Part 2 out of 4
AN IDEAL LIFE
As the new house was approaching completion we found much pleasure
in occasionally going to Knollwood for an hour or two, to look it
Our having selected the plans and site made it seem as if it
belonged to us and our interest in its development was great. The
kitchen was in the basement. On the first floor was a square entrance
hall opening into parlor, dining-room, and library. There were
four bed-rooms and bath-room on second floor and above that a maid's
room and attic.
While the house was not large the rooms were all of comfortable
size. For heating, in addition to the furnace, there were several
open fire-places, a great desideratum in any house. In its exterior
the style was something of the Swiss cottage.
The grounds consisted of about an acre in lawn with a few flower-beds
and a number of fine trees.
In April we moved into the new house. Some additions had been made
to our furnishings, and when all was in order we agreed that in
our eyes there was no other house in the world quite so pretty.
It was a case of "contentment is wealth," and we were perfectly
Of course we must have a name for the place. Every one does that,
in the country, and we were not to be the exception. One of our
boundary lines was a brook and we decided on "Brookside Cottage."
The stationery and visiting cards were so engraved, when, alas,
a few weeks later our brook dried up and we had to select another
At this time, where the brook had been, a new line of sewer was
laid, and my wife suggested "Sewerside," but after punishing her
with a kiss for her bad pun, I suggested "Sunnyside."
The name was adopted and to this day the place has retained it.
"Sunnyside" was not the only house in Knollwood completed that
spring. There were several others, and when the summer commenced
there resided there a little community of delightful, congenial
people. Most of them were of about my age, and with the exception
of the owner of the Park, of moderate means. Probably at that time
I enjoyed a larger income than any of them.
Wealth cut no figure in that community. We all respected each other
and met on the same social plane, regardless of individual means.
While we liked them all, we became particularly intimate with two
of our immediate neighbors, the Woods and the Lawtons, who had come
to the Park at the same time as ourselves.
This intimacy became a strong and close friendship, so much so that
it was very like one family. The children of the three families
fraternized and almost every disengaged evening found the parents
gathered together in some one of the three houses, which were
connected by private telephone.
In its social elements Knollwood was peculiarly fortunate. The
people were bright and entertaining. In a number of instances
musical talent, both vocal and instrumental, was of a high order,
and there was also a good deal of amateur dramatic talent.
Taking this combination and an inspiration on the part of each
individual to do what he or she could for the entertainment of
all, one can readily see that much pleasure might be derived in
The facilities for making use of the talent we possessed were
excellent. We had a beautiful casino, with a stage well equipped
with scenery, and during the first four years of our residence
there more than fifty performances were given, each followed by a
dance. A Country Club was organized for out-door sports and there
was something going on continually.
The life at Knollwood in those days was to my mind ideal.
The beauty of the place, its facilities and conveniences are still
there, improved and increased. Its social life, now on a totally
different scale, has expanded to meet the tastes of the people.
With the large increase in population came the break in the circle.
Cliques defining the difference, not in culture or refinement,
but in wealth, have developed. The old charm of every resident my
friend, is lacking. Gossip, unknown in the early days, showed its
ugly head in later years.
It is the way of the world. All struggle to gain wealth. Those
that succeed, with but few exceptions, sneer at those who are left
behind, and what does it all amount to in the end? One can enjoy
it but a few years at most.
I have in my career come into more or less intimate contact,
socially and in a business way, with many men of great wealth. In
some instances, where the wealth was inherited, the past generation
had paid the price of its accumulation, but I doubt if any of those
who have given up the best of their lives in the struggle to attain
their present position and wealth, now that they possess it, get
out of it anything like the degree of happiness and contentment
that was in evidence in those early years in Knollwood.
And what has it cost them?
Long years of struggle and worry, continual mental strain that
has prevented the full enjoyment of home life, a weakened physical
condition, old age in advance of its time, and more, far more
than all this, in at least one instance of which I have personal
knowledge, and I presume there have been many others, the disruption
of a family that would never have occurred had the husband given
less time to his struggle for wealth and more to the wife whom he
had vowed to love and cherish.
She, poor, beautiful woman, left much to herself evening after
evening while her husband was at his club or elsewhere planning
with allies his huge business operations, fell a victim to a fiend
in the guise of a man.
When that husband looks at his children, deserted by their mother,
he must think that for his millions he has paid a stupendous price.
Wealth brings with it fashionable life. Of what horrors the fashionable
life of New York is continually giving us examples, the columns of
the daily papers bear witness.
Is the "game worth the candle"?
My business in 1879 returned me nearly sixteen thousand dollars,
a satisfactory increase over the previous year.
My wife and I had become much attached to "Sunnyside," and as the
owner was willing to sell it to us for just what it had cost to
build, plus one thousand dollars for the land, we bought it. We
then spent eleven hundred dollars in improvements, and when finished
our home had cost us sixty-five hundred dollars.
It was certainly a very attractive place for that amount of money.
To be sure it was only an unpretentious cottage, but a pretty one,
and the interior had been so successfully though inexpensively
treated in decorations and appointments that the general effect
attracted from our friends universal admiration.
As our neighbor, Charlie Wood, put it on his first inspection,
we had succeeded in making a "silk purse out of a sow's ear." His
remark rather grated on us, but it was characteristic of the man
and we knew it was simply his way of paying us a compliment.
In January a broker in the trade, not a competitor for the reason
that he was a specialist in a line that I did not cover, gave me
a large order, for future delivery.
He told me it was a purchase on speculation for himself and another
party whom he named, and that not only should I have the resale
but they would give me one-eighth interest in the transaction.
Up to that time I had never been interested to the extent of a
single dollar in the markets in which I dealt as a broker nor had
I any speculative clientage, I was certain the operation would be
successful provided they did not hold on for too large a profit
and overstay the market. I accepted the order as he offered it,
but stipulated that I should have the right at any time to close
out my interest in the deal.
The purchase was made and a few weeks later long before time
for delivery, I found a buyer who would pay a clear ten thousand
dollars profit. In vain I urged them to accept it. Then with their
knowledge I sold my interest and secured my twelve hundred and
They held on, took delivery at maturity, and finally after several
months I resold for them at a loss of nearly forty thousand dollars.
In the negotiations I came into personal contact only with the
broker. The other party was a wealthy Hebrew merchant then doing
business on Broome Street. He was at that time supposed to be
worth possibly a million and was just getting in touch with my line
of trade. A few years later he became a most important factor and
still later was allied with Standard Oil interests.
At his death in 1902 he left to his heirs many millions of dollars.
I attended his funeral and truly mourned and respected the man,
for while for many years we were active business competitors, in
the days of trouble he was one of the very few ready to extend a
In the first three months of 1880, including my profit in the
transaction just mentioned, I made six thousand dollars. I was now
in a position where if hard times came I could accept them with
My success had broadened my views and given me a keener insight
into the possibilities of my business. I became convinced that in
earning capacity it was about at the top notch.
There were several features then becoming prominent that led
me to this conclusion. The Standard Oil Company had absorbed all
the refining concerns and had then established its own broker. It
paid him a salary for his services and he paid to the Company the
brokerages he collected from the sellers. I had been doing a large
business with the constituent companies which would now cease. The
leading firm with which my relations had been most intimate had
taken into its employ as a confidential man my most active competitor
and I knew his influence would work against me to the utmost. New
competitors, young men who had been clerks in the trade, were coming
into the field. Then a movement looking to a reduction in the rate
of brokerage was being agitated.
I had no doubt about being able to keep up with the procession,
but it looked to me as if the procession would be too slow and if
it was to be a funeral march I proposed to look on rather than take
part. I had been through the stages of creeping, then walking,
and now I wanted to run.
The problem was before me and I thought I saw the solution.
The business being done by brokers covered several different
articles. The most important of these, that is, the one on which
the most brokerages were earned, happened to be the one article
that the Standard Oil Company was the largest buyer of, that the
leading firm was most interested in, and that the talk of reduced
brokerage was aimed at.
My plan was to drop that entirely and also everything else except
one particular staple commodity in which I would be a specialist.
I had for two or three years done a large business in this and had
made a profound study of that branch of the trade.
It was yet in its infancy but I believed in a rapid and important
growth. How rapid that growth has been is shown by the fact that
in 1879 the consumption in the United States was less than five
thousand tons. It has increased every year since and is now thirty-six
thousand tons per year.
Another point that decided me on the commodity I was to handle
exclusively was its adaptability to speculative operations. In
London for many years it has been a favorite medium of speculation
and I believed I could build up a speculative clientele and thereby
largely increase my brokerage account.
As business continued good through the spring and early summer I
concluded to delay my action until the fall. Each month I was adding
to my surplus and there was no need for haste.
NEAR THE DARK VALLEY
It was the middle of July. After a most oppressively hot and a very
busy day in the city I returned home with a feeling of weariness
that was unusual, my head ached badly. At dinner I ate but little
and then retired early. My wife petted and nursed me until I had
fallen asleep. After a restless night I was too ill to rise in the
Our physician was called in and his first diagnosis was nothing
serious, but he advised my remaining at home for a day or two and
taking a much-needed rest.
Twenty-four hours later he pronounced my illness congestion of the
Ten years of close application to business, much of the time under
a great nervous strain and no rest, had brought its day of reckoning.
For nearly three weeks I was confined to my bed.
My wife, aided by our faithful physician, Doctor Burling, who often
when I was delirious remained with me throughout the night, nursed
me with constant and untiring devotion. While she accepted the
efficient aid of one of my sisters, she would not consent to a
trained nurse, so long as the doctor would advise it only on the
ground of relief to her.
Her love for me was all-absorbing and no hand but hers should
administer to my wants. For hours at a time she stroked the poor
tired head, until her gentle caresses soothed me to brief intervals
How she stood the strain, especially when as the crisis drew
near life seemed slowly but surely ebbing, I do not know. I never
opened my eyes that they did not rest on her sweet face, smiling,
cheerful, her own fears hidden from me that she might give me the
courage which the doctor said must be maintained.
Slowly and when it seemed as if the end was nigh, the tide turned--the
brain cleared, restful sleep came, and my life was saved.
Doctor Burling had done everything that science, skill, and
faithfulness could accomplish, but the nurse was the Guardian Angel
who brought me out of the Dark Valley just as its shadows were
closing around me.
My convalescence was slow, but as soon as my strength permitted,
with my wife I went to Block Island for a few weeks. There I gained
We took no part in the hotel amusements but kept to ourselves,
spending our days reading and chatting on the shore in the shade
of the bluffs and retiring early for long restful sleep at night.
Block Island is a beautiful spot and we enjoyed our visit there
greatly. It is to be expected that at a summer hotel in the height
of the season, if a young couple go off day after day by themselves,
never mingling with the other guests nor participating in their
pleasures, that some comment would be excited, but we were much
amused when, the day before we left for home, the major-domo came
to us and said, "I understand you are going to leave us to-morrow
and I want to tell you, before you go, that the people in the house
call you the model bridal couple of the season"--and we had three
children at home!
On my return to the office early in September I found it was
time for me to perfect my plans for the contemplated change in my
business. During my absence very little money had been made. My
clerk, I at that time employed but one, had done his best, but as
my business was a personal one, my presence was necessary to its
The change entailed much labor. Lists of names must be compiled,
covering all the buyers in the United States and Canada. These had
to be prepared with great care and arranged in classes. There were
consumers, dealers, railroad purchasing agents. There were the
small and the large buyers in each class. To get these lists required
many hours spent in searching through "Bradstreet's," and it was
a work I could not delegate and consequently had it to do myself.
The various forms for daily mail quotations were to be arranged
and printed, also a complete telegraph code for the use of customers.
Then, too, a vast amount of statistical information had to be gone
over and a basis taken for the circulars which I meant to issue
to the trade semimonthly. The detail seemed endless, but by the
first of October all was in readiness and the change was made.
Before the month was over I became convinced that my move had been
a wise one. I had practically no competition worthy of the name
and I was finding new customers every day.
So successful was the business from the start that with the help of
those last two months of the year my income in 1880 was twenty-one
thousand dollars, and this notwithstanding the fact that I had lost
two months through my illness. It was really the result of but ten
On the ninth of November when I returned from the city it was to
find that our family circle had again widened, and at "Sunnyside"
all hearts were open in joyful greeting to another little girl.
My wife as she returned my caress and exhibited to me this fourth
jewel in her crown, noticed that I was agitated, and with the smile
and the intention of calming me with a joke, said, "Darling, are
not two pair a pretty good hand"? We neither of us play poker, but
I could appreciate the joke.
What a joyful holiday season we had that year!
As we drank at our Christmas dinner a toast to the health, happiness,
and prosperity of all our friends, we felt that we ourselves were
getting our full share.
My wife, beloved by all, had become a sort of Lady Bountiful to the
poor of a neighboring village, and the thought of the many others
we had made happy that day added zest to our pleasure.
A SUCCESSFUL MANEUVER
Elation expressed my feeling at the result of the change in my
business. The material benefit already was demonstrated and the
mental satisfaction at the correctness of my judgment added much
to the pleasure of reaping the profit.
Apparently 1881 was to be a banner year.
My firm was growing rapidly into prominence. From Maine to California
and throughout the Canadas we were now well known.
I say we, for as my readers will remember, in 1876 when my partner,
Allis, retired, I continued doing business as W. E. Stowe & Company,
though I never after had a partner and all acts of or reference to
the firm will be understood as relating to myself individually.
Our statistics, in the absence of any official figures, were accepted
by the trade as an authority, and in the foreign markets also, so
far as the American figures were concerned, they were regarded in
the same light.
As the business between London and New York was large and I foresaw
that it must increase greatly I was desirous of having a London
connection. A dozen reputable firms were open to me but I was
ambitious. I looked forward to become the leading firm in the trade
in this country and I wanted a connection with the leading firm in
This firm had been for some months consigning occasional parcels
to a large banking house. The bankers sold through any broker. A
share of the business came to our office but it was unimportant. I
wanted it all, not so much for its present as for the future value.
So far as this market was concerned I knew we were in a position
that was unique.
We enjoyed the confidence of the large importers and dealers and
were in close touch with the consuming trade throughout the country.
Our facilities for getting information as to stocks in the aggregate
and individually were unequalled. The large consumers posted us in
advance of what their requirements would be for certain periods.
If the large city dealers were manipulating the market it was done
through our office and we knew their plans.
Information of this character must be of value to the London firm
and we knew it was not getting it.
That was my keynote.
I wrote the firm a newsy, chatty market letter, saying nothing of
doing business together. After that first letter I never let a mail
steamer leave New York that did not carry a letter to the firm from
While those letters gave enough information to show the recipient
our position in the trade, I wish to emphasize the fact that not
one word was written that in the remotest degree was a violation
of any confidence reposed in us by our New York friends.
The weeks went by and we received from the London firm--nothing.
Finally came a brief communication acknowledging with thanks our
various letters and requesting their continuance, ending with an
offer, if at any time they could be of service to us in the way of
giving information on their market, to reciprocate.
To this I replied with a request that the monthly European statistics,
which the firm published, should be cabled us at the end of each
month that we might publish them with ours.
This request was complied with, and thereafter we kept up our letters,
always endeavoring to make them more interesting and occasionally
receiving brief letters in acknowledgment.
This one-sided correspondence continued for several months, then I
wrote that we purposed forming a London connection and would much
prefer to do so with their firm if open for it. If not, we should
of course be compelled to cease our advices and make an arrangement
with some other firm.
As I had hoped, the taste of our quality had encouraged an appetite
for more, and after brief negotiations an arrangement was entered
into by which we controlled the firm's business in the American
It proved a very profitable arrangement for both firms.
With this London connection secured I had taken the last step
necessary for doing business on the broadest scale.
The wheel had been built starting from the hub, the tire was
elastic, and as the spokes lengthened the circumference became so
large that we were gathering force with each revolution and all
the business in sight was coming our way.
Up to this time I had done nothing in the way of seeking speculative
customers and I now began to think seriously of doing so.
The field was large, the only difficulty was to get people who had
been accustomed to speculate in grain, cotton, and petroleum to
try a new commodity. I knew the opportunities for money making,
but it was necessary to convince the speculator that the chances
of gain were better, the possibility of loss less than in the
well-known great speculative commodities of the age.
I commenced the preparation of educational literature with which
I meant to circularize the country. I did not want the small fry,
the little speculator with only a few hundreds or thousands of
dollars. What I was after was men of financial ability and the
nerve to go into large operations and see them through to a finish.
Before I made a move, our first speculative client put in an
He was in the trade, senior partner of the largest firm in Baltimore,
and no argument from us was necessary. Calling at the office he
gave us an order for his individual account, the transaction to be
carried in our name.
It was not a large order, the margin he deposited with us being
but two thousand dollars.
