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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 03, No. 15, January, 1859 online

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about a centre common to both; their movements were like nothing so
much as the freaks of a couple of pith-balls electrically excited, at
one time drawn furiously together, and then capriciously repelling each
other. Their loves, caresses, spats, quarrels, poutings, and
reconciliations were as uncertain as the vagaries of the weather, as
little guided by sense or reason as the passions of early childhood. On
one subject they agreed at all times, and that was to pet and spoil
most thoroughly their infant daughter, a puny, weak-voiced,
slender-limbed, curly-haired child, with the least possible chance of
living to the age of womanhood.

Fletcher was confidential clerk to the great banking-house of Foggarty,
Danforth, and Dot. The senior partner rarely took any active part in
business, but left it to the management of Danforth and Dot. Danforth
had the active brain to plan, Dot the careful, cool faculty to execute.
Fletcher had a good salary, - so large that he could always reserve a
small margin for "outside operations," by which in one way or another
he generally contrived to lose.

The god he worshipped was Chance; by which I do not refer at all to any
theory of the creation of matter, but to the course and order of human
affairs. His drawers were full of old lottery-schemes; he did not long
buy tickets, because he was too shrewd; but he made endless
calculations upon the probability of drawing prizes, - provided the
tickets were really all sold, and the wheel fairly managed. A dice-box
was always at hand upon the mantel. He had portraits of celebrated
racers, both quadruped and biped, and he could tell the fastest time
ever made by either. His manipulation of cards was, as his friends
averred, one of the fine arts; and in all the games he had wrought out
problems of chances, and knew the probability of every contingency. A
stock-list was always tacked above his secretary, and another
constantly in his pocket. And this evening he had brought home a
revolving disk, having figures of various values engraved around its
edge, carefully poised, with a hair-spring pointer, like a hand on a
dial-plate.

"What have you got, John?" asked his wife.

"Only a toy, a plaything, deary. See it spin!" and he gave the disk a
whirl.

"But what is it _for_?"

"Oh, nothing in particular. I thought we could amuse ourselves in
turning it for the largest throws."

"Is that all? It is a heavy thing, and must have cost a good lot of
money."

"Not much. Now see! You know I have tried to show you how chance rules
the world; and if you once get the chances in your favor, all is right.
Now suppose we take this wheel, and on the number 2,000 we paste
'Michigan Central,' 'Western' over 1,000, 'Vermont and Massachusetts'
over 500, 'Cary Improvement' over 400, and so on. Now, after a certain
number of revolutions, by keeping account, we get the chance of each
stock to come up."

"I don't understand."

"I don't suppose you do; you don't give your mind to it, as I do."

"But you know you had the same notion once about cards, and pasted the
names of the stocks on the court cards; and then you shuffled and cut
and dealt and turned up, night after night."

"Little doxy! small piece of property! you'd best attend to that baby,
and other matters that you know something about."

The "little doxy" felt strongly inclined to cry, but she kept back the
sobs and said, "You know, John, how sullen and almost hateful you were
before, when you were bewitched after those mean stocks. I don't think
you should meddle with such things; they are too big for you. Let the
rich fools gamble, if they want to; if _they_ lose, they can afford it,
and nobody cares but to laugh at them. Oh, John, you promised me you
wouldn't gamble any more."

"Well, I don't gamble. I haven't been to a faro bank for a year. I stay
away just to please you, although I know all the chances, and could
break the bank as easy as falling off a log."

"You don't gamble, you say, but you are uneasy till you put all your
money at risk on those paper things. I don't see the difference."

"You _needn't_ see the difference; nobody asked you to see the
difference. Gamble, indeed! there isn't a man on the street that
doesn't keep an eye on the paper things, as you call them."

"You see what I told you. You are cross. You like anything better (_a
sob_) than your poor (_another_) neglected wife."

The sobs now thickened into a cry, and, with streaming eyes, she picked
up the puny child and declared she was going to bed. To this proposal
the moody man emphatically assented. But as Mrs. Fletcher passed near
her husband, the child reached out its slender arms and caught hold of
him by his cravat, screaming, "Papa! papa! I stay, papa!"

"Let go!" roughly exclaimed the amiable father. But she held the
tighter, and shouted, "Papa! my papa!"

