The Financier

by Theodore Dreiser

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter XXIV

The condition of the Republican party at this time in Philadelphia, its relationship to George W. Stener, Edward Malia Butler, Henry A. Mollenhauer, Senator Mark Simpson, and others, will have to be briefly indicated here, in order to foreshadow Cowperwood’s actual situation. Butler, as we have seen, was normally interested in and friendly to Cowperwood. Stener was Cowperwood’s tool. Mollenhauer and Senator Simpson were strong rivals of Butler for the control of city affairs. Simpson represented the Republican control of the State legislature, which could dictate to the city if necessary, making new election laws, revising the city charter, starting political investigations, and the like. He had many influential newspapers, corporations, banks, at his beck and call. Mollenhauer represented the Germans, some Americans, and some large stable corporations—a very solid and respectable man. All three were strong, able, and dangerous politically. The two latter counted on Butler’s influence, particularly with the Irish, and a certain number of ward leaders and Catholic politicians and laymen, who were as loyal to him as though he were a part of the church itself. Butler’s return to these followers was protection, influence, aid, and good-will generally. The city’s return to him, via Mollenhauer and Simpson, was in the shape of contracts—fat ones—street-paving, bridges, viaducts, sewers. And in order for him to get these contracts the affairs of the Republican party, of which he was a beneficiary as well as a leader, must be kept reasonably straight. At the same time it was no more a part of his need to keep the affairs of the party straight than it was of either Mollenhauer’s or Simpson’s, and Stener was not his appointee. The latter was more directly responsible to Mollenhauer than to any one else.

As Butler stepped into the buggy with his son he was thinking about this, and it was puzzling him greatly.

“Cowperwood’s just been here,” he said to Owen, who had been rapidly coming into a sound financial understanding of late, and was already a shrewder man politically and socially than his father, though he had not the latter’s magnetism. “He’s been tellin’ me that he’s in a rather tight place. You hear that?” he continued, as some voice in the distance was calling “Extra! Extra!” “That’s Chicago burnin’, and there’s goin’ to be trouble on the stock exchange to-morrow. We have a lot of our street-railway stocks around at the different banks. If we don’t look sharp they’ll be callin’ our loans. We have to ‘tend to that the first thing in the mornin’. Cowperwood has a hundred thousand of mine with him that he wants me to let stay there, and he has some money that belongs to Stener, he tells me.”

“Stener?” asked Owen, curiously. “Has he been dabbling in stocks?” Owen had heard some rumors concerning Stener and others only very recently, which he had not credited nor yet communicated to his father. “How much money of his has Cowperwood?” he asked.

Butler meditated. “Quite a bit, I’m afraid,” he finally said. “As a matter of fact, it’s a great deal—about five hundred thousand dollars. If that should become known, it would be makin’ a good deal of noise, I’m thinkin’.”

“Whew!” exclaimed Owen in astonishment. “Five hundred thousand dollars! Good Lord, father! Do you mean to say Stener has got away with five hundred thousand dollars? Why, I wouldn’t think he was clever enough to do that. Five hundred thousand dollars! It will make a nice row if that comes out.”

“Aisy, now! Aisy, now!” replied Butler, doing his best to keep all phases of the situation in mind. “We can’t tell exactly what the circumstances were yet. He mayn’t have meant to take so much. It may all come out all right yet. The money’s invested. Cowperwood hasn’t failed yet. It may be put back. The thing to be settled on now is whether anything can be done to save him. If he’s tellin’ me the truth—and I never knew him to lie—he can get out of this if street-railway stocks don’t break too heavy in the mornin’. I’m going over to see Henry Mollenhauer and Mark Simpson. They’re in on this. Cowperwood wanted me to see if I couldn’t get them to get the bankers together and have them stand by the market. He thought we might protect our loans by comin’ on and buyin’ and holdin’ up the price.”

Owen was running swiftly in his mind over Cowperwood’s affairs—as much as he knew of them. He felt keenly that the banker ought to be shaken out. This dilemma was his fault, not Stener’s—he felt. It was strange to him that his father did not see it and resent it.

