“Of course I was among the first to buy chips at Bill Bassett’s game. He had bought the only cards there was to be had in town; and I knew the back of every one of them better than I know the back of my head when the barber shows me my haircut in the two mirrors.
“When the game closed I had the five thousand and a few odd dollars, and all Bill Bassett had was the wanderlust and a black cat he had bought for a mascot. Bill shook hands with me when I left.
“‘Brother Peters,’ says he, ’I have no business being in business. I was preordained to labor. When a No. 1 burglar tries to make a James out of his jimmy he perpetrates an improfundity. You have a well-oiled and efficacious system of luck at cards,’ says he. ’Peace go with you.’ And I never afterward sees Bill Bassett again.”
“Well, Jeff,” said I, when the Autolycan adventurer seemed to have divulged the gist of his tale, “I hope you took care of the money. That would be a respecta—that is a considerable working capital if you should choose some day to settle down to some sort of regular business.”
“Me?” said Jeff, virtuously. “You can bet I’ve taken care of that five thousand.”
He tapped his coat over the region of his chest exultantly.
“Gold mining stock,” he explained, “every cent of it. Shares par value one dollar. Bound to go up 500 per cent. within a year. Non-assessable. The Blue Gopher mine. Just discovered a month ago. Better get in yourself if you’ve any spare dollars on hand.”
“Sometimes,” said I, “these mines are not—”
“Oh, this one’s solid as an old goose,” said Jeff. “Fifty thousand dollars’ worth of ore in sight, and 10 per cent. monthly earnings guaranteed.”
He drew out a long envelope from his pocket and cast it on the table.
“Always carry it with me,” said he. “So the burglar can’t corrupt or the capitalist break in and water it.”
I looked at the beautifully engraved certificate of stock.
“In Colorado, I see,” said I. “And, by the way, Jeff, what was the name of the little man who went to Denver—the one you and Bill met at the station?”
“Alfred E. Ricks,” said Jeff, “was the toad’s designation.”
“I see,” said I, “the president of this mining company signs himself A. L. Fredericks. I was wondering—”
“Let me see that stock,” said Jeff quickly, almost snatching it from me.
To mitigate, even though slightly, the embarrassment I summoned the waiter and ordered another bottle of the Barbera. I thought it was the least I could do.
A TEMPERED WIND
The first time my optical nerves was disturbed by the sight of Buckingham Skinner was in Kansas City. I was standing on a corner when I see Buck stick his straw-colored head out of a third-story window of a business block and holler, “Whoa, there! Whoa!” like you would in endeavoring to assuage a team of runaway mules.