Montague had written a reluctant letter to Major Thorne, telling him that he had been unable to interest anyone in his proposition, and that he was not in position to undertake it himself. Then, according to his brother's injunction, he left his money in the bank, and waited. There would be "something doing" soon, said Oliver.
And as they drove home from the Evanses', Oliver served notice upon him that this event might be expected any day. He was very mysterious about it, and would answer none of his brother's questions—except to say that it had nothing to do with the people they had just visited.
"I suppose," Montague remarked, "you have not failed to realize that Evans might play you false."
And the other laughed, echoing the words, "Might do it!" Then he went on to tell the tale of the great railroad builder of the West, whose daughter had been married, with elaborate festivities; and some of the young men present, thinking to find him in a sentimental mood, had asked him for his views about the market. He advised them to buy the stock of his road; and they formed a pool and bought, and as fast as they bought, he sold—until the little venture cost the boys a total of seven million and a half!
"No, no," Oliver added. "I have never put up a dollar for anything of Evans's, and I never shall.—They are simply a side issue, anyway," he added carelessly.
A couple of mornings later, while Montague was at breakfast, his brother called him up and said that he was coming round, and would go down town with him. Montague knew at once that that meant something serious, for he had never before known his brother to be awake so early.
They took a cab; and then Oliver explained. The moment had arrived—the time to take the plunge, and come up with a fortune. He could not tell much about it, for it was a matter upon which he stood pledged to absolute secrecy. There were but four people in the country who knew about it. It was the chance of a lifetime—and in four or five hours it would be gone. Three times before it had come to Oliver, and each time he had multiplied his capital several times; that he had not made millions was simply because he did not have enough money. His brother must take his word for this and simply put himself into his hands.
"What is it you want me to do?" asked Montague, gravely.
"I want you to take every dollar you have, or that you can lay your hands on this morning, and turn it over to me to buy stocks with."
"To buy on margin, you mean?"
"Of course I mean that," said Oliver. Then, as he saw his brother frown, he added, "Understand me, I have absolutely certain information as to how a certain stock will behave to-day."
"The best judges of a stock often make mistakes in such matters," said Montague.
"It is not a question of any person's judgment," was the reply. "It is a question of knowledge. The stock is to be MADE to behave so."
"But how can you know that the person who intends to make it behave may not be lying to you?"
"My information does not come from that person, but from a person who has no such interest—who, on the contrary, is in on the deal with me, and gains only as I gain."
"Then, in other words," said Montague, "your information is stolen?"
"Everything in Wall Street is stolen," was Oliver's concise reply.
There was a long silence, while the cab rolled swiftly on its way. "Well?" Oliver asked at last.
"I can imagine," said Montague, "how a man might intend to move a certain stock, and think that he had the power, and yet find that he was mistaken. There are so many forces, so many chances to be considered—it seems to me you must be taking a risk."
Oliver laughed. "You talk like a child," was his reply. "Suppose that I were in absolute control of a corporation, and that I chose to run it for purposes of market manipulation, don't you think I might come pretty near knowing what its stock was going to do?"
"Yes," said Montague, slowly, "if such a thing as that were conceivable."
"If it were conceivable!" laughed his brother. "And now suppose that I had a confidential man—a secretary, we'll say—and I paid him twenty thousand a year, and he saw chances to make a hundred thousand in an hour—don't you think he might conceivably try it?"
"Yes," said Montague, "he might. But where do you come in?"
"Well, if the man were going to do anything worth while, he'd need capital, would he not? And he'd hardly dare to look for any money in the Street, where a thousand eyes would be watching him. What more natural than to look out for some person who is in Society and has the ear of private parties with plenty of cash?"
And Montague sat in deep thought. "I see," he said slowly; "I see!" Then, fixing his eyes upon Oliver, he exclaimed, earnestly, "One thing more!"
"Don't ask me any more," protested the other. "I told you I was pledged—"
"You must tell me this," said Montague. "Does Bobbie Walling know about it?"
"He does not," was the reply. But Montague had known his brother long and intimately, and he could read things in his eyes. He knew that that was a lie. He had solved the mystery at last!
