On a certain Monday morning, about a month later, Curtis Jadwin descended fro_is office in the Rookery Building, and turning southward, took his way towar_he brokerage and commission office of Gretry, Converse and Co., on the groun_loor of the Board of Trade Building, only a few steps away.
It was about nine o'clock; the weather was mild, the sun shone. La Sall_treet swarmed with the multitudinous life that seethed about the doors of th_nnumerable offices of brokers and commission men of the neighbourhood. To th_ight, in the peristyle of the Illinois Trust Building, groups of clerks, o_essengers, of brokers, of clients, and of depositors formed and brok_ncessantly. To the left, where the facade of the Board of Trade blocked th_treet, the activity was astonishing, and in and out of the swing doors of it_ntrance streamed an incessant tide of coming and going. All the life of th_eighbourhood seemed to centre at this point—the entrance of the Board o_rade. Two currents that trended swiftly through La Salle and Jackson streets, and that fed, or were fed by, other tributaries that poured in through Fift_venue and through Clarke and Dearborn streets, met at this point—one settin_n, the other out. The nearer the currents the greater their speed. Men—mer_lotsam in the flood—as they turned into La Salle Street from Adams or fro_onroe, or even from as far as Madison, seemed to accelerate their pace a_hey approached. At the Illinois Trust the walk became a stride, at th_ookery the stride was almost a trot. But at the corner of Jackson Street, th_oard of Trade now merely the width of the street away, the trot became a run, and young men and boys, under the pretence of escaping the trucks and wagon_f the cobbles, dashed across at a veritable gallop, flung themselves pantin_nto the entrance of the Board, were engulfed in the turmoil of the spot, an_isappeared with a sudden fillip into the gloom of the interior.
Often Jadwin had noted the scene, and, unimaginative though he was, had lon_ince conceived the notion of some great, some resistless force within th_oard of Trade Building that held the tide of the streets within its grip, alternately drawing it in and throwing it forth. Within there, a grea_hirlpool, a pit of roaring waters spun and thundered, sucking in the lif_ides of the city, sucking them in as into the mouth of some tremendou_loaca, the maw of some colossal sewer; then vomiting them forth again, spewing them up and out, only to catch them in the return eddy and suck the_n afresh.
Thus it went, day after day. Endlessly, ceaselessly the Pit, enormous, thundering, sucked in and spewed out, sending the swirl of its mighty centra_ddy far out through the city's channels. Terrible at the centre, it was, a_he circumference, gentle, insidious and persuasive, the send of the flowin_o mild, that to embark upon it, yielding to the influence, was a pleasur_hat seemed all devoid of risk. But the circumference was not bounded by th_ity. All through the Northwest, all through the central world of the Whea_he set and whirl of that innermost Pit made itself felt; and it spread an_pread and spread till grain in the elevators of Western Iowa moved an_tirred and answered to its centripetal force, and men upon the streets of Ne_ork felt the mysterious tugging of its undertow engage their feet, embrac_heir bodies, overwhelm them, and carry them bewildered and unresisting bac_nd downwards to the Pit itself.
Nor was the Pit's centrifugal power any less. Because of some sudden edd_pinning outward from the middle of its turmoil, a dozen bourses o_ontinental Europe clamoured with panic, a dozen Old-World banks, firm as th_stablished hills, trembled and vibrated. Because of an unexpected caprice i_he swirling of the inner current, some far-distant channel suddenly dried, and the pinch of famine made itself felt among the vine dressers of Norther_taly, the coal miners of Western Prussia. Or another channel filled, and th_tarved moujik of the steppes, and the hunger-shrunken coolie of the Ganges'
watershed fed suddenly fat and made thank offerings before ikon and idol.
There in the centre of the Nation, midmost of that continent that lay betwee_he oceans of the New World and the Old, in the heart's heart of the affair_f men, roared and rumbled the Pit. It was as if the Wheat, Nourisher of th_ations, as it rolled gigantic and majestic in a vast flood from West to East, here, like a Niagara, finding its flow impeded, burst suddenly into th_ppalling fury of the Maelstrom, into the chaotic spasm of a world-force, _rimeval energy, blood-brother of the earthquake and the glacier, raging an_rathful that its power should be braved by some pinch of human spawn tha_ared raise barriers across its courses.
Small wonder that Cressler laughed at the thought of cornering wheat, and eve_ow as Jadwin crossed Jackson Street, on his way to his broker's office on th_ower floor of the Board of Trade Building, he noted the ebb and flow tha_ssued from its doors, and remembered the huge river of wheat that rolle_hrough this place from the farms of Iowa and ranches of Dakota to the mill_nd bakeshops of Europe.
"There's something, perhaps, in what Charlie says," he said to himself.
"Corner this stuff—my God!"
Gretry, Converse & Co. was the name of the brokerage firm that always handle_adwin's rare speculative ventures. Converse was dead long since, but the fir_till retained its original name. The house was as old and as well establishe_s any on the Board of Trade. It had a reputation for conservatism, and wa_nown more as a Bear than a Bull concern. It was immensely wealthy an_mmensely important. It discouraged the growth of a clientele of countr_ustomers, of small adventurers, knowing well that these were the first to g_n a crash, unable to meet margin calls, and leaving to their brokers th_esponsibility of their disastrous trades. The large, powerful Bears were it_riends, the Bears strong of grip, tenacious of jaw, capable of pulling dow_he strongest Bull. Thus the firm had no consideration for the "outsiders,"
the "public"—the Lambs. The Lambs! Such a herd, timid, innocent, feeble, a_uch out of place in La Salle Street as a puppy in a cage of panthers; th_ambs, whom Bull and Bear did not so much as condescend to notice, but who, i_heir mutual struggle of horn and claw, they crushed to death by the mer_olling of their bodies.
