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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 37)


At once the question was raised as to who was really guilty, the city treasurer or the broker, or both. How much money had actually been lost? Where had it gone? Who was Frank Algernon Cowperwood, anyway? Why was he not arrested? How did he come to be identified so closely with the financial administration of the city? And though the day of what later was termed "yellow journalism" had not arrived, and the local papers were not given to such vital personal comment as followed later, it was not possible, even bound as they were, hand and foot, by the local political and social magnates, to avoid comment of some sort. Editorials had to be written. Some solemn, conservative references to the shame and disgrace which one single individual could bring to a great city and a noble political party had to be ventured upon.

That desperate scheme to cast the blame on Cowperwood temporarily, which had been concocted by Mollenhauer, Butler, and Simpson, to get the odium of the crime outside the party lines for the time being, was now lugged forth and put in operation. It was interesting and strange to note how quickly the newspapers, and even the Citizens' Municipal Reform Association, adopted the argument that Cowperwood was largely, if not solely, to blame. Stener had loaned him the money, it is true-had put bond issues in his hands for sale, it is true, but somehow every one seemed to gain the impression that Cowperwood had desperately misused the treasurer. The fact that he had taken a sixty-thousand-dollar check for certificates which were not in the sinking-fund was hinted at, though until they could actually confirm this for themselves both the newspapers and the committee were too fearful of the State libel laws to say so.

In due time there were brought forth several noble municipal letters, purporting to be a stern call on the part of the mayor, Mr. Jacob Borchardt, on Mr. George W. Stener for an immediate explanation of his conduct, and the latter's reply, which were at once given to the newspapers and the Citizens' Municipal Reform Association. These letters were enough to show, so the politicians figured, that the Republican party was anxious to purge itself of any miscreant within its ranks, and they also helped to pass the time until after election.

OFFICE OF THE MAYOR OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA GEORGE W. STENER, ESQ., October 18, 1871.

City Treasurer.

DEAR SIR,-Information has been given me that certificates of

city loan to a large amount, issued by you for sale on account of

the city, and, I presume, after the usual requisition from the

mayor of the city, have passed out of your custody, and that the

proceeds of the sale of said certificates have not been paid

into the city treasury.

I have also been informed that a large amount of the city's

money has been permitted to pass into the hands of some one or

more brokers or bankers doing business on Third Street, and that

said brokers or bankers have since met with financial difficulties,

whereby, and by reason of the above generally, the interests of

the city are likely to be very seriously affected.

I have therefore to request that you will promptly advise me of

the truth or falsity of these statements, so that such duties as

devolve upon me as the chief magistrate of the city, in view of

such facts, if they exist, may be intelligently discharged.

Yours respectfully,

JACOB BORCHARDT,

Mayor of Philadelphia. OFFICE OF THE TREASURER OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA HON. JACOB BORCHARDT. October 19, 1871.

DEAR SIR,-I have to acknowledge the receipt of your

communication of the 21st instant, and to express my regret that I

cannot at this time give you the information you ask. There is

undoubtedly an embarrassment in the city treasury, owing to the

delinquency of the broker who for several years past has negotiated

the city loans, and I have been, since the discovery of this fact,

and still am occupied in endeavoring to avert or lessen the loss

with which the city is threatened.

I am, very respectfully,

GEORGE W. STENER. OFFICE OF THE MAYOR OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA GEORGE W. STENER, ESQ., October 21, 1871.

City Treasurer.

DEAR SIR-Under the existing circumstances you will consider

this as a notice of withdrawal and revocation of any requisition

or authority by me for the sale of loan, so far as the same

has not been fulfilled. Applications for loans may for the

present be made at this office.

Very respectfully,

JACOB BORCHARDT,

Mayor of Philadelphia.


And did Mr. Jacob Borchardt write the letters to which his name was attached? He did not. Mr. Abner Sengstack wrote them in Mr. Mollenhauer's office, and Mr. Mollenhauer's comment when he saw them was that he thought they would do-that they were very good, in fact. And did Mr. George W. Stener, city treasurer of Philadelphia, write that very politic reply? He did not. Mr. Stener was in a state of complete collapse, even crying at one time at home in his bathtub. Mr. Abner Sengstack wrote that also, and had Mr. Stener sign it. And Mr. Mollenhauer's comment on that, before it was sent, was that he thought it was "all right." It was a time when all the little rats and mice were scurrying to cover because of the presence of a great, fiery-eyed public cat somewhere in the dark, and only the older and wiser rats were able to act.

