Thomas W. Lawson
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Friday, the Thirteenth, by Thomas W. Lawson This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.net Title: Friday, the Thirteenth
Author: Thomas W. Lawson
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[Illustration: "I saw there something missing from her great blue eyes.
I looked; gasped"]
Friday, the Thirteenth
A Novel by
Thomas W. Lawson
Frontispiece in colour by Sigismond de Ivanowski 1907
Copyright, 1906, 1907.
Published, February, 1907
I Dedicate This Book
Al That Is Good In This Little Waif, Which Is Very Dear To Me, I Know A Just God Will Place To
Her Credit. All That Is Mean And Low And
Human Could Never Have Been Birthed
Had She Been Nigh To Guide An
Ever Wayward Pen.
_The Nest, Dreamwold,
Friday, the Thirteenth
"Friday, the 13th; I thought as much. If Bob has started, there will be hel , but I will see what I can do."
The sound of my voice, as I dropped the receiver, seemed to part the mists of five years and usher me into the world of Then as though it had never passed on.
I had been sitting in my office, letting the tape slide through my fingers while its every yard spel ed "panic" in a constantly rising voice, when they told me that Brownley on the floor of the Exchange wanted me at the
'phone, and "quick." Brownley was our junior partner and floor man. He talked with a rush. Stock Exchange floor men in panics never let their speech hobble.
"Mr. Randolph, it's sizzling over here, and it's getting hotter every second. It's Bob--that is evident to al . If he keeps up this pace for twenty minutes longer, the sulphur will overflow 'the Street' and get into the banks and into the country, and no man can tel how much territory will be burned over by to-morrow. The boys have begged me to ask you to throw yourself into the breach and stay him. They agree you are the only hope now."
"Are you sure, Fred, that this is Bob's work?" I asked. "Have you seen him?"
"Yes, I have just come from his office, and glad I was to get out. He's on the war-path, Mr. Randolph--uglier than I ever saw him. The last time he broke loose was child's play to his mood to-day. Mother sent me word this morning that she saw last night the spel was coming. He had been up to see her and sisters, and mother thought from his tone he was about to disappear again. When she told me of his mood, and I remembered the day, I was afraid he might seek his vent here. Also I heard of his being about town till long after midnight. The minute I opened his office door this morning he flew at me like a panther. I told him I had only dropped in on my rounds for an order, as they were running off right smart, and I didn't know but he might like to pick up some bargains. 'Bargains!' he roared,
'don't you know the day? Don't you know it is Friday, the 13th? Go back to that hell-pit and sel , sel , sell.' 'Sel what and how much?' I asked.
'Anything, everything. Give the thieves every share they will take, and when they won't take any more, ram as much again down their crops until they spit up al they have been buying for the last three months!' Going out I met Jim Holliday and Frank Swan rushing in. They are evidently executing Bob's orders, and have been pouring Anti-People's out for an hour. They will be on the floor again in a few minutes, so I thought it safer to cal you before I started to sell. Mr. Randolph, they cannot take much more of anything in here, and if I begin to throw stocks over, it will bring the gavel inside of ten minutes; and that will be to announce a dozen failures. It's yet twenty minutes to one and God only knows what will happen before three. It's up to you, Mr. Randolph, to do something, and unless I am on a bad slant, you haven't many minutes to lose."
It was then I dropped the receiver with "I thought as much!" As I had been fingering the tape, watching five and ten millions crumbling from price values every few minutes, I was sure this was the work of Bob Brownley.
No one else in Wall Street had the power, the nerve, and the devilish cruelty to rip things as they had been ripped during the last twenty minutes. The night before I had passed Bob in the theatre lobby. I gave him close scrutiny and saw the look of which I of all men best knew the meaning. The big brown eyes were set on space; the outer corners of the handsome mouth were drawn hard and tense as though weighted. As I had my wife with me it was impossible to follow him, but when I got home I cal ed up his house and his clubs, intending to ask, him to run up and smoke a cigar with me, but could locate him nowhere. I tried again in the morning without success, but when just before noon the tape began to jump and flash and snarl, I remembered Bob's ugly mood, and all it portended.
