THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
A SYMPATHY with the business spirit, and a deep comprehension of the underlying laws of real finance, are to be acquired in no better way, as I believe, than by flying kites. I refer, not to the modern Hargreave cellular aeroplane, but to the old-fashioned three-stick kite of our boyhood days. The boy who flew those kites, and made them fly, is the man who manages a business, and makes it go.
I appreciate the fact that the occupation of flying kites has been minimized. I might almost say that it has not been taken seriously. But I am not one of those who seek in custom or conventionality the indorsement of a profound truth. All the great truths have come to the world, violating custom and shocking conventionalities; it is the same in respect to this Gospel of the Kite.
To those who have never flown a kite this message will come in vain; unless, perchance, their faith be great, and they may be led to investigate. But to the small and select class who have had a kite “ up,” and have “ held ” it, I address myself, with no doubt as to the sympathy I shall meet. We belong to the same fraternity. We can exchange the grip. We know the answer to the secret challenge; to the others we can only say, Flying kites is business, and business is flying kites.
The young man starts his business; the boy starts his kite. Suppose yourself that boy. What are you going to do ?
You must look around and discover what materials are at hand. Have you sticks ? and paste ? and the proper kind of paper ? What is your plan ? What your idea ? Shall it be large, or small; simple, or ornate; humble, or ambitious; ordinary, or eccentric; built for thread, or string; built to pull, or to soar ? Ah! there are many things. Much depends on circumstances. Perhaps we have the thread, and have not string. We may have a penny for a sheet of red tissue-paper; or possibly we must do with the heavier texture of the print-covered organ which supplies the house with news. It may be that two sky-rocket sticks, gathered on the morning following “ the Fourth,” are the basis for the contemplated operations, and the other parts must adjust themselves to their weight and length. For it is not easy always to get sticks. And even the matter of the brad which is to fasten the three together must be taken into reckoning. It is a problem of adjustment; of fitting circumstances to ideals; of making what we have conform to what we wish to do; of evolving from the little things which have come within the narrow range of a circumscribed existence, the best type of that which is to carry our ideas toward the clouds.
It is a noble calling, to create; and if the object of the creative energies be a kite, it is a fascinating one. For a kite is like a living thing. It has a personality — a character. No two are alike. Some are steady, others flighty; some ambitious, others lethargic; some reliable, others full of tricks. One will fly before the wind and look you squarely in the eye; another sidles off to the left or right, watching for a chance to get you into trouble. One rises strong and resolute, and goes by the shortest path to his proper spot; another wavers undecidedly and must be coaxed. One pulls steadily on the string; another yanks and jerks, or keeps you alternately hauling in the slack or letting out to relieve the too-great strain. Some kites are confirmed runaways, and will fight you every minute for the weak spot in the string; others are mere molly-coddles without vim enough to keep the string up off the ground. Some are nervous, looking for a chance to dive; others could not be induced to dive if robbed of half their tails. One kite will wiggle like a tadpole; another is as steady as a star. There is the climbing kite, that is trying always to reach a place directly overhead, and as often dropping back, with loss of wind and pull. And there is the kite which will not climb enough. Faithful, tricky, sturdy, weak; nervous, strong, foolish, flighty, wise, — kites are of as many kinds as there are kinds of people. And when we cross the sticks and paste the paper, we have no notion what the character will be. We only know that a new kite-personality is born, and that it will be unlike all the thousands that have gone before.
The kite now is made. Where shall we put it up? Again a problem of adjustment. Again the need for that wise discretion which must take account of many things. Which way lies the wind ? How strong does it blow ? What says the column of smoke from the brewery ? Does it bend and dip from the stack’s mouth, or does it sail off in uncertain curves? Will it be safe to try it in the street, or shall we have to journey to the vacant lot? It would be fine if we could get “ her ” up near the house, and then hold “ her ” from the porch. The vacant lot is distant, and is liable to occasional raids by predatory “ micks,” who ” run down " and smash kites. But, on the other hand, the street is filled with obstacles. Monopolistic interests have usurped the land for houses, and have strung wires for telegraphic purposes where there ought to be a free way for the string. Heedless vehicles trespass on the road. Shade-trees lay their traps, and roofs yawn for kites struggling to get free from earth. It will take a kite of steady nerve to rise clear in such environment. Is it best to take the chance, or shall we leave the closed-in places and take our enterprise to the newer and the wider region ?
Room to run; that is an essential that the boy who knows his business never fails to keep in mind. When a kite is up — if it is any kind of a kite worth having — it will not be necessary to run with it. But in giving the kite its start — no matter how good a kite — it will almost always be necessary to do a little running. Some artificial stress must be added to the pressure of the wind, and the only way to secure this is by dragging the kite against it. A fair start for any kite means that it must rise enough to enter that steady stream of air which flows like a great unseen river a few rods above the housetops. Once in that stream, there is permanence. There is room. Up in that river is a great reservoir of energy. The kite is “ up,” and all we have to do is to “ hold it.”
“ Does she pull ? ” — “ Sure.” The boy with his hand upon the kite-string, the engineer with his hand upon the throttle, the pilot touching the spokes of the big steamer’s wheel, the manager feeling daily the pulse of the retail trade, the factory proprietor speeding up his mill to the point of requisite production, the banker sensing out the money market, the master of finance floating kites in winds of other people’s money — all ask the question: Does she pull ? Is she holding steady now ? What means this lull ? Is this an ebbing tide ? Shall we have to wind her in ? Does this forecast a change ? Is the tension dangerous ? Are we preparing for a “ break loose ” ? Or will she hold? Shall we let her out? Will that dive take her down ? And if she breaks, where will she land ? What chance to save a section of the string; or, possibly, the sticks ?
Everything depends upon the pull. A sensitive finger on the string feels the conditions at the kite. For this reason a kite must be “ held.” A man who would “ tie ” a kite, would go away and leave a business to a man not sharing in the profits.
But it is a pleasure, not a task, to hold a kite, — and for all the reasons hinted at above; added to which is the fact that by skillful management “ she ” may be sent up higher; she may, indeed, become the highest in the field; and the boy who holds her finds himself the object of an admiring and an envious group of pilgrims who have come to see. She is his. Yes, he made her. Yes, she flies that way always. The momentary thrill and the triumph of the victor!
Is it the coins and notes that keep the man of business at his business, from early morn till tired night, from week to week, from year to year, from youth to age? No. It is because he is still flying kites.