Jadwin did not go directly into Gretry's main office, but instead made his wa_n at the entrance of the Board of Trade Building, and going on past th_tairways that on either hand led up to the "Floor" on the second story, entered the corridor beyond, and thence gained the customers' room of Gretry, Converse & Co. All the more important brokerage firms had offices on th_round floor of the building, offices that had two entrances, one giving upo_he street, and one upon the corridor of the Board. Generally the corrido_ntrance admitted directly to the firm's customers' room. This was the cas_ith the Gretry-Converse house.
Once in the customers' room, Jadwin paused, looking about him.
He could not tell why Gretry had so earnestly desired him to come to hi_ffice that morning, but he wanted to know how wheat was selling befor_alking to the broker. The room was large, and but for the lighted gas, burning crudely without globes, would have been dark. All one wall opposit_he door was taken up by a great blackboard covered with chalked figures i_olumns, and illuminated by a row of overhead gas jets burning under a ti_eflector. Before this board files of chairs were placed, and these wer_ccupied by groups of nondescripts, shabbily dressed men, young and old, wit_ired eyes and unhealthy complexions, who smoked and expectorated, or engage_n interminable conversations.
In front of the blackboard, upon a platform, a young man in shirt-sleeves, hi_uffs caught up by metal clamps, walked up and down. Screwed to the blackboar_tself was a telegraph instrument, and from time to time, as this buzzed an_icked, the young man chalked up cabalistic, and almost illegible figure_nder columns headed by initials of certain stocks and bonds, or by the words
"Pork," "Oats," or, larger than all the others, "May Wheat." The air of th_oom was stale, close, and heavy with tobacco fumes. The only noises were th_ow hum of conversations, the unsteady click of the telegraph key, and th_apping of the chalk in the marker's fingers.
But no one in the room seemed to pay the least attention to the blackboard.
One quotation replaced another, and the key and the chalk clicked and tappe_ncessantly. The occupants of the room, sunk in their chairs, seemed to giv_o heed; some even turned their backs; one, his handkerchief over his knee, adjusted his spectacles, and opening a newspaper two days old, began to rea_ith peering deliberation, his lips forming each word. These nondescript_athered there, they knew not why. Every day found them in the same place, always with the same fetid, unlighted cigars, always with the same fraye_ewspapers two days old. There they sat, inert, stupid, their decaying sense_ypnotised and soothed by the sound of the distant rumble of the Pit, tha_ame through the ceiling from the floor of the Board overhead.
One of these figures, that of a very old man, blear-eyed, decrepit, dirty, i_ battered top hat and faded frock coat, discoloured and weather-stained a_he shoulders, seemed familiar to Jadwin. It recalled some ancien_ssociation, he could not say what. But he was unable to see the old man'_ace distinctly; the light was bad, and he sat with his face turned from him, eating a sandwich, which he held in a trembling hand.
Jadwin, having noted that wheat was selling at 94, went away, glad to be ou_f the depressing atmosphere of the room.
Gretry was in his office, and Jadwin was admitted at once. He sat down in _hair by the broker's desk, and for the moment the two talked of trivialities.
Gretry was a large, placid, smooth-faced man, stolid as an ox; inevitabl_ressed in blue serge, a quill tooth-pick behind his ear, a Grand Army butto_n his lapel. He and Jadwin were intimates. The two had come to Chicago almos_imultaneously, and had risen together to become the wealthy men they were a_he moment. They belonged to the same club, lunched together every day a_insley's, and took each other driving behind their respective trotters o_lternate Saturday afternoons. In the middle of summer each stole a fortnigh_rom his business, and went fishing at Geneva Lake in Wisconsin.
"I say," Jadwin observed, "I saw an old fellow outside in your customers' roo_ust now that put me in mind of Hargus. You remember that deal of his, the on_e tried to swing before he died. Oh—how long ago was that? Bless my soul, that must have been fifteen, yes twenty years ago."
The deal of which Jadwin spoke was the legendary operation of the Board o_rade—a mammoth corner in September wheat, manipulated by this same Hargus, _illionaire, who had tripled his fortune by the corner, and had lost it b_ome chicanery on the part of his associate before another year. He had ru_heat up to nearly two dollars, had been in his day a king all-powerful. Sinc_hen all deals had been spoken of in terms of the Hargus affair. Speculator_aid, "It was almost as bad as the Hargus deal." "It was like the Hargu_mash." "It was as big a thing as the Hargus corner." Hargus had become a sor_f creature of legends, mythical, heroic, transfigured in the glory of hi_illions.
"Easily twenty years ago," continued Jadwin. "If Hargus could come to lif_ow, he'd be surprised at the difference in the way we do business these days.
Twenty years. Yes, it's all of that. I declare, Sam, we're getting old, aren'_e?"
"I guess that was Hargus you saw out there," answered the broker. "He's no_ead. Old fellow in a stove-pipe and greasy frock coat? Yes, that's Hargus."
"What!" exclaimed Jadwin. " _That_ Hargus?"
"Of course it was. He comes 'round every day. The clerks give him a dolla_very now and then."
"And he's not dead? And that was Hargus, that wretched, broken—whew! I don'_ant to think of it, Sam!" And Jadwin, taken all aback, sat for a momen_peechless.
"Yes, sir," muttered the broker grimly, "that was Hargus."
There was a long silence. Then at last Gretry exclaimed briskly:
"Well, here's what I want to see you about."
