The Financier

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter XLIV

Meanwhile the great argument had been begun in the jury-room, and all the points that had been meditatively speculated upon in the jury-box were now being openly discussed.

It is amazingly interesting to see how a jury will waver and speculate in a case like this—how curious and uncertain is the process by which it makes up its so-called mind. So-called truth is a nebulous thing at best; facts are capable of such curious inversion and interpretation, honest and otherwise. The jury had a strongly complicated problem before it, and it went over it and over it.

Juries reach not so much definite conclusions as verdicts, in a curious fashion and for curious reasons. Very often a jury will have concluded little so far as its individual members are concerned and yet it will have reached a verdict. The matter of time, as all lawyers know, plays a part in this. Juries, speaking of the members collectively and frequently individually, object to the amount of time it takes to decide a case. They do not enjoy sitting and deliberating over a problem unless it is tremendously fascinating. The ramifications or the mystery of a syllogism can become a weariness and a bore. The jury-room itself may and frequently does become a dull agony.

On the other hand, no jury contemplates a disagreement with any degree of satisfaction. There is something so inherently constructive in the human mind that to leave a problem unsolved is plain misery. It haunts the average individual like any other important task left unfinished. Men in a jury-room, like those scientifically demonstrated atoms of a crystal which scientists and philosophers love to speculate upon, like finally to arrange themselves into an orderly and artistic whole, to present a compact, intellectual front, to be whatever they have set out to be, properly and rightly—a compact, sensible jury. One sees this same instinct magnificently displayed in every other phase of nature—in the drifting of sea-wood to the Sargasso Sea, in the geometric interrelation of air-bubbles on the surface of still water, in the marvelous unreasoned architecture of so many insects and atomic forms which make up the substance and the texture of this world. It would seem as though the physical substance of life—this apparition of form which the eye detects and calls real were shot through with some vast subtlety that loves order, that is order. The atoms of our so-called being, in spite of our so-called reason—the dreams of a mood—know where to go and what to do. They represent an order, a wisdom, a willing that is not of us. They build orderly in spite of us. So the subconscious spirit of a jury. At the same time, one does not forget the strange hypnotic effect of one personality on another, the varying effects of varying types on each other, until a solution—to use the word in its purely chemical sense—is reached. In a jury-room the thought or determination of one or two or three men, if it be definite enough, is likely to pervade the whole room and conquer the reason or the opposition of the majority. One man “standing out” for the definite thought that is in him is apt to become either the triumphant leader of a pliant mass or the brutally battered target of a flaming, concentrated intellectual fire. Men despise dull opposition that is without reason. In a jury-room, of all places, a man is expected to give a reason for the faith that is in him—if one is demanded. It will not do to say, “I cannot agree.” Jurors have been known to fight. Bitter antagonisms lasting for years have been generated in these close quarters. Recalcitrant jurors have been hounded commercially in their local spheres for their unreasoned oppositions or conclusions.

After reaching the conclusion that Cowperwood unquestionably deserved some punishment, there was wrangling as to whether the verdict should be guilty on all four counts, as charged in the indictment. Since they did not understand how to differentiate between the various charges very well, they decided it should be on all four, and a recommendation to mercy added. Afterward this last was eliminated, however; either he was guilty or he was not. The judge could see as well as they could all the extenuating circumstances—perhaps better. Why tie his hands? As a rule no attention was paid to such recommendations, anyhow, and it only made the jury look wabbly.

So, finally, at ten minutes after twelve that night, they were ready to return a verdict; and Judge Payderson, who, because of his interest in the case and the fact that he lived not so far away, had decided to wait up this long, was recalled. Steger and Cowperwood were sent for. The court-room was fully lighted. The bailiff, the clerk, and the stenographer were there. The jury filed in, and Cowperwood, with Steger at his right, took his position at the gate which gave into the railed space where prisoners always stand to hear the verdict and listen to any commentary of the judge. He was accompanied by his father, who was very nervous.

For the first time in his life he felt as though he were walking in his sleep. Was this the real Frank Cowperwood of two months before—so wealthy, so progressive, so sure? Was this only December 5th or 6th now (it was after midnight)? Why was it the jury had deliberated so long? What did it mean? Here they were now, standing and gazing solemnly before them; and here now was Judge Payderson, mounting the steps of his rostrum, his frizzled hair standing out in a strange, attractive way, his familiar bailiff rapping for order. He did not look at Cowperwood—it would not be courteous—but at the jury, who gazed at him in return. At the words of the clerk, “Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?” the foreman spoke up, “We have.”

“Do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty?”

“We find the defendant guilty as charged in the indictment.”

