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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 15)


On the ground floor of each house was placed a conservatory of flowers, facing each other, and in the yard, which was jointly used, a pool of white marble eight feet in diameter, with a marble Cupid upon which jets of water played. The yard which was enclosed by a high but pierced wall of green-gray brick, especially burnt for the purpose the same color as the granite of the house, and surmounted by a white marble coping which was sown to grass and had a lovely, smooth, velvety appearance. The two houses, as originally planned, were connected by a low, green-columned pergola which could be enclosed in glass in winter.

The rooms, which were now slowly being decorated and furnished in period styles were very significant in that they enlarged and strengthened Frank Cowperwood's idea of the world of art in general. It was an enlightening and agreeable experience-one which made for artistic and intellectual growth-to hear Ellsworth explain at length the styles and types of architecture and furniture, the nature of woods and ornaments employed, the qualities and peculiarities of hangings, draperies, furniture panels, and door coverings. Ellsworth was a student of decoration as well as of architecture, and interested in the artistic taste of the American people, which he fancied would some day have a splendid outcome. He was wearied to death of the prevalent Romanesque composite combinations of country and suburban villa. The time was ripe for something new. He scarcely knew what it would be; but this that he had designed for Cowperwood and his father was at least different, as he said, while at the same time being reserved, simple, and pleasing. It was in marked contrast to the rest of the architecture of the street. Cowperwood's dining-room, reception-room, conservatory, and butler's pantry he had put on the first floor, together with the general entry-hall, staircase, and coat-room under the stairs. For the second floor he had reserved the library, general living-room, parlor, and a small office for Cowperwood, together with a boudoir for Lillian, connected with a dressing-room and bath.

On the third floor, neatly divided and accommodated with baths and dressing-rooms, were the nursery, the servants' quarters, and several guest-chambers.

Ellsworth showed Cowperwood books of designs containing furniture, hangings, etageres, cabinets, pedestals, and some exquisite piano forms. He discussed woods with him-rosewood, mahogany, walnut, English oak, bird's-eye maple, and the manufactured effects such as ormolu, marquetry, and Boule, or buhl. He explained the latter how difficult it was to produce, how unsuitable it was in some respects for this climate, the brass and tortoise-shell inlay coming to swell with the heat or damp, and so bulging or breaking. He told of the difficulties and disadvantages of certain finishes, but finally recommended ormolu furniture for the reception room, medallion tapestry for the parlor, French renaissance for the dining-room and library, and bird's-eye maple (dyed blue in one instance, and left its natural color in another) and a rather lightly constructed and daintily carved walnut for the other rooms. The hangings, wall-paper, and floor coverings were to harmonize not match-and the piano and music-cabinet for the parlor, as well as the etagere, cabinets, and pedestals for the reception-rooms, were to be of buhl or marquetry, if Frank cared to stand the expense.

Ellsworth advised a triangular piano-the square shapes were so inexpressibly wearisome to the initiated. Cowperwood listened fascinated. He foresaw a home which would be chaste, soothing, and delightful to look upon. If he hung pictures, gilt frames were to be the setting, large and deep; and if he wished a picture-gallery, the library could be converted into that, and the general living-room, which lay between the library and the parlor on the second-floor, could be turned into a combination library and living-room. This was eventually done; but not until his taste for pictures had considerably advanced.

It was now that he began to take a keen interest in objects of art, pictures, bronzes, little carvings and figurines, for his cabinets, pedestals, tables, and etageres. Philadelphia did not offer much that was distinguished in this realm-certainly not in the open market. There were many private houses which were enriched by travel; but his connection with the best families was as yet small. There were then two famous American sculptors, Powers and Hosmer, of whose work he had examples; but Ellsworth told him that they were not the last word in sculpture and that he should look into the merits of the ancients. He finally secured a head of David, by Thorwaldsen, which delighted him, and some landscapes by Hunt, Sully, and Hart, which seemed somewhat in the spirit of his new world.