He lowered his voice: "You know I've got a correspondent or two at Paris—al_he brokers have—and we make no secret as to who they are. But I've had a_xtra man at work over there for the last six months, very much on the quiet.
I don't mind telling you this much—that he's not the least important member o_he United States Legation. Well, now and then he is supposed to send me wha_he reporters call "exclusive news"—that's what I feed him for, and I coul_un a private steam yacht on what it costs me. But news I get from him is _ay or so in advance of everybody else. He hasn't sent me anything ver_mportant till this morning. This here just came in."
He picked up a despatch from his desk and read:
"'Utica—headquarters—modification—organic—concomitant—within one month,' whic_eans," he added, "this. I've just deciphered it," and he handed Jadwin a sli_f paper on which was written:
"Bill providing for heavy import duties on foreign grains certain to b_ntroduced in French Chamber of Deputies within one month."
"Have you got it?" he demanded of Jadwin, as he took the slip back. "Won'_orget it?" He twisted the paper into a roll and burned it carefully in th_ffice cuspidor.
"Now," he remarked, "do you come in? It's just the two of us, J., and I thin_e can make that Porteous clique look very sick."
"Hum!" murmured Jadwin surprised. "That does give you a twist on th_ituation. But to tell the truth, Sam, I had sort of made up my mind to kee_ut of speculation since my last little deal. A man gets into this game, an_nto it, and into it, and before you know he can't pull out—and he don't wan_o. Next he gets his nose scratched, and he hits back to make up for it, an_ust hits into the air and loses his balance—and down he goes. I don't want t_ake any more money, Sam. I've got my little pile, and before I get too old _ant to have some fun out of it."
"But lord love you, J.," objected the other, "this ain't speculation. You ca_ee for yourself how sure it is. I'm not a baby at this business, am I? You'l_et me know something of this game, won't you? And I tell you, J., it's foun_oney. The man that sells wheat short on the strength of this has as good a_ot the money in his vest pocket already. Oh, nonsense, of course you'll com_n. I've been laying for that Bull gang since long before the Helmick failure, and now I've got it right where I want it. Look here, J., you aren't the ma_o throw money away. You'd buy a business block if you knew you could sell i_ver again at a profit. Now here's the chance to make really a fine Bear deal.
Why, as soon as this news gets on the floor there, the price will bust righ_own, and down, and down. Porteous and his crowd couldn't keep it up to save
'em from the receiver's hand one single minute."
"I know, Sam," answered Jadwin, "and the trouble is, not that I don't want t_peculate, but that I do—too much. That's why I said I'd keep out of it. I_sn't so much the money as the fun of playing the game. With half a show, _ould get in a little more and a little more, till by and by I'd try to thro_ big thing, and instead, the big thing would throw me. Why, Sam, when yo_old me that that wreck out there mumbling a sandwich was Hargus, it made m_urn cold."
"Yes, in your feet," retorted Gretry. "I'm not asking you to risk all you_oney, am I, or a fifth of it, or a twentieth of it? Don't be an ass, J. Ar_e a conservative house, or aren't we? Do I talk like this when I'm not sure?
Look here. Let me sell a million bushels for you. Yes, I know it's a bigge_rder than I've handled for you before. But this time I want to go right int_t, head down and heels up, and get a twist on those Porteous buckoes, an_aise 'em right out of their boots. We get a crop report this morning, and i_he visible supply is as large as I think it is, the price will go off an_nsettle the whole market. I'll sell short for you at the best figures we ca_et, and you can cover on the slump any time between now and the end of May."
Jadwin hesitated. In spite of himself he felt a Chance had come. Again tha_trange sixth sense of his, the inexplicable instinct, that only the bor_peculator knows, warned him. Every now and then during the course of hi_usiness career, this intuition came to him, this flair, this intangible, vague premonition, this presentiment that he must seize Opportunity or els_ortune, that so long had stayed at his elbow, would desert him. In the ai_bout him he seemed to feel an influence, a sudden new element, the presenc_f a new force. It was Luck, the great power, the great goddess, and all a_nce it had stooped from out the invisible, and just over his head passe_wiftly in a rush of glittering wings.
"The thing would have to be handled like glass," observed the broke_houghtfully, his eyes narrowing "A tip like this is public property i_wenty-four hours, and it don't give us any too much time. I don't want t_reak the price by unloading a million or more bushels on 'em all of a sudden.
I'll scatter the orders pretty evenly. You see," he added, "here's a big poin_n our favor. We'll be able to sell on a strong market. The Pit traders hav_ot some crazy war rumour going, and they're as flighty over it as a youn_adies' seminary over a great big rat. And even without that, the market i_op-heavy. Porteous makes me weary. He and his gang have been bucking it u_ill we've got an abnormal price. Ninety-four for May wheat! Why, it'_idiculous. Ought to be selling way down in the eighties. The least littl_olt would tip her over. Well," he said abruptly, squaring himself at Jadwin,
"do we come in? If that same luck of yours is still in working order, here'_our chance, J., to make a killing. There's just that gilt-edged, full-morocc_hance that a report of big 'visible' would give us."
Jadwin laughed. "Sam," he said, "I'll flip a coin for it."
"Oh, get out," protested the broker; then suddenly—the gambling instinct tha_ lifetime passed in that place had cultivated in him—exclaimed:
"All right. Flip a coin. But give me your word you'll stay by it. Heads yo_ome in; tails you don't. Will you give me your word?"
"Oh, I don't know about that," replied Jadwin, amused at the foolishness o_he whole proceeding. But as he balanced the half-dollar on his thumb-nail, h_as all at once absolutely assured that it would fall heads. He flipped it i_he air, and even as he watched it spin, said to himself, "It will come heads.
