THE SKIPPER’S BUSINESS AFFAIR
HENRY P. HOLT
MR. THEOPHILUS MASSINGHAM almost barked at the very expensive physician. "How long?” “Six months at least,” pronounced the man of science. “Not a worry or a care. Drop everything— everything, you understand.”
The patient impatiently strode four paces east and returned by the reverse route even more impatiently.
He pulled up with a jerk in front of the very expensive physician.
“It can’t be done,” he declared with an air of finality.
“Very well,” replied the doctor, fingering an ivory paper cutter on his desk, and wondering exactly what fee to charge, “in that case you will crumple up altogether within twelve months.”
“Thanks. That’s just what I wanted to know. If you’d compromised I’d have done the same, probably. Now I know where I stand. I’ll drop everything. But, Lord, man! What’ll I do? What shall I dot I’ll go crazy from sheer lack of something to think about.”
The physician put the paper cutter down. He was his professional self again now.
“What you need,” he declared “arenew interests. You have been burning the figurative candle of business in the middle, as well as at both ends, for too many years.
The human system is delicate, though we ignore the fact. Get away from New York. Forget that you ever heard of steel or of copper.
I wonder—now if you could possibly learn to enthuse about golf, really enthuse I mean, I know of a splendid—” I quite understand,” said Mr. Theophilus Massingham. In another ten years or so I’ll take to that naturally, but at present, unless you positively prescribe it—” No. All I say is go away and forget, for six months, the mountain of responsibility you have heaped on to your own shoulders. You must have some clever man somewhere around you who can see to things in your absence?”
I have. Judson, my chief secretary, is a genius, but I wasn t thinking of that. If I leave everything to him he’ll get all the fun. And what’ll I do? As it is, my days are divided up in\o minutes, and if each day were a week long it wouldn’t be long enough. . . I know! For ten years there s been a standing invitation for me to go to Europe. 111 rim over, there and catch pheasants. No, shoot ’em, don’t you? I forget. That’s the best thing I do just now, is forgetting.” Characteristically he thrust an arm out rapidly, shook hands with the very expensive physician, came to the conclusion that such men were dirt cheap at any price, and swung round to the door.
'\X7TTHIN twenty-four hours he had made all arrangements to run up to Canada and sail for Liverpool on the Tarania, ’ without a single soul, not even the genius Judson, knowing on what boat he was going. He chose to cross via Canada because too many people might recognize him on any passenger boat sailing out of New
“If anyone wants to know where I am, Judson,” he said, temporise. Tell em I’ve gone for a two-day automobile trip and that I have my car fixed up with wireless. Don’t give em a breath of suspicion that I’m out of the way. If they begin to hammer at me on Wall Street, give ’em enough rope to hang themselves with. You have complete authority, and you know my methods. Imagine I am here, and act as your brains tell you to. You’ll draw three times your ordinary salary while I’m gone. By the way, judson, don’t try to make money for me. Your job is to keep together what I’ve got. I’ll want some of it when I me back.”
It never occurred to .anyone that the passenger whose name appeared in the ship’s sailing list as T. Massingham. was Theophilus Massingham, the magnate whose income was about a million dollars a year, the man at whose nod fortunes would rock, the man in whom was stored an almost limitless dynamic force which alone had raised him to pre-eminence in the world of business warfare.
The first day out of port was hot. The second was worse, with no respite at night, and Mr. Massingham, unable to sleep, climbed high up on to the hurricane deck to catch the last ounce of breeze. Then he strolled aft a little, and poked his way in among the life boats, where passengers are not supposed to poke their way. He experienced the fascination of standing near the edge, where there was no protecting rail, and watched the rush of tumbling W’ater with the moon glinting on it. He was holding on quite firmly to a rope, but as the ship swayed, one end of the rope came loose, and five seconds later Mr. Theophilus Massingham was taking a swift and surprising journey in a perpendicular direction towards that tumbling water on which the moon glinted so fascinatingly.
'"pHE doublç top-s’l schooner “Ellen” was plodding along steadily for the West Indies, leaving a burbling trail of creamy foam astern. Two or three deck hands were half asleep, for’ard. Simon Billings, the skipper, was standing near the poop break, his tall, gaunt figure balanced lightly as his grey eyes roved the far off horizon. Fast disappearing into the beyond were the heels of a giant liner, which was tearing her heart out in the palpitating struggle to make a record for herself on the run to Europe. She had passed across the “Ellen’s” bow', a mile or more away, like a glistening comet. The schooner’s skipper was just glancing aloft mechanically, when a curious sound caught his ear. It. was like a distant hail. He spunround, his brows knit and his eyes screwed up as he peered over the rail.
“Luff her up in the wind,” he bellowed suddenly, to the man at the wheel, his eyes alighting on something a good many fathoms away, which might have been the head of a man. “For the love of mud, is that some-
one fallen off yon liner?’’ Several minutes later a limp and apparently lifelesss thing was dumped on the deck of the schooner.jSimon Billings knew now that it must have been a shout that he had heard, a last despairing hail. He bent over the prone figure, thrust his hand beneath the vest, and snorted.
^“Mebbe he'll come back,” the mastermariner muttered, seizing the arms of the man and starting to fan the spark of life back into a flame. For fifteen minutes he worked steadily—twenty. He
would have continued for an hour if necessary, but at last he noticed the first sign of animation in the man, and grunted with satisfaction. His lips were tightly pressed and the marks where his fingers clutched those arms like iron bands were to remain as a souvenir fora week, It was still some time before Mr. Theophilus Massingham became fully alive to the proceedings, but when at length he sat up and surveyed the little human ring around him it dawned upon him that this was not heaven.
“How’re you feeling?” asked the skipper.
, V’Wet,” replied Mr. Massingham crisply. His very bones seemed saturated with salt water. “Ugh, thought I was swallowing so much that there wouldn't be enough left to drown in comfortably. Who fished me out?” One of' his most strongly marked characteristics was the trick of recognizing services rendered. “Good men are scarce,” was a remark he made on occasions to those employed who served him well. “Your salary’s doubled from to-day. Now live up to it.”
Simon Billings, towering six foot one overhead, looked down with a granite face, but did not answer. Mr. Massingham glanced round enquiringly in search of an answer.
“’Twas the skipper, here,” the mate explained, nodding in the direction of the gaunt old captain. “He saw you first, and fished you out with a boat-hook.”
“Sweat up your tops’l halyards, Mr. Simpson,” interjected the skipper almost gruffly, as though to direct attention away from himself; for the tops’l halyards had been sweated not long before. “Now, mister man,” he went on, when the little ring had dispersed, “you’d best turn in and have a good sleep. Feel better in the morning. Glad we were able to get you aboard. There’s an empty state-room aft. Steward’ll fix you up.” He was turning on his heel.
“Why, captain,” began the owner of an income amounting to a million a year, exercising one of those lightning intuitions which had helped to make him what he was, “that’s the first time I’ve been saved from drowning today. I’d just like to thank you properly, if you don’t mind. Naturally, I’ll want to pay my passage, and I’d like to do something for—”
“Not a blamed dollar,” barked Simon Billings. “Man did the same thing for me twenty years back. Why, I’d reckon to have no more luck till the crack 0' doom if anybody aboard this ship took blood money from a man she”—with a nod at the ocean—“offered us.”
Which was a statement that would have fallen strangely on most city ears; but Mr. Massingham was sufficiently human to understand and, after remarking “I see,” to remain silent. It was sometimes said of Theophilus Massingham that when he was pointedly silent it was an excellent time to keep him under particularly close observation.
Tj'ROM Pinkney, the skipper’s white-haired steward, Mr. ¡ -U Massingham learnt that the schooner’s destination wasi Sanpoi, on the island of Holwana, one of the West Indies; j and it was Pinkney, also, who assured Mr. Massingham ¡
that if Captain Billings said a thing he meant it and would stick to it till the cows came home. A very square chap, was the Old Man, honorable clean through, and just; but, Lord love you, pig-headed!