Fred Brownley was Bob's youngest brother, twelve years his junior. He had been with Randolph & Randolph from the day he left college, and for over a year had been our most trusted Stock Exchange man. Bob Brownley, when himself, was as fond of his "baby brother," as he cal ed him, as his beautiful Southern mother was of both; but when the devil had possession of Bob--and his option during the past five years had been exercised many a time--mother and brother had to take their place with all the rest of the world, for then Bob knew no kindred, no friends. Al the wide world was to him during those periods a jungle peopled with savage animals and reptiles to hunt and fight and tear and kill.
It is hardly necessary for me to explain who Randolph & Randolph are. For more than sixty years the name has spoken for itself in every part of the world where dollar-making machines are installed. No railroad is financed, no great "industrial" projected, without by force of habit, hat-in-handing a by-your-leave of Randolph & Randolph, and every nation when entering the market for loans, knows that the favour of the foremost American bankers is something which must be reckoned with. I pride myself that at forty-two, at the end of the ten years I have had the helm of Randolph & Randolph, I have done nothing to mar the great name my father and uncle created, but something to add to its sterling reputation for honest dealing, fearless, old-fashioned methods, and al -round integrity.
Bradstreet's and other mercantile agencies say, in reporting Randolph & Randolph, "Worth fifty millions and upward, credit unlimited." I can take but smal praise for this, for the report was about the same the day I left col ege and came to the office to "learn the business." But, as the survivor of my great father and uncle, I can say, my Maker as my witness, that Randolph & Randolph have never loaned a dollar of their millions at over legal rates, 6 per cent, per annum; have never added to their hoard by any but fair, square business methods; and that blight of blights, frenzied finance, has yet to find a lodging-place beneath the old black-and-gold sign that father and uncle nailed up with their own hands over the entrance.
Nineteen years ago I was graduated from Harvard. My classmate and chum, Bob Brownley, of Richmond, Va., was graduated with me. He was class poet, I, yard marshal. We had been four years together at St. Paul's previous to entering Harvard. No girl and lover were fonder than we of each other.
My people had money, and to spare, and with it a hard-headed, Northern horse-sense. The Brownleys were poor as church mice, but they had the brilliant, virile blood of the old Southern oligarchy and the romantic,
"salaam-to-no-one" Dixie-land pride of before-the-war days, when Southern prodigality and hospitality were found wherever women were fair and men's mirrors in the bottom of their julep-glasses.
Bob's father, one of the big, white pillars of Southern aristocracy, had gone through Congress and the Senate of his country to the tune of "Spend and not spare," which left his widow and three younger daughters and a smal son dependent upon Bob, his eldest.
Many a warm summer's afternoon, as Bob and I paddled down the Charles, and often on a cold, crispy night as we sat in my shooting-box on the Cape Cod shore, had we matched up for our future. I was to have the inside run of the great banking business of Randolph & Randolph, and Bob was eventual y to represent my father's firm on the floor of the Stock Exchange. "I'd die in an office," Bob used to say, "and the floor of the Stock Exchange is just the chimney-place to roast my hoe-cake in." So when our col ege days were over my able had saddled Bob's youth with the heavy responsibilities of husbanding and directing his family's slim finances that he took to business as a swallow to the air. We entered the office of Randolph & Randolph on the same day, and on its anniversary, a year later, my father summoned us into his office for a sort of tal y-up talk. Neither of us quite knew what was coming, and we thrilled with pleasure when he said:
"Jim, you and Bob have fairly outdone my expectations. I have had my eye on both of you and I want you to know that the kind of industry and business intelligence you have shown here would have won you recognition in any banking-house on 'the Street.' I want you both in the firm--Jim to learn his way round so he can step into my shoes; you, Bob, to take one of the firm's seats on the Stock Exchange."
Bob's face went red and then pale with happiness as he reached for my father's hand.
"I'm very grateful to you sir, far more so than any words can say, but I want to talk this proposition of yours over with Jim here first. He knows me better than any one else in the world and I've some ideas I'd like to thrash out with him."
"Speak up here, Bob," said my father.