It could _not possibly_ be anything else. I know it will be heads."
And as a matter of course the coin fell heads.
"All right," he said, "I'll come in."
"For a million bushels?"
"Yes—for a million. How much in margins will you want?"
Gretry figured a moment on the back of an envelope.
"Fifty thousand dollars," he announced at length.
Jadwin wrote the check on a corner of the broker's desk, and held it a momen_efore him.
"Good-bye," he said, apostrophising the bit of paper. "Good-bye. I ne'er shal_ook upon your like again."
Gretry did not laugh.
"Huh!" he grunted. "You'll look upon a hatful of them before the month i_ut."
That same morning Landry Court found himself in the corridor on the groun_loor of the Board of Trade about nine o'clock. He had just come out of th_ffice of Gretry, Converse & Co., where he and the other Pit traders for th_ouse had been receiving their orders for the day.
As he was buying a couple of apples at the news stand at the end of th_orridor, Semple and a young Jew named Hirsch, Pit traders for small firms i_a Salle Street, joined him.
"Hello, Court, what do you know?"
"Hello, Barry Semple! Hello, Hirsch!" Landry offered the halves of his secon_pple, and the three stood there a moment, near the foot of the stairs, talking and eating their apples from the points of their penknives.
"I feel sort of seedy this morning," Semple observed between mouthfuls. "Wa_p late last night at a stag. A friend of mine just got back from Europe, an_ome of the boys were giving him a little dinner. He was all over the shop, this friend of mine; spent most of his time in Constantinople; had some kin_f newspaper business there. It seems that it's a pretty crazy proposition, Turkey and the Sultan and all that. He said that there was nearly a row ove_he 'Higgins-Pasha' incident, and that the British agent put it prett_traight to the Sultan's secretary. My friend said Constantinople put him i_ind of a lot of opera bouffe scenery that had got spilled out in the mud.
Say, Court, he said the streets were dirtier than the Chicago streets."
"Oh, come now," said Hirsch.
"Fact! And the dogs! He told us he knows now where all the yellow dogs go t_hen they die."
"But say," remarked Hirsch, "what is that about the Higgins-Pasha business? _hought that was over long ago."
"Oh, it is," answered Semple easily. He looked at his watch. "I guess it'_bout time to go up, pretty near half-past nine."
The three mounted the stairs, mingling with the groups of floor traders who, in steadily increasing numbers, had begun to move in the same direction. Bu_n the way Hirsch was stopped by his brother.
"Hey, I got that box of cigars for you."
Hirsch paused. "Oh! All right," he said, then he added: "Say, how about tha_iggins-Pasha affair? You remember that row between England and Turkey. The_ell me the British agent in Constantinople put it pretty straight to th_ultan the other day."
The other was interested. "He did, hey?" he said. "The market hasn't felt it, though. Guess there's nothing to it. But there's Kelly yonder. He'd know. He'_retty thick with Porteous' men. Might ask him."
"You ask him and let me know. I got to go on the floor. It's nearly time fo_he gong."
Hirsch's brother found Kelly in the centre of a group of settlement clerks.
"Say, boy," he began, "you ought to know. They tell me there may be troubl_etween England and Turkey over the Higgins-Pasha incident, and that th_ritish Foreign Office has threatened the Sultan with an ultimatum. I can se_he market if that's so."
"Nothing in it," retorted Kelly. "But I'll find out—to make sure, by jingo."
Meanwhile Landry had gained the top of the stairs, and turning to the right, passed through a great doorway, and came out upon the floor of the Board o_rade.
It was a vast enclosure, lighted on either side by great windows of coloure_lass, the roof supported by thin iron pillars elaborately decorated. To th_eft were the bulletin blackboards, and beyond these, in the northwest angl_f the floor, a great railed-in space where the Western Union Telegraph wa_nstalled. To the right, on the other side of the room, a row of tables, lade_ith neatly arranged paper bags half full of samples of grains, stretche_long the east wall from the doorway of the public room at one end to th_elephone room at the other.
The centre of the floor was occupied by the pits. To the left and to the fron_f Landry the provision pit, to the right the corn pit, while further on a_he north extremity of the floor, and nearly under the visitors' gallery, muc_arger than the other two, and flanked by the wicket of the official recorder, was the wheat pit itself.
Directly opposite the visitors' gallery, high upon the south wall a great dia_as affixed, and on the dial a marking hand that indicated the current pric_f wheat, fluctuating with the changes made in the Pit. Just now it stood a_inety-three and three-eighths, the closing quotation of the preceding day.
As yet all the pits were empty. It was some fifteen minutes after nine. Landr_hecked his hat and coat at the coat room near the north entrance, and slippe_nto an old tennis jacket of striped blue flannel. Then, hatless, his hands i_is pockets, he leisurely crossed the floor, and sat down in one of the chair_hat were ranged in files upon the floor in front of the telegraph enclosure.
He scrutinised again the despatches and orders that he held in his hands; then, having fixed them in his memory, tore them into very small bits, lookin_aguely about the room, developing his plan of campaign for the morning.
In a sense Landry Court had a double personality. Away from the neighbourhoo_nd influence of La Salle Street, he was "rattle-brained," absent-minded, impractical, and easily excited, the last fellow in the world to be truste_ith any business responsibility. But the thunder of the streets around th_oard of Trade, and, above all, the movement and atmosphere of the floo_tself awoke within him a very different Landry Court; a whole new set o_erves came into being with the tap of the nine-thirty gong, a whole ne_ystem of brain machinery began to move with the first figure called in th_it. And from that instant until the close of the session, no floor trader, n_roker's clerk nor scalper was more alert, more shrewd, or kept his head mor_urely than the same young fellow who confused his social engagements for th_vening of the same day. The Landry Court the Dearborn girls knew was a fa_ifferent young man from him who now leaned his elbows on the arms of th_hair upon the floor of the Board, and, his eyes narrowing, his lip_ightening, began to speculate upon what was to be the temper of the Pit tha_orning.
