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Daniel Trentworthy. A tale of the great fire of Chicago online

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" Hurry up -there, Bill! " Page 33.

Daniel Trentworthy.






148, 150, 152 AND 154 MONROE STREET; and

1 889.

All rights reserved.


All rights reserved.



HUMAN history must deal with human interest. Events
thought to be unimportant in their day may tower up with
the ages as the death of Shakespeare. Events great as a
royal marriage may be buried as deeply in a library as they
could be inhumed in oblivion ; for what is oblivion but lack
of interest by the living ? All is for the living; nothing for
the dead.

Let us then deal candidly with events, subjectively as to
their merits, objectively as to the interest they arouse, at
once and forever. By that means we may perhaps claim
that in three centuries there have been but three events in
the first class of human interest namely :

Seventeenth century, the works and death of Shakespeare.

Eighteenth century, the French Revolution.

Nineteenth century, the destruction of Chicago.

I shall tell a simple tale of the nineteenth century which
may hold the reader's attention because of the august pres-
ence of a kingly event. I shall ask the man of keen sym-
pathy and sound imagination to pass through days that must
seem longer than days. To a spectacle from which men will
never turn away, I shall try to give the color it had in its


own age ; yet, like Shakespeare, it was not for an age, but for
all time.

Madame de Sevigne made herself famous by writing a
short letter: "I am going to tell you," said she, "a thing
the most astonishing, the most surprising, the most marvel-
ous, the most miraculous, the most magnificent, the most
confounding, the most unheard of, the most singular, the
most extraordinary, the most incredible, the most unforeseen
the greatest, the rarest, the most common, the most public,
the most private, and the most brilliant ; in short, a thing
of which there is but one example in past ages, and that not
an exact one, either ; a thing that we cannot believe in Paris
how, then, will it gain credit in Lyons ?"

And what was it that this clever woman told ? Only the
engagement of marriage between a princess and a nobleman !
She thundered in her index, and gained an immortality not
altogether to be despised.

Can there be any prologue whatever for that chronicler
who, having the Event of October, 1871, for his theme, ad-
dresses a human interest that grows only the keener as de-
cade after decade laps and whispers on the beach of time ?



THE Bank of El Dorado had a capital of ten millions. No
depositor trifled with the time of the institution who could
not draw his check for $50,000. No stock company hoped
to have the confidence of the Pacific slope if it had not
secured the permission of the officers of the Bank of El
Dorado to -refer 'to them. /


The directors of the bank were men of unlimited means ;
and by " means " they meant gold coins, for the greenbacks
of the United States had never seemed quite good enough
for the Bank of El Dorado. They might be good, and again
they might not. Gold would be good. No one doubted

Not only had the Bank of El Dorado unlimited means, but
it had a man. "Arms and the man, I sing," said the poet.
" Gold and the man," sang the lauders of the Bank of El
Dorado. Gold was very well, but a financier was even

John Trentworthy was the financier.

Men said he was Midas. Whatever he touched turned to

" I am more fortunate than Midas," he would reply. " I
do not have to eat gold."

Is it not an extraordinary thing to be pivoted in the cen-
ter of confidence ? Round about John Trentworthy clustered
fifty millionaires, each dreaming of the happy moment when
Trentworthy would start from some reverie and say : " My
boy, I can use three or four and turn it over in sixty days."

"Three or four" meant millions. The more it meant the
more gleefully did the lending millionaire seek his down pil-
low that night.

A Niagara of molten gold was thundering over a precipice
into an abyss of credit. In a frail bark, plying between two
crags, John Trentworthy would carry such of the imploring
millionaires as his fancy prompted him to favor. They
shivered in agony as they looked up at the flood, but they
were the envy of the craving host back on the hither crag.

" He'll go down yet," the millionaire would say as he saw
John Trentworthy land a rival millionaire safely with an
added fortune. " He'll go down yet."

But that was because the disappointed millionaire had not
himself been taken across the abyss.


