• William F. Stratton

How Pottering Pete Went Into the Promoting Business

Updated: May 24, 2021


Wayside Tales, March 1904

Agent in th’ office to see you, Mr. Patton.”

Pottering Pete, dozing in the shadow of the great building that enclosed the “Lucky Tumble” stamp-mills, slowly opened his eyes and gazed up at his red-shirted clerk.

“What’s he want?” he drawled, drowsily.

The red-shirted clerk shook his head.

“Won’t tell; has to see you.”

“Enny knots on ’im—like a book concealed ’bout his person?”

“Nary a knot; smooth as an old saddle.”

“Mebbe he’s another of them subscription-paper devils, Jimmy,” suggested Pete, anxiously.

The swift upward movement of Jimmy’s eyebrows expressed utter ignorance.

“Got me guessin’; it’s a new specimen; looks like it might be bizness.”A

Pottering Pete yawned protestingly, struggled to his feet, and followed the red-shirted clerk.

A small young man, smooth of face and long of nose, whose sharp, half-closed eyes glittered behind gold-mounted glasses, rose alertly from a chair in the outer office and held out a gloved hand.

“Mr. Patton?” he inquired, briskly. “Ah, yes! May I see you privately, Mr. Patton? Important business—highly important, I assure you.”

Pottering Pete’s gaze began at the patent-leather shoes, roamed inquisitively upward along the carefully creased trousers, gorgeous vest and short, stylish coat, paused for an indignant instant on the immaculate shirt-front and lofty collar, and halted contemptuously on the skin-white line that defined the exact center of the closely plastered hair.

“Who air ye, ennyway?” he grunted.

“My name, Mr. Patton, is Schott—Otto B. Schott”

“An’ that’s no lie,” Pete muttered, fumbling absently at his belt. “’Taint too late yet.”

“Too late—did I understand you to say, Mr. Patton? Not at all, sir. This way, please. My business is confidential, strictly confidential.”

Mr. Schott airily pushed open the door leading into Mr. Patton’s private office, dropped into the easiest chair, and looked about him complacently. With an expression of extreme amazement, Pete followed him, closed the door, and seated himself at his desk.

“Ef you’ve got as much bizness as nerve you’re it,” he growled. “Say yer piece, an’ say it quick.”

Mr. Schott displaced a pile of private papers on the desk to make room for his hat, and leaned forward confidently.

“Now, Mr. Patton, I’m a promoter,” he announced in a cautious tone.

“What’s a promoter?”

Mr. Schott smiled—a superior, pitying smile.

“A promoter, my dear sir, is one who creates and fosters financial undertakings; builds up substantial business from airy nothing; groups and consolidates small and struggling ventures into gigantic and profitable monopolies.”

“I see,” observed Mr. Patton. “Melts down a few honest little men an’ casts ’em into one big thief. Well, ye’d better begin by promotin’ yourself out of this camp before th’ boys ketches sight of them clothes. That’s all there is to promote around here.”

Mr. Schott grinned nervously and laid his hand on Mr. Patton’s knee.

“You’re wrong, sir; quite wrong. Allow me to demonstrate. You own a controlling interest in the ‘Lucky Tumble’ mine.”

“An’ I ’low to keep on ownin’ it. Ye can’t—”

“Wait a moment! And you doubtless own a few worthless claims adjacent to the mine.”

“Reckon I do.”

“For instance—that one?”

Mr. Schott pointed through the open window to a heap of sun-baked earth, surmounted by a meditative jack-rabbit, that projected from the rocky face of a distant slope.

“Yes,” assented Mr. Patton. “Give old Bill Disbro a hundred fur that one, ’cause he was hard up. I’d ruther have th’ rabbit.”

“Wrong again, Mr. Patton. That abandoned claim —any abandoned claim in this vicinity—is worth to you at least ten thousand dollars!”

Here, Mr. Schott struck the desk violently, and leaned back to note the effect of his startling assertion. Mr. Patton didn’t seem to enthuse—his hand again wandered mechanically to his belt.

“Come out of th’ bushes an’ talk English,” he said, gruffly. “What d’ye want?”

