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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 50)


convict. You will go to the penitentiary.'? That's what he said

to him. 'I will fail and you will be a convict. They can't

touch me, but they will arrest you. I am an agent merely.'

Does that sound like a nice, mild, innocent, well-mannered agent,

a hired broker, or doesn't it sound like a hard, defiant,

contemptuous master-a man in control and ready to rule and win

by fair means or foul?

"Gentlemen, I hold no brief for George W. Stener. In my judgment

he is as guilty as his smug co-partner in crime-if not more so-

this oily financier who came smiling and in sheep's clothing,

pointing out subtle ways by which the city's money could be made

profitable for both; but when I hear Mr. Cowperwood described as

I have just heard him described, as a nice, mild, innocent agent,

my gorge rises. Why, gentlemen, if you want to get a right point

of view on this whole proposition you will have to go back about

ten or twelve years and see Mr. George W. Stener as he was then,

a rather poverty-stricken beginner in politics, and before this

very subtle and capable broker and agent came along and pointed

out ways and means by which the city's money could be made

profitable; George W. Stener wasn't very much of a personage then,

and neither was Frank A. Cowperwood when he found Stener newly

elected to the office of city treasurer. Can't you see him arriving

at that time nice and fresh and young and well dressed, as shrewd

as a fox, and saying: 'Come to me. Let me handle city loan.

Loan me the city's money at two per cent. or less.' Can't you

hear him suggesting this? Can't you see him?

"George W. Stener was a poor man, comparatively a very poor man,

when he first became city treasurer. All he had was a small

real-estate and insurance business which brought him in, say,

twenty-five hundred dollars a year. He had a wife and four

children to support, and he had never had the slightest taste

of what for him might be called luxury or comfort. Then comes

Mr. Cowperwood-at his request, to be sure, but on an errand

which held no theory of evil gains in Mr. Stener's mind at the

time-and proposes his grand scheme of manipulating all the city

loan to their mutual advantage. Do you yourselves think,

gentlemen, from what you have seen of George W. Stener here on

the witness-stand, that it was he who proposed this plan of

ill-gotten wealth to that gentleman over there?"

He pointed to Cowperwood.

"Does he look to you like a man who would be able to tell that

gentleman anything about finance or this wonderful manipulation

that followed? I ask you, does he look clever enough to suggest

all the subtleties by which these two subsequently made so much

money? Why, the statement of this man Cowperwood made to his

creditors at the time of his failure here a few weeks ago showed

that he considered himself to be worth over one million two

hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and he is only a little over

thirty-four years old to-day. How much was he worth at the time

he first entered business relations with the ex-city treasurer?

Have you any idea? I can tell. I had the matter looked up almost

a month ago on my accession to office. Just a little over two

hundred thousand dollars, gentlemen-just a little over two

hundred thousand dollars. Here is an abstract from the files of

Dun & Company for that year. Now you can see how rapidly our

Caesar has grown in wealth since then. You can see how profitable

these few short years have been to him. Was George W. Stener

worth any such sum up to the time he was removed from his office

and indicted for embezzlement? Was he? I have here a schedule of

his liabilities and assets made out at the time. You can see it

for yourselves, gentlemen. Just two hundred and twenty thousand

dollars measured the sum of all his property three weeks ago;

and it is an accurate estimate, as I have reason to know. Why

was it, do you suppose, that Mr. Cowperwood grew so fast in

wealth and Mr. Stener so slowly? They were partners in crime.

Mr. Stener was loaning Mr. Cowperwood vast sums of the city's

money at two per cent. when call-rates for money in Third Street

were sometimes as high as sixteen and seventeen per cent. Don't

you suppose that Mr. Cowperwood sitting there knew how to use

this very cheaply come-by money to the very best advantage? Does

he look to you as though he didn't? You have seen him on the

witness-stand. You have heard him testify. Very suave, very

straightforward-seeming, very innocent, doing everything as a

favor to Mr. Stener and his friends, of course, and yet making

a million in a little over six years and allowing Mr. Stener to

make one hundred and sixty thousand dollars or less, for Mr.

Stener had some little money at the time this partnership was

entered into-a few thousand dollars."

Shannon now came to the vital transaction of October 9th, when Cowperwood called on Stener and secured the check for sixty thousand dollars from Albert Stires. His scorn for this (as he appeared to think) subtle and criminal transaction was unbounded. It was plain larceny, stealing, and Cowperwood knew it when he asked Stires for the check.

"Think of it! Shannon exclaimed, turning and looking squarely at Cowperwood, who faced him quite calmly, undisturbed and unashamed. Think of it! Think of the colossal nerve of the

man-the Machiavellian subtlety of his brain. He knew he was

going to fail. He knew after two days of financial work-after

two days of struggle to offset the providential disaster which

upset his nefarious schemes-that he had exhausted every possible

resource save one, the city treasury, and that unless he could

compel aid there he was going to fail. He already owed the city

treasury five hundred thousand dollars. He had already used the

city treasurer as a cat's-paw so much, had involved him so deeply,

that the latter, because of the staggering size of the debt, was

becoming frightened. Did that deter Mr. Cowperwood? Not at all."

He shook his finger ominously in Cowperwood's face, and the latter turned irritably away. "He is showing off for the benefit of his future," he whispered to Steger. "I wish you could tell the jury that."

"I wish I could," replied Steger, smiling scornfully, "but my hour is over."

"Why continued Mr. Shannon, turning once more to the jury, think of the colossal, wolfish nerve that would permit a man to say to Albert Stires that he had just purchased sixty thousand

dollars' worth additional of city loan, and that he would then

and there take the check for it! Had he actually purchased this

city loan as he said he had? Who can tell? Could any human being

wind through all the mazes of the complicated bookkeeping system

which he ran, and actually tell? The best answer to that is that

if he did purchase the certificates he intended that it should

make no difference to the city, for he made no effort to put the

certificates in the sinking-fund, where they belonged. His

counsel says, and he says, that he didn't have to until the first

of the month, although the law says that he must do it at once,

and he knew well enough that legally he was bound to do it. His

counsel says, and he says, that he didn't know he was going to

fail. Hence there was no need of worrying about it. I wonder

if any of you gentlemen really believed that? Had he ever asked

for a check like that so quick before in his life? In all the

history of these nefarious transactions was there another incident

like that? You know there wasn't. He had never before, on any

occasion, asked personally for a check for anything in this

office, and yet on this occasion he did it. Why? Why should he

ask for it this time? A few hours more, according to his own

statement, wouldn't have made any difference one way or the other,

would it? He could have sent a boy for it, as usual. That was

the way it had always been done before. Why anything different now? I'll tell you why! Shannon suddenly shouted, varying his voice tremendously. I'll tell you why! He knew that he was a ruined man! He knew that his last semi-legitimate avenue of

escape-the favor of George W. Stener-had been closed to him!

He knew that honestly, by open agreement, he could not extract

another single dollar from the treasury of the city of

Philadelphia. He knew that if he left the office without this

check and sent a boy for it, the aroused city treasurer would

have time to inform his clerks, and that then no further money

could be obtained. That's why! That's why, gentlemen, if you

really want to know.

"Now, gentlemen of the jury, I am about done with my arraignment

of this fine, honorable, virtuous citizen whom the counsel for

the defense, Mr. Steger, tells you you cannot possibly convict

without doing a great injustice. All I have to say is that you

look to me like sane, intelligent men-just the sort of men that

I meet everywhere in the ordinary walks of life, doing an

honorable American business in an honorable American way. Now, gentlemen of the jury he was very soft-spoken now, all I have to say is that if, after all you have heard and seen here to-day, you still think that Mr. Frank A. Cowperwood is an honest,

honorable man-that he didn't steal, willfully and knowingly,

sixty thousand dollars from the Philadelphia city treasury; that

he had actually bought the certificates he said he had, and had

intended to put them in the sinking-fund, as he said he did,

then don't you dare to do anything except turn him loose, and

that speedily, so that he can go on back to-day into Third

Street, and start to straighten out his much-entangled financial

affairs. It is the only thing for honest, conscientious men to

do-to turn him instantly loose into the heart of this community,

so that some of the rank injustice that my opponent, Mr. Steger,

alleges has been done him will be a little made up to him. You

owe him, if that is the way you feel, a prompt acknowledgment of

his innocence. Don't worry about George W. Stener. His guilt

is established by his own confession. He admits he is guilty.

