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Roamin' in the Gloamin'
CHAPTER XXII - BAD TIPS AND OTHERS


ONE of the most fascinating men I ever met in the States was Joseph Smith, the head of the Mormons in Salt Lake City. When I first visited that amazing city many years ago Joseph came with his "retinue" to hear my entertainment. He came to my dressing-room after the show and we had a long and interesting talk. I was so impressed with the intelligence and the dignity of the man that I restrained my inclination to ask him any of the questions that would naturally occur to a Scottish Presbyterian reared within the strict laws and "commandments" of that rather rigid faith. Like many more people I had, from early youth upwards, harboured certain sentiments about the Mormons, their beliefs and practices, which tended to make my inaugural trip to their headquarters one of no little curiosity. But when I really had the chance, at first hand, so to speak, to make direct inquiries into a much-discussed topic, I somehow let it slip—i simply could not bring myself to open a series of questions on what my visitor might reasonably have regarded as purely domestic affairs!

So instead we talked of Salt Lake City itself, its magnificent situation, its noble buildings, its civic activities, its happy, prosperous citizens. Mr. Smith told me that there were many Scottish people resident in the city, a large pro portion of them members of the Mormon Church. I said I was not at all astonished at the news as I knew many men who were Mormons in Scotland! As he didn't even smile at this attempted witticism on my part I passed on to discuss with him the really extraordinary history of the city from the far-off days when the seagulls came and devoured the locusts that were threatening to starve the ancient settlers down to the present time. He told me that there never were any unemployed people in Salt Lake and gave me many more interesting details about a city which must be absolutely unique in the United States to say nothing of the world as a whole. I have returned to Salt Lake City frequently since these days and I am a great favourite there I can assure you. But I have not yet got inside the wonderful Temple to hear a religious service. Admission is strictly limited to "the faithful" and much as I would like to see its internal beauties and listen to its services I do not propose at my time of life to become a Mormon in order that I may do so.

In the old days of Brigham Young and his "elders" the foundation and the building of Salt Lake City must have been gigantic tasks. Just fancy! They took forty-two years to build the Temple alone and all the stones for it were cut from a quarry forty miles distant and transported under conditions of great difficulty mostly on the backs of the men who helped to construct the now world-famous edifice. I shall always say that no matter what "ongoin's" may have taken place in the early days of Salt Lake City the pioneers of Mormonism were men of supreme vision, of indominatable pluck, of astounding ability as architects and builders. Their descendants today are no whit less able; I defy you to find, in all the States of the Union, a better conducted or more civically enlightened city than Salt Lake.

Another prominent American "character" who adorns my list of personal friends is Mayor William Hale Thompson of Chicago. This solemn proaouncement on my part will probably cause a gasp of horror on the part of numerous good Americans, both in Chicago and elsewhere, to whom the mere name of "Bill" Thompson is anathema. But I cannot help it. I like Bill immensely. He and I always have a jolly good time together in "Chi." Nobody would accuse him of being pro-British in his spoken sentiments or in his actions but he is certainly pro-Lauder and he hands me the keys of the Windy City every time I set foot in it. I was much amused at some of the things my friend the Mayor gave utterance to during his last election fight and equally entertained by some of the things his enemies hurled back at him in the columns of the anti-Thompson press. My friend Blackwood went over to America a year or two ago and lined up one day at the city chambers with a letter of introduction from me to William Hale T.

"Tell this guy that if he's a Scotsman I'll see him; if he's an Englishman show him out and put a detective on him while he's in Chicago!" was the Mayor's ultimatum to the messenger. On being told that Blackwood was a Scot, Bill had him shown to his room at once. They became very friendly and were getting along fine when Bill learned that Blackwood was a journalist. As one of the Chicago papers had that morning roasted the Mayor unmercifully over some alleged misfealty or another this information suddenly caused him to see red and the interview was on the point of coming to an abrupt conclusion. However Bill thought better of it and, holding out his hand, he remarked, with that smile of his which can be so attractive when he likes, CCAS a friend of Harry's I'll tell the woild you're welcome to this great and progressive City, but as a journalist I hate the- sight of you!" The Mayor, and his Chief of Police, Mr. Charlie Fitzmaurice gave Blackwood such a good time in Chicago that he spent a week there instead of, as he had first intended, a couple of days. William Hale Thompson provides the people of Britain with many a good laugh, especially when he really gets down to his anti-English stuff which, of course, nobody believes in for a moment. I don't believe "dear old Bill" believes in it himself!