Mr. Schott glanced about him warily, again bent forward, and whispered impressively: “Your name—ten thousand dollars —twelve thousand dollars—for your name.”

Pottering Pete started to rise, and Mr. Schott threw up a deprecating hand.

“Now, don’t be hasty, Mr. Patton. I’ll make it plain. Listen. There are two other gentlemen in this—Mr. Squivers and Mr. Peek. Mr. Squivers puts up what little money we shall need for advertising purposes—the only outlay. I manage the scheme. You furnish nothing, absolutely nothing, but the worthless claim—we’ll call it the Jack-rabbit claim. We’ll dig a couple more holes and call them ‘Star of Hope,’ and ‘Dead Cinch,’ all located on the ‘Lucky Tumble’ lode.’ See?”

Mr. Patton’s face had taken on an expression of deep interest.

“I begin to ketch on,” he murmured. “What next?”

“Then we incorporate—The Aurora Mining and Development Company, authorized capital—One Million Dollars, the Honorable Peter Patton, President; Mr. Hernando Squivers, Secretary and Treasurer; Mr. Otto B. Schott, General Manager—do you follow, Mr. Patton?”

“Like a burro behind th’ bell-mare,” declared Pete. “You want my name—as a successful an’ wealthy mine owner—to inspire confidence, so’s we kin unload—”

“Exactly! So that we can sell the stock,” interrupted Mr. Schott, gleefully noting Pete’s increasing interest. “We offer the public half the stock—and the public falls over itself to buy.”

“Th’ public don’t do nothin’ of th’ kind; not fer stock like that,” declared Mr. Patton, energetically.

“Aren’t they doing it all the time?”

“Mebbe they air—fer stock that’s got good prospects behind it—claims that’ll bear investigation. Bizness men don’t shoot their cash into a hole like that one without investigation.”

Mr. Schott laughed softly, tilted his chair back, and elevated the patent-leathers to the desk.

"Guess you never heard of United States Steel, Mr. Patton. Besides, we don’t offer stock to business men. We sell only to those who’ve just enough money to invest and not enough to investigate; widows, clerks, laborers—that’s our class—safe, soft and sure."

"How’s widders, an’ clerks an’ laborers goin’ to buy high-priced minin’ stock?”

"High priced? Not at all. Ten cents on the dollar, Mr. Patton. Fifty shares, $5. Fifty shares in the Aurora Mining and Development Company—elegant steel engraved certificates—for only five dollars! ‘Honorable Peter Patton, President’—Oh just wait till you see our prospectus, Mr. Patton! That’s my strong line—prospectuses—prospectuses that are poems of persuasion and plausibility. Fifty shares the minimum, at above price. Positively not more than two hundred shares to any one person. Price will be advanced, January 1, to fifteen cents. Additional advances as the ore increases in value. Don’t worry about the public not buying, Mr. Patton. Printers’ ink, mixed with brains, will sell anything these prosperous times.”

“There’ll have to be a show-down sometime,” observed Mr. Patton, dubiously. “After th’ stock’s sold people’ll be wantin’ to hear about dividends.”

“And they’ll hear about bonds,” replied Mr. Schott, with a grim chuckle.

“Bonds?”

“Certainly. Early in the game the Board of Directors—that’s us—find it necessary to issue bonds, to mortgage the plant. Bonds fall due—no money —foreclosures—bond-holder takes the property—we’re out, slick as a whistle.”

“Court might want to know what went with them proceeds. State’s attorneys an’ jedges git derned meddlesome sometimes.”

"That’s where your pay-roll and political influence comes in, Mr. Patton—controls the appointment and election of those fellows. And we give them each a block of the stock—make them appear particeps criminis in case of inquiry. Besides, there’s padded pay-rolls, expensive machinery that breaks down, salaries, cave-ins—all kinds of bad luck. We keep the books! Understand?”

Mr. Patton nodded, and thoughtfully contemplated the meditative jack-rabbit in the distance.

“And that other feller—Peek?” he inquired. “Where does he come in?”

“Peek? Early in the game he’s the expert; at the wind-up he’s the bondholder.”

“Expert what?”

