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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 27)


Monday, the ninth, dawned gray and cheerless. He was up with the first ray of light, shaved and dressed, and went over, under the gray-green pergola, to his father's house. He was up, also, and stirring about, for he had not been able to sleep. His gray eyebrows and gray hair looked rather shaggy and disheveled, and his side-whiskers anything but decorative. The old gentleman's eyes were tired, and his face was gray. Cowperwood could see that he was worrying. He looked up from a small, ornate escritoire of buhl, which Ellsworth had found somewhere, and where he was quietly tabulating a list of his resources and liabilities. Cowperwood winced. He hated to see his father worried, but he could not help it. He had hoped sincerely, when they built their houses together, that the days of worry for his father had gone forever.

"Counting up?" he asked, familiarly, with a smile. He wanted to hearten the old gentleman as much as possible.

"I was just running over my affairs again to see where I stood in case-" He looked quizzically at his son, and Frank smiled again.

"I wouldn't worry, father. I told you how I fixed it so that Butler and that crowd will support the market. I have Rivers and Targool and Harry Eltinge on 'change helping me sell out, and they are the best men there. They'll handle the situation carefully. I couldn't trust Ed or Joe in this case, for the moment they began to sell everybody would know what was going on with me. This way my men will seem like bears hammering the market, but not hammering too hard. I ought to be able to unload enough at ten points off to raise five hundred thousand. The market may not go lower than that. You can't tell. It isn't going to sink indefinitely. If I just knew what the big insurance companies were going to do! The morning paper hasn't come yet, has it?"

He was going to pull a bell, but remembered that the servants would scarcely be up as yet. He went to the front door himself. There were the Press and the Public Ledger lying damp from the presses. He picked them up and glanced at the front pages. His countenance fell. On one, the Press, was spread a great black map of Chicago, a most funereal-looking thing, the black portion indicating the burned section. He had never seen a map of Chicago before in just this clear, definite way. That white portion was Lake Michigan, and there was the Chicago River dividing the city into three almost equal portions-the north side, the west side, the south side. He saw at once that the city was curiously arranged, somewhat like Philadelphia, and that the business section was probably an area of two or three miles square, set at the juncture of the three sides, and lying south of the main stem of the river, where it flowed into the lake after the southwest and northwest branches had united to form it. This was a significant central area; but, according to this map, it was all burned out. "Chicago in Ashes" ran a great side-heading set in heavily leaded black type. It went on to detail the sufferings of the homeless, the number of the dead, the number of those whose fortunes had been destroyed. Then it descanted upon the probable effect in the East. Insurance companies and manufacturers might not be able to meet the great strain of all this.

"Damn!" said Cowperwood gloomily. "I wish I were out of this stock-jobbing business. I wish I had never gotten into it." He returned to his drawing-room and scanned both accounts most carefully.

Then, though it was still early, he and his father drove to his office. There were already messages awaiting him, a dozen or more, to cancel or sell. While he was standing there a messenger-boy brought him three more. One was from Stener and said that he would be back by twelve o'clock, the very earliest he could make it. Cowperwood was relieved and yet distressed. He would need large sums of money to meet various loans before three. Every hour was precious. He must arrange to meet Stener at the station and talk to him before any one else should see him. Clearly this was going to be a hard, dreary, strenuous day.

Third Street, by the time he reached there, was stirring with other bankers and brokers called forth by the exigencies of the occasion. There was a suspicious hurrying of feet-that intensity which makes all the difference in the world between a hundred people placid and a hundred people disturbed. At the exchange, the atmosphere was feverish. At the sound of the gong, the staccato uproar began. Its metallic vibrations were still in the air when the two hundred men who composed this local organization at its utmost stress of calculation, threw themselves upon each other in a gibbering struggle to dispose of or seize bargains of the hour. The interests were so varied that it was impossible to say at which pole it was best to sell or buy.

Targool and Rivers had been delegated to stay at the center of things, Joseph and Edward to hover around on the outside and to pick up such opportunities of selling as might offer a reasonable return on the stock. The "bears" were determined to jam things down, and it all depended on how well the agents of Mollenhauer, Simpson, Butler, and others supported things in the street-railway world whether those stocks retained any strength or not. The last thing Butler had said the night before was that they would do the best they could. They would buy up to a certain point. Whether they would support the market indefinitely he would not say. He could not vouch for Mollenhauer and Simpson. Nor did he know the condition of their affairs.

