The Titan

by Theodore Dreiser

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Chapter XLIII: The Planet Mars

The banking hostility to Cowperwood, which in its beginning had made necessary his trip to Kentucky and elsewhere, finally reached a climax. It followed an attempt on his part to furnish funds for the building of elevated roads. The hour for this new form of transit convenience had struck. The public demanded it. Cowperwood saw one elevated road, the South Side Alley Line, being built, and another, the West Side Metropolitan Line, being proposed, largely, as he knew, in order to create sentiment for the idea, and so to make his opposition to a general franchise difficult. He was well aware that if he did not choose to build them others would. It mattered little that electricity had arrived finally as a perfected traction factor, and that all his lines would soon have to be done over to meet that condition, or that it was costing him thousands and thousands to stay the threatening aspect of things politically. In addition he must now plunge into this new realm, gaining franchises by the roughest and subtlest forms of political bribery. The most serious aspect of this was not political, but rather financial. Elevated roads in Chicago, owing to the sparseness of the population over large areas, were a serious thing to contemplate. The mere cost of iron, right of way, rolling-stock, and power-plants was immense. Being chronically opposed to investing his private funds where stocks could just as well be unloaded on the public, and the management and control retained by him, Cowperwood, for the time being, was puzzled as to where he should get credit for the millions to be laid down in structural steel, engineering fees, labor, and equipment before ever a dollar could be taken out in passenger fares. Owing to the advent of the World's Fair, the South Side 'L'—to which, in order to have peace and quiet, he had finally conceded a franchise—was doing reasonably well. Yet it was not making any such return on the investment as the New York roads. The new lines which he was preparing would traverse even less populous sections of the city, and would in all likelihood yield even a smaller return. Money had to be forthcoming—something between twelve and fifteen million dollars—and this on the stocks and bonds of a purely paper corporation which might not yield paying dividends for years to come. Addison, finding that the Chicago Trust Company was already heavily loaded, called upon various minor but prosperous local banks to take over the new securities (each in part, of course). He was astonished and chagrined to find that one and all uniformly refused.

"I'll tell you how it is, Judah," one bank president confided to him, in great secrecy. "We owe Timothy Arneel at least three hundred thousand dollars that we only have to pay three per cent. for. It's a call-loan. Besides, the Lake National is our main standby when it comes to quick trades, and he's in on that. I understand from one or two friends that he's at outs with Cowperwood, and we can't afford to offend him. I'd like to, but no more for me—not at present, anyhow."

"Why, Simmons," replied Addison, "these fellows are simply cutting off their noses to spite their faces. These stock and bond issues are perfectly good investments, and no one knows it better than you do. All this hue and cry in the newspapers against Cowperwood doesn't amount to anything. He's perfectly solvent. Chicago is growing. His lines are becoming more valuable every year."

"I know that," replied Simmons. "But what about this talk of a rival elevated system? Won't that injure his lines for the time being, anyhow, if it comes into the field?"

"If I know anything about Cowperwood," replied Addison, simply, "there isn't going to be any rival elevated road. It's true they got the city council to give them a franchise for one line on the South Side; but that's out of his territory, anyhow, and that other one to the Chicago General Company doesn't amount to anything. It will be years and years before it can be made to pay a dollar, and when the time comes he will probably take it over if he wants it. Another election will be held in two years, and then the city administration may not be so unfavorable. As it is, they haven't been able to hurt him through the council as much as they thought they would."

"Yes; but he lost the election."

"True; but it doesn't follow he's going to lose the next one, or every one."

"Just the same," replied Simmons, very secretively, "I understand there's a concerted effort on to drive him out. Schryhart, Hand, Merrill, Arneel—they're the most powerful men we have. I understand Hand says that he'll never get his franchises renewed except on terms that'll make his lines unprofitable. There's going to be an awful smash here one of these days if that's true." Mr. Simmons looked very wise and solemn.

"Never believe it," replied Addison, contemptuously. "Hand isn't Chicago, neither is Schryhart, nor Arneel. Cowperwood is a brainy man. He isn't going to be put under so easily. Did you ever hear what was the real bottom cause of all this disturbance?"

"Yes, I've heard," replied Simmons.

"Do you believe it?"

