

“I do not regard this gift as either absurd or whimsical,” said the man
of science and sense, with much emphasis. “On the contrary, I welcome it
with enthusiasm as a practical pledge of the next and greatest triumph
of civilization. Aërial navigation is the one branch of practical
science in which America is not keeping pace with the foremost
investigators. France and Germany and even Russia have obtained better
results than we have. The reason, of course, is that there are military
incentives in Europe which do not exist here. But I firmly believe that
this gift will enable us to gain the same mastery of the paths of the
winds that we have already won over the land and the sea. No gift to the
cause of physical science could be more valuable and more timely than
this. I hope it will be accepted with the sincerest expression of our
gratitude.”

And so it was. National curiosity was again aroused to highest pitch.
Nor was it allowed to subside, for within a month fresh benefactions,
all anonymous and all dealing with large sums, were announced. Chicago’s
fund for a memorial of the Columbian Fair received a round million. New
York rejoiced in the news that Samuel J. Tilden’s thwarted attempt to
provide a magnificent free library for his fellow-citizens was to
succeed after all. Three millions had come from somewhere--the trustees
would not say where--to be used in carrying out the plans of the dead
statesman on the same scale that he had wisely designed.

Wellesley and Vassar became involved in the same delightful mystery.
Woman’s curiosity in her chief seats of learning was put under the
strain of accepting without question gifts of $2,000,000 to each
institution from an unknown hand. The test or the temptation was safely
borne, for no hint of even the manner in which the princely fortunes
were bestowed ever reached an outsider’s ear. There were no restrictions
accompanying these gifts, beyond a request in each case that they should
be devoted mainly to those branches of training and study which best
fitted woman for the domestic circle. Inasmuch as this suggestion was
construed to admit of almost any interpretation in the field of “the
higher education of woman,” it was felt to be no restriction at all. Who
dared assert that a knowledge of Greek, a familiarity with the latest
mysteries of astronomy, and a training in the higher mathematics did not
deserve important places in the equipment of woman for the domestic
circle of 1895? When it was proposed in the governing boards of the two
colleges that the departments of physical training, English literature,
music, and the culinary art should benefit in greater proportion than
certain others under the new funds, the makers of the suggestion were
frowned upon with some scorn. It was undoubtedly the intention of their
unknown benefactor, so declared the more advanced spirits in the great
cause of “the emancipation of woman,” that his money should be used in
providing that broad culture which alone would make the woman of the
twentieth century the highest development of her sex. She should have
the same advantages, the same training as her brothers. In no other way
could she become “best fitted for the domestic circle.”

No such impetus was ever given the cause of education in America as it
received in the spring of 1895 from this great series of contributions.
The subject became a matter of world-wide wonder and discussion. It did
not seem possible that such treasure could come all from one source, and
yet no such epidemic of generosity among millionaires had ever been
heard of. There were not half a dozen men in the country who could make
presents of $5,000,000 checks. Speculation, and there was plenty of it,
was in vain, however. The secret was well kept by all its possessors,
and beyond a few hints that the eccentric distributor of millions was a
New Yorker, who kept a balance of at least $5,000,000 in cash always on
hand at the Chemical Bank, nothing transpired.

In the rapid life of the American metropolis curiosity over this subject
was soon overshadowed by a new wonder. The city’s most grievous public
problem, the _bête noire_ of a decade, was suddenly solved. Vainly had
private enterprise and public commissions sought to provide the
congested city a satisfactory system of rapid transit. The growth of
the town had been checked, its prosperity had been restricted, and
infinite personal discomfort had been suffered by its citizens, because
of the peculiar difficulties of the situation. In a city long and
narrow, densely populated, and surrounded on three sides by water, the
quick arteries of passenger travel must go below the surface or into the
air. Everybody who has traveled on the London underground railroad will
admit that the tunnel system is to be avoided at any reasonable expense.
But everybody else who has walked beneath the elevated tracks in New
York, or lodged near the line, will say that railways in the public
streets are an almost intolerable nuisance.

The only system satisfactory in itself which had been proposed in New
York was a great four-track viaduct line, running, not through the
streets, but upon its own location cut through the center of the blocks
from end to end of the city. But the plan could not be considered for a
moment. The expense was prohibitive. It would cost $100,000,000 for
right of way and construction, to say nothing of equipment. The revenue
from such a road would not pay interest on such an enormous sum, and
private capital would not undertake the enterprise. Some people had
urged the project upon the city as a municipal undertaking. Perhaps in
an ideal community such a suggestion might be valuable, but not in a
city ruled by Tammany Hall or any other political party.

So the question was at a deadlock, and the evils of the situation had
become well-nigh intolerable, when the mayor of New York received one
day in June a letter from the now well-known firm of Strong & Co.,
containing an amazing proposition. They were prepared to organize a
corporation, and guarantee the construction of such a viaduct road as
had been proposed, provided the city would consent to certain
conditions. The road would be built with the proceeds of an issue of
$100,000,000 in bonds, which Strong & Co. offered to subscribe in full.
These bonds should bear interest--and here was the amazing feature of
the proposition--at the rate of one per cent per annum. No one could
doubt that the proposed road would easily earn the necessary $1,000,000
per year for payment of interest on bonds which the proposition called
for, and it would surely yield a substantial sum for dividends on stock
in addition.

The principal conditions imposed by Messrs. Strong & Co. in making their
extraordinary offer was that the motive power used on the road should be
electricity, or some other element than steam, and that a uniform rate
of fare of five cents within the city limits should never be exceeded.
It was further insisted that the charter should provide that the city
should not take over the road by purchase or otherwise without the
consent of two thirds of the bond-holders, and that capital stock should
be issued only upon payment of its face value in cash into the company’s
treasury, the total amount of such stock never to exceed $20,000,000,
except by consent of the bond-holders. Messrs. Strong & Co. further
suggested that dividends upon stock should be limited to ten per cent.
When earnings exceeded the sum necessary for the payment of a ten per
cent dividend, fares should be reduced below the current rate. If the
mayor and his advisers approved of the plan as outlined they were
invited to join in the name of the city with Messrs. Strong & Co. and
others in petitioning the General Assembly at Albany for the necessary
legislation.

The mayor read slowly the letter in which the plan was set forth in much
greater detail than above outlined. When he had finished he looked out
of the window upon the trees in the City Hall Park and whistled softly.
He allowed his mind to dwell for a few moments upon the significance of
what was contained in the plain epistle he held in his hand. Its meaning
for the metropolis of the western world, over which he presided, was
beyond his mental grasp at first. The one great peril which threatened
to dwarf its prosperity and stunt its growth had been removed at a
single stroke. It was too good to be true, and the mayor read the long
letter from beginning to end a second time. The proposition was clear
and specific, and the potent signature left no doubt of its genuineness.
The mayor would have lost no time in sharing the good news with his
friends and with the city itself; but a postscript contained a request
that the matter should be regarded as confidential until there had been
a personal exchange of views upon the subject. Messrs. Strong & Co.
expressed a desire for a private consultation at any time the mayor
might appoint. So the private secretary of His Honor was dispatched at
once to New Street, to say that the mayor was quite ready to place his
entire day, if desired, at the disposal of the firm.

Mr. John Wharton returned with the secretary to the City Hall, and for
more than three hours he was closeted alone with the chief magistrate.
When his visitor had gone the mayor dictated to his stenographer a
statement for the press. He outlined the proposition of Strong & Co.,
who, he said, were acting on behalf of a syndicate which preferred to
conceal its identity. Of its ability to carry out its proposal, the
mayor declared he had received abundant assurance. The offer was not in
his estimation, the mayor explained, in any ordinary sense a business
proposition. It took rank instead as the greatest private or public
benefaction of modern times. It was a boon which would change the whole
future history of the metropolis and of the Empire State. It was an
inestimable gift, and he called upon the city to join him in unmeasured
gratitude to the unknown donors. Regarding the practical execution of
the scheme, the mayor said:

“I have not hesitated to assure Messrs. Strong & Co., informally, that
they may count upon the city’s grateful and unanimous acceptance of this
munificent proposal, with all the public-spirited conditions which are
attached. Although approval by the state legislature is necessary, I
feel that an appeal to the governor to summon a special session for the
purpose is not called for. Any material opposition to a plan so
magnificent and patriotic is not conceivable. There appears, therefore,
to be no good reason why the great preliminary work which such an
enterprise involves should not proceed at once. Actual construction can
then begin immediately after the necessary legislation has been provided
next winter.”

There was a sensation in the morning newspaper offices when the mayor’s
proclamation was received, and an army of reporters searched the city
for more information about the latest wonder of wealth and philanthropy.
The next morning all New York wondered, and so did the world at large.
And the only people who did not join in the general rejoicing were the
owners of the Manhattan Elevated Railroad. They saw in the announcement,
beneath the black-typed headlines in all the newspapers, the doom of
their great monopoly, the sudden birth of a power greater than theirs.
How could they cope with it, how could they compel the city’s
inhabitants to tolerate any longer their makeshift devices for
postponing rather than solving a vital problem? They were helpless
before this new monetary force, just as the people had been helpless
before the selfish tyranny of the railroad company’s short-sightedness.
Political power the Manhattan Company’s managers had, both in the
municipal councils and at Albany, but of what use to exert it in face of
such a proposition as this? No politician of any party would dare to put
a straw in the way of its execution.

It is sometimes safe to defy an indifferent majority, but he is a fool
who throws himself before the Juggernaut of roused and unanimous public
opinion. The owners of the Manhattan Elevated Road were not fools in all
things; so the first effect of the mayor’s news was a sharp decline in
the price of their shares. The danger was, however, a distant one for
them. By no possibility could so vast an undertaking be completed under
five years, and within that time conditions would probably so change
that there would be traffic enough to yield a reasonable profit to both
systems. New bridges both to Long Island and New Jersey, to say nothing
of tunnels, were also under way. These would furnish partial relief to
the congestion, while they would bring fresh traffic to the short
distance service, which would become an important part of the elevated
railroad system. Competition in what may be termed the trunk-line
business need not, therefore, be disastrous to existing rapid transit
lines. It would rather come as a relief, just as the street-car lines
found the opening of the elevated roads to be twenty years before.

But the public paid little attention to the first discomforture of the
elevated railroad magnates. Rather they rejoiced in it, especially as
the erstwhile masters of the situation soon began to manifest a more
conciliatory attitude toward their suffering patrons. A new principle
seemed to have been discovered in the offices of the octopus
corporation. Grievances that were easy of correction were remedied.
Public opinion was worth catering to when you needed it. Arrogant
defiance on one side, and exasperated endurance and hearty hatred on the
other, was a condition of things which must not be allowed to continue,
when the sufferers and haters would soon be in a position to take full
revenge. So a very strange but becoming humility softened the attitude
of New York’s purveyors of so-called rapid transit. They endeavored to
convince the people that really they were doing the best they could. And
so unresentful is the average New Yorker, that after a few smiles at the
hypocrisy of it all, he accepted the new facilities now supplied, and
was appeased.

Public curiosity found little to feed on in its search after the secret
of the new monster rapid transit fund. The newspapers interviewed every
reputed millionaire in the city. All expressed entire ignorance of the
scheme and its authors. It was plain, several newspapers declared, that
no man or set of men could accumulate such a treasure without the
world’s having some knowledge of their wealth. Some of those who denied
having any information on the subject must, therefore, be lying. And
forthwith a large portion of the press fell to speculating as to who the
mysterious Crœsus might be. For several days, everybody in the office of
Strong & Co. was besieged with inquiries, not only from newspaper men,
but from all manner of people. The annoyance became so wearisome that
the firm drew up a statement which they sent to the newspapers, setting
forth with some emphasis the fact that they were not at liberty to
furnish any information about either the rapid transit scheme itself or
its promoters. The plans were still crude. As fast as they were
perfected they would be submitted to the authorities for approval, and
would be given to the public. Meantime, they reserved the right to
refuse to answer any inquiry bearing upon the subject.

After a few days, public interest became less keen. The quest seemed
hopeless. Two or three multi-millionaires, whose names had been used
with persistent freedom by certain journals, in spite of their denials,
sent such emphatic contradictions of the stories which credited them
with generosity, that the mystery was, by nearly all, abandoned as
unfathomable.

When the matter had ceased to occupy the first place in public
attention, nearly a month after the mayor’s original announcement, the
following article appeared one morning, in double-headed type, on the
first page of the _Sun_:

“The series of financial mysteries which has astonished the world during
the past few months can reasonably be ascribed, in the absence of
definite knowledge, to no more than a single source. Since early in
December the mints and the bullion market have been glutted with gold. A
flood of the precious metal has been poured into the Assay Office in
this city at the rate of $50,000,000 a month. Prices in the stock
market, in the face of most unfavorable conditions, have been forced to
an abnormally high level by the rising tide of yellow treasure. The
supply of actual money in the country has been increased during the
last six months by almost, if not quite, $300,000,000.

“Various educational and other worthy institutions have been enriched
within a few weeks by anonymous gifts amounting, at a safe estimate, to
the vast sum of $22,000,000. There is good authority for saying that in
one or two instances the checks received by the beneficiaries have come
from the same banking house in this city which is credited with handling
the bulk of the vast deposits of gold at the Assay Office. It is a
reasonable inference that all these great benefactions have come from
the same treasury. There are not more than half a dozen private fortunes
in America large enough to afford charitable disbursements upon such a
scale. The owners of these fortunes have denied all knowledge of the
great donations. There is no good reason for doubting their word upon
this point.

“Messrs. Strong & Co. are the only persons who are known in connection
with this mysterious wealth. They refuse all information about the
origin and extent of the fabulous riches which they are distributing
broadcast, or about the identity of their principals. They are, of
course, thoroughly within their legal rights in declining to take the
public into their confidence. But the matter has become one of
tremendous public concern. The stability of trade, the money value of
every description of vested interests, in fact, the industrial,
commercial, and financial welfare of the country, all are directly
involved in the rapid manipulation of such vast sums. While admitting
that this modern Midas has used his power most beneficently thus far, it
should be pointed out that the possibilities of evil are enormous. In
simple self-protection, therefore, the public is justified in seeking by
all honorable means to learn what portends from the same source.

“Taking into consideration all the circumstances, the conclusion is
forced upon any reasonable mind that it is virgin treasure which is
dazzling the world. In other words, it is an outpouring of gold from
nature’s storehouse, and not from any of man’s reservoirs, that we are
witnessing. Thus far we are in utter ignorance of the location of the
new El Dorado. That it is a region of almost inconceivable richness has
been amply demonstrated. Nothing in the history of the Californian or
Australian gold-fields will compare with it. The secret has been so well
kept that it is impossible that it can be in the possession of many
persons. It is a fair inference, therefore, that the deposit is within
an extremely small area, and that the precious metal abounds there in an
almost pure state. But in what quantities? Is the supply inexhaustible?
The earth’s yield of gold is usually estimated in ounces. We now have it
supplied by the ton.

“The question of an oversupply of gold may become a serious, even an
appalling one. The problem threatens soon to become vital. The mystery
cannot remain a mystery much longer. Civilization may in self-defense
soon demand its solution. In the meantime, a single hint may be offered.
Early in November last, the steamship _Richmond_ returned from a
mysterious trip, several weeks in length, under private charter. She
brought back a cargo, said to consist of ores and other minerals from
South America. Was there any connection between her cargo and the sudden
distribution of gold which began in this market a month after her
arrival?”

Late in the afternoon of the day this article appeared in the _Sun_, the
head of one of the most prominent law firms in New York entered the
office of that paper, and was soon closeted with the publisher. The two
men were friends, and they chatted for a few moments on indifferent
topics. Then said the lawyer seriously:

“Now to business, for I have come on an extraordinary errand. I remember
a few years ago that some of your quarrelsome contemporaries accused the
_Sun_, among other things, of being for sale. You replied to the
insinuation in a short editorial which said, Yes, the _Sun_ was for
sale, and the price was $5,000,000. What I want to know is, whether that
offer still holds good.”

“No, the price has gone up,” was the smiling reply.

“What is it now?”

“Ten millions.”

“Are you prepared to turn the property over at that figure?”

“Oh, yes--for spot cash,” still smiling.

“Will certified checks do?” and the lawyer took several checks from a
wallet, and laid them on the desk in front of the other.

“See here, B----, what does this mean?” exclaimed the publisher,
glancing from the drafts to his friend, while all signs of levity
disappeared.

“Precisely what I have been saying. I am ready to close the bargain at
the figures you have mentioned.”

“Who are you acting for?”

“That is the one thing I cannot tell you. Does it make any difference?
If so, I can assure you that there is no political or other game back of
the transaction. There is no intention to make any change whatever in
the conduct of the paper, if our offer is accepted. But it must be
accepted at once or it will be withdrawn. What do you say?”

“Of course, I must consult Mr. Dana and the other owners. I believe,
however, it will be accepted.”

“Can you give me a final answer to-morrow?”

“I think so. Will you come in in the morning and talk the matter over
with the directors? We can meet here at noon.”

“Yes, I will be here,” said the lawyer, picking up his checks and rising
to go. “By the way, would it be fair under the circumstances for me to
ask a single favor?”

“Certainly--anything in my power.”

“It is only that you will delay any investigation of the gold mystery
until this matter is settled.”

“Oh, now I see which way the wind blows. We’ll talk of that to-morrow.”



CHAPTER IX.

AN EPOCH-MAKING VOYAGE AND ITS EFFECT UPON A EUROPEAN WAR-CLOUD.


London has been treated to so many surprises in United States finance,
that the events of the first six months of 1895 were at first received
as merely fresh proof of the rule that it is the unexpected which always
happens in American monetary affairs. The New York stock market is
placed by most Londoners in the “city” in the same category with French
politics. The safest prophecy in either field can be made by studying
the situation with the greatest care, and then by forecasting in exactly
the opposite direction to the dictates of one’s judgment. A booming
stock market and cheap money in the face of industrial depression and
commercial disaster were regarded with wonder and amazement by the
Solons of Capel Court and Throgmorton Street. They could not account for
the paradox, and they finally gave up trying.

London had been among the first to unload its American stocks during
what was believed to be a temporary rise in the early winter. Now in
midsummer following she was disgusted and even indignant when she read
quotations many points higher than the low prices at which she had
closed her losing speculations. None of the rules of finance would fit
the situation. All the laws of trade seemed defied. But London now was
merely a spectator. She possessed none of the abnormally high-priced
securities. She was quite sincere in saying she didn’t want any at
prevailing quotations. She was more inclined to be tempted by new
enterprises, industrials, railroads, and the like, which looked cheap.
But all “Americans” were still under the ban. London had suffered too
much in the past five years to forget, and London memories are longer
than those of her transatlantic cousins.

Gold had been flowing eastward in a steady stream for six months, and
Europe could not understand how America could endure the drain. Nearly
$50,000,000 in bullion, it was calculated, had been received by the Bank
of England and the Bank of France from New York, and practically none
had gone in the opposite direction. Two years before, when the same
thing happened on a somewhat smaller scale, America had suffered a
veritable panic. Silver and its advocates had been held solely
responsible for this panic, but it had not alone been America’s attempt
to resist the world’s decree of monetary dethronement against the white
metal which had driven away gold and brought domestic disaster. But the
usual penalties of national loss of gold were entirely absent now, and
European financiers were more than puzzled by it.

The hoarding of gold in European war-chests was still going on. The Old
Lady of Threadneedle Street found herself unable to retain in her
coffers any large proportion of the extraordinary European supply. Paris
and Berlin and St. Petersburg added to their enormous stores at every
opportunity. The sinews of war were being accumulated with the utmost
greediness, for everybody felt that the day was not far distant when a
mighty tragedy of nations was again to darken the pages of history. So
keenly did all the governments of Europe watch every feature of the
situation, that it was not surprising that Russia should be credited
with the intention to take advantage of the plethora of money in America
by attempting to float a loan in that country. Nor was Russia the only
government that was considering schemes for tempting away Yankee gold.
Even bankrupt Italy hoped to offer inducements which might yield her the
use of some portion of this New World wealth.

In August, 1895, therefore, the financial war which often precedes the
drawing of the sword had reached an advanced and acute stage. The
situation was peculiarly menacing to Great Britain. Lord Beaconsfield
once said to a friend who asked him, during a serious foreign crisis,
what were England’s chances of success in the event of war:

“The key to that situation is in Threadneedle Street.”

The wisdom of the saying was never more appreciated than now. Disaster
had followed disaster in financial, in commercial, and in industrial
circles for five years. Losses which would have brought any but the
richest nation in the world to the verge of ruin had been sustained one
after another, until it seemed that not even English pluck could stand
up against more such blows. Not only had foreign and colonial ventures
swallowed up millions, but home institutions, paying the penalty of
recklessness or dishonesty, had fallen and involved many thousand
private fortunes in the wreck. American tariffs and foreign competition
had seriously cut down British trade. Labor wars, the most disastrous in
history, had impoverished the working classes. And still Great Britain
was solvent, undiscouraged, proudly maintaining her position in the van
of the nations of the earth.

England’s only danger lay in too great self-confidence. She did not
deceive herself as to the nature of the peril which menaced her. For
nearly two years it had been plainly apparent. Ever since the dual
alliance between France and Russia had been ratified, it had been clear
to close observers that Great Britain had as much if not more to fear
from this new league than had the central continental powers. French
hatred of her insular neighbors had been fanned from the first by an
Anglophobe press. Diplomatic maneuvers and the movements of
Franco-Russian fleets had been almost openly hostile to English
interests. The wonder was that real hostilities had been so long
delayed.

