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Title: Who Travels Alone Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1203681h.html Language: English Date first posted: Sep 2012 Most recent update: Sep 2012 This eBook was produced by: Roy Glashan Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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|• Part I
• Part II
• Part III
In his little bedroom over the offices in which he was employed, a solitary, lonely lad dreamed of money—not for itself but for the power which it would bring. Mentally he worked out elaborate calculations and plans. Each evening he would map out speculations as to the trend of world markets on the forthcoming day, like an enthusiast playing roulette for worthless counters. Then came a day when Alfred Loewenstein was able to put the results of all this planning into actual operation. Playing a lone hand always, with incredible rapidity he built up great fortunes. When he traveled from one European capital to another it was in his own airships with his own pilots and accompanied by a circus-like entourage of secretaries, masseurs and servants.
This lone builder of gigantic schemes, grim, secretive, fantastic, might have been the central figure in one of E. Phillips Oppenheim's novels. It is not surprising that his life and strange death aroused the interest of Mr. Oppenheim, who here relates this real story in his own graphic fashion.
ALFRED LOEWENSTEIN lived for the thirty years of his working career in a series of dramatic episodes. His was not the simple, carefully developed life of the ordinary man of finance. He may be said to have lived kaleidoscopically, in flashes and spurts, an uneven, restless existence, full of accomplishments, full, also, of failures, some of them ignoble, some of them almost as brilliant as his successes. He resembled in no way any of the other giants of finance who have carved their way to fortune. He was no opportunist; chance, indeed, seldom favored him. In a brief study of his career, one may perhaps be brought to a fuller comprehension of the psychology of his death.
He started life untrammeled by the enervating and false stimulus of family prosperity. His father, a small banker in Brussels, died when he was still a boy, leaving behind him debts to the amount of $20,000—no inconsiderable sum in those days.
Young Alfred Loewenstein promptly entered a somewhat similar business on an even smaller scale, and announced his intention of paying off his father's debts within two years. He kept his word. No one knows exactly how he did it, but the whole of the business of the firm, so far as its employees were concerned, seems to have been run upon a commission basis, and young Loewenstein, although scarcely past the office-boy age, was already equipped in all the arts of bond selling, and was an adept in all the tricks of minor speculation.
From the first, he gave signs of an unusual genius for concentration and the moment a commission was placed in his hands he neither thought nor dreamed of anything else until he had met with success. If the commission itself was unworkable, he studied and pored over it until he was able to twist it into a worth-while proposition. Already in the early twenties, he was fretting to take his place among the moneyed giants of the capital. Money itself he never greatly cared for, as was shown by the reckless way he spent it as soon as his success was assured. It was power which Alfred Loewenstein craved. He was aching to match his wits against the other man's and, with a touch of that ruthlessness which was largely to affect his popularity in later life, to climb, over the financial corpses of the vanquished, to a larger measure of prosperity.
In those days he lived in a room on the top floor of the building in which his offices were situated—lived practically alone, a life of almost Spartan simplicity. His one relaxation was fencing, in which, after business hours, he frequently indulged, but, save for this exception, by night and by day he was not exactly a dreamer of dreams but a planner of plans. It was, curiously enough, his indulgence in this particular form of recreation which helped to bring him his first chance.
AN AMAZING CONFIDENCE
HIS fencing partner, at times, was a relative of the head of the firm. One summer evening, after a somewhat prolonged bout, the two young men sat at the open window, his visitor with his tankard of beer, young Alfred Loewenstein with his customary glass of water. They happened to talk of some of their clients. Henri, the nephew of a highly placed official in the business, asked his host a question.
"What should you do, Alfred," he inquired, "if one of these South American firms we were talking about came to Brussels with a big business proposition, wanting to raise, say, five or ten million dollars for a sound industrial undertaking? I mean, of course, supposing the chief sent for you and asked you to take a hand in it."
Loewenstein made no reply for a moment or two. One imagines that he may have been making up his mind as to trusting his visitor.
"What sort of an undertaking?" he rejoined at length.
The young man considered the question.
"Well, supposing it was one of these new amalgamations—hydroelectric power for instance?"
Alfred Loewenstein rose to his feet, unlocked his desk, and from a sheaf of papers produced one particular roll.
"How much capital?"
"Oh, say ten millions," was the careless reply.
"If the matter were left entirely in my hands," Loewenstein announced, "I could raise the money in ten days."
Henri laughed, but he did not forget.
"Nothing like confidence in yourself, Alfred," he remarked, as he took his leave a little later.
YOUTH LUSTS FOR POWER
BUT in those days Alfred Loewenstein's confidence in himself was justified. A brain of peculiar but intensive capacity was hour by hour and day by day dedicated to the task of his own advancement. Often after midnight he would descend from his room, open up the offices by means of the keys with which he was trusted, drag out ledgers, prospectuses and bank accounts, study the prices of the day, and try to plot out some unexpected move in the great game of finance.
The hum of traffic from the street below, the sound of gay voices, the passing of light footsteps upon the pavements, the faintly heard music from the different cafés, never took his mind for a moment from his self-imposed task. Strong, vigorous and healthy, and not displeasing in appearance, the whole orchestra of life was calling to him lustily. lie heard but a single note. In his boyhood, as in later life, the gift of concentration was one. of his chief characteristics. Sometimes they may have been fairy palaces which he built with his pencilings, but there was nothing fanciful about them. They were built on figures. They were realities. Nothing save realities attracted young Alfred Loewenstein in those days, and underneath his dreams was masonry, not cobwebs.
He had another habit, also, in this period of his rapidly developing manhood. When at last the night sounds had died away—and Brussels is not an early city—he would arise from his bed, pull open the window and look down the silent, cobbled streets leading to the heart of the dreaming metropolis, at peace after many hours of busy, pulse-stirring life.
From where he leaned he could probably see the corner of the Bourse, the temple of his devotions.
In imagination he went through the prospective doings of the morrow. Unfailingly he remembered the exact price of every one of the shares toward which he leaned, and worked out his speculations as to the trend of the markets on the forthcoming day. He was like an enthusiast playing roulette for worthless counters, as keenly interested in the spin and fall of the ball as though his fortune depended upon it.
The fact that he had little, if any, money of his own to risk scarcely disturbed the zest of his imaginings. He took into account every trifle which might possibly affect the sensitive money markets of those days, and every calculation which he brought home to its foregone conclusion increased his self-confidence.
Many a night he went back to bed with the hazard of millions—even though they were imaginary millions— to lend pungency to his study of the morning papers.
OPPORTUNITY FOUND HIM READY
IN A SENSE this was the entire period of Alfred Loewenstein's imaginative life. Dreams he certainly indulged in, but his dreams were all of figures, figures, figures. If ever for a moment his fancy forsook the straight and narrow path, it was in those rare intervals when he thought of himself no longer as an unrecognized boy but as a man taking his place amongst the giants of finance, measuring his strength against theirs, out-bidding them, out-buying them, out-maneuvering them.
In those days, without a doubt, was born that personal grandiloquence which was to find circus-like expression later on in life—the retinue of retainers with which he traveled everywhere—the masseur, the physician, the secretaries, typists, valets, the airships in which he passed from capital to capital. One is inclined to speculate sometimes as to how far into the future his outflung thoughts took him, whether, in any of those moments of revelation, he caught at any time a glimpse of the writing upon the wall, had even the dimmest vision of his foredoomed end, of that awful moment when, amidst the thunder and roar of the wind, and the throbbing of machinery, he was to abandon forever the arena of his struggles, and take that terrible plunge into the gray void of eternity.
It was in 1905 that his great chance came, and it found him, as he had always intended that it should, fully prepared. A South American light, power and tramway company applied to his firm to purchase for them a similar company in Brussels, and to raise a portion of the money required to float it. His fencing companion reminded one of the heads of the firm of young Loewenstein's ambitions, and the latter was given a chance. With a share of the business placed in his hands, he made a brilliant and astonishing start. As though by instinct, he seemed to know the predilections of every bank, the weak side of every financier, where money was to be found, and where it would be waste of time to seek for it. He knew precisely the way to appeal to the most astute bankers of the city, precisely the separate arguments to use with the speculator and the investor. The head of the firm, astonished at the discovery of such an unexpected genius, sent for young Loewenstein to congratulate him.