“Might as well,” the steward added, “try to shift the wind in the heavens as argue with the skipper, once he’s made up his blinkin’ mind!”
Even at that stage the transferred passenger was not inwardly moved by any recital of the skipper’s peculiarities. He gave his name as Massingham, which conveyed nothing in particular to anyone on board, and decided to make the best of his position for the present. In a way, he was comfortable. The food included no broiled lobsters nor yet fried squabs, but it was wholesome; and within forty-eight hours Mr. Massingham began to find himself further away, mentally, from his New York business worries than he had been in a very long time. For one thing the skipper interested him. Simon Billings gradually expanded and talked of many things. Mr. Massingham, as befitted a guest in his peculiar circumstances, listened politely, and preserved what he regarded as a perfectly -placid disposition. Occasionally he could not for the life of him help interjecting some terse observation, a spark of the real Theophilus Massingham which neither adversity nor environment could kill; and Captain Billings, stroking Tiis goatee beard thoughtfully, recognized the presence here of considerable intelligence.
“I reckon you must have got on in business,” commented the master-mariner. They had been discussing the simplest elements of commerce. “What is your particular line?”
“Oh,” replied Mr. Massingham evasively, “I haven’t got any particular line. I can turn my hand to one or two things.”
“That’s where you go wrong,” observed the captain. “Now, don’t you think you’d ha’ done better if you’d stuck to one thing?”
“I wonder!” said Mr. Massingham, truthfully. He was thinking of steel. And yet he had the best man that money could buy at the head of each department: the organization was approximately perfect.
“Of course you would,” went on Captain Billings. “Were you bound for Europe on business?”
The passenger shook his head.
“I’ve not been very well,” he said, “so I thought of taking a vacation. Laziness is good for us all at times. I can afford six months of it, at any rate.”
THE skipper smiled slightly. His guess had evidently been right. A man who could save up enough to live in idleness for six months must have a good head-piece on him.
“The reason I asked you what your line is,” he said, “was because I was wondering whether you’d know anything about running a general store.” There was lively interest in the master-mariner’s eyes. Mr. Massingham regarded him puzzledly for a moment.
“Why no—ah—h’m—not a general store. No, I can’t say I have any particular experience of that. What makes you ask?”
Captain Billings’ eyes twinkled, and he twisted the point of his goatee beard with his fingers. He was evidently very near to some pet theme or hobby. And he had grown to respect the judgment of Mr. Massingham.
“Well,” said the sailor, lighting a stogie with that placid deliberation which denotes a man thoroughly interested in his thoughts.
“Man and boy, I’ve been at at sea now for nigh on fifty years. Sixty-one, I’ll be, in a little while. It’s a great life, sir, is sailoring, especially if every drop of blood in your veins is pure Stockholm tar, like mine. But there comes a time when we have to quit knocking around, and it’s coming for me. As a matter of fact, it’s come.” For a few moments he seemed more absorbed than necessary in folding down a rebellious leaf of his stogie.
“You’ve earned a rest,
I’m sure,” observed Mr.
Massingham. The skipper looked at him sharply.
“I’ve always believed in living and letting the other feller live,” he said slowly.
“P’raps that’s why I’m no better off to-day than I am.
I’ve looked forward for a good many years to retiring and taking it easy, but it can’t be done as I’d intended, quité. 1 was born in Bansfield, Maine, and the little old United States would
have been good enough for me to end my days in. And that’s where I would have ended ’em, but Jud Perkins gave some of us a shock we haven’t gotten over yet. Funny thing about Jud. I’d known him all my life. He was a lawyer up in Bansfield. Never knew him do a crooked thing since I can remember. He handled money for most of us in his time, and when Jud said a thing was good, that was enough for me. Not so long ago he told me my money’d be safer in bonds than where it was, so I coughed most of it up, an’ Jud hasn’t been around Bansfield since. Took with him enough to keep several of us guessin’, while he was about it. Went a bit wrong in his head, I guess.”
