Crookes nodded as his ally came up, and one finger raised, pointed to a chair. He himself was impassive, calm. He did not move. Taciturn as ever, he waited for the other to speak.
"I want to talk with you, Mr. Crookes," began Cressler, hurriedly. "I—I made up my mind to it day before yesterday, but I put it off. I had hoped that things would come our way. But I can't delay now.... Mr. Crookes, I can't stand this any longer. I must get out of the clique. I haven't the ready money to stand this pace."
There was a silence. Crookes neither moved nor changed expression. His small eyes fixed upon the other, he waited for Cressler to go on.
"I might remind you," Cressler continued, "that when I joined your party I expressly stipulated that our operations should not be speculative."
"You knew—" began Crookes.
"Oh, I have nothing to say," Cressler interrupted. "I did know. I knew from the first it was to be speculation. I tried to deceive myself. I—well, this don't interest you. The point is I must get out of the market. I don't like to go back on you others"—Cressler's fingers were fiddling with his watch chain—"I don't like to—I mean to say you must let me out. You must let me cover—at once. I am—very nearly bankrupt now. Another half-cent rise, and I'm done for. It will take as it is—my—my—all my ready money—all my savings for the last ten years to buy in my wheat."
"Let's see. How much did I sell for you?" demanded Crookes. "Five hundred thousand?"
"Yes, five hundred thousand at ninety-eight—and we're at a dollar nine now. It's an eleven-cent jump. I—I can't stand another eighth. I must cover at once."
Crookes, without answering, drew his desk telephone to him.
"Hello!" he said after a moment. "Hello! ... Buy five hundred May, at the market, right away."
He hung up the receiver and leaned back in his chair.
"They'll report the trade in a minute," he said. "Better wait and see."
Cressler stood at the window, his hands clasped behind his back, looking down into the street. He did not answer. The seconds passed, then the minutes. Crookes turned to his desk and signed a few letters, the scrape of his pen the only noise to break the silence of the room. Then at last he observed:
"Pretty bum weather for this time of the year."
Cressler nodded. He took off his hat, and pushed the hair back from his forehead with a slow, persistent gesture; then as the ticker began to click again, he faced around quickly, and crossing the room, ran the tape through his fingers.
"God," he muttered, between his teeth, "I hope your men didn't lose any time. It's up again."
There was a step at the door, and as Crookes called to come in, the office messenger entered and put a slip of paper into his hands. Crookes looked at it, and pushed it across his desk towards Cressler.
"Here you are," he observed. "That's your trade. Five hundred May, at a dollar ten. You were lucky to get it at that—or at any price."
"Ten!" cried the other, as he took the paper.
Crookes turned away again, and glanced indifferently over his letters. Cressler laid the slip carefully down upon the ledge of the desk, and though Crookes did not look up, he could almost feel how the man braced himself, got a grip of himself, put all his resources to the stretch to meet this blow squarely in the front.
"And I said another eighth would bust me," Cressler remarked, with a short laugh. "Well," he added, grimly, "it looks as though I were busted. I suppose, though, we must all expect to get the knife once in a while—mustn't we? Well, there goes fifty thousand dollars of my good money."
"I can tell you who's got it, if you care to know," answered Crookes. "It's a pewter quarter to Government bonds that Gretry, Converse & Co. sold that wheat to you. They've got about all the wheat there is."
"I know, of course, they've been heavy buyers—for this Unknown Bull they talk so much about."
"Well, he ain't Unknown to me," declared Crookes. "I know him. It's Curtis Jadwin. He's the man we've been fighting all along, and all hell's going to break loose down here in three or four days. He's cornered the market."
"Jadwin! You mean J.—Curtis—my friend?"
Crookes grunted an affirmative.
"But—why, he told me he was out of the market—for good."
Crookes did not seem to consider that the remark called for any useless words. He put his hands in his pockets and looked at Cressler.
"Does he know?" faltered Cressler. "Do you suppose he could have heard that I was in this clique of yours?"
"Not unless you told him yourself."
Cressler stood up, clearing his throat.
"I have not told him, Mr. Crookes," he said. "You would do me an especial favor if you would keep it from the public, from everybody, from Mr. Jadwin, that I was a member of this ring."
Crookes swung his chair around and faced his desk.
"Hell! You don't suppose I'm going to talk, do you?"
"Well.... Good-morning, Mr. Crookes."
Left alone, Crookes took a turn the length of the room. Then he paused in the middle of the floor, looking down thoughtfully at his trim, small feet.
"Jadwin!" he muttered. "Hm! ... Think you're boss of the boat now, don't you? Think I'm done with you, hey? Oh, yes, you'll run a corner in wheat, will you? Well, here's a point for your consideration Mr. Curtis Jadwin, 'Don't get so big that all the other fellows can see you—they throw bricks.'"
He sat down in his chair, and passed a thin and delicate hand across his lean mouth.
"No," he muttered, "I won't try to kill you any more. You've cornered wheat, have you? All right.... Your own wheat, my smart Aleck, will do all the killing I want."
Then at last the news of the great corner, authoritative, definite, went out over all the country, and promptly the figure and name of Curtis Jadwin loomed suddenly huge and formidable in the eye of the public. There was no wheat on the Chicago market. He, the great man, the "Napoleon of La Salle Street," had it all. He sold it or hoarded it, as suited his pleasure. He dictated the price to those men who must buy it of him to fill their contracts. His hand was upon the indicator of the wheat dial of the Board of Trade, and he moved it through as many or as few of the degrees of the circle as he chose.
The newspapers, not only of Chicago, but of every city in the Union, exploited him for "stories." The history of his corner, how he had effected it, its chronology, its results, were told and retold, till his name was familiar in the homes and at the firesides of uncounted thousands. "Anecdotes" were circulated concerning him, interviews—concocted for the most part in the editorial rooms—were printed. His picture appeared. He was described as a cool, calm man of steel, with a cold and calculating grey eye, "piercing as an eagle's"; as a desperate gambler, bold as a buccaneer, his eye black and fiery—a veritable pirate; as a mild, small man with a weak chin and a deprecatory demeanour; as a jolly and roistering "high roller," addicted to actresses, suppers, and to bathing in champagne.
In the Democratic press he was assailed as little better than a thief, vituperated as an oppressor of the people, who ground the faces of the poor, and battened in the luxury wrung from the toiling millions. The Republican papers spoke solemnly of the new era of prosperity upon which the country was entering, referred to the stimulating effect of the higher prices upon capitalised industry, and distorted the situation to an augury of a sweeping Republican victory in the next Presidential campaign.
Day in and day out Gretry's office, where Jadwin now fixed his headquarters, was besieged. Reporters waited in the anteroom for whole half days to get but a nod and a word from the great man. Promoters, inventors, small financiers, agents, manufacturers, even "crayon artists" and horse dealers, even tailors and yacht builders rubbed shoulders with one another outside the door marked "Private."
Farmers from Iowa or Kansas come to town to sell their little quotas of wheat at the prices they once had deemed impossible, shook his hand on the street, and urged him to come out and see "God's own country."
But once, however, an entire deputation of these wheat growers found their way into the sanctum. They came bearing a presentation cup of silver, and their spokesman, stammering and horribly embarrassed in unwonted broadcloth and varnished boots, delivered a short address. He explained that all through the Middle West, all through the wheat belts, a great wave of prosperity was rolling because of Jadwin's corner. Mortgages were being paid off, new and improved farming implements were being bought, new areas seeded new live stock acquired. The men were buying buggies again, the women parlor melodeons, houses and homes were going up; in short, the entire farming population of the Middle West was being daily enriched. In a letter that Jadwin received about this time from an old fellow living in "Bates Corners," Kansas, occurred the words:
"—and, sir, you must know that not a night passes that my little girl, now going on seven, sir, and the brightest of her class in the county seat grammar school, does not pray to have God bless Mister Jadwin, who helped papa save the farm."
If there was another side, if the brilliancy of his triumph yet threw a shadow behind it, Jadwin could ignore it. It was far from him, he could not see it. Yet for all this a story came to him about this time that for long would not be quite forgotten. It came through Corthell, but very indirectly, passed on by a dozen mouths before it reached his ears.
It told of an American, an art student, who at the moment was on a tramping tour through the north of Italy. It was an ugly story. Jadwin pished and pshawed, refusing to believe it, condemning it as ridiculous exaggeration, but somehow it appealed to an uncompromising sense of the probable; it rang true.
"And I met this boy," the student had said, "on the high road, about a kilometre outside of Arezzo. He was a fine fellow of twenty or twenty-two. He knew nothing of the world. England he supposed to be part of the mainland of Europe. For him Cavour and Mazzini were still alive. But when I announced myself American, he roused at once.
"'Ah, American,' he said. 'We know of your compatriot, then, here in Italy—this Jadwin of Chicago, who has bought all the wheat. We have no more bread. The loaf is small as the fist, and costly. We cannot buy it, we have no money. For myself, I do not care. I am young. I can eat lentils and cress. But' and here his voice was a whisper—'but my mother—my mother!'"
"It's a lie!" Jadwin cried. "Of course it's a lie. Good God, if I were to believe every damned story the papers print about me these days I'd go insane."
Yet when he put up the price of wheat to a dollar and twenty cents, the great flour mills of Minnesota and Wisconsin stopped grinding, and finding a greater profit in selling the grain than in milling it, threw their stores upon the market. Though the bakers did not increase the price of their bread as a consequence of this, the loaf—even in Chicago, even in the centre of that great Middle West that weltered in the luxury of production—was smaller, and from all the poorer districts of the city came complaints, protests, and vague grumblings of discontent.