Is it not an awful problem this " How shall I make
money ? " Thus our disappointed millionaire has but five
millions. He sits down, writes a little on paper, and presto !
he is a poor man ! Ah ! may God forgive him ; his wife must
dismiss her servants and do her own housework ; his children
must clamor for the advantages that other children have ;
there will be no travel, and there will be the nethermost pit
of impatience where one man with infinite faculties must
attempt to please another man with infinite faculties.

No, no ; it is a dream. The millionaire has not written
on the paper. He is safe ! But is it any wonder that cold
sweat stands out upon his brow ?

John Trentworthy sits down and writes a few words on
paper. Five millionaires have given him a million apiece.
Presto ! it is ten millions. Is it. not easy?

Ay, that it is, if only John Trentworthy be the man who
does it. Still the millionaire who carries his bags of gold to
John Trentworthy must have pangs and terrors. The wa\ T s
of the magician are not the ways of the meek-spirited million-
aires. Everything he does outside of his money-making
frightens the rich men and amazes the populace. Hence,
perhaps, a portion of his financial power.

He learns how far a man may drive the fastest trotters.
At the end of that measured line he erects a palace. There
he keeps a room and a plate ready for each of sixty guests,
whether one or none or sixty be present, If a king or an
ambassador, a head man in the Orient or a fashionable states-
man of the Occident, be at the Golden Gate, the Golden
Gate opens only to the hospitable doors of John Trent-
worthy's palace.

From the palace to the city there stretches, as the crow
flies, a costly drive "an incredible drive," said all previous
horse-owners. And daily does this strange man ooze
the excitement out of his body through the ribbons that
hold his flying steeds to their swift gait. Perhaps that


vent gives him his coolness when he handles millions.

In every part of the world the voices of the noble, the
glorious, and the fortunate go up in recital of the wonders
seen at John Trentworthy's palace. And all these stories,
while they may vary as to the things seen, end with the same
averment. The most wonderful of all the wonders was the
man who closed his eyes and saw millions which the greedi-
est people on earth had not before espied ; the man who
drove fifteen leagues to his daily business ; the man whose
word was law at the Bank of El Dorado, at London and at

" I wish we had him here," said each of the Rothschilds.

" Commerce is developing wonderful financial genius,"
said the Barings.

But the poor millionaires at the Golden Gate were too
near their man. They would have felt easier had he lived
in a small back room and done nothing else save close his
eyes and see millions for the big four, or the big eight, or
the big sixteen.

Speculation it is a strange word. " Thou hast no specu-
lation in those eyes," cries the wretched Macbeth. Specula-
tion sight to see to see where it is cot, but will be.
And perhaps not to be at all. Thus, speculation to see
what others will deem probable. Thus, a town may be a
city. To see that first is a fortune. The town may never
reach a city's dignity. To see that last is ruin.

The millionaires peered. But there was no speculation in
their eyes. They must have the terrifying John Trent-
worthy to see for them John Trentworthy the greatest
speculator in the history of finance.




OXE memorable week the owner of the palace has eaten
with an especially large crowd of mandarins, duke.=, princes,
sergeants, kings, poets, and statesmen. He has driveu in
from the palace in a road time unprecedented. He has
crossed under theinolten flood in the cockle-shell of his credit
with an unusually large number of trembling millionaires.
He has heard a chorus of prophecies from the stupid ar.d the
disappointed all to the effect that he will go down.

"Mr. Trentworthy, you seem more than commonly ex-
cited, or absent-minded," a favored friend would say some
expert judge of a horse.

Generally a close student of men appreciates a student of
some excellent animals.

" Yes," Trentworthy would smile. " I have had news
that my son is doing well at Harvard College.'"'

For John Trentworthy had a son, a lad with perhaps the
most enviable prospects of any young man in America. He
was thoughtful, handsome, amiable, and ambitious to learn.
It was expected that he would graduate from Harvard at an
age which would permit him to take a course at a foreign
university. Bonn would be super added to Harvard. Travel
and the best of society would fit him for the close compan-
ionship and confidence of the magician at the Golden Gate.

