The Wyandotte Shares
BY EDGAR DAYTON PRICE IN BUSINESS MAN’S MAGAZINE.
Old George Slierwin mystified everybody, his family included, when he went in for raising chickens. It was not simply that he raised chickens, but he did it in such an odd way. Every hen and every rooster was saddled with an outlandish name and George kept extraordinary account books. No wonder people thought him crazy. But George finally surprised everybody.
OLD SHERWIN passed in the office as a trifle—just a trifle— crazy. Not that it manifested itself in his work. George Sherwin was a capable and accurate bookkeeper, and the books over which he toiled for eight hours every day were marvels of precision and neatness.
The lack of sanity showed itself in the old man in his interest in stocks. Feverishly he followed the market, keeping tabs on 50 or 60 stocks, from Western Union and Northern Pacific down through the list to the “Industrials,” some of which lacked a footing on the stock exchange. A $20 a week book-keeper without a spare $10 bill to bless himself with, going home with a long face over the fact that some stock had dropped 10 points—of course he was a bit crazy.
The office did not know the old man’s history, how in his younger days he had been a broker on the “street” and a sharp one, how he had transgressed the unwritten rule of brokerage never to speculate on your own account, how he had made one of those wild successes which sometimes last a fortnight and how, in the windup, the market cleaned him up with neatness and dispatch, and after a week of frantic fighting to retrieve himself sent him to his bed with brain fever.
It was probable that during the heyda^ of his success old George had been a trifle crazy. The brain fever left him sane enough, without any
outward longing for speculation and i
an unimpaired ability to keep books. He could have had a job in a dozen broker’s offices, keeping the complicated records of the stock business, but he had a terror of the game and went away, to turn up years later in the manufacturing town where we find him keeping books at $20 a week for the Peebles factory of the Amalgamated Button Company.
With the years had come a dulling of the terror of the days that had “wiped him out,” and the old man kept sheets on the market and did an imaginary business in Wall street. He made some shrewd guesses, too, and if he had actually margined the stocks he had slated for a big rise, he could have sold out a rich man. On the other hand, he sometimes missed and the favorite stock went down. Those were the days he went home with a long face.
There was quite an opportunity right in town for speculation in a not very expensive way if the book-keeper had had the money. The manufacturing plants were all big ones—cotton mills, steel plants, sewing machines, agricultural implements, and so on. Not a one but was incorporated with stocks and bonds to sell, some of the securities being held in the local market at a few cents per share. Everybody who made a little over their necessities bought shares of some kind; all the employes of the different concerns were privileged, nay, requested, to buy preferred stock in their employers’ business,
and down-town there was a place where local stocks were bought and sold.
There are possibilities in industrials, even at a few cents per share. In times of prosperity, holders of local securities received dividends, and the value of their holdings soared. The shipping clerk in the Peebles factory was a devotee to Consolidated Locomotive. the Burnam and Barry branch of which was located down by the railroad, and one day he came into the office radiant and had the book-keeper cash him a check for $160.
“What do you think of that, Pop?” he asked jubilantly. “That check represents an outlay of $40 in Consolidated Chu-Chu Futures when things were so slack six months ago. Now they are full of orders and everything humming and I’ve sold out $120 to the good—money found. Why don’t you go in ?”
The old speculator’s eyes glowed as he straightened out the neat check. He knew in a way about the local industrial situation, but it seemed puerile beside the doings of the New York market, and he had not bothered with it. And here was a chap drawing $15 a week actually cleaning up $120 of money, real money, while he, George Sherwin, frittered away his time to no purpose. A bunch of money, not a large bunch, would do so much, too. There was that place for sale, 10 miles out, house, barn, boat house and 10 acres of ground on a lake—a man could keep chickens there, chickens ! and a horse and cow and a boat on the lake for fishing purposes. Three thousand dollars would buy it.
“I’ve got no money to throw away,” he said. “This rise in Locomotive is a mere fluke.”
“Fluke nothing,” said the shipping clerk. “I saw it a-coming. And some of the boys have made money in thread stocks—buying for a fall. The thread mills have passed a dividend and the stocks are away off, sure enough. And there is the Wardell Plow Company stock—”
“Here’s your money, go away,” growled the book-keeper, frightened at the feeling the talk had engendered.
“All right, stick to those big deals that are keeping you poor,” said the shipping clerk, winking elaborately.