Montague knew that he had come to a parting of the ways. He did not like this kind of thing—he had not come to New York to be a stock-gambler. But what a difficult thing it would be to say so; and how unfair it was to be confronted with such an issue, and compelled to decide in a few minutes in a cab!
He had put himself in his brother's hands, and now he was under obligations to him, which he could not pay off. Oliver had paid all his expenses; he was doing everything for him. He had made all his difficulties his own, and all in frankness and perfect trust—upon the assumption that his brother would play the game with him. And now, at the critical moment, he was to face about, and say; "I do not like the game. I do not approve of your life!" Such a painful thing it is to have a higher moral code than one's friends!
If he refused, he saw that he would have to face a complete break; he could not go on living in the world to which he had been introduced. Fifty thousand had seemed an enormous fee, yet even a week or two had sufficed for it to come to seem inadequate. He would have to have many such fees, if they were to go on living at their present rate; and if Alice were to have a social career, and entertain her friends. And to ask Alice to give up now, and retire, would be even harder than to face his brother here in the cab.
Then came the temptation. Life was a battle, and this was the way it was being fought. If he rejected the opportunity, others would seize it; in fact, by refusing, he would be handing it to them. This great man, whoever he might be, who was manipulating stocks for his own convenience—could anyone in his senses reject a chance to wrench from him some part of his spoils? Montague saw the impulse of refusal dying away within him.
"Well?" asked his brother, finally.
"Oliver," said the other, "don't you think that I ought to know more about it, so that I can judge?"
"You could not judge, even if I told you all," said Oliver. "It would take you a long time to become familiar with the circumstances, as I am. You must take my word; I know it is certain and safe."
Then suddenly he unbuttoned his coat, and took out some papers, and handed his brother a telegram. It was dated Chicago, and read, "Guest is expected immediately.—HENRY." "That means, 'Buy Transcontinental this morning,'" said Oliver.
"I see," said the other. "Then the man is in Chicago?"
"No," was the reply. "That is his wife. He wires to her."
"—How much money have you?" asked Oliver, after a pause.
"I've most of the fifty thousand," the other answered, "and about thirty thousand we brought with us."
"How much can you put your hands on?"
"Why, I could get all of it; but part of the money is mother's, and I would not touch that."
The younger man was about to remonstrate, but Montague stopped him, "I will put up the fifty thousand I have earned," he said. "I dare not risk any more."
Oliver shrugged his shoulders. "As you please," he said. "You may never have another such chance in your life."
He dropped the subject, or at least he probably tried to. Within a few minutes, however, he was back at it again, with the result that by the time they reached the banking-district, Montague had agreed to draw sixty thousand.
They stopped at his bank. "It isn't open yet,—" said Oliver, "but the paying teller will oblige you. Tell him you want it before the Exchange opens."
Montague went in and got his money, in six new, crisp, ten-thousand-dollar bills. He buttoned them up in his inmost pocket, wondering a little, incidentally, at the magnificence of the place, and at the swift routine manner in which the clerk took in and paid out such sums as this. Then they drove to Oliver's bank, and he drew a hundred and twenty thousand; and then he paid off the cab, and they strolled down Broadway into Wall Street. It lacked a quarter of an hour of the time of the opening of the Exchange; and a stream of prosperous-looking men were pouring in from all the cars and ferries to their offices.
"Where are your brokers?" Montague inquired.
"I don't have any brokers—at least not for a matter such as this," said Oliver. And he stopped in front of one of the big buildings. "In there," he said, "are the offices of Hammond and Streeter—second floor to your left. Go there and ask for a member of the firm, and introduce yourself under an assumed name—"
"What!" gasped Montague.
"Of course, man—you would not dream of giving your own name! What difference will that make?"
"I never thought of doing such a thing," said the other.
"Well, think of it now."
But Montague shook his head. "I would not do that," he said.
Oliver shrugged his shoulders. "All right," he said; "tell him you don't care to give your name. They're a little shady—they'll take your money."
"Suppose they won't?" asked the other.
"Then wait outside for me, and I'll take you somewhere else."
"What shall I buy?"
"Ten thousand shares of Transcontinental Common at the opening price; and tell them to buy on the scale up, and to raise the stop; also to take your orders to sell over the 'phone. Then wait there until I come for you."