When the transaction was closed and we returned him his margin,
we had the pleasure of including in our cheque thirty-nine hundred
dollars profit, after deducting our commissions, which amounted to
five hundred and seventy-five dollars.
This experience gave me a hint I was quick to take. If an individual
member of one firm in the trade would speculate, why not members
of other firms? The ethics of the case, the propriety of a partner
speculating on his own account in a commodity in which his firm
was dealing, did not concern me.
Here was a field I had not counted on and I determined to explore
it before going to the general public.
I had one hundred letters mailed in plain envelopes to individual
members of the larger firms which we were regularly selling. The
result astonished me. This was in December, 1881, and before the
following February sixty-seven of the men written to had accounts
on our books.
Some of the novel experiences in this branch of the business will
be related in a later chapter.
As I had anticipated, 1881 was a banner year. My profits were
nearly twenty-eight thousand dollars.
"Sunnyside" had become too small for us.
Our life had been so happy there we could not bear to think
of leaving it. I had an architect look the house over and prepare
plans for an extensive addition.
This was done, though he strongly disadvised it. I could not but
admit the force of his argument that it was foolish, regarded from
an investment point of view, to expend on the place the amount
I contemplated. Far better to sell and build a new house was his
Then we talked of moving the house to another plot and building on
the old site. To this there were two objections. The site was not
suitable for the style of house I wanted and there was too little
land, with no opportunity to add to it as the land on either side
was already occupied.
The matter was settled by the appearance of a buyer for "Sunnyside,"
at a price that paid me a fair profit, and I made the sale subject
to possession being given when the new house was completed.
Within a stone's throw of "Sunnyside" was a plot of land, a little
less than two acres in extent that we had always admired. I bought
the land for five thousand dollars and the architect commenced at
once on the plans.
We thought that the new house was to be our home for the rest of
our days and naturally the greatest interest was taken in every
detail. The first plans submitted were satisfactory, after a few
minor changes, and ground was broken on July 2d, 1881. How we
watched the progress.
From the time the first shovelful of earth was taken out for the
excavations until the last work was finished, not a day passed that
we did not go over it all.
"Redstone," taking its name from the red sandstone of which it was
built, was, and is to-day, a fine example of the architecture then
so much in vogue for country houses.
The Matthews House on Riverside Drive, New York City, so much
admired, was designed by the same architect and modelled after it.
Standing on a hill its three massive outside chimneys support a
roof of graceful outlines and generous proportions. From the three
second-story balconies one gets views near and distant of a beautiful
country. The fourteen-feet wide piazza on the first floor, extending
across the front and around the tower, with its stone porte cochere
and entrance arch is most inviting. With grounds tastefully laid
out, driveways with their white-stone paved gutters, cut-stone
steps to the terraces, great trees, and handsome shrubs the place
was a delight to the eye, and at the time, of which I write there
was nothing to compare with it in that section.
Through a massive doorway one enters a hall of baronial character,
thirty-three feet long, eighteen feet wide, and twenty-one feet
high, finished in oak with open beam ceiling and above the high
wainscot a rough wall in Pompeian red.
Two features of the hall are the great stone fireplace with its
old-fashioned crane and huge wrought iron andirons and the stained
glass window on the staircase, a life-sized figure of a "Knight of
This hall was illustrated in Appleton's work on "Artistic Interiors."
On the right is the spacious drawing-room in San Domingo mahogany
and rich decorations in old rose and gold, and back of it the
large library in black walnut with its beautifully carved mantel
and numerous low book-cases. Then came the dining-room in oak and
Japanese leather and a fountain in which the gold fish sported--but
enough of description. This was our home and when we had completed
the appointments they were tasteful and in keeping.
We moved in on April 28th, 1882. Here then we were settled for
life, so we said. If a new painting was hung or a piece of marble
set up we had the thought it was there to remain.
We loved the house and everything in it. We loved the friends we
had made. Our life was all that we would have it--peaceful, happy,
My craving for books has always been a trait in my character and
with the commencement of my prosperity I began to form a library.
I had no taste for rare editions.
My model for a book is convenient size for reading, good type
and paper, fine binding, and illustrations, if any, the best. My
wife was in full accord with me in this as in everything. Wedding
anniversaries, birthdays, and Christmas always brought me from
her something choice in literature and I soon had hundreds of fine
volumes of standard works on my shelves.
They were not allowed to remain there untouched. We both read much
and aimed to cultivate the taste in our children.
For autographs, I cared not as a collector, but I love to read
a book that has, bound in, an autograph letter from the author or
from some character in the book. Many of my volumes were so honored.
Of course in the case of authors of a past generation, these letters
were purchased, but most living authors of my time were good enough
to respond to my requests with a personal note and with some of
them I enjoyed an acquaintance.
When we moved to "Redstone" we had been residents of Knollwood
three years, long enough to become thoroughly acquainted with the
characteristics of each individual in our social circle.
While with all our relations were cordial, it is essential in this
narrative to refer only to the three families with which we formed
a close friendship. These were the Woods, Lawtons, and the new
owners of "Sunnyside," the Slaters.
Frank Slater was a partner of Mr. Wood. Without exception he was the
most attractive man I have ever met. Possessing in a high degree
every attribute of a true gentleman, he had withal a genial, winning
way that was peculiarly his own and made every one who knew him his
friend. We were drawn to each other at once and soon became most
intimate. His wife, a woman charming in every way, became my wife's
Charlie Wood was rather a queer combination. That we were fond
of him and he of us there is no doubt, but he was a man of moods.
Intellectual, a good talker, and an unusually fine vocalist, his
society as a rule was very enjoyable, but there were times when in
a certain mood he was neither a pleasant nor cheerful companion.
Perhaps a remark which he made to me one day at "Sunnyside" will
show better than anything I can write the true inwardness of the
We were discussing some business affair of his, over which he was
feeling blue. I was trying to cheer him up, when he said, "I tell
you, Walter, I could be perfectly contented and happy, no matter
how little money I had, if everybody around me had just a little
George Lawton, a jolly, good-natured fellow, was liked by everybody,
and his wife, a pleasant, cheerful, good-hearted little woman, was
The Lawtons were the least prosperous of any of our little circle.
George was always just a little behind in his finances, but so
constituted that this did not worry him.
The time will come in this narrative when the author will be upon
the defensive and he deems it necessary that his readers should
fully understand certain relations existing within this circle
of friends, even though, that they shall do so, he is compelled
to violate the scriptural injunction, "Let not thy left hand know
what thy right hand doeth." [Footnote: Under ordinary conditions
the author would never think of advertising to the world the good
that he has done. Before the conclusion of this narrative there
will be much that is far removed from the ordinary. Errors to atone
for, misunderstandings to explain, false innuendos and charges to
indignantly deny and disprove. It is the narrative of a life and
the good in that life is certainly a part of it. In later chapters,
when certain matters are set forth, my readers will be good enough
to bear this in mind.]
The Woods and Lawtons came to Knollwood together. They were intimate
friends before that time. Not one detail of the affairs or life of
one but was known to the other. It was the same as one family only
under two roofs.
George Lawton was always in need of money. His expenditures
exceeded his earnings year after year and he borrowed to make up
the deficiency. Wood was as well able as I to loan him the money
and as a closer and an older friend should have been the one to do
On the train one day, when sitting together he said to me, "Walter,
how much does George owe you"? To which I replied, "Oh, a small
matter." It was at that time nearly six hundred dollars. "Well,"
he said, "I am glad you can help him out, but he don't get into me
more than two hundred dollars; that's the limit, for I doubt if he
ever pays it back."
I went on with my loans just the same, and when, some years later,
the family left Knollwood he owed me more than two thousand dollars
that had been borrowed in small amounts.
At one time George was fortunate in getting an interest in a patent
motor for use on sewing machines. He told Wood all about it and
of one weak feature in connection with the battery, which, however,
he thought was about overcome.
Without telling George, Wood at a small expense employed a man who
succeeded in perfecting the battery, then going to George, said:
"You cannot use your motor without my battery. I will turn it over
to you for half your interest."
There was no escape, and though George made some thousands out of
his interest his profits were cut in half by the shrewdness of his
He never said much about it, but his mother, who resided with him,
was very outspoken on the subject.
In 1883, in connection with my business, I established a trade
journal. After running it a few years I could no longer spare the
time. It was then paying about eighteen hundred dollars a year
profit and was capable of doing better. I offered it to George
Lawton, telling him if he ever felt he could pay me a thousand
dollars for it, to do so.
