The Financier

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter XXII

The services which Cowperwood performed during the ensuing year and a half for Stener, Strobik, Butler, State Treasurer Van Nostrand, State Senator Relihan, representative of “the interests,” so-called, at Harrisburg, and various banks which were friendly to these gentlemen, were numerous and confidential. For Stener, Strobik, Wycroft, Harmon and himself he executed the North Pennsylvania deal, by which he became a holder of a fifth of the controlling stock. Together he and Stener joined to purchase the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line and in the concurrent gambling in stocks.

By the summer of 1871, when Cowperwood was nearly thirty-four years of age, he had a banking business estimated at nearly two million dollars, personal holdings aggregating nearly half a million, and prospects which other things being equal looked to wealth which might rival that of any American. The city, through its treasurer—still Mr. Stener—was a depositor with him to the extent of nearly five hundred thousand dollars. The State, through its State treasurer, Van Nostrand, carried two hundred thousand dollars on his books. Bode was speculating in street-railway stocks to the extent of fifty thousand dollars. Relihan to the same amount. A small army of politicians and political hangers-on were on his books for various sums. And for Edward Malia Butler he occasionally carried as high as one hundred thousand dollars in margins. His own loans at the banks, varying from day to day on variously hypothecated securities, were as high as seven and eight hundred thousand dollars. Like a spider in a spangled net, every thread of which he knew, had laid, had tested, he had surrounded and entangled himself in a splendid, glittering network of connections, and he was watching all the details.

His one pet idea, the thing he put more faith in than anything else, was his street-railway manipulations, and particularly his actual control of the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line. Through an advance to him, on deposit, made in his bank by Stener at a time when the stock of the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line was at a low ebb, he had managed to pick up fifty-one per cent. of the stock for himself and Stener, by virtue of which he was able to do as he pleased with the road. To accomplish this, however, he had resorted to some very “peculiar” methods, as they afterward came to be termed in financial circles, to get this stock at his own valuation. Through agents he caused suits for damages to be brought against the company for non-payment of interest due. A little stock in the hands of a hireling, a request made to a court of record to examine the books of the company in order to determine whether a receivership were not advisable, a simultaneous attack in the stock market, selling at three, five, seven, and ten points off, brought the frightened stockholders into the market with their holdings. The banks considered the line a poor risk, and called their loans in connection with it. His father’s bank had made one loan to one of the principal stockholders, and that was promptly called, of course. Then, through an agent, the several heaviest shareholders were approached and an offer was made to help them out. The stocks would be taken off their hands at forty. They had not really been able to discover the source of all their woes; and they imagined that the road was in bad condition, which it was not. Better let it go. The money was immediately forthcoming, and Cowperwood and Stener jointly controlled fifty-one per cent. But, as in the case of the North Pennsylvania line, Cowperwood had been quietly buying all of the small minority holdings, so that he had in reality fifty-one per cent. of the stock, and Stener twenty-five per cent. more.

This intoxicated him, for immediately he saw the opportunity of fulfilling his long-contemplated dream—that of reorganizing the company in conjunction with the North Pennsylvania line, issuing three shares where one had been before and after unloading all but a control on the general public, using the money secured to buy into other lines which were to be boomed and sold in the same way. In short, he was one of those early, daring manipulators who later were to seize upon other and ever larger phases of American natural development for their own aggrandizement.

In connection with this first consolidation, his plan was to spread rumors of the coming consolidation of the two lines, to appeal to the legislature for privileges of extension, to get up an arresting prospectus and later annual reports, and to boom the stock on the stock exchange as much as his swelling resources would permit. The trouble is that when you are trying to make a market for a stock—to unload a large issue such as his was (over five hundred thousand dollars’ worth)—while retaining five hundred thousand for yourself, it requires large capital to handle it. The owner in these cases is compelled not only to go on the market and do much fictitious buying, thus creating a fictitious demand, but once this fictitious demand has deceived the public and he has been able to unload a considerable quantity of his wares, he is, unless he rids himself of all his stock, compelled to stand behind it. If, for instance, he sold five thousand shares, as was done in this instance, and retained five thousand, he must see that the public price of the outstanding five thousand shares did not fall below a certain point, because the value of his private shares would fall with it. And if, as is almost always the case, the private shares had been hypothecated with banks and trust companies for money wherewith to conduct other enterprises, the falling of their value in the open market merely meant that the banks would call for large margins to protect their loans or call their loans entirely. This meant that his work was a failure, and he might readily fail. He was already conducting one such difficult campaign in connection with this city-loan deal, the price of which varied from day to day, and which he was only too anxious to have vary, for in the main he profited by these changes.