Mr. Massingham who had. known of eminently sane lawyers effecting a similar purpose by less crude but equally effective methods, merely looked pained, and noodded encouragingly.
“So you think you’ll start a store, eh?” he observed. “Where? In Bansfield?”
Captain Billings’ eyes brightened, but he shook his head.
“I’d be robbing old friends of part of their living if I did that. Bansfield is where I’d like to have set up, but the place isn’t big enough to swing a cat round in. I’ve got my store at Holwana. Bought it with what Jud Perkins didn’t collar. When this ship gets from Sanpoi to New York, I step off her for the last time. Then I’ll slip back by passenger boat and settle down.”
“Who’s handling your money at this Holwana store now?” queried the president çf a dozen corporations, pithily.
“That’s all right,” replied the skipper unperturbed. “I’ve got an old chum working for me, and I’d trust him with my ticket for eternal glory.”
Now, your deep sea mariner is at all times a confiding soul when compared with his brethren ashore, but Mr. Theophilus Massingham found it difficult to repress a “Tut! Tut!”
“Well,” he said, “and what’s the problem you wanted me to help you with?”
“Why, I’ve kinda got mad with Benoy, the man who sold me the store. As soon as he handled my money he built another store right opposite mine. It don’t appear right to me. Seems to me he said he was going to the coast, or somewheres, though I can’t be sure.”
“I am afraid,” observed Mr. Massingham, “that your agreement must have been somewhat loosely drawn. Pity! What you need, Captain Billings, is not a competitive business to depend on in your old age, but gilt edged securities. Now—” he paused, thoughtfully, for the position was not a simple one—“if I were a rich man, I mean a really rich man, I should feel inclined, in view of what I owe you, to ask your permission to let me put you back on your feet.”
If you immerse a millionaire in sea-water, let him dry out, and then confine his raiment to that in which he was immersed, he looks considerably less than a millionaire. And Mr. Massingham was, at that moment, a long way from being perfectly tailored. The effect deceived the captain of the “Ellen,” who only laughed.
“Why, it listens good,” he said, “but I wouldn’t let you hand out a red cent if you were choking with money. P’raps you don’t understand, but sailors get queer notions sometimes.”
“But I didn’t say I was a rich man,” parried the millionaire with an easy smile. “Some of us find it pretty
hard to make money.” At that instant Mr. Massingham was wondering what the genius Judson would think of the notion that he had begun to toy with. True, it was only a notion, but Mr. Massingham was also wondering what he could do when he had assassinated all the pheasants that crossed his path in Scotland. Anyway, there wasn’t a pheasant alive against which he bore any grudge. Besides, he would never, never feel entirely at ease with his conscience after this if, when the “Ellen ’’touched port, he just shook hands with Simon Billings and did nothing for him. Worse than that. He, in his turn, felt that every kind of good luck would have an admirable excuse for deserting him if, in his peculiarly powerful position, he failed to find a way of helping the man who had saved his life.
“It seems to me,” Mr. Massingham remarked pensively, “that you’ll either have to fight this man Benoy, or go under. Evidently you haven’t protected yourself, and he means to grab what trade he can. However, I’ll probably be in Sanpoi awhile, and I may be able to advise you better when I’ve seen how things stand.”
TF, WITHIN commuting distance of New York City, any
place were discovered that so nearly approximated to Paradise as does Holwana, there would be a human avalanche. Most of the palatial residences down Long Island way, and in New Jersey, would become rat-ridden and cluttered with cob-webs. But there are others besides commuters to New York, and it did not take Mr. Massingham more than six hours to see that Holwana was one of those fortunate places upon which following the example of the gods, man was about to smile. Ever since somewhere near the year dot, the town of Sanpoi had existed, partly as a port with a wonderful natural harbor, partly as a trading station, and latterly more and more as a resort. Mr. Benoy had had the Holwana field entirely to himself for a very long time, both as a trader in such products as were rasied on that particular island and islands near, and as a vendor of the thousand and one things which the mortal mind—and stomach—of man desires. Latterly the business had been growing to such an extent that Mr. Benoy felt cramped in his poky old store. He wanted to expand into new premises, and when he saw fifteen thousand dollars dangling in front of his eyes, in the form of Captain Simon Billings’ bank balance, he succumbed to the lure, partly because fifteen thousand dollars all in one piece was a very considerable sum to Mr. Benoy, and partly because he had every reason to suppose that, before long, old man Billings would have to put up the shutters and steal silently away when the fierce heat of competition struck him. Mr. Benoy did not chuckle over this idea; he was merely a hard-headed island trader who knew the ropes and was well-established.