The day I turned it over to him I gave him a few hundred dollars,
remittances for advertising received that morning. In a few years
he sold the paper, and in one way and another he secured twelve
thousand to fifteen thousand dollars out of it.
He never paid me one dollar for the property, nor did I demand it
AN UNEVENTFUL YEAR
The year 1883 was uneventful.
At home, life moved on serenely in its accustomed channels. We were
very happy and did all we could to make others so.
For the summer months, thinking that a change might be good for the
children, we rented a cottage at Oyster Bay. This was a pleasant
experience, but we were glad to get home early in the fall. Our
elder son was now nearly ten years old, the school at Knollwood
was not satisfactory, and we entered him at the Academy at Media,
Pennsylvania. His mother and I went over with him, and though the
little fellow was brave enough to keep a stiff upper lip when we
said good-by, I knew he was homesick, and so were we. It was a very
hard strain to leave him behind us.
Business had fallen off a little during the first half of the year,
but this was made up later and I did about as well as in the year
previous, making a little over twenty-five thousand dollars.
I had taken no further steps toward seeking speculative clients,
as the trade speculators who had come in were sufficient in number
to absorb all that class of business I cared for in the market
conditions then existing.
Some of the incidents in that business are well worth relating.
We had one case where the president of one of the largest manufacturing
concerns in Connecticut was the client. His concern was a regular
customer of ours and we were carrying for him some speculative
contracts not yet matured. The market was against him a few thousand
dollars, and when he called one day I suggested his buying an
additional quantity at the lower price to average his holdings.
"Average nothing," said he, "if when that stuff comes in there is
any loss on it, I bought it for the company."
There was a loss and under his instructions we made delivery to the
company. This looked like a "heads I win, tails you lose" sort of
game for him, but as he owned most of the stock in the company it
was very like taking money out of one pocket and putting it in the
Another episode, still more peculiar, was in the case of the firm
of A & B.
The firm had placed in our hands for discretionary sale a parcel
of fifty tons due to arrive in November.
Shortly after, A called at the office and gave us an order to sell
for his individual account fifty tons November delivery. He was a
bear and it was a short sale.
The same day and before the sale had been made B called and gave
us an order to buy him fifty tons November delivery. He was a bull.
Both requested that his partner should not be informed of the
transaction. We matched the orders, selling for A to B. A closed
his transaction first, and to cover his sale we sold him the lot
belonging to his own firm. This was to be delivered to B and we
then sold it for him.
Thus we had made commissions on sales of one hundred and fifty
tons where there was only fifty tons of actual stuff, the rest all
In all the years in which we handled this business we had but one
unpleasant experience in connection with it.
The treasurer of a manufacturing concern had been dealing with us
on his own account for some months, always with profit to himself.
The day came when he was not so fortunate. The market was against
him and we called on him for additional margin. He asked for a few
days' time, and as we had every reason to suppose he was responsible
we granted it. Meantime, the market further declined, and when
he put in an appearance at our office his account was about three
thousand dollars short.
To our surprise he said he could not pay a dollar.
When asked where all the profits we had paid him had gone he replied:
The man died shortly after, and although he left an estate of
fifty thousand dollars, he also left a large family and we waived
THE STREAM BROADENS
At the beginning of 1884 our business was increasing so rapidly
it became necessary to have a larger office force to handle it.
Orders poured in day after day and it was evident we were getting
the preference from all the large and most of the small buyers
throughout the country.
It had been our policy to give just as careful attention to the
small business as to that of more importance, but we now began to
consider the wisdom of letting the former go. In the aggregate it
was a handsome business of itself, but in detail it required so
much time and attention, it was a question in my mind whether it
paid us to longer cater to it.
That the future had a much larger business in store for us we felt
assured and we wanted to get ready for it in advance of its coming.
Gradually we commenced to weed out the little fellows.
Some of these small concerns had become so accustomed to sending
us their orders and were so well satisfied with the way we had
treated them that they objected strongly to being turned down.
Still, we were in the line of progress and had outgrown that class.
The argument we gave them was, that as we were selling the large
dealers so extensively, it was unfair for us to take this small
business, which ought to go to the dealers without the interposition
of a broker. Ultimately we succeeded in getting most of them off
our books without any hard feeling.
That we were wise in ridding ourselves of this small trade was
soon evident. It strengthened us greatly with the large dealers,
who now secured most of it direct, and that we could afford to part
with so many customers, small though they were, added much to our
With more time now at my disposal I mapped out a campaign having
for its objective the gathering of a speculative clientele.
The first step was the sending of a carefully prepared letter to
a dozen or so of the wealthiest men in New York. No replies were
received. Probably their secretaries tossed them in the waste-basket
with many others. I know now better than I did then that the mail
of even moderately rich men is crowded with schemes.
A second lot of letters was mailed to men a grade lower in wealth.
Some of these brought replies but no business. We tried a third
lot, this time to men estimated at half million to a million; same
That settled it as far as New York was concerned. Evidently the
rich men of New York did not want to speculate in our commodity.
Well, fortunately we could get on without them.
Now for the broader field. We had one thousand letters prepared
and mailed at one time. These were addressed to a list of alleged
wealthy out-of-town investors, which we had purchased from an
addressing agency. Not one single reply did we receive.
Then we took our "Bradstreet's" and at random selected the names
of five hundred firms, scattered over the United States, rating not
less than five hundred thousand dollars. The letters were addressed
to the senior partner of each firm. Before the end of the year
nearly two hundred of those men were on our books. Every one of
them made money.
This constituency was sufficient for the time being. I had in mind
something on a much larger scale, the forming of a syndicate; but
that is another story and belongs to a later period.
Toward the later part of the year there was a falling off in our
trade with the customers, owing to a period of dullness in the
manufacturing industries; but what we lost in this way was more
than offset by the gain accruing from the business with speculative
On December 3lst, I had the satisfaction of knowing that for the
first time my profits for a single year exceeded thirty thousand
In my home life there had been nothing to mar in the slightest
degree its serenity and delight; indeed, our happiness had been
increased on the ninth of June by the arrival of our third daughter.
Although the conditions of general business were unsatisfactory at
the beginning of 1885 and I had much doubt of the year proving as
profitable as the one previous, I never dreamed of such a falling
off as actually occurred.
Our legitimate trade, that carried on with dealers and consumers,
we thought would be poor for some months, as it had been over-done,
and all our customers were well supplied with spot stock, as also
contracts for future delivery; but the speculative element we relied
on to compensate us for this.
Our clients had done well and we expected they would continue their
operations. We did not in our calculations make allowance for the
fact that these men were all in active business. As a rule, such
men do not go into outside matters when their own business is dull
or unprofitable. It is in good times, when they are making money,
that they enter the speculative field.
Before the winter was over our books were entirely cleared of
We thought of making efforts to secure new customers but decided
it would at that time be useless, for if men who knew the business
and had made money at it were unwilling to go on, it was hardly
possible to enlist the interest of people who knew nothing about
Month after month I saw the business decrease, but took
it philosophically. I could afford to wait for better times and
meanwhile did not worry, knowing that we were getting more than
our share of what business there was.
These dull times were not without their compensation.
They brought me the opportunity to go off with my wife on little
trips of a few days' duration. What delightful trips those were!
Newport, Narragansett, Nantasket, Swampscott, Manchester-by-the-sea,
Newcastle, and all the pretty places accessible via Fall River
boats--these were the most attractive, for we enjoyed the sail
and disliked train travel in warm weather. Frequently some of our
friends accompanied us, but oftener we went alone.
What jolly times we had!
Then, too, in this dull year I made my business days shorter, a
late train in the morning and an early one home in the afternoon
giving me so much more time with my family.
Oh, it was a great year!
For better times I could wait with patience. I was not money-mad,
not eager for the accumulation of great wealth; my real fortune
I had already gained in the wealth of love bestowed upon me by
the woman I adored. I valued money for the good it would do, the
comfort and pleasure it would bring to those I loved; but for the
reputation of having it, not at all.
I wanted to succeed. I felt I had succeeded.
In my twentieth year under the largest salary I was ever paid, my
income was five hundred dollars--in my thirty-fourth year it was
thirty thousand and earned by my own efforts, out of a business
that I alone had created; for the business of that time bore no
relation whatever to the one in which I succeeded my old employer.
Surely I had cause for congratulation, no matter how dull business
might be for the time being.
Knollwood had been growing these years with astonishing rapidity,
and our social circle was now a fairly large one.
The characteristics, so attractive the first year of our residence
there, were still unchanged. The newcomers were all nice people
and the right hand of good-fellowship was extended and accepted in
the true spirit.
In addition to the many beautiful new houses there had been erected
a small but very pretty stone church of Episcopalian denomination.
At the time the building of the church was planned, I remember a
conversation on the subject that afterwards seemed prophetic.
I was talking on the train with a gentleman, an officer of the New
York Life Insurance Company, who, while he did not reside in the
Park, lived in the vicinity and mingled socially with our people.
I told him we were going to build a church. "What"? he said. "Don't
do it; you have a charming social circle now that will surely be
ruined if you do." I expressed surprise at his remark, and he only
shook his head and with more earnestness added, "Mark my words,
that church will be the commencement of social trouble; cliques will
form, friction and gossip will arise, and your delightful social
life will be a thing of the past."
It is a fact that his words came true, and yet I contributed to
the cost of the building and support of the church, and under the
same conditions would do it again.
At the end of December I found my income had been cut in half.
I had made but fifteen thousand dollars, but the year had been so
enjoyable in my home life I was entirely satisfied. The additional
time dull business had permitted me to spend with my family was
worth all it cost.
THE DAM GIVES WAY
Dull business, the dam which checked the onward flow of the stream
of our prosperity in 1885, was slowly but steadily carried away
in the early months of 1886. Consumers and dealers again became
liberal buyers and their lead was soon followed by the speculative
fraternity. Our office was crowded with business and a further
increase in the clerical force was imperative. Long hours and hard
work was the rule, while resulting profits continually mounting
higher was the reward.
Our customers as a class were a fine lot of men, all of substantial
means, most of them wealthy. We had no friction, we were popular
with all, and other things being equal we commanded the preference
from almost the entire trade.
Of course, some competition had developed--our success was sure to
attract it; but it was still of insignificant proportions, and we
gave it no thought. We had been first in the field and our position
was well entrenched.
As to the speculative branch, there we had no competition. It required
banking facilities and credit to do that business, Our competitors
had neither, while we were prepared to handle any proposition that
might be presented, regardless of the amount of money involved.
Our London connection had now become very valuable to us and was
the source of a good proportion of our profits. Business between
the two markets was of almost daily occurrence, while the quantities
dealt in were large. Our speculative customers were of great help
to us in this direction and indeed we could not have properly taken
care of them if we had depended on the New York market alone. They
had increased in numbers, and finding the business profitable their
individual operations became more important.
How true it is that "nothing succeeds like success."
Our success had become known by this time, not only to every one
in the trade, but also to many outside of it. Large banking houses,
known to us at that time only by reputation, sought our business,
offering most flattering terms and unusual facilities. Friends,
acquaintances, and not a few strangers begged of us to accept large
amounts of money for speculative operations at our discretion.
Large consumers discontinued asking us for quotations and sent us
their orders without limit as to price. So great was the confidence of
the consuming trade in our judgment that a letter from us advising
them to cover their requirements for any specified period never
failed to bring the orders.
With our speculative clients this was even more pronounced. We had
but to say "Buy," and they bought; "Sell," and they sold. All this
was a great responsibility and we realized it, never forgetting
that only the utmost conservatism would maintain our position. That
I was proud of that position was only natural.
Business activity was maintained until the close of the year, and
again I had made a record. My profits were thirty-six thousand
Our social life at Knollwood this year had been going on at a rapid
pace and its more formal character began to take shape.
The frequent pleasant little dinner-parties of four to six couples,
where bright and entertaining conversation was general, had gone
through a course of evolution and become functions where two or
three times the number sat at the board and struggled through so many
courses that one became wearied of sitting still. Those enjoyable
amateur dramatic performances, followed by light refreshment and
a couple of hours' dancing, had been displaced by the grand ball
with its elaborate supper. But there still remained one feature,
unique and delightful:
The New Year reception--every New Year's day for many years
a reception was held at the Casino. The residents, loaning from
their homes rugs, draperies, paintings, statuary, and fine furniture,
transformed that large auditorium into an immense drawing-room. The
green-houses contributed palms and blooming plants in profusion. In
the enormous fire-place burned great logs. At one end of the room
a long table from which was served, as wanted, all that could be
desired by the inner man. The stage, set with pretty garden scene
and rattan furniture, where the men lounged as they had their smoke.
Music by a fine orchestra, interspersed with occasional songs by
our own local talent.
The reception was from six until nine, then the rugs were gathered
up, the furniture moved from the center of the floor, and dancing
was enjoyed until midnight.
For miles around, every one that was eligible never failed to
be present on those occasions. It was the one great social event
of each year, and long after the circle was broken the custom was
still kept up, until finally it died out owing to the indifference
of the new-comers. For such a community it was a beautiful custom,
and in its inception served to cement the spirit of cordiality and
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
The new year opened as the old one had closed, with marked activity
in all branches of my business; nor was there any perceptible change
until late in the spring, then began a gradually diminishing demand
that made a comparatively dull summer. Not but what there was a
fair amount of business doing all the time, but the great rush was
It was only the calm before the storm. Early in the fall it became
evident to me there was a new factor in the market. Somebody, outside
the regular trade, was quietly buying up the odd lots floating
The buying was not aggressive, far from it. Whoever was buying
wanted the stuff, not a higher market. The greatest caution was
observed in making the purchases so that the market might be affected
as little as possible. Every effort was made to conceal the source
from which the demand emanated. I knew it was not from any of the
New York trade, and I could not believe, judging from the broker who
was doing the buying, that it could be for account of any American
speculator. If I was right in this conclusion, then of necessity
it must be for foreign account.
In order that my readers shall fully understand what follows it is
necessary they should know the basis of our arrangement with our
London friends, which was this:
They were to cable us daily limits for buying or selling as the
case might be. These limits included our commission. We were to
guarantee our customers, that is to say, the London firm took no
risk of buyers. If we were to sell a parcel for future delivery
and before the delivery was made our customer should fail we would
have to stand the loss, if any, on the re-sale.
A few months after the connection was established the firm found
fault because so little business was done, while in many cases the
limit was so close to the market that only the commission or part
of it stood in the way of a sale.
The original arrangement was then qualified and thereafter the limits
were sent net, it being understood that when necessary we would
sell at limit, that is, do the business for nothing; but to offset
this concession, we were at all times to have for our commission
all we could get over the limit.
It proved a most fortunate change for us.
The buying continued and the market moved slowly toward a higher
level. After a few days steady buying there would be a cessation
for a day or two to allow the market to sag, then it would commence
again. The principal sellers were our London friends, and though we
were earning many commissions we felt that our friends were making
a mistake and not gauging the market correctly.
At this time our Boston correspondent offered us one hundred tons
to arrive by sailing vessel due in about three months. We secured
refusal over night and cabled the offer to London, advising the
purchase and expressing fully our opinion of the market.
The following morning I sat at my desk, and opening a cable read,
"Market advanced through operations of a few weak French speculators."
Then followed a selling limit. I laid the cable down and took up
the Boston telegram offering the hundred tons.
With the exception of my small interest in that purchase in January,
1880, I had refrained from speculation, and now I was considering
whether or not I should buy those hundred tons. The option had
nearly expired and action must be prompt. Calling a stenographer
I dictated a telegram, "We accept"--and the deed was done.
On arrival of the vessel I sold out at a profit of twenty thousand
My profits for the year were sixty-one thousand dollars.
On February fourteenth, as a valentine, there came to "Redstone" our
fourth daughter and the family circle was complete. With two sons
and four daughters, the ban of "race suicide," theory of President
Roosevelt, rests not on us.
"A FEW WEAK FRENCH SPECULATORS"
Just outside of the city of Paris was located one of the largest,
most complete manufacturing plants in the world, doing an enormous
business, employing an army of skilled artisans, consuming vast
quantities of raw material and making in profits a fortune every
The controlling interest was a man of large wealth, estimated at
sixty millions of francs, and of national reputation. His gallery
of paintings was famous in art circles the world over. His family
moved in the highest strata of society and in their magnificent
home entertained with regal splendor. The man was universally
respected in business, in art, and social circles.
On the board of directors of one of the great Paris banks were two
other men, almost equal in wealth and station to this manufacturer.
These three men, with a few associates of minor importance, entered
into a hare-brained scheme of speculation in our commodity, that
in the very nature of things was bound to terminate in complete
failure. When they realized this and the enormous losses which had
been entailed, in an effort to recoup they took up another commodity,
and then followed the wildest speculation, in any merchandise, that
the world had ever seen.
When the final crash came, with their own magnificent fortunes
swept away and the bank involved, the two directors found suicide's
graves, and the other man went to prison.
