Chapter XXXIV. Conrad Goes Into Wall Street

When Conrad succeeded Ben as Mrs. Hamilton's private secretary, he was elated by what he considered his promotion. His first disappointment came when he learned that his salary was to be but five dollars a week. He did not dare to remonstrate with his employer, but he expressed himself freely to his mother.

"Cousin Hamilton might afford to pay me more than five dollars a week," he said bitterly.

"It is small," said his mother cautiously, "but we must look to the future."

"If you mean till Cousin Hamilton dies, it may be twenty or thirty years. Why, she looks healthier than you, mother, and will probably live longer."

Mrs. Hill looked grave. She did not fancy this speech.

"I don't think we shall have to wait so long," she said. "When you are twenty-one Cousin Hamilton will probably do something for you."

"That's almost five years," grumbled Conrad.

"At any rate we have got Ben Barclay out of the house, that's one comfort."

"Yes, I am glad of that; but I'd rather be in my old place than this, if I am to get only five dollars a week."

"Young people are so impatient," sighed Mrs. Hill. "You don't seem to consider that it isn't alone taking Ben's place, but you have got rid of a dangerous rival for the inheritance."

"That's true," said Conrad, "and I hated Ben. I'd rather any other boy would cut me out than he."

"Do you know what has become of him?"

"No; I expect that he has gone back to the country--unless he's blacking boots or selling papers downtown somewhere. By Jove, I'd like to come across him with a blacking-brush. He used to put on such airs. I would like to have heard Cousin Hamilton give him the grand bounce."

Nothing could be more untrue than that Ben putting on airs, but Conrad saw him through the eyes of prejudice, and persuaded himself that such was the fact. In reality Ben was exceedingly modest and unassuming, and it was this among other things that pleased Mrs. Hamilton.

Conrad continued to find his salary insufficient. He was still more dissatisfied after an interview with one of his school companions, a boy employed in a Wall Street broker's office.

He was just returning from an errand on which Mrs. Hamilton had sent him, when he overtook Fred Lathrop on his way uptown.

The attention of Conrad was drawn to a heavy gold ring with a handsome stone on Fred's finger.

"Where did you get that ring?" asked Conrad, who had himself a fancy for rings.

"Bought it in Maiden Lane. How do you like it?"

"It is splendid. Do you mind telling me how much you paid?"

"I paid forty-five dollars. It's worth more."

"Forty-five dollars!" ejaculated Conrad. "Why, you must be a millionaire. Where did you get so much money?"

"I didn't find it in the street," answered Fred jocularly.

"Can't you tell a feller? You didn't save it out of your wages, did you?"

"My wages? I should say not. Why, I only get six dollars a week, and have to pay car fare and lunches out of that."

"Then it isn't equal to my five dollars, for that is all clear. But, all the same, I can't save anything."

"Nor I."

"Then how can you afford to buy forty-five dollar rings?"

"I don't mind telling you," said Fred. "I made the money by speculating."

"Speculating!" repeated Conrad, still in the dark.

"Yes. I'll tell you all about it."

"Do! there's a good fellow."

"You see, I bought fifty Erie shares on a margin."

"How's that?"

"Why I got a broker to buy me fifty shares on a margin of one per cent. He did it to oblige me. I hadn't any money to put up, but I had done him one or two favors, and he did it out of good nature. As the stock was on the rise, he didn't run much of a risk. Well, I bought at 44 and sold at 45 1-4. So I made fifty dollars over and above the commission. I tell you I felt good when the broker paid me over five ten-dollar bills."

"I should think you would."

"I was afraid I'd spend the money foolishly, so I went right off and bought this ring. I can sell it for what I gave any time."

Conrad's cupidity was greatly excited by this remarkable luck of Fred's.

"That seems an easy way of making money," he said. "Do you think I could try it?"

"Anybody can do it if he's got the money to plank down for a margin."

"I don't think I quite understand."

"Then I'll tell you. You buy fifty shares of stock, costing, say, fifty dollars a share."

"That would be twenty-five hundred dollars."

"Yes, if you bought it right out. But you don't. You give the broker whatever per cent. he requires, say a dollar a share--most of them don't do it so cheap--and he buys the stock on your account. If it goes up one or two points, say to fifty-one or fifty-two, he sells out, and the profit goes to you, deducting twenty-five cents a share which he charges for buying and selling. Besides that, he pays you back your margin."

"That's splendid. But doesn't it ever go down?"

"I should say so. If it goes down a dollar a share, then, of course, you lose fifty dollars."

Conrad looked serious. This was not quite so satisfactory.

"It is rather risky, then," he said.

"Of course, there's some risk; but you know the old proverb, 'Nothing venture, nothing have.' You must choose the right stock--one that is going up."

"I don't know anything about stock," said Conrad.

"I do," said Fred. "If I had money I know what I'd buy."

"What?" asked Conrad eagerly.

"Pacific Mail."

"Do you think that's going up?"

"I feel sure of it. I overheard my boss and another broker talking about it yesterday, and they both predicted a bull movement in it."

"Does that mean it's going up?"

"To be sure."

"I should like to buy some."

"Have you got money to plank down as a margin?"

Conrad had in his pocketbook fifty dollars which he had collected for Mrs. Hamilton, being a month's rent on a small store on Third Avenue. It flashed upon him that with this money he could make fifty dollars for himself, and be able to pay back the original sum to Mrs. Hamilton as soon as the operation was concluded.

"Could you manage it for me, Fred?" he asked.

"Yes, I wouldn't mind."

"Then I'll give you fifty dollars, and you do the best you can for me. If I succeed I'll make you a present."

"All right. I hope you'll win, I am sure [illegible]"

Not giving himself time to think of the serious breach of trust he was committing, Conrad took the money from his pocket and transferred it to his companion.

"It won't take long, will it?" he asked anxiously.

"Very likely the stock will be bought and sold to-morrow."

"That will be splendid. You'll let me know right off?"

"Yes; I'll attend to that."

Conrad went home and reported to Mrs. Hamilton that the tenant had not paid, but would do so on Saturday.

Mrs. Hamilton was a little surprised, for the Third Avenue tenant had never before put her off. Something in Conrad's manner excited her suspicion, and she resolved the next day to call herself on Mr. Clark, the tenant. He would be likely to speak of the postponement, and give reasons for it.