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The Pit

From: A Deal In Wheat And Other Stories

Just as Going mounted the steps on the edge of the pit the great gong
struck, a roar of a hundred voices developed with the swiftness of
successive explosions, the rush of a hundred men surging downward to the
centre of the pit filled the air with the stamp and grind of feet, a
hundred hands in eager strenuous gestures tossed upward from out the
brown of the crowd, the official reporter in his cage on the margin of
the pit leaned far forward with straining ear to catch the opening bid,
and another day of battle was begun.

Since the sale of the hundred thousand bushels of wheat to Truslow the
"Hornung crowd" had steadily shouldered the price higher until on this
particular morning it stood at one dollar and a half. That was Hornung's
price. No one else had any grain to sell.

But not ten minutes after the opening, Going was surprised out of all
countenance to hear shouted from the other side of the pit these words:

"Sell May at one-fifty."

Going was for the moment touching elbows with Kimbark on one side and
with Merriam on the other, all three belonging to the "Hornung crowd."
Their answering challenge of "Sold" was as the voice of one man. They
did not pause to reflect upon the strangeness of the circumstance. (That
was for afterward.) Their response to the offer was as unconscious, as
reflex action and almost as rapid, and before the pit was well aware of
what had happened the transaction of one thousand bushels was down upon
Going's trading-card and fifteen hundred dollars had changed hands. But
here was a marvel--the whole available supply of wheat cornered, Hornung
master of the situation, invincible, unassailable; yet behold a man
willing to sell, a Bear bold enough to raise his head.

"That was Kennedy, wasn't it, who made that offer?" asked Kimbark, as
Going noted down the trade--"Kennedy, that new man?"

"Yes; who do you suppose he's selling for; who's willing to go short at
this stage of the game?"

"Maybe he ain't short."

"Short! Great heavens, man; where'd he get the stuff?"

"Blamed if I know. We can account for every handful of May. Steady! Oh,
there he goes again."

"Sell a thousand May at one-fifty," vociferated the bear-broker,
throwing out his hand, one finger raised to indicate the number of
"contracts" offered. This time it was evident that he was attacking the
Hornung crowd deliberately, for, ignoring the jam of traders that swept
toward him, he looked across the pit to where Going and Kimbark were
shouting "Sold! Sold!" and nodded his head.

A second time Going made memoranda of the trade, and either the Hornung
holdings were increased by two thousand bushels of May wheat or the
Hornung bank account swelled by at least three thousand dollars of some
unknown short's money.

Of late--so sure was the bull crowd of its position--no one had even
thought of glancing at the inspection sheet on the bulletin board. But
now one of Going's messengers hurried up to him with the announcement
that this sheet showed receipts at Chicago for that morning of
twenty-five thousand bushels, and not credited to Hornung. Some one had
got hold of a line of wheat overlooked by the "clique" and was dumping
it upon them.

"Wire the Chief," said Going over his shoulder to Merriam. This one
struggled out of the crowd, and on a telegraph blank scribbled:

"Strong bear movement--New man--Kennedy--Selling in lots of five
contracts--Chicago receipts twenty-five thousand."

The message was despatched, and in a few moments the answer came back,
laconic, of military terseness:

"Support the market."

And Going obeyed, Merriam and Kimbark following, the new broker fairly
throwing the wheat at them in thousand-bushel lots.

"Sell May at 'fifty; sell May; sell May." A moment's indecision, an
instant's hesitation, the first faint suggestion of weakness, and the
market would have broken under them. But for the better part of four
hours they stood their ground, taking all that was offered, in constant
communication with the Chief, and from time to time stimulated and
steadied by his brief, unvarying command:

"Support the market."

At the close of the session they had bought in the twenty-five thousand
bushels of May. Hornung's position was as stable as a rock, and the
price closed even with the opening figure--one dollar and a half.

But the morning's work was the talk of all La Salle Street. Who was back
of the raid?

What was the meaning of this unexpected selling? For weeks the pit
trading had been merely nominal. Truslow, the Great Bear, from whom the
most serious attack might have been expected, had gone to his country
seat at Geneva Lake, in Wisconsin, declaring himself to be out of the
market entirely. He went bass-fishing every day.

Next: The Belt Line

Previous: The Bull Wheat At A Dollar-ten

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