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Title: Crysoline Limited
Author: Fred M White
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Language: English
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THE MASTER CRIMINAL

X. - "CRYSOLINE LIMITED"

by

Fred M White

ILLUSTRATED BY PAUL HARDY

First published in The Ludgate, London, Mar 1898


Felix Gryde - Master Criminal


CHAPTER I

DURING the last few months no proprietary article had loomed larger on the public eye than the latest and greatest creation, "Crysoline." The powers claimed for this marvellous cure were stupendous. Anything from heart disease to bankruptcy disappeared like magic before one bottle of this sovereign specific, the price of which was a modest twenty-five cents, surely a reasonable figure to pay for a sound body and an equally sound estate?

Nothing of the kind had ever been so intelligently advertised before; no sum was too great to pay the clever "adsmith "—e.g., advertisement maker—for a really novel and striking appeal to the great American nation. In six months the proprietors of "Crysoline" had expended a quarter of a million dollars this way.

Testimonials came pouring in from all parts of the country. So far as sprains, scalds, bruises and the like were concerned, beyond doubt "Crysoline" formed a wonderful remedy. Of the amount of business done there could be no doubt. In a little more than half a year the proprietor had built up a gigantic concern.

So far as it went, Gryde was quite satisfied with his accomplishment. He had purchased the recipe for "Crysoline" for a trifle, really with the object of blinding Cradlestone to the reasons which brought him so near the latter's estate.

A chance conversation, as we know, was responsible for the rest. With the Cradlestone millions at his command, why not push the thing. And then, as the scheme evolved itself in Gryde's busy brain, he saw his way to a coup so great, so certain and remunerative, that he chuckled with delight.

With characteristic dash and energy he threw himself into the new venture. Most men would have been satisfied with the result achieved, but not so Gryde. The predatory instinct prevented anything of the kind.

Meanwhile the pear was ripening; the time was coming when Gryde hoped to lighten the pockets of some of the smartest men in the world, e.g., the Wall Street stockbrokers. Cradlestone chuckled as Gryde hinted at this. He and the latter had met frequently lately, and Cradlestone, whilst bearing no malice, was fully determined to get back his own on the very first opportunity.

Therefore the oil king rubbed his hands and smiled as he read his Sun a few days later. He began to see Gryde's game, or at least so he thought. Gryde, otherwise Manners, was about to turn "Crysoline" into a limited liability company. This would bring the owner of the latest nostrum in direct communication with Wall Street, and it would go hard indeed, Cradlestone thought, if, with others, he could not squeeze Manners dry.

"Those smart fellows always overreach themselves," he said. "That man had better have kept to trade. Within three months he will be stripped of the last feather. I'll get some of my money back, and I'll get 'Crysoline' into the bargain."

And Cradlestone fell to reading the full-paged prospectus of "Crysoline" with new satisfaction. The figures therein contained admitted of no doubt, certified as they were by the leading firm of accountants in New York. From the very first the nostrum seemed to have paid. The sixth month showed a profit of one hundred thousand dollars. Going on the average, the proprietor appeared to be quite justified in the expectation that the profits for the first year would reach one million and a-half dollars. And in asking the public for twenty million dollars, the request seemed reasonable. From New York to San Francisco every paper of note published that advertisement.

The whole of the capital was offered to the public in ten-dollar shares. Cradlestone made a rapid calculation on the margin of his Sun. It seemed to him that by the time the expenses were paid, Gryde's four millions could be exhausted. That Gryde had possessed any capital beyond the amount extracted over the oil venture, Cradlestone did not believe.

"I'll give him a lesson he's likely to remember," said the millionaire.

Needless to say the "Crysoline" boom attracted its fair share of attention. Gryde had not been carefully preparing the ground for nothing. He had paid in the most liberal manner for his advertisement, and he got it all back now in generous puffs. Within a week of the preliminary announcements in the Sun and World, the whole of the capital had been subscribed. Cradlestone chuckled.

True, Gryde had money again to carry on the war. But only ten per cent of the capital was paid on allotment, and no further call, according to the conditions, could be made before the expiration of three months. And in that time many a good ship had been wrecked by the brokers in Wall Street.

Of the plot against him Gryde appeared to know nothing. He applied cheerfully for a Stock Exchange quotation and got it as a matter of course. For the first two or three days "Crysoline" shares were at a premium, little business being done. It was at this point that Cradlestone began to act.

