Friday, the Thirteenth

THOMAS W. LAWSON February 1 1907

Friday, the Thirteenth

THOMAS W. LAWSON February 1 1907

In the preceding instalment of this story we are introduced to James Randolph of the great financial house of Randolph & Randolph, who is telling the story and to Bob Brownley, his old College chum, who at the opening of the tale is playing a wild game on the Exchange. An explanation follows of how Miss Beulah Sands came to Brownley for assistance and became private secretary to Mr. Randolph.

(Continued from January Number)

THE following week saw Miss Sands, of Virginnia, private secretary to the head of Randolph & Randolph, established in a little office between mine and Bob’s. She had not been there a day before we knew she was a worker. She spent the hours going over reports and analyzing financial statements, showing a sagacity extraordinary in so young a person. She explained her knowledge of figures by the hand work she had done for the judge, all of whose accounts she had kept. Bob and I saw that she was bent on smothering her memory in that antidote for all ills of heart and soul— work. Her office life was simplicity itself. She spoke to no one except Bob, save in connection with such business matters of the firm’s as she was given to attend to. To the others in the banking-house she was just an unconventional young literary woman whose high social connections had gained her this opportunity of getting at the secrets of finance, from actual experience, for use in forthcoming novels. It had got abroad that she was the writer of great distinction who, under a nom de plume, had recently made quite a dent in the world’s literary shell—a suggestion that I rightly guessed was one of Bob’s delicate ways of smoothing out her path. I had tried in every way to make things easy for her, but it was impossible for me to draw her out in talk, and finally I gave it up. Had it not been that every time I passed her office door I was compelled by the fascination which I had first felt, and which, instead of diminishing, had increased with her reticence, to look in at the quiet figure with the downcast eyes, working away at her desk as though her life depended on never missing a second, I should not have known she was in the building. My wife, at my suggestion, had tried to induce her to visit us ; in fact, after I had let her into just enough of Beulah Sands’s story so that she could see things on a true slant, she had decided to try to bring her to our house to live. But though the girl was sweetly gentle in her appreciation of Kate’s thoughtful attentions, in her indescribable way she made us both feel that our efforts would be for naught, that her position must be the same as that of any other clerk in the office. We both finally left her to herself. Bob explained to me, some three weeks after she came to the office, that she received no visitors at her home, a hotel on a quiet uptown street, and that even he had never had permission to call upon her there.

But from the day she came to occupy her desk in our office, Bob was a changed man, whether for better or for worse neither Kate nor I could decide. His old bounding elasticity was gone, and with it his rollicking laugh. He was now a man where he had been a boy, a man with a burden. Even if I had not heard Beulah that Bob was staggering under a strange load. While before, from the close of the Stock Exchange until its opening the next morning, he was, as Kate was fond of putting it, always ready to fill in for anything from chaperon to nurse, always open for any lark we planned, from a Bohemian dinner to the opera, now he often disappeared from our view, outside of business hours, for weeks at a time. In the office it used to be a saying that outside gong-strikes, Bob Brownley did not know he was in the stock business. Every clerk knew when Bob came or went, for it was with a rush, a shout, a laugh, and a bang of doors ; and on the floor of the Stock Exchange no man played so many pranks, or filled his orders with so much jolly good nature and hilarious boisterousness. But from the day the Virginian lady crossed his path, Bob Brownley was a man who was thinking, thinking, thinking all the time. It was only with an effort that he would keep his eyes on whomever he was Sands’s story, I should have guessed talking with long enough to take in what was said, and if the saying occupied much time it would be apparent to the talker that Bob was off in the clouds. All his friends and associates remarked the change, but I alone, except perhaps Kate, had any idea of the cause. I knew that two million dollars and the coming New Year were hurdling like kangaroos over Bob’s mental rails and ditches, though I did not know it from anything he told me, for after that talk on the upper deck of the Tribesman he had shut up like a clam.

