The Financier

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter LVII

The time that Cowperwood spent in the Eastern Penitentiary of Pennsylvania was exactly thirteen months from the day of his entry to his discharge. The influences which brought about this result were partly of his willing, and partly not. For one thing, some six months after his incarceration, Edward Malia Butler died, expired sitting in his chair in his private office at his home. The conduct of Aileen had been a great strain on him. From the time Cowperwood had been sentenced, and more particularly after the time he had cried on Aileen’s shoulder in prison, she had turned on her father in an almost brutal way. Her attitude, unnatural for a child, was quite explicable as that of a tortured sweetheart. Cowperwood had told her that he thought Butler was using his influence to withhold a pardon for him, even though one were granted to Stener, whose life in prison he had been following with considerable interest; and this had enraged her beyond measure. She lost no chance of being practically insulting to her father, ignoring him on every occasion, refusing as often as possible to eat at the same table, and when she did, sitting next her mother in the place of Norah, with whom she managed to exchange. She refused to sing or play any more when he was present, and persistently ignored the large number of young political aspirants who came to the house, and whose presence in a way had been encouraged for her benefit. Old Butler realized, of course, what it was all about. He said nothing. He could not placate her.

Her mother and brothers did not understand it at all at first. (Mrs. Butler never understood.) But not long after Cowperwood’s incarceration Callum and Owen became aware of what the trouble was. Once, when Owen was coming away from a reception at one of the houses where his growing financial importance made him welcome, he heard one of two men whom he knew casually, say to the other, as they stood at the door adjusting their coats, “You saw where this fellow Cowperwood got four years, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” replied the other. “A clever devil that—wasn’t he? I knew that girl he was in with, too—you know who I mean. Miss Butler—wasn’t that her name?”

Owen was not sure that he had heard right. He did not get the connection until the other guest, opening the door and stepping out, remarked: “Well, old Butler got even, apparently. They say he sent him up.”

Owen’s brow clouded. A hard, contentious look came into his eyes. He had much of his father’s force. What in the devil were they talking about? What Miss Butler did they have in mind? Could this be Aileen or Norah, and how could Cowperwood come to be in with either of them? It could not possibly be Norah, he reflected; she was very much infatuated with a young man whom he knew, and was going to marry him. Aileen had been most friendly with the Cowperwoods, and had often spoken well of the financier. Could it be she? He could not believe it. He thought once of overtaking the two acquaintances and demanding to know what they meant, but when he came out on the step they were already some distance down the street and in the opposite direction from that in which he wished to go. He decided to ask his father about this.

On demand, old Butler confessed at once, but insisted that his son keep silent about it.

“I wish I’d have known,” said Owen, grimly. “I’d have shot the dirty dog.”

“Aisy, aisy,” said Butler. “Yer own life’s worth more than his, and ye’d only be draggin’ the rest of yer family in the dirt with him. He’s had somethin’ to pay him for his dirty trick, and he’ll have more. Just ye say nothin’ to no one. Wait. He’ll be wantin’ to get out in a year or two. Say nothin’ to her aither. Talkin’ won’t help there. She’ll come to her sinses when he’s been away long enough, I’m thinkin’.” Owen had tried to be civil to his sister after that, but since he was a stickler for social perfection and advancement, and so eager to get up in the world himself, he could not understand how she could possibly have done any such thing. He resented bitterly the stumbling-block she had put in his path. Now, among other things, his enemies would have this to throw in his face if they wanted to—and they would want to, trust life for that.

Callum reached his knowledge of the matter in quite another manner, but at about the same time. He was a member of an athletic club which had an attractive building in the city, and a fine country club, where he went occasionally to enjoy the swimming-pool and the Turkish bath connected with it. One of his friends approached him there in the billiard-room one evening and said, “Say, Butler, you know I’m a good friend of yours, don’t you?”

“Why, certainly, I know it,” replied Callum. “What’s the matter?”

“Well, you know,” said the young individual, whose name was Richard Pethick, looking at Callum with a look of almost strained affection, “I wouldn’t come to you with any story that I thought would hurt your feelings or that you oughtn’t to know about, but I do think you ought to know about this.” He pulled at a high white collar which was choking his neck.

“I know you wouldn’t, Pethick,” replied Callum; very much interested. “What is it? What’s the point?”

“Well, I don’t like to say anything,” replied Pethick, “but that fellow Hibbs is saying things around here about your sister.”

“What’s that?” exclaimed Callum, straightening up in the most dynamic way and bethinking him of the approved social procedure in all such cases. He should be very angry. He should demand and exact proper satisfaction in some form or other—by blows very likely if his honor had been in any way impugned. “What is it he says about my sister? What right has he to mention her name here, anyhow? He doesn’t know her.”

Pethick affected to be greatly concerned lest he cause trouble between Callum and Hibbs. He protested that he did not want to, when, in reality, he was dying to tell. At last he came out with, “Why, he’s circulated the yarn that your sister had something to do with this man Cowperwood, who was tried here recently, and that that’s why he’s just gone to prison.”

“What’s that?” exclaimed Callum, losing the make-believe of the unimportant, and taking on the serious mien of some one who feels desperately. “He says that, does he? Where is he? I want to see if he’ll say that to me.”

Some of the stern fighting ability of his father showed in his slender, rather refined young face.

“Now, Callum,” insisted Pethick, realizing the genuine storm he had raised, and being a little fearful of the result, “do be careful what you say. You mustn’t have a row in here. You know it’s against the rules. Besides he may be drunk. It’s just some foolish talk he’s heard, I’m sure. Now, for goodness’ sake, don’t get so excited.” Pethick, having evoked the storm, was not a little nervous as to its results in his own case. He, too, as well as Callum, himself as the tale-bearer, might now be involved.

But Callum by now was not so easily restrained. His face was quite pale, and he was moving toward the old English grill-room, where Hibbs happened to be, consuming a brandy-and-soda with a friend of about his own age. Callum entered and called him.

“Oh, Hibbs!” he said.

Hibbs, hearing his voice and seeing him in the door, arose and came over. He was an interesting youth of the collegiate type, educated at Princeton. He had heard the rumor concerning Aileen from various sources—other members of the club, for one—and had ventured to repeat it in Pethick’s presence.

“What’s that you were just saying about my sister?” asked Callum, grimly, looking Hibbs in the eye.

“Why—I—” hesitated Hibbs, who sensed trouble and was eager to avoid it. He was not exceptionally brave and looked it. His hair was straw-colored, his eyes blue, and his cheeks pink. “Why—nothing in particular. Who said I was talking about her?” He looked at Pethick, whom he knew to be the tale-bearer, and the latter exclaimed, excitedly:

“Now don’t you try to deny it, Hibbs. You know I heard you?”

“Well, what did I say?” asked Hibbs, defiantly.

“Well, what did you say?” interrupted Callum, grimly, transferring the conversation to himself. “That’s just what I want to know.”

“Why,” stammered Hibbs, nervously, “I don’t think I’ve said anything that anybody else hasn’t said. I just repeated that some one said that your sister had been very friendly with Mr. Cowperwood. I didn’t say any more than I have heard other people say around here.”

“Oh, you didn’t, did you?” exclaimed Callum, withdrawing his hand from his pocket and slapping Hibbs in the face. He repeated the blow with his left hand, fiercely. “Perhaps that’ll teach you to keep my sister’s name out of your mouth, you pup!”

Hibbs’s arms flew up. He was not without pugilistic training, and he struck back vigorously, striking Callum once in the chest and once in the neck. In an instant the two rooms of this suite were in an uproar. Tables and chairs were overturned by the energy of men attempting to get to the scene of action. The two combatants were quickly separated; sides were taken by the friends of each, excited explanations attempted and defied. Callum was examining the knuckles of his left hand, which were cut from the blow he had delivered. He maintained a gentlemanly calm. Hibbs, very much flustered and excited, insisted that he had been most unreasonably used. The idea of attacking him here. And, anyhow, as he maintained now, Pethick had been both eavesdropping and lying about him. Incidentally, the latter was protesting to others that he had done the only thing which an honorable friend could do. It was a nine days’ wonder in the club, and was only kept out of the newspapers by the most strenuous efforts on the part of the friends of both parties. Callum was so outraged on discovering that there was some foundation for the rumor at the club in a general rumor which prevailed that he tendered his resignation, and never went there again.