The secret of the delay was in the financial condition of the nations.
Both France and Russia had for years been acting strictly upon the line
of policy suggested in Lord Beaconsfield’s remark. To put it in more
direct language, _Gold is the arbiter of war_. It was belief in this
principle which had impelled France to wage a relentless tariff and
trade war against Italy for five years. It was this which had led Russia
to cram her treasuries with gold far above her peaceful needs. For the
last two years both nations, the one by a customs campaign and the other
by financial operations, had been striving to weaken the monetary
resources of Germany and Austria. Opinion was divided as to the
immediate object of this policy. If England was to be the first victim
of the dual hatred of the allies, then if possible the Triple Alliance
must be so weakened that it would not voluntarily interfere in the
quarrel with Great Britain. At all events, Italy had been impoverished
and Germany and Austria had suffered considerably from the hostile
policy of their opposite neighbors.

In attacking the financial position of England, the French and Russian
bankers had not accomplished much. Financial England is never at the
mercy of foreign bankers. Bad management, colonial losses, South
American ventures, great domestic frauds, may spread distress throughout
the country, but Great Britain never had cause to fear the plots of the
political financiers of Paris, Berlin, Vienna, and St. Petersburg. The
manipulations and scheming of the past few months had had no other
effect in London than to accentuate somewhat the uneasiness over the
prevailing hard times. The Bank of England had been reorganized in
respect to some of its methods, by reason of public criticisms a few
months before, and it was now stronger than ever. There was reason for
believing that it had not been idle in the great scramble for gold in
which all Europe was engaged. Its resources were, of course, unknown,
for such information was guarded as a deep financial and state secret.

The government was coöperating energetically in the efforts to
strengthen still more the monetary position of the country. At the same
time naval construction was being pushed forward on a scale that
betokened the very presence of war. And yet in the midst of the
oppressive conviction of impending conflict, there was no word in the
courts and parliaments of Europe save of peace. Guns were bought, ships
were built, armies were equipped, practice maneuvers were executed,
nations were impoverished, all for the preservation of peace. But the
limit had been passed at last. War was cheaper than peace. So war it was
to be, in everybody’s opinion. The absence of specific cause made no
difference. It could be developed in a hundred ways at a few hours’
notice. There was at least the hope of a general disarmament and the
real peace of recuperation after the cataclysm was over. Many people who
believed in the inevitability of the long-threatened struggle were
inclined to look upon the situation in the cold light of this
philosophy.

About the middle of August, France began an energetic series of
diplomatic protests against the continued occupation of Egypt by Great
Britain. It was instantly surmised that this was the signal of the
approaching crisis. Russia joined in the dissent, and the tone of the
objections sent to the Court of St. James was distinctly aggressive.
Europe made up its mind that there was to be an autumn campaign. It was
the design of the aggressors apparently to make the contest short and
sharp. The approach of winter, which would greatly interfere with
military operations on the Continent, might be an added influence to
induce Germany and Austria to keep hands off until France and Russia had
an opportunity to overthrow the naval supremacy of Great Britain. The
issue of a conflict between England on the one hand and France and
Russia on the other, would, of course, be decided principally upon the
sea. The situation became extremely critical. Great Britain, avoiding
the responsibility for provoking hostilities, took advantage at first of
diplomatic red tape. Delay was sought, and the diplomatic agents of the
protesting governments developed impatience. They showed signs of
becoming peremptory in their demands, and there was vague talk of an
ultimatum from France to England.

War was in the very air when an event happened. It was a very ordinary
event, and apparently as far removed as possible from any influence upon
the question of peace or war in Europe. It was merely the arrival late
in the afternoon of Monday, the 2d of September, of a fine ship flying
the American flag in the harbor of Southampton. She was apparently a
steamship of about 3,000 tons. She was of yacht design, and her
beautiful lines were the admiration at once of all nautical eyes. The
only peculiarities about her at first glance were that her single
smoke-stack, rising slender and tall amidships, was quite out of
proportion to the size of the ship, and that the vessel floated so high
out of the water that her ballast must have been of the lightest. Only
half a dozen persons besides her crew were visible when the ship came to
anchor just below the new American Line dock. Two or three small boats,
attracted by curiosity, put off to view the newcomer as soon as she
stopped. _Mystery_ was the name they read upon her stern.

The boats made a slow circuit of the beautiful ship, and the boatmen
were exchanging comments upon her graceful lines when an unusual sound
of rushing water came from on board. The noise came from forward, aft,
and amidships all at once. The sound was a strange one, but the men in
the boats paid little attention to it at first. They were admiring the
nautical beauty of the big ship’s overhanging stern, and expressing
surprise at the size of her twin propellers just below the surface. One
of the self-appointed critics had observed that she must have an
extraordinary draught when loaded, for the gauge showed more than twenty
feet with apparently only light ballast on board. Suddenly the man
started up in great excitement, stared at the rudder post, rubbed his
eyes and looked again.

“I say, boys, she’s sinking!” he exclaimed. “It was twenty feet a minute
ago and now it’s twenty-one, and going deeper.”

The men in the other boat looked, too. Yes, the smooth water in which
the ship lay was certainly climbing quite rapidly inch by inch up her
steel sides. The men in both boats seized their oars and pulled rapidly
alongside the vessel. No one was visible at the rail above. There was no
commotion on board, but the men in the boats now recognized the strange
sounds within the ship as the noise of water rushing into the hold. They
rowed up opposite the bridge and shouted lustily. Their hail was not
answered at first, but presently a naval cap, heavy with gold lace,
appeared over the canvas shield at the end of the bridge, and the wearer
inquired lazily:

“Well, what’s the matter below there?”

“Your ship is foundering; you’ll sink in a few minutes if you don’t stop
the leak,” was the reply, shouted back with great excitement.

“Oh, I guess not,” was the still indifferent response.

“I tell you it’s so. You’ve settled two feet in five minutes. You can’t
save her now. You’d better get your boats out or you’ll get wet. There’s
no time to lose,” and the boatmen began to push off apprehensively.

“How much water is there here?” asked the officer on the bridge, in the
same tone he would have inquired what was the population of Southampton.

“About six and a half fathoms.”

“Oh, well, that will keep my feet dry. Guess we’ll let her sink,” and
the gold lace cap disappeared.

The men in the boats were dumfounded. They pushed off at a safe
distance, and then sat at their oars waiting for the catastrophe. The
noise of in-rushing water continued, though not so distinctly, for some
minutes longer, and the steamship settled steadily to a lower level. She
was fully four feet deeper in the water than when the boatmen rowed out
to her. They were now able to look over her low rail, and they saw half
a dozen of the crew putting things to rights about the decks as
unconcernedly as though the ship was safely at her dock. The rush of
water was no longer heard. One of the boatmen hailed a friend in the
other dory:

“I say, Ben, I believe she’s stopped filling. What kind of a craft is
she? Some of her compartments must be full, and the others are keeping
her afloat.”

“She beats me. Mind her smoke-stack, Jim. It’s no bigger nor a
ferryboat’s, and not a whiff of smoke or steam has she shown since she
came in.”

Just then the ship lowered one of her small boats, and a couple of
sailors rowed ashore a man in citizen’s clothes, who carried a package
of papers. He was Captain Penniman of the private yacht _Mystery_, on a
roving commission from New York, he told the official on duty at the
custom-house as he handed in the ship’s papers.

“But there is something wrong with your papers, captain,” remarked the
collector a moment later. “They have cleared you in New York last
Thursday, only four days ago. Didn’t you notice the mistake?”

“Oh, it is quite right. We left New York at nine o’clock Thursday
morning. Won’t you have a New York _Herald_ of that day?” and the
captain nonchalantly offered a newspaper to the customs officer.

“Crossed from New York to Southampton in four days? Impossible! It’s
more than steam can do,” and Her Majesty’s customs representative looked
at the captain in incredulous and rather resentful amazement.

“Just what we have done, nevertheless. But you are right about steam.
The _Mystery_ is not a steamship. We passed Sandy Hook Lightship at
10:31 last Thursday morning, and we reached the Needles at 4:38 this
afternoon. Allowing for the difference in time, that makes our running
time just four days, one hour, and seven minutes. The course we took
was three thousand one hundred and ten miles, so our speed averaged
about twenty-nine knots, or thirty-two miles an hour. We ran as high as
thirty-five miles an hour for several hours in succession. If you doubt
my statement and the evidence of the papers, I’ll be pleased to furnish
you with additional proof if you will come on board with me,” and
Captain Penniman watched the growing astonishment on the Englishman’s
face with some amusement.

“I cannot doubt your word, captain, but what you tell me is almost
incredible,” spoke the collector after a long pause. He picked up the
New York newspaper and examined the date-lines and dates of various news
dispatches, as though still incredulous. “You know, captain, the speed
record between the two ports is now six days, four hours, and some
minutes. It was considered a great exploit when the new boats of the
American Line cut the record down about seven hours recently. When you
tell me you have reduced it by more than two days, you won’t blame me
for being incredulous. You say the _Mystery_ is not a steamship. What in
the name of modern wonders is she, then?”

“We shall have to invent a new name for her, I reckon,” was the
captain’s reply. “We use no steam, and carry no coal for her engines.
She has no boilers in fact. Her motive power is liquified carbonic acid
gas. We carry it in steel cylinders, and its expansive power, which is
equivalent to a pressure of about two thousand pounds to the inch,
drives our engines. Yes, she’s the wonder of the world to-day,”
concluded the captain, proudly.

“I never heard of such a thing. I thought you were going to say
electricity. You Americans are doing everything by electricity
now-a-days.”

“No, electricity may come to it some day, but it costs too much, and it
cannot be stored as this can. You will never get much higher speed with
steam, because of the enormous consumption of coal required. We can
carry enough liquified carbonic acid to drive the _Mystery_ three times
around the world, and the cost is about twenty per cent that of coal.
Come on board and look her over. We have kept her a profound secret on
the other side, but now that we know what she can do, we are quite
willing she shall have the fame she deserves. I guess the news of this
trip will make a sensation in London, eh?” and the captain rubbed his
hands softly and chuckled.

“It won’t be believed,” replied the collector sententiously. “I will go
aboard with you at once with the greatest pleasure. Let me finish
entering you first. You have no cargo, I suppose?”

“Yes, we have a small cargo.”

“What is it?” picking up a pen.

“About two hundred tons of gold bullion or native gold, consigned to the
Bank of England to the order of Munster & Thorp.”

The collector dropped his pen, stared speechlessly for a moment, and
then flushed angrily.

“I’d have you know, sir,” he exclaimed in savage tones, “that I am not
here to be made game of. What do you mean by coming here with such
yarns? Give me your proper ship’s papers, enter your vessel in the
regular way, and get you gone,” and outraged official dignity glared at
the captain of the _Mystery_ in righteous anger.

Captain Penniman did not seem offended, nor was he repentant. He rather
sympathized with the other’s wrath, and yet was amused by it. He judged
it would be hardly prudent to allow his amusement to become visible; so
he preserved a serious countenance.

“I beg you to observe,” he replied conciliatingly, “that my papers are
perfectly regular and complete. You can hardly doubt the corroborative
evidence of New York newspapers on the point of the time of my departure
from New York. As for my cargo, I admit it is an unusual one, but I have
brought none of it ashore with me. If you will come on board I will show
you that it is just what I have declared it to be. Besides, there is no
duty on gold, is there?”

The revenue officer now sat in helpless bewilderment. He looked again at
the newspaper and at the ship’s papers. Her cargo was not specified in
the latter, but the date of leaving New York seemed to be clearly
established. His credulity was able to digest that fact, marvelous
though it was, in the face of such evidence. But two hundred tons of
gold! Why should not a wonderful ship have a wonderful cargo? It was a
tremendous strain to put upon the mental apparatus of even so important
a functionary as Her Majesty’s collector of customs at Southampton. But
he struggled hard to meet the emergency. His face was still flushed, and
he breathed heavily for a few moments, apparently in fear of an
apoplectic stroke. It was a noble effort to keep reason still seated on
her throne, and it succeeded.

“How much money do two hundred tons of gold represent?” he asked
faintly, after a long silence.

“Oh, a matter of £25,000,000 or thereabouts,” was the reply.

“Enormous, but I thought it was more,” was the comment of the man, still
dazed, but trying to recover his mental equilibrium.

“Well, as I said before, I shall be glad to show you the ship if you
care to go aboard of her with me,” said Captain Penniman, rising. “I’ll
be thankful, though, if you will kindly refrain from mentioning the
nature of our cargo until to-morrow. The crew know nothing about it, and
I want to get it up to London without attracting attention. I must
arrange for docking and engage a special train to take the bullion to
the city early to-morrow morning. I’ll attend to that now, and call for
you in half an hour or so, if you wish.”

“I shall thank you for the privilege of inspecting the _Mystery_,” said
the customs officer, whose manner now indicated respect bordering upon
awe.

When the two men were rowed out to the vessel a little later, there was
quite a fleet of small boats hovering about her, their occupants all
manifesting the greatest curiosity. Captain Penniman took his guest
aboard, and they plunged at once into the mysteries below. Above decks,
she was simply one of the best type of great private steam yachts. When
the engine-room was reached it was not apparent to a landsman’s eye that
the machinery of the _Mystery_ differed much from that of an ordinary
modern steamship of her size and general type. Captain Penniman merely
remarked that he did not understand himself the technic of that
department.

“I believe,” he said, “that much of her machinery remains just as it was
originally constructed for steam. Carbonic acid gas is introduced into
strong cylinders just as steam would be. It comes through an automatic
valve which regulates the pressure, and puts the power of this new agent
under the same control that steam was held in. They tell me that this
valve which delivers just the requisite quantity of carbonic acid gas
for each stroke of the piston is the invention which furnishes the key
to the whole discovery. Attempts have been made for several years to
utilize the tremendous expansive power of this liquified gas, but none
of them succeeded until this valve was devised. I tell you, my friend,
steamships will become more out of date than sailing vessels as soon as
the success of this experiment is known.”

“But how do you get such terrific speed?”

“By using larger propellers and turning them faster. Our screws revolve
at about one hundred and ten revolutions a minute, while those of the
so-called crack liners make only eighty-five to ninety. We have shafts
as large as those of a 12,000 ton boat, and they have stood the strain
coming over without a sign of weakness. But come into the boiler-room.”

Instead of the great hot fire-hole with dozens of blazing furnaces and
coal heaped about, there was a small apartment, or rather two, one each
side of the engine-room. The still bewildered collector saw only three
long rows one above another of what were apparently copper cylinders
such as are supplied to the soda-water fountains in America. He noticed,
however, that each cylinder was nearly ten feet long, and from the end
of each a pipe led toward the engine-room.

“Each of those cylinders,” explained the captain, “contains liquid
carbonic acid under high pressure. They are tapped one after another,
and the escaping gas in the engine cylinders furnishes the motive power
that drives the screws. I’ve been rather anxious all the way over lest
one of them should explode, but they tell me the danger is much less
than of an ordinary boiler explosion. The men in the engineers’
department were some of them afraid at first of being poisoned by escape
of the gas. You will notice that the air down here is as fresh and pure
as it is out of doors. We have the finest ventilating system I ever saw
on any ship. A forced draught, supplied by fans driven by a small
carbonic acid engine, changes the air in every part of the ship every
three minutes. As a matter of fact, the chief engineer tells me there
has been no leakage of gas for a moment during the voyage. The carbonic
acid, just before it does its work of driving the pistons, is heated by
an oil flame on the outside of the pipes through which it passes. This
accomplishes two purposes. It increases the expansive power of the gas,
and it makes it light enough to rise readily and escape through the
smoke-stack. But we have other wonders. Come up on deck,” and the two
men ascended to the main deck and walked to the rail.

“Will you lighten ship, Mr. Walters?” said the captain to an officer who
was passing.

“Aye, sir,” replied the man as he disappeared.

“Just notice carefully the distance between us and the water--about five
feet I should say,” remarked the captain to his still silent companion.

A moment later there was a queer humming noise somewhere below, and the
ship’s frame seemed to tremble slightly. Nothing was said for a few
minutes. Then the Englishman exclaimed:

“What does it mean, captain? We are rising, or the water is falling.”

“Just so. We are using the pressure of the carbonic acid to drive the
water from our ballast compartments and lightening the ship. We have a
double hull, and the space between the two skins is divided into
sections. These sections are air or gas-tight. When they are filled with
water, and we wish to empty them, we have only to open the plugs at the
bottom by turning a rod running up to the deck, admit compressed gas
above, and the water is quickly forced out. Then we close the plugs,
shut off the gas, and the ship stands four or five feet higher out of
the water than she did before. So you see we are able to regulate our
draught, and we gain other advantages also. The two hulls are so
constructed that they take up and dissipate the vibration which our high
speed would otherwise render dangerous. We can make her light forward
and heavy aft, or _vice versa_; in fact, we can adjust the ship to
exactly the best conditions for the weather she happens to be in, and
for the speed we wish to employ.”

“Marvelous, captain! Wonderful beyond anything I ever expected to see is
the _Mystery_. She is well named. We are certainly eight or nine feet
above the water now. Look at those fellows,” and the collector pointed
suddenly to a dozen boats floating idly a cable’s length away.

Their occupants were staring blankly at the ship before them, their
faces expressing so many phases of speechless amazement that Captain
Penniman and his companion broke into a roar of laughter.

“Where do you carry the gold, captain?” asked the Englishman presently,
the chief marvel of all in his estimation rising up to dwarf the others.

“I will show you,” and the captain led the way to the lower deck and to
an iron door in the center of the ship a little aft of mid-ships. He
took from his pocket a flat Yale key and inserted it in the small
keyhole. The door opened into a dark, iron-bound chamber, which the two
men entered. Not until he had closed the door behind them did the
captain touch a button and light a single electric lamp in the center
of the ceiling. Nothing was to be seen except a large number of
carefully-packed wooden boxes. They were arranged so that they occupied
the greater portion of the floor of the chamber, but they did not rise
above about four feet in height.

“The gold is in these boxes,” exclaimed the captain. “There are eight
hundred of them. They are not large, and you would think they might be
easily handled; but if you care to walk off with one I’ll make you a
present of it.”

“But there cannot be two hundred tons of gold in those small boxes,”
said the collector, laying his hand on one at the end of the top tier,
and trying to pull it toward him. The box didn’t move, and he pulled
harder. “They are nailed down, are they not?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” replied the captain, smiling; “but each of those boxes
contains five hundred pounds of native gold. Now that you are here, you
may as well make your visit an official one and inspect the consignment.
I presume if I open for you any box you may designate it will suffice
for the lot, will it not?”

“Certainly,” still struggling vainly to stir one of the topmost boxes,
and giving it up rather breathlessly. “Suppose you open this one,”
indicating a box in the middle of the front row.

The captain produced a large screw-driver and began to loosen the screws
in the cover of the box selected. The fastenings did not yield easily,
but after a few moments the long screws had been removed and the thick
cover came off. There was revealed an iron-lined receptacle heaped full
of nuggets and dust, which gleamed a pale yellow in the light of the
electric lamp. The customs officer drew a long breath, and then leaned
closely over the naked treasure.

“May I touch it?” he asked in a kind of awe.

“Certainly; examine it as closely as you like.”

The officer plunged both hands suddenly into the golden mass and tried
to lift up heaping handfuls as though it had been pebbles and sand. The
extraordinary weight prevented him, and he allowed the yellow dust to
sift back between his fingers.

“How heavy it is!” was his only comment. “I have seen enough,” he added
presently, as he smoothed down the surface of the gold, so that the
captain could replace the cover. When the screws had been tightened
again in their places, the two men left the treasure-room and went on
deck. The collector had nothing to say until he prepared to go ashore.
He was sober and rather distrait as he bade the captain good-day.

“I must beg your pardon, sir,” he said, “for my bit of temper at the
office. You must admit that what you told me was calculated to make a
man incredulous. You have the most wonderful ship and the most wonderful
cargo that ever came to Southampton or any other British port. This is a
memorable day for me and for all England, too, I make no doubt.”

The London papers printed with reservations the next morning a long
Central News telegram from Southampton describing the new marvel of the
seas. Such a feat as that of the unknown American ship _Mystery_ was
incredible, declared the sage London editors. Nevertheless they
dispatched their naval experts to Southampton by the earliest trains to
expose the hoax. Before they arrived, the precious cargo of the
_Mystery_ had been safely landed, sent to London by special train, and
was duly lodged in the vaults of the Bank of England before any rumor of
its existence had reached the city. The eminent gentlemen who expose so
relentlessly in the columns of London’s great dailies the shortcomings
of the British admiralty did not seek out at once the ship they had come
to investigate, when they reached Southampton. They sought instead the
collector of customs who had been quoted as authority for the tall story
which had been sent to the papers the night before. When they found him
they began asking insinuating questions which speedily caused that
functionary, still rather nervous after the shocks to his system the day
before, to fly into a violent temper.

“Don’t you think we had better send for his physician at once? The man
is mad,” sarcastically observed a correspondent to one of his fellows.