He did not exactly shun me, but showed me in many ways that he had entered into a new world, in which he desired to be alone. That Beulah Sands’s plight had roused into intense activity all the latent romance of my friend’s nature did not surprise me. I foresaw from the first that Bob would fall head over heels in love with this beautiful, sorrow-laden girl, and it was soon obvious that the long-delayed shaft had planted its point in the innermost depths of his being. His was more than love ; a fervid idolatry now had possession of his soul, mind and body. Yet its outward manifestations were the opposite of what one would have looked for in this gay and optimistic Southerner. It was rather priest-like worship, a calm imperturbability that nothing seemed to distract or upset, at least in the presence of the goddess who was its object. Every morning he would pass through my office headed for the little room she occupied as if it were his one objective point of the day, but once he heard his own “Good morning, Miss Sands” he seemed to round to, and while in her presence was the Bob Brownley of old. He would be in and out all day on any and every pretext, always entering with undisguised eagerness, leaving with a slow, dreamy reluctance. That he never saw her outside the office, I am sure, for she said good-night to him when he or she left for the day with the same don’t-come-with-me dignity that she exhibited to all the rest of us. I had not attempted to say a word to Bob about his feeling for Beulah Sands, nor had he ever brought up the subject to me. On the contrary, he studiously avoided it.

Three months of the six had now passed, and with each day I thought I noted an increasing anxiety in Bob. He had opened a special account for Miss Sands on the books of the house in his name as trustee, with a credit of sixty thousand dollars, and we both watched it with a painful tenseness of scrutiny. It had grown by uneven jerks, until the balance on October 1st was almost four hundred thousand dollars. On some of the trades Bob had consulted me, and on others, two in particular where he closed up after a few days’ operations with nearly two hundred thousand dollars profit, I did not even know what the trading was based on until the stocks had been sold. Then he said :

“Jim, that little lady from Virginia can give us a big handicap and play us to a standstill at our own game. She told me to buy all the Burlington and Sugar her account would stand, and did not even ask for my opinion. In both cases I thought the operations were more the result of a wakeful night and an I must-do-something decision than anything else, and I tackled both with a shiver ; but when she told me to sell them out at a time I thought they looked like going higher and the next day they slumped, I could not help thinking about the destiny that shapes our end.”

On my part I tried to help. On one occasion, without consulting her, I put her account in on a sure thing underwriting, wherein she stood to made a profit of a quarter of a million, but when Bob told her what I had done, she insisted with great dignity that her name be withdrawn. After that neither of us dared help her to any short cuts. Bob was deeply impressed by her principles, and, commenting on them, said : “Jim, if all Wall Street had a code similar to Beulah Sands’s to hew to in their gambles, ours would be a fairer and more manly game, and many of the multi-millionaires would be clerking, while a lot of the hand-to-mouth traders would come downtown in a new auto every day in the week. She does not believe in stock-gambling. She has worked it out that every dollar one man makes another loses; that the one who makes gives nothing in return for what he gets away with ; and that the other fellow’s loss makes him and his as miserable as would robbery to the same amount. Yet she realizes that she must get back those millions stolen from her father and is willing to smother her conscience to attempt it, provided she takes no unfair advantage of the other players. The other day she said to me. ‘I have decided, because of my duty to my father, to put away my prejudice against gambling, but no duty to him or to any one can justify me in playing with marked cards.’ Jim, there is food for reflection for you and me, don’t you think so ?”

I did not argue it with him, for, after that Saturday’s outburst, I had made up my mind to avoid stirring Bob up unnecessarily. Also, I had tried to admit to myself that the things he had then said had raised some uncomfortable thoughts m me, thoughts that made me glance less confidently now and then at the old sign of Randolph & Randolph and at the big ledger which showed that I, an ordinary citizen of a free country, was the absolute possessor of more money than a hundred thousand of my fellow beings together could accumulate in a lifetime, although each one had worked harder, longer, more conscientiously, and with perhaps more ability than I.

