The Million-Dollar Suitcase


come to think of it, is its very existence to such an institution; it was not to be wondered at that the twelve men around the long table in the directors' room of the Van Ness Avenue Savings Bank found this a life or death matter. "How much--?" began heavy-set, heavy-voiced old Anson, down at the lower end, but stuck and got no further. There was a smitten look on every face at the contemplation--a suitcase could hold so unguessably great a sum expressed in terms of cash and securities. "We'll have the exact amount in a few moments--I've just set them to verifying," President Whipple indicated with a slight backward nod the second and smaller table in the room, where two clerks delved mole-like among piles of securities, among greenbacks and yellowbacks bound round with paper collars, and stacks of coin. The blinds were down, only the table lamps on, and a gooseneck over where the men counted. It put the place all in shadow, and threw out into bolder relief the faces around that board, gray-white, denatured, all with the financier's curiously unhuman look. The one fairly cheerful countenance in sight was that of A. G. Cummings, the bank's attorney. For myself, I was only waiting to hear what results those clerks would bring us. So far, Whipple had been quite noncommittal: the extraordinary state of the market--everything so upset that a bank couldn't afford even the suspicion of a loss or irregularity--hinting at something in his mind not evident to the rest of us. I was just rising to go round and ask him quietly if, having reported, I might not be excused to get on the actual work, when the door opened. I can't say why the young fellow who stood in it should have seemed so foreign to the business in hand; perhaps the carriage of his tall figure, the military abruptness of his movements, the way he swung the door far back against the wall and halted there, looking us over. But I do know that no sooner had Worth Gilbert, lately home from France, crossed the threshold, meeting Whipple's outstretched hand, nodding carelessly to the others, than suddenly every man in the room seemed older, less a man. We were dead ones; he the only live wire in the place. "Boyne," the president turned quickly to me, "would you mind going over for Captain Gilbert's benefit what you've just said?" The newcomer had, so far, not made any movement to join the circle at the table. He stood there, chin up, looking straight at us all, but quite through us. At the back of the gaze was a something between weary and fierce that I have noticed in the eyes of so many of our boys home from what they'd witnessed and gone through over there, when forced to bring their attention to the stale, bloodless affairs of civil life. Used to the instant, conclusive fortunes of war, they can hardly handle themselves when matters hitch and halt upon customs and legalities; the only thing that appeals to them is the big chance, win or lose, and have

Alice MacGowan and Perry Newberry

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