Read CHAPTER LV of Frenzied Finance Vol. 1: The Crime of Amalgamated , free online book, by Thomas W. Lawson, on ReadCentral.com.

THE BLACK FLAG HOISTED

It was a little after five when I reached 26 Broadway my second visit that day. Mr. Rogers was still at the bank. Half an hour later he entered and threw himself wearily into a chair.

“Lawson, this is a fitting climax for all the stories you have been telling Mr. Rockefeller and myself and the public for the past year about ‘Coppers.’ I have talked with the Lewisohns, Governor Flower, Morgan, and many others, and I have just come from an hour with Stillman and we are all agreed this Amalgamated subscription is the greatest accomplishment in finance. It is truly marvellous. The bank is literally buried in money, and as near as we can make it out, the stock to be delivered when allotted is actually selling at forty to fifty dollars over the subscription price. The job is done, and you and I have good reason to congratulate each other.”

“I am not so sure, Mr. Rogers, that we should, right now. There’s lots of work ahead, and we may strike big snags yet,” I began. He interrupted impatiently:

“Oh, no, you’re wrong, Lawson! We have the money safely housed at the bank. Nothing can now turn it into failure.”

There was a new note in his voice as he spoke. Tired though he was, I detected a sharpness that seemed to indicate at once a relief and an indifference which said plainer than words: “I am now beyond all your power to hurt or harm me.” I went on:

“I don’t want to bring up any new things to-day, for you must be tired out, Mr. Rogers, but surely you are taking into consideration that unless everything is steered carefully to-morrow and for some time to come, we may have a crash in the market which will throw back on our hands the ten millions of stock, and it might take us years to bring out the other section. Don’t lose sight of the fact that the people are all expecting to see fifty or one hundred points profit to-morrow on whatever stock they secure.”

As I talked I saw that he was getting impatient, irritated, angry, that he wanted to hear of no more unfavorable things.

“Good Lord, Lawson, it is about time for you to let up on your croaking about what may happen. You have done a big thing and you have been paid handsomely; you have made millions, and we have just now decided that you are entitled to a good rest. Governor Flower has agreed to take charge of the market end and he is amply able to keep us out of all trouble in that direction.”

A cold chill struck into my heart and crept over my whole being. I looked straight at him and he gave me back the look with a defiance which plainly said that we might as well have it out now as any other time.

“Mr. Rockefeller and myself have tried to play fair with you, Lawson, and we think we have been generous, but at times you have been almost intolerable. The only way you know how to do things is to do them your own way, and we cannot do business except in our way. This morning you kicked up a disturbance because we decided to adjust ourselves to conditions as they arose. I did tell you five millions would be all we would sell, but when we agreed to that we had no idea the subscription would be so large. Since then we have got far enough to see that the subscription will run even beyond fifty millions, and you may as well hear now that in consequence it has been decided by every one interested with the exception of yourself to raise it still another five millions, that is, fifteen millions instead of ten, and I don’t want to go through any more scenes about broken promises and what the people will think, either. The people have gone into this thing with their eyes wide open; we are giving them good value; you are in no way their guardian, and you are not going to run this affair any more than others who are interested. You may as well make up your mind to it right now.”

He let himself go as he talked, breathing fire and defiance, but I cared nothing for all the terrors of his anger. A blind fury seized me I don’t believe there was ever such a scene before at 26 Broadway, and I think it has had but one parallel since, when Mr. Rogers and myself again had it out over another matter. This time there were no pleas or petitions. I denounced, demanded, threatened. He had straight and strong my version of the vampire history of “Standard Oil,” and also in rough, crude terms my opinion of his trickery and double-dealing. My voice was raised. I had lost all thought of what his people in the outer office would think. As I went on he wilted and tried to stop me, for I had shown him, until he knew it was so, that nothing but my death before I left the building would prevent me from taking the whole miserable affair, first to the newspapers, and then to the courts. I proved to him that I would have injunctions against Stillman, the National City Bank, and every one in interest, before the allotment could be made. Gradually his rage subsided and he broke down not as other men break down, but as much as it is possible for his stern nature to give way. We remained there until seven o’clock. The building was as still as a set mouse-trap, and he strove with me. Such action, he demonstrated, would precipitate a panic. His argument was perfect in its logic.

“Not one man in a million, Lawson, will agree with you that you are justified in bringing about all this disaster simply because you think that we are taking too much of the cash that has been voluntarily paid in by people well able to attend to their own affairs. You must remember once this scandal and trouble are public they never can be smothered. There can be no more consolidation, no more copper boom in your lifetime and mine, and when the collapse comes every one will look for the victim, and that victim will be you. Even your best friend will say if you were going to turn informer you should have been smart enough to have discovered your mare’s nest before you let it grow so big. Look at it, Lawson, look at it, and in the name of everything that is reasonable get back your senses.”