How had they come to do this? Because he had taken a check for sixty thousand dollars which did not belong to him? But in reality it did. Good Lord, what was sixty thousand dollars in the sum total of all the money that had passed back and forth between him and George W. Stener? Nothing, nothing! A mere bagatelle in its way; and yet here it had risen up, this miserable, insignificant check, and become a mountain of opposition, a stone wall, a prison-wall barring his further progress. It was astonishing. He looked around him at the court-room. How large and bare and cold it was! Still he was Frank A. Cowperwood. Why should he let such queer thoughts disturb him? His fight for freedom and privilege and restitution was not over yet. Good heavens! It had only begun. In five days he would be out again on bail. Steger would take an appeal. He would be out, and he would have two long months in which to make an additional fight. He was not down yet. He would win his liberty. This jury was all wrong. A higher court would say so. It would reverse their verdict, and he knew it. He turned to Steger, where the latter was having the clerk poll the jury, in the hope that some one juror had been over-persuaded, made to vote against his will.

“Is that your verdict?” he heard the clerk ask of Philip Moultrie, juror No. 1.

“It is,” replied that worthy, solemnly.

“Is that your verdict?” The clerk was pointing to Simon Glassberg.

“Yes, sir.”

“Is that your verdict?” He pointed to Fletcher Norton.


So it went through the whole jury. All the men answered firmly and clearly, though Steger thought it might barely be possible that one would have changed his mind. The judge thanked them and told them that in view of their long services this night, they were dismissed for the term. The only thing remaining to be done now was for Steger to persuade Judge Payderson to grant a stay of sentence pending the hearing of a motion by the State Supreme Court for a new trial.

The Judge looked at Cowperwood very curiously as Steger made this request in proper form, and owing to the importance of the case and the feeling he had that the Supreme Court might very readily grant a certificate of reasonable doubt in this case, he agreed. There was nothing left, therefore, but for Cowperwood to return at this late hour with the deputy sheriff to the county jail, where he must now remain for five days at least—possibly longer.

The jail in question, which was known locally as Moyamensing Prison, was located at Tenth and Reed Streets, and from an architectural and artistic point of view was not actually displeasing to the eye. It consisted of a central portion—prison, residence for the sheriff or what you will—three stories high, with a battlemented cornice and a round battlemented tower about one-third as high as the central portion itself, and two wings, each two stories high, with battlemented turrets at either end, giving it a highly castellated and consequently, from the American point of view, a very prison-like appearance. The facade of the prison, which was not more than thirty-five feet high for the central portion, nor more than twenty-five feet for the wings, was set back at least a hundred feet from the street, and was continued at either end, from the wings to the end of the street block, by a stone wall all of twenty feet high. The structure was not severely prison-like, for the central portion was pierced by rather large, unbarred apertures hung on the two upper stories with curtains, and giving the whole front a rather pleasant and residential air. The wing to the right, as one stood looking in from the street, was the section known as the county jail proper, and was devoted to the care of prisoners serving short-term sentences on some judicial order. The wing to the left was devoted exclusively to the care and control of untried prisoners. The whole building was built of a smooth, light-colored stone, which on a snowy night like this, with the few lamps that were used in it glowing feebly in the dark, presented an eery, fantastic, almost supernatural appearance.

It was a rough and blowy night when Cowperwood started for this institution under duress. The wind was driving the snow before it in curious, interesting whirls. Eddie Zanders, the sheriff’s deputy on guard at the court of Quarter Sessions, accompanied him and his father and Steger. Zanders was a little man, dark, with a short, stubby mustache, and a shrewd though not highly intelligent eye. He was anxious first to uphold his dignity as a deputy sheriff, which was a very important position in his estimation, and next to turn an honest penny if he could. He knew little save the details of his small world, which consisted of accompanying prisoners to and from the courts and the jails, and seeing that they did not get away. He was not unfriendly to a particular type of prisoner—the well-to-do or moderately prosperous—for he had long since learned that it paid to be so. To-night he offered a few sociable suggestions—viz., that it was rather rough, that the jail was not so far but that they could walk, and that Sheriff Jaspers would, in all likelihood, be around or could be aroused. Cowperwood scarcely heard. He was thinking of his mother and his wife and of Aileen.

