The Pit by Frank Norris
One morning in November of the same year Laura joined her husband at breakfast, preoccupied and a little grave, her mind full of a subject about which, she told herself, she could no longer keep from speaking. So soon as an opportunity presented itself, which was when Jadwin laid down his paper and drew his coffee-cup towards him, Laura exclaimed:
"Well, old girl?"
"Curtis, dear, ... when is it all going to end--your speculating? You never used to be this way. It seems as though, nowadays, I never had you to myself. Even when you are not going over papers and reports and that, or talking by the hour to Mr. Gretry in the library--even when you are not doing all that, your mind seems to be away from me--down there in La Salle Street or the Board of Trade Building. Dearest, you don't know. I don't mean to complain, and I don't want to be exacting or selfish, but--sometimes I--I am lonesome. Don't interrupt," she said, hastily. "I want to say it all at once, and then never speak of it again. Last night, when Mr. Gretry was here, you said, just after dinner, that you would be all through your talk in an hour. And I waited.... I waited till eleven, and then I went to bed. Dear I--I--I was lonesome. The evening was so long. I had put on my very prettiest gown, the one you said you liked so much, and you never seemed to notice. You told me Mr. Gretry was going by nine, and I had it all planned how we would spend the evening together."
But she got no further. Her husband had taken her in his arms, and had interrupted her words with blustering exclamations of self- reproach and self-condemnation. He was a brute, he cried, a senseless, selfish ass, who had no right to such a wife, who was not worth a single one of the tears that by now were trembling on Laura's lashes.
"Now we won't speak of it again," she began. "I suppose I am selfish--"
"Selfish, nothing!" he exclaimed. "Don't talk that way. I'm the one--"
"But," Laura persisted, "some time you will--get out of this speculating for good? Oh, I do look forward to it so! And, Curtis, what is the use? We're so rich now we can't spend our money. What do you want to make more for?
"Oh, it's not the money," he answered. "It's the fun of the thing; the excitement--"
"That's just it, the 'excitement.' You don't know, Curtis. It is changing you. You are so nervous sometimes, and sometimes you don't listen to me when I talk to you. I can just see what's in your mind. It's wheat--wheat--wheat, wheat--wheat--wheat, all the time. Oh, if you knew how I hated and feared it!"
"Well, old girl, that settles it. I wouldn't make you unhappy a single minute for all the wheat in the world."
"And you will stop speculating?"
"Well, I can't pull out all in a moment, but just as soon as a chance comes I'll get out of the market. At any rate, I won't have any business of mine come between us. I don't like it any more than you do. Why, how long is it since we've read any book together, like we used to when you read aloud to me?"
"Not since we came back from the country."
"By George, that's so, that's so." He shook his head. "I've got to taper off. You're right, Laura. But you don't know, you haven't a guess how this trading in wheat gets a hold of you. And, then, what am I to do? What are we fellows, who have made our money, to do? I've got to be busy. I can't sit down and twiddle my thumbs. And I don't believe in lounging around clubs, or playing with race horses, or murdering game birds, or running some poor, helpless fox to death. Speculating seems to be about the only game, or the only business that's left open to me--that appears to be legitimate. I know I've gone too far into it, and I promise you I'll quit. But it's fine fun. When you know how to swing a deal, and can look ahead, a little further than the other fellows, and can take chances they daren't, and plan and manoeuvre, and then see it all come out just as you had known it would all along--I tell you it's absorbing."
"But you never do tell me," she objected. "I never know what you are doing. I hear through Mr. Court or Mr. Gretry, but never through you. Don't you think you could trust me? I want to enter into your life on its every side, Curtis. Tell me," she suddenly demanded, "what are you doing now?"
"Very well, then," he said, "I'll tell you. Of course you mustn't speak about it. It's nothing very secret, but it's always as well to keep quiet about these things."
She gave her word, and leaned her elbows on the table, prepared to listen intently. Jadwin crushed a lump of sugar against the inside of his coffee cup.
"Well," he began, "I've not been doing anything very exciting, except to buy wheat."
"To sell again. You see, I'm one of those who believe that wheat is going up. I was the very first to see it, I guess, way back last April. Now in August this year, while we were up at the lake, I bought three million bushels."
"Three--million--bushels!" she murmured. "Why, what do you do with it? Where do you put it?"
He tried to explain that he had merely bought the right to call for the grain on a certain date, but she could not understand this very clearly.
"Never mind," she told him, "go on."
"Well, then, at the end of August we found out that the wet weather in England would make a short crop there, and along in September came the news that Siberia would not raise enough to supply the southern provinces of Russia. That left only the United States and the Argentine Republic to feed pretty much the whole world. Of course that would make wheat valuable. Seems to be a short-crop year everywhere. I saw that wheat would go higher and higher, so I bought another million bushels in October, and another early in this month. That's all. You see, I figure that pretty soon those people over in England and Italy and Germany--the people that eat wheat--will be willing to pay us in America big prices for it, because it's so hard to get. They've got to have the wheat--it's bread 'n' butter to them."
"Oh, then why not give it to them?" she cried. "Give it to those poor people--your five million bushels. Why, that would be a godsend to them."
Jadwin stared a moment.
"Oh, that isn't exactly how it works out," he said.
Before he could say more, however, the maid came in and handed to Jadwin three despatches.
"Now those," said Laura, when the servant had gone out, "you get those every morning. Are those part of your business? What do they say?"
"I'll read them to you," he told her as he slit the first envelopes. "They are cablegrams from agents of mine in Europe. Gretry arranged to have them sent to me. Here now, this is from Odessa. It's in cipher, but"--he drew a narrow memorandum-book from his breast pocket--"I'll translate it for you."
He turned the pages of the key book a few moments, jotting down the translation on the back of an envelope with the gold pencil at the end of his watch chain.
"Here's how it reads," he said at last. "'Cash wheat advanced one cent bushel on Liverpool buying, stock light. Shipping to interior. European price not attractive to sellers."
"What does that mean?" she asked.
"Well, that Russia will not export wheat, that she has no more than enough for herself, so that Western Europe will have to look to us for her wheat."
"And the others? Read those to me."
Again Jadwin translated.
"This is from Paris:
"'Answer on one million bushels wheat in your market--stocks lighter than expected, and being cleared up.'"
"Which is to say?" she queried.
"They want to know how much I would ask for a million bushels. They find it hard to get the stuff over there--just as I said they would."
"Will you sell it to them?"
"Maybe. I'll talk to Sam about it."
"And now the last one."
"It's from Liverpool, and Liverpool, you must understand, is the great buyer of wheat. It's a tremendously influential place."
He began once more to consult the key book, one finger following the successive code words of the despatch.
Laura, watching him, saw his eyes suddenly contract. "By George," he muttered, all at once, "by George, what's this?"