Montague set his teeth together and obeyed orders. Inside the door marked Hammond and Streeter a pleasant-faced young man advanced to meet him, and led him to a grey-haired and affable gentleman, Mr. Streeter. And Montague introduced himself as a stranger in town, from the South, and wishing to buy some stock. Mr. Streeter led him into an inner office and seated himself at a desk and drew some papers in front of him. "Your name, please?" he asked.
"I don't care to give my name," replied the other. And Mr. Streeter put down his pen.
"Not give your name?" he said.
"No," said Montague quietly.
"Why?"—said Mr. Streeter—"I don't understand—"
"I am a stranger in town," said Montague, "and not accustomed to dealing in stocks. I should prefer to remain unknown."
The man eyed him sharply. "Where do you come from?" he asked.
"From Mississippi," was the reply.
"And have you a residence in New York?"
"At a hotel," said Montague.
"You have to give some name," said the other.
"Any will do," said Montague. "John Smith, if you like."
"We never do anything like this," said the broker.
"We require that our customers be introduced. There are rules of the Exchange—there are rules—"
"I am sorry," said Montague; "this would be a cash transaction."
"How many shares do you want to buy?"
"Ten thousand," was the reply.
Mr. Streeter became more serious. "That is a large order," he said.
Montague said nothing.
"What do you wish to buy?" was the next question.
"Transcontinental Common," he replied.
"Well," said the other, after another pause-,-"we will try to accommodate you. But you will have to consider it—er—"
"Strictly confidential," said Montague.
So Mr. Streeter made out the papers, and Montague, looking them over, discovered that they called for one hundred thousand dollars.
"That is a mistake," he said. "I have only sixty thousand."
"Oh," said the other, "we shall certainly have to charge you a ten per cent, margin."
Montague was not prepared for this contingency; but he did some mental arithmetic. "What is the present price of the stock?" he asked.
"Fifty-nine and five-eighths," was the reply.
"Then sixty thousand dollars is more than ten per cent, of the market price," said Montague.
"Yes," said Mr. Streeter. "But in dealing with a stranger we shall certainly have to put a 'stop loss' order at four points above, and that would leave you only two points of safety—surely not enough."
"I see," said Montague—and he had a sudden appalling realization of the wild game which his brother had planned for him.
"Whereas," Mr. Streeter continued, persuasively, "if you put up ten per cent., you will have six points."
"Very well," said the other promptly. "Then please buy me six thousand shares."
So they closed the deal, and the papers were signed, and Mr. Streeter took the six new, crisp ten-thousand-dollar bills.
Then he escorted him to the outer office, remarking pleasantly on the way, "I hope you're well advised. We're inclined to be bearish upon Transcontinental ourselves—the situation looks rather squally."
These words were not worth the breath it took to say them; but Montague was not aware of this, and felt a painful start within. But he answered, carelessly, that one must take his chance, and sat down in one of the customer's chairs. Hammond and Streeter's was like a little lecture-hall, with rows of seats and a big blackboard in front, with the initials of the most important stocks in columns, and yesterday's closing prices above, on little green cards. At one side was a ticker, with two attendants awaiting the opening click.
In the seats were twenty or thirty men, old and young; most of them regular habitues, victims of the fever of the Street. Montague watched them, catching snatches of their whispered conversation, with its intricate and disagreeable slang. He felt intensely humiliated and uncomfortable—for he had got the fever of the Street into his own veins, and he could not conquer it. There were nasty shivers running up and down his spine, and his hands were cold.
He stared at the little figures, fascinated; they stood for some vast and tremendous force outside, which could not be controlled or even comprehended,—some merciless, annihilating force, like the lightning or the tornado. And he had put himself at the mercy of it; it might do its will with him! "Tr. C. 59 5/8" read the little pasteboard; and he had only six points of safety. If at any time in the day that figure should be changed to read "53 5/8"—then every dollar of Montague's sixty thousand would be gone for ever! The great fee that he had worked so hard for and rejoiced so greatly over—that would be all gone, and a slice out of his inheritance besides!
