A Problem for Two

Elliott Flower October 1 1908

A Problem for Two

Elliott Flower October 1 1908

A Problem for Two

A Ticklish Financial Crisis in Which a Young Woman Played a Spectacular Part in Helping the Man She Admired Safely Pass Through a Terrible Ordeal — How a Sweetheart May Sometimes Come to the Rescue, Even in the Management of a Bank.

Elliott Flower

SHE played and sang for him, but he was so absorbed in his own thoughts that he was guilty of the unpardonable sin of forgetting to turn the music for her.

Then she took him by the hand, led him to an armchair, pushed him into it, drew up another chair, and seated herself directly in front of him.

“You arc in trouble,” she said, resting her elbows on her knees and her pretty chin on her hands, and looking him squarely in the eyes. “What’s the matter?”

“I am troubled,” he admitted.

“What about?” she demanded.

“The bank,” he answered.

“Oh,” she returned, with a sigh of relief, “I was afraid it was something serious—that perhaps you couldn’t get that little house that we looked at.”

He smiled faintly at this. Nothing was serious to her that did not directly concern their matrimonial plans.

“Perhaps I can’t,” he said, “but that’s only an incident of the trouble.”

“An incident!” She looked at him bewildered. How could a matter of such importance be an incident?

“Well, it would be an incident of the failure of the bank, wouldn’t it?” he asked.

“Is the bank going to fail?”

“I don’t know.” His anxious frown deepened. “I may force a failure.” “How absurd !” she cried, laughing. “You force your own bank to fail! Why, of course you won’t.”

“Oh, you don’t understand!” he exclaimed; “you can’t understand! It all depends upon the decision I reach between now7, and to-morrow morning. We can’t continue without taking the money

offered; we can’t take the money offered without putting it in jeopardy. To refuse deposits is to force an immediate failure ; to accept them involves a risk.”

He did not tell her that a prison sentence was included in this risk.

“You must do what is right, of course,” she said soberly.

“But what is right?” he cried in desperation. “That’s what I’ve been trying to decide ; that’s what’s driving me crazy ! I hoped for a little respite with you this evening, but the problem is on every page of your music and rings out with every note of the piano. What is right ”

“Why don’t you ask Daddy?” she said. “He knows everything about business matters.”

He did not reply to this suggestion at once: there were many things to be considered. Peter Quan was a depositor —one of the largest depositors in a bank that had no very large deposits. He was also a cautious man of business, and a cautious man, knowing the situation, would make all haste to withdraw his deposit. Such a withdrawal at this time would be a serious—probably a fatal— blow. Much as the young man would like to favor Peter Quan, his father-inlaw-elect, if a crash became inevitable, he was naturally averse to inviting the crash. Nevertheless, he decided to take this risk.

“I’ll submit the problem to your father,” he said gloomily.

“He’s in the library,” said the girl. “I’ll go with you.”

This decision cost "Oliver Cottrell a hard, if brief, struggle. The Holton State Bank was dearer to him than anything else in the world except Susie Quan he had made the bank, and he was its Vice-

President and Cashier. The President was a figure-head. Cottrell, scarcely thirty years of age, was the only man in authority who had had any banking experience or training; his judgment was accepted and his word relied upon in all things, as was natural, perhaps, in view of the fact that he had organized the institution. It had one larger and older rival—the Holton National Bank— and the rival carried about all the large accounts of the town. But the State Bank, with its capital of $50,000 and deposits of $400,000, had seemed to have an excellent future before it, and Cottrell felt that he was almost surely sacrificing that future when he carried his case to Peter Quan. The situation was hazardous at best—his own judgment might compel him to close the next day —but this was like giving up his last chance without a struggle. Still, having decided, he went ahead without hesitation.

Quan looked up at them with a smile when they entered the library; then his smile changed to a look of puzzled inquiry. What could be the meaning of so much gloom? He put down the book he had been reading and motioned Cottrell to a chair. The girl, anxious but unable to understand more than that the trouble was serious, sank into the cushions of a couch and waited.

“What’s the matter?” asked Quan. “The bank,” answered Cottrell.

Quan gave an exclamation of surprise; he understood the seriousness of any sort of a bank trouble.

“Insolvent?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” answered Cottrell. “I think I can pull through, if there’s no' run, but you know the law.”

“Yes,” said Quan, “I know the law.” “It is insolvent if it fails,” said Cottrell; “otherwise it is not.”

Quan nodded his head understandingly; the meaning of this rather extraordinary statement was clear to him.

“If it should be closed within the next month,” Cottrell went on, “it would be declared to have been insolvent at this moment; if I accept deposits to-morrow morning, and fail later, I will certainly

be held to have accepted those deposits after the bank was insolvent.”

Quan again nodded understandingly ; he knew the penalty, but it was not a thing to be discussed plainly before the girl.

“But I think I can pull through,” Cottrell added desperately. “A rumor of trouble would close us up sudden, but, barring that, I think I can pull the bank through.”

“But you are insolvent now,” said Quan, with slow directness.

“Technically, yes; but no bank ever closed yet that was not technically insolvent for a time before actual insolvency was admitted. Oh it’s an unjust law!” he cried angrily. “No responsible officer of a bank in trouble can be safe under a strict interpretation of that law: it is so easy to see when a bank became insolvent after it has failed, and so difficult to see that it is insolvent until the final bloAv comes. Only the coward— the man who surrenders weakly—can be sure of escape; the man who fights for his bank does so at personal risk, and can be saved only by the liberality of those in authority—a liberality that is almost forced by the cruel injustice that the law, unmodified, would do.”

“We must take the law as we find it,” said Ouan.

“A prosecutor with a grudge would have the head of any closed bank at his mercy,” insisted Cottrell; “no bank ever failed that was not, by actual figures, insolvent before it stopped receiving deposits, and yet banks in worse plight than some of these have pulled through. It’s an awful situation to face, Mr. Quan.” “In its main purpose and effect,” asserted Quan, “the law is wise and good, whatever of injustice may be possible under it ; but, anyhow, we must deal with

it as it is. Your bank is insolvent-”

“Technically,” interrupted Cottrell, holding tenaciously to his point. “You can’t say that a bank is more than constructively insolvent if it does not fail, and I believe I can save it.”

“How do you stand in the matter?” asked Quan bluntly.

Cottrell did not grasp the meaning

of this for a moment; then he flushed quickly.

“My record is absolutely straight,” he declared earnestly. “Faulty judgment in the matter of some loans and securities is all that can be charged against me; 1 have covered up nothing, and no borrower has had more from the bank than the law allows.”

“Why, of course,” the girl put in, as if even a hint of anything else was an absurdity, if not an insult. She had been trying, without success, to follow the conversation understandingly, and she felt that she had to say something. Her father paid no attention to the interruption, but Cottrell gave her a grateful smile.

Do the directors understand the situation?” asked Quan.

“No.”

“You should put it up to them.”

“They’ll put it back to me,” retorted Cottrell. “I talked with two of them this afternoon, and they rely on me; I talked with the president, and he relies on me. It’s my bank; I’ve managed it and made it, and I’ve got to decide. Not one of them is a practical banker; not one of them really understands; not one has ever had to do anything but look wise and approve my reports and suggestions. I’ve called a meeting for to-morrow before the bank opens, but the decision is up to me.”

A glimmering thought of the $9,000 of his own money that was in the bank flickered through Quan’s mind. If the bank remained open another day he could withdraw it; otherwise it would have to take its chances with the other deposits. He could ill afford to lose that money, but-

“Close up !” he said with decision.

“Oh, Daddy!” cried the girl with almost a sob.

“Think what it means!” pleaded Cottrell. “There will be a loss to everybody that may be unnecessary. With fair luck I can pull through ; if people don’t get frightened—if nothing leaks out—I’ve got a chance. Think what it means to me—and Susie.”

“I am thinking of that,” said Quan judicially. “According to your own state-

ment the bank is insolvent this minute ; the books will show it. You might be able to pull through, but the chances are you could not-”

“The chances are I could.”

“You have no right to risk it.”

“Risk what? the $450,000 already in my keeping? or the trifling sum that will be deposited in the next few days? A failure would tie up all of that money and lose much of it. I think I can save it all. Do you mean to tell me I mustn’t try? If I fail to save the bank, the actual loss will be no greater than it would be if I closed up to-morrow morning—perhaps less. A little would be added to the sum in jeopardy, but that is all. Must I abandon that $450,000 trust to protect a few thousands? I tell you, Mr. Quan, I don’t want the additional deposits ; if I could refuse them without closing the bank, I’d do it—I’d fight it out with what there is—but it can’t be done; I’ve got to choose between the interests of the $450,000 already in my keeping and the paltry sum that I shall have to accept for deposit to keep the trouble secret, and one choice—the fair, the right choice in this case—means additional risk for me. No man can say that my bank must fail on the present showing—I don’t think it need fail—but I’ve got to make it fail now, or suffer the consequences if it fails later.”