There was a tolerably good hotel at Sanpoi, and Mr. Theophilus Massingham ensconced himself there in all the comfort which the roll of bills in his pocket could secure; and the loquacious proprietor of that hostelry proved to be a mine of local information. Mr. Massingham pried from him all the news he desired, and then sought out Mr. Benoy.
The merchant was breezy and quite cheerful. No, he didn’t think Captain Billings would mind a bit of competition. Mr. Benoy didn’t mind it himself, so, why should Billings? No, he would not sell out, not at any price, and if there was going to be a battle, let it start.
Mr. Benoy knew where he stood. Moreover, he had recently been able to make large purchases at a very favorable figure, and he was thinking of reducing prices at the store somewhat, to stimulate trade. Mr. Benoy had a sinister glitter in his eyes when he said this. Something about Mr. T. Massingham, whoever he might be, had rather irritated him. Possibly another way could have been found out of the situation but for that glitter in Mr. Benoy’s eyes. It showed Mr. Massingham exactly what he wanted to know, and he was extremely polite as he concluded the interview. Immediately afterwards he sought out the skipper of the “Ellen,” which craft was lying at Sanpoi for two days.
"Listen to me, Captain Billings,” he said. “I'm not going to leave here for a time till I’ve gathered in a few dollars, but to some extent it depends on you.” “Well,” replied the master-mariner, with a dry smile,
Continued on page 73
The Skipper’s Business Affair
Continued from page 19
“all my dollars have been gathered in, by the other fellers, so I’m not contributing. What’s the idea?”
“The idea is this. Benoy has got you tied up. Pretty soon you’re going to be his, body and soul, unless he is treated to a dose of his own methods. Your store looks like fifteen cents compared with that new place of his opposite. And he knows everybody. I can see what his game is. Now, opportunities to make money don’t pop up every day, and you’ll be doing me a real kindness if you’ll let me come in on
The skipper ran his fingers through his scraggy beard. He felt uneasy enough already without further complications being introduced. “I don’t want,” he said a little helplessly, “to get into any worse mess.”
“I’ll fix it so that you can’t,” replied Mr. Massingham. “All you’ve got to do is to work with me. You work against me and I shan’t make a nickel. Stand by me and we’ll put Benoy where he belongs. I have one or two thousand dollars that I can throw into this affair, and what is still more, I have credit. There are men in New York City who are willing to stand back of me when I get an idea. I’ll make you a fair offer—I’ll go fifty-fifty with you on what I clean up, and you don’t risk a penny.
The old sailor’s eyes shone as he listened. He certainly had been very badly treated; and to get a little of his own back would be a. joy. The personality of Mr. Theophilus Massingham had been known to carry conviction with it in places much more sophisticated than this little island in the West Indies. Captain Billings could not see a flaw in the arrangement from a purely business point of view.
“Dog-gone me,” he muttered to the silent stars, as the schooner bowled away from Sanpoi that night, “I do b’lieve my luck’s turned at last. Things was looking mighty queer, one way and another. I can’t lose anything, and that feller Massingham thinks it’s the chance of his life-
time. Bright chap, that. Glad to be able to give him a chance. Didn’t I ' know he had his head screwed on right. Nice feller, too. . . Don’t know but what. . .but what. . . if this turns out all right. . . ‘Course my old dad before me always said partnerships were no good. . But Massingham is a bright chap. And when you’ve tried a man. . . ” Then he hummed a little chanty.
THERE was a cable running from Holwana to San Juan. While Captain Billings was still humming his chanty the cable operator at San Juan was called’up by Sanpoi operator and received a message for transmission to New York. He almost became interested in what he punched out because it was rather unusual.
“Cable hundred thousand" dollars dynamite to P. Massingham, Dolforgan Hotel, Sanpoi, Holwana. Bank West Indies Trust Company, Sanpoi. Ship by next passenger steamer one complete portable store, frontage at least sixty feet. Cable exact dimensions. Also ship skilled workmen to erect same and complete fittings dynamite. Ship on same steamer two hundred tons mixed canned goods ditto dry goods, ditto hardware, also one expert manager to run store and three live clerks. Pick me out winners dynamite. Also two thousand cigars dynamite. Tell John B. Straker you are to receive shipments in New York of coffee, sugar, cotton, oranges, lemons, mahogany, Straker to handle same on commission basis. Also ship me one expert buyer of such goods. Leave all details to you. Muriel.”
“Gosh!” mused the cable operator. “Little Muriel sure is going into business in a hurry, and if “dynamite” isn’t some sort of code word, there’ll be enough to blow all Holwana to China.”
The genius Judson frowned when he read the cable. The word “dynamite,” coming in any message from Mr. Theo-
philus Massingham, had a very definite and exact meaning. It signified that the instructions accompanying it were to be carried out imperatively, to the letter, expense to be utterly disregarded. .Judson spent an exhausting three hours with two telephones, meanwhile ignoring six appointments with men who were waiting his pleasure in the outer office; and then he sat back, not knowing whether to feel relieved or worried; because great motor trucks were already speeding to pick up sections of the much wanted store, but Judson was wondering exactly how far nervous strain affected the intellect of a man like Theophilus Massingham.
WITHIN the last two or three years houses and bungalows had begun to spring up like mushrooms in beautiful Sanpoi. The place was beginning to take definite shape. Anyone with half an eye could see that the spot where Benoy’s old store and his new one stood was to be the ultimate business centre of the town. There were four corners there. One of those not already occupied was for sale as a desirable building plot. A drug store was to be erected on the other corner. The foundations had already been laid, but there had come a financial hiatus which temporarily held up the erection of the premises. As soon as Mr. Massingham received his first cable from the genius Judson he found that by employing ten men for two days he could adapt the foundations to the coming store, and the gentleman who was suffering from financial hiatus was distinctly relieved to transfer his interests to Mr. Massingham. Travelling via San Juan, whence they were reshipped, the store and other impedimenta took just eight days to reach Sanpoi. The genius Judson had lived up to his reputation in picking the crew of skilled workmen asked for “to erect same,” and after Mr. Massingham had made them an interesting offer, they acted as though a cyclone had struck them. The building was twice the size of that recently erected by Mr. Benoy, but within forty-eight hours it was complete. Mr. Benoy stood before it three times during the process, and gasped each time. When the last nail was hammered home he came again to gasp, but choked instead. The shingles were not all on before mahogany counters, shelves, partitions and other ornate fittings began to unfold themselves. The “live clerks” who were to act as salesmen hurled themselves at countless packing cases, and early on the afternoon of the third day Mr. Benoy choked again when he realized that the competition he had spoken of so lightly was threatened no longer but was already in being and rushing along like a run-away express train, for everything offered for sale in the mushroom store, from canned lobster to shirt waists, was marked down to fifty per cent, less than Mr. Benoy had hitherto charged. Mr. Benoy’s commercial soul revolted at this, for it brought the figure almost down to cost price.
The good housewives of Sanpoi were swift to take advantage of the flowing tide, whereupon Mr. Benoy, with a curious contraction of the thorax, tobogganed his own charges, only to find this was promptly met by a cut on the part of the opposition of another ten per cent.
