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A FRIEND IN NEED
It was while Brewster was in the depths of despair that his financial affairs had a windfall. One of the banks in which his money was deposited failed and his balance of over $100,000 was wiped out. Mismanagement was the cause and the collapse came on Friday, the thirteenth day of the month. Needless to say it destroyed every vestige of the superstition he may have had regarding Friday and the number thirteen.
Brewster had money deposited in five banks, a transaction inspired by the wild hope that one of them might some day suspend operations and thereby prove a legitimate benefit to him. There seemed no prospect that the bank could resume operations, and if the depositors in the end realized twenty cents on the dollar they would be fortunate. Notwithstanding the fact that everybody had considered the institution substantial there were not a few wiseacres who called Brewster a fool and were so unreasonable as to say that he did not know how to handle money. He heard that Miss Drew, in particular, was bitterly sarcastic in referring to his stupidity.
This failure caused a tremendous flurry in banking circles. It was but natural that questions concerning the stability of other banks should be asked, and it was not long before many wild, disquieting reports were afloat. Anxious depositors rushed into the big banking institutions and then rushed out again, partially assured that there was no danger. The newspapers sought to allay the fears of the people, but there were many to whom fear became panic. There were short, wild runs on some of the smaller banks, but all were in a fair way to restore confidence when out came the rumor that the Bank of Manhattan Island was in trouble. Colonel Prentiss Drew, railroad magnate, was the president of this bank.
When the bank opened for business on the Tuesday following the failure, there was a stampede of frightened depositors. Before eleven o'clock the run had assumed ugly proportions and no amount of argument could stay the onslaught. Colonel Drew and the directors, at first mildly distressed, and then seeing that the affair had become serious, grew more alarmed than they could afford to let the public see. The loans of all of the banks were unusually large. Incipient runs on some had put all of them in an attitude of caution and there was a natural reluctance to expose their own interests to jeopardy by coming to the relief of the Bank of Manhattan Island.
Monty Brewster had something like $200,000 in Colonel Drew's bank. He would not have regretted on his own account the collapse of this institution, but he realized what it meant to the hundreds of other depositors, and for the first time he appreciated what his money could accomplish. Thinking that his presence might give confidence to the other depositors and stop the run he went over to the bank with Harrison and Bragdon. The tellers were handing out thousands of dollars to the eager depositors. His friends advised him strongly to withdraw before it was too late, but Monty was obdurate. They set it down to his desire to help Barbara's father and admired his nerve.
"I understand, Monty," said Bragdon, and both he and Harrison went among the people carelessly asking one another if Brewster had come to withdraw his money. "No, he has over $200,000, and he's going to leave it," the other would say.
Each excited group was visited in turn by the two men, but their assurance seemed to accomplish but little. These men and women were there to save their fortunes; the situation was desperate.
Colonel Drew, outwardly calm and serene, but inwardly perturbed, finally saw Brewster and his companions. He sent a messenger over with the request that Monty come to the president's private office at once.
"He wants to help you to save your money," cried Bragdon in low tones. "That shows it's all up."
"Get out every dollar of it, Monty, and don't waste a minute. It's a smash as sure as fate," urged Harrison, a feverish expression in his eyes.
Brewster was admitted to the Colonel's private office. Drew was alone and was pacing the floor like a caged animal.
"Sit down, Brewster, and don't mind if I seem nervous. Of course we can hold out, but it is terrible — terrible. They think we are trying to rob them. They're mad — utterly mad."
"I never saw anything like it, Colonel. Are you sure you can meet all the demands?" asked Brewster, thoroughly excited. The Colonel's face was white and he chewed his cigar nervously.
"We can hold out unless some of our heaviest depositors get the fever and swoop down upon us. I appreciate your feelings in an affair of this kind, coming so swiftly upon the heels of the other, but I want to give you my personal assurance that the money you have here is safe. I called you in to impress you with the security of the bank. You ought to know the truth, however, and I will tell you in confidence that another check like Austin's, which we paid a few minutes ago, would cause us serious, though temporary, embarrassment."
"I came to assure you that I have not thought of withdrawing my deposits from this bank, Colonel. You need have no uneasiness — "
The door opened suddenly and one of the officials of the bank bolted inside, his face as white as death. He started to speak before he saw Brewster, and then closed his lips despairingly.
"What is it, Mr. Moore?" asked Drew, as calmly as possible. "Don't mind Mr. Brewster."
"Oglethorp wants to draw two hundred and fifty thousand dollars," said Moore in strained tones.
"Well, he can have it, can't he?" asked the Colonel quietly. Moore looked helplessly at the president of the bank, and his silence spoke more plainly than words.
"Brewster, it looks bad," said the Colonel, turning abruptly to the young man. The other banks are afraid of a run and we can't count on much help from them. Some of them have helped us and others have refused. Now, I not only ask you to refrain from drawing out your deposit, but I want you to help us in this crucial moment." The Colonel looked twenty years older and his voice shook perceptibly, Brewster's pity went out to him in a flash.
"What can I do, Colonel Drew?" he cried. "I'll not take my money out, but I don't know how I can be of further assistance to you. Command me, sir."
"You can restore absolute confidence, Monty, my dear boy, by increasing your deposits in our bank," said the Colonel slowly, and as if dreading the fate of the suggestion.
"You mean, sir, that I can save the bank by drawing my money from other banks and putting it here?" asked Monty, slowly. He was thinking harder and faster than he had ever thought in his life. Could he afford to risk the loss of his entire fortune on the fate of this bank? What would Swearengen Jones say if he deliberately deposited a vast amount of money in a tottering institution like the Bank of Manhattan Island? It would be the maddest folly on his part if the bank went down. There could be no mitigating circumstances in the eyes of either Jones or the world, if he swamped all of his money in this crisis.
"I beg of you, Monty, help us." The Colonel's pride was gone. "It means disgrace if we close our doors even for an hour; it means a stain that only years can remove. You can restore confidence by a dozen strokes of your pen, and you can save us."
He was Barbara's father. The proud old man was before him as a suppliant, no longer the cold man of the world. Back to Brewster's mind came the thought of his quarrel with Barbara and of her heartlessness. A scratch of the pen, one way or the other, could change the life of Barbara Drew. The two bankers stood by scarcely breathing. From outside came the shuffle of many feet and the muffled roll of voices. Again the door to the private office opened and a clerk excitedly motioned for Mr. Moore to hurry to the front of the bank. Moore paused irresolutely, his eyes on Brewster's face. The young man knew the time had come when he must help or deny them.
Like a flash the situation was made clear to him and his duty was plain. He remembered that the Bank of Manhattan Island held every dollar that Mrs. Gray and Peggy possessed; their meager fortune had been entrusted to the care of Prentiss Drew and his associates, and it was in danger.
"I will do all I can, Colonel," said Monty, "but upon one condition."
"Barbara must never know of this." The Colonel's gasp of astonishment was cut short as Monty continued. "Promise that she shall never know."
"I don't understand, but if it is your wish I promise."
Inside of half an hour's time several hundred thousand came to the relief of the struggling bank, and the man who had come to watch the run with curious eyes turned out to be its savior. His money won the day for the Bank of Manhattan Island. When the happy president and directors offered to pay him an astonishingly high rate of interest for the use of the money he proudly declined.
The next day Miss Drew issued invitations for a cotillion. Mr. Montgomery Brewster was not asked to attend.