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[Illustration: “I saw there something missing from her great blue eyes. I looked; gasped”]
Friday, the Thirteenth
A Novel by
Thomas W. Lawson
Frontispiece in colour by Sigismond de Ivanowski
Copyright, 1906, 1907.
Published, February, 1907
I Dedicate This Book
All That Is Good In This Little Waif, Which Is Very Dear To Me, I Know A Just God Will Place To Her Credit. All That Is Mean And Low And Human Could Never Have Been Birthed
Had She Been Nigh To Guide An
Ever Wayward Pen.
_The Nest, Dreamwold,
Friday, the Thirteenth
“Friday, the 13th; I thought as much. If Bob has started, there will be hell, but I will see what I can do.”
The sound of my voice, as I dropped the receiver, seemed to part the mists of five years and usher me into the world of Then as though it had never passed on.
I had been sitting in my office, letting the tape slide through my fingers while its every yard spelled “panic” in a constantly rising voice, when they told me that Brownley on the floor of the Exchange wanted me at the ‘phone, and “quick.” Brownley was our junior partner and floor man. He talked with a rush. Stock Exchange floor men in panics never let their speech hobble.
“Mr. Randolph, it’s sizzling over here, and it’s getting hotter every second. It’s Bob–that is evident to all. If he keeps up this pace for twenty minutes longer, the sulphur will overflow ‘the Street’ and get into the banks and into the country, and no man can tell how much territory will be burned over by to-morrow. The boys have begged me to ask you to throw yourself into the breach and stay him. They agree you are the only hope now.”
“Are you sure, Fred, that this is Bob’s work?” I asked. “Have you seen him?”
“Yes, I have just come from his office, and glad I was to get out. He’s on the war-path, Mr. Randolph–uglier than I ever saw him. The last time he broke loose was child’s play to his mood to-day. Mother sent me word this morning that she saw last night the spell was coming. He had been up to see her and sisters, and mother thought from his tone he was about to disappear again. When she told me of his mood, and I remembered the day, I was afraid he might seek his vent here. Also I heard of his being about town till long after midnight. The minute I opened his office door this morning he flew at me like a panther. I told him I had only dropped in on my rounds for an order, as they were running off right smart, and I didn’t know but he might like to pick up some bargains. ‘Bargains!’ he roared, ‘don’t you know the day? Don’t you know it is Friday, the 13th? Go back to that hell-pit and sell, sell, sell.’ ‘Sell what and how much?’ I asked. ‘Anything, everything. Give the thieves every share they will take, and when they won’t take any more, ram as much again down their crops until they spit up all they have been buying for the last three months!’ Going out I met Jim Holliday and Frank Swan rushing in. They are evidently executing Bob’s orders, and have been pouring Anti-People’s out for an hour. They will be on the floor again in a few minutes, so I thought it safer to call you before I started to sell. Mr. Randolph, they cannot take much more of anything in here, and if I begin to throw stocks over, it will bring the gavel inside of ten minutes; and that will be to announce a dozen failures. It’s yet twenty minutes to one and God only knows what will happen before three. It’s up to you, Mr. Randolph, to do something, and unless I am on a bad slant, you haven’t many minutes to lose.”
It was then I dropped the receiver with “I thought as much!” As I had been fingering the tape, watching five and ten millions crumbling from price values every few minutes, I was sure this was the work of Bob Brownley. No one else in Wall Street had the power, the nerve, and the devilish cruelty to rip things as they had been ripped during the last twenty minutes. The night before I had passed Bob in the theatre lobby. I gave him close scrutiny and saw the look of which I of all men best knew the meaning. The big brown eyes were set on space; the outer corners of the handsome mouth were drawn hard and tense as though weighted. As I had my wife with me it was impossible to follow him, but when I got home I called up his house and his clubs, intending to ask, him to run up and smoke a cigar with me, but could locate him nowhere. I tried again in the morning without success, but when just before noon the tape began to jump and flash and snarl, I remembered Bob’s ugly mood, and all it portended.
Fred Brownley was Bob’s youngest brother, twelve years his junior. He had been with Randolph & Randolph from the day he left college, and for over a year had been our most trusted Stock Exchange man. Bob Brownley, when himself, was as fond of his “baby brother,” as he called him, as his beautiful Southern mother was of both; but when the devil had possession of Bob–and his option during the past five years had been exercised many a time–mother and brother had to take their place with all the rest of the world, for then Bob knew no kindred, no friends. All the wide world was to him during those periods a jungle peopled with savage animals and reptiles to hunt and fight and tear and kill.
It is hardly necessary for me to explain who Randolph & Randolph are. For more than sixty years the name has spoken for itself in every part of the world where dollar-making machines are installed. No railroad is financed, no great “industrial” projected, without by force of habit, hat-in-handing a by-your-leave of Randolph & Randolph, and every nation when entering the market for loans, knows that the favour of the foremost American bankers is something which must be reckoned with. I pride myself that at forty-two, at the end of the ten years I have had the helm of Randolph & Randolph, I have done nothing to mar the great name my father and uncle created, but something to add to its sterling reputation for honest dealing, fearless, old-fashioned methods, and all-round integrity. Bradstreet’s and other mercantile agencies say, in reporting Randolph & Randolph, “Worth fifty millions and upward, credit unlimited.” I can take but small praise for this, for the report was about the same the day I left college and came to the office to “learn the business.” But, as the survivor of my great father and uncle, I can say, my Maker as my witness, that Randolph & Randolph have never loaned a dollar of their millions at over legal rates, 6 per cent, per annum; have never added to their hoard by any but fair, square business methods; and that blight of blights, frenzied finance, has yet to find a lodging-place beneath the old black-and-gold sign that father and uncle nailed up with their own hands over the entrance.
Nineteen years ago I was graduated from Harvard. My classmate and chum, Bob Brownley, of Richmond, Va., was graduated with me. He was class poet, I, yard marshal. We had been four years together at St. Paul’s previous to entering Harvard. No girl and lover were fonder than we of each other.
My people had money, and to spare, and with it a hard-headed, Northern horse-sense. The Brownleys were poor as church mice, but they had the brilliant, virile blood of the old Southern oligarchy and the romantic, “salaam-to-no-one” Dixie-land pride of before-the-war days, when Southern prodigality and hospitality were found wherever women were fair and men’s mirrors in the bottom of their julep-glasses.
Bob’s father, one of the big, white pillars of Southern aristocracy, had gone through Congress and the Senate of his country to the tune of “Spend and not spare,” which left his widow and three younger daughters and a small son dependent upon Bob, his eldest.
Many a warm summer’s afternoon, as Bob and I paddled down the Charles, and often on a cold, crispy night as we sat in my shooting-box on the Cape Cod shore, had we matched up for our future. I was to have the inside run of the great banking business of Randolph & Randolph, and Bob was eventually to represent my father’s firm on the floor of the Stock Exchange. “I’d die in an office,” Bob used to say, “and the floor of the Stock Exchange is just the chimney-place to roast my hoe-cake in.” So when our college days were over my able had saddled Bob’s youth with the heavy responsibilities of husbanding and directing his family’s slim finances that he took to business as a swallow to the air. We entered the office of Randolph & Randolph on the same day, and on its anniversary, a year later, my father summoned us into his office for a sort of tally-up talk. Neither of us quite knew what was coming, and we thrilled with pleasure when he said:
“Jim, you and Bob have fairly outdone my expectations. I have had my eye on both of you and I want you to know that the kind of industry and business intelligence you have shown here would have won you recognition in any banking-house on ‘the Street.’ I want you both in the firm–Jim to learn his way round so he can step into my shoes; you, Bob, to take one of the firm’s seats on the Stock Exchange.”
Bob’s face went red and then pale with happiness as he reached for my father’s hand.
“I’m very grateful to you sir, far more so than any words can say, but I want to talk this proposition of yours over with Jim here first. He knows me better than any one else in the world and I’ve some ideas I’d like to thrash out with him.”
“Speak up here, Bob,” said my father.
“Well, sir, I should feel much better if I could go over there into the swirl and smash it out for myself. You see if I could win out alone and pay back the seat price, and then make a pile for myself, if you felt later like giving me another chance to come into the firm, then I should not be laying myself open to the charge of being a mere pensioner on your friendship. You know what I mean, sir, and won’t think I am filled with any low-down pride, but if you will let me have the price of a Stock Exchange seat on my note, and will give me the chance, when I get the hang of the ropes, to handle some of the firm’s orders, I shall be just as much beholden to you and Jim, sir, and shall feel a lot better myself.”
I knew what Bob meant; so did father, and we were glad enough to do what he asked, father insisting on making the seat price in the form of a present, after explaining to us that a foundation Stock Exchange rule prohibited an applicant from borrowing the seat price. Four years after Bob Brownley entered the Stock Exchange he had paid back the forty thousand, with interest, and not only had a snug fifty thousand to his credit on Randolph & Randolph’s books, but was sending home six thousand a year while living up to, as he jokingly put it, “an honest man’s notch.” I may say in passing, that a Wall Street man’s notch would make twice six thousand yearly earnings cast an uncertain shadow at Christmas time. Bob was the favourite of the Exchange, as he had been the pet at school and at college, and had his hands full of business three hundred days in the year. Besides Randolph & Randolph’s choicest commissions, he had the confidential orders of two of the heavy plunging cliques.
I had just passed my thirty-second birthday when my kind old dad suddenly died. For the previous six years I had been getting ready for such an event; that is, I had grown accustomed to hearing my father say: “Jim, don’t let any grass grow in getting the hang of every branch of our business, so that when anything happens to me there will be no disturbance in ‘the Street’ in regard to Randolph & Randolph’s affairs. I want to let the world know as soon as possible that after I am gone our business will run as it always has. So I will work you into my directorships in those companies where we have interests and gradually put you into my different trusteeships.”
Thus at father’s death there was not a ripple in our affairs and none of the stocks known as “The Randolph’s” fluttered a point because of that, to the financial world, momentous event. I inherited all of father’s fortune other than four millions, which he divided up among relatives and charities, and took command of a business that gave me an income of two millions and a half a year.
Once more I begged Bob to come into the firm.
“Not yet, Jim,” he replied. “I’ve got my seat and about a hundred thousand capital, and I want to feel that I’m free to kick my heels until I have raked together an even million all of my own making; then I’ll settle down with you, old man, and hold my handle of the plough, and if some good girl happens along about that time–well, then it will be ‘An ivy-covered little cot’ for mine.”
He laughed, and I laughed too. Bob was looked upon by all his friends as a bad case of woman-shy. No woman, young or old, who had in any way crossed Bob’s orbit but had felt that fascination, delicious to all women, in the presence of:
A soul by honour schooled,
A heart by passion ruled–
but he never seemed to see it. As my wife–for I had been three years married and had two little Randolphs to show that both Katherine Blair and I knew what marriage was for–never tired of saying, “Poor Bob! He’s woman-blind, and it looks as though he would never get his sight in that direction.”
“Then again, Jim,” he continued in a tone of great seriousness, “there’s a little secret I have never let even you into. The truth is I am not safe yet–not safe to speak for the old house of Randolph & Randolph. Yes, you may laugh–you who are, and always have been, as staunch and steady as the old bronze John Harvard in the yard, you who know Monday mornings just what you are going to do Saturday nights and all the days and nights in between, and who always do it. Jim, I have found since I have been over on the floor that the Southern gambling blood that made my grandfather, on one of his trips back from New York, though he had more land and slaves than he could use, stake his land and slaves–yes, and grandmother’s too–on a card-game, and–lose, and change the whole face of the Brownley destiny–those same gambling microbes are in my blood, and when they begin to claw and gnaw I want to do something; and, Jim”–and the big brown eyes suddenly shot sparks–“if those microbes ever get unleashed, there’ll be mischief to pay on the floor–sure there will!”
Bob’s handsome head was thrown back; his thin nostrils dilated as though there was in them the breath of conflict. The lips were drawn across the white teeth with just part enough to show their edges, and in the depths of the eyes was a dark-red blaze that somehow gave the impression one gets in looking down some long avenue of black at the instant a locomotive headlight rounds a curve at night.
