SHORT STORIES

The Booming of Silver Miss

Victor Lauriston August 1 1910
SHORT STORIES

The Booming of Silver Miss

Victor Lauriston August 1 1910

The Booming of Silver Miss

By

Victor Lauriston

"DID you hear of my lucky strike in Cobalt?” queried Broker Jabez Tonson, indolently. “You don’t attempt to insinuate,” ejaculated his partner, “that pay silver has actually been found on Silver Miss?”

Chewing diligently at the cigar which a cruel physician had condemned him to leave perpetually unlit, Tonson gazed dreamily through the gilt-lettered bucket-shop window across the muddy street of the little town for many moments before answering.

“Better still,” he rejoined at last. “Pay silver has been struck right here in Carisford.”

And, turning his head slightly, he nodded significantly toward the outer regions of the office, where a tall, pale clerk was dictating letters to a brighteyed, tawny-headed stenographer.

“Bertha’s inamorata,” he chuckled. “Harold—Harold—Harold,” and he lingered spitefully upon the name in a fashion that told undying hatred for any cognomen less prosaic than his own. “He came into money just a few days before he came here—” “And,” commented Moker, with his habitual drawl, “you came into him and his money just a few days after he came here. x\h, he does look as though he were from the country. How I admire that dried-timothv shade in hair. Poor fellow ! And now his poverty is accentuated by the possession of—how much—”

“Twenty thousand shares of Silver Miss at twenty cents a share,” responded Tonson, choking gleefully on

his cigar. “An excellent bargain, an excellent bargain. Risk of loss strictly limited, possibilities of gain absolutely unlimited. The stock may rise to the skies, but there are only twenty points through which it can fall. But,” he added, disconsolately, “if it hadn’t been for that blamed old panic back in 1907, just after we floated the company down in Toronto, we’d have unloaded the whole thing at forty cents a share, or even more.”

The warm interest which Harold Wallace took in his new investment did not surprise the bucket-shop man to whose eye, only a few months before, the pastures of the little city of Carisford had glimmered appealingly green. That Harold should write at once a long letter to the engineer in charge, Harris P. Hawkins, was only natural—and Tonson, surmising an anxious but hopeful query on the young man’s part as to recent shipments of ore from Silver Miss, girded up his loins in anticipation of the clerk’s wrathful reproaches when Hawkins let fly the inevitable response that to correctly diagnose Silver Miss, one must lay the accent on the “Miss,” and not on the “Silver.” He was fully prepared for the inevitable, when, a few days later, following the arrivai of a thin letter bearing the Haileybury postmark, the young man’s shadow fell athwart his office desk.

“xA.h, Wallace,” he remarked in dulcet tones. “x\nything I can do for you ?”

“There’s a liar in charge of that mine of ours up in Cobalt,” remarked

the pale clerk, strenuously. “Hawkins is trying to string me with some sort of fool story that there isn’t any silver on it. I’ve been in Cobalt and I know the mine, and what’s more, I know Hawkins’ little game, too. He thinks he can freeze me into letting my shares go with his stories about nothing doing. I want a week—a whole week —to go up there and put Hawkins’ feet back on the straight and narrow path.”

Tonson heard all this with an astounded stare.

“Go, by all means,” he muttered, mechanically; and sat for half an hour after like one dazed. When he organized the Silver Miss Milling & Mining Company, Limited, capital $100,000, in shares of $i each, old Ontario, and not new Ontario, presented the real mine he had in prospect. When he unloaded upon Harold the 20,000 shares which the panic of 1907 had left unsold, he thought that the young man dwelt in a realm ruled over by ignorance and bliss. That the pale clerk, knowing Cobalt to his finger tips and actually acquainted with the property itself, had paid twenty cents a share for Silver Miss was a fact possessing a ghastly significance.

Tonson imparted his suspicions to his partner Moker. Moker shared them ; likewise his regrets. They both took care to peruse the flood' of Cobalt picture post cards with which, during the week of the clerk’s absence, the tawny-haired stenographer was deluged. Even the delightful pastime of selling imaginary wheat and fictitious Union Pacific to the gullible country-side which thought it was investing when it was only betting, began to pall before this new interest.