On a certain Monday, about the middle of May, Jadwin sat at Gretry's desk (long since given over to his use), in the office on the ground floor of the Board of Trade, swinging nervously back and forth in the swivel chair, drumming his fingers upon the arms, and glancing continually at the clock that hung against the opposite wall. It was about eleven in the morning. The Board of Trade vibrated with the vast trepidation of the Pit, that for two hours had spun and sucked, and guttered and disgorged just overhead. The waiting-room of the office was more than usually crowded. Parasites of every description polished the walls with shoulder and elbow. Millionaires and beggars jostled one another about the doorway. The vice-president of a bank watched the door of the private office covertly; the traffic manager of a railroad exchanged yarns with a group of reporters while awaiting his turn.
As Gretry, the great man's lieutenant, hurried through the anteroom, conversation suddenly ceased, and half a dozen of the more impatient sprang forward. But the broker pushed his way through the crowd, shaking his head, excusing himself as best he might, and entering the office, closed the door behind him.
At the clash of the lock Jadwin started half-way from his chair, then recognising the broker, sank back with a quick breath.
"Why don't you knock, or something, Sam?" he exclaimed. "Might as well kill a man as scare him to death. Well, how goes it?"
"All right. I've fixed the warehouse crowd—and we just about 'own' the editorial and news sheets of these papers." He threw a memorandum down upon the desk. "I'm off again now. Got an appointment with the Northwestern crowd in ten minutes. Has Hargus or Scannel shown up yet?"
"Hargus is always out in your customers' room," answered Jadwin. "I can get him whenever I want him. But Scannel has not shown up yet. I thought when we put up the price again Friday we'd bring him in. I thought you'd figured out that he couldn't stand that rise."
"He can't stand it," answered Gretry. "He'll be in to see you to-morrow or next day."
"To-morrow or next day won't do," answered Jadwin. "I want to put the knife into him to-day. You go up there on the floor and put the price up another cent. That will bring him, or I'll miss my guess."
Gretry nodded. "All right," he said, "it's your game. Shall I see you at lunch?"
"Lunch! I can't eat. But I'll drop around and hear what the Northwestern people had to say to you."
A few moments after Gretry had gone Jadwin heard the ticker on the other side of the room begin to chatter furiously; and at the same time he could fancy that the distant thunder of the Pit grew suddenly more violent, taking on a sharper, shriller note. He looked at the tape. The one-cent rise had been effected.
"You will hold out, will you, you brute?" muttered Jadwin. "See how you like that now." He took out his watch. "You'll be running in to me in just about ten minutes' time."
He turned about, and calling a clerk, gave orders to have Hargus found and brought to him.
When the old fellow appeared Jadwin jumped up and gave him his hand as he came slowly forward.
His rusty top hat was in his hand; from the breast pocket of his faded and dirty frock coat a bundle of ancient newspapers protruded. His shoestring tie straggled over his frayed shirt front, while at his wrist one of his crumpled cuffs, detached from the sleeve, showed the bare, thin wrist between cloth and linen, and encumbered the fingers in which he held the unlit stump of a fetid cigar.
Evidently bewildered as to the cause of this summons, he looked up perplexed at Jadwin as he came up, out of his dim, red-lidded eyes.
"Sit down, Hargus. Glad to see you," called Jadwin.
The voice was faint and a little querulous.
"I say, sit down. Have a chair. I want to have a talk with you. You ran a corner in wheat once yourself."
"Yes, your corner. You remember?"
"Yes. Oh, that was long ago. In seventy-eight it was—the September option. And the Board made wheat in the cars 'regular.'"
His voice trailed off into silence, and he looked vaguely about on the floor of the room, sucking in his cheeks, and passing the edge of one large, osseous hand across his lips.
"Well, you lost all your money that time, I believe. Scannel, your partner, sold out on you."
"Hey? It was in seventy-eight.... The secretary of the Board announced our suspension at ten in the morning. If the Board had not voted to make wheat in the cars 'regular'—"
He went on and on, in an impassive monotone, repeating, word for word, the same phrases he had used for so long that they had lost all significance.
"Well," broke in Jadwin, at last, "it was Scannel your partner, did for you. Scannel, I say. You know, Dave Scannel."
The old man looked at him confusedly. Then, as the name forced itself upon the atrophied brain, there flashed, for one instant, into the pale, blurred eye, a light, a glint, a brief, quick spark of an old, long-forgotten fire. It gleamed there an instant, but the next sank again.
Plaintively, querulously he repeated:
"It was in seventy-eight.... I lost three hundred thousand dollars."
"How's your little niece getting on?" at last demanded Jadwin.
"My little niece—you mean Lizzie? ... Well and happy, well and happy. I—I got"—he drew a thick bundle of dirty papers from his pocket, envelopes, newspapers, circulars, and the like—"I—I—I got, I got her picture here somewheres."
"Yes, yes, I know, I know," cried Jadwin. "I've seen it. You showed it to me yesterday, you remember."
"I—I got it here somewheres ... somewheres," persisted the old man, fumbling and peering, and as he spoke the clerk from the doorway announced:
This latter was a large, thick man, red-faced, with white, short whiskers of an almost wiry texture. He had a small, gimlet-like eye, enormous, hairy ears, wore a "sack" suit, a highly polished top hat, and entered the office with a great flourish of manner and a defiant trumpeting "Well, how do, Captain?"
Jadwin nodded, glancing up under his scowl.
"Hello!" he said.
The other subsided into a chair, and returned scowl for scowl.
"Oh, well," he muttered, "if that's your style."
He had observed Hargus sitting by the other side of the desk, still fumbling and mumbling in his dirty memoranda, but he gave no sign of recognition. There was a moment's silence, then in a voice from which all the first bluffness was studiously excluded, Scannel said:
"Well, you've rung the bell on me. I'm a sucker. I know it. I'm one of the few hundred other God-damned fools that you've managed to catch out shooting snipe. Now what I want to know is, how much is it going to cost me to get out of your corner? What's the figure? What do you say?"
"I got a good deal to say," remarked Jadwin, scowling again.
But Hargus had at last thrust a photograph into his hands.
"There it is," he said. "That's it. That's Lizzie."
Jadwin took the picture without looking at it, and as he continued to speak, held it in his fingers, and occasionally tapped it upon the desk.
"I know. I know, Hargus," he answered. "I got a good deal to say, Mr. David Scannel. Do you see this old man here?"
"Oh-h, cut it out!" growled the other.
"It's Hargus. You know him very well. You used to know him better. You and he together tried to swing a great big deal in September wheat once upon a time. Hargus! I say, Hargus!"
The old man looked up.
"Here's the man we were talking about, Scannel, you remember. Remember Dave Scannel, who was your partner in seventy-eight? Look at him. This is him now. He's a rich man now. Remember Scannel?"
Hargus, his bleared old eyes blinking and watering, looked across the desk at the other.
"Oh, what's the game?" exclaimed Scannel. "I ain't here on exhibition, I guess. I—"
But he was interrupted by a sharp, quick gasp that all at once issued from Hargus's trembling lips. The old man said no word, but he leaned far forward in his chair, his eyes fixed upon Scannel, his breath coming short, his fingers dancing against his chin.
"Yes, that's him, Hargus," said Jadwin. "You and he had a big deal on your hands a long time ago," he continued, turning suddenly upon Scannel, a pulse in his temple beginning to beat. "A big deal, and you sold him out."
"It's a lie!" cried the other.
Jadwin beat his fist upon the arm of his chair. His voice was almost a shout as he answered:
"You—sold—him—out. I know you. I know the kind of bug you are. You ruined him to save your own dirty hide, and all his life since poor old Hargus has been living off the charity of the boys down here, pinched and hungry and neglected, and getting on, God knows how; yes, and supporting his little niece, too, while you, you have been loafing about your clubs, and sprawling on your steam yachts, and dangling round after your kept women—on the money you stole from him."
Scannel squared himself in his chair, his little eyes twinkling.
"Look here," he cried, furiously, "I don't take that kind of talk from the best man that ever wore shoe-leather. Cut it out, understand? Cut it out."
Jadwin's lower jaw set with a menacing click; aggressive, masterful, he leaned forward.
"You interrupt me again," he declared, "and you'll go out of that door a bankrupt. You listen to me and take my orders. That's what you're here to-day for. If you think you can get your wheat somewheres else, suppose you try."
Scannel sullenly settled himself in his place. He did not answer. Hargus, his eye wandering again, looked distressfully from one to the other. Then Jadwin, after shuffling among the papers of his desk, fixed a certain memorandum with his glance. All at once, whirling about and facing the other, he said quickly:
"You are short to our firm two million bushels at a dollar a bushel."
"Nothing of the sort," cried the other. "It's a million and a half."
Jadwin could not forbear a twinkle of grim humour as he saw how easily Scannel had fallen into the trap.
"You're short a million and a half, then," he repeated. "I'll let you have six hundred thousand of it at a dollar and a half a bushel."
"A dollar and a half! Why, my God, man! Oh well"—Scannel spread out his hands nonchalantly—"I shall simply go into bankruptcy—just as you said."
"Oh, no, you won't," replied Jadwin, pushing back and crossing his legs. "I've had your financial standing computed very carefully, Mr. Scannel. You've got the ready money. I know what you can stand without busting, to the fraction of a cent."
"Why, it's ridiculous. That handful of wheat will cost me three hundred thousand dollars."
And then all at once Scannel surrendered. Stony, imperturbable, he drew his check book from his pocket.
"Make it payable to bearer," said Jadwin.
The other complied, and Jadwin took the check and looked it over carefully.
"Now," he said, "watch here, Dave Scannel. You see this check? And now," he added, thrusting it into Hargus's hands, "you see where it goes. There's the principal of your debt paid off."
"You haven't forgotten the interest, have you? won't compound it, because that might bust you. But six per cent interest on three hundred thousand since 1878, comes to—let's see—three hundred and sixty thousand dollars. And you still owe me nine hundred thousand bushels of wheat." He ciphered a moment on a sheet of note paper. "If I charge you a dollar and forty a bushel for that wheat, it will come to that sum exactly.... Yes, that's correct. I'll let you have the balance of that wheat at a dollar forty. Make the check payable to bearer as before."
For a second Scannel hesitated, his face purple, his teeth grinding together, then muttering his rage beneath his breath, opened his check book again.
"Thank you," said Jadwin as he took the check.
He touched his call bell.
"Kinzie," he said to the clerk who answered it, "after the close of the market to-day send delivery slips for a million and a half wheat to Mr. Scannel. His account with us has been settled."
Jadwin turned to the old man, reaching out the second check to him.
"Here you are, Hargus. Put it away carefully. You see what it is, don't you? Buy your Lizzie a little gold watch with a hundred of it, and tell her it's from Curtis Jadwin, with his compliments.... What, going, Scannel? Well, good-by to you, sir, and hey!" he called after him, "please don't slam the door as you go out."
But he dodged with a defensive gesture as the pane of glass almost leaped from its casing, as Scannel stormed across the threshold.
Jadwin turned to Hargus, with a solemn wink.
"He did slam it after all, didn't he?"
The old fellow, however, sat fingering the two checks in silence. Then he looked up at Jadwin, scared and trembling.
"I—I don't know," he murmured, feebly. "I am a very old man. This—this is a great deal of money, sir. I—I can't say; I—I don't know. I'm an old man ... an old man."
"You won't lose 'em, now?"
"No, no. I'll deposit them at once in the Illinois Trust. I shall ask—I should like."
"I'll send a clerk with you."
"Yes, yes, that is about what—what I—what I was about to suggest. But I must say, Mr. Jadwin—"
He began to stammer his thanks. But Jadwin cut him off. Rising, he guided Hargus to the door, one hand on his shoulder, and at the entrance to the outer office called a clerk.
"Take Mr. Hargus over to the Illinois Trust, Kinzie, and introduce him. He wants to open an account."
The old man started off with the clerk, but before Jadwin had reseated himself at his desk was back again. He was suddenly all excitement, as if a great idea had abruptly taken possession of him. Stealthy, furtive, he glanced continually over his shoulder as he spoke, talking in whispers, a trembling hand shielding his lips.
"You—you are in—you are in control now," he said. "You could give—hey? You could give me—just a little—just one word. A word would be enough, hey? hey? Just a little tip. My God, I could make fifty dollars by noon."
"Why, man, I've just given you about half a million."
"Half a million? I don't know. But"—he plucked Jadwin tremulously by the sleeve—"just a word," he begged. "Hey, just yes or no."
"Haven't you enough with those two checks?"
"Those checks? Oh, I know, I know, I know I'll salt 'em down. Yes, in the Illinois Trust. I won't touch 'em—not those. But just a little tip now, hey?"
"Not a word. Not a word. Take him along, Kinzie."
One week after this Jadwin sold, through his agents in Paris, a tremendous line of "cash" wheat at a dollar and sixty cents the bushel. By now the foreign demand was a thing almost insensate. There was no question as to the price. It was, "Give us the wheat, at whatever cost, at whatever figure, at whatever expense; only that it be rushed to our markets with all the swiftness of steam and steel." At home, upon the Chicago Board of Trade, Jadwin was as completely master of the market as of his own right hand. Everything stopped when he raised a finger; everything leaped to life with the fury of obsession when he nodded his head. His wealth increased with such stupefying rapidity, that at no time was he able to even approximate the gains that accrued to him because of his corner. It was more than twenty million, and less than fifty million. That was all he knew. Nor were the everlasting hills more secure than he from the attack of any human enemy. Out of the ranks of the conquered there issued not so much as a whisper of hostility. Within his own sphere no Czar, no satrap, no Caesar ever wielded power more resistless.
"Sam," said Curtis Jadwin, at length to the broker, "Sam, nothing in the world can stop me now. They think I've been doing something big, don't they, with this corner. Why, I've only just begun. This is just a feeler. Now I'm going to let 'em know just how big a gun C. J. really is. I'm going to swing this deal right over into July. I'm going to buy in my July shorts."
The two men were in Gretry's office as usual, and as Jadwin spoke, the broker glanced up incredulously.
"Now you are for sure crazy."
Jadwin jumped to his feet.
"Crazy!" he vociferated. "Crazy! What do you mean? Crazy! For God's sake, Sam, what—Look here, don't use that word to me. I—it don't suit. What I've done isn't exactly the work of—of—takes brains, let me tell you. And look here, look here, I say, I'm going to swing this deal right over into July. Think I'm going to let go now, when I've just begun to get a real grip on things? A pretty fool I'd look like to get out now—even if I could. Get out? How are we going to unload our big line of wheat without breaking the price on us? No, sir, not much. This market is going up to two dollars." He smote a knee with his clinched fist, his face going abruptly crimson. "I say two dollars," he cried. "Two dollars, do you hear? It will go there, you'll see, you'll see."
"Reports on the new crop will begin to come in in June." Gretry's warning was almost a cry. "The price of wheat is so high now, that God knows how many farmers will plant it this spring. You may have to take care of a record harvest."
"I know better," retorted Jadwin. "I'm watching this thing. You can't tell me anything about it. I've got it all figured out, your 'new crop.'"
"Well, then you're the Lord Almighty himself."
"I don't like that kind of joke. I don't like that kind of joke. It's blasphemous," exclaimed Jadwin. "Go, get it off on Crookes. He'd appreciate it, but I don't. But this new crop now—look here."
And for upwards of two hours Jadwin argued and figured, and showed to Gretry endless tables of statistics to prove that he was right.
But at the end Gretry shook his head. Calmly and deliberately he spoke his mind.
"J., listen to me. You've done a big thing. I know it, and I know, too, that there've been lots of times in the last year or so when I've been wrong and you've been right. But now, J., so help me God, we've reached our limit. Wheat is worth a dollar and a half to-day, and not one cent more. Every eighth over that figure is inflation. If you run it up to two dollars—"
"It will go there of itself, I tell you."
"—if you run it up to two dollars, it will be that top-heavy, that the littlest kick in the world will knock it over. Be satisfied now with what you got. J., it's common sense. Close out your long line of May, and then stop. Suppose the price does break a little, you'd still make your pile. But swing this deal over into July, and it's ruin, ruin. I may have been mistaken before, but I know I'm right now. And do you realise, J., that yesterday in the Pit there were some short sales? There's some of them dared to go short of wheat against you—even at the very top of your corner—and there was more selling this morning. You've always got to buy, you know. If they all began to sell to you at once they'd bust you. It's only because you've got 'em so scared—I believe—that keeps 'em from it. But it looks to me as though this selling proved that they were picking up heart. They think they can get the wheat from the farmers when harvesting begins. And I tell you, J., you've put the price of wheat so high, that the wheat areas are extending all over the country."
"You're scared," cried Jadwin. "That's the trouble with you, Sam. You've been scared from the start. Can't you see, man, can't you see that this market is a regular tornado?"
"I see that the farmers all over the country are planting wheat as they've never planted it before. Great Scott, J., you're fighting against the earth itself."
"Well, we'll fight it, then. I'll stop those hayseeds. What do I own all these newspapers and trade journals for? We'll begin sending out reports to-morrow that'll discourage any big wheat planting."
"And then, too," went on Gretry, "here's another point. Do you know, you ought to be in bed this very minute. You haven't got any nerves left at all. You acknowledge yourself that you don't sleep any more. And, good Lord, the moment any one of us contradicts you, or opposes you, you go off the handle to beat the Dutch. I know it's a strain, old man, but you want to keep yourself in hand if you go on with this thing. If you should break down now—well, I don't like to think of what would happen. You ought to see a doctor."
"Oh-h, fiddlesticks," exclaimed Jadwin, "I'm all right. I don't need a doctor, haven't time to see one anyhow. Don't you bother about me. I'm all right."
Was he? That same night, the first he had spent under his own roof for four days, Jadwin lay awake till the clocks struck four, asking himself the same question. No, he was not all right. Something was very wrong with him, and whatever it might be, it was growing worse. The sensation of the iron clamp about his head was almost permanent by now, and just the walk between his room at the Grand Pacific and Gretry's office left him panting and exhausted. Then had come vertigoes and strange, inexplicable qualms, as if he were in an elevator that sank under him with terrifying rapidity.
Going to and fro in La Salle Street, or sitting in Gretry's office, where the roar of the Pit dinned forever in his ears, he could forget these strange symptoms. It was the night he dreaded—the long hours he must spend alone. The instant the strain was relaxed, the gallop of hoofs, or as the beat of ungovernable torrents began in his brain. Always the beat dropped to the same cadence, always the pulse spelled out the same words:
And of late, during the long and still watches of the night, while he stared at the ceiling, or counted the hours that must pass before his next dose of bromide of potassium, a new turn had been given to the screw.
This was a sensation, the like of which he found it difficult to describe. But it seemed to be a slow, tense crisping of every tiniest nerve in his body. It would begin as he lay in bed—counting interminably to get himself to sleep—between his knees and ankles, and thence slowly spread to every part of him, creeping upward, from loin to shoulder, in a gradual wave of torture that was not pain, yet infinitely worse. A dry, pringling aura as of billions of minute electric shocks crept upward over his flesh, till it reached his head, where it seemed to culminate in a white flash, which he felt rather than saw.
His body felt strange and unfamiliar to him. It seemed to have no weight, and at times his hands would appear to swell swiftly to the size of mammoth boxing-gloves, so that he must rub them together to feel that they were his own.
He put off consulting a doctor from day to day, alleging that he had not the time. But the real reason, though he never admitted it, was the fear that the doctor might tell him what he guessed to be the truth.
Were his wits leaving him? The horror of the question smote through him like the drive of a javelin. What was to happen? What nameless calamity impended?