Twice before, way back in our college days, I had had a peep at this gambling tempter of Bob’s. Once in a poker game in our rooms, when a crowd of New York classmates tried to run him out of a hand by the sheer weight of coin. And again at the Pequot House at New London on the eve of a varsity boat-race, when a Yale crowd shook a big wad of money and taunts at Bob until with a yell he left his usually well-leaded feet and frightened me, whose allowance was dollars to Bob’s cents, at the sum total of the bet-cards he signed before he cleared the room of Yale money and came to with a white face streaming with cold perspiration. These events had passed out of my memory as the ordinary student breaks that any hot-blooded youth is liable to make in like circumstances. As I looked at Bob that day, while he tried to tell me that the business of Randolph & Randolph would not be safe in his keeping, I had to admit to myself that I was puzzled. I had regarded my old college chum not only as the best mentally harnessed man I had ever met, but I knew him as the soul of honour, that honour of the old story-books, and I could not credit his being tempted to jeopardise unfairly the rights or property of another. But it was habit with me to let Bob have his way, and I did not press him to come into our firm as a full partner.
Five years later, during which time affairs, business and social, had been slipping along as well as either Bob or I could have asked, I was preparing for another sit-down to show my chum that the time had now come for him to help me in earnest, when a queer thing happened–one of those unaccountable incidents that God sometimes sees fit to drop across the life-paths of His children, paths heretofore as straight and far-ahead-visible as highways along which one has never to look twice to see where he is travelling; one of those events that, looked at retrospectively, are beyond all human understanding.
It was a beautiful July Saturday noon and Bob and I had just “packed up” for the day preparatory to joining Mrs. Randolph on my yacht for a run down to our place at Newport. As we stepped out of his office one of the clerks announced that a lady had come in and had particularly asked to see Mr. Brownley.
“Who the deuce can she be, coming in at this time on Saturday, just when all alive men are in a rush to shake the heat and dirt of business for food and the good air of all outdoors?” growled Bob. Then he said, “Show her in.”
Another minute and he had his answer.
A lady entered.
“Mr. Brownley?” She waited an instant to make sure he was the Virginian.
“I am Beulah Sands, of Sands Landing, Virginia. Your people know our people, Mr. Brownley, probably well enough for you to place me.”
“Of the Judge Lee Sands’s?” asked Bob, as he held out his hand.
“I am Judge Lee Sands’s oldest daughter,” said the sweetest voice I had ever heard, one of those mellow, rippling voices that start the imagination on a chase for a mocking-bird, only to bring it up at the pool beneath the brook-fall in quest of the harp of moss and watercresses that sends a bubbling cadence into its eddies and swirls. Perhaps it was the Southern accent that nibbled off the corners and edges of certain words and languidly let others mist themselves together, that gave it its luscious penetration–however that may be, it was the most no-yesterday-no-tomorrow voice I had ever heard. Before I grew fully conscious of the exquisite beauty of the girl, this voice of hers spelled its way into my brain like the breath of some bewitching Oriental essence. Nature, environment, the security of a perfect marriage have ever combined to constitute me loyal to my chosen one, yet as I stood silent, like one dumb, absorbing the details of the loveliness of this young stranger who had so suddenly swept into my office, it came over me that here was a woman intended to enlighten men who could not understand that shaft which in all ages has without warning pierced men’s hearts and souls–love at first sight. Had there not been Katherine Blair, wife and mother–Katherine Blair Randolph, who filled my love-world as the noonday August sun fills the old-fashioned well with nestling warmth and restful shade–after this interval, looking back at the past, I dare ask the question–who knows but that I too might have drifted from the secure anchorage of my slow Yankee blood and floated into the deep waters?
Beauty, the cynic’s scoff, is in the eye of the beholder, or in an angle of vision–mere product of lime-light, point of view, desire–but Beulah Sands’s was beauty beyond cavil, superior to all analysis, as definite as the evening star against the twilight sky. In height medium, girlish, but with a figure maturely modelled, charmingly full and rounded, yet by very perfection of proportion escaping suggestion of “plumpness.” The head, surrounded and crowned with a wealth of dark golden hair, rested on a neck that would have seemed short had its slender column sprung less graciously from the lovely lines of the breast and shoulders beneath. It was on the face, however, and finally on the eyes that one’s glances inevitably lingered–the face rose-tinted, with dimples in either of the full cheeks, entering laughing protest against the sad droop that brought slightly down the corners of a mouth too large perhaps for beauty, if the coral curve of the lips had been less exquisitely perfect. The straight, thin-nostriled nose, the broad forehead, the square, full jaw almost as low at the points where they come beneath the ears as at the chin, suggested dignity and high resolve coupled with a power of purpose, rare in woman. The combination of forehead, jaw, and nose was seldom seen. Had it been possessed by a man it would surely have driven him to the tented field for his profession. But the greatest glory of Beulah Sands was her eyes–large, full, very gray, very blue, vivid with all the glamour of her personality, full of smiles and tears and spirituality and passion; one instant, frankly innocent, they illuminated the face of a blonde Madonna; the next, seen through the extraordinary, long, jet-black eye-lashes underneath the finely pencilled black brows, they caressed, coquetted, allured. I afterward found much of this girl’s purely physical fascination lay in this strange blending of English fairness with Andalusian tints, though the abiding quality of her charm was surely in an exaltation of spirit of which she might make the dullest conscious. As she stood looking at Bob in my office that long-ago noon, gracefully at ease in a suit of gray, with a gray-feathered turban on her head, and tiny lace bands at neck and wrist, she was very exquisite, exceedingly dainty, and, though Southerner of Southerners, very unlike the typical brunette girl who comes out of Dixie land.
This girl who came into our office that July Saturday, just in time to interfere with the outing Bob Brownley and I had laid out, and who was destined to divert my chum’s heretofore smooth-flowing river of existence and turn it into an alternation of roaring rushes and deadly calms, was truly the most exquisite creature one could conceive of, I know my thought must have been Bob’s too, for his eyes were riveted on her face. She dropped the black lashes like a veil as she went on:
“Mr. Brownley, I have just come from Sands Landing. I am very anxious to talk with you on a business matter. I have brought a letter to you from my father. If you have other engagements I can wait until Monday, although,” and the black veiling lashes lifted, showing the half-laughing, half-pathetic eyes, “I wanted much to lay my business before you at the earliest minute possible.”
There was a faint touch of appeal in the charming voice as she spoke that was irresistible, and we were both willing to forget we had lunch waiting us on the _Tribesman_.
“Step into my office, Miss Sands, and all my time is yours,” said Bob, as he opened the door between his office and mine. After I had sent a note to my wife, saying we might be delayed for an hour or two, I settled down to wait for Bob in the general office, and it was a long wait. Thirty minutes went into an hour and an hour into two before Bob and Miss Sands came out. After he had put her in a cab for her hotel, he said in a tone curiously intent: “Jim, I have got to talk with you, got to get some of your good advice. Suppose we hustle along to the yacht and after lunch you tell Kate we have some business to go over. I don’t want to keep that girl waiting any longer than possible for an answer I cannot give until I get your ideas.” After lunch, on the bow end of the upper deck Bob relieved himself. Relieved is the word, for from the minute he had put Miss Sands into the carriage until then, it was evident even to my wife that his thoughts were anywhere but upon our outing.
“Jim,” he began in a voice that shook in spite of his efforts to make it sound calm, “there is no disguising the fact that I am mightily worked up about this matter, and I want to do everything possible for this girl. No need of my telling you how sacred we have got to keep what she has just let me into. You’ll see as I go along that it is sacred, and I know you will look at it as I do. Miss Sands must be helped out of her trouble.
“Judge Lee Sands, her father, is the head of the old Sands family of Virginia. The Virginia Sands don’t take off their bonnets to another family in this country, or elsewhere, for that matter, for anything that really counts. They have had brains, learning, money, and fixed position since Virginia was first settled. They are the best people of our State. It is a cross-road saying in Virginia that a Sands of Sands Landing can go to the bench, the United States Senate, the House, or the governor’s chair for the starting, and nearly all of the men folks have held one or all of these honours for generations. The present judge has held them all. I don’t know him personally, although my people and his have been thick from away back. Sands Landing on the James is some fifty miles above our home. The judge, Beulah Sands’s father, is close on to seventy, and I have heard mother and father say is a stalwart, a Virginia stalwart. Being rich–that is, what we Virginians call rich, a million or so–he has been very active in affairs, and I knew before his daughter told me, that he was the trustee for about all the best estates in our part of the country. It seems from what she tells, that of late he has been very active in developing our coal-mines and railroads, and that particularly he took a prominent hand in the Seaboard Air Line. You know the road, for your father was a director, and I think the house has been prominent in its banking affairs. Now, Jim, this poor girl, who, it seems, has recently been acting as the judge’s secretary, has just learned that that coup of Reinhart and his crowd has completely ruined her father. The decline has swamped his own fortune, and, what is worse, a million to a million and a half of his trust funds as well, and the old judge–well, you and I can understand his position. Yet I do not know that you just can, either, for you do not quite understand our Virginia life and the kind of revered position a man like Judge Sands occupies. You would have to know that to understand fully his present purgatory and the terrible position of this daughter, for it seems that since he began to get into deep water he has been relying upon her for courage and ideas. From our talk I gather she has a wonderful store of up-to-date business notions, and I am convinced from what she lays out that the judge’s affairs are hopeless, and, Jim, when that old man goes down it will be a smash that will shake our State in more ways than one.
“Up to now the girl has stood up to the blow like a man and has been able to steady the judge until he presents an exterior that holds down suspicion as to his real financial condition, although she says Reinhart and his Baltimore lawyer, from the ruthless way they put on the screws to shake out his holdings in the Air Line, must have a line on it that the judge is overboard. The old gentleman can keep things going for six months longer without jeopardising any of the remaining trust funds, of which he has some two millions, and while his wife, who is an invalid, knows the judge is in some trouble, she does not suspect his real position. His daughter says that when the blow came, that day of the panic, when Reinhart jammed the stock out of sight and scuttled her father’s bankers and partners in the road, the Wilsons of Baltimore, she had a frightful struggle to keep her father from going insane. She told me that for three days and nights she kept him locked in their rooms at their hotel in Baltimore, to prevent him from hunting Reinhart and his lawyer Rettybone and killing them both, but that at last she got him calmed down and together they have been planning.
“Jim, it was tough to sit there and listen to the schemes to recoup that this old gentleman and this girl, for she is only twenty-one, have tried to hatch up. The tears actually rolled down my cheeks as I listened; I couldn’t help it; you couldn’t either, Jim. But at last out of all the plans considered, they found only one that had a tint of hope in it, and the serious mention of even that one, Jim, in any but present circumstances, would make you think we were dealing with lunatics. But the girl has succeeded in making me think it worth trying. Yes, Jim, she has, and I have told her so, and I hope to God that that hard-headed horse-sense of yours will not make you sit down on it.”
Bob Brownley had got to his feet; he was slipping the shackles of that fiery, romantic, Southern passion that years in college and Wall Street had taught him to keep prisoner. His eyes were flashing sparks. His nostrils vibrated like a deer buck’s in the autumn woods. He faced me with his hands clinched.