"Anything I can do to help you?" he asked.
"I should like the whole business in my own hands," was young Loewenstein's surprising reply. "There are too many of us covering one another's ground. I can raise the whole amount of money required by Saturday next, and bring you an option for the purchase."
The banker stared at his nephew's friend.
"Plenty of confidence, young fellow," he remarked.
"I can do it," was the dogged assertion.
And he did. With the bonus shares offered to him for his success, he opened up business on his own account, and, during the next few years, laid the foundations of his great fortune.
Before long the same company whose affairs he had handled so skillfully, and whose heads placed unlimited confidence in him, once more sought his services— this time in distress. They had committed themselves to an enterprise which they were unable to carry out.
Young Loewenstein took a week to study the possibilities of their scheme, and in the end accepted the very generous offers made to him. A lad, still in the twenties, he succeeded, where they— experienced financiers and bankers—had failed. He raised the money, and established a European reputation.
ACCEPTING THE INEVITABLE
ALFRED LOEWENSTEIN then, for the first time, stood out alone, and faced the world. In those earlier days he probably juggled with money as most of the other smaller financiers have done— juggled for a small profit, but for safe returns. As soon as he felt his feet, however, he looked out on the business of money-making with different eyes. For a short time the war interfered with his activities. He served with distinction as an artillery officer, and would probably have remained in the service through all those dreary years but for the fact that the authorities at Brussels had already some appreciation of his financial genius, and transferred him to a civil post. He found no outlet here, however, for his energies, and by means of persistent efforts succeeded in obtaining a place on an international commission for the purchase, storage and distribution of food. In the end he was transferred to England, where he was trusted with war work of a wider scope. As a matter of fact, his activities during this terrible period have scarcely been fully appreciated.
The war to him was an annoying interlude in his career. He was no idealist. He had not the least desire to give his life for his country, or anyone else's country. On the other hand, he recognized the inevitability of the thing which had arrived. He was a young man, and, notwithstanding the superior gifts with which he genuinely believed he was endowed, he fully realized that he must take his place with the others, and work out his own salvation.
His military rank—which in later years was sometimes scoffed at—was duly and bravely earned in the service of his own country. The fact that he was removed from active service was not due to any request of his own, but simply to the desire of those in authority to make better use of a young man who had already shown unusual gifts of persistency and diplomacy.
He was sent to England to interview Mr. Asquith, and Alfred Loewenstein, who had already met with phenomenal success as a pushing financier, again scored a success in the far more delicate business of diplomacy. He secured from the then prime minister the supply of rifles for Belgium for which, up till then, every application through official quarters had failed. He afterward served as Belgian delegate to Lord Kitchener's committee, and executed important commissions for the Allies. For these services, the C.B. was conferred upon him.
His war record, genuine though it was, was scarcely ever mentioned by him in later life. He proved his courage to start with and his modesty with regard to his personal exploits in his subsequent silence where they were concerned. If the war had continued, he might have died a poorer man, but he might also have given evidence of some of those finer qualities of character of which at odd times there were unexpected suggestions.
It was at the conclusion of hostilities that Loewenstein's ambitions became definitely crystallized.
It was his friendship with one man, perhaps—Doctor Pearson, unfortunately drowned in the sinking of the Lusitania— which gave substance and solidity to his ambitions, which encouraged him to step outside the routine business of small banking, and to strike boldly out along the great main road to wealth —not the paper wealth produced from the wizardry of figures, but wealth justifiably created from the brains of inventors, the machinery built to carry out their ambitious dreams, and, behind both, the mammoth driving-power of industry.
Pearson taught him all that there was to be learned of the power and the promise of hydroelectric utility. Loewenstein learned, too, the secret of the new methods of making art-silks. These two things were enough for Loewenstein. He saw in the manipulation of them the possibility of a huge fortune, and, obeying his instincts, he concentrated. His ignorance of other subjects was often pathetic, but he knew all that there was to be known of hydroelectric utilities and art-silks.
There is no doubt that for a time he was amazingly successful. The fabulous profits which he worked out on paper he actually realized. He walked in those days like a man in a dream. Two things only existed in the world, and those two things were in the forefront of all his thoughts and ambitions. There was fortune enough in them for a dozen Rothschilds.
A MAN IN A DREAM
IF only he could have kept his head, could have retained control over the peculiarities of his disposition, he would have been in a fair way to become the greatest millionaire the world has ever known. As he climbed, a certain magnificence, a flamboyant glorification of himself, brought him at times very near the borderland even of insanity. He conceived a great dream. No matter that others were first in the field, he, Alfred Loewenstein, determined that he would control the art-silk industry of the world, and the hydroelectric undertakings of every sort.
The amazing possibilities of his enterprise, racking and stimulating his brain by night and day, inspired in him during this period of his career a certain vainglorious egotism. With the financial stature of a David he mocked and flouted the financial Goliaths of the world, boldly entering the lists against them, hurrying in where they hesitated, running successfully risks which they feared to assume. His belief in himself and his own powers was amazing. As time passed on, it was reflected in the manner of his life. His entourage assumed a spectacular, almost a circus-like effect. The ordinary means of travel he scorned. He built not one but a small fleet of airships, engaged his own pilot —the famous war pilot Hinchcliffe at one time worked for him—rushed all over Europe, from capital to capital, working out his schemes with the help of a retinue of secretaries and typists, with a physician at his side to keep him tuned up, not from any real nervousness but because he must always be at his best in his personal contacts.
A $5,000,000 DEAL IN ONE DAY
IMAGINE the drama of such a life, the strain upon the nerves of even such a man as Loewenstein. One day he would lunch in Berlin with a group of bankers. The long-distance telephone and the wireless were at work on his behalf. The Bourse in Paris, where he had large credits, was weak. A few brief words, and he was riding over the clouds, a ledger and table of exchanges before him, a problem to solve—how to turn the money position to his own advantage.
Once he traveled half across Europe to meet the managing director of an art-silk enterprise. The concern had been started with insufficient capital. It needed money desperately. Its shares were a drug upon the market, salable only now and then in small quantities. There was no need for Loewenstein to study balance sheets. He knew more about the position and prospects of the company than the directors themselves.
"How much of your interests do you want to sell?" he demanded.
"Two and a half million dollars' worth," was the answer.
"What is the total amount of the shares upon the market?"
"Five and a half millions."
"You want to retain control," was Loewenstein's swift comment. "I buy the lot or none."
The directors had no wish to sell the lot. The business was simply suffering from lack of capital; a smaller amount would set them on their feet.
Loewenstein would have nothing to do with any smaller amount. He left the city with another large and prosperous business added to his group, paid for by a draft upon a bank in which he had not a quarter-million dollars!
Across the clouds once more, this time the engines beating themselves out to their full capacity. Two thousand miles, mostly flying by night, back to the city upon a bank of which he had given the draft. In the gray twilight of the morning his machine reached the earth. A racing car, sent for by wireless, was waiting. Before the ordinary business hours he was closeted with one of the financial magnates of the city. He left with the credit arranged for. Within twenty-four hours he had bought a business for five million dollars which was probably worth ten, and paid for it!
In addition to his mansion in Brussels, he purchased a château at Biarritz, and adjoining it a whole street of villas in which to house his ever-increasing retinue of clerks, secretaries, valets, masseurs and attendants of every description.
He had spells of taking exercise in any form which suggested itself. Sometimes he fenced, sometimes he boxed, nearly every day he submitted himself to the attentions of the best masseur he could find in Europe. He once told a friend, quite seriously, and with obvious belief in the truth of his words, that his health was necessary to the welfare of Europe. With regard to massage, he had the curious idea that when once he was used to the operator's particular form of manipulation of his body, the treatment failed to be beneficial. The man was thereupon ruthlessly dismissed, and as he usually claimed at least six months' fees, and he had often journeyed from the other side of Europe, Loewenstein's massages alone must have cost a small fortune.
NEVER A BOASTER
THEN there came to him one day a sudden return of his old passion for horses. Within a week he had bought a hunting lodge at Thorpe Satchville, near Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire, England, had passed plans for modernizing and trebling the stable accommodations, bought a stud of priceless hunters, engaged a houseful of servants, and built a miniature aerodrome and landing enclosure. He would fly sometimes from Brussels through the night, and hunt the next morning. He was the amazement of the neighborhood. For days after one of his meteor-like visits nothing else was talked about. His household had always to be prepared. Nothing was known of his coming until the beating of his engines roused the sleepy old town in the small hours of the morning.
