But time was not a thing to be had in this emergency. With the seventy-five thousand dollars his friends had extended to him, and sixty thousand dollars secured from Stires, Cowperwood met the Girard call and placed the balance, thirty-five thousand dollars, in a private safe in his own home. He then made a final appeal to the bankers and financiers, but they refused to help him. He did not, however, commiserate himself in this hour. He looked out of his office window into the little court, and sighed. What more could he do? He sent a note to his father, asking him to call for lunch. He sent a note to his lawyer, Harper Steger, a man of his own age whom he liked very much, and asked him to call also. He evolved in his own mind various plans of delay, addresses to creditors and the like, but alas! he was going to fail. And the worst of it was that this matter of the city treasurer’s loans was bound to become a public, and more than a public, a political, scandal. And the charge of conniving, if not illegally, at least morally, at the misuse of the city’s money was the one thing that would hurt him most.
How industriously his rivals would advertise this fact! He might get on his feet again if he failed; but it would be uphill work. And his father! His father would be pulled down with him. It was probable that he would be forced out of the presidency of his bank. With these thoughts Cowperwood sat there waiting. As he did so Aileen Butler was announced by his office-boy, and at the same time Albert Stires.
“Show in Miss Butler,” he said, getting up. “Tell Mr. Stires to wait.” Aileen came briskly, vigorously in, her beautiful body clothed as decoratively as ever. The street suit that she wore was of a light golden-brown broadcloth, faceted with small, dark-red buttons. Her head was decorated with a brownish-red shake of a type she had learned was becoming to her, brimless and with a trailing plume, and her throat was graced by a three-strand necklace of gold beads. Her hands were smoothly gloved as usual, and her little feet daintily shod. There was a look of girlish distress in her eyes, which, however, she was trying hard to conceal.
“Honey,” she exclaimed, on seeing him, her arms extended—“what is the trouble? I wanted so much to ask you the other night. You’re not going to fail, are you? I heard father and Owen talking about you last night.”
“What did they say?” he inquired, putting his arm around her and looking quietly into her nervous eyes.
“Oh, you know, I think papa is very angry with you. He suspects. Some one sent him an anonymous letter. He tried to get it out of me last night, but he didn’t succeed. I denied everything. I was in here twice this morning to see you, but you were out. I was so afraid that he might see you first, and that you might say something.”
“Well, no, not exactly. I didn’t think that. I don’t know what I thought. Oh, honey, I’ve been so worried. You know, I didn’t sleep at all. I thought I was stronger than that; but I was so worried about you. You know, he put me in a strong light by his desk, where he could see my face, and then he showed me the letter. I was so astonished for a moment I hardly know what I said or how I looked.”
“What did you say?”
“Why, I said: ‘What a shame! It isn’t so!’ But I didn’t say it right away. My heart was going like a trip-hammer. I’m afraid he must have been able to tell something from my face. I could hardly get my breath.”
“He’s a shrewd man, your father,” he commented. “He knows something about life. Now you see how difficult these situations are. It’s a blessing he decided to show you the letter instead of watching the house. I suppose he felt too bad to do that. He can’t prove anything now. But he knows. You can’t deceive him.”
“How do you know he knows?”
“I saw him yesterday.”
“Did he talk to you about it?”
“No; I saw his face. He simply looked at me.”
“Honey! I’m so sorry for him!”
“I know you are. So am I. But it can’t be helped now. We should have thought of that in the first place.”
“But I love you so. Oh, honey, he will never forgive me. He loves me so. He mustn’t know. I won’t admit anything. But, oh, dear!”
She put her hands tightly together on his bosom, and he looked consolingly into her eyes. Her eyelids, were trembling, and her lips. She was sorry for her father, herself, Cowperwood. Through her he could sense the force of Butler’s parental affection; the volume and danger of his rage. There were so many, many things as he saw it now converging to make a dramatic denouement.
“Never mind,” he replied; “it can’t be helped now. Where is my strong, determined Aileen? I thought you were going to be so brave? Aren’t you going to be? I need to have you that way now.”
“Are you in trouble?”
“I think I am going to fail, dear.”
“Yes, honey. I’m at the end of my rope. I don’t see any way out just at present. I’ve sent for my father and my lawyer. You mustn’t stay here, sweet. Your father may come in here at any time. We must meet somewhere—to-morrow, say—to-morrow afternoon. You remember Indian Rock, out on the Wissahickon?”
“Could you be there at four?”
“Look out for who’s following. If I’m not there by four-thirty, don’t wait. You know why. It will be because I think some one is watching. There won’t be, though, if we work it right. And now you must run, sweet. We can’t use Nine-thirty-one any more. I’ll have to rent another place somewhere else.”
“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”
“Aren’t you going to be strong and brave? You see, I need you to be.”
He was almost, for the first time, a little sad in his mood.
“Yes, dear, yes,” she declared, slipping her arms under his and pulling him tight. “Oh, yes! You can depend on me. Oh, Frank, I love you so! I’m so sorry. Oh, I do hope you don’t fail! But it doesn’t make any difference, dear, between you and me, whatever happens, does it? We will love each other just the same. I’ll do anything for you, honey! I’ll do anything you say. You can trust me. They sha’n’t know anything from me.”
She looked at his still, pale face, and a sudden strong determination to fight for him welled up in her heart. Her love was unjust, illegal, outlawed; but it was love, just the same, and had much of the fiery daring of the outcast from justice.
“I love you! I love you! I love you, Frank!” she declared. He unloosed her hands.
“Run, sweet. To-morrow at four. Don’t fail. And don’t talk. And don’t admit anything, whatever you do.”
“And don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right.”
He barely had time to straighten his tie, to assume a nonchalant attitude by the window, when in hurried Stener’s chief clerk—pale, disturbed, obviously out of key with himself.
“Mr. Cowperwood! You know that check I gave you last night? Mr. Stener says it’s illegal, that I shouldn’t have given it to you, that he will hold me responsible. He says I can be arrested for compounding a felony, and that he will discharge me and have me sent to prison if I don’t get it back. Oh, Mr. Cowperwood, I am only a young man! I’m just really starting out in life. I’ve got my wife and little boy to look after. You won’t let him do that to me? You’ll give me that check back, won’t you? I can’t go back to the office without it. He says you’re going to fail, and that you knew it, and that you haven’t any right to it.”
Cowperwood looked at him curiously. He was surprised at the variety and character of these emissaries of disaster. Surely, when troubles chose to multiply they had great skill in presenting themselves in rapid order. Stener had no right to make any such statement. The transaction was not illegal. The man had gone wild. True, he, Cowperwood, had received an order after these securities were bought not to buy or sell any more city loan, but that did not invalidate previous purchases. Stener was browbeating and frightening his poor underling, a better man than himself, in order to get back this sixty-thousand-dollar check. What a petty creature he was! How true it was, as somebody had remarked, that you could not possibly measure the petty meannesses to which a fool could stoop!
“You go back to Mr. Stener, Albert, and tell him that it can’t be done. The certificates of loan were purchased before his order arrived, and the records of the exchange will prove it. There is no illegality here. I am entitled to that check and could have collected it in any qualified court of law. The man has gone out of his head. I haven’t failed yet. You are not in any danger of any legal proceedings; and if you are, I’ll help defend you. I can’t give you the check back because I haven’t it to give; and if I had, I wouldn’t. That would be allowing a fool to make a fool of me. I’m sorry, very, but I can’t do anything for you.”
“Oh, Mr. Cowperwood!” Tears were in Stires’s eyes. “He’ll discharge me! He’ll forfeit my sureties. I’ll be turned out into the street. I have only a little property of my own—outside of my salary!”
He wrung his hands, and Cowperwood shook his head sadly.
“This isn’t as bad as you think, Albert. He won’t do what he says. He can’t. It’s unfair and illegal. You can bring suit and recover your salary. I’ll help you in that as much as I’m able. But I can’t give you back this sixty-thousand-dollar check, because I haven’t it to give. I couldn’t if I wanted to. It isn’t here any more. I’ve paid for the securities I bought with it. The securities are not here. They’re in the sinking-fund, or will be.”
He paused, wishing he had not mentioned that fact. It was a slip of the tongue, one of the few he ever made, due to the peculiar pressure of the situation. Stires pleaded longer. It was no use, Cowperwood told him. Finally he went away, crestfallen, fearsome, broken. There were tears of suffering in his eyes. Cowperwood was very sorry. And then his father was announced.
The elder Cowperwood brought a haggard face. He and Frank had had a long conversation the evening before, lasting until early morning, but it had not been productive of much save uncertainty.