As to how Beulah Sands’s code had affected my friend, I was ignorant. For the first time in our association I was completely in the dark as to what he was doing stockwise. Up to that Saturday I was the first to whom he would rush for congratulations when he struck it rich over others on the exchange, and he invariably sought me for consolation when the boys “upper-cut him hard,” as he would put it. Now he never said a word about his trading. I saw that his account with the house was inactive, that his balance was about the same as before Miss Sands’s advent, and I came to the conclusion that he was resting on his oars and giving his undivided attention to her account and the execution of his commissions. His handling of the business of the house showed no change. He still was the best broker on the floor. However, knowing Bob as I did, I could not get it out of my mind that his brain was running like a mill-race in search of some successful solution to the tremendous problem that must be solved in the next three months.

Shortly after the October 1st statements had been sent out, Bob dropped in on Kate and me one night. After she had retired and we had lit our cigars in the library he said :

“Jim, I want some of that old-fashioned advice of yours. Sugar is selling at 110, and it is worth it ; in fact it is cheap. The stock is well distributed among investors, not much of it floating round ‘the Street.’ A good, big buying movement, well handled, would jump it up to 175 and keep it there. Am I sound ?”

I agreed with him.

“All right. Now what reason is there for a good, big, stiff uplift ? The tariff bill is up at Washington. If it goes through, Sugar will be cheaper at 175 than at 110.”

Again I agreed.

“ ‘Standard Oil’ and the Sugar people know whether it is going through, for they control the Senate and the House and can induce the President to be good. What do you say to that ?”

“O.K.,” I answered.

“No question about it, is there ?” 

“Not the slightest.”

“Right again. When 26 Broadway* (* “26 Broadway” is the Wall Street figure of speech for “Standard Oil,” which has its home there) gives the secret order to the Washington boss and he passes it out to the grafters, there will be a quiet accumulation of stock, won’t there?” 

“You’ve got that right, Bob.”

 “And the man who knows first when Washington begins to take on Sugar is the man who should load up quick and rush it up to a high level. If he does it quickly, the stock-holders, who now have it, will get a juicy slice of the ripening melon, a slice that otherwise would go to those greedy hypocrites at Washington, who are always publicly proclaiming that they are there to serve their fellow countrymen, but who never tire of expressing themselves to their brokers as not being in politics for their health.”

“So far, good reasoning,” I commented.

“Jim, the man who first knows when the Senators and Congressmen and members of the Cabinet begin to buy Sugar, is the man who can kill four birds with one stone : Win back a part of Judge Sands’s stolen fortune ; increase his own pile against the first of January, when, if the little Virginian lady is short a few hundred thousand of the necessary amount, he could, if he found a way to induce her to accept it, supply the deficiency ; fatten up a good friend’s bank account a million or so, and do a right good turn for the stockholders who are about to be, for the hundredth time, bled out of profit rightfully theirs.”

Bob was afire with enthusiasm, the first I had seen him show for three months. Seeing that I had followed him without objection so far, he continued :

“Well, Jim, I know the Washington buying has begun. All I know I have dug out for myself and am free to use it anyway I choose. I have gone over the deal with Beulah Sands, and we have decided to plunge. She has a balance of about four hundred thousand dollars and I'm going to spread it thin. I am going to buy her 20,000 shares and to take on 10,000 for myself. If you went in for 20,000 more, it would give me a wide sea to sail in. I know you never speculate, Jim, for the house, but I thought you might in this case go in personally.”

“Don’t say another word, Bob,” I replied. “This time the rule goes by the board. But I will do better : I’ll put up a million and you can go as high as 70,000 for me. That will give you a buying power of 100,000, and I want you to use my last 50,000 shares as a lifter.”

I had never speculated in a share of stock since I entered the firm of Randolph & Randolph, and on general, special, and every other principles was opposed to stock-gambling, but I saw how Bob had worked it out, and that to make the deal sure it was necessary for him to have a good reserve buying power to fall back on if, after he got started, the “System” masters, whose game he was butting into and whose plans he might upset, should start in to jam the price down to drive him off the track. Bob knew how I looked at it and ordinarily would not have allowed me to have the short end of the deal, but so changed had he become in his anxiety to make that money for the Virginians that he grabbed at my acceptance.

