Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A Man of Business
By Franz von Dingelstedt (1814–1881)
From ‘The Amazon’: Translation of James Morgan Hart

HERR KRAFFT was about to reply, but was prevented by the hasty appearance of Herr Heyboldt, the first procurist, who entered the apartment; not an antiquated comedy figure in shoe-buckles, coarse woolen socks, velvet pantaloons, and a long-tailed coat, his vest full of tobacco, and a goose-quill back of his comically flexible ear; no, but a fine-looking man, dressed in the latest style and in black, with a medal in his button-hole, and having an earnest, expressive countenance. He was householder, member of the City Council, and militia captain; the gold medal and colored ribbon on his left breast told of his having saved, at the risk of his own life, a Leander who had been carried away by the current in the swimming-baths.  1
  His announcement, urgent as it was, was made without haste, deliberate and cool, somewhat as the mate informs the captain that an ugly wind has sprung up. “Herr Principal,” he said, “the crowd has broken in the barriers and one wing of the gateway; they are attacking the counting-house.” “Who breaks, pays,” said Krafft, with a joke; “we will charge the sport to their account.”—“The police are not strong enough; they have sent to the Royal Watch for military.”—“That is right, Heyboldt. No accident, no arms or legs broken?”—“Not that I know of.”—“Pity for Meyer Hirsch; he would have thundered magnificently in the official Morning News against the excesses of the rage for speculation. Nor any one wounded by the police?”—“Not any, so far.”—“Pity for Hirsch Meyer. The oppositional Evening Journal has missed a capital opportunity of weeping over the barbarity of the soldateska. At all events, the two papers must continue to write—one for, the other against us. Keep Hirsch Meyer and Meyer Hirsch going.”—“All right, Herr Principal.”—“Send each of them a polite line, to the effect that we have taken the liberty of keeping a few shares for him, to sell them at the most favorable moment, and pay him over the difference.”—“It shall be attended to, Herr Principal.”—“So our Southwestern Railway goes well, Heyboldt?”—“By steam, Herr Principal.” The sober man smiled at his daring joke, and Herr Krafft smiled affably with him. “The amount that we have left to furnish will be exhausted before one has time to turn around. The people throw money, bank-notes, government bonds, at our cashiers, who cannot fill up the receipts fast enough. On the Bourse they fought for the blanks.”—“For the next four weeks we will run the stock up, Heyboldt; after that it can fall, but slowly, with decorum.”—“I understand, Herr Principal.”  2
  A cashier came rushing in without knocking. “Herr Principal,” he stammered in his panic, “we have not another blank, and the people are pouring in upon us more and more violently. Wild shouts call for you.” “To your place, sir,” thundered Krafft at him. “I shall come when I think it time. In no case,” he added more quietly, “before the military arrive. We need an interference, for the sake of the market.” The messenger disappeared; but pale, bewildered countenances were to be seen in the doorways of the comptoir; the house called for its master: the trembling daughter sent again and again for her father.  3
  “Let us bring the play to a close,” said Herr Krafft, after brief deliberation; he stepped into the middle office, flung open a window, and raising his harsh voice to its loudest tones, cried to the throng below, “You are looking for me, folks. Here I am. What do you want of me?” “Shares, subscriptions,” was the noisy answer.—“You claim without any right or any manners. This is my house, a peaceable citizen’s house. You are breaking in as though it were a dungeon, an arsenal, a tax-office,—as though we were in the midst of a revolution. Are you not ashamed of yourselves?” A confused murmur rang through the astonished ranks. “If you wish to do business with me,” continued the merchant, “you must first learn manners and discipline. Have I invited your visit? Do I need your money, or do you need my shares? Send up some deputies to convey your requests. I shall have nothing to do with a turbulent mob.” So saying, he closed the window with such violence that the panes cracked, and the fragments fell down on the heads of the assailants.  4
  “The Principal knows how to talk to the people,” said Heyboldt with pride to Roland, the mute witness of this strange scene. “He speaks their own language. He replies to a broken door with a broken window.”  5