While the excitement was at its highest Cowperwood came in. As he stood in the door looking to catch the eye of Rivers, the 'change gong sounded, and trading stopped. All the brokers and traders faced about to the little balcony, where the secretary of the 'change made his announcements; and there he stood, the door open behind him, a small, dark, clerkly man of thirty-eight or forty, whose spare figure and pale face bespoke the methodic mind that knows no venturous thought. In his right hand he held a slip of white paper.

"The American Fire Insurance Company of Boston announces its inability to meet its obligations." The gong sounded again.

Immediately the storm broke anew, more voluble than before, because, if after one hour of investigation on this Monday morning one insurance company had gone down, what would four or five hours or a day or two bring forth? It meant that men who had been burned out in Chicago would not be able to resume business. It meant that all loans connected with this concern had been, or would be called now. And the cries of frightened "bulls" offering thousand and five thousand lot holdings in Northern Pacific, Illinois Central, Reading, Lake Shore, Wabash; in all the local streetcar lines; and in Cowperwood's city loans at constantly falling prices was sufficient to take the heart out of all concerned. He hurried to Arthur Rivers's side in the lull; but there was little he could say.

"It looks as though the Mollenhauer and Simpson crowds aren't doing much for the market," he observed, gravely.

"They've had advices from New York," explained Rivers solemnly. "It can't be supported very well. There are three insurance companies over there on the verge of quitting, I understand. I expect to see them posted any minute."

They stepped apart from the pandemonium, to discuss ways and means. Under his agreement with Stener, Cowperwood could buy up to one hundred thousand dollars of city loan, above the customary wash sales, or market manipulation, by which they were making money. This was in case the market had to be genuinely supported. He decided to buy sixty thousand dollars worth now, and use this to sustain his loans elsewhere. Stener would pay him for this instantly, giving him more ready cash. It might help him in one way and another; and, anyhow, it might tend to strengthen the other securities long enough at least to allow him to realize a little something now at better than ruinous rates. If only he had the means "to go short" on this market! If only doing so did not really mean ruin to his present position. It was characteristic of the man that even in this crisis he should be seeing how the very thing that of necessity, because of his present obligations, might ruin him, might also, under slightly different conditions, yield him a great harvest. He could not take advantage of it, however. He could not be on both sides of this market. It was either "bear" or "bull," and of necessity he was "bull." It was strange but true. His subtlety could not avail him here. He was about to turn and hurry to see a certain banker who might loan him something on his house, when the gong struck again. Once more trading ceased. Arthur Rivers, from his position at the State securities post, where city loan was sold, and where he had started to buy for Cowperwood, looked significantly at him. Newton Targool hurried to Cowperwood's side.

"You're up against it," he exclaimed. "I wouldn't try to sell against this market. It's no use. They're cutting the ground from under you. The bottom's out. Things are bound to turn in a few days. Can't you hold out? Here's more trouble."

He raised his eyes to the announcer's balcony.

"The Eastern and Western Fire Insurance Company of New York announces that it cannot meet its obligations."

A low sound something like "Haw!" broke forth. The announcer's gavel struck for order.

"The Erie Fire Insurance Company of Rochester announces that it cannot meet its obligations."

Again that "H-a-a-a-w!"

Once more the gavel.

"The American Trust Company of New York has suspended payment."

"H-a-a-a-w!"

The storm was on.

What do you think?" asked Targool. "You can't brave this storm. Can't you quit selling and hold out for a few days? Why not sell short?"

"They ought to close this thing up," Cowperwood said, shortly. "It would be a splendid way out. Then nothing could be done."

He hurried to consult with those who, finding themselves in a similar predicament with himself, might use their influence to bring it about. It was a sharp trick to play on those who, now finding the market favorable to their designs in its falling condition, were harvesting a fortune. But what was that to him? Business was business. There was no use selling at ruinous figures, and he gave his lieutenants orders to stop. Unless the bankers favored him heavily, or the stock exchange was closed, or Stener could be induced to deposit an additional three hundred thousand with him at once, he was ruined. He hurried down the street to various bankers and brokers suggesting that they do this-close the exchange. At a few minutes before twelve o'clock he drove rapidly to the station to meet Stener; but to his great disappointment the latter did not arrive. It looked as though he had missed his train. Cowperwood sensed something, some trick; and decided to go to the city hall and also to Stener's house. Perhaps he had returned and was trying to avoid him.

Not finding him at his office, he drove direct to his house. Here he was not surprised to meet Stener just coming out, looking very pale and distraught. At the sight of Cowperwood he actually blanched.

"Why, hello, Frank," he exclaimed, sheepishly, "where do you come from?"

"What's up, George?" asked Cowperwood. "I thought you were coming into Broad Street."

"So I was," returned Stener, foolishly, "but I thought I would get off at West Philadelphia and change my clothes. I've a lot of things to 'tend to yet this afternoon. I was coming in to see you." After Cowperwood's urgent telegram this was silly, but the young banker let it pass.

"Jump in, George," he said. "I have something very important to talk to you about. I told you in my telegram about the likelihood of a panic. It's on. There isn't a moment to lose. Stocks are 'way down, and most of my loans are being called. I want to know if you won't let me have three hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a few days at four or five per cent. I'll pay it all back to you. I need it very badly. If I don't get it I'm likely to fail. You know what that means, George. It will tie up every dollar I have. Those street-car holdings of yours will be tied up with me. I won't be able to let you realize on them, and that will put those loans of mine from the treasury in bad shape. You won't be able to put the money back, and you know what that means. We're in this thing together. I want to see you through safely, but I can't do it without your help. I had to go to Butler last night to see about a loan of his, and I'm doing my best to get money from other sources. But I can't see my way through on this, I'm afraid, unless you're willing to help me." Cowperwood paused. He wanted to put the whole case clearly and succinctly to him before he had a chance to refuse-to make him realize it as his own predicament.

As a matter of fact, what Cowperwood had keenly suspected was literally true. Stener had been reached. The moment Butler and Simpson had left him the night before, Mollenhauer had sent for his very able secretary, Abner Sengstack, and despatched him to learn the truth about Stener's whereabouts. Sengstack had then sent a long wire to Strobik, who was with Stener, urging him to caution the latter against Cowperwood. The state of the treasury was known. Stener and Strobik were to be met by Sengstack at Wilmington (this to forefend against the possibility of Cowperwood's reaching Stener first)-and the whole state of affairs made perfectly plain. No more money was to be used under penalty of prosecution. If Stener wanted to see any one he must see Mollenhauer. Sengstack, having received a telegram from Strobik informing him of their proposed arrival at noon the next day, had proceeded to Wilmington to meet them. The result was that Stener did not come direct into the business heart of the city, but instead got off at West Philadelphia, proposing to go first to his house to change his clothes and then to see Mollenhauer before meeting Cowperwood. He was very badly frightened and wanted time to think.

"I can't do it, Frank," he pleaded, piteously. "I'm in pretty bad in this matter. Mollenhauer's secretary met the train out at Wilmington just now to warn me against this situation, and Strobik is against it. They know how much money I've got outstanding. You or somebody has told them. I can't go against Mollenhauer. I owe everything I've got to him, in a way. He got me this place."

"Listen, George. Whatever you do at this time, don't let this political loyalty stuff cloud your judgment. You're in a very serious position and so am I. If you don't act for yourself with me now no one is going to act for you-now or later-no one. And later will be too late. I proved that last night when I went to Butler to get help for the two of us. They all know about this business of our street-railway holdings and they want to shake us out and that's the big and little of it-nothing more and nothing less. It's a case of dog eat dog in this game and this particular situation and it's up to us to save ourselves against everybody or go down together, and that's just what I'm here to tell you. Mollenhauer doesn't care any more for you to-day than he does for that lamp-post. It isn't that money you've paid out to me that's worrying him, but who's getting something for it and what. Well they know that you and I are getting street-railways, don't you see, and they don't want us to have them. Once they get those out of our hands they won't waste another day on you or me. Can't you see that? Once we've lost all we've invested, you're down and so am I-and no one is going to turn a hand for you or me politically or in any other way. I want you to understand that, George, because it's true. And before you say you won't or you will do anything because Mollenhauer says so, you want to think over what I have to tell you."

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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