Read CHAPTER IV of The Automobile Girls at Chicago, free online book, by Laura Dent Crane, on ReadCentral.com.

BATTLE OF THE BULLS AND BEARS

That evening at the opera was like a dream to the little Kingsbridge girls. Mrs. Cartwright visited them between the acts, then they were introduced to Olive Presby, who came to their box, accompanied by a young man named Jack Howard, an artist who had just returned from Paris. These two had been chums since childhood.

Bab thought Olive the most beautiful girl she had ever seen. She could not keep her eyes off of her, and Olive appeared to be equally attracted to Barbara, though there was little opportunity for conversation between them. Olive was fully five years older than Barbara with fair skin, black hair, and eyes of deep gray, veiled with long, black lashes, making an unusual and most attractive combination. Olive Presby was a striking looking girl. All through the second act Bab kept gazing across at Olive, and it was with a deep sigh of regret that Barbara finally turned her eyes away under the teasing of Ruth and Grace. The glorious evening came to a close all too soon for them.

Reaching home, the girls lost little time in getting to their rooms, for the three travelers had had little sleep in the past two nights.

They fell asleep almost the instant their heads touched their pillows, but in spite of their late hours the four girls descended to the dining room the following morning bright-eyed and ready for whatever the day might bring forth.

Miss Sallie rustled in, dressed in her silk morning gown a few moments after the others had reached the dining room. The girls greeted her enthusiastically, each girl giving her a hearty hug and kiss, after which they seated themselves at the breakfast table, and a lively chattering ensued.

“What do you think of Cousin Olive?” asked Ruth.

“Oh, I just love her,” cried Bab enthusiastically.

A cloud passed swiftly over the face of Ruth Stewart.

“I could love her almost to death. Is she engaged to Mr. Howard?”

“No indeed,” said Miss Sallie with emphasis. “Olive is devoted to her parents, especially now that they are in such deep trouble. She is their comfort in their distress and she knows it.”

“Young ladies,” interrupted Mr. Stuart, “do you feel equal to beginning your sight-seeing to-day?”

“We do,” chorused the girls.

“I have so planned my affairs as to have this day free for you. Mr. A. Bubble also is at your disposal. He has had a thorough going over at the hands of his man this morning, and I think you will find him in fine condition.”

“Olive Presby is coming to see you this morning, you know,” reminded Miss Sallie.

Ruth’s face clouded again. Bab’s eyes glowed, for she wished to see Olive even more than to explore Chicago.

“We might call her up on the telephone and have her come over so she may go with us,” suggested Mr. Stuart.

The girls seconded this proposal enthusiastically, and this was done without delay, Olive promising to come over as soon after breakfast as possible.

“I propose,” announced Mr. Stuart, “to take you over to the Board of Trade on La Salle Street to show you the famous Pit.”

“Is it a very big hole?” questioned Mollie innocently, whereat a merry laugh rippled all the way around the table.

“The Pit,” explained Mr. Stuart, smilingly, “is the place where men buy and sell grain-stuffs. It’s the same as stock speculation.”

Mollie thought stock speculation was trading in cattle.

“You ridiculous child,” exclaimed Ruth. “I’ll explain it to you so you will understand it. Now if you want to speculate you order your brokers, for instance, to ’buy a thousand shares of B. Sell five thousand shares of G and ten thousand shares of C.’ That’s all. Next morning you wake up to find yourself ten or fifteen thousand dollars richer

“Or poorer,” added Mr. Stuart. “I must say, Ruth, that your explanation is very lucid. Take the girls down to my office, leaving here at half past ten o’clock. I shall have my morning mail disposed of by that time and my day’s orders issued, then my time will be at your disposal. Sallie, are you going with the girls?”

“No, thank you. Not this morning. I have seen quite all of Chicago, I think. Besides, I have no love for your horrid Board of Trade. The automobile will be pretty well filled as it is.”