When the jail was reached he was led to the central portion, as it was here that the sheriff, Adlai Jaspers, had his private office. Jaspers had recently been elected to office, and was inclined to conform to all outward appearances, in so far as the proper conduct of his office was concerned, without in reality inwardly conforming. Thus it was generally known among the politicians that one way he had of fattening his rather lean salary was to rent private rooms and grant special privileges to prisoners who had the money to pay for the same. Other sheriffs had done it before him. In fact, when Jaspers was inducted into office, several prisoners were already enjoying these privileges, and it was not a part of his scheme of things to disturb them. The rooms that he let to the “right parties,” as he invariably put it, were in the central portion of the jail, where were his own private living quarters. They were unbarred, and not at all cell-like. There was no particular danger of escape, for a guard stood always at his private door instructed “to keep an eye” on the general movements of all the inmates. A prisoner so accommodated was in many respects quite a free person. His meals were served to him in his room, if he wished. He could read or play cards, or receive guests; and if he had any favorite musical instrument, that was not denied him. There was just one rule that had to be complied with. If he were a public character, and any newspaper men called, he had to be brought down-stairs into the private interviewing room in order that they might not know that he was not confined in a cell like any other prisoner.

Nearly all of these facts had been brought to Cowperwood’s attention beforehand by Steger; but for all that, when he crossed the threshold of the jail a peculiar sensation of strangeness and defeat came over him. He and his party were conducted to a little office to the left of the entrance, where were only a desk and a chair, dimly lighted by a low-burning gas-jet. Sheriff Jaspers, rotund and ruddy, met them, greeting them in quite a friendly way. Zanders was dismissed, and went briskly about his affairs.

“A bad night, isn’t it?” observed Jaspers, turning up the gas and preparing to go through the routine of registering his prisoner. Steger came over and held a short, private conversation with him in his corner, over his desk which resulted presently in the sheriff’s face lighting up.

“Oh, certainly, certainly! That’s all right, Mr. Steger, to be sure! Why, certainly!”

Cowperwood, eyeing the fat sheriff from his position, understood what it was all about. He had regained completely his critical attitude, his cool, intellectual poise. So this was the jail, and this was the fat mediocrity of a sheriff who was to take care of him. Very good. He would make the best of it. He wondered whether he was to be searched—prisoners usually were—but he soon discovered that he was not to be.

“That’s all right, Mr. Cowperwood,” said Jaspers, getting up. “I guess I can make you comfortable, after a fashion. We’re not running a hotel here, as you know”—he chuckled to himself—“but I guess I can make you comfortable. John,” he called to a sleepy factotum, who appeared from another room, rubbing his eyes, “is the key to Number Six down here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let me have it.”

John disappeared and returned, while Steger explained to Cowperwood that anything he wanted in the way of clothing, etc., could be brought in. Steger himself would stop round next morning and confer with him, as would any of the members of Cowperwood’s family whom he wished to see. Cowperwood immediately explained to his father his desire for as little of this as possible. Joseph or Edward might come in the morning and bring a grip full of underwear, etc.; but as for the others, let them wait until he got out or had to remain permanently. He did think of writing Aileen, cautioning her to do nothing; but the sheriff now beckoned, and he quietly followed. Accompanied by his father and Steger, he ascended to his new room.

It was a simple, white-walled chamber fifteen by twenty feet in size, rather high-ceiled, supplied with a high-backed, yellow wooden bed, a yellow bureau, a small imitation-cherry table, three very ordinary cane-seated chairs with carved hickory-rod backs, cherry-stained also, and a wash-stand of yellow-stained wood to match the bed, containing a washbasin, a pitcher, a soap-dish, uncovered, and a small, cheap, pink-flowered tooth and shaving brush mug, which did not match the other ware and which probably cost ten cents. The value of this room to Sheriff Jaspers was what he could get for it in cases like this—twenty-five to thirty-five dollars a week. Cowperwood would pay thirty-five.

Cowperwood walked briskly to the window, which gave out on the lawn in front, now embedded in snow, and said he thought this was all right. Both his father and Steger were willing and anxious to confer with him for hours, if he wished; but there was nothing to say. He did not wish to talk.

“Let Ed bring in some fresh linen in the morning and a couple of suits of clothes, and I will be all right. George can get my things together.” He was referring to a family servant who acted as valet and in other capacities. “Tell Lillian not to worry. I’m all right. I’d rather she would not come here so long as I’m going to be out in five days. If I’m not, it will be time enough then. Kiss the kids for me.” And he smiled good-naturedly.

After his unfulfilled predictions in regard to the result of this preliminary trial Steger was almost afraid to suggest confidently what the State Supreme Court would or would not do; but he had to say something.

“I don’t think you need worry about what the outcome of my appeal will be, Frank. I’ll get a certificate of reasonable doubt, and that’s as good as a stay of two months, perhaps longer. I don’t suppose the bail will be more than thirty thousand dollars at the outside. You’ll be out again in five or six days, whatever happens.”

Cowperwood said that he hoped so, and suggested that they drop matters for the night. After a few fruitless parleys his father and Steger finally said good night, leaving him to his own private reflections. He was tired, however, and throwing off his clothes, tucked himself in his mediocre bed, and was soon fast asleep.


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