Part 11 (1/2)

MAKING A FORTUNE

Kidd Company stock was a feature in Wall street. The firm of Topman and Gusher, having luminated the great Kidd Discovery Company, had got it fairly on its feet in that mart of the money-changers. The firm was considered highly respectable now, and had counting-rooms in Pearl street, near Wall, second floor, furnished in a style of elegance it would be difficult to surpa.s.s, even at this day. If you would fortify the standing of a great and enterprising firm, Topman said, in his polite way, you must do it with elegant and elaborate furniture in your counting-room. Show is the thing two-thirds of the people in the world are attracted and deluded by.

The newspapers, too, were telling curious stories as to how Kidd's treasure was discovered, and also making statements of a very unreliable nature, setting forth that already several million dollars had been recovered, and that any man engaged in it would surely make a fortune for his heirs, no matter how numerous. The more unreasonable these statements were, the more readily did people invest in the stock. Not a solid man in Wall street had heard of the firm of Topman and Gusher eight months ago. The great beacon lights of the street now condescended to bow and shake hands with Topman, to take more than a glance at the firm's name when it was brought to their notice on certain bits of paper which the enterprising firm, for mere convenience sake, gave now and then as ”equivalents”. In short, Mr. Topman was a man of such impressive manners that he quite captivated Wall street, and to have those solid-pocketed old gentlemen speak encouragingly of the house, was, he considered, gaining a great financial victory. In addition to this Topman lived in a fine house, sumptuously furnished, on the west side of Bowling Green, had a servant in livery to open the door, and rode in his own carriage.

Mrs. Topman was a showy, das.h.i.+ng woman of thirty-five, or thereabouts, tall and slender, and somewhat graceful of figure, and might have pa.s.sed for a beauty at twenty. But there was a faded look about her now, and she had a weakness for loud talking and overdressing. She was evidently a woman of doubtful blood, and ”no family,” as society would say in these days. Indeed, first-rate society, such as Bowling Green boasted of in those days, considered itself very select, and dealt out its favors to new-comers with a cautious reserve.

As little or nothing was known of Mrs. Topman's antecedents, first-rate society cut her--did'nt even condescend to drop her a sidewalk recognition. But, as pus.h.i.+ng one's self into society was quite as much practised then as now, and as Mrs. Topman was a pus.h.i.+ng, vigorous woman, she resolved that if she could not carry the outworks and compel a surrender on the part of first-rate society, she would at least have a circle of her own. And she had just as good a right, she said, to call her circle of society first-rate, as her neighbors who kept their doors shut had to ”consider” themselves such. It was only an a.s.sumption at best. So the aspiring lady received what she called select company on a Tuesday, and entertained generally on Thursday evenings. But her neighbors tossed their heads, and said they were only third-rate people who went there.

Gusher, however, flourished in what might at this day be considered elegant hotel society. He was such a nice young man, dressed in such good taste, and had such unexceptionable manners. And there was such a distinguished air about Gusher, that Bowling Green was half inclined to look on him with favor. Mr. Gusher was a stock beau as well as a stock boarder at the City Hotel, where he was an object of admiration with all the languis.h.i.+ng young ladies of the house. Indeed, the landlord of the City Hotel regarded Mr. Gusher as a valuable parlor ornament for the entertainment of his female guests of an evening, for he was an exquisite dancer, could sing, and make such gracious bows. Now and then a sensible girl had been heard to say she thought him a little soft; but her companions usually set that down to envy. Then it got whispered about that he was an unfortunate foreigner of a very distinguished family, and had been exiled from his native Spain for engaging in a revolution. Such were the prospects of this distinguished firm, socially and financially.

Nyack, too, had been kept in a state of agitation all winter over the discovery of Kidd's treasure, and wonderful stories were circulated of the fabulous amounts that were recovered every day.

Spring had come again, and the hills around Nyack looked so fresh, and green, and beautiful. Chapman had got Kidd stock into high favor with all the honest old Dutchmen in the county. And it was curious to see how these heretofore cautious people parted with their money for what Chapman called a ”profitable equivalent.”

Mrs. Chapman seemed to have increased in circ.u.mference and loftiness.

She could get new and expensive dresses, and silk ones at that, every time she went to New York, and she went quite often now. And none of her neighbors could wear such fine lace on their caps. It was surprising to see how this fat, fussy woman could toss her head and talk of common people now. It was very annoying, she said, to have to live in a little country town like Nyack, and mix with everybody. Then her dear little intellectually great Chapman was such a jewel of a husband, and was so clever at inventing the means of making a fortune for other people.

The brain of Nyack was terribly disordered over the fortunes that were to be made in a month for all who invested in Kidd Discovery stock. Even the good Dominie, led away by the temptation, had invested all his savings, and had his pockets full of Chapman's ”equivalents,” from which he looked for a fortune in a very short time. Finally the innocent settlers began to regard Chapman as a great genius, who had invented this new way of making their fortunes out of sheer goodness. ”I want to tell you, my good friends,” he would say to them, patronizingly, ”you will appreciate me better as we become better acquainted. Invest your money, and there's a fortune for you all.” And they took his word, and invested their money, and, many of them, everything they had.

