The Pit by Frank Norris
The months passed. Soon three years had gone by, and the third winter since the ceremony in St. James' Church drew to its close.
Since that day when--acting upon the foreknowledge of the French import duty--Jadwin had sold his million of bushels short, the price of wheat had been steadily going down. From ninety-three and ninety-four it had dropped to the eighties. Heavy crops the world over had helped the decline. No one was willing to buy wheat. The Bear leaders were strong, unassailable. Lower and lower sagged the price; now it was seventy-five, now seventy-two. From all parts of the country in solid, waveless tides wheat--the mass of it incessantly crushing down the price--came rolling in upon Chicago and the Board of Trade Pit. All over the world the farmers saw season after season of good crops. They were good in the Argentine Republic, and on the Russian steppes. In India, on the little farms of Burmah, of Mysore, and of Sind the grain, year after year, headed out fat, heavy, and well-favoured. In the great San Joaquin valley of California the ranches were one welter of fertility. All over the United States, from the Dakotas, from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois, from all the wheat belt came steadily the reports of good crops.
But at the same time the low price of grain kept the farmers poor. New mortgages were added to farms already heavily "papered"; even the crops were mortgaged in advance. No new farm implements were bought. Throughout the farming communities of the "Middle West" there were no longer purchases of buggies and parlour organs. Somewhere in other remoter corners of the world the cheap wheat, that meant cheap bread, made living easy and induced prosperity, but in the United States the poverty of the farmer worked upward through the cogs and wheels of the whole great machine of business. It was as though a lubricant had dried up. The cogs and wheels worked slowly and with dislocations. Things were a little out of joint. Wall Street stocks were down. In a word, "times were bad." Thus for three years. It became a proverb on the Chicago Board of Trade that the quickest way to make money was to sell wheat short. One could with almost absolute certainty be sure of buying cheaper than one had sold. And that peculiar, indefinite thing known--among the most unsentimental men in the world--as "sentiment," prevailed more and more strongly in favour of low prices. "The 'sentiment,'" said the market reports, "was bearish"; and the traders, speculators, eighth-chasers, scalpers, brokers, bucket-shop men, and the like--all the world of La Salle Street--had become so accustomed to these "Bear conditions," that it was hard to believe that they would not continue indefinitely.
Jadwin, inevitably, had been again drawn into the troubled waters of the Pit. Always, as from the very first, a Bear, he had once more raided the market, and had once more been successful. Two months after this raid he and Gretry planned still another coup, a deal of greater magnitude than any they had previously hazarded. Laura, who knew very little of her husband's affairs--to which he seldom alluded--saw by the daily papers that at one stage of the affair the "deal" trembled to its base.
But Jadwin was by now "blooded to the game." He no longer needed Gretry's urging to spur him. He had developed into a strategist, bold, of inconceivable effrontery, delighting in the shock of battle, never more jovial, more daring than when under stress of the most merciless attack. On this occasion, when the "other side" resorted to the usual tactics to drive him from the Pit, he led on his enemies to make one single false step. Instantly--disregarding Gretry's entreaties as to caution--Jadwin had brought the vast bulk of his entire fortune to bear, in the manner of a general concentrating his heavy artillery, and crushed the opposition with appalling swiftness.
He issued from the grapple triumphantly, and it was not till long afterward that Laura knew how near, for a few hours, he had been to defeat.
And again the price of wheat declined. In the first week in April, at the end of the third winter of Jadwin's married life, May wheat was selling on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade at sixty-four, the July option at sixty-five, the September at sixty- six and an eighth. During February of the same year Jadwin had sold short five hundred thousand bushels of May. He believed with Gretry and with the majority of the professional traders that the price would go to sixty.
March passed without any further decline. All through this month and through the first days of April Jadwin was unusually thoughtful. His short wheat gave him no concern. He was now so rich that a mere half-million bushels was not a matter for anxiety. It was the "situation" that arrested his attention.
In some indefinable way, warned by that blessed sixth sense that had made him the successful speculator he was, he felt that somewhere, at some time during the course of the winter, a change had quietly, gradually come about, that it was even then operating. The conditions that had prevailed so consistently for three years, were they now to be shifted a little? He did not know, he could not say. But in the plexus of financial affairs in which he moved and lived he felt--a difference.
For one thing "times" were better, business was better. He could not fail to see that trade was picking up. In dry goods, in hardware, in manufactures there seemed to be a different spirit, and he could imagine that it was a spirit of optimism. There, in that great city where the Heart of the Nation beat, where the diseases of the times, or the times' healthful activities were instantly reflected, Jadwin sensed a more rapid, an easier, more untroubled run of life blood. All through the Body of Things, money, the vital fluid, seemed to be flowing more easily. People seemed richer, the banks were lending more, securities seemed stable, solid. In New York, stocks were booming. Men were making money--were making it, spending it, lending it, exchanging it. Instead of being congested in vaults, safes, and cash boxes, tight, hard, congealed, it was loosening, and, as it were, liquefying, so that it spread and spread and permeated the entire community. The People had money. They were willing to take chances.
So much for the financial conditions.
The spring had been backward, cold, bitter, inhospitable, and Jadwin began to suspect that the wheat crop of his native country, that for so long had been generous, and of excellent quality, was now to prove--it seemed quite possible--scant and of poor condition. He began to watch the weather, and to keep an eye upon the reports from the little county seats and "centres" in the winter wheat States. These, in part, seemed to confirm his suspicions.
From Keokuk, in Iowa, came the news that winter wheat was suffering from want of moisture. Benedict, Yates' Centre, and Douglass, in southeastern Kansas, sent in reports of dry, windy weather that was killing the young grain in every direction, and the same conditions seemed to prevail in the central counties. In Illinois, from Quincy and Waterloo in the west, and from Ridgway in the south, reports came steadily to hand of freezing weather and bitter winds. All through the lower portions of the State the snowfall during the winter had not been heavy enough to protect the seeded grain. But the Ohio crop, it would appear, was promising enough, as was also that of Missouri. In Indiana, however, Jadwin could guess that the hopes of even a moderate yield were fated to be disappointed; persistent cold weather, winter continuing almost up to the first of April, seemed to have definitely settled the question.
But more especially Jadwin watched Nebraska, that State which is one single vast wheat field. How would Nebraska do, Nebraska which alone might feed an entire nation? County seat after county seat began to send in its reports. All over the State the grip of winter held firm even yet. The wheat had been battered by incessant gales, had been nipped and harried by frost; everywhere the young half-grown grain seemed to be perishing. It was a massacre, a veritable slaughter.
But, for all this, nothing could be decided as yet. Other winter wheat States, from which returns were as yet only partial, might easily compensate for the failures elsewhere, and besides all that, the Bears of the Board of Trade might keep the price inert even in face of the news of short yields. As a matter of fact, the more important and stronger Bear traders were already piping their usual strain. Prices were bound to decline, the three years, sagging was not over yet. They, the Bears, were too strong; no Bull news could frighten them. Somehow there was bound to be plenty of wheat. In face of the rumours of a short crop they kept the price inert, weak.
On the tenth of April came the Government report on the condition of winter wheat. It announced an average far below any known for ten years past. On March tenth the same bulletin had shown a moderate supply in farmers' hands, less than one hundred million bushels in fact, and a visible supply of less than forty millions.