Oh, the folly of it! This passion and greed for wealth.
"Market advanced through operations of a few weak French speculators"--so
read our cable. It seemed to us that their strength was far more in
evidence than their weakness, indeed of the latter we could detect
no sign. They had by their purchases advanced the market already
fifteen or twenty per cent and they continued buying in all the
world's markets, at advancing prices, everything that was offered.
The increased price was commencing to tell on consumption. Dealers
and consumers ceased buying until their surplus stocks had become
exhausted, and then bought in small lots only as they were compelled
to. Meanwhile, stocks in the hands of the syndicate were accumulating
rapidly with no visible outlet for reducing them.
A feature in the trade which alone should have been sufficient to
prevent men of brains from going into such an operation was that
the production could not be contracted for in advance. The high
price stimulated production and day after day the syndicate had to
buy in the producing markets large quantities at current prices.
These purchases at such high figures rapidly increased the average
cost of the holdings.
The market advanced by leaps and bounds, until finally the price
in London reached one hundred and sixty-seven pounds sterling per
ton, with an equivalent value in all other markets. This represented
an advance of more than one hundred per cent.
Then the members of the syndicate awakened from their pleasant
dream to find a nightmare.
The hand of every man in the trade throughout the world was raised
against them. They were in the meshes of an endless chain. For
every ton they could sell they must buy five, or more, in order to
sustain the price. If they stopped buying, even for a single day,
the bottom would drop out. What was to be done?
In Wales was an industry, comprising many mills, that in the aggregate
consumed large quantities of the article. The business had become
almost paralyzed by the advance, and many mills were about to or
had closed down. A representative of the syndicate communicated
with all these mills and negotiated a contract for supplies covering
requirements to April 30th, 1888.
The only possible way of making such a contract was by guaranteeing
that the spot market should not fall below the price then ruling.
This meant that every day the syndicate must bid £167 per ton for
all the spot stuff the market would sell--but, it stopped buying
futures. As fast as the stuff could be brought to market it had to
take it, but only as it arrived.
That was the first step. But there was still an enormous stock to
be disposed of, together with all that would have to be taken, up
to the end of April. How was that to be sold?
Our London friends had fought the syndicate from the start with
the utmost vigor. The plan of campaign was to load them with such
quantities that the burden must become too heavy to carry.
The London firm usually carried a large spot stock. This was poured
into the syndicate in parcels, at advancing prices. Then all the
little markets on the Continent were scoured and every ton available
brought to London and disposed of in the same way.
The agent of our friends, in the producing market, bought large
quantities daily. It was a six-weeks' voyage to London. In the
interim there would be a heavy advance in price and as soon as the
steamer arrived the syndicate had to buy these lots. There was no
escape. The leading member of the syndicate went to London and a
secret interview with our correspondent was arranged. His widely
known antagonism to the syndicate made him the only man who could
build a bridge for that unfortunate combination to cross on. He
made his own terms, they were accepted, and that was the beginning
of the end of the syndicate's operations in our commodity.
The year 1888 from start to finish was one whirl of excitement
in my business life. The mental effort of handling the enormous
business--it must be remembered ours was a one-man concern--was
most exhausting. I became weary of making money and longed for a
dull period that I might rest. But there was no dull period that
In January we received from our London friends confidential
information of the arrangement with the syndicate.
Its enormous holdings were, so far as possible, to be unloaded on
American buyers. This was for us to accomplish. The spot stock had
to be sold against for future delivery and held until maturity of
the sales. Of course, the sales were made at a discount from the
spot price, and as time went on this increased. When the buyers at
one level were filled up, the price was lowered until a new level,
that would tempt further buyers, was reached, and so it went on.
The trade conceived the idea that our London friends and ourselves
were selling the market short. They never dreamed that we were
unloading for the syndicate, which was daily bidding £167 for spot,
while we were selling futures far below that figure. They did not
know that at four o'clock London time, when the official market
closed on the thirtieth day of April, the syndicate would cease
buying and that a collapse would then be inevitable. It was not
our business to enlighten them, and strange to relate, not one man
asked us our opinion of the market. They bought of us day after
day and apparently believed that when the time for delivery came
we would be unable to make it and would have to settle with them
at their own figure.
A great many of our sales were made on the Exchange. On this
business we could and did call margins, but there were some weak
people whom we could not avoid selling and in such a market there
were sure to be failures among that class.
As previously explained we guaranteed all sales, and whenever a
customer defaulted we at once sold double the quantity we had sold
him, to some strong concern. This made us short of the market, and
while we made some loss on the initial transaction, our profit on
the second sale always more than extinguished it.
The first man who defaulted brought to our office a deed for a farm
in Pennsylvania and offered it to us for the four thousand dollars
he owed. I handed it back to him, told him to give it to his wife,
and forgave him the debt.
The next man was a bigger fish. He owed us nineteen thousand eight
hundred dollars. We made up the account, and when I handed him
the statement I told him we would not press him and if he was ever
able to pay us twenty-five cents on the dollar we would give him a
receipt in full. In later years he was worth a good deal of money,
though I believe he has since lost it, but he never paid us a
After him came a few small men, who altogether owed us perhaps ten
thousand dollars. We told them all if they ever felt able to pay
we would be glad to have the money, but would never press them for
Of the whole lot, only one ever paid. His account was only a few
hundred dollars, and I had forgotten it, when one day he called at
the office, said his father had died, leaving him a little money,
and he wanted to pay us. He asked, "What rate of interest will you
charge me"? I replied, "Nothing; and if you cannot afford it, you
may leave us out entirely." He insisted on paying the principal.
Our treatment of these people was not good business in the general
sense. We could have put them all off the floor of the Exchange
and to a small degree it would have been to our advantage to do so,
but they had our sympathy in their trouble and we could afford to
lose the money.
The weeks flew by and we were approaching the end of April. The
discount on future deliveries was now enormous. In London £167 was
bid daily for spot and we were selling futures at £50 discount.
Under normal conditions futures should be at a slight premium over
In London in 1888 the last business day of April was on Friday; I
think it was the 29th. Saturday the market was closed, and as Monday
was a holiday, the first business day of May was on Tuesday.
Just before the gavel fell at the London Exchange at four o'clock
on Friday, £167 was bid for spot and the syndicate ceased buying.
On the curb, five minutes later, there were sellers, but no buyers,
at £135; but this price was not official. The last official price
was £167. On Tuesday morning the first offer to sell spot was at
£93 and the market had collapsed.
The losses were frightful. On the last day of April and on the first
two or three days of May we made all of our April and part of our
May deliveries on contracts. The differences between the contract
prices and the market on those deliveries amounted to three hundred
thousand dollars and we had thousands of tons yet to be delivered
over the summer and fall months. Fortunately the losses fell upon
firms well able to stand them and there were no failures.
We had a very narrow escape from slipping up on the last of our
Through some misunderstanding the London steamer by which the stuff
should have reached us. sailed without it. It was then rushed to
Liverpool and shipped by the Oceanic of the White Star Line. The
steamer arrived at New York on the afternoon of the 29th; the 30th
was a holiday, and we had to make our delivery before two o'clock
on the 3lst. Meanwhile the stuff must be taken out of steamer,
weighed up and carted to store, warehouse receipts and weighers'
returns delivered at the office and invoices made out, all of which
took much time. Through our influence with the steamer people
and the expenditure of a little money, work was carried on day and
night and the deliveries went through all right.
As our profit on that lot was thirty thousand dollars it was a
matter of some importance.
When the syndicate commenced operations in the second commodity,
a large New York firm, with foreign branches, in order to conceal
its operations requested us to act for it as a selling agency on the
Exchange, all the business being done in our name. The commissions
on this account ran into large figures and contributed materially
to my income that year.
An incident in connection with this business, showing how good
fortune was favoring us at that time, I will relate:
One of our sales for future delivery was a lot of two hundred
thousand pounds. After 'Change it was, with the other transactions,
reported to the firm. When, the following morning, the contract
was sent to the buyer, he returned it, claiming it was a mistake
and that he had not made the purchase. Having reported the sale
the day previous and the market now being a little lower, we did
not like to explain the matter to our principal and let it stand
as a purchase of our own.
Before the time for delivery matured, we resold at a profit of
exactly ten thousand dollars.
By midsummer we had accumulated a large sum of money. In addition
to this capital of our own, our resources through our credit with
banking connections made it easy for us to accept a proposition
from a certain firm to finance for it on very liberal terms an
operation which the firm had undertaken. This was in a commodity
of which we were well informed though not doing business in it.