“Oh, please come with us,” urged Mollie.

Aunt Sallie shook her head smilingly, so it was arranged that the girls should go downtown by themselves, there to be met by Mr. Stuart. Olive bustled in shortly before ten o’clock. She was dressed in a brown tailor-made suit of broadcloth, with furs and hat of mink. She came running up the stairs to Ruth’s sitting room, bright and eager, her eyes sparkling with anticipation.

“Here I am,” she cried gayly. “I’m going to introduce myself all over again. I’m Olive, girls. I’m a sort of adopted cousin of the ’Automobile Girls.’ So this is Bab,” she sparkled, giving Barbara’s hand a friendly squeeze. “This little yellow-haired girl is Mollie, and the bigger, brown-haired one is Grace. Now I think we are properly introduced. Now what can I do to add to the pleasure of the ‘Automobile Girls’ this fine morning?”

“I would suggest that you first sit down and compose yourself,” replied Ruth with some severity. “How you do run on, Olive.”

“Now, I call that downright mean,” pouted Miss Presby. “Don’t you, Bab?” Olive suddenly bent over Barbara, giving the little Kingsbridge girl an impulsive hug.

Ruth frowned. Bab looked embarrassed. She felt that Ruth resented Olive’s affectionate demonstration. It caused the three Kingsbridge girls, however, to lose their awe of Miss Presby, whom they had before looked upon as a superior grown-up person.

“What are the plans for the day, dear?” questioned Olive, turning to Ruth.

“We are first to go to the office to pick up father. He is to take us to the Pit. I don’t know where we shall go from there.”

About this time a maid came up to tell them that the car was at the door. The girls hurried down, laughing and chatting, Ruth’s irritation apparently having been banished from her mind. It was a bright, sparkling day. The lake glistened and the wind from it again blew the color into the faces of the “Automobile Girls.”

Mr. Stuart’s office was in one of the tall office buildings on La Salle Street, not far from the Board of Trade. The girls were shot up to the seventeenth floor on the elevator with a speed that fairly took their breaths away. Mollie uttered a chorus of subdued “ohs” all the way up.

Even in the staid business office the girls found much to interest them. Mollie’s attention was first attracted to an energetic little machine at one side of the room. This odd looking machine ticked like a clock, but resembled one in no other way, and from it at intervals spun a narrow, ribbon-like strip of paper which curled and coiled into an elongated waste-paper basket. Mollie stood over the basket regarding the perplexing letters and figures printed on the paper ribbon.

“Do do you make ribbons on this?” she questioned, laying a finger on the glass globe that covered the mechanism.

“Not exactly, my dear,” answered Mr. Stuart. “But that little machine sometimes helps us to buy ribbons for our families. That is a ticker. It gives the market quotations. I hardly think you will be interested in it.”

Mollie decided that she wasn’t.

“If you are ready, girls, we will go over to the Board of Trade, where you will see the bulls and bears engaged in a pitched battle. It is to be a lively day on the floor of the Pit.”

Mollie was frowning perplexedly.

“Are we really going to see a bull fight?” she whispered to Ruth. “Do the bulls and the bears really fight? I I don’t think I want to see them if they do.”

“No, no, silly. Nothing of the sort. Oh, girls!” laughed Ruth merrily.

“Don’t you dare tell them,” admonished Mollie, “I’ll never forgive you if you do.”

“Never mind,” called Ruth to the others, “I’ll explain, dear. Of course you know nothing about these things. I wish I didn’t. I wish father did not, either,” she added with a touch of bitterness. “Bulls and bears are mere men. The bulls are those who try to force up the prices of wheat and other things, while the bears are the ones who seek to keep the prices down. I I never have been able to make up my mind which of them is the most undesirable.”

“I am sure Mr. Stuart isn’t a bear,” muttered Mollie.

“Indeed he is not,” laughed Ruth, once more restored to good nature.