I was often told by my friends that America has been very good to me. And occasionally, if I seem to be in a communicative humour, one or other of these friends will try to do the pump-handle trick and ask me just how much money I have made in the States and Canada. "Oh, I haven't done so badly," I tell them always, "and I would have done still better had I been able to stick to a' I earned—the livin' oot there's awfu' costly!" And there is a slight substratum of truth in part, at least, of that canny reply. I defy any man to keep on going to America as I have done for twenty years and not make a financial sideslip now and again. At heart I am a very simple man and though I have steeled myself against "easy-money" all my life—realizing that the only money worth having is the money you have worked hard for—I was very prone in my earlier visits to the States to listen to all sorts of tales and schemes having for their object the quick and certain collecting of dollars either in hundreds or tens of thousands! I suppose my reputation for excessive caution in matters monetary kept away from me many people who would otherwise have been only too pleased to enlist my sympathies and my bank-book in certain get-rich-quick Wallingford plans. But I couldn't steer clear of them all! And as this more than purports to be a real story of my life it would not be fair of me to let my friends everywhere assume that I had never been "trimmed."

Many years ago, during, I think, my first visit to Boston I fell across the path of a most fascinating young man who could speak in nothing less than millions of dollars. He had worked up a trans-continental reputation at an age in life when most lads are thinking of how they are going to pay the next instalment on their bicycles. The papers had a lot to say about him; he was very much in the public eye all over the States. If I told you his popular nick-name many of my readers would remember him and his highly spectacular doings but by-gones are by-gones with me and I have no desire to rake up old troubles in the case of a man who may still be alive and earning an honest living. Well, this young sprig got me going from the first time I was introduced to him. I used to listen pop-eyed to his patter about the enormous sums he had made for his clients. And not for a long time did he even suggest that I should employ his invaluable services in any capacity whatever. In fact it began to be very clear to me that I was ten times a fool for not handing over my entire wad to this genius and letting him multiply it a thousand times overnight. Every time he came to see me and started to spin his amazing yarns I went all dizzy at the thought of what I was missing.

Then one nice winter morning he drove up to the door of the Parker House Hotel in Boston in a gorgeous two- horse sleigh. That did it. Any man who could sport such a slap-up turnout was bound to be making money for himself as well as his fortunate clients. He took me for a ride over the snow and to the music of the tinkling bells on his horses' collars I fell for a scheme which was to make rue a multimillionaire in three weeks' time. All the "wise guys" in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago were supposed to be in the plunder; we were each going to have a rake-off that would make my weekly salary sound like a taxi-fare! We dined later (at his expense) at the Algonquin Club—and I passed over my cheque. That's the end of the story. Years afterwards I learned that the sleigh-man got five years' solid foi fraud and I was really sorry to hear it, for he was a clever young devil and he "had" me good and hearty.

Another time I was introduced through a friend to a man in New York who was reputed to have invented a synthetic rubber which was going to put all the rubber plantations of the world out of business. It was just about the time of a sensational rubber boom. Everybody was talking rubber. Fortunes were being made in the commodity. Henry Ford, the Dodge Brothers, Willys and all the rest of the car manufacturers were (so it was adroitly pushed into me) seriously thinking of paying this man a fabulous amount of money for his patent; if they didn't do something desperate a set of rubber tires was soon going to cost more than the cars they manufactured! Of course if I was really interested and cared to pick up half a million or so of quick money there would be no trouble in letting a prominent man and a good old guy like Harry Lauder in on the ground floor. And so forth. For a long while I resisted the temptation. But when the inventor came along to my dressing-room one evening and produced a great chunk of his synthetic rubber which looked like rubber, felt like rubber, tasted like rubber (I broke a false tooth on it so keen was I to test it in every way) and, most wonderful of all, "bounced" like rubber, my last scruples went by the board. I walked right in. Never mind how much; I hate to think about it. Fancy any man not recognizing a bit of real rubber when he saw it, felt it, tasted it and bounced it! But it's always the simplest trick that gets away with the applause—and the sucker's money.