"Oh, I don't know. Yes, I suppose I do. Still, I don't know that that need have anything to do with it. Money envy is enough to make any man fight. This man Hand is very powerful."

Not long after this Cowperwood, strolling into the president's office of the Chicago Trust Company, inquired: "Well, Judah, how about those Northwestern 'L' bonds?"

"It's just as I thought, Frank," replied Addison, softly. "We'll have to go outside of Chicago for that money. Hand, Arneel, and the rest of that crowd have decided to combine against us. That's plain. Something has started them off in full cry. I suppose my resignation may have had something to do with it. Anyhow, every one of the banks in which they have any hand has uniformly refused to come in. To make sure that I was right I even called up the little old Third National of Lake View and the Drovers and Traders on Forty-seventh Street. That's Charlie Wallin's bank. When I was over in the Lake National he used to hang around the back door asking for anything I could give him that was sound. Now he says his orders are from his directors not to share in anything we have to offer. It's the same story everywhere—they daren't. I asked Wallin if he knew why the directors were down on the Chicago Trust or on you, and at first he said he didn't. Then he said he'd stop in and lunch with me some day. They're the silliest lot of old ostriches I ever heard of. As if refusing to let us have money on any loan here was going to prevent us from getting it! They can take their little old one-horse banks and play blockhouses with them if they want to. I can go to New York and in thirty-six hours raise twenty million dollars if we need it."

Addison was a little warm. It was a new experience for him. Cowperwood merely curled his mustaches and smiled sardonically.

"Well, never mind," he said. "Will you go down to New York, or shall I?"

It was decided, after some talk, that Addison should go. When he reached New York he found, to his surprise, that the local opposition to Cowperwood had, for some mysterious reason, begun to take root in the East.

"I'll tell you how it is," observed Joseph Haeckelheimer, to whom Addison applied—a short, smug, pussy person who was the head of Haeckelheimer, Gotloeb & Co., international bankers. "We hear odd things concerning Mr. Cowperwood out in Chicago. Some people say he is sound—some not. He has some very good franchises covering a large portion of the city, but they are only twenty-year franchises, and they will all run out by 1903 at the latest. As I understand it, he has managed to stir up all the local elements—some very powerful ones, too—and he is certain to have a hard time to get his franchises renewed. I don't live in Chicago, of course. I don't know much about it, but our Western correspondent tells me this is so. Mr. Cowperwood is a very able man, as I understand it, but if all these influential men are opposed to him they can make him a great deal of trouble. The public is very easily aroused."

"You do a very able man a great injustice, Mr. Haeckelheimer," Addison retorted. "Almost any one who starts out to do things successfully and intelligently is sure to stir up a great deal of feeling. The particular men you mention seem to feel that they have a sort of proprietor's interest in Chicago. They really think they own it. As a matter of fact, the city made them; they didn't make the city."

Mr. Haeckelheimer lifted his eyebrows. He laid two fine white hands, plump and stubby, over the lower buttons of his protuberant waistcoat. "Public favor is a great factor in all these enterprises," he almost sighed. "As you know, part of a man's resources lies in his ability to avoid stirring up opposition. It may be that Mr. Cowperwood is strong enough to overcome all that. I don't know. I've never met him. I'm just telling you what I hear."

This offish attitude on the part of Mr. Haeckelheimer was indicative of a new trend. The man was enormously wealthy. The firm of Haeckelheimer, Gotloeb & Co. represented a controlling interest in some of the principal railways and banks in America. Their favor was not to be held in light esteem.

It was plain that these rumors against Cowperwood in New York, unless offset promptly by favorable events in Chicago, might mean—in the large banking quarters, anyhow—the refusal of all subsequent Cowperwood issues. It might even close the doors of minor banks and make private investors nervous.

Addison's report of all this annoyed Cowperwood no little. It made him angry. He saw in it the work of Schryhart, Hand, and others who were trying their best to discredit him. "Let them talk," he declared, crossly. "I have the street-railways. They're not going to rout me out of here. I can sell stocks and bonds to the public direct if need be! There are plenty of private people who are glad to invest in these properties."

At this psychological moment enter, as by the hand of Fate, the planet Mars and the University. This latter, from having been for years a humble Baptist college of the cheapest character, had suddenly, through the beneficence of a great Standard Oil multimillionaire, flared upward into a great university, and was causing a stir throughout the length and breadth of the educational world.