Not that he intended to operate direct himself. He was quite prepared to risk a million or two. Risk! There was none; the thing was a certainty.

Cradlestone's confederates were one of the biggest firms on the market. The mere fact of their buying or selling anything usually sufficed to make or mar the stock. And Cradlestone displayed most unusual candour in the matter.

With his feet on the table and a green cigar in the corner of his mouth, he declared his plans to Alnor Bly, head of the firm of Bly, Sulley and Bly.

"I'm going to bear that stock," he said. "I've bought a big block already at a premium—a couple of million dollars worth, I suppose. By-and-bye there'll be some queer rumours on the market as regards 'Crysoline.'"


'I'M GOING TO BEAR THAT STOCK'

"All the same, I wish it was mine," Bly remarked sententiously.

"As a matter of fact, so do I," Cradlestone replied. "It's a good thing—one of the best things offered to the public for many a year. But I owe Manners a grudge, and I mean to pay him off and put money in my pocket at the same time."

Bly nodded. He began to see his patron's drift.

"I think I understand," he said. "You want the concern for yourself."

"Yes; and I mean to have it, too. If you manipulate matters properly you'll find it worth your while. What you have to do is this: take a third of my stock and offer it at ten per cent discount. That will cause a big slump, and frighten all the little men. I'll see that the papers are fed with sensational paragraphs. Once the thing is started others will follow, and before anyone knows what has happened we'll have 'Crysoline' down to ten cents. Some fool is certain to start legal proceedings, and that will settle it."

"Quite so. And then, Mr. Cradlestone?"

The millionaire winked from behind the pungent cloud of his cigar.

"Then it will be time to buy," he said. "The bottom will be knocked out of Manners by that time, and all we have to do is to step in and pick up the pieces. There's nothing new or original about the business; but one thing is certain: if the thing does come off, I shall have a veritable gold-mine."

Bly was quite of the same opinion. He was of opinion privately that he meant to have a finger in the pie also. It was not usual for Cradlestone to be so communicative. Nor did he deem it necessary to explain that his very candour was intended to draw Bly into the venture, and ensure a still further depreciation.

"They'll all tumble to it," said Bly.

"Let them," Cradlestone replied. "So much the better for us. They won't know when the pear is ripe for buying, and we shall. So long as they help us to bear the stock down we can sit quiet and make use of 'em."

This interesting conversation found its way in due course to the ears of Felix Gryde. He had not the slightest objection to pay for information of this kind, and the clerk who had listened returned to his desk well satisfied with his hour's work.

Not that there was any news conveyed to Gryde. He knew perfectly well what line of action Cradlestone would take, but all the same it was just as well to be perfectly sure. Cradlestone's scheme was a very pretty one, but it lacked originality, which was where Gryde had the advantage of him. The average man would have abandoned the game at once and sued for terms, but then Gryde was by no means an average man.

"I always like to help anyone when I can," he muttered, "and I am going to help Cradlestone to knock those shares down. Perhaps he would sing a different tune if he knew how many I hold under different names. And if his soul yearns for paragraphs detrimental to the company and my humble self, he shall have enough and to spare."

The next day the campaign began in earnest. By, closing time, "Crysolines" had declined ten points. The financial scribes were gloomy and mysterious. Private holders began to be alarmed. And the following morning "Crysolines" declined with a rush. Some four millions of stock were on the market, and by afternoon they could be had for any price.

Cradlestone watched the proceedings with feelings of satisfaction. Four millions of his dollars had been absolutely thrown away, but still he smiled.

He knew perfectly well that those millions would come back after many days swollen and multiplied like a mountain stream after a snowstorm.

Before the end of the week the rout of "Crysoline" was complete. Cradlestone's prophecy that the shares would be down to ten cents was verified to the letter. Angry shareholders wrote epistles to the papers, a score of legal actions were commenced, and absolute ruin seemed to stare Gryde in the face.

And yet as the shares were shot into the market at any price they were bought. Small speculators can always be found at such tempting prices, whilst the general sale still continued, and ten times as many "Crysolines" as could be found were disposed of by brokers who would have to find them at a price a fortnight hence. Cradlestone felt quite satisfied at length.

"Nothing could be better," he said.

