Excitement does not often run so high as in the times, which most of those present can recall, when orchids common now were treasured by millionaires. Steam, and the commercial enterprise it fosters, have so multiplied our stocks, that shillings—or pence, often enough—represent the guineas of twenty years back. There are many here, scarcely yet grey, who could describe the scene when Masdevallia Tovarensis first covered the stages of an auction-room. Its dainty white flowers had been known for several years. A resident in the German colony at Tovar, New Granada, sent one plant to a friend at Manchester, by whom it was divided. Each fragment brought a great sum, and the purchasers repeated this operation as fast as their morsels grew. Thus a conventional price was established—one guinea per leaf. Importers were few in those days, and the number of Tovars in South America bewildered them. At length Messrs. Sander got on the track, and commissioned Mr. Arnold to solve the problem. Arnold was a man of great energy and warm temper. Legend reports that he threw up the undertaking once because a gun offered him was second-hand; his prudence was vindicated afterwards by the misfortune of a confrere, poor Berggren, whose second-hand gun, presented by a Belgian employer, burst at a critical moment and crippled him for life. At the very moment of starting, Arnold had trouble with the railway officials. He was taking a quantity of Sphagnum moss in which to wrap the precious things, and they refused to let him carry it by passenger train. The station-master at Waterloo had never felt the atmosphere so warm, they say. In brief, this was a man who stood no nonsense.
A young fellow-passenger showed much sympathy while the row went on, and Arnold learned with pleasure that he also was bound for Caraccas. This young man, whose name it is not worth while to cite, presented himself as agent for a manufacturer of Birmingham goods. There was no need for secrecy with a person of that sort. He questioned Arnold about orchids with a blank but engaging ignorance of the subject, and before the voyage was over he had learned all his friend’s hopes and projects. But the deception could not be maintained at Caraccas. There Arnold discovered that the hardware agent was a collector and grower of orchids sufficiently well known. He said nothing, suffered his rival to start, overtook him at a village where the man was taking supper, marched in, barred the door, sat down opposite, put a revolver on the table, and invited him to draw. It should be a fair fight, said Arnold, but one of the pair must die. So convinced was the traitor of his earnestness—with good reason, too, as Arnold’s acquaintances declare—that he slipped under the table, and discussed terms of abject surrender from that retreat. So, in due time, Messrs. Sander received more than forty thousand plants of Masdevallia Tovarensis—sent them direct to the auction-room—and drove down the price in one month from a guinea a leaf to the fraction of a shilling.