Meanwhile the floor was beginning to fill up. Over in the railed-in space, where the hundreds of telegraph instruments were in place, the operators wer_rriving in twos and threes. They hung their hats and ulsters upon the pegs i_he wall back of them, and in linen coats, or in their shirt-sleeves, went t_heir seats, or, sitting upon their tables, called back and forth to eac_ther, joshing, cracking jokes. Some few addressed themselves directly t_ork, and here and there the intermittent clicking of a key began, like _iligent cricket busking himself in advance of its mates.
From the corridors on the ground floor up through the south doors came the pi_raders in increasing groups. The noise of footsteps began to echo from th_igh vaulting of the roof. A messenger boy crossed the floor chanting a_nintelligible name.
The groups of traders gradually converged upon the corn and wheat pits, and o_he steps of the latter, their arms crossed upon their knees, two men, on_earing a silk skull cap all awry, conversed earnestly in low tones.
Winston, a great, broad-shouldered bass-voiced fellow of some thirty-fiv_ears, who was associated with Landry in executing the orders of the Gretry- Converse house, came up to him, and, omitting any salutation, remarked, deliberately, slowly:
"What's all this about this trouble between Turkey and England?"
But before Landry could reply a third trader for the Gretry Company joined th_wo. This was a young fellow named Rusbridge, lean, black-haired, a constan_xcitement glinting in his deep-set eyes.
"Say," he exclaimed, "there's something in that, there's something in that!"
"Where did you hear it?" demanded Landry.
"Oh—everywhere." Rusbridge made a vague gesture with one arm. "Hirsch seeme_o know all about it. It appears that there's talk of mobilising th_editerranean squadron. Darned if I know."
"Might ask that 'Inter-Ocean' reporter. He'd be likely to know. I've seen him
'round here this morning, or you might telephone the Associated Press,"
suggested Landry. "The office never said a word to me."
"Oh, the 'Associated.' They know a lot always, don't they?" jeered Winston.
"Yes, I rung 'em up. They 'couldn't confirm the rumour.' That's always th_ay. You can spend half a million a year in leased wires and special servic_nd subscriptions to news agencies, and you get the first smell of news lik_his right here on the floor. Remember that time when the Northwestern miller_old a hundred and fifty thousand barrels at one lick? The floor was talkin_f it three hours before the news slips were sent 'round, or a single wire wa_n. Suppose we had waited for the Associated people or the Commercial peopl_hen?"
"It's that Higgins-Pasha incident, I'll bet," observed Rusbridge, his eye_napping.
"I heard something about that this morning," returned Landry. "But only tha_t was—"
"There! What did I tell you?" interrupted Rusbridge. "I said it wa_verywhere. There's no smoke without some fire. And I wouldn't be a bi_urprised if we get cables before noon that the British War Office had sent a_ltimatum."
And very naturally a few minutes later Winston, at that time standing on th_teps of the corn pit, heard from a certain broker, who had it from a frien_ho had just received a despatch from some one "in the know," that the Britis_ecretary of State for War had forwarded an ultimatum to the Porte, and tha_iplomatic relations between Turkey and England were about to be suspended.
All in a moment the entire Floor seemed to be talking of nothing else, and o_he outskirts of every group one could overhear the words: "Seizure of custo_ouse," "ultimatum," "Eastern question," "Higgins-Pasha incident." It was th_umour of the day, and before very long the pit traders began to receive _ultitude of despatches countermanding selling orders, and directing them no_o close out trades under certain very advanced quotations. The brokers bega_iring their principals that the market promised to open strong and bullish.
But by now it was near to half-past nine. From the Western Union desks th_licking of the throng of instruments rose into the air in an incessan_taccato stridulation. The messenger boys ran back and forth at top speed, dodging in and out among the knots of clerks and traders, colliding with on_nother, and without interruption intoning the names of those for whom the_ad despatches. The throng of traders concentrated upon the pits, and at ever_oment the deep-toned hum of the murmur of many voices swelled like the risin_f a tide.
And at this moment, as Landry stood on the rim of the wheat pit, lookin_owards the telephone booth under the visitors' gallery, he saw the osseous, stoop-shouldered figure of Mr. Cressler—who, though he never speculated, appeared regularly upon the Board every morning—making his way towards one o_he windows in the front of the building. His pocket was full of wheat, take_rom a bag on one of the sample tables. Opening the window, he scattered th_rain upon the sill, and stood for a long moment absorbed and interested i_he dazzling flutter of the wings of innumerable pigeons who came to settl_pon the ledge, pecking the grain with little, nervous, fastidious taps o_heir yellow beaks.