The Bear leaders promptly set to work to discount this news. They showed how certain foreign conditions would more than offset the effect of a poor American harvest. They pointed out the fact that the Government report on condition was brought up only to the first of April, and that since that time the weather in the wheat belt had been favorable beyond the wildest hopes.
The April report was made public on the afternoon of the tenth of the month. That same evening Jadwin invited Gretry and his wife to dine at the new house on North Avenue; and after dinner, leaving Mrs. Gretry and Laura in the drawing-room, he brought the broker up to the billiard-room for a game of pool.
But when Gretry had put the balls in the triangle, the two men did not begin to play at once. Jadwin had asked the question that had been uppermost in the minds of each during dinner.
"Well, Sam," he had said, by way of a beginning, "what do you think of this Government report?"
The broker chalked his cue placidly.
"I expect there'll be a bit of reaction on the strength of it, but the market will go off again. I said wheat would go to sixty, and I still say it. It's a long time between now and May."
"I wasn't thinking of crop conditions only," observed Jadwin. "Sam, we're going to have better times and higher prices this summer."
Gretry shook his head and entered into a long argument to show that Jadwin was wrong.
But Jadwin refused to be convinced. All at once he laid the flat of his hand upon the table.
"Sam, we've touched bottom," he declared, "touched bottom all along the line. It's a paper dime to the Sub-Treasury."
"I don't care about the rest of the line," said the broker doggedly, sitting on the edge of the table, "wheat will go to sixty." He indicated the nest of balls with a movement of his chin. "Will you break?"
Jadwin broke and scored, leaving one ball three inches in front of a corner pocket. He called the shot, and as he drew back his cue he said, deliberately:
"Just as sure as I make this pocket wheat will--not go--off--another--cent."
With the last word he drove the ball home and straightened up. Gretry laid down his cue and looked at him quickly. But he did not speak. Jadwin sat down on one of the straight-backed chairs upon the raised platform against the wall and rested his elbows upon his knees.
"Sam," he said, "the time is come for a great big change." He emphasised the word with a tap of his cue upon the floor. "We can't play our game the way we've been playing it the last three years. We've been hammering wheat down and down and down, till we've got it below the cost of production; and now she won't go any further with all the hammering in the world. The other fellows, the rest of this Bear crowd, don't seem to see it, but I see it. Before fall we're going to have higher prices. Wheat is going up, and when it does I mean to be right there."
"We're going to have a dull market right up to the beginning of winter," persisted the other.
"Come and say that to me at the beginning of winter, then," Jadwin retorted. "Look here, Sam, I'm short of May five hundred thousand bushels, and to-morrow morning you are going to send your boys on the floor for me and close that trade."
"You're crazy, J.," protested the broker. "Hold on another month, and I promise you, you'll thank me."
"Not another day, not another hour. This Bear campaign of ours has come to an end. That's said and signed."
"Why, it's just in its prime," protested the broker. "Great heavens, you mustn't get out of the game now, after hanging on for three years."
"I'm not going to get out of it."
"Why, good Lord!" said Gretry, "you don't mean to say that--"
"That I'm going over. That's exactly what I do mean. I'm going to change over so quick to the other side that I'll be there before you can take off your hat. I'm done with a Bear game. It was good while it lasted, but we've worked it for all there was in it. I'm not only going to cover my May shorts and get out of that trade, but"--Jadwin leaned forward and struck his hand upon his knee--"but I'm going to buy. I'm going to buy September wheat, and I'm going to buy it to-morrow, five hundred thousand bushels of it, and if the market goes as I think it will later on, I'm going to buy more. I'm no Bear any longer. I'm going to boost this market right through till the last bell rings; and from now on Curtis Jadwin spells B-u-double l--Bull."
"They'll slaughter you," said Gretry, "slaughter you in cold blood. You're just one man against a gang--a gang of cutthroats. Those Bears have got millions and millions back of them. You don't suppose, do you, that old man Crookes, or Kenniston, or little Sweeny, or all that lot would give you one little bit of a chance for your life if they got a grip on you. Cover your shorts if you want to, but, for God's sake, don't begin to buy in the same breath. You wait a while. If this market has touched bottom, we'll be able to tell in a few days. I'll admit, for the sake of argument, that just now there's a pause. But nobody can tell whether it will turn up or down yet. Now's the time to be conservative, to play it cautious."
"If I was conservative and cautious," answered Jadwin, "I wouldn't be in this game at all. I'd be buying U.S. four percents. That's the big mistake so many of these fellows down here make. They go into a game where the only ones who can possibly win are the ones who take big chances, and then they try to play the thing cautiously. If I wait a while till the market turns up and everybody is buying, how am I any the better off? No, sir, you buy the September option for me to-morrow--five hundred thousand bushels. I deposited the margin to your credit in the Illinois Trust this afternoon."
There was a long silence. Gretry spun a ball between his fingers, top-fashion.
"Well," he said at last, hesitatingly, "well--I don't know, J.--you are either Napoleonic--or--or a colossal idiot."
"Neither one nor the other, Samuel. I'm just using a little common sense.... Is it your shot?"
"I'm blessed if I know."
"Well, we'll start a new game. Sam, I'll give you six balls and beat you in"--he looked at his watch--"beat you before half-past nine."
"For a dollar?"
"I never bet, Sam, and you know it."
Half an hour later Jadwin said:
"Shall we go down and join the ladies? Don't put out your cigar. That's one bargain I made with Laura before we moved in here--that smoking was allowable everywhere."
"Room enough, I guess," observed the broker, as the two stepped into the elevator. "How many rooms have you got here, by the way?"
"Upon my word, I don't know," answered Jadwin. "I discovered a new one yesterday. Fact. I was having a look around, and I came out into a little kind of smoking-room or other that, I swear, I'd never seen before. I had to get Laura to tell me about it."
The elevator sank to the lower floor, and Jadwin and the broker stepped out into the main hallway. From the drawing-room near by came the sound of women s voices.
"Before we go in," said Jadwin, "I want you to see our art gallery and the organ. Last time you were up, remember, the men were still at work in here."
They passed down a broad corridor, and at the end, just before parting the heavy, sombre curtains, Jadwin pressed a couple of electric buttons, and in the open space above the curtain sprang up a lambent, steady glow.
The broker, as he entered, gave a long whistle. The art gallery took in the height of two of the stories of the house. It was shaped like a rotunda, and topped with a vast airy dome of coloured glass. Here and there about the room were glass cabinets full of bibelots, ivory statuettes, old snuff boxes, fans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The walls themselves were covered with a multitude of pictures, oils, water-colours, with one or two pastels.
But to the left of the entrance, let into the frame of the building, stood a great organ, large enough for a cathedral, and giving to view, in the dulled incandescence of the electrics, its sheaves of mighty pipes.
"Well, this is something like," exclaimed the broker.
"I don't know much about 'em myself," hazarded Jadwin, looking at the pictures, "but Laura can tell you. We bought most of 'em while we were abroad, year before last. Laura says this is the best." He indicated a large "Bougereau" that represented a group of nymphs bathing in a woodland pool.
