The Green Flag and Other Tales HTML version

A Shadow Before
The 15th of July, 1870, found John Worlington Dodds a ruined gamester of the Stock
Exchange. Upon the 17th he was a very opulent man. And yet he had effected the change
without leaving the penurious little Irish townlet of Dunsloe, which could have been
bought outright for a quarter of the sum which he had earned during the single day that he
was within its walls. There is a romance of finance yet to be written, a story of huge
forces which are for ever waxing and waning, of bold operations, of breathless suspense,
of agonised failure, of deep combinations which are baffled by others still more subtle.
The mighty debts of each great European Power stand like so many columns of mercury,
for ever rising and falling to indicate the pressure upon each. He who can see far enough
into the future to tell how that ever-varying column will stand to-morrow is the man who
has fortune within his grasp.
John Worlington Dodds had many of the gifts which lead a speculator to success. He was
quick in observing, just in estimating, prompt and fearless in acting. But in finance there
is always the element of luck, which, however one may eliminate it, still remains, like the
blank at roulette, a constantly present handicap upon the operator. And so it was that
Worlington Dodds had come to grief. On the best advices he had dabbled in the funds of
a South American Republic in the days before South American Republics had been found
out. The Republic defaulted, and Dodds lost his money. He had bulled the shares of a
Scotch railway, and a four months' strike had hit him hard. He had helped to underwrite a
coffee company in the hope that the public would come along upon the feed and
gradually nibble away some of his holding, but the political sky had been clouded and the
public had refused to invest. Everything which he had touched had gone wrong, and now,
on the eve of his marriage, young, clear-headed, and energetic, he was actually a
bankrupt had his creditors chosen to make him one. But the Stock Exchange is an
indulgent body. What is the case of one to-day may be that of another to-morrow, and
everyone is interested in seeing that the stricken man is given time to rise again. So the
burden of Worlington Dodds was lightened for him; many shoulders helped to bear it,
and he was able to go for a little summer tour into Ireland, for the doctors had ordered
him rest and change of air to restore his shaken nervous system. Thus it was that upon the
15th of July, 1870, he found himself at his breakfast in the fly-blown coffee-room of the
"George Hotel" in the market square of Dunsloe. It is a dull and depressing coffee-room,
and one which is usually empty, but on this particular day it was as crowded and noisy as
that of any London hotel. Every table was occupied, and a thick smell of fried bacon and
of fish hung in the air. Heavily booted men clattered in and out, spurs jingled, riding-
crops were stacked in corners, and there was a general atmosphere of horse. The
conversation, too, was of nothing else. From every side Worlington Dodds heard of
yearlings, of windgalls, of roarers, of spavins, of cribsuckers, of a hundred other terms
which were as unintelligible to him as his own Stock Exchange jargon would have been
to the company. He asked the waiter for the reason of it all, and the waiter was an
astonished man that there should be any man in this world who did not know it.