“Maybe we should try to pick up some of the first Silver Miss issue before the buyers have forgotten the sting,” suggested Moker, in a far-off way.

Tonson froze him with a look.

, “Wait,” he retorted, “till we’re sure.”

When Harold Wallace returned from Cobalt smiling and cheerful,

Tonson straightway hailed him into his private office and closed the door.

“How are things looking on Silver Miss?” he chirruped joyously, actually laying aside his cigar in an excess of interest.

“They look splen—”

The young man checked his enthusiastic words.

“Fair,” he added, with a frown. “I hope you haven’t stung me with those shares, but—”

He did not conclude. He had reined up his first sentence just a syllable too late, and the bucket-shop man knew without another word that the young man was now racing away from the truth. But he sympathized judiciously.

“Gad, I hope the thing pans out,” he muttered. “I’ve a lot of my own cash tied up in it, and I don’t want to be left in the hole. People say I’ve got pretty good mining judgment, but—”

Wallace shrugged his shoulders.

“Even the best judgment goes astray now and then,” he returned with an air of deep sadness and regret. “How much are you stung on Silver Miss?”

“A thousand shares,” lied Tonson.

“I’ll take them at seventeen,” returned the clerk calmly. “May as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb, you know.”

He grinned cynically. Tonson declined to sell. After Harold’s exit he pondered long. At first he thought of letting Moker in on the ground floor of his suspicions. ' Then he decided that he wouldn’t. Moker’s judgment was not always sound, and—well, if there were profitable coups to be undertaken, Tonson preferred to tackle them alone. He might invite his partner in if a loss seemed imminent.

He found Moker buttonholing the inscrutable Harold a few minutes later. Moker, too, he inferred, must suspect. Tonson was glad now that he had let out nothing which might tend to confirm Moker’s suspicions.

He kept one eye on the pale clerk and a corner of that eye on Moker.

His surveillance disclosed the fact that Moker, too, was keeping an eye on Harold, and, more than that, on him—Tonson! “Confounded impudence of the man,” mused Tonson, and chewed a cigar to pretty small fragments in his smouldering wrath, piled upon which were ponderings over the mysterious circumstance that since his return from Cobalt the young man had not once written to Hawkins.

Tonson mused. Hawkins might have quit, or Harold might have succeeded in summarily deposing him. The end of the bucket-shop man’s musings was that he put through a wire to Cobalt, which elicited the information that Hawkins was still in charge of Silver Miss, coupled with the fact—far more astounding—that operations, discontinued many months before when the panic bowled the paper mine over like a ninepin, had been resumed and were being carried on with a secrecy which concealed every particular except the incidental energyinvolved. Tonson gasped himself white at the prospect thus conjured up. Hawkins just before the panic had asked and been refused a raise in wages. Had Hawkins deliberately avenged himself by running down the mine, concealing promising developments, and driving him—Tonson—to unload at twenty cents shares that might well be worth par?

For three days Tonson puzzled over the fact that the pale clerk no longer wrote to Hawkins. His clue came on the fourth day when he heard Wallace politely ask the tawny-haired stenographer to come down in the evening and take a few letters. Tonson’s greasy soul flared up almost to the point of intervention at Bertha’s pleased assent—then, sharply, he turned away. As he did so, his eyes met those of Moker. Moker’s face in an instant was absolutely bereft of all intelligence, and he chewed at the head of his cane as though that were his sole object in life.

A surreptitious walk past the office that night, involving a long detour, assured him that a light was burning.

Next morning, immediately on reaching the office, he summoned the stenographer.

“Miss Fossett!”

Miss Fossett came. There was a smile in her blue eyes, a note-book unfolded at a clean page in her hand, and a freshly-sharpened pencil jabbed conveniently into her coiffure. In the middle of the third letter the bucketshop man quite casually interrupted himself.