A boy put into his hand a little four-page paper—one of the countless news-sheets which different houses and interests distributed free for advertising or other purposes; and a heading "Transcontinental" caught his eye, among the paragraphs in the Day's Events. He read: "The directors' meeting of the Transcontinental R.R. will be held at noon. It is confidently predicted that the quarterly dividend will be passed, as it has been for the last three quarters. There is great dissatisfaction among the stock-holders. The stock has been decidedly weak, with no apparent inside support; it fell off three points just before closing yesterday, upon the news of further proceedings by Western state officials, and widely credited rumours of dissensions among the directors, with renewed opposition to the control of the Hopkins interests."
Ten o'clock came and went, and the ticker began its long journey. There was intense activity in Transcontinental, many thousands of shares changing hands, and the price swaying back and forth. When Oliver came in, in half an hour, it stood at 59 3/8.
"That's all right," said he. "Our time will not come till afternoon."
"But suppose we are wiped out before afternoon?" said the other.
"That is impossible," answered Oliver. "There will be big buying all the morning."
They sat for a while, nervous and restless. Then, by way of breaking the monotony, Oliver suggested that his brother might like to see the "Street." They went around the corner to Broad Street. Here at the head stood the Sub-treasury building, with all the gold of the government inside, and a Gatling gun in the tower. The public did not know it was there, but the financial men knew it, and it seemed as if they had huddled all their offices and banks and safe-deposit vaults under its shelter. Here, far underground, were hidden the two hundred millions of securities of the Oil Trust—in a huge six-hundred-ton steel vault, with a door so delicately poised that a finger could swing it on its hinges. And opposite to this was the white Grecian building of the Stock Exchange. Down the street were throngs of men within a roped arena, pushing, shouting, jostling; this was "the curb," where one could buy or sell small blocks of stock, and all the wild-cat mining and oil stocks which were not listed by the Exchange. Rain or shine, these men were always here; and in the windows of the neighbouring buildings stood others shouting quotations to them through megaphones, or signalling in deaf and dumb language. Some of these brokers wore coloured hats, so that they could be distinguished; some had offices far off, where men sat all day with strong glasses trained upon them. Everywhere was the atmosphere of speculation—the restless, feverish eyes; the quick, nervous gestures; the haggard, care-worn faces. For in this game every man was pitted against every other man; and the dice were loaded so that nine out of every ten were doomed in advance to ruin and defeat. They procured passes to the visitors' gallery of the Exchange. From here one looked down into a room one or two hundred feet square, its floor covered with a snowstorm of torn pieces of paper, and its air a babel of shouts and cries. Here were gathered perhaps two thousand men and boys; some were lounging and talking, but most were crowded about the various trading-posts, pushing, climbing over each other, leaping up, waving their hands and calling aloud. A "seat" in this exchange was worth about ninety-five thousand dollars, and so no one of these men was poor; but yet they came, day after day, to play their parts in this sordid arena, "seeking in sorrow for each other's joy": inventing a thousand petty tricks to outwit and deceive each other; rejoicing in a thousand petty triumphs; and spending their lives, like the waves upon the shore, a very symbol of human futility. Now and then a sudden impulse would seize them, and they would become like howling demons, surging about one spot, shrieking, gasping, clawing each other's clothing to pieces; and the spectator shuddered, seeing them as the victims of some strange and dreadful enchantment, which bound them to struggle and torment each other until they were worn out and grey.
But one felt these things only dimly, when he had put all his fortune into Transcontinental Common. For then he had sold his own soul to the enchanter, and the spell was upon him, and he hoped and feared and agonized with the struggling throng. Montague had no need to ask which was his "post"; for a mob of a hundred men were packed about it, with little whirls and eddies here and there on the outside. "Something doing to-day all right," said a man in his ear.
It was interesting to watch; but there was one difficulty—there were no quotations provided for the spectators. So the sight of this activity merely set them on edge with anxiety—something must be happening to their stock! Even Oliver was visibly nervous—after all, in the surest cases, the game was a dangerous one; there might be a big failure, or an assassination, or an earthquake! They rushed out and made for the nearest broker's office, where a glance at the board showed them Transcontinental at 60. They drew a long breath, and sat down again to wait.