"Well, sir, I should feel much better if I could go over there into the swirl and smash it out for myself. You see if I could win out alone and pay back the seat price, and then make a pile for myself, if you felt later like giving me another chance to come into the firm, then I should not be laying myself open to the charge of being a mere pensioner on your friendship. You know what I mean, sir, and won't think I am filled with any low-down pride, but if you will let me have the price of a Stock Exchange seat on my note, and will give me the chance, when I get the hang of the ropes, to handle some of the firm's orders, I shall be just as much beholden to you and Jim, sir, and shal feel a lot better myself."
I knew what Bob meant; so did father, and we were glad enough to do what he asked, father insisting on making the seat price in the form of a present, after explaining to us that a foundation Stock Exchange rule prohibited an applicant from borrowing the seat price. Four years after Bob Brownley entered the Stock Exchange he had paid back the forty thousand, with interest, and not only had a snug fifty thousand to his credit on Randolph & Randolph's books, but was sending home six thousand a year while living up to, as he jokingly put it, "an honest man's notch." I may say in passing, that a Wal Street man's notch would make twice six thousand yearly earnings cast an uncertain shadow at Christmas time. Bob was the favourite of the Exchange, as he had been the pet at school and at college, and had his hands ful of business three hundred days in the year. Besides Randolph & Randolph's choicest commissions, he had the confidential orders of two of the heavy plunging cliques.
I had just passed my thirty-second birthday when my kind old dad suddenly died. For the previous six years I had been getting ready for such an event; that is, I had grown accustomed to hearing my father say: "Jim, don't let any grass grow in getting the hang of every branch of our business, so that when anything happens to me there will be no disturbance in 'the Street' in regard to Randolph & Randolph's affairs. I want to let the world know as soon as possible that after I am gone our business will run as it always has. So I will work you into my directorships in those companies where we have interests and gradually put you into my different trusteeships."
Thus at father's death there was not a ripple in our affairs and none of the stocks known as "The Randolph's" fluttered a point because of that, to the financial world, momentous event. I inherited al of father's fortune other than four millions, which he divided up among relatives and charities, and took command of a business that gave me an income of two millions and a half a year.
Once more I begged Bob to come into the firm.
"Not yet, Jim," he replied. "I've got my seat and about a hundred thousand capital, and I want to feel that I'm free to kick my heels until I have raked together an even million al of my own making; then I'll settle down with you, old man, and hold my handle of the plough, and if some good girl happens along about that time--well, then it will be 'An ivy-covered little cot' for mine."
He laughed, and I laughed too. Bob was looked upon by al his friends as a bad case of woman-shy. No woman, young or old, who had in any way crossed Bob's orbit but had felt that fascination, delicious to al women, in the presence of:
A soul by honour schooled,
A heart by passion ruled--
but he never seemed to see it. As my wife--for I had been three years married and had two little Randolphs to show that both Katherine Blair and I knew what marriage was for--never tired of saying, "Poor Bob! He's woman-blind, and it looks as though he would never get his sight in that direction."
"Then again, Jim," he continued in a tone of great seriousness, "there's a little secret I have never let even you into. The truth is I am not safe yet--not safe to speak for the old house of Randolph & Randolph. Yes, you may laugh--you who are, and always have been, as staunch and steady as the old bronze John Harvard in the yard, you who know Monday mornings just what you are going to do Saturday nights and all the days and nights in between, and who always do it. Jim, I have found since I have been over on the floor that the Southern gambling blood that made my grandfather, on one of his trips back from New York, though he had more land and slaves than he could use, stake his land and slaves--yes, and grandmother's too--on a card-game, and--lose, and change the whole face of the Brownley destiny--those same gambling microbes are in my blood, and when they begin to claw and gnaw I want to do something; and, Jim"--and the big brown eyes suddenly shot sparks--"if those microbes ever get unleashed, there'll be mischief to pay on the floor--sure there will!"
Bob's handsome head was thrown back; his thin nostrils dilated as though there was in them the breath of conflict. The lips were drawn across the white teeth with just part enough to show their edges, and in the depths of the eyes was a dark-red blaze that somehow gave the impression one gets in looking down some long avenue of black at the instant a locomotive headlight rounds a curve at night.