“By the way, Miss Fossett, did Wallace dictate those letters I told him to last night?”

“About the mine—?”

The girl stopped short, a frightened look flashing into her face as though she had just released from the bag a valuable feline which she was expected to retain there. The broker, chewing delightedly at his cigar, hastened to reassure her.

“Silver Miss,” he added. “'Wallace and I are both interested, though, since it might otherwise interfere with some big deals I now have on hand, I had all the stock put in Wallace’s name.”

The girl’s face shone with a smile of relief.

“Oh, I’m really so glad,” she gushed. “So you know all about it. I was afraid perhaps it was some private matter of his and that he would be angry at me for letting it out—but, of course, since you know, it’s all right, isn’t it ? And do you think it’s really going to turn out such a success— ?”

Again she stopped short, suspiciously. Tonson, rubbing his hands, prepared to delve further into this mine of gladsome information.

“I really think it is,” he declared with mock enthusiasm. “I’m tickled, too, I can tell you. for I’m deeper in Silver Miss than Wallace is, though he knows the property better. He bought those shares of his for a song from some real estate man around here—but now—”

Again he rubbed his hands, and waited. Miss Fossett voiced not the least word that would throw light on

the real situation of affairs at Silver Miss. Tonson almost wept that he had lied so much. It debarred him from open questioning.

“Why I asked,” he added, “was, that I believe Wallace overlooked something that I especially wanted him to put into that letter. Just wait a minute.”

Concealing his impatience behind a jubilant smile, he finished the letter he had been dictating.

“Now, Miss Fossett, if you’ll just bring me the letter-book,” he murmured, “I’ll run over that letter—”

“Mr. Wallace copied it in his private letter-book,” remarked the stenographer innocently. “He keeps it locked in his desk.”

Tonson corked his mouth with the cigar just in time to imprison a triumphant and delighted whistle.

“Glad he thought to lock it up,” he commented, promptly. “With important business letters, it’s always safer. Now, if you’ll just read it of from your notes—”

“But Mr. Wallace dictated to me on the typewriter,” interrupted the girl. “Told me he was in a hurry and it was a long letter—and it certainly was,” she concluded, with a shrug of her shoulders.

“Oh, very well. I’ll just speak to Wallace.”

And, dismissing the stenographer with a curt bow, he sat grouchily anathematizing the too-cautious Harold for all time to come. He fathomed Wallace through and through—had done so from the first—and he began now to suspect also the stenographer with the blue eyes and the tawny locks. Big things manifestly, assuredly, undoubtedly, lay beneath the mantle of doubt and disbelief which hitherto had garbed the mysterious Silver Miss.

Nor did the dictation by Wallace during the ensuing week, always after hours, of voluminous letters invariably copied in the private letter book and mailed by the young man with his own hands, tend to alter the bucket-shop man’s now settled conviction. His ef-

forts to pump both parties as to the contents of the letters failed signally. “Tight as clams,” he commented, convinced beyond question that they were out-and-out allies.

Intervention manifestly was the only way to discover what he wished to know. He dropped into the office quite casually one night. A night visit was something unprecedented in his bucket-shop career. He hoped to surprise the two conspirators in the midst of their dictation. Both were gone. Turning on the lights Tonson wandered aimlessly, disappointedly, to and fro about the deserted office. And then the lights showed him, what he had at first missed, a thin, drab-covered letter-book inscribed with the significant initials: “H. W.”

He pounced upon it like an eagle upon a lamb, and instantly was immersed to his neck in wonderful, amazing correspondence. Bonanza, lucky strike, vein of pure silver, untold millions in sight—of these things he read with eyes staring and wide. And then:

“Hawkins, you must keep this quiet —otherwise, I’ll send a certain mining engineer to reside in the cemetery. Don’t let a single stranger, not even a book peddler, set foot on that property. Keep mum—mum—MUM. There are 80,000 shares of Silver Miss out, and I mean to corral every cent on which I can lay my fingers. If there's the least leak, if the public just gets a suspicion of what this property really is, the shares will reach par before we know where we’re at. Remember, Mum’s the slogan of Silver Miss. I’ve soaked in your thousand, and send you the certificates.”