The operation proved a failure and in October the firm suspended.
We were carrying an enormous quantity of the stuff, and when
liquidation was completed had made a loss of sixty-eight thousand
dollars, of which we never recovered a single dollar.
At the end of the year, after charging off all the losses, amounting
to about one hundred thousand dollars, I had made a net profit of
one hundred and twenty thousand dollars.
"COME AND DANCE IN THE BARN"
Although very fond of horses and driving it was not until 1888 that
we indulged ourselves in that direction.
When we built "Redstone" we planned where we would put the stable
when ready for it, but were in no hurry about building.
For fast horses I had no liking. My taste was for high-stepping
carriage horses. A pair that could pull a heavy T-cart with four
people eight or nine miles an hour and keep it up without urging,
were fast enough in my opinion. I wanted high-spirited, blooded
animals, fine carriages, and perfect appointments. Until I could
afford such, I preferred to go without.
In the spring I bought a pair of Black Vermont Morgans. They were
beauties and the whole family fell in love with them at once. For
the summer I secured the use of a neighbor's unoccupied stable
and then commenced the erection of my own. After this was finished
I matched my first horses with another pair exactly like them and
also bought a small pony for the younger children and a larger one
for the boys.
It was not long before I had trained my horses to drive either
tandem, four-in-hand, or three abreast, and with an assortment of
various styles of carriages my equipment was complete.
From the Paris-built drag carrying eight passengers besides my two
men, down to the pony cart, everything was of the best. All was in
good taste and expense had not been considered.
My combination carriage-house and stable was architecturally a
very handsome building, and in its interior every detail, useful
and ornamental, had received careful attention. The building cost
me about seven thousand dollars, but judging from its appearance
and size my neighbors thought that my investment was larger. As
it approached completion I suggested to my wife the idea of giving
a barn-dance, something unique in the annals of Knollwood. We
immediately went into a committee of two on plans and scope and as
a result evolved an evening of surprise and delight for our friends.
The invitations, engraved in usual note-sheet form, had on the upper
half of the page a fine engraving of the front of the stable, and
beneath in old English, "Come and dance in the barn." We received
our guests in the hall and drawing-room, fragrant with blooming
plants. From a rear piazza a carpeted and canvas-enclosed platform
extended across the lawn to the carriage-house. The floor had
been covered with canvas for the dancers. Brilliantly illuminated,
in addition to the permanent decorations, a life-sized jockey in
bronze bas-relief and numerous coaching pictures, was the work of
the florist. The large orchestra was upstairs surrounding the open
carriage trap, which was concealed from below by masses of smilax.
The harness-room was made attractive with rugs and easy chairs for
the card players.
[Illustration: "OFF FOR A DRIVE"]
In the stable each of the six stalls had been converted into a cozy
nook where soft light from shaded lamps fell on rugs and draperies.
On each stall post was a massive floral horseshoe. The orders of
dancing, besides the usual gold-embossed monogram, bore an engraving
of a tandem cart with high-stepping horses and driver snapping his
long whip. Attached to each was a sterling silver pencil representing
the foreleg of a horse in action, the shoe being of gold. Supper
was served in the dining-room from a table decorated in keeping with
the event, the center-piece being a model in sugar of the tandem
design on the order of dancing.
The affair was a great success in every way, and the following
evening we allowed our colored servants to entertain their friends
at the stable. With a few of our neighbors we witnessed the "cake-walk"
and found much fun in it. The next day the horses were in possession.
AN IMPORTER AND DEALER
While during 1888 we were nominally brokers, a considerable portion
of our business was actually in the nature of that of an importer
and dealer. This position was really forced on us by circumstances
beyond our control. To protect ourselves from loss in our sales
for London account we had to take from time to time an interest in
the market and this made us dealers. To complete our sales we were
compelled to import the material and thus became importers.
With the opening of the year 1889 we found ourselves possessed of
fairly large capital and a firmly established credit with bankers.
These facts, combined with the best facilities for doing the
business, decided us to eliminate the brokerage phase entirely,
except in our transactions with our speculative clients. From that
time on we bought and sold for our own account.
We had a very large trade with consumers throughout the country,
and we knew we had but to say the word to increase this by calling
back all the small buyers with whom we parted company in 1884. As
brokers we did not care for that small trade, but as dealers it
was an entirely different proposition.
Of course as soon as the New York dealers learned of our new
departure they would give us sharp and active competition for the
orders, but we felt so strong in our position we did not fear it.
We made no public announcement, but quietly bought the necessary
spot stock in the cheapest market, and as soon as we were ready,
when the orders came to us, filled them ourselves instead of passing
them on to the dealers as heretofore.
Only a few days passed before the dealers, missing the orders they
had been accustomed to receive through our hands, commenced to
investigate. When questioned we told them frankly what we were doing.
At first, argument was used to dissuade us from such a policy, but
when we were told we had no right to the business I replied that
we were not dealing in a patented article and I knew of no law to
prevent us from trading as dealers if we so desired.
That ended the argument, and men who for years had been in close
business intimacy and friendship with us, became our enemies.
I knew well what that meant. Henceforth I was to get my share of
the personal animosity that in this trade superseded the spirit of
Those men held up before the world as models of Christian piety, who
never missed a church service, whose names appeared in the papers
as subscribers to charitable and mission funds; those Sunday-school
teachers who would not have in their homes on the Sabbath day
a newspaper, who would not take a glass of wine at dinner because
of the example to their boys, and yet in their efforts to injure a
business rival never hesitated to break the Ninth Commandment--not
in words, oh no, too cautious for that, nothing that one could
put his finger on; but the shrug of the shoulder, the significant
raising of the eye-brows, the insinuation, the little hint to
unsettle confidence. Bah! on such Christianity.
And now those men were to train their guns on me.
I had been twenty years in the trade and knew how others had fared.
I grant, in many cases, it was tit-for-tat, the man injured had
done his best to injured others. With _few exceptions_ the entire
trade were "birds of a feather."
We had not long to wait for the first shot and it fell very flat,
the honors in that engagement all being with us.
A broker had offered us a parcel for future delivery at a price he
thought cheap and we accepted it. Later he called and said when
he gave up our name as the buyer, the seller declined to confirm
unless we would deposit with him, the seller, five thousand dollars
This concern knew we were perfectly responsible, but took this
method of discrediting us, expecting that the broker would help
the matter on by gossiping through the trade about it.
We heard his story and then said to him, "Go back and say to your
principal that we will not deposit with him one dollar; but if he
will deposit with any trust company five thousand dollars, we will
deposit twenty-five thousand against it."
The seller declined to deposit anything and the sale was cancelled.
The broker did gossip about it, but as his account of the incident
was correct, it added to our prestige.
Every now and then we would hear of something that one or another
of our competitors had intimated to our discredit, but treating
all such rumors with silent contempt, we kept up the even tenor of
our way and closed the year with a profit of seventy-two thousand
SAD HEARTS AT KNOLLWOOD
The spring of 1890 brought with it two great sorrows. Following
closely on the death of my beloved mother came the death at "Sunnyside"
of Frank Slater. The latter was unexpected in its suddenness and a
terrible shock to all his friends. I had become so deeply attached
to Frank that he seemed like a dear brother and my grief was most
The day after his death, Mr. Pell, Mrs. Slater's father, asked me
to represent the family in the settlement of the business affairs.
There was no will and there were many complications.
Mr. Pell, entirely without reason, I thought, had not the fullest
confidence in Frank's partner, Mr. Wood. He did not believe he
would be any too liberal to the estate in the settlement of the
firm's affairs. It was in compliance with Mr. Pell's earnest request
that I took charge and my doing so was entirely acceptable to Mr.
Although I regret the test of my reader's patience, it is essential
to my defense in certain matters to be related in later chapters,
that the complications and settlement of this estate should be set
forth. In reading these pages I beg that the footnote on page 112
may be remembered.
The business of Wood and Slater for several years had been the
acquiring and holding of certain corporate properties, some of which
the firm managed. With the exception of one property, a recent
acquisition, the interest of each partner was defined by the
individual holdings of stock. In the one property referred to the
interest was equal but the stock had not been issued.
At the time of Mr. Slater's death he had a joint liability on the
firm account in certain notes which had been discounted at the
firm's bank, and also in a loan made to the firm by the Standard
Oil Company. His individual liabilities were nearly seventy-five
thousand dollars. Only a few of these need be specified.
For several years he had profitable business relations with me and
carried an account in our office, drawing on it at his convenience.