But this second burden, interesting enough as it was, meant that he had to be doubly watchful. Once the stock was sold at a high price, the money borrowed from the city treasurer could be returned; his own holdings created out of foresight, by capitalizing the future, by writing the shrewd prospectuses and reports, would be worth their face value, or little less. He would have money to invest in other lines. He might obtain the financial direction of the whole, in which case he would be worth millions. One shrewd thing he did, which indicated the foresight and subtlety of the man, was to make a separate organization or company of any extension or addition which he made to his line. Thus, if he had two or three miles of track on a street, and he wanted to extend it two or three miles farther on the same street, instead of including this extension in the existing corporation, he would make a second corporation to control the additional two or three miles of right of way. This corporation he would capitalize at so much, and issue stocks and bonds for its construction, equipment, and manipulation. Having done this he would then take the sub-corporation over into the parent concern, issuing more stocks and bonds of the parent company wherewith to do it, and, of course, selling these bonds to the public. Even his brothers who worked for him did not know the various ramifications of his numerous deals, and executed his orders blindly. Sometimes Joseph said to Edward, in a puzzled way, “Well, Frank knows what he is about, I guess.”

On the other hand, he was most careful to see that every current obligation was instantly met, and even anticipated, for he wanted to make a great show of regularity. Nothing was so precious as reputation and standing. His forethought, caution, and promptness pleased the bankers. They thought he was one of the sanest, shrewdest men they had ever met.

However, by the spring and summer of 1871, Cowperwood had actually, without being in any conceivable danger from any source, spread himself out very thin. Because of his great success he had grown more liberal—easier—in his financial ventures. By degrees, and largely because of his own confidence in himself, he had induced his father to enter upon his street-car speculations, to use the resources of the Third National to carry a part of his loans and to furnish capital at such times as quick resources were necessary. In the beginning the old gentleman had been a little nervous and skeptical, but as time had worn on and nothing but profit eventuated, he grew bolder and more confident.

“Frank,” he would say, looking up over his spectacles, “aren’t you afraid you’re going a little too fast in these matters? You’re carrying a lot of loans these days.”

“No more than I ever did, father, considering my resources. You can’t turn large deals without large loans. You know that as well as I do.”

“Yes, I know, but—now that Green and Coates—aren’t you going pretty strong there?”

“Not at all. I know the inside conditions there. The stock is bound to go up eventually. I’ll bull it up. I’ll combine it with my other lines, if necessary.”

Cowperwood stared at his boy. Never was there such a defiant, daring manipulator.

“You needn’t worry about me, father. If you are going to do that, call my loans. Other banks will loan on my stocks. I’d like to see your bank have the interest.”

So Cowperwood, Sr., was convinced. There was no gainsaying this argument. His bank was loaning Frank heavily, but not more so than any other. And as for the great blocks of stocks he was carrying in his son’s companies, he was to be told when to get out should that prove necessary. Frank’s brothers were being aided in the same way to make money on the side, and their interests were also now bound up indissolubly with his own.