Fearful of Harold’s return, the broker galloped his eye over the ensuing letters. All told a like story. More shares had been picked up, shipments were being held back till the coup was complete, Mum with a capital M still continued the slogan.

Within twenty minutes the wire was busy between Carisford and Toronto, carrying to Cosser & Santrell a query from Jabez Tonson regarding Silver

Miss. “Quiet,” came the answer. “Shares seventeen cents.” And then, postscript-wise, the significant words :

“Another party on warpath.”

“Wallace!” ejaculated the broker.

“Buy at seventeen,” he wired back.

Nocturnal visits to the office, as frequent as they were resultless, became a mania with Tonson. Wallace, however, always departing before the bucket-shop man’s arrival, locked the books safely in the desk before he left. Time and again the broker was tempted to break the drawer open, but he knew how fatal it would be to alarm Harold’s suspicions.

When, one night, he discovered the longed-for volume lying forgotten and neglected on the top of the desk, he stared incredulously at its drab cover, rubbing his eyes for many moments ere he dared believe his luck. Finally, he sat down and eagerly devoured the latest letters.

“Are you playing double ?” demanded Wallace in one heated passage, evidently written under stress of temper. “There’s a leak somewhere. Other people are getting next to Silver Miss. Is this your doing? I’m doing the job for both—keep yourself out of the game. I’ve more than money depending on the result of this coup—you know that well. Let me catch you trying to play me double and I’ll smash you flatter than a pancake, fiat ter even than Silver Miss was a few months ago. You can’t get control. Don’t let that idea eat into your vitals. If this sort of thing continues I’ll simply pull the strings of the bag, out pops pussy, and these people I’m working for here and a host of others will jump for Silver Miss and your chance of picking up stock won’t be worth a cinder.

“Maybe I’m mistaken. There’s not the least doubt, however, that someone else is crowding me for this stock. If you’re not the one, then it’s a third partv. If so. the leak’s at Cobalt, not at Carisford.”

Tonson lay back in his chair and chuckled delightedly. Then he realized that Wallace must not be excited.

If Silver Miss continued to climb— it was now 35—Wallace would let the cat out of the bag as he had threatened, tell the whole story of the big strike, and Silver Miss would jump to $2 in twenty-four hours. Tonson wired Cosser to sell two hundred shares for him at 14.

The shares were snapped up at once and the price climbed to 43 before the day was out.

Then Tonson flung prudence to the winds and went in to buy. “Buy—buy —buy !” he wired Cosser, and Cosser bought. The buying was done quietly and raced along neck and neck with a steady rise in price. The last of his fifty-two thousand three hundred shares Tonson bought at par.

Cosser a couple of days later reported that Silver Miss was absolutely tight. He had bid $1.10 and found no takers. At $1.20 the result was the same. Even $1.50 failed to touch anyone.

“I suppose Wallace has the other forty-thousand odd.” chuckled Tonson gleefully. “Well, I wish him joy of his holdings wffien the time comes for a show-down. He may know rocks and silver, but yours truly, Jabez Tonson, knows how to manipulate them.”

Even the stenographer’s sudden resignation did not phase his good humor. When she announced that she must depart that very day, he told Wallace to pay over her wages to the minute and mechanically telephoned the Carisford Commercial Academy to send down a successor.

Force of habit rather than need— for need no longer existed—led him to drop into the office late that night, and his heart-thumps at sight of the drab letter-book with Wallace’s initials merely echoed those of other evenings when the incident meant far more than it did not. Still, knowledge meant power; and he thirsted for any knowledge the book had to impart concerning Silver Miss. He hurriedly turned over the flimsy pages, catching a word here or there. Tenstrike, bonanza, silver unlimited, these

items were followed by strenuous warnings to Hawkins that Mum with a capital M was the slogan—then again ensuing sharp accusations of bad faith, climaxing with the deliberate, out-and-out charge that the manager was playing double.