One or two reflections upon his sanity finally led the angry officer to
take from his desk the New York paper which Captain Penniman had given
him. He spread it out before the eyes of the now amazed newspaper men.
Then he gave them a plump invitation to leave the office. Not another
word would he say to them. The delegation lost no time now in going to
the dock where the _Mystery_ lay. They were still incredulous, but
bewildered. They had a good deal of difficulty in getting aboard; but
Captain Penniman had been more than half expecting them, and when word
was passed to him he invited them to inspect the ship. They were even
more interested than the collector had been by what they saw. They were
still skeptical, however, about the speed of the vessel.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do, gentlemen,” said the captain suddenly. “The
distance from here to the Lizard is 110 miles. It is now 11:30. We’ve
nothing special to do this afternoon. We can cast off in five minutes,
run to within sight of Lizard Light, and be back here in time for you
to take an early evening train to the city. Then you can see for
yourselves what the _Mystery_ can do.”

There was a chorus of approval, and ten minutes later the ship was under
way. She ran down the Solent at a speed that amazed not only the
visitors on board, but all on shore or afloat who watched the strange
ship.

Not until the Needles had been passed and the open sea was before her
did the beautiful vessel fully rouse herself. By this time her draught
and weight had been perfectly adjusted for the best work. Journalistic
cynicism and _blasé_ indifference were not proof against what followed.
The excitement of an international yacht race was tame in comparison
with the exhilaration of the _Mystery’s_ marvelous speed. The group of
correspondents gathered upon the bridge, and sheltered themselves behind
the breast-high canvas against the gale which the motion of the ship
seemed to create. They were almost silent for some time after the
captain had turned the indicator to “full speed.” The swift panorama of
the shore, the flashing past in dizzy succession of the nearer waves,
the lashing of the strange hurricane in the midst of a sea almost
smooth, the throbbing, pulsing tremors of the living ship beneath them,
created new emotions which silenced comment.

The ship’s prow was pointed to the west, and she leaped forward as if
some strange magnetism was drawing her back to the land which had given
her birth. The sea welcomed her, embraced her for a moment, and sped her
on. The waves opened a path for her without violence, and marked it in
silvery white like the tail of a comet, as far back as the eye could
reach. Neptune bowed his trident before her and became a willing vassal.
The winds alone rebelled and strove to hold her back.

Even Captain Penniman’s eyes kindled with enthusiasm as he walked up to
his guests and asked their opinion of the _Mystery’s_ qualities. It was
not until they had sought shelter from the wind a little later in the
saloon that they gave expression to their feelings.

“You have introduced a new epoch in navigation, captain,” said the naval
expert of the _Times_ expressively. “The days of steam are gone by.
America has once more revolutionized the naval construction of the
world. The _Mystery_ will be more important in history than the
_Monitor_. A new race for naval supremacy must begin to-morrow. In a
word, gentlemen,” he concluded, as the vast significance of the subject
grew upon him, “the building of this ship is the most important event of
this half century.”

“Yes, we’ve got the biggest story to tell to-morrow morning that any
newspaper has told in our day,” added another in whom the journalist
instinct was uppermost.

They inspected the splendid ship throughout, and before they had
finished word was passed to the captain that the Lizard was in sight
about six miles off.

“Let us see,” said the captain, glancing at his watch and figuring on a
bit of paper. “Call it one hundred and four miles, and the time is two
hours fifty-four minutes--that is nearly thirty-six miles an hour. I
think that will do. Ask Mr. Walters to shape her course for
Southampton.”

Before half the distance to Southampton had passed, each of the
half-dozen correspondents had ensconced himself before a pile of white
paper at a table in the saloon, and was grinding away for dear life upon
the narrative which was to astonish the world on the morrow. And the
world was astonished, doubly so, for just before parting with his guests
Captain Penniman quietly informed them of the nature of the cargo which
the _Mystery_ had carried on her maiden voyage. They received the
announcement with amazement, and as soon as they set foot ashore
hastened to the telegraph office to advise their respective editors to
seek corroboration of the extraordinary news from the bank officers.

The world’s surprise over the strange tale was extensively mixed with
incredulity in many quarters. But three days later this latter emotion
was changed to consternation in the cabinet councils of France and
Russia, when it was announced that the British admiralty had purchased
the wonderful American ship _Mystery_, had engaged her staff of
engineers, and would speedily equip her for special naval service. The
next day came the news that a special government loan of £20,000,000 for
naval construction purposes had been taken _en bloc_ by the house of
Munster & Thorp for an American client. The papers further announced
that the government would as speedily as possible equip certain existing
warships with the new motive power employed on the _Mystery_, and would
build new ones similar in general design to the American ship, but
heavily armored and on a larger scale.

The difficulties which seemed to make a peaceful settlement of the
Egyptian question impossible began to disappear. The representations of
France and Russia became more conciliatory. The darkest of recent
war-clouds vanished before the month had passed.



CHAPTER X.

SHADOWS OF GREAT EVILS.


Robert Brent was in London for the first time since he started upon his
almost hopeless quest of fortune’s favor in the summer of 1893. He had
been the only passenger on the _Mystery_, whose epoch-making voyage a
few days before was still the marvel of the Old and the New Worlds. This
return to the old-fashioned, homely comforts of solid London he had
anticipated with peculiar satisfaction. He felt more at home in
Piccadilly than in Broadway. For six months he had told himself it was
worth a trip across the Atlantic to be able to ride in a rubber-tired
cab upon an asphalt pavement.

The New York business man cannot understand why it is that a Londoner
flies away to the river, the sea-shore, or the country on the slightest
pretext “to rest.” To say nothing of the extreme deliberation--to use an
inoffensive term--in all his business methods, the citizen of the
British metropolis has little in the common feature of municipal life to
distract him. No gong ever clangs in a London street. Not even on a
fire-engine is that abomination tolerated. Broadway has become a
municipal boiler-shop, to be fled from with bursting ear-drums. In
Piccadilly, the wheels are silent and the horses seem to step lightly on
the almost elastic pavement. Toleration of noise in all its forms is,
indeed, the great surviving element of barbarism in the American people.
Its relentless suppression is the only obvious superiority of European
civilization above that of the New World.

But London did not seem the same to Brent after his two years’ absence.
He avoided at first his old resorts, and did not seek out the associates
from whom he had been completely cut off since he bade them good-by in
early September, 1893. The old life did not tempt him as he had expected
it would. London was the same, yet different. “It must be because
everybody is out of town for the holidays,” he told himself, in trying
to account for his intangible impression of change.

After a few days, Brent strolled into one or two of his favorite clubs.
They were almost deserted. Only a few fossilized members, whom nothing
short of an earthquake could shake out of their favorite smoking-room
seats, were to be seen. Some of them recognized Brent, and nodded to
him. Nobody ever does anything more in a typical London club. Americans,
some of them, have an idea that one of the objects of a club is to
furnish members with the society of their fellows. Not so in London. Sit
for an hour and watch the members of an English club stroll into the
smoking-room one by one after dinner to enjoy their coffee, cigars, and
liquor. A dozen men, perhaps, will be sitting each quite by himself at a
tiny table. A newcomer enters. Half the men in the room nod to him, and
he returns the salutation with as much cordiality as he thinks
necessary. The other half don’t look up from their papers. But does he
join one of his friends or acquaintances for a chat over the coffee? No
mere good fellowship would justify such a liberty. He seeks the most
secluded corner that remains unoccupied, draws a table barricade in
front of him, and signals for a waiter. And if two men are inconsiderate
enough to come in together with an unfinished conversation carried on
above a whisper, all the other men in the room frown at the disturbers.
The Englishman seeks his club for solitude, not for society.

Brent was quite used to this feature of London club life, and now he
rather rejoiced in it. There was just sufficient companionship in the
simple presence of a few silent mortals to relieve a sense of isolation
which had been oppressing him for weeks. It would not be true to say
that wealth had in a few short months made of Brent a morose and
disappointed man. The great problem which confronted him had proved a
heavier burden than he anticipated. The anxieties of the past year had
been more irksome than the pleasurable though arduous excitement of the
previous months of adventure. But Brent was too young, too sanguine, and
too resourceful to be cast down by the vast responsibilities which
weighed more heavily upon him each day.

The day after he had arranged for taking the British government loan of
£20,000,000, he set about figuring up roughly his financial operations
since the night he had taken John Wharton partly into his confidence
nine months before. Nearly $500,000,000, about fifteen per cent of his
golden store, had been used or distributed--“got rid of,” he put it, in
summing up the situation to himself.

“No, it isn’t rid of,” he corrected himself, “unless I burn up four
hundred millions in securities. That is the worst of it,” he mused,
rather gloomily. “I’m not rid of any, to speak of, except what I have
actually given away.” And the young man put down a little resentfully
the sense of estrangement and isolation which his unique problem and
insular situation forced upon him. He persisted in his determination to
guard jealously the secret of his wealth. He fancied he was still secure
from real danger of discovery. Once or twice he had experienced some of
the anxieties of a hunted criminal. The ardor with which the newspapers
had pursued his secret added to his dread of the notoriety which would
come with discovery.

Let it not be imagined that this trait in Brent’s character was a
singular and un-American whim. There is not an Astor, a Vanderbilt, or a
Rockefeller who would not gladly sacrifice a great fortune from his
possessions to escape from the isolation in which wealth has imprisoned
him. The privilege of meeting one’s fellow-men upon a basis of sincerity
is a boon quite unappreciated until wealth has taken it away. A man of
many millions must do one of two things. Either he must build a wall
about himself which he will permit no stranger and few of his so-called
friends to pass, or he must arm himself with unrelenting suspicion and
incredulity, until his waning faith in human nature almost disappears.

If the true story of “How it Feels to be a Millionaire” should ever be
written, it will contain chapters that will excite more commiseration
than envy. The “poor millionaire” is not likely to become an object of
popular pity and sympathy, but he is often not a bad fellow after all.
An American cursed with the fame of many millions gained by his
ancestors, said recently that from early youth his position had
suggested to him that of an antique statue at the mercy of
relic-hunters. His experience constantly deepened his impression, that
nine out of ten of the people with whom he was brought in contact were
armed each with hammer and chisel, ready to chip off a piece if they
could get a chance. It was not so much from love of his wealth that he
resisted most demands made upon him. It was because a man to whom money
is a drug resented being wheedled and hoodwinked and swindled with just
the same feelings that a poorer man might spend ten times the sum
involved to recover an overcharge from a railroad company.

But if Brent had escaped thus far the commoner penalties of wealth, the
exemption was more than overbalanced by his peculiar responsibilities.
His misgivings about the effects of an enormous addition to the world’s
supply of monetary metal were growing stronger daily. He began weeks
before to realize the practical wisdom of the financial maxim that the
essential value of gold as a monetary standard is its stability--its
steady and almost unfluctuating supply. Before he left America signs
were multiplying of a radical disturbance at the foundations of the
financial system. High and advancing prices with cheap money was a
combination so paradoxical and rare, that all calculations were upset by
it. Already the tendency was to accumulate and hoard visible property,
rather than the golden or other monetary tokens of it. Who wanted his
possessions turned into gold or other form of cash, when the purchasing
power of money was declining daily? The prices of food, of manufactures,
of land, of everything except labor, were rising at an unprecedented
rate. There was a scramble for things of intrinsic value--a property
panic, it might be called.

Wheat, for instance, was climbing toward famine prices. Why should an
owner of grain sell, unless to invest in some commodity enhancing in
value at a still more rapid rate? Stocks and bonds or money itself would
yield only the most trifling returns on the capital represented. The
prudent investor was forced to cling to those forms of property the
demands for which were unceasing and inevitable. And the effect of this
sudden limitation of the channels of investment? Obvious enough, and
ominous too, to the dullest comprehension. When everybody wants to buy
and nobody is willing to sell, prices quoted have small relation to the
intrinsic value of the commodity in question. There was almost a corner
in the markets of America. It was no artificial squeeze, manipulated by
scheming traders. It was the inexorable working of one of the great laws
of demand and supply, which no man or set of men could completely
control. It presaged something worse.

Already the mutterings of a rapidly gathering storm were heard
throughout the land. Wage-earners, and all men with fixed incomes, were
at the mercy of a far worse demon than “hard times.” Reduce the pay of
every laborer and salary-earner in the United States forty per cent
within six short months, and what would be the effect? The very
foundations of constitutional government would hardly bear the strain.
And yet that was just what had happened. The artisan who earned $20 a
week in September was able to buy no more with his money than the
laborer’s $12 a week had purchased the previous March. To restore to the
artisan the same equivalent in purchasing power that he had received in
March, would require raising his wages to $33 a week. In other words,
$20 would buy in March precisely the same quantities of food and
clothing and fuel which it needed $33 to procure in September.

If this scaling down of wages had been done by employers, organized
labor would have known how to deal with the situation. But the amount
paid in wages was the same--more in some cases--in dollars and cents as
it had been at the beginning of the year. It was impossible, therefore,
to retaliate at once with strikes and other arbitrary measures. The
power to be combated was greater and beyond the employers. Moreover, it
was something even less tangible than the soul of a corporation. There
was no getting at it. Employers themselves, except the producers of
goods in regular demand, suffered from it quite as much as did the
workers. The railroad companies could not advance fares and rates,
because the purchasing power of money had suddenly diminished nearly one
half. The increased prices they were called upon to pay for coal, rails,
and rolling stock left them no surplus with which to satisfy the demands
of employees for more wages. Miners and mill operatives were pressing
their claims with better success. Coal and standard cotton and woolen
goods were held at high prices, although the demand from actual
consumers did not increase. The latter fact did not for the moment
trouble the middlemen or dealers. Nothing was to be gained by turning
their goods into money on a rising market. They held on for still larger
profits.

The farmers were the ones who regarded the situation with the greatest
satisfaction. The crops already beginning to come to market were large,
but the prices of all staple products were marvelously high. Wheat,
corn, and cotton seemed to be the favorite investments for idle money,
while a real estate boom drew attention away from stocks and bonds in
still another direction. Agriculture could afford to enjoy a wonderful
prosperity at the expense of town vocations. The boot had been on the
other leg long enough. Somehow, no matter how, the tiller of the soil
had been suddenly restored to his pristine supremacy in the economic
world. It was enough for him to rejoice over the fact without trying to
explain it.

Explanations there were and plenty of them, spread before all classes in
the literature of the day. The most plausible, and the one most readily
accepted at farmhouse hearthstones, was a complete vindication of the
so-called “greenback craze” of a few years before. For the first time
since the resumption of specie payments ten years after the Civil War,
there was a superabundance of money in circulation. The effect upon the
farmer was an unmixed blessing apparently. Once more agriculture paid a
handsome profit. What matter to the farmer if the prices of all kinds of
commodities were high? His farm supplied most of his bodily wants. He
could burn wood instead of buying coal, and he didn’t mind paying rather
more for clothing if the profit on his oats and corn doubled. Besides,
he could pay his debts, and cancel his mortgage before long. It was only
the fortunate farmer who had no debts or mortgage who was puzzled what
to do with his enhanced profits. Savings banks, stocks, bonds would
yield him only a pittance on his money. He could not buy more land,
because the price had already gone too high. He wished he had not sold
his crops for he saw they would have brought still higher figures if he
had held on.

Most of the features of the situation were familiar to Brent before he
left America, and his apprehensions had been thoroughly aroused. The
newspapers and his private advisers at about the beginning of October
informed him that affairs at home were assuming a critical and dangerous
phase in many places. He received one afternoon by cable a long message
in cipher from Wharton, who was still his sole confidant. When he had
translated it, this was what confronted him:

“Commercial demoralization becoming so widespread in all centers that
grave evils imminent. Foodstuffs have reached famine prices. Bread riots
feared Chicago and other places. Situation aggravated by our continued
support of stocks at present prices. Tendency to sell securities and
reinvest in visible property increasing daily. Think you should make
radical change of policy in face threatened evils. Much regret your
absence. Cannot you return for at least brief visit? Emergency may
compel prompt action any moment to divert disastrous consequences.
Please cable full instructions and sail if possible.--WHARTON.”

Brent was seriously alarmed and discouraged by this dispatch. Before
deciding upon a complete course of action, he cabled Wharton the
following reply:

“Endeavor divert course of speculation by allowing stocks decline
gradually few points without exciting panic. Offer British naval bonds
freely below par if necessary in order attract money from grain market.
Try reduce price wheat by short sales or otherwise. Devise means for
supplying food at fair prices in all distressed districts. Do this
without ostentation, and employ existing agencies for distribution if
possible. Use fullest discretion and spare no expense to avert serious
disaster and violence. Keep me fully advised. If situation becomes more
critical will return immediately.”

When he put himself face to face with the difficulties which he hoped
his message to Wharton would mitigate somewhat, Brent speedily found
himself in a bad temper. He put on his hat, set his teeth deep in an
unlighted cigar, and presently was strolling aimlessly along the Thames
Embankment. He found neither counsel nor encouragement in the face of
old Father Thames. The grey river, like the grey city on its banks, was
calmly indifferent to the petty concerns of any single generation of
human weal and woe. The young man was unreasonably irritated by the
absence of sympathy and inspiration in the inanimate things around him.
The hopelessness of his problem angered him.

“Building the _Mystery_ is the only sensible thing I have done since I
landed the stuff in New York,” he told himself bitterly, while he leaned
over the stone abutment near Cleopatra’s Needle, and watched with
heedless eyes the gathering veil of dusk upon the river. “I was right at
the outset--I cannot keep such a quantity of gold; I cannot spend it; I
cannot give it away. What am I to do? I have turned only an eighth of it
into money, and the financial system of America threatens to come
tumbling about my ears. If I should invite a committee of bankers to
visit my New York strong-room, and allow them to make known what they
saw there, I verily believe anarchy would reign throughout Christendom
within a month. I never dreamed that the monetary system of the world
was so fragile a structure. Why, a golden ball, only about ten yards in
diameter, would crush it in ruins. I solemnly believe that if my vault
contained so many tons of dynamite instead of gold, and it threatened
the destruction of the whole city of New York, it would be a far less
dangerous menace to humanity than it actually is.”

The crushing sense of responsibility with which his thoughts suddenly
overwhelmed the young man threw into his face a grey look of age, which
might have been the reflection of the gathering shadows. His attitude
had unconsciously become one of such dejection that a policeman passing
by looked at him sharply. A ragged urchin with the inevitable box of
matches, which is always the excuse for London mendicancy, accosted
Brent at the same moment.

“Wax lights, sir, penny a box?”

No response.

“Have a light, sir. The cigar’s no good to you, sir, without a light,”
and the boy lit a match and held it up before the tip of the cigar still
in Brent’s mouth. Brent woke up. He turned rather angrily at first, but
the half-impudent, half-winning smile on the dirty but bright face
looking up at him, while its owner stood on tiptoe with the burning
match, checked the sharp rebuff on the end of his tongue. His mood
changed. He allowed the boy to light his cigar. Then he took from his
pocket at least half a dozen golden sovereigns, put them into the lad’s
hand without looking at them, and turned away.

The boy gasped. For an instant he hesitated, then he started to run. He
had not gone more than a dozen steps when he stopped suddenly. He stood
still for a moment and then came slowly back.

“See here, mister,” he explained, with reluctant honesty, holding out
the bright yellow coins toward Brent, “them isn’t ha’pence; them’s
gold.”

“I know it, youngster. You’re welcome to them. Here’s another for your
honesty,” dropping one more sovereign into the grimy hand.

The variety of emotion that revealed itself through the dirt on the
small boy’s face was so rapid that Brent almost burst out laughing. But
the climax surprised him. It was genuine pity in the bright brown eyes,
when after a long silence the little lad came a bit closer, glanced
significantly at the darkening river, and said:

“I say, mister, a toff like you ain’t got no call to be here. You might
fall in, you know, or some blokes might come along and chuck you in for
your ticker. If you’re going to stay I’m going to stop along, too. I can
swim, and the police-boats are right here at the Temple wharf.” And
after a moment, he added, “Come up to Charing Cross and I’ll give you
back the coin--all except the last one; I ain’t got no use for so much,
not in a year.”

Brent listened to this speech in amazement.

“Good God! The boy thinks I am going to drown myself. He can’t account
for indifference to gold on any other hypothesis,” he said to himself.

Putting a friendly hand on the ragged shoulder, he replied, with
reassuring heartiness:

“Well, my lad, I’ll go with you to Charing Cross, if you like. But don’t
be alarmed. I haven’t robbed a bank, or escaped from a lunatic asylum,
or been jilted by a sweetheart. My only trouble is that I’ve got more of
those things”--pointing to the clutched hand in which the boy still
held his coins--“than I know what to do with. By the way, I don’t think
I need a swim as much as you do.”

The boy looked at him mystified and unbelieving.

“Nobody’s got that, sir,” he said, answering the point in Brent’s
remarks quite beyond his comprehension. “Even the Lord Mayor hasn’t got
more coin than he can do with.”

“The boy is quite right,” said Brent to himself. “No other man in all
Christendom is cursed as I am. What real aid or sympathy could I get
even if I sought it?” This to silence the suggestion which had risen in
his mind that he should sacrifice even the privacy of life which he had
guarded so jealously, in order to gain the wisest counsel for the
solution of his momentous problem.

They walked up to the Strand, these two, and the odd companionship
attracted some attention in the crowded thoroughfare. Brent noticed that
the lad looked with considerable interest into the window of a cheap
restaurant, and it prompted the question,

“Are you often hungry, youngster?”

“Oh, yes, ’most always, but I had a pretty good feed this morning,” was
the matter-of-fact reply.

“Let’s see how much you can eat now,” said Brent with some interest,
turning back to the restaurant.

“Just what I was a-goin’ to do, sir, as soon as you had no more use for
me,” responded the boy with enthusiasm, and quickly added--“but I’ll pay
for it, and stand treat for you, too, please, sir.”