"H'm!" said the broker, "you wouldn't want some of your Sunday-school superintendents to see this now. This is what the boys down on the Board would call a bar-room picture."
But Jadwin did not laugh.
"It never struck me in just that way," he said, gravely.
"It's a fine piece of work, though," Gretry hastened to add. "Fine, great colouring."
"I like this one pretty well," continued Jadwin, moving to a canvas by Detaille. It was one of the inevitable studies of a cuirassier; in this case a trumpeter, one arm high in the air, the hand clutching the trumpet, the horse, foam-flecked, at a furious gallop. In the rear, through clouds of dust, the rest of the squadron was indicated by a few points of colour.
"Yes, that's pretty neat," concurred Gretry. "He's sure got a gait on. Lord, what a lot of accoutrements those French fellows stick on. Now our boys would chuck about three-fourths of that truck before going into action.... Queer way these artists work," he went on, peering close to the canvas. "Look at it close up and it's just a lot of little daubs, but you get off a distance"--he drew back, cocking his head to one side--"and you see now. Hey--see how the thing bunches up. Pretty neat, isn't it?" He turned from the picture and rolled his eyes about the room.
"Well, well," he murmured. "This certainly is the real thing, J. I suppose, now, it all represents a pretty big pot of money."
"I'm not quite used to it yet myself," said Jadwin. "I was in here last Sunday, thinking it all over, the new house, and the money and all. And it struck me as kind of queer the way things have turned out for me.... Sam, do you know, I can remember the time, up there in Ottawa County, Michigan, on my old dad's farm, when I used to have to get up before day-break to tend the stock, and my sister and I used to run out quick into the stable and stand in the warm cow fodder in the stalls to warm our bare feet.... She up and died when she was about eighteen--galloping consumption. Yes, sir. By George, how I loved that little sister of mine! You remember her, Sam. Remember how you used to come out from Grand Rapids every now and then to go squirrel shooting with me?"
"Sure, sure. Oh, I haven't forgot."
"Well, I was wishing the other day that I could bring Sadie down here, and--oh, I don't know--give her a good time. She never had a good time when she was alive. Work, work, work; morning, noon, and night. I'd like to have made it up to her. I believe in making people happy, Sam. That's the way I take my fun. But it's too late to do it now for my little sister."
"Well," hazarded Gretry, "you got a good wife in yonder to--"
Jadwin interrupted him. He half turned away, thrusting his hands suddenly into his pockets. Partly to himself, partly to his friend he murmured:
"You bet I have, you bet I have. Sam," he exclaimed, then turned away again. "... Oh, well, never mind," he murmured.
Gretry, embarrassed, constrained, put his chin in the air, shutting his eyes in a knowing fashion.
"I understand," he answered. "I understand, J."
"Say, look at this organ here," said Jadwin briskly. "Here's the thing I like to play with."
They crossed to the other side of the room.
"Oh, you've got one of those attachment things," observed the broker.
"Listen now," said Jadwin. He took a perforated roll from the case near at hand and adjusted it, Gretry looking on with the solemn interest that all American business men have in mechanical inventions. Jadwin sat down before it, pulled out a stop or two, and placed his feet on the pedals. A vast preliminary roaring breath soughed through the pipes, with a vibratory rush of power. Then there came a canorous snarl of bass, and then, abruptly, with resistless charm, and with full-bodied, satisfying amplitude of volume the opening movement of the overture of "Carmen."
"Great, great!" shouted Gretry, his voice raised to make himself heard. "That's immense."
The great-lunged harmony was filling the entire gallery, clear cut, each note clearly, sharply treated with a precision that, if mechanical, was yet effective. Jadwin, his eyes now on the stops, now on the sliding strip of paper, played on. Through the sonorous clamour of the pipes Gretry could hear him speaking, but he caught only a word or two.
"Toreador ... horse power ... Madame Calve ... electric motor ... fine song ... storage battery."
The "movement thinned out, and dwindled to a strain of delicate lightness, sustained by the smallest pipes and developing a new motive; this was twice repeated, and then ran down to a series of chords and bars that prepared for and prefigured some great effect close at hand. There was a short pause, then with the sudden releasing of a tremendous rush of sound, back surged the melody, with redoubled volume and power, to the original movement.
"That's bully, bully!" shouted Gretry, clapping his hands, and his eye, caught by a movement on the other side of the room, he turned about to see Laura Jadwin standing between the opened curtains at the entrance.
Seen thus unexpectedly, the broker was again overwhelmed with a sense of the beauty of Jadwin's wife. Laura was in evening dress of black lace; her arms and neck were bare. Her black hair was piled high upon her head, a single American Beauty rose nodded against her bare shoulder. She was even yet slim and very tall, her face pale with that unusual paleness of hers that was yet a colour. Around her slender neck was a marvellous collar of pearls many strands deep, set off and held in place by diamond clasps.
With Laura came Mrs. Gretry and Page. The broker's wife was a vivacious, small, rather pretty blonde woman, a little angular, a little faded. She was garrulous, witty, slangy. She wore turquoises in her ears morning, noon, and night.
But three years had made a vast difference in Page Dearborn. All at once she was a young woman. Her straight, hard, little figure had developed, her arms were rounded, her eyes were calmer. She had grown taller, broader. Her former exquisite beauty was perhaps not quite so delicate, so fine, so virginal, so charmingly angular and boyish. There was infinitely more of the woman in it; and perhaps because of this she looked more like Laura than at any time of her life before. But even yet her expression was one of gravity, of seriousness. There was always a certain aloofness about Page. She looked out at the world solemnly, and as if separated from its lighter side. Things humorous interested her only as inexplicable vagaries of the human animal.
"We heard the organ," said Laura, "so we came in. I wanted Mrs. Gretry to listen to it."
The three years that had just passed had been the most important years of Laura Jadwin's life. Since her marriage she had grown intellectually and morally with amazing rapidity. Indeed, so swift had been the change, that it was not so much a growth as a transformation. She was no longer the same half-formed, impulsive girl who had found a delight in the addresses of her three lovers, and who had sat on the floor in the old home on State Street and allowed Landry Court to hold her hand. She looked back upon the Miss Dearborn of those days as though she were another person. How she had grown since then! How she had changed! How different, how infinitely more serious and sweet her life since then had become!
A great fact had entered her world, a great new element, that dwarfed all other thoughts, all other considerations. This was her love for her husband. It was as though until the time of her marriage she had walked in darkness, a darkness that she fancied was day; walked perversely, carelessly, and with a frivolity that was almost wicked. Then, suddenly, she had seen a great light. Love had entered her world. In her new heaven a new light was fixed, and all other things were seen only because of this light; all other things were touched by it, tempered by it, warmed and vivified by it.