“Mining expert. Sent by prospective investors to investigate and report. His report goes out with the second batch of circulars—and it’s a hummer.”

Pottering Pete bit a generous hunk from a plug of “Miner’s Twist” and offered the remainder to Mr. Schott, who shrank back with a shuddering gesture of declination.

“Enny of you fellers practical miners?” Pete asked. “Know good ore when you see it?”

“No, indeed, sir. We’re promoters, not miners.”

Mr. Patton again relapsed into hesitative cogitation.

“Nothing criminal about the scheme, Mr. Patton,” ventured Mr. Schott, watching Pete anxiously. “We make no positive statements. There can be no doubt of our being on the Lucky Tumble lode. Developments will undoubtedly prove, within the next sixty days, the unsurpassed richness and so on. We deal only in conjectures and promises. No direct misrepresentation of facts. Everything legitimate. Come, what do you say, Mr. Patton?”

“You think th’ widders an’ th’ other suckers ’ll come into th’ net?”

“Shoals and mobs of them!”

“An’ I don’t put up no cash?”

“Not a cent. You can’t lose. Nothing to lose.”

Mr. Patton leaned back and masticated the “Miner’s Twist” vigorously and blithely.

“Looks like a sure winner,” he announced at length.

Mr. Schott sprang to his feet.

“Shall we say Tuesday, then, Mr. Patton, to close up the deal?” he asked, eagerly.

“Ye kin say Chewsday, er Thursd’y, er Saturd’y. Don’t keer what ye say.”

“Tuesday, then. I’ll be here with the articles of incorporation and the deed to the claim, ready for your signature. If you should wish to communicate with me in the meantime, my address is Coronado City. Good-day, Mr. Patton. Tuesday, mind—Tuesday morning.”

Through the window Pottering Pete watched the retreating figure of Mr. Otto B. Schott as it tripped down the trail on its way to the station. He closed one eye, calculated the distance to a nodding sun-flower, and projected a stream of “Miner’s Twist” into its exact center. Then he stepped to the door, thrust his head into the outer office, and yelled, in a voice that jarred the pen from Jimmy’s fingers:

“Git Barney McGlynn, an’ come in here—an’ be quick about it.”

That night old Barney McGlynn bought a round-trip ticket to Coronado City. Monday night Pottering Pete and the red-shirted clerk, from their place of concealment, saw three men with a dark lantern steal warily up the slope to th' Jack-rabbit Claim. One of the three bore a startling resemblance, in the uncertain light, to Mr. Otto B. Schott; another was portly, dignified and white-whiskered; the voice of the third could have fitted no one but old Barney McGlynn.

The three seemed intensely interested in numerous chunks of ore which, with much labor, they extracted from the Jack-rabbit Claim. Finally, after much low-voiced and animated discussion, the three, carrying specimens of said chunks, disappeared toward the heaps of ore near the Lucky Tumble mine.

Tuesday morning Mr. Schott presented to Mr. Patton a portly gentleman with benevolent white whiskers, who beamed genially upon Pete as he vigorously shook his hand.

“Mr. Patton, Mr. Squivers,” said Mr. Schott, pleasantly. “We’re punctual, you see.”

“Glad to see ye,” declared Mr. Patton. “Perduce them papers an’ we’ll sign up. Time’s money—widder’s money—in this bizness.”

Mr. Schott coughed uneasily, and edged nearer the door, while Mr. Squivers caressed the benevolent whiskers and beamed again.

“Fact is, Mr. Patton,” he said, gravely, “we’ve decided to abandon the affair. Too risky.”

Mr. Patton’s face fell. He glared at his visitors.

“Put up job,” he growled. “You fellers want to beat me out of makin’ somethin’ out of that wuthless claim.”

“Tut, tut! Mr. Patton,” exclaimed Mr. Squivers.

“Rather than have you harbor any such unjust suspicion we’ll take the claim off your hands—at a reasonable figure, bearing in mind that it’s absolutely worthless.”

“But I lose my sheer of them stock proceeds.”

“Very sorry, very sorry, indeed, sir; but business is business, you know, Mr. Patton. We’ve something better in sight. If you care to put a price on the claim—merely enough to compensate you for loss of time—we’ll do what’s honorable. Say a hundred dollars.”