His watch under his pillow took up the refrain. How to grasp the morrow's business, how control the sluice gates of that torrent he had unchained, with this unspeakable crumbling and disintegrating of his faculties going on?
Jaded, feeble, he rose to meet another day. He drove down town, trying not to hear the beat of his horses' hoofs. Dizzy and stupefied, he gained Gretry's office, and alone with his terrors sat in the chair before his desk, waiting, waiting.
Then far away the great gong struck. Just over his head, penetrating wood and iron, he heard the mighty throe of the Pit once more beginning, moving. And then, once again, the limp and ravelled fibres of being grew tight with a wrench. Under the stimulus of the roar of the maelstrom, the flagging, wavering brain righted itself once more, and—how, he himself could not say—the business of the day was despatched, the battle was once more urged. Often he acted upon what he knew to be blind, unreasoned instinct. Judgment, clear reasoning, at times, he felt, forsook him. Decisions that involved what seemed to be the very stronghold of his situation, had to be taken without a moment's warning. He decided for or against without knowing why. Under his feet fissures opened. He must take the leap without seeing the other edge. Somehow he always landed upon his feet; somehow his great, cumbersome engine, lurching, swaying, in spite of loosened joints, always kept the track.
Luck, his golden goddess, the genius of glittering wings, was with him yet. Sorely tried, flouted even she yet remained faithful, lending a helping hand to lost and wandering judgment.
So the month of May drew to its close. Between the twenty-fifth and the thirtieth Jadwin covered his July shortage, despite Gretry's protests and warnings. To him they seemed idle enough. He was too rich, too strong now to fear any issue. Daily the profits of the corner increased. The unfortunate shorts were wrung dry and drier. In Gretry's office they heard their sentences, and as time went on, and Jadwin beheld more and more of these broken speculators, a vast contempt for human nature grew within him.
Some few of his beaten enemies were resolute enough, accepting defeat with grim carelessness, or with sphinx-like indifference, or even with airy jocularity. But for the most part their alert, eager deference, their tame subservience, the abject humility and debasement of their bent shoulders drove Jadwin to the verge of self-control. He grew to detest the business; he regretted even the defiant brutality of Scannel, a rascal, but none the less keeping his head high. The more the fellows cringed to him, the tighter he wrenched the screw. In a few cases he found a pleasure in relenting entirely, selling his wheat to the unfortunates at a price that left them without loss; but in the end the business hardened his heart to any distress his mercilessness might entail. He took his profits as a Bourbon took his taxes, as if by right of birth. Somewhere, in a long-forgotten history of his brief school days, he had come across a phrase that he remembered now, by some devious and distant process of association, and when he heard of the calamities that his campaign had wrought, of the shipwrecked fortunes and careers that were sucked down by the Pit, he found it possible to say, with a short laugh, and a lift of one shoulder:
His wife he saw but seldom. Occasionally they breakfasted together; more often they met at dinner. But that was all. Jadwin's life by now had come to be so irregular, and his few hours of sleep so precious and so easily disturbed, that he had long since occupied a separate apartment.
What Laura's life was at this time he no longer knew. She never spoke of it to him; never nowadays complained of loneliness. When he saw her she appeared to be cheerful. But this very cheerfulness made him uneasy, and at times, through the murk of the chaff of wheat, through the bellow of the Pit, and the crash of collapsing fortunes there reached him a suspicion that all was not well with Laura.
Once he had made an abortive attempt to break from the turmoil of La Salle Street and the Board of Trade, and, for a time at least, to get back to the old life they both had loved—to get back, in a word, to her. But the consequences had been all but disastrous. Now he could not keep away.
"Corner wheat!" he had exclaimed to her, the following day. "Corner wheat! It's the wheat that has cornered me. It's like holding a wolf by the ears, bad to hold on, but worse to let go."
But absorbed, blinded, deafened by the whirl of things, Curtis Jadwin could not see how perilously well grounded had been his faint suspicion as to Laura's distress.
On the day after her evening with her husband in the art gallery, the evening when Gretry had broken in upon them like a courier from the front, Laura had risen from her bed to look out upon a world suddenly empty.
Corthell she had sent from her forever. Jadwin was once more snatched from her side. Where, now, was she to turn? Jadwin had urged her to go to the country—to their place at Geneva Lake—but she refused. She saw the change that had of late come over her husband, saw his lean face, the hot, tired eyes, the trembling fingers and nervous gestures. Vaguely she imagined approaching disaster. If anything happened to Curtis, her place was at his side.
During the days that Jadwin and Crookes were at grapples Laura found means to occupy her mind with all manner of small activities. She overhauled her wardrobe, planned her summer gowns, paid daily visits to her dressmakers, rode and drove in the park, till every turn of the roads, every tree, every bush was familiar, to the point of wearisome contempt.
Then suddenly she began to indulge in a mania for old books and first editions. She haunted the stationers and second-hand bookstores, studied the authorities, followed the auctions, and bought right and left, with reckless extravagance. But the taste soon palled upon her. With so much money at her command there was none of the spice of the hunt in the affair. She had but to express a desire for a certain treasure, and forthwith it was put into her hand.
She found it so in all other things. Her desires were gratified with an abruptness that killed the zest of them. She felt none of the joy of possession; the little personal relation between her and her belongings vanished away. Her gowns, beautiful beyond all she had ever imagined, were of no more interest to her than a drawerful of outworn gloves. She bought horses till she could no longer tell them apart; her carriages crowded three supplementary stables in the neighbourhood. Her flowers, miracles of laborious cultivation, filled the whole house with their fragrance. Wherever she went deference moved before her like a guard; her beauty, her enormous wealth, her wonderful horses, her exquisite gowns made of her a cynosure, a veritable queen.
And hardly a day passed that Laura Jadwin, in the solitude of her own boudoir, did not fling her arms wide in a gesture of lassitude and infinite weariness, crying out:
"Oh, the ennui and stupidity of all this wretched life!"
She could look forward to nothing. One day was like the next. No one came to see her. For all her great house and for all her money, she had made but few friends. Her "grand manner" had never helped her popularity. She passed her evenings alone in her "upstairs sitting-room," reading, reading till far into the night, or, the lights extinguished, sat at her open window listening to the monotonous lap and wash of the lake.
At such moments she thought of the men who had come into her life—of the love she had known almost from her girlhood. She remembered her first serious affair. It had been with the impecunious theological student who was her tutor. He had worn glasses and little black side whiskers, and had implored her to marry him and come to China, where he was to be a missionary. Every time that he came he had brought her a new book to read, and he had taken her for long walks up towards the hills where the old powder mill stood. Then it was the young lawyer—the "brightest man in Worcester County"—who took her driving in a hired buggy, sent her a multitude of paper novels (which she never read), with every love passage carefully underscored, and wrote very bad verse to her eyes and hair, whose "velvet blackness was the shadow of a crown." Or, again, it was the youthful cavalry officer met in a flying visit to her Boston aunt, who loved her on first sight, gave her his photograph in uniform and a bead belt of Apache workmanship. He was forever singing to her—to a guitar accompaniment—an old love song:
"At midnight hour Beneath the tower He murmured soft, 'Oh nothing fearing With thine own true soldier fly.'"
Then she had come to Chicago, and Landry Court, with his bright enthusiasms and fine exaltations had loved her. She had never taken him very seriously but none the less it had been very sweet to know his whole universe depended upon the nod of her head, and that her influence over him had been so potent, had kept him clean and loyal and honest.
And after this Corthell and Jadwin had come into her life, the artist and the man of affairs. She remembered Corthell's quiet, patient, earnest devotion of those days before her marriage. He rarely spoke to her of his love, but by some ingenious subtlety he had filled her whole life with it. His little attentions, his undemonstrative solicitudes came precisely when and where they were most appropriate. He had never failed her. Whenever she had needed him, or even, when through caprice or impulse she had turned to him, it always had been to find that long since he had carefully prepared for that very contingency. His thoughtfulness of her had been a thing to wonder at. He remembered for months, years even, her most trivial fancies, her unexpressed dislikes. He knew her tastes, as if by instinct; he prepared little surprises for her, and placed them in her way without ostentation, and quite as matters of course. He never permitted her to be embarrassed; the little annoying situations of the day's life he had smoothed away long before they had ensnared her. He never was off his guard, never disturbed, never excited.
And he amused her, he entertained her without seeming to do so. He made her talk; he made her think. He stimulated and aroused her, so that she herself talked and thought with a brilliancy that surprised herself. In fine, he had so contrived that she associated him with everything that was agreeable.
She had sent him away the first time, and he had gone without a murmur; only to come back loyal as ever, silent, watchful, sympathetic, his love for her deeper, stronger than before, and—as always timely—bringing to her a companionship at the moment of all others when she was most alone.
Now she had driven him from her again, and this time, she very well knew, it was to be forever. She had shut the door upon this great love.
Laura stirred abruptly in her place, adjusting her hair with nervous fingers.
And, last of all, it had been Jadwin, her husband. She rose and went to the window, and stood there a long moment, looking off into the night over the park. It was warm and very still. A few carriage lamps glimpsed among the trees like fireflies. Along the walks and upon the benches she could see the glow of white dresses and could catch the sound of laughter. Far off somewhere in the shrubbery, she thought she heard a band playing. To the northeast lay the lake, shimmering under the moon, dotted here and there with the coloured lights of steamers.
She turned back into the room. The great house was still. From all its suites of rooms, its corridors, galleries, and hallways there came no sound. There was no one upon the same floor as herself. She had read all her books. It was too late to go out—and there was no one to go with. To go to bed was ridiculous. She was never more wakeful, never more alive, never more ready to be amused, diverted, entertained.
She thought of the organ, and descending to the art gallery, played Bach, Palestrina, and Stainer for an hour; then suddenly she started from the console, with a sharp, impatient movement of her head.
"Why do I play this stupid music?" she exclaimed. She called a servant and asked:
"Has Mr. Jadwin come in yet?"