In Melton his astonishing advent left people at first gasping. They scarcely knew what to make of him. A newcomer who expected any sort of social recognition was, as a rule, one of their own sort, with mutual friends and relations, the same shibboleth of speech and manners. But a foreigner, a banker of world-wide reputation, unknown personally to a single one of them, who flew the Channel by night to hunt with them by day, who kept a stable of magnificent horses and a house full of servants merely to be in attendance for one of his flying visits, was an inconceivable proposition. By degrees, however, the simplicity of his manners and speech, so far removed from the pageantry of his entourage, had their effect. People began by tolerating, then almost liked him.
To do him justice, he was never a boaster. He seldom alluded to the magnitude of his transactions, and treated the amazing character of his household as a thing of necessity. Furthermore, he rode well, and understood something about horses, two facts which in such a neighborhood counted for almost as much as his millions. His seat and style came in for a certain amount of criticism, which was almost natural among such classic surroundings. He rode in the Belgian style, with a tight seat, a trifle flashily, and it was no doubt in some respects due to the excellence of his horses that he seldom met with disaster. The riding school on his estate was built entirely for his personal glorification. Englishmen, as a rule, understand little about trick riding, in which he delighted, and he was always organizing jumping competitions, many of which, as he gave any price he was asked for his horses and they were mostly trained for the job, he contrived to win.
There was no doubt whatever about Loewenstein's fondness for English country life, especially as he became more familiar with it, or his genuine love of horses—decidedly unexpected traits in his character to those who only knew his business side. The courage with which he achieved his financial exploits never deserted him in the hunting field. Even his detractors, who found fault with his foreign manners and accent, admitted that he did not lack pluck, and in time he attained a popularity among his new friends which is easily understandable. Today all that section of Leicestershire is licking its wounds, and cutting down its stable expenses.
Loewenstein was supposed to be a good judge of a horse, but Easter Hero, for which he paid more than $25,000 just before the Aintree Meeting, let him down badly. He was luckier in France, however, and won two of the biggest steeplechases of 1927, paying $35,000 for one of the winners only a few weeks before the race. He was well known, though not exactly popular, as an exhibitor at the principal horse-shows, and often rode his own animals in the jumping competitions. At Olympia, on a recent occasion, he lost his temper and was asked not to compete again. This, however, was an exceptional incident, and, so far as one can gather, not like the man. His fondness for these indoor exhibitions, for riding showy, high-stepping horses by electric light before a concourse of people, seems somehow curiously indicative of the character of the man, and in keeping with the somewhat flamboyant habits of his life.
There was no man in the world who studied more closely the economy of time. He never went to bed without paper and a pencil by his side. If he could sleep, so much the better. If he failed, as he frequently did, he pressed the bell. A certain secretary, already arranged for, appeared, and he either dictated letters or proceeded in the evolution of one of his amazing schemes.
The number of secretaries who were always attached to his suite provoked occasionally the ridicule even of his friends. As a matter of fact, they were not so unnecessary as they seemed. His brain was tireless. Sooner than let it rest, he evolved propositions, and made notes about them of the most impossible character. It is a fact that not one tenth part of the letters, prospectuses and notes which he dictated by day and by night ever led to anything. On the other hand, it was he who was always their executioner. He often worked at a scheme which he knew from the start to be impracticable. As soon as he had arrived at the inevitable conclusion it was rejected.
A MANIA FOR WORK
IT was all mind-training he once told a friend, and he liked always to play with the idea that the mind needed exercise like the body. Hence, the masses of torn papers by which he was continually surrounded. Hence his absurd number of secretaries. Sometimes it must have seemed like a child playing the game of "grown-ups" in the nursery. But there is this always to be remembered. He made mistakes, but he never tried to breathe life into impossible propositions. It was he who filled the waste-paper baskets. What he kept was worth keeping.
There are hundreds of anecdotes concerning this devotion of his for work at all times and all hours. Even so recently as his last visit but one to Paris the head waiter at the hotel where he always stayed was summoned to his room with the dinner menu. The waiter found his important client lying upon a couch being examined by a doctor, with a French and English secretary on either side to whom he had been dictating letters.
"I will return presently, monsieur," the waiter suggested.
"Stay where you are," Loewenstein ordered. "Doctor, the pain has gone. Your further services are not needed. Monsieur Grisson, my private secretary in the next room, will pay your fees. Miss X, take a letter to the National Bank of Merchandise in Montreal. Charles, give me the menu."
The doctor took his leave—rather wondering whether he had to do with a lunatic. Loewenstein gave a long and somewhat intricate letter to the young lady at his side. After each sentence he indicated a dish upon the menu. The letter and the order for dinner were finished at about the same time. The waiter left the room a little dazed, just as Loewenstein was summoning his German secretary.
Another instance of Loewenstein's mania for never-ceasing work under any conditions is afforded by the fact that when he agreed to have his portrait painted by Sir William Orpen in the spring of last year he insisted upon having four secretaries in the room, to one or the other of whom he dictated ceaselessly. Sir William expostulated in vain, and very nearly abandoned the commission. The only time he could get his sitter to give him the least attention was when he was painting the head, and lack of movement was necessary. The portrait is still incomplete, but is said to be a striking production even in its present state.
Business, as he viewed it, must always be on a great scale, must always be transacted with almost lightning-like dispatch. He had no use for the financier who asked for time to make up his mind, no use for even the friends who disagreed with him, nothing but a mild and wondering contempt for the rest of the world who were not interested in his hobbies. The idea of a partnership with anybody only irritated him. He fought for personal supremacy. Here, in his oligarchical ambitions, his impatience of rivalry, his overweening confidence in himself, he met with his first disaster. Once too often he challenged the mightier force. He emerged from the contest still defiant, but with the prestige of many minor successes shattered.
ONE IMPORTANT FAILURE
THE British Celanese Company at that time was the greatest undertaking of its sort in the world, with a staff of chemists, including Henry Dreyfus and Clavel, who had made its products unrivaled everywhere. Loewenstein, although at that time on friendly terms with the Dreyfus brothers and their co-directors, realized that with this company in competition he would never succeed in his great ambition, which was to dominate the art-silk production of the world.
The company required money, and, with such magnificent prospects, was not afraid to say so. They agreed to consider Loewenstein's proposals chiefly because he led the directors to believe that he could help them in many ways, notably by getting the Tubize Company of Belgium to give them the benefit of their technical experience, and also to buy such a quantity of cellulose acetate to make up in their own factories as would substantially decrease the cost of manufacture to British Celanese. In return Loewenstein was to have a large commission, with which he agreed to form a holding company and to buy $2,500,000 worth of Celanese debentures.
The holding company scheme turned out to be a failure. In the first place, its manner of issuing its prospectus was an offense to the Dreyfus interests. It set out in bold type that it was formed to acquire the specified interest in British Celanese, but in an obscure corner of the prospectus it added in microscopic type that it also took power to invest in any Continental artificial silk or cellulose firm. Furthermore, the money promised by Loewenstein was never forthcoming, and later on it became clear that the Tubize Company could not buy any appreciable quantity of cellulose acetate, and that in technical knowledge its chemists were behind, not in advance of, Dreyfus and Clavel.
"If I were drowning," said a big shareholder in Celanese, at a meeting called to consider the situation, "I would certainly hurry up and get it over if I saw the holding company's boat coming to my rescue, with Loewenstein at the helm."
HE MAKES A BITTER ENEMY
AS soon as the company realized that it had been overreached, recriminations began. It developed into a battle for control. Dreyfus bought shares against Loewenstein, and the former, who was a remarkably astute man, as well as a great chemist, had no difficulty in retaining the sympathies of his co-directors. He was determined that the company, whose enormous prospects were all built upon his brain, should never fall into the hands of a man whom he designated as a "marauding financier."
