Conrad Lyte was a real-estate speculator
. He was a nervous speculator. Before he gambled he consulted bankers
, contracting builders,
and all of their clerks and stenographers
who were willing to be cornered and give him advice. He was a bold entrepreneur
, and he desired nothing more than complete safety in his investments, freedom from attention to details, and the thirty or forty per cent. profit which, according to all authorities, a pioneer deserves for his risks and foresight. He was a stubby man with a
cap-like mass of short gray curls and clothes which, no matter how well cut, seemed shaggy. Below his eyes were semicircular hollows, as though silver dollar
s had been pressed against them and had left an imprint.
Particularly and always Lyte consulted Babbitt, and trusted in his slow cautiousness.
Six months ago Babbitt had learned that one Archibald Purdy, a grocer
in the indecisive residential district known as Linton, was talking of opening a butcher shop
beside his grocery
. Looking up the ownership of adjoining parcels of land, Babbitt found that Purdy owned his present shop but did not own the one available lot adjoining. He advised Conrad Lyte to purchase this lot, for
eleven thousand dollars, though an appraisal on a basis of rents did not indicate its value as above nine thousand. The rents, declared Babbitt, were too low; and by waiting they could make Purdy come to their price. (This was
Vision.) He had to bully Lyte into buying. His first act as agent for Lyte was to increase the rent of the battered store-building on the lot. The tenant
said a number of rude things, but he paid.
Now, Purdy seemed ready to buy, and his delay was going to cost him ten thousand extra dollars--the reward paid by the community to Mr. Conrad Lyte for the virtue of employing a broker who had Vision and who understood Talking Points, Strategic Values, Key Situations, Underappraisals, and the Psychology
Lyte came to the conference exultantly
. He was fond of Babbitt, this morning, and called him "old hoss
." Purdy, the grocer, a long-nosed man and solemn, seemed to care less for Babbitt and for Vision, but Babbitt met him at the
street door of the office and guided him toward the private room with affectionate little cries of "This way, Brother Purdy!" He took from the correspondence-file the entire box of cigars
and forced them on his guests. He pushed their chairs two inches forward and three inches back, which gave an hospitable note, then leaned back in his desk-chair and looked plump
. But he spoke to the weakling grocer with firmness.
"Well, Brother Purdy, we been having some pretty tempting offers from butchers and a slew of other folks for that lot next to your store, but I persuaded Brother Lyte that we ought to give you a shot at the property first. I said
to Lyte, 'It'd be a rotten shame,' I said, 'if somebody went and opened a combination grocery and meat market
right next door and ruined Purdy's nice little business.' Especially--" Babbitt leaned forward, and his voice was
harsh, "--it would be hard luck if one of these cash-and-carry
chain-stores got in there and started cutting prices below cost till they got rid of competition and forced you to the wall!"
Purdy snatched his thin hands from his pockets, pulled up his trousers, thrust his hands back into his pockets, tilted in the heavy oak chair, and tried to
look amused, as he struggled:
"Yes, they're bad competition. But I guess you don't realize the Pulling Power that Personality has in a neighborhood business."
The great Babbitt smiled. "That's so. Just as you feel, old man. We thought we'd give you first chance. All right then--"
"Now look here!" Purdy wailed. "I know f'r a fact that a piece of property 'bout same size, right near, sold for less 'n eighty-five hundred, 'twa'n't two years ago, and here you fellows are asking me twenty-four thousand
dollars! Why, I'd have to mortgage
--I wouldn't mind so much paying twelve thousand but--Why good God, Mr. Babbitt, you're asking more 'n twice its value! And threatening to ruin me if I don't take it!"
"Purdy, I don't like your way of talking! I don't like it one little bit! Supposing Lyte and I were stinking enough to want to ruin any fellow human
, don't you suppose we know it's to our own selfish interest to have everybody
in Zenith prosperous? But all this is beside the point. Tell you what we'll do: We'll come down to twenty-three thousand-five thousand down and the rest on mortgage--and if you want to wreck the old shack and rebuild, I guess I can get Lyte here to loosen up for a building-mortgage on good liberal terms. Heavens, man, we'd be glad to oblige you! We don't like these foreign grocery trusts any better 'n you do! But it isn't reasonable to expect us to sacrifice eleven thousand or more just for neighborliness, IS it! How about it, Lyte? You willing to come down?"
The work of the world was being done. Lyte had made something over nine thousand dollars, Babbitt had made a four-hundred-and-fifty dollar commission, Purdy had, by the sensitive mechanism of modern finance
, been provided with a business-building, and soon the happy inhabitants of Linton would have meat lavished upon them at prices only a little higher than those down-town.
It had been a manly battle, but after it Babbitt drooped. This was the only really amusing contest he had been planning. There was nothing ahead save details of leases, appraisals, mortgages.
He muttered, "Makes me sick to think of Lyte carrying off most of the profit when I did all the work, the old skinflint
! And--What else have I got to do
to-day? . . Like to take a good long vacation
. Motor trip. Something." He sprang up, rekindled by the thought of lunching with Paul Riesling.
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