The following October, having passed his eighteenth year by nearly six months, and feeling sure that he would never want anything to do with the grain and commission business as conducted by the Waterman Company, Cowperwood decided to sever his relations with them and enter the employ of Tighe & Company, bankers and brokers.
Cowperwood’s meeting with Tighe & Company had come about in the ordinary pursuance of his duties as outside man for Waterman & Company. From the first Mr. Tighe took a keen interest in this subtle young emissary.
“How’s business with you people?” he would ask, genially; or, “Find that you’re getting many I.O.U.‘s these days?”
Because of the unsettled condition of the country, the over-inflation of securities, the slavery agitation, and so forth, there were prospects of hard times. And Tighe—he could not have told you why—was convinced that this young man was worth talking to in regard to all this. He was not really old enough to know, and yet he did know.
“Oh, things are going pretty well with us, thank you, Mr. Tighe,” Cowperwood would answer.
“I tell you,” he said to Cowperwood one morning, “this slavery agitation, if it doesn’t stop, is going to cause trouble.”
A negro slave belonging to a visitor from Cuba had just been abducted and set free, because the laws of Pennsylvania made freedom the right of any negro brought into the state, even though in transit only to another portion of the country, and there was great excitement because of it. Several persons had been arrested, and the newspapers were discussing it roundly.
“I don’t think the South is going to stand for this thing. It’s making trouble in our business, and it must be doing the same thing for others. We’ll have secession here, sure as fate, one of these days.” He talked with the vaguest suggestion of a brogue.
“It’s coming, I think,” said Cowperwood, quietly. “It can’t be healed, in my judgment. The negro isn’t worth all this excitement, but they’ll go on agitating for him—emotional people always do this. They haven’t anything else to do. It’s hurting our Southern trade.”
“I thought so. That’s what people tell me.”
He turned to a new customer as young Cowperwood went out, but again the boy struck him as being inexpressibly sound and deep-thinking on financial matters. “If that young fellow wanted a place, I’d give it to him,” he thought.
Finally, one day he said to him: “How would you like to try your hand at being a floor man for me in ‘change? I need a young man here. One of my clerks is leaving.”
“I’d like it,” replied Cowperwood, smiling and looking intensely gratified. “I had thought of speaking to you myself some time.”
“Well, if you’re ready and can make the change, the place is open. Come any time you like.”
“I’ll have to give a reasonable notice at the other place,” Cowperwood said, quietly. “Would you mind waiting a week or two?”
“Not at all. It isn’t as important as that. Come as soon as you can straighten things out. I don’t want to inconvenience your employers.”
It was only two weeks later that Frank took his departure from Waterman & Company, interested and yet in no way flustered by his new prospects. And great was the grief of Mr. George Waterman. As for Mr. Henry Waterman, he was actually irritated by this defection.
“Why, I thought,” he exclaimed, vigorously, when informed by Cowperwood of his decision, “that you liked the business. Is it a matter of salary?”
“No, not at all, Mr. Waterman. It’s just that I want to get into the straight-out brokerage business.”
“Well, that certainly is too bad. I’m sorry. I don’t want to urge you against your own best interests. You know what you are doing. But George and I had about agreed to offer you an interest in this thing after a bit. Now you’re picking up and leaving. Why, damn it, man, there’s good money in this business.”
“I know it,” smiled Cowperwood, “but I don’t like it. I have other plans in view. I’ll never be a grain and commission man.” Mr. Henry Waterman could scarcely understand why obvious success in this field did not interest him. He feared the effect of his departure on the business.