The effect of a house of this character on its owner is unmistakable. We think we are individual, separate, above houses and material objects generally; but there is a subtle connection which makes them reflect us quite as much as we reflect them. They lend dignity, subtlety, force, each to the other, and what beauty, or lack of it, there is, is shot back and forth from one to the other as a shuttle in a loom, weaving, weaving. Cut the thread, separate a man from that which is rightfully his own, characteristic of him, and you have a peculiar figure, half success, half failure, much as a spider without its web, which will never be its whole self again until all its dignities and emoluments are restored.

The sight of his new house going up made Cowperwood feel of more weight in the world, and the possession of his suddenly achieved connection with the city treasurer was as though a wide door had been thrown open to the Elysian fields of opportunity. He rode about the city those days behind a team of spirited bays, whose glossy hides and metaled harness bespoke the watchful care of hostler and coachman. Ellsworth was building an attractive stable in the little side street back of the houses, for the joint use of both families. He told Mrs. Cowperwood that he intended to buy her a victoria-as the low, open, four-wheeled coach was then known as soon as they were well settled in their new home, and that they were to go out more. There was some talk about the value of entertaining-that he would have to reach out socially for certain individuals who were not now known to him. Together with Anna, his sister, and his two brothers, Joseph and Edward, they could use the two houses jointly. There was no reason why Anna should not make a splendid match. Joe and Ed might marry well, since they were not destined to set the world on fire in commerce. At least it would not hurt them to try.

"Don't you think you will like that?" he asked his wife, referring to his plans for entertaining.

She smiled wanly. "I suppose so," she said. Chapter XVI
It was not long after the arrangement between Treasurer Stener and Cowperwood had been made that the machinery for the carrying out of that political-financial relationship was put in motion. The sum of two hundred and ten thousand dollars in six per cent. interest-bearing certificates, payable in ten years, was set over to the credit of Cowperwood & Co. on the books of the city, subject to his order. Then, with proper listing, he began to offer it in small amounts at more than ninety, at the same time creating the impression that it was going to be a prosperous investment. The certificates gradually rose and were unloaded in rising amounts until one hundred was reached, when all the two hundred thousand dollars' worth-two thousand certificates in all-was fed out in small lots. Stener was satisfied. Two hundred shares had been carried for him and sold at one hundred, which netted him two thousand dollars. It was illegitimate gain, unethical; but his conscience was not very much troubled by that. He had none, truly. He saw visions of a halcyon future.

It is difficult to make perfectly clear what a subtle and significant power this suddenly placed in the hands of Cowperwood. Consider that he was only twenty-eight-nearing twenty-nine. Imagine yourself by nature versed in the arts of finance, capable of playing with sums of money in the forms of stocks, certificates, bonds, and cash, as the ordinary man plays with checkers or chess. Or, better yet, imagine yourself one of those subtle masters of the mysteries of the higher forms of chess-the type of mind so well illustrated by the famous and historic chess-players, who could sit with their backs to a group of rivals playing fourteen men at once, calling out all the moves in turn, remembering all the positions of all the men on all the boards, and winning. This, of course, would be an overstatement of the subtlety of Cowperwood at this time, and yet it would not be wholly out of bounds. He knew instinctively what could be done with a given sum of money-how as cash it could be deposited in one place, and yet as credit and the basis of moving checks, used in not one but many other places at the same time. When properly watched and followed this manipulation gave him the constructive and purchasing power of ten and a dozen times as much as his original sum might have represented. He knew instinctively the principles of "pyramiding" and "kiting." He could see exactly not only how he could raise and lower the value of these certificates of loan, day after day and year after year-if he were so fortunate as to retain his hold on the city treasurer-but also how this would give him a credit with the banks hitherto beyond his wildest dreams. His father's bank was one of the first to profit by this and to extend him loans. The various local politicians and bosses Mollenhauer, Butler, Simpson, and others-seeing the success of his efforts in this direction, speculated in city loan. He became known to Mollenhauer and Simpson, by reputation, if not personally, as the man who was carrying this city loan proposition to a successful issue. Stener was supposed to have done a clever thing in finding him. The stock exchange stipulated that all trades were to be compared the same day and settled before the close of the next; but this working arrangement with the new city treasurer gave Cowperwood much more latitude, and now he had always until the first of the month, or practically thirty days at times, in which to render an accounting for all deals connected with the loan issue.

And, moreover, this was really not an accounting in the sense of removing anything from his hands. Since the issue was to be so large, the sum at his disposal would always be large, and so-called transfers and balancing at the end of the month would be a mere matter of bookkeeping. He could use these city loan certificates deposited with him for manipulative purposes, deposit them at any bank as collateral for a loan, quite as if they were his own, thus raising seventy per cent. of their actual value in cash, and he did not hesitate to do so. He could take this cash, which need not be accounted for until the end of the month, and cover other stock transactions, on which he could borrow again. There was no limit to the resources of which he now found himself possessed, except the resources of his own energy, ingenuity, and the limits of time in which he had to work. The politicians did not realize what a bonanza he was making of it all for himself, because they were as yet unaware of the subtlety of his mind. When Stener told him, after talking the matter over with the mayor, Strobik, and others that he would formally, during the course of the year, set over on the city's books all of the two millions in city loan, Cowperwood was silent-but with delight. Two millions! His to play with! He had been called in as a financial adviser, and he had given his advice and it had been taken! Well. He was not a man who inherently was troubled with conscientious scruples. At the same time he still believed himself financially honest. He was no sharper or shrewder than any other financier-certainly no sharper than any other would be if he could.

It should be noted here that this proposition of Stener's in regard to city money had no connection with the attitude of the principal leaders in local politics in regard to street-railway control, which was a new and intriguing phase of the city's financial life. Many of the leading financiers and financier-politicians were interested in that. For instance, Messrs. Mollenhauer, Butler, and Simpson were interested in street-railways separately on their own account. There was no understanding between them on this score. If they had thought at all on the matter they would have decided that they did not want any outsider to interfere. As a matter of fact the street-railway business in Philadelphia was not sufficiently developed at this time to suggest to any one the grand scheme of union which came later. Yet in connection with this new arrangement between Stener and Cowperwood, it was Strobik who now came forward to Stener with an idea of his own. All were certain to make money through Cowperwood-he and Stener, especially. What was amiss, therefore, with himself and Stener and with Cowperwood as their or rather Stener's secret representative, since Strobik did not dare to appear in the matter-buying now sufficient street-railway shares in some one line to control it, and then, if he, Strobik, could, by efforts of his own, get the city council to set aside certain streets for its extension, why, there you were-they would own it. Only, later, he proposed to shake Stener out if he could. But this preliminary work had to be done by some one, and it might as well be Stener. At the same time, as he saw, this work had to be done very carefully, because naturally his superiors were watchful, and if they found him dabbling in affairs of this kind to his own advantage, they might make it impossible for him to continue politically in a position where he could help himself just the same. Any outside organization such as a street-railway company already in existence had a right to appeal to the city council for privileges which would naturally further its and the city's growth, and, other things being equal, these could not be refused. It would not do for him to appear, however, both as a shareholder and president of the council. But with Cowperwood acting privately for Stener it would be another thing.

The interesting thing about this proposition as finally presented by Stener for Strobik to Cowperwood, was that it raised, without appearing to do so, the whole question of Cowperwood's attitude toward the city administration. Although he was dealing privately for Edward Butler as an agent, and with this same plan in mind, and although he had never met either Mollenhauer or Simpson, he nevertheless felt that in so far as the manipulation of the city loan was concerned he was acting for them. On the other hand, in this matter of the private street-railway purchase which Stener now brought to him, he realized from the very beginning, by Stener's attitude, that there was something untoward in it, that Stener felt he was doing something which he ought not to do.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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