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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 59)


"Yassah, I done sold it."

"Well, don't you know it's wrong to do anything like that? Didn't you know when you reached through that fence and pulled that pipe over to you that you were stealing? Didn't you?"

"Yassah, I knowed it was wrong," replied Ackerman, sheepishly. "I didn' think 'twuz stealin' like zackly, but I done knowed it was wrong. I done knowed I oughtn' take it, I guess."

"Of course you did. Of course you did. That's just it. You knew you were stealing, and still you took it. Has the man to whom this negro sold the lead pipe been apprehended yet?" the judge inquired sharply of the district attorney. "He should be, for he's more guilty than this negro, a receiver of stolen goods."

"Yes, sir," replied the assistant. "His case is before Judge Yawger."

"Quite right. It should be," replied Payderson, severely. "This matter of receiving stolen property is one of the worst offenses, in my judgment."

He then turned his attention to Ackerman again. "Now, look here, Ackerman," he exclaimed, irritated at having to bother with such a pretty case, "I want to say something to you, and I want you to pay strict attention to me. Straighten up, there! Don't lean on that gate! You are in the presence of the law now." Ackerman had sprawled himself comfortably down on his elbows as he would have if he had been leaning over a back-fence gate talking to some one, but he immediately drew himself straight, still grinning foolishly and apologetically, when he heard this. "You are not so dull but that you can understand what I am going to say to you. The offense you have committed-stealing a piece of lead pipe-is a crime. Do you hear me? A criminal offense-one that I could punish you very severely for. I could send you to the penitentiary for one year if I chose-the law says I may-one year at hard labor for stealing a piece of lead pipe. Now, if you have any sense you will pay strict attention to what I am going to tell you. I am not going to send you to the penitentiary right now. I'm going to wait a little while. I am going to sentence you to one year in the penitentiary-one year. Do you understand?" Ackerman blanched a little and licked his lips nervously. "And then I am going to suspend that sentence-hold it over your head, so that if you are ever caught taking anything else you will be punished for this offense and the next one also at one and the same time. Do you understand that? Do you know what I mean? Tell me. Do you?"

"Yessah! I does, sir," replied the negro. "You'se gwine to let me go now-tha's it."

The audience grinned, and his honor made a wry face to prevent his own grim grin.

"I'm going to let you go only so long as you don't steal anything else," he thundered. "The moment you steal anything else, back you come to this court, and then you go to the penitentiary for a year and whatever more time you deserve. Do you understand that? Now, I want you to walk straight out of this court and behave yourself. Don't ever steal anything. Get something to do! Don't steal, do you hear? Don't touch anything that doesn't belong to you! Don't come back here! If you do, I'll send you to the penitentiary, sure."

"Yassah! No, sah, I won't," replied Ackerman, nervously. "I won't take nothin' more that don't belong tuh me."

He shuffled away, after a moment, urged along by the guiding hand of a bailiff, and was put safely outside the court, amid a mixture of smiles and laughter over his simplicity and Payderson's undue severity of manner. But the next case was called and soon engrossed the interest of the audience.

It was that of the two housebreakers whom Cowperwood had been and was still studying with much curiosity. In all his life before he had never witnessed a sentencing scene of any kind. He had never been in police or criminal courts of any kind-rarely in any of the civil ones. He was glad to see the negro go, and gave Payderson credit for having some sense and sympathy-more than he had expected.

He wondered now whether by any chance Aileen was here. He had objected to her coming, but she might have done so. She was, as a matter of fact, in the extreme rear, pocketed in a crowd near the door, heavily veiled, but present. She had not been able to resist the desire to know quickly and surely her beloved's fateЦ to be near him in his hour of real suffering, as she thought. She was greatly angered at seeing him brought in with a line of ordinary criminals and made to wait in this, to her, shameful public manner, but she could not help admiring all the more the dignity and superiority of his presence even here. He was not even pale, as she saw, just the same firm, calm soul she had always known him to be. If he could only see her now; if he would only look so she could lift her veil and smile! He didn't, though; he wouldn't. He didn't want to see her here. But she would tell him all about it when she saw him again just the same.

The two burglars were quickly disposed of by the judge, with a sentence of one year each, and they were led away, uncertain, and apparently not knowing what to think of their crime or their future.