Quan considered this passionate protest thoughtfully and discovered a new point of view.

“What’s the exact situation?” he asked.

Cottrell went over it briefly, while the girl, pale and nervous, listened eagerly to details that she could not understand. In effect, the bank had some bad loans and some uncertain and temporarily unmarketable securities. How much loss there would be on these no man could say. Much of it might be secured in time; if not, the average profit-showing indicated that it could be charged off within a reasonable period. But the bank clearly could not meet its obligations at that moment: a whisper, a breath might wreck it. The situation was perilous but not hopeless, although it looked much worse to Quan than Cottrell s deep

personal interest would permit it to look to him. A receivership—always costly —would mean a heavy loss on the questionable items, especially at this time; without a receivership the $450,000 of capital and deposits might be saved intact. But there was the risk.

Quan left his chair and walked up and down the room, followed by the anxious eyes of Cottrell and the girl.

“You must see him through, Daddy,” whispered the girl.

Quan heard, but he gave no sign of hearing. He was not a rich man, and the $9,000 now in the bank represented all his ready cash.

“You are insolvent,” he said at last. “The only safe thing to do is to close the doors.”

The girl gave a little cry and buried her head in a sofa-cushion.

“What would you do?” asked Cottrell.

Quan, who had paused when he spoke, resumed his deliberate walk up and down the room.

“Are $450,000, a bank, a man and a girl to be sacrificed to save a few thousands from risk?” Cottrell persisted tensely. “Is the bank nothing? Must I ruin myself and throw away the money already in my keeping for the sake of a comparative trifle that I don’t want but can’t refuse without disaster? What would you do?”

Quan continued his walk in silence for a minute or two; then he stopped suddenly in front of Cottrell.

“No man can decide for another in a matter of such deep personal significance,” he said. “I have told you the safe coursa to take, but it is for you to decide whether it is the proper one.”

“Oh, Daddy, help him !” pleaded the girl, looking up tearfully.

Quan gave her a quick look and turned again to Cottrell.

“Of course I shall treat this as confidential,” he informed him.

“Of course,” said Cottrell, failing to grasp the entire significance of this.

“Being confidential,” Quan added, “I shall base no action upon it in the matter of my own money.”

Then Cottrell understood : Quan would not withdraw his deposit, and that was

a matter of great importance. But, somehow, Cottrell felt that this put him in the position of taking an unfair advantage of the older man.

“Oh,” he said quickly, “I release you from any implied obligation as to that.”

Quan resumed his walk, frowning as he considered the details of the situation. He could practically force the closing of the bank by merely threatening to withdraw his money if it remained open ; he might even save his own money and still close the bank, if Cottrell decided to open in the morning, by acting on this release then without previous notice. It was easy to justify this, too, on the ground that it insured the personal safety of the young man, whatever the latter’s inclination might be.

“I do not wish to encourage you to run a dangerous risk,” Quan said at last, very deliberately, “but my deposit will remain undisturbed for the present. You may consider that there is $9,000 in your possession for which there will be no immediate call and upon which you will have to pay no interest. Beyond that the problem is yours.”

Cottrell did not thank him : the understanding was so perfect that any expression of gratitude seemed unnecessary and out of place; but he fully understood all that this meant, including his own responsibility.

“I shall decide before morning,” he said. “It seems to me worth the risk, but I shall go over it all many times before the directors meet.”

The girl clung to him a minute, then tearfully let him go.

“Daddy,” she cried, throwing herself into her father’s arms when they were alone, “oh. Daddy, you’re going to help him, aren’t you?”

“Little girl,” he replied gently. “I’ve done all that I can ; he must make his own fight now.”

Quan opened his mail absent-mindedly the next morning. His thoughts were busy with the Holton State Bank: he pictured the all-night mental struggle through which Cottrell had had to go; he put himself in Cottrell’s place, considering the certainties and uncertainties of every possible course of action; he

reflected on his own interest through his daughter; he speculated as to the result. Would the bank open for business?

