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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 16)


"Cowperwood," he said to him the first morning he ever broached this matter-it was in Stener's office, at the old city hall at Sixth and Chestnut, and Stener, in view of his oncoming prosperity, was feeling very good indeed-"isn't there some street-railway property around town here that a man could buy in on and get control of if he had sufficient money?"

Cowperwood knew that there were such properties. His very alert mind had long since sensed the general opportunities here. The omnibuses were slowly disappearing. The best routes were already preempted. Still, there were other streets, and the city was growing. The incoming population would make great business in the future. One could afford to pay almost any price for the short lines already built if one could wait and extend the lines into larger and better areas later. And already he had conceived in his own mind the theory of the "endless chain," or "argeeable formula," as it was later termed, of buying a certain property on a long-time payment and issuing stocks or bonds sufficient not only to pay your seller, but to reimburse you for your trouble, to say nothing of giving you a margin wherewith to invest in other things allied properties, for instance, against which more bonds could be issued, and so on, ad infinitum. It became an old story later, but it was new at that time, and he kept the thought closely to himself. None the less he was glad to have Stener speak of this, since street-railways were his hobby, and he was convinced that he would be a great master of them if he ever had an opportunity to control them.

"Why, yes, George," he said, noncommittally, there are two or three that offer a good chance if a man had money enough. I notice blocks of stock being offered on 'change now and then by one person and another. It would be good policy to pick these things up as they're offered, and then to see later if some of the other stockholders won't want to sell out. Green and Coates, now, looks like a good proposition to me. If I had three or four hundred thousand dollars that I thought I could put into that by degrees I would follow it up. It only takes about thirty per cent. of the stock of any railroad to control it. Most of the shares are scattered around so far and wide that they never vote, and I think two or three hundred thousand dollars would control that road." He mentioned one other line that might be secured in the same way in the course of time.

Stener meditated. "That's a good deal of money," he said, thoughtfully. "I'll talk to you about that some more later." And he was off to see Strobik none the less.

Cowperwood knew that Stener did not have any two or three hundred thousand dollars to invest in anything. There was only one way that he could get it-and that was to borrow it out of the city treasury and forego the interest. But he would not do that on his own initiative. Some one else must be behind him and who else other than Mollenhauer, or Simpson, or possibly even Butler, though he doubted that, unless the triumvirate were secretly working together. But what of it? The larger politicians were always using the treasury, and he was thinking now, only, of his own attitude in regard to the use of this money. No harm could come to him, if Stener's ventures were successful; and there was no reason why they should not be. Even if they were not he would be merely acting as an agent. In addition, he saw how in the manipulation of this money for Stener he could probably eventually control certain lines for himself.

There was one line being laid out to within a few blocks of his new home-the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line it was called which interested him greatly. He rode on it occasionally when he was delayed or did not wish to trouble about a vehicle. It ran through two thriving streets of red-brick houses, and was destined to have a great future once the city grew large enough. As yet it was really not long enough. If he could get that, for instance, and combine it with Butler's lines, once they were secured-or Mollenhauer's, or Simpson's, the legislature could be induced to give them additional franchises. He even dreamed of a combination between Butler, Mollenhauer, Simpson, and himself. Between them, politically, they could get anything. But Butler was not a philanthropist. He would have to be approached with a very sizable bird in hand. The combination must be obviously advisable. Besides, he was dealing for Butler in street-railway stocks, and if this particular line were such a good thing Butler might wonder why it had not been brought to him in the first place. It would be better, Frank thought, to wait until he actually had it as his own, in which case it would be a different matter. Then he could talk as a capitalist. He began to dream of a city-wide street-railway system controlled by a few men, or preferably himself alone.Chapter XVII
The days that had been passing brought Frank Cowperwood and Aileen Butler somewhat closer together in spirit. Because of the pressure of his growing affairs he had not paid so much attention to her as he might have, but he had seen her often this past year. She was now nineteen and had grown into some subtle thoughts of her own. For one thing, she was beginning to see the difference between good taste and bad taste in houses and furnishings.

"Papa, why do we stay in this old barn?" she asked her father one evening at dinner, when the usual family group was seated at the table.

"What's the matter with this house, I'd like to know?" demanded Butler, who was drawn up close to the table, his napkin tucked comfortably under his chin, for he insisted on this when company was not present. "I don't see anything the matter with this house. Your mother and I manage to live in it well enough."