Landry cast a glance at the clock beneath the dial on the wall behind him. I_as twenty-five minutes after nine. He stood in his accustomed place on th_orth side of the Wheat Pit, upon the topmost stair. The Pit was full. Belo_im and on either side of him were the brokers, scalpers, and traders—Hirsch, Semple, Kelly, Winston, and Rusbridge. The redoubtable Leaycraft, who, biddin_or himself, was supposed to hold the longest line of May wheat of any one ma_n the Pit, the insignificant Grossmann, a Jew who wore a flannel shirt, an_o whose outcries no one ever paid the least attention. Fairchild, Paterson, and Goodlock, the inseparable trio who represented the Porteous gang, silen_en, middle-aged, who had but to speak in order to buy or sell a millio_ushels on the spot. And others, and still others, veterans of sixty-five, recruits just out of their teens, men who—some of them—in the past had for _oment dominated the entire Pit, but who now were content to play the part of
"eighth-chasers," buying and selling on the same day, content with a profit o_en dollars. Others who might at that very moment be nursing plans which in _eek's time would make them millionaires; still others who, under a mask o_onchalance, strove to hide the chagrin of yesterday's defeat. And they wer_here, ready, inordinately alert, ears turned to the faintest sound, eye_earching for the vaguest trace of meaning in those of their rivals, nervous, keyed to the highest tension, ready to thrust deep into the slightest opening, to spring, mercilessly, upon the smallest undefended spot. Grossmann, th_ittle Jew of the grimy flannel shirt, perspired in the stress of th_uspense, all but powerless to maintain silence till the signal should b_iven, drawing trembling fingers across his mouth. Winston, brawny, solid, unperturbed, his hands behind his back, waited immovably planted on his fee_ith all the gravity of a statue, his eyes preternaturally watchful, keepin_elly—whom he had divined had some "funny business" on hand—perpetually i_ight. The Porteous trio—Fairchild, Paterson, and Goodlock—as if unalarmed, unassailable, all but turned their backs to the Pit, laughing amon_hemselves.
The official reporter climbed to his perch in the little cage on the edge o_he Pit, shutting the door after him. By now the chanting of the messenge_oys was an uninterrupted chorus. From all sides of the building, and in ever_irection they crossed and recrossed each other, always running, their hand_ull of yellow envelopes. From the telephone alcoves came the prolonged, musical rasp of the call bells. In the Western Union booths the keys of th_ultitude of instruments raged incessantly. Bare-headed young men hurried u_o one another, conferred an instant comparing despatches, then separated, darting away at top speed. Men called to each other half-way across th_uilding. Over by the bulletin boards clerks and agents made careful memorand_f primary receipts, and noted down the amount of wheat on passage, th_xports and the imports.
And all these sounds, the chatter of the telegraph, the intoning of th_essenger boys, the shouts and cries of clerks and traders, the shuffle an_rampling of hundreds of feet, the whirring of telephone signals rose into th_roubled air, and mingled overhead to form a vast note, prolonged, sustained, that reverberated from vault to vault of the airy roof, and issued from ever_oorway, every opened window in one long roll of uninterrupted thunder. In th_heat Pit the bids, no longer obedient of restraint, began one by one to burs_ut, like the first isolated shots of a skirmish line. Grossmann had flung ou_n arm crying:
"'Sell twenty-five May at ninety-five and an eighth," while Kelly and Sempl_ad almost simultaneously shouted, "'Give seven-eighths for May!"
The official reporter had been leaning far over to catch the first quotations, one eye upon the clock at the end of the room. The hour and minute hands wer_t right angles.
Then suddenly, cutting squarely athwart the vague crescendo of the floor cam_he single incisive stroke of a great gong. Instantly a tumult was unchained.
Arms were flung upward in strenuous gestures, and from above the crowdin_eads in the Wheat Pit a multitude of hands, eager, the fingers extended, leaped into the air. All articulate expression was lost in the singl_xplosion of sound as the traders surged downwards to the centre of the Pit, grabbing each other, struggling towards each other, tramping, stamping, charging through with might and main. Promptly the hand on the great dia_bove the clock stirred and trembled, and as though driven by the tempes_reath of the Pit moved upward through the degrees of its circle. It paused, wavered, stopped at length, and on the instant the hundreds of telegraph key_cattered throughout the building began clicking off the news to the whol_ountry, from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from Mackinac to Mexico, tha_he Chicago market had made a slight advance and that May wheat, which ha_losed the day before at ninety-three and three-eighths, had opened tha_orning at ninety-four and a half.
But the advance brought out no profit-taking sales. The redoubtable Leaycraf_nd the Porteous trio, Fairchild, Paterson, and Goodlock, shook their head_hen the Pit offered ninety-four for parts of their holdings. The price hel_irm. Goodlock even began to offer ninety-four. At every suspicion of a flurr_rossmann, always with the same gesture as though hurling a javelin, alway_ith the same lamentable wail of distress, cried out:
"'Sell twenty-five May at ninety-five and a fourth."
He held his five fingers spread to indicate the number of "contracts," or lot_f five thousand bushels, which he wished to sell, each finger representin_ne "contract."
And it was at this moment that selling orders began suddenly to pour in upo_he Gretry-Converse traders. Even other houses—Teller and West, Burbank & Co., Mattieson and Knight—received their share. The movement was inexplicable, puzzling. With a powerful Bull clique dominating the trading and ever_rospect of a strong market, who was it who ventured to sell short?
Landry among others found himself commissioned to sell. His orders were t_nload three hundred thousand bushels on any advance over and above ninety- four. He kept his eye on Leaycraft, certain that he would force up the figure.
But, as it happened, it was not Leaycraft but the Porteous trio who made th_dvance. Standing in the centre of the Pit, Patterson suddenly flung up hi_and and drew it towards him, clutching the air—the conventional gesture o_he buyer.
"'Give an eighth for May."
Landry was at him in a second. Twenty voices shouted "sold," and as man_raders sprang towards him with outstretched arms. Landry, however, was befor_hem, and his rush carried Paterson half way across the middle space of th_it.
Paterson nodded, and as Landry noted down the transaction the hand on the dia_dvanced again, and again held firm.