And once the change was made Cowperwood was convinced that this new work was more suited to him in every way—as easy and more profitable, of course. In the first place, the firm of Tighe & Co., unlike that of Waterman & Co., was located in a handsome green-gray stone building at 66 South Third Street, in what was then, and for a number of years afterward, the heart of the financial district. Great institutions of national and international import and repute were near at hand—Drexel & Co., Edward Clark & Co., the Third National Bank, the First National Bank, the Stock Exchange, and similar institutions. Almost a score of smaller banks and brokerage firms were also in the vicinity. Edward Tighe, the head and brains of this concern, was a Boston Irishman, the son of an immigrant who had flourished and done well in that conservative city. He had come to Philadelphia to interest himself in the speculative life there. “Sure, it’s a right good place for those of us who are awake,” he told his friends, with a slight Irish accent, and he considered himself very much awake. He was a medium-tall man, not very stout, slightly and prematurely gray, and with a manner which was as lively and good-natured as it was combative and self-reliant. His upper lip was ornamented by a short, gray mustache.
“May heaven preserve me,” he said, not long after he came there, “these Pennsylvanians never pay for anything they can issue bonds for.” It was the period when Pennsylvania’s credit, and for that matter Philadelphia’s, was very bad in spite of its great wealth. “If there’s ever a war there’ll be battalions of Pennsylvanians marching around offering notes for their meals. If I could just live long enough I could get rich buyin’ up Pennsylvania notes and bonds. I think they’ll pay some time; but, my God, they’re mortal slow! I’ll be dead before the State government will ever catch up on the interest they owe me now.”
It was true. The condition of the finances of the state and city was most reprehensible. Both State and city were rich enough; but there were so many schemes for looting the treasury in both instances that when any new work had to be undertaken bonds were necessarily issued to raise the money. These bonds, or warrants, as they were called, pledged interest at six per cent.; but when the interest fell due, instead of paying it, the city or State treasurer, as the case might be, stamped the same with the date of presentation, and the warrant then bore interest for not only its original face value, but the amount then due in interest. In other words, it was being slowly compounded. But this did not help the man who wanted to raise money, for as security they could not be hypothecated for more than seventy per cent. of their market value, and they were not selling at par, but at ninety. A man might buy or accept them in foreclosure, but he had a long wait. Also, in the final payment of most of them favoritism ruled, for it was only when the treasurer knew that certain warrants were in the hands of “a friend” that he would advertise that such and such warrants—those particular ones that he knew about—would be paid.
What was more, the money system of the United States was only then beginning slowly to emerge from something approximating chaos to something more nearly approaching order. The United States Bank, of which Nicholas Biddle was the progenitor, had gone completely in 1841, and the United States Treasury with its subtreasury system had come in 1846; but still there were many, many wildcat banks, sufficient in number to make the average exchange-counter broker a walking encyclopedia of solvent and insolvent institutions. Still, things were slowly improving, for the telegraph had facilitated stock-market quotations, not only between New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, but between a local broker’s office in Philadelphia and his stock exchange. In other words, the short private wire had been introduced. Communication was quicker and freer, and daily grew better.
Railroads had been built to the South, East, North, and West. There was as yet no stock-ticker and no telephone, and the clearing-house had only recently been thought of in New York, and had not yet been introduced in Philadelphia. Instead of a clearing-house service, messengers ran daily between banks and brokerage firms, balancing accounts on pass-books, exchanging bills, and, once a week, transferring the gold coin, which was the only thing that could be accepted for balances due, since there was no stable national currency. “On ‘change,” when the gong struck announcing the close of the day’s business, a company of young men, known as “settlement clerks,” after a system borrowed from London, gathered in the center of the room and compared or gathered the various trades of the day in a ring, thus eliminating all those sales and resales between certain firms which naturally canceled each other. They carried long account books, and called out the transactions—“Delaware and Maryland sold to Beaumont and Company,” “Delware and Maryland sold to Tighe and Company,” and so on. This simplified the bookkeeping of the various firms, and made for quicker and more stirring commercial transactions.
Seats “on ‘change” sold for two thousand dollars each. The members of the exchange had just passed rules limiting the trading to the hours between ten and three (before this they had been any time between morning and midnight), and had fixed the rates at which brokers could do business, in the face of cut-throat schemes which had previously held. Severe penalties were fixed for those who failed to obey. In other words, things were shaping up for a great ‘change business, and Edward Tighe felt, with other brokers, that there was a great future ahead.