"Oh, it's terrible, papa. You know it," supplemented Norah, who was seventeen and quite as bright as her sister, though a little less experienced. "Everybody says so. Look at all the nice houses that are being built everywhere about here."

"Everybody! Everybody! Who is 'everybody,' I'd like to know?" demanded Butler, with the faintest touch of choler and much humor. "I'm somebody, and I like it. Those that don't like it don't have to live in it. Who are they? What's the matter with it, I'd like to know?"

The question in just this form had been up a number of times before, and had been handled in just this manner, or passed over entirely with a healthy Irish grin. To-night, however, it was destined for a little more extended thought.

"You know it's bad, papa," corrected Aileen, firmly. "Now what's the use getting mad about it? It's old and cheap and dingy. The furniture is all worn out. That old piano in there ought to be given away. I won't play on it any more. The Cowperwoods-"

"Old is it!" exclaimed Butler, his accent sharpening somewhat with his self-induced rage. He almost pronounced it "owled." "Dingy, hi! Where do you get that? At your convent, I suppose. And where is it worn? Show me where it's worn."

He was coming to her reference to Cowperwood, but he hadn't reached that when Mrs. Butler interfered. She was a stout, broad-faced woman, smiling-mouthed most of the time, with blurry, gray Irish eyes, and a touch of red in her hair, now modified by grayness. Her cheek, below the mouth, on the left side, was sharply accented by a large wen.

"Children! children!" (Mr. Butler, for all his commercial and political responsibility, was as much a child to her as any.) "Youse mustn't quarrel now. Come now. Give your father the tomatoes."

There was an Irish maid serving at table; but plates were passed from one to the other just the same. A heavily ornamented chandelier, holding sixteen imitation candles in white porcelain, hung low over the table and was brightly lighted, another offense to Aileen.

"Mama, how often have I told you not to say 'youse'?" pleaded Norah, very much disheartened by her mother's grammatical errors. "You know you said you wouldn't."

"And who's to tell your mother what she should say?" called Butler, more incensed than ever at this sudden and unwarranted rebellion and assault. "Your mother talked before ever you was born, I'd have you know. If it weren't for her workin' and slavin' you wouldn't have any fine manners to be paradin' before her. I'd have you know that. She's a better woman nor any you'll be runnin' with this day, you little baggage, you!"

"Mama, do you hear what he's calling me?" complained Norah, hugging close to her mother's arm and pretending fear and dissatisfaction.

"Eddie! Eddie!" cautioned Mrs. Butler, pleading with her husband. "You know he don't mean that, Norah, dear. Don't you know he don't?"

She was stroking her baby's head. The reference to her grammar had not touched her at all.

Butler was sorry that he had called his youngest a baggage; but these children-God bless his soul-were a great annoyance. Why, in the name of all the saints, wasn't this house good enough for them?

"Why don't you people quit fussing at the table?" observed Callum, a likely youth, with black hair laid smoothly over his forehead in a long, distinguished layer reaching from his left to close to his right ear, and his upper lip carrying a short, crisp mustache. His nose was short and retrousse, and his ears were rather prominent; but he was bright and attractive. He and Owen both realized that the house was old and poorly arranged; but their father and mother liked it, and business sense and family peace dictated silence on this score.

"Well, I think it's mean to have to live in this old place when people not one-fourth as good as we are are living in better ones. The Cowperwoods-why, even the Cowperwoods-"

"Yes, the Cowperwoods! What about the Cowperwoods?" demanded Butler, turning squarely to Aileen-she was sitting beside him-his big, red face glowing.

"Why, even they have a better house than we have, and he's merely an agent of yours."

"The Cowperwoods! The Cowperwoods! I'll not have any talk about the Cowperwoods. I'm not takin' my rules from the Cowperwoods. Suppose they have a fine house, what of it? My house is my house. I want to live here. I've lived here too long to be pickin' up and movin' away. If you don't like it you know what else you can do. Move if you want to. I'll not move."

It was Butler's habit when he became involved in these family quarrels, which were as shallow as puddles, to wave his hands rather antagonistically under his wife's or his children's noses.

"Oh, well, I will get out one of these days," Aileen replied. "Thank heaven I won't have to live here forever."