It was already a most noteworthy spectacle, one of the sights of the city. Millions were being poured into it; new and beautiful buildings were almost monthly erected. A brilliant, dynamic man had been called from the East as president. There were still many things needed—dormitories, laboratories of one kind and another, a great library; and, last but not least, a giant telescope—one that would sweep the heavens with a hitherto unparalleled receptive eye, and wring from it secrets not previously decipherable by the eye and the mind of man.

Cowperwood had always been interested in the heavens and in the giant mathematical and physical methods of interpreting them. It so happened that the war-like planet, with its sinister aspect, was just at this time to be seen hanging in the west, a fiery red; and the easily aroused public mind was being stirred to its shallow depth by reflections and speculations regarding the famous canals of the luminary. The mere thought of the possibility of a larger telescope than any now in existence, which might throw additional light on this evasive mystery, was exciting not only Chicago, but the whole world. Late one afternoon Cowperwood, looking over some open fields which faced his new power-house in West Madison Street, observed the planet hanging low and lucent in the evening sky, a warm, radiant bit of orange in a sea of silver. He paused and surveyed it. Was it true that there were canals on it, and people? Life was surely strange.

One day not long after this Alexander Rambaud called him up on the 'phone and remarked, jocosely:

"I say, Cowperwood, I've played a rather shabby trick on you just now. Doctor Hooper, of the University, was in here a few minutes ago asking me to be one of ten to guarantee the cost of a telescope lens that he thinks he needs to run that one-horse school of his out there. I told him I thought you might possibly be interested. His idea is to find some one who will guarantee forty thousand dollars, or eight or ten men who will guarantee four or five thousand each. I thought of you, because I've heard you discuss astronomy from time to time."

"Let him come," replied Cowperwood, who was never willing to be behind others in generosity, particularly where his efforts were likely to be appreciated in significant quarters.

Shortly afterward appeared the doctor himself—short, rotund, rubicund, displaying behind a pair of clear, thick, gold-rimmed glasses, round, dancing, incisive eyes. Imaginative grip, buoyant, self-delusive self-respect were written all over him. The two men eyed each other—one with that broad-gage examination which sees even universities as futile in the endless shift of things; the other with that faith in the balance for right which makes even great personal forces, such as financial magnates, serve an idealistic end.

"It's not a very long story I have to tell you, Mr. Cowperwood," said the doctor. "Our astronomical work is handicapped just now by the simple fact that we have no lens at all, no telescope worthy of the name. I should like to see the University do original work in this field, and do it in a great way. The only way to do it, in my judgment, is to do it better than any one else can. Don't you agree with me?" He showed a row of shining white teeth.

Cowperwood smiled urbanely.

"Will a forty-thousand-dollar lens be a better lens than any other lens?" he inquired.

"Made by Appleman Brothers, of Dorchester, it will," replied the college president. "The whole story is here, Mr. Cowperwood. These men are practical lens-makers. A great lens, in the first place, is a matter of finding a suitable crystal. Large and flawless crystals are not common, as you may possibly know. Such a crystal has recently been found, and is now owned by Mr. Appleman. It takes about four or five years to grind and polish it. Most of the polishing, as you may or may not know, is done by the hand—smoothing it with the thumb and forefinger. The time, judgment, and skill of an optical expert is required. To-day, unfortunately, that is not cheap. The laborer is worthy of his hire, however, I suppose"—he waved a soft, full, white hand—"and forty thousand is little enough. It would be a great honor if the University could have the largest, most serviceable, and most perfect lens in the world. It would reflect great credit, I take it, on the men who would make this possible."

Cowperwood liked the man's artistically educational air; obviously here was a personage of ability, brains, emotion, and scientific enthusiasm. It was splendid to him to see any strong man in earnest, for himself or others.

"And forty thousand will do this?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. Forty thousand will guarantee us the lens, anyhow."

"And how about land, buildings, a telescope frame? Have you all those things prepared for it?"

"Not as yet, but, since it takes four years at least to grind the lens, there will be time enough, when the lens is nearing completion, to look after the accessories. We have picked our site, however—Lake Geneva—and we would not refuse either land or accessories if we knew where to get them."

