Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

The Monitor And The "Merrimac"
by [?]

The Story Of A Panic


Two long-faced young men and one old man with a long face sat upon the veranda of the Country Club of Westchester, and looked, now into the depths of pewter mugs containing mint and ice among other things, and now across Pelham Bay to the narrow pass of water between Fort Schuyler and Willets Point. Through this pass the evening fleet of Sound steamers had already torn with freight and passengers for New Haven, Newport, Fall River, and Portland; and had already disappeared behind City Island Point, and in such close order that it had looked as if the Peck, which led, had been towing the others. The first waves from the paddle-wheels of the great ships had crossed the three miles of intervening bay, and were slapping at the base of the seawall that supported the country club pigeon grounds and lawn-tennis terraces, when another vessel came slowly and haughtily into view from between the forts. She was as black as the king of England’s brougham, and as smart; her two masts and her great single funnel were stepped with the most insolent rake imaginable. Here and there where the light of the setting sun smote upon polished brass she shone as with pools of fire.

“There she is,” said Powers. He had been sitting in his shirt sleeves, but now he rose and put on his coat as if the sight of the huge and proud yacht had chilled him. Brett, with a petulant slap, killed a swollen mosquito against his black silk ankle bone. The old man, Callender, put his hand to his forehead as if trying to remember something; and the yacht, steaming slower and slower, and yet, as it seemed, with more and more grandeur and pride of place–as if she knew that she gave to the whole bayscape, and the pale Long Island shore against which she moved in strong relief, an irrefutable note of dignity–presently stopped and anchored, midway between the forts and City Island Point; then she began to swing with the tide, until she faced New York City, from which she had just come.

Callender took his hand from his forehead. He had remembered.

“Young gentlemen,” he said, “that yacht of Merriman’s has been reminding me every afternoon for a month of something, and I’ve just thought what. You remember one day the Merrimac came down the James, very slowly, and sunk the Cumberland, and damaged and frightened the Union fleet into fits, just the way Merriman has been going down to Wall Street every morning and frightening us into fits? Well, instead of finishing the work then and there, she suddenly quit and steamed off up the river in the same insolent, don’t-give-a-hoot way that Merriman comes up from Wall Street every afternoon. Of course, when the Merrimac came down to finish destroying the fleet the next day, the Monitor had arrived during the night and gave her fits, and they called the whole thing off. Anyhow, it’s that going-home-to-sleep-on-it expression of the Merrimac’s that I’ve been seeing in the Sappho.”

“You were on the Monitor, weren’t you?” asked Powers cheerfully.

The old man did not answer, but he was quite willing that Powers and Brett, and the whole world for that matter, should think that he had been. Powers and Brett, though in no cheerful mood, exchanged winks.

“I don’t see why history shouldn’t repeat itself,” said Powers.

“You don’t!” said Brett. “Why, because there isn’t any Monitor waiting for Merriman off Wall Street.”

“And just like the Civil War,” said Callender, “this trouble in the street is a rich man’s quarrel and a poor man’s war. Just because old Merriman is gunning for Waters, you, and I, and the rest of us are about to go up the spout.”

Callender was a jaunty old man, tall, of commanding presence and smart clothes. His white mustache was the epitome of close-cropped neatness. When he lost money at poker his brown eyes held exactly the same twinkle as when he won, and it was current among the young men that he had played greatly in his day–great games for great stakes. Sometimes he had made heavy winnings, sometimes he had faced ruin; sometimes his family went to Newport for the summer and entertained; sometimes they went to a hotel somewhere in some mountains or other, where they didn’t even have a parlor to themselves. But this summer they were living on in the town house, keeping just enough rooms open, and a few servants who had weathered former panics, and who were willing to eat dry bread in bad times for the sake of the plentiful golden butter that they knew was to be expected when the country believed in its own prosperity and future. Just now the country believed that it was going to the dogs. And Mr. Merriman, the banker, had chosen the opportunity to go gunning for Mr. Waters, the railroad man. The quarrel between the great men was personal; and so because of a couple of nasty tempers people were being ruined daily, honest stocks were selling far below their intrinsic value, United States Steel had been obliged to cut wages, there was a strike on in the Pennsylvania coal fields, and the Callenders, as I have said, were not even going to the cheapest mountain top for the summer. Brett alone was glad of this, because it meant that little Miss Callender would occasionally come out to the country club for a game of tennis and a swim, and, although she had refused to marry him on twenty distinct occasions, he was not a young man to be easily put from his purpose. Nor did little Miss Callender propose to be relinquished by him just yet; and she threw into each refusal just the proper amount of gentleness and startled-fawn expression to insure another proposal within a month.