Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 49)

treasurer had ever been exposed before. It was a new thing to

face exposure, to face the risk of having the public's attention

called to a rather nefarious practice of which Mr. Stener was

taking advantage, that was all. A great fire and a panic were

endangering the security and well-being of many a financial

organization in the city-Mr. Cowperwood's among others. It

meant many possible failures, and many possible failures meant

one possible failure. If Frank A. Cowperwood failed, he would

fail owing the city of Philadelphia five hundred thousand dollars,

borrowed from the city treasurer at the very low rate of interest

of two and one-half per cent. Anything very detrimental to Mr.

Cowperwood in that? Had he gone to the city treasurer and asked

to be loaned money at two and one-half per cent.? If he had, was

there anything criminal in it from a business point of view?

Isn't a man entitled to borrow money from any source he can at

the lowest possible rate of interest? Did Mr. Stener have to

loan it to Mr. Cowperwood if he did not want to? As a matter of

fact didn't he testify here to-day that he personally had sent

for Mr. Cowperwood in the first place? Why, then, in Heaven's

name, this excited charge of larceny, larceny as bailee,

embezzlement, embezzlement on a check, etc., etc.?

"Once more, gentlemen, listen. I'll tell you why. The men

who stood behind Stener, and whose bidding he was doing, wanted

to make a political scapegoat of some one-of Frank Algernon

Cowperwood, if they couldn't get any one else. That's why.

No other reason under God's blue sky, not one. Why, if Mr.

Cowperwood needed more money just at that time to tide him

over, it would have been good policy for them to have given it

to him and hushed this matter up. It would have been illegal-

though not any more illegal than anything else that has ever

been done in this connection-but it would have been safer.

Fear, gentlemen, fear, lack of courage, inability to meet a

great crisis when a great crisis appears, was all that really

prevented them from doing this. They were afraid to place

confidence in a man who had never heretofore betrayed their

trust and from whose loyalty and great financial ability they

and the city had been reaping large profits. The reigning city

treasurer of the time didn't have the courage to go on in the

face of fire and panic and the rumors of possible failure, and

stick by his illegal guns; and so he decided to draw in his

horns as testified here to-day-to ask Mr. Cowperwood to return

all or at least a big part of the five hundred thousand dollars

he had loaned him, and which Cowperwood had been actually using

for his, Stener's benefit, and to refuse him in addition the

money that was actually due him for an authorized purchase of

city loan. Was Cowperwood guilty as an agent in any of these

transactions? Not in the least. Was there any suit pending to

make him return the five hundred thousand dollars of city money

involved in his present failure? Not at all. It was simply a

case of wild, silly panic on the part of George W. Stener, and

a strong desire on the part of the Republican party leaders,

once they discovered what the situation was, to find some one

outside of Stener, the party treasurer, upon whom they could

blame the shortage in the treasury. You heard what Mr.

Cowperwood testified to here in this case to-day-that he went

to Mr. Stener to forfend against any possible action of this

kind in the first place. And it was because of this very

warning that Mr. Stener became wildly excited, lost his head,

and wanted Mr. Cowperwood to return him all his money, all the

five hundred thousand dollars he had loaned him at two and

one-half per cent. Isn't that silly financial business at the

best? Wasn't that a fine time to try to call a perfectly legal


"But now to return to this particular check of sixty thousand

dollars. When Mr. Cowperwood called that last afternoon before

he failed, Mr. Stener testified that he told him that he couldn't

have any more money, that it was impossible, and that then Mr.

Cowperwood went out into his general office and without his

knowledge or consent persuaded his chief clerk and secretary,

Mr. Albert Stires, to give him a check for sixty thousand dollars,

to which he was not entitled and on which he, Stener, would

have stopped payment if he had known.

"What nonsense! Why didn't he know? The books were there, open

to him. Mr. Stires told him the first thing the next morning.

Mr. Cowperwood thought nothing of it, for he was entitled to it,

and could collect it in any court of law having jurisdiction in

such cases, failure or no failure. It is silly for Mr. Stener

to say he would have stopped payment. Such a claim was probably

an after-thought of the next morning after he had talked with his

friends, the politicians, and was all a part, a trick, a trap,

to provide the Republican party with a scapegoat at this time.

Nothing more and nothing less; and you may be sure no one knew

it better than the people who were most anxious to see Mr.

Cowperwood convicted."

Steger paused and looked significantly at Shannon.

"Gentlemen of the jury he finally concluded, quietly and earnestly, you are going to find, when you think it over in the jury-room this evening, that this charge of larceny and

larceny as bailee, and embezzlement of a check for sixty

thousand dollars, which are contained in this indictment, and

which represent nothing more than the eager effort of the

district attorney to word this one act in such a way that it

will look like a crime, represents nothing more than the excited

imagination of a lot of political refugees who are anxious to

protect their own skirts at the expense of Mr. Cowperwood, and

who care for nothing-honor, fair play, or anything else, so

long as they are let off scot-free. They don't want the

Republicans of Pennsylvania to think too ill of the Republican

party management and control in this city. They want to protect

George W. Stener as much as possible and to make a political

scapegoat of my client. It can't be done, and it won't be done.

As honorable, intelligent men you won't permit it to be done.

And I think with that thought I can safely leave you."

Steger suddenly turned from the jury-box and walked to his seat beside Cowperwood, while Shannon arose, calm, forceful, vigorous, much younger.

As between man and man, Shannon was not particularly opposed to the case Steger had made out for Cowperwood, nor was he opposed to Cowperwood's having made money as he did. As a matter of fact, Shannon actually thought that if he had been in Cowperwood's position he would have done exactly the same thing. However, he was the newly elected district attorney. He had a record to make; and, besides, the political powers who were above him were satisfied that Cowperwood ought to be convicted for the looks of the thing. Therefore he laid his hands firmly on the rail at first, looked the jurors steadily in the eyes for a time, and, having framed a few thoughts in his mind began:

"Now, gentlemen of the jury, it seems to me that if we all pay

strict attention to what has transpired here to-day, we will

have no difficulty in reaching a conclusion; and it will be a

very satisfactory one, if we all try to interpret the facts

correctly. This defendant, Mr. Cowperwood, comes into this

court to-day charged, as I have stated to you before, with

larceny, with larceny as bailee, with embezzlement, and with

embezzlement of a specific check-namely, one dated October 9,

1871, drawn to the order of Frank A. Cowperwood & Company for

the sum of sixty thousand dollars by the secretary of the city

treasurer for the city treasurer, and by him signed, as he had

a perfect right to sign it, and delivered to the said Frank A.

Cowperwood, who claims that he was not only properly solvent

at the time, but had previously purchased certificates of city

loan to the value of sixty thousand dollars, and had at that

time or would shortly thereafter, as was his custom, deposit

them to the credit of the city in the city sinking-fund, and

thus close what would ordinarily be an ordinary transaction-

namely, that of Frank A. Cowperwood & Company as bankers and

brokers for the city buying city loan for the city, depositing

it in the sinking-fund, and being promptly and properly reimbursed.

