Cowperwood was referring to the system under which certain portions of city money, like the sinking-fund, were permitted to be kept in certain banks at a low rate of interest or no rate-banks in which Mollenhauer and Butler and Simpson were interested. This was their safe graft.
"Don't throw your chances away, George. Don't quit now. You'll be worth millions in a few years, and you won't have to turn a hand. All you will have to do will be to keep what you have. If you don't help me, mark my word, they'll throw you over the moment I'm out of this, and they'll let you go to the penitentiary. Who's going to put up five hundred thousand dollars for you, George? Where is Mollenhauer going to get it, or Butler, or anybody, in these times? They can't. They don't intend to. When I'm through, you're through, and you'll be exposed quicker than any one else. They can't hurt me, George. I'm an agent. I didn't ask you to come to me. You came to me in the first place of your own accord. If you don't help me, you're through, I tell you, and you're going to be sent to the penitentiary as sure as there are jails. Why don't you take a stand, George? Why don't you stand your ground? You have your wife and children to look after. You can't be any worse off loaning me three hundred thousand more than you are right now. What difference does it make-five hundred thousand or eight hundred thousand? It's all one and the same thing, if you're going to be tried for it. Besides, if you loan me this, there isn't going to be any trial. I'm not going to fail. This storm will blow over in a week or ten days, and we'll be rich again. For Heaven's sake, George, don't go to pieces this way! Be sensible! Be reasonable!"
He paused, for Stener's face had become a jelly-like mass of woe.
"I can't, Frank," he wailed. "I tell you I can't. They'll punish me worse than ever if I do that. They'll never let up on me. You don't know these people."
In Stener's crumpling weakness Cowperwood read his own fate. What could you do with a man like that? How brace him up? You couldn't! And with a gesture of infinite understanding, disgust, noble indifference, he threw up his hands and started to walk out. At the door he turned.
"George," he said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for you, not for myself. I'll come out of things all right, eventually. I'll be rich. But, George, you're making the one great mistake of your life. You'll be poor; you'll be a convict, and you'll have only yourself to blame. There isn't a thing the matter with this money situation except the fire. There isn't a thing wrong with my affairs except this slump in stocks-this panic. You sit there, a fortune in your hands, and you allow a lot of schemers, highbinders, who don't know any more of your affairs or mine than a rabbit, and who haven't any interest in you except to plan what they can get out of you, to frighten you and prevent you from doing the one thing that will save your life. Three hundred thousand paltry dollars that in three or four weeks from now I can pay back to you four and five times over, and for that you will see me go broke and yourself to the penitentiary. I can't understand it, George. You're out of your mind. You're going to rue this the longest day that you live."
He waited a few moments to see if this, by any twist of chance, would have any effect; then, noting that Stener still remained a wilted, helpless mass of nothing, he shook his head gloomily and walked out.
It was the first time in his life that Cowperwood had ever shown the least sign of weakening or despair. He had felt all along as though there were nothing to the Greek theory of being pursued by the furies. Now, however, there seemed an untoward fate which was pursuing him. It looked that way. Still, fate or no fate, he did not propose to be daunted. Even in this very beginning of a tendency to feel despondent he threw back his head, expanded his chest, and walked as briskly as ever.
In the large room outside Stener's private office he encountered
Albert Stires, Stener's chief clerk and secretary. He and Albert
had exchanged many friendly greetings in times past, and all the
little minor transactions in regard to city loan had been discussed
between them, for Albert knew more of the intricacies of finance
and financial bookkeeping than Stener would ever know.
At the sight of Stires the thought in regard to the sixty thousand dollars' worth of city loan certificates, previously referred to, flashed suddenly through his mind. He had not deposited them in the sinking-fund, and did not intend to for the present-could not, unless considerable free money were to reach him shortly-for he had used them to satisfy other pressing demands, and had no free money to buy them back-or, in other words, release them. And he did not want to just at this moment. Under the law governing transactions of this kind with the city treasurer, he was supposed to deposit them at once to the credit of the city, and not to draw his pay therefor from the city treasurer until he had. To be very exact, the city treasurer, under the law, was not supposed to pay him for any transaction of this kind until he or his agents presented a voucher from the bank or other organization carrying the sinking-fund for the city showing that the certificates so purchased had actually been deposited there. As a matter of fact, under the custom which had grown up between him and Stener, the law had long been ignored in this respect. He could buy certificates of city loan for the sinking-fund up to any reasonable amount, hypothecate them where he pleased, and draw his pay from the city without presenting a voucher. At the end of the month sufficient certificates of city loan could usually be gathered from one source and another to make up the deficiency, or the deficiency could actually be ignored, as had been done on more than one occasion, for long periods of time, while he used money secured by hypothecating the shares for speculative purposes. This was actually illegal; but neither Cowperwood nor Stener saw it in that light or cared.
The trouble with this particular transaction was the note that he had received from Stener ordering him to stop both buying and selling, which put his relations with the city treasury on a very formal basis. He had bought these certificates before receiving this note, but had not deposited them. He was going now to collect his check; but perhaps the old, easy system of balancing matters at the end of the month might not be said to obtain any longer. Stires might ask him to present a voucher of deposit. If so, he could not now get this check for sixty thousand dollars, for he did not have the certificates to deposit. If not, he might get the money; but, also, it might constitute the basis of some subsequent legal action. If he did not eventually deposit the certificates before failure, some charge such as that of larceny might be brought against him. Still, he said to himself, he might not really fail even yet. If any of his banking associates should, for any reason, modify their decision in regard to calling his loans, he would not. Would Stener make a row about this if he so secured this check? Would the city officials pay any attention to him if he did? Could you get any district attorney to take cognizance of such a transaction, if Stener did complain? No, not in all likelihood; and, anyhow, nothing would come of it. No jury would punish him in the face of the understanding existing between him and Stener as agent or broker and principal. And, once he had the money, it was a hundred to one Stener would think no more about it. It would go in among the various unsatisfied liabilities, and nothing more would be thought about it. Like lightning the entire situation hashed through his mind. He would risk it. He stopped before the chief clerk's desk.
"Albert," he said, in a low voice, "I bought sixty thousand dollars' worth of city loan for the sinking-fund this morning. Will you give my boy a check for it in the morning, or, better yet, will you give it to me now? I got your note about no more purchases. I'm going back to the office. You can just credit the sinking-fund with eight hundred certificates at from seventy-five to eighty. I'll send you the itemized list later."
"Certainly, Mr. Cowperwood, certainly," replied Albert, with alacrity. "Stocks are getting an awful knock, aren't they? I hope you're not very much troubled by it?"
"Not very, Albert," replied Cowperwood, smiling, the while the chief clerk was making out his check. He was wondering if by any chance Stener would appear and attempt to interfere with this. It was a legal transaction. He had a right to the check provided he deposited the certificates, as was his custom, with the trustee of the fund. He waited tensely while Albert wrote, and finally, with the check actually in his hand, breathed a sigh of relief. Here, at least, was sixty thousand dollars, and to-night's work would enable him to cash the seventy-five thousand that had been promised him. To-morrow, once more he must see Leigh, Kitchen, Jay Cooke & Co., Edward Clark & Co.-all the long list of people to whom he owed loans and find out what could be done. If he could only get time! If he could get just a week!Chapter XXIX
But time was not a thing to be had in this emergency. With the
seventy-five thousand dollars his friends had extended to him,
and sixty thousand dollars secured from Stires, Cowperwood met
the Girard call and placed the balance, thirty-five thousand
dollars, in a private safe in his own home. He then made a final
appeal to the bankers and financiers, but they refused to help
him. He did not, however, commiserate himself in this hour. He
looked out of his office window into the little court, and sighed.
What more could he do? He sent a note to his father, asking him
to call for lunch. He sent a note to his lawyer, Harper Steger,
a man of his own age whom he liked very much, and asked him to
call also. He evolved in his own mind various plans of delay,
addresses to creditors and the like, but alas! he was going to
fail. And the worst of it was that this matter of the city
treasurer's loans was bound to become a public, and more than a
public, a political, scandal. And the charge of conniving, if
not illegally, at least morally, at the misuse of the city's money
was the one thing that would hurt him most.
