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Maxime Nicholas Fidao's Life Story (Written in 1947)
(Page 5 of 8)
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Our bags on those trips always included quail, pheasant, wood doves, partridge, squirrels, rabbits, and ducks. One could not expect more. We returned, therefore, three years in succession, after which Marshall took another position in Clinton, Conn.

In 1917 (?) a Company of the Riverside Guards was formed to protect the village from saboteurs and subversive activities while the war lasted. It was made up of civilian residents and commanded by Captain Reginald Reynolds, a tall handsome fellow who had seen service in the National Guard.

Regie did a fine job and enjoyed his duties immensely. He drilled the Guards at the N.Y.N.H.R.R. Station, and marched them up and down Riverside Avenue and side streets always carrying a sword. The Guards patrolled some of the sections of the Village, and also guarded the railroad bridge over the Mianus River. No untoward incident occurred during the war, and they made one arrest only.

One night, Mrs. W. W. Shaw called up Reginald Reynolds and asked him to send his Guards to investigate on her property. The Guards arrived in a few minutes. They surrounded the barn, with guns cocked, and Reggie, revolver in hand, rapped loudly on the door. In his sonorous base voice, he shouted, "In the name of the law, open the door." No answer. He rapped again, and again repeated, "In the name of the law, open the door". Still no answer. Just as he was pondering if he should force the door, and answer came. "Miauw".

That caused merriment among the Guards, but it was not reassuring enough. They broke in and found no one, but they arrested the cat, and freed it outside after the door was closed. The cat had been chasing a rat and had upset some light furniture stored in the barn.

Our house was located about 150 yards from a dock on the Mianus River, which was at the foot of Chapel Lane, and where I kept my row boat. Often, in the fall, when the tide was right, I would get up at three in the morning and row to the lee of some jutting rocks behind the Riverside Yacht Club. There I would wait for the morning flight of the black ducks that came there at night to feed on the incoming tide.

It was not often that I got a good shot. The wind, the tide, the moonlight and other conditions, affected the location of the ducks. But, it was invigorating to row in the early dawn and to look forward to a lucky shot. I returned in time for my regular breakfast and regular train to New York. Occasionally, I would induce a friend to come along.

One morning I met my hunting companion on the road to the dock, and we made ready together to board the boat, It was cloudy and very dark. I was on one side of the dock getting my things together. I saw my friend in the dark getting ready to board the boat with his boots on. Then he disappeared. There had been no sound, no splash.

I called him, but got no answer. It was very strange. I looked the best I could on the dock, and on the dark waters, but could not see him. I got in the boat and looked under the dock, but to no avail. I was stumped. I was getting ready to get back onto the dock when I saw a ripple on one side of the boat. I looked carefully and there was the top of his cap protruding about one inch above the water. I made for it. It was he just coming up, and I pulled him up and into the boat just in time. He was still holding his gun, and the additional weight of his boots and ammunition had held him down under. Needless to say, we made straight for home, and put him in a tub of hot water.

For good duck shooting, I often went to New Gretna on the Wading River in New Jersey. I went with my departed friend, Alfred Guidet, a charming fellow of French extraction. He was the most versatile man I have ever known.

At New Gretna, we shot only good eating ducks, mallard and black duck. There were no other ducks there, so that every good shot brought us a choice bird.

In later years, my eagerness for hunting abated considerably. With a keener insight into the surrounding living world of plants and animals, I felt restrained from taking life as a pastime. Yet, indirectly I contribute to the daily slaughtering of animals which I consume. Such is the complexity - one of the complexities of our earthly life.

We had open counters at the Bank where foreign exchange transaction were made with the brokers. An old broker, Mr. Ball, a pleasant fellow, would occasionally come in with a small order, which usually netted him one or two dollars. He could not get around very well and had very little business. His poverty could easily be seen in his shabby clothes.

Mr. Ball was at my counter chatting, one day, when I received a registered letter from Cuba containing $500,000 in $10,000 bills. I asked Mr. Ball to guess how much money there was in the package, and he said "Oh, fifty thousand dollars?"

I said, "Half a million."

His eyes opened wide. "Let me hold that envelope for a moment", he said, "I have never held such a fortune in my hands".

I opened the gate, let him through, placed myself between it and Mr. Ball, and handed him the package of bills.

"Please," he said, "Let me put them in my pocket for a moment. It must be a wonderful feeling."

He did so, patted them a few times, and then handed them back to me, his eyes gleaming. "Now," he said, "I can go home and tell my wife that I was able, today, to borrow half a million dollars . . . for just one minute."

By 1915 the business of the Royal Bank of Canada had grown considerably and the Agent, S. S. Voorhees, came to the conclusion that he should have a second assistant, having secured one shortly before in the person of R. E. Jones. I was then Office Manager of the New York Agency. He picked me out for the job and made his recommendation to the General Manager in Montreal.