Twice before, way back in our college days, I had had a peep at this gambling tempter of Bob's. Once in a poker game in our rooms, when a crowd of New York classmates tried to run him out of a hand by the sheer weight of coin. And again at the Pequot House at New London on the eve of a varsity boat-race, when a Yale crowd shook a big wad of money and taunts at Bob until with a yel he left his usually well-leaded feet and frightened me, whose al owance was dol ars to Bob's cents, at the sum total of the bet-cards he signed before he cleared the room of Yale money and came to with a white face streaming with cold perspiration. These events had passed out of my memory as the ordinary student breaks that any hot-blooded youth is liable to make in like circumstances. As I looked at Bob that day, while he tried to tell me that the business of Randolph & Randolph would not be safe in his keeping, I had to admit to myself that I was puzzled. I had regarded my old col ege chum not only as the best mental y harnessed man I had ever met, but I knew him as the soul of honour, that honour of the old story-books, and I could not credit his being tempted to jeopardise unfairly the rights or property of another.
But it was habit with me to let Bob have his way, and I did not press him to come into our firm as a ful partner.
Five years later, during which time affairs, business and social, had been slipping along as well as either Bob or I could have asked, I was preparing for another sit-down to show my chum that the time had now come for him to help me in earnest, when a queer thing happened--one of those unaccountable incidents that God sometimes sees fit to drop across the life-paths of His children, paths heretofore as straight and far-ahead-visible as highways along which one has never to look twice to see where he is travelling; one of those events that, looked at retrospectively, are beyond al human understanding.
It was a beautiful July Saturday noon and Bob and I had just "packed up"
for the day preparatory to joining Mrs. Randolph on my yacht for a run down to our place at Newport. As we stepped out of his office one of the clerks announced that a lady had come in and had particularly asked to see Mr. Brownley.
"Who the deuce can she be, coming in at this time on Saturday, just when all alive men are in a rush to shake the heat and dirt of business for food and the good air of all outdoors?" growled Bob. Then he said, "Show her in."
Another minute and he had his answer.
A lady entered.
"Mr. Brownley?" She waited an instant to make sure he was the Virginian.
"I am Beulah Sands, of Sands Landing, Virginia. Your people know our people, Mr. Brownley, probably wel enough for you to place me."
"Of the Judge Lee Sands's?" asked Bob, as he held out his hand.
"I am Judge Lee Sands's oldest daughter," said the sweetest voice I had ever heard, one of those mellow, rippling voices that start the imagination on a chase for a mocking-bird, only to bring it up at the pool beneath the brook-fal in quest of the harp of moss and watercresses that sends a bubbling cadence into its eddies and swirls. Perhaps it was the Southern accent that nibbled off the corners and edges of certain words and languidly let others mist themselves together, that gave it its luscious penetration--however that may be, it was the most no-yesterday-no-tomorrow voice I had ever heard. Before I grew fully conscious of the exquisite beauty of the girl, this voice of hers spel ed its way into my brain like the breath of some bewitching Oriental essence.
Nature, environment, the security of a perfect marriage have ever combined to constitute me loyal to my chosen one, yet as I stood silent, like one dumb, absorbing the details of the loveliness of this young stranger who had so suddenly swept into my office, it came over me that here was a woman intended to enlighten men who could not understand that shaft which in al ages has without warning pierced men's hearts and souls--love at first sight. Had there not been Katherine Blair, wife and mother--Katherine Blair Randolph, who filled my love-world as the noonday August sun fills the old-fashioned wel with nestling warmth and restful shade--after this interval, looking back at the past, I dare ask the question--who knows but that I too might have drifted from the secure anchorage of my slow Yankee blood and floated into the deep waters?