“Too much, entirely too muchI” expostulated Mr. Schott.

“True, true,” Mr. Squivers rejoined, with much dignity. “But my word is out now. I said a hundred, and a hundred it is.”

Pottering Pete was laboriously figuring upon an envelope, commenting audibly to himself.

“Five hunderd thousan’ sheers at ten cents is fifty thousan’ dollars. One-fourth is twelve thousan’ five hunderd. Knock off five fer my sheer of th’ expense. Split th’ balance fer spot cash. Gentlemen,” he drawled, looking up, “th’ claim’s your’n fer six thousan’ dollars, spot cash.”

“Preposterous!” ejaculated Mr.‘ Schott.

“Superlatively preposterous!” Mr. Squivers exclaimed. “We wish you good-day, sir.”

At the door the two paused, and Mr. Squivers turned around.

“Mr. Patton,” he said in a solicitous tone, “with a man of your prominence and influence we can’t afford to be unfair. If you’d say five hundred we might—”

“My word is out,” Pete broke in. “I said six thousan’, an’ six thousan’ it is.”

“But—”

“Take it er leave it. Ain’t anxious to sell, nohow, ’fore I examine it. It’s purty close to th’ Lucky Tumble, an’ ol’ Bill Disbro was too boozy them days to tell pay-ore from saw-dust. Guess I’ll go right now an’ have a squint at it, jest fer luck.”

Mr. Squivers’ florid face turned pallid as Pottering Pete arose. Mr. Schott nudged him in the rotund stomach, and he hastily produced a roll of bills.

“I shan’t squabble with you for a few paltry hundreds,” he declared, pompously. “There’s your money, Mr. Patton. And here’s the deed, ready for your signature, if you please.”

“But I don’t think th’ claim’s wuth a cuss.”

“Undoubtedly worthless,” responded Mr. Squivers, with an aggrieved air. '‘But the claim’s not the point, Mr. Patton—it’s my sense of business honor.”

“Then jest write it in th’ deed,” Pete suggested.

“Understood an’ agreed said claim not wuth a cuss, an’ I’ll sign.”

The pen in Mr. Schott’s nervous fingers worked with the energy of a gas-meter.

“There it is, Mr. Patton, just as you desire. Now, if you’ll sign, we’ll end this unfortunate affair.”

With much deliberate effort Pottering Pete affixed a scrawling signature, and the red-shirted clerk took his acknowledgment. Mr. Squivers pounced upon the document, laughed hysterically, and departed, followed closely by Mr. Schott. Pottering Pete tossed the roll of bills to the grinning clerk.

“Credit six thousand dollars to th’ Lucky Tumble Employee’s Co-operative Insurance Fund,” he directed. Then he drew one hand across his bearded mouth.

“Talkin’ to sich fellers makes me dry,” he said, “an’ Barney’ll be down at Shorty’s a-waitin’ to hear. Come on, Jimmy.”

“How’d it pan?” inquired Barney, anxiously, as the three ranged along the bar.

“Barney,” said Pottering Pete, solemnly, “Charley Swab’s a baby an’ J. Peirpont’s an ol’ woman, side of us.”

“Did they have my name in th’ deed?” asked Barney.

“Nope. Reckon they forgot ye was to have a third interest. Ye must have played yer keerds jest right, Barney.”

Barney tapped his black pipe on the bar, and chuckled.

“They was a leetle juberous at fust ’bout my havin’ an’ ol’ grudge agin ye, but when I pried that ore outen th’ Jack-rabbit, right under their noses, an’ then showed ’em th’ Lucky Tumble ore, they went plumb crazy. 'Lowed th’ two wuz jest th’ same.”

“Durn good guessers, they was, too,” remarked Pete, languidly. “Jimmy an’ me planted a whole cart-load of Lucky Tumble into th’ Jack-rabbit ’fore we was satisfied with th’ job. What’ll it be, boys? Th’ best ain’t none too good fer celebratin’ our goin’ into th’ promotin’ bizness—fer a limited time only.”

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