Oh well,” said Mr. Benoy, to his almost empty cash register, “they can’t keep that up long. I’ll go five per cent, better, and freeze them out now.” So his prices dropped to sixty-five below normal, and he was mortified to find that the opposition slumped five points below his figures. He was not overburdened with capital, but a bright idea' brought a cunning smile to his face. Never had such a good chance for investment presented itself. He could buy from his rival at fifteen per cent, less than he could buy elsewhere. So he bought, at first by subterfuge, and later, finding there was no objection, openly. Within two weeks he had laid out all of nine thousand dollars before he realized that it was merely putting money into a bottomless pit, for the supply of goods at his rival’s store was now inexhaustible, whereas his own funds were exhausted.
But a worse shock came when he discovered that the planters of Holwana, and the planters of all the other islands within trading distance of Holwana, were not falling into his net for the sale of their produce as had always been the case. In fact, they had no produce to sell. The same inexhaustible funds which had provided Mr. Benoy with hardware and canned goods at fifteen per cent, below the
ordinary cost, and thereby tied up his floating capital in the tightest of knots, had lured the planters into selling their standing crops in a mass. And this was the situation when Captain Simon Billings, having finished his maritime career, arrived at Sanpoi, to see how his little business was progressing. His heart missed a Ibeat when he heard that the prices of everything in all three stores looked as though they had been fixed by a lunatic; and he endeavored—but failed—to make head or tail of the maze of figures which Mr. Theophilus Massingham put before him. Then he pushed his liât back, scratched the summit of his pate, and enquired anxiously if they weren’t dragging their anchors a bit much.
“Why, we haven’t started yet,” declared Mr. Massingham. “The story of the grocery store having been erected, stocked, and opened within sixty hours seems to have got into the American papers somehow. Some of the yarn they printed wasn’t absolutely true, but it read well, and folks in New York are beginning to find out that Holwana’s on the map.”
“Yeop,” observed the ex-skipper. “That’s all right. But what about all this money that’s been splashed around? Where in Holwana or Heaven are we going I to get it back? It’s got to come back before there’s a profit.”
j “You won’t know Holwana before we’re through with it,” observed Mr. Massingham with conviction. “Half the people staying in the hotel are talking of building here, and land values in Holwana are going up every day. We jumped in just at the right minute, because things are humming. By the way, I had Mr. Benoy in to see me this morning. Somehow I don’t think he loves me; but he invited me to pool with him. He’s found out that all the planters for whom we are acting as agents have signed contracts with me for the handling of their crops during the next three years.”
“And—are you going to pool with him?”
“I hardly think he gathered that view,” replied Mr. Massingham drily. “You see, you and I are partners. By the way, we haven’t got that in writing, Captain Billings. I’ll just draw up an agreement, if you don’t mind signing it. Matter of business. There won’t be any more money to invest now, and the tide is turning. If we do make anything out of the venture, you want to be sure of getting your share, don’t you? I might skip off, you know, and leave you.”
The ex-skipper was drumming his fingers pensively.
“Mr. Massingham,” he said at length, "I’m going to put a question up to you as man to man before we start dividing these profits you’re promising. If it hadn’t been for me, d’you think you might have gone into business at Holwana?”
The question seemed fraught with possibilities.
“What do you mean exactly?”
“I mean, it don’t seem to me I’ve done a helova lot so far except put you on to the notion. And I couldn’t take money I hadn’t helped to earn.”
Mr. Massingham smiled and relaxed.
“I give you my word,” he said, “that if it hadn’t been for you I shouldn’t be in business in Sanpoi to-day. You gave me the idea, and gave me a free hand. Does that answer your question?”
The master-mariner came over and engulfed Mr. Massingham’s hand in his own, applying pressure which made the magnate wince.
“That makes me feel easier,” he said. 'V ‘Course, when your luck does turn, it turns. I’ve had to work hard as blazes for every dollar I’ve ever earned, but maybe I ought to have gone into business long ago. Anyway, go ahead and draw up your agreement. I’ll sign it.”