He felt quite sure that it would, and he was not at all certain that he ought not to have taken such action in the matter of his own deposit as would have prevented it. There were risks that no man ought to be allowed to take; on the other hand, the money already involved was entitled to as much consideration as the little that would follow it. The situation was exceptional in some details.

A bank draft dropped out of a letter he was opening, and it was large enough to shut off the consideration of outside matters abruptly. The accompanying letter explained that a certain old mining deal that had cost him considerable money since he first became involved in it some years ago, had been closed up. He was not getting back the total of his investment, spread over many years, but his partner in the venture assured him that they were lucky to come out with so small a loss.

He pushed the rest of the mail aside and picked up the draft. There was money ready to his hand—a large sum. Cottrell’s problem became merely incidental to his own : they were allied, but he had one to settle for himself. His personal account was in Cottrell’s bank; Cottrell’s bank was shaky, to say the least; Cottrell’s bank already had $9,000 of his money; should he risk any more? Had he a right to risk any more? In justice to his family, ought he not to use this check to reopen his account with the Holton National Bank—an account that he had closed up when he went over to the state bank?

But that consideration of family—the very thing that should speak for conservatism—brought up the pitiful face and plea of his daughter. “You'll help him, Daddy, won’t you?” And, unless matters were much worse than represented, this ought to pull him through.

“Devil take it!” muttered Quan, angry with himself, “I ought not to do it, but of course I will.”

His watch told him that it was ten o’clock, so the bank was just opening. However, there was no hurry about the

deposit, and he went back to his mail.

Having settled the question, he dismissed it temporarily from his mind.

A little later, as he was finishing the dictation of his correspondence, his cashier appeared in the doorway.

“There’s a run on the State Bank, Mr. Quan.” he said; “I thought you’d like to know.”

“A run on the State Bank !” repeated Quan slowly.

“Yes, sir. I don’t know what the trouble is, but a run started as soon as it opened this morning. Very likely it’s just a foolish scare.”

“Very likely,” returned Quan. “I don’t think I shall disturb myself about it.” But somehow the words did not ring true, and his face expressed a different view. “They are paying off, of course,” he suggested.

“Oh, of course.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” said Quan quite unmindful of what he was saying. And then, as the cashier was about to retire, “By the way, Briggs, you must have some of those old National Bank deposit slips out there, left over from the days when I did business with them.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Bring me some.”

It was not necessary to hit Briggs with a club in order to get an idea into his head. If you had asked his opinion of the State Bank situation any time after that, he would have told you that he had reason to believe it was in a very bad way. But he brought the deposit slips without comment. Quan filled one out. He hesitated a little over it, but he filled it out. Then the telephone bell rang.

“I’m coming to the office, Daddy,” was the message that came to him in quavering tones.

“You’d better stay where you are, little girl,” he advised gently.

“I’m coming to the office, Daddy,” she repeated. “I’ve sent for a carriage. Oh, Daddy—” It ended with a sob.

He scowled at the National Bank deposit slip and the draft, lying on the desk before him. Then he tore up the slip, and a moment later he made out a new one.

“He hasn’t a chance,” he said to himself, apologetically. “He’s gone, and keeping open only makes it worse—for him.”

The picture that this brought up was painful, harrowing; but he put draft and slip in his pocket and went out to wait for his daughter on the sidewalk.

When she arrived he quickly took a seat beside her and instructed the driver to proceed to the Holton National Bank.

“Oh, Daddy,” she cried hysterically, “we must save him. I telephoned him that we would when I heard what was happening.”

“Why, little girl-”

“Oh, we must, Daddy!” she pleaded. “Think what it means to him—and to me. Somebody said it might send him to jail,” she added in almost a whisper.

“If he tries to keep open-”

“Fie is trying; I told him to.” Her little head went down on her father’s shoulder, and she began to sob convulsively. “I—I know you can save him, Daddy, you’re so' wise and good and strong, and— Where are we going now, Daddy?”

“To the National Bank.”.

“Oh !” The clouds seemed to clear suddenly, and she looked up at him with a new hope. “To get some money for him?”

Quan hesitated, but only a moment.

“Yes,” he said, “to get some money for him.”