"Mr. Gretry just this minute telephoned that Mr. Jadwin would not be home to-night."
When the servant had gone out Laura, her lips compressed, flung up her head. Her hands shut to hard fists, her eye flashed. Rigid, erect in the middle of the floor, her arms folded, she uttered a smothered exclamation over and over again under her breath.
All at once anger mastered her—anger and a certain defiant recklessness, an abrupt spirit of revolt. She straightened herself suddenly, as one who takes a decision. Then, swiftly, she went out of the art gallery, and, crossing the hallway, entered the library and opened a great writing-desk that stood in a recess under a small stained window.
She pulled the sheets of note paper towards her and wrote a short letter, directing the envelope to Sheldon Corthell, The Fine Arts Building, Michigan Avenue.
"Call a messenger," she said to the servant who answered her ring, "and have him take—or send him in here when he comes."
She rested the letter against the inkstand, and leaned back in her chair, looking at it, her fingers plucking swiftly at the lace of her dress. Her head was in a whirl. A confusion of thoughts, impulses, desires, half-formed resolves, half-named regrets, swarmed and spun about her. She felt as though she had all at once taken a leap—a leap which had landed her in a place whence she could see a new and terrible country, an unfamiliar place—terrible, yet beautiful—unexplored, and for that reason all the more inviting, a place of shadows.
Laura rose and paced the floor, her hands pressed together over her heart. She was excited, her cheeks flushed, a certain breathless exhilaration came and went within her breast, and in place of the intolerable ennui of the last days, there came over her a sudden, an almost wild animation, and from out her black eyes there shot a kind of furious gaiety.
But she was aroused by a step at the door. The messenger stood there, a figure ridiculously inadequate for the intensity of all that was involved in the issue of the hour—a weazened, stunted boy, in a uniform many sizes too large.
Laura, seated at her desk, held the note towards him resolutely. Now was no time to hesitate, to temporise. If she did not hold to her resolve now, what was there to look forward to? Could one's life be emptier than hers—emptier, more intolerable, more humiliating?
"Take this note to that address," she said, putting the envelope and a coin in the boy's hand. "Wait for an answer."
The boy shut the letter in his book, which he thrust into his breast pocket, buttoning his coat over it. He nodded and turned away.
Still seated, Laura watched him moving towards the door. Well, it was over now. She had chosen. She had taken the leap. What new life was to begin for her to-morrow? What did it all mean? With an inconceivable rapidity her thoughts began racing through, her brain.
She did not move. Her hands, gripped tight together, rested upon the desk before her. Without turning her head, she watched the retreating messenger, from under her lashes. He passed out of the door, the curtain fell behind him.
And only then, when the irrevocableness of the step was all but an accomplished fact, came the reaction.
"Stop!" she cried, springing up. "Stop! Come back here. Wait a moment."
What had happened? She could neither understand nor explain. Somehow an instant of clear vision had come, and in that instant a power within her that was herself and not herself, and laid hold upon her will. No, no, she could not, she could not, after all. She took the note back.
"I have changed my mind," she said, abruptly. "You may keep the money. There is no message to be sent."
As soon as the boy had gone she opened the envelope and read what she had written. But now the words seemed the work of another mind than her own. They were unfamiliar; they were not the words of the Laura Jadwin she knew. Why was it that from the very first hours of her acquaintance with this man, and in every circumstance of their intimacy, she had always acted upon impulse? What was there in him that called into being all that was reckless in her?
And for how long was she to be able to control these impulses? This time she had prevailed once more against that other impetuous self of hers. Would she prevail the next time? And in these struggles, was she growing stronger as she overcame, or weaker? She did not know. She tore the note into fragments, and making a heap of them in the pen tray, burned them carefully.
During the week following upon this, Laura found her trouble more than ever keen. She was burdened with a new distress. The incident of the note to Corthell, recalled at the last moment, had opened her eyes to possibilities of the situation hitherto unguessed. She saw now what she might be capable of doing in a moment of headstrong caprice, she saw depths in her nature she had not plumbed. Whether these hidden pitfalls were peculiarly hers, or whether they were common to all women placed as she now found herself, she did not pause to inquire. She thought only of results, and she was afraid.
But for the matter of that, Laura had long since passed the point of deliberate consideration or reasoned calculation. The reaction had been as powerful as the original purpose, and she was even yet struggling blindly, intuitively.
For what she was now about to do she could give no reason, and the motives for this final and supreme effort to conquer the league of circumstances which hemmed her in were obscure. She did not even ask what they were. She knew only that she was in trouble, and yet it was to the cause of her distress that she addressed herself. Blindly she turned to her husband; and all the woman in her roused itself, girded itself, called up its every resource in one last test, in one ultimate trial of strength between her and the terrible growing power of that blind, soulless force that roared and guttered and sucked, down there in the midst of the city.
She alone, one unaided woman, her only auxiliaries her beauty, her wit, and the frayed, strained bands of a sorely tried love, stood forth like a challenger, against Charybdis, joined battle with the Cloaca, held back with her slim, white hands against the power of the maelstrom that swung the Nations in its grip.
In the solitude of her room she took the resolve. Her troubles were multiplying; she, too, was in the current, the end of which was a pit—a pit black and without bottom. Once already its grip had seized her, once already she had yielded to the insidious drift. Now suddenly aware of a danger, she fought back, and her hands beating the air for help, turned towards the greatest strength she knew.
"I want my husband," she cried, aloud, to the empty darkness of the night. "I want my husband. I will have him; he is mine, he is mine. There shall nothing take me from him; there shall nothing take him from me."
Her first opportunity came upon a Sunday soon afterward. Jadwin, wakeful all the Saturday night, slept a little in the forenoon, and after dinner Laura came to him in his smoking-room, as he lay on the leather lounge trying to read. His wife seated herself at a writing-table in a corner of the room, and by and by began turning the slips of a calendar that stood at her elbow. At last she tore off one of the slips and held it up.
"Well, old girl?"
"Do you see that date?"
He looked over to her.
"Do you see that date? Do you know of anything that makes that day different—a little—from other days? It's June thirteenth. Do you remember what June thirteenth is?"
Puzzled, he shook his head.
Laura took up a pen and wrote a few words in the space above the printed figures reserved for memoranda. Then she handed the slip to her husband, who read aloud what she had written.
"'Laura Jadwin's birthday.' Why, upon my word," he declared, sitting upright. "So it is, so it is. June thirteenth, of course. And I was beast enough not to realise it. Honey, I can't remember anything these days, it seems."
"But you are going to remember this time?" she said. "You are not going to forget it now. That evening is going to mark the beginning of—oh, Curtis, it is going to be a new beginning of everything. You'll see. I'm going to manage it. I don't know how, but you are going to love me so that nothing, no business, no money, no wheat will ever keep you from me. I will make you. And that evening, that evening of June thirteenth is mine. The day your business can have you, but from six o'clock on you are mine." She crossed the room quickly and took both his hands in hers and knelt beside him. "It is mine," she said, "if you love me. Do you understand, dear? You will come home at six o'clock, and whatever happens—oh, if all La Salle Street should burn to the ground, and all your millions of bushels of wheat with it—whatever happens, you—will—not—leave—me—nor think of anything else but just me, me. That evening is mine, and you will give it to me, just as I have said. I won't remind you of it again. I won't speak of it again. I will leave it to you. But—you will give me that evening if you love me. Dear, do you see just what I mean? ... If you love me.... No—no don't say a word, we won't talk about it at all. No, no, please. Not another word. I don't want you to promise, or pledge yourself, or anything like that. You've heard what I said—and that's all there is about it. We'll talk of something else. By the way, have you seen Mr. Cressler lately?"
"No," he said, falling into her mood. "No haven't seen Charlie in over a month. Wonder what's become of him?"
"I understand he's been sick," she told him. "I met Mrs. Cressler the other day, and she said she was bothered about him."
"Well, what's the matter with old Charlie?"
"She doesn't know, herself. He's not sick enough to go to bed, but he doesn't or won't go down town to his business. She says she can see him growing thinner every day. He keeps telling her he's all right, but for all that, she says, she's afraid he's going to come down with some kind of sickness pretty soon."
"Say," said Jadwin, "suppose we drop around to see them this afternoon? Wouldn't you like to? I haven't seen him in over a month, as I say. Or telephone them to come up and have dinner. Charlie's about as old a friend as I have. We used to be together about every hour of the day when we first came to Chicago. Let's go over to see him this afternoon and cheer him up."
"No," said Laura, decisively. "Curtis, you must have one day of rest out of the week. You are going to lie down all the rest of the afternoon, and sleep if you can. I'll call on them to-morrow."
"Well, all right," he assented. "I suppose I ought to sleep if I can. And then Sam is coming up here, by five. He's going to bring some railroad men with him. We've got a lot to do. Yes, I guess, old girl, I'll try to get forty winks before they get here. And, Laura," he added, taking her hand as she rose to go, "Laura, this is the last lap. In just another month now—oh, at the outside, six weeks—I'll have closed the corner, and then, old girl, you and I will go somewheres, anywhere you like, and then we'll have a good time together all the rest of our lives—all the rest of our lives, honey. Good-by. Now I think I can go to sleep."
She arranged the cushions under his head and drew the curtains close over the windows, and went out, softly closing the door behind her. And a half hour later, when she stole in to look at him, she found him asleep at last, the tired eyes closed, and the arm, with its broad, strong hand, resting under his head. She stood a long moment in the middle of the room, looking down at him; and then slipped out as noiselessly as she had come, the tears trembling on her eyelashes.
Laura Jadwin did not call on the Cresslers the next day, nor even the next after that. For three days she kept indoors, held prisoner by a series of petty incidents; now the delay in the finishing of her new gowns, now by the excessive heat, now by a spell of rain. By Thursday, however, at the beginning of the second week of the month, the storm was gone, and the sun once more shone. Early in the afternoon Laura telephoned to Mrs. Cressler.