“Thank you, Jim,” he said, fervently, and he continued : “Old man I see what’s going through your head, but I’ll accept the favor, for the deal is bound to be successful. I know your reason for coming in is just to help out, but you won’t feel badly or suffer any, because your 50,000 shares will be used more as a guarantee for the deal’s success than for profit. And Miss Sands could not object to the part you play, as she did at the underwriting, for you will get a big profit anyway.”

Next day Sugar was lively on the Exchange. Bob bought all in sight and handled it in a masterly way. When the closing gong struck, Beulah Sands had 20,000 shares, which averaged her 115 ; Bob and I had 30,000 at an average of 125, and the stock had closed 132 bid and in big demand. Miss Sands’ 20,000 showed $340,000 profit, while our 30,000 showed $210,000 at closing prices. All the houses with Washington wires were wildly scrambling for sugar as soon as it began to jump. And it certainly looked as though the shares were good for the figures set for them by Bob, $175, at which price the Sands’s profits would be $1,200,000. Bob was beside himself with joy. He dined with Kate and me, and as I watched him my heart almost stopped beating at the thought —“if anything should happen to upset his plans!” His happiness was pathetic to witness. He was like a child. He threw away all the reserve of the past three months and laughed and was grave by turns. After dinner, as we sat in the library over our coffee, he leaned over to my wife and said :

“Katherine Randolph, you and Jim don’t know what hell I have been in for three months, and now—will tomorrow never come, so I may get into the whirl and clean up this deal and send that girl back to her father with the money ! I wanted her to telegraph the judge that things looked as if she would win out and bring back the relief, but she would not hear of it. She is a marvellous woman. She has not turned a hair to-day. I don't think her pulse beats a stroke faster to-night. She has not sent home a word of encouragement since she has been here, more than to tell her father she is doing well with her stories. It seems they both agreed that the only way to work the thing out was ‘whole hog or none,’ and she was to say nothing until she herself could bring the word ‘saved’ or ‘lost.’ I don’t know but she is right. She says if she should raise her father’s hopes, and then be compelled to dash them, the effect would be fatal.”

Bob rushed the talk along, flitting from one point to another, but invariably returning to Beulah Sands and to-morrow and its saving profits. Finally, he got to a pitch where it seemed as though he must take off the screws, and before Kate or I realized what was coming he placed himself in front of us and said :

“Jim, Kate, I cannot go into tomorrow without telling you something that neither of you suspects. I must tell some one, now that everything is coming out right and that Beulah is to be saved ; and whom can I tell but you, who have been all to me ?—I love Beulah Sands, surely, deeply, with every bit of me. I worship her, I tell you, and to-morrow, to-morrow if this this deal comes out as it must come, and I can put $1,500,000 into her hands and send her home to her father, then, then, I will tell her I love her, and Jim, Kate, if she’ll marry me, good-by, good-by to this hell of dollar-hunting, good-by to such misery as I have been in for three months, and home, a Virginia home, for Beulah and me.” He sank into a chair and tears rolled down his cheeks. Poor, poor Bob, strong as a lion in adversity, hysterical as a woman with victory in sight.

The next day Sugar opened with a wild rush : “25,000 shares from 140 to 152.” That is the way it came on the tape, which meant that the crowd around the Sugar-pole was a mob and that the transactions were so heavy, quick, and tangled that no one could tell to a certainty just what the first or opening price was; but after the first lull, five minutes after the gong, there were reported transactions aggregating 25,000 shares and at prices varying from 140 to 152. I was over on the first floor to see the scramble, for it was noised about long before ten o’clock that Sugar would open wild, and then, too, I wanted to be handy if Bob should need any quick advice.