At the time of his death this account was overdrawn nine thousand
dollars. In addition our name was on his paper, falling due after
his death, to the extent of eleven thousand dollars. Another
liability was a note for forty-seven hundred dollars discounted by
a Pennsylvania banker, a personal friend. There was also an agreement
to refund to a friend under certain conditions ten thousand dollars
which he had invested in a manufacturing plant in Connecticut which
Mr. Slater was backing.
The assets consisted almost entirely of the interest in the
corporate properties which the firm had acquired and stock in the
Connecticut concern. There was also a library which realized, when
sold at auction, about five thousand dollars.
The real estate was in Mrs. Slater's name and belonged to her.
In the most valuable properties of the firm Wood & Slater owned but
two-thirds interest, the remaining third being held by the original
owner, a Mr. Mallison.
This gentleman, possessed of considerable means, was a creditor
of the estate to the amount of about sixteen thousand dollars. I
found that he was disposed to buy the estate's interest in these
properties and finally sold it to him for one hundred thousand
dollars. An additional consideration was the securing through him
an investment of half the amount, for a period of ten years at a
guaranteed return of ten per cent per annum.
The Connecticut investment looked to me most unpromising. With
extensive advertising it might be made a profitable business but
there was no money for this; on the other hand, additional capital
was needed at once to keep the concern alive. The note held by the
Pennsylvania banker had been issued for the benefit of this business
and must be paid. Unless new capital was found to keep the concern
going, the ten thousand dollars guaranteed by Mr. Slater must be
refunded at once. In other words, if the business was abandoned
the estate would be immediately depleted to the extent of fourteen
thousand seven hundred dollars.
A meeting was held at my office at which were present all the
parties interested and also Mr. Wood. After a general discussion,
in which Mr. Wood took part and expressed great confidence in the
future success of the business, the gentleman who had invested
the ten thousand dollars made a proposition that if Mr. Slater's
friends would go in, for every dollar they subscribed he would
subscribe two. If they would not do this, then he would call upon
the estate to return him the ten thousand dollars.
Taking Mr. Wood aside, I said, "Charley, personally I don't like
the investment, but to save the estate, if you will join me, I will
make it." His reply was, "Walter, I cannot. If I could I would,
for I believe it is a good thing, but I cannot go into any outside
investment at present."
My decision as to my course was made before I had spoken to him,
but I thought I would offer him a chance to share that investment
with me, after telling him my poor opinion of it.
My heart was heavy with sorrow for the loss of my friend and for
his family I felt the deepest sympathy. I believed then, as I
believe to-day, that what I did was no more than he would have done
for my loved ones under similar circumstances.
In that Connecticut concern I invested in all about five thousand
dollars, which proved, as I thought very probably it would, practically
a total loss. I waived my claim for nine thousand dollars on that
overdrawn account and I personally paid those notes for eleven
thousand dollars, one in June and the other in August following
the death of my friend.
The only remaining asset to be disposed of was the recently acquired
property for which stock had not been issued.
Mr. Wood was personally managing this, and he represented to me
that it was in bad shape and that if anything was made out of it,
it would be by his efforts and he did not want an estate for a
He proposed to offset the estate's interest against the liability
on the firm note held by the bank. I am not sure what that amounted
to and have not the data at hand to ascertain, but think it was
under five thousand dollars.
This property is now of great value and has, I believe, made Mr.
Wood, who still owns it, a rich man.
At the time, I thought his proposition a fair one, though in later
years, Mr. Allison, a good judge of the value of such properties,
told me that he "never thought Wood treated Mrs. Slater just right
in that matter."
When I made the sale to Mallison it left Wood a minority stockholder,
which position he did not fancy. He tried to sell out to Mallison.
These men had a mutual dislike for each other and Wood after repeated
efforts found they could not agree on terms.
Then he asked me to make the sale for him. He was prepared to take
and expected to get less than the estate had received. Technically
it was worth less, for the buyer already had control. I succeeded
in making the sale at the same price, one hundred thousand dollars.
On my way home that day I stopped at Wood's house to tell him what
I had done. He was not at home and I saw his wife. I told her of
the sale and asked her to tell her husband. She exclaimed, "Oh,
Walter! What a friend you've been." That was in 1890. This is 1904.
A snap of the whip, horses prancing, and with the notes of the horn
waking the echoes in the hills, we drove out from "Redstone" just
after luncheon and commenced the first stage of our sixty-mile
drive to Normandie-by-the-Sea, where we were to spend the rest of
This was on a Friday, about the middle of July, 1890. On the drag
my wife sat beside me on the box-seat; behind us were the six
children and maid, and in the rumble, my two men. It was a very
jolly party as we went bowling along over the finest roads in the
State, and we minded not the gentle rain falling steadily. All
were dry in mackintoshes and under the leather aprons, and passing
through one village after another we were of the opinion that there
is nothing quite so inspiring as driving through the country behind
four spirited horses in any kind of weather. Just at half-past five
we crossed the bridge over the Raritan and drove into New Brunswick,
where we were to stop over night.
After a good night's rest and an eight o'clock breakfast we were
The rain had ceased and the day was bright and beautiful, with no
dust to mar the pleasure of our drive. On through Old Bridge and
Mattawan to Keyport, where we stopped for luncheon. Then away on
the last stage of the delightful journey. Stopping at one of the
toll-gates to water the horses the woman in charge looked up at
the merry lot of children, and then turning to my wife asked, "Are
those children _all_ yours"? With a laugh I said "guilty," and
away we went. The hands of the clock on the dashboard were at six
as we drove up to the hotel, sharp on time.
We soon became acquainted with many of the guests at the hotel, who
were a pleasant lot of people, and were particularly attracted to
a Mr. and Mrs. Edward Banford of New York.
Ned Banford, a man then about thirty years of age, good looking,
genial, and clever, was a manufacturing jeweler and is still in
that business. His wife, a very charming woman, is now prominent
in golfing circles. Before the season was over, we numbered the
Banfords amongst our intimate friends. Ned and I were companions
on our daily trips to and from the city, and before I had known
him more than a few weeks he had voluntarily told me a good deal
about his business affairs.
He said his own capital was very small and a wealthy friend, a Mr.
Viedler, was backing him, and at that time had ten thousand dollars
in his business. He enlarged on the liberality of this friend,
saying, amongst other things, that when he went to him for money
he never asked anything further than, "How much do you want, Ned"?
and then writing a cheque would hand it to him.
He also told me that his business was very profitable and the only
disadvantage he labored under was Mr. Viedler's frequent absence.
This sort of talk went on daily until one morning he told me that
the day previous he had an offer of a lot of precious stones for
five thousand dollars which he could have turned over inside of
thirty days with a profit of two thousand dollars, but had to pass
it because Mr. Viedler was out of town.
The same spirit which always moved me to do what I could to help
everybody I knew led me to say to him, "Ned, I do not want to put
any money in a sinking fund for a long pull, as I may have use
for all my capital in my own business; but any time you want five
thousand dollars for thirty days, I will be glad to let you have
He wanted it very soon. In a few days I loaned him five thousand
dollars, and after that, until September, 1893, there was no time
he did not owe me from five thousand to fifteen thousand dollars.
After we returned to "Redstone" we had the Banfords out for a visit,
and a little later visited them in New York. They gave a dinner
in our honor, and those amongst the guests who become prominent in
this narrative hereafter were Mr. and Mrs. Albert Caine, Mr. and
Mrs. William Curtice, and Mr. and Mrs. George Todd.
This dinner was the commencement of a long and intimate friendship
with all of those I have named. Very many were the good times we
had together, visits back and forth, dinners, driving trips, theatre
parties, trips to Atlantic City, Lakewood, and other resorts, to
Princeton and New Haven for the college games--nothing that promised
a good time was allowed to get by us.
The birthdays and wedding anniversaries of all were duly celebrated,
and gifts interchanged at Christmas between both parents and
children. It was indeed a happy, joyous circle of friends.
My business affairs continued to prosper, and for my second year,
as an importer and dealer, my books showed a profit of sixty-eight
A SHORT YEAR AND A MERRY ONE
As memory carries me back to 1891, it seems as if it would have
been impossible to crowd into a period of twelve months more social
pleasures and jolly good times than we had in that year.
In the social life at Knollwood we had ceased to be active. We
kept up and enjoyed our intimate friendship, now of more than ten
years' duration, with our immediate neighbors; but the personnel
of the Park had changed in recent years and with many of the new
residents we were not congenial, though on pleasant terms with all.