"How are you and Mr. Cressler?" she asked. "I'm coming over to take luncheon with you and your husband, if you will let me."
"Oh, Charlie is about the same, Laura," answered Mrs. Cressler's voice. "I guess the dear man has been working too hard, that's all. Do come over and cheer him up. If I'm not here when you come, you just make yourself at home. I've got to go down town to see about railroad tickets and all. I'm going to pack my old man right off to Oconomowoc before I'm another day older. Made up my mind to it last night, and I don't want him to be bothered with tickets or time cards, or baggage or anything. I'll run down and do it all myself. You come right up whenever you're ready and keep Charlie company. How's your husband, Laura child?"
"Oh, Curtis is well," she answered. "He gets very tired at times."
"Well, I can understand it. Lands alive, child whatever are you going to do with all your money? They tell me that J. has made millions in the last three or four months. A man I was talking to last week said his corner was the greatest thing ever known on the Chicago Board of Trade. Well, good-by, Laura, come up whenever you're ready. I'll see you at lunch. Charlie is right here. He says to give you his love." An hour later Laura's victoria stopped in front of the Cressler's house, and the little footman descended with the agility of a monkey, to stand, soldier-like, at the steps, the lap robe over his arm.
Laura gave orders to have the victoria call for her at three, and ran quickly up the front steps. The front entrance was open, the screen door on the latch, and she entered without ceremony.
"Mrs. Cressler!" she called, as she stood in the hallway drawing off her gloves. "Mrs. Cressler! Carrie, have you gone yet?"
But the maid, Annie, appeared at the head of the stairs, on the landing of the second floor, a towel bound about her head, her duster in her hand.
"Mrs. Cressler has gone out, Mrs. Jadwin," she said. "She said you was to make yourself at home, and she'd be back by noon."
Laura nodded, and standing before the hatrack in the hall, took off her hat and gloves, and folded her veil into her purse. The house was old-fashioned, very homelike and spacious, cool, with broad halls and wide windows. In the "front library," where Laura entered first, were steel engravings of the style of the seventies, "whatnots" crowded with shells, Chinese coins, lacquer boxes, and the inevitable sawfish bill. The mantel was mottled white marble, and its shelf bore the usual bronze and gilt clock, decorated by a female figure in classic draperies, reclining against a globe. An oil painting of a mountain landscape hung against one wall; and on a table of black walnut, with a red marble slab, that stood between the front windows, were a stereoscope and a rosewood music box.
The piano, an old style Chickering, stood diagonally across the far corner of the room, by the closed sliding doors, and Laura sat down here and began to play the "Mephisto Walzer," which she had been at pains to learn since the night Corthell had rendered it on her great organ in the art gallery.
But when she had played as much as she could remember of the music, she rose and closed the piano, and pushed back the folding doors between the room she was in and the "back library," a small room where Mrs. Cressler kept her books of poetry.
As Laura entered the room she was surprised to see Mr. Cressler there, seated in his armchair, his back turned toward her.
"Why, I didn't know you were here, Mr. Cressler," she said, as she came up to him.
She laid her hand upon his arm. But Cressler was dead; and as Laura touched him the head dropped upon the shoulder and showed the bullet hole in the temple, just in front of the ear.
The suicide of Charles Cressler had occurred on the tenth of June, and the report of it, together with the wretched story of his friend's final surrender to a temptation he had never outlived, reached Curtis Jadwin early on the morning of the eleventh.
He and Gretry were at their accustomed places in the latter's office, and the news seemed to shut out all the sunshine that had been flooding in through the broad plate-glass windows. After their first incoherent horror, the two sat staring at each other, speechless.
"My God, my God," groaned Jadwin, as if in the throes of a deadly sickness. "He was in the Crookes' ring, and we never knew it—I've killed him, Sam. I might as well have held that pistol myself." He stamped his foot, striking his fist across his forehead, "Great God—my best friend—Charlie—Charlie Cressler! Sam, I shall go mad if this—if this—"
"Steady, steady does it, J.," warned the broker, his hand upon his shoulder, "we got to keep a grip on ourselves to-day. We've got a lot to think of. We'll think about Charlie, later. Just now ... well it's business now. Mathewson & Knight have called on us for margins—twenty thousand dollars."
He laid the slip down in front of Jadwin, as he sat at his desk.
"Oh, this can wait?" exclaimed Jadwin. "Let it go till this afternoon. I can't talk business now. Think of Carrie—Mrs. Cressler, I—"
"No," answered Gretry, reflectively and slowly, looking anywhere but in Jadwin's face. "N—no, I don't think we'd better wait. I think we'd better meet these margin calls promptly. It's always better to keep our trades margined up."
Jadwin faced around.
"Why," he cried, "one would think, to hear you talk, as though there was danger of me busting here at any hour."
Gretry did not answer. There was a moment's silence Then the broker caught his principal's eye and held it a second.
"Well," he answered, "you saw how freely they sold to us in the Pit yesterday. We've got to buy, and buy and buy, to keep our price up; and look here, look at these reports from our correspondents—everything points to a banner crop. There's been an increase of acreage everywhere, because of our high prices. See this from Travers"—he picked up a despatch and read: "'Preliminary returns of spring wheat in two Dakotas, subject to revision, indicate a total area seeded of sixteen million acres, which added to area in winter wheat states, makes total of forty-three million, or nearly four million acres greater than last year.'"
"Lot of damned sentiment," cried Jadwin, refusing to be convinced. "Two-thirds of that wheat won't grade, and Europe will take nearly all of it. What we ought to do is to send our men into the Pit and buy another million, buy more than these fools can offer. Buy 'em to a standstill."
"That takes a big pile of money then," said the broker. "More than we can lay our hands on this morning. The best we can do is to take all the Bears are offering, and support the market. The moment they offer us wheat and we don't buy it, that moment—as you know, yourself—they'll throw wheat at you by the train load, and the price will break, and we with it."
"Think we'll get rid of much wheat to-day?" demanded Jadwin.
By now it had became vitally necessary for Jadwin to sell out his holdings. His "long line" was a fearful expense, insurance and storage charges were eating rapidly into the profits. He must get rid of the load he was carrying, little by little. To do this at a profit, he had adopted the expedient of flooding the Pit with buying orders just before the close of the session, and then as the price rose under this stimulus, selling quickly, before it had time to break. At first this had succeeded. But of late he must buy more and more to keep the price up, while the moment that he began to sell, the price began to drop; so that now, in order to sell one bushel, he must buy two.
"Think we can unload much on 'em to-day?" repeated Jadwin.
"I don't know," answered Gretry, slowly and thoughtfully. "Perhaps—there's a chance—. Frankly, J., I don't think we can. The Pit is taking heart, that's the truth of it. Those fellows are not so scared of us as they were a while ago. It's the new crop, as I've said over and over again. We've put wheat so high, that all the farmers have planted it, and are getting ready to dump it on us. The Pit knows that, of course. Why, just think, they are harvesting in some places. These fellows we've caught in the corner will be able to buy all the wheat they want from the farmers if they can hold out a little longer. And that Government report yesterday showed that the growing wheat is in good condition."
"Nothing of the sort. It was a little over eighty-six."
"Good enough," declared Gretry, "good enough so that it broke the price down to a dollar and twenty. Just think, we were at a dollar and a half a little while ago."
"And we'll be at two dollars in another ten days, I tell you."
"Do you know how we stand, J.?" said the broker gravely. "Do you know how we stand—financially? It's taken pretty nearly every cent of our ready money to support this July market. Oh, we can figure out our paper profits into the millions. We've got thirty, forty, fifty million bushels of wheat that's worth over a dollar a bushel, but if we can't sell it, we're none the better off—and that wheat is costing us six thousand dollars a day. Hell, old man, where's the money going to come from? You don't seem to realise that we are in a precarious condition." He raised an arm, and pointed above him in the direction of the floor of the Board of Trade.
"The moment we can't give our boys—Landry Court, and the rest of 'em—the moment we can't give them buying orders, that Pit will suck us down like a chip. The moment we admit that we can't buy all the wheat that's offered, there's the moment we bust."
"Well, we'll buy it," cried Jadwin, through his set teeth. "I'll show those brutes. Look here, is it money we want? You cable to Paris and offer two million, at—oh, at eight cents below the market; and to Liverpool, and let 'em have twopence off on the same amount. They'll snap it up as quick as look at it. That will bring in one lot of money, and as for the rest, I guess I've got some real estate in this town that's pretty good security."
"What—you going to mortgage part of that?"
"No," cried Jadwin, jumping up with a quick impatient gesture, "no, I'm going to mortgage all of it, and I'm going to do it to-day—this morning. If you say we're in a precarious condition, it's no time for half measures. I'll have more money than you'll know what to do with in the Illinois Trust by three o'clock this afternoon, and when the Board opens to-morrow morning, I'm going to light into those cattle in the Pit there, so as they'll think a locomotive has struck 'em. They'd stand me off, would they? They'd try to sell me down; they won't cover when I turn the screw! I'll show 'em, Sam Gretry. I'll run wheat up so high before the next two days, that the Bank of England can't pull it down, and before the Pit can catch its breath, I'll sell our long line, and with the profits of that, by God! I'll run it up again. Two dollars! Why, it will be two fifty here so quick you won't know how it's happened. I've just been fooling with this crowd until now. Now, I'm really going to get down to business."
Gretry did not answer. He twirled his pencil between his fingers, and stared down at the papers on his desk. Once he started to speak, but checked himself. Then at last he turned about.
"All right," he said, briskly. "We'll see what that will do."
"I'm going over to the Illinois Trust now," said Jadwin, putting on his hat. "When your boys come in for their orders, tell them for to-day just to support the market. If there's much wheat offered they'd better buy it. Tell them not to let the market go below a dollar twenty. When I come back we'll make out those cables."