It had seemed to date from a certain evening at their country house at Geneva Lake in Wisconsin, where she had spent her honeymoon with her husband. They had been married about ten days. It was a July evening, and they were quite alone on board the little steam yacht the "Thetis." She remembered it all very plainly. It had been so warm that she had not changed her dress after dinner--she recalled that it was of Honiton lace over old-rose silk, and that Curtis had said it was the prettiest he had ever seen. It was an hour before midnight, and the lake was so still as to appear veritably solid. The moon was reflected upon the surface with never a ripple to blur its image. The sky was grey with starlight, and only a vague bar of black between the star shimmer and the pale shield of the water marked the shore line. Never since that night could she hear the call of whip-poor-wills or the piping of night frogs that the scene did not come back to her. The little "Thetis" had throbbed and panted steadily. At the door of the engine room, the engineer--the grey MacKenny, his back discreetly turned--sat smoking a pipe and taking the air. From time to time he would swing himself into the engine room, and the clink and scrape of his shovel made itself heard as he stoked the fire vigorously.
Stretched out in a long wicker deck chair, hatless, a drab coat thrown around her shoulders, Laura had sat near her husband, who had placed himself upon a camp stool, where he could reach the wheel with one hand.
"Well," he had said at last, "are you glad you married me, Miss Dearborn?" And she had caught him about the neck and drawn his face down to hers, and her head thrown back, their lips all but touching, had whispered over and over again:
"I love you--love you--love you!"
That night was final. The marriage ceremony, even that moment in her room, when her husband had taken her in his arms and she had felt the first stirring of love in her heart, all the first week of their married life had been for Laura a whirl, a blur. She had not been able to find herself. Her affection for her husband came and went capriciously. There were moments when she believed herself to be really unhappy. Then, all at once, she seemed to awake. Not the ceremony at St. James, Church, but that awakening had been her marriage. Now it was irrevocable; she was her husband's; she belonged to him indissolubly, forever and forever, and the surrender was a glory. Laura in that moment knew that love, the supreme triumph of a woman's life, was less a victory than a capitulation.
Since then her happiness had been perfect. Literally and truly there was not a cloud, not a mote in her sunshine. She had everything--the love of her husband, great wealth, extraordinary beauty, perfect health, an untroubled mind, friends, position--everything. God had been good to her, beyond all dreams and all deserving. For her had been reserved all the prizes, all the guerdons; for her who had done nothing to merit them.
Her husband she knew was no less happy. In those first three years after their marriage, life was one unending pageant; and their happiness became for them some marvellous, bewildering thing, dazzling, resplendent, a strange, glittering, jewelled Wonder- worker that suddenly had been put into their hands.
As one of the first results of this awakening, Laura reproached herself with having done but little for Page. She told herself that she had not been a good sister, that often she had been unjust, quick tempered, and had made the little girl to suffer because of her caprices. She had not sympathised sufficiently with her small troubles--so she made herself believe--and had found too many occasions to ridicule Page's intenseness and queer little solemnities. True she had given her a good home, good clothes, and a good education, but she should have given more--more than mere duty-gifts. She should have been more of a companion to the little girl, more of a help; in fine, more of a mother. Laura felt all at once the responsibilities of the elder sister in a family bereft of parents. Page was growing fast, and growing astonishingly beautiful; in a little while she would be a young woman, and over the near horizon, very soon now, must inevitably loom the grave question of her marriage.
But it was only this realisation of certain responsibilities that during the first years of her married life at any time drew away Laura's consideration of her husband. She began to get acquainted with the real man-within-the-man that she knew now revealed himself only after marriage. Jadwin her husband was so different from, so infinitely better than, Jadwin her lover, that Laura sometimes found herself looking back with a kind of retrospective apprehension on the old days and the time when she was simply Miss Dearborn. How little she had known him after all! And how, in the face of this ignorance, this innocence, this absence of any insight into his real character, had she dared to take the irretrievable step that bound her to him for life? The Curtis Jadwin of those early days was so much another man. He might have been a rascal; she could not have known it. As it was, her husband had promptly come to be, for her, the best, the finest man she had ever known. But it might easily have been different.
His attitude towards her was thoughtfulness itself. Hardly ever was he absent from her, even for a day, that he did not bring her some little present, some little keep-sake--or even a bunch of flowers--when he returned in the evening. The anniversaries--Christmas, their wedding day, her birthday--he always observed with great eclat. He took a holiday from his business, surprised her with presents under her pillow, or her dinner-plate, and never failed to take her to the theatre in the evening.
However, it was not only Jadwin's virtues that endeared him to his wife. He was no impeccable hero in her eyes. He was tremendously human. He had his faults, his certain lovable weaknesses, and it was precisely these traits that Laura found so adorable.
For one thing, Jadwin could be magnificently inconsistent. Let him set his mind and heart upon a given pursuit, pleasure, or line of conduct not altogether advisable at the moment, and the ingenuity of the excuses by which he justified himself were monuments of elaborate sophistry. Yet, if later he lost interest, he reversed his arguments with supreme disregard for his former words.
Then, too, he developed a boyish pleasure in certain unessential though cherished objects and occupations, that he indulged extravagantly and to the neglect of things, not to say duties, incontestably of more importance.
One of these objects was the "Thetis." In every conceivable particular the little steam yacht was complete down to the last bolt, the last coat of varnish; but at times during their summer vacations, when Jadwin, in all reason, should have been supervising the laying out of certain unfinished portions of the "grounds"--supervision which could be trusted to no subordinate--he would be found aboard the "Thetis," hatless, in his shirt-sleeves, in solemn debate with the grey MacKenny and--a cleaning rag, or monkey-wrench, or paint brush in his hand--tinkering and pottering about the boat, over and over again. Wealthy as he was, he could have maintained an entire crew on board whose whole duty should have been to screw, and scrub, and scour. But Jadwin would have none of it. "Costs too much," he would declare, with profound gravity. He had the self-made American's handiness with implements and paint brushes, and he would, at high noon and under a murderous sun, make the trip from the house to the dock where the "Thetis" was moored, for the trivial pleasure of tightening a bolt--which did not need tightening; or wake up in the night to tell Laura of some wonderful new idea he had conceived as to the equipment or decoration of the yacht. He had blustered about the extravagance of a "crew," but the sums of money that went to the brightening, refitting, overhauling, repainting, and reballasting of the boat--all absolutely uncalled-for--made even Laura gasp, and would have maintained a dozen sailors an entire year.
This same inconsistency prevailed also in other directions. In the matter of business Jadwin's economy was unimpeachable. He would cavil on a half-dollar's overcharge; he would put himself to downright inconvenience to save the useless expenditure of a dime--and boast of it. But no extravagance was ever too great, no time ever too valuable, when bass were to be caught.
For Jadwin was a fisherman unregenerate. Laura, though an early riser when in the city, was apt to sleep late in the country, and never omitted a two-hours' nap in the heat of the afternoon. Her husband improved these occasions when he was deprived of her society, to indulge in his pastime. Never a morning so forbidding that his lines were not in the water by five o'clock; never a sun so scorching that he was not coaxing a "strike" in the stumps and reeds in the shade under the shores.