What sudden freak overcame his anger probably not even Fletcher himself
could tell. But, turning towards his wife, who was supporting the
child, whose little fingers still held him fast, his face cleared
instantly, and, with a sudden movement, he drew the surprised and
delighted woman down upon his knee, and loaded her with every form of
childish endearment. Her tears and sorrows vanished together, like the
dew.

"Little duck," said he, "if I were alone, I shouldn't care for any more
money. I know I can always take care of myself. But for your sake I
want to be independent, - rich, if you please. I want to be free. I want
to meet that wily, smooth, plausible, damned, respectable villain face
to face, and with as much money as he."

His eyes danced with a furious light and motion, and the fringy
moustache trembled over his thin and sensitive mouth. But in a moment
he repented the outbreak; for his wife's face blanched then, and the
tears leaped from her eyes.

"Oh, John," she exclaimed, "what is this awful secret? I know that
something is killing you. You mutter in sleep; you are sullen at times;
and then you break out in this dreadful way."

Fletcher meditated. "I can't tell her; 'twould kill her, and not do any
good either. No, one good streak of luck will set me up where I can
defy him. I'll grin and bear it."

"What is it, John? Tell your poor little wife!"

"Oh, nothing, my dear. I do some business for Sandford, who is apt to
be domineering, - that's all. To-day he provoked me, and when I am mad
it does me good to swear; it's as natural as lightning out of a black
cloud."

"It may do _you_ good to swear, John; but it makes the cold chills run
over me. Why do you have anything to do with anybody that treats you
so? You are _so_ changed from what you were! Oh, John, something is
wrong, I know. Your face looks sharp and inquiring. You are thin and
uneasy. There's a wrinkle in your cheek, that used to be as smooth as a
girl's."

She patted his face softly, as it rested on her shoulder; but he made
no reply save by an absent, half-audible whistle.

"You don't answer me, John, dear!"

"I've nothing especial to say, doxy, - only that I will wind up with
Sandford as soon as we finish the business in hand."

"The business in hand? Has he anything to do with Foggarty, Danforth,
and Dot?"

Fletcher was not skilful under cross-examination. So he simply
answered, "No," and then stopping her mouth with kisses, promised to
explain the matter another day.

"Well, John, I am tired; I think I'll take baby and go to bed. Don't
sit up and get blue over your troubles!"

As she left the room, Fletcher drew a long breath. What an accent of
despair was borne on that sigh! His busy brain was active in laying
plans which his vacillating will could never execute without help.
Often before, he had determined to confront Sandford and defy him; but
as often he had quailed before that self-possessed and imperious man.
What hope was there, then, for this timid, crouching man, as long as
the hand of his haughty master was outstretched in command? None!

CHAPTER IX.

STATE STREET.

The stringency of the money-market began to frighten even Mr. Sandford
who had been predicting a panic. There had been but few failures, and
those were generally of houses that ought to fail, being insolvent from
losses or mismanagement. Mr. Sandford studied over his sheet of bills
payable and receivable almost hourly. The amount intrusted to him by
Monroe had been loaned out; for which he was now very sorry, as the
rate of interest had nearly doubled since he made the last agreement.
This, however, was but a small item in his accounts; other transactions
of greater magnitude occupied his attention. As he looked over the
array of promisors and indorsers, he said to himself, "I am safe. If
these men fail, it will be because the universal bottom has dropped out
and chaos come again. If anybody is shaky, it is Stearine. He believes,
though, that Bullion will help him through, and extend that note.
Perhaps he will. Perhaps, again, he will have enough to do to keep on
his own legs. He fancies himself strong because he owns the most of the
Neversink Mills. But he doesn't know what I know, that Kerbstone, the
treasurer of the Mills, is in the street every day, looking like a
gambler when his last dollar is on the table. A few more turns of the
screw and down goes Kerbstone. Who knows that the Mills won't tumble,
too, and Bullion after them? _He_ may go hang; but we must look after
Stearine, and prop him, unnecessary. That twenty thousand is more than
we can afford to lose just now. Lucky, there he comes!"

Mr. Stearine entered, not with his usual smile, but with an expression
like that of a man trying to be jolly with the toothache. A short, but
dexterous cross-examination showed to Sandford, that, if the
twenty-thousand-dollar note could be extended over to better times,
Stearine was safe. But the note was soon due, and Bullion might be
unable or unwilling to renew; in which case, the Vortex would have to
meet it. That was a contingency to be provided against; for Mr.
Sandford did not intend that the public should know that the credit of
the Company had been used for private purposes by its officers. He
therefore called in Mr. Fayerweather, the President, and the affair was
talked over and settled between them.