Can we blame the poor young men at Harvard that they
looked upon this heir of all good things, and questioned :
" Why is it not so with us ? "

Yet, so envious is man, the comrades of young Danie!
Trentwortby had all that he had, except expectations. For


the magician at the Golden Gate had often said that there
was but one way to make a man, and that was by hard
knocks. To spare his only son- to make him soft and ef-
feminate would be to leave John Trentworthy without a
successor. At the father's knee the boy heard this gospel of
toil and attrition. At college the faculty preached it from
constant and anxious letters they had received.

Daniel Trentworthy's comrades did not covet his brains,
his good nature, or his quiet spirit. As a matter of fact, it
came about that he had nothing else they really wanted, for,
one day, the president called the lad into a private room.

"Mr. Trentworthy," the president said, as he glanced at a
dispatch, " have you received any news from home to-day? "

" No, sir," said the lad, growing uneasy.

" Then it is my sad duty to say to you that your father is

" Is that so? " said the lad, mechanically, all his words, and
all his thoughts, and all his blood coursing in a strange way
through his body.

u Yes : my dispatch puzzles me. It reads : ' Tell Trent-
worthy Bank of El Dorado closed, and John Trentworthy
dead. Directors.' "

" My dear boy, have you no other relatives at home ? "

"None," said the boy, with a swallowing sound.

"Well, well, well," said the kind old scholar. "Leave it to
me, and I will ascertain the particulars by telegraph."

Now this had happened : A depositor, having need of a
few hundred thousands, drew a check for the amount on the
Bank of El Dorado a trifling matter. How handy are
these banks ! You draw your check ; that suffices ; your cred-
itor is paid.

The cheek was presented. It was not paid. What was
the matter with the check ? Nothing. What was the matter
with the bank of El Dorado? Ah ! there you reach it !

Now, imagine such.a thing. No money in a bank wit-h-feen.


millions. No money in John Trent worthy's bank and he

How many thousand people stand in that cross-like crowd
in the streets ? Enough to lift up that stone structure, if
they could get hands on, as Ramesis made the children of
Israel catch hold of the obelisks. It is truly an angry
crowd. Plenty of Argonauts there. Dukes, royal drivers,
palaces magic ! It fills the host with a demoniac sarcasm.
Where is this magician ?

Truly, where is he? he has driven his leagues to-day, as
usual, for the hostlers have scraped his steeds. He bathes
every day, for his health is of prime importance or was.
Perhaps he is at the bathing place.

Yes, he has gone down into the water. They will follow
him. They want his life that which they deemed the
glory of the coast but yesterday.

But they cannot get his life. It was too proud to wait
for them and their impotent wrath. John Trentworthy is

He has gone down under the molten flood, before the very
eyes of the millionaires who would so gladly have sat with
him in his cockle-shell. It gives the little groups on the
hither and thither crags a shock that brings them to their
senses. Speculation comes to an end.

Now the Bank of El Dorado is greater than any magician
after all. The honor of fifty millionaires is a very sub-
stantial financial fabric. The Bank of El Dorado opens the
moment the dead body of John Trentworthy has been found.

But they are a sorry lot of mourners. They mourn their
gold millions of it. Anything that John Trentworthy had
is the bank's theirs. Strange that they could not see
through his magic so they say now.

And yet John Trentworthy had simply lost in a game
where one must win all the time.

They telegraphed to Harvard : " Tell young Trentworthy
that his father dies a debtor to the bank of El Dorado for


millions. We have taken possession of everything. We
fear the young man will be left without support."

They did not fear it, they knew it, but one of the most
knowing of the stupids said it would be much better to say
" fear." It was. They pitied the boy. But think how sad
they were ! Think how they pitied themselves !

" My son," said the president of the college, " I cannot
express my sorrow for you. I have never seen great ex-
pectations swept away so suddenly or so completely, although
the same kind of misfortune has often visited us here. You
are left without money, and I believe your father's creditors
mean to deny you to the last cent."

" What shall I do ? " asked the young man.

" In the present state of public feeling you would not want
to go to San Francisco. You can earn your own living, can
you not ? "

" Yes, sir."

No young man ever doubts this. It is strange that nothing
but experience will teach a man that life is hard.

"I think you had better seek some thriving Western city.
Are you favorably impressed with Chicago ? "

" Yes ; I will go there."

"I have personal influence which may aid you in getting
a foothold ; I cannot tell you how glad I shall be to put it at
your service. I hear there is no place in the West where
there is so good an opening for a young man. Wait here till
the year is out."

" No," said the young man, " I will go at once."

How could he stay and face the scornful pity of the other
young men whose fathers would not fail until the next panic,
or those others whose fathers would never fail at all ?

So he took the letters of the kind old president and rode
toward Chicago. The city filled him with curiosity. That
is, the gathering of metropolitan forces at Chicago had been
so sudden as to become the talk of the world. The real


estate speculators had concocted a glowing scheme. The
star of empire had itself moved in the very zodiac of their
scheme. What they had expected to make the world believe
through the power of their enthusiasm, the world was forced
to accept as fact through the imperious caprice of a nation's
commerce. If Daniel Treiitworthy picked up a newspaper
his eye rested on some tale of Chicago, and that tale was
sure to be the most wonderful thing in the day's news. Men
loved to read of the gold-diggers of the winter of ? 49 and
spring of '50. But there was not enough of those chronicles.
Here, however, at Chicago, there was a wonderland that
crowded the rest of the world out of the columns of the daily

The war was over. The boom was on. Real estate was
held at the prices which it brings to-day, in 1887, when the
city has 800,000 souls. It was the metropolis of Lincoln's
State ; therefore when the body of the martyr lay on its cata-
falque, in the Court House, all the Northwest came to hold
the hand of Illinois as she sobbed over the greatest of the
Western dead. The tomb of Douglas was here ; therefore
Andrew Johnson swung around the circle and saw with his
own eyes. Here were gathered the adventurous, the enthu-
siastic, the crowded-out of the whole world. And they con-
tinued to do wonderful things. They set great brick palaces
on jack-screws ; they tunneled two miles under the lake for
water that a dozen generations might drink ; they fathomed
the descent of their river, and set at work to turn its flow
backward. They raffled away their opera house, and a new
owner came riding on his horse out of the West. And to
this day that opera house has hardly been equaled for its
qualities as an auditorium where the rich and the poor could
alike hear and sec with ease.

Even the murderers and the suicides rose to the spirit of
public performance that was on the inhabitants. The bar-
ber packed his wife's body in. a cask, and became the pro'to-


fiend of all that sort ; the saloon-keeper cleared away the mid-
night glasses from one of his tables, ran a hose from the
gas-burner to the table, lay down on that table and
breathed out of the gas-holder far away on Adams street.
The papers of the world were full of it.

The wonderful city said : " We will have oil." They
bored and struck the first of the artesian wells, that spouted
for the world's amazement.

The city that had built the wigwam, and caucused Honest
Old Abe on the nation as its President; that had nominated
McClellan ; that had mustered Ellsworth and Mulligan;
that had the lumber and the grain and the cattle of the con-
tinent for sale this city seemed to call all young men; and
the tide of buoyant and expectant life that rolled toward her
showed the power of her allurements.

Daniel Trentworthy rode around the lake-shore ; he
crossed other lines of railroad and lines of telegraph poles
that seemed hurrying to one center; he gazed with falling
spirits over the foggy marsh out of which the second Rome
had risen. It was so level, so flat, so watery, so rainy ! Why
did the scream of the outflying locomotive startle him as it
rushed away ? His woes came on him then, and he wept a
little for his great father, the lamp of whose life had been ex-
tinguished so suddenly. In what darkness had it Left his son f

But, as he came forth from the depot beside the beautiful
lake, he saw a long cavalcade and procession coming up the
leading street of residences. All spectacular processions took
that route.

"What is it?" he asked.

" It is Weston, finishing his walk from Portland, Me.,"
was the reply.

Yes, Chicago was the end of the world for Weston, as it
seemed for every other mortal. Daniel Trentworthy gazed
on the little man as he bowed to his tens of thousands of ad-


" If he can walk here, I can at least ride here," he smiled,
and was happy that he belonged to th <( bright Christian
capital of lakes and prairie."