"What is it?" she demanded. "Is it important?"
But all-absorbed, Jadwin neither heard nor responded. Three times he verified the same word.
"Oh, please tell me," she begged.
Jadwin shook his head impatiently and held up a warning hand.
"Wait, wait," he said. "Wait a minute."
Word for word he wrote out the translation of the cablegram, and then studied it intently.
"That's it," he said, at last. Then he got to his feet. "I guess I've had enough breakfast," he declared. He looked at his watch, touched the call bell, and when the maid appeared said:
"Tell Jarvis to bring the buggy around right away."
"But, dear, what is it?" repeated Laura. "You said you would tell me. You see," she cried, "it's just as I said. You've forgotten my very existence. When it's a question of wheat I count for nothing. And just now, when you read the despatch to yourself, you were all different; such a look came into your face, so cruelly eager, and triumphant and keen"
"You'd be eager, too," he exclaimed, "if you understood. Look; read it for yourself."
He thrust the cable into her hands. Over each code word he had written its translation, and his wife read:
"Large firms here short and in embarrassing position, owing to curtailment in Argentine shipments. Can negotiate for five million wheat if price satisfactory."
"Well?" she asked.
"Well, don't you see what that means? It's the 'European demand' at last. They must have wheat, and I've got it to give 'em--wheat that I bought. oh! at seventy cents, some of it, and they'll pay the market that is, eighty cents, for it. Oh, they'll pay more. They'll pay eighty-two if I want 'em to. France is after the stuff, too. Remember that cable from Paris I just read. They'd bid against each other. Why, if I pull this off, if this goes through--and, by George," he went on, speaking as much to himself as to her, new phases of the affair presenting themselves to him at every moment, "by George, I don't have to throw this wheat into the Pit and break down the price--and Gretry has understandings with the railroads, through the elevator gang, so we get big rebates. Why, this wheat is worth eighty-two cents to them--and then there's this 'curtailment in Argentine shipments.' That's the first word we've had about small crops there. Holy Moses, if the Argentine crop is off, wheat will knock the roof clean off the Board of Trade!" The maid reappeared in the doorway. "The buggy?" queried Jadwin. "All right. I'm off, Laura, and--until it's over keep quiet about all this, you know. Ask me to read you some more cables some day. It brings good luck."
He gathered up his despatches and the mail and was gone. Laura, left alone, sat looking out of the window a long moment. She heard the front door close, and then the sound of the horses' hoofs on the asphalt by the carriage porch. They died down, ceased, and all at once a great silence seemed to settle over the house.
Laura sat thinking. At last she rose.
"It is the first time," she said to herself, "that Curtis ever forgot to kiss me good-by."
The day, for all that the month was December, was fine. The sun shone; under foot the ground was dry and hard. The snow which had fallen ten days before was practically gone. In fine, it was a perfect day for riding. Laura called her maid and got into her habit. The groom with his own horse and "Crusader" were waiting for her when she descended.
That forenoon Laura rode further and longer than usual. Preoccupied at first, her mind burdened with vague anxieties, she nevertheless could not fail to be aroused and stimulated by the sparkle and effervescence of the perfect morning, and the cold, pure glitter of Lake Michigan, green with an intense mineral hue, dotted with whitecaps, and flashing under the morning sky. Lincoln Park was deserted and still; a blue haze shrouded the distant masses of leafless trees, where the gardeners were burning the heaps of leaves. Under her the thoroughbred moved with an ease and a freedom that were superb, throwing back one sharp ear at her lightest word; his rippling mane caressed her hand and forearm, and as she looked down upon his shoulder she could see the long, slender muscles, working smoothly, beneath the satin sheen of the skin. At the water works she turned into the long, straight road that leads to North Lake, and touched Crusader with the crop, checking him slightly at the same time. With a little toss of his head he broke from a trot into a canter, and then, as she leaned forward in the saddle, into his long, even gallop. There was no one to see; she would not be conspicuous, so Laura gave the horse his head, and in another moment he was carrying her with a swiftness that brought the water to her eyes, and that sent her hair flying from her face. She had him completely under control. A touch upon the bit, she knew, would suffice to bring him to a stand-still. She knew him to be without fear and without nerves, knew that his every instinct made for her safety, and that this morning's gallop was as much a pleasure to him as to his rider. Beneath her and around her the roadway and landscape flew; the cold air sang in her ears and whipped a faint colour to her pale cheeks; in her deep brown eyes a frosty sparkle came and went, and throughout all her slender figure the blood raced spanking and careering in a full, strong tide of health and gaiety.
She made a circle around North Lake, and came back by way of the Linne monument and the Palm House, Crusader ambling quietly by now, the groom trotting stolidly in the rear. Throughout all her ride she had seen no one but the park gardeners and the single grey-coated, mounted policeman whom she met each time she rode, and who always touched his helmet to her as she cantered past. Possibly she had grown a little careless in looking out for pedestrians at the crossings, for as she turned eastward at the La Salle statue, she all but collided with a gentleman who was traversing the road at the same time.
She brought her horse to a standstill with a little start of apprehension, and started again as she saw that the gentleman was Sheldon Corthell.
"Well," she cried, taken all aback, unable to think of formalities, and relapsing all at once into the young girl of Barrington, Massachusetts, "well, I never--of all the people."
But, no doubt, she had been more in his mind than he in hers, and a meeting with her was for him an eventuality not at all remote. There was more of pleasure than of embarrassment in that first look in which he recognised the wife of Curtis Jadwin.
The artist had changed no whit in the four years since last she had seen him. He seemed as young as ever; there was the same "elegance" to his figure; his hands were just as long and slim as ever; his black beard was no less finely pointed, and the mustaches were brushed away from his lips in the same French style that she remembered he used to affect. He was, as always, carefully dressed. He wore a suit of tweeds of a foreign cut, but no overcoat, a cloth cap of greenish plaid was upon his head, his hands were gloved in dogskin, and under his arm he carried a slender cane of varnished brown bamboo. The only unconventionality in his dress was the cravat, a great bow of black silk that overflowed the lapels of his coat.
But she had no more than time to register a swift impression of the details, when he came quickly forward, one hand extended, the other holding his cap.
"I cannot tell you how glad I am," he exclaimed.
It was the old Corthell beyond doubting or denial. Not a single inflection of his low-pitched, gently modulated voice was wanting; not a single infinitesimal mannerism was changed, even to the little tilting of the chin when he spoke, or the quick winking of the eyelids, or the smile that narrowed the corners of the eyes themselves, or the trick of perfect repose of his whole body. Even his handkerchief, as always, since first she had known him, was tucked into his sleeve at the wrist.
"And so you are back again," she cried. "And when, and how?"