It was the one pleasure he could not share with his wife. Laura was unable to bear the monotony of the slow-moving boat, the hours spent without results, the enforced idleness, the cramped positions. Only occasionally could Jadwin prevail upon her to accompany him. And then what preparations! Queen Elizabeth approaching her barge was attended with no less solicitude. MacKenny (who sometimes acted as guide and oarsman) and her husband exhausted their ingenuity to make her comfortable. They held anxious debates: "Do you think she'll like that?" "Wouldn't this make it easier for her?" "Is that the way she liked it last time?" Jadwin himself arranged the cushions, spread the carpet over the bottom of the boat, handed her in, found her old gloves for her, baited her hook, disentangled her line, saw to it that the mineral water in the ice-box was sufficiently cold, and performed an endless series of little attentions looking to her comfort and enjoyment. It was all to no purpose, and at length Laura declared:
"Curtis, dear, it is no use. You just sacrifice every bit of your pleasure to make me comfortable--to make me enjoy it; and I just don't. I'm sorry, I want to share every pleasure with you, but I don't like to fish, and never will. You go alone. I'm just a hindrance to you." And though he blustered at first, Laura had her way.
Once in the period of these three years Laura and her husband had gone abroad. But her experience in England--they did not get to the Continent--had been a disappointment to her. The museums, art galleries, and cathedrals were not of the least interest to Jadwin, and though he followed her from one to another with uncomplaining stoicism, she felt his distress, and had contrived to return home three months ahead of time.
It was during this trip that they had bought so many of the pictures and appointments for the North Avenue house, and Laura's disappointment over her curtailed European travels was mitigated by the anticipation of her pleasure in settling in the new home. This had not been possible immediately after their marriage. For nearly two years the great place had been given over to contractors, architects, decorators, and gardeners, and Laura and her husband had lived, while in Chicago, at a hotel, giving up the one-time rectory on Cass Street to Page and to Aunt Wess'.
But when at last Laura entered upon possession of the North Avenue house, she was not--after the first enthusiasm and excitement over its magnificence had died down--altogether pleased with it, though she told herself the contrary. Outwardly it was all that she could desire. It fronted Lincoln Park, and from all the windows upon that side the most delightful outlooks were obtainable--green woods, open lawns, the parade ground, the Lincoln monument, dells, bushes, smooth drives, flower beds, and fountains. From the great bay window of Laura's own sitting-room she could see far out over Lake Michigan, and watch the procession of great lake steamers, from Milwaukee, far-distant Duluth, and the Sault Sainte Marie--the famous "Soo"--defiling majestically past, making for the mouth of the river, laden to the water's edge with whole harvests of wheat. At night, when the windows were open in the warm weather, she could hear the mournful wash and lapping of the water on the embankments.
The grounds about her home were beautiful. The stable itself was half again as large as her old home opposite St. James's, and the conservatory, in which she took the keenest delight, was a wonderful affair--a vast bubble-like structure of green panes, whence, winter and summer, came a multitude of flowers for the house--violets, lilies of the valley, jonquils, hyacinths, tulips, and her own loved roses.
But the interior of the house was, in parts, less satisfactory. Jadwin, so soon as his marriage was a certainty, had bought the house, and had given over its internal furnishings to, a firm of decorators. Innocently enough he had intended to surprise his wife, had told himself that she should not be burdened with the responsibility of selection and planning. Fortunately, however, the decorators were men of taste. There was nothing to offend, and much to delight in the results they obtained in the dining-room, breakfast-room, parlors, drawing-rooms, and suites of bedrooms. But Laura, though the beauty of it all enchanted her, could never rid herself of a feeling that it was not hers. It impressed her with its splendour of natural woods and dull "colour effects," its cunning electrical devices, its mechanical contrivances for comfort, like the ready-made luxury and "convenience" of a Pullman.
However, she had intervened in time to reserve certain of the rooms to herself, and these--the library, her bedroom, and more especially that apartment from whose bay windows she looked out upon the Lake, and which, as if she were still in her old home, she called the "upstairs sitting-room"--she furnished to suit herself.
For very long she found it difficult, even with all her resolution, with all her pleasure in her new-gained wealth, to adapt herself to a manner of living upon so vast a scale. She found herself continually planning the marketing for the next day, forgetting that this now was part of the housekeeper's duties. For months she persisted in "doing her room" after breakfast, just as she had been taught to do in the old days when she was a little girl at Barrington. She was afraid of the elevator, and never really learned how to use the neat little system of telephones that connected the various parts of the house with the servants' quarters. For months her chiefest concern in her wonderful surroundings took the form of a dread of burglars.
Her keenest delights were her stable and the great organ in the art gallery; and these alone more than compensated for her uneasiness in other particulars.
Horses Laura adored--black ones with flowing tails and manes, like certain pictures she had seen. Nowadays, except on the rarest occasions, she never set foot out of doors, except to take her carriage, her coupe, her phaeton, or her dog-cart. Best of all she loved her saddle horses. She had learned to ride, and the morning was inclement indeed that she did not take a long and solitary excursion through the Park, followed by the groom and Jadwin's two spotted coach dogs.
The great organ terrified her at first. But on closer acquaintance she came to regard it as a vast-hearted, sympathetic friend. She already played the piano very well, and she scorned Jadwin's self-playing "attachment." A teacher was engaged to instruct her in the intricacies of stops and of pedals, and in the difficulties of the "echo" organ, "great" organ, "choir," and "swell." So soon as she had mastered these, Laura entered upon a new world of delight. Her taste in music was as yet a little immature--Gounod and even Verdi were its limitations. But to hear, responsive to the lightest pressures of her finger-tips, the mighty instrument go thundering through the cadences of the "Anvil Chorus" gave her a thrilling sense of power that was superb.
The untrained, unguided instinct of the actress in Laura had fostered in her a curious penchant toward melodrama. She had a taste for the magnificent. She revelled in these great musical "effects" upon her organ, the grandiose easily appealed to her, while as for herself, the role of the "grande dame," with this wonderful house for background and environment, came to be for her, quite unconsciously, a sort of game in which she delighted.
It was by this means that, in the end, she succeeded in fitting herself to her new surroundings. Innocently enough, and with a harmless, almost childlike, affectation, she posed a little, and by so doing found the solution of the incongruity between herself--the Laura of moderate means and quiet life--and the massive luxury with which she was now surrounded. Without knowing it, she began to act the part of a great lady--and she acted it well. She assumed the existence of her numerous servants as she assumed the fact of the trees in the park; she gave herself into the hands of her maid, not as Laura Jadwin of herself would have done it, clumsily and with the constraint of inexperience, but as she would have done it if she had been acting the part on the stage, with an air, with all the nonchalance of a marquise, with--in fine--all the superb condescension of her "grand manner."
She knew very well that if she relaxed this hauteur, that her servants would impose on her, would run over her, and in this matter she found new cause for wonder in her husband.
The servants, from the frigid butler to the under groom, adored Jadwin. A half-expressed wish upon his part produced a more immediate effect than Laura's most explicit orders. He never descended to familiarity with them, and, as a matter of fact, ignored them to such an extent that he forgot or confused their names. But where Laura was obeyed with precise formality and chilly deference, Jadwin was served with obsequious alacrity, and with a good humour that even livery and "correct form" could not altogether conceal.
Laura's eyes were first opened to this genuine affection which Jadwin inspired in his servants by an incident which occurred in the first months of their occupancy of the new establishment. One of the gardeners discovered the fact that Jadwin affected gardenias in the lapel of his coat, and thereat was at immense pains to supply him with a fresh bloom from the conservatory each morning. The flower was to be placed at Jadwin's plate, and it was quite the event of the day for the old fellow when the master appeared on the front steps with the flower in his coat. But a feud promptly developed over this matter between the gardener and the maid who took the butler's place at breakfast every morning. Sometimes Jadwin did not get the flower, and the gardener charged the maid with remissness in forgetting to place it at his plate after he had given it into her hands. In the end the affair became so clamourous that Jadwin himself had to intervene. The gardener was summoned and found to have been in fault only in his eagerness to please.
