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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 21)


"Frank," said Stener, strolling into his office one afternoon after four o'clock when the main rush of the day's work was over the relationship between Cowperwood and Stener had long since reached the "Frank" and "George" period-"Strobik thinks he has that North Pennsylvania deal arranged so that we can take it up if we want to. The principal stockholder, we find, is a man by the name of Coltan-not Ike Colton, but Ferdinand. How's that for a name?" Stener beamed fatly and genially.

Things had changed considerably for him since the days when he had been fortuitously and almost indifferently made city treasurer. His method of dressing had so much improved since he had been inducted into office, and his manner expressed so much more good feeling, confidence, aplomb, that he would not have recognized himself if he had been permitted to see himself as had those who had known him before. An old, nervous shifting of the eyes had almost ceased, and a feeling of restfulness, which had previously been restlessness, and had sprung from a sense of necessity, had taken its place. His large feet were incased in good, square-toed, soft-leather shoes; his stocky chest and fat legs were made somewhat agreeable to the eye by a well-cut suit of brownish-gray cloth; and his neck was now surrounded by a low, wing-point white collar and brown-silk tie. His ample chest, which spread out a little lower in around and constantly enlarging stomach, was ornamented by a heavy-link gold chain, and his white cuffs had large gold cuff-buttons set with rubies of a very notable size. He was rosy and decidedly well fed. In fact, he was doing very well indeed.

He had moved his family from a shabby two-story frame house in South Ninth Street to a very comfortable brick one three stories in height, and three times as large, on Spring Garden Street. His wife had a few acquaintances-the wives of other politicians. His children were attending the high school, a thing he had hardly hoped for in earlier days. He was now the owner of fourteen or fifteen pieces of cheap real estate in different portions of the city, which might eventually become very valuable, and he was a silent partner in the South Philadelphia Foundry Company and the American Beef and Pork Company, two corporations on paper whose principal business was subletting contracts secured from the city to the humble butchers and foundrymen who would carry out orders as given and not talk too much or ask questions.

"Well, that is an odd name," said Cowperwood, blandly. "So he has it? I never thought that road would pay, as it was laid out. It's too short. It ought to run about three miles farther out into the Kensington section."

"You're right," said Stener, dully.

"Did Strobik say what Colton wants for his shares?"

"Sixty-eight, I think."

"The current market rate. He doesn't want much, does he? Well, George, at that rate it will take about"-he calculated quickly on the basis of the number of shares Cotton was holding-"one hundred and twenty thousand to get him out alone. That isn't all. There's Judge Kitchen and Joseph Zimmerman and Senator Donovan" he was referring to the State senator of that name. "You'll be paying a pretty fair price for that stud when you get it. It will cost considerable more to extend the line. It's too much, I think."

Cowperwood was thinking how easy it would be to combine this line with his dreamed-of Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line, and after a time and with this in view he added:

"Say, George, why do you work all your schemes through Strobik and Harmon and Wycroft? Couldn't you and I manage some of these things for ourselves alone instead of for three or four? It seems to me that plan would be much more profitable to you."

"It would, it would!" exclaimed Stener, his round eyes fixed on Cowperwood in a rather helpless, appealing way. He liked Cowperwood and had always been hoping that mentally as well as financially he could get close to him. "I've thought of that. But these fellows have had more experience in these matters than I have had, Frank. They've been longer at the game. I don't know as much about these things as they do."

Cowperwood smiled in his soul, though his face remained passive.

"Don't worry about them, George," he continued genially and confidentially. "You and I together can know and do as much as they ever could and more. I'm telling you. Take this railroad deal you're in on now, George; you and I could manipulate that just as well and better than it can be done with Wycroft, Strobik, and Harmon in on it. They're not adding anything to the wisdom of the situation. They're not putting up any money. You're doing that. All they're doing is agreeing to see it through the legislature and the council, and as far as the legislature is concerned, they can't do any more with that than any one else could-than I could, for instance. It's all a question of arranging things with Relihan, anyhow, putting up a certain amount of money for him to work with. Here in town there are other people who can reach the council just as well as Strobik." He was thinking (once he controlled a road of his own) of conferring with Butler and getting him to use his influence. It would serve to quiet Strobik and his friends. "I'm not asking you to change your plans on this North Pennsylvania deal. You couldn't do that very well. But there are other things. In the future why not let's see if you and I can't work some one thing together? You'll be much better off, and so will I. We've done pretty well on the city-loan proposition so far, haven't we?"

The truth was, they had done exceedingly well. Aside from what the higher powers had made, Stener's new house, his lots, his bank-account, his good clothes, and his changed and comfortable sense of life were largely due to Cowperwood's successful manipulation of these city-loan certificates. Already there had been four issues of two hundred thousand dollars each. Cowperwood had bought and sold nearly three million dollars' worth of these certificates, acting one time as a "bull" and another as a "bear." Stener was now worth all of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

"There's a line that I know of here in the city which could be made into a splendidly paying property," continued Cowperwood, meditatively, "if the right things could be done with it. Just like this North Pennsylvania line, it isn't long enough. The territory it serves isn't big enough. It ought to be extended; but if you and I could get it, it might eventually be worked with this North Pennsylvania Company or some other as one company. That would save officers and offices and a lot of things. There is always money to be made out of a larger purchasing power."

He paused and looked out the window of his handsome little hardwood office, speculating upon the future. The window gave nowhere save into a back yard behind another office building which had formerly been a residence. Some grass grew feebly there. The red wall and old-fashioned brick fence which divided it from the next lot reminded him somehow of his old home in New Market Street, to which his Uncle Seneca used to come as a Cuban trader followed by his black Portuguese servitor. He could see him now as he sat here looking at the yard.

"Well," asked Stener, ambitiously, taking the bait, "why don't we get hold of that-you and me? I suppose I could fix it so far as the money is concerned. How much would it take?"

Cowperwood smiled inwardly again.

"I don't know exactly," he said, after a time. "I want to look into it more carefully. The one trouble is that I'm carrying a good deal of the city's money as it is. You see, I have that two hundred thousand dollars against your city-loan deals. And this new scheme will take two or three hundred thousand more. If that were out of the way-"

He was thinking of one of the inexplicable stock panics-those strange American depressions which had so much to do with the temperament of the people, and so little to do with the basic conditions of the country. "If this North Pennsylvania deal were through and done with-"

He rubbed his chin and pulled at his handsome silky mustache.

"Don't ask me any more about it, George," he said, finally, as he saw that the latter was beginning to think as to which line it might be. "Don't say anything at all about it. I want to get my facts exactly right, and then I'll talk to you. I think you and I can do this thing a little later, when we get the North Pennsylvania scheme under way. I'm so rushed just now I'm not sure that I want to undertake it at once; but you keep quiet and we'll see." He turned toward his desk, and Stener got up.

"I'll make any sized deposit with you that you wish, the moment you think you're ready to act, Frank," exclaimed Stener, and with the thought that Cowperwood was not nearly as anxious to do this as he should be, since he could always rely on him (Stener) when there was anything really profitable in the offing. Why should not the able and wonderful Cowperwood be allowed to make the two of them rich? "Just notify Stires, and he'll send you a check. Strobik thought we ought to act pretty soon."

"I'll tend to it, George," replied Cowperwood, confidently. "It will come out all right. Leave it to me."

Stener kicked his stout legs to straighten his trousers, and extended his hand. He strolled out in the street thinking of this new scheme. Certainly, if he could get in with Cowperwood right he would be a rich man, for Cowperwood was so successful and so cautious. His new house, this beautiful banking office, his growing fame, and his subtle connections with Butler and others put Stener in considerable awe of him. Another line! They would control it and the North Pennsylvania! Why, if this went on, he might become a magnate-he really might-he, George W. Stener, once a cheap real-estate and insurance agent. He strolled up the street thinking, but with no more idea of the importance of his civic duties and the nature of the social ethics against which he was offending than if they had never existed.

Chapter XXII
The services which Cowperwood performed during the ensuing year and a half for Stener, Strobik, Butler, State Treasurer Van Nostrand, State Senator Relihan, representative of "the interests," so-called, at Harrisburg, and various banks which were friendly to these gentlemen, were numerous and confidential. For Stener, Strobik, Wycroft, Harmon and himself he executed the North Pennsylvania deal, by which he became a holder of a fifth of the controlling stock. Together he and Stener joined to purchase the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line and in the concurrent gambling in stocks.

By the summer of 1871, when Cowperwood was nearly thirty-four years of age, he had a banking business estimated at nearly two million dollars, personal holdings aggregating nearly half a million, and prospects which other things being equal looked to wealth which might rival that of any American. The city, through its treasurer still Mr. Stener-was a depositor with him to the extent of nearly five hundred thousand dollars. The State, through its State treasurer, Van Nostrand, carried two hundred thousand dollars on his books. Bode was speculating in street-railway stocks to the extent of fifty thousand dollars. Relihan to the same amount. A small army of politicians and political hangers-on were on his books for various sums. And for Edward Malia Butler he occasionally carried as high as one hundred thousand dollars in margins. His own loans at the banks, varying from day to day on variously hypothecated securities, were as high as seven and eight hundred thousand dollars. Like a spider in a spangled net, every thread of which he knew, had laid, had tested, he had surrounded and entangled himself in a splendid, glittering network of connections, and he was watching all the details.

His one pet idea, the thing he put more faith in than anything else, was his street-railway manipulations, and particularly his actual control of the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line. Through an advance to him, on deposit, made in his bank by Stener at a time when the stock of the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line was at a low ebb, he had managed to pick up fifty-one per cent. of the stock for himself and Stener, by virtue of which he was able to do as he pleased with the road. To accomplish this, however, he had resorted to some very "peculiar" methods, as they afterward came to be termed in financial circles, to get this stock at his own valuation. Through agents he caused suits for damages to be brought against the company for non-payment of interest due. A little stock in the hands of a hireling, a request made to a court of record to examine the books of the company in order to determine whether a receivership were not advisable, a simultaneous attack in the stock market, selling at three, five, seven, and ten points off, brought the frightened stockholders into the market with their holdings. The banks considered the line a poor risk, and called their loans in connection with it. His father's bank had made one loan to one of the principal stockholders, and that was promptly called, of course. Then, through an agent, the several heaviest shareholders were approached and an offer was made to help them out. The stocks would be taken off their hands at forty. They had not really been able to discover the source of all their woes; and they imagined that the road was in bad condition, which it was not. Better let it go. The money was immediately forthcoming, and Cowperwood and Stener jointly controlled fifty-one per cent. But, as in the case of the North Pennsylvania line, Cowperwood had been quietly buying all of the small minority holdings, so that he had in reality fifty-one per cent. of the stock, and Stener twenty-five per cent. more.

This intoxicated him, for immediately he saw the opportunity of fulfilling his long-contemplated dream-that of reorganizing the company in conjunction with the North Pennsylvania line, issuing three shares where one had been before and after unloading all but a control on the general public, using the money secured to buy into other lines which were to be boomed and sold in the same way. In short, he was one of those early, daring manipulators who later were to seize upon other and ever larger phases of American natural development for their own aggrandizement.

In connection with this first consolidation, his plan was to spread rumors of the coming consolidation of the two lines, to appeal to the legislature for privileges of extension, to get up an arresting prospectus and later annual reports, and to boom the stock on the stock exchange as much as his swelling resources would permit. The trouble is that when you are trying to make a market for a stock-to unload a large issue such as his was (over five hundred thousand dollars' worth)-while retaining five hundred thousand for yourself, it requires large capital to handle it. The owner in these cases is compelled not only to go on the market and do much fictitious buying, thus creating a fictitious demand, but once this fictitious demand has deceived the public and he has been able to unload a considerable quantity of his wares, he is, unless he rids himself of all his stock, compelled to stand behind it. If, for instance, he sold five thousand shares, as was done in this instance, and retained five thousand, he must see that the public price of the outstanding five thousand shares did not fall below a certain point, because the value of his private shares would fall with it. And if, as is almost always the case, the private shares had been hypothecated with banks and trust companies for money wherewith to conduct other enterprises, the falling of their value in the open market merely meant that the banks would call for large margins to protect their loans or call their loans entirely. This meant that his work was a failure, and he might readily fail. He was already conducting one such difficult campaign in connection with this city-loan deal, the price of which varied from day to day, and which he was only too anxious to have vary, for in the main he profited by these changes.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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