« AnteriorContinuar »
body to sell. In a word, we were bears when war was declared and we've been bears ever since. A fellow can't lose in this market-all he's got to do is to sell a few thousand short with his eyes shut-that
is, if he has a little real courage.”
“A little real courage !” I half murmured. Was it the cigar-smoke that made me feel queer? Pulham didn't notice.
“It's the only sure way to make money,” he continued. “Business conditions are terrible! The railroads are in a shocking state! It's criminal the way the commission is treating 'em. It's bound to mean government ownership sooner or later. It's a safe bet to sell this market from now on."
“But all business isn't so bad, is it?” I inquired, more to make conversation than anything.
“I should say not. The money some fellows have made is enough to make you sick-positively sick! I know one that has made twenty millions since August, 1914.”
"Twenty millions !"
“Tw-en-ty! Count 'em! Any number of fellows have just coined it—all luck, of course—just happened to be in the right thing-chemicals, rubber, machinery, munitions. There's a chap up-stairs who was doing business in 1914 with one room and an office boy. Now he has the whole floor-twenty-two offices. Literal truth! Some expansion-what?”
“Where is Dixon?” I asked, looking through the office door of the adjoining office.
“Dixon? Left us. Gone across to France in the Red Cross.'
“That's fine!” said I warmly.
“Yes--fine!” he echoed. "Splendid, isn't it, the way the fellows are volunteering? Everybody's doing something, you know! Even those who can't find a job in Washington are doing their bit right here at home-one way or another-Liberty Loan, Y. M. C. A., Red Cross, or something. I'd give my eyes to go across if only I was the right age. But they don't want us old fellows on the other side !"
“I suppose you could have gone to Plattsburg and got an officer's commission, couldn't you?” I hazarded.
"Oh, possibly," he acceded with a slight frown, "but there's the family! You can't go and leave a wife and five children, now, can you? Besides," he hurried on without giving me a chance to reply, “I've tried my best to get a job where what ability I have can be utilized, but I can't find a place, to save my life. I've tried the War Department, the Navy Department, and written to Hoover, but all any of 'em can offer me is some clerical work that an office boy could do. Now, if they'd put me on a commission
I held my peace.
"You don't know how hard I've worked to find a chance to do something--anything to help!” he pro
tested with even more earnestness than the occasion would seem to have demanded.
And then over his desk I noticed for the first time that poster of Uncle Sam pointing an accusing finger and saying: "I want you!”
"No," I admitted truthfully. “I don't suppose I do.”
As I strolled back to my own offices the sunlight seemed to be a shade less bright than earlier in the day. There was Hawkins a leader of the bar--who had thrown up a career and certainly not less than thirty thousand a year—and right across the street one of his best friends was making money hand over fist!
I found that Lord had not yet returned, and as it was nearly lunch-time I called up John Sedgewick and asked if my old lunch club was still going. He answered that it was, only there were now but nine members instead of fourtee as formerly, and they no longer took a private room but sat at a round table in the regular dining-room of the Noonday Club. He was just going over, he said. Wouldn't I join him?
It was one o'clock as I entered, and I was rather surprised to find so few members about. Before I went away it had been always crowded to overflowing at that hour, but now there were plenty of empty tables. Old Thomas, the decrepit doorman, greeted me warmly, if sadly.
"You'll find things a good deal changed, Mr. Stanton,” he sighed. “It's very hard for us to get good boys any more in the coat-room. And it's the same way with the waiters. They're just a lot of push-cart
The club isn't what it was. This war's an awful thing, sir. My daughter's husband, he got blinded last July—he was a Canadian, you know, sir, and he would go back and enlist !"
I patted him on the shoulder and passed on to hang up my coat and hat. What could I say? Sedgewick was waiting for me and we went up-stairs and took our seats at the club table. One or two men were already there, and the others gradually drifted in. In different parts of the room I counted four members in uniform. It gave me a jolt to see Hibben, the club raconteur, who always had a crowd of jovial fellows at his elbow, in the blue jacket of a lieutenant in the navy, talking earnestly to an artilleryman whom I recognized as Charley Hackett, heretofore an utterly irresponsible bounder, whose matrimonial and other difficulties had given him a good deal of rather unpleasant notoriety. I couldn't quite bring myself to accept the thing as real. It was as if they were acting charades or had stepped out of a rehearsal of private theatricals to get a bite of lunch. When, however, Fred Thomas, the promoter, one of our own group, came in and sat down with us in the uniform of a second lieutenant it began to have a tinge of actuality.
“You look fine, Fred !” I exclaimed with genuine pleasure at the sight of his trim military figure.
“Well,” he drawled, “I begin to feel better.” “Been laid up?" I asked sympathetically.
"Oh, no!” he retorted carelessly. “My health's been all right enough. You'll understand after you've been back awhile. It's just a feeling-half restlessness, half ennui. A kind of soul disease, I guess. Nothing around here seems worth doing. Hanging around Wall Street these days is like playing penny-ante when there's a Harvard-Yale football game going on in the next lot. It doesn't have the interest it otherwise might, you know."
"That's so !” agreed Kessler, the banker across the table, a man of over sixty. “I don't know what we fellows that aren't doing anything are coming to. I can't get up the slightest excitement over what used to thrill me to the marrow. I don't care whether we make money or lose it. Damn it all, I don't care about anything any more except to tear the hide off those Germans !"
“Everybody feels the same way,” said Sedgewick. “What possible difference does it make whether you make money or not, or I win a case or not, when our friends and our sons and our brothers are going off to be shot up or gassed? You might just as well expect a man calmly to sit and play checkers in the parlor while a burglar was chloroforming his wife up