"One thing more," said Sandford. "Suppose any one _should_ get wind of
this, and grow suspicious; - Bullion himself might be foolish enough to
let the cat out of the bag; - we might find the shares of the Vortex in
the market, and the bears running them down to an uncomfortable
figure."

"True enough. We must stop that."

"The only way is to keep a sharp lookout, and if any of the stock is
offered, to buy it up. Half a dozen of us can take all that will be
likely to come into market."

"How many shares do you own, Sandford?" asked Mr. Fayerweather, with a
quizzical look. "Is this a nice little scheme of yours to run them off
at par? It's a shrewd dodge."

"You do me wrong," said Sandford, with a look of wounded innocence. "I
merely want to sustain the credit of the Company."

"Oh, no doubt!" said the President.
"Well, we will agree, then, not to let the shares fall below ninety,
say. It would be suspicious, I think, to hold them higher than that,
when money is two and a half per cent. a month."

"Very well. You will see to this? Be careful what men you speak to."

Mr. Sandford, being left alone, bethought him of Monroe. He did not
wish to give him a statement of affairs; he had put him off once, and
must find some way to satisfy him. How was it to be done? The financier
meditated. "I have it," said he; "I'll send him a quarter's interest in
advance. That's as much as I can spare in these times, when interest
grows like those miraculous pumpkin-vines out West." He drew a check
for two hundred dollars, and dispatched it to Monroe by letter.

So Mr. Sandford had all things snug. The Vortex was going on under
close-reefed topsails. If the notes he held were paid as they matured,
he would have money for new operations; if not, he had arranged that
the debtors should be piloted over the bar and anchored in safely till
the storm should blow over. Everything was secured, as far as human
foresight could anticipate.

Mr. Sandford had now but little use for Fletcher's services, except to
look after his debtors, - to know who was "shinning" in the street, or
"kite-flying" with accommodation-paper. Still he did not admit the
agent into his confidence. But this active and scheming mind was not
long without employment. Mr. Bullion had seen him in frequent
communication with Sandford, and thereby formed a high opinion of his
shrewdness and tact; for he knew that Sandford was very wary in
selecting his associates. He sought Fletcher.

"Young man," said Bullion, pointing his wisp of an eyebrow at him, "do
you want a job? Few words and keep mum. Yes or no?"

"Yes," said Fletcher, decidedly.

"I like your pluck," said Bullion.

"It doesn't take much pluck to follow Mr. Bullion's lead."

"None of your nonsense. How do you know anything about me, or what I am
going to do? I may fail to-morrow, - God forbid! - but when the wind
comes, it's the tall trees that are knocked over."

Fletcher thought the comparison rather ludicrous for a man standing on
such remarkably short pegs, but he said nothing.

"I mean to sell a few shares of stock, and I want you to do the
business. I am not to be known in it."

Fletcher bowed, and asked what the stocks were.

"No matter; any you can sell to advantage. I haven't a share, but I
needn't tell you _that_ doesn't make any difference."

"Let me understand you clearly," said Fletcher.

"Sell under. For instance, take a stock that sells to-day at
ninety-four; offer to deliver it five days hence at ninety. To-morrow
offer it a peg lower, and so on, till the market is easier. When the
first contract is up, we shall get the stock at eighty-eight, or less,
perhaps, - deliver to the buyers, and pocket the difference."

"But it may not fall."

"It's bound to fall. People that hold stock _must_ sell to pay their
notes. Every day brings a fresh lot of shares to the hammer."

"But the bulls may corner you; they will try mightily to keep prices
up."

"But they can't corner, I tell you; there are too many of them in
distress. Besides, we'll spread; we won't put all our eggs into one
basket. If I stuck to 'bearing' one stock, the holders might get all
the shares and break me by keeping them so that I couldn't comply with
my contracts. I shan't do it. I'll pitch into the 'fancies' mainly;
they are held by speculators, who must be short, and they'll come down
with a run."

"How deep shall I go in?"

"Fifty thousand, to begin with. However, there won't be many transfers
actually made; the bulls will merely pay the differences."

"Or else waddle out of the street lame ducks."