Brent laughed, but said nothing, and the boy, assuming an air of supreme
importance, led the way to an unoccupied table far down the narrow room.

“Sit here, sir,” said he, pulling out a chair for his guest and holding
out his hand for Brent’s silk tile, which he put upon a peg by dint of
climbing upon another chair to do it. “Bring a meenoo,” he commanded
grandiloquently of a grinning waiter who came up. He handed the greasy
slip of paper to Brent and observed confidentially:

“Don’t mind the expense, sir, we’ll have a big feed,” and the small
host’s eyes sparkled in anticipation.

Brent tried hard to preserve his gravity, as he explained that he wasn’t
very hungry, because he had eaten heartily in the afternoon. The boy
seized the bill of fare and examined it critically. The most expensive
dishes it boasted cost ninepence, and the variety was extremely limited.

“Haven’t you got any jugged hare, or any roast beef an’ Yorkshire
pudding?” inquired the ragged gourmand with some scorn.

“No, we don’t have joints and hot dishes ready in the evening, but we
can cook you a good steak or cutlets,” said the waiter.

“Well, bring us some cutlets and steak and potatoes--and bacon--and
sausages--and fried onions--and bread and butter--and--and tea, large
cups--and some bath-buns--and cheese,” running his eye rapidly down the
list. “That’s all now--oh, I say,” in sudden inspiration, “how much is a
bottle of fizz?”

“Fizz?”

“Yes, the bubbly stuff that toffs drink.”

“Oh, champagne, do you mean? We haven’t any, but I can send out for a
bottle.”

Brent thought it time to interfere. He didn’t want any fizz, really, he
explained in answer to the incredulous look in the boy’s bright eyes.

“Beer, then?”

No, he didn’t want even beer, and the meal that had been ordered was
quite fit for a king without any additions. The boy dismissed the
waiter, but continued studying the bill of fare for some moments in some
anxiety.

“Do you think that will be enough, sir?” he asked presently. “They’ve
got some fried liver and some cold boiled ham, that I know would be
good.”

Brent assured his anxious entertainer that he would be quite unable to
touch liver or ham after such a repast as had been ordered. The waiter
returned to ask what he should serve first.

“Bring it all at once,” was the boy’s prompt instruction, “and hurry it
up, too.”

It came presently, “all at once,” and it quite filled the table.

“Just help yourself, sir. Ain’t this great? Golly, what a feed!” and the
boy sat forward on the edge of his chair, his eyes dancing with
excitement, and urged his guest to sample all the dishes at once. Brent
took a cutlet and began eating. The boy’s enthusiasm was infectious, and
he could not help catching the spirit which had made the ragged urchin a
picture of unalloyed delight that would warm the coldest heart. It was a
long time since he had seen a hungry boy eat, and Brent watched him with
admiration and envy. To the boy, it was the occasion of the supremest
happiness the year had brought. So it was to Brent.

“He’s a smart little rascal, and handsome, too, under the dirt and
rags,” thought the young man.

The little fellow was too busy to talk during the first few minutes of
his feasting. When the edge was off his appetite, Brent drew him out,
and he was soon telling volubly about his life in the streets and
fortune’s frowns and favors. He was a waif, about eleven he supposed, of
shadowy antecedents, and contented with his lot. He had been to school,
could read and write, had no parents, and “didn’t want any.” Chaps that
did have, most of them, had a harder time of it than he. Brent asked him
what he meant to do with the seven pounds that he had given him.

“I don’t quite know yet, sir,” the lad replied slowly. “I’ll give some
of it to the manager at the Boys’ Lodging, so’s I’ll have a warm place
to sleep nights when trade’s bad next winter. Then I think I’ll try
papers. You see, you can do jolly well with papers when you’ve money,
sir. There’s a place in Whitechapel Road where I can get a fine suit,
secondhand, you know, sir, for three bob, instead o’ these,” and he
looked down at his dilapidated apparel disdainfully.

The meal was soon at an end. Brent had taken only a chop, a bit of
bread, and a little tea, but there was nothing left of the wholesale
repast which the small but now rather podgy looking youngster opposite
him had ordered. Brent said nothing when the boy finally called for the
bill, but allowed him to pay it, and smiled when with a grand air the
lad handed the waiter a tip of twopence. On reaching the street Brent
took a card from his pocket, wrote upon it the address of his lodgings,
and giving it to the boy told him to call upon him at two o’ clock the
following day. The boy promised.

“Don’t fail, now,” Brent added, “for I think I have something for you
that you will like better than selling matches.” The boy touched his hat
and was gone.

Brent felt like himself again. His contact with a little genuine human
nature had done him a world of good, and his whim had brought him more
pleasure than he remembered having for many a day.

“There’s good stuff in that boy,” he reflected, smiling to himself over
some of the youngster’s hospitable oddities. “I’ll turn him over to
Forbes to-morrow, and have him sent to school, and see what can be made
of him.”

He sought the solitude of a smoking-room corner at his club, and sat
down in a more sanguine spirit to meditate over the problem which never
was long absent from his mind.

He remained in a brown study, oblivious to his surroundings, for nearly
half an hour. Then he suddenly jumped up, left the club house, called a
cab, and ten minutes later was at the cable office of the Western Union
Telegraph Company in the Royal Exchange.

“I want to hire the use of one of your cables for an hour or two this
evening,” said he to the man in charge.

“Wh-what?”

“I want to have a conversation with a gentleman in New York over one of
your lines, say between ten and twelve o’clock this evening. Will you
arrange it? How long will it take for messages to go back and forth, if
I sit by the operator’s side at this end, and my friend is in your New
York office?”

“I don’t think we can do it, sir. Our superintendent isn’t here, and I
never heard of anybody hiring a cable in that way. If everything was
clear, short messages would go back and forth very quickly. They would
have to be repeated at the cable station in Ireland, again at the other
end of the cable in Nova Scotia, and again at Duxbury, if you used that
line.”

“Of course you can arrange it, if I pay you for it. Let’s see, though;
it is only three o’clock in New York now, perhaps it can be done quicker
at that end. Give me a form,” and Brent wrote a message to Wharton,
asking him to secure the use of a cable at the Western Union office for
two hours, between five and seven o’clock New York time (ten and twelve
London time), and to post himself at the other end of the wire. The
message, the clerk was confident, would be in New York within half an
hour. Brent left, and returned to the office just before ten o’clock.

“It’s all right, sir,” said the clerk obsequiously.

“We received a message from the New York manager half an hour ago,
instructing us to give you every facility for exclusive use of our best
line. Will you come to the operating room?”

Brent followed, and was seated a moment later by the side of a young
operator, who, with his hand on a telegraph key, was listening to the
rapid ticks of the sounder.

“Mr. Wharton is there, sir. Will you write what you have to say to him?”

“Ask him what happened to-day,” replied Brent.

A few nervous dots and dashes, and the question had started on its three
thousand mile journey. There was silence--one, two, three, four minutes.
Then the answer began to come back. The telegrapher wrote it down rather
slowly, and with occasional pauses between the words, for the cable does
not bring a message as rapidly as a land line can carry it. This was
what Brent read over the clerk’s shoulder:

“Followed your suggestion and stocks sagged after irregular market,
closing about two per cent off. Sold wheat freely, but market did not
break though weak. Bought fifty thousand barrels flour, which shall
offer retailers and bakers to-morrow at sharp reduction. Hope to
demoralize corner in bread-stuffs, but fear will require tremendous
expenditure. Stock market will need continued support even at much
lower range of prices. Might relieve stagnation money market by
borrowing heavily on English bonds, and thus divert funds from
bread-stuffs speculation. Could borrow about ninety millions at two to
three per cent, probably on hundred million bonds. Believe this would
give tone to whole market, and cause immediate decline wheat and other
staples. Distress among masses very great and prospects serious, trouble
becoming more grave. Fear only most radical measures will avert
dangerous outbreaks. Strong movement developing favor immediate summons
special session Congress. Hope you can arrange come over within few
days.”

“That’s all,” said the operator, as he signaled a brief “o.k.” to the
cable station.

As soon as Brent had read the last word he seized a writing-pad, and
scribbling only a few words on a sheet, according to the operator’s
suggestion, in order that the wire might not be idle, he replied as
follows:

“Much surprised and distressed that situation so serious. We must remedy
it at any cost. Hope Congress not be summoned. Some folly sure to
result, and things bad enough now. Your suggestion about bond loan
excellent. Please act on it at once, of course avoiding greater
disturbance than necessary in market. Just as well let stocks decline
five or six per cent more, if can be done without exciting panic.
Scarcer and dearer money with lower range prices stock market ought make
it easy secure break in grain. Do you think a full supply food at
reasonable prices in principal cities will avert outbreaks? If so use
every effort to provide it promptly. Would suggest supplying flour at
old rates to such bakers as will agree sell bread at ordinary prices. I
appreciate great difficulties situation, but beg you use best efforts
and fullest discretion dealing with it. I authorize you sacrifice freely
all resources which I have left in your hands, if necessary, in order
cope with any public evils which may arise. I have important plans on
Continent for next few weeks, but in view emergency which you describe
will postpone them, and sail American Line Saturday.”

The last word had gone within a minute after Brent had finished writing.
The interval was seven or eight minutes before this reply began to come
back:

“Think I fully understand. Believe no necessity can arise for assuming
full power you authorize me to use. I appreciate great responsibility.
Would be glad escape it, but will do best in my power. Thankful you are
returning. Shall endeavor postpone any extreme measures till you arrive.
Yes, think can postpone crisis in cities by breaking prices food supply.
Shall give first attention to that feature problem. Then shall use
every effort drain market of surplus money without causing panic stocks.
Of course you wish all funds accumulated to remain idle.”

And Brent answered:

“Certainly, and if turn in tide should draw investment attention to
stocks at lower prices, do not hesitate to sell freely any of our
securities to supply such demand. Would it be good idea consult
secretary treasury about relief measures in order show administration no
necessity summon special session?”

Wharton’s reply was:

“Yes, if agitation becomes stronger, and perhaps in any event. Necessity
for haste so many directions makes it imperative that have assistance
several agents whom I must take partially into confidence. May be
compelled consult both national and local authorities in execution some
plans. Have not decided definite course action, but will do so to-night,
and push vigorous execution along all lines. If suggestions occur to you
before you sail, please cable them.”

Brent scribbled in answer:

“All right. Do your best, old fellow. I leave everything to you with
perfect confidence. Good-night.”

And after a moment, the instrument ticked back an answering “Good-night”
from under the ocean.



CHAPTER XI.

A STRUGGLE AND A SACRIFICE.


There was a good deal of disappointment among the passengers of the
steamship _Paris_ as she steamed up from Sandy Hook toward quarantine,
in the dusk of Friday evening of the week following Brent’s conversation
by cable with his New York representative. The ship had failed by less
than two hours to reach the quarantine station before sunset. The
exasperating and absurd regulation under which the health officers of
the port refuse to give pratique to any vessel between sunset and
sunrise would, therefore, keep the ship’s company of a thousand persons
prisoners for twelve long hours almost within sight of their
destination.

The delay was particularly annoying to Brent, whose rising apprehensions
had made the voyage irksome and long. The splendid ship, only two years
before the queen of the seas, had seemed slow. She had made her name and
record. Her qualities and powers were known. Ships, like men, become
time-servers and lose ambition. Not since she was first outstripped by
a younger rival had the _Paris_ matched even her own best speed. Brent
missed the exhilaration which the tingling nerves and throbbing pulses
of the _Mystery_ had communicated to every one on board during her
conquering voyage of a month before. The new-born ship, a third the size
of this powerful leviathan, had seemed to feel a sympathetic yet
absolute mastery of the element in which she moved, from the moment her
prow first tossed aside the astonished waters of New York Bay. Neptune
favored youth and audacity, and had contempt for age and experience and
mere size.

Like every one else, Brent watched the beautiful panorama on either side
as the ship ran up the Narrows in the soft October twilight. No sooner
had the anchor been dropped in the little quarantine cove than two
steamboats came alongside. One was the mail boat, and Brent was
cogitating the idea that perhaps a few dollars judiciously bestowed
might enable him to smuggle himself over the side with the mail-bags,
when a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and a cheery voice said:

“How are you, old fellow? Come along with me.”

“Jack? This is good luck. How did you get aboard?”

“Came down on the revenue cutter. Don’t say anything to the other
passengers; but I’ve got a pass to take you right up to the city. You
can’t take your baggage. Leave that till to-morrow and come along at
once.”

The two men climbed down the ladder over the side, and while the cutter
was steaming back to the Battery, Wharton detailed the week’s rapid turn
of events.

“You’ve come back none too soon, old man,” he began in a serious voice.
“Things are really in a very bad way, and I am not ready to take any
further steps without your direct authority. A mob in Milwaukee burned
two or three big grain elevators with several million bushels of wheat
day before yesterday; there have been bread riots in Buffalo and
Pittsburg, and there would have been bloody work in Chicago this week if
we had not broken the corner in retail bread prices. The president has
called a special session of Congress to meet early next month. The
outlook is even more critical than when I cabled you, and no mere
palliative measures will relieve the situation. It will require a very
radical remedy to prevent serious disaster in several forms.”

“I’m mighty sorry to hear it, Jack. Do you think things are much worse
than they would have been if we had not interfered last winter?” asked
Brent, with a discouraged air.

“That’s hard to say,” replied Wharton in some doubt. “I presume we
should have had a blue panic, plenty of failures, commercial paralysis,
suspension of all kinds of manufacturing, low prices, and the pinch of
the hardest of hard times--just a repetition of what the country has to
go through once in twenty years or so. What is happening now is very
different. It is an entirely new experience, and its very novelty adds
to the danger, because nobody really understands it or knows how to deal
with it. Instead of too little money, we have too much. In ordinary hard
times people get frightened and don’t dare invest in the usual ways. So
they hoard their money till the scare is over. It’s just the opposite
now. The country seems to have lost confidence in money itself. That is
something which hasn’t happened before in our day. So the popular
passion is to hoard things of intrinsic value instead of gold.”

“How much have you succeeded in borrowing?”

“Only about fifteen millions so far. Such large loans cannot be
negotiated as rapidly as I hoped, but within three or four days we shall
be able to withdraw fully fifty millions from the money market, and by
the time Congress meets, twice that. The effect will be beneficial, no
doubt, but its full influence will not be felt for a month at least, and
in the meantime there is a very dangerous emergency to meet.”

“Well, John, what can we do? I confess I am unequal to the problem,” and
the worry and anxiety upon Brent’s countenance gave him more the
appearance of a man helpless in the face of bankruptcy than of a Crœsus
struggling under too great a load of wealth.

Wharton looked at his friend closely in the rather dim light of a lamp
which lit that corner of the cabin before replying. After a moment or
two, he said, with an earnestness of which Brent had not thought him
capable:

“Bob, old fellow, I don’t consider that you are obliged to do anything.
You are an immensely wealthy man--the richest in the world, I have no
doubt. You have been good enough to make me your confidant and agent in
all your operations of the past year. I know that in everything you have
done, your object has been some general or specific benefit to others. I
know that your motives in the use of money have been purer and more
unselfish than those of any other man I ever met. Money may be the root
of all evil, but it is not your fault that your money has not been an
unmixed blessing to every one who has touched it. It may be true that
some of the evils which threaten just now are traceable to the free
distribution of your great store of gold. But you can face the situation
with an absolutely clear conscience. You did the best you could, and
everything for the best. No man can do more than that. There is no
obligation upon you, legal or moral, to sacrifice yourself in the
solution of this crisis.”

“You are very good, Jack, to make a philanthropist of me,” interrupted
Brent, smiling faintly, “but you know very well that the coat doesn’t
fit, and to tell you the truth, I should be sorry if it did. There is no
virtue in giving or throwing away what one doesn’t want. Neither is it
any credit to a man to use money for a good purpose when he can gain
nothing by devoting it to an evil one. I am in the most humiliating of
all positions--that of a man unequal to his responsibilities. A fool is
more to be despised than a knave,” went on the young man bitterly, “and
‘good intentions’ excuse nothing. I have got the whole country into an
infernal mess through my stupid interference with the established order
of things. Now I am bound to repair the mischief as far as possible,
just as much as if I had deliberately wrought the same ruin.”

“Nonsense, man,” responded Wharton warmly. “Your sentiments do you
credit, but you’re morbidly overconscientious. And so far from being a
fool or stupid, there isn’t one trained financier in a hundred that
wouldn’t have made worse mistakes than yours. Of course you know it will
make a big hole even in your fortune to restore the financial world to
its normal condition. In fact, I don’t know how it’s to be done, though
I’ve no doubt we can much improve the present situation. Let me see, you
have added about five hundred million dollars to the world’s monetary
supply of gold. I hope you haven’t a few hundred millions more still in
reserve.”

Brent had been pacing restlessly back and forth in the little cabin. He
stopped suddenly at Wharton’s last words, hesitated a moment, then faced
his friend, and with a gesture, half of defiance, half of despair,
exclaimed:

“That’s the worst of the whole accursed business, Jack. _I haven’t used
a sixth part of the stuff yet!_”

It was not merely surprise that overspread Wharton’s face as he stared
speechlessly at his friend on hearing these words. It was the
half-dazed, apprehensive, helpless expression which the shock of bad
news first brings to a man’s countenance. It was a strange picture, the
deep and genuine distress of these two men over the possession of
fabulous wealth. Money may usually be depended upon to intensify the
passions of its possessor. Is it contrary to human nature to say that
its unstinted supply will overwhelm even selfishness and greed? Or was
the desire to escape the burden and responsibility of superfluous
millions only another form of selfishness? The two men were silent a
long time--the one striving to realize the tremendous, the terrible
significance to the world of those ten pregnant words; the other
enjoying a certain relief that at last his weary load was shared by
another’s shoulders. It was Brent who spoke first.

“Jack, my boy,” he exclaimed suddenly, the genial spirit of college days
coming to the surface once more under the influence of his confession,
“I’ll turn it all over to you, and there is certainly more than five
thousand tons left, and cry good riddance if you’ll take it off my
hands.”

Wharton was still silent.

“There’s an offer for you, man,” Brent went on lightly. “Untold wealth,
boundless power, immortal fame, all without lifting a finger! Can you
refuse?”

There was neither eagerness nor greed in Wharton’s eye. He had appeared
careworn and jaded under the pressure of his extraordinary labors of the
past week when he met Brent on the steamer. Now he seemed suddenly to
have grown ten years older.

“Don’t joke, Bob, it’s too serious. It’s appalling,” he wearily replied
to his friend’s last question.

“But I’m not joking,” said Brent more seriously. “I’m in dead earnest.
You are much better fitted for this responsibility than I am. I shall be
quite contented with a few millions to live upon and develop a few
hobbies. Then you can work out the greater problem to the best
advantage. It is in your line and not in mine. Furthermore, I have
perfect confidence in both your heart and your head, for the solving of
it--if it can be solved.”

“You have been very generous to me already, Bob,” was the earnest
response, “but what you propose would be cruelty rather than generosity.
However, I presume not one man in a million would look at it in that
light. I shouldn’t myself six months ago. But I am stunned by this news.
What you told me last December seemed too good to be true; this is quite
the reverse. My first impulse is to beg you to take this gold back where
it came from, or rather to bury it, sink it, destroy it somehow, and
never let the world know it existed. The mere suspicion of its existence
would plunge the markets of the world, the whole financial system, into
chaos, and throw us back to the primitive methods of barter and trade
under barbarism. Gold would be demonetized instantly and become a mere
commodity before any ‘Gold Repeal Acts’ could be passed. You have seen
the effect of flooding the market with gold in the last few months. We
are on the verge of disaster now, and only prompt corrective measures
will save us. What would happen if the whole truth were known? Why, man,
it is almost beyond one’s power to conceive the ruin that would be
wrought. But I must have time to think. There are a thousand things to
be considered before you can act, Bob, and I fear you must call in the
assistance of wiser heads than mine. I never until now quailed before
responsibility, Robert, but I do before this. The very fate of
civilization may almost be said to hang upon your decision,” and a sense
akin to awe deepened the lines in the young man’s face as he rose rather
unsteadily to his feet, and put both hands on the shoulders of his
friend.

“You do not need to impress upon me the fearful importance of it all,
John,” Brent responded sadly, all the lightness vanishing from his tones
and manner. “The knowledge of it has been growing upon me for weeks,
until it has crushed out half the charm of life. I wish I had told you
the truth at the outset, for it would have enabled me to avoid some
mistakes, and the accursed secret would have been easier to carry if you
had shared it. Never mind now, it is still a problem of to-morrow, while
that of to-day is difficult enough. Every remaining ounce of gold shall
remain where it is until we have decided upon its final disposition.
Well, here we are at the wharf,” and the two men went ashore, took an
elevated train up town, and Brent established himself in his former
quarters at the Waldorf.

Wharton remained until long after midnight, discussing plans and
expedients for easing the situation where the pressure was greatest. His
face was haggard and white, when he finally said good-night.

“I almost wish you hadn’t told me about your vault full of reserves,” he
observed wearily. “It will worry me all night. I haven’t known what
insomnia was until lately--and it’s the very devil.”