That day Jadwin carried out his programme so vehemently announced to his broker. Upon every piece of real estate that he owned he placed as heavy a mortgage as the property would stand. Even his old house on Michigan Avenue, even the "homestead" on North State Street were encumbered. The time was come, he felt, for the grand coup, the last huge strategical move, the concentration of every piece of heavy artillery. Never in all his multitude of operations on the Chicago Board of Trade had he failed. He knew he would not fail now; Luck, the golden goddess, still staid at his shoulder. He did more than mortgage his property; he floated a number of promissory notes. His credit, always unimpeachable, he taxed to its farthest stretch; from every source he gathered in the sinews of the war he was waging. No sum was too great to daunt him, none too small to be overlooked. Reserves, van and rear, battle line and skirmish outposts he summoned together to form one single vast column of attack.
It was on this same day while Jadwin, pressed for money, was leaving no stone unturned to secure ready cash, that he came across old Hargus in his usual place in Gretry's customers' room, reading a two days old newspaper. Of a sudden an idea occurred to Jadwin. He took the old man aside. "Hargus," he said, "do you want a good investment for your money, that money I turned over to you? I can give you a better rate than the bank, and pretty good security. Let me have about a hundred thousand at—oh, ten per cent."
"Hey—what?" asked the old fellow querulously. Jadwin repeated his request.
But Hargus cast a suspicious glance at him and drew away.
"I—I don't lend my money," he observed.
"Why—you old fool," exclaimed Jadwin. "Here, is it more interest you want? Why, we'll say fifteen per cent., if you like."
"I don't lend my money," exclaimed Hargus, shaking his head. "I ain't got any to lend," and with the words took himself off.
One source of help alone Jadwin left untried. Sorely tempted, he nevertheless kept himself from involving his wife's money in the hazard. Laura, in her own name, was possessed of a little fortune; sure as he was of winning, Jadwin none the less hesitated from seeking an auxiliary here. He felt it was a matter of pride. He could not bring himself to make use of a woman's succour.
But his entire personal fortune now swung in the balance. It was the last fight, the supreme attempt—the final consummate assault, and the thrill of a victory more brilliant, more conclusive, more decisive than any he had ever known, vibrated in Jadwin's breast, as he went to and fro in Jackson, Adams, and La Salle streets all through that day of the eleventh.
But he knew the danger—knew just how terrible was to be the grapple. Once that same day a certain detail of business took him near to the entrance of the Floor. Though he did not so much as look inside the doors, he could not but hear the thunder of the Pit; and even in that moment of confidence, his great triumph only a few hours distant, Jadwin, for the instant, stood daunted. The roar was appalling, the whirlpool was again unchained, the maelstrom was again unleashed. And during the briefest of seconds he could fancy that the familiar bellow of its swirling, had taken on another pitch. Out of that hideous turmoil, he imagined, there issued a strange unwonted note; as it were, the first rasp and grind of a new avalanche just beginning to stir, a diapason more profound than any he had yet known, a hollow distant bourdon as of the slipping and sliding of some almighty and chaotic power.
It was the Wheat, the Wheat! It was on the move again. From the farms of Illinois and Iowa, from the ranches of Kansas and Nebraska, from all the reaches of the Middle West, the Wheat, like a tidal wave, was rising, rising. Almighty, blood-brother to the earthquake, coeval with the volcano and the whirlwind, that gigantic world-force, that colossal billow, Nourisher of the Nations, was swelling and advancing.
There in the Pit its first premonitory eddies already swirled and spun. If even the first ripples of the tide smote terribly upon the heart, what was it to be when the ocean itself burst through, on its eternal way from west to east? For an instant came clear vision. What were these shouting, gesticulating men of the Board of Trade, these brokers, traders, and speculators? It was not these he fought, it was that fatal New Harvest; it was the Wheat; it was—as Gretry had said—the very Earth itself. What were those scattered hundreds of farmers of the Middle West, who because he had put the price so high had planted the grain as never before? What had they to do with it? Why the Wheat had grown itself; demand and supply, these were the two great laws the Wheat obeyed. Almost blasphemous in his effrontery, he had tampered with these laws, and had roused a Titan. He had laid his puny human grasp upon Creation and the very earth herself, the great mother, feeling the touch of the cobweb that the human insect had spun, had stirred at last in her sleep and sent her omnipotence moving through the grooves of the world, to find and crush the disturber of her appointed courses.
The new harvest was coming in; the new harvest of wheat, huge beyond possibility of control; so vast that no money could buy it, so swift that no strategy could turn it. But Jadwin hurried away from the sound of the near roaring of the Pit. No, no. Luck was with him; he had mastered the current of the Pit many times before—he would master it again. The day passed and the night, and at nine o'clock the following morning, he and Gretry once more met in the broker's office.
Gretry turned a pale face upon his principal.
"I've just received," he said, "the answers to our cables to Liverpool and Paris. I offered wheat at both places, as you know, cheaper than we've ever offered it there before."
"Well," answered Gretry, looking gravely into Jadwin's eyes, "well—they won't take it."
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
On the morning of her birthday—the thirteenth of the month—when Laura descended to the breakfast room, she found Page already there. Though it was barely half-past seven, her sister was dressed for the street. She wore a smart red hat, and as she stood by the French windows, looking out, she drew her gloves back and forth between her fingers, with a nervous, impatient gesture.
"Why," said Laura, as she sat down at her place, "why, Pagie, what is in the wind to-day?"
"Landry is coming," Page explained, facing about and glancing at the watch pinned to her waist. "He is going to take me down to see the Board of Trade—from the visitor's gallery, you know. He said this would probably be a great day. Did Mr. Jadwin come home last night?"
Laura shook her head, without speech. She did not choose to put into words the fact that for three days—with the exception of an hour or two, on the evening after that horrible day of her visit to the Cresslers' house—she had seen nothing of her husband.
"Landry says," continued Page, "that it is awful—down there, these days. He says that it is the greatest fight in the history of La Salle Street. Has Mr. Jadwin, said anything to you? Is he going to win?"
"I don't know," answered Laura, in a low voice; "I don't know anything about it, Page."
She was wondering if even Page had forgotten. When she had come into the room, her first glance had been towards her place at table. But there was nothing there, not even so much as an envelope; and no one had so much as wished her joy of the little anniversary. She had thought Page might have remembered, but her sister's next words showed that she had more on her mind than birthdays.
"Laura," she began, sitting down opposite to her, and unfolding her napkin, with laborious precision. "Laura—Landry and I—Well ... we're going to be married in the fall."
"Why, Pagie," cried Laura, "I'm just as glad as I can be for you. He's a fine, clean fellow, and I know he will make you a good husband."
Page drew a deep breath.
"Well," she said, "I'm glad you think so, too. Before you and Mr. Jadwin were married, I wasn't sure about having him care for me, because at that time—well—" Page looked up with a queer little smile, "I guess you could have had him—if you had wanted to."
"Oh, that," cried Laura. "Why, Landry never really cared for me. It was all the silliest kind of flirtation. The moment he knew you better, I stood no chance at all."
"We're going to take an apartment on Michigan Avenue, near the Auditorium," said Page, "and keep house. We've talked it all over, and know just how much it will cost to live and keep one servant. I'm going to serve the loveliest little dinners; I've learned the kind of cooking he likes already. Oh, I guess there he is now," she cried, as they heard the front door close.
Landry came in, carrying a great bunch of cut flowers, and a box of candy. He was as spruce as though he were already the bridegroom, his cheeks pink, his blonde hair radiant. But he was thin and a little worn, a dull feverish glitter came and went in his eyes, and his nervousness, the strain and excitement which beset him were in his every gesture, in every word of his rapid speech.
"We'll have to hurry," he told Page. "I must be down there hours ahead of time this morning."
"How is Curtis?" demanded Laura. "Have you seen him lately? How is he getting on with—with his speculating?"
Landry made a sharp gesture of resignation.
"I don't know," he answered. "I guess nobody knows. We had a fearful day yesterday, but I think we controlled the situation at the end. We ran the price up and up and up till I thought it would never stop. If the Pit thought Mr. Jadwin was beaten, I guess they found out how they were mistaken. For a time there, we were just driving them. But then Mr. Gretry sent word to us in the Pit to sell, and we couldn't hold them. They came back at us like wolves; they beat the price down five cents, in as many minutes. We had to quit selling, and buy again. But then Mr. Jadwin went at them with a rush. Oh, it was grand! We steadied the price at a dollar and fifteen, stiffened it up to eighteen and a half, and then sent it up again, three cents at a time, till we'd hammered it back to a dollar and a quarter."
"But Curtis himself," inquired Laura, "is he all right, is he well?"
"I only saw him once," answered Landry. "He was in Mr. Gretry's office. Yes, he looked all right. He's nervous, of course. But Mr. Gretry looks like the sick man. He looks all frazzled out."
"I guess, we'd better be going," said Page, getting up from the table. "Have you had your breakfast, Landry? Won't you have some coffee?"
"Oh, I breakfasted hours ago," he answered. "But you are right. We had better be moving. If you are going to get a seat in the gallery, you must be there half an hour ahead of time, to say the least. Shall I take any word to your husband from you, Mrs. Jadwin?"
"Tell him that I wish him good luck," she answered, "and—yes, ask him, if he remembers what day of the month this is—or no, don't ask him that. Say nothing about it. Just tell him I send him my very best love, and that I wish him all the success in the world."
It was about nine o'clock, when Landry and Page reached the foot of La Salle Street. The morning was fine and cool. The sky over the Board of Trade sparkled with sunlight, and the air was full of fluttering wings of the multitude of pigeons that lived upon the leakage of grain around the Board of Trade building.