"And so--yes--so I am back again," he repeated, as they shook hands. "Only day before yesterday, and quite surreptitiously. No one knows yet that I am here. I crept in--or my train did--under the cover of night. I have come straight from Tuscany."
"--and gardens and marble pergolas."
"Now why any one should leave Tuscan gardens and--and all that kind of thing for a winter in Chicago, I cannot see," she said.
"It is a little puzzling," he answered. "But I fancy that my gardens and pergolas and all the rest had come to seem to me a little--as the French would put it--malle. I began to long for a touch of our hard, harsh city again. Harshness has its place, I think, if it is only to cut one's teeth on."
Laura looked down at him, smiling.
"I should have thought you had cut yours long ago," she said.
"Not my wisdom teeth," he urged. "I feel now that I have come to that time of life when it is expedient to have wisdom."
"I have never known that feeling," she confessed, "and I live in the 'hard, harsh' city."
"Oh, that is because you have never known what it meant not to have wisdom," he retorted. "Tell me about everybody," he went on. "Your husband, he is well, of course, and distressfully rich. I heard of him in New York. And Page, our little, solemn Minerva of Dresden china?"
"Oh, yes, Page is well, but you will hardly recognise her; such a young lady nowadays."
"And Mr. Court, 'Landry'? I remember he always impressed me as though he had just had his hair cut; and the Cresslers, and Mrs. Wessels, and--"
"All well. Mrs. Cressler will be delighted to hear you are back. Yes, everybody is well."
"And, last of all, Mrs. Jadwin? But I needn't ask; I can see how well and happy you are."
"And Mr. Corthell," she queried, "is also well and happy?"
"Mr. Corthell," he responded, "is very well, and--tolerably--happy, thank you. One has lost a few illusions, but has managed to keep enough to grow old on. One's latter days are provided for."
"I shouldn't imagine," she told him, "that one lost illusions in Tuscan gardens."
"Quite right," he hastened to reply, smiling cheerfully. "One lost no illusions in Tuscany. One went there to cherish the few that yet remained. But," he added, without change of manner, "one begins to believe that even a lost illusion can be very beautiful sometimes--even in Chicago."
"I want you to dine with us," said Laura. "You've hardly met my husband, and I think you will like some of our pictures. I will have all your old friends there, the Cresslers and Aunt Wess, and all. When can you come?"
"Oh, didn't you get my note?" he asked. "I wrote you yesterday, asking if I might call to-night. You see, I am only in Chicago for a couple of days. I must go on to St. Louis to-morrow, and shall not be back for a week."
"Note? No, I've had no note from you. Oh, I know what happened. Curtis left in a hurry this morning, and he swooped all the mail into his pocket the last moment. I knew some of my letters were with his. There's where your note went. But, never mind, it makes no difference now that we've met. Yes, by all means, come to-night--to dinner. We're not a bit formal. Curtis won't have it. We dine at six; and I'll try to get the others. Oh, but Page won't be there, I forgot. She and Landry Court are going to have dinner with Aunt Wess', and they are all going to a lecture afterwards."
The artist expressed his appreciation and accepted her invitation.
"Do you know where we live?" she demanded. "You know we've moved since."
"Yes, I know," he told her. "I made up my mind to take a long walk here in the Park this morning, and I passed your house on my way out. You see, I had to look up your address in the directory before writing. Your house awed me, I confess, and the style is surprisingly good."
"But tell me," asked Laura, "you never speak of yourself, what have you been doing since you went away?"
"Nothing. Merely idling, and painting a little, and studying some thirteenth century glass in Avignon and Sienna."
"And shall you go back?"
"Yes, I think so, in about a month. So soon as I have straightened out some little businesses of mine--which puts me in mind," he said, glancing at his watch, "that I have an appointment at eleven, and should be about it."
He said good-by and left her, and Laura cantered homeward in high spirits. She was very glad that Corthell had come back. She had always liked him. He not only talked well himself, but seemed to have the faculty of making her do the same. She remembered that in the old days, before she had met Jadwin, her mind and conversation, for undiscoverable reasons, had never been nimbler, quicker, nor more effective than when in the company of the artist.
Arrived at home, Laura (as soon as she had looked up the definition of "pergola" in the dictionary) lost no time in telephoning to Mrs. Cressler.
"What," this latter cried when she told her the news, "that Sheldon Corthell back again! Well, dear me, if he wasn't the last person in my mind. I do remember the lovely windows he used to paint, and how refined and elegant he always was--and the loveliest hands and voice."
"He's to dine with us to-night, and I want you and Mr. Cressler to come."
"Oh, Laura, child, I just simply can't. Charlie's got a man from Milwaukee coming here to-night, and I've got to feed him. Isn't it too provoking? I've got to sit and listen to those two, clattering commissions and percentages and all, when I might be hearing Sheldon Corthell talk art and poetry and stained glass. I declare, I never have any luck."
At quarter to six that evening Laura sat in the library, before the fireplace, in her black velvet dinner gown, cutting the pages of a new novel, the ivory cutter as it turned and glanced in her hand, appearing to be a mere prolongation of her slender fingers. But she was not interested in the book, and from time to time glanced nervously at the clock upon the mantel-shelf over her head. Jadwin was not home yet, and she was distressed at the thought of keeping dinner waiting. He usually came back from down town at five o'clock, and even earlier. To-day she had expected that quite possibly the business implied in the Liverpool cable of the morning might detain him, but surely he should be home by now; and as the minutes passed she listened more and more anxiously for the sound of hoofs on the driveway at the side of the house.
At five minutes of the hour, when Corthell was announced, there was still no sign of her husband. But as she was crossing the hall on her way to the drawing-room, one of the servants informed her that Mr. Jadwin had just telephoned that he would be home in half an hour.
"Is he on the telephone now?" she asked, quickly. "Where did he telephone from?"
But it appeared that Jadwin had "hung up" without mentioning his whereabouts.
"The buggy came home," said the servant. "Mr. Jadwin told Jarvis not to wait. He said he would come in the street cars."
Laura reflected that she could delay dinner a half hour, and gave orders to that effect.
"We shall have to wait a little," she explained to Corthell as they exchanged greetings in the drawing-room. "Curtis has some special business on hand to-day, and is half an hour late."
They sat down on either side of the fireplace in the lofty apartment, with its sombre hangings of wine-coloured brocade and thick, muffling rugs, and for upwards of three-quarters of an hour Corthell interested her with his description of his life in the cathedral towns of northern Italy. But at the end of that time dinner was announced.
"Has Mr. Jadwin come in yet?" Laura asked of the servant.
She bit her lip in vexation.
"I can't imagine what can keep Curtis so late," she murmured. "Well," she added, at the end of her resources, "we must make the best of it. I think we will go in, Mr. Corthell, without waiting. Curtis must be here soon now."
But, as a matter of fact, he was not. In the great dining-room, filled with a dull crimson light, the air just touched with the scent of lilies of the valley, Corthell and Mrs. Jadwin dined alone.
"I suppose," observed the artist, "that Mr. Jadwin is a very busy man."
"Oh, no," Laura answered. "His real estate, he says, runs itself, and, as a rule, Mr. Gretry manages most of his Board of Trade business. It is only occasionally that anything keeps him down town late. I scolded him this morning, however, about his speculating, and made him promise not to do so much of it. I hate speculation. It seems to absorb some men so; and I don't believe it's right for a man to allow himself to become absorbed altogether in business."
"Oh, why limit one's absorption to business?" replied Corthell, sipping his wine. "Is it right for one to be absorbed 'altogether' in anything--even in art, even in religion?"
"Oh, religion, I don't know," she protested.
"Isn't that certain contribution," he hazarded, "which we make to the general welfare, over and above our own individual work, isn't that the essential? I suppose, of course, that we must hoe, each of us, his own little row, but it's the stroke or two we give to our neighbour's row--don't you think?--that helps most to cultivate the field."
"But doesn't religion mean more than a stroke or two?" she ventured to reply.
"I'm not so sure," he answered, thoughtfully. "If the stroke or two is taken from one's own work instead of being given in excess of it. One must do one's own hoeing first. That's the foundation of things. A religion that would mean to be 'altogether absorbed' in my neighbour's hoeing would be genuinely pernicious, surely. My row, meanwhile, would lie open to weeds."
"But if your neighbour's row grew flowers?"
"Unfortunately weeds grow faster than the flowers, and the weeds of my row would spread until they choked and killed my neighbour's flowers, I am sure."
"That seems selfish though," she persisted. "Suppose my neighbour were maimed or halt or blind? His poor little row would never be finished. My stroke or two would not help very much."
"Yes, but every row lies between two others, you know. The hoer on the far side of the cripple's row would contribute a stroke or two as well as you. No," he went on, "I am sure one's first duty is to do one's own work. It seems to me that a work accomplished benefits the whole world--the people--pro rata. If we help another at the expense of our work instead of in excess of it, we benefit only the individual, and, pro rata again, rob the people. A little good contributed by everybody to the race is of more, infinitely more, importance than a great deal of good contributed by one individual to another."
"Yes," she admitted, beginning at last to be convinced, "I see what you mean. But one must think very large to see that. It never occurred to me before. The individual--I, Laura Jadwin--counts for nothing. It is the type to which I belong that's important, the mould, the form, the sort of composite photograph of hundreds of thousands of Laura Jadwins. Yes," she continued, her brows bent, her mind hard at work, "what I am, the little things that distinguish me from everybody else, those pass away very quickly, are very ephemeral. But the type Laura Jadwin, that always remains, doesn't it? One must help building up only the permanent things. Then, let's see, the individual may deteriorate, but the type always grows better.... Yes, I think one can say that."
"At least the type never recedes," he prompted.
"Oh, it began good," she cried, as though at a discovery, "and can never go back of that original good. Something keeps it from going below a certain point, and it is left to us to lift it higher and higher. No, the type can't be bad. Of course the type is more important than the individual. And that something that keeps it from going below a certain point is God."
"So that God and nature," she cried again, "work together? No, no, they are one and the same thing."
"There, don't you see," he remarked, smiling back at her, "how simple it is?"
"Oh-h," exclaimed Laura, with a deep breath, "isn't it beautiful?" She put her hand to her forehead with a little laugh of deprecation. "My," she said, "but those things make you think."
Dinner was over before she was aware of it, and they were still talking animatedly as they rose from the table.
"We will have our coffee in the art gallery," Laura said, "and please smoke."
He lit a cigarette, and the two passed into the great glass-roofed rotunda.
"Here is the one I like best," said Laura, standing before the Bougereau.
"Yes?" he queried, observing the picture thoughtfully. "I suppose," he remarked, "it is because it demands less of you than some others. I see what you mean. It pleases you because it satisfies you so easily. You can grasp it without any effort."
"Oh, I don't know," she ventured.
"Bougereau 'fills a place.' I know it," he answered. "But I cannot persuade myself to admire his art."
"But," she faltered, "I thought that Bougereau was considered the greatest--one of the greatest--his wonderful flesh tints, the drawing, and colouring"
"But I think you will see," he told her, "if you think about it, that for all there is in his picture--back of it--a fine hanging, a beautiful vase would have exactly the same value upon your wall. Now, on the other hand, take this picture." He indicated a small canvas to the right of the bathing nymphs, representing a twilight landscape.
"Oh, that one," said Laura. "We bought that here in America, in New York. It's by a Western artist. I never noticed it much, I'm afraid."
"But now look at it," said Corthell. "Don't you know that the artist saw something more than trees and a pool and afterglow? He had that feeling of night coming on, as he sat there before his sketching easel on the edge of that little pool. He heard the frogs beginning to pipe, I'm sure, and the touch of the night mist was on his hands. And he was very lonely and even a little sad. In those deep shadows under the trees he put something of himself, the gloom and the sadness that he felt at the moment. And that little pool, still and black and sombre--why, the whole thing is the tragedy of a life full of dark, hidden secrets. And the little pool is a heart. No one can say how deep it is, or what dreadful thing one would find at the bottom, or what drowned hopes or what sunken ambitions. That little pool says one word as plain as if it were whispered in the ear--despair. Oh, yes, I prefer it to the nymphs."
"I am very much ashamed," returned Laura, "that I could not see it all before for myself. But I see it now. It is better, of course. I shall come in here often now and study it. Of all the rooms in our house this is the one I like best. But, I am afraid, it has been more because of the organ than of the pictures."
Corthell turned about.
"Oh, the grand, noble organ," he murmured. "I envy you this of all your treasures. May I play for you? Something to compensate for the dreadful, despairing little tarn of the picture."
"I should love to have you," she told him.
He asked permission to lower the lights, and stepping outside the door an instant, pressed the buttons that extinguished all but a very few of them. After he had done this he came back to the organ and detached the self-playing "arrangement" without comment, and seated himself at the console.
Laura lay back in a long chair close at hand. The moment was propitious. The artist's profile silhouetted itself against the shade of a light that burned at the side of the organ, and that gave light to the keyboard. And on this keyboard, full in the reflection, lay his long, slim hands. They were the only things that moved in the room, and the chords and bars of Mendelssohn's "Consolation" seemed, as he played, to flow, not from the instrument, but, like some invisible ether, from his finger-tips themselves.
"You hear," he said to Laura, "the effect of questions and answer in this. The questions are passionate and tumultuous and varied, but the answer is always the same, always calm and soothing and dignified."
She answered with a long breath, speaking just above a whisper:
"Oh, yes, yes, I understand."
He finished and turned towards her a moment. "Possibly not a very high order of art," he said; "a little too 'easy,' perhaps, like the Bougereau, but 'Consolation' should appeal very simply and directly, after all. Do you care for Beethoven?"
"I--I am afraid--" began Laura, but he had continued without waiting for her reply.
"You remember this? The 'Appassionata,' the F minor sonata just the second movement."
But when he had finished Laura begged him to continue.
"Please go on," she said. "Play anything. You can't tell how I love it."
"Here is something I've always liked," he answered, turning back to the keyboard. "It is the 'Mephisto Walzer' of Liszt. He has adapted it himself from his own orchestral score, very ingeniously. It is difficult to render on the organ, but I think you can get the idea of it." As he spoke he began playing, his head very slightly moving to the rhythm of the piece. At the beginning of each new theme, and without interrupting his playing, he offered a word, of explanation:
"Very vivid and arabesque this, don't you think? ... And now this movement; isn't it reckless and capricious, like a woman who hesitates and then takes the leap? Yet there's a certain nobility there, a feeling for ideals. You see it, of course.... And all the while this undercurrent of the sensual, and that feline, eager sentiment ... and here, I think, is the best part of it, the very essence of passion, the voluptuousness that is a veritable anguish.... These long, slow rhythms, tortured, languishing, really dying. It reminds one of 'Phedre '--'Venus toute entiere,' and the rest of it; and Wagner has the same. You find it again in Isolde's motif continually."
Laura was transfixed, all but transported. Here was something better than Gounod and Verdi, something above and beyond the obvious one, two, three, one, two, three of the opera scores as she knew them and played them. Music she understood with an intuitive quickness; and those prolonged chords of Liszt's, heavy and clogged and cloyed with passion, reached some hitherto untouched string within her heart, and with resistless power twanged it so that the vibration of it shook her entire being, and left her quivering and breathless, the tears in her eyes, her hands clasped till the knuckles whitened.
She felt all at once as though a whole new world were opened to her. She stood on Pisgah. And she was ashamed and confused at her ignorance of those things which Corthell tactfully assumed that she knew as a matter of course. What wonderful pleasures she had ignored! How infinitely removed from her had been the real world of art and artists of which Corthell was a part! Ah, but she would make amends now. No more Verdi and Bougereau. She would get rid of the "Bathing Nymphs." Never, never again would she play the "Anvil Chorus." Corthell should select her pictures, and should play to her from Liszt and Beethoven that music which evoked all the turbulent emotion, all the impetuosity and fire and exaltation that she felt was hers.
She wondered at herself. Surely, surely there were two Laura Jadwins. One calm and even and steady, loving the quiet life, loving her home, finding a pleasure in the duties of the housewife. This was the Laura who liked plain, homely, matter-of-fact Mrs. Cressler, who adored her husband, who delighted in Mr. Howells's novels, who abjured society and the formal conventions, who went to church every Sunday, and who was afraid of her own elevator.
But at moments such as this she knew that there was another Laura Jadwin--the Laura Jadwin who might have been a great actress, who had a "temperament," who was impulsive. This was the Laura of the "grand manner," who played the role of the great lady from room to room of her vast house, who read Meredith, who revelled in swift gallops through the park on jet-black, long-tailed horses, who affected black velvet, black jet, and black lace in her gowns, who was conscious and proud of her pale, stately beauty--the Laura Jadwin, in fine, who delighted to recline in a long chair in the dim, beautiful picture gallery and listen with half-shut eyes to the great golden organ thrilling to the passion of Beethoven and Liszt.
The last notes of the organ sank and faded into silence--a silence that left a sense of darkness like that which follows upon the flight of a falling star, and after a long moment Laura sat upright, adjusting the heavy masses of her black hair with thrusts of her long, white fingers. She drew a deep breath.
"Oh," she said, "that was wonderful, wonderful. It is like a new language--no, it is like new thoughts, too fine for language."
"I have always believed so," he answered. "Of all the arts, music, to my notion, is the most intimate. At the other end of the scale you have architecture, which is an expression of and an appeal to the common multitude, a whole people, the mass. Fiction and painting, and even poetry, are affairs of the classes, reaching the groups of the educated. But music--ah, that is different, it is one soul speaking to another soul. The composer meant it for you and himself. No one else has anything to do with it. Because his soul was heavy and broken with grief, or bursting with passion, or tortured with doubt, or searching for some unnamed ideal, he has come to you--you of all the people in the world--with his message, and he tells you of his yearnings and his sadness, knowing that you will sympathise, knowing that your soul has, like his, been acquainted with grief, or with gladness; and in the music his soul speaks to yours, beats with it, blends with it, yes, is even, spiritually, married to it."
And as he spoke the electrics all over the gallery flashed out in a sudden blaze, and Curtis Jadwin entered the room, crying out:
"Are you here, Laura? By George, my girl, we pulled it off, and I've cleaned up five--hundred--thousand--dollars."
Laura and the artist faced quickly about, blinking at the sudden glare, and Laura put her hand over her eyes.
"Oh, I didn't mean to blind you," said her husband, as he came forward. "But I thought it wouldn't be appropriate to tell you the good news in the dark."
Corthell rose, and for the first time Jadwin caught sight of him.
"This is Mr. Corthell, Curtis," Laura said. "You remember him, of course?"
"Why, certainly, certainly," declared Jadwin, shaking Corthell's hand. "Glad to see you again. I hadn't an idea you were here." He was excited, elated, very talkative. "I guess I came in on you abruptly," he observed. "They told me Mrs. Jadwin was in here, and I was full of my good news. By the way, I do remember now. When I came to look over my mail on the way down town this morning, I found a note from you to my wife, saying you would call to-night. Thought it was for me, and opened it before I found the mistake."
"I knew you had gone off with it," said Laura.
"Guess I must have mixed it up with my own mail this morning. I'd have telephoned you about it, Laura, but upon my word I've been so busy all day I clean forgot it. I've let the cat out of the bag already, Mr. Corthell, and I might as well tell the whole thing now. I've been putting through a little deal with some Liverpool fellows to-day, and I had to wait down town to get their cables to-night. You got my telephone, did you, Laura?"
"Yes, but you said then you'd be up in half an hour."
"I know--I know. But those Liverpool cables didn't come till all hours. Well, as I was saying, Mr. Corthell, I had this deal on hand--it was that wheat, Laura, I was telling you about this morning--five million bushels of it, and I found out from my English agent that I could slam it right into a couple of fellows over there, if we could come to terms. We came to terms right enough. Some of that wheat I sold at a profit of fifteen cents on every bushel. My broker and I figured it out just now before I started home, and, as I say, I'm a clean half million to the good. So much for looking ahead a little further than the next man." He dropped into a chair and stretched his arms wide. "Whoo! I'm tired Laura. Seems as though I'd been on my feet all day. Do you suppose Mary, or Martha, or Maggie, or whatever her name is, could rustle me a good strong cup of tea.