It was shortly after this that the book-keeper took to keeping chickens. Mrs. Sherwin and the girls were delighted when one day the taciturn man came home early and went to tinkering with an old shanty on their place, and it developed that he was making it into a chicken house. If the wound of their earlier days had healed in the husband, it had not in the wife, who for months back had watched her preoccupied mate figuring, figuring interminably evenings by the fire, and who saw the old gambling propensity growing in him again. If he would only take to chickens it would be a hobby to take his attention when he wasn’t keeping books, and he would have no time to bother with those things which had come so near wrecking their happiness.
“Here’s the beginning of our flock,” said George, coming home the next Saturday with a big Wyandotte rooster under his arm.
“What a pretty fowl,” cried the women, delighted.
“He ought to be pretty,” said the husband ^rimly, “he cost me $10.”
“Ten dollars !” shrieked Mrs. Sherwin. aghast.
“I chanced to have the money
saved and had a notion to take a little flier—”
“It’s all right, Geordie,” said Mrs. Sherwin quickly, “I only thought $10 a little bit extravagant for one rooster, but you know best. He’s such a handsome fellow, you ought to give him a name.”
“I’m going to call him ‘Stitch,’ ” said the book-keeper gravely, withal a twinkle in his eye.
“ ‘Stitch !’ ” cried the mother and the two daughters in concert.
“See here, ma, and you two girls, can’t I keep a few fowls and call them bv names of my own without you getting mad ?” he asked. “Wait till I buy the hens and name ’em and you won’t think ‘Stitch’ anything. I have my little whims, but if they are going to make you unhappv, I’ll—”
“Goodness ! call the birds anything you like,” said the women, while “Stitch,” released, flew to the top of the fence and crowed loudly.
Sherwin’s selection of hens was the talk of the neighborhood and gave painful recurrence to the whispers about his sanity. From his savings he bought them one at a time and the first hen was a Bramah, christened “Twist.” A Plymouth Rock followed, labeled “Wire,” a Cochin China called “Reaper,” a brown Leghorn gravely named “Peebles,” apparently after the factory that emploved him. Of the flock no two were of the same breed, they came one at a time at intervals and the prices the old man claimed to have paid for them were simply outrageous and kept the family short for days afterward. “Stitch,” the rooster, lorded it over the heterogeneous flock and the owner sat by the hour and proudly watched them busily picking up their living. If rumors of
his brain trouble which resulted in the outlandish names reached him, he did not deign to notice them, and in a short time the whim ceased to attract attention.
The chicken fad was a fortunate one for the old man. He was out bright and early working in the hen. house, and never were fowls so tenderly cared for. As hens will, they reciprocated the attention lavished on them, and laid eggs right royally; eggs big and eggs little, eggs brown and eggs white, speckled eggs and double yolks—the family had eggs to eat and eggs to sell. Sherwin quit his imaginary speculations in stocks and instead, opened up a set of books with his hens over which he never tired working.
It was quite easy to fall into stock nomenclature in keeping track of the hens and their doings. When “Twist” or “Wire” or “Reaper” were laying regularly, their market was “rising,” when they moulted and shortened on laying, the market was “off,” and he was “long” or “short” on their products as the case might be. The book-keeper laid out sheets and gravely set down the names of the flock, now counting over 25 with another rooster named “Oilcloth” and reduced the fluctuations in hen-fruit to figures on a decimal basis. Strangely enough, both the roosters figured in the sheets, but presumably their percentages were based on the fights they indulged in, in which, however, the Wyandotte invariably won.
Sherwin made no secret of his foible in the office, where it created much amusement.
“You must be planning to get rich on your poultry yard,” laughed the boys, “what are you going to do with your surplus ?”
“You'll see me living on my own place and driving in behind my trotter yet,” said the book-keeper, in no wise moved by the grins. “My hens ‘Wire’ and ‘Twist’ are worth three times what I paid for them and are declaring good dividends right along. I’ve got to the point now where I put the profits of my hens into still more hens, and some of these days I’ll strike a hen that lays golden eggs, and then—the trotter.”
“Fine, fine !” said the office help, sadly tapping their foreheads behind Sherwin’s back.
It was a pity that the book-keeper had not taken to keeping hens years before. He lost his taciturnity and actually whistled as he tossed his ledgers about, and one day he opened a bank account.