Indeed, at this very time and for some days past now, Messrs. Mollenhauer, Butler, and Simpson were, and had been, considering with Mr. Pettie, the district attorney, just what could be done about Cowperwood, if anything, and in order to further emphasize the blame in that direction, and just what defense, if any, could be made for Stener. Butler, of course, was strong for Cowperwood's prosecution. Pettie did not see that any defense could be made for Stener, since various records of street-car stocks purchased for him were spread upon Cowperwood's books; but for Cowperwood– "Let me see," he said. They were speculating, first of all, as to whether it might not be good policy to arrest Cowperwood, and if necessary try him, since his mere arrest would seem to the general public, at least, positive proof of his greater guilt, to say nothing of the virtuous indignation of the administration, and in consequence might tend to divert attention from the evil nature of the party until after election.

So finally, on the afternoon of October 26, 1871, Edward Strobik, president of the common council of Philadelphia, appeared before the mayor, as finally ordered by Mollenhauer, and charged by affidavit that Frank A. Cowperwood, as broker, employed by the treasurer to sell the bonds of the city, had committed embezzlement and larceny as bailee. It did not matter that he charged George W. Stener with embezzlement at the same time. Cowperwood was the scapegoat they were after.Chapter XXXIV
The contrasting pictures presented by Cowperwood and Stener at this time are well worth a moment's consideration. Stener's face was grayish-white, his lips blue. Cowperwood, despite various solemn thoughts concerning a possible period of incarceration which this hue and cry now suggested, and what that meant to his parents, his wife and children, his business associates, and his friends, was as calm and collected as one might assume his great mental resources would permit him to be. During all this whirl of disaster he had never once lost his head or his courage. That thing conscience, which obsesses and rides some people to destruction, did not trouble him at all. He had no consciousness of what is currently known as sin. There were just two faces to the shield of life from the point of view of his peculiar mind-strength and weakness. Right and wrong? He did not know about those. They were bound up in metaphysical abstrusities about which he did not care to bother. Good and evil? Those were toys of clerics, by which they made money. And as for social favor or social ostracism which, on occasion, so quickly followed upon the heels of disaster of any kind, well, what was social ostracism? Had either he or his parents been of the best society as yet? And since not, and despite this present mix-up, might not the future hold social restoration and position for him? It might. Morality and immorality? He never considered them. But strength and weakness-oh, yes! If you had strength you could protect yourself always and be something. If you were weak-pass quickly to the rear and get out of the range of the guns. He was strong, and he knew it, and somehow he always believed in his star. Something-he could not say what-it was the only metaphysics he bothered about-was doing something for him. It had always helped him. It made things come out right at times. It put excellent opportunities in his way. Why had he been given so fine a mind? Why always favored financially, personally? He had not deserved it-earned it. Accident, perhaps, but somehow the thought that he would always be protected-these intuitions, the "hunches" to act which he frequently had-could not be so easily explained. Life was a dark, insoluble mystery, but whatever it was, strength and weakness were its two constituents. Strength would win-weakness lose. He must rely on swiftness of thought, accuracy, his judgment, and on nothing else. He was really a brilliant picture of courage and energy-moving about briskly in a jaunty, dapper way, his mustaches curled, his clothes pressed, his nails manicured, his face clean-shaven and tinted with health.

In the meantime, Cowperwood had gone personally to Skelton C. Wheat and tried to explain his side of the situation, alleging that he had done no differently from many others before him, but Wheat was dubious. He did not see how it was that the sixty thousand dollars' worth of certificates were not in the sinking-fund. Cowperwood's explanation of custom did not avail. Nevertheless, Mr. Wheat saw that others in politics had been profiting quite as much as Cowperwood in other ways and he advised Cowperwood to turn state's evidence. This, however, he promptly refused to do-he was no "squealer," and indicated as much to Mr. Wheat, who only smiled wryly.

