Read CHAPTER XXX - NEMESIS of Uncle Terry A Story of the Maine Coast , free online book, by Charles Clark Munn, on

“And round and round the caldron
The weird passions dance,
And the only god they worship
Is the mystic god of chance.”

The last day of August dawned fair in busy Boston. Summer sojourners were returning. John Nason’s store was filled with new fall styles; the shoppers were crowding the streets, and the hustling, bustling life of a great city was at flood tide. Albert Page, full of business, was in his office, and Frank Nason was studying hard again, cheered by a new and sweet ray of hope. Small fortunes were being won and lost on State Street, and in one smoke-polluted broker’s office Nicholas Frye sat watching the price of wheat. The September option opened that day at seventy-eight and one-quarter, rose to seventy-nine, fell to seventy-six and seven-eighths, rose to seventy-eight and then dropped back to seventy-six. He had margined his holdings to seventy-one, and if it fell to that price his sixty thousand dollars would be gone and he-ruined. For many nights he had had but little sleep, and that made hideous by dreams filled with the unceasing whir and click, click, click of the ticker. At times he had dreamed that a tape-like snake with endless coils was twining itself about him. He was worn and weary with the long nervous strain and misery of seeing his fortune slowly clipped away by the clicker’s tick that had come to sound like the teeth of so many little devils snapping at him. To let his holdings go, he could not, and, lured on and on by the broker’s daily uttered assertion that “wheat could not go much lower, but must have a rally soon,” he had kept putting up margins. Now all he could possibly raise was in the broker’s hands, and when that was gone, all was lost.

Frye sat and watched the blackboard where the uneven columns of quotations looked like so many little legs ever growing longer. Around him were a score of other men-no, insane fools-watching the figures that either made them curse their losses or gloat over their gains. No one spoke to another; no one cared whether another won or lost in the great gambling game that daily ruins its thousands.

It was the caldron filled with lies, false reports, fictitious sales, and the hope and lust of gain that boiled and bubbled, heated by the fires of hell. And ever around that caldron the souls of men were circling, cursing their losses and gloating over their gains.

And Frye was muttering curses.

At eleven o’clock wheat stood at seventy-five and one-half; at eleven-thirty, seventy-four and seven-eighths; at twelve, seventy-four.

Frye arose, and going to a nearby room, all mirrors and plate-glass, called at the bar for brandy. Two full glasses he tossed off like so much water, and then returned to his watching.

Wheat was seventy-three and three-quarters!

But the fickle goddess of chance loves to sport with her victims, and wheat rose to seventy-five again; then fell to seventy-four, and vibrated between that and seventy-five for an hour. Frye was growing desperate, and his deep-set yellow eyes glared like those of a cat at night. The market closed at two. It was now one-thirty, and wheat was seventy-three and three-quarters.

Frye went out again, and two more glasses of brandy were added to his delirium.

Wheat was now seventy-three and one-half!

Then, as once more he fixed his vulture eyes on that long column of figures, at the foot of which was seventy-three and one-half, the devil’s teeth began a more vicious snapping, and so fast came the quotations that the boy could no longer record them. Instead, he called them out in a drawling sing-song:

“September wheat now seventy-three,-the half,-five-eighths,-a half,-five-eighths split,-now a half,-three-eighths,-a quarter,-seventy-three!” Frye set his feet hard together, and clinched his hands. Only two cents in price stood between him and the loss of all his twenty years’ saving. All the lies he had told for miserable gain, all the miserly self-denial he had practised, all the clients he had cheated and robbed, all the hatred he had won from others availed him not. His contemptible soul and his life, almost, now hung by a miserly two cents.

Once more the devil’s teeth clicked, and once more the boy’s drawl rose above the ticker’s whir.

“Seventy-three,-a quarter,-an eighth,-seventy-three,-now seventy-two seven-eighths,-three-quarters,-five-eighths,-three-quarters split,-now five-eighths,-a half,-a half.”

And now pandemonium was raging in the Chicago wheat pit, and the ticker’s teeth clicked like mad.

“Seventy-two,-a half,-a half,-three-eighths,-a half,-three-eighths,-a quarter,-seventy-two!”

Cold beads of sweat gathered on Frye’s forehead. One cent more and he was ruined!

Again the ticker buzzed like a mad hornet, and again the devil’s teeth snapped.