A coal mine in Mexico was the next thing out of which I tried hard to turn an honest penny. It belonged to an Englishman who was one of the most earnest liars I have ever met. He must have studied tip all the mining jargon and technicalities before he started his barrage so far as I was concerned because he had them all so pat that I, as an ex-miner, was interested in spite of myself. There were the photographs of the mine-shaft and the miners' houses and groups of happy children! Here were other photographs of the loaded wagons at the railway siding and groups of sturdy miners going to and coming from their work. Here was the last letter from the local manager saying how well every- thing was going and just what the little company could do if they had some more capital to extend their activities by sinking another shaft to a wonderful seam a mile away! There would be no difficulty, naturally, in raising ten times the necessary money in the district where the mine was situated and where the quality of its coal was so much appreciated but, well, what a sensation it would cause down in Mexico if Harry Lauder, the old miner, agreed to go on the board of directors! And if I thought I would like to invest a few thousand dollars just for fun, why, everybody would be tickled to death! Besides, it would be money for jam! I never saw a dollar of my five thousand come back from that Mexican coal-mine. Years after, when I was down in the country; I made some inquiries about it. Yes, there used to be a coal-mine at the place mentioned or at least a half- bored shaft but that was thirty years ago and the English man who owned it hadn't been seen since. Was there a rail- way near it? No, the nearest railroad was ten miles away. I often wonder how many other people were taken in completely by that glib-tongued mine-proprietor and his col- lection of faked photographs of happy miners and forged letters from the local manager!

Over in England, too, where people are not so ready to fall for the fortune-while-you-sleep talk I have been prevailed upon to dip down for goodly sums on what looked like hundred per cent stone certainties. A very good friend of mine—and we are still friendly, mark you, but in a rather aloof way now—put me off my sleep for a few nights conning over the possibilities of a new engine which could be fitted for a few pounds to sailing fishing yawls and thus let them make for the harbour quickly with their scaly spoil. The scheme seemed sound as a bell. Fish, I argued to myself, were always worth money if they could be brought to market but they were of no use whatever lying in the bottom of an Auchmithie fishing-smack. And wouldn't I be doing a kind turn to the poor fishermen by providing them with engines— at a profit, of course—so that they could get back at once to their bonnie wee harbours without having to worry about wind or tide! The engine was to be called the Harry Lauder Fisherman's Friend. Yes, the scheme was fool-proof and bound to succeed. But neither the originator of the stunt nor myself paused to think that not three per cent of the British fish consumed by our population was landed by fishing boats of the dear old brown-sailed type. And that even if we fitted our engine to every "cobble" on the east coast of Scotland we would still be out of pocket on the deal. In any case the engine didn't work when we did start our engineering business. And that was the end of it—our company went broke!

Later, I became a part-proprietor in a Leeds concern which was to turn out suits of clothes for fifteen shillings ($3.50) a suit. Clothes in Britain were far too dear. Work ing people could not afford to dress themselves decently because of the exhorbitant profits snatched by the greedy tailors. This ought to be put a stop to. We would stop it— and in stopping it clean up a dollar a suit on a million suits a year. Money for nothing! We actually turned out some thousands of suits but the public wouldn't look at them. Having tried to wear one of the suits myself I don't blame them. The company failed. For months afterwards I could not pass a tailor's shop without feeling a pain in the stomach!

But all my financial transactions outside my legitimate business have not turned out failures. Andrew Carnegie one night came to my dressing-room in New York. He was astonished and delighted to meet in me a man smaller than himself and said so with great glee. I denied that I was shorter in stature than he and We decided to settle the argument by measuring heights against the dressing-room door. Before Andrew took up his position for Tom to take his height he said that if he beat me he would give me a good tip on the Stock Exchange. Overhearing this I think Tom decided there and then that the steel magnate would win. In any case Tom gave the verdict in favour of Mr. Carnegie by a tenth of an inch. "Buy United States Steel Common!" whispered the millionaire on saying goodnight. Next day I bought a thousand at thirty-two dollars and forgot all about the transaction for several weeks; in fact I was back in London before Steel Common were brought to my memory by hearing some fellows speak about them. "What are they standing at today?" I asked excitedly. Round about forty- two I was told. I couldn't get to the nearest telephone quick enough to order my broker to sell my lot. Almost without a halt those Steel Common went to something over a hundred dollars and every day for months after I sold out I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

It was the same with Marconi shares. A very "knowledgable" magnate whom I was friendly with during an Atlantic voyage spoke about little else than Marconi's throughout the trip and prognosticated for them a most wonderful rise in value. I bought a tidy little packet at $3.25 the day after I landed in England. Soon they began to move in the right direction and when they got the length of $4.20 I again decided that the margin of profit was ample for any man who was not of a grasping disposition. I consulted my banker on the matter of these Marconi's before parting with them. Cautious Scot that he was, he strongly urged me to sell and leave any additional profit to the man who bought them. "Never object, Barry, to the other chap getting a slice of the melon as well as yourself !" was how he put it. I sold. "The other man, whoever he was, got something over twenty dollars a share for his "slice of the melon" where I got one and once more I started to count up the money I had "lost"! These were the only two actual transactions I ever had on the Stock Exchange and I don't suppose I shall ever have an other. It's too nerve-wracking when you don't win as much as you ought to have won!

 


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