"Mr. Cressler used to feed them regularly," said Landry, as they paused on the street corner opposite the Board. "Poor—poor Mr. Cressler—the funeral is to-morrow, you know."
Page shut her eyes.
"Oh," she murmured, "think, think of Laura finding him there like that. Oh, it would have killed me, it would have killed me."
"Somehow," observed Landry, a puzzled expression in his eyes, "somehow, by George! she don't seem to mind very much. You'd have thought a shock like that would have made her sick."
"Oh! Laura," cried Page. "I don't know her any more these days, she is just like stone—just as though she were crowding down every emotion or any feeling she ever had. She seems to be holding herself in with all her strength—for something—and afraid to let go a finger, for fear she would give way altogether. When she told me about that morning at the Cresslers' house, her voice was just like ice; she said, 'Mr. Cressler has shot himself. I found him dead in his library.' She never shed a tear, and she spoke, oh, in such a terrible monotone. Oh! dear," cried Page, "I wish all this was over, and we could all get away from Chicago, and take Mr. Jadwin with us, and get him back to be as he used to be, always so light-hearted, and thoughtful and kindly. He used to be making jokes from morning till night. Oh, I loved him just as if he were my father."
They crossed the street, and Landry, taking her by the arm, ushered her into the corridor on the ground floor of the Board.
"Now, keep close to me," he said, "and see if we can get through somewhere here."
The stairs leading up to the main floor were already crowded with visitors, some standing in line close to the wall, others aimlessly wandering up and down, looking and listening, their heads in the air. One of these, a gentleman with a tall white hat, shook his head at Landry and Page, as they pressed by him.
"You can't get up there," he said, "even if they let you in. They're packed in like sardines already."
But Landry reassured Page with a knowing nod of his head.
"I told the guide up in the gallery to reserve a seat for you. I guess we'll manage."
But when they reached the staircase that connected the main floor with the visitors' gallery, it became a question as to whether or not they could even get to the seat. The crowd was packed solidly upon the stairs, between the wall and the balustrades. There were men in top hats, and women in silks; rough fellows of the poorer streets, and gaudily dressed queens of obscure neighborhoods, while mixed with these one saw the faded and shabby wrecks that perennially drifted about the Board of Trade, the failures who sat on the chairs of the customers' rooms day in and day out, reading old newspapers, smoking vile cigars. And there were young men of the type of clerks and bookkeepers, young men with drawn, worn faces, and hot, tired eyes, who pressed upward, silent, their lips compressed, listening intently to the indefinite echoing murmur that was filling the building.
For on this morning of the thirteenth of June, the Board of Trade, its halls, corridors, offices, and stairways were already thrilling with a vague and terrible sound. It was only a little after nine o'clock. The trading would not begin for another half hour, but, even now, the mutter of the whirlpool, the growl of the Pit was making itself felt. The eddies were gathering; the thousands of subsidiary torrents that fed the cloaca were moving. From all over the immediate neighborhood they came, from the offices of hundreds of commission houses, from brokers' offices, from banks, from the tall, grey buildings of La Salle Street, from the street itself. And even from greater distances they came; auxiliary currents set in from all the reach of the Great Northwest, from Minneapolis, Duluth, and Milwaukee. From the Southwest, St. Louis, Omaha, and Kansas City contributed to the volume. The Atlantic Seaboard, New York, and Boston and Philadelphia sent out their tributary streams; London, Liverpool, Paris, and Odessa merged their influences with the vast world-wide flowing that bore down upon Chicago, and that now began slowly, slowly to centre and circle about the Wheat Pit of the Board of Trade.
Small wonder that the building to Page's ears vibrated to a strange and ominous humming. She heard it in the distant clicking of telegraph keys, in the echo of hurried whispered conversations held in dark corners, in the noise of rapid footsteps, in the trilling of telephone bells. These sounds came from all around her; they issued from the offices of the building below her, above her and on either side. She was surrounded with them, and they mingled together to form one prolonged and muffled roar, that from moment to moment increased in volume.
The Pit was getting under way; the whirlpool was forming, and the sound of its courses was like the sound of the ocean in storm, heard at a distance.
Page and Landry were still halfway up the last stairway. Above and below, the throng was packed dense and immobilised. But, little by little, Landry wormed a way for them, winning one step at a time. But he was very anxious; again and again he looked at his watch. At last he said:
"I've got to go. It's just madness for me to stay another minute. I'll give you my card."
"Well, leave me here," Page urged. "It can't be helped. I'm all right. Give me your card. I'll tell the guide in the gallery that you kept the seat for me—if I ever can get there. You must go. Don't stay another minute. If you can, come for me here in the gallery, when it's over. I'll wait for you. But if you can't come, all right. I can take care of myself."
He could but assent to this. This was no time to think of small things. He left her and bore back with all his might through the crowd, gained the landing at the turn of the balustrade, waved his hat to her and disappeared.
A quarter of an hour went by. Page, caught in the crowd, could neither advance nor retreat. Ahead of her, some twenty steps away, she could see the back rows of seats in the gallery. But they were already occupied. It seemed hopeless to expect to see anything of the floor that day. But she could no longer extricate herself from the press; there was nothing to do but stay where she was.
On every side of her she caught odds and ends of dialogues and scraps of discussions, and while she waited she found an interest in listening to these, as they reached her from time to time.
"Well," observed the man in the tall white hat, who had discouraged Landry from attempting to reach the gallery, "well, he's shaken 'em up pretty well. Whether he downs 'em or they down him, he's made a good fight."
His companion, a young man with eyeglasses, who wore a wonderful white waistcoat with queer glass buttons, assented, and Page heard him add:
"Big operator, that Jadwin."
"They're doing for him now, though."
"I ain't so sure. He's got another fight in him. You'll see."
"Ever see him?"
"No, no, he don't come into the Pit—these big men never do."
Directly in front of Page two women kept up an interminable discourse.
"Well," said the one, "that's all very well, but Mr. Jadwin made my sister-in-law—she lives in Dubuque, you know—a rich woman. She bought some wheat, just for fun, you know, a long time ago, and held on till Mr. Jadwin put the price up to four times what she paid for it. Then she sold out. My, you ought to see the lovely house she's building, and her son's gone to Europe, to study art, if you please, and a year ago, my dear, they didn't have a cent, not a cent, but her husband's salary."
"There's the other side, too, though," answered her companion, adding in a hoarse whisper: "If Mr. Jadwin fails to-day—well, honestly, Julia, I don't know what Philip will do."
But, from another group at Page's elbow, a man's bass voice cut across the subdued chatter of the two women.
"'Guess we'll pull through, somehow. Burbank & Co., though—by George! I'm not sure about them. They are pretty well involved in this thing, and there's two or three smaller firms that are dependent on them. If Gretry-Converse & Co. should suspend, Burbank would go with a crash sure. And there's that bank in Keokuk; they can't stand much more. Their depositors would run 'em quick as how-do-you-do, if there was a smash here in Chicago."
"Oh, Jadwin will pull through."
"Well, I hope so—by Jingo! I hope so. Say, by the way, how did you come out?"
"Me! Hoh! Say my boy, the next time I get into a wheat trade you'll know it. I was one of the merry paretics who believed that Crookes was the Great Lum-tum. I tailed on to his clique. Lord love you! Jadwin put the knife into me to the tune of twelve thousand dollars. But, say, look here; aren't we ever going to get up to that blame gallery? We ain't going to see any of this, and I—hark!—by God! there goes the gong. They've begun. Say, say, hear 'em, will you! Holy Moses! say—listen to that! Did you ever hear—Lord! I wish we could see—could get somewhere where we could see something."
His friend turned to him and spoke a sentence that was drowned in the sudden vast volume of sound that all at once shook the building.
The other shouted into his ear. But even then his friend could not hear. Nor did he listen. The crowd upon the staircases had surged irresistibly forward and upward. There was a sudden outburst of cries. Women's voices were raised in expostulation, and even fear.
"Oh, oh—don't push so!"
"My arm! oh!—oh, I shall faint ... please."
But the men, their escorts, held back furiously; their faces purple, they shouted imprecations over their shoulders.
"Here, here, you damn fools, what you doing?"
"Don't crowd so!"
"Get back, back!"
"There's a lady fainted here. Get back you! We'll all have a chance to see. Good Lord! ain't there a policeman anywheres?"
"Say, say! It's going down—the price. It broke three cents, just then, at the opening, they say."
"This is the worst I ever saw or heard of."
"My God! if Jadwin can only hold 'em.
"You bet he'll hold 'em."
"Hold nothing!—Oh! say my friend, it don't do you any good to crowd like that."
"It's the people behind: I'm not doing it. Say, do you know where they're at on the floor? The wheat, I mean, is it going up or down?"
"Up, they tell me. There was a rally; I don't know. How can we tell here? We—Hi! there they go again. Lord! that must have been a smash. I guess the Board of Trade won't forget this day in a hurry. Heavens, you can't hear yourself think!
"Glad I ain't down there in the Pit."
But, at last, a group of policemen appeared. By main strength they shouldered their way to the top of the stairs, and then began pushing the crowd back. At every instant they shouted:
"Move on now, clear the stairway. No seats left!"
But at this Page, who, by the rush of the crowd had been carried almost to the top of the stairs, managed to extricate an arm from the press, and hold Landry's card in the air. She even hazarded a little deception:
"I have a pass. Will you let me through, please?"
Luckily one of the officers heard her. He bore down heavily with all the mass of his two hundred pounds and the majesty of the law he represented, to the rescue and succour of this very pretty girl.
"Let the lady through," he roared, forcing a passage with both elbows. "Come right along, Miss. Stand back you, now. Can't you see the lady has a pass? Now then, Miss, and be quick about it, I can't keep 'em back forever."
Jostled and hustled, her dress crumpled, her hat awry, Page made her way forward, till the officer caught her by the arm, and pulled her out of the press. With a long breath she gained the landing of the gallery.