Between the passage on June 5, 1897, of the Mears bill—so christened after the doughty representative who had received a small fortune for introducing it—and its presentation to the Chicago City Council in December of the same year, what broodings, plottings, politickings, and editorializings on the part of all and sundry! In spite of the intense feeling of opposition to Cowperwood there was at the same time in local public life one stratum of commercial and phlegmatic substance that could not view him in an altogether unfavorable light. They were in business themselves. His lines passed their doors and served them. They could not see wherein his street-railway service differed so much from that which others might give. Here was the type of materialist who in Cowperwood's defiance saw a justification of his own material point of view and was not afraid to say so. But as against these there were the preachers—poor wind-blown sticks of unreason who saw only what the current palaver seemed to indicate. Again there were the anarchists, socialists, single-taxers, and public-ownership advocates. There were the very poor who saw in Cowperwood's wealth and in the fabulous stories of his New York home and of his art-collection a heartless exploitation of their needs. At this time the feeling was spreading broadcast in America that great political and economic changes were at hand—that the tyranny of iron masters at the top was to give way to a richer, freer, happier life for the rank and file. A national eight-hour-day law was being advocated, and the public ownership of public franchises. And here now was a great street-railway corporation, serving a population of a million and a half, occupying streets which the people themselves created by their presence, taking toll from all these humble citizens to the amount of sixteen or eighteen millions of dollars in the year and giving in return, so the papers said, poor service, shabby cars, no seats at rush-hours, no universal transfers (as a matter of fact, there were in operation three hundred and sixty-two separate transfer points) and no adequate tax on the immense sums earned. The workingman who read this by gas or lamp light in the kitchen or parlor of his shabby flat or cottage, and who read also in other sections of his paper of the free, reckless, glorious lives of the rich, felt himself to be defrauded of a portion of his rightful inheritance. It was all a question of compelling Frank A. Cowperwood to do his duty by Chicago. He must not again be allowed to bribe the aldermen; he must not be allowed to have a fifty-year franchise, the privilege of granting which he had already bought from the state legislature by the degradation of honest men. He must be made to succumb, to yield to the forces of law and order. It was claimed—and with a justice of which those who made the charge were by no means fully aware—that the Mears bill had been put through the house and senate by the use of cold cash, proffered even to the governor himself. No legal proof of this was obtainable, but Cowperwood was assumed to be a briber on a giant scale. By the newspaper cartoons he was represented as a pirate commander ordering his men to scuttle another vessel—the ship of Public Rights. He was pictured as a thief, a black mask over his eyes, and as a seducer, throttling Chicago, the fair maiden, while he stole her purse. The fame of this battle was by now becoming world-wide. In Montreal, in Cape Town, in Buenos Ayres and Melbourne, in London and Paris, men were reading of this singular struggle. At last, and truly, he was a national and international figure. His original dream, however, modified by circumstances, had literally been fulfilled.
Meanwhile be it admitted that the local elements in finance which had brought about this terrific onslaught on Cowperwood were not a little disturbed as to the eventual character of the child of their own creation. Here at last was a public opinion definitely inimical to Cowperwood; but here also were they themselves, tremendous profit-holders, with a desire for just such favors as Cowperwood himself had exacted, deliberately setting out to kill the goose that could lay the golden egg. Men such as Haeckelheimer, Gotloeb, Fishel, tremendous capitalists in the East and foremost in the directorates of huge transcontinental lines, international banking-houses, and the like, were amazed that the newspapers and the anti-Cowperwood element should have gone so far in Chicago. Had they no respect for capital? Did they not know that long-time franchises were practically the basis of all modern capitalistic prosperity? Such theories as were now being advocated here would spread to other cities unless checked. America might readily become anti-capitalistic—socialistic. Public ownership might appear as a workable theory—and then what?
"Those men out there are very foolish," observed Mr. Haeckelheimer at one time to Mr. Fishel, of Fishel, Stone & Symons. "I can't see that Mr. Cowperwood is different from any other organizer of his day. He seems to me perfectly sound and able. All his companies pay. There are no better investments than the North and West Chicago railways. It would be advisable, in my judgment, that all the lines out there should be consolidated and be put in his charge. He would make money for the stockholders. He seems to know how to run street-railways."