“Jim Randolph,” he went on, “as I listened to that girl’s story of the terrible cruelty and devilish treachery practised by the human hyenas you and I associate with, human hyenas who, when in search of dirty dollars–the only thing they know anything about–put to shame the real beasts of the wilds–when I listened, I tell you that I felt it would not give me a twinge of conscience to put a ball through that slick scoundrel Reinhart. Yes, and that hired cur of his, too, who prostitutes a good family name and position, and an inherited ability the Almighty intended for more honest uses than the trapping of victims on whose purses his gutter-born master has set lecherous eyes. And, Jim, as I listened, a troop of old friends invaded my memory–friends whom I have not seen since before I went to Harvard, friends with whom I spent many a happy hour in my old Virginia home, friends born of my imagination, stalwart, rugged crusaders, who carried the sword and the cross and the banner inscribed ‘For Honour and for God.’ Old friends who would troop into my boyhood and trumpet, ‘Bob, don’t forget, when you’re a man, that the goal is honour, and the code: Do unto your neighbour as you would have your neighbour do unto you. Don’t forget that millions is the crest of the groundlings.’ And, Jim, I thought my friends looked at me with reproachful eyes, as they said, ‘You are well on the road, Bob Brownley, and in time your heart and soul will bear the hall-mark of the snaky S on the two upright bars, and you will be but a frenzied fellow in the Dirty Dollar army.’ Jim, Jim Randolph, as I listened to that agonising tale of the changing of that girl’s heaven to hell, I did not see that halo you and I have thought surrounded the sign of Randolph & Randolph. I did not see it, Jim, but I did see myself, and I didn’t feel proud of the picture. My God, Jim, is it possible you and I have joined the nobility of Dirty Dollars? Is it possible we are leaving trails along our life’s path like that Reinhart left through the home of these Virginians, such trails as this girl has shown me?”
Bob had worked himself into a state of frenzy. I had never seen him so excited as when he stood in front of me and almost shouted this fierce self-denunciation.
“For heaven’s sake, Bob, pull yourself together,” I urged. “The captain on the bridge there is staring at you wild-eyed, and Katherine will be up here to see what has happened. Now, be a good fellow, and let us talk this thing over in a sensible way. At the gait you are going we can do nothing to help out your friends. Besides, what is there for you and me to take ourselves to task for? We are no wreckers and none of our dollars is stained with Frenzied Finance. My father, as you know, despised Reinhart and his sort as much as we do. Be yourself. What does this girl want you to do? If it is anything in reason, call it done, for you know there is nothing I won’t do for you at the asking.”
Bob’s hysteria oozed. He dropped on the rail-seat at my side.
“I know it, Jim, I know it, and you must forgive me. The fact, is, Beulah Sands’s story has aroused a lot of thoughts I have been a-sticking down cellar late years, for, to tell the truth, I have some nasty twinges of conscience every now and then when I get to thinking of this dollar game of ours.”
I saw that the impulsive blood was fast cooling, and that it would only be a question of minutes until Bob would be his clearheaded self.
“Now, what is it she wants you to do?” I persisted. “Is it a case of money, of our trying to tide her father over?”
“Nothing of that kind, Jim. You don’t know the proud Virginia blood. Neither that girl nor her father would accept money help from any one. They would go to smash and the grave first.”
He paused and then continued impressively:
“This is how she puts it. She and her father have raked together her different legacies and turned them into cash, a matter of sixty thousand dollars, and she got him to consent to let her come up here to see if during the next six months she might not, in a few desperate plunges in the market, run it up to enough to at least regain the trust funds. Yes, I know it is a wild idea. I told her so at the beginning, but there was no need; she knew it, for she is not only bright, but she has the best idea of business I ever knew a woman to have. But it is their only chance, Jim, and while I listened to her argument I came around to her way of thinking.”
“But how did she happen to come to you with this extraordinary scheme?” I interrupted.
“It’s this way–her father, who knew Randolph & Randolph through your father’s handling of the Seaboard’s affairs, learned of my connection with the house, and gave her a letter, asking me to do what I could to help his daughter carry out her plans. She wants to get a position with us, if possible, in some sort of capacity, secretary, confidential clerk, or, as she puts it, any sort of place that will justify her being in the office. She tells me she is good at shorthand, on the machine, or at correspondence, also that she has been a contributor to the magazines. If this can be arranged, she says she will on her own responsibility select the time and the stock, and hurl the last of the Sands fortune at the market, and, Jim, she is game. The blow seems to have turned this child into a wonderfully nervy creature, and, old man, I am beginning to have a feeling that perhaps the cards may come so she will win the judge out. You and I know where less than sixty thousand has been run up to millions more than once, and that, too, without the aid she will have, for I’ll surely do all I can to help her steer this last chance into spongy places.”
Bob in his enthusiasm had completely lost sight of the fact that he was indorsing a project that but a moment previously he had pronounced insane, and with a start I realised what this sudden transformation betokened. Inevitably, if the project he outlined were carried out, Bob and the beautiful Southern girl would be thrown into close association with each other, and further acquaintance could only deepen the startling influence Beulah Sands had already won over my ordinarily sane and cool-headed comrade. As I looked at my friend, burning with an ardour as unaccustomed as it was impulsive, I felt a tug at my heartstrings at thought of the sudden cross-roading of his life’s highway. But I, too, was filled with the glamour of this girl’s wondrous beauty, and her terrible predicament appealed to me almost as strongly as it had to Bob. So, although I knew it would be fatal to any chance of his weighing the matter by common sense, I burst out:
“Bob, I don’t blame you for falling in with the girl’s plans. If I were in your shoes, I should too.”
Tears came to Bob’s eyes as he grabbed my hand and said:
“Jim, how can I ever repay you for all the good things you have done for me–how can I!”
It was no time to give way to emotional outbursts, and while Bob was getting his grip on himself, I went on:
“Come along down to earth now, Bob; let us look at this thing squarely. You and I, with our position in the market, can do lots of things to help run that sixty thousand to higher figures, but six months is a short time and a million or two a world of money.”
“She knows that,” he said, “and the time is much shorter and the road to go much longer than you figure,” he replied. “This girl is as high-tensioned as the E string on a Stradivarius, and she declares she will have no charity tips or unusual favours from us or any one else. But let us not talk about that now or we’ll get discouraged. Let’s do as she says and trust to God for the outcome. Are you willing, Jim, to take her into the office as a sort of confidential secretary? If you will, I’ll take charge of her account, and together we will do all that two men can for her and her father.”
The following week saw Miss Sands, of Virginia, private secretary to the head of Randolph & Randolph, established in a little office between mine and Bob’s. She had not been there a day before we knew she was a worker. She spent the hours going over reports and analysing financial statements, showing a sagacity extraordinary in so young a person. She explained her knowledge of figures by the hand-work she had done for the judge, all of whose accounts she had kept. Bob and I saw that she was bent on smothering her memory in that antidote for all ills of heart and soul–work. Her office life was simplicity itself. She spoke to no one except Bob, save in connection with such business matters of the firm’s as I might send her by one of the clerks to attend to. To the others in the banking-house she was just an unconventional young literary woman whose high social connections had gained her this opportunity of getting at the secrets of finance, from actual experience, for use in forthcoming novels. It had got abroad that she was the writer of great distinction who, under a _nom de plume_, had recently made quite a dent in the world’s literary shell–a suggestion that I rightly guessed was one of Bob’s delicate ways of smoothing out her path. I had tried in every way to make things easy for her, but it was impossible for me to draw her out in talk, and finally I gave it up. Had it not been that every time I passed her office door I was compelled by the fascination which I had first felt, and which, instead of diminishing, had increased with her reticence, to look in at the quiet figure with the downcast eyes, working away at her desk as though her life depended on never missing a second, I should not have known she was in the building. My wife, at my suggestion, had tried to induce her to visit us; in fact, after I let her into just enough of Beulah Sands’s story so that she could see things on a true slant, she had decided to try to bring her to our house to live. But though the girl was sweetly gentle in her appreciation of Kate’s thoughtful attentions, in her simple way she made us both feel that our efforts would be for naught, that her position must be the same as that of any other clerk in the office. We both finally left her to herself. Bob explained to me, some three weeks after she came to the office, that she received no visitors at her home, a hotel on a quiet uptown street, and that even he had never had permission to call upon her there.
But from the day she came to occupy her desk in our office, Bob was a changed man, whether for better or for worse neither Kate nor I could decide. His old bounding elasticity was gone, and with it his rollicking laugh. He was now a man where before he had been a boy, a man with a burden. Even if I had not heard Beulah Sands’s story, I should have guessed that Bob was staggering under a strange load. While before, from the close of the Stock Exchange until its opening the next morning, he was, as Kate was fond of putting it, always ready to fill in for anything from chaperon to nurse, always open for any lark we planned, from a Bohemian dinner to the opera, now weeks went by without our seeing him at our house. In the office it used to be a saying that outside gong-strikes, Bob Brownley did not know he was in the stock business. Formerly every clerk knew when Bob came or went, for it was with a rush, a shout, a laugh, and a bang of doors; and on the floor of the Stock Exchange no man played so many pranks, or filled his orders with so much jolly good-nature and hilarious boisterousness. But from the day the Virginian girl crossed his path, Bob Brownley was a man who was thinking, thinking, thinking all the time. It was only with an effort that he would keep his eyes on whomever he was talking with long enough to take in what was said, and if the saying occupied much time it would be apparent to the talker that Bob was off in the clouds. All his friends and associates remarked the change, but I alone, except perhaps Kate, had any idea of the cause. I knew that two million dollars and the coming New Year were hurdling like kangaroos over Bob’s mental rails and ditches, though I did not know it from anything he told me, for after that talk on the upper deck of the _Tribesman_ he had shut up like a clam.
He did not exactly shun me, but showed me in many ways that he had entered into a new world, in which he desired to be alone. That Beulah Sands’s plight had roused into intense activity all the latent romance of my friend’s nature, did not surprise me. I foresaw from the first that Bob would fall head over heels in love with this beautiful, sorrow-laden girl, and it was soon obvious that the long-delayed shaft had planted its point in the innermost depths of his being. His was more than love; a fervid idolatry now had possession of his soul, mind, and body. Yet its outward manifestations were the opposite of what one would have looked for in this gay and optimistic Southerner. It was rather priest-like worship, a calm imperturbability that nothing seemed to distract or upset, at least in the presence of the goddess who was its object. Every morning he would pass through my office headed straight for the little room she occupied as if it were his one objective point of the day, but once he heard his own “Good morning, Miss Sands,” he seemed to round to, and while in her presence was the Bob Brownley of old. He would be in and out all day on any and every pretext, always entering with an undisguised eagerness, leaving with a slow, dreamy reluctance. That he never saw her outside the office, I am sure, for she said good-night to him when he or she left for the day with the same don’t-come-with-me dignity that she exhibited to all the rest of us. I had not attempted to say a word to Bob about his feeling for Beulah Sands, nor had he ever brought up the subject to me. On the contrary, he studiously avoided it.
Three months of the six had now passed, and with each day I thought I noted an increasing anxiety in Bob. He had opened a special account for Miss Sands on the books of the house in his name as agent, with a credit of sixty thousand dollars, and we both watched it with a painful tenseness of scrutiny. It had grown by uneven jerks, until the balance on October 1st was almost four hundred thousand dollars. On some of the trades Bob had consulted me, and on others, two in particular where he closed up after a few days’ operations with nearly two hundred thousand dollars profit, I did not even know what the trading was based on until the stocks had been sold. Then he said:
“Jim, that little lady from Virginia can give us a big handicap and play us to a standstill at our own game. She told me to buy all the Burlington and Sugar her account would stand, and did not even ask for my opinion. In both cases I thought the operations were more the result of a wakeful night and an I-must-do-something decision than anything else, and I tackled both with a shiver; but when she told me to sell them out at a time I thought they looked like going higher and the next day they slumped, I could not help thinking about the destiny that shapes our ends.”
On my part I tried to help. On one occasion, without consulting her, I put her account in on a sure thing underwriting, wherein she stood to make a profit of a quarter of a million, but when Bob told her what I had done, she insisted with great dignity that her name be withdrawn. After that neither of us dared help her to any short cuts. Bob was deeply impressed by her principles, and, commenting on them, said: “Jim, if all Wall Street had a code similar to Beulah Sands’s to hew to in their gambles, ours would be a fairer and more manly game, and many of the multi-millionaires would be clerking, while a lot of the hand-to-mouth traders would come downtown in a new auto every day in the week. She does not believe in stock-gambling. She has worked it out that every dollar one man makes, another loses; that the one who makes gives nothing in return for what he gets away with; and that the other fellow’s loss makes him and his as miserable as would robbery to the same amount. Yet she realises that she must get back those millions stolen from her father and is willing to smother her conscience to attempt it, provided she takes no unfair advantage of the other players. The other day she said to me, ‘I have decided, because of my duty to my father, to put away my prejudice against gambling, but no duty to him or to any one can justify me in playing with marked cards.’ Jim, there is food for reflection for you and me, don’t you think so?”
