Owen was running swiftly in his mind over Cowperwood's affairs-as much as he knew of them. He felt keenly that the banker ought to be shaken out. This dilemma was his fault, not Stener's-he felt. It was strange to him that his father did not see it and resent it.
"You see what it is, father," he said, dramatically, after a time. "Cowperwood's been using this money of Stener's to pick up stocks, and he's in a hole. If it hadn't been for this fire he'd have got away with it; but now he wants you and Simpson and Mollenhauer and the others to pull him out. He's a nice fellow, and I like him fairly well; but you're a fool if you do as he wants you to. He has more than belongs to him already. I heard the other day that he has the Front Street line, and almost all of Green and Coates; and that he and Stener own the Seventeenth and Nineteenth; but I didn't believe it. I've been intending to ask you about it. I think Cowperwood has a majority for himself stowed away somewhere in every instance. Stener is just a pawn. He moves him around where he pleases."
Owen's eyes gleamed avariciously, opposingly. Cowperwood ought to be punished, sold out, driven out of the street-railway business in which Owen was anxious to rise.
"Now you know," observed Butler, thickly and solemnly, "I always thought that young felly was clever, but I hardly thought he was as clever as all that. So that's his game. You're pretty shrewd yourself, aren't you? Well, we can fix that, if we think well of it. But there's more than that to all this. You don't want to forget the Republican party. Our success goes with the success of that, you know"-and he paused and looked at his son. "If Cowperwood should fail and that money couldn't be put back-" He broke off abstractedly. "The thing that's troublin' me is this matter of Stener and the city treasury. If somethin' ain't done about that, it may go hard with the party this fall, and with some of our contracts. You don't want to forget that an election is comin' along in November. I'm wonderin' if I ought to call in that one hundred thousand dollars. It's goin' to take considerable money to meet my loans in the mornin'."
It is a curious matter of psychology, but it was only now that the real difficulties of the situation were beginning to dawn on Butler. In the presence of Cowperwood he was so influenced by that young man's personality and his magnetic presentation of his need and his own liking for him that he had not stopped to consider all the phases of his own relationship to the situation. Out here in the cool night air, talking to Owen, who was ambitious on his own account and anything but sentimentally considerate of Cowperwood, he was beginning to sober down and see things in their true light. He had to admit that Cowperwood had seriously compromised the city treasury and the Republican party, and incidentally Butler's own private interests. Nevertheless, he liked Cowperwood. He was in no way prepared to desert him. He was now going to see Mollenhauer and Simpson as much to save Cowperwood really as the party and his own affairs. And yet a scandal. He did not like that-resented it. This young scalawag! To think he should be so sly. None the less he still liked him, even here and now, and was feeling that he ought to do something to help the young man, if anything could help him. He might even leave his hundred-thousand-dollar loan with him until the last hour, as Cowperwood had requested, if the others were friendly.
"Well, father," said Owen, after a time, "I don't see why you need to worry any more than Mollenhauer or Simpson. If you three want to help him out, you can; but for the life of me I don't see why you should. I know this thing will have a bad effect on the election, if it comes out before then; but it could be hushed up until then, couldn't it? Anyhow, your street-railway holdings are more important than this election, and if you can see your way clear to getting the street-railway lines in your hands you won't need to worry about any elections. My advice to you is to call that one-hundred-thousand-dollar loan of yours in the morning, and meet the drop in your stocks that way. It may make Cowperwood fail, but that won't hurt you any. You can go into the market and buy his stocks. I wouldn't be surprised if he would run to you and ask you to take them. You ought to get Mollenhauer and Simpson to scare Stener so that he won't loan Cowperwood any more money. If you don't, Cowperwood will run there and get more. Stener's in too far now. If Cowperwood won't sell out, well and good; the chances are he will bust, anyhow, and then you can pick up as much on the market as any one else. I think he'll sell. You can't afford to worry about Stener's five hundred thousand dollars. No one told him to loan it. Let him look out for himself. It may hurt the party, but you can look after that later. You and Mollenhauer can fix the newspapers so they won't talk about it till after election."
"Aisy! Aisy!" was all the old contractor would say. He was thinking hard.
The residence of Henry A. Mollenhauer was, at that time, in a
section of the city which was almost as new as that in which Butler
was living. It was on South Broad Street, near a handsome library
building which had been recently erected. It was a spacious house
of the type usually affected by men of new wealth in those days-a
structure four stories in height of yellow brick and white stone
built after no school which one could readily identify, but not
unattractive in its architectural composition. A broad flight of
steps leading to a wide veranda gave into a decidedly ornate door,
which was set on either side by narrow windows and ornamented to
the right and left with pale-blue jardinieres of considerable
charm of outline. The interior, divided into twenty rooms, was
paneled and parqueted in the most expensive manner for homes of
that day. There was a great reception-hall, a large parlor or
drawing-room, a dining-room at least thirty feet square paneled
in oak; and on the second floor were a music-room devoted to the
talents of Mollenhauer's three ambitious daughters, a library and
private office for himself, a boudoir and bath for his wife, and
Mollenhauer was, and felt himself to be, a very important man. His financial and political judgment was exceedingly keen. Although he was a German, or rather an American of German parentage, he was a man of a rather impressive American presence. He was tall and heavy and shrewd and cold. His large chest and wide shoulders supported a head of distinguished proportions, both round and long when seen from different angles. The frontal bone descended in a protruding curve over the nose, and projected solemnly over the eyes, which burned with a shrewd, inquiring gaze. And the nose and mouth and chin below, as well as his smooth, hard cheeks, confirmed the impression that he knew very well what he wished in this world, and was very able without regard to let or hindrance to get it. It was a big face, impressive, well modeled. He was an excellent friend of Edward Malia Butler's, as such friendships go, and his regard for Mark Simpson was as sincere as that of one tiger for another. He respected ability; he was willing to play fair when fair was the game. When it was not, the reach of his cunning was not easily measured.
When Edward Butler and his son arrived on this Sunday evening, this distinguished representative of one-third of the city's interests was not expecting them. He was in his library reading and listening to one of his daughters playing the piano. His wife and his other two daughters had gone to church. He was of a domestic turn of mind. Still, Sunday evening being an excellent one for conference purposes generally in the world of politics, he was not without the thought that some one or other of his distinguished confreres might call, and when the combination footman and butler announced the presence of Butler and his son, he was well pleased.
"So there you are," he remarked to Butler, genially, extending his hand. "I'm certainly glad to see you. And Owen! How are you, Owen? What will you gentlemen have to drink, and what will you smoke? I know you'll have something. John"-to the servitor-"see if you can find something for these gentlemen. I have just been listening to Caroline play; but I think you've frightened her off for the time being."
He moved a chair into position for Butler, and indicated to Owen another on the other side of the table. In a moment his servant had returned with a silver tray of elaborate design, carrying whiskies and wines of various dates and cigars in profusion. Owen was the new type of young financier who neither smoked nor drank. His father temperately did both.
"It's a comfortable place you have here," said Butler, without any indication of the important mission that had brought him. "I don't wonder you stay at home Sunday evenings. What's new in the city?"
"Nothing much, so far as I can see," replied Mollenhauer, pacifically. "Things seem to be running smooth enough. You don't know anything that we ought to worry about, do you?"
"Well, yes," said Butler, draining off the remainder of a brandy and soda that had been prepared for him. "One thing. You haven't seen an avenin' paper, have you?"
"No, I haven't," said Mollenhauer, straightening up. "Is there one out? What's the trouble anyhow?"
"Nothing-except Chicago's burning, and it looks as though we'd have a little money-storm here in the morning."
"You don't say! I didn't hear that. There's a paper out, is there? Well, well-is it much of a fire?"
"The city is burning down, so they say," put in Owen, who was watching the face of the distinguished politician with considerable interest.
"Well, that is news. I must send out and get a paper. John!" he called. His man-servant appeared. "See if you can get me a paper somewhere." The servant disappeared. "What makes you think that would have anything to do with us?" observed Mollenhauer, returning to Butler.
"Well, there's one thing that goes with that that I didn't know till a little while ago and that is that our man Stener is apt to be short in his accounts, unless things come out better than some people seem to think," suggested Butler, calmly. "That might not look so well before election, would it?" His shrewd gray Irish eyes looked into Mollenhauer's, who returned his gaze.
"Where did you get that?" queried Mr. Mollenhauer icily. "He hasn't deliberately taken much money, has he? How much has he taken-do you know?"