That was about half-past eleven. At a quarter to twelve the stock went up an eighth, and then a quarter, and then another eighth. The two gripped their hands in excitement. Had the time come?
Apparently it had. A minute later the stock leaped to 61, on large buying. Then it went three-eighths more. A buzz of excitement ran through the office, and the old-timers sat up in their seats. The stock went another quarter.
Montague heard a man behind him say to his neighbour, "What does it mean?"
"God knows," was the answer; but Oliver whispered in his brother's ear, "I know what it means. The insiders are buying."
Somebody was buying, and buying furiously. The ticker seemed to set all other business aside and give its attention to the trading in Transcontinental. It was like a base-ball game, when one side begins to pile up runs, and the man in the coacher's box chants exultantly, and the dullest spectator is stirred—since no man can be indifferent to success. And as the stock went higher and higher, a little wave of excitement mounted with it, a murmur running through the room, and a thrill passing from person to person. Some watched, wondering if it would last, and if they had not better take on a little; then another point would be scored, and they would wish they had done it, and hesitate whether to do it now. But to others, like the Montagues, who "had some," it was victory, glorious and thrilling; their pulses leaped faster with every new change of the figures; and between times they reckoned up their gains, and hung between hope and dread for the new gains which were on the way, but not yet in sight.
There was little lull, and the boys who tended the board had a chance to rest. The stock was above 66; at which price, owing to the device of "pyramiding." Montague was on "velvet," to use the picturesque phrase of the Street. His earnings amounted to sixty thousand dollars, and even if the stock were to fall and he were to be sold out, he would lose nothing.
He wished to sell and realize his profits; but his brother gripped him fast by the arm. "No! no!" he said. "It hasn't really come yet!"
Some went out to lunch—to a restaurant where they could have a telephone on their table, so as to keep in touch with events. But the Montagues had no care about eating; they sat picturing the directors in session, and speculating upon a score of various eventualities. Things might yet go wrong, and all their profits would vanish like early snow-flakes—and all their capital with them. Oliver shook like a leaf, but he would not stir. "Stay game!" he whispered.
He took out his watch, and glanced at it. It was after two o'clock. "It may go over till to-morrow!" he muttered.—But then suddenly came the storm.
The ticker recorded a rise in the price of Transcontinental of a point and a half, upon a purchase of five thousand shares; and then half a point for two thousand more. After that it never stopped. It went a point at a time; it went ten points in about fifteen minutes. And babel broke loose in the office, and in several thousand other offices in the street, and spread to others all over the world. Montague had got up, and was moving here and there, because the tension was unendurable; and at the door of an inner office he heard some one at the telephone exclaiming, "For the love of God, can't you find out what's the matter?"—A moment later a man rushed in, breathless and wild-eyed, and his voice rang through the office, "The directors have declared a quarterly dividend of three per cent, and an extra dividend of two!"
And Oliver caught his brother by the arm and started for the door with him. "Get to your broker's," he said. "And if the stock has stopped moving, sell; and sell in any case before the close." And then he dashed away to his own headquarters.
At about half after three o'clock, Oliver came into Hammond and Streeter's, breathless, and with his hair and clothing dishevelled. He was half beside himself with exultation; and Montague was scarcely less wrought up—in fact he felt quite limp after the strain he had been through.
"What price did you get?" his brother inquired; and he answered, "An average of 78 3/8." There had been another sharp rise at the end, and he had sold all his stock without checking the advance.
"I got five-eighths," said Oliver. "O ye gods!"
There were some unhappy "shorts" in the office; Mr. Streeter was one of them. It was bitterness and gall to them to see the radiant faces of the two lucky ones; but the two did not even see this. They went out, half dancing, and had a drink or two to steady their nerves.
They would not actually get their money until the morrow; but Montague figured a profit of a trifle under a quarter of a million for himself. Of this about twenty thousand would go to make up the share of his unknown informant; the balance he considered would be an ample reward for his six hours' work that day.
His brother had won more than twice as much. But as they drove up home, talking over it in awe-stricken whispers, and pledging themselves to absolute secrecy, Oliver suddenly clenched his fist and struck his knee.
"By God!" he exclaimed. "If I hadn't been a fool and tried to save an extra margin, I could have had a million!"