“You see,” he explained to the banker, “my hens are making money for me and I need a place to keep it safe. Then, too, I am meditating going into the hen business wholesale and I will want to borrow money.”
“Made up your mind what breeds to plunge on ?” asked the amused banker, who knew all about the 25 and more varieties.
“Yes,” said his customer gravely, “I have. There will be an elimination in my varieties to two or three very soon—I have spotted the best layers by keeping sheets on them, and the rest can go to the chopping block for all I care.”
“Come in and see me when you want to borrow,” said the banker, “I guess we can accommodate you to a few hundred—with a good name on your note.”
“Thanks; I’m going to send you a couple of dozen of fresh eggs,” said the book-keeper, departing.
The women mourned when most of the flock were sacrificed. It was some consolation that Sherwin had not paid big prices for them, and according to him they were not thriving and needed the axe. For a time they ate chicken—roasted, fried, fricassed and boiled, and the back yard looked deserted.
“Never mind, ma,” said the poultry fancier, “those that remain will get along better for my exclusive attention and I can work out the problem of that kind that lay the golden eggs”—he chuckled.
“Geordie”—the good woman was looking at him apprehensively, and he chuckled again.
“Don’t worry, ma, my head’s all right,” he declared, and started for the Peebles button factory whistling.
True to his word, Sherwin became a borrower at the bank, unknown, however, to his women folk. Simultaneously he began to fill up his hen yard with Wyandottes mostly, then “Wires” and “Twists.” About this time he hired a carriage for a Sunday afternoon and took Mrs. Sherwin and Adelaide and Gussie for a drive, stopping at a little place on a lake about 10 miles from home to rest. It was a cosy spot, a nice house, a barn, trees, a vegetable garden and the rest grass. There was a boat house and a wharf at the lake, and a little way out, fish were “jumping,” in the most alluring manner.
“What a paradise this is,” sighed the women, “how much better to live here than in that smoky city. You could keep hens by the thousand on a place like this, Geordie,” said the wife, wistfully.
“When my present ‘Stitches/ ‘Wires,’ and ‘Twists’ work out that
golden egg problem among themselves,” he chuckled, “we’ll buy a place like this, get a horse and a cow and live happy ever after.”
“It’s time we were starting for home,” said the good woman hastily. Somehow, she felt frightened when her husband talked so about his hens —it reminded her of the days when he had quit brokering for speculating.
The “performance sheets,” as Sherwin styled his hen-book-keeping, were quite easy to keep now, reduced to three classes. Unending attention worked wonders with the flocks; the Wyandottes, Bramahs and Plymouth Rocks were separated, quite filling the narrow (quarters, and the fine big eggs were saved and hatched out in an incubator. There was a ready sale at big prices for settings of eggs and young pullets, and really, Sherwin was making quite a profit on his investment. Not enough to account for a bank book carefully kept locked in his desk at the Peebles factory with several hundreds to his credit or the easy accommodation he was getting at the bank, however.
For the Wyandotte rooster, “Stitch,” the book-keeper developed a mighty affection as time went on. He often sat and watched the proud fowl, lord of the back yard, and muttered things beneath his breath. The finest of living was none too good for the big rooster and a world of petting “Stitch” got from his attentive master. Was it possible that from the race of “Stitch” the golden eggs were to come ?
The shipping clerk of the Peebles factory was by this time a regular speculator in the local “industrial” stock market. The profits on his deal in “Ohu-Chu” had gone in a
dozen different directions for industrial shares, which he bought and sold industriously as the values fluctuated. The shipping clerk was not always wise in his investments and formed the habit of consulting with the book-keeper, whose former connection with the big stock market ‘ had leaked out. Sherwin took time from figuring his performance sheets to give the shipping clerk counsel, and in turn the shipping clerk reported the many rumors he picked up of happenings in the various industries likely to affect the price of shares.
“I want your advice on ‘Sewing Machine,’ Sherwin,” he said one day. “There is something mysterious going on in the Standard factory, and a friend of mine there, a patternmaker, tips me that it is a new invention, something that will make the sewing machine trust crazy when the Standard machine comes out with it. He doesn’t know this positively, just a flying rumor, you know, but what with somebody buying ‘Sewing Machine’ pretty freely, the stock stiffening, and—”
“Buy it, my boy, buy it — for a rise,” said the book-keeper. “I happen to know that the Standard people have been kicking the price down for some reason, and it may be that they are going to buy it back cheap if they''\( rot a good thing cooking and make all the money for themselves. Buy it by all means.” The book-keeper turned his back and went on figuring his absurd hen-sheets and the shipping clerk went away. Sherwin went down to the bank in the middle of the morning and borrowed $1,000 with which he purchased poultry, making a neat entry on the perform-
anee sheet under the head “Stitch.”