Butler, Sr., was delighted (concerned though he was about party success at the polls), for now he had this villain in the toils and he would have a fine time getting out of this. The incoming district attorney to succeed David Pettie if the Republican party won would be, as was now planned, an appointee of Butler's-a young Irishman who had done considerable legal work for him-one Dennis Shannon. The other two party leaders had already promised Butler that. Shannon was a smart, athletic, good-looking fellow, all of five feet ten inches in height, sandy-haired, pink-cheeked, blue-eyed, considerable of an orator and a fine legal fighter. He was very proud to be in the old man's favor-to be promised a place on the ticket by him-and would, he said, if elected, do his bidding to the best of his knowledge and ability.

There was only one fly in the ointment, so far as some of the politicians were concerned, and that was that if Cowperwood were convicted, Stener must needs be also. There was no escape in so far as any one could see for the city treasurer. If Cowperwood was guilty of securing by trickery sixty thousand dollars' worth of the city money, Stener was guilty of securing five hundred thousand dollars. The prison term for this was five years. He might plead not guilty, and by submitting as evidence that what he did was due to custom save himself from the odious necessity of pleading guilty; but he would be convicted nevertheless. No jury could get by the fact in regard to him. In spite of public opinion, when it came to a trial there might be considerable doubt in Cowperwood's case. There was none in Stener's.

The practical manner in which the situation was furthered, after Cowperwood and Stener were formally charged may be quickly noted. Steger, Cowperwood's lawyer, learned privately beforehand that Cowperwood was to be prosecuted. He arranged at once to have his client appear before any warrant could be served, and to forestall the newspaper palaver which would follow it if he had to be searched for.

The mayor issued a warrant for Cowperwood's arrest, and, in accordance with Steger's plan, Cowperwood immediately appeared before Borchardt in company with his lawyer and gave bail in twenty thousand dollars (W. C. Davison, president of the Girard National Bank, being his surety), for his appearance at the central police station on the following Saturday for a hearing. Marcus Oldslaw, a lawyer, had been employed by Strobik as president of the common council, to represent him in prosecuting the case for the city. The mayor looked at Cowperwood curiously, for he, being comparatively new to the political world of Philadelphia, was not so familiar with him as others were; and Cowperwood returned the look pleasantly enough.

"This is a great dumb show, Mr. Mayor," he observed once to Borchardt, quietly, and the latter replied, with a smile and a kindly eye, that as far as he was concerned, it was a form of procedure which was absolutely unavoidable at this time.

"You know how it is, Mr. Cowperwood," he observed. The latter smiled. "I do, indeed," he said.

Later there followed several more or less perfunctory appearances in a local police court, known as the Central Court, where when arraigned he pleaded not guilty, and finally his appearance before the November grand jury, where, owing to the complicated nature of the charge drawn up against him by Pettie, he thought it wise to appear. He was properly indicted by the latter body (Shannon, the newly elected district attorney, making a demonstration in force), and his trial ordered for December 5th before a certain Judge Payderson in Part I of Quarter Sessions, which was the local branch of the State courts dealing with crimes of this character. His indictment did not occur, however, before the coming and going of the much-mooted fall election, which resulted, thanks to the clever political manipulations of Mollenhauer and Simpson (ballot-box stuffing and personal violence at the polls not barred), in another victory, by, however, a greatly reduced majority. The Citizens' Municipal Reform Association, in spite of a resounding defeat at the polls, which could not have happened except by fraud, continued to fire courageously away at those whom it considered to be the chief malefactors.

Aileen Butler, during all this time, was following the trend of Cowperwood's outward vicissitudes as heralded by the newspapers and the local gossip with as much interest and bias and enthusiasm for him as her powerful physical and affectional nature would permit. She was no great reasoner where affection entered in, but shrewd enough without it; and, although she saw him often and he told her much-as much as his natural caution would permit-she yet gathered from the newspapers and private conversation, at her own family's table and elsewhere, that, as bad as they said he was, he was not as bad as he might be. One item only, clipped from the Philadelphia Public Ledger soon after Cowperwood had been publicly accused of embezzlement, comforted and consoled her. She cut it out and carried it in her bosom; for, somehow, it seemed to show that her adored Frank was far more sinned against than sinning. It was a part of one of those very numerous pronunciamientos or reports issued by the Citizens' Municipal Reform Association, and it ran:

"The aspects of the case are graver than have yet been allowed

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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