"You know," replied Mr. Fishel, as smug and white as Mr. Haeckelheimer, and in thorough sympathy with his point of view, "I have been thinking of something like that myself. All this quarreling should be hushed up. It's very bad for business—very. Once they get that public-ownership nonsense started, it will be hard to stop. There has been too much of it already."
Mr. Fishel was stout and round like Mr. Haeckelheimer, but much smaller. He was little more than a walking mathematical formula. In his cranium were financial theorems and syllogisms of the second, third, and fourth power only.
And now behold a new trend of affairs. Mr. Timothy Arneel, attacked by pneumonia, dies and leaves his holdings in Chicago City to his eldest son, Edward Arneel. Mr. Fishel and Mr. Haeckelheimer, through agents and then direct, approach Mr. Merrill in behalf of Cowperwood. There is much talk of profits—how much more profitable has been the Cowperwood regime over street-railway lines than that of Mr. Schryhart. Mr. Fishel is interested in allaying socialistic excitement. So, by this time, is Mr. Merrill. Directly hereafter Mr. Haeckelheimer approaches Mr. Edward Arneel, who is not nearly so forceful as his father, though he would like to be so. He, strange to relate, has come rather to admire Cowperwood and sees no advantage in a policy that can only tend to municipalize local lines. Mr. Merrill, for Mr. Fishel, approaches Mr. Hand. "Never! never! never!" says Hand. Mr. Haeckelheimer approaches Mr. Hand. "Never! never! never! To the devil with Mr. Cowperwood!" But as a final emissary for Mr. Haeckelheimer and Mr. Fishel there now appears Mr. Morgan Frankhauser, the partner of Mr. Hand in a seven-million-dollar traction scheme in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Why will Mr. Hand be so persistent? Why pursue a scheme of revenge which only stirs up the masses and makes municipal ownership a valid political idea, thus disturbing capital elsewhere? Why not trade his Chicago holdings to him, Frankhauser, for Pittsburg traction stock—share and share alike—and then fight Cowperwood all he pleases on the outside?
Mr. Hand, puzzled, astounded, scratching his round head, slaps a heavy hand on his desk. "Never!" he exclaims. "Never, by God—as long as I am alive and in Chicago!" And then he yields. Life does shifty things, he is forced to reflect in a most puzzled way. Never would he have believed it! "Schryhart," he declared to Frankhauser, "will never come in. He will die first. Poor old Timothy—if he were alive—he wouldn't either."
"Leave Mr. Schryhart out of it, for Heaven's sake," pleaded Mr. Frankhauser, a genial American German. "Haven't I troubles enough?"
Mr. Schryhart is enraged. Never! never! never! He will sell out first—but he is in a minority, and Mr. Frankhauser, for Mr. Fishel or Mr. Haeckelheimer, will gladly take his holdings.
Now behold in the autumn of 1897 all rival Chicago street-railway lines brought to Mr. Cowperwood on a platter, as it were—a golden platter.
"Ve haff it fixed," confidentially declared Mr. Gotloeb to Mr. Cowperwood, over an excellent dinner in the sacred precincts of the Metropolitan Club in New York. Time, 8.30 P.M. Wine—sparkling burgundy. "A telegram come shusst to-day from Frankhauser. A nice man dot. You shouldt meet him sometime. Hant—he sells out his stock to Frankhauser. Merrill unt Edward Arneel vork vit us. Ve hantle efferyt'ing for dem. Mr. Fishel vill haff his friends pick up all de local shares he can, unt mit dees tree ve control de board. Schryhart iss out. He sess he vill resign. Very goot. I don't subbose dot vill make you veep any. It all hintges now on vether you can get dot fifty-year-franchise ordinance troo de city council or not. Haeckelheimer sess he prefers you to all utters to run t'ings. He vill leef everytink positifely in your hands. Frankhauser sess de same. Vot Haeckelheimer sess he doess. Now dere you are. It's up to you. I vish you much choy. It is no small chop you haff, beating de newspapers, unt you still haff Hant unt Schryhart against you. Mr. Haeckelheimer askt me to pay his complimends to you unt to say vill you dine vit him next veek, or may he dine vit you—vicheffer iss most conveniend. So."
