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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 34)


But Mrs. Cowperwood was truly distressed in her way, and she went about the house thinking, feeling wretchedly. She decided, since the letter asked her to see for herself, to wait. She must think how she would watch this house, if at all. Frank must not know. If it were Aileen Butler by any chance-but surely not-she thought she would expose her to her parents. Still, that meant exposing herself. She determined to conceal her mood as best she could at dinner-time-but Cowperwood was not able to be there. He was so rushed, so closeted with individuals, so closely in conference with his father and others, that she scarcely saw him this Monday night, nor the next day, nor for many days.

For on Tuesday afternoon at two-thirty he issued a call for a meeting of his creditors, and at five-thirty he decided to go into the hands of a receiver. And yet, as he stood before his principal creditors-a group of thirty men-in his office, he did not feel that his life was ruined. He was temporarily embarrassed. Certainly things looked very black. The city-treasurership deal would make a great fuss. Those hypothecated city loan certificates, to the extent of sixty thousand, would make another, if Stener chose. Still, he did not feel that he was utterly destroyed.

"Gentlemen," he said, in closing his address of explanation at the meeting, quite as erect, secure, defiant, convincing as he had ever been, "you see how things are. These securities are worth just as much as they ever were. There is nothing the matter with the properties behind them. If you will give me fifteen days or twenty, I am satisfied that I can straighten the whole matter out. I am almost the only one who can, for I know all about it. The market is bound to recover. Business is going to be better than ever. It's time I want. Time is the only significant factor in this situation. I want to know if you won't give me fifteen or twenty days-a month, if you can. That is all I want."

He stepped aside and out of the general room, where the blinds were drawn, into his private office, in order to give his creditors an opportunity to confer privately in regard to his situation. He had friends in the meeting who were for him. He waited one, two, nearly three hours while they talked. Finally Walter Leigh, Judge Kitchen, Avery Stone, of Jay Cooke & Co., and several others came in. They were a committee appointed to gather further information.

"Nothing more can be done to-day, Frank," Walter Leigh informed him, quietly. "The majority want the privilege of examining the books. There is some uncertainty about this entanglement with the city treasurer which you say exists. They feel that you'd better announce a temporary suspension, anyhow; and if they want to let you resume later they can do so."

"I'm sorry for that, gentlemen," replied Cowperwood, the least bit depressed. "I would rather do anything than suspend for one hour, if I could help it, for I know just what it means. You will find assets here far exceeding the liabilities if you will take the stocks at their normal market value; but that won't help any if I close my doors. The public won't believe in me. I ought to keep open."

"Sorry, Frank, old boy," observed Leigh, pressing his hand affectionately. "If it were left to me personally, you could have all the time you want. There's a crowd of old fogies out there that won't listen to reason. They're panic-struck. I guess they're pretty hard hit themselves. You can scarcely blame them. You'll come out all right, though I wish you didn't have to shut up shop. We can't do anything with them, however. Why, damn it, man, I don't see how you can fail, really. In ten days these stocks will be all right."

Judge Kitchen commiserated with him also; but what good did that do? He was being compelled to suspend. An expert accountant would have to come in and go over his books. Butler might spread the news of this city-treasury connection. Stener might complain of this last city-loan transaction. A half-dozen of his helpful friends stayed with him until four o'clock in the morning; but he had to suspend just the same. And when he did that, he knew he was seriously crippled if not ultimately defeated in his race for wealth and fame.

When he was really and finally quite alone in his private bedroom he stared at himself in the mirror. His face was pale and tired, he thought, but strong and effective. "Pshaw!" he said to himself, "I'm not whipped. I'm still young. I'll get out of this in some way yet. Certainly I will. I'll find some way out."

And so, cogitating heavily, wearily, he began to undress. Finally he sank upon his bed, and in a little while, strange as it may seem, with all the tangle of trouble around him, slept. He could do that-sleep and gurgle most peacefully, the while his father paced the floor in his room, refusing to be comforted. All was dark before the older man-the future hopeless. Before the younger man was still hope.

And in her room Lillian Cowperwood turned and tossed in the face of this new calamity. For it had suddenly appeared from news from her father and Frank and Anna and her mother-in-law that Frank was about to fail, or would, or had-it was almost impossible to say just how it was. Frank was too busy to explain. The Chicago fire was to blame. There was no mention as yet of the city treasurership. Frank was caught in a trap, and was fighting for his life.

In this crisis, for the moment, she forgot about the note as to his infidelity, or rather ignored it. She was astonished, frightened, dumbfounded, confused. Her little, placid, beautiful world was going around in a dizzy ring. The charming, ornate ship of their fortune was being blown most ruthlessly here and there. She felt it a sort of duty to stay in bed and try to sleep; but her eyes were quite wide, and her brain hurt her. Hours before Frank had insisted that she should not bother about him, that she could do nothing; and she had left him, wondering more than ever what and where was the line of her duty. To stick by her husband, convention told her; and so she decided. Yes, religion dictated that, also custom. There were the children. They must not be injured. Frank must be reclaimed, if possible. He would get over this. But what a blow!Chapter XXXI
The suspension of the banking house of Frank A. Cowperwood & Co. created a great stir on 'change and in Philadelphia generally. It was so unexpected, and the amount involved was comparatively so large. Actually he failed for one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars; and his assets, under the depressed condition of stock values, barely totaled seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. There had been considerable work done on the matter of his balance-sheet before it was finally given to the public; but when it was, stocks dropped an additional three points generally, and the papers the next day devoted notable headlines to it. Cowperwood had no idea of failing permanently; he merely wished to suspend temporarily, and later, if possible, to persuade his creditors to allow him to resume. There were only two things which stood in the way of this: the matter of the five hundred thousand dollars borrowed from the city treasury at a ridiculously low rate of interest, which showed plainer than words what had been going on, and the other, the matter of the sixty-thousand-dollar check. His financial wit had told him there were ways to assign his holdings in favor of his largest creditors, which would tend to help him later to resume; and he had been swift to act. Indeed, Harper Steger had drawn up documents which named Jay Cooke & Co., Edward Clark & Co., Drexel & Co., and others as preferred. He knew that even though dissatisfied holders of smaller shares in his company brought suit and compelled readjustment or bankruptcy later, the intention shown to prefer some of his most influential aids was important. They would like it, and might help him later when all this was over. Besides, suits in plenty are an excellent way of tiding over a crisis of this kind until stocks and common sense are restored, and he was for many suits. Harper Steger smiled once rather grimly, even in the whirl of the financial chaos where smiles were few, as they were figuring it out.

"Frank," he said, "you're a wonder. You'll have a network of suits spread here shortly, which no one can break through. They'll all be suing each other."

Cowperwood smiled.

"I only want a little time, that's all," he replied. Nevertheless, for the first time in his life he was a little depressed; for now this business, to which he had devoted years of active work and thought, was ended.

The thing that was troubling him most in all of this was not the five hundred thousand dollars which was owing the city treasury, and which he knew would stir political and social life to the center once it was generally known-that was a legal or semi-legal transaction, at least-but rather the matter of the sixty thousand dollars' worth of unrestored city loan certificates which he had not been able to replace in the sinking-fund and could not now even though the necessary money should fall from heaven. The fact of their absence was a matter of source. He pondered over the situation a good deal. The thing to do, he thought, if he went to Mollenhauer or Simpson, or both (he had never met either of them, but in view of Butler's desertion they were his only recourse), was to say that, although he could not at present return the five hundred thousand dollars, if no action were taken against him now, which would prevent his resuming his business on a normal scale a little later, he would pledge his word that every dollar of the involved five hundred thousand dollars would eventually be returned to the treasury. If they refused, and injury was done him, he proposed to let them wait until he was "good and ready," which in all probability would be never. But, really, it was not quite clear how action against him was to be prevented-even by them. The money was down on his books as owing the city treasury, and it was down on the city treasury's books as owing from him. Besides, there was a local organization known as the Citizens' Municipal Reform Association which occasionally conducted investigations in connection with public affairs. His defalcation would be sure to come to the ears of this body and a public investigation might well follow. Various private individuals knew of it already. His creditors, for instance, who were now examining his books.

This matter of seeing Mollenhauer or Simpson, or both, was important, anyhow, he thought; but before doing so he decided to talk it all over with Harper Steger. So several days after he had closed his doors, he sent for Steger and told him all about the transaction, except that he did not make it clear that he had not intended to put the certificates in the sinking-fund unless he survived quite comfortably.

Harper Steger was a tall, thin, graceful, rather elegant man, of gentle voice and perfect manners, who walked always as though he were a cat, and a dog were prowling somewhere in the offing. He had a longish, thin face of a type that is rather attractive to women. His eyes were blue, his hair brown, with a suggestion of sandy red in it. He had a steady, inscrutable gaze which sometimes came to you over a thin, delicate hand, which he laid meditatively over his mouth. He was cruel to the limit of the word, not aggressively but indifferently; for he had no faith in anything. He was not poor. He had not even been born poor. He was just innately subtle, with the rather constructive thought, which was about the only thing that compelled him to work, that he ought to be richer than he was-more conspicuous. Cowperwood was an excellent avenue toward legal prosperity. Besides, he was a fascinating customer. Of all his clients, Steger admired Cowperwood most.

"Let them proceed against you," he said on this occasion, his brilliant legal mind taking in all the phases of the situation at once. "I don't see that there is anything more here than a technical charge. If it ever came to anything like that, which I don't think it will, the charge would be embezzlement or perhaps larceny as bailee. In this instance, you were the bailee. And the only way out of that would be to swear that you had received the check with Stener's knowledge and consent. Then it would only be a technical charge of irresponsibility on your part, as I see it, and I don't believe any jury would convict you on the evidence of how this relationship was conducted. Still, it might; you never can tell what a jury is going to do. All this would have to come out at a trial, however. The whole thing, it seems to me, would depend on which of you two-yourself or Stener-the jury would be inclined to believe, and on how anxious this city crowd is to find a scapegoat for Stener. This coming election is the rub. If this panic had come at any other time-"

Cowperwood waved for silence. He knew all about that. "It all depends on what the politicians decide to do. I'm doubtful. The situation is too complicated. It can't be hushed up." They were in his private office at his house. "What will be will be," he added.

"What would that mean, Harper, legally, if I were tried on a charge of larceny as bailee, as you put it, and convicted? How many years in the penitentiary at the outside?"

Steger thought a minute, rubbing his chin with his hand. "Let me see," he said, "that is a serious question, isn't it? The law says one to five years at the outside; but the sentences usually average from one to three years in embezzlement cases. Of course, in this case-"

"I know all about that," interrupted Cowperwood, irritably. "My case isn't any different from the others, and you know it. Embezzlement is embezzlement if the politicians want to have it so." He fell to thinking, and Steger got up and strolled about leisurely. He was thinking also.

"And would I have to go to jail at any time during the proceedings– before a final adjustment of the case by the higher courts?" Cowperwood added, directly, grimly, after a time.

"Yes, there is one point in all legal procedure of the kind," replied Steger, cautiously, now rubbing his ear and trying to put the matter as delicately as possible. "You can avoid jail sentences all through the earlier parts of a case like this; but if you are once tried and convicted it's pretty hard to do anything-as a matter of fact, it becomes absolutely necessary then to go to jail for a few days, five or so, pending the motion for a new trial and the obtaining of a certificate of reasonable doubt. It usually takes that long."

The young banker sat there staring out of the window, and Steger observed, "It is a bit complicated, isn't it?"

"Well, I should say so," returned Frank, and he added to himself: "Jail! Five days in prison!" That would be a terrific slap, all things considered. Five days in jail pending the obtaining of a certificate of reasonable doubt, if one could be obtained! He must avoid this! Jail! The penitentiary! His commercial reputation would never survive that.

Chapter XXXII
The necessity of a final conferencee between Butler, Mollenhauer, and Simpson was speedily reached, for this situation was hourly growing more serious. Rumors were floating about in Third Street that in addition to having failed for so large an amount as to have further unsettled the already panicky financial situation induced by the Chicago fire, Cowperwood and Stener, or Stener working with Cowperwood, or the other way round, had involved the city treasury to the extent of five hundred thousand dollars. And the question was how was the matter to be kept quiet until after election, which was still three weeks away. Bankers and brokers were communicating odd rumors to each other about a check that had been taken from the city treasury after Cowperwood knew he was to fail, and without Stener's consent. Also that there was danger that it would come to the ears of that very uncomfortable political organization known as the Citizens' Municipal Reform Association, of which a well-known iron-manufacturer of great probity and moral rectitude, one Skelton C. Wheat, was president. Wheat had for years been following on the trail of the dominant Republican administration in a vain attempt to bring it to a sense of some of its political iniquities. He was a serious and austere man-one of those solemn, self-righteous souls who see life through a peculiar veil of duty, and who, undisturbed by notable animal passions of any kind, go their way of upholding the theory of the Ten Commandments over the order of things as they are.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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