Again the even, shining teeth, the keen eyes boring through the glasses.

Cowperwood saw a great opportunity. He asked what would be the cost of the entire project. Dr. Hooper presumed that three hundred thousand would do it all handsomely—lens, telescope, land, machinery, building—a great monument.

"And how much have you guaranteed on the cost of your lens?" "Sixteen thousand dollars, so far."

"To be paid when?"

"In instalments—ten thousand a year for four years. Just enough to keep the lens-maker busy for the present."

Cowperwood reflected. Ten thousand a year for four years would be a mere salary item, and at the end of that time he felt sure that he could supply the remainder of the money quite easily. He would be so much richer; his plans would be so much more mature. On such a repute (the ability to give a three-hundred-thousand-dollar telescope out of hand to be known as the Cowperwood telescope) he could undoubtedly raise money in London, New York, and elsewhere for his Chicago enterprise. The whole world would know him in a day. He paused, his enigmatic eyes revealing nothing of the splendid vision that danced before them. At last! At last!

"How would it do, Mr. Hooper," he said, sweetly, "if, instead of ten men giving you four thousand each, as you plan, one man were to give you forty thousand in annual instalments of ten thousand each? Could that be arranged as well?"

"My dear Mr. Cowperwood," exclaimed the doctor, glowing, his eyes alight, "do I understand that you personally might wish to give the money for this lens?"

"I might, yes. But I should have to exact one pledge, Mr. Hooper, if I did any such thing."

"And what would that be?"

"The privilege of giving the land and the building—the whole telescope, in fact. I presume no word of this will be given out unless the matter is favorably acted upon?" he added, cautiously and diplomatically.

The new president of the university arose and eyed him with a peculiarly approbative and grateful gaze. He was a busy, overworked man. His task was large. Any burden taken from his shoulders in this fashion was a great relief.

"My answer to that, Mr. Cowperwood, if I had the authority, would be to agree now in the name of the University, and thank you. For form's sake, I must submit the matter to the trustees of the University, but I have no doubt as to the outcome. I anticipate nothing but grateful approbation. Let me thank you again."

They shook hands warmly, and the solid collegian bustled forth. Cowperwood sank quietly in his chair. He pressed his fingers together, and for a moment or two permitted himself to dream. Then he called a stenographer and began a bit of dictation. He did not care to think even to himself how universally advantageous all this might yet prove to be.

The result was that in the course of a few weeks the proffer was formally accepted by the trustees of the University, and a report of the matter, with Cowperwood's formal consent, was given out for publication. The fortuitous combination of circumstances already described gave the matter a unique news value. Giant reflectors and refractors had been given and were in use in other parts of the world, but none so large or so important as this. The gift was sufficient to set Cowperwood forth in the light of a public benefactor and patron of science. Not only in Chicago, but in London, Paris, and New York, wherever, indeed, in the great capitals scientific and intellectual men were gathered, this significant gift of an apparently fabulously rich American became the subject of excited discussion. Banking men, among others, took sharp note of the donor, and when Cowperwood's emissaries came around later with a suggestion that the fifty-year franchises about to be voted him for elevated roads should be made a basis of bond and mortgage loans, they were courteously received. A man who could give three-hundred-thousand-dollar telescopes in the hour of his greatest difficulties must be in a rather satisfactory financial condition. He must have great wealth in reserve. After some preliminaries, during which Cowperwood paid a flying visit to Threadneedle Street in London, and to Wall Street in New York, an arrangement was made with an English-American banking company by which the majority of the bonds for his proposed roads were taken over by them for sale in Europe and elsewhere, and he was given ample means wherewith to proceed. Instantly the stocks of his surface lines bounded in price, and those who had been scheming to bring about Cowperwood's downfall gnashed impotent teeth. Even Haeckelheimer & Co. were interested.

Anson Merrill, who had only a few weeks before given a large field for athletic purposes to the University, pulled a wry face over this sudden eclipse of his glory. Hosmer Hand, who had given a chemical laboratory, and Schryhart, who had presented a dormitory, were depressed to think that a benefaction less costly than theirs should create, because of the distinction of the idea, so much more notable comment. It was merely another example of the brilliant fortune which seemed to pursue the man, the star that set all their plans at defiance.

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

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson