Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 28)

He was in front of Stener now, looking him directly in the eye and by the kinetic force of his mental way attempting to make Stener take the one step that might save him-Cowperwood-however little in the long run it might do for Stener. And, more interesting still, he did not care. Stener, as he saw him now, was a pawn in whosoever's hands he happened to be at the time, and despite Mr. Mollenhauer and Mr. Simpson and Mr. Butler he proposed to attempt to keep him in his own hands if possible. And so he stood there looking at him as might a snake at a bird determined to galvanize him into selfish self-interest if possible. But Stener was so frightened that at the moment it looked as though there was little to be done with him. His face was a grayish-blue: his eyelids and eye rings puffy and his hands and lips moist. God, what a hole he was in now!

"Say that's all right, Frank," he exclaimed desperately. "I know what you say is true. But look at me and my position, if I do give you this money. What can't they do to me, and won't. If you only look at it from my point of view. If only you hadn't gone to Butler before you saw me."

"As though I could see you, George, when you were off duck shooting and when I was wiring everywhere I knew to try to get in touch with you. How could I? The situation had to be met. Besides, I thought Butler was more friendly to me than he proved. But there's no use being angry with me now, George, for going to Butler as I did, and anyhow you can't afford to be now. We're in this thing together. It's a case of sink or swim for just us two-not any one else-just us-don't you get that? Butler couldn't or wouldn't do what I wanted him to do-get Mollenhauer and Simpson to support the market. Instead of that they are hammering it. They have a game of their own. It's to shake us out-can't you see that? Take everything that you and I have gathered. It is up to you and me, George, to save ourselves, and that's what I'm here for now. If you don't let me have three hundred and fifty thousand dollars-three hundred thousand, anyhow-you and I are ruined. It will be worse for you, George, than for me, for I'm not involved in this thing in any way-not legally, anyhow. But that's not what I'm thinking of. What I want to do is to save us both-put us on easy street for the rest of our lives, whatever they say or do, and it's in your power, with my help, to do that for both of us. Can't you see that? I want to save my business so then I can help you to save your name and money." He paused, hoping this had convinced Stener, but the latter was still shaking.

"But what can I do, Frank?" he pleaded, weakly. "I can't go against Mollenhauer. They can prosecute me if I do that. They can do it, anyhow. I can't do that. I'm not strong enough. If they didn't know, if you hadn't told them, it might be different, but this way-" He shook his head sadly, his gray eyes filled with a pale distress.

"George," replied Cowperwood, who realized now that only the sternest arguments would have any effect here, "don't talk about what I did. What I did I had to do. You're in danger of losing your head and your nerve and making a serious mistake here, and I don't want to see you make it. I have five hundred thousand of the city's money invested for you-partly for me, and partly for you, but more for you than for me"-which, by the way, was not true-"and here you are hesitating in an hour like this as to whether you will protect your interest or not. I can't understand it. This is a crisis, George. Stocks are tumbling on every side-everybody's stocks. You're not alone in this-neither am I. This is a panic, brought on by a fire, and you can't expect to come out of a panic alive unless you do something to protect yourself. You say you owe your place to Mollenhauer and that you're afraid of what he'll do. If you look at your own situation and mine, you'll see that it doesn't make much difference what he does, so long as I don't fail. If I fail, where are you? Who's going to save you from prosecution? Will Mollenhauer or any one else come forward and put five hundred thousand dollars in the treasury for you? He will not. If Mollenhauer and the others have your interests at heart, why aren't they helping me on 'change today? I'll tell you why. They want your street-railway holdings and mine, and they don't care whether you go to jail afterward or not. Now if you're wise you will listen to me. I've been loyal to you, haven't I? You've made money through me-lots of it. If you're wise, George, you'll go to your office and write me your check for three hundred thousand dollars, anyhow, before you do a single other thing. Don't see anybody and don't do anything till you've done that. You can't be hung any more for a sheep than you can for a lamb. No one can prevent you from giving me that check. You're the city treasurer. Once I have that I can see my way out of this, and I'll pay it all back to you next week or the week after-this panic is sure to end in that time. With that put back in the treasury we can see them about the five hundred thousand a little later. In three months, or less, I can fix it so that you can put that back. As a matter of fact, I can do it in fifteen days once I am on my feet again. Time is all I want. You won't have lost your holdings and nobody will cause you any trouble if you put the money back. They don't care to risk a scandal any more than you do. Now what'll you do, George? Mollenhauer can't stop you from doing this any more than I can make you. Your life is in your own hands. What will you do?"

