The Titan

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter XXIII: The Power of the Press

The morning papers, in spite of the efforts of Cowperwood and his friends to keep this transfer secret, shortly thereafter were full of rumors of a change in "North Chicago." Frank Algernon Cowperwood, hitherto unmentioned in connection with Chicago street-railways, was pointed to as the probable successor to Onias C. Skinner, and Edwin L. Kaffrath, one of the old directors, as future vice-president. The men back of the deal were referred to as "in all likelihood Eastern capitalists." Cowperwood, as he sat in Aileen's room examining the various morning papers, saw that before the day was over he would be sought out for an expression of opinion and further details. He proposed to ask the newspaper men to wait a few days until he could talk to the publishers of the papers themselves—win their confidence—and then announce a general policy; it would be something that would please the city, and the residents of the North Side in particular. At the same time he did not care to promise anything which he could not easily and profitably perform. He wanted fame and reputation, but he wanted money even more; he intended to get both.

To one who had been working thus long in the minor realms of finance, as Cowperwood considered that he had so far been doing, this sudden upward step into the more conspicuous regions of high finance and control was an all-inspiring thing. So long had he been stirring about in a lesser region, paving the way by hours and hours of private thought and conference and scheming, that now when he actually had achieved his end he could scarcely believe for the time being that it was true. Chicago was such a splendid city. It was growing so fast. Its opportunities were so wonderful. These men who had thus foolishly parted with an indefinite lease of their holdings had not really considered what they were doing. This matter of Chicago street-railways, once he had them well in hand, could be made to yield such splendid profits! He could incorporate and overcapitalize. Many subsidiary lines, which McKenty would secure for him for a song, would be worth millions in the future, and they should be his entirely; he would not be indebted to the directors of the old North Chicago company for any interest on those. By degrees, year by year, as the city grew, the lines which were still controlled by this old company, but were practically his, would become a mere item, a central core, in the so very much larger system of new lines which he would build up about it. Then the West Side, and even the South Side sections—but why dream? He might readily become the sole master of street-railway traffic in Chicago! He might readily become the most princely financial figure in the city—and one of the few great financial magnates of the nation.

In any public enterprise of any kind, as he knew, where the suffrages of the people or the privileges in their possessions are desired, the newspapers must always be considered. As Cowperwood even now was casting hungry eyes in the direction of the two tunnels—one to be held in view of an eventual assumption of the Chicago West Division Company, the other to be given to the North Chicago Street Railway, which he had now organized, it was necessary to make friends with the various publishers. How to go about it?

Recently, because of the influx of a heavy native and foreign-born population (thousands and thousands of men of all sorts and conditions looking for the work which the growth of the city seemed to promise), and because of the dissemination of stirring ideas through radical individuals of foreign groups concerning anarchism, socialism, communism, and the like, the civic idea in Chicago had become most acute. This very May, in which Cowperwood had been going about attempting to adjust matters in his favor, there had been a tremendous national flare-up, when in a great public place on the West Side known as the Haymarket, at one of a number of labor meetings, dubbed anarchistic because of the principles of some of the speakers, a bomb had been hurled by some excited fanatic, which had exploded and maimed or killed a number of policemen, injuring slightly several others. This had brought to the fore, once and for all, as by a flash of lightning, the whole problem of mass against class, and had given it such an airing as in view of the cheerful, optimistic, almost inconsequential American mind had not previously been possible. It changed, quite as an eruption might, the whole face of the commercial landscape. Man thought thereafter somewhat more accurately of national and civic things. What was anarchism? What socialism? What rights had the rank and file, anyhow, in economic and governmental development? Such were interesting questions, and following the bomb—which acted as a great stone cast in the water—these ripple-rings of thought were still widening and emanating until they took in such supposedly remote and impregnable quarters as editorial offices, banks and financial institutions generally, and the haunts of political dignitaries and their jobs.

In the face of this, however, Cowperwood was not disturbed. He did not believe in either the strength of the masses or their ultimate rights, though he sympathized with the condition of individuals, and did believe that men like himself were sent into the world to better perfect its mechanism and habitable order. Often now, in these preliminary days, he looked at the large companies of men with their horses gathered in and about the several carbarns of the company, and wondered at their state. So many of them were so dull. They were rather like animals, patient, inartistic, hopeless. He thought of their shabby homes, their long hours, their poor pay, and then concluded that if anything at all could be done for them it would be pay them decent living wages, which he proposed to do—nothing more. They could not be expected to understand his dreams or his visions, or to share in the magnificence and social dominance which he craved. He finally decided that it would be as well for him to personally visit the various newspaper publishers and talk the situation over with them. Addison, when consulted as to this project, was somewhat dubious. He had small faith in the newspapers.

He had seen them play petty politics, follow up enmities and personal grudges, and even sell out, in certain cases, for pathetically small rewards.

"I tell you how it is, Frank," remarked Addison, on one occasion. "You will have to do all this business on cotton heels, practically. You know that old gas crowd are still down on you, in spite of the fact that you are one of their largest stockholders. Schryhart isn't at all friendly, and he practically owns the Chronicle. Ricketts will just about say what he wants him to say. Hyssop, of the Mail and the Transcript, is an independent man, but he's a Presbyterian and a cold, self-righteous moralist. Braxton's paper, the Globe, practically belongs to Merrill, but Braxton's a nice fellow, at that. Old General MacDonald, of the Inquirer, is old General MacDonald. It's all according to how he feels when he gets up in the morning. If he should chance to like your looks he might support you forever and forever until you crossed his conscience in some way. He's a fine old walrus. I like him. Neither Schryhart nor Merrill nor any one else can get anything out of him unless he wants to give it. He may not live so many years, however, and I don't trust that son of his. Haguenin, of the Press, is all right and friendly to you, as I understand. Other things being equal, I think he'd naturally support you in anything he thought was fair and reasonable. Well, there you have them. Get them all on your side if you can. Don't ask for the LaSalle Street tunnel right away. Let it come as an afterthought—a great public need. The main thing will be to avoid having the other companies stirring up a real fight against you. Depend on it, Schryhart will be thinking pretty hard about this whole business from now on. As for Merrill—well, if you can show him where he can get something out of it for his store, I guess he'll be for you."

It is one of the splendid yet sinister fascinations of life that there is no tracing to their ultimate sources all the winds of influence that play upon a given barque—all the breaths of chance that fill or desert our bellied or our sagging sails. We plan and plan, but who by taking thought can add a cubit to his stature? Who can overcome or even assist the Providence that shapes our ends, rough hew them as we may. Cowperwood was now entering upon a great public career, and the various editors and public personalities of the city were watching him with interest. Augustus M. Haguenin, a free agent with his organ, the Press, and yet not free, either, because he was harnessed to the necessity of making his paper pay, was most interested. Lacking the commanding magnetism of a man like MacDonald, he was nevertheless an honest man, well-intentioned, thoughtful, careful. Haguenin, ever since the outcome of Cowperwood's gas transaction, had been intensely interested in the latter's career. It seemed to him that Cowperwood was probably destined to become a significant figure. Raw, glittering force, however, compounded of the cruel Machiavellianism of nature, if it be but Machiavellian, seems to exercise a profound attraction for the conventionally rooted. Your cautious citizen of average means, looking out through the eye of his dull world of seeming fact, is often the first to forgive or condone the grim butcheries of theory by which the strong rise. Haguenin, observing Cowperwood, conceived of him as a man perhaps as much sinned against as sinning, a man who would be faithful to friends, one who could be relied upon in hours of great stress. As it happened, the Haguenins were neighbors of the Cowperwoods, and since those days when the latter had attempted unsuccessfully to enter Chicago society this family had been as acceptable as any of those who had remained friendly.

And so, when Cowperwood arrived one day at the office of the Press in a blowing snow-storm—it was just before the Christmas holidays—Haguenin was glad to see him. "It's certainly real winter weather we're having now, isn't it?" he observed, cheerfully. "How goes the North Chicago Street Railway business?" For months he, with the other publishers, had been aware that the whole North Side was to be made over by fine cable-tracks, power-houses, and handsome cars; and there already was talk that some better arrangement was to be made to bring the passengers into the down-town section.

"Mr. Haguenin," said Cowperwood, smilingly—he was arrayed in a heavy fur coat, with a collar of beaver and driving-gauntlets of dogskin—"we have reached the place in this street-railway problem on the North Side where we are going to require the assistance of the newspapers, or at least their friendly support. At present our principal difficulty is that all our lines, when they come down-town, stop at Lake Street—just this side of the bridges. That means a long walk for everybody to all the streets south of it, and, as you probably know, there has been considerable complaint. Besides that, this river traffic is becoming more and more what I may say it has been for years—an intolerable nuisance. We have all suffered from it. No effort has ever been made to regulate it, and because it is so heavy I doubt whether it ever can be systematized in any satisfactory way. The best thing in the long run would be to tunnel under the river; but that is such an expensive proposition that, as things are now, we are in no position to undertake it. The traffic on the North Side does not warrant it. It really does not warrant the reconstruction of the three bridges which we now use at State, Dearborn, and Clark; yet, if we introduce the cable system, which we now propose, these bridges will have to be done over. It seems to me, seeing that this is an enterprise in which the public is as much interested almost as we are, that it would only be fair if the city should help pay for this reconstruction work. All the land adjacent to these lines, and the property served by them, will be greatly enhanced in value. The city's taxing power will rise tremendously. I have talked to several financiers here in Chicago, and they agree with me; but, as is usual in all such cases, I find that some of the politicians are against me. Since I have taken charge of the North Chicago company the attitude of one or two papers has not been any too friendly." (In the Chronicle, controlled by Schