Vanity Fair, February 1916
THE NEW DISEASE—DEMENTIA WARSTOCKS
Some Account of Its Pathological Symptoms and Physical Evidences
By J. Plum, M.D., LL.D.
I HAPPENED to meet my friend, Roscoe van Sprunt, in the club the other afternoon, and the conversation turned to war-stocks. It always does nowadays. As it turned in that direction van Sprunt seemed to me to wince a little.
“Have you realized,” he said, “a curious by-product of this war? It may have occurred at other periods in the history of humanity, but my researches have not acquainted me with it. I allude to the fact that the war has created a new type of bore, or—perhaps I had better say—has made for the first time one type of bore universal.”
“I don’t think I quite follow you.”
“Let me illustrate my meaning, Bertie.”
BERTIE BILLING had just entered the room. He was looking hurried and mysterious, as if he had looked in on his way to some important rendezvous. He came over to where we were sitting.
“I can’t stop,” he said. “I’m in a hurry. Just off to phone my brokers.” He lowered his voice. “Buy Jerusalem Iron! It’s a cinch. It’s going up three hundred points. I’ve just heard that the Kaiser has placed a secret order for a million Iron Crosses.”
He bustled away, and almost simultaneously Rollo Brattle, an old class-mate of van Sprunt’s, bustled in. He sighted Roscoe.
“I haven’t a minute,” he whispered. “Just looked in to tell you to sell Jerusalem Iron short, and buy all you can get of American Forests. The Kaiser’s going to stop giving his troops iron crosses and economize by rewarding them with wooden oblongs. In six months every tree in the country will have been cut down to meet the demand. See you later. I’m just off to phone my brokers.”
Van Sprunt sighed.
“You see now what I mean. You know Bertie and Rollo as well as I do. You know what they were like before the war started—pleasant, companionable fellows, full of interesting conversation and able to discuss life in its thousand varied aspects. And now look at them! You remember what a fund of anecdotes Bertie used to have? Whenever he tells a story now, it’s about some friend of a friend of a friend who bought Bethlehem Steel at twenty-nine. You recollect how well-informed Rollo always was? The other day I mentioned Rabinadrath Tagore. His reply was that he was sure it wasn’t listed on the Stock Exchange. There was a time when I could court the society of those two unhappy men, but now I avoid them unless I see that they are in such a hurry that they won’t stay long. It would have done Dante good to dine with either of them; it would have given a new angle on the Inferno. I did once or twice, and it nearly killed me. I had to sit there dumbly while they raved on about what was going up and what was going down. Life for those two was not a gorgeous pageant of wonderful and stimulating events and ideas; it was simply one welter of goings-up and goings-down. For the first time I appreciated what must be the feelings of an introspective elevator-attendant.
“AND it isn’t only Rollo and Bertie. It’s everybody,—every biped in the whole darned community. You were just starting it yourself when I collared the conversation. You were on the verge of telling me that something was going up, weren’t you?”
I muttered a little guiltily that I had had some idea of asking him if he had heard about an expected rise in Aerial Torpedoes.
“Exactly. Yet there was a time when you and I used to have absorbing discussions on topics ranging from the newest cocktail to the mysticism of Ella Wheeler Wilcox. It’s the same wherever you go. I looked in on a Bishop who is a relative of mine the other day, to chat about some new ideas I had got about the immortality of the soul and the prospect of life after the grave. All he would say, after a long silence, was “We must have faith, Roscoe, we must have faith. Nothing is certain. Even Bethlehem Steel may slump. We can but have faith, such faith as I have in the future of Sudbury Motors.”
“ ‘We must act,’ I said, ‘so that at all times we may be prepared to meet the Maker.’ ‘I met him last Friday,’ replied my relative simply. ‘He told me in confidence that Sudburies would go to six hundred.’ ”
EVEN women! Yet why do I say “even women”? Women are the worst of all. They seem to have lost entirely that outlook on life which gave them their charm. I went to a dance the night before last and met for the first time in several years a girl to whom I was once practically engaged. We sat out in the conservatory, and it happened that the band started the old “Blue Danube.” I was thrilled. You see, it was to the strains of that waltz that we had lived in days gone by through some of our most impassioned moments. “Hark, Genevieve,” I said softly. “Do you hear what they are playing? Does it not bring back the past?” Her face was vaguely sad, and there was a far-off, dreamy look in her eyes. Suddenly she turned to me. “Tell me honestly, Roscoe, what effect will it have on Syracuse Picric if Rumania persists in barring the Danube to Austrian battleships.”
AND children. I have two small nephews, aged eleven and ten. I paid one of my periodical visits to them not long ago with the idea of asking if they would like to come to a matinee of “Treasure Island.” Just as I reached the door of their room, sounds of violent strife came through the door. I was just going in to see what was the matter, when Rogers, the butler, an old and trusted servant who knew me when I was a boy, stopped me. “I shouldn’t, Mr. Roscoe, I really shouldn’t.”
I stared at the old man. “But they’re fighting!” Rogers sighed. “They’ve been at it since Tuesday last, Mr. Roscoe. Off and on they’ve been at it the whole time. Master Twombley has taken umbrage at a somewhat ill-considered act of Master Stuyvesant’s and declares he’ll get even if it takes the whole winter. Only Time, the Great Healer, can, I fear, effect a reconciliation.” And he sighed again, for he is deeply attached to the family.
“BUT what on earth is the trouble?” I asked. “It was like this, Mr. Roscoe,” said the old man, gently leading me away. “Master Twombley pooled his pocket-money with Master Stuyvesant and they bought a block of Hoboken Motor-boat on margin. The stock stood at fifty-three then, and when it rose to a hundred Master Stuyvesant, who, as you know, is of a cautious disposition, instructed their joint broker to sell—without consulting Master Twombley. The stock has been rising ever since, and it has been around seven hundred for over a week, and Master Twombley’s chagrin has been uncontrolable. He forgives his brother daily at nine-fifteen, his hour for retiring to bed,—in case he should die in the night, but resumes hostilities every morning punctually at seven-forty-five when he rises.” I gripped the old man by the hand, and stole silently away.
But now I have a new system—a little system of my own. Every night I write my broker to buy me a thousand shares of Bethlehem Steel and then I write him another letter ordering him to sell a thousand shares. But I don’t mail the letters.