“Take care, old fellow,” responded Brent anxiously. “You are working far
harder over this business than I am, and Heaven knows it’s never out of
my mind many minutes at a time. We can’t either of us afford to break
down. Just take the thing philosophically--which means, you know, look
at it with the eyes of a fatalist. We can do just so much and no more,
and we are doing it. I’m not going to let my hindsight abuse my
foresight any longer. I shall sleep better to-night than I have slept
for six months, and you can do the same if you will remember that my
abominable troubles are beyond your reach until ten o’clock to-morrow.
Sit down a minute longer while I tell you a little story,” and Brent,
with many quaint touches of dry humor, of which he had a rich fund
rarely drawn upon, told of his first meeting with his ragged London
_protégé_. Wharton enjoyed the little incident hugely, and the genuine
ring of college days in his laugh was a better assurance than drugs
could give that his rest would not after all be sleepless.

They were critical days which followed. The country passed through a
crisis more perilous than the keenest observers could understand or
fathom. The course of events was a complete enigma. The unexpected
happened continually. Where danger seemed greatest it disappeared. Where
it had been unsuspected, it broke out even in violence and bloodshed.
Where bread had been most scarce, it became mysteriously plentiful.
Where hunger had been clemming in silence, it suddenly gave voice, and
honest hands defied the law that they might feed empty bellies. And the
world of trade seemed turned over to laws of paradox. The distrust of
gold, of money, was growing rapidly stronger, yet there sprang up a
vigorous demand for it. The banks wanted it, and began putting up their
rates. It was no longer a drug in the market. The effect upon perverse
human nature was what it always had been. As long as it had been
plentiful nobody cared for it; when it began to grow scarce everybody
clamored for it. Within ten days the visible supply of money in New York
shrank more than one hundred millions.

There was a sudden halt in the mad speculation in wheat. The newspapers
discovered that bread by the loaf in New York and Chicago could be
bought cheaper than wheat by the bushel or flour by the barrel. The
revelation was received first with incredulity and then with dismay by
the holders of grain. Under this influence and that of tightening money,
the more timid of the speculators began to sell out. That was enough.
The market trembled, tottered, and then the crash came. The wheat pit in
Chicago was the scene of the greatest tragedy in trade of all its long
history of great catastrophes. Black ruin stalked into the wild arena
and laid low great and small alike.

Brent was in Wharton’s office when the news came. A private wire from
Chicago brought fragmentary reports of the frenzied panic. For a few
minutes the confusion of quotations was impossible to understand. Then
it appeared that wheat had fallen more than fifty cents a bushel in less
than a quarter of an hour.

“Can’t we stop it, Jack?” exclaimed Brent, when the operator handed
Wharton a slip of paper making this point clear. “This is unnecessary
ruin, and there’s no knowing where the thing will end.”

“I’ll try,” replied Wharton, scribbling rapidly on a pad and handing it
to the operator. “I’m instructing Barton to buy five million bushels if
necessary, to steady the market.”

The message was gone in a trice, but it was a matter of seconds rather
than minutes in dealing with such an emergency, and nothing for the
moment could check the frantic scramble to escape from the ruins of the
flimsy fabric of speculation. In ten minutes more, wheat was a dollar a
bushel cheaper than the day before, and the transactions mounted high in
the millions. News of failures began to come, and the scene in the wheat
pit was reported to be like that of a madhouse in revolt.

“I’m afraid we’ve overdone it,” said Wharton anxiously. “I had no idea
the bubble would collapse so easily. We must be ready for trouble here,
too. The stock market will take alarm, and there may be devils let loose
here, too.”

In confirmation of his fears, the telephone connecting with the Stock
Exchange on Wharton’s desk rang at that moment, and Strong & Co.’s
representative there notified him that the market was becoming active
and feverish over the news from Chicago. Wharton telephoned brief
instructions to head off any decline by supporting strongly two or three
prominent stocks, and he quickly turned again to some more slips from
the Chicago wire which Brent handed him.

“Worse than ever, Jack,” said the latter. “How much cash have we in
Chicago?”

“About twelve millions available within instant reach.”

“Hadn’t we better throw it all into wheat, and force a reaction?”

“Perhaps even that wouldn’t stem the tide, if this fury doesn’t soon
exhaust itself. Whew! Some of the biggest houses in the West are in this
list of suspensions. These last figures are a little better, though.
Barton must be at work.”

“Mr. Barton’s reply, sir,” called out the telegraph operator, and a
moment later handed over this message:

“Order filled. Market still unsettled. Await instructions.”

“I think you are right, Robert. I shall tell him to bid up wheat
smartly. Five million bushels more, if necessary.” And the order was in
Chicago sixty seconds later.

The effect was soon felt. The recovery began, and within an hour the
advance had become steady. Wharton checked it as soon as about one
fourth of the day’s decline had been regained.

It was impossible to do much toward limiting the secondary effects of
the crash during the next few days. The fears of all classes of
investors had been fully roused. The ordinary laws of trade seemed to
have been suspended. A kind of commercial anarchy was in the air. All
markets were unsettled, and everybody was apprehensive of all manner of
disaster. For several days, Wharton and Brent strove by every resource
and expedient that their combined wits could suggest to hold the storm
in check. They bought in some markets, they sold in others, they
borrowed money, they loaned it, according as the rapidly changing
exigencies of the situation seemed to dictate. They succeeded in
completely confusing and demoralizing even the wisest and most
conservative financial leaders. The men whose judgment and action are
the best reliance in great crises were as much in the dark as the most
bumptious charlatan of finance. But after a few days things began to
quiet down a little. It was not the calm of returning confidence,
however. The partial suspension of activity was merely the paralysis of
doubt and fear, and as ominous almost as the rampant fever which had
preceded it.

The situation was complicated by the culmination of long gathering
protests in the industrial world. Great strikes upon the principal
railways and in cotton, woolen, and other manufacturing establishments
were not only threatened, but in some cases actually begun. Mill-owners
had been on the point of yielding to their operatives’ demands, but the
panic in prices for two weeks had affected their products seriously.
They realized that their market, like nearly all others, was
overstocked. Instead of running their mills overtime as they had been
doing to supply what was really an investors’ and not a consumers’
demand, they suddenly faced the necessity of cutting down production, if
not closing their mills entirely. The operatives had pressed their
demand too late. They were again to become the victims of the suddenly
changed conditions. Before the crisis, they were in the hard situation
of having plenty of work at nominally fair wages, but really at wages
possessing only sixty per cent of the purchasing power of the same
number of dollars and cents six months before. Now that they had finally
rebelled against this injustice, the conditions had suddenly changed.
Prices of the necessaries of life had fallen, but before the
wage-earners could take advantage of the return to old conditions, their
demands for more money were met by the announcement that there would
soon be no work at any price. What wonder that discontent and rebellion
were rampant among all classes?

Affairs were in this gloomy condition, when Brent and Wharton sat in the
latter’s office after the close of business on the 1st of November. The
events of the past month had been a severe strain upon both men. Wharton
was both pale and haggard. His nervous force had been almost drained. He
was tipped back in his office chair, with both feet perched upon the
slide at the side of his desk, and with his head resting wearily upon
his hand. Brent, with gloomy, rather indifferent countenance, was
stretched out in an equally negligent attitude in a large
leather-covered lounging chair. Neither had spoken for some time when
Brent turned to his friend and remarked, in a tone that expressed both
disgust and indifference:

“Well, Jack, what next? For my part, I’m utterly sick of it all. Let’s
take to-morrow’s steamer for the Mediterranean. You need it badly
enough, and what good can we do here? I believe things get worse instead
of better the more we meddle with them.”

Wharton pondered some time before replying. Finally he took his feet
down from their resting-place, shook himself together, and with strong
emphasis thus delivered himself:

“Yes, Bob, it’s time we stopped meddling, and I agree there’s not much
more that we alone can do in the present situation. The crisis is too
great for one man or two men. We must have help. I know how you dread
notoriety, but if ever a problem demanded the best wisdom of the country
and the world for its solution, it is this one. Our poor efforts have
not been altogether mischievous. Worse things might have happened than
have happened; but we haven’t begun to get at the heart of the problem
yet. Even if we weather the present crisis without worse disaster, there
is your remaining incubus of gold to deal with. That is what makes the
situation hopeless in my eyes. Humanity has never faced a more terrible
enemy, in my opinion, than you hold locked up in your vault. It isn’t
safe there, or rather society isn’t safe as long as it remains there. I
haven’t had a moment’s peace since you told me about it. No locks and
keys ever made are strong enough to hold such a quantity of gold in
safety. That isn’t the worst of it. The knowledge of its existence is
just as dangerous as the thing itself. It is a marvel to me that the
secret has not leaked out before now. Mark my words, it will leak out.
What we have done in the last year is enough to justify the wildest
suspicions. I am not so sure that they do not already exist. The _Sun_,
as you know, printed some broad hints six months ago. A widespread
suspicion of the truth would work almost as much mischief as actual
knowledge, and it would inevitably lead to discovery. Why, in such an
emergency, a strong government on some pretext or other would
arbitrarily assume the authority to investigate and uncover the facts at
any cost. It would be quite right, too, in defying legal rights and all
other obstacles to the accomplishment of its purpose. Private property
rights are sacred and inviolable, properly enough, in the ordinary
circumstances of life; but when they threaten the vital welfare of
society they will soon be swept aside--yes, even in liberty-loving,
all-men-free-and-equal America.”

“Go on, Jack, I agree with you,” said Brent quietly, when Wharton paused
for a moment.

“Very well, then, we see the danger, and it is imminent,” resumed the
young man, with the emphasis of intense conviction. “It is far better
that the truth should be made known voluntarily and with due precautions
to those most qualified to deal with it, than that it should be
discovered by accident. Everything depends, in fact, on keeping it from
the knowledge of the world until a policy for rendering it harmless has
been decided upon. In a word, Bob, it seems to me there are only two
courses open to you--either sink this gold, every bit of it, in a
bottomless pit, or place the facts at once before the best jury of
financial wisdom the world can supply, and abide by its decision.”

Wharton’s pale face was whiter than ever in its earnestness, as he
leaned forward and watched the effect of his words upon his friend.
Brent had listened to the straightforward argument without any sign of
emotion. He did not speak for some moments, and when he did turn toward
his companion, Wharton was surprised at the expression of mingled
sadness and determination which he saw in his eyes.

“I had already reached the same conclusion, Jack,” he said, still very
quietly, “and I have made my decision.”

“Which is?”

“To put the whole case before a competent tribunal, as you suggest, and
act upon its decision. I cannot bring myself to take the responsibility
of destroying this great mass of what the world calls wealth, and I
recognize the criminal folly of risking longer the disclosure of its
existence. I tell you frankly that I never took a step with greater
reluctance than I shall take this one. It means the sacrifice of much
that I hold most dear in life. It means the loss of all privacy. It
means an odious notoriety from which there will not be a moment’s
escape. It means living till the end of my days under a fiercer light
than beats upon a throne. It means fame without honor, fame such as only
the lowest vanity can covet. It means the envy and hatred of the
majority of my fellows. It means--bah!” A gesture of loathing expressed
even more forcibly than his words the young man’s shrinking from the
penalties of the course of action he had decided upon.

“I know how you feel about it, Robert,” interrupted his friend, “and I
sympathize with you sincerely in your dread of becoming in a certain
sense a public character; but I think you take a wrong view of your
position and of the attitude which the general public will assume toward
you. If the plain truth be told, and further evil effects of the
existence of this gold are avoided, as I believe they will be, then you
cannot stand in any but a patriotic and honorable light. Instead of
being criticised and condemned, you will be respected and honored by
every man whose good opinion is worth having. None but a few crazy fools
will denounce you. Even the anarchists cannot complain if you devote
this treasure to public uses, as you probably will.”

“You are quite wrong about the anarchists,” remarked Brent, with cynical
bitterness. “Their big red mouths will be loudest in my denunciation,
and I shall have to be as careful in my precautions against bombs and
cranks as the czar of Russia. Yes, I shall be speedily proclaimed the
deadliest enemy of the race. But that will be one of the least of my
annoyances. However, I’ll make the best of it. The load of
responsibility which is crushing both of us will at all events be taken
away. Now, for carrying out our resolve. What do you suggest?”

“It is too vast a subject, it seems to me, to be dealt with under any
private or even strictly American auspices--no matter how high the
individuals composing your jury might stand in the financial world. We
should secure if possible the creation of a small international board,
composed of the most eminent financiers or statesmen, selected under the
direct authority of the principal powers. I know of no other plan which
would secure the world’s confidence, which is essential in the end. I
think the president will readily see the wisdom of summoning such a
monetary conference. It could be done without exciting suspicion, for
the troubles of the past few months have many times suggested it, as you
know. My idea would be to see the secretary of the treasury and the
president at once, lay the whole matter before them, and suggest this
course of action.”

“A good plan, I believe, Jack,” said Brent reflectively. “We cannot act
on it too promptly, for there’s no knowing what mischief Congress may do
as soon as it assembles. I wouldn’t be surprised if its first step
should be to order a drag-net investigation of the financial situation,
and you may be sure you would be the first witness summoned. Be a good
idea to see the president before he sends in his message, wouldn’t it?”

“Quite right,” responded Wharton quickly. “It might save lots of
trouble.”

“Well, why not go over to Washington to-night, and call on the
secretary and the president to-morrow?”

Wharton thought a moment.

“Yes, the very best thing we can do. We’ll take the midnight train,” he
said finally.

And the midnight train carried no passengers whose sleep was sounder
than that of the two weary men, who took with them to Washington a
heavier burden to put upon the shoulders of the nation’s chief than any
president had borne since Lincoln.



CHAPTER XII.

A CONSULTATION AT THE WHITE HOUSE.


When the secretary of the treasury reached his desk on the morning of
Saturday, the 2d of November, 1895, he notified the doorkeeper that he
should be extremely busy for some hours, and that all callers must be
refused. Even members of Congress must be denied admission.
Nevertheless, a few minutes later, the attendant came hesitatingly into
the secretary’s private room with two cards, and said:

“These gentlemen insisted, sir, that I should bring you the message on
one of their cards.”

Visibly annoyed, the secretary took the cards, and glancing at the first
exclaimed impatiently:

“Robert Brent--who is he?”

Upon the second card, bearing the name of “John Wharton,” he read the
hastily scribbled words:

“A few minutes, please, upon business of the utmost public importance.”

The secretary’s manner changed instantly. “Show the gentlemen in at
once,” was his order. A moment later he greeted Wharton cordially,
saying:

“You are the one man whom I am heartily glad to see to-day.”

“Thank you, sir,” responded Wharton. “I wish I could hope that my coming
would justify your welcome. Allow me to present my friend, Mr. Brent of
New York.”

The two men shook hands, and when they had seated themselves near the
secretary’s desk, Wharton went on to say:

“Let me explain at once that Mr. Brent is the principal for whom my firm
has been acting in all the operations with which our name has been
connected during the past year. It has been his money and only his which
has been used. We have come to Washington to put you in possession of
certain information which is of the gravest importance to the nation,
and to ask your advice and assistance. I should say at the outset that
if even a suspicion of the truth which we are here to make known to you
should transpire, it would work the greatest calamity to the country; so
you will pardon me, I know, if I ask if we can speak without possibility
of being overheard.”

“Certainly, Mr. Wharton,” responded the secretary gravely, his glance
resting first on one man and then on the other with an expression of
keenest interest. “We are quite by ourselves, and we shall not be
disturbed. I hope your facts are not as alarming as your words imply.”

“I fear they are, sir,” resumed Wharton. “You know already a good deal
about our investment of very large sums of money, originally in gold,
since December of last year. We have expended in one way or another in
this country and in England a total of about five hundred million
dollars.”

“Is it as much as that?” inquired the secretary surprised. “I knew it
was a vast sum, but I imagined it was somewhat smaller.”

“Yes, and you know, sir, what the effect has been. But you may not know
that we have striven by every means in our power during the past few
weeks to check and counteract the evils which have arisen and which have
threatened. It has been with rather poor success, I admit, but that is
because the task has been too great for us, and not by reason of any
lack of effort or of monetary sacrifice upon our part.”

“I know more than you imagine, gentlemen,” interrupted the secretary
warmly, “of the country’s indebtedness to you for your services during
this crisis. I have seen Mr. Wharton’s hand in many places, and it has
been more powerful for good than any of the resources of the government.
Ever since our conference last spring, Mr. Wharton, I have had the
fullest confidence in your motives and in your patriotism. Had it been
different, I should have endeavored to bring some influence to bear upon
you before now.”

“You are very kind, sir, but the credit is Mr. Brent’s, whose
instructions I have followed. But now we are at the end of our
resources. No, our funds are not exhausted,” noticing the surprise in
the secretary’s face. “It would be far better if they were. The fact is,
and this is what we have come to tell you, that our funds are
practically inexhaustible. Mr. Brent has still stored in New York more
than five thousand tons of gold, or nearly three billions of dollars.”

The secretary of the treasury started forward in his chair, looking from
one man to the other in agitated amazement.

“Can this be true, gentlemen, five thousand tons of gold?” he exclaimed
presently, in tones of gravest foreboding.

“Literally true, sir, I am sorry to say,” replied Brent, to whom the
secretary seemed to turn for confirmation of Wharton’s startling
announcement.

“Then, indeed, are we in danger--not only we but the whole world.”
Suddenly springing to his feet, the secretary pressed an electric button
and said energetically, “Gentlemen, this is not a matter for us alone.
Will you go with me at once to the president?”

Both men assented, and his confidential assistant appearing at that
moment, the secretary said to him:

“Telephone to the White House, and ask if the president will see me and
two gentlemen at once upon a matter of the most vital importance.”

An affirmative reply came in a few moments, and the three men started
for the Executive Mansion, the trip being made almost in silence. They
were admitted at once, on reaching the White House, to the president’s
private office.

The president, judging from the litter of papers upon the desk at which
he sat, had been hard at work. He seemed slightly surprised at seeing
two strangers enter with the secretary, but he acknowledged the
introductions with quiet affability. He recognized Wharton’s name at
once and expressed especial satisfaction at meeting him just at that
time.

“I have thought several times within the last month of inviting you to
call upon me,” continued the president, “for I have no doubt you can
supply us with valuable information and suggestions bearing upon the
financial situation.”

Wharton was about to express his appreciation of the honor, when the
secretary of the treasury addressed his chief with such gravity of
manner that conventional commonplaces were dropped at once.

“Mr. Wharton and Mr. Brent have come to me with a statement of such
tremendous import that I have brought them here at once without
inquiring into particulars. I should say in the first place,” explained
the secretary, while the president listened with close and rather
surprised attention, “that Mr. Brent is the owner of all the gold which
has been so mysteriously introduced into circulation during the past
year, and that Mr. Wharton has been his agent in all the transactions
with which we are familiar. The fact which I have hastened to bring
instantly to your attention is this: These gentlemen inform me that the
amount of virgin gold which they have thus far put upon the market is
about five hundred millions, but _this enormous sum is less than one
sixth of their total store of the metal_.”

The president, while the secretary was speaking, had been unconsciously
fingering a large paper-weight near the edge of his desk. His surprise
was so great at the cabinet officer’s last words, that by an involuntary
movement he sent the heavy implement clattering to the floor. No one in
the anxious group noticed the noise. The secretary began pacing the room
nervously. Brent’s face was melancholy, Wharton’s worried and worn. The
president seemed to lose color for a moment, and then an expression of
stern determination such as gathers in the faces of resolute men
confronting sudden emergencies came upon his. There was a trace of
sternness in his voice also when, after looking keenly at Brent for a
moment, he inquired:

“Can this be true, Mr. Brent?”

“Yes,” answered Brent, almost guiltily, “unfortunately it is true.”

“May I ask what you propose doing with this gold?” pursued the
president.

“That I do not know, sir. It is to ask your advice that I am here. The
responsibility is too great for me. I stand ready to devote it to
whatever purpose will best conserve the interests of the country and of
humanity,” was the reply.

“Thank God for that!” responded the president, evidently much relieved,
“for you have in your hands a power for evil greater than I imagined any
man possessed. What you have done already has not made me suspicious of
your motives, although you will probably admit that some mistakes have
been made. Can you tell us the history of this gold, where it is, and
whether the source whence it comes is exhausted?”

“I will gladly tell you everything except the location of its original
bed,” Brent replied. “That is a secret which is not mine to share. It
was chiefly to prevent the overrunning of the region by goldhunters
that I was permitted to take it away. Besides, the knowledge is no
longer of importance, because I assure you that the wonderful deposit is
completely exhausted. The gold, some five thousand tons remaining, is
stored in a private vault in New York. It will remain there until the
soundest wisdom I can avail myself of determines its final disposition.”

The president left his chair, walked over to the young man, and held out
his hand. Brent rose in some surprise and accepted the hand-clasp, while
the president exclaimed warmly:

“Mr. Brent, I honor you for that sentiment, and the country will honor
you. Unless you were governed by a generous spirit, we should be face to
face with almost certain ruin. As it is, a more difficult problem it
would be hard to imagine. I confess I should not venture to suggest a
solution without long and careful deliberation. But it is not a new
problem to you two gentlemen. Will you not give us fully your views of
the situation?”

“Mr. Wharton is much better able to discuss the matter than I am,”
responded Brent, while all four drew up chairs in a close group. “We
have endeavored during the past month to ward off or mitigate such evils
as we could in the commercial and financial worlds by various expedients
and palliative measures, some of them wise perhaps, and some of them
otherwise. We have come to the conclusion, however, that it is beyond
our power unaided to restore tranquillity and soundness. We have
succeeded in withdrawing about one hundred and fifty millions in cash
from circulation. Another hundred millions of the five hundred millions
distributed was placed abroad, and at a fair estimate I should judge
about fifty millions more had found its way out of the country. So I
calculate that the circulating medium in the United States is about two
hundred millions greater than it was one year ago, or before we began
operations. That is the situation as I understand it regarding the
present placing of the gold which I have introduced into the market. For
the future, I am anxious to coöperate in any way you may advise for the
relief of present difficulties.