X/Í R. BENOY, as the weeks drifted into months, successively passed beyond !the choking stage to those of indignation, bewilderment, chagrin and regret. He really did wish now that he had never sought to obtain the old sailor’s fifteen thousand dollars by a trick, not because his conscience pricked him but because the thing had not worked out in the least as he £had hoped. Precisely what arrangement existed between his two .rivals, he did not “know, but he felt sure they were in entire sympathy, nor did they show the slightest 'sign of growing weak at the figurative 'knees, financially. Again he bearded Mr. ’•Massingham, this time in desperation.
‘ “Say, how long’s this game going to ast?” he asked. “We don’t both want to
keep sawing away at each other’s throat all the time, do we? Let’s make some arrangement.”
“Anything you like,” replied Mr. Massingham. “I’ll either buy or sell.”
“Sell?” queried the store keeper. “I hadn’t thought of that. You’ll sell, eh? Lock, stock, and barrel? What’s your figure?”
Mr. Massingham was sufficiently wellinformed of his opponent’s monetary affairs to know that he had been struggling in vain to raise a little more capital. He drew a sheet of paper towards him and jotted down a few figures.
“It’ll cost you a lot of money,” he said. “You see, those contracts I have with the planters are valuable. And over fifty thousand has been paid in cold cash for the coming crops. You worked on commission, Mr. Benoy. Try paying cash in advance, next time. It works wonders. The average mortal thinks a whole world more of money right under his nose than he thinks of promises. Costs money to do it, though. Then there’s the store business. That’s going to be a big thing in the next year or two—ah—without opposition. As a going concern, it’s worth a good many thousand. And of course we couldn’t sell for anything but spot cash, Mr. Benoy.” Mr. Benoy unconsciously applied a handkerchief to his brow. He was dazed and hot.
“And if you buy?” he asked.
“There’s nothing to buy,” replied Mr. Massingham, “except your stock. That we’ll take off your hands at what you paid for it—less ten per cent, on account of depreciation.”
“But my new building?”
“Oh, yes, a fair market price for that. Fitted up as a drug store, it could be let at a moment’s notice.
“I—I—•” Mr. Benoy began, with a recurrence of his former tendency to choke, “I think I’ll sell.”
“Of course you will,” replied Mr. Massingham. “Good afternoon.”
And within sixty seconds he had written a cable to the genius Judson which consisted of the simple words:
Add to the advertisements the words “no opposition” and rush them into print. Dynamite. Muriel.
FROM that hour onward the prices of all commodities for sale in Holwana reverted to their normal level, and Mr. Massingham smoked many more cigars than were good for him while awaiting news from New York. Within three days the genius Judson had sent three lengthy cables in code, and Mr. Massingham’s reply fetched from New York a soft spoken soul with remarkably alert eyes and the reputation of doing the right thing in business affairs nine times out of ten. He and Mr. Massingham debated for just three hours.
“Well,” said the soft spoken soul at length, when»certain papers and a signed check had been pocketed by Mr. Massingham, ‘Tm sorry I can’t do better for you, but that’s my limit. We hope, of course, to develop this into a big thing, but I’m surprised you don’t seem to be more satisfied.”
“Never mind: the thing’s done now,” replied Mr. Massingham. There were compensations. For instance his six months’ sentence had all but expired, and he was as fit as a giant. In next to no time, now, he would be worrying real men with real business in New York.
SOMEONE had button-holed Captain Simon Billings at his new home in Bansfield, Maine, and poured into his ear the thrilling details of a get-rich-quick partnership scheme which looked fascinating—on paper. It was meant to look fascinating—before the victim felt the
“No, sir,” said the ex-mariner, stroking his goatee beard reflectively. “I’ve only had one partner in my life, and when we started we hadn’t much more capital than would buy cheese to put in the mouse trap. When we sold out for three hundred thousand dollars and paid all our liabilities, we had seventy-five thousand apiece left. Don’t ask me how we did it, because I get dazed even now when I think about it; but lightning don’t strike twice in the same place, so I guess I’ll just plod along. Much ’bliged all the same. Good afternoon.”