The phrase was repeated to Loewenstein, and the fight waged more fiercely than ever. Stripped of its financial technicalities, the dispute which filled the columns of the press for weeks was after all a struggle between two men—Loewenstein pulling the strings which brought down the golden stream, but occasionally failing in his promises, and Dreyfus, the accomplished scientist, a conservative, far-seeing young man of affairs, wholly convinced of the soundness of his great enterprise, and fully determined not to see its control pass for the sake of a little easy money into the possession of a man whom he now thoroughly disliked and distrusted. The progress of the struggle, so far as one can read between the lines, was probably never seriously in doubt. The Dreyfus group were established, and they managed to preserve the sympathy of their investors.
Why not, indeed! The brains of Henry Dreyfus and his brother had given a new product to the world, had created a new and marvelous industry. Against such a feat, what did the command of a few millions count? Why, in other words, should money buy brains? For the first time Loewenstein saw defeat staring him in the face. There was very little financial loss attached to it, but the abandonment of his scheme was a great blow to his prestige. At the last moment—unlike himself—he changed his tactics. He tried to make friends with the man whom he had fought so bitterly. Dreyfus, having private insults also to avenge, refused his extended hand. For that Loewenstein never forgave him. From being on terms of, at any rate, apparent, friendship they became bitter enemies. Loewenstein disposed of the royalties, privileges and shares which he had acquired, without damage to the credit or prospects of the company. In every Bourse, and in every money market of the world, he announced loudly that he had done with British Celanese. Now and then his auditors must have smiled. They must have known that the British Celanese Company had dispensed with further financial aid from the Belgian banker.
After Alfred Loewenstein had lost his first important financial duel his star was low. He had had no monetary loss. But his standing suffered. The lone wolf was no longer regarded as invincible. Some big interests snubbed him. So he jumped his attention from art-silks to hydroelectric power. Driven by his mad, ceaseless desire to increase his holdings he built until he had reared a fantastic financial structure that brought profits to others as well as himself. But the United States proved too tough a nut to crack. This is the second article by B. Phillips Oppenheim dealing with the amazing life and death of the financier
ALFRED LOEWENSTEIN was to meet with other disappointments and other successes before his course was run, but it is probable that his complete failure in the duel against Dreyfus was the first serious check he had experienced in his career. He emerged from it without financial loss, probably even a richer man, but there was not a banking house in Europe where the fact of his failure was not known and commented upon.
Bankers, after all, vary in their characteristics. They are not necessarily men whose eyes are glued forever upon their ledgers. A credit or a debit account is sometimes in their minds not wholly good or bad according to the margin shown. It is the vital force, the human personality standing behind these figures which counts. Loewenstein, in this instance, notwithstanding his reputation of being probably the most daring financier in the world, had met with a failure. The figures in their ledgers remained as they were. Alfred Loewenstein might still be a valuable client, still a man to trust and put faith in, to be welcome either as a depositor or a borrower, but there were a great many of these bankers, notably in his own city, Brussels, who never quite forgot that Loewenstein, whom they had grown to look upon as invincible, had at last known failure.
FAILURE TAUGHT HIM NOTHING
[Due to a scanning error parts of the next two paragraphs are missing in
the source text. Conjectural restorations are enclosed in square brackets.]
THE Dreyfus affair represented Loewenstein's first reverse in the arena of finance. Its effect might have saved him. Failure is sometimes the greatest tonic imaginable. Bravely met and acknowledged, one is restored to one's sense of proportion, purged of egotism, taught to look at the world with whole-seeing eyes. Loewenstein failed, however, to bring his intellect to bear upon his reverse. He put it down to outside [caus]es, and personal jealousies. He [was] smart, but he declined to accept [failure].
[This] craziness of outlook, com[mon to many] men of phenomenal suc[ess] [There followed] on his part a series of [...]considered undertakings [...] figure in Brussels in [...] to a charming wom[an] [...]one of the best [in the cou]ntry, and indulging [in sudden bu]rsts of princely hospitality.
In a wave of patriotism, inspired, it is suggested, by the notice which was taken of him in high quarters, he one day sprung upon the Belgian Government the amazing offer of a loan of $50,000,000 to insure the stabilization of the franc. He asked for only an incredibly low rate of interest, but he demanded the right to print the Belgian bank notes, and made many other ridiculous stipulations.
The scheme was naturally rejected, as Loewenstein probably intended that it should be. He took care, however, that the offer was reported on the front page of most of the journals of Europe, and again every tongue was set wagging about the amazing achievements of this modern Monte Cristo. A little later, he made a somewhat similar offer to France, whose ministers appear to have declined to discuss the matter officially, at the same time expressing curiosity as to the details of his scheme.
A LOT OF FREE ADVERTISING
IT seems probable that some official or minister in the French government approached Loewenstein privately some time early in 1916 when the falling franc was creating a financial scare all over the world, and invited him to make any suggestion he could which might help toward even a partial stabilization.
Loewenstein's response was an astonishing exemplification of the man's audacious methods. The communication reached him just as he was about to leave for Barcelona, to embark upon a great scheme for securing complete control of the hydroelectric organizations of Spain. He at once, therefore, conceived the idea of making use of this indirect and purely tentative inquiry from a possible member of the French Cabinet as the basis of a gigantic scheme of self-advertisement which was to help him toward success in his personal undertakings.
He announced that, as his plans were all made, he must proceed to Barcelona that day, but that, from there, he would confide to the press, and to anyone who cared to hear it, his proposals with reference to the stabilization of the franc. He then, through his publicity agent, distributed invitations right and left to people of note in every country. Princes, politicians and bankers were all bidden to hear the oracle speak. Barcelona, with the limelight turned skillfully upon it, became the center of European interest.
Amazing Alfred Loewenstein! A wonderful example of how a man in whom is sufficiently developed the bump of egotism may mold circumstance to his own purpose. He arrived at Barcelona in one of his fast-flying fleet of airships, and, following him, in another ship, came his valets, his physician and his masseur. An entire floor in the Ritz Hotel was engaged for his secretaries, his typists, his guests, and his own private suite of apartments. A special train brought others of his retinue. All told, they numbered thirty or forty, including the late Captain Hinchcliffe, who acted on that occasion as his pilot, and his publicity manager, who had once been a Member of Parliament.
Proceedings were started with an immense banquet. The food at Barcelona, choice enough for some of the best-known epicures in the world, failed to satisfy Loewenstein, simple though his own tastes were. Back went the planes to fetch the finest chickens from the north of France, rare fruits from where they might be found in Paris, paté de foie gras and caviar from Prunier's. The banquet was served at an extravagant cost—$150 to $200 a head was one journalist's estimate. What did that matter? It was Loewenstein who paid, and Loewenstein was wielding the divining rod of the gold seeker.
DODGING THE ISSUE
AT the conclusion of the feast, everyone hoped for at least a few words from their host containing some idea as to tomorrow's pronouncement. They were willing to listen to any proposals which might have been made, with the lenient logic of men who had dined not only well, but wonderfully. Nothing of the sort happened, however. Loewenstein never once in the course of the evening even referred to the burning question of the hour. He spoke of nothing but hydroelectric power, and his associates knew his peculiar habits too well to attempt to force the conversation. The great surprise, however, was to come on the morrow when he more or less officially met the crowd of journalists, financiers and French politicians who had traveled down this not inconsiderable distance, with no other purpose than to hear his plan for dealing with the franc. To their amazement, he commenced his discourse by still talking about nothing but hydroelectric power. When at last he was pulled up by an impatient member of the audience, and could no longer avoid the other and greater issue, his enthusiasm and his definiteness of manner disappeared completely. He had nothing to offer but the vaguest generalities.
"Without a doubt something must be done about the franc," he agreed. "I have a scheme in my mind, but it is not yet matured. Next week or the week after I may have proposals to make."
Loewenstein, probably the most powerful and inspired champion of a new industry, never received his due reward for the insight and acumen which enabled him to appreciate from the first the great value to the world of the mass production of art-silks.
LOEWENSTEIN IS AGAIN OUTWITTED
LOEWENSTEIN was, without the slightest doubt, of great assistance to the British Celanese Company in its earlier days, but his disastrous duel with Dreyfus, provoked by his own headstrong methods, brought to an untimely conclusion his connection with this company. A man of subtler methods might have gained his end.