“Then comes the larger question of the disposal of the remaining three
billions of gold now on my hands. It is as much a matter of concern to
the whole world as to America. I should like to submit the problem to a
commission, necessarily small, and composed of the highest statesmanship
and financial wisdom of the world. I know of no way of doing this except
through you. It would, I think, be within your power to convene such an
international monetary conference. Only the great powers need be
invited, and without disclosing the secret, even to the heads of
governments, an intimation of the importance of the matter could be
conveyed through diplomatic channels, and thus you could secure the
selection of delegates of the highest ability and influence. Of course
no hint of the truth must be allowed to transpire until this conference
has decided upon a final policy, and arrangements have been made for
putting it into execution.”

The president listened to Brent’s statement with close attention and
manifest interest. He remained for some moments in profound thought. At
length he said:

“On first consideration, Mr. Brent, I am inclined to approve of your
suggestion unreservedly. There are difficulties, but I think they might
be overcome. I will talk the matter over with the secretary, and we will
all discuss it together again a little later. What is more pressing for
the moment is our present policy. The Congress, as you know, meets next
week. I was engaged in reshaping my message when you came in. After what
you have told me, it may be necessary to redraft it entirely. I was
prepared to recommend vigorous measures to bring about restoration of
confidence, even to the suspension of the free coinage of gold, if such
a policy seemed advisable. But with all the other mints of the world
still open, and with your assurance that no more additions will be made
to the unnatural supply of gold, such a course appears to be
unnecessary. We have already curtailed the work of the mints. You know
they have all been coining gold day and night at top speed for months,
and still have been unable to handle a fraction of the metal offered.
Hereafter they will run only during regular hours and at ordinary
capacity. Have you noticed, by the way, gentlemen, how completely you
have solved the silver problem?”

“Yes, sir,” responded Brent smiling. “We have almost succeeded in both
demonetizing gold and remonetizing silver.”

“True,” resumed the president, “and you have quite succeeded in
demonstrating the folly and futility of trying to maintain by
legislation the value of an oversupplied article, be it silver or gold
or anything else. We attempted the impossible in this country more
persistently than anywhere else, and we suffered a heavier penalty. Now
your deluge of gold has restored the old-fashioned ratio of the world’s
production of the two metals, and the price of silver without any
legislation or manipulation, simply in obedience to the laws of trade,
has risen to its old level. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that
gold had descended toward the silver level. If it should become known
that you still held five thousand tons of gold ready to turn into money,
does anybody suppose that an act of the Congress or any other fiat of
government could maintain gold as the standard of value? I have no
doubt, however, that the friends of silver will come forward next week
with some interesting proposals on behalf of that no longer despised
metal. The situation will be difficult to control, very difficult
indeed, pending the solution of your greater problem. I cannot help
wishing you had placed these facts before me a month ago. Then I should
not have felt it my duty to call an extra session.”

The president leaned back in his chair, drummed mechanically upon the
desk, and for some time was lost in deep thought. The others were silent
likewise. Presently collecting himself, and addressing both Wharton and
Brent, the chief of the nation said earnestly:

“Gentlemen, I shall deal with you in this matter with complete frankness
and without reserve or formality, just as if you were members of my
cabinet. The subject is too great, too portentous, for us to allow any
consideration save the best welfare of the country, of the world, to
enter into our treatment of it. I hope you will give me the fullest
benefit of the most earnest thought you can devote to it. Let it be a
personal matter between us, as between men having a common duty. I have
absolute faith in your integrity of motive. Your action in coming to me
with your momentous secret is sufficient proof of that. Now let us have
a few hours to digest this tremendous announcement. No man’s mind--not
mine at least--can comprehend all at once the infinite bearings and
significance of such news. The secretary and I will both have a better
grasp of the subject after sleeping upon it. Will you not come here
again to-morrow afternoon, say at two o’clock, and we will have a long
talk? Then we will dine quietly and put our heads together over it again
in the evening.”

Brent and Wharton heartily thanked the president for his expression of
confidence in them, accepted his invitation, and withdrew. The secretary
remained with his chief. The sun had long set when he left the White
House.

The next day’s conference at the Executive Mansion was long and
interesting. It is not necessary to report it in detail. It rambled over
the vast ramifications of the subject in a more haphazard and cursory
way than the matter was afterwards treated by the more deliberate
tribunal to which it was eventually referred. The president appeared
rather tired and anxious when he greeted his guests, and so did the
secretary of the treasury.

“I told you we should be better able to deal with our difficulty after
a night’s sleep,” remarked the president with a smile, as he grasped
Brent’s hands. “I for one did not find it an easy matter to sleep upon.”

“Nor I,” observed the secretary sententiously.

“Wharton and I, on the contrary, have enjoyed better rest the last two
nights, since deciding to share our responsibility with you, than we
have had for weeks,” responded Brent, with some appearance of elation.

“Probably then your clearer heads have been more fertile than ours in
plans for meeting the emergency,” suggested the president, adding, with
a twinkle of humor in his eye, “It would be only fair for you to point
out some line of escape from the dangers with which you have surrounded
us.”

Brent’s attempt to smile in response to this sally was not very
mirthful.

“My poor brain,” he said, “is quite callous under any spur to effort in
that direction. In fact, I have so completely lost confidence in it,
that only the other day I begged my friend Wharton to take the whole
load of gold off my shoulders, and dispose of it in any way he liked.”

“And he spurned the offer? You are indeed a modern Midas, Mr. Brent,
cursed with sumless gold beyond even the craving of human cupidity. It
is not easy to convince the mind that fable has become reality, that
solid, scientific, nineteenth-century life is suddenly confronted with a
condition which society is utterly unprepared to meet.”

The president gave rein to his thought in this strain for a moment
longer. Then he turned resolutely to the concrete problem in hand,
saying:

“My attitude toward the Congress is, under the circumstances, somewhat
embarrassing. I have summoned a special session to deal with the
financial situation. The aspect of affairs had very much changed before
you came to me yesterday with your startling revelation. Precautions
which I would have recommended a month ago are no longer expedient. In
view of what you have told me, the less legislation we have just now the
better. I have about decided to advise the calling of a monetary
conference--the world-wide financial disturbance is sufficient
justification for it--and to suggest two or three harmless palliative
measures for giving relief to present monetary distress, and for
strengthening public confidence. Do you think of any better plan?”

The discussion became general and informal, and soon drifted into
various branches of the subject of temporary policy. By the time the
dinner hour had arrived, all were agreed that the president’s suggested
attitude toward Congress was the wisest that could be adopted. Measures
for holding in check erratic and dangerous legislation which might be
threatened were also considered. It was arranged that Brent and Wharton
should, as far as possible, influence the tone of finance and
speculation in harmony with the policy of the administration, and
coöperate actively with the government in any emergency which might
arise.

It was a quiet, informal dinner at which Brent, Wharton, and the
secretary of the treasury joined the presidential household. Finance and
other weighty affairs were not allowed to chill the cordial, homelike
atmosphere, which the presence of womanly tact and grace made
particularly attractive to the two bachelor strangers. Sunday evening at
the White House is usually the one strictly home hour of the week, but
Brent and Wharton were not for a moment allowed to discover that they
were unwonted intruders upon a much cherished privilege. The meal was
not a long one, and when it was over the gentlemen withdrew for their
cigars to the president’s “den,” as he termed it.

There the conversation soon drifted back to the greater feature of
Brent’s golden problem--the proper disposition of his hidden billions.
Aside from the obvious escape from the dilemma by casting away the whole
treasure and the secret with it, no one had any positive plan to
advocate. Various tentative suggestions were discussed as they arose in
one mind or another, but there seemed to be strong objections to all of
them. Although it was midnight before the discussion became wearisome,
nothing definite had been arrived at beyond a general conviction that
the problem which would confront the proposed convention of the wise men
of finance would prove to be many times deeper, higher, broader,
weightier, than any unexpected obstacle which had yet arisen in the path
of civilization.

Brent and Wharton returned the next day to New York. They prepared to
coöperate with the administration for the maintenance of financial and
commercial tranquillity in every possible way. Then came the assembling
of Congress. Some disappointment was expressed in many quarters over the
president’s message. More had been expected of the administration in the
way of relief legislation than the document suggested. But if there was
any lack of financial panaceas, Congress speedily supplied it. The
variety of schemes and measures for accomplishing all manner of
desirable ends seemed infinite. The deluge of private bills soon
disappeared in committee archives, most of them attracting no attention
on their rapid path to oblivion. The president proved a true prophet in
the matter of propositions regarding silver. Most of the low grade
silver mines of the West, which had shut down two years before owing to
the demonetization of the metal and its low price, had reopened, and
were producing at their utmost capacity. There had been much investment
and speculative buying of the metal for a few months, in consequence of
the decline or superabundance of gold. The champions of the silver
interest now came forward with proposals that the free coinage of gold
should be suspended, and that at least one half the production of the
mints should be silver, at the reëstablished ratio of fifteen to one,
which for centuries had marked the relative value of the two metals.

The attitude finally taken by the Administration party, as it came to be
known, was not one of direct opposition to the silver men. It was urged
that the whole question was too widespread in its bearings for the
American Congress, or any other single legislative authority, to attempt
to give it independent solution. The world had grown too small, and all
its interests were too closely interwoven for any country to be able to
maintain an individual monetary policy. Unity of principle and of action
had become indispensable. The United States had learned this lesson at
sore expense only two years before, and to seek its repetition would be
a stupendous folly.

The argument prevailed. The opposition to silver on the old grounds had
disappeared. The demand simply for international coöperation could not
be reasonably resisted. The suggestion of an international monetary
conference speedily received unanimous approval. The invitation was
issued by the president to only the principal European powers late in
November. It received a promptly favorable response in every case, and
it was soon decided that the conference should meet in Paris on the
second week in January of the following year, 1896.

Congress turned its attention to temporary and special measures for
mitigating commercial and industrial distress. The general paralysis of
business continued, and everybody felt that the suspense would last
until the united action of the nations had settled the world’s monetary
policy. There was, therefore, a widespread feeling of impatience for the
assembling and the decision of the Paris conference.

Wharton and Brent found plenty to do in these intervening weeks. After
all they had done during October in fighting panic and distress, and
under Brent’s determination not to use any fresh capital from his store,
they were no longer able to dominate all markets with controlling hand
as they had done for months before. They accomplished much, however, in
steadying prices in the stock market, the loan market, and some of the
markets for staple produce and manufactures, and the lapse of time
without fresh serious disasters begot a sort of confidence in the
public mind. The administration, partly by means of its alliance with
the authors of the financial crisis, was able to do much in the same
line. Brent and Wharton were in constant communication with the
secretary of the treasury and the president, and they made frequent
trips to Washington for consultation.

On one of these occasions the president invited Brent to act as one of
the American delegates to the monetary conference. The young man
promptly declined.

“I want to keep out of the public eye as long as I possibly can, sir,”
he explained. “There are to be only two delegates from each country, and
the natural selection will be a leading statesman and a great financier.
If you should select an unknown man for a post more important than even
a seat in your cabinet, the country would be amazed, and then a great
hue and cry would be raised against you and against me. It would also
distinctly imperil the secret of the existence of this gold, which we
must guard at any cost. No, sir, I must not attend the conference in any
official capacity. I am prepared to go there and explain my position to
the members in secret session. That will naturally be expected of me.
But I must not be publicly identified with the conference and its
_raison d’être_ in any way whatsoever.”

“You are entirely right, Mr. Brent,” responded the president. “You are,
however, fully entitled to sit upon this board if you choose. I can
afford to ignore any public criticisms of my action in appointing you
until events bring my justification. But, as you have said, we cannot
afford to increase by a feather’s weight the danger of discovery of your
secret. I have decided to ask the secretary of the treasury to go as one
American representative. Can you suggest the second? Mr. Wharton might
be named with propriety. He has come before the public so prominently
during the last year as the director of vast financial schemes, that his
selection would be regarded as appropriate.”

“No, sir, I think not,” said Brent thoughtfully. “In the first place, it
will be necessary for him to remain in New York in charge of my affairs
while I am abroad, and then, too, the selection of an older and better
known man would be more acceptable both to the American public and to
the foreign members of the board. Wharton and I, you know,” Brent added
smiling, “are part and parcel of the case. We are the accomplices of the
defendant treasure which is to be tried, and we cannot sit upon the
jury.”

“Would that more of our countrymen were as diffident of renown and
power!” exclaimed the president, with a fervor born of a ripe experience
with clamorous American ambition.

For nearly a month before sailing for Europe late in December, Brent was
busy night and day. Not only did the demands of the monetary situation
occupy much of his time, but he was obliged to give his personal
attention to the fitting out of his first annual shipload of supplies,
which according to his compact with the chieftain of the Caillitchets
must arrive in Patagonia on the 1st of January. He chartered a stanch
steamship of about four thousand tons, and loaded her with a large and
valuable cargo. He made his purchases with a great deal of care. Arms
and ammunition of the latest patterns, he sent according to stipulation.
Clothing and fabrics, appropriate to primitive wants in a severe
climate, he supplied liberally. Large quantities of food-stuffs in
various non-perishable forms were put on board. He included also a
collection of simpler labor-saving implements and agricultural tools, in
hope that they might encourage new industrial ambitions among the stern
and valorous people of the far South. The cargo when completed quite
filled the ship, and represented an expenditure of nearly a million
dollars.

To Captain Penniman of the _Mystery_ was intrusted the command of the
expedition. His instructions were to clear for Buenos Ayres, and after
re-coaling, to proceed to the natural harbor on the coast of Patagonia,
which Brent indicated upon the chart. Minute directions were given for
navigating the inlet, and the exact spot for anchoring was pointed out
on the special chart which Brent supplied. He was to remain there until
a native should bring to him a document, of which Brent furnished a
facsimile. Then he was to discharge his entire cargo upon rafts which
the natives would bring alongside. This accomplished, he would receive
from the native who produced the original document a sealed packet.
Thereupon he should sail at once to New York and deliver the packet to
Brent or his representative at Strong & Co.’s office in New Street. The
steamer sailed from New York on its mission in due course, December 7.

During the last few days before his departure, Brent made an emergency
agreement with Wharton and the president. It seemed wise to take some
precautions regarding a course of action in case of the disclosure,
accidental or otherwise, of the secret of his treasure-house during his
absence in Europe. Each of the four who had knowledge of the facts was
convinced that a premature betrayal of the truth would plunge the world
into financial chaos, unless the danger could be removed by a single
stroke. It was therefore arranged that if necessity should arise, every
one of the wooden cases in Brent’s vault would be loaded as quickly and
quietly as possible under protection of the United States authorities
upon one or two men-of-war to be kept in readiness in New York harbor.
These vessels would at once put to sea, and their cargoes would be
thrown overboard in mid-ocean. As soon as this had been accomplished,
the president would issue a proclamation setting forth all the facts and
assuring the world that all danger had passed.

All the quartet, who considered the matter one afternoon at the
Executive Mansion, heartily approved of this arrangement, and they one
and all felt a large measure of relief when the dreaded emergency had
been provided for.

On Saturday, the 28th of December, Brent sailed for Europe in company
with the secretary of the treasury and the great banker who had been
named as the second representative of the United States at the
international monetary conference to meet in Paris two weeks later.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE VERDICT OF THE WORLD’S WISE MEN OF FINANCE.


The _grand salon_ of the French Foreign Office was once more the
meeting-place of a great international tribunal. Four years before, an
imposing bench of famous jurists had sat in the same chamber to
arbitrate the differences between two peoples who wisely preferred the
impartial judgment of a court of nations to the arbitrament of war. The
lofty _salon_, with its fine tapestries, its historical works of art,
its soberly rich furnishings, had not at all the appearance of a high
judicial chamber. As the sittings of the Bering Sea Arbitration Board
had suggested, it seemed arranged rather for the assembling of the privy
council of an emperor. A high, throne-like seat for the presiding
officer was placed at the end of the room farthest from the entrance. At
each side of the president’s chair was another place of honor for one of
the two members who were to act as secretaries. Grouped in a large
semi-circle were eleven richly carved desks, each provided with a great
leather chair.

The members of the monetary conference were but fourteen in number. They
represented Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia, and
the United States. They assembled on Thursday, the 9th of January, for
their first business session. The previous day they had been welcomed by
the president of the French Republic, and had been entertained at the
Elysée. At their brief meeting for organization, they had made choice of
one of the German representatives as president, and of an Italian and an
Englishman as secretaries. Now that the formalities were over, the
fourteen men were anxious to undertake the rather vague task which they
understood was before them. All the European members had received
intimations from their respective governments that matters of the
gravest importance would be brought before the conference by the
American delegates. They had gained no hint as yet about the nature of
the proposals or disclosures. A statement from the representatives of
the United States was awaited, therefore, with keenest interest and
curiosity by all the other members.

Their solicitude had been increased by an earnest request from the
Americans that not only should all the sessions of the conference be
held with closed doors, but that no officers outside the membership of
the board should be appointed, and that no stenographic or other
records be kept, save such as might be made by the official secretaries.
When, therefore, the great men in statesmanship and finance who composed
the small but august body found themselves ready for the performance of
their official duties, they looked for some explanation of these extreme
precautions.

As soon as the president had called the conference to order, just after
twelve o’clock, the American secretary of the treasury rose to address
the members. His manner even before he began to speak was extremely
grave, and his opening words were so ominous that the faces of the men
who listened, accustomed though they were to dealings with great
affairs, became anxious and apprehensive. This was what he said:

“_Mr. President and Gentlemen_: It is known to most of you that the
United States government has followed a somewhat peculiar course in
taking the initiative for the summoning of this conference. You will
expect, therefore, some explanation of its action from the
representatives of that government, and such explanation it is my duty
to place before you. We bring to you a task so difficult and yet so
delicate, that if its nature should be but suspected outside this
chamber, all hope of its successful performance would disappear. You
will pardon me, therefore, if I preface my message to you with a word
of warning. I am about to make known to you a fact so ominous, so
threatening to the world’s prosperity and the financial systems of all
countries, that the president of the United States has deemed it wise in
summoning this conference to withhold it even from the governments which
you represent. I beg of you at the outset, therefore, that not only
shall the ordinary obligations of secrecy, which of course we all
recognize, be imposed, but that for a time at least we shall restrict
ourselves even from communicating the subject of our deliberations to
our official superiors. I know that I am making an unprecedented
request, a request which some of you on first consideration will feel
yourselves powerless to grant. I shall not press the suggestion upon you
for decision, until the facts which seem to me to justify it are fully
before you. The nature of those facts will reveal to you a peril, which
not only warrants, but impels the assumption of an authority and
responsibility which under ordinary circumstances we should seek to
avoid.

“I now come to the burden of my message, which is soon discharged. It
relates to the sudden influx of gold in the markets of the world,
chiefly in America, during the last year. All of you are familiar with
the effects of this extraordinary increase in the supply of the standard
monetary metal. Every market in the world has felt its influence, while
in the United States the foundations of our financial and commercial
welfare have been severely shaken. Since the assembling of this
conference was proposed a few weeks ago, there has been some subsidence
of the general disturbance, and the monetary world has shown a tendency
to adjust itself to the new conditions. It is my painful duty to destroy
such confidence as you may have in the security of the present financial
or monetary situation.

“The quantity of gold which was added to the world’s monetary supply
during the first nine months of 1895, in addition to the normal output
of the mines, was no less a sum than five hundred millions of dollars,
one hundred million pounds sterling. This was native gold, all coming
from a single source. The owner of this metal has since withdrawn from
circulation about one half this sum either in gold or legal tender. This
action partly accounts for the checking of the financial disturbance in
the United States. The danger which we have already faced is bad enough,
but it is insignificant in comparison with that which I have to reveal
to you. It is this:

“_There remains in the same vault from which these millions have been
taken, the equivalent of nearly three billion dollars, six hundred
millions sterling, in the crude gold of nature._”

The effect of this announcement upon his hearers was so great that the
secretary of the treasury stopped speaking for a moment. Some faces were
pale, others flushed, all bore evidence of intensest feeling. All the
dignity of a great international court vanished. They needed no
explanation to carry to their minds the full significance of the
speaker’s words. The personal application of the sudden news came home
first to some of them. One man of many millions, who a few minutes
before had appeared the embodiment of the conscious power of wealth,
seemed stricken with an agony almost of death. His face turned haggard
with sudden age. Unconsciously, he wiped away the cold drops that
gathered upon his forehead, muttering aloud:

“It is ruin, ruin for us all!”

A great French banker sitting next him heard the words and sprang to his
feet in sudden passion.

“It is not ruin,” he cried hotly. “Who is this man that threatens the
world with his gold? Let him be seized. Let the gold be taken from him.
Let it be destroyed. No man can crush us all in this fashion. Desperate
conditions demand desperate remedies. It is a case for a _coup d’état_.”