With his growing financial opportunities, however, Cowperwood had also grown very liberal in what might be termed his standard of living. Certain young art dealers in Philadelphia, learning of his artistic inclinations and his growing wealth, had followed him up with suggestions as to furniture, tapestries, rugs, objects of art, and paintings—at first the American and later the foreign masters exclusively. His own and his father’s house had not been furnished fully in these matters, and there was that other house in North Tenth Street, which he desired to make beautiful. Aileen had always objected to the condition of her own home. Love of distinguished surroundings was a basic longing with her, though she had not the gift of interpreting her longings. But this place where they were secretly meeting must be beautiful. She was as keen for that as he was. So it became a veritable treasure-trove, more distinguished in furnishings than some of the rooms of his own home. He began to gather here some rare examples of altar cloths, rugs, and tapestries of the Middle Ages. He bought furniture after the Georgian theory—a combination of Chippendale, Sheraton, and Heppelwhite modified by the Italian Renaissance and the French Louis. He learned of handsome examples of porcelain, statuary, Greek vase forms, lovely collections of Japanese ivories and netsukes. Fletcher Gray, a partner in Cable & Gray, a local firm of importers of art objects, called on him in connection with a tapestry of the fourteenth century weaving. Gray was an enthusiast and almost instantly he conveyed some of his suppressed and yet fiery love of the beautiful to Cowperwood.

“There are fifty periods of one shade of blue porcelain alone, Mr. Cowperwood,” Gray informed him. “There are at least seven distinct schools or periods of rugs—Persian, Armenian, Arabian, Flemish, Modern Polish, Hungarian, and so on. If you ever went into that, it would be a distinguished thing to get a complete—I mean a representative—collection of some one period, or of all these periods. They are beautiful. I have seen some of them, others I’ve read about.”

“You’ll make a convert of me yet, Fletcher,” replied Cowperwood. “You or art will be the ruin of me. I’m inclined that way temperamentally as it is, I think, and between you and Ellsworth and Gordon Strake”—another young man intensely interested in painting—“you’ll complete my downfall. Strake has a splendid idea. He wants me to begin right now—I’m using that word ‘right’ in the sense of ‘properly,’” he commented—“and get what examples I can of just the few rare things in each school or period of art which would properly illustrate each. He tells me the great pictures are going to increase in value, and what I could get for a few hundred thousand now will be worth millions later. He doesn’t want me to bother with American art.”

“He’s right,” exclaimed Gray, “although it isn’t good business for me to praise another art man. It would take a great deal of money, though.”

“Not so very much. At least, not all at once. It would be a matter of years, of course. Strake thinks that some excellent examples of different periods could be picked up now and later replaced if anything better in the same held showed up.”

His mind, in spite of his outward placidity, was tinged with a great seeking. Wealth, in the beginning, had seemed the only goal, to which had been added the beauty of women. And now art, for art’s sake—the first faint radiance of a rosy dawn—had begun to shine in upon him, and to the beauty of womanhood he was beginning to see how necessary it was to add the beauty of life—the beauty of material background—how, in fact, the only background for great beauty was great art. This girl, this Aileen Butler, her raw youth and radiance, was nevertheless creating in him a sense of the distinguished and a need for it which had never existed in him before to the same degree. It is impossible to define these subtleties of reaction, temperament on temperament, for no one knows to what degree we are marked by the things which attract us. A love affair such as this had proved to be was little less or more than a drop of coloring added to a glass of clear water, or a foreign chemical agent introduced into a delicate chemical formula.

In short, for all her crudeness, Aileen Butler was a definite force personally. Her nature, in a way, a protest against the clumsy conditions by which she found herself surrounded, was almost irrationally ambitious. To think that for so long, having been born into the Butler family, she had been the subject, as well as the victim of such commonplace and inartistic illusions and conditions, whereas now, owing to her contact with, and mental subordination to Cowperwood, she was learning so many wonderful phases of social, as well as financial, refinement of which previously she had guessed nothing. The wonder, for instance, of a future social career as the wife of such a man as Frank Cowperwood. The beauty and resourcefulness of his mind, which, after hours of intimate contact with her, he was pleased to reveal, and which, so definite were his comments and instructions, she could not fail to sense. The wonder of his financial and artistic and future social dreams. And, oh, oh, she was his, and he was hers. She was actually beside herself at times with the glory, as well as the delight of all this.