Bullion rubbed his hands, while his eyes shone with a colder glitter.

"Well, you are a bear, truly," said Fletcher, with unfeigned
admiration, - "a real Ursa Major."

"To be sure, I'm a bear. What's the use in being a bull in times like
these, to be skinned and sold for your hide and tallow?"

"The market is falling, and no mistake."

"Yes, and will fall lower. Stocks haven't been down since '37 so low as
you will see them a month from now."

Fletcher bowed - - and waited. Bullion pointed the eyebrow again.

"You don't want to begin on an uncertainty. I see. Sharp. Proper
enough. I'll give you ten per cent. of the profits, - you to pay the
commissions. Each day's work to be set down, and at the end of each
week I'll give you a note for your share. That do? I thought it would.
I offer a liberal figure, for I think you know something, youngster.
Use your judgment, now. Consult me, of course; but mum's the word. If
any stock is pushed in, lay hold, and don't be afraid. The holders must
sell, and they must sacrifice. We'll skin 'em, by G - ," said Bullion,
with an excitement that was rare in a cool, hard head like his. Then
thinking he had been too outspoken, he resumed his former concise
manner.

"All fair, you know. Bargain is a bargain. They must sell; we won't
buy, without we buy cheap; their loss, to be sure, but our gain. All
trade on the same plan. Seller gets the most he can; buyer pays only
what he must."

"That's it," said Fletcher. "Every man for himself in this world."

"Well, good morning, young man. Sharp's the word. Call at my office
this afternoon." And, with a queer sweep of the pointed eyebrow, he
departed.

What visions of opulence rose before Fletcher's fancy! He would now lay
the foundations of his fortune, and, perhaps, accomplish it. He would
become a power in State Street; and, best of all, he would escape from
his slavery to Sandford, and perhaps even patronize the haughty man he
had so long served. How to begin? He could not attend the sales at the
Brokers' Board in person, as he was not a member. Should he confide in
Danforth? No, - for, with his relations to the house, his own share in
the profits would be whittled down. He determined to employ Tonsor, an
old acquaintance, who would be glad to buy and sell for the regular
commissions. The preliminaries were speedily concluded, and a list of
stocks made out on which to operate. The excitement was almost too
great for Fletcher to bear. As he counted the piles of bank-bills on
his employers' counter, or stacked up heaps of coin, in his ordinary
business, he fancied himself another Ali Baba, in a cave to which he
had found the Open Sesame, and he could hardly contain himself till the
time should come when he should take possession of his unimaginable
wealth. He had built air-castles before, but never one so magnificent,
so real. He could have hugged Bullion, bear as he was. - We leave
Fletcher and his principal on the high road to success.

CHAPTER X.

THE SIREN COMES TO THE SEA-SHORE.

Greenleaf worked assiduously upon his landscapes, and, notwithstanding
the pressure in the money-market, was fortunate enough to dispose of
them to gentlemen whose incomes were not affected by the vicissitudes
of business. For this he was principally indebted to Sandford, who took
pains to bring his works to the notice of connoisseurs. But, with all
his success, the object of his ambition was as far off as at first.
Imperceptibly he had acquired expensive habits. He was not prodigal,
not extravagant; but, having a keen sense of the beautiful, he
gradually became more fastidious in dress, and in all those nameless
elegancies which seem of right to belong to the accomplished man, as to
the gentleman in easy circumstances. This desire for ease and luxury
did not conflict with simplicity; he seemed born for all the enjoyment
which the most cultivated society could bestow. He had the power to
spend the income of a fortune worthily; unhappily, he did not have it
to spend. He had written constantly to his betrothed, and when he told
her of the prices he had received for his pictures, he was at a loss
how to make her comprehend the new relations into which he had
grown, - to explain that he was practically as poor as when he first
came to the city. How could he assure her of his desire to end the
engagement in marriage, if he spoke of postponement now that he had an
income beyond his first expectations? Imperceptibly to himself, his
letters became more like intellectual conversations, or essays,
rather, - pleasant enough in themselves, but far different from the
simple and fervent epistles he wrote while the memory of Alice was
fresher. _She_ felt this, although she had not reasoned upon it, and
her sensitive womanly heart was full of vague forebodings.