"Billy," said Jadwin, to the old man at the conclusion of the whole matter, "you're an old fool."
And the gardener thereupon had bridled and stammered as though Jadwin had conferred a gift.
"Now if I had called him 'an old fool,'" observed Laura, "he would have sulked the rest of the week."
The happiest time of the day for Laura was the evening. In the daytime she was variously occupied, but her thoughts continually ran forward to the end of the day, when her husband would be with her. Jadwin breakfasted early, and Laura bore him company no matter how late she had stayed up the night before. By half-past eight he was out of the house, driving down to his office in his buggy behind Nip and Tuck. By nine Laura's own saddle horse was brought to the carriage porch, and until eleven she rode in the park. At twelve she lunched with Page, and in the afternoon--in the "upstairs sitting-room" read her Browning or her Meredith, the latter one of her newest discoveries, till three or four. Sometimes after that she went out in her carriage. If it was to "shop" she drove to the "Rookery," in La Salle Street, after her purchases were made, and sent the footman up to her husband's office to say that she would take him home. Or as often as not she called for Mrs. Cressler or Aunt Wess' or Mrs. Gretry, and carried them off to some exhibit of painting, or flowers, or more rarely--for she had not the least interest in social affairs--to teas or receptions.
But in the evenings, after dinner, she had her husband to herself. Page was almost invariably occupied by one or more of her young men in the drawing-room, but Laura and Jadwin shut themselves in the library, a lofty panelled room--a place of deep leather chairs, tall bookcases, etchings, and sombre brasses--and there, while Jadwin lay stretched out upon the broad sofa, smoking cigars, one hand behind his head, Laura read aloud to him.
His tastes in fiction were very positive. Laura at first had tried to introduce him to her beloved Meredith. But after three chapters, when he had exclaimed, "What's the fool talking about?" she had given over and begun again from another starting-point. Left to himself, his wife sorrowfully admitted that he would have gravitated to the "Mysterious Island" and "Michael Strogoff," or even to "Mr. Potter of Texas" and "Mr. Barnes of New York." But she had set herself to accomplish his literary education, so, Meredith failing, she took up "Treasure Island" and "The Wrecker." Much of these he made her skip.
"Oh, let's get on with the 'story,'" he urged. But Pinkerton for long remained for him an ideal, because he was "smart" and "alive."
"I'm not long very many of art," he announced. "But I believe that any art that don't make the world better and happier is no art at all, and is only fit for the dump heap."
But at last Laura found his abiding affinity in Howells.
"Nothing much happens," he said. "But I know all those people." He never could rid himself of a surreptitious admiration for Bartley Hubbard. He, too, was "smart" and "alive." He had the "get there" to him. "Why," he would say, "I know fifty boys just like him down there in La Salle Street." Lapham he loved as a brother. Never a point in the development of his character that he missed or failed to chuckle over. Bromfield Cory was poohed and boshed quite out of consideration as a "loafer," a "dilletanty," but Lapham had all his sympathy.
"Yes, sir," he would exclaim, interrupting the narrative, "that's just it. That's just what I would have done if I had been in his place. Come, this chap knows what he's writing about--not like that Middleton ass, with his 'Dianas' and 'Amazing Marriages.'"
Occasionally the Jadwins entertained. Laura's husband was proud of his house, and never tired of showing his friends about it. Laura gave Page a "coming-out" dance, and nearly every Sunday the Cresslers came to dinner. But Aunt Wess' could, at first, rarely be induced to pay the household a visit. So much grandeur made the little widow uneasy, even a little suspicious. She would shake her head at Laura, murmuring:
"My word, it's all very fine, but, dear me, Laura, I hope you do pay for everything on the nail, and don't run up any bills. I don't know what your dear father would say to it all, no, I don't." And she would spend hours in counting the electric bulbs, which she insisted were only devices for some new-fangled gas.
"Thirty-three in this one room alone," she would say. "I'd like to see your dear husband's face when he gets his gas bill. And a dressmaker that lives in the house.... Well,--I don't want to say anything."
Thus three years had gone by. The new household settled to a regime. Continually Jadwin grew richer. His real estate appreciated in value; rents went up. Every time he speculated in wheat, it was upon a larger scale, and every time he won. He was a Bear always, and on those rare occasions when he referred to his ventures in Laura's hearing, it was invariably to say that prices were going down. Till at last had come that spring when he believed that the bottom had been touched, had had the talk with Gretry, and had, in secret, "turned Bull," with the suddenness of a strategist.
The matter was yet in Gretry's mind while the party remained in the art gallery; and as they were returning to the drawing-room he detained Jadwin an instant.
"If you are set upon breaking your neck," he said, "you might tell me at what figure you want me to buy for you to-morrow."
"At the market," returned Jadwin. "I want to get into the thing quick."
A little later, when they had all reassembled in the drawing-room, and while Mrs. Gretry was telling an interminable story of how Isabel had all but asphyxiated herself the night before, a servant announced Landry Court, and the young man entered, spruce and debonair, a bouquet in one hand and a box of candy in the other.
Some days before this Page had lectured him solemnly on the fact that he was over-absorbed in business, and was starving his soul. He should read more, she told him, and she had said that if he would call upon her on this particular night, she would indicate a course of reading for him.
So it came about that, after a few moments, conversation with the older people in the drawing-room, the two adjourned to the library.
There, by way of a beginning, Page asked him what was his favourite character in fiction. She spoke of the beauty of Ruskin's thoughts, of the gracefulness of Charles Lamb's style. The conversation lagged a little. Landry, not to be behind her, declared for the modern novel, and spoke of the "newest book." But Page never read new books; she was not interested, and their talk, unable to establish itself upon a common ground, halted, and was in a fair way to end, until at last, and by insensible degrees, they began to speak of themselves and of each other. Promptly they were all aroused. They listened to one another's words with studious attention, answered with ever-ready promptness, discussed, argued, agreed, and disagreed over and over again.
Landry had said:
"When I was a boy, I always had an ambition to excel all the other boys. I wanted to be the best baseball player on the block--and I was, too. I could pitch three curves when I was fifteen, and I find I am the same now that I am a man grown. When I do a thing, I want to do it better than any one else. From the very first I have always been ambitious. It is my strongest trait. Now," he went on, turning to Page, "your strongest trait is your thoughtfulness. You are what they call introspective."
"Yes, yes," she answered. "Yes, I think so, too."
"You don't need the stimulation of competition. You are at your best when you are with just one person. A crowd doesn't interest you."
"I hate it," she exclaimed.
"Now with me, with a man of my temperament, a crowd is a real inspiration. When every one is talking and shouting around me, or to me, even, my mind works at its best. But," he added, solemnly, "it must be a crowd of men. I can't abide a crowd of women."
"They chatter so," she assented. "I can't either."
"But I find that the companionship of one intelligent, sympathetic woman is as much of a stimulus as a lot of men. It's funny, isn't it, that I should be like that?"
"Yes," she said, "it is funny--strange. But I believe in companionship. I believe that between man and woman that is the great thing--companionship. Love," she added, abruptly, and then broke off with a deep sigh. "Oh, I don't know," she murmured. "Do you remember those lines:
"Man's love is of his life a thing apart, 'Tis woman's whole existence.
Do you believe that?"
"Well," he asserted, gravely, choosing his words with deliberation, "it might be so, but all depends upon the man and woman. Love," he added, with tremendous gravity, "is the greatest power in the universe."
"I have never been in love," said Page. "Yes, love is a wonderful power."
"I've never been in love, either."
"Never, never been in love?"
"Oh, I've thought I was in love," he said, with a wave of his hand.
"I've never even thought I was," she answered, musing.
"Do you believe in early marriages?" demanded Landry.
"A man should never marry," she said, deliberately, "till he can give his wife a good home, and good clothes and--and that sort of thing. I do not think I shall ever marry."
"You! Why, of course you will. Why not?"
"No, no. It is my disposition. I am morose and taciturn. Laura says so."
Landry protested with vehemence.
"And," she went on, "I have long, brooding fits of melancholy."
"Well, so have I," he threw out recklessly. "At night, sometimes--when I wake up. Then I'm all down in the mouth, and I say, 'What's the use, by jingo?'"
"Do you believe in pessimism? I do. They say Carlyle was a terrible pessimist."
"Well--talking about love. I understand that you can't believe in pessimism and love at the same time. Wouldn't you feel unhappy if you lost your faith in love?"
"Oh, yes, terribly."
There was a moment's silence, and then Landry remarked:
"Now you are the kind of woman that would only love once, but love for that once mighty deep and strong."
Page's eyes grew wide. She murmured:
"'Tis a woman's whole existence--whole existence.' Yes, I think I am like that."
"Do you think Enoch Arden did right in going away after he found them married?"
"Oh, have you read that? Oh, isn't that a beautiful poem? Wasn't he noble? Wasn't he grand? Oh, yes, yes, he did right."
"By George, I wouldn't have gone away. I'd have gone right into that house, and I would have made things hum. I'd have thrown the other fellow out, lock, stock, and barrel."
"That's just like a man, so selfish, only thinking of himself. You don't know the meaning of love--great, true, unselfish love."
"I know the meaning of what's mine. Think I'd give up the woman I loved to another man?"
"Even if she loved the other man best?"
"I'd have my girl first, and find out how she felt about the other man afterwards."
"Oh, but think if you gave her up, how noble it would be. You would have sacrificed all that you held the dearest to an ideal. Oh, if I were in Enoch Arden's place, and my husband thought I was dead, and I knew he was happy with another woman, it would just be a joy to deny myself, sacrifice myself to spare him unhappiness. That would be my idea of love. Then I'd go into a convent."
"Not much. I'd let the other fellow go to the convent. If I loved a woman, I wouldn't let anything in the world stop me from winning her."
"You have so much determination, haven't you?" she said, looking at him.
Landry enlarged his shoulders a little and wagged his head.
"Well," he said, "I don't know, but I'd try pretty hard to get what I wanted, I guess."
"I love to see that characteristic in men," she observed. "Strength, determination."
"Just as a man loves to see a woman womanly," he answered. "Don't you hate strong-minded women?"
"Now, you are what I would call womanly--the womanliest woman I've ever known."
"Oh, I don't know," she protested, a little confused.
"Yes, you are. You are beautifully womanly--and so high-minded and well read. It's been inspiring to me. I want you should know that. Yes, sir, a real inspiration. It's been inspiring, elevating, to say the least."
"I like to read, if that's what you mean," she hastened to say.
"By Jove, I've got to do some reading, too. It's so hard to find time. But I'll make time. I'll get that 'Stones of Venice' I've heard you speak of, and I'll sit up nights--and keep awake with black coffee--but I'll read that book from cover to cover."
"That's your determination again," Page exclaimed. "Your eyes just flashed when you said it. I believe if you once made up your mind to do a thing, you would do it, no matter how hard it was, wouldn't you?"
"Well, I'd--I'd make things hum, I guess," he admitted.
The next day was Easter Sunday, and Page came down to nine o'clock breakfast a little late, to find Jadwin already finished and deep in the pages of the morning paper. Laura, still at table, was pouring her last cup of coffee.
They were in the breakfast-room, a small, charming apartment, light and airy, and with many windows, one end opening upon the house conservatory. Jadwin was in his frock coat, which later he would wear to church. The famous gardenia was in his lapel. He was freshly shaven, and his fine cigar made a blue haze over his head. Laura was radiant in a white morning gown. A newly cut bunch of violets, large as a cabbage, lay on the table before her.
The whole scene impressed itself sharply upon Page's mind--the fine sunlit room, with its gay open spaces and the glimpse of green leaves from the conservatory, the view of the smooth, trim lawn through the many windows, where an early robin, strayed from the park, was chirruping and feeding; her beautiful sister Laura, with her splendid, overshadowing coiffure, her pale, clear skin, her slender figure; Jadwin, the large, solid man of affairs, with his fine cigar, his gardenia, his well-groomed air. And then the little accessories that meant so much--the smell of violets, of good tobacco, of fragrant coffee; the gleaming damasks, china and silver of the breakfast table; the trim, fresh-looking maid, with her white cap, apron, and cuffs, who came and went; the thoroughbred setter dozing in the sun, and the parrot dozing and chuckling to himself on his perch upon the terrace outside the window.
At the bottom of the lawn was the stable, and upon the concrete in front of its wide-open door the groom was currying one of the carriage horses. While Page addressed herself to her fruit and coffee, Jadwin put down his paper, and, his elbows on the arms of his rattan chair, sat for a long time looking out at the horse. By and by he got up and said:
"That new feed has filled 'em out in good shape. Think I'll go out and tell Jarvis to try it on the buggy team." He pushed open the French windows and went out, the setter sedately following.
Page dug her spoon into her grape-fruit, then suddenly laid it down and turned to Laura, her chin upon her palm.
"Laura," she said, "do you think I ought to marry--a girl of my temperament?"
"Marry?" echoed Laura.
"Sh-h!" whispered Page. "Laura--don't talk so loud. Yes, do you?"
"Well, why not marry, dearie? Why shouldn't you marry when the time comes? Girls as young as you are not supposed to have temperaments."
But instead of answering Page put another question:
"Laura, do you think I am womanly?"
"I think sometimes, Page, that you take your books and your reading too seriously. You've not been out of the house for three days, and I never see you without your note-books and text-books in your hand. You are at it, dear, from morning till night. Studies are all very well--"
"Oh, studies!" exclaimed Page. "I hate them. Laura, what is it to be womanly?"
"To be womanly?" repeated Laura. "Why, I don't know, honey. It's to be kind and well-bred and gentle mostly, and never to be bold or conspicuous--and to love one's home and to take care of it, and to love and believe in one's husband, or parents, or children--or even one's sister--above any one else in the world."
"I think that being womanly is better than being well read," hazarded Page.