A minute before the gong struck, there were 300 men jammed around the Sugar-pole ; men with set, determined faces ; men with their coats buttoned tight and shoulders thrown back for the rush to which, by comparison, that of a football team is child’s play. Every man in that crowd was a picked man, picked for what was coming. Each felt that upon his individual powers to keep a clear head, to shout loudest, to forget nothing, to keep his feet, and to stay as near the centre of the crowd as possible, depended his honor, perhaps his fortune, or, what was more to him, his client’s fortune. Nearly every man of them was a college graduate who had won his spurs at athletics, or a seasoned floor man, whose training had been even more severe than that of the college campus. When it is known before the opening of the Exchange that there are to be “things doing” in a certain stock, it is the rule to send only the picked floor men into the crowd. There may be a fortune to make or to lose in a minute or a fraction of a minute. For instance, the man who that morning was able to secure the first 5,000 shares sold at 140 could have resold them five minutes afterward at 152 and secured sixty thousand profit. And the man who was sent into the crowd by his client to sell 5,000 shares at the opening and who got but 140, when the price would be 152 by the time he reported to his customer, was a man to be pitied. Again, the trader who the night before had decided that Sugar had gone up too fast, and who had gone short (that is, sold what he did not have, with the intention of repurchasing at a lower price than he sold it for) 5,000 shares at 140 and who, finding himself in that surging mob with sugar selling at 152, could only get out by taking a loss of $60,000, or by taking his chance of later paying 162—such a trader was also to be pitied.

No one who scanned the crowd that morning would have believed that the calm, set face on that erect Indian figure, occupying the very centre of that horde of gamblers who were only awaiting* the ringing clang of the gong to hurl themselves like madmen at each other, was the hysterical youth who the night before was wildly praying God for this moment. Nearly every man in that crowd was calm, but Bob. Bromley was the calmest of them all. It’s the Exchange code that at any cost of heart or nerve-tear a man must retain good form until the gong strikes. Then, that he must be as near the uncaged tiger as human mind and body can be made. Only I realized what volcano raged inside my friend’s bosom. If any other man of the crowd had known, Bob would have been lost. Nine-tenths of the Stock Exchange game is not letting your left brain-lobe know what your right is going to do until you’ve done it. If one of those 300 chain-lightning thinkers or any of their 10,000 alert associates knew in advance the intentions of a fellow broker, the word would sweep through that crowd with the rapidity of uncorked ether, and the other 299, at gong-strike, would be at his throat, and in an instant would have his bones picked to a vulture-finish cleanness.

Suddenly, as I watched the scene, there rang through the great hall the first sharp stroke of the gong. There were no echoes heard that morning. The metallic voice was yet shaping its command to “at ’em, you fiends” when from 300 throats burst the wild sound of the Stock Exchange yell. No other sound in any of the open or hidden places of all nature duplicates the yell of a great Stock Exchange at an exciting moment. It not only fills and refills space, for the volume is terrific, but it has an individuality all its own, coming from the incisive “Take-mine-I’ll-take-yours,” from the aggressive, almost arrogant “you-can’t-you-won’t-have-your-way,” the confident “by-heaven-we-will” individual notes that enter into the whole, as they blend with the shrill yell of triumph and the piercing note of disappointment, when the floor men realize their success or their failure. I picked Bob’s magnificently resonant voice from the mass—“40 for any part of 10,000.” It was this daring bid that struck terror to the shorts and filled the buyers with a frenzy of encouragement. Again it rang out'—“45 for any part of 25,000”; and a third time—“50 for any part of 50,000.”

The great crowd was surging all over the room. Hats were smashed and coats were being stripped from their owners’ backs as though made of paper, and now and then a particularly frantic buyer or seller would be borne to the floor by the impetus of those who sought to get his bid or his offer. Through all the wild whirl, straight and erect and commanding was the form of Bob, his face cold and expressionless as an iceberg. In five minutes the human mass had worked back to the Sugarpole and there was the inevitable lull while its members “verified.”

I could see by the few entries Bob was making on his pad that he had been compelled to buy but little. This meant that his campaign was working smoothly, and that he had the greater part of my fifty thousand yet unbought, which in turn meant he could continue to push up the price, or in the event of his opponents’ attempting to run it down, he would be under the market with big supporting orders.

Suddenly the lull was broken. Bob’s voice rang out again—“153 for any part of 10,000 Sugar.” Again the gamblers closed in and for another five minutes the opening scene was duplicated, with only a shade less fierceness. After ten minutes' mad trading a mighty burst of sound told that Sugar was 160 bid. Then Bob worked his way out of the crowd, and passing by me fairly hissed, “By heaven, Jim, I’ve got them !”