A large crowd was in and around the Holton State Bank. A few there were who had the confidence to make deposits, but the great majority were withdrawing their money. Within the bank Cottrell was directing affairs, outwardly confident but inwardly despairing. The day had opened with good news : certain of the bad paper promised to be good, the prospects of a manufacturing venture to which advances had been made having become unexpectedly bright. But there was no immediate help in that, and, somehow, a rumor of trouble had got abroad.

“With a little time,” groaned Cottrell, “we could pull out safely, but they are giving us no time.”

Nevertheless, he paid and paid and paid, with outward cheerfulness and con-

fidence, hoping that this apparent readiness would stay the run.

Then there came to the front entrance to the bank a carriage containing a man and a girl and many sacks and packages.

“Officer,” called Quan from the carriage to one of the policemen keeping the crowd in order, “clear a path there! I want to take some money into the bank.”

Money! Those who heard surged about the carriage, but the policemen sprang forward and drove them back.

“Clear a path!” ordered Quan sharply, “and give me a guard! I want to make a deposit.”

There was a struggle, but a path was cleared. The turmoil occasioned by this served to direct the attention of others to what was going on, and, for a moment the interest of all except those nearest the paying-teller’s window and actually within the bank centred on the carriage.

Out of it stepped a girl—the proudest girl that ever emerged from any carriage ! She had been crying, but she was now radiant in the thought that she— little, helpless, unsophisticated she—was the chosen messenger of hope and relief. In her arms she carried gold in bags to the limit of her strength, which was not great. It was better so, for this would require more trips and give a larger idea of the total. Quan did not overlook even the little points when he put his mind to a problem, and he remained on guard in the carriage.

With a policeman on either side, the girl took her burden of gold to the receiving-teller’s window.

“What’s this?” asked the teller.

“A deposit by Peter Quan,” answered the girl, speaking out bravely that all might hear. She had been coached by her father as they brought the money from the National Bank.

“How much?” asked the teller.

“I’ll make out a deposit slip as soon as I get it all in,” answered the girl.

The teller was wise : he opened a bag and let the coins jingle on the counter. The ring of gold has a very reassuring sound.

Back and forth the girl went with her police escort, sometimes carrying pack-

ages of bank notes and sometimes bags of coin. Some of the coin was silver, and some of the bank notes were not of verylarge denomination, but the crowd did not know that, and, even so, the deposit was a very large one. No such sum of actual cash ever had passed under the eyes of any man present.

The movement at the paying-teller’s window began to drag: men who had fought for a place in line seemed to hesitate when they reached the goal they had so eagerlyssought. Their eyes strayed to the growing piles of cash, stacked plainly in sight, behind the receivingteller’s grating. One man dropped out of line with the remark, “What’s good enough for Pete Ouan is good enough for me.” Another, pushing his check through to the paying-teller, suddenly changed his mind. “Give that back,” he said sheepishly; “T guess I don’t need any money to-day.” The man behind him, being thus brought to the window, passed on without a word ; the next took his money apologetically ; the fourth tore up his check ostentatiously and started for the door; several, farther back in the line, dropped out and watched the girl with a pretence of mere idle curiosity ; a new arrival excitedly asked about the rumors.

The man to whom the inquiry was put,

having himself retired from the line only a few minutes before, yawned wearily.

“Oh, some blithering idiot started the report that the bank was in trouble,” he answered.

“Is it?” asked the new arrival.

“It’s got the Bank of England beat to a frazzle,” was the reply; “it could pay off the national debt.”

The run was broken; only three men remained in front of the paying-teller’s window, and they were at some pains to explain that they were only drawing a little for their immediate needs.

The girl sprang lightly and happily into the carriage after her last trip. Cottrell had met her at the window and his eyes had told her what he could not put into words, but he had been able to assure her that, with this respite and the reassuring news from certain of the doubtful risks, the bank was wholly safe. His voice trembled a little when he said it, and there was a suspicious moisture in his eyes. A man does not escape so great a peril without showing some emotion, especially when it is his sweetheart who comes to his rescue.

So she was quite happy—so very, very happy, after this period of mental stress, that she snuggled up to her father, put her head on his shoulder and fainted.

A Boston firm recently offered a prize for the best definition of what constituted success. A Kansas woman was awarded the prize, and this was her answer:

“ He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much ; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche, has accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or rescued soul ; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had ; whose life was an inspiration ; whose money a benediction.’’