How industriously his rivals would advertise this fact! He might get on his feet again if he failed; but it would be uphill work. And his father! His father would be pulled down with him. It was probable that he would be forced out of the presidency of his bank. With these thoughts Cowperwood sat there waiting. As he did so Aileen Butler was announced by his office-boy, and at the same time Albert Stires.
"Show in Miss Butler," he said, getting up. "Tell Mr. Stires to wait." Aileen came briskly, vigorously in, her beautiful body clothed as decoratively as ever. The street suit that she wore was of a light golden-brown broadcloth, faceted with small, dark-red buttons. Her head was decorated with a brownish-red shake of a type she had learned was becoming to her, brimless and with a trailing plume, and her throat was graced by a three-strand necklace of gold beads. Her hands were smoothly gloved as usual, and her little feet daintily shod. There was a look of girlish distress in her eyes, which, however, she was trying hard to conceal.
"Honey," she exclaimed, on seeing him, her arms extended-"what is the trouble? I wanted so much to ask you the other night. You're not going to fail, are you? I heard father and Owen talking about you last night."
"What did they say?" he inquired, putting his arm around her and looking quietly into her nervous eyes.
"Oh, you know, I think papa is very angry with you. He suspects. Some one sent him an anonymous letter. He tried to get it out of me last night, but he didn't succeed. I denied everything. I was in here twice this morning to see you, but you were out. I was so afraid that he might see you first, and that you might say something."
"Well, no, not exactly. I didn't think that. I don't know what I thought. Oh, honey, I've been so worried. You know, I didn't sleep at all. I thought I was stronger than that; but I was so worried about you. You know, he put me in a strong light by his desk, where he could see my face, and then he showed me the letter. I was so astonished for a moment I hardly know what I said or how I looked."
"What did you say?"
"Why, I said: 'What a shame! It isn't so!' But I didn't say it right away. My heart was going like a trip-hammer. I'm afraid he must have been able to tell something from my face. I could hardly get my breath."
"He's a shrewd man, your father," he commented. "He knows something about life. Now you see how difficult these situations are. It's a blessing he decided to show you the letter instead of watching the house. I suppose he felt too bad to do that. He can't prove anything now. But he knows. You can't deceive him."
"How do you know he knows?"
"I saw him yesterday."
"Did he talk to you about it?"
"No; I saw his face. He simply looked at me."
"Honey! I'm so sorry for him!"
"I know you are. So am I. But it can't be helped now. We should have thought of that in the first place."
"But I love you so. Oh, honey, he will never forgive me. He loves me so. He mustn't know. I won't admit anything. But, oh, dear!"
She put her hands tightly together on his bosom, and he looked consolingly into her eyes. Her eyelids, were trembling, and her lips. She was sorry for her father, herself, Cowperwood. Through her he could sense the force of Butler's parental affection; the volume and danger of his rage. There were so many, many things as he saw it now converging to make a dramatic denouement.
"Never mind," he replied; "it can't be helped now. Where is my strong, determined Aileen? I thought you were going to be so brave? Aren't you going to be? I need to have you that way now."
"Are you in trouble?"
"I think I am going to fail, dear."
"Yes, honey. I'm at the end of my rope. I don't see any way out just at present. I've sent for my father and my lawyer. You mustn't stay here, sweet. Your father may come in here at any time. We must meet somewhere-to-morrow, say-to-morrow afternoon. You remember Indian Rock, out on the Wissahickon?"
"Could you be there at four?"
"Look out for who's following. If I'm not there by four-thirty, don't wait. You know why. It will be because I think some one is watching. There won't be, though, if we work it right. And now you must run, sweet. We can't use Nine-thirty-one any more. I'll have to rent another place somewhere else."
"Oh, honey, I'm so sorry."
"Aren't you going to be strong and brave? You see, I need you to be."
He was almost, for the first time, a little sad in his mood.