"Haven't you dined, Curtis?" cried Laura
"Oh, I had a stand-up lunch somewhere with Sam. But we were both so excited we might as well have eaten sawdust. Heigho, I sure am tired. It takes it out of you, Mr. Corthell, to make five hundred thousand in about ten hours."
"Indeed I imagine so," assented the artist. Jadwin turned to his wife, and held her glance in his a moment. He was full of triumph, full of the grim humour of the suddenly successful American.
"Hey?" he said. "What do you think of that Laura," he clapped down his big hand upon his chair arm, "a whole half million--at one grab? Maybe they'll say down there in La Salle Street now that I don't know wheat. Why, Sam--that's Gretry my broker, Mr. Corthell, of Gretry, Converse & Co.--Sam said to me Laura, to-night, he said, 'J.,'--they call me 'J.' down there, Mr. Corthell--'J., I take off my hat to you. I thought you were wrong from the very first, but I guess you know this game better than I do.' Yes, sir, that's what he said, and Sam Gretry has been trading in wheat for pretty nearly thirty years. Oh, I knew it," he cried, with a quick gesture; "I knew wheat was going to go up. I knew it from the first, when all the rest of em laughed at me. I knew this European demand would hit us hard about this time. I knew it was a good thing to buy wheat; I knew it was a good thing to have special agents over in Europe. Oh, they'll all buy now--when I've showed 'em the way. Upon my word, I haven't talked so much in a month of Sundays. You must pardon me, Mr. Corthell. I don't make five hundred thousand every day."
"But this is the last--isn't it?" said Laura.
"Yes," admitted Jadwin, with a quick, deep breath. "I'm done now. No more speculating. Let some one else have a try now. See if they can hold five million bushels till it's wanted. My, my, I am tired--as I've said before. D'that tea come, Laura?"
"What's that in your hand?" she answered, smiling.
Jadwin stared at the cup and saucer he held, whimsically. "Well, well," he exclaimed, "I must be flustered. Corthell," he declared between swallows, "take my advice. Buy May wheat. It'll beat art all hollow."
"Oh, dear, no," returned the artist. "I should lose my senses if I won, and my money if I didn't.
"That's so. Keep out of it. It's a rich man's game. And at that, there's no fun in it unless you risk more than you can afford to lose. Well, let's not talk shop. You're an artist, Mr. Corthell. What do you think of our house?"
Later on when they had said good-by to Corthell, and when Jadwin was making the rounds of the library, art gallery, and drawing-rooms--a nightly task which he never would intrust to the servants--turning down the lights and testing the window fastenings, his wife said:
"And now you are out of it--for good."
"I don't own a grain of wheat," he assured her. "I've got to be out of it."
The next day he went down town for only two or three hours in the afternoon. But he did not go near the Board of Trade building. He talked over a few business matters with the manager of his real estate office, wrote an unimportant letter or two, signed a few orders, was back at home by five o'clock, and in the evening took Laura, Page, and Landry Court to the theatre.
After breakfast the next morning, when he had read his paper, he got up, and, thrusting his hands in his pockets, looked across the table at his wife.
"Well," he said. "Now what'll we do?"
She put down at once the letter she was reading.
"Would you like to drive in the park?" she suggested. "It is a beautiful morning."
"M--m--yes," he answered slowly. "All right. Let's drive in the park."
But she could see that the prospect was not alluring to him.
"No," she said, "no. I don't think you want to do that."
"I don't think I do, either," he admitted. "The fact is, Laura, I just about know that park by heart. Is there anything good in the magazines this month?"
She got them for him, and he installed himself comfortably in the library, with a box of cigars near at hand.
"Ah," he said, fetching a long breath as he settled back in the deep-seated leather chair. "Now this is what I call solid comfort. Better than stewing and fussing about La Salle Street with your mind loaded down with responsibilities and all. This is my idea of life."
But an hour later, when Laura--who had omitted her ride that morning--looked into the room, he was not there. The magazines were helter-skeltered upon the floor and table, where he had tossed each one after turning the leaves. A servant told her that Mr. Jadwin was out in the stables.
She saw him through the window, in a cap and great-coat, talking with the coachman and looking over one of the horses. But he came back to the house in a little while, and she found him in his smoking-room with a novel in his hand.
"Oh, I read that last week," she said, as she caught a glimpse of the title. "Isn't it interesting? Don't you think it is good?"
"Oh--yes--pretty good," he admitted. "Isn't it about time for lunch? Let's go to the matinee this afternoon, Laura. Oh, that's so, it's Thursday; I forgot."
"Let me read that aloud to you," she said, reaching for the book. "I know you'll be interested when you get farther along."
"Honestly, I don't think I would be," he declared. "I've looked ahead in it. It seems terribly dry. Do you know," he said, abruptly, "if the law was off I'd go up to Geneva Lake and fish through the ice. Laura, how would you like to go to Florida?"
"Oh, I tell you," she exclaimed. "Let's go up to Geneva Lake over Christmas. We'll open up the house and take some of the servants along and have a house party."
Eventually this was done. The Cresslers and the Gretrys were invited, together with Sheldon Corthell and Landry Court. Page and Aunt Wess' came as a matter of course. Jadwin brought up some of the horses and a couple of sleighs. On Christmas night they had a great tree, and Corthell composed the words and music for a carol which had a great success.
About a week later, two days after New Year's day, when Landry came down from Chicago on the afternoon train, he was full of the tales of a great day on the Board of Trade. Laura, descending to the sitting-room, just before dinner, found a group in front of the fireplace, where the huge logs were hissing and crackling. Her husband and Cressler were there, and Gretry, who had come down on an earlier train. Page sat near at hand, her chin on her palm, listening intently to Landry, who held the centre of the stage for the moment. In a far corner of the room Sheldon Corthell, in a dinner coat and patent-leather pumps, a cigarette between his fingers, read a volume of Italian verse.
"It was the confirmation of the failure of the Argentine crop that did it," Landry was saying; "that and the tremendous foreign demand. She opened steady enough at eighty-three, but just as soon as the gong tapped we began to get it. Buy, buy, buy. Everybody is in it now. The public are speculating. For one fellow who wants to sell there are a dozen buyers. We had one of the hottest times I ever remember in the Pit this morning"
Laura saw Jadwin's eyes snap.
"I told you we'd get this, Sam," he said, nodding to the broker.
"Oh, there's plenty of wheat," answered Gretry, easily. "Wait till we get dollar wheat--if we do--and see it come out. The farmers haven't sold it all yet. There's always an army of ancient hayseeds who have the stuff tucked away--in old stockings, I guess--and who'll dump it on you all right if you pay enough. There's plenty of wheat. I've seen it happen before. Work the price high enough, and, Lord, how they'll scrape the bins to throw it at you! You'd never guess from what out-of-the-way places it would come."
"I tell you, Sam," retorted Jadwin, "the surplus of wheat is going out of the country--and it's going fast. And some of these shorts will have to hustle lively for it pretty soon."
"The Crookes gang, though," observed Landry, "seem pretty confident the market will break. I'm sure they were selling short this morning."
"The idea," exclaimed Jadwin, incredulously, "the idea of selling short in face of this Argentine collapse, and all this Bull news from Europe!"
"Oh, there are plenty of shorts," urged Gretry. "Plenty of them."
Try as he would, the echoes of the rumbling of the Pit reached Jadwin at every hour of the day and night. The maelstrom there at the foot of La Salle Street was swirling now with a mightier rush than for years past. Thundering, its vortex smoking, it sent its whirling far out over the country, from ocean to ocean, sweeping the wheat into its currents, sucking it in, and spewing it out again in the gigantic pulses of its ebb and flow.
And he, Jadwin, who knew its every eddy, who could foretell its every ripple, was out of it, out of it. Inactive, he sat there idle while the clamour of the Pit swelled daily louder, and while other men, men of little minds, of narrow imaginations, perversely, blindly shut their eyes to the swelling of its waters, neglecting the chances which he would have known how to use with such large, such vast results. That mysterious event which long ago he felt was preparing, was not yet consummated. The great Fact, the great Result which was at last to issue forth from all this turmoil was not yet achieved. Would it refuse to come until a master hand, all powerful, all daring, gripped the levers of the sluice gates that controlled the crashing waters of the Pit? He did not know. Was it the moment for a chief?
Was this upheaval a revolution that called aloud for its Napoleon? Would another, not himself, at last, seeing where so many shut their eyes, step into the place of high command?
Jadwin chafed and fretted in his inaction. As the time when the house party should break up drew to its close, his impatience harried him like a gadfly. He took long drives over the lonely country roads, or tramped the hills or the frozen lake, thoughtful, preoccupied. He still held his seat upon the Board of Trade. He still retained his agents in Europe. Each morning brought him fresh despatches, each evening's paper confirmed his forecasts.
"Oh, I'm out of it for good and all," he assured his wife. "But I know the man who could take up the whole jing-bang of that Crookes crowd in one hand and"--his large fist swiftly knotted as he spoke the words--"scrunch it up like an eggshell, by George."
Landry Court often entertained Page with accounts of the doings on the Board of Trade, and about a fortnight after the Jadwins had returned to their city home he called on her one evening and brought two or three of the morning's papers.
"Have you seen this?" he asked. She shook her head.
"Well," he said, compressing his lips, and narrowing his eyes, "let me tell you, we are having pretty--lively--times--down there on the Board these days. The whole country is talking about it."
He read her certain extracts from the newspapers he had brought. The first article stated that recently a new factor had appeared in the Chicago wheat market. A "Bull" clique had evidently been formed, presumably of New York capitalists, who were ousting the Crookes crowd and were rapidly coming into control of the market. In consequence of this the price of wheat was again mounting.
Another paper spoke of a combine of St. Louis firms who were advancing prices, bulling the market. Still a third said, at the beginning of a half-column article:
"It is now universally conceded that an Unknown Bull has invaded the Chicago wheat market since the beginning of the month, and is now dominating the entire situation. The Bears profess to have no fear of this mysterious enemy, but it is a matter of fact that a multitude of shorts were driven ignominiously to cover on Tuesday last, when the Great Bull gathered in a long line of two million bushels in a single half hour. Scalping and eighth-chasing are almost entirely at an end, the smaller traders dreading to be caught on the horns of the Unknown. The new operator's identity has been carefully concealed, but whoever he is, he is a wonderful trader and is possessed of consummate nerve. It has been rumoured that he hails from New York, and is but one of a large clique who are inaugurating a Bull campaign. But our New York advices are emphatic in denying this report, and we can safely state that the Unknown Bull is a native, and a present inhabitant of the Windy City."
Page looked up at Landry quickly, and he returned her glance without speaking. There was a moment's silence.
"I guess," Landry hazarded, lowering his voice, "I guess we're both thinking of the same thing."
"But I know he told my sister that he was going to stop all that kind of thing. What do you think?"
"I hadn't ought to think anything."
"Say 'shouldn't think,' Landry."
"Shouldn't think, then, anything about it. My business is to execute Mr. Gretry's orders."
"Well, I know this," said Page, "that Mr. Jadwin is down town all day again. You know he stayed away for a while."
"Oh, that may be his real estate business that keeps him down town so much," replied Landry.
"Laura is terribly distressed," Page went on. "I can see that. They used to spend all their evenings together in the library, and Laura would read aloud to him. But now he comes home so tired that sometimes he goes to bed at nine o'clock, and Laura sits there alone reading till eleven and twelve. But she's afraid, too, of the effect upon him. He's getting so absorbed. He don't care for literature now as he did once, or was beginning to when Laura used to read to him; and he never thinks of his Sunday-school. And then, too, if you're to believe Mr. Cressler, there's a chance that he may lose if he is speculating again."
But Landry stoutly protested:
"Well, don't think for one moment that Mr. Curtis Jadwin is going to let any one get the better of him. There's no man--no, nor gang of men--could down him. He's head and shoulders above the biggest of them down there. I tell you he's Napoleonic. Yes, sir, that's what he is, Napoleonic, to say the least. Page," he declared, solemnly, "he's the greatest man I've ever known."
Very soon after this it was no longer a secret to Laura Jadwin that her husband had gone back to the wheat market, and that, too, with such impetuosity, such eagerness, that his rush had carried him to the very heart's heart of the turmoil.
He was now deeply involved; his influence began to be felt. Not an important move on the part of the "Unknown Bull," the nameless mysterious stranger that was not duly noted and discussed by the entire world of La Salle Street.
Almost his very first move, carefully guarded, executed with profoundest secrecy, had been to replace the five million bushels sold to Liverpool by five million more of the May option. This was in January, and all through February and all through the first days of March, while the cry for American wheat rose, insistent and vehement, from fifty cities and centres of eastern Europe; while the jam of men in the Wheat Pit grew ever more frantic, ever more furious, and while the impassive hand on the great dial over the floor of the Board rose, resistless, till it stood at eighty-seven, he bought steadily, gathering in the wheat, calling for it, welcoming it, receiving full in the face and with opened arms the cataract that poured in upon the Pit from Iowa and Nebraska, Minnesota and Dakota, from the dwindling bins of Illinois and the fast-emptying elevators of Kansas and Missouri.