  Meantime a company of soldiers had arrived on double-quick, with a flourish of drums. The officer’s word of command rang through the crowd, now grown suddenly quiet: “Fix bayonets! form line! march!” Yard and passages were cleared, the doors guarded; in the street the low muttering tide, forced back, made a sort of dam. Three deputies, abashed and confused, appeared at Krafft’s door and craved audience. The merchant received them like a prince surrounded by his court, in the midst of his clerks, in the large counting-room. The spokesman commenced: “We ask your pardon, Herr Krafft, for what has happened.”—“For shame, that you should drag in soldiers as witnesses and peacemakers in a quiet little business affair among order-loving citizens.”—“It was reported that we had been fooled with these subscriptions, and that the entire sum had been already disposed of on the Bourse.”—“And even if that were so, am I to be blamed for it? The Southwestern Railway must raise thirty millions. Double, treble that amount is offered it. Can I prevent the necessity of reducing the subscriptions?”—“No; but they say that we poor folks shall not get a cent’s worth; the big men of the Bourse have gobbled up the best bits right before our noses.”—“They say so? Who says so? Court Cooper Täubert, I ask you who says so?”—“Gracious Herr Court Banker—” “Don’t Court or Gracious me. My name is Krafft, Herr Hans Heinrich Krafft. I think we know each other, Master Täubert. It is not the first time that we have done business together. You have a very snug little share in my workingmen’s bank. Grain-broker Wüst, you have bought one of the houses in my street. Do I ever dun you for the installments of purchase money?” “No indeed, Herr Krafft; you are a good man, a public-spirited man, no money-maker, no leech, no Jew!” cried the triumvirate of deputies in chorus.—“I am nothing more than you are: a man of business, who works for his living, the son of a peasant, a plain simple citizen. I began in a smaller way than any of you; but I shall never forget that I am flesh of your flesh, blood of your blood. Facts have proved it. I will give you a fresh proof to-day. Go home and tell the people who have sent you, Hans Heinrich Krafft will give up the share which his house has subscribed to the Southwestern Railway, in favor of the less wealthy citizens of this city. This sum of five hundred thousand thalers shall be divided up pro rata among the subscriptions under five hundred dollars.”  6
  “Heaven bless you, Herr Krafft!” stammered out the court cooper, and the grain-broker essayed to shed a tear of gratitude; the confidential clerk Herr Lange, the third of the group, caught at the hand of the patron to kiss it, with emotion. Krafft drew it back angrily. “No self-abasement, Herr Lange,” he said. “We are men of the people; let us behave as such. God bless you, gentlemen. You know my purpose. Make it known to the good people waiting outside, and see that I am rid of my billeting. Let the subscriptions be conducted quietly and in good order. Adieu, children!” The deputation withdrew. A few minutes afterwards there was heard a thundering hurrah:—“Hurrah for Herr Krafft! Three cheers for Father Krafft!” He showed himself at the window, nodded quickly and soberly, and motioned to them to disperse.  7
  While the tumult was subsiding, Krafft and Roland retired into the private counting-room. “You have,” the latter said, “spoken nobly, acted nobly.”—“I have made a bargain, nothing more, nothing less; moreover, not a bad one.”—“How so?”—“In three months I shall buy at 70, perhaps still lower, what I am now to give up to them at 90.”—“You know that beforehand?”—“With mathematical certainty. The public expects an El Dorado in the Southwestern Railway, as it does in every new enterprise. The undertaking is a good one, it is true, or I should not have ventured upon it. But one must be able to wait until the fruit is ripe. The small holders cannot do that; they sow to-day, and to-morrow they wish to reap. At the first payment their heart and their purse are all right. At the second or third, both are gone. Upon the least rise they will throw the paper, for which they were ready to break each other’s necks, upon the market, and so depreciate their property. But if some fortuitous circumstance should cause a pressure upon the money market, then they drop all that they have, in a perfect panic, for any price. I shall watch this moment, and buy. In a year or so, when the road is finished and its communications complete, the shares that were subscribed for at 90, and which I shall have bought at 60 to 70, will touch 100, or higher.”  8
  “That is to say,” said Roland, thoughtfully, “you will gain at the expense of those people whose confidence you have aroused, then satisfied with objects of artificial value, and finally drained for yourself.” “Business is business,” replied the familiar harsh voice. “Unless I become a counterfeiter or a forger I can do nothing more than to convert other persons’ money into my own; of course, in an honest way.”—“And you do this, without fearing lest one day some one mightier and luckier than you should do the same to you?”—“I must be prepared for that; I am prepared.”—“Also for the storm,—not one of your own creating, but one sent by the wrath of God, that shall scatter all this paper splendor of our times, and reduce this appalling social inequality of ours to a universal zero?” “Let us quietly abide this Last Day,” laughed the banker, taking the artist by the arm.  9

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