"Quite a bit," replied Butler, quietly. "Nearly five hundred thousand, so I understand. Only I wouldn't say that it has been taken as yet. It's in danger of being lost."
"Five hundred thousand!" exclaimed Mollenhauer in amazement, and yet preserving his usual calm. "You don't tell me! How long has this been going on? What has he been doing with the money?"
"He's loaned a good deal-about five hundred thousand dollars to this young Cowperwood in Third Street, that's been handlin' city loan. They've been investin' it for themselves in one thing and another-mostly in buyin' up street-railways." (At the mention of street-railways Mollenhauer's impassive countenance underwent a barely perceptible change.) "This fire, accordin' to Cowperwood, is certain to produce a panic in the mornin', and unless he gets considerable help he doesn't see how he's to hold out. If he doesn't hold out, there'll be five hundred thousand dollars missin' from the city treasury which can't be put back. Stener's out of town and Cowperwood's come to me to see what can be done about it. As a matter of fact, he's done a little business for me in times past, and he thought maybe I could help him now-that is, that I might get you and the Senator to see the big bankers with me and help support the market in the mornin'. If we don't he's goin' to fail, and he thought the scandal would hurt us in the election. He doesn't appear to me to be workin' any game-just anxious to save himself and do the square thing by me-by us, if he can." Butler paused.
Mollenhauer, sly and secretive himself, was apparently not at all moved by this unexpected development. At the same time, never having thought of Stener as having any particular executive or financial ability, he was a little stirred and curious. So his treasurer was using money without his knowing it, and now stood in danger of being prosecuted! Cowperwood he knew of only indirectly, as one who had been engaged to handle city loan. He had profited by his manipulation of city loan. Evidently the banker had made a fool of Stener, and had used the money for street-railway shares! He and Stener must have quite some private holdings then. That did interest Mollenhauer greatly.
"Five hundred thousand dollars!" he repeated, when Butler had finished. "That is quite a little money. If merely supporting the market would save Cowperwood we might do that, although if it's a severe panic I do not see how anything we can do will be of very much assistance to him. If he's in a very tight place and a severe slump is coming, it will take a great deal more than our merely supporting the market to save him. I've been through that before. You don't know what his liabilities are?"
"I do not," said Butler.
"He didn't ask for money, you say?"
"He wants me to l'ave a hundred thousand he has of mine until he sees whether he can get through or not."
"Stener is really out of town, I suppose?" Mollenhauer was innately suspicious.
"So Cowperwood says. We can send and find out."
Mollenhauer was thinking of the various aspects of the case. Supporting the market would be all very well if that would save Cowperwood, and the Republican party and his treasurer. At the same time Stener could then be compelled to restore the five hundred thousand dollars to the city treasury, and release his holdings to some one-preferably to him-Mollenhauer. But here was Butler also to be considered in this matter. What might he not want? He consulted with Butler and learned that Cowperwood had agreed to return the five hundred thousand in case he could get it together. The various street-car holdings were not asked after. But what assurance had any one that Cowperwood could be so saved? And could, or would get the money together? And if he were saved would he give the money back to Stener? If he required actual money, who would loan it to him in a time like this-in case a sharp panic was imminent? What security could he give? On the other hand, under pressure from the right parties he might be made to surrender all his street-railway holdings for a song-his and Stener's. If he (Mollenhauer) could get them he would not particularly care whether the election was lost this fall or not, although he felt satisfied, as had Owen, that it would not be lost. It could be bought, as usual. The defalcation-if Cowperwood's failure made Stener's loan into one-could be concealed long enough, Mollenhauer thought, to win. Personally as it came to him now he would prefer to frighten Stener into refusing Cowperwood additional aid, and then raid the latter's street-railway stock in combination with everybody else's, for that matter-Simpson's and Butler's included. One of the big sources of future wealth in Philadelphia lay in these lines. For the present, however, he had to pretend an interest in saving the party at the polls.
"I can't speak for the Senator, that's sure," pursued Mollenhauer, reflectively. "I don't know what he may think. As for myself, I am perfectly willing to do what I can to keep up the price of stocks, if that will do any good. I would do so naturally in order to protect my loans. The thing that we ought to be thinking about, in my judgment, is how to prevent exposure, in case Mr. Cowperwood does fail, until after election. We have no assurance, of course, that however much we support the market we will be able to sustain it."