Beauty, the cynic's scoff, is in the eye of the beholder, or in an angle of vision--mere product of lime-light, point of view, desire--but Beulah Sands's was beauty beyond cavil, superior to al analysis, as definite as the evening star against the twilight sky. In height medium, girlish, but with a figure maturely model ed, charmingly full and rounded, yet by very perfection of proportion escaping suggestion of "plumpness." The head, surrounded and crowned with a wealth of dark golden hair, rested on a neck that would have seemed short had its slender column sprung less graciously from the lovely lines of the breast and shoulders beneath. It was on the face, however, and final y on the eyes that one's glances inevitably lingered--the face rose-tinted, with dimples in either of the ful cheeks, entering laughing protest against the sad droop that brought slightly down the corners of a mouth too large perhaps for beauty, if the coral curve of the lips had been less exquisitely perfect. The straight, thin-nostriled nose, the broad forehead, the square, ful jaw almost as low at the points where they come beneath the ears as at the chin, suggested dignity and high resolve coupled with a power of purpose, rare in woman. The combination of forehead, jaw, and nose was seldom seen. Had it been possessed by a man it would surely have driven him to the tented field for his profession. But the greatest glory of Beulah Sands was her eyes--large, full, very gray, very blue, vivid with al the glamour of her personality, full of smiles and tears and spirituality and passion; one instant, frankly innocent, they illuminated the face of a blonde Madonna; the next, seen through the extraordinary, long, jet-black eye-lashes underneath the finely pencilled black brows, they caressed, coquetted, allured. I afterward found much of this girl's purely physical fascination lay in this strange blending of English fairness with Andalusian tints, though the abiding quality of her charm was surely in an exaltation of spirit of which she might make the dul est conscious. As she stood looking at Bob in my office that long-ago noon, graceful y at ease in a suit of gray, with a gray-feathered turban on her head, and tiny lace bands at neck and wrist, she was very exquisite, exceedingly dainty, and, though Southerner of Southerners, very unlike the typical brunette girl who comes out of Dixie land.
This girl who came into our office that July Saturday, just in time to interfere with the outing Bob Brownley and I had laid out, and who was destined to divert my chum's heretofore smooth-flowing river of existence and turn it into an alternation of roaring rushes and deadly calms, was truly the most exquisite creature one could conceive of, I know my thought must have been Bob's too, for his eyes were riveted on her face.
She dropped the black lashes like a veil as she went on:
"Mr. Brownley, I have just come from Sands Landing. I am very anxious to talk with you on a business matter. I have brought a letter to you from my father. If you have other engagements I can wait until Monday, although,"
and the black veiling lashes lifted, showing the half-laughing, half-pathetic eyes, "I wanted much to lay my business before you at the earliest minute possible."
There was a faint touch of appeal in the charming voice as she spoke that was irresistible, and we were both willing to forget we had lunch waiting us on the _Tribesman_.
"Step into my office, Miss Sands, and all my time is yours," said Bob, as he opened the door between his office and mine. After I had sent a note to my wife, saying we might be delayed for an hour or two, I settled down to wait for Bob in the general office, and it was a long wait. Thirty minutes went into an hour and an hour into two before Bob and Miss Sands came out.
After he had put her in a cab for her hotel, he said in a tone curiously intent: "Jim, I have got to talk with you, got to get some of your good advice. Suppose we hustle along to the yacht and after lunch you tel Kate we have some business to go over. I don't want to keep that girl waiting any longer than possible for an answer I cannot give until I get your ideas." After lunch, on the bow end of the upper deck Bob relieved himself. Relieved is the word, for from the minute he had put Miss Sands into the carriage until then, it was evident even to my wife that his thoughts were anywhere but upon our outing.
"Jim," he began in a voice that shook in spite of his efforts to make it sound calm, "there is no disguising the fact that I am mightily worked up about this matter, and I want to do everything possible for this girl. No need of my tel ing you how sacred we have got to keep what she has just let me into. You'll see as I go along that it is sacred, and I know you will look at it as I do. Miss Sands must be helped out of her trouble.
"Judge Lee Sands, her father, is the head of the old Sands family of Virginia. The Virginia Sands don't take off their bonnets to another family in this country, or elsewhere, for that matter, for anything that really counts. They have had brains, learning, money, and fixed position since Virginia was first settled. They are the best people of our State.
It is a cross-road saying in Virginia that a Sands of Sands Landing can go to the bench, the United States Senate, the House, or the governor's chair for the starting, and nearly all of the men folks have held one or all of these honours for generations. The present judge has held them al . I don't know him personal y, although my people and his have been thick from away back. Sands Landing on the James is some fifty miles above our home.
The judge, Beulah Sands's father, is close on to seventy, and I have heard mother and father say is a stalwart, a Virginia stalwart. Being rich--that is, what we Virginians call rich, a million or so--he has been very active in affairs, and I knew before his daughter told me, that he was the trustee for about all the best estates in our part of the country. It seems from what she tel s, that of late he has been very active in developing our coal-mines and railroads, and that particularly he took a prominent hand in the Seaboard Air Line. You know the road, for your father was a director, and I think the house has been prominent in its banking affairs. Now, Jim, this poor girl, who, it seems, has recently been acting as the judge's secretary, has just learned that that coup of Reinhart and his crowd has completely ruined her father. The decline has swamped his own fortune, and, what is worse, a million to a million and a half of his trust funds as well, and the old judge--well, you and I can understand his position. Yet I do not know that you just can, either, for you do not quite understand our Virginia life and the kind of revered position a man like Judge Sands occupies. You would have to know that to understand ful y his present purgatory and the terrible position of this daughter, for it seems that since he began to get into deep water he has been relying upon her for courage and ideas. From our talk I gather she has a wonderful store of up-to-date business notions, and I am convinced from what she lays out that the judge's affairs are hopeless, and, Jim, when that old man goes down it will be a smash that will shake our State in more ways than one.
"Up to now the girl has stood up to the blow like a man and has been able to steady the judge until he presents an exterior that holds down suspicion as to his real financial condition, although she says Reinhart and his Baltimore lawyer, from the ruthless way they put on the screws to shake out his holdings in the Air Line, must have a line on it that the judge is overboard. The old gentleman can keep things going for six months longer without jeopardising any of the remaining trust funds, of which he has some two millions, and while his wife, who is an invalid, knows the judge is in some trouble, she does not suspect his real position. His daughter says that when the blow came, that day of the panic, when Reinhart jammed the stock out of sight and scuttled her father's bankers and partners in the road, the Wilsons of Baltimore, she had a frightful struggle to keep her father from going insane. She told me that for three days and nights she kept him locked in their rooms at their hotel in Baltimore, to prevent him from hunting Reinhart and his lawyer Rettybone and killing them both, but that at last she got him calmed down and together they have been planning.
"Jim, it was tough to sit there and listen to the schemes to recoup that this old gentleman and this girl, for she is only twenty-one, have tried to hatch up. The tears actually rol ed down my cheeks as I listened; I couldn't help it; you couldn't either, Jim. But at last out of al the plans considered, they found only one that had a tint of hope in it, and the serious mention of even that one, Jim, in any but present circumstances, would make you think we were dealing with lunatics. But the girl has succeeded in making me think it worth trying. Yes, Jim, she has, and I have told her so, and I hope to God that that hard-headed horse-sense of yours will not make you sit down on it."
Bob Brownley had got to his feet; he was slipping the shackles of that fiery, romantic, Southern passion that years in college and Wall Street had taught him to keep prisoner. His eyes were flashing sparks. His nostrils vibrated like a deer buck's in the autumn woods. He faced me with his hands clinched.
"Jim Randolph," he went on, "as I listened to that girl's story of the terrible cruelty and devilish treachery practised by the human hyenas you and I associate with, human hyenas who, when in search of dirty dol ars--the only thing they know anything about--put to shame the real beasts of the wilds--when I listened, I tel you that I felt it would not give me a twinge of conscience to put a bal through that slick scoundrel Reinhart. Yes, and that hired cur of his, too, who prostitutes a good family name and position, and an inherited ability the Almighty intended for more honest uses than the trapping of victims on whose purses his gutter-born master has set lecherous eyes. And, Jim, as I listened, a troop of old friends invaded my memory--friends whom I have not seen since before I went to Harvard, friends with whom I spent many a happy hour in my old Virginia home, friends born of my imagination, stalwart, rugged crusaders, who carried the sword and the