"By the time that the fortnightly settlement comes the game will be up, and then we can gradually gather the stock in at our own price. The little holders will only be too glad to sell at a profit."

"There's one difficulty in the way," said Bly. "I've sold far more than we've got. If buyers insist upon a delivery we're in a fix."

"But they won't," Cradlestone said confidently. "We'll offer them a few cents premium, which after all is the thing they require. Within a month 'Crysoline' will be mine, stock, lock and barrel. It will be a nice little lesson to Manners."

But Manners, otherwise Gryde, did not seem to resent the way in which he had been treated. For the present he was, perhaps, the most prominent and worst abused individual in the United States. Nothing was too bad to say about him. He had floated a bogus company, he had placed millions of dollars in his pocket, he had not cared what became of the shares so that he got his plunder. Wall Street had found him out, and in rejecting the fraudulent company had done a service to the State. Whether or not the proprietor of "Crysoline" was to be prosecuted was an interesting problem.

But Gryde took it all smilingly. He even shook hands quite heartily with Cradlestone that afternoon as he and the latter met at Delmonico's at lunch.

"Well," said the millionaire, "and how do you like Wall Street?"

"I have no fault to find with Wall Street," Gryde responded. "The air is bracing and the work there of a variable nature. What I like about the people is that they cling together so. When they start out to ruin a man they do it effectually."

Cradlestcne chuckled. He was in a position to appreciate this humour.

"You are alluding to 'Crysoline,'" he said. "Did I not warn you to keep clear of the Street. Upon my word, you have made a nice mess of it."

"And you are going to pocket a fortune," Gryde replied quite pleasantly. "I know exactly what has happened and who to thank for the present state of affairs."

Cradlestone smiled again.

"You couldn't expect to get the best of me twice," he said. "And I'd give a trifle to know how you managed that oil business."

Gryde denied that there had been any trickery in the business, a mere figure of speech, knowing quite well that the other did not believe him.

"All right," Cradlestone laughed, "but you are a good fighter, and I shouldn't wonder if you picked it all up again, yet. But not in 'Crysoline'—you can regard that as gone."


'YOU ARE A GOOD FIGHTER'

Gryde rose, buttoning his gloves slowly.

"There's many a slip, you know," he said, "and you are not safe till after settling day. You may not be the only one in the swindle. You object to the term? Very well, we will say the financial transaction. We shall meet again."

"Often, I trust," said Cradlestone. Gryde muttered something in reply and strode from the room.

CHAPTER II

CRADLESTONE strode into Bly's office with the inevitable green cigar in the corner of his mouth. Settling day had arrived, a day which was intended to be a kind of financial Waterloo. All the same, Bly's face was more befitting Bonaparte than that of Wellington.

"Anything wrong?" Cradlestone asked as he dropped into a chair.

"Hang me if I know," Bly replied.

"I've got a letter here that puzzles me. Read it."

Bly tossed the letter across the table, and Cradlestone read as follows:—

Lexington Avenue,
July 18th, 18—.

DEAR SIR,—

We hold contract notes of yours whereby you are pledged to deliver to our client some hundred thousand odd shares in Crysoline, Limited. We enclose list of prices at which the same were purchased from day to day and the prices of the same. We shall be glad to complete the delivery in the course of the day.

Faithfully,
MORGAN AND CO.

Cradlestone knitted his brows over this document. He could not make it out at all.

"It seems to me," he said presently, "that somebody must have got wind of my intentions. We may have to share the plunder after all. You must arrange terms."

"But I have three other letters to precisely the same effect," Bly proceeded. "You see the position. I sold all the shares you had at par, so there is no loss. Then we offered thousands of shares according to your instructions at a few cents. Somebody else is having a flutter at the same game, and we shall have to deliver."

"Then you must go out and buy for the purpose," said Cradlestone. "In fact, you had better start buying all you can lay your hands on. We must be in a position to satisfy these people at the price they purchased at before we can do anything for ourselves. Then you must slip in and scoop the market."

"The price is certain to rise directly we do."

"Of course, I am prepared for that. So long as I can buy the bulk of the shares practically at my own price, I don't care. You get off down to the Street. I'll drop in and see you again directly after lunch."

When Cradlestone returned, whistling serenely, he found Bly sitting with a white face before his desk. An empty champagne bottle was by his side.

"Dyspeptic," the millionaire suggested. "Ah, I can feel for you!"

"I guess you'll feel for yourself, too, when you hear what I have to say," Bly groaned. "By four o'clock you and I between us have to deliver over a million shares in 'Crysoline.' Actually, we don't possess a fifth of them. And there isn't a share to be got at any price."

"Not a share to be got! It's only a matter of money."

"Money has nothing whatever to do with it. Ah, there are others in the soup besides ourselves—others who have sold and can't find the paper. I've seen practically every broker in the market, and not one of them has a sheet of scrip. Since morning 'Crysolines' have gone up from ten cents to a point over three dollars."

Cradlestone groaned. If this was so, a fearful loss awaited him. To put it plainly, he had sold thousands of shares at ten cents, shares which he did not. possess, and now he was called upon to produce for three dollars what he had to surrender for about a tenth of that amount.

"Then who in the name of Fate has the shares?" he asked.

"That is the mystery," said Bly; "I don't know."

Cradlestone was silent. He had never for a moment anticipated anything like this. Was it possible, he wondered, to get hold of bona fide shareholders and—but no. The thing must be carried over till the next settlement, and meanwhile some means might be found whereby the dark operation could be squeezed.

"Of course we must carry over," said Bly.

"Of course, and meanwhile you had better see Morgan."

In the end Bly and Cradlestone saw Morgan and Co. together. The latter received them with a twinkle in his eye. He listened to all they had to say.

"Carry over if you like," he said, "still, I'd settle if I were you."

"Confound you!" Cradlestone cried impatiently; "you know perfectly well that we have not the shares to deliver."

"Perfectly," was the cool response, "but I have, and you can have them at a price."

"And what is your price."

"Face value, ten dollars; and I can supply as many as you want. O, I know quite well what you are going to say. The market price is only three dollars. But it might as well be three millions as far as you are concerned, because you can't deliver. But you'll have to pay more than three dollars this day fortnight."

All the same Cradlestone proposed to carry over till next settling day. He still hoped to find a way to circumvent the dark speculator. A meeting was held of those likely to be victims, and a bold attempt to knock "Crysoline" out of the market was resolved upon. The next day a big block of stock was offered at eight cents. Almost before the offer was made, the whole lot were taken by Morgan and Co. The conspirators decided that this kind of policy was a mere sinful waste of good money. So "Crysoline" stood firm at three dollars, and when the next settling day arrived the murder was out.

A defeated band of victims gathered in the offices of Morgan and Co., with terms. They would pay two and a-half dollars in settlement of all claims, which surely ought to satisfy Morgan's client, who had practically bought at ten cents.

"I'm very sorry, gentlemen," Morgan replied, "but I cannot possibly accept your offer without consulting my client. Perhaps you would like to see him."

Without exception the victims of cunning machinations thought they would. And when, a few minutes later, Gryde, otherwise Manners, stepped into the office, a groan went up. They were trapped beyond hope of esrape.

"You wished to see me, gentlemen," Gryde said pleasantly. "Can I do anything for you?"

By common consent Cradlestone was pushed forward as spokesman.

"To tell you the truth," he said, "I rather expected this. I suppose you know that you have got the lot of us in a very tight place."

"Yes," Gryde said grimly. "I've got you where you thought to have me."

"Quite so, quite so. The question is, what will you take to settle?"

"It isn't a question of settling at all," Gryde responded. "Every share that came on the market fell into my hands. It did not take me long to see Mr. Cradlestone's game. I bought these shares in good faith; you contracted to deliver them at prices from three dollars to ten cents—"

"Mostly the latter," Cradlestone groaned.

"So much the better for me. All I want are my shares!"

"But we haven't got them," Cradlestone cried.

"I know it. All the same you are legally bound to deliver them. If you sell what you haven't got it is nothing to me. Your game was to break me down, and you failed. Will you be so good as to deliver me my shares."

"Man alive," Cradlestone yelled, "where are we to get them?"

"From me, seeing that I actually possess the lot."

"At three dollars, of course, Mr. Manners?"

"Not much," Gryde said drily. "I am ready to place you in a position to carry out your lawful obligations at the price paid by the public—ten dollars."

Then followed an awkward silence. Gryde was in a position to sell for ten dollars what, a few minutes later, would be handed back to him for some paltry cents. The thing spelt ruin to more than one man there."