At the same time, her father’s local reputation as a quondam garbage contractor (“slop-collector” was the unfeeling comment of the vulgarian cognoscenti); her own unavailing efforts to right a condition of material vulgarity or artistic anarchy in her own home; the hopelessness of ever being admitted to those distinguished portals which she recognized afar off as the last sanctum sanctorum of established respectability and social distinction, had bred in her, even at this early age, a feeling of deadly opposition to her home conditions as they stood. Such a house compared to Cowperwood’s! Her dear, but ignorant, father! And this great man, her lover, had now condescended to love her—see in her his future wife. Oh, God, that it might not fail! Through the Cowperwoods at first she had hoped to meet a few people, young men and women—and particularly men—who were above the station in which she found herself, and to whom her beauty and prospective fortune would commend her; but this had not been the case. The Cowperwoods themselves, in spite of Frank Cowperwood’s artistic proclivities and growing wealth, had not penetrated the inner circle as yet. In fact, aside from the subtle, preliminary consideration which they were receiving, they were a long way off.

None the less, and instinctively in Cowperwood Aileen recognized a way out—a door—and by the same token a subtle, impending artistic future of great magnificence. This man would rise beyond anything he now dreamed of—she felt it. There was in him, in some nebulous, unrecognizable form, a great artistic reality which was finer than anything she could plan for herself. She wanted luxury, magnificence, social station. Well, if she could get this man they would come to her. There were, apparently, insuperable barriers in the way; but hers was no weakling nature, and neither was his. They ran together temperamentally from the first like two leopards. Her own thoughts—crude, half formulated, half spoken—nevertheless matched his to a degree in the equality of their force and their raw directness.

“I don’t think papa knows how to do,” she said to him, one day. “It isn’t his fault. He can’t help it. He knows that he can’t. And he knows that I know it. For years I wanted him to move out of that old house there. He knows that he ought to. But even that wouldn’t do much good.”

She paused, looking at him with a straight, clear, vigorous glance. He liked the medallion sharpness of her features—their smooth, Greek modeling.

“Never mind, pet,” he replied. “We will arrange all these things later. I don’t see my way out of this just now; but I think the best thing to do is to confess to Lillian some day, and see if some other plan can’t be arranged. I want to fix it so the children won’t suffer. I can provide for them amply, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Lillian would be willing to let me go. She certainly wouldn’t want any publicity.”

He was counting practically, and man-fashion, on her love for her children.

Aileen looked at him with clear, questioning, uncertain eyes. She was not wholly without sympathy, but in a way this situation did not appeal to her as needing much. Mrs. Cowperwood was not friendly in her mood toward her. It was not based on anything save a difference in their point of view. Mrs. Cowperwood could never understand how a girl could carry her head so high and “put on such airs,” and Aileen could not understand how any one could be so lymphatic and lackadaisical as Lillian Cowperwood. Life was made for riding, driving, dancing, going. It was made for airs and banter and persiflage and coquetry. To see this woman, the wife of a young, forceful man like Cowperwood, acting, even though she were five years older and the mother of two children, as though life on its romantic and enthusiastic pleasurable side were all over was too much for her. Of course Lillian was unsuited to Frank; of course he needed a young woman like herself, and fate would surely give him to her. Then what a delicious life they would lead!

“Oh, Frank,” she exclaimed to him, over and over, “if we could only manage it. Do you think we can?”

“Do I think we can? Certainly I do. It’s only a matter of time. I think if I were to put the matter to her clearly, she wouldn’t expect me to stay. You look out how you conduct your affairs. If your father or your brother should ever suspect me, there’d be an explosion in this town, if nothing worse. They’d fight me in all my money deals, if they didn’t kill me. Are you thinking carefully of what you are doing?”

“All the time. If anything happens I’ll deny everything. They can’t prove it, if I deny it. I’ll come to you in the long run, just the same.”

They were in the Tenth Street house at the time. She stroked his cheeks with the loving fingers of the wildly enamored woman.

“I’ll do anything for you, sweetheart,” she declared. “I’d die for you if I had to. I love you so.”

“Well, pet, no danger. You won’t have to do anything like that. But be careful.”


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