He will be sentenced without trial later on. But this man-he

says he is an honest, honorable man. He says he didn't think he

was going to fail. He says he used all that threatening,

compelling, terrifying language, not because he was in danger

of failing, but because he didn't want the bother of looking

further for aid. What do you think? Do you really think that he

had purchased sixty thousand dollars more of certificates for

the sinking-fund, and that he was entitled to the money? If so,

why didn't he put them in the sinking-fund? They're not there

now, and the sixty thousand dollars is gone. Who got it? The

Girard National Bank, where he was overdrawn to the extent of

one hundred thousand dollars! Did it get it and forty thousand

dollars more in other checks and certificates? Certainly. Why?

Do you suppose the Girard National Bank might be in any way

grateful for this last little favor before he closed his doors?

Do you think that President Davison, whom you saw here testifying

so kindly in this case feels at all friendly, and that that may

possibly-I don't say that it does-explain his very kindly

interpretation of Mr. Cowperwood's condition? It might be. You

can think as well along that line as I can. Anyhow, gentlemen,

President Davison says Mr. Cowperwood is an honorable, honest

man, and so does his counsel, Mr. Steger. You have heard the

testimony. Now you think it over. If you want to turn him loose-turn him loose. He waved his hand wearily. You're the judges. I wouldn't; but then I am merely a hard-working lawyer-one person, one opinion. You may think differently– that's your business. He waved his hand suggestively, almost contemptuously. However, I'm through, and I thank you for

your courtesy. Gentlemen, the decision rests with you."

He turned away grandly, and the jury stirred-so did the idle spectators in the court. Judge Payderson sighed a sigh of relief. It was now quite dark, and the flaring gas forms in the court were all brightly lighted. Outside one could see that it was snowing. The judge stirred among his papers wearily, and turning to the jurors solemnly, began his customary explanation of the law, after which they filed out to the jury-room.

Cowperwood turned to his father who now came over across the fast-emptying court, and said:

"Well, we'll know now in a little while."

"Yes," replied Cowperwood, Sr., a little wearily. "I hope it comes out right. I saw Butler back there a little while ago."

"Did you?" queried Cowperwood, to whom this had a peculiar interest.

"Yes," replied his father. "He's just gone."

So, Cowperwood thought, Butler was curious enough as to his fate to want to come here and watch him tried. Shannon was his tool. Judge Payderson was his emissary, in a way. He, Cowperwood, might defeat him in the matter of his daughter, but it was not so easy to defeat him here unless the jury should happen to take a sympathetic attitude. They might convict him, and then Butler's Judge Payderson would have the privilege of sentencing him-giving him the maximum sentence. That would not be so nice-five years! He cooled a little as he thought of it, but there was no use worrying about what had not yet happened. Steger came forward and told him that his bail was now ended-had been the moment the jury left the room-and that he was at this moment actually in the care of the sheriff, of whom he knew-Sheriff Adlai Jaspers. Unless he were acquitted by the jury, Steger added, he would have to remain in the sheriff's care until an application for a certificate of reasonable doubt could be made and acted upon.

"It would take all of five days, Frank," Steger said, "but Jaspers isn't a bad sort. He'd be reasonable. Of course if we're lucky you won't have to visit him. You will have to go with this bailiff now, though. Then if things come out right we'll go home. Say, I'd like to win this case," he said. "I'd like to give them the laugh and see you do it. I consider you've been pretty badly treated, and I think I made that perfectly clear. I can reverse this verdict on a dozen grounds if they happen to decide against you."

He and Cowperwood and the latter's father now stalked off with the sheriff's subordinate-a small man by the name of "Eddie" Zanders, who had approached to take charge. They entered a small room called the pen at the back of the court, where all those on trial whose liberty had been forfeited by the jury's leaving the room had to wait pending its return. It was a dreary, high-ceiled, four-square place, with a window looking out into Chestnut Street, and a second door leading off into somewhere-one had no idea where. It was dingy, with a worn wooden floor, some heavy, plain, wooden benches lining the four sides, no pictures or ornaments of any kind. A single two-arm gas-pipe descended from the center of the ceiling. It was permeated by a peculiarly stale and pungent odor, obviously redolent of all the flotsam and jetsam of life-criminal and innocent-that had stood or sat in here from time to time, waiting patiently to learn what a deliberating fate held in store.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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