There flashed across her mind the beautiful reception-room, library, parlor, and boudoirs of the Cowperwoods, which were now being arranged and about which Anna Cowperwood talked to her so much their dainty, lovely triangular grand piano in gold and painted pink and blue. Why couldn't they have things like that? Her father was unquestionably a dozen times as wealthy. But no, her father, whom she loved dearly, was of the old school. He was just what people charged him with being, a rough Irish contractor. He might be rich. She flared up at the injustice of things-why couldn't he have been rich and refined, too? Then they could have-but, oh, what was the use of complaining? They would never get anywhere with her father and mother in charge. She would just have to wait. Marriage was the answer-the right marriage. But whom was she to marry?

"You surely are not going to go on fighting about that now," pleaded Mrs. Butler, as strong and patient as fate itself. She knew where Aileen's trouble lay.

"But we might have a decent house," insisted Aileen. "Or this one done over," whispered Norah to her mother.

"Hush now! In good time," replied Mrs. Butler to Norah. "Wait. We'll fix it all up some day, sure. You run to your lessons now. You've had enough."

Norah arose and left. Aileen subsided. Her father was simply stubborn and impossible. And yet he was sweet, too. She pouted in order to compel him to apologize.

"Come now," he said, after they had left the table, and conscious of the fact that his daughter was dissatisfied with him. He must do something to placate her. "Play me somethin' on the piano, somethin' nice." He preferred showy, clattery things which exhibited her skill and muscular ability and left him wondering how she did it. That was what education was for-to enable her to play these very difficult things quickly and forcefully. "And you can have a new piano any time you like. Go and see about it. This looks pretty good to me, but if you don't want it, all right." Aileen squeezed his arm. What was the use of arguing with her father? What good would a lone piano do, when the whole house and the whole family atmosphere were at fault? But she played Schumann, Schubert, Offenbach, Chopin, and the old gentleman strolled to and fro and mused, smiling. There was real feeling and a thoughtful interpretation given to some of these things, for Aileen was not without sentiment, though she was so strong, vigorous, and withal so defiant; but it was all lost on him. He looked on her, his bright, healthy, enticingly beautiful daughter, and wondered what was going to become of her. Some rich man was going to many her-some fine, rich young man with good business instincts-and he, her father, would leave her a lot of money.

There was a reception and a dance to be given to celebrate the opening of the two Cowperwood homes-the reception to be held in Frank Cowperwood's residence, and the dance later at his father's. The Henry Cowperwood domicile was much more pretentious, the reception-room, parlor, music-room, and conservatory being in this case all on the ground floor and much larger. Ellsworth had arranged it so that those rooms, on occasion, could be thrown into one, leaving excellent space for promenade, auditorium, dancing anything, in fact, that a large company might require. It had been the intention all along of the two men to use these houses jointly. There was, to begin with, a combination use of the various servants, the butler, gardener, laundress, and maids. Frank Cowperwood employed a governess for his children. The butler was really not a butler in the best sense. He was Henry Cowperwood's private servitor. But he could carve and preside, and he could be used in either house as occasion warranted. There was also a hostler and a coachman for the joint stable. When two carriages were required at once, both drove. It made a very agreeable and satisfactory working arrangement.

The preparation of this reception had been quite a matter of importance, for it was necessary for financial reasons to make it as extensive as possible, and for social reasons as exclusive. It was therefore decided that the afternoon reception at Frank's house, with its natural overflow into Henry W.'s, was to be for all-the Tighes, Steners, Butlers, Mollenhauers, as well as the more select groups to which, for instance, belonged Arthur Rivers, Mrs. Seneca Davis, Mr. and Mrs. Trenor Drake, and some of the younger Drexels and Clarks, whom Frank had met. It was not likely that the latter would condescend, but cards had to be sent. Later in the evening a less democratic group if possible was to be entertained, albeit it would have to be extended to include the friends of Anna, Mrs. Cowperwood, Edward, and Joseph, and any list which Frank might personally have in mind. This was to be the list. The best that could be persuaded, commanded, or influenced of the young and socially elect were to be invited here.

It was not possible, however, not to invite the Butlers, parents and children, particularly the children, for both afternoon and evening, since Cowperwood was personally attracted to Aileen and despite the fact that the presence of the parents would be most unsatisfactory. Even Aileen as he knew was a little unsatisfactory to Anna and Mrs. Frank Cowperwood; and these two, when they were together supervising the list of invitations, often talked about it.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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