But after this the activity of the Pit fell away. The trading languished. B_egrees the tension of the opening was relaxed. Landry, however, had refraine_rom selling more than ten "contracts" to Paterson. He had a feeling tha_nother advance would come later on. Rapidly he made his plans. He would sel_nother fifty thousand bushels if the price went to ninety-four and a half, and would then "feel" the market, letting go small lots here and there, t_est its strength, then, the instant he felt the market strong enough, throw _ull hundred thousand upon it with a rush before it had time to break. H_ould feel—almost at his very finger tips—how this market moved, how i_trengthened, how it weakened. He knew just when to nurse it, to humor it, t_et it settle, and when to crowd it, when to hustle it, when it would stan_ough handling.
Grossmann still uttered his plaint from time to time, but no one so much a_retended to listen. The Porteous trio and Leaycraft kept the price steady a_inety-four and an eighth, but showed no inclination to force it higher. For _ull five minutes not a trade was recorded. The Pit waited for the Report o_he Visible Supply.
And it was during this lull in the morning's business that the idiocy of th_nglish ultimatum to the Porte melted away. As inexplicably and as suddenly a_he rumour had started, it now disappeared. Everyone, simultaneously, seeme_o ridicule it. England declare war on Turkey! Where was the joke? Who was th_amn fool to have started that old, worn-out war scare? But, for all that, there was no reaction from the advance. It seemed to be understood that eithe_eaycraft or the Porteous crowd stood ready to support the market; and i_lace of the ultimatum story a feeling began to gain ground that the expecte_eport would indicate a falling off in the "visible," and that it was quite o_he cards that the market might even advance another point.
As the interest in the immediate situation declined, the crowd in the Pit gre_ess dense. Portions of it were deserted; even Grossmann, discouraged, retire_o a bench under the visitors' gallery. And a spirit of horse-play, shee_oolishness, strangely inconsistent with the hot-eyed excitement of the fe_oments after the opening invaded the remaining groups. Leaycraft, th_ormidable, as well as Paterson of the Porteous gang, and even the solem_inston, found an apparently inexhaustible diversion in folding thei_elegrams into pointed javelins and sending them sailing across the room, watching the course of the missiles with profound gravity. A visitor in th_allery—no doubt a Western farmer on a holiday—having put his feet upon th_ail, the entire Pit began to groan "boots, boots, boots."
A little later a certain broker came scurrying across the floor from th_irection of the telephone room. Panting, he flung himself up the steps of th_it, forced his way among the traders with vigorous workings of his elbows, and shouted a bid.
"He's sick," shouted Hirsch. "Look out, he's sick. He's going to have a fit."
He grabbed the broker by both arms and hustled him into the centre of the Pit.
The others caught up the cry, a score of hands pushed the newcomer from man t_an. The Pit traders clutched him, pulled his necktie loose, knocked off hi_at, vociferating all the while at top voice, "He's sick! He's sick!"
Other brokers and traders came up, and Grossmann, mistaking the commotion fo_ flurry, ran into the Pit, his eyes wide, waving his arm and wailing:
"'Sell twenty-five May at ninety-five and a quarter."
But the victim, good-natured, readjusted his battered hat, and again repeate_is bid.
"Ah, go to bed," protested Hirsch.
"He's the man who struck Billy Paterson."
"Say, a horse bit him. Look out for him, he's going to have a duck-fit."
The incident appeared to be the inspiration for a new "josh" that had a grea_uccess, and a group of traders organized themselves into an "anti-crava_ommittee," and made the rounds of the Pit, twitching the carefully tie_carfs of the unwary out of place. Grossman, indignant at "t'ose monkey-doodl_izeness," withdrew from the centre of the Pit. But while he stood in front o_eaycraft, his back turned, muttering his disgust, the latter, while carryin_n a grave conversation with his neighbour, carefully stuck a file of pape_avelins all around the Jew's hat band, and then—still without mirth and stil_ontinuing to talk—set them on fire.
Landry imagined by now that ninety-four and an eighth was as high a figure a_e could reasonably expect that morning, and so began to "work off" hi_elling orders. Little by little he sold the wheat "short," till all but on_arge lot was gone.
Then all at once, and for no discoverable immediate reason, wheat, amid a_xplosion of shouts and vociferations, jumped to ninety-four and a quarter, and before the Pit could take breath, had advanced another eighth, broken t_ne-quarter, then jumped to the five-eighths mark.
It was the Report on the Visible Supply beyond question, and though it had no_et been posted, this sudden flurry was a sign that it was not only near a_and, but would be bullish.
A few moments later it was bulletined in the gallery beneath the dial, an_roved a tremendous surprise to nearly every man upon the floor. No one ha_magined the supply was so ample, so all-sufficient to meet the demand.
Promptly the Pit responded. Wheat began to pour in heavily. Hirsch, Kelly, Grossmann, Leaycraft, the stolid Winston, and the excitable Rusbridge wer_ard at it. The price began to give. Suddenly it broke sharply. The hand o_he great dial dropped to ninety-three and seven-eighths.
Landry was beside himself. He had not foreseen this break. There was n_eckoning on that cursed "visible," and he still had 50,000 bushels to dispos_f. There was no telling now how low the price might sink. He must ac_uickly, radically. He fought his way towards the Porteous crowd, reached ove_he shoulder of the little Jew Grossmann, who stood in his way, and thrust hi_and almost into Paterson's face, shouting:
"'Sell fifty May at seven-eighths."
It was the last one of his unaccountable selling orders of the early morning.
The other shook his head.
"'Sell fifty May at three-quarters."
Suddenly some instinct warned Landry that another break was coming. It was i_he very air around him. He could almost physically feel the pressure o_enewed avalanches of wheat crowding down the price. Desperate, he grabbe_aterson by the shoulder.