Instead of taking Mr. A. Bubble, the girls walked down from Mr. Stuart’s office to the big, gloomy building that housed the Board of Trade. They were conducted to the gallery, where Mr. Stuart left them to go down to the brokers’ rooms to consult with some of his friends.

It was a mad, wild scene that the little country girls gazed upon. It was like nothing they ever had seen before.

“Goodness me, they are fighting!” cried Barbara in alarm.

Men were dashing about here and there. Hats were smashed, paper was being torn by nervous hands and hurled into the air, to fall like miniature snow flurries over the heads of the traders. Shouts and yells, hoarse calls were heard from all parts of the floor. One man threw up a hand with the fingers spread wide apart. Instantly a dozen men hurled themselves upon him. He staggered and fell. Willing hands jerked him to his feet. It was then that the “Automobile Girls” saw that the unfortunate man’s coat had been torn from him. His collar flapped under his ears and a tiny red mark was observable on one cheek.

“Oh!” gasped the Kingsbridge girls.

“Wha-a-at are they fighting about?” gasped Mollie, her face pale with excitement, perhaps mingled with a little fear.

“They aren’t fighting.” Ruth had to place her lips close to the ears of her companion to make herself heard. “They are buying and selling. That is the way business is done on the floor of the Pit. See! There is father!”

The girls gazed wide-eyed. Mr. Stuart had projected himself into the maelstrom of excited traders. He, like the rest, was waving his arms and shouting. A group of excited men instantly surrounded him. He was for the moment the centre of attention, for Robert Stuart was one of the largest and most successful traders on the Chicago Board of Trade. The battle waged furiously about him, while the “Automobile Girls” gazed in fascinated awe upon the strange, exciting scene.

All at once a gong sounded. The tension seemed to snap. Men who had been fighting and shouting suddenly ceased their activities. The bodies of some grew limp, as it were. Some staggered. Others walked from the floor laughing and chatting. Out of the crowds strode a man a young man. What first attracted the attention of the girls to him was a bandage about his head. He was walking straight toward them, though on the floor below. All at once he glanced up. Only Bab was looking down at him now. His gaze swept over the gallery. His eyes rested for a moment on the face of Barbara Thurston.

“The man from section thirteen!” exclaimed Bab under her breath. Then as she caught his eyes, she gazed in trembling fascination. The man’s features were contorted. Barbara thought it was the most frightful face she ever had gazed upon. Anger, deadly passion and desperate purpose were written there so plainly that anyone could read. Looking her fairly in the face, the man sneered. Whether he recognized her or not, the girl did not know.

“Oh!” cried Bab, with a shudder.

“What is it, dear?” questioned Ruth anxiously.

“Oh, take me away from here. Please take me away,” almost sobbed Barbara. “I I can’t stand it. It was awful.”

“Come, girls,” urged Ruth. “Bab is upset. I will confess that I have had enough of this place of nightmares.” Rising, she led her friends down the stairs to the lower floor. Barbara was still trembling when they saw Mr. Stuart coming toward them. His face was set and stern. But the instant he caught sight of the “Automobile Girls” the sternness drifted slowly from his features, giving place to a pleased smile.

“Why, Barbara, how pale you are!” he exclaimed. “What is the matter?”

“She is upset,” answered Ruth briefly.

Mr. Stuart eyed her keenly.

“Was the excitement too much for you, my dear?” he asked.

“I I think so,” replied Bab. Then as the thought of that face and its dreadful expression recurred to her mind, she trembled more violently than before. Mr. Stuart linked his arm in hers and led her away, followed by the others of the party.

“It really is no place for young girls,” said Mr. Stuart. “I should not have brought you here. Girls, we will take the car and go home at once. Barbara had better lie down for a while before luncheon. She is completely unnerved.”

This Barbara knew to be true, but by great effort she conquered her fit of trembling, and before the Stuart’s residence was reached she had in a great measure regained her self-control.