“The time is ripe,” he muttered.
The shipping clerk bought “Sewing Machine,” a very little, for “Sewing Machine” was on the rise and the Standard people were buying back their stock as fast as offered. In a few davs he hastily sold it, for “Sewing Machine,” never worth more than 90 cents a share, was kiting along to the impossible price of $2. A week later the shipping clerk was kicking himself, metaphorically, all over the Peebles factory, for “Sewing Machine” was bid at $5 the share and none offered. That rumor about the new invention was a fact.
In a fortnight it was whispered that the Standard people were in a hole over their own stock. The original issue had been 500,000 shares at $1 per share, 10 shares - being given outright for a time with every machine sold, as a premium on a rather poor sewing machine. Now, when thev had an improvement which made their machine highly valuable, they found that others had been busy nicking up Standard stock, and that the company was a minority holder of its own stock, being short several thousand shares. It soon developed who had bought the stock, for agents of the sewing machine trust, throwing aside all disguise, came into the open and bought right and left at any price. The Standard people frantically tried to outbid them.
It was a fight for existence on one side and monopoly on the other. If the trust won and got a majority of the shares they took the Standard Company and the valuable improvement into camp, the improvement went on the trust machines and the inventors were “squeezed.” If the Standard succeeded in buying a few
shares, it could hold its position and in a few years wipe the trust off the face of the earth with its superior machine. Both sides ransacked the country and bought shares at ruinous prices and the contest quickly narrowed down to the possession of 2,500 shares—both parties had approximately 248,000 shares, and the one that got hold of the missing block of 2,500 would win the mastery. Somehow it was learned by the trust agents and the Standard people that the block was owned right in town, and a sleepless hunt for it was begun.
George Sherwin was sitting in his poultry yard, smoking a pipe and meditating as he threw corn to his favorite rooster. His meditations were interrupted by a man who came running from the house. At the same time another man tumbled over the back fence.
“I understand you are the owner of 2,500 shares of Standard stock,” they said simultaneously, glowering at one another.
“Do you see that rooster there?” he said, “his name’s ‘Stitch,’— named for the Standard sewing machine. Now, supposing ‘Stitch’ stands for 2,500 shares of Standard stock, what’ll you give me for my rooster ?”
“Fifteen thousand dollars,” said the “Trust” promptly.
“Twenty,” roared the Standard man.
“Thirtv,” bellowed the “Trust.” .
“Fiftv thousand dollars,” said the Standard man, white-faced. Sherwin recognized him as the president of
“I’ll have to consult my principals,” pleaded the “Trust” man. “Will you hold off for half an hour?”
“Fifty thousand, one—two—three, do I hear any more ? Sold—to the president of the Standard Sewing Machine Company, and a mighty fine Wyandotte rooster you’ve bought for the money,” declared the rooster’s owner. “Would you mind stepping into the house to complete the transaction ?”
“Geordie, what’s the matter ?” asked his wife, half-crying. She had sent the president of the Standard Company out in the yard to see her husband, the worthy declining to wait in the parlor, and the noise of the bargaining had come ominously to her ears.
“Matter ? Whv, I’ve found the hen that lays the golden eggs and ’tain’t a hen, either—it’s my rooster,
‘Stitch,’ who stood for 2,500 shares of sewing machine stock, that I’ve just sold for $50,000.”
“Geordie !” said his wife wildly.
“I ain’t crazy, ma. I’ve been doing a little speculating in stocks right here in town, and to keep you from, worrying, I’ve made you think it was hens I was dabbling in. ‘Stitch’ has stood all along for sewing machine, ‘Wire’ for the wire mill and ‘Twist’ is the thread factory, et cetra, et cetra.”
When the news got to the office, there was a quick revision of opinions about old Sherwin, the bookkeeper.
“Crazy ? I wish I came from the same lunatic asylum,” was the envious cry.
“What are you going to do with your wealth, George ?” they asked the man, busily writing in his ledgers as usual.
“Going to buy back my Wyandotte rooster and move to paradise,” he said with a chuckle.