“September wheat now seventy-one seven-eighths,-seven-eighths, -three-quarters,-seven-eighths split,-now the three-quarter, -five-eighths,-a half,-a half,-five-eighths,-a half,-a half again,-three-eighths,-a quarter,-an eighth,-a quarter,-an eighth, -a quarter,-an eighth,-an eighth,-a quarter split,-an eighth,-



He gave one low moan, the first, last, and only one during those three long weeks of agony!

A few who sat near heard it, but did not even look at him, so lost were they to all human feeling. The devil’s teeth kept snapping, the endless coils of tape kept unwinding; the boy continued his drawl, but Frye paid no heed. Only those spider-legs on the wall seemed kicking at him, and that fatal seventy-one, one, one kept ringing in his ears. He arose, and staggered out into that palace of glass again and swallowed more brandy. Then jostling many, but seeing no one, he, with bowed head, made his way to his office, opened, entered, and locked the door, and sat down.


Click, click, click!!!

Seventy-one, one, one! It was the last he heard, and then he sank forward on his desk in a drunken stupor.

At this moment Uncle Terry, with Frye’s letter in his pocket, and righteous wrath in his heart, was speeding toward Boston as fast as steam could carry him.

The clear incisive strokes of an adjacent clock proclaiming midnight awoke Frye. He raised his head, and in that almost total darkness for a moment knew not where he was. Then, ere the echoes of those funeral knells died away, he arose, lit the two gas-jets, and sat down.

Seventy-one, one, one!!

They brought it all back to him, and now, alone in his misery, he groaned aloud, and with his despair came the dread of the morrow, when he, the once proud and defiant man, must go forth crushed, broken, despairing, penniless!

All would know it, and all would rejoice. Out of the many that hated or feared him, not one would feel a grain of pity, and well he knew it. He could almost see the looks of scorn on their faces, and hear them say, “Glad of it! Served him right, the old reprobate!”

Then his past life came back to him. He had never married, and since he had looked down upon his dead mother’s face, no woman’s hand had sought his with tenderness. All his long life of grasping greed had been spent in money-getting and money-saving. No sense of right or justice had ever restrained him; but only the fear of getting caught had kept him from downright stealing. Year after year he had added to his hoard, carefully invested it, and now in a few days of desperate dread it had all been swept away!

Then perhaps the memory of that mother, as he had seen her last, with pallid face and folded arms, brought to him the first and only good impulse he ever felt, for he took a pen and wrote a brief but valuable letter. Then he went to his tall safe, opened both doors, and taking a small, flat packet from an inner till, returned to his desk, placed that and the letter in one long envelope, and sealed and directed it.

And now all the misery and despair of his situation returned with intense force, and as it crushed him down, obliterating every vestige of hope, once more his head sank forward on the desk and he groaned aloud. For a long time he remained thus, living over the past three weeks of agony, and then there smote upon his tortured nerves the sound of many clocks striking one. It sounded as if they were mocking him, and from far and near-some harsh and sharp, some faint in the distance-came that fatal one, one, one! He arose and, going to a small locker in his room, grasped a half-filled bottle of liquor and drank deeply. It only made matters worse, for now an uncanny delirium crept into his rum-charged brain and he fancied himself looking into an open grave and there, at the bottom, lay a wasted woman’s body, the face shrunken and pallid and teeth showing in mocking grin. Then he seemed to be lying there himself, looking up, and peering down at him were the faces of many men, some bearing the impress of hate, and some of derisive laughter.

And one was Albert Page, with a look of scorn.

He arose again, and taking a letter-opener, crowded bits of paper into the keyhole of the door and up and down the crack. Then he closed the one window, turned out the two gas-jets, and opened the stop-cocks again. An odor of gas soon pervaded the room into which came only a faint light from the State House dome. And now a more hideous hallucination came to that hopeless, despairing man, for between the open doors of his tall safe stood the wasted form of his mother! Her gray hair was combed flat on either side of her ashen face, a gray dress covered her attenuated frame, and her arms were folded cross-wise over her bosom as he had seen her last, but now her eyes were wide open, yellow, and glassy. Then slowly, very slowly, she seemed to move toward him, her eyes fixed on his, piercing his very soul. Nearer, nearer, nearer she came, until now, rising above him, she stooped as if to touch his lips with the kiss of death. He could not breathe or move, conscious only that an awful horror was upon him and a tiny mallet beating on his brain.

Then that hideous, deathly, pallid face, cold and clammy, was pressed upon his, the faint light seemed to fade into darkness, and he knew no more.