I went back to the office. In a few minutes Bob without a word strode through my office and into the little room occupied by Beulah Sands. He closed the door behind him, a thing he had never done before. It was only a minute till he opened it and called to me. In his eyes was a strange look, a look that came from the blending of two mighty passions, one joy, the other I could not make out, unless it was that soft one, which suppressed love, emerging from terrible uncertainty, generates in deep natures and which usually finds vent in tears. Beulah Sands was a study. Her heart was evidently swaying and tugging with the news Bob had brought her. She must have seen the nearness of release from the torture that had been filling her soul during the past three months, and yet such was the remarkable self-control of the woman, such her noble courage, that she refused to show any outward sign of her feelings. She was the reserved, dignified girl I had ever seen her.

“Jim, Miss Sands and I thought it best that we should have a little match up at this stage of our deal,” Bob began.” “I want to know if you both agree with me on adhering to the original plans to close out at 175. I never felt surer of my ground than in this deal. The stock is 163 on the tape right now.” He glanced at the tape as it rolled out of the ticker in the corner of the office. “Yes, there she goes again—3 3/4, 4, 4 1/4 and 1,200 at a half. There is a tremendous demand from all quarters. Washington’s buying is unlimited ; the commission-houses are tumbling over one another to get aboard and the shorts are scared to a paralyzed muteness. They don’t know whether to jump in and cover or to hold their present hands, but they have no pluck to oppose the rise, that is certain. The news bureaus have just published the story that I am buying for Randolph & Randolph, and they for the insiders ; that the new tariff is as good as passed ; and that at the directors’ meeting to-morrow the Sugar dividend will be increased, and that it is agreed on all sides she won’t stop going until she crosses 200. I’ve been obliged to take on only 18,000 of your 50,000, and at present prices there is over two hundred thousand profit in them. I think I could go back there and in thirty minutes have it to 180. Then I rested on it until about one o’clock and threw myself at it for real fireworks up to the close, I could uncover them, let slip about half our purchases, and tomorrow at the opening let them have the balance. If I’m in luck I’ll avage 180-185 for the whole bunch, but I’ll be satisfied if I get an average of 175, which would allow me to sell it on a dropping scale to 160.”

I agreed that his campaign was perfect, and Beulah Sands said in her usual quiet way, “It is entirely in your hands, Mr. Brownley. I don’t see how any advice from us can help.”

Bob went back to the Exchange, and I into my office. Bob had been right again. In ten minutes the tape began to scream about Sugar. With enormous transactions it ran up in fifteen minutes to 188, in three more it dropped to 181 and then steadily mounted to 185 dulled up, and was steady. Presently Bob was back and we sat down again.

“I’ve bought 20,000 more for you, Jim on that whirl. I’ve 38,000 in all of the last 50,000, which leaves me 12,000 reserve. The average is about 75, and there must be 400,000 for you in it now and a strong 1,400,000 in Miss Sands’s 20,000, and a 1,800,000 in our 30,000. They say it’s a bad business to count chickens in the shell, but ours are tapping so hard to get out I can’t help doing it this once. I’m going to keep away from the floor for an hour or so, then I will go over and wind it up and—good God, Beulah—Miss Sands —are you ill ?”

The girl’s face was ashen grey and she seemed to be gasping for breath. I rushed for some water while Bob seized both her hands, but in an instant the blood came to her cheeks with a rush and she said, “I was dizzy for a moment. It must have been the thought of taking $1,400,000 back to father that upset me. With that amount father could make good all the trust funds, and have back enough of his own fortune to make us seem, after what we have been going through, richer than we were before. Pardon me, Mr. Randolph, won’t you, when I say—God bless you and every one whom you hold dear, God bless you ? What could I or my father have done but for you and Mr. Brownley ?”

She turned her big eyes full upon Bob, filled with a light such as can come only to a woman’s eyes, only to a woman before whom, as she stands on the brink of hell, suddenly looms her heaven.

Sharp and shrill rang Bob’s Exchange telephone. The ring seemed shriller ; it certainly was longer than usual. Bob jumped for the receiver.

(To be Continued.)