I did not argue it with him, for, after that Saturday’s outburst, I had made up my mind to avoid stirring Bob up unnecessarily. Also, I had to admit to myself that the things he had then said had raised some uncomfortable thoughts in me, thoughts that made me glance less confidently now and then at the old sign of Randolph & Randolph and at the big ledger which showed that I, an ordinary citizen of a free country, was the absolute possessor of more money than a hundred thousand of my fellow beings together could accumulate in a lifetime, although each one had worked harder, longer, more conscientiously, and with perhaps more ability than I.
As to how Beulah Sands’s code had affected my friend, I was ignorant. For the first time in our association I was completely in the dark as to what he was doing stockwise. Up to that Saturday I was the first to whom he would rush for congratulations when he struck it rich over others on the exchange, and he invariably sought me for consolation when the boys “upper-cut him hard,” as he would put it. Now he never said a word about his trading. I saw that his account with the house was inactive, that his balance was about the same as before Miss Sands’s advent, and I came to the conclusion that he was resting on his oars and giving his undivided attention to her account and the execution of his commissions. His handling of the business of the house showed no change. He still was the best broker on the floor. However, knowing Bob as I did, I could not get it out of my mind that his brain was running like a mill-race in search of some successful solution to the tremendous problem that must be solved in the next three months.
Shortly after the October 1st statements had been sent out, Bob dropped in on Kate and me one night. After she had retired and we had lit our cigars in the library he said:
“Jim, I want some of that old-fashioned advice of yours. Sugar is selling at 110, and it is worth it; in fact it is cheap. The stock is well distributed among investors, not much of it floating round ‘the Street.’ A good, big buying movement, well handled, would jump it to 175 and keep it there. Am I sound?”
I agreed with him.
“All right. Now what reason is there for a good, big, stiff uplift? That tariff bill is up at Washington. If it goes through, Sugar will be cheaper at 175 than at 110.”
Again I agreed.
“‘Standard Oil’ and the Sugar people know whether it is going through, for they control the Senate and the House and can induce the President to be good. What do you say to that?”
“O.K.,” I answered.
“No question about it, is there?”
“Not the slightest.”
“Right again. When 26 Broadway gives the secret order to the Washington boss and he passes it out to the grafters, there will be a quiet accumulation of the stock, won’t there?”
“You’ve got that right, Bob.”
“And the man who first knows when Washington begins to take on Sugar is the man who should load up quick and rush it up to a high level. If he does it quickly, the stockholders, who now have it, will get a juicy slice of the ripening melon, a slice that otherwise would go to those greedy hypocrites at Washington, who are always publicly proclaiming that they are there to serve their fellow countrymen, but who never tire of expressing themselves to their brokers as not being in politics for their health.”
“So far, good reasoning,” I commented.
“Jim, the man who first knows when the Senators and Congressmen and members of the Cabinet begin to buy Sugar, is the man who can kill four birds with one stone: Win back a part of Judge Sands’s stolen fortune; increase his own pile against the first of January, when, if the little Virginian lady is short a few hundred thousand of the necessary amount, he could, if he found a way to induce her to accept it, supply the deficiency; fatten up a good friend’s bank account a million or so, and do a right good turn for the stockholders who are about to be, for the hundredth time, bled out of profit rightfully theirs.”
Bob was afire with enthusiasm, the first I had seen him show for three months. Seeing that I had followed him without objection so far, he continued:
“Well, Jim, I know the Washington buying has begun. All I know I have dug out for myself and am free to use it any way I choose. I have gone over the deal with Beulah Sands, and we have decided to plunge. She has a balance of about four hundred thousand dollars, and I’m going to spread it thin. I am going to buy her 20,000 shares and to take on 10,000 for myself. If you went in for 20,000 more, it would give me a wide sea to sail in. I know you never speculate, Jim, for the house, but I thought you might in this case go in personally.”
“Don’t say anything more, Bob,” I replied. “This time the rule goes by the board. But I will do better: I’ll put up a million and you can go as high as 70,000 for me. That will give you a buying power of 100,000, and I want you to use my last 50,000 shares as a lifter.”
I had never speculated in a share of stock since I entered the firm of Randolph & Randolph, and on general, special, and every other principle was opposed to stock gambling, but I saw how Bob had worked it out, and that to make the deal sure it was necessary for him to have a good reserve buying power to fall back on if, after he got started, the “System” masters, whose game he was butting in to and whose plans he might upset should try to shake down the price to drive him out of their preserves. Bob knew how I looked at his proposed deal and ordinarily would not have allowed me to have the short end of it, but so changed had he become in his anxiety to make that money for the Virginians that he grabbed at my acceptance.
“Thank you, Jim,” he said fervently, and he continued: “Of course, I see what’s going through your head, but I’ll accept the favour, for the deal is bound to be successful. I know your reason for coming in is just to help out, and that you won’t feel badly because your last 50,000 shares will be used more as a guarantee for the deal’s success than for profit. And Miss Sands could not object to the part you play, as she did at the underwriting, for you will get a big profit anyway.”
Next day Sugar was lively on the Exchange. Bob bought all in sight and handled the buying in a masterly way. When the closing gong struck, Beulah Sands had 20,000 shares, which averaged her 115; Bob and I had 30,000 at an average of 125, and the stock had closed 132 bid and in big demand. Miss Sands’s 20,000 showed $340,000 profit, while our 30,000 showed $210,000 at the closing price. All the houses with Washington wires were wildly scrambling for Sugar as soon as it began to jump. And it certainly looked as though the shares were good for the figures set for them by Bob, $175, at which price the Sands’s profits would be $1,200,000. Bob was beside himself with joy. He dined with Kate and me, and as I watched him my heart almost stopped beating at the thought–“if anything should happen to upset his plans!” His happiness was pathetic to witness. He was like a child. He threw away all the reserve of the past three months and laughed and was grave by turns. After dinner, as we sat in the library over our coffee, he leaned over to my wife and said:
“Katherine Randolph, you and Jim don’t know what misery I have been in for three months, and now–will to-morrow never come, so I may get into the whirl and clean up this deal and send that girl back to her father with the money! I wanted her to telegraph the judge that things looked like she would win out and bring back the relief, but she would not hear of it. She is a marvellous woman. She has not turned a hair to-day. I don’t think her pulse is up an eighth to-night. She has not sent home a word of encouragement since she has been here, more than to tell her father she is doing well with her stories. It seems they both agreed that the only way to work the thing out was ‘whole hog or none,’ and that she was to say nothing until she could herself bring the word ‘saved’ or ‘lost.’ I don’t know but she is right. She says if she should raise her father’s hopes, and then be compelled to dash them, the effect would be fatal.”
Bob rushed the talk along, flitting from one point to another, but invariably returning to Beulah Sands and to-morrow and its saving profits. Finally, he got to a pitch where it seemed as though he must take off the lid, and before Kate or I realised what was coming he placed himself in front of us and said:
“Jim, Kate, I cannot go into to-morrow without telling you something that neither of you suspect. I must tell some one, now that everything is coming out right and that Beulah is to be saved; and whom can I tell but you, who have been everything to me?–I love Beulah Sands, surely, deeply, with every bit of me. I worship her, I tell you, and to-morrow, to-morrow if this deal comes out as it must come, and I can put $1,500,000 into her hands and send her home to her father, then, then, I will tell her I love her, and Jim, Kate, if she’ll marry me, good-bye, good-bye to this hell of dollar-hunting, good-bye to such misery as I have been in for three months, and home, a Virginia home, for Beulah and me.” He sank into a chair and tears rolled down his cheeks Poor, poor Bob, strong as a lion in adversity, hysterical as a woman with victory in sight.
The next day Sugar opened with a wild rush: “25,000 shares from 140 to 152.” That is the way it came on the tape, which meant that the crowd around the Sugar-pole was a mob and that the transactions were so heavy, quick, and tangled that no one could tell to a certainty just what the first or opening price was; but after the first lull, after the gong, there were officially reported transactions aggregating 25,000 shares and at prices varying from 140 to 152. I was over on the floor to see the scramble, for it was noised about long before ten o’clock that Sugar would open wild, and then, too, I wanted to be handy if Bob should need any quick advice.
A minute before the gong struck, there were three hundred men jammed around the Sugar-pole; men with set, determined faces; men with their coats buttoned tight and shoulders thrown back for the rush to which, by comparison, that of a football team is child’s play. Every man in that crowd was a picked man, picked for what was coming. Each felt that upon his individual powers to keep a clear head, to shout loudest, to forget nothing, to keep his feet, and to stay as near the centre of the crowd as possible, depended his “floor honour,” perhaps his fortune, or, what was more to him, his client’s fortune. Nearly every man of them was a college graduate who had won his spurs at athletics or a seasoned floor man whose training had been even more severe than that of the college campus. When it is known before the opening of the Exchange that there are to be “things doing” in a certain stock, it is the rule to send only the picked floor men into the crowd. There may be a fortune to make or to lose in a minute or a sliver of a minute. For instance, the man who that morning was able to snatch the first 5,000 shares sold at 140 could have resold them a few minutes afterward at 152 and secured $60,000 profit. And the man who was sent into the crowd by his client to sell 5,000 shares at the “opening” and who got but 140, when the price would be 152 by the time he reported to his customer, was a man to be pitied. Again, the trader who the night before had decided that Sugar had gone up too fast, and who had “shorted” (that is, sold what he did not have, with the intention of repurchasing at a lower price than he sold it for) 5,000 shares at 140 and who, finding himself in that surging mob with Sugar selling at 152, could only get out by taking a loss of $60,000, or by taking another chance of later paying 162–such a trader was also to be pitied.
No one who scanned the crowd that morning would have believed that the calm, set face on that erect Indian figure, occupying the very centre of that horde of gamblers who were only awaiting the ringing clang of the gong to hurl themselves like madmen at each other, was the hysterical man who the night before was wildly praying for this moment. Nearly every man in that crowd was calm, but Bob Brownley was the calmest of them all. It’s the Exchange code that at any cost of heart or nerve-tear a man must retain good form until the gong strikes. Then, that he must be as near the uncaged tiger as human mind and body can be made. Only I realised what volcano raged inside my chum’s bosom. If any other man of the crowd had known, Bob’s chances of success would have been on par with a Canadian canoeist short-cutting Niagara for Buffalo. Nine-tenths of the Stock Exchange game is not letting your left brain-lobe know what race your right is in until the winning numbers and the also-rans are on the board. If one of those three hundred chain-lightning thinkers or any of their ten thousand alert associates knew in advance the intentions of a fellow broker, the word would sweep through that crowd with the sureness of uncorked ether, and the other two hundred and ninty nine, at gong-strike, would be at each others’ throats for his vitals, and before he knew the game had started would have his bones picked to a vulture-finish cleanness. Suddenly, as I watched the scene, there rang through the great hall the first sharp stroke of the gong. There were no echoes heard that morning. The metallic voice was yet shaping its command to “at ’em, you fiends” when from three hundred throats burst the wild sound of the Stock Exchange yell. No other sound in any of the open or hidden places of all nature duplicates the yell of a great Stock Exchange at an exciting opening. It not only fills and refills space, for the volume is terrific, but it has an individuality all its own, coming from the incisive “take-mine-I’ve-got yours,” from the aggressive, almost arrogant “you-can’t-you-won’t-have-your-way,” the confident “by-heaven-I-will” individual notes that enter into the whole, as they blend with the shrill scream of triumph and the die-away note of disappointment, when the floor men realise their success or their failure. I picked Bob’s magnificently resonant voice from the mass–“40 for any part of 10,000 Sugar.” It was this daring bid that struck terror to the bears and filled the bulls with a frenzy of encouragement. Again it rang out–“45 for any part of 25,000”; and a third time–“50 for any part of 50,000.”
The great crowd was surging all over the room. Hats were smashed and coats were being stripped from their owners’ backs as though made of paper, and now and then a particularly frantic buyer or seller would be borne to the floor by the impetus of those who sought to fill his bid or grab his offer. Through all the wild whirl, straight and erect and commanding was the form of Bob, his face cold and expressionless as an iceberg. In five minutes the human mass had worked back to the Sugar-pole and there was the inevitable lull while its members “verified.”
I could see by the few entries Bob was making on his pad that he had been compelled to buy but little. This meant that his campaign was working smoothly, that he was driving the market up by merely bidding, and that he had the greater part of my 50,000 yet unbought, which inturn meant he could continue to push up the price, or in the event of his opponents’ attempting to run it down, he would be under the market with big supporting orders.
Suddenly the lull was broken. Bob’s voice rang out again–“153 for any part of 10,000 Sugar.” Again the gamblers closed in and for another five minutes the opening scene was duplicated, with only a shade less fierceness. After ten minutes’ mad trading a mighty burst of sound told that Sugar was 160 bid. Then Bob worked his way out of the crowd, and passing by me fairly hissed, “By heaven, Jim, I’ve got them cinched!”
I went back to the office. In a few minutes Bob without a word strode through my office and into the little room occupied by Beulah Sands. He closed the door behind him, a thing that he had never done before. It was only a minute till he opened it and called to me. In his eyes was a strange look, a look that came from the blending of two mighty passions, one joy, the other I could not make out, unless it was that soft one, which suppressed love, emerging from terrible uncertainty, generates in deep natures and which usually finds vent in tears. Beulah Sands was a study. Her heart was evidently swaying and tugging with the news Bob had brought her. She must have seen the nearness of release from the torture that had been filling her soul during the past three months, and yet such was the remarkable self-control of the woman, such her noble courage, that she refused to show any outward sign of her feelings. She was the reserved, dignified girl I had ever seen her. “Jim, Miss Sands and I thought it best that we should have a little match up at this stage of our deal,” Bob began. “I want to know if you both agree with me on adhering to the original plans to close out at 175. I never felt surer of my ground than in this deal. The stock is 163 on the tape right now.” He glanced at the white paper ribbon whose every foot on certain days spells Heaven or Hell to countless mortals, as it rolled out of the ticker in the corner of the office. “Yes, there she goes again–33/4, 4, 41/4 and 1,200 at a half. There is a tremendous demand from all quarters. Washington’s buying is unlimited; the commission-houses are tumbling over one another to get aboard and the shorts are scared to a paralysed muteness. They don’t know whether to jump in and cover or to stand their present hands, but they have no pluck to fight the rise, that is certain. The news bureaus have just published the story that I am buying for Randolph & Randolph, and they for the insiders; that the new tariff is as good as passed; and that at the directors’ meeting to-morrow the Sugar dividend will be increased, and that it is agreed on all sides she won’t stop going until she crosses 200. I’ve been obliged to take on only 18,000 of your 50,000, and at present prices there is over two hundred thousand profit in them. I think I could go back there and in thirty minutes have it to 180. Then if I rested on it until about one o’clock and threw myself at it for real fireworks up to the close, I could, under cover of them, let slip about half our purchases, and to-morrow open her with a whirl and let go the balance. If I’m in luck I’ll average 180-185 for the whole bunch, but I’ll be satisfied if I get an average of 175, which would allow me to sell it on a dropping scale to 160.”
I agreed that his campaign was perfect, and Beulah Sands said in her usual quiet way, “It is entirely in your hands, Mr. Brownley. I don’t see how any advice from us can help.”
Bob went back to the Exchange and I into my office. Bob had been right again. In ten minutes the tape began to scream Sugar. With enormous transactions it ran up in fifteen minutes to 188, in three more it dropped to 181, and then steadily mounted to 1851/2, dulled up, and was healthy steady. Presently Bob was back and we sat down again.
“I’ve bought 20,000 more for you, Jim, on that bulge. I’ve 38,000 in all of the last 50,000, which leaves me 12,000 reserve. The average is ‘way under 75, and there must be $400,000 for you in it now and a strong $1,400,000 in Miss Sands’s 20,000, and $1,800,000 in our 30,000. They say it’s bad business to count chickens in the shell, but ours are tapping so hard to get out I can’t help doing it this once. I’m going to keep away from the floor for an hour or so, then I will go over and wind it up and–good God, Beulah–Miss Sands–are you ill?”
The girl’s face was ashen gray and she seemed to be gasping for breath. I rushed for some water while Bob seized both her hands, but in an instant the blood came to her cheeks with a rush and she said, “I was dizzy for a moment. It must have been the thought of taking $1,800,000 back to father that upset me. With that amount father could make good all the trust funds, and have back enough of his own fortune to make us seem, after what we have been going through, richer than we were before. Pardon me, Mr. Randolph, won’t you, when I say–God bless you and every one whom you hold dear, God bless you? What could I or my father have done but for you and Mr. Brownley?”
She turned her big eyes full upon Bob, filled with a light such as can come only to a woman’s eyes, only to a woman before whom, as she stands on the brink of hell, suddenly looms her heaven.
Sharp and shrill rang Bob’s Exchange telephone. The ring seemed shriller; it certainly was longer than usual. Bob jumped for the receiver.
He Listened a moment, then answered, “Stand on it at 80 for 12,000 shares. I will be there in a second.” He dropped the receiver. “Jim, we have struck a snag. Arthur Perkins, whom I left on guard at the pole, says Barry Conant has just jumped in and supplied all the bids. He has it down to 81 and is offering it in 5,000 blocks and is aggressive. I must get there quick,” and he shot out of the office.
I sprang for Bob’s telephone: “Perkins, quick!” “What are they doing, Perkins?” I asked a moment later.
“Conant has almost filled me up. He seems to have a hogshead of it on tap,” he answered.
“Buy 50,000 shares, 5,000 each point down; and anything unfilled, give to Bob when he gets there. He is on the way.”
I shut off, and turned to Miss Sands:
“This is no time to stand on ceremony, Miss Sands. Barry Conant is Camemeyer’s and ‘Standard Oil’s’ head broker. His being on the floor means mischief. He never goes into a big whirl personally unless they are out for blood. Bob has exhausted his buying power, and though I tell you frankly that I never speculate, don’t believe in speculation and am in this deal only for Bob–and for you–I swear I don’t intend to let them wipe the floor with him without at least making them swallow some of the dust they kick up. Please don’t object to my helping out, Miss Sands. Ordinarily I would defer to your wishes, but I love Bob Brownley only second to my wife, and I have money enough to warrant a plunge in stock. If they should turn Bob over in this deal, he–well, they’re not going to, if I can prevent it,” and I started for the Exchange on the run.
When I got there the scene beggared description. That of the morning was tame in comparison. A bull market, however terrific, always is tame beside a bear crash. In the few moments it took me to get to the floor, the battle had started. The greater part of the Exchange membership was in a dense mob wedged against the rail behind the Sugar-pole. I could not have got within yards of the centre of that crowd of men, fast becoming panic-stricken, if the fate of nations had depended on my errand. I had witnessed such a scene before. It represented a certain phase of Stock-Exchange-gambling procedure, where one man apparently has every other man on the floor against him. I understood: Bob against them all–he trying to stay the onrushing current of dropping prices; they bent on keeping the sluice-gates open. He was backed up against the rail–not the Bob of the morning; not a vestige of that cold, brain-nerve-and-body-in-hand gambler remained. His hat was gone, his collar torn and hanging over his shoulder. His coat and waistcoat were ripped open, showing the full length of his white shirt-front, and his eyes were fairly mad. Bob was no longer a human being, but a monarch of the forest at bay, with the hunter in front of him, and closing in upon him, in a great half-circle, the pack of harriers, all gnashing their teeth, baring their fangs, and howling for blood. The hunter directly facing Bob, was Barry Conant–very slight, very short, a marvellously compact, handsome, miniature man, with a fascinating face, dark olive in tint, lighted by a pair of sparkling black eyes and framed in jet-black hair; a black mustache was parted over white teeth, which, when he was stalking his game, looked like those of a wolf. An interesting man at all times was this Barry Conant, and he had been on more and fiercer battle-fields than any other half-score members combined. The scene was a rare one for a student of animalised men.
While every other man in the crowd was at a high tension of excitement, Barry Conant was as calm as though standing in the centre of a ten-acre daisy-field cutting off the helpless flowers’ heads with every swing of his arm. Switching stock-gamblers into eternity had grown to be a pastime to Barry Conant. Here was Bob thundering with terrific emphasis “78 for 5,000,” “77 for 5,000,” “75 for 5,000,” “74 for 5,000,” “73 for 5,000,” “72 for 5,000,” seemingly expecting through sheer power of voice to crush his opponent into silence. But with the regularity of a trip-hammer Barry Conant’s right hand, raised in unhurried gesture, and his clear calm “Sold” met Bob’s every retreating bid. It was a battle royal–a king on one side, a Richelieu on the other. Though there was frantic buying and selling all around these two generals, the trading was gauged by the trend of their battle. All knew that if Bob should be beaten down by this concentrated modern finance devil, a panic would ensue and Sugar would go none could say how low. But if Bob should play him to a standstill by exhausting his selling power, Sugar would quickly soar to even higher figures than before. It was known that Barry Conant’s usual order from his clients, the “System” masters, for such an occasion as the present was “Break the price at any cost.” On the other hand, every one knew that Randolph & Randolph were usually behind Bob’s big operations; this was evidently one of his biggest; and every man there knew that Randolph & Randolph were seldom backed down by any force.
As Bob made his bid “72 for 5,000,” and got it, I saw a quick flash of pain shoot across his face, and realised that it probably meant he was nearing the end of my last order. I sized it up that there was deviltry of more than usual significance behind this selling movement; that Barry Conant must have unlimited orders to sell and smash. My final order of fifty thousand brought our total up to one hundred and fifty thousand shares, a large amount for even Randolph & Randolph to buy of a stock selling at nearly $200 a share. I then and there decided that whatever happened I would go no further. Just then Bob’s wild eye caught mine, and there was in it a piteous appeal, such an appeal as one sees in the eye of the wounded doe when she gives up her attempt to swim to shore and waits the coming of the pursuing hunter’s canoe. I sadly signaled that I was through. As Bob caught the sign, he threw his head back and bellowed a deep, hoarse “70 for 10,000.” I knew then that he had already bought forty thousand, and that this was the last-ditch stand. Barry Conant must have caught the meaning too. Instantly, like a revolver report, came his “Sold!” Then the compact, miniature mass of human springs and wires, which had until now been held in perfect control, suddenly burst from its clamps, and Barry Conant was the fiend his Wall Street reputation pictured him. His five feet five inches seemed to loom to the height of a giant. His arms, with their fate-pointing fingers, rose and fell with bewildering rapidity as his piercing voice rang out–“5,000 at 69, 68, 65,” “10,000 at 63,” “25,000 at 60.” Pandemonium reigned. Every man in the crowd seemed to have the capital stock of the Sugar Trust to sell, and at any price. A score seemed to be bent on selling as low as possible instead of for as much as they could get. These were the shorts who had been punished the day before by Bob’s uplift.