Now, gentlemen, what are the actual facts in this case? Was the

said Frank A. Cowperwood & Company-there is no company, as

you well know, as you have heard testified here to-day, only

Frank A. Cowperwood-was the said Frank A. Cowperwood a fit

person to receive the check at this time in the manner he

received it-that is, was he authorized agent of the city at

the time, or was he not? Was he solvent? Did he actually himself

think he was going to fail, and was this sixty-thousand-dollar

check a last thin straw which he was grabbing at to save his

financial life regardless of what it involved legally, morally,

or otherwise; or had he actually purchased certificates of city

loan to the amount he said he had in the way he said he had, at

the time he said he had, and was he merely collecting his honest

due? Did he intend to deposit these certificates of loans in the

city sinking-fund, as he said he would-as it was understood

naturally and normally that he would-or did he not? Were his

relations with the city treasurer as broker and agent the same

as they had always been on the day that he secured this particular

check for sixty thousand dollars, or were they not? Had they been

terminated by a conversation fifteen minutes before or two days

before or two weeks before-it makes no difference when, so long

as they had been properly terminated-or had they not? A business

man has a right to abrogate an agreement at any time where there

is no specific form of contract and no fixed period of operation

entered into-as you all must know. You must not forget that in

considering the evidence in this case. Did George W. Stener,

knowing or suspecting that Frank A. Cowperwood was in a tight

place financially, unable to fulfill any longer properly and

honestly the duties supposedly devolving on him by this agreement,

terminate it then and there on October 9, 1871, before this

check for sixty thousand dollars was given, or did he not? Did

Mr. Frank A. Cowperwood then and there, knowing that he was no

longer an agent of the city treasurer and the city, and knowing

also that he was insolvent (having, as Mr. Stener contends,

admitted to him that he was so), and having no intention of

placing the certificates which he subsequently declared he had

purchased in the sinking-fund, go out into Mr. Stener's general

office, meet his secretary, tell him he had purchased sixty

thousand dollars' worth of city loan, ask for the check, get

it, put it in his pocket, walk off, and never make any return

of any kind in any manner, shape, or form to the city, and then,

subsequently, twenty-four hours later, fail, owing this and

five hundred thousand dollars more to the city treasury, or did

he not? What are the facts in this case? What have the witnesses

testified to? What has George W. Stener testified to, Albert

Stires, President Davison, Mr. Cowperwood himself? What are the

interesting, subtle facts in this case, anyhow? Gentlemen, you

have a very curious problem to decide."

He paused and gazed at the jury, adjusting his sleeves as he did so, and looking as though he knew for certain that he was on the trail of a slippery, elusive criminal who was in a fair way to foist himself upon an honorable and decent community and an honorable and innocent jury as an honest man.

Then he continued:

"Now, gentlemen, what are the facts? You can see for yourselves

exactly how this whole situation has come about. You are sensible

men. I don't need to tell you. Here are two men, one elected

treasurer of the city of Philadelphia, sworn to guard the

interests of the city and to manipulate its finances to the best

advantage, and the other called in at a time of uncertain financial

cogitation to assist in unraveling a possibly difficult financial

problem; and then you have a case of a quiet, private financial

understanding being reached, and of subsequent illegal dealings

in which one man who is shrewder, wiser, more versed in the subtle

ways of Third Street leads the other along over seemingly charming

paths of fortunate investment into an accidental but none the

less criminal mire of failure and exposure and public calumny and

what not. And then they get to the place where the more vulnerable

individual of the two-the man in the most dangerous position,

the city treasurer of Philadelphia, no less-can no longer

reasonably or, let us say, courageously, follow the other fellow;

and then you have such a spectacle as was described here this

afternoon in the witness-chair by Mr. Stener-that is, you have

a vicious, greedy, unmerciful financial wolf standing over a

cowering, unsophisticated commercial lamb, and saying to him,

his white, shiny teeth glittering all the while, 'If you don't

advance me the money I ask for-the three hundred thousand

dollars I now demand-you will be a convict, your children will

be thrown in the street, you and your wife and your family will

be in poverty again, and there will be no one to turn a hand

for you.' That is what Mr. Stener says Mr. Cowperwood said to

him. I, for my part, haven't a doubt in the world that he did.

Mr. Steger, in his very guarded references to his client,

describes him as a nice, kind, gentlemanly agent, a broker

merely on whom was practically forced the use of five hundred

thousand dollars at two and a half per cent. when money was

bringing from ten to fifteen per cent. in Third Street on call

loans, and even more. But I for one don't choose to believe it.

The thing that strikes me as strange in all of this is that if

he was so nice and kind and gentle and remote-a mere hired and

therefore subservient agent-how is it that he could have gone

to Mr. Stener's office two or three days before the matter of

this sixty-thousand-dollar check came up and say to him, as Mr.

Stener testifies under oath that he did say to him, 'If you

don't give me three hundred thousand dollars' worth more of the

city's money at once, to-day, I will fail, and you will be a

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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