In the mayor's chair of Chicago at this time sat a man named Walden H. Lucas. Aged thirty-eight, he was politically ambitious. He had the elements of popularity—the knack or luck of fixing public attention. A fine, upstanding, healthy young buck he was, subtle, vigorous, a cool, direct, practical thinker and speaker, an eager enigmatic dreamer of great political honors to come, anxious to play his cards just right, to make friends, to be the pride of the righteous, and yet the not too uncompromising foe of the wicked. In short, a youthful, hopeful Western Machiavelli, and one who could, if he chose, serve the cause of the anti-Cowperwood struggle exceedingly well indeed.
Cowperwood, disturbed, visits the mayor in his office.
"Mr. Lucas, what is it you personally want? What can I do for you? Is it future political preferment you are after?"
"Mr. Cowperwood, there isn't anything you can do for me. You do not understand me, and I do not understand you. You cannot understand me because I am an honest man."
"Ye gods!" replied Cowperwood. "This is certainly a case of self-esteem and great knowledge. Good afternoon."
Shortly thereafter the mayor was approached by one Mr. Carker, who was the shrewd, cold, and yet magnetic leader of Democracy in the state of New York. Said Carker:
"You see, Mr. Lucas, the great money houses of the East are interested in this local contest here in Chicago. For example, Haeckelheimer, Gotloeb & Co. would like to see a consolidation of all the lines on a basis that will make them an attractive investment for buyers generally and will at the same time be fair and right to the city. A twenty-year contract is much too short a term in their eyes. Fifty is the least they could comfortably contemplate, and they would prefer a hundred. It is little enough for so great an outlay. The policy now being pursued here can lead only to the public ownership of public utilities, and that is something which the national Democratic party at large can certainly not afford to advocate at present. It would antagonize the money element from coast to coast. Any man whose political record was definitely identified with such a movement would have no possible chance at even a state nomination, let alone a national one. He could never be elected. I make myself clear, do I not?"
"A man can just as easily be taken from the mayor's office in Chicago as from the governor's office at Springfield," pursued Mr. Carker. "Mr. Haeckelheimer and Mr. Fishel have personally asked me to call on you. If you want to be mayor of Chicago again for two years or governor next year, until the time for picking a candidate for the Presidency arrives, suit yourself. In the mean time you will be unwise, in my judgment, to saddle yourself with this public-ownership idea. The newspapers in fighting Mr. Cowperwood have raised an issue which never should have been raised."
After Mr. Carker's departure, arrived Mr. Edward Arneel, of local renown, and then Mr. Jacob Bethal, the Democratic leader in San Francisco, both offering suggestions which if followed might result in mutual support. There were in addition delegations of powerful Republicans from Minneapolis and from Philadelphia. Even the president of the Lake City Bank and the president of the Prairie National—once anti-Cowperwood—arrived to say what had already been said. So it went. Mr. Lucas was greatly nonplussed. A political career was surely a difficult thing to effect. Would it pay to harry Mr. Cowperwood as he had set out to do? Would a steadfast policy advocating the cause of the people get him anywhere? Would they be grateful? Would they remember? Suppose the current policy of the newspapers should be modified, as Mr. Carker had suggested that it might be. What a mess and tangle politics really were!
"Well, Bessie," he inquired of his handsome, healthy, semi-blonde wife, one evening, "what would you do if you were I?"
She was gray-eyed, gay, practical, vain, substantially connected in so far as family went, and proud of her husband's position and future. He had formed the habit of talking over his various difficulties with her.
"Well, I'll tell you, Wally," she replied. "You've got to stick to something. It looks to me as though the winning side was with the people this time. I don't see how the newspapers can change now after all they've done. You don't have to advocate public ownership or anything unfair to the money element, but just the same I'd stick to my point that the fifty-year franchise is too much. You ought to make them pay the city something and get their franchise without bribery. They can't do less than that. I'd stick to the course you've begun on. You can't get along without the people, Wally. You just must have them. If you lose their good will the politicians can't help you much, nor anybody else."
Plainly there were times when the people had to be considered. They just had to be!