“Hello, father!” exclaimed Cowperwood, cheerfully, noting his father’s gloom. He was satisfied that there was scarcely a coal of hope to be raked out of these ashes of despair, but there was no use admitting it.
“Well?” said his father, lifting his sad eyes in a peculiar way.
“Well, it looks like stormy weather, doesn’t it? I’ve decided to call a meeting of my creditors, father, and ask for time. There isn’t anything else to do. I can’t realize enough on anything to make it worth while talking about. I thought Stener might change his mind, but he’s worse rather than better. His head bookkeeper just went out of here.”
“What did he want?” asked Henry Cowperwood.
“He wanted me to give him back a check for sixty thousand that he paid me for some city loan I bought yesterday morning.” Frank did not explain to his father, however, that he had hypothecated the certificates this check had paid for, and used the check itself to raise money enough to pay the Girard National Bank and to give himself thirty-five thousand in cash besides.
“Well, I declare!” replied the old man. “You’d think he’d have better sense than that. That’s a perfectly legitimate transaction. When did you say he notified you not to buy city loan?”
“He’s out of his mind,” Cowperwood, Sr., commented, laconically.
“It’s Mollenhauer and Simpson and Butler, I know. They want my street-railway lines. Well, they won’t get them. They’ll get them through a receivership, and after the panic’s all over. Our creditors will have first chance at these. If they buy, they’ll buy from them. If it weren’t for that five-hundred-thousand-dollar loan I wouldn’t think a thing of this. My creditors would sustain me nicely. But the moment that gets noised around!... And this election! I hypothecated those city loan certificates because I didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Davison. I expected to take in enough by now to take them up. They ought to be in the sinking-fund, really.”
The old gentleman saw the point at once, and winced.
“They might cause you trouble, there, Frank.”
“It’s a technical question,” replied his son. “I might have been intending to take them up. As a matter of fact, I will if I can before three. I’ve been taking eight and ten days to deposit them in the past. In a storm like this I’m entitled to move my pawns as best I can.”
Cowperwood, the father, put his hand over his mouth again. He felt very disturbed about this. He saw no way out, however. He was at the end of his own resources. He felt the side-whiskers on his left cheek. He looked out of the window into the little green court. Possibly it was a technical question, who should say. The financial relations of the city treasury with other brokers before Frank had been very lax. Every banker knew that. Perhaps precedent would or should govern in this case. He could not say. Still, it was dangerous—not straight. If Frank could get them out and deposit them it would be so much better.
“I’d take them up if I were you and I could,” he added.
“I will if I can.”
“How much money have you?”
“Oh, twenty thousand, all told. If I suspend, though, I’ll have to have a little ready cash.”
“I have eight or ten thousand, or will have by night, I hope.”
He was thinking of some one who would give him a second mortgage on his house.
Cowperwood looked quietly at him. There was nothing more to be said to his father. “I’m going to make one more appeal to Stener after you leave here,” he said. “I’m going over there with Harper Steger when he comes. If he won’t change I’ll send out notice to my creditors, and notify the secretary of the exchange. I want you to keep a stiff upper lip, whatever happens. I know you will, though. I’m going into the thing head down. If Stener had any sense—” He paused. “But what’s the use talking about a damn fool?”
He turned to the window, thinking of how easy it would have been, if Aileen and he had not been exposed by this anonymous note, to have arranged all with Butler. Rather than injure the party, Butler, in extremis, would have assisted him. Now...!
His father got up to go. He was as stiff with despair as though he were suffering from cold.
“Well,” he said, wearily.
Cowperwood suffered intensely for him. What a shame! His father! He felt a great surge of sorrow sweep over him but a moment later mastered it, and settled to his quick, defiant thinking. As the old man went out, Harper Steger was brought in. They shook hands, and at once started for Stener’s office. But Stener had sunk in on himself like an empty gas-bag, and no efforts were sufficient to inflate him. They went out, finally, defeated.
“I tell you, Frank,” said Steger, “I wouldn’t worry. We can tie this thing up legally until election and after, and that will give all this row a chance to die down. Then you can get your people together and talk sense to them. They’re not going to give up good properties like this, even if Stener does go to jail.”
Steger did not know of the sixty thousand dollars’ worth of hypothecated securities as yet. Neither did he know of Aileen Butler and her father’s boundless rage.