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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 24)


"Sit down, sit down. You won't take a little somethin'? You never do. I remember now. Well, have a cigar, anyhow. Now, what's this that's troublin' you to-night?"

Voices could be heard faintly in the distance, far off toward the thicker residential sections.

"Extra! Extra! All about the big Chicago fire! Chicago burning down!"

"Just that," replied Cowperwood, hearkening to them. "Have you heard the news?"

"No. What's that they're calling?"

"It's a big fire out in Chicago."

"Oh," replied Butler, still not gathering the significance of it.

"It's burning down the business section there, Mr. Butler," went on Cowperwood ominously, "and I fancy it's going to disturb financial conditions here to-morrow. That is what I have come to see you about. How are your investments? Pretty well drawn in?"

Butler suddenly gathered from Cowperwood's expression that there was something very wrong. He put up his large hand as he leaned back in his big leather chair, and covered his mouth and chin with it. Over those big knuckles, and bigger nose, thick and cartilaginous, his large, shaggy-eyebrowed eyes gleamed. His gray, bristly hair stood up stiffly in a short, even growth all over his head.

"So that's it," he said. "You're expectin' trouble to-morrow. How are your own affairs?"

"I'm in pretty good shape, I think, all told, if the money element of this town doesn't lose its head and go wild. There has to be a lot of common sense exercised to-morrow, or to-night, even. You know we are facing a real panic. Mr. Butler, you may as well know that. It may not last long, but while it does it will be bad. Stocks are going to drop to-morrow ten or fifteen points on the opening. The banks are going to call their loans unless some arrangement can be made to prevent them. No one man can do that. It will have to be a combination of men. You and Mr. Simpson and Mr. Mollenhauer might do it-that is, you could if you could persuade the big banking people to combine to back the market. There is going to be a raid on local street-railways-all of them. Unless they are sustained the bottom is going to drop out. I have always known that you were long on those. I thought you and Mr. Mollenhauer and some of the others might want to act. If you don't I might as well confess that it is going to go rather hard with me. I am not strong enough to face this thing alone."

He was meditating on how he should tell the whole truth in regard to Stener.

"Well, now, that's pretty bad," said Butler, calmly and meditatively. He was thinking of his own affairs. A panic was not good for him either, but he was not in a desperate state. He could not fail. He might lose some money, but not a vast amount-before he could adjust things. Still he did not care to lose any money.

"How is it you're so bad off?" he asked, curiously. He was wondering how the fact that the bottom was going to drop out of local street-railways would affect Cowperwood so seriously. "You're not carryin' any of them things, are you?" he added.

It was now a question of lying or telling the truth, and Cowperwood was literally afraid to risk lying in this dilemma. If he did not gain Butler's comprehending support he might fail, and if he failed the truth would come out, anyhow.

"I might as well make a clean breast of this, Mr. Butler," he said, throwing himself on the old man's sympathies and looking at him with that brisk assurance which Butler so greatly admired. He felt as proud of Cowperwood at times as he did of his own sons. He felt that he had helped to put him where he was.

"The fact is that I have been buying street-railway stocks, but not for myself exactly. I am going to do something now which I think I ought not to do, but I cannot help myself. If I don't do it, it will injure you and a lot of people whom I do not wish to injure. I know you are naturally interested in the outcome of the fall election. The truth is I have been carrying a lot of stocks for Mr. Stener and some of his friends. I do not know that all the money has come from the city treasury, but I think that most of it has. I know what that means to Mr. Stener and the Republican party and your interests in case I fail. I don't think Mr. Stener started this of his own accord in the first place-I think I am as much to blame as anybody-but it grew out of other things. As you know, I handled that matter of city loan for him and then some of his friends wanted me to invest in street-railways for them. I have been doing that ever since. Personally I have borrowed considerable money from Mr. Stener at two per cent. In fact, originally the transactions were covered in that way. Now I don't want to shift the blame on any one. It comes back to me and I am willing to let it stay there, except that if I fail Mr. Stener will be blamed and that will reflect on the administration. Naturally, I don't want to fail. There is no excuse for my doing so. Aside from this panic I have never been in a better position in my life. But I cannot weather this storm without assistance, and I want to know if you won't help me. If I pull through I will give you my word that I will see that the money which has been taken from the treasury is put back there. Mr. Stener is out of town or I would have brought him here with me."

Cowperwood was lying out of the whole cloth in regard to bringing Stener with him, and he had no intention of putting the money back in the city treasury except by degrees and in such manner as suited his convenience; but what he had said sounded well and created a great seeming of fairness.

"How much money is it Stener has invested with you?" asked Butler. He was a little confused by this curious development. It put Cowperwood and Stener in an odd light.

"About five hundred thousand dollars," replied Cowperwood.

The old man straightened up. "Is it as much as that?" he said.

"Just about-a little more or a little less; I'm not sure which."

The old contractor listened solemnly to all Cowperwood had to say on this score, thinking of the effect on the Republican party and his own contracting interests. He liked Cowperwood, but this was a rough thing the latter was telling him-rough, and a great deal to ask. He was a slow-thinking and a slow-moving man, but he did well enough when he did think. He had considerable money invested in Philadelphia street-railway stocks-perhaps as much as eight hundred thousand dollars. Mollenhauer had perhaps as much more. Whether Senator Simpson had much or little he could not tell. Cowperwood had told him in the past that he thought the Senator had a good deal. Most of their holdings, as in the case of Cowperwood's, were hypothecated at the various banks for loans and these loans invested in other ways. It was not advisable or comfortable to have these loans called, though the condition of no one of the triumvirate was anything like as bad as that of Cowperwood. They could see themselves through without much trouble, though not without probable loss unless they took hurried action to protect themselves.

He would not have thought so much of it if Cowperwood had told him that Stener was involved, say, to the extent of seventy-five or a hundred thousand dollars. That might be adjusted. But five hundred thousand dollars!

"That's a lot of money," said Butler, thinking of the amazing audacity of Stener, but failing at the moment to identify it with the astute machinations of Cowperwood. "That's something to think about. There's no time to lose if there's going to be a panic in the morning. How much good will it do ye if we do support the market?"

"A great deal," returned Cowperwood, "although of course I have to raise money in other ways. I have that one hundred thousand dollars of yours on deposit. Is it likely that you'll want that right away?"

"It may be," said Butler.

"It's just as likely that I'll need it so badly that I can't give it up without seriously injuring myself," added Cowperwood. "That's just one of a lot of things. If you and Senator Simpson and Mr. Mollenhauer were to get together-you're the largest holders of street-railway stocks-and were to see Mr. Drexel and Mr. Cooke, you could fix things so that matters would be considerably easier. I will be all right if my loans are not called, and my loans will not be called if the market does not slump too heavily. If it does, all my securities are depreciated, and I can't hold out."

Old Butler got up. "This is serious business," he said. "I wish you'd never gone in with Stener in that way. It don't look quite right and it can't be made to. It's bad, bad business," he added dourly. "Still, I'll do what I can. I can't promise much, but I've always liked ye and I'll not be turning on ye now unless I have to. But I'm sorry-very. And I'm not the only one that has a hand in things in this town." At the same time he was thinking it was right decent of Cowperwood to forewarn him this way in regard to his own affairs and the city election, even though he was saving his own neck by so doing. He meant to do what he could.

"I don't suppose you could keep this matter of Stener and the city treasury quiet for a day or two until I see how I come out?" suggested Cowperwood warily.

"I can't promise that," replied Butler. "I'll have to do the best I can. I won't lave it go any further than I can help-you can depend on that." He was thinking how the effect of Stener's crime could be overcome if Cowperwood failed.

"Owen!"

He stepped to the door, and, opening it, called down over the banister.

"Yes, father."

"Have Dan hitch up the light buggy and bring it around to the door. And you get your hat and coat. I want you to go along with me."

"Yes, father."

He came back.

"Sure that's a nice little storm in a teapot, now, isn't it? Chicago begins to burn, and I have to worry here in Philadelphia. Well, well-" Cowperwood was up now and moving to the door. "And where are you going?"

"Back to the house. I have several people coming there to see me. But I'll come back here later, if I may."

"Yes, yes," replied Butler. "To be sure I'll be here by midnight, anyhow. Well, good night. I'll see you later, then, I suppose. I'll tell you what I find out."

He went back in his room for something, and Cowperwood descended the stair alone. From the hangings of the reception-room entryway Aileen signaled him to draw near.

"I hope it's nothing serious, honey?" she sympathized, looking into his solemn eyes.It was not time for love, and he felt it. "No," he said, almost coldly, "I think not."

"Frank, don't let this thing make you forget me for long, please. You won't, will you? I love you so."

"No, no, I won't!" he replied earnestly, quickly and yet absently.

"I can't! Don't you know I won't?" He had started to kiss her, but a noise disturbed him. "Sh!"

He walked to the door, and she followed him with eager, sympathetic eyes.

What if anything should happen to her Frank? What if anything could? What would she do? That was what was troubling her. What would, what could she do to help him? He looked so pale-strained.

Chapter XXIV
The condition of the Republican party at this time in Philadelphia, its relationship to George W. Stener, Edward Malia Butler, Henry A. Mollenhauer, Senator Mark Simpson, and others, will have to be briefly indicated here, in order to foreshadow Cowperwood's actual situation. Butler, as we have seen, was normally interested in and friendly to Cowperwood. Stener was Cowperwood's tool. Mollenhauer and Senator Simpson were strong rivals of Butler for the control of city affairs. Simpson represented the Republican control of the State legislature, which could dictate to the city if necessary, making new election laws, revising the city charter, starting political investigations, and the like. He had many influential newspapers, corporations, banks, at his beck and call. Mollenhauer represented the Germans, some Americans, and some large stable corporations-a very solid and respectable man. All three were strong, able, and dangerous politically. The two latter counted on Butler's influence, particularly with the Irish, and a certain number of ward leaders and Catholic politicians and laymen, who were as loyal to him as though he were a part of the church itself. Butler's return to these followers was protection, influence, aid, and good-will generally. The city's return to him, via Mollenhauer and Simpson, was in the shape of contracts-fat ones-street-paving, bridges, viaducts, sewers. And in order for him to get these contracts the affairs of the Republican party, of which he was a beneficiary as well as a leader, must be kept reasonably straight. At the same time it was no more a part of his need to keep the affairs of the party straight than it was of either Mollenhauer's or Simpson's, and Stener was not his appointee. The latter was more directly responsible to Mollenhauer than to any one else.

As Butler stepped into the buggy with his son he was thinking about this, and it was puzzling him greatly.

"Cowperwood's just been here," he said to Owen, who had been rapidly coming into a sound financial understanding of late, and was already a shrewder man politically and socially than his father, though he had not the latter's magnetism. "He's been tellin' me that he's in a rather tight place. You hear that?" he continued, as some voice in the distance was calling "Extra! Extra!" "That's Chicago burnin', and there's goin' to be trouble on the stock exchange to-morrow. We have a lot of our street-railway stocks around at the different banks. If we don't look sharp they'll be callin' our loans. We have to 'tend to that the first thing in the mornin'. Cowperwood has a hundred thousand of mine with him that he wants me to let stay there, and he has some money that belongs to Stener, he tells me."

"Stener?" asked Owen, curiously. "Has he been dabbling in stocks?" Owen had heard some rumors concerning Stener and others only very recently, which he had not credited nor yet communicated to his father. "How much money of his has Cowperwood?" he asked.

Butler meditated. "Quite a bit, I'm afraid," he finally said. "As a matter of fact, it's a great deal-about five hundred thousand dollars. If that should become known, it would be makin' a good deal of noise, I'm thinkin'."

"Whew!" exclaimed Owen in astonishment. "Five hundred thousand dollars! Good Lord, father! Do you mean to say Stener has got away with five hundred thousand dollars? Why, I wouldn't think he was clever enough to do that. Five hundred thousand dollars! It will make a nice row if that comes out."

"Aisy, now! Aisy, now!" replied Butler, doing his best to keep all phases of the situation in mind. "We can't tell exactly what the circumstances were yet. He mayn't have meant to take so much. It may all come out all right yet. The money's invested. Cowperwood hasn't failed yet. It may be put back. The thing to be settled on now is whether anything can be done to save him. If he's tellin' me the truth-and I never knew him to lie-he can get out of this if street-railway stocks don't break too heavy in the mornin'. I'm going over to see Henry Mollenhauer and Mark Simpson. They're in on this. Cowperwood wanted me to see if I couldn't get them to get the bankers together and have them stand by the market. He thought we might protect our loans by comin' on and buyin' and holdin' up the price."

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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