Then, squarely in the midst of the commotion, at a time when Curtis Jadwin owned some ten million bushels of May wheat, fell the Government report on the visible supply.
"Well," said Jadwin, "what do you think of it?"
He and Gretry were in the broker's private room in the offices of Gretry, Converse & Co. They were studying the report of the Government as to the supply of wheat, which had just been published in the editions of the evening papers. It was very late in the afternoon of a lugubrious March day. Long since the gas and electricity had been lighted in the office, while in the streets the lamps at the corners were reflected downward in long shafts of light upon the drenched pavements. From the windows of the room one could see directly up La Salle Street. The cable cars, as they made the turn into or out of the street at the corner of Monroe, threw momentary glares of red and green lights across the mists of rain, and filled the air continually with the jangle of their bells. Further on one caught a glimpse of the Court House rising from the pavement like a rain-washed cliff of black basalt, picked out with winking lights, and beyond that, at the extreme end of the vista, the girders and cables of the La Salle Street bridge.
The sidewalks on either hand were encumbered with the "six o'clock crowd" that poured out incessantly from the street entrances of the office buildings. It was a crowd almost entirely of men, and they moved only in one direction, buttoned to the chin in rain coats, their umbrellas bobbing, their feet scuffling through the little pools of wet in the depressions of the sidewalk. They streamed from out the brokers' offices and commission houses on either side of La Salle Street, continually, unendingly, moving with the dragging sluggishness of the fatigue of a hard day's work. Under that grey sky and blurring veil of rain they lost their individualities, they became conglomerate--a mass, slow-moving, black. All day long the torrent had seethed and thundered through the street--the torrent that swirled out and back from that vast Pit of roaring within the Board of Trade. Now the Pit was stilled, the sluice gates of the torrent locked, and from out the thousands of offices, from out the Board of Trade itself, flowed the black and sluggish lees, the lifeless dregs that filtered back to their level for a few hours, stagnation, till in the morning, the whirlpool revolving once more, should again suck them back into its vortex.
The rain fell uninterruptedly. There was no wind. The cable cars jolted and jostled over the tracks with a strident whir of vibrating window glass. In the street, immediately in front of the entrance to the Board of Trade, a group of pigeons, garnet-eyed, trim, with coral-coloured feet and iridescent breasts, strutted and fluttered, pecking at the handfuls of wheat that a porter threw them from the windows of the floor of the Board.
"Well," repeated Jadwin, shifting with a movement of his lips his unlit cigar to the other corner of his mouth, "well, what do you think of it?"
The broker, intent upon the figures and statistics, replied only by an indefinite movement of the head.
"Why, Sam," observed Jadwin, looking up from the paper, "there's less than a hundred million bushels in the farmers' hands.... That's awfully small. Sam, that's awfully small."
"It ain't, as you might say, colossal," admitted Gretry.
There was a long silence while the two men studied the report still further. Gretry took a pamphlet of statistics from a pigeon-hole of his desk, and compared certain figures with those mentioned in the report.
Outside the rain swept against the windows with the subdued rustle of silk. A newsboy raised a Gregorian chant as he went down the street.
"By George, Sam," Jadwin said again, "do you know that a whole pile of that wheat has got to go to Europe before July? How have the shipments been?"
"About five millions a week."
"Why, think of that, twenty millions a month, and it's--let's see, April, May, June, July--four months before a new crop. Eighty million bushels will go out of the country in the next four months--eighty million out of less than a hundred millions."
"Looks that way," answered Gretry.
"Here," said Jadwin, "let's get some figures. Let's get a squint on the whole situation. Got a 'Price Current' here? Let's find out what the stocks are in Chicago. I don't believe the elevators are exactly bursting, and, say," he called after the broker, who had started for the front office, "say, find out about the primary receipts, and the Paris and Liverpool stocks. Bet you what you like that Paris and Liverpool together couldn't show ten million to save their necks."
In a few moments Gretry was back again, his hands full of pamphlets and "trade" journals.
By now the offices were quite deserted. The last clerk had gone home. Without, the neighbourhood was emptying rapidly. Only a few stragglers hurried over the glistening sidewalks; only a few lights yet remained in the facades of the tall, grey office buildings. And in the widening silence the cooing of the pigeons on the ledges and window-sills of the Board of Trade Building made itself heard with increasing distinctness.
Before Gretry's desk the two men leaned over the litter of papers. The broker's pencil was in his hand and from time to time he figured rapidly on a sheet of note paper.
"And," observed Jadwin after a while, "and you see how the millers up here in the Northwest have been grinding up all the grain in sight. Do you see that?"
"Yes," said Gretry, then he added, "navigation will be open in another month up there in the straits."
"That's so, too," exclaimed Jadwin, "and what wheat there is here will be moving out. I'd forgotten that point. Ain't you glad you aren't short of wheat these days?"
"There's plenty of fellows that are, though," returned Gretry. "I've got a lot of short wheat on my books--a lot of it."
All at once as Gretry spoke Jadwin started, and looked at him with a curious glance.
"You have, hey?" he said. "There are a lot of fellows who have sold short?"
"Oh, yes, some of Crookes' followers--yes, quite a lot of them."
Jadwin was silent a moment, tugging at his mustache. Then suddenly he leaned forward, his finger almost in Gretry's face.
"Why, look here," he cried. "Don't you see? Don't you see"
"See what?" demanded the broker, puzzled at the other's vehemence.
Jadwin loosened his collar with a forefinger.
"Great Scott! I'll choke in a minute. See what? Why, I own ten million bushels of this wheat already, and Europe will take eighty million out of the country. Why, there ain't going to be any wheat left in Chicago by May! If I get in now and buy a long line of cash wheat, where are all these fellows who've sold short going to get it to deliver to me? Say, where are they going to get it? Come on now, tell me, where are they going to get it?"
Gretry laid down his pencil and stared at Jadwin, looked long at the papers on his desk, consulted his pencilled memoranda, then thrust his hands deep into his pockets, with a long breath. Bewildered, and as if stupefied, he gazed again into Jadwin's face.
"My God!" he murmured at last.
"Well, where are they going to get it?" Jadwin cried once more, his face suddenly scarlet.
"J.," faltered the broker, "J., I--I'm damned if I know."
And then, all in the same moment, the two men were on their feet. The event which all those past eleven months had been preparing was suddenly consummated, suddenly stood revealed, as though a veil had been ripped asunder, as though an explosion had crashed through the air upon them, deafening, blinding.
Jadwin sprang forward, gripping the broker by the shoulder.
"Sam," he shouted, "do you know--great God!--do you know what this means? Sam, we can corner the market!"