My readers must remember that the Henry H. Rogers I am portraying here is no ordinary man, but the strongest, most acute, and most persuasive human being that in the thirty-five active years of my life I have encountered. And on me all the magic of his wonderful individuality, all the resources of his fertile mind, all the histrionic power of his dramatic personality were concentrated. His logic was resistless. As he spun the web of his argument my position seemed hopeless; even more forcible than his reasoning was the graphic recital of how both increases had been made. His eyes watered as he spoke. They were not his proposals, but Stillman’s and the others’ who had been let in on the several floors, but to whom he had never explained my rights nor my position in the enterprise.

“The truth is, Lawson,” he said “and I’ll not mince matters further: From the beginning I have done business with you on a basis entirely different from that on which it is our rule to deal with agents or associates. At the start I expected that you would, as all others have done, fall into our ways. Instead, you have grown more stubborn, and the result is, I have been forced into all kinds of holes, some of which I have not even let William Rockefeller know about. Here at last I am in between the grinders. I cannot go to such men as Stillman and Morgan and admit that you are the one who has been doing this copper business that I have had them think I was doing myself. You would not ask me to put myself in such a humiliating position. Think what John D. Rockefeller would say of such a confession. It’s impossible. And when these associates of mine get down to this matter and all agree upon the way it should be closed up, what can I do but go with them? If they knew the facts it would be easy to run you in between us, and then you would either have to convince them or give way yourself, but this is not possible here.”

The straight and narrow way is easy to follow, but once lost is hard to find. The defaulting bank president who overnight “borrows” a few thousands from his institution, fully intends to return the “loan” next day, but repairing an error is even more difficult than resisting a temptation, and when a man is in crime’s net, his struggles to escape seem only to tighten around him its meshes. When the incidents of his downfall are before the jury or the coroner, there will always appear a dozen places where the unfortunate might have cut his way out of the strangling coils, but he who surveys such situations from the outside has a clearer vision than the blinded and desperate wretch in the trap. He who enlists with the brigands of “frenzied finance” and takes the oath of addition, division, and silence cannot discharge himself because his comrades are needlessly harsh to their victims. Eventually he may decide on desertion as preferable to throat-cutting, but to suggest resignation is to invite destruction, for it is a tradition of the fraternity that the best cure for repentance is a knife-thrust.

Mr. Rogers and myself wrestled with the situation until both were fairly exhausted. Finally we went uptown together; he home, to return later to the bank, I to the Waldorf to meet the newspaper men who were there awaiting the news of the subscription. I left him at Thirty-third Street, the question between us still unsolved. In the years that have passed since that ill-starred night, over and over again I have sifted and pounded the talk that then passed between us, and never have I been able to decide how much of what Mr. Rogers said to me was true and how much cunning argument to make me accede to his wishes. I hope none of my readers will ever find themselves so caught between the high cliffs and the deep water as I was that night. I recalled the old story of the sea-captain whose ship was captured by pirates and who was offered the alternative of hoisting the black flag and joining the band with his crew, or walking the plank. If he became a pirate, at least he saved the lives of his men, for their fate hung on his decision. If he refused well, he retained his own virtue and kept intact that of his crew. The captain in my story had preferred propriety to piracy, and fifteen men lost their lives to no purpose, whereas the part of wisdom would have been to submit, with reservations, on the chance of throwing the pirates to the sharks at the first opportunity. If I should throw the bomb that I had threatened Rogers with, I felt sure it would put an end to all his evil machinations, but I could not limit the area of destruction to the guilty. I let my mind dwell on Mr. Rogers’ words: “Lawson, no harm can come to your people, for the fifteen millions will be used in the market to protect the stock, just as I promised you.” If this promise were kept, what was there to fear? But would it be kept? In the face of the evidence of broken pledges already crowded on me, and the bitter knowledge I had acquired of the wolfish greed of this man and his associates, it would be paltering with facts to say that even then I felt certain the money would be so used. Yet “Standard Oil” avoids such direct illegality as might bring it within the law’s clutches, and I knew that already a fraud had been committed. I might hold that over them and compel them to go straight. Then I recalled the passion that possessed them to grab at real money when it came within their clutches, and the “Governor Flower to handle the market in such a way that no harm can come to us.”

I carried my heart-tearing perplexities to dinner, cogitated over the arguments pro and con, and finally made up my mind that the percentage of wisdom was in favor of sticking by the ship. On board I was in better shape to protect my friends and followers than if I jumped into the ocean. Time has shown since that it would have been far better for all concerned for me to have touched off the powder magazine that night, had one grand and glorious explosion, and gone down with the wreckage, than to have sailed through the hell of after years. I am not the first man who has balked at amputation and got blood-poisoning.