Would he confess to himself, that, as he looked at her cherished
picture, another face, with a more brilliant air and a more dazzling
beauty, came between him and the silent image before him? Dared he to
think, that, in his frequent visits to Miss Sandford, the ties which
bound him to his betrothed were daily weakening? - that he found a charm
in the very caprices and waywardness of the new love, which the
unvarying constancy and placid affection of the old had never created?
The one put her heart unreservedly into his keeping; she knew nothing
of concealment, and he read her as he would an unsophisticated child;
there was not a nook or cranny in her heart, he thought, that he had
not explored. The other was full of surprises; she had as many phases
as an April day; and from mere curiosity, if from no other motive,
Greenleaf was piqued to follow on to understand her real character. The
apprehensions he felt at first wore away; he became accustomed to her
measured sentences and her apparently artificial manner. What seemed
affectation now became a natural expression. The secret influence she
exerted increased, and, at length, possessed him wholly while in her
company. It drew him as the moon draws the tides, silently,
unconsciously, but with a power he could not resist. It was only when
he was away from her that he could reason himself into a belief in his
independence.

Greenleaf and Easelmann were at Nahant at the close of the season. A
few straggling visitors only remained; the fashionable world had
returned to the city. The friends wandered over the rocky peninsula,
walked the long beach that leads to the main land, sketched the sea
from the shore, and the shore from the sea, and watched and transferred
the changing phases of Nature in sunshine and in storm. They were
fortunate enough to see one magnificent tempest, by which the ocean was
lashed into fury, breaking in thunder over the rugged coast-line, and
dashing spray sheer over the huge back of Egg Rock.

Miss Sandford's threat was carried into execution; the family came to
the hotel, and, for a week, Greenleaf and his friend were most devoted
in their attentions. Marcia was charmed with their sketches, and, with
a tact as delicate as it is rare, gave them time for their cherished
pursuits, and planned excursions only for their unemployed hours. They
collected colored mosses, star-fish, and other marine curiosities; they
sailed, fished, scampered over the rocks, drove over the beach at
twilight, sang, danced, and bowled. And when weary of active amusement,
they reclined on the grass and listened to the melancholy rote of the
sea, - the steady pulsations of its mighty heart.

Easelmann, with his usual raillery, congratulated his friend on his
prospects, and declared that the pupil was surpassing the teacher in
the beau's arts.

"Finely, Greenleaf! You are just coming to the interesting part of the
process. You are a little flushed, however, - not quite cool enough. A
wily adversary she is; if you allow your feelings to run away with you,
it's all up. She will hold the reins as coolly as you held your
trotting pony yesterday. Keep the bits out of your mouth, my boy."

"Don't trouble yourself. I shall keep cool. I am not going to make a
fool of myself by proposing."

"Oh, you aren't? We shall see. But she'll refuse you, and then you'll
come to your senses."

"I'm deusedly afraid she would accept me."

"The vanity of mankind! Don't tell me that women are vain. Every man
thinks himself irresistible, - that he has only to call, to have the
women come round him like colts around a farmer with a measure of corn.
Shake the kernels in your dish, and cry, 'Kerjock!' Perhaps she _will_
come."

"I suppose you think, with Hosea Bigelow, that

"''Ta'n't a knowin' kind o' cattle
That is ketched with mouldy corn.'"

"I needn't tell you that Marcia Sandford is knowing, - too knowing to
let an enthusiastic lover relapse into a humdrum husband. You amuse her
now: for she likes to enjoy poetry and sentiment, dances, rides, and
rambles, in company with a man of fresh susceptibilities; - a good
phrase that, 'fresh susceptibilities.' - The instant you become serious
and ask her to marry you, the dream is over; she will hate you."

"Well, what is to become of a lady like this, - a creature you think too
bright, if not too good, for human nature's daily food?"

"An easy prophecy. The destiny of a pretty woman is to catch lovers."

"'The cat doth play, and after slay,'" said Greenleaf, laughing.

"Play while you can, my dear boy; if she _is_ a cat, you'll get the
final _coup_ soon enough. To finish the fortune-telling, - she will
continue her present delightful pursuits as long as youth and beauty
last; and the beauty will last a long time after the youth has gone.
She _may_ pick up some young man of fortune and marry him; but it is
not likely; the rich always marry the rich. Just this side of the
_blasé_ period, while still in the fulness of her charms, she will open
her battery of smiles upon some wealthy old widower and compel him to


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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 03, No. 15, January, 1859 → online text (page 13 of 22)