When it came to Cowperwood's turn to be called, his honor himself stiffened and straightened up, for this was a different type of man and could not be handled in the usual manner. He knew exactly what he was going to say. When one of Mollenhauer's agents, a close friend of Butler's, had suggested that five years for both Cowperwood and Stener would be about right, he knew exactly what to do. "Frank Algernon Cowperwood," called the clerk.

Cowperwood stepped briskly forward, sorry for himself, ashamed of his position in a way, but showing it neither in look nor manner. Payderson eyed him as he had the others.

"Name?" asked the bailiff, for the benefit of the court stenographer.

"Frank Algernon Cowperwood."

"Residence?"

"1937 Girard Avenue."

"Occupation?"

"Banker and broker."

Steger stood close beside him, very dignified, very forceful, ready to make a final statement for the benefit of the court and the public when the time should come. Aileen, from her position in the crowd near the door, was for the first time in her life biting her fingers nervously and there were great beads of perspiration on her brow. Cowperwood's father was tense with excitement and his two brothers looked quickly away, doing their best to hide their fear and sorrow.

"Ever convicted before?"

"Never," replied Steger for Cowperwood, quietly.

"Frank Algernon Cowperwood," called the clerk, in his nasal, singsong way, coming forward, "have you anything to say why judgment should not now be pronounced upon you? If so, speak."

Cowperwood started to say no, but Steger put up his hand.

"If the court pleases, my client, Mr. Cowperwood, the prisoner at the bar, is neither guilty in his own estimation, nor in that of two-fifths of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court-the court of last resort in this State," he exclaimed, loudly and clearly, so that all might hear.

One of the interested listeners and spectators at this point was Edward Malia Butler, who had just stepped in from another courtroom where he had been talking to a judge. An obsequious court attendant had warned him that Cowperwood was about to be sentenced. He had really come here this morning in order not to miss this sentence, but he cloaked his motive under the guise of another errand. He did not know that Aileen was there, nor did he see her.

"As he himself testified at the time of his trial," went on Steger, "and as the evidence clearly showed, he was never more than an agent for the gentleman whose offense was subsequently adjudicated by this court; and as an agent he still maintains, and two-fifths of the State Supreme Court agree with him, that he was strictly within his rights and privileges in not having deposited the sixty thousand dollars' worth of city loan certificates at the time, and in the manner which the people, acting through the district attorney, complained that he should have. My client is a man of rare financial ability. By the various letters which have been submitted to your honor in his behalf, you will see that he commands the respect and the sympathy of a large majority of the most forceful and eminent men in his particular world. He is a man of distinguished social standing and of notable achievements. Only the most unheralded and the unkindest thrust of fortune has brought him here before you today-a fire and its consequent panic which involved a financial property of the most thorough and stable character. In spite of the verdict of the jury and the decision of three-fifths of the State Supreme Court, I maintain that my client is not an embezzler, that he has not committed larceny, that he should never have been convicted, and that he should not now be punished for something of which he is not guilty.

"I trust that your honor will not misunderstand me or my motives when I point out in this situation that what I have said is true. I do not wish to cast any reflection on the integrity of the court, nor of any court, nor of any of the processes of law. But I do condemn and deplore the untoward chain of events which has built up a seeming situation, not easily understood by the lay mind, and which has brought my distinguished client within the purview of the law. I think it is but fair that this should be finally and publicly stated here and now. I ask that your honor be lenient, and that if you cannot conscientiously dismiss this charge you will at least see that the facts, as I have indicated them, are given due weight in the measure of the punishment inflicted."

Steger stepped back and Judge Payderson nodded, as much as to say he had heard all the distinguished lawyer had to say, and would give it such consideration as it deserved-no more. Then he turned to Cowperwood, and, summoning all his judicial dignity to his aid, he began:

"Frank Algernon Cowperwood, you have been convicted by a jury of your own selection of the offense of larceny. The motion for a new trial, made in your behalf by your learned counsel, has been carefully considered and overruled, the majority of the court being entirely satisfied with the propriety of the conviction, both upon the law and the evidence. Your offense was one of more than usual gravity, the more so that the large amount of money which you obtained belonged to the city. And it was aggravated by the fact that you had in addition thereto unlawfully used and converted to your own use several hundred thousand dollars of the loan and money of the city. For such an offense the maximum punishment affixed by the law is singularly merciful. Nevertheless, the facts in connection with your hitherto distinguished position, the circumstances under which your failure was brought about, and the appeals of your numerous friends and financial associates, will be given due consideration by this court. It is not unmindful of any important fact in your career." Payderson paused as if in doubt, though he knew very well how he was about to proceed. He knew what his superiors expected of him.