We must go back into the city now. It was a morning in early May. Knots of men were standing on the corners of Wall and Pearl streets, each discussing in animated tones some question of finance or trade. Men with hurried steps and curious faces pa.s.sed to and fro, threading their way through the pressing throng, as if the nation was in peril and they were on a mission to save it. And yet it was only an expression of that eagerness which our people display in their haste to despatch some object in the ordinary business routine of the day.

It was on this morning that a woman of small and compact figure, dressed in plain green silk, a red India shawl, and a large, odd-shaped straw bonnet, called a ”poke” in those days, on her head, and trimmed inside with a profusion of artificial flowers, the whole giving her an air of extreme quaintness, was seen looking up doubtingly at the door opening to the stairs at the top of which Topman and Gusher had their counting-rooms. She had the appearance of a woman in good circ.u.mstances, just from the country, where her style of dress might have been in fas.h.i.+on at that day. Her age, perhaps, was in the vicinity of forty, for her hair was changing to grey, and hung in neat braids down the sides of her face, which was round and ruddy, and still gleamed with the freshness of youth. Her shawl-pin was a heavy gold anchor and chain, and her wrists were clasped with heavy gold bracelets, bearing a s.h.i.+eld, on which was inscribed a sailor with his quadrant poised, in the act of taking the sun. I ought also to add that she carried a big umbrella in her left hand, and a small leathern satchel in her right.

This quaint little woman's manner was exceedingly nervous and hesitating. Twice or thrice she advanced up the pa.s.sage to the foot of the stairs, hesitated, returned to the door, and looked up at the number, as if still uncertain about some project on trial in her mind.

Men were pa.s.sing in and out, and up and down the stairs hurriedly, as if some important business required all their attention. The little woman took no heed of any of them, and indeed seemed confused in her own thoughts. Drawing a newspaper from her leathern bag she read in a whisper, at the same time tracing the lines with her finger, ”Great Kidd Discovery Company. Capital $150,000. All paid in. President, Luke Topman. Corresponding Secretary, Philo Gusher. No. ---- Pearl street.”

The little woman nodded her head, and looked up with an air of satisfaction. ”I'm right. This is the place,” she muttered to herself.

Then putting the paper carefully into her pocket, and hugging the big umbrella close to her side, she advanced with a more resolute step up the pa.s.sage, and was soon at the top of the stairs.

Again the little woman paused, for the number of names over doors seemed to confuse her. Just across the pa.s.sage in front of her, however, she read over a half-gla.s.s door, and in large gilt letters, ”Topman and Gusher, General Commission Business.” And just below, and across the panes of ground gla.s.s, were the significant and attractive words: ”Kidd Discovery Company. Capital $150,000. Luke Topman, President. Philo Gusher, Corresponding Secretary.”

The little woman advanced and knocked timidly at the door, which was opened by a nicely-clad and polite youth, whose business seemed to be to admit customers. The little woman bowed and returned the young man's salutation.

”A lady visitor, Mr. Gusher!” said the young man, motioning the lady to enter. ”That is Mr. Gusher, madam; junior partner of the firm.”

A polished mahogany railing separated the vulgar customer from the highly dignified looking clerks inside. Indeed, there was an air of elegance about the establishment that somewhat surprised the little woman at first, and caused her some embarra.s.sment.

”Ah, madam; pardon! pardon!” said Mr. Gusher, rising from his desk at the announcement and advancing to the railing. ”I shall do myself ze pleazure, and ze honor of receiving such commands as you shall confide to ze firm,” he continued, smiling and bowing gracefully.

”A little investment,” returned the visitor, nervously. ”I have a little money, left by my husband, who is at sea. I have no immediate use for it; but want to put it where it will be entirely safe. Entirely safe, above all things; a good dividend will not be objectionable. I am sure, sir, you understand that--”

”Ah, madam, you shall zee. Pardon! you will enter and take one seat.”

Mr. Gusher now condescended to open the gate, as he called it, bring the little woman inside, and bid her be seated. ”Ze Kidd Discovery Company, madam, is one grand enterprise. You shall zee. And ze profit shall be so great you will not know where to put him. For ze safety of ze investment, (pardon, madam,) you shall accept ze honor of zis firm. O, madam, I cannot speak ze Englis so well. If my partner is here you shall zee he will satisfy you as ze reputation and ze honor of zis firm will be so great. You shall invest your money, and you shall zee zat ze honor and ze reputation of zis firm shall makes him safe.” Mr. Gusher made a low bow, and pressed his hand to his heart in confirmation of what he had said.

A number of suspicious-looking men now entered the office and advanced to the railing, all affecting great eagerness to purchase and pay their money for Kidd Discovery stock. ”You shall zee, mad-am,” said Mr.

Gusher, extending his right hand and shrugging his shoulders, ”how much ze demand for ze stock in zat grand enterprise is. Ze rush for him is so great ze price will be double very soon--as you shall zee.”

”Don't know how my husband would like it if he was here,” replied the little woman, who had been nervously twitching and working her fingers, now opening the satchel, then shutting it. ”Leaves me money enough to keep me comfortable when he goes away. Good provider, my husband is.