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THE NAPOLEON OF FINANCE
The next two months were busy ones for Brewster. Miss Drew saw him quite as often as before the important interview, but he was always a puzzle to her.
"His attitude is changed somehow," she thought to herself, and then she remembered that "a man who wins a girl after an ardent suit is often like one who runs after a street car and then sits down to read his paper."
In truth after the first few days Monty seemed to have forgotten his competitors, and was resting in the consciousness of his assured position. Each day he sent her flowers and considered that he had more than done his duty. He used no small part of his income on the flowers, but in this case his mission was almost forgotten in his love for Barbara.
Monty's attitude was not due to any waning of his affection, but to the very unromantic business in which he was engaged. It seemed to him that, plan as he might, he could not devise fresh ways and means to earn $16,000 a day. He was still comfortably ahead in the race, but a famine in opportunities was not far remote. Ten big dinner parties and a string of elaborate after-the-play suppers maintained a fair but insufficient average, and he could see that the time was ripe for radical measures. He could not go on forever with his dinners. People were already beginning to refer to the fact that he was warming his toes on the Social Register, and he had no desire to become the laughing-stock of the town. The few slighting, sarcastic remarks about his business ability, chiefly by women and therefore reflected from the men, hurt him. Miss Drew's apparently harmless taunt and Mrs. Dan's open criticism told plainly enough how the wind was blowing, but it was Peggy's gentle questions that cut the deepest. There was such honest concern in her voice that he could see how his profligacy was troubling her and Mrs. Gray. In their eyes, more than in the others, he felt ashamed and humiliated. Finally, goaded by the remark of a bank director which he overheard, "Edwin P. Brewster is turning handsprings in his grave over the way he is going it," Monty resolved to redeem himself in the eyes of his critics. He would show them that his brain was not wholly given over to frivolity.
With this project in mind he decided to cause a little excitement in Wall Street. For some days he stealthily watched the stock market and plied his friends with questions about values. Constant reading and observation finally convinced him that Lumber and Fuel Common was the one stock in which he could safely plunge. Casting aside all apprehension, so far as Swearengen Jones was concerned, he prepared for what was to be his one and only venture on the Stock Exchange before the 23d of the following September. With all the cunning and craftiness of a general he laid his plans for the attack. Gardner's face was the picture of despair when Brewster asked him to buy heavily in Lumber and Fuel.
"Good heavens, Monty," cried the broker, "you're joking. Lumber is away up now. It can't possibly go a fraction of a point higher. Take my advice and don't touch it. It opened to-day at 113 and closed at 109. Why, man, you're crazy to think about it for an instant."
"I know my business, Gardner," said Brewster, quietly, and his conscience smote him when he saw the flush of mortification creep into the face of his friend. The rebuke had cut Gardner to the quick.
"But, Monty, I know what I'm talking about. At least let me tell you something about this stock," pleaded Elon, loyally, despite the wound.
"Gardy, I've gone into this thing carefully, and if ever a man felt sure about anything I do about this:" said Monty, decidedly but affectionately.
"Take my word for it Lumber can't go any higher. Think of the situation; the lumber men in the north and west are overstocked, and there is a strike ready to go into effect. When that comes the stock will go for a song. The slump is liable to begin any day."
"My mind is made up," said the other firmly, and Gardner was in despair. "Will you or will you not execute an order for me at the opening to-morrow? I'll start with ten thousand shares. What will it cost me to margin it for ten points?"
"At least a hundred thousand, exclusive of commission, which would be twelve and a half a hundred shares." Despite the most strenuous opposition from Gardner, Brewster adhered to his design, and the broker executed the order the next morning. He knew that Brewster had but one chance to win, and that was to buy the stock in a lump instead of distributing it among several brokers and throughout the session. This was a point that Monty had overlooked.
There had been little to excite the Stock Exchange for some weeks; nothing was active and the slightest flurry was hailed as an event. Everyone knew that the calm would be disturbed at some near day, but nobody looked for a sensation in Lumber and Fuel. It was a foregone conclusion that a slump was coming, and there was scarcely any trading in the stock. When Elon Gardner, acting for Montgomery Brewster took ten thousand shares at 108 3/4 there was a mighty gasp on the Exchange, then a rubbing of eyes, then commotion. Astonishment was followed by nervousness, and then came the struggle.