There was nothing unreasonable about Dreyfus, but he was a man who would never consent to be bullied. Loewenstein tried it, and paid the price. He was still, however, a lover of art-silks, still unprepared to accept defeat. In very much the same spirit, he approached the directors of the Enka Art-Silk Co. He obtained a foothold here, and was pushing through his scheme to secure control with every confidence and apparent prospect of success. Again, however, his overbearing methods brought him disaster.
The directors seem suddenly to have made up their minds to be without the Loewenstein interest. At the last moment, they took the unusual step of issuing a large number of preference shares, allotted to nominees of their own, and Loewenstein found himself once more outwitted. His method of meeting the reverse was intensely characteristic. With the printer's ink scarcely dry upon the shares, he embarked in his airplane and flew to Biarritz.
Here, with four secretaries and five typists idle at their desks, he spent a week of apparent recreation, although there was scarcely a moment when his brain was wholly at rest. He was no longer persona grata at the Golf Club, for he had quarreled with the authorities over what was reported to be a flagrant breach of the rules.
BARRED FROM THE CASINO
THE incident itself is not without a certain element of humor, for the Biarritz Golf Club has the reputation of being the most autocratic institution of its sort in Europe, and one can easily imagine a man of Loewenstein's quick temper, in swift revolt against not always reasonable restrictions. At the Casino, he was also, unfortunately, in disgrace. One night a business associate, to obtain a brief visit from whom he had sent a plane to Barcelona, expressed a desire to visit the Casino, and the two men strolled over there after dinner. Loewenstein was in dinner clothes, but his companion—the visit being a short one, and simply for the discussion of a purely business matter— had omitted to change. The attendant promptly barred his entrance. Loewenstein at first smiled.
"This gentleman is with me," he explained, with the confidence of a man who is used to giving $50 tips on every possible occasion.
The attendant, to his surprise, was unmoved. No arguments that could be produced changed his attitude in the least. An appeal to higher authorities was equally unsuccessful. Loewenstein, losing his temper, struck the attendant, and was hustled out of the place.
Both Casino and Golf Club, thereafter, were closed to him in this, his beloved Biarritz.
There still remained to him, however, what was undoubtedly his favorite form of exercise—riding. Day after day he was in the saddle morning and afternoon. He was always carefully dressed in well-cut riding breeches, and somewhat formal coat and hat. Negligé never appealed to him, in any form. Sometimes he carried his hat in his hand when he faced the Atlantic wind to the disarrangement of his primly brushed gray-black hair, but otherwise he rode as he might have done in the parks of Brussels or London.
His one object, during those few days' solitude, spent mostly in the saddle, was to get as near to the sea as possible. He would ride down the roughest roads for the sake of a brief gallop along the sands, pull up his horse suddenly with an iron wrist, and wheel round to face that magnificent expanse of the Atlantic, the great waves rolling and thundering up to the shingle, crashing and spending themselves amongst the rocks, throwing a glittering cascade into the sunlight.
Loewenstein was no dreamer but he was a mighty planner. These lonely hours on the sands were never wasted. Then, at five o'clock one morning, the inevitable happened. A sudden wave of convulsive energy had lent throbbing life to the villa. Secretaries and typists, hastily summoned, had toiled through the night at his volcanic bidding. With the first streak of dawn his pilot was summoned; before midday he was in Paris.
His latest scheme was probably the most ambitious he had ever conceived. He had just met with one failure. He retaliated by challenging an infinitely more powerful opponent. He spent two days in Paris, during which he lived in an atmosphere of figures.
FROM SILKS TO HYDROELECTRICS
THEN one morning—a gray, misty morning it was—a strange airplane was signaled at Croydon. A little murmur went round as the marks were recognized. The arrival of the Belgian banker always created a certain amount of commotion. Every attendant watched the descending plane eagerly. There was no one who rode the skies who tipped like Loewenstein! They knew his habits. He would want to be off five minutes after his arrival. They did their best to help him, and it paid them well. In little more than the five minutes he was in a high-powered car, and before midday he had laid his astounding proposition before the heads of one of the largest industrial undertakings in the world, who had only recently embarked upon the manufacture of art-silks as one of their minor activities.
Their reply to his suggestions, made directly that morning across the table, and repeated with amplifications to the legal firm who represented him in London, was curt, almost peremptory:
"Nothing to do with Loewenstein!"
It was perhaps the first time his advances had ever been treated quite so summarily, and without a doubt it had a certain effect upon his temperament. It entailed no monetary loss, but it brought him, necessarily, a lessening of prestige.
Loewenstein's capacity for concentration was probably, at this epoch of his life, his salvation. He turned his attention to hydroelectrics, and upon different undertakings, connected with that great industry, he lavished all his time and thoughts for the remainder of his life.
Like a great octopus he stretched out his tentacles through the medium of the company which he had founded, the International Holdings, and absorbed one by one, chiefly in Canada and America, every smaller concern which came into the market for money. He had no interests outside this mad desire to add ceaselessly to his holdings, save his affection for his wife and son, and his passion for horses, and he was very careful that neither of these should interfere with the ever-gnawing urge of his ambitions.
Just before his last visit to America, it became necessary for him to engage another secretary. He always interviewed applicants for the post himself, and was almost childishly anxious to impress his own personality upon them. A young lady arrived, strongly recommended, and, without a doubt, eminently suited to the post.
"What do you know about hydroelectrics?" he asked her, before she had even handed him a single one of her references.
"Nothing whatever," she answered, a little startled.
He looked at her furiously.
"Then you're no use to me," he declared, turning his back upon her.
Of course ho knew that his attitude was unreasonable, and he proved it by studiously avoiding asking any questions of the sort of the next candidate who presented herself, and who was promptly engaged.
Loewenstein, for some considerable period after his comparative retirement from the art-silk world, did well. His new love —hydroelectrics —responded readily enough to his advances. The shares in his two great companies— International Holdings and Hydroelectric Securities—of no par value, began steadily to rise. Two or three recently launched industrial concerns, with excellent prospects, were added to the group. The tapes must have been pleasant reading to Loewenstein just then. Unfalteringly the rise continued.
In Leicestershire, he talked hydroelectrics to his friends, and they listened eagerly. One horse-dealer in the neighborhood of Melton who invested in International Holdings is said at one time to have been worth, on paper, $2,500,000. The boom was on all over the world, and, as usual, everyone believed that it would last forever. Shares which had advanced from a reasonable and dividend-paying price of, say fifty to seventy or seventy-five, were chalked up to 100. The man who sold was a fool; the man who did not buy was losing a golden opportunity. The large shareholders in the great industrial concerns of the world found themselves on paper becoming richer every day. Many a man who had never dreamed of such an ambition discovered himself by the morning papers a millionaire. Loewenstein on paper in these days was probably worth all the money people credited him with —$75,000,000 to $100,000,000. But finance, when it grows into big figures, presents uncanny problems. The money was there, and the stock exchange quotations for his shares. Yet it could be touched only in driblets.
NO LAME DUCKS
ONE of the chief reasons for the phenomenal rise of International Holdings and Hydroelectric Securities was that the majority of them were in Loewenstein's hands, and Loewenstein knew better than to attempt to sell. So the shares soared.
"Tell me seriously, Loewenstein," one of his Leicestershire friends asked on one of his latest visits, "what do you consider the ultimate value of International Holdings?"
"One thousand dollars," was Loewenstein's reply, "and at that I am not sure that I should sell."
He breathed the same spirit wherever he went—a spirit of sublime and buoyant confidence. People began to believe in him more completely than ever. There were a few who still shook their heads, but a great many more who looked upon him as a magician. There was this much in his favor. The industries of which he had obtained control were sound. They were going concerns, earning money, part of the great commercial driving force of the world.
He tinkered with no lame ducks. Every one of those subsidiary concerns was able to pay a dividend into the coffers of its parent organization, but—and here was the question concerning which no ordinary speculator was able to satisfy himself—a dividend upon what capital? Loewenstein kept a great deal to himself.
The time arrived when Loewenstein found himself wealthier on paper than he had ever been in his life, but suffering from a veritable embarrassment of riches. He was no bull-headed speculator, and he knew quite well that prices were very near the top. He paid the penalty for being a man whose movements were watched the world over.
He needed money, but in Europe, at any rate, he feared to place any of his large holdings upon the market. He foresaw exactly what the result would have been. In every money market, there would have been sinister whispers that Loewenstein was unloading.
At a few moments' notice, he decided to pay a visit to New York. There he believed that he might be able to carry out one or two of his more recently developed schemes by a merging of shares rather than by an absolute realization.
This time, there was a certain amount of secrecy about his movements. He traveled by one of the lesser known lines, and his press agent was cautious in his announcements. On the voyage out, he is reported to have been restless and distrait. He received the prices several times a day, but he could have found in them no particular cause for disquietude. His shares were only falling in common with others of known value. He knew very well, that if only he could find the right arguments, open up the right line of thought, there was all the money he needed to be found in New York without the sale of a single share.
In the United States—in New York especially—Loewenstein was never regarded as one of the possible successors to the money giants of the world. His entourage failed to impress. The newspapers made fun of it. Even the serious part of the world regarded his passion for flying from city to city, his contempt for all ordinary modes of locomotion, his flamboyant display of opulence, with, at the best, a kindly tolerance. There were many Wall Street magnates of greater wealth than Loewenstein who were content to travel by the ordinary methods, and who did not even possess a railway car of their own. Nor did his methods of finance appeal to the New York banker. Everything about him was too much in the air.
There is no doubt that on this last and vital occasion Loewenstein once more failed to convince in New York. The bankers whom he visited listened to him with interest but preferred to talk airplanes to finance. With their usual business hospitality they offered him everything except what he wanted —money.
His press agent did his best. The newspapers were filled with descriptions of his two airplanes, with particulars of his staff, and he was interviewed continually as regards the curriculum of his work. His days, however, were passed in what seemed to him idleness. He was careful to collect all particulars concerning two hydroelectric power companies—one in Canada and one in the States—who were not disinclined to a fusion on their own terms, but the matter never advanced. Loewenstein would have bitten his tongue out rather than have confessed it, but the raising of large sums of money just then had proved to be a task beyond his powers. On twenty-four hours' notice he turned his back upon the United States.
A FIT OF PASSIONATE ENERGY
RETURNING on the steamer—the Îsle de France, I think it was, and some time in May of 1928—he made the acquaintance of a Russian banker. They were introduced upon the stairs leading to the saloon, and for some reason or other Loewenstein was possessed with one of his fits of passionate energy. He gripped his new acquaintance by the shoulder, and lectured to him first on hydroelectric power, and then on banking, with a ceaseless flow of words, a storm of gestures, a persistence which dumfounded his companion.
"We must finish this conversation later on in the smoking-room," the latter once ventured to suggest.
"We will finish it now," was the prompt reply.
The Russian sat down upon the stairs. Loewenstein continued his tirade for another hour. He never once wandered from the subject of money and hydroelectric power. Sometimes, he was a little vague, but he never altogether lost the thread of his discourse. He gave his victim—a friend of mine— no further chance of escape, and he wound up quite abruptly with a hearty handshake.
"I like you," he said. "You are the first banker I have met for a long time to whom I can talk. Most of them are not bankers at all; they are only auditors. You have vision, the proper sort of understanding—sympathetic understanding."
"If we talk any more, let it be somewhere where there are chairs around," the Russian pleaded good-humoredly.
Loewenstein took my friend by the arm.
"Come with me, and I will show you what work is," he invited.
FIRST HERALD OF COMING STORM
HE led him in to what might have been a bank parlor. Two of the smaller dining rooms had been converted into one, and at various tables, either typing, or studying ledgers or files, were at least a half-dozen secretaries and clerks, and two typists. Loewenstein glanced at his companion with a covert little smile —the smile of the man who knows that he is succeeding in impressing.
"We have a private telephone into the wireless room," he announced. "I wanted to engage it altogether, except for ship's calls, but the captain was obstinate. My business is carried on from here, just the same as on land. I have just had a message from Madrid. I can tell you most of the exchanges, if they interest you."
A telephone rang, and a secretary took down a message. Loewenstein read it with a frown, and, moving across the room, seated himself by the side of a typist.
His interest in my friend was undoubted, but it is indicative of his state of mind at the time that, although they spent five more days at sea, he made no attempt to renew their conversation. As a matter of fact, that message was one of the first heralds of coming storm, and, during the rest of the voyage, Loewenstein spent nearly the whole of the time in his rooms, dictating ceaselessly, continually sending and receiving messages.
In a room of his great mansion in Brussels, Alfred Loewenstein sat alone. He had dismissed his secretaries when the messenger brought in the letter. His fingers played with the seal. What he was to read in a moment was to decide whether this was the end of his great struggle or the beginning of fresh triumphs. His blunt fingers ripped open the envelope. A glance was sufficient for the contents. Not many hours later this man who had built fortunes alone and unaided dropped into the sea from his own airplane scurrying across the clouds over the English Channel. Loewenstein had set a good many persons guessing during his lifetime; he left the world a riddle to be solved, with his death.
THERE is no doubt whatever that as he neared the end of his career Alfred Loewenstein, although he was still a great figure in the world of finance, was forced to realize the fact that his successes had been bought at the sacrifice of a good deal of personal popularity. He possessed amazing gifts of concentration, of persuasion, of perseverance, but he was impatient and rude to those whom he failed to convince, and had not the slightest sympathy with those who were unable to quickly follow his own particular train of reasoning. The other fellow's point of view meant nothing to him. He saw only his own side of the question.
Lack of agreement, even on a disputable point, was an offense to him. He gave way frequently to violent outbursts of anger. One of the most recent of these was when he quarreled with his fellow directors of the Sidro Company as to the prospects and possibilities of Brazilian Traction—a famous and successful company, long- before it came under his control. He lost the day, and for once the resilience of his mentality failed him. He went away to a Continental spa, accompanied by his physician, and he was, without a doubt, for a short time on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him— a new scheme for the merging of two companies, hitherto at loggerheads. Away went his cables in every direction. Within 24 hours, he was surrounded by his usual entourage of secretaries and typists. The threatened nervous attack passed as though by magic. The foundations were being laid for another huge combine, and Loewenstein was himself again.
A GENIAL THUNDERBOLT
DURING the last few months of his life, Alfred Loewenstein was to face once more something in the nature of a serious reverse. He found himself often hampered in the operations which he conducted in his own city by a rival bank of at least equal standing to his own. He had been so successful as a merger of industrial companies that he conceived the idea of an amalgamation with the bank in question. It was probably one of the most unwise schemes upon which he ever embarked.
He must have known that he had little to offer in the way of inducement, but his amazing self-confidence triumphed over his judgment, and he set forward his propositions. He not only set them forth, but he failed to do what any prudent man would have done—keep them secret. The news must be known, and whispered about the Bourse! Loewenstein's was to become the senior bank of the city. The more he pondered upon the idea, the more it dazzled him. Without his being in any way embarrassed, the time had certainly arrived when he needed money, and here was a marvelous way of helping himself to whatever he required. He did not even take trouble to make friends with the directors, with some of whom he had quarreled in earlier days. Secretaries consulted ledgers, and brought him sheaves of figures. The typewriters clicked. Loewenstein dictated his terms, keeping copies which were actually handed to his friends. The genial thunderbolt was launched in the shape of an official visit to the bank in question.
The result must have done more than anything else in life to strike a mortal blow to Loewenstein's undoubted vanity. His proposals were firmly, even bluntly, rejected. There was no question of terms, no debate as to conditions. In plain words, the reply was simply this—that an amalgamation with the House of Loewenstein would not be considered. The directors of the bank, to his bitter disappointment and unrestrained anger, refused to even discuss his proposals with either himself or his agents.
The morning when the great courtyard gates of the Loewenstein mansion in Brussels rolled open to receive the messenger in the familiar livery of the Brussels Bank, bringing with him that fatal sealed envelope, was perhaps a psychological climax of Alfred Loewenstein's life. With possibly some premonition of what that envelope might contain, he motioned away the two secretaries and the typist who were in the room. Even when he was alone, one may imagine that his fingers lingered for a moment around the seal.
THE UNCROWNED MONEY KING
WHAT he was to read as soon as his fingers had torn open the envelope was to decide whether this was the beginning of the end of his great struggle, or the beginning of fresh triumphs. Some gift of that second sight which even the least psychic of us are supposed to possess at rare intervals might have come to him at that supreme moment. He may have seen himself the uncrowned money king of the world, the envied and commanding figure in every bourse in Europe and America, the Jehovah of social and financial life—Alfred Loewenstein, to greet whom even kings stretched out their hands. He would sweep round Europe and across to America, collecting his tribute, building up—always building up—always accepting the homage of the men whom he had passed by the way, never forgetting the men who had sought in earlier days to pull the ladder from beneath his feet.
A knock at the door! He made no reply—a sign that he was not to be disturbed— but the train of his thoughts was broken. He was back in the aching uncertainty of the present. His blunt fingers tore open the seal. He drew out the stiff, broad sheet of paper, and he read, even at a glance, the message which, unless a miracle occurred, must mean his doom. He was usually a man of violent passions. This time he was cool and deliberate. He tore into small pieces the offending letter. The fragments fluttered downward.
Perhaps it was a vision of his wife crossing the lawn which inspired him, and his courage for a moment flamed up. A parcel of brainless, unimaginative plodders along the broad ways of finance! Were they to check him in his progress? He was still Alfred Loewenstein. He was still the man of miracles. A few more added to the list of his enemies upon whose head retribution some day should fall! What did it matter? There were other gold mines to tap, other paths which would lead him to the coveted place. He would show them! He was still Alfred Loewenstein, still the great money conjuror of Europe. A fig for them all!
He touched lightly four times the ivory bell button which stood upon his study table. The appointed secretary glided in. Without words, he placed a long slip in his employer's hand. Loewenstein read in silence the terse, typewritten comment which headed the list of figures. He read the first:
BERLIN—Considerable weakness was shown from the opening of the markets in Loewenstein securities. International Holdings declined ten points, and Hydroelectrics four, on account of rumors of financial trouble in Brussels.
He crumpled up the slip, and turned to the next one, also handed to him by
the pale-faced young man without comment:
LONDON—International Holdings and Hydroelectrics were the weaker openings of the market. Persistent selling from Brussels is causing considerable anxiety. Firm prices are difficult to obtain as jobbers are shy of dealings; International Holdings may be reckoned ten points down and Hydroelectrics five.
The young man silently handed up the last slip. It also was translated into English for Loewenstein, though an excellent linguist, preferred all financial news in one language:
PARIS—The Bourse opened amidst considerable excitement. Owing to disquieting rumors from Brussels, and adverse selling in London, International Holdings and Hydroelectrics dropped heavily.
THE FAREWELL VISIT
THE last of the slips! Loewenstein's type of courage was, after all, of the bull-dog quality. His little exclamation as he waved the young man away was almost contemptuous.
"We'll send buying orders out later in the day," he announced. "Telephone to the aerodrome for a ship at three o'clock. I shall need a full staff."
Two hours later, Loewenstein crossed the Channel to England. At Croydon he was met either by his agent or a representative of the banking house who dealt with his affairs in England. The greater part of the next day he spent in the city. There was a certain amount of routine work always to be done on his frequent visits, which he accomplished in his usual methodical manner. In the evening he traveled to Leicestershire, and spent most of the following day going round his stables. It is significant of the man, in the light of later happenings, that he should have chosen to spend his last complete day amongst the only surroundings which appealed to him outside his work. He had within the last few years spent a fortune in improvements upon the house, installing a private Turkish bath, and luxurious suites of apartments, in one wing for his guests, in another for his secretaries. He had laid out a private steeplechase course, two miles in length, upon a portion of the estate. His aerodrome, which was constructed in less than two months, was perfectly equipped, and the largest private one in the country. He had spared no money in any direction to make the place unique. He had even, for several years, leased the old Crofton Park race course from the Duke of Rutland. Notwithstanding all this reckless expenditure, however, there was a touch of the gewgaw quality about the whole establishment.
At night he dined with the Master of Hounds, Major Burnaby, at Baggrave Hall. His host's account of the visit is worth repeating in his own words:
"I have never seen Mr. Loewenstein in better form than he was on Sunday night," said Major Burnaby. "Contrary to his usual custom he talked throughout dinner. He was witty, and in jovial mood. He jokingly asked my advice on financial matters, as he usually did and he told me how successful the International Holdings had become notwithstanding fluctuations in price. He insisted upon it that the temporary slump was an affair of no consequence. He concluded with his invariable dictum— that International Holdings were an investment, not a speculation."
Yet at that moment the shares of the Hydroelectrics, the company, next to International Holdings, nearest to his heart, had fallen from 86 to 65, and were becoming almost unsalable. Today they stand at under 30. He affected to the end to disregard the falling markets all over the world. It was a brave gesture, but hardly a convincing one. At the back of his mind he must have realized that there was scarcely an important bank in London, Paris, Brussels, New York, or Berlin where the chiefs were not penciling out their calculations, watching the diminishing margins which meant the extinction of credit.
Alfred Loewenstein traveled up to town the next morning to meet with further bad news in every direction. He probably spent most of the day with his agent, and possibly in seclusion, for scarcely anyone in the city seems to have been aware of his presence. The attitude of the city must have seemed gloomy enough, for there were continual reports of heavy selling of the Loewenstein securities in Brussels and Paris, and rumors of financial disaster were to be heard on every side.
A GALLANT POSEUR
THE few people with whom he came into contact during that fateful day— mostly business associates, and men whose sympathies at least were with him—speak continually of his cheerful demeanor. That was probably part of the innate courage of the man. Just as he was a poseur before the world, in the exaggerations of his entourage, in his methods of traveling, in his flamboyant prodigality, so, in those days of looming disaster he was something of a poseur, although a gallant one, in the cheerfulness and bonhomie of his manner, his pressing invitation to the head of the firm of Sir Henry Holt, his agents in London, to spend the weekend with him in Brussels, his continual allusions to the slump as being universal, a useful weeding-out, a warning to speculators.
He seems to have been particularly careful, however, to have sent a message to a young lady, who was to have crossed with him in his airplane to spend a few days at his house in Brussels and visit the horse show with him, to cancel her visit. He mounted into the plane at Croydon with the hum of the city still in his ears, soon to be replaced by the roar of his engines.
He was alone now with his little retinue of secretaries and typists. The necessity for concealment was passed. His farewell smiles had left his mouth a little drawn, his face a little haggard. Nevertheless, there must have been relief in his mind. He was alone, to face his own problems, free from the curious eyes of a speculating world. He sat alone, and he sat close to the window. For the last time he looked down upon the great city, almost hidden under its pall of smoke—the city in which he had never been entirely popular, but in which he had achieved some of his greatest triumphs.
THE FATEFUL VOYAGE
IT was to be his farewell to the vital spots of life. Perhaps he knew it. There is always doubt.
Imagine that airship four thousand feet above the sea, a speck in the skies, the latest scientific achievement of man, tearing across the clouds, from one world's capital to another, at the bidding of its owner. There was nothing about the commencement of the voyage to indicate the terrible tragedy so close at hand. Alfred Loewenstein was traveling as no other man in the world has ever traveled, with all the paraphernalia with which he loved to surround himself—a French and English typist, his valet, his private secretary, his own pilot driving his own airplane. No one seems to have noticed anything unusual in his manner at the commencement of or during the voyage itself. One person seems to have spoken of a slight restlessness, but it was the man's nature to be restless, and the financial storm through which he was passing was certainly quite enough to have upset the nerves of even a stronger man. He left the saloon, naturally enough—and never reappeared. If only one could have hung upon the edge of a cloud within sight of the plane for the next few moments! Was there, perhaps, for a single second, a furtive glance through the window down toward the vast gulf below, a shuddering pause, the last effort of a master mind to grapple with the problem he was so soon to solve? Then a shoulder against the stoutly resisting door, through the merest crack of which must have come the sobbing and the roaring of the wind, drowning even the beat of the great engines. Last of all, the man himself, swaying for a moment upon that difficult threshold, then off on his terrible quest, his body hurtling through space, all dreams and fears dead in those first few seconds, a shapeless mass, falling through the clouds into the white-capped carpet of a merciless sea. The wheeling sea gulls may have seen, but no human being. Down into the trough of the sea went the body and brain of a man of great achievements, of great courage, whose manner of living in the world bore, after all, some curious similarity to his manner of leaving it.
Surmise is sometimes more intriguing when the truth can never be fully known. Loewenstein set a good many people guessing during his lifetime; he has left us a riddle to solve with his death. The briefest study of the man's character would lead us to the conviction that he is exactly of the type to have made that gloriously dramatic exit from the world sooner than face a horde of angry creditors, and the loss of his great place amongst the world's financiers. But, supposing there was no horde of angry creditors to face, supposing a large portion of his fortune- is still intact, is it possible to reconcile the theory of suicide with what we know of the man himself? The close student of human nature will probably decide that it is.
HIS NAME HAD LOST ITS MAGIC
REMEMBER the facts. Money he may still have possessed when he stepped into his airplane at Croydon on that cloudy and windy evening, but power and prestige he had certainly lost. He had shown himself incapable of averting that terrible slump in his shares which was a feature of every money market all over the world, a slump which was diminishing his capital by millions each day. His name had lost its magic.
At the first sign of reverse, people remembered. They began to realize that many of his successes had been achieved through sheer audacity. The popular man in finance is the man who takes his friends along with him, and makes a genial business of money-getting. Loewenstein had worked too much alone to have friends and partisans. He must have felt himself forced, now that the tide of reverse had commenced, to face an unsympathetic and unhelpful world. He must have realized that any new enterprise which he might suggest would, for years to come, be but coldly received. There had not, as a matter of fact, been one money market in the world, where Loewenstein interests had really been popular. His three last efforts had met with failure. If he were indeed still possessed of great wealth on paper, it was unattainable. Where was he to look for the necessary help to launch fresh enterprises? Who would aid him to stem that tide of falling prices which sounded all the time like a knell in his ears? There was no one. He had fought alone in the prosperous days, and divided the spoils with no man. Now, in the days of disaster, he was still alone, with no one to help him bear his losses. It was the vindication of a law of nature that he should have felt his isolation during this last dramatic epoch of his life.
Existence without work, and the sort of work he loved, could never have appealed to Loewenstein. A day or two's holiday was the most he had ever been able to endure. How was he to mark time until markets had reached their bottom, until he knew the full extent of the disaster which had befallen him?
He was probably afflicted that night, as he took his place upon that fateful journey, with a sense of injustice, with a feeling that the world in which he had played so great a part was treating him hardly. He was going back to a city in which he had never been popular to be scowled at everywhere by crowds of investors, many of them so-called friends or dependents, whose savings were melting away day by day, in the terrible collapse of prices which his two great companies were experiencing. It was a bitter outlook, and a humiliating one.
In this brief study of the mentality of a man facing reverses for practically the first time in his life, one has to remember that financial ruin alone is not the only catastrophe which a money king has to face. Loewenstein is reputed to have been indifferent to money itself, except for its direct and visible purchasing power, as evidenced by his gifts to his wife and son, and his ability to surround himself with his amazing entourage. The ghost which haunted his brain that night mocked him with no empty money bags. It was the scowl in people's faces as he passed through the streets which he dreaded, the loss of prestige and power, the forced descent from the pinnacles to the lower heights. To reestablish one's fortunes in an unsympathetic world is a heart-breaking task. . . . One can conceive this wave of depressing reflections sweeping into the brain of the man as he sat, a little removed from his myrmidons, in the cabin on that last tragic voyage. They knew, too. That was the poison of it.
He might remain an unbroken man, but they knew that disaster had challenged him, and that this must be his response—passivity, an attitude of waiting for the worst or the best. If he had been a man of ordinary temperament, he might have shrugged his shoulders, drunk a whisky and soda, smoked a choice cigar, and made plans for the passing over that bridge of time, on the other side of which must lay the knowledge of his actual position. Such a course could not have appealed to Alfred Loewenstein. He had never— doubtless for his own good—been able to appreciate the human solace of alcohol or tobacco. An unnatural concentration upon the hard and sordid things of life had left him without resources now that these had failed him.
Surmise again, concerning the things which we shall never know. Was it the recrudescence of an old idea, or was it a new impulse born in a moment of counter-exhilaration as he rose to his feet, and found himself staring down into the chaotic depths, over which the airship was tearing its way. He may have reflected that the best of his life had passed, that to rebuild in later years what one has created in the enthusiasm of youth is a hard and bitter task. And, with it all, for his good or ill, the man had courage. Let no man say that it does not take courage to end one's life! That eternal severance of the body from the parent humanity can only be conceived and acted upon by a brave man, so awful, so inevitable, is the self-chosen doom. It may well have been an impulse ministered to by the amazing facility for a painless and instant effacement which led him to rise to his feet, which sent him wandering out toward that fateful door.
LAST RESPECTS TO HIS MEMORY
THE textbooks tell us that sin can never be justified, but the textbooks are, after all, only the Baedekers of life, and suicide can be no more than a relative sin. Reflect for one moment upon that unsavory procession whose names have looked large in the newspapers during the last few years, who, after robbing and deceiving their friends, and committing every turpitude, crept coward-like into the courts for their punishment, resigned themselves to the ignominy of prison life, earned many months remitted through smug behavior, and crawled back to the world with the whine that they had paid the price of their misdeeds, and expected to be received again, washed clean. In a sense there is no comparison between these men and Alfred Loewenstein who committed no crime, and remained, so far as the world knows, an honest man. Yet there is a certain parallel which justifies the comparison. Which chose the finer end—the men who sunk their pride, and clung to their humiliated life, or Alfred Loewenstein, if indeed, sooner than occupy a lower place in the world, he cast himself into the clouds, and, with magnificent courage, gave back his body to nature?
If indeed during his lifetime, Alfred Loewenstein had achieved a certain measure of unpopularity with his fellow citizens, all this was gloriously forgotten at his death. Men and women of every order of life, financiers and clerks, politicians, soldiers and working people, filed past that dramatically empty bier for half an hour in the Church of St. Michel and St. Gudule at the close of the requiem mass for the repose of the soul of the dead Belgian banker, Alfred Loewenstein. It may have been curiosity which brought many but there were no signs of any other than deep, religious feeling. Loewenstein himself had been an ardent Catholic, and his fellow-believers paid their last respects to his memory generously and reverently.
It was, after all, the passing of a man who had held a great place in the world. He may sometimes have been disliked, but he was never ignored. The tragic character of his death, too, had struck a sympathetic note in the hearts of the crowds who thronged to pay their last respects to a famous fellow-citizen. It was a hushed and awed little procession, led by the dead man's son, who paid their last tribute to the spirit of Alfred Loewenstein. His wife had already been helped from the church by two of the priests. The boy Loewenstein, however, held his place. More than one person there fancied that in the lad's sturdy struggle against emotion, his set face and grim bearing, they could trace some other than a purely physical likeness to the father whose loss he was mourning.
Inside and out of the church, the crowd numbered many thousands. The King was represented by the Chevalier de Patoul, the Royal Chancellor. Cabinet Ministers, generals, bankers, representatives of the Stock Exchange and merchants, those who had been his friends in life and those who had been his enemies, whispered their last prayer for the peace of his soul. The service was practically the same as that accorded to a great statesman or soldier. The walls and pillars of the church were draped in black. Hundreds of tall candles flickered around the lofty catafalque.
It was like some strange oasis of gloom and majesty which had miraculously found itself placed in the midst of a throbbing, perhaps over-eager world. There was no longer any bitterness or any rivalry in the hearts of this sorrowing multitude. Most conspicuous amongst the mourners were the directors of the bank to whom Loewenstein had made his last ill-fated proposition.
IN THE EMBRACE OF THE SEA
THE service was conducted throughout as though the body of Loewenstein rested on the top of the catafalque. Grim and strange it would have been, if the eyes of the people could have traveled out to where the Calais sailing boat was bumping amongst the waves on her way toward that strange discovery, toward that weird, shapeless object, still in the embrace of the sea to which he had given himself, all that remained of the body of the man for the peace of whose soul these reverent crowds were praying.
The legal identification of the body having been completed, the death of Captain Alfred Loewenstein has been formally recorded by the registrar of births and deaths at Calais as follows:
"Alfred Loewenstein, aged fifty-one years and four months, banker, Knight of the Legion of Honour, husband of Masdeleine Misonne, rue du Port, Calais."
The rue du Port is the street in which the Calais Mortuary is situated.
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