The outburst evidently found sympathetic listeners. The looks of dismay,
of terror even, began to give place to returning self-possession after
the first shock of surprise was over. The president himself, almost as
much overcome at first as any of his associates, rose to his feet, and
in rather unsteady voice begged the conference to listen further to the
American representative. The secretary of the treasury had remained
standing, watching with keen solicitude the effect of his revelation.
Every man turned instantly to him and gave to his following words most
intense attention.

“I am glad to be able to assure you, gentlemen,” he resumed, “that
desperate measures are quite unnecessary. The owner of this gold is as
anxious as you are to avoid bringing any calamity or financial evil upon
his own or any other country. It was, indeed, at his suggestion that the
president invited the powers to send delegates to this conference. With
unparalleled generosity and laudable sagacity he desires to place the
fate of his vast treasure in your hands. That is the task which I bring
you, gentlemen, and I know you will give to it the unselfish and
sagacious consideration which its importance demands. I renew now my
suggestion that all knowledge of our deliberations shall be confined
strictly to the actual members of this board.”

An English delegate took the floor the moment the secretary sat down.

“I desire, Mr. President, to second the motion of the United States
secretary of the treasury,” he said impressively. “I do this in direct
violation of the instructions of my government, but it is a
responsibility which I do not hesitate for a moment to assume. The
emergency demands it so clearly in my mind that the question seems
scarcely debatable. I am still so far overwhelmed by the stupendous
revelation to which we have listened, that I am not prepared yet to
discuss it beyond taking this obvious precaution for guarding against
the terrible calamity which a disclosure of this secret would bring upon
us.”

The proposition was at once adopted unanimously by the conference. The
representative of the United States cabinet again took the floor,
saying:

“I have purposely refrained, gentlemen, from saying anything about the
history of the enormous treasure which I have described, or about the
details of what has thus far been done with it. The owner of the gold
has come with me to Paris. I much prefer that you learn from his own
lips all that he has to impart about his past policy and his plan. I
move, Mr. President, that Mr. Robert Brent, of New York, be invited to
attend the sessions of this conference and that he be privileged to take
part in all debates.”

The motion was instantly passed, and the secretary left the room to
secure the attendance of the man of whom these great men of
statesmanship and finance found themselves in sudden awe.

When Robert Brent entered rather diffidently the magnificent chamber a
few minutes later, he found himself the object of an interest that was
rather disconcerting. As he advanced up the room by the side of the
secretary, the president of the conference suddenly left his high seat
and came to meet him. In an instant every man present followed his
example. The young man was surrounded by distinguished potentates,
anxious to do him honor. Little was said. It did not seem to be an
occasion for many words. Brent grasped the hands held out to him
cordially and at length proceeded to a seat by the secretary’s side.
When the president had again taken the chair, the secretary formally
introduced the young man to the conference, inviting him to explain his
position and purpose.

Brent faced his small but distinguished audience with evident
embarrassment and hesitation. The almost painful eagerness and
earnestness in every countenance speedily made it clear to him that his
words were awaited with a deference entirely free from criticism. Strong
emotion unmasks most faces, and there was fear and admiration and
bewilderment still upon the features of the proud men who now hung
expectant upon the words of the young American of whose existence they
had been ignorant an hour before. Such is the mastery of gold!

Brent’s embarrassment gave place to an uncomfortable sense of undeserved
power which he had usurped from these, its rightful custodians! It led
him to speak deprecatingly, almost apologetically, of himself and his
difficulties. He described as fully as he was able the history of his
treasure and his operations in the financial world during the previous
year. Coming at length to the question at issue, he said:

“With the best intentions in the world, I have inflicted great wrongs,
especially upon my own country. I have done what I could to repair some
of the damage I have caused. But I realize clearly now, as no doubt you
do at a glance, that the greatest evil of all is still impending. The
simple possession of more than five thousand tons of unknown, unused
gold, under the present circumstances, is a crime of which I will not be
guilty a moment longer than I can help. I place the fate of this
treasure entirely, unreservedly in your hands. I have no personal wishes
in the matter, not even any suggestions to offer. The task is too great
for me. I assumed it at first without hesitation and with the foolish
confidence of ignorance. It seemed to my thoughtless enthusiasm the
simplest portion of my plan of gold-getting. I believed, when I had
locked the last box of gold in the vault in New York, that my
difficulties were practically at an end. The mischief which my blind
self-assurance has wrought will be a life-long reproach to me.

“To be absolutely honest, I cannot plead complete ignorance of the
dangers which I risked. Some of them I dimly foresaw, after I had
seriously grappled the problem which I have now delegated to you. A
selfish desire to escape if possible the penalties of wealth--the
notoriety, the curiosity, the adulation, the insincerities, the
importunities--led me to conceal my secret, when I should have sought
the best counsel at the outset. I hope I am not now too late in
performing this duty. Whatever your honorable body shall advise, I will
execute. I place at your disposal not only the gold not yet used, but
certain other moneys and securities, embracing all of my property with
the exception of a fund of $100,000,000, which I reserve for the
carrying out of certain obligations which I have undertaken, and in part
for my own use. The remainder, and it will amount at a rough estimate to
$3,300,000,000, or £660,000,000 sterling, shall be devoted in whole or
in part in such manner as you prescribe to the execution of
international enterprises too great for private capital to undertake. Or
I am prepared, if you so advise, even to sink the treasure in
mid-Atlantic.”

The motionless, almost breathless silence in which the conference had
listened continued for a moment after Brent had finished. It was broken
by a French delegate, who sprang to his feet, and without any of the
dignified formalities which the occasion demanded, exclaimed excitedly:

“The gentleman has named the solution of the problem in his last
sentence. It is the only solution. Any other will bring disaster, ruin,
chaos. Let the gold be sunk in the sea!”

“The honorable representative of France may be right, Mr. President,”
said a great German banker in response, “but we have before us a task
which demands the most careful, the most profound consideration which we
can give to it. We have all of us, I doubt not, been overwhelmed by the
mere statement of its terms. We are in no way prepared at this moment to
devote that calm and dispassionate thought to the subject which is
necessary. I move that the sitting be suspended until to-morrow.”

The formal session was speedily ended in response to the motion, but no
one left the chamber. All gathered about Brent and plied him with
questions so incessantly that two hours had passed before any one
thought of going. Even then the delegates separated with the agreement
to meet again for informal consultation in the evening at one of the
hotels. The dispatches which they sent to their respective governments
were non-committal and evasive, while other inquirers about the business
of the conference were refused any information.

No attempt was made at the subsequent sessions to return to the
formalities and dignities of procedure which the startling nature of the
opening speech had so effectually banished. The debates were man to man
business consultations of the most earnest and practical description.
Nobody had any pet theories to put forward or any hobbies to ride. There
was a single-minded purpose on the part of every man to seek and find an
escape from a danger which, in the estimation of them all, grew more
threatening and more appalling every hour.

They recognized at once the necessity for reaching an early solution of
their problem. The secrecy of their deliberations might itself excite
suspicions. Their home governments would soon become displeased over
their reticence. In fact, the British ministry intimated very promptly
to the English delegates that their silence regarding the proceedings of
the conference was unsatisfactory. It became necessary to limit the time
during which the policy of secrecy should be continued. The delegates
finally informed their superiors at home that they had bound themselves
to preserve silence in regard to all matters coming before the
conference for one month. In cases where this was a violation of
instructions, cabinet ministers were informed that the step seemed
justified by certain exigencies of the situation, and that the end must
justify the temporary defiance of authority.

In the early stage of their deliberations, the temptation was strong
upon the delegates to adopt the easy and obvious plan suggested by Brent
at his first appearance before them. If the entire mass of gold should
be loaded once more upon a ship and sunk in the fathomless depths of
mid-ocean, the unique problem would be completely solved, and none like
it would ever arise probably to distract the brain of man.

But there was something inherently revolting and intolerable, especially
to these men of money, in the thought of thus destroying untouched and
unused the greatest mass of what the world regards as wealth which had
ever come into the possession of men. Reason told them, so they all
agreed at the outset, that to attempt to employ this treasure in the
monetary world would destroy or reduce to almost nothing the value of
all gold, now held in the belief that it was the securest form of
wealth. They did not need to go beyond the _a_, _b_, _c_ of finance and
political economy to make that truth apparent.

Two or three of the older delegates recalled the agitation in the money
markets of the world which followed the California gold discoveries of
1849. There had been a loud clamor, especially in the United States,
for the demonetization of gold, for the same reason that silver was
attacked as a monetary metal when its production increased in large
proportion. The yellow metal had been almost in disgrace for several
years, while its modest white rival had possessed in a higher degree the
essential quality of stability.

At one time, early in their deliberations, the old controversy between
bimetallists and monometallists which the problem so closely involved
threatened to make some division among the delegates. But the danger was
soon overcome. Monetary conditions throughout the world had already been
so changed by the influence of the fraction of Brent’s treasure which
had been poured into the channels of trade that matters of argument a
year before had now become matters of accepted fact. Previous opinions
and convictions were willingly revised in the light of new and
unsuspected conditions. No man sitting at the conference board was so
strongly wedded to hobbies or theories as to oppose them for an instant
to the stupendous facts now presented.

The air was most effectually cleared at the moment a disagreement seemed
possible, by a plain, straightforward statement of the situation by one
of the English delegates. Speaking in simple, business-like fashion, he
said:

“Gentlemen, I do not think we need concern ourselves too seriously with
the question of bimetallism. It is a matter which need not be directly
passed upon by this conference. I admit that our decree upon the fate of
this gold will have an almost decisive effect upon the monetary use of
silver; but let us look at the matter from another and I believe broader
point of view.

“Our problem really amounts to this: How shall we, in deciding the
destiny of this gold, secure to the world the greatest stability of
monetary values? In other words, how much if any of this gold can be
devoted to monetary and general use without seriously disturbing proper
standards of value? When we settle that point, the ratio between gold
and silver will adjust itself. I submit that it is not in the power of
any government or combination of governments to fix that ratio
arbitrarily in defiance of the actual ratio of the supply of the two
metals.

“Look at the matter for one moment in the light of history. The
fluctuations have been great, and dependent solely upon supply and
demand. Go back as far as Darius, and the ratio was thirteen to one.
After the pillage of the Temple of Delphi, B.C. 357, it fell to ten to
one. In the Roman world it rose as high as seventeen to one, but after
Cæsar’s return, loaded with spoils from Gaul, it was reduced to nine to
one. In the Middle Ages it ranged between ten and twelve to one. It
began to rise soon after 1600, and in 1717 the English government fixed
the ratio at 15.2 to one. The relative supply of the two metals has
always fixed their relative values, and it always will continue to do
so.

“Our task is to determine what is the world’s necessary consumption of
gold; that is, what should be the annual supply for maintaining a steady
standard of values. Solve that problem and our work is done. The gold
production of the world during recent years has averaged little more
than twenty-five millions sterling ($125,000,000). In 1852 it was
thirty-six millions sterling. The latter yield was too great, no doubt,
for the world’s financial needs at that day; but most of us will agree,
I think, that the vastly increased trade of the end of the century
demands much more than the comparatively meager supply of recent years.
In fact, the world was suffering from the first stages of a gold famine
when Mr. Brent landed his cargo of treasure in New York.

“I beg you to remember, gentlemen, that I represent a creditor country.
It would be greatly to the advantage of England if every ounce of Mr.
Brent’s gold could be buried in the bottom of the sea. But England is
unselfish and honest enough, I believe, not to require the payment of
the debts due her in coin of enhanced value. Give us a solution of this
problem which will maintain all obligations at their original value,
actually as well as nominally, and England will be content.

“My suggestion, therefore, of a general basis for a settlement of our
problem is this: Establish a fund out of this gold in charge of a small
international commission. Estimate carefully the sum which may safely be
added to the present average gold production of the world. Let the fund
be large enough for twenty, or at most twenty-five such annual
additions. Charge the commissioners with the duty of expending the
agreed sum annually upon great international enterprises, as Mr. Brent
has suggested. Then let the remainder of the gold be loaded upon a ship
and thrown into the sea at the earliest possible moment.”

It was not long before the entire discussion of the conference was
devoted to this proposition. Its general policy soon received the
unanimous approval of the delegates. But when it came to details there
was much difference of opinion. There was no certainty that the ordinary
gold production would remain $125,000,000 yearly; in fact, a
considerable increase was probable. South Africa was making enormous
additions to her annual contributions. British and Dutch Guiana and
other South American states were developing new and important fields,
while Australasia was gradually increasing her production. On the other
hand, the mercantile, as distinct from monetary consumption of gold was
steadily increasing, and it was estimated by most of the delegates that
this demand would absorb practically all the natural increase.

After several prolonged debates, the conference fixed upon $200,000,000
as the maximum quantity which might be added to the world’s supply of
gold without disturbing the conditions of trade. When it came to the
practical regulation of this supply, there were serious difficulties.
The power which it was necessary to delegate to the controlling board
was greater than that of kings, greater than had ever been intrusted to
the hands of man. They would be virtually the keepers of the world’s
purse, the bankers of all Christendom. The power of giving prosperity or
adversity to nations, or to one country at the expense of another
country, would rest with them. To whose hands could responsibility so
vast be safely consigned?

There was also the almost inevitable danger of international jealousy in
the expenditure of such colossal sums. A higher virtue than patriotism
must control the distribution of benefactions for the good of humanity
at large, rather than of nations. All the great international projects
which had been brought seriously before the world would not consume in
their execution half the treasure now at command. The delegates talked
in a desultory way of the Nicaragua Canal, great sanitary schemes for
purifying the continent of Europe, the stamping out of cholera and other
plagues at their source in the East, the irrigation of the western
plains in America and of portions of African deserts, the tunneling of
the English Channel. They became hopelessly confused and divided upon
this branch of the subject, and speedily abandoned it as too vast and
too technical for consideration by a temporary assembly.

A proposition to divide the gold, which it might be decided to
distribute annually, _pro rata_, according to population, among the
governments of Europe and America, was rejected after brief
consideration. Brent himself ventured to express his disapproval of the
suggestion, and his wish was at once respected. Such a plan would lead,
he argued, to more extreme militarism in Europe, while in America it
would yield merely a temporary easing of the burden of taxation, and a
temptation to jobbery at Washington. It would produce no genuine and
permanent boon to mankind.

All the schemes and suggestions offered finally sifted down to a very
simple plan, and four weeks of almost incessant work brought the
conference to substantial unanimity in its approval. In brief outline,
these were its terms:

The conference recommended that the equivalent of $1,500,000,000 of
Brent’s treasure be delivered to the United States government as
custodian. It should remain in the United States Treasury in its crude
state of native gold until drawn upon from time to time, according to
prescribed conditions, by an international board of trustees. This board
should consist of five members, to be appointed, one by the president of
the United States, one by the queen of England, one by the emperor of
Germany, and one by the president of France. The fifth member should be
Robert Brent of New York. The term of office of the trustees should not
be limited, and they should receive each an annual salary of $250,000.
Their duties should be the expenditure, upon works for the general
benefit of mankind beyond the scope of private undertaking, of such sums
from the fund in the custody of the United States government as their
judgment should dictate, and subject to the following restrictions: The
expenditure should not in any one year exceed the sum of $75,000,000,
nor fall below $30,000,000, unless the addition to the world’s supply of
gold from all sources, the fund included, during the next preceding year
had exceeded $200,000,000. No excess over the last named maximum of the
world’s supply should be permitted by means of the trustees’
expenditures.

This agreement was reached by the conference two days before the
expiration of the time during which it had been voted to keep the
subject under consideration secret from the home governments of the
various delegates. Before final adjournment, the conference adopted
unanimously a report, setting forth in the strongest terms their
admiration of the qualities of mind and heart which had led the owner of
the greatest treasure in history to make of it a blessing and not a
curse to his fellow-men.



CHAPTER XIV.

A BURIAL AT SEA.


Without waiting to learn how the rulers of Europe received the
confidential reports made to their governments by the delegates, Brent
took passage for New York on the first steamer leaving after the
adjournment of the conference. Every man who shared the great secret
feared that a dangerous crisis, requiring sharp, decisive action, might
arise at any moment. The deep discretion of diplomacy successfully
conceals many momentous truths, but here was a fact less easy to control
than the contents of Pandora’s box, once the cover had been raised. It
was to be made known, under pledge of secrecy, to be sure, in six
capitals of Europe. Was it reasonable to expect that a piece of
knowledge of stupendous interest to the whole world would remain long in
the keeping of several scores of men without a hint of it transpiring?

It had been the judgment of the conference that simultaneous
announcement should be made in all countries of the result of the
deliberations within two weeks of the adjournment. Brent desired to
reach New York in time to arrange for the loading upon a man-of-war
such portion of his treasure as was to be sacrificed before the public
disclosure of his plans should make their execution a matter of supreme
popular curiosity and interest. If the verdict of the conference should
fail to win the approval of the great powers, the only safety would lie
in coupling the news of the existence of the gold with the announcement
that it had already been sent to its fathomless grave. He took the
precaution before sailing to cable Wharton to begin at once the transfer
of three thousand tons of the treasure from the vault to a suitable
dock, whence it could be shipped at a few hours’ notice to a vessel
moored alongside.

Brent arrived in New York eight days after the dissolution of the Paris
conference. He found dispatches assuring him that his secret was still
safe and that all the powers concerned except Great Britain had already
given unreserved indorsement to the recommendations of the international
board. Not only that: the cable told him that personal acknowledgments
of his generosity and humanity from all the sovereigns of Europe would
soon be in his hands. England’s assent was hourly expected, and then the
judgment of the world would be unanimous. A letter from the president
contained warmest congratulations, and a request that Brent would visit
Washington as soon as possible after landing.

Wharton greeted him with a return of that almost boyish enthusiasm which
Brent feared had been permanently banished from his friend’s nature by
the anxieties of the last few months. His task during the time that the
great problem was under discussion in Paris had been an arduous one, but
with the help of the government, serious evils had been successfully
combated. More than half the contents of the vault--more dangerous than
dynamite--was safely stored and guarded in a North River dock, and the
new battleship _Massachusetts_ lay with steam up in the stream ready to
respond to any call.

Wharton advised Brent to go at once to Washington, and early the next
morning both men called at the White House. They were warmly welcomed by
the president. Brent described at some length the work at Paris, and the
final arguments which produced substantial unanimity among the
delegates. The president’s congratulations were heartily sincere, and he
expressed himself in unreserved accord with the verdict which had been
reached. While they were talking, a message arrived from the State
Department announcing Great Britain’s approval of the findings of the
conference. The dispatch added that in compliment to the United States
government, the flagship of the British North Atlantic Squadron had been
ordered to New York to act as escort to the American man-of-war which
should carry the condemned portion of the treasure to its ocean grave.

Wharton expressed an ill-natured suspicion that the real motive behind
this compliment was a desire to make sure that the mid-ocean burial
actually took place. The president smiled at the suggestion, but he said
nothing. The British government evidently notified this action to the
other powers, for later in the day similar messages from Paris, Berlin,
and Rome announced that men-of-war of the respective countries had been
ordered to New York on the same errand.

The president discussed with his visitors the time and manner of making
the momentous announcement to the public. The Paris plan to publish the
news simultaneously in all countries two weeks after the conference
adjournment, or five days from the present date, could now be carried
out without difficulty. Brent desired to send the _Massachusetts_ to sea
with her condemned cargo before the news was made public, but the
courtesy of European governments in sending ships to take part in the
ceremony made this impossible. It would be at least a week, in all
probability, before the fleet could be assembled. There was no way,
therefore, of avoiding the big popular demonstration that would surely
be made over the affair.

“It is just as well,” said the president, smiling a little at Brent’s
evident shrinking from the ordeal of public clamor. “It will furnish a
harmless vent for the excitement that the news will arouse, and it will
enable you to get over once for all the lionizing that the public will
insist on giving you.”

“I suppose so,” replied Brent, sighing so ruefully that both the
president and Wharton burst out laughing.

It was determined, if possible, to bring to Washington within the next
four days the 2,500 tons of gold remaining in the New York vault, and to
store it in the United States Treasury, according to the conference
plan. The condemned gold was to be loaded at once on the
_Massachusetts_, and the battleship was to be ready to proceed to sea
the moment her foreign convoys arrived. Then the news should be given to
the country in the form of a proclamation from the president, to be
distributed to the press by telegraph late the night before the day
agreed upon for publication.

Brent and Wharton returned the same day to New York. It required sharp
work to arrange for the transportation of the remaining contents of the
big vault to the custody of the Treasury at Washington in the short time
available. There was risk of discovery, too, in the large number of men
employed at the task at both ends of the line, and some of the
safeguards against detection and loss which had been used in all
previous movements of portions of the treasure were now disregarded.
Extraordinary precautions were hardly necessary now that the hour of
disclosure was close at hand. The secret did not escape, in spite of the
almost careless publicity of the hurried transfer by means of scores of
wagons and several special trains.

The clerks of the Treasury received the strange boxes, and made room for
them with difficulty in the already crowded vaults. Their instructions
were to store them unopened for the present in the strongrooms reserved
for gold bullion, giving merely receipts for so many wooden boxes,
“contents unknown.”

Late in the afternoon of Friday, February 14, the managers of the
Washington bureaus of the great news agencies received an intimation
from the White House that an important piece of information would be
given out by the president’s private secretary at eleven o’clock that
evening. The correspondents who called at the Executive Mansion at the
hour named received from the secretary a document which caused them some
surprise when they first glanced at it. The secretary remarked in
handing them each a copy that there was not a word additional to be
said that night in regard to the matter contained in the paper either
by the president or any member of the administration. The newspaper men
read a paragraph or two, and then suddenly even the serene stoicism of
well-seasoned Washington correspondents was disturbed. They scanned the
succeeding pages of type-written manuscript hastily, and one or two of
the men slipped out without waiting to say good-night. Others stopped to
ask a vain question or two before joining in the race for the wires.