Brewster, confident that the stock could go no higher, and that sooner or later it must drop, calmly ordered his horse for a ride in the snow-covered park. Even though he knew the venture was to be a failure in the ordinary sense he found joy in the knowledge that he was doing something. He might be a fool, he was at least no longer inactive. The feel of the air was good to him. He was exhilarated by the glitter of the snow, the answering excitement of his horse, the gaiety and sparkle of life about him.
Somewhere far back in his inner self there seemed to be the sound of cheering and the clapping of hands. Shortly before noon he reached his club, where he was to lunch with Colonel Drew. In the reading-room he observed that men were looking at him in a manner less casual than was customary. Some of them went so far as to smile encouragingly, and others waved their hands in the most cordial fashion. Three or four very young members looked upon him with admiration and envy and even the porters seemed more obsequious. There was something strangely oppressive in all this show of deference.
Colonel Drew's dignity relaxed amazingly when he caught sight of the young man. He came forward to meet him and his greeting almost carried Monty off his feet.
"How did you do it, my boy?" cried the Colonel. "She's off a point or two now, I believe, but half an hour ago she was booming. Gad, I never heard of anything more spectacular!"
Monty's heart was in his mouth as he rushed over to the ticker. It did not take him long to grasp the immensity of the disaster. Gardner had bought in at 108 3/4, and that very action seemed to put new life into the stock. Just as it was on the point of breaking for lack of support along came this sensational order for ten thousand shares; and there could be but one result. At one time in the morning Lumber and Fuel, traded in by excited holders, touched 113 1/2 and seemed in a fair way to hold firm around that figure.
Other men came up and listened eagerly. Brewster realized that his dash in Lumber and Fuel had been a master-stroke of cleverness when considered from the point of view of these men, but a catastrophe from his own.
"I hope you sold it when it was at the top," said the Colonel anxiously.
"I instructed Gardner to sell only when I gave the word," said Monty, lamely. Several of the men looked at him in surprise and disgust.
"Well, if I were you I'd tell him to sell," remarked the Colonel, coldly.
"The effect of your plunge has worn off, Brewster, and the other side will drive the prices down. They won't be caught napping again, either," said one of the bystanders earnestly.
"Do you think so?" And there was a note of relief in Monty's voice.
From all sides came the advice to sell at once, but Brewster was not to be pushed. He calmly lighted a cigarette, and with an assured air of wisdom told them to wait a little while and see.
"She's already falling off," said some one at the ticker.
When Brewster's bewildered eyes raced over the figures the stock was quoted at 112. His sigh of relief was heard but misunderstood. He might be saved after all. The stock had started to go down and there seemed no reason why it should stop. As he intended to purchase no more it was fair to assume that the backbone was at the breaking point. The crash was bound to come. He could hardly restrain a cry of joy. Even while he stood at the ticker the little instrument began to tell of a further decline. As the price went down his hopes went up.
The bystanders were beginning to be disgusted. "It was only a fluke after all," they said to each other. Colonel Drew was appealed to to urge Monty to save himself, and he was on the point of remonstrance when the message came that the threatened strike was off, and that the men were willing to arbitrate. Almost before one could draw breath this startling news began to make itself felt. The certainty of a great strike was one of the things that had made Brewster sure that the price could not hold. With this danger removed there was nothing to jeopardize the earning power of the stock. The next quotation was a point higher.
"You sly dog," said the Colonel, digging Monty in the side. "I had confidence in you all the time."
In ten minutes' time Lumber and Fuel was again up to 113 and soaring. Brewster, panic-stricken, rushed to the telephone and called up Gardner.
The broker, hoarse with excitement, was delighted when he recognized Brewster's voice.
"You're a wonder, Monty! I'll see you after the close. How the devil did you do it?" shouted Gardner.
"What's the price now?" asked Brewster. "One thirteen and three-fourths, and going up all the time. Hooray!"
"Do you think she'll go down again?" demanded Brewster.
"Not if I can help it."
"Very well then, go and sell out," roared Brewster.
"But she's going up like — "
"Sell, damn you! Didn't you hear?" Gardner, dazed and weak, began selling, and finally liquidated the full line at prices ranging from 114 to 112 1/2, but Montgomery Brewster had cleared $58,550, and all because it was he and not the market that got excited.