"If your case points no other moral," he went on, after a moment, toying with the briefs, "it will at least teach the lesson much needed at the present time, that the treasury of the city is not to be invaded and plundered with impunity under the thin disguise of a business transaction, and that there is still a power in the law to vindicate itself and to protect the public.

"The sentence of the court," he added, solemnly, the while Cowperwood gazed unmoved, "is, therefore, that you pay a fine of five thousand dollars to the commonwealth for the use of the county, that you pay the costs of prosecution, and that you undergo imprisonment in the State Penitentiary for the Eastern District by separate or solitary confinement at labor for a period of four years and three months, and that you stand committed until this sentence is complied with."

Cowperwood's father, on hearing this, bowed his head to hide his tears. Aileen bit her lower lip and clenched her hands to keep down her rage and disappointment and tears. Four years and three months! That would make a terrible gap in his life and hers. Still, she could wait. It was better than eight or ten years, as she had feared it might be. Perhaps now, once this was really over and he was in prison, the Governor would pardon him.

The judge now moved to pick up the papers in connection with Stener's case, satisfied that he had given the financiers no chance to say he had not given due heed to their plea in Cowperwood's behalf and yet certain that the politicians would be pleased that he had so nearly given Cowperwood the maximum while appearing to have heeded the pleas for mercy. Cowperwood saw through the trick at once, but it did not disturb him. It struck him as rather weak and contemptible. A bailiff came forward and started to hurry him away.

"Allow the prisoner to remain for a moment," called the judge.

The name, of George W. Stener had been called by the clerk and Cowperwood did not quite understand why he was being detained, but he soon learned. It was that he might hear the opinion of the court in connection with his copartner in crime. The latter's record was taken. Roger O'Mara, the Irish political lawyer who had been his counsel all through his troubles, stood near him, but had nothing to say beyond asking the judge to consider Stener's previously honorable career.

"George W. Stener," said his honor, while the audience, including Cowperwood, listened attentively. "The motion for a new trial as well as an arrest of judgment in your case having been overruled, it remains for the court to impose such sentence as the nature of your offense requires. I do not desire to add to the pain of your position by any extended remarks of my own; but I cannot let the occasion pass without expressing my emphatic condemnation of your offense. The misapplication of public money has become the great crime of the age. If not promptly and firmly checked, it will ultimately destroy our institutions. When a republic becomes honeycombed with corruption its vitality is gone. It must crumble upon the first pressure.

"In my opinion, the public is much to blame for your offense and others of a similar character. Heretofore, official fraud has been regarded with too much indifference. What we need is a higher and purer political morality-a state of public opinion which would make the improper use of public money a thing to be execrated. It was the lack of this which made your offense possible. Beyond that I see nothing of extenuation in your case." Judge Payderson paused for emphasis. He was coming to his finest flight, and he wanted it to sink in.

"The people had confided to you the care of their money," he went on, solemnly. "It was a high, a sacred trust. You should have guarded the door of the treasury even as the cherubim protected the Garden of Eden, and should have turned the flaming sword of impeccable honesty against every one who approached it improperly. Your position as the representative of a great community warranted that.

"In view of all the facts in your case the court can do no less than impose a major penalty. The seventy-fourth section of the Criminal Procedure Act provides that no convict shall be sentenced by the court of this commonwealth to either of the penitentiaries thereof, for any term which shall expire between the fifteenth of November and the fifteenth day of February of any year, and this provision requires me to abate three months from the maximum of time which I would affix in your case-namely, five years. The sentence of the court is, therefore, that you pay a fine of five thousand dollars to the commonwealth for the use of the county"Ц Payderson knew well enough that Stener could never pay that sumЦ "and that you undergo imprisonment in the State Penitentiary for the Eastern District, by separate and solitary confinement at labor, for the period of four years and nine months, and that you stand committed until this sentence is complied with." He laid down the briefs and rubbed his chin reflectively while both Cowperwood and Stener were hurried out. Butler was the first to leave after the sentence-quite satisfied. Seeing that all was over so far as she was concerned, Aileen stole quickly out; and after her, in a few moments, Cowperwood's father and brothers. They were to await him outside and go with him to the penitentiary. The remaining members of the family were at home eagerly awaiting intelligence of the morning's work, and Joseph Cowperwood was at once despatched to tell them.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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