Poor Bob, he was forgotten! An instant after he made his last effort he was the dead cock in the pit. Frenzied gamblers of the Stock Exchange have no more use for the dead cocks than have Mexicans for the real birds when they get the fatal gaff. The day after the contest, or even that same night at Delmonico’s and the clubs, these men would moan for poor Bob; Barry Conant’s moan would be the loudest of them all, and, what is more, it would be sincere. But on battle day away to the dump with the fallen bird, the bird that could not win! I saw a look of deep, terrible agony spread over Bob’s face; and then in a flash he was the Bob Brownley who I always boasted had the courage and the brain to do the right thing in all circumstances. To the astonishment of every man in the crowd he let loose one wild yell, a cross between the war-whoop of an Indian and the bay of a deep-lunged hound regaining a lost scent. Then he began to throw over Sugar stock, right and left, in big and little amounts. He slaughtered the price, under-cutting Barry Conant’s every offer and filling every bid. For twenty minutes he was a madman, then he stopped. Sugar was falling rapidly to the price it finally reached, 90, and the panic was in full swing, but panics seemed now to have no interest for Bob. He pushed his way through the crowd and, joining me, said: “Jim, forgive me. I have dragged you into an enormous loss, have ruined Beulah Sands, her father, and myself. I think at the last moment I did the only thing possible. I threw over the 150,000 shares and so cut off some of our loss. Let us go to the office and see where we stand.” He was strangely, unnaturally calm after that heart-crushing, nerve-tearing day. I tried to tell him how I admired his cool nerve and pluck in about-facing and doing the only thing there was left to do; to tell him that required more real courage and level-headedness than all the rest of the day’s doings; but he stopped me:
“Jim, don’t talk to me. My conceit is gone. I have learned my lesson to-day. My plans were all right, and sound, but poor fool that I was, I did not take into consideration the loaded dice of the master thieves. I knew what they could do, have seen them scores of times, as you have, at their slaughter; seen them crush out the hearts of other men just as good as you or I; seen them take them out and skin and quarter-slice them, unmindful of the agony of those who were dear to and dependent on their owners, but it never seemed to strike me home. It was not my heart, and somehow, I looked at it as a part of the game and let it go at that. To-day I know what it means to be put on the chopping-block of the ‘System’ butchers. I know what it is to see my heart and the heart of one I love–and yours, too, Jim–systematically skewered to those of the hundreds and thousands of victims who have gone before. Jim, we must be three millions losers, and the men who have our money have so many, many millions that they can’t live long enough even to thumb them over. Men who will use our money on the gambling-table, at the race-tracks, squander it on stage harlots, or in turning their wives and daughters or their neighbours’ wives and daughters into worse than stage harlots. Men, Jim, who are not fit, measured by any standard of decency, to walk the same earth as you and Judge Sands. Men whose painted pets pollute the very air that such as Beulah Sands must breathe. I’ve learned my lesson to-day. I thought I knew the game of finance, but I’m suddenly awakened to a realisation of the dense ignorance I wallowed in. Jim, but for the loading of the dice, I should now have been taking Beulah Sands to her father with the money that the hellish ‘System’ stole from him. Later I should have taken her to the altar, and after, who knows but that I should have had the happiest home and family in all the world, and lived as her people and mine have lived for generations, honest, God-fearing, law-abiding, neighbour-loving men and women, and then died as men should die? But now, Jim, I see a black, awful picture. No, I’m not morbid, I’m going to make a heroic effort to put the picture out of sight; but I’m afraid, Jim, I’m afraid.”
He stopped as we pulled up on the sidewalk in front of Randolph & Randolph’s office. “Here it is on the bulletin. See what did the trick, Jim. They held the Sugar meeting last night instead of waiting till to-morrow, and cut the dividend instead of increasing it. The world won’t know it until to-morrow. Then they will know it, then they will know it. They will read it in the headlines of the papers–a few suicides, a few defaulters, a few new convicts, an unclaimed corpse or two at the morgue; a few innocent girls, whose fathers’ fortunes have gone to swell Camemeyer’s and ‘Standard Oil’s’ already uncountable gold, turned into streetwalkers; a few new palaces on Fifth Avenue, and a few new libraries given to communities that formerly took pride in building them from their honestly earned savings. A report or two of record-breaking diamond sales by Tiffany to the kings and czars of dollar royalty, then front-page news stories of clawing, mauling, and hair-pulling wrangles among the stage harlots for the possession of these diamonds. They were not quite sure that the dividend cut alone would do the trick, and they were taking no chances, these mighty warriors of the ‘System,’ so their hireling Senate committee held a session last night and unanimously reported to put sugar on the free list. The people will read that in the morning, and probably the day after they’ll be told that the committee held another session to-night and unanimously reported to take it off the free list. By that time these honourable statesmen will have loaded up with the stock that you and I and Beulah Sands sold, and that other poor devils will slaughter to-morrow after reading their morning papers.”
Bob’s bitterness was terrible. My heart was torn as I listened. He stalked through the office and into that of Beulah Sands. I followed. She was at her desk, and when she looked up, her great eyes opened in wonderment as they took in Bob, his grim, set face, the defiant, sullen desperation of the big brown eyes, the dishevelled hair and clothes. For an instant she stood as one who had seen an apparition.
“Look me over, Beulah Sands,” he said, “look me over to your heart’s content, for you may never again see the fool of fools in all the world, the fool who thought himself competent to cope with men of brains, with men who really know how to play the game of dollars as it is played in this Christian age. Don’t ask me not to call you Beulah; that what I tried to do was for you is the one streak of light in all this black hell. Beulah, Beulah, we are ruined, you, your father, and I, ruined, and I’m the fool who did it.”
She rose from her desk with all the quiet, calm dignity that we had been admiring for three months, and stood facing Bob. She did not seem to see me; she saw nothing but the man who had gone out that morning the personification of hope, who now stood before her the picture of black despair, and she must have thought, “It was all for me.” Suddenly she took the lapels of his torn coat in either hand. She had to reach up to do it, this winsome little Virginia lady. With her big calm blue eyes looking straight into his, she said:
That was all, but the word seemed to change the very atmosphere in the room. The look of desperation faded from Bob’s face, and as though the words had sprung the hidden catch to the doors of his storehouse of pent-up misery, his eyes filled with hot, blinding tears. His great chest was convulsed with sobs. Again–clear, calm, fearless, and tender, came the one syllable, “Bob.” And at that Bob’s self-control slipped the leash. With a hoarse cry, he threw his arms around her and crushed her to his breast. The sacredness of the scene made me feel like an intruder, and I started to leave the room. But in a moment Beulah Sands was her usual self and, turning to me, she said: “Mr. Randolph, please forget what you have seen. For an instant, as I saw Mr. Brownley’s awful misery, I thought of nothing but what he had done for me, what he had tried to do for my father, what a penalty he has paid. From what you said when you left and the fact that I got no word from either of you, I feared the worst and did not dare look at the tape; I simply waited and hoped and–prayed. Yes, I prayed as my mother taught me I should pray whenever I was helpless and could do nothing myself. And I felt that God would not let the noble work of two such men be overthrown by those you were battling with. In the midst of a calmness that I took for a good omen, you came. Can you blame me for forgetting myself? Mr. Brownley,” the voice was now calm and self-controlled, “tell me what you have done. Where do we stand?” “There is little to tell,” Bob answered. “Camemeyer and ‘Standard Oil’ have taken me into camp as they would take a stuck pig. They have made a monkeyfied ass out of me, and we are ruined, and I have caused Mr. Randolph a heavy loss. Roughly, I figure that of your four hundred thousand capital and the million four hundred thousand profit you had this morning, only your capital remains.”
Wishing to spare Bob, I interrupted and myself gave the girl briefly the details of what had happened. She listened intently and seemed to take in all the trickery of the “System” masters; seemed to see just what it meant to us and to her. But she made no comment, showed by no outward sign that she suffered. As soon as I was through she turned to Bob, who had stood with his eyes fastened upon her face, as though somewhere out of its soft beauty must come an assurance that this was all a bad dream.
“Mr. Brownley,” she said, “let us figure up just where we stand, so that we may know what to do to recoup. You have said so many times, since I have been here, that Wall Street is magic land; that no man may tell twenty-four hours ahead what will happen to him. You have said it so many times that I believe it. We know that this morning we were at the goal, that we were millions ahead, and all from twenty-four hours’ effort. We have yet almost three months left, and I do not see why we have not just as much chance as we had day before yesterday. Yes, and more, because we know more now. Next time we will include the dividend cuts and the Senate duplicity in our figuring.”
We both dumbly stared in wondering admiration at this marvellous woman. Was it possible that a girl could have such nerve, such courage? Or had woman’s hope, so persistent where her loved ones are concerned, made Beulah Sands blind to the awfulness of the situation? As I looked at her I could not doubt that she fully realised our position, that she was really suffering more than either of us, that she was only acting to ease Bob’s anguish. Bob brought out his memoranda, and in half an hour we had the figures. The total loss was nearly three millions. As Beulah Sands’s 20,000 shares had cost less than ours and Bob figured to leave her capital of $400,000 intact, we felt some comfort. Beulah Sands had watched the figuring with the keenness of an expert, and when Bob announced the final figures, which showed that she still had what she started with, she drew the sheet containing the totals to her. “I was willing to accept your assistance,” she said, “when the deal promised a profit to all of us, because I appreciated your goodness and knew how much it would hurt your feelings if I were churlish about the division; but now that we all lose I must stand my fair share; I must.” She said this in a way that we both knew precluded the possibility of argument. “We owned together 150,000 shares. I was to have had the profits on 20,000 shares. Our total loss is $2,775,000, of which I must bear my just proportion. Mr. Brownley, you will see that $370,000 is charged to my account. I shall have $30,000 left. If our cause is as just as we think, God in his goodness will make this ample for our purposes.”
Though Bob and I were in despair at her determination to strip herself of what Bob had worked so hard to accumulate, we could not help feeling a reverence for her faith and her sturdy independence. She now showed us in her delicate way that she wished to be alone; as we went she held out her hand to Bob. “Mr. Brownley, please, for the sake of the work we have to do, look on the bright side of this calamity, for it has a bright side. You wanted me to send word to my father that we were about to grasp victory. Think if we had sent it–then you will know that God is good, even when we think he is chastening us beyond endurance.”
Bob took me into his office. “Jim, you see what a woman can do, and we are taught women are the weaker sex. Now listen to what you must do. Accept my notes for the whole loss, less one hundred thousand which I have to my credit, and which I will pay on account. I won’t listen to any objection. The deal was mine; you came in only to help us out, and I ought never to have tempted you. If I remain in my present busted condition, the notes will be blank paper. Therefore you do me no harm in taking them. If I should strike it rich, I should never feel like a man until I made up the loss.”
It was no use arguing with him in his inflexible mood, so I took his demand notes for $2,405,000. I begged him to go home with me to dinner, but he insisted that he could not face my wife with his last night’s break still fresh in her mind. Next day he did not turn up. Along in the afternoon I received a telegram from him, saying that he was on his way to Virginia, that he needed a rest and would be back in a week. I was worried, nervous. It takes until the next day and the day after, and the week after that, to get down to the deepest misery of an upset such as we had been through. I did not feel easy with Bob out of sight while he was sounding for a new footing. I went to Beulah Sands in hope we might talk over the affair, but when I told her that Bob was to be gone for a week and that I was uneasy, she said in her calm, confident manner: “I don’t think there is anything to worry about, Mr. Randolph. Mr. Brownley is too much of a man to allow an affair of dollars to do anything more than annoy him. He will be back all the better for his rest.” She dropped her long lashes in a this-conversation-is-closed way that we had come to know meant going time.
The following week Bob returned to the office. He had not changed, and yet he had changed greatly. Rest had apparently done much for him. His colour was good, his step elastic as of old, and his head was thrown back as if he were buckled up for the fray and wanted all to know it. Yet there was something in the eye, in the setness of the jaw, in the hair-trigger calm, yet fiercely savage grip in which he closed his strong hands on the arms of his chair, that told me more plainly than words that this was not the optimistic, soft-hearted Bob Brownley I had known and loved. I could not help feeling that if I had been a leader of the Russian terrorists, and this man who now sat before me had come to my ken when I was selecting bomb-throwers, I should have seized upon him of all men as the one to stalk the Czar or his marked minions. Surely the iron that had entered Bob’s soul a week before had affected his whole being. I think Beulah Sands had some such thoughts. For I saw a shadow of perplexity cross her broad, low forehead after her first meeting with him, a shadow that had not been there before.