"This is nothing less than a deliberate swindle," Cradlestone cried passionately.


'THIS IS A DELIBERATE SWINDLE!'

"Call it what you please," Gryde responded as coolly. "I have my rights, and I fully intend to stand by them. As soon as I saw what was going to happen, I took measures accordingly. A deliberate plan was laid to ruin me, and, instead of making a fuss, I set to work to devise some means of giving you clever gentlemen a lesson. When I realised that you were all recklessly selling what you hadn't got, I saw my way. All the shares were offered to the public, but I took good care to keep them for the most part in my own hands. As you sold, so I bought; and if I liked to ask you a million dollars per share for delivery, you would have to accept it or get broken. I could force every man of you into bankruptcy if I liked: I could pull Wall Street about your ears. And I should be none the worse off, because, you see, all this time I've got the shares."

There was no denying this pregnant statement. Gryde was in a position to throttle every man there. All they could do was to make terms.

"We throw ourselves on your mercy," Cradlestone said at length. "Let us have the lowest price you will accept for your shares?"

"Ten dollars a share," Gryde snapped; "not a cent less."

"You will give us time to carry over till next settlement, so as to discuss it?"

"Certainly I will. If the markets go up the ten dollars go up, too."

The deputation withdrew fuming. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth in Wall Street, but all the tears were in vain. And the storm broke out afresh when the deputation came to meet the master of the situation once more.

"We'll pay the ten dollars," said Cradlestone.

"Fifteen dollars," Gryde said, suavely.

"The market has gone up. I warned you that, if such were the case, I should have to charge the difference. And that is the price to which I sold a batch to an investor yesterday."

"You're not in earnest," Bly faltered.

"Gentlemen," Gryde responded, in tones of steel, "I never was more serious in my life. This is a case of diamond cut diamond, and my diamond is the harder of the two. And if I carry over again the price will be twenty dollars. The longer you fight the thing off the worse will it be for you."

Cradlestone threw up his hands with a gesture of despair.

"Six millions of dollars!" he yelled, "clean robbed of six millions! If I had only known when I had you out yonder, I would have shot you like a dog. A bullet or a partnership I'd like to present you with—and I shouldn't care which."

"I am infinitely obliged to you," Gryde responded. "I may say that is the finest compliment I ever had paid me in my life."


* * * * *

HARDLY had the blackest of black Mondays passed away, and the pungent newspaper chaff at the expense of Wall Street died away, ere New York had another sensation connected with the same "Crysoline, Limited." Fires in the capital city of America are not few and far between, but the town had not for some time past enjoyed such a blaze as that afforded by the palatial premises of the above company. No sooner had the citizens generally devoured the six lines of brevier and two columns of cross heading describing the event when the evening papers came out with the climax. And this is what the Evening Sun had to say on the matter:—

LAST NIGHT'S BIG, BAD BLAZE
THE END OF A NEW MILLIONAIRE'S SHORT BUT BRILLIANT CAREER
MANNERS THE MAGNIFICENT PERISHES IN THE FLAMES

He slept on the premises last night, because of anonymous letters threatening to destroy the block, which, by the way, was heavily insured. Manners laughed at the letters, and promised the incendiaries a warm reception. But got one himself. Caretakers are unanimous on this point. Still, the body has not been found. Nor, under the circumstances, is it likely to be. Full details.

We regret to say that Mr. Manners was on the burnt-out premises last night, and that he perished in the flames. No blame is attached to anyone, nor do the police credit the suggestion that the fire was inspired. As to the rest, nothing can be known till Manners' representatives in England have been communicated with. The absence of anybody to bury will be regretted in Wall Street; otherwise the financial gang would assuredly attend the funeral.

Gryde read the above on the deck of the Campagnia, then creeping out of dock. Under the circumstances, he had deemed it better to disappear in that way. He had become so great a man that an ordinary exit was impossible. Gryde mused over the matter as he tranquilly smoked a cigar.

"Upon my word," he muttered, "it is remarkably easy to be a millionaire if one only goes about it the proper way. And people are so easily gulled that my life is getting quite monotonous. I've a great mind to retire from the business altogether, and when I have finished off the other little schemes, I will."


'I'VE A GREAT MIND TO RETIRE'


THE END

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