"'Sell fifty May at five-eighths."
"Take it," vociferated the other, as though answering a challenge.
And in the heart of this confusion, in this downward rush of the price, Luck, the golden goddess, passed with the flirt and flash of glittering wings, an_ardly before the ticker in Gretry's office had signalled the decline, th_emorandum of the trade was down upon Landry's card and Curtis Jadwin stoo_ledged to deliver, before noon on the last day of May, one million bushels o_heat into the hands of the representatives of the great Bulls of the Board o_rade.
But by now the real business of the morning was over. The Pit knew it.
Grossmann, obstinate, hypnotized as it were by one idea, still stood in hi_ccustomed place on the upper edge of the Pit, and from time to time, with th_ame despairing gesture, emitted his doleful outcry of "'Sell twenty-five Ma_t ninety-five and three-quarters."
Nobody listened. The traders stood around in expectant attitudes, looking int_ne another's faces, waiting for what they could not exactly say; loath t_eave the Pit lest something should "turn up" the moment their backs wer_urned.
By degrees the clamour died away, ceased, began again irregularly, the_bruptly stilled. Here and there a bid was called, an offer made, like th_ntermittent crack of small arms after the stopping of the cannonade.
"'Sell five May at one-eighth."
"'Sell twenty at one-quarter."
"'Give one-eighth for May."
For an instant the shoutings were renewed. Then suddenly the gong struck. Th_raders began slowly to leave the Pit. One of the floor officers, an ol_ellow in uniform and vizored cap, appeared, gently shouldering towards th_oor the groups wherein the bidding and offering were still languidly goin_n. His voice full of remonstration, he repeated continually:
"Time's up, gentlemen. Go on now and get your lunch. Lunch time now. Go o_ow, or I'll have to report you. Time's up."
The tide set toward the doorways. In the gallery the few visitors rose, putting on coats and wraps. Over by the check counter, to the right of th_outh entrance to the floor, a throng of brokers and traders jostled eac_ther, reaching over one another's shoulders for hats and ulsters. In steadil_ncreasing numbers they poured out of the north and south entrances, on thei_ay to turn in their trading cards to the offices.
Little by little the floor emptied. The provision and grain pits wer_eserted, and as the clamour of the place lapsed away the telegrap_nstruments began to make themselves heard once more, together with th_hanting of the messenger boys.
Swept clean in the morning, the floor itself, seen now through the thinnin_roups, was littered from end to end with scattered grain—oats, wheat, corn, and barley, with wisps of hay, peanut shells, apple parings, and orange peel, with torn newspapers, odds and ends of memoranda, crushed paper darts, an_bove all with a countless multitude of yellow telegraph forms, thousands upo_housands, crumpled and muddied under the trampling of innumerable feet. I_as the debris of the battle-field, the abandoned impedimenta and broke_eapons of contending armies, the detritus of conflict, torn, broken, an_ent, that at the end of each day's combat encumbered the field.
At last even the click of the last of telegraph keys died down. Shoulderin_hemselves into their overcoats, the operators departed, calling back an_orth to one another, making "dates," and cracking jokes. Washerwomen appeare_ith steaming pails, porters pushing great brooms before them began gatherin_he refuse of the floor into heaps.
Between the wheat and corn pits a band of young fellows, some of them absolut_oys, appeared. These were the settlement clerks. They carried long accoun_ooks. It was their duty to get the trades of the day into a "ring"—to trac_he course of a lot of wheat which had changed hands perhaps a score of time_uring the trading—and their calls of "Wheat sold to Teller and West," "Ma_heat sold to Burbank & Co.," "May oats sold to Matthewson and Knight," "Whea_old to Gretry, Converse & Co.," began to echo from wall to wall of the almos_eserted room.
A cat, grey and striped, and wearing a dog collar of nickel and red leather, issued from the coat-room and picked her way across the floor. Evidently sh_as in a mood of the most ingratiating friendliness, and as one after anothe_f the departing traders spoke to her, raised her tail in the air and arche_er back against the legs of the empty chairs. The janitor put in a_ppearance, lowering the tall colored windows with a long rod. A noise o_ammering and the scrape of saws began to issue from a corner where a coupl_f carpenters tinkered about one of the sample tables.
Then at last even the settlement clerks took themselves off. At once there wa_ great silence, broken only by the harsh rasp of the carpenters' saws and th_oice of the janitor exchanging jokes with the washerwomen. The sound o_ootsteps in distant quarters re-echoed as if in a church.
The washerwomen invaded the floor, spreading soapy and steaming water befor_hem. Over by the sample tables a negro porter in shirt-sleeves swept entir_ushels of spilled wheat, crushed, broken, and sodden, into his dust pans.
The day's campaign was over. It was past two o'clock. On the great dia_gainst the eastern wall the indicator stood—sentinel fashion—at ninety-three.
Not till the following morning would the whirlpool, the great central forc_hat spun the Niagara of wheat in its grip, thunder and bellow again.
Later on even the washerwomen, even the porter and janitor, departed. A_nbroken silence, the peacefulness of an untroubled calm, settled over th_lace. The rays of the afternoon sun flooded through the west windows in lon_arallel shafts full of floating golden motes. There was no sound; nothin_tirred. The floor of the Board of Trade was deserted. Alone, on the edge o_he abandoned Wheat Pit, in a spot where the sunlight fell warmest—an atom o_ife, lost in the immensity of the empty floor—the grey cat made her toilet, diligently licking the fur on the inside of her thigh, one leg, as i_islocated, thrust into the air above her head.