For days after Bob’s return I saw little of him. I think Beulah Sands saw less. During Stock Exchange hours he spent most of his time on the floor, but he executed few of our orders. He merely looked them over and handed them out to his assistants. As far as I could learn, he spent much of his time there yesterdaying through hope’s graveyards, a not uncommon pastime for active Exchange members whose first through specials have been open-switched by the “System” towerman. So strong had become this habit of going about from pole to pole with bent head and a far-off gaze that his fellow members began to humour and respect it. They all knew that Bob had gone up against the Sugar panic hard. No one knew how hard, but all guessed from his changed appearance and habits that it must have been a bone-smashing blow. Nothing so quickly and so deeply stirs a Stock Exchange man’s feelings for his brother member as to know that “They” have ditched his El Dorado flyer–that is, if he has been a good the books showed no change in Beulah Sands’s account. There was the poor little $30,000 balance; no other entries. One afternoon Beulah Sands had asked for a meeting between Bob and myself in her office. She could hardly have asked Bob to come without me, but I knew it was Bob she wanted to see, and I felt that the best thing I could do for them was to leave them alone. So I made some excuse for a moment’s delay at my desk, telling Bob to go on into her office, and promising to follow shortly. He went in, leaving the door partly open. I think that from the moment he entered the room both of them utterly forgot my existence. From her desk Beulah could not see me, and Bob sat so that his back was half toward me. “I dislike to trouble you about my account,” I heard her begin in a voice a trifle uneven, “but as I must go back to Father Christmas week, I wanted to get your advice as to the advisability of writing him that, though there is still a chance for doing wonders, I do not think we shall be able to save him. Of course I won’t put it in just that blunt way, but it seems to me I should begin to prepare him for the blow. I have not talked over any more plunging with you, Mr. Brownley, since the unlucky one in Sugar, and—-“
“Miss Sands, I understand what you mean,” Bob broke in, “and I should apologise for not having consulted with you about your business affairs. The fact is, I have not been quite clear as to the best thing to do. I hope you don’t think I have forgotten. Never for a moment since I took charge of your affairs have I forgotten my promise to see that they were kept active. Truly I have been trying to think out some successful plunge, but–but”–there was a hoarseness in his voice–“I have not had my old confidence in myself since that day in Sugar when I killed your hopes and destroyed the chance of saving your father–no, I have not had that confidence a man must have in himself to win at this game.”
There was a silence, and then I heard an indescribable fluttering rush that told as plainly as sight could have done that a woman had answered her heart’s call. Looking up involuntarily, I saw a sight that for a long moment held my eyes as if I had been fascinated. It was Bob bowed forward with his face hidden in his hands and beside him, on her knees, Beulah Sands, her arms about his neck, his head drawn down to her bosom. “Bob, Bob,” she said chokingly, “I cannot stand it any longer. My heart is breaking for you. You were so happy when I came into your life, and the happiness is changed to misery and despair, and all for me, a stranger. At first I thought of nothing but father and how to save him, but since that day when those men struck at your heart, I have been filled with, oh! such a longing to tell you, to tell you, Bob—-“
“What? Beulah, what? For the love of God, don’t stop; tell me, Beulah, tell me.” He had not lifted his head. It was buried on her breast, his arms closed around her. She bent her head and laid her beautiful, soft cheek, down which the tears were now streaming, against his brown hair. “Bob, forgive me, but I love you, love you, Bob, as only a woman can love who has never known love before, never known anything but stern duty. Bob, night after night when all have left I have crept into your office and sat in your chair. I have laid my head on your desk and cried and cried until it seemed as though I could not live till morning without hearing you say that you loved me, and that you did not mind the ruin I had brought into your life. I have patted the back of your chair where your dear head had rested. I have covered the arms of your chair, that your strong, brave hands had gripped, with kisses. Night after night I have knelt at your desk and prayed to God to shield you, to protect you from all harm, to brush away the black cloud I brought into your life. I have asked Him to do with me, yes, with my father and mother, anything, anything if only He would bring back to you the happiness I had stolen. Bob, I have suffered, suffered, as only a woman can suffer.”
She was sobbing as though her heart would break, sobbing wildly, convulsively, like the little child who in the night comes to its mother’s bed to tell of the black goblins that have been pursuing it. Long before she had finished speaking–and it took only a few heart-beats for that rush of words–I had broken the power of the fascination that held me, had turned away my eyes, and tried not to listen. For fear of breaking the spell, I did not dare cross the room to close Beulah’s door or to reach the outer door of my office, which was nearer hers than it was to my desk. I waited–through a silence, broken only by Beulah’s weeping, that seemed hour-long. Then in Bob’s voice came one low sob of joy:
“Beulah, Beulah, my Beulah!”
I realised that he had risen. I rose too, thinking that now I could close the door. But again I saw a picture that transfixed me. Bob had taken Beulah by both shoulders and he held her off and looked into her eyes long and beseechingly. Never before nor since have I seen upon human face that glorious joy which the old masters sought to get into the faces of their worshippers who, kneeling before Christ, tried to send to Him, through their eyes, their soul’s gratitude and love. I stood as one enthralled. Slowly and as reverently as the living lover touches the brow of his dead wife, Bob bent his head and kissed her forehead. Again and again he drew her to him and implanted upon her brow and eyes and lips his kisses. I could not stand the scene any longer. I started to the corridor-door, and then, as though for the first time either had known I was within hearing, they turned and stared at me. At last Bob gave a long deep sigh, then one of those reluctant laughs of happiness yet wet with sobs.
“Well, Jim, dear old Jim, where did you come from? Like all eavesdroppers, you have heard no good of yourself. Own up, Jim, you did not hear a word good or bad about yourself, for it is just coming back to me that we have been selfish, that we have left you entirely out of our business conference.”
We all laughed, and Beulah Sands, with her face a bloom of burning blushes, said: “Mr. Randolph, we have not settled what it is best to do about father’s affairs.”
After a little we did begin to talk business, and finally agreed that Beulah should write her father, wording her letter as carefully as possible, to avoid all direct statements, but showing him that she had made but little headway on the work she had come North to accomplish. Bob was a changed being now; so, too, was Beulah Sands. Both discussed their hopes and fears with a frankness in strange contrast to their former manner. But there was one point on which Bob showed he was holding back. I finally put it to him bluntly: “Bob, are you working out anything that looks like real relief for Miss Sands and her father?”
“I don’t know how to answer you, Jim. I can only say I have some ideas, radical ones perhaps, but–well, I am thinking along certain lines.”
I saw he was not yet willing to take us into his confidence. We parted, Bob going along in the cab with Miss Sands.
Two days afterward she sent for us both as soon as we got to the office.
“I have this telegram from father–it makes me uneasy: ‘Mailed to-day important letter. Answer as soon as you receive.'”
The following afternoon the letter came. It showed Judge Sands in a very nervous, uneasy state. He said he had been living a life of daily terror, as some of his friends, for whose estates he was trustee, had been receiving anonymous letters, advising them to look into the judge’s trust affairs; that the Reinhart crowd had been using renewed pressure to make him let go all his Seaboard stock, which they wanted to secure at the low prices to which they had depressed it, in order that they might reorganise and carry out the scheme they had been so long planning. Judge Sands went on to say that the day he was compelled to sell his Seaboard stock he would have to make public an announcement of his condition, as there could be no sale without the court’s consent. His closing was:
“My dear daughter, no one knows better than I the almost hopelessness of expecting any relief from your operations. But so hopeless have I become of late, so much am I reliant upon you, my dear child, and eternal hope so springs in all of us when confronted with great necessities, that I have hoped and still hope that you are to be the saviour of your family; that you, only a frail child, are through God’s marvellous workings to be the one to save the honour of that name we both love more than life; the one to keep the wolf of poverty from that door through which so far has come nothing but the sunshine of prosperity and happiness; the one, my dear Beulah, who is to save your old father from a dishonoured grave. Dear child, forgive me for placing upon your weak shoulders the additional burden of knowing I am now helpless and compelled to rely absolutely upon you. After you have read my letter, if there is no hope, I command you to tell me so at once, for although I am now financially and almost mentally helpless, I am still a Sands, and there has never yet been one of the name who shirked his duty, however stern and painful it might be.”
When I handed the letter back to Miss Sands, she said:
“Mr. Randolph, let me tell you and Mr. Brownley a little about my father and our home, that you may see our situation as it is. My father is one of the noblest men that ever lived. I am not the only one who says that–if you were to ask the people of our State to name the one man who had done most for the State as a State, most for her progressive betterment, most for her people high and low, white and black, they would answer, ‘Judge Lee Sands.’ He has been, and is, the idol of our people. After he was graduated from Harvard, he entered the law office of my grandfather, Senator Robert Lee Sands. Before he was thirty he was in Congress and was even then reputed the greatest orator of our State, where orators are so plentiful. He married my mother, his second cousin, Julia Lee, of Richmond, at twenty-five, and from then until the attack of that ruthless money-shark, led a life such as a true man would map out for himself if his Maker granted him the privilege. You would have to visit at our home to appreciate my father’s character and to understand how terrible this sorrow is to him. Every morning of his life he spends an hour after breakfast with my dear mother, who is a cripple from hip disease. He takes her in his arms and brings her down from her room to the library as if she were a child. He then reads to her–and he knows good books as well as he knows his friends. After he takes mother back to her room, he gives an hour to our people, the blacks of the plantation and his white tenants throughout the county. He is a father to them all. He settles all their troubles, big and little. Then for hours he and I go over his business affairs. Every afternoon from four to five he devotes to his estates and the men and women for whom he acts as trustee. He has often said to me: ‘We have a clear million of money and property, and that is all any man should have in America. It is all he is entitled to under our form of government. Any more than that an honest man should in one way or another return to the people from whom he has taken it. I never want my family to have more than a million dollars.’ When he went into the Seaboard affair, he explained to me that it was to assist the Wilsons–they were old friends, and he has acted as their solicitor for years–in building up the South. He discussed with me the right and advisability of putting in the trust funds. He said he considered it his duty to employ them as he did his own in enterprises that would aid the whole people of the South, instead of sending them to the North to be used in Wall Street as belting for the ‘System’ grinder. These fortunes were made in the South by men who loved their section of the country more than they did wealth, and why should they not be employed to benefit that part of the country which their makers and owners loved? I remember vividly how perplexed he was when, at the beginning, the Wilsons would show him that the investments were returning unusually large profits.
“‘It is not right, Beulah,’ he said to me one morning after receiving a letter from Baltimore to the effect that Seaboard stock and bonds had advanced until his investment showed over fifty per cent, profit, ‘it is not right for us to make this money. No man in America should make over legal rates of interest and a fair profit on an investment, that is, an investment of capital pure and simple, particularly in a transportation company, where every dollar of profit comes from the people who patronise the lines. I have worked it out on every side, and it is not right; it would not be legal if the people, who make the laws for their own betterment, understood their affairs as they should.’
“He was always writing to the Wilsons to conduct the affairs of the Seaboard so that there would be remaining each year only profits enough to keep the road up and the wharves in good condition and to pay the annual interest and a fair dividend. And when the Wilsons came to our house to lay before him the offer of Reinhart and his fellow plunderers to pay enormous profits for the control of the Seaboard, he was indignant and argued with them that the offer was an insult to honest men. It was he who advised the trusteeship control of the Seaboard stock to prevent Reinhart from securing control. I sat in the library when he talked to the elder Wilson and the directors.
“He appealed directly to John Wilson to make an effort to stop the growing tendency to use the people as pawns to enslave themselves and their children. He said some man of undoubted probity, standing, and wealth, someone whom the people trusted, must start the fight against these New York fiends, whose only thought is to roll up wealth. And he told John Wilson he was the man, since he had great wealth, honestly got by his father and grandfather; no one would accuse him of being a hypocrite, seeking notoriety, and his standing in the financial world was so old and solid that it would have to listen to him. I remember-how emphatically father said: ‘I tell you, John, _even the discussion_ of such a proposition as that scoundrel Reinhart makes is degrading to an American’s honour.’ He said it didn’t make the least difference if Reinhart counted his millions by the score, and was director in thirty or forty great institutions, and gave a fortune every year for charity and to the church–that he was a blackleg just the same. And so is any man, he said, who dares to say he will take the stock of a transportation company, which represents a certain amount of money invested, and double or multiply it by five and ten, simply because he can compel the people to pay exorbitant fares and freight-rates and so get profits on this fraudulently increased capital.