"We can be both, Page," Laura told her. "But, honey, I think you had better hurry through your breakfast. If we are going to church this Easter, we want to get an early start. Curtis ordered the carriage half an hour earlier."
"Breakfast!" echoed Page. "I don't want a thing." She drew a deep breath and her eyes grew large. "Laura," she began again presently, "Laura ... Landry Court was here last night, and--oh, I don't know, he's so silly. But he said--well, he said this--well, I said that I understood how he felt about certain things, about 'getting on,' and being clean and fine and all that sort of thing you know; and then he said, 'Oh, you don't know what it means to me to look into the eyes of a woman who really understands.'"
"Did he?" said Laura, lifting her eyebrows.
"Yes, and he seemed so fine and earnest. Laura, wh--" Page adjusted a hairpin at the back of her head, and moved closer to Laura, her eyes on the floor. "Laura--what do you suppose it did mean to him--don't you think it was foolish of him to talk like that?"
"Not at all," Laura said, decisively. "If he said that he meant it--meant that he cared a great deal for you."
"Oh, I didn't mean that!" shrieked Page. "But there's a great deal more to Landry than I think we've suspected. He wants to be more than a mere money-getting machine, he says, and he wants to cultivate his mind and understand art and literature and that. And he wants me to help him, and I said I would. So if you don't mind, he's coming up here certain nights every week, and we're going to--I'm going to read to him. We're going to begin with the 'Ring and the Book.'"
In the later part of May, the weather being unusually hot, the Jadwins, taking Page with them, went up to Geneva Lake for the summer, and the great house fronting Lincoln Park was deserted.
Laura had hoped that now her husband would be able to spend his entire time with her, but in this she was disappointed. At first Jadwin went down to the city but two days a week, but soon this was increased to alternate days. Gretry was a frequent visitor at the country house, and often he and Jadwin, their rocking-chairs side by side in a remote corner of the porch, talked "business" in low tones till far into the night.
"Dear," said Laura, finally, "I'm seeing less and less of you every day, and I had so looked forward to this summer, when we were to be together all the time."
"I hate it as much as you do, Laura," said her husband. "But I do feel as though I ought to be on the spot just for now. I can't get it out of my head that we're going to have livelier times in a few months."
"But even Mr. Gretry says that you don't need to be right in your office every minute of the time. He says you can manage your Board of Trade business from out here just as well, and that you only go into town because you can't keep away from La Salle Street and the sound of the Wheat Pit."
Was this true? Jadwin himself had found it difficult to answer. There had been a time when Gretry had been obliged to urge and coax to get his friend to so much as notice the swirl of the great maelstrom in the Board of Trade Building. But of late Jadwin's eye and ear were forever turned thitherward, and it was he, and no longer Gretry, who took initiatives.
Meanwhile he was making money. As he had predicted, the price of wheat had advanced. May had been a fair-weather month with easy prices, the monthly Government report showing no loss in the condition of the crop. Wheat had gone up from sixty to sixty-six cents, and at a small profit Jadwin had sold some two hundred and fifty thousand bushels. Then had come the hot weather at the end of May. On the floor of the Board of Trade the Pit traders had begun to peel off their coats. It began to look like a hot June, and when cash wheat touched sixty-eight, Jadwin, now more than ever convinced of a coming Bull market, bought another five hundred thousand bushels.
This line he added to in June. Unfavorable weather--excessive heat, followed by flooding rains--had hurt the spring wheat, and in every direction there were complaints of weevils and chinch bugs. Later on other deluges had discoloured and damaged the winter crop. Jadwin was now, by virtue of his recent purchases, "long" one million bushels, and the market held firm at seventy-two cents--a twelve-cent advance in two months.
"She'll react," warned Gretry, "sure. Crookes and Sweeny haven't taken a hand yet. Look out for a heavy French crop. We'll get reports on it soon now. You're playing with a gun, J., that kicks further than it shoots."
"We've not shot her yet," Jadwin said. "We're only just loading her--for Bears," he added, with a wink.
In July came the harvesting returns from all over the country, proving conclusively that for the first time in six years, the United States crop was to be small and poor. The yield was moderate. Only part of it could be graded as "contract." Good wheat would be valuable from now on. Jadwin bought again, and again it was a "lot" of half a million bushels.
Then came the first manifestation of that marvellous golden luck that was to follow Curtis Jadwin through all the coming months. The French wheat crop was announced as poor. In Germany the yield was to be far below the normal. All through Hungary the potato and rye crops were light.
About the middle of the month Jadwin again called the broker to his country house, and took him for a long evening's trip around the lake, aboard the "Thetis." They were alone. MacKenny was at the wheel, and, seated on camp stools in the stern of the little boat, Jadwin outlined his plans for the next few months.
"Sam," he said, "I thought back in April there that we were to touch top prices about the first of this month, but this French and German news has coloured the cat different. I've been figuring that I would get out of this market around the seventies, but she's going higher. I'm going to hold on yet awhile."
"You do it on your own responsibility, then," said the broker. "I warn you the price is top heavy."
"Not much. Seventy-two cents is too cheap. Now I'm going into this hard; and I want to have my own lines out--to be independent of the trade papers that Crookes could buy up any time he wants to. I want you to get me some good, reliable correspondents in Europe; smart, bright fellows that we can depend on. I want one in Liverpool, one in Paris, and one in Odessa, and I want them to cable us about the situation every day."
Gretry thought a while.
"Well," he said, at length, "... yes. I guess I can arrange it. I can get you a good man in Liverpool--Traynard is his name--and there's two or three in Paris we could pick up. Odessa--I don't know. I couldn't say just this minute. But I'll fix it."
These correspondents began to report at the end of July. All over Europe the demand for wheat was active. Grain handlers were not only buying freely, but were contracting for future delivery. In August came the first demands for American wheat, scattered and sporadic at first, then later, a little, a very little more insistent.
Thus the summer wore to its end. The fall "situation" began slowly to define itself, with eastern Europe--densely populated, overcrowded--commencing to show uneasiness as to its supply of food for the winter; and with but a moderate crop in America to meet foreign demands. Russia, the United States, and Argentine would have to feed the world during the next twelve months.
Over the Chicago Wheat Pit the hand of the great indicator stood at seventy-five cents. Jadwin sold out his September wheat at this figure, and then in a single vast clutch bought three million bushels of the December option.
Never before had he ventured so deeply into the Pit. Never before had he committed himself so irrevocably to the send of the current. But something was preparing. Something indefinite and huge. He guessed it, felt it, knew it. On all sides of him he felt a quickening movement. Lethargy, inertia were breaking up. There was buoyancy to the current. In its ever-increasing swiftness there was exhilaration and exuberance.
And he was upon the crest of the wave. Now the forethought, the shrewdness, and the prompt action of those early spring days were beginning to tell. Confident, secure, unassailable, Jadwin plunged in. Every week the swirl of the Pit increased in speed, every week the demands of Europe for American wheat grew more frequent; and at the end of the month the price--which had fluctuated between seventy-five and seventy-eight--in a sudden flurry rushed to seventy-nine, to seventy-nine and a half, and closed, strong, at the even eighty cents.
On the day when the latter figure was reached Jadwin bought a seat upon the Board of Trade.
He was now no longer an "outsider."