Now that the web was weaving its last mesh in early January he haunted Montgomery, and on this day when it seemed that things must culminate or he would go mad, he hastened again down to the Planters’ Hotel and was quickly ushered to John Taylor’s room. The place was filled with tobacco smoke. An electric ticker was drumming away in one corner, a telephone ringing on the desk, and messenger boys hovered outside the door and raced to and fro.
“Well,” asked Cresswell, maintaining his composure by an effort, “how are things?”
“Great!” returned Taylor. “League holds three million bales and controls five. It’s the biggest corner in years.”
“But how’s cotton?”
“Ticker says six and three-fourths.”
Cresswell sat down abruptly opposite Taylor, looking at him fixedly.
“That last drop means liabilities of a hundred thousand to us,” he said slowly.
“Exactly,” Taylor blandly admitted.
Beads of sweat gathered on Cresswell’s forehead. He looked at the scrawny iron man opposite, who had already forgotten his presence. He ordered whiskey, and taking paper and pencil began to figure, drinking as he figured. Slowly the blood crept out of his white face leaving it whiter, and went surging and pounding in his heart. Poverty—that was what those figures spelled. Poverty—unclothed, wineless poverty, to dig and toil like a “nigger” from morning until night, and to give up horses and carriages and women; that was what they spelled.
“How much—farther will it drop?” he asked harshly.
Taylor did not look up.
“Can’t tell,” he said, “’fraid not much though.” He glanced through a telegram. “No—damn it!—outside mills are low; they’ll stampede soon. Meantime we’ll buy.”
“Here are one hundred thousand offered at six and three-fourths.”
“I tell you, Taylor—” Cresswell half arose.
“Done!” cried Taylor. “Six and one-half,” clicked the machine.
Cresswell arose from his chair by the window and came slowly to the wide flat desk where Taylor was working feverishly. He sat down heavily in the chair opposite and tried quietly to regain his self-control. The liabilities of the Cresswells already amounted to half the value of their property, at a fair market valuation. The cotton for which they had made debts was still falling in value. Every fourth of a cent fall meant—he figured it again tremblingly—meant one hundred thousand more of liabilities. If cotton fell to six he hadn’t a cent on earth. If it stayed there—“My God!” He felt a faintness stealing over him but he beat it back and gulped down another glass of fiery liquor.
Then the one protecting instinct of his clan gripped him. Slowly, quietly his hand moved back until it grasped the hilt of the big Colt’s revolver that was ever with him—his thin white hand became suddenly steady as it slipped the weapon beneath the shadow of the desk.