Tonson heard a key click in the lock. Choking down an exultant chuckle, he hurriedly jammed the telltale book into a drawer of the desk. Control of the mine he unquestionably had, but the fact was one he would prefer to impart to Wallace over the long-distance telephone. Wallace possessed an excitable temper, and, despite his pallor, a goodly supply of muscle. A fat man who smoked cigars in a bucket-shop office all day would have no chance with him if caught with the goods.

In his haste to close the drawer, the book became wedged tightly in plain view. Tonson could not push the drawer further in, neither could he tug it out. He wrestled with it, the perspiration rolling in streams down his fat, pudgy face. His nervousness rendered his struggle all the more unavailing. Realizing this, he halted, panting, and, trying to calm himself, swobbed a big handkerchief over his sweat-bedewed brow. As he did so, a hand fell sharply upon his shoulder. He turned quickly, a shiver coursing through him from head to foot. Instead of the hot-tempered Wallace, he found himself cowering and shrinking beneath the angry gaze of his partner. Moker.

“You!” ejaculated each simultaneously, and hostility, smouldering beneath the surface these many suspicious days, now blazed into open and defiant hate.

“Why the devil are you mousing around my office at night?” roared Tonson, with a wrathful choke.

“Ah — meandering thoughtfully through my confidential clerk’s private. letter-book, I perceive,” commented the sneering Moker.

“You skunk!” puffed the fat broker wrathfully.

“Alas, my poor brother!” paraphrased his thinner and more softspoken comrade.

They glowered at each other. Itching for another glimpse at the contents of the letter-book, Tonson waited wrathfully for Moker to depart. Moker, smiling icily, waited also. Ten long minutes dragged past. Then Tonson’s curiosity conquered. Still, with one angry eye on his partner, by dint of a mighty tug that jarred the old desk almost to fragments, he wrenched loose the drawer, and, snatching up the book, turned mechanically to the last written page. Mokeir, edging around, tried to peer over his shoulder. Tonson hitched angrily away. Moker patiently accommodated himself to the changed position. Tonson surrendered, and, giving his companion no further heed, hurriedly ran his eye over the pale, blurred lines on the sheet before him.

My Dear Hawkins:

Congratulate me. I am to be wedded this afternoon to the dearest little girl in the whole wide world. You know who—there is only one girl answering this description. In our confidential correspondence I have referred to her quite often—Miss Fossett, till to-day sharing my unfortunate imprisonment in this den of thieves. We wTould have been married earlier, immediately I joined Tonson & Moker’s banditti, but unfortunately my money was all tied up in Silver Miss. During the past few weeks, however, owing to the growing demand on the Toronto market, my holdings, like yours, have steadily diminished, and my Toronto people this morning reluctantly parted with the last shares to Cosser & Santrell, who are buying for some out-of-town suckers.

Thanks for your noble, though selfish, exemplification of that splendid slogan “MUM.” Instead of losing my

$4,000, I clear a little more than that, which, especially on the eve of a wedding tour, isn’t to be despised.

I am leaving this place in an hour or so, as I have reason to believe that some foolish plunging in worthless Cobalt stocks is liable to involve the firm in a resounding financial crash.

Hope your relations with the new controlling interests of Silver Miss will be as cordial as ours have been.

Sincerely yours,

H. WALLACE.

P. S.—Try and induce the new owners to take a short Cut for that fabulous streak of pay silver by attacking Silver Miss from the South Sea side of the globe. W.

“But who the deuce bought the other forty thousand odd shares?” growled Tonson, gulping hard.

“Ah—I wonder what urban greenhorn allowed this young fiend to unload the remaining fifty thousand odd upon him?” murmured Moker, in a pained tone.

“You did!”

“You did!”

“We did,” chorused the twain, and, sinking nervously into their respective chairs, they stared blankly at one another through the dissolving panorama, their mutual imaginations without difficulty conjured up of a busted, bankrupt bucket shop which Carisford would know no more.