As Daniel Trentworthy had left the train and crossed the
dead-line where he became the legitimate prey of the hotel-
runners, a man in gray, with a massive mustache which
failed to hide a square chin a man with a cold gray eye
betokening vast experience, and with a ponderous steel
badge pinned to the lapel of his coat this formidable man
fixed his cold steel eye and his cold steel badge on the young

"The Girard House," said the man, speaking not as a
scribe, but as one having authority.

Of course the young man did not want to go to the Girard

" A dollar and a half a day," said the great man sternly,
as though the visitor had harbored thoughts of foolish ex-
pense. Expense was to be avoided. That was the look of
the gray eye.

" But where is the Girard House?" The young man's
voice was getting faint. He was losing ground rapidly.

"Right here," and the thumb went behind the immense
badge. Surely enough. It was clearly a decoration of
which the austere courier was proud. The doubt implied in
the young man's query had been overwhelmed.

" How far do we go ? "

"It is right here at the end of the depot. Close to the
depot. Near by the depot."


He of the stern eye had said his sa} T . It was sufficient.
Daniel Trentworthy was led away to the little Girard House,
because it was adjacent to a depot which he would not again
use. That argument had won the day.

So, down at the end of the nastiest street this side of
Erzeroum ; down at the end of a double row of chicken crates
nearly a mile long ; down at the end of an avenue where
green grocers' wagons, packed like sardines, carried away
only a portion of the green things that must wither
and mildew in a day ; within a few feet of a sewage la-
goon that had not yet been drained into the Mississippi
River to such an inn the boy was forced, by the power of
one man over another, to go. However, he need not stay, for
the great man's work was done when he led the guest to the
register. Daniel Trentworthy wrote his name, and the
glorious runner went back to the dead-line.

It was easy enough, after dinner, there being no other
great man at the Girard House, to pay the bill and seek a
hotel in the region of the Court-house.

How imposing is an edifice with a great dome, if it stands
in the middle of a square, with an iron fence around it and
the heart of a wonderful city at every gate.

And if a solid line of hackney coaches surround it on four
streets, how shall the mind escape the conclusion that there
is a funeral of some hero within, or a Webster, or Clay, or
Douglas, or Lincoln charming all those who can crowd into
the rotunda ?

Boom ! strikes the deep bell on the roof of the Court-
house ; again, one, two ; one. two, three.

Yes, it is doubtless a funeral oration. How thick the
mist ; how insufferably thick the air ! It is a fitting day for
such an event.

" Why, my dear sir," exclaimed a bustling Chicagoan,
"that is the hack-stand. The bell? why, yes, that is at

box 123, on the North Side." ,


" What's that ? "

" Oh, yes, I see. You are a stranger. It is a fire noth-
ing but a fire."

Ah, well, Daniel Trentworthy thinks it would take a very
hot fire to burn much of this damp region. He feels as
though he were in a cave.

He hears much of " the North Side," " the South Side,"
"the West Side." The glibness with which an inhabitant,
uses local terms always offends a new-comer. So Daniel buys
a map of the city, and fixes these divisions in his mind. He
finds that he may take a sheet of common note-paper for the
site of Chicago. On the right edge is Lake Michigan ; on
the other edges the low and level prairie. Two sluggish bay-
ous lie lengthways of this sheet, in the center that is, one
runs southward to the middle, and the other northward
to the middle. Draw a line up and down the centre
of the sheet ; the junction is at the middle of the sheet ;
or, to be exact, about two rulings above the middle ;
thence, to the lake at the right, a main bayou lies between ;
blacken the right half of the middle ruling of the note-paper.
Now Daniel has three divisions on his paper the West,
twice as big as either the North or the South.

So much adherence, in every-day speech, to this dividing
of the city did not seem necessary to him, but the people
thought so. If he crossed a bridge that turned on a pivot in
the middle of the river, although he traveled only a hundred
feet, he had gone from the South to the West side. It prob-
ably came from the days of township government, for the
three " sides" embraced as many towns, and taxes are still
paid on this theory. By careful attention to these details
of local custom, Daniel Trentworthy came to understand the
city. The West Side was the Brooklyn, or bedchamber.

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Online LibraryJohn McGovernDaniel Trentworthy. A tale of the great fire of Chicago → online text (page 1 of 21)