(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The price of wheat is the thread holding together this episodic short story. As Sam Lewiston hitches up the buckboard, he and his wife, Emma, anxiously wonder if wheat is still selling for sixty-six cents a bushel. Like so many Kansas farmers, they face economic disaster if the price does not rise. Regardless of the market, Sam must sell his wheat today, and if the bears still rule in Chicago, he and Emma will lose the land they love. Both sense that their worst fears are about to be realized. Looking out across the prairie and into an uncertain future, Emma reminds Sam of his brother Joe’s offer of work in Chicago. Sam resists the idea of giving up, but as he kisses Emma good-bye and rides off to town, the reader knows that hope is all but gone.

On entering the office of Bridges & Co., Grain Dealers, Sam gets the bad news from Bridges himself. Wheat is at sixty-two cents. “It’s Truslow and the bear clique that stick the knife into us,” laments Bridges, who is powerless to help his farmer friends. Sam Lewiston is ruined, and so are many of his neighbors. It costs them a dollar a bushel to raise the wheat, and few, certainly not Sam, can afford to store it any longer. Dazed by this sad turn of events, Sam goes home to Emma. “We’ll go to Chicago,” he tells her. “We’re cleaned out!”

The second episode takes place some months later when Mr. Hornung and the bulls have driven wheat up to $1.10 per bushel. The bears, led by the once dominant Truslow, are on the run. Indeed, the scene opens with Hornung agreeing to sell a hundred thousand bushels of wheat to Truslow, working out the deal with Mr. Gates, one of the great bear’s minions. Hornung wonders if he has done the right thing. Truslow has paid dearly for the wheat, which he apparently had to have in order to cover overseas commitments, but Hornung’s broker warns that the bulls should have taken full advantage of the great bear’s distress to destroy him. Only then would the bull market be safe.

The third episode shifts ahead several days to the frenetic pit of the Chicago Board of Trade. The bulls still hold the corner in wheat, with Hornung setting the price at $1.50. Suddenly, one of the bears, a new man named Kennedy, begins selling wheat in thousand-bushel lots, and the bulls cannot figure where Kennedy is getting it. Had Hornung not held firm and kept buying at $1.50, the market might have broken, and that...

(The entire section is 992 words.)