The General Manager replied in a letter, which I read, that he appreciated all that S. H. Voorhees had said about my qualifications, but that a foreign name like FIDAO would not look good on a list of officers on the bank which, after all, was a British Bank.

After many years of hard work and loyal service, I was in line for a promotion but the spelling of my name had stopped me in my tracks. Was this America?

S. H. Voorhees took the matter up again shortly after with the General Manager, but the answer was the same. It was evident that there was no hope of getting any worthwhile recognition for what I was contributing to the success of the bank, and a feeling of "what is the use" pervaded me.

In 1916 I resigned.

A new company was being organized by Scandinavian interests, The Scandinavian Trust Company, and I was engaged to organize their Foreign Department.

In 1917, my daughter Marjorie was born. This made my wife most happy. She had been longing for a little girl. She had given all of seven years to rearing boys, and she was longing for feminine companionship at home, for women understand each other. The boys were placed in Brunswick School, a private prep school, in Greenwich, Conn.

The Scandinavian Trust Co. was a big success. The Scandinavian countries were making big fortunes out of the sale of their ship to the Allies and were importing a lot of merchandise, which found its way into Germany, then blockaded. The Foreign Department was its most active department.

The bank's President, A. Ostrom, was an American born Scandinavian from Minneapolis. His knowledge of foreign banking was rather limited. He could not understand, for instance, how it was possible to be short of a certain currency with a Foreign Bank, and he called me on the carpet. He was angry and very suspicious. My explanations of the transactions leading to it, and of our arrangements with the foreign bank, were to no avail.

After an outburst of abuse, I feared that he might fire me, so I took the bull by the horns and asked him point blank if he was going to so. He had done so with another man the week before. He thought it over for a minute, and then said, "No." I thought that his answer was forced, that he wanted to fire me but could not replace me at the time, particularly at my somewhat low salary.

I took the opportunity to ask him for a raise, which I felt was due me. I had intended to ask him for a substantial raise, but when he asked me what raise I expected, I thought I detected a certain softening in his manner. I doubled the amount and he gave it to me. He slapped me on the back and wished me good luck.

In that year, the banks with foreign connections had reaped enormous profits. The ones that had no Foreign Department were at a great disadvantage. One of them was the Liberty National Bank, Harvey Gibson, President. It took over the Scandinavian Trust Company with all its staff, and I became the Manager of the Foreign Department. The Liberty National Bank, a Morgan Bank, had a large number of accounts of large corporations, and our foreign business grew fast.

About a year later, the New York Trust Company, another bank without a Foreign Department, was seeking a bank with foreign connections to merge with. The merger was completed. The Liberty National Bank was absorbed by the New York Trust Company, and, under the supervision of George Murnane, Vice President, I became manager of its Foreign Department.

Our business grew consistently. Foreign trade was excellent and the speculation in Foreign Exchange at its peak. We were very busy, but of course, occasionally, something would be said or happen to relieve the tension.

My secretary, Elsie, was a smart, witty, and pretty girl with a beautiful figure. She was a girl of the world. One of my assistants, John, was a capable and neat young Englishman, small of stature, and thin. He has no eye for the girls.

One day, Elsie was looking feverously for her eraser and was going through John's desk, thinking that he had borrowed it. He got very annoyed and said, "What are you looking for? There is nothing in my drawers". "I know it", snapped back Elsie, with a sparkle in her eyes, and an ironic smile.

In that Wall Street atmosphere, one was prone to tempt one's possible success in one venture or another. Like many others, I tried it in a small way. One of those ventures still causes me to laugh when I think of it.

A young fellow, Harry, whom I had met in a boarding house in my early years in New York, and whom I continued to see for years after, suggested to me that we open a Moving Picture Hall in a village in New Jersey. He had had some experience in the business and felt sure that we could both profit handsomely from it. I was to supply the funds, a small amount, and he was to run it. I agreed to it, and he proceeded to hire a hall, decorate it, and contract for the films, the operator, etc.

On opening night, I went to New Jersey to attend the show. We had advertised it with posters and In the local papers, and a large crowd showed up. After the show, he and I got down to business and together we went over all the details of our undertaking. No matter how often I went over the figures, the conclusion was the same; namely, that if every seat in the hall was occupied every day of the week, our receipts would just equal our expenditures,

I closed the place the same week.

In 1923, I suggested to George Murnane that I take a trip to Europe to try and expand our business there still further. My suggestion was approved over night.

I had been in this country for about 20 years, and had not seen any of my family during that time. My father, mother, and two sisters, had died during that time. I was going to try and see as many of the ones left as possible. Luckily, my oldest sister, Marie, was to be in Paris during that summer, and my twin brother, Joe, was to be in Switzerland.

I found France much rejuvenated. The war that ended in 1918 had left some good marks. The youth looked sturdy, and the beards had practically disappeared. But, it was still France.

After a few days in Paris spent with my sister, I became enthused with its atmosphere of gayety and unconcern. I was in different financial circumstances than when I left it in 1904 and I had much time available. I saw my brother Emile, and also my brother, Christian, wearing a beard and whom I did not recognize at first.

After attending to my business in Paris, I left for London, then followed through to Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, where I saw my twin brother.

I was amused when from the bus that took me to Joe's hotel in the country, I thought I saw myself strolling on the grounds. He was there with his wife and children. His wife declared that from a distance of twenty feet, she could not tell which one of us was her husband.

In the few hours we had together, we covered, as well as we could, the twenty years during which we had been separated. It was astounding how identically we had acted in many instances during those years. Our mental development had followed the same lines, for our thoughts, feelings, even intuitions, followed identical paths. If we had remained together, we would, no doubt, have been of help to each other.

Joe had come to be operated on by a Swiss specialist, and I repaid my debt to him for having helped me to come to America by helping him defray his hospital expenses.

I visited the battlegrounds around Rheims, and the Hindenburg Line of trenches and dugouts in the vicinity, much of which was still left intact, apparently for the attraction of foreign tourists. The dugouts were crude, and there were still to be seen in them, sleeping cots, chairs, and other furniture, among which was an upright piano.

London impressed me by its atmosphere of reserve and dignity. The people always seemed solid and sound. The French showed their well known animation. I noticed that their conversation in public seemed to cover inevitably social and intimate matters. One seldom heard business discussed by men in busses, subways, cafes or Boulevards. In Brussels the streets were packed all day with multitudes of people, Antwerp showed an activity, a gait and an atmosphere which much resembled America.

After Brussels and Antwerp, Amsterdam and Rotterdam seemed very slow and quiet, but the people were most agreeable and poised. They looked over fed. Actually, I was never served anywhere such enormous meals. I took a bus tour on which we made 57 canal crossings.

The native costumes seen in Volendam and Marken were most picturesque, and so were the windmills at a distance. When I came close to two of the latter, they were in a dilapidated condition. The perspective had been spoiled. It was July, too late for tulips, hot, and the emanations from the stagnant waters of the canals were most disturbing.

When I returned to the hotel, I felt ill, and had turned yellow. I repaired to the bar with an English acquaintance and asked the bartender if he had the prescription for my ills. He said he had just the right thing. He poured, out of an earthen bottle, a whole drinking glass of Holland gin, and handed it to me. He added that if I wanted to get cured, I would have to drink the whole glass. With my companion at my side, I felt brave. We sat down and exchanged stories. Soon I noticed that I had drunk the whole glass, and what is more, that I was cured.

Copenhagen was an inspiration. The natural gayety and geniality of the people was refreshing. With a fellow traveller, I went to the Tivoli gardens. In Coney Island humor, we smashed plates with wooden balls in a gallery.

When I arrived in Berlin, the Mark was dwindling in value hourly, and the stores had all their merchandise priced in Dollars. But one could still eat with Marks. In cafes and restaurants, I saw many people carrying their money in bags, and it took longer to pay one's bill than to consume a meal.

It was no time to talk banking business. On the advice of one of the Directors of a large German bank, I took the train to Switzerland, two days sooner than I had planned. While in his office, he pointed out to me the cupola of a church nearby where machine guns had been mounted to stop an expected attack by communists. This attack, however, did not take place.

Basle, in German Switzerland, was quiet and bleak. The people looked glum, but healthy.

I had made it a point on my trip to go to the theater as often as possible. The Comedie Francaise in Paris lived up to its reputation. The Burlesques, much milder than our own in New York, were more in line with our vaudeville shows. I found they were mediocre, both in their performances and the pulchritude displayed. It was in Brussels that I saw the most amusing vaudeville show; very outspoken and very risque, but as witty and funny as I have seen anywhere.

In London at the theaters, I was unimpressed, but in Berlin I found the nearest to our standards. I saw an operetta which almost equalled our best in acting, singing, pulchritude and stage effects.

One thing that impressed me much, coming from America, was the difference in the apparent status of the women in those countries. The Danish women seemed the most emancipated and the English the least.

The return voyage would have been more agreeable if I had not, foolishly, copied two Frenchmen at my table one morning, by ordering onion soup for breakfast!

It was a delightful trip just the same, but I was longing for America and my family. I was longing for the American atmosphere, and I knew I had found nothing in Europe that could have kept me there. Life there had seemed slow compared to this country.

When our liner reached New York, there was a light fog and through it lower Manhattan appeared like a mountain chiseled into huge monuments.

In 1924 I had built a nine room house in Riverside, on the persuasion of my wife. White birches, cedar trees, and maples framed the house beautifully. I had previously made some money by investing in French Francs when the French Government managed to raise the rate of the Franc from about 3 cents to 7 cents. I had never wanted to own a house. It seemed to be against my temperament. I was afraid to get anchored.

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