An hour later the excitement had spread to the editorial rooms of every
morning newspaper in the country. It was too late at night to do more
than print without comment the stupendous news contained in the
president’s proclamation. None of the devices for giving emphasis to
intelligence of the highest moment were omitted. Black type and
wide-spaced lines made the first pages of the morning papers bristle
with importance as on the day after a presidential election. Soon the
news was in everybody’s mouth--not in America only, but throughout
civilization. It was a story which, although told in official language,
appealed to every one who knows the passion of envy. Few outside the
small circles of finance tried to estimate the effect of the strange
news upon their own affairs, few imagined it would have any such
influence. It was simply to the masses the most marvelous tale of the
age, and another proof that fact is stranger than fiction.

But American curiosity promptly demanded something more. Who was this
strange billionaire who quietly sacrificed his wealth upon the
recommendation of a board of advisers? His fellow-countrymen clamored
for his personality, and the whole machinery of journalism was brought
into action to comply with the demand. The president’s proclamation gave
no clue to the present whereabouts of “Mr. Robert Brent of New York,”
nor to the location of the private vault in which the treasure had been
stored. No other name had been mentioned in the proclamation, but it did
not take long for the New York editors to identify Strong & Co. as the
agents of the new king of finance, and to see in the news the
explanation of many of the mysteries of the previous year.

The Wall Street representatives of all the papers were very early at the
Nassau Street banking house on the morning of the publication of the
president’s proclamation. Most of them were personal friends of John
Wharton by this time, as are all the magnates of “The Street” with this
trusty corps of newspaper men. Wharton came in about nine o’clock,
accompanied by a man about his own age whom some of the writers
remembered having seen at the office before. The reporters smilingly
barred their passage to the inner office. Wharton threw up his hands in
mock despair. The other man smiled slightly.

“You can’t go in unless you take us with you and tell us the whole
story,” remarked a genial young man, who smilingly headed the
intimidating squad.

“What--” Wharton began, then changed his mind. “No, I’ll not bluff you,
gentlemen. It’s of no use. But I can’t talk now, really. Come back at
three o’clock, and I’ll give you all I can.”

“That won’t do. Where’s Robert Brent?” insisted the head of the
journalistic corps.

“He’ll be here at three o’ clock,” replied Wharton conciliatingly, and
edging toward the door by a flank movement.

“And will you promise us a talk with him?”

“Yes.”

“All right, Mr. Wharton, you may go in,” and the group stepped on either
side and bowed with mock humility to the young banker and his companion.

They were busy enough, and scores of their fellows also, in the
intervening six hours, in watching the effect of the great news upon
trade and finance, and in collecting the opinions of men whose advice in
such a crisis might prove valuable. The first effect everywhere in great
markets was paralysis. The tidings were so unexpected, so stupendous,
that even the masters of finance were dumfounded. There was no precedent
to guide them. They did not even know at first whether the news was good
or bad. Self-protection was the only instinct aroused in most cases, but
in what direction was this to be sought? Many put themselves on the _qui
vive_ to watch the tendency of the current, ready to act accordingly.

Brent and Wharton, in coöperation with some of the members of the Paris
conference, had made such preparations as were possible to prevent any
extreme fluctuations of values either way during the first hours
following the disclosure of the secret. The London, Berlin, and Paris
markets opening some hours before those of New York, set an example of
steadiness. So great was the popular timidity and hesitation that for
some hours the markets were almost stagnant. It was London, the
controlling head of the financial world, that preserved the general
equilibrium. It was apparent, before the close of the day’s business
there, that the new element suddenly added to the monetary situation was
not regarded as a serious menace to financial stability. Most of the
precautionary measures which had been provided in the principal centers
proved to be unnecessary. There was nothing extraordinary in the course
of the markets during the day in Europe or America.

Anxious hours for the two men in Strong & Co.’s New York office were
followed by genuine relief and satisfaction, when three o’clock came
without panic or serious disturbance in that most excitable of all
thoroughfares--Wall Street. The promised interview with the newspaper
men became a congratulatory reception. Brent felt an uncomfortable
resemblance between himself and a museum freak when the group of writers
was presented to him, but he speedily found himself chatting affably and
familiarly with gentlemen who regarded and treated him in no other way
than as a man of the world like themselves. They were genuinely
interested in the brief personal narrative which they encouraged him to
tell. He quite forgot that his companions were journalists. The
conversation was general and it didn’t become serious for some time.

There are no better judges of human nature, no men whose knowledge of
affairs is more varied, practical, and symmetrical, than the leading
news-gatherers of the New York press. The ordeal which Brent had dreaded
became a pleasure. His interviewers talked more than he did, and talked
in such an entertaining way that his mood soon changed. Their jokes and
cynicisms, their _bon mots_ and good-natured raillery, which held
nothing sacred--not even his billions, furnished a relief which he
enjoyed with keenest relish after the unremitting anxieties of many
days. He did not realize until afterwards that every man in that gay,
careless group knew instinctively at the first moment his aversion to
the meeting, and sought first of all to overcome that aversion and
establish a footing of good fellowship.

The natural result followed. Brent finally discussed with far greater
freedom than he had intended the details of his own life and the history
of his treasure. Two hours passed in conversation so absorbing that
nobody noticed the flight of time. At last Brent glanced at his watch,
and exclaimed:

“I declare, gentlemen, it is nearly six o’clock. You have made the time
pass so pleasantly that I had no idea it was so late. Well, we must make
the interview very short. Get out your note-books and fire away.”

“We don’t want any more interview, thank you, Mr. Brent,” said the
representative of the _Herald_ quizzically, “unless there is something
more you would like to have us say.”

“But you haven’t been interviewing me for publication all this time?”
inquired Brent rather aghast. “You haven’t taken down a word, one of
you.”

The newspaper men smiled.

“Evidently this is your first experience with reporters, Mr. Brent,”
remarked the _Times_ man. “If any man here had been so stupid as to
produce a pencil during our very interesting talk, we would have
expelled him from the profession. And as for a note-book, there isn’t a
man of us who has possessed such a thing since he left the infant class
of journalism. You’ll have to go to England to find that intimidator
still in use. If any of us was incapable of reporting accurately the
essential points of all you have told us, he would be unfit for his
position.”

“But you are not going to publish all or a large part of what I have
told you, I hope,” expostulated Brent. “I make no secret of the fact
that I dread very much the notoriety which you are going to give me,
gentlemen. Why cannot we draw up a brief outline of such facts as will
be demanded by popular curiosity and let the world be content with
that?”

“Really, Mr. Brent, you will do much better to leave the matter to our
discretion,” remarked the gentleman from the _Sun_. “You cannot escape
being made the most prominent figure of the day. More will be said and
printed about you in the next few weeks than about any other living man.
If the simple truth in reasonable detail is not made known, then there
will be speculation and fables without end. Better let us give the facts
in straightforward fashion, and satisfy the thirst for information at
the outset. Am I not right, Mr. Wharton?”

Wharton’s practical experience during the previous few months led him to
frankly indorse the journalist’s advice.

“At all events, gentlemen,” observed Brent ruefully, “I hope to escape
without having my face made as familiar to the world as a presidential
candidate’s. Don’t, I beg of you, print pictures of me.”

“Just what I was going to mention,” said the _World_ man eagerly.
“Pictures of you will certainly be printed in nine tenths of the
newspapers of America within a week. Why not give us a good photograph,
and then the sketch artists won’t be compelled to draw bad caricatures
of you.”

“Never!” exclaimed Brent in despair. “The worse the caricature the
better I shall like it, if I cannot escape altogether. At least I shall
not be in danger of recognition from the sketch artist’s efforts.”

Brent groaned in spirit when he glanced at the next morning’s papers.
They seemed filled with nothing but the story of himself and his gold.
His interview of the previous afternoon was reproduced all too
faithfully. He was amazed by the completeness and accuracy of the
narrative, which filled three or four columns of each journal. Wharton
cheered him up. It was the best thing that could happen, he declared.
There was nothing left to be told, and the excitement would soon wear
off. Nothing was ever more than a nine days’ wonder in New York, and
then he would be left comparatively in peace. Besides, the newspaper men
had scrupulously acceded to Wharton’s request that nothing should be
said about the whereabouts and personal plans of the young master of
millions. They had even hinted that he would resent very sharply any
attempt to invade the privacy of life which he prized above wealth.

Four days later the last of the foreign warships that had been assigned
to convey the condemned gold to its fathomless grave arrived in New York
harbor and anchored in North River. The _Massachusetts_ had already
taken on board her precious cargo. Enough had become known about the
plans for destroying the treasure to raise public curiosity and
excitement to fever pitch. The authorities determined to abandon all
secrecy in the arrangements, and to carry out their execution with
imposing formalities.

Noon of Thursday was the time fixed for the departure of the fleet.
Certain naval evolutions and much saluting and other courtesies would
attend the farewell. Every available vessel of the United States navy
would take part in the ceremonies. The president and the cabinet would
come from Washington, and a great banquet, at which Mr. Brent and the
officers of the foreign ships would be the principal guests, would be
given on the eve of sailing. These and other plans for making memorable
an occasion unique in human history were hastily prepared.

These few days were not particularly happy ones for Brent. He was able
to escape many of the honors and much of the publicity which would have
been forced upon him. He was most pleasantly disappointed by the absence
of all envious and abusive notes from the chorus of public comment upon
the situation. The criticism would come later, he told himself, but he
was thankful for the present immunity. Not that he relished much more
the fulsome laudations that were poured upon him from all sides. He
speedily wearied of praise which he was sure was not deserved.
Especially irksome did this become at the great banquet, where he and
his gold were the almost exclusive themes of after-dinner eloquence.

He acknowledged these tributes from great men with a diffidence and
brevity which might have signified lack of appreciation, but his words
were received with flattering enthusiasm. The extravagant though
eloquent eulogy in which his health was proposed by a famous orator,
aroused emotions more gloomy than proud in the young man’s breast, and
many noticed the expression of sadness upon his face as he silently
acknowledged the compliment.

The next day was given over to those forms of public pleasure-making
which America loves best. It was a holiday by common consent. The
metropolis was thronged. Thousands had come from all parts of the
Atlantic seaboard and the interior to witness all that could be publicly
seen of an event for which history could find no parallel. Nobody seemed
quite sure whether it should be a solemn or a gay occasion. It was the
celebration of an escape from a great though unknown peril, and at the
same time it was the funeral ceremony of what the world regards as the
most potent of its material possessions.

At all events, it was a moment which called for the most imposing
display of civic and political splendor, and nothing within the
resources of a spectacle-loving people was withheld. The city was
decorated from end to end as for a great fête. There was a great naval,
military, and civic procession on Broadway, stretching almost from the
Battery to Central Park.

The descent of the fleet of home and foreign warships down the North
River was a triumphal parade, not less imposing than the great naval
review in celebration of the Columbian anniversary. Whistles shrieked,
sirens screamed, cannon roared in deafening, unbroken chorus from the
Palisades to the Narrows. An unnumbered multitude of craft great and
small swarmed in the wake of the majestic warships. Down past the
Statue of Liberty, past the green slopes of Staten Island into the
whitening waters of the open sea the floating city moved. New York
escorted to her very gates the dumb guest whose presence she coveted but
dared not tolerate. No prisoner ever went to execution so honored by his
judges.

Sandy Hook was the farthest limit to which the majority of the vast
fleet cared to venture. The choppy sea beyond was too rough for most of
the frail and overloaded pleasure boats which composed the greater part
of the volunteer escort. It had been announced that the warships would
steam straight out to sea at full speed for fully forty-eight hours
before executing their strange mission. No ordinary craft could hope to
witness the final act to take place almost in mid-ocean. Some few
private yachts and other sea-going vessels convoyed the stately
men-of-war some miles farther toward their vague destination, but by
sundown none but the five great battleships remained upon the sea.

They sailed abreast almost due east. The _Massachusetts_, in the center
of the line, was flanked on the right by the British and Italian
men-of-war, and on the left by the French and German ships. Nearly a
mile separated each vessel from its nearest neighbor. In the same
relative positions they steamed on through the night and all the next
day. A stiff wind from the southeast and a lowering sky made a
turbulent, forbidding sea, and it was not deemed wise to engage in any
of the evolutions and sea-courtesies that would otherwise have been
indulged in.

The night brought a welcome change. When the morning of Saturday dawned,
the blue depths of the sky and the green depths of the sea were as clear
and calm as though the stately ships lay anchored in the Bay of Naples.
All the morning the signal flags fluttered greetings and congratulations
from ship to ship. At ten o’clock the _Massachusetts_ signaled a request
that the fleet should reduce speed and draw in closer, so that half a
mile only should separate the ships. An hour later the flags on the
United States vessel signaled an invitation to the admiral and staff on
each of the other ships to come on board, and the fleet came to a stop
for the purpose.

The wind had entirely died away, and the slow swell of the ocean was
like molten glass. No sooner did the screws cease to revolve than the
ships changed suddenly from grim, threatening engines of destruction to
bright and gay brides of a smiling god of the sea. They bedecked
themselves from stem to stern, from mast-head to gun-ports, in a glory
of bunting and color. Boats were launched and richly uniformed officers
sped over the green water to the flagship of the international squadron.
Ensigns were dipped, salutes were fired, and guests were welcomed with
all the dignified courtesies of naval etiquette.

On board the American battleship every preparation had been made for the
peculiar duty which had been assigned to her. The admiral in command
desired to make Robert Brent, who was the only civilian on board, the
central figure in the performance of the day’s task. Brent had declined
positively to act any part save that of spectator. The only special
privilege he asked was permission to present to every man in the fleet a
souvenir of the occasion in the shape of a substantial nugget from the
gold-laden boxes. So when the foreign commanders came on board the
_Massachusetts_, the boats which brought them took back each to its ship
a box so heavy that davit and tackle was necessary to raise it to the
deck.

Many boxes from the magazine of the _Massachusetts_, where the gold had
been stored, were brought upon deck before the visitors arrived, but
none of them had been opened. A squad of marines stood guard over them
on the upper deck forward. A large iron chute, projecting about six feet
beyond the side of the ship and directly over the water, had been placed
in position. At the upper end of the chute a small inclined platform had
been constructed. It was so contrived that when by means of tackle and
falls one of the wooden boxes had been placed there, its contents might
easily be tipped into the chute, and carried by gravity over the side
and into the waves.

Just before twelve o’clock the visiting officers and all the ship’s
company of the _Massachusetts_ were assembled on her deck in full view
of the nearest ships of the squadron on either side. The American
admiral signaled the fleet to move forward in the same order at quarter
speed. As noon drew near the ensigns were dipped on each of the four
convoys, and their heaviest guns began to thunder forth a national
salute.

Just before eight bells struck, the company on the deck of the
_Massachusetts_ was startled by an unexpected incident. The first box of
gold had been placed on the platform at the mouth of the chute, and by
the admiral’s direction the ship’s carpenter had removed the screws and
taken off the cover. A shining yellow mass was exposed to the view of
the four hundred men assembled. There was a moment’s silence. Then,
before the admiral could step forward, there came an inarticulate cry
from the ranks of the sailors. A veteran seaman sprang forward and ran
to the open box. His face was distorted with a kind of rage. He cried
out brokenly but incoherently. Before anybody could check him he reached
the gold and plunged his hands into the bright treasure. He lifted it up
and watched it drip through his fingers.

The moment’s paralysis of the spectators was quickly over. The sergeants
of marines seized the madman on either side and without unnecessary
violence led him away. There were others among those who watched the
incident who shared the feelings which had been strong enough to unhinge
the intellect of the poor maniac. To most of the man-of-war’s company,
in fact, it seemed little less than a crime thus to destroy gold, which
to them was the symbol of comfort and happiness. To Brent alone of all
in those mustered ranks was the condemned treasure the representative of
evil. He alone awaited its burial in bottomless depths with unmixed
satisfaction.

The United States admiral, when the ship’s bell signaled the meridian,
stepped to the side of the platform. He invited the British commander to
cast the first handful of gold into the sea. There was an instinctive
reluctance in the bearing of the veteran sailor as he complied with the
request. Slowly he dipped his hand into the shining metal. It seemed to
resist and resent the profanation. He attempted to lift a heaping palm
of nuggets and yellow dust into the track of the chute. The great weight
held it back. It clung to its kind.

A few nuggets from the surface of the yellow heap were all that remained
in the admiral’s fingers as he raised them from the box and held them
above the chute. He dropped the heavy particles slowly, regretfully
upon the inclined plane of iron. They rattled noisily but musically down
the smooth track. A moment later, a few tiny, hissing splashes caused
the solemn face of the British admiral to assume an expression almost of
guilt as he watched the vanishing bright specks in the water below.

The box of gold was raised to a sharp angle directly over the mouth of
the chute. The American commander with a quick motion tipped the rest of
its contents upon the iron slide. A swift yellow stream sped down the
sharp incline, and the waves swallowed it with a thirsty suction that
was intolerable in the covetous ears of those who listened.

Neptune received that day a mighty tribute which should placate him
toward the children of men through long generations. He accepted it with
a dignified gratitude, which those who carried it to his altar always
remembered in delightful contrast to his wrath when he makes reprisals
upon those who go down to the sea in ships.

       *       *       *       *       *

_THE GOLDEN CALF._


     A Novel, by H. H. BOYESEN. 12mo, cloth, $1.00; paper, 50 cents.

This story describes how the blight of money-getting in those
questionable forms which are known to modern business falls upon a
young, generous, and naturally upright youth. It is not open disgrace,
which so often in stories attends the wrongdoer, but moral degeneration
that is made the subject of the author’s study. While the book is by no
means of the conventional Sunday-school type, it teaches a lesson sorely
needed in these days of material prosperity and eager pursuit of wealth.


_ALL HE KNEW._

     Sixth edition. By JOHN HABBERTON. 12mo, cloth, $1.00; paper, 50
     cents.

In the field of fiction Mr. John Habberton’s “All He Knew” gives
evidence that the author of “Helen’s Babies” has deep sympathy with
humanity. The story of a poor cobbler returning from the penitentiary to
his village and living up to all he knew--a simple creed learned from
the prison chaplain--is told in a straightforward, unpretentious fashion
which conceals real art.


_CALLIAS: An Historical Romance._

     By A. J. CHURCH. Illustrated, $1.50.

This intensely interesting novel deals with the social and political
life of ancient Athens. The plot is not subordinated to the historical
and biographical matter. The time chosen for the story is the period of
the Peloponnesian War and the final subjection of Athens by Sparta and
the allies.

       ⁂ _Sent postpaid on receipt of price by the publishers._


                    FLOOD & VINCENT, MEADVILLE, PA.


_THE FOUR GEORGES._

     By WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY. The text is embellished with
     decorations, portraits, and vignettes of beautiful design by Mr.
     George Wharton Edwards. Printed in two colors. Large 8vo, richly
     bound in buff and white vellum, stamped in gold, with wide margins,
     flat back, rough edges, and gilt top. $3.00.

Thackeray’s lectures on the Georgian reigns have usually been published
in connection with other of his shorter pieces, and in consequence have
often failed to receive the attention of the general reader. These
pictures of English life in the eighteenth century are so charming,
piquant, and accurate that Messrs. Flood & Vincent determined to give
“The Four Georges” a new and distinctive edition.

The _Critic_ pronounces this the finest edition of Thackeray’s lectures
on the Georgian reigns ever published on either side of the Atlantic.
These essays of the famous English satirist are too often neglected by
the general public. With the confidence that they would be appreciated,
the publishers employed all the devices known to the printers’ art in
producing a rich and superb volume. Mr. Edwards’ illustrations and
decorations conform to the spirit of the age which the text describes,
and are a most important contribution to the total effect of the book.

     This book compares very favorably with any of the beautiful volumes
     of its class which recent months have seen.--_The Nassau Literary
     Magazine._

     The present publishers have given us a notably beautiful volume. We
     do not see what they could have done to make it more
     attractive.--_Nashville Advocate._

     These papers were never put in a more becoming garb than
     this.--_The Book Buyer._

     It is very durably and handsomely bound, and a most charming book
     to present to a friend, especially if he is a lover of the beauties
     of Thackeray.--_Zion’s Herald._

       ⁂ _Sent postpaid on receipt of price by the publishers._⁂


                    FLOOD & VINCENT, MEADVILLE, PA.


FOOTNOTE:

[A] That section of the Exchange where stocks are loaned and borrowed.
Transactions of this kind are made necessary by “bear” or “short”
dealings. An operator, for instance, “sells short” 100 shares of
Union Pacific at 28. He does not possess the stock which he has sold;
therefore he must borrow it for delivery to the purchaser before the
close of business that day. The rate charged for such stock loans is
usually very small, but it sometimes happens that stock is “oversold”
or the supply is limited, and in that case the “bear” may have to pay a
round sum to obtain the shares he requires to complete his contracts.
The “bear’s” profit or loss depends on the future course of the market.
In the case mentioned, if Union Pacific rises to 30 and the “bear”
closes his speculation at that figure, that is, if he buys 100 shares
in the market to repay his loan, he loses $200. On the other hand, if
the price drops to 26 and he buys the necessary 100 shares at that
quotation, he makes a profit of $200.





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