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Chapter VI
The months passed. Soon three years had gone by, and the third winter since
the ceremony in St. James' Church drew to its close.
Since that day when--acting upon the foreknowledge of the French import duty--
Jadwin had sold his million of bushels short, the price of wheat had been steadily
going down. From ninety-three and ninety-four it had dropped to the eighties.
Heavy crops the world over had helped the decline. No one was willing to buy
wheat. The Bear leaders were strong, unassailable. Lower and lower sagged the
price; now it was seventy-five, now seventy-two. From all parts of the country in
solid, waveless tides wheat--the mass of it incessantly crushing down the price--
came rolling in upon Chicago and the Board of Trade Pit. All over the world the
farmers saw season after season of good crops. They were good in the
Argentine Republic, and on the Russian steppes. In India, on the little farms of
Burmah, of Mysore, and of Sind the grain, year after year, headed out fat, heavy,
and well-favoured. In the great San Joaquin valley of California the ranches were
one welter of fertility. All over the United States, from the Dakotas, from
Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Illinois, from all the wheat belt came steadily the
reports of good crops.
But at the same time the low price of grain kept the farmers poor. New
mortgages were added to farms already heavily "papered"; even the crops were
mortgaged in advance. No new farm implements were bought. Throughout the
farming communities of the "Middle West" there were no longer purchases of
buggies and parlour organs. Somewhere in other remoter corners of the world
the cheap wheat, that meant cheap bread, made living easy and induced
prosperity, but in the United States the poverty of the farmer worked upward
through the cogs and wheels of the whole great machine of business. It was as
though a lubricant had dried up. The cogs and wheels worked slowly and with
dislocations. Things were a little out of joint. Wall Street stocks were down. In a
word, "times were bad." Thus for three years. It became a proverb on the
Chicago Board of Trade that the quickest way to make money was to sell wheat
short. One could with almost absolute certainty be sure of buying cheaper than
one had sold. And that peculiar, indefinite thing known--among the most
unsentimental men in the world--as "sentiment," prevailed more and more
strongly in favour of low prices. "The 'sentiment,'" said the market reports, "was
bearish"; and the traders, speculators, eighth-chasers, scalpers, brokers, bucket-
shop men, and the like--all the world of La Salle Street--had become so
accustomed to these "Bear conditions," that it was hard to believe that they
would not continue indefinitely.