“It was the decision arrived at by father and the Wilsons at this meeting, a decision to refuse in any circumstances to allow our Southern people to be bled by the Wall Street ‘System,’ that started Reinhart and his dollar-fiends on the war-path. You can see from what I tell you of my father the terrible condition he is in now. At night, when I get to thinking of him, hoping against hope, with no one to help him, no one with whom he can talk over his affairs, when I think of his nobleness in devoting his time to mother and by sheer will-power concealing from her his awful suffering, it nearly drives me mad.”
“Miss Sands, why will you not let me lend you the money necessary to tide your father over for a while?” I asked.
“You are so good, Mr. Randolph, but you don’t quite understand my father in spite of what I have said. He would not relieve his suffering at the expense of another, not if it were a hundred times more acute. You cannot understand the old-fashioned, deep-rooted pride of the Sands.”
“But can you not, at least temporarily, disguise from him just how you have arranged the relief?”
Her big blue eyes stared at me in bewilderment.
“Mr. Randolph, I could not deceive father. I could not tell him a lie even to save his life. It would be impossible. My father abhors a lie. He believes a man or woman who would lie the lowest of the low things on earth. When I go back to my father he will say, ‘Tell me what you have done.’ I can just see him now, standing between the big white pillars at the end of the driveway. I can hear him say calmly, ‘Beulah, my daughter, welcome. Your mother is waiting for you in her room. Do not lose a moment getting to her.’ Afterward he’ll take me over the plantation to show me all the familiar things, and not one word will he allow me to say about our affairs until dinner is over, until the neighbours have left, for no Sands returns from long absence without a fitting home welcome. When I have said good night to mother and sister and he has drawn up my rocker in front of his big chair in the library alcove and I’ve lighted his cigar for him, he will look me in the eye and say, ‘Daughter, tell me all you have done.’ I would no more think of holding anything back than I would of stabbing him to the heart. No, Mr. Randolph, there is no possibility of relief except in fairly using that $30,000, and fairly winning back what Wall Street has stolen from father. Even that will cause both of us many twinges of conscience, and anything more is impossible. If this cannot be done, father must, all of us must, pay the penalty of Reinhart’s ruthless act.”
Bob had listened, but made no comment until she was through; then he said, “It looks to me as though the market is shaping up so that we may be able to do something soon.” It was evident to both of us that he had some plan in mind.
Later we learned that that night Beulah wrote her father a long letter, telling him what she had done; that she had made almost two millions profit from her operations, that they had been lost, and that the outlook was not reassuring. She begged him to prepare himself for the final calamity; promising that if there were no change for the better by December 1st, she would come home to be with him when the blow fell. She begged him to prepare to meet it like a Sands, and assured him that if worse came to worst she would earn enough to keep poverty away. Judge Sands would receive this letter the second day following, Friday, the 13th day of November. My God! how well I know the date. It is seared into my brain as though with a white-hot iron.
After our talk with Beulah Sands I begged Bob to dine with me and go over matters at length to see if we could not find a way out to relief.
“No, Jim, I have work to do to-night, worn that won’t wait. That Tariff Bill was buttoned up to-day, and it has just been announced that the Sugar directors have declared a big extra stock dividend. Things have come out just about as I told you they would, and the stock is climbing to-day. They say it will touch 200 to-morrow and ‘the Street’ is predicting 250 for it in ten days. Barry Conant has been a steady buyer all day and the news bureaus announced that Camemeyer and the ‘Standard Oil’ are twenty millions winners. They say the Washington gamblers, the Congressmen, Senators, and Cabinet members with their heelers and lobbyists have made a killing. About every one seems to have fattened up, Jim, but you and me and Beulah Sands and the public. The public gets the axe both ways as usual. They have been shaken out of their stock, and they will be compelled to pay millions more each year for their sugar than they would if this law had not been made for their benefit. Jim, there is no disguising the fact that the American people are as helpless in the hands of these thugs of the ‘System’ as though they lived in the realm of the Sultan, where a few cutthroat brigands are licensed to rob and oppress to their heart’s content. Jim Randolph, you know this game of finance. You know how it is worked and the men who work it. Tell me if there is any consideration due Wall Street and its heart-and-soul butchers at the hands of honest men.”
“I don’t know what you mean, Bob. What are you driving at?”
“Never mind what I am driving at. I ask you whether, if an honest man knew how to beat Wall Street at its own game, he should hesitate to beat it–hesitate because of anything connected with conscience or morals? You saw what Barry Conant was able to do to us that day simply by standing on the floor of the Stock Exchange and outstaying me in opening and closing his mouth. You saw he was able to sell Sugar to a point so low that I was obliged to let go of our 150,000 shares at eight to ten million dollars less than we could have got for them if we could have held them until to-day. Because of this trick his clients, the ‘System,’ instead of us, make five to seven millions.”
“I don’t follow you, Bob. I know that Barry Conant was able to do this because he had more money behind him than you.”
“You think so, do you, Jim? That is the way it looks to you, but I tell you money had nothing to do with it. Nothing had to do with it but the fiendish system of fraud and trickery upon which the whole stock-gambling structure is reared. Nothing entered into the whole business but the trickery of stock-gambling as conducted to-day. It was only a question, Jim, of a man’s opening and closing his mouth and spitting out words. From the minute Barry Conant came into that crowd until he left and we were ruined, he showed no money, no anything that I did not show. From the very nature of the business he could not. He simply said ‘Sold’ oftener and longer than I said ‘Buy.’ He may have had money back of him, or he may only have had nerve. God Almighty is the only one who can tell, for when Conant was through he was able to buy back at 90 the 50,000 shares he sold me at 175, the 50,000 that broke my back. Jim, if I had known as much that day as I do now I would have stood in that crowd and bought all the stock he sold at 180 and I would have stood there buying until hell froze over or he quit; then I would have made him rebuy it at 280 or 2,080, and I would have broken him and all his Camemeyer and ‘Standard Oil’ backers; broken them to their last crime-covered dollar.”
“Bob, what are you talking about? It is all Chinese to me. I cannot get head or tail of what you are driving at.”
“I know you can’t, Jim, neither could Wall Street if it were listening to me. But you will, and Wall Street will too, before many days go by. Now I must be off. I have work to do.”
He put on his hat and left me trying to puzzle out just what he meant.
Next day the Sugar bulls had the centre of the Stock Exchange stage. All day long they tossed Sugar from one to another as though each thousand shares had been a wisp of hay instead of $200,000–for soon after the opening it soared to 200. The “System’s” cohorts were in absolute control, with Barry Conant never a minute away from the Sugar-pole, always on the alert to steer the course of prices when they threatened to run away on the up or the down side. It was evident to the expert readers of the tape that the “System” was currying its steed for an exceptionally brilliant run. Ike Bloomstein, the Average Fiend, who for forty years had kept close track of every movement on the floor, and who would bet anything, from his Fifth Avenue mansion to his overripe boardroom straw hat, that all stocks and movements were as strictly subject to the law of averages as are the tides to the moon and sun, remarked to Joe Barnes, the loan expert:
“‘Cam’ unt de Keroseners are pudding up egstra dop rails to dot wool-pen deh haf ben pilding since deh took Pop Prownlee and deh Rantolphs into gamp. Unless my topesheet goes pack on me, for deh first dime in forty years dere vill pe a record clip pefore a veek from to-tay.”
“I am with you there, Ike,” answered Joe. “If Barry Conant’s knife-edged teeth ever spelt a killin’, they do to-day. I just got orders from somewhere to drop call money from four to two and a half per cent., and they have given me ten millions to drop it with and the order is to favour Sugar as ‘collat.’ Some one is anxious to make it easy for the bleaters to get the coin to buy all the Sugar they want. Ike, you and I might make turkey money for Thanksgiving if we only knew whether Barry and his bunch were going to shoot her up thirty or forty points before they turned the bag upside down, or whether they will bury them from 200 to 150. What do you think?”
“I gant make out, aldo I haf vatched dem sharp all day. Dey certainly haf deh lambs lined up right now for any vey dey vont to twist id. I nefer see a petter market for a deluge. From Barry’s movements all day I should say dey vould keep hoistin’ her until apout noon to-morrow, unt dat deh might get her up to two-tirty or even to deh two-fifty. Put dere are von or two topes on deh sheet vhat run deh uder vay. First der is dey fact you gant run out, dat dere is alreaty on deh Sugar vagon deh piggest load of chuicy suckers dat efer game in from deh suppurbs. Sharley Pates says if any von hat tapped his Vashington vire er any utter Capitol vire dis veek he vould haf tought dere vas a Senate, House, unt Kabinet roll-gall on. Deh topes say ‘Cam’ vill nefer led dat fat punch off grafters slite out mit real money if he gan help id unt deh game iss endirely in his hands.”
“I agree with you, Ike. If I had the steering of this killing I don’t think I would take any chance of tempting them to dump and grab the profits by carrying it much over 200. But you can’t tell what ‘Cam’ and those four-eyed dentists at 26 Broadway will do.”
“Yes, put der iss anudder t’ing, Cho, dat makes me sit up unt plink about her goin’ ofer two hundred. To-morrow’s Friday der t’irteenth.”
“Of course, Ike, that is something to be reckoned with, and every man on the floor and in the Street as well has his eye on it. Friday, the 13th, would break the best bull market ever under way. You and I know that, Ike, and the dope shows it too, but you have got to stack this up against it on this trip: no man on the floor knows what Friday the 13th, means better than Barry Conant. He has worked it to the queen’s taste many a time. Why, Barry would not eat to-day for fear the food would get stuck in his windpipe. He’s never left the pole for a minute; but suppose, Ike, Barry has tipped off ‘Cam’ that all the boys will let go their fliers, and most of them will take one on the short side over to-night for a superstition drop at the opening; and suppose ‘Cam’ has told him to take them all into camp and give her a rafter-scraper at the opening, where would old Friday, 13th, land on to-morrow’s dope-sheets? Bring up the average, wouldn’t it, for five years to come? I tell you, Ike, she’s too deep for me this run, and I’m goin’ to let her alone and pay for the turkey out of loan commissions or stick to plain workday food.”
“Zame here, Cho. Say, Cho, haf you noticed Pop Prownlee to-tay? He has frozen to deh fringe off dat Sugar crowd ess t’ough some von hat nipped ‘is scarf-pin unt he vos layin’ for him ass he game out. He hasn’t made a trade to-tay unt yet he sticks like a stamp-tax. I ben keeping my eyes on him for I t’ought he hat someding up his sleeve dat might raise tust ven he tropt id. I dink Parry has hat deh same itear. He never loses sight of him, yet Pop hasn’t made a trade to-tay, unt here id iss twenty minutes of der glose unt dere iss Parry in deh centre again whooping her up ofer two hundred unt four.”
Thursday, November 12th, was a memorable day in Wall Street. As the gong pealed its the-game’s-closed-till-another-day, the myriad of tortured souls that are supposed to haunt the treacherous bogs and quicksands of the great Exchange, where lie their earthly hopes, must have prayed with renewed earnestness for its destruction before the morrow. Never had the Stock Exchange folded its tents with surer confidence of continuing its victorious march. Sugar advanced with record-breaking total sales to 2071/2 and in the final half-hour carried the whole list of stocks up with it. In that time some of the railroads jumped ten points. Sugar closed at the very top amid great excitement, with Barry Conant taking all offered. During the last thirty minutes it had become evident to all that the boardroom traders and plungers, together with many of the semi-professional gamblers, who operated through commission houses, were selling out their long stock and going short over the opening of the Wall Street hoodoo-day, Friday, the thirteenth of the month. But it was also evident, with the heavy selling at the close and the stiffness of the price, which had never wavered as block after block was thrown on the market, that some powerful interest as well had taken cognisance of the fact that the morrow was hoodoo-day. At the close, most of the sellers, had they been granted another five minutes, would have repurchased, even