“You see what it is, father,” he said, dramatically, after a time. “Cowperwood’s been using this money of Stener’s to pick up stocks, and he’s in a hole. If it hadn’t been for this fire he’d have got away with it; but now he wants you and Simpson and Mollenhauer and the others to pull him out. He’s a nice fellow, and I like him fairly well; but you’re a fool if you do as he wants you to. He has more than belongs to him already. I heard the other day that he has the Front Street line, and almost all of Green and Coates; and that he and Stener own the Seventeenth and Nineteenth; but I didn’t believe it. I’ve been intending to ask you about it. I think Cowperwood has a majority for himself stowed away somewhere in every instance. Stener is just a pawn. He moves him around where he pleases.”

Owen’s eyes gleamed avariciously, opposingly. Cowperwood ought to be punished, sold out, driven out of the street-railway business in which Owen was anxious to rise.

“Now you know,” observed Butler, thickly and solemnly, “I always thought that young felly was clever, but I hardly thought he was as clever as all that. So that’s his game. You’re pretty shrewd yourself, aren’t you? Well, we can fix that, if we think well of it. But there’s more than that to all this. You don’t want to forget the Republican party. Our success goes with the success of that, you know”—and he paused and looked at his son. “If Cowperwood should fail and that money couldn’t be put back—” He broke off abstractedly. “The thing that’s troublin’ me is this matter of Stener and the city treasury. If somethin’ ain’t done about that, it may go hard with the party this fall, and with some of our contracts. You don’t want to forget that an election is comin’ along in November. I’m wonderin’ if I ought to call in that one hundred thousand dollars. It’s goin’ to take considerable money to meet my loans in the mornin’.”

It is a curious matter of psychology, but it was only now that the real difficulties of the situation were beginning to dawn on Butler. In the presence of Cowperwood he was so influenced by that young man’s personality and his magnetic presentation of his need and his own liking for him that he had not stopped to consider all the phases of his own relationship to the situation. Out here in the cool night air, talking to Owen, who was ambitious on his own account and anything but sentimentally considerate of Cowperwood, he was beginning to sober down and see things in their true light. He had to admit that Cowperwood had seriously compromised the city treasury and the Republican party, and incidentally Butler’s own private interests. Nevertheless, he liked Cowperwood. He was in no way prepared to desert him. He was now going to see Mollenhauer and Simpson as much to save Cowperwood really as the party and his own affairs. And yet a scandal. He did not like that—resented it. This young scalawag! To think he should be so sly. None the less he still liked him, even here and now, and was feeling that he ought to do something to help the young man, if anything could help him. He might even leave his hundred-thousand-dollar loan with him until the last hour, as Cowperwood had requested, if the others were friendly.

“Well, father,” said Owen, after a time, “I don’t see why you need to worry any more than Mollenhauer or Simpson. If you three want to help him out, you can; but for the life of me I don’t see why you should. I know this thing will have a bad effect on the election, if it comes out before then; but it could be hushed up until then, couldn’t it? Anyhow, your street-railway holdings are more important than this election, and if you can see your way clear to getting the street-railway lines in your hands you won’t need to worry about any elections. My advice to you is to call that one-hundred-thousand-dollar loan of yours in the morning, and meet the drop in your stocks that way. It may make Cowperwood fail, but that won’t hurt you any. You can go into the market and buy his stocks. I wouldn’t be surprised if he would run to you and ask you to take them. You ought to get Mollenhauer and Simpson to scare Stener so that he won’t loan Cowperwood any more money. If you don’t, Cowperwood will run there and get more. Stener’s in too far now. If Cowperwood won’t sell out, well and good; the chances are he will bust, anyhow, and then you can pick up as much on the market as any one else. I think he’ll sell. You can’t afford to worry about Stener’s five hundred thousand dollars. No one told him to loan it. Let him look out for himself. It may hurt the party, but you can look after that later. You and Mollenhauer can fix the newspapers so they won’t talk about it till after election.”

“Aisy! Aisy!” was all the old contractor would say. He was thinking hard.


Return to the The Financier Summary Return to the Theodore Dreiser Library

© 2022