“I wish to heaven you hadn’t struck that fellow,” counseled Owen, when the incident was related to him. “It will only make more talk. She ought to leave this place; but she won’t. She’s struck on that fellow yet, and we can’t tell Norah and mother. We will never hear the last of this, you and I—believe me.”

“Damn it, she ought to be made to go,” exclaimed Callum.

“Well, she won’t,” replied Owen. “Father has tried making her, and she won’t go. Just let things stand. He’s in the penitentiary now, and that’s probably the end of him. The public seem to think that father put him there, and that’s something. Maybe we can persuade her to go after a while. I wish to God we had never had sight of that fellow. If ever he comes out, I’ve a good notion to kill him.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t do anything like that,” replied Callum. “It’s useless. It would only stir things up afresh. He’s done for, anyhow.”

They planned to urge Norah to marry as soon as possible. And as for their feelings toward Aileen, it was a very chilly atmosphere which Mrs. Butler contemplated from now on, much to her confusion, grief, and astonishment.

In this divided world it was that Butler eventually found himself, all at sea as to what to think or what to do. He had brooded so long now, for months, and as yet had found no solution. And finally, in a form of religious despair, sitting at his desk, in his business chair, he had collapsed—a weary and disconsolate man of seventy. A lesion of the left ventricle was the immediate physical cause, although brooding over Aileen was in part the mental one. His death could not have been laid to his grief over Aileen exactly, for he was a very large man—apoplectic and with sclerotic veins and arteries. For a great many years now he had taken very little exercise, and his digestion had been considerably impaired thereby. He was past seventy, and his time had been reached. They found him there the next morning, his hands folded in his lap, his head on his bosom, quite cold.

He was buried with honors out of St. Timothy’s Church, the funeral attended by a large body of politicians and city officials, who discussed secretly among themselves whether his grief over his daughter had anything to do with his end. All his good deeds were remembered, of course, and Mollenhauer and Simpson sent great floral emblems in remembrance. They were very sorry that he was gone, for they had been a cordial three. But gone he was, and that ended their interest in the matter. He left all of his property to his wife in one of the shortest wills ever recorded locally.

“I give and bequeath to my beloved wife, Norah, all my property of whatsoever kind to be disposed of as she may see fit.”

There was no misconstruing this. A private paper drawn secretly for her sometime before by Butler, explained how the property should be disposed of by her at her death. It was Butler’s real will masquerading as hers, and she would not have changed it for worlds; but he wanted her left in undisturbed possession of everything until she should die. Aileen’s originally assigned portion had never been changed. According to her father’s will, which no power under the sun could have made Mrs. Butler alter, she was left $250,000 to be paid at Mrs. Butler’s death. Neither this fact nor any of the others contained in the paper were communicated by Mrs. Butler, who retained it to be left as her will. Aileen often wondered, but never sought to know, what had been left her. Nothing she fancied—but felt that she could not help this.

Butler’s death led at once to a great change in the temper of the home. After the funeral the family settled down to a seemingly peaceful continuance of the old life; but it was a matter of seeming merely. The situation stood with Callum and Owen manifesting a certain degree of contempt for Aileen, which she, understanding, reciprocated. She was very haughty. Owen had plans of forcing her to leave after Butler’s death, but he finally asked himself what was the use. Mrs. Butler, who did not want to leave the old home, was very fond of Aileen, so therein lay a reason for letting her remain. Besides, any move to force her out would have entailed an explanation to her mother, which was not deemed advisable. Owen himself was interested in Caroline Mollenhauer, whom he hoped some day to marry—as much for her prospective wealth as for any other reason, though he was quite fond of her. In the January following Butler’s death, which occurred in August, Norah was married very quietly, and the following spring Callum embarked on a similar venture.

In the meanwhile, with Butler’s death, the control of the political situation had shifted considerably. A certain Tom Collins, formerly one of Butler’s henchmen, but latterly a power in the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Wards, where he had numerous saloons and control of other forms of vice, appeared as a claimant for political recognition. Mollenhauer and Simpson had to consult him, as he could make very uncertain the disposition of some hundred and fifteen thousand votes, a large number of which were fraudulent, but which fact did not modify their deadly character on occasion. Butler’s sons disappeared as possible political factors, and were compelled to confine themselves to the street-railway and contracting business. The pardon of Cowperwood and Stener, which Butler would have opposed, because by keeping Stener in he kept Cowperwood in, became a much easier matter. The scandal of the treasury defalcation was gradually dying down; the newspapers had ceased to refer to it in any way. Through Steger and Wingate, a large petition signed by all important financiers and brokers had been sent to the Governor pointing out that Cowperwood’s trial and conviction had been most unfair, and asking that he be pardoned. There was no need of any such effort, so far as Stener was concerned; whenever the time seemed ripe the politicians were quite ready to say to the Governor that he ought to let him go. It was only because Butler had opposed Cowperwood’s release that they had hesitated. It was really not possible to let out the one and ignore the other; and this petition, coupled with Butler’s death, cleared the way very nicely.

Nevertheless, nothing was done until the March following Butler’s death, when both Stener and Cowperwood had been incarcerated thirteen months—a length of time which seemed quite sufficient to appease the anger of the public at large. In this period Stener had undergone a considerable change physically and mentally. In spite of the fact that a number of the minor aldermen, who had profited in various ways by his largess, called to see him occasionally, and that he had been given, as it were, almost the liberty of the place, and that his family had not been allowed to suffer, nevertheless he realized that his political and social days were over. Somebody might now occasionally send him a basket of fruit and assure him that he would not be compelled to suffer much longer; but when he did get out, he knew that he had nothing to depend on save his experience as an insurance agent and real-estate dealer. That had been precarious enough in the days when he was trying to get some small political foothold. How would it be when he was known only as the man who had looted the treasury of five hundred thousand dollars and been sent to the penitentiary for five years? Who would lend him the money wherewith to get a little start, even so much as four or five thousand dollars? The people who were calling to pay their respects now and then, and to assure him that he had been badly treated? Never. All of them could honestly claim that they had not so much to spare. If he had good security to offer—yes; but if he had good security he would not need to go to them at all. The man who would have actually helped him if he had only known was Frank A. Cowperwood. Stener could have confessed his mistake, as Cowperwood saw it, and Cowperwood would have given him the money gladly, without any thought of return. But by his poor understanding of human nature, Stener considered that Cowperwood must be an enemy of his, and he would not have had either the courage or the business judgment to approach him.

During his incarceration Cowperwood had been slowly accumulating a little money through Wingate. He had paid Steger considerable sums from time to time, until that worthy finally decided that it would not be fair to take any more.

“If ever you get on your feet, Frank,” he said, “you can remember me if you want to, but I don’t think you’ll want to. It’s been nothing but lose, lose, lose for you through me. I’ll undertake this matter of getting that appeal to the Governor without any charge on my part. Anything I can do for you from now on is free gratis for nothing.”

“Oh, don’t talk nonsense, Harper,” replied Cowperwood. “I don’t know of anybody that could have done better with my case. Certainly there isn’t anybody that I would have trusted as much. I don’t like lawyers you know.”

“Yes—well,” said Steger, “they’ve got nothing on financiers, so we’ll call it even.” And they shook hands.

So when it was finally decided to pardon Stener, which was in the early part of March, 1873—Cowperwood’s pardon was necessarily but gingerly included. A delegation, consisting of Strobik, Harmon, and Winpenny, representing, as it was intended to appear, the unanimous wishes of the council and the city administration, and speaking for Mollenhauer and Simpson, who had given their consent, visited the Governor at Harrisburg and made the necessary formal representations which were intended to impress the public. At the same time, through the agency of Steger, Davison, and Walter Leigh, the appeal in behalf of Cowperwood was made. The Governor, who had had instructions beforehand from sources quite superior to this committee, was very solemn about the whole procedure. He would take the matter under advisement. He would look into the history of the crimes and the records of the two men. He could make no promises—he would see. But in ten days, after allowing the petitions to gather considerable dust in one of his pigeonholes and doing absolutely nothing toward investigating anything, he issued two separate pardons in writing. One, as a matter of courtesy, he gave into the hands of Messrs. Strobik, Harmon, and Winpenny, to bear personally to Mr. Stener, as they desired that he should. The other, on Steger’s request, he gave to him. The two committees which had called to receive them then departed; and the afternoon of that same day saw Strobik, Harmon, and Winpenny arrive in one group, and Steger, Wingate, and Walter Leigh in another, at the prison gate, but at different hours.


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