Stener stood there ridiculously meditating when, as a matter of fact, his very financial blood was oozing away. Yet he was afraid to act. He was afraid of Mollenhauer, afraid of Cowperwood, afraid of life and of himself. The thought of panic, loss, was not so much a definite thing connected with his own property, his money, as it was with his social and political standing in the community. Few people have the sense of financial individuality strongly developed. They do not know what it means to be a controller of wealth, to have that which releases the sources of social actionЦ its medium of exchange. They want money, but not for money's sake. They want it for what it will buy in the way of simple comforts, whereas the financier wants it for what it will control-for what it will represent in the way of dignity, force, power. Cowperwood wanted money in that way; Stener not. That was why he had been so ready to let Cowperwood act for him; and now, when he should have seen more clearly than ever the significance of what Cowperwood was proposing, he was frightened and his reason obscured by such things as Mollenhauer's probable opposition and rage, Cowperwood's possible failure, his own inability to face a real crisis. Cowperwood's innate financial ability did not reassure Stener in this hour. The banker was too young, too new. Mollenhauer was older, richer. So was Simpson; so was Butler. These men, with their wealth, represented the big forces, the big standards in his world. And besides, did not Cowperwood himself confess that he was in great danger-that he was in a corner. That was the worst possible confession to make to Stener-although under the circumstances it was the only one that could be made-for he had no courage to face danger.

So it was that now, Stener stood by Cowperwood meditating-pale, flaccid; unable to see the main line of his interests quickly, unable to follow it definitely, surely, vigorously-while they drove to his office. Cowperwood entered it with him for the sake of continuing his plea.

"Well, George," he said earnestly, "I wish you'd tell me. Time's short. We haven't a moment to lose. Give me the money, won't you, and I'll get out of this quick. We haven't a moment, I tell you. Don't let those people frighten you off. They're playing their own little game; you play yours."

"I can't, Frank," said Stener, finally, very weakly, his sense of his own financial future, overcome for the time being by the thought of Mollenhauer's hard, controlling face. "I'll have to think. I can't do it right now. Strobik just left me before I saw you, and-"

"Good God, George," exclaimed Cowperwood, scornfully, "don't talk about Strobik! What's he got to do with it? Think of yourself. Think of where you will be. It's your future-not Strobik's-that you have to think of."

"I know, Frank," persisted Stener, weakly; "but, really, I don't see how I can. Honestly I don't. You say yourself you're not sure whether you can come out of things all right, and three hundred thousand more is three hundred thousand more. I can't, Frank. I really can't. It wouldn't be right. Besides, I want to talk to Mollenhauer first, anyhow."

"Good God, how you talk!" exploded Cowperwood, angrily, looking at him with ill-concealed contempt. "Go ahead! See Mollenhauer! Let him tell you how to cut your own throat for his benefit. It won't be right to loan me three hundred thousand dollars more, but it will be right to let the five hundred thousand dollars you have loaned stand unprotected and lose it. That's right, isn't it? That's just what you propose to do-lose it, and everything else besides. I want to tell you what it is, George-you've lost your mind. You've let a single message from Mollenhauer frighten you to death, and because of that you're going to risk your fortune, your reputation, your standing-everything. Do you really realize what this means if I fail? You will be a convict, I tell you, George. You will go to prison. This fellow Mollenhauer, who is so quick to tell you what not to do now, will be the last man to turn a hand for you once you're down. Why, look at me-I've helped you, haven't I? Haven't I handled your affairs satisfactorily for you up to now? What in Heaven's name has got into you? What have you to be afraid of?"

Stener was just about to make another weak rejoinder when the door from the outer office opened, and Albert Stires, Stener's chief clerk, entered. Stener was too flustered to really pay any attention to Stires for the moment; but Cowperwood took matters in his own hands.

"What is it, Albert?" he asked, familiarly.

"Mr. Sengstack from Mr. Mollenhauer to see Mr. Stener."

At the sound of this dreadful name Stener wilted like a leaf. Cowperwood saw it. He realized that his last hope of getting the three hundred thousand dollars was now probably gone. Still he did not propose to give up as yet.

"Well, George," he said, after Albert had gone out with instructions that Stener would see Sengstack in a moment. "I see how it is. This man has got you mesmerized. You can't act for yourself nowЦ you're too frightened. I'll let it rest for the present; I'll come back. But for Heaven's sake pull yourself together. Think what it means. I'm telling you exactly what's going to happen if you don't. You'll be independently rich if you do. You'll be a convict if you don't."

And deciding he would make one more effort in the street before seeing Butler again, he walked out briskly, jumped into his light spring runabout waiting outside-a handsome little yellow-glazed vehicle, with a yellow leather cushion seat, drawn by a young, high-stepping bay mare-and sent her scudding from door to door, throwing down the lines indifferently and bounding up the steps of banks and into office doors.

But all without avail. All were interested, considerate; but things were very uncertain. The Girard National Bank refused an hour's grace, and he had to send a large bundle of his most valuable securities to cover his stock shrinkage there. Word came from his father at two that as president of the Third National he would have to call for his one hundred and fifty thousand dollars due there. The directors were suspicious of his stocks. He at once wrote a check against fifty thousand dollars of his deposits in that bank, took twenty-five thousand of his available office funds, called a loan of fifty thousand against Tighe & Co., and sold sixty thousand Green & Coates, a line he had been tentatively dabbling in, for one-third their value-and, combining the general results, sent them all to the Third National. His father was immensely relieved from one point of view, but sadly depressed from another. He hurried out at the noon-hour to see what his own holdings would bring. He was compromising himself in a way by doing it, but his parental heart, as well as is own financial interests, were involved. By mortgaging his house and securing loans on his furniture, carriages, lots, and stocks, he managed to raise one hundred thousand in cash, and deposited it in his own bank to Frank's credit; but it was a very light anchor to windward in this swirling storm, at that. Frank had been counting on getting all of his loans extended three or four days at least. Reviewing his situation at two o'clock of this Monday afternoon, he said to himself thoughtfully but grimly: "Well, Stener has to loan me three hundred thousand-that's all there is to it. And I'll have to see Butler now, or he'll be calling his loan before three."

He hurried out, and was off to Butler's house, driving like mad. Chapter XXVI
Things had changed greatly since last Cowperwood had talked with Butler. Although most friendly at the time the proposition was made that he should combine with Mollenhauer and Simpson to sustain the market, alas, now on this Monday morning at nine o'clock, an additional complication had been added to the already tangled situation which had changed Butler's attitude completely. As he was leaving his home to enter his runabout, at nine o'clock in the morning of this same day in which Cowperwood was seeking Stener's aid, the postman, coming up, had handed Butler four letters, all of which he paused for a moment to glance at. One was from a sub-contractor by the name of O'Higgins, the second was from Father Michel, his confessor, of St. Timothy's, thanking him for a contribution to the parish poor fund; a third was from Drexel & Co. relating to a deposit, and the fourth was an anonymous communication, on cheap stationery from some one who was apparently not very literate-a woman most likely-written in a scrawling hand, which read:

DEAR SIR-This is to warn you that your daughter

Aileen is running around with a man that she shouldn't,

Frank A. Cowperwood, the banker. If you don't believe

it, watch the house at 931 North Tenth Street. Then you

can see for yourself.

There was neither signature nor mark of any kind to indicate from whence it might have come. Butler got the impression strongly that it might have been written by some one living in the vicinity of the number indicated. His intuitions were keen at times. As a matter of fact, it was written by a girl, a member of St. Timothy's Church, who did live in the vicinity of the house indicated, and who knew Aileen by sight and was jealous of her airs and her position. She was a thin, anemic, dissatisfied creature who had the type of brain which can reconcile the gratification of personal spite with a comforting sense of having fulfilled a moral duty. Her home was some five doors north of the unregistered Cowperwood domicile on the opposite side of the street, and by degrees, in the course of time, she made out, or imagined that she had, the significance of this institution, piecing fact to fancy and fusing all with that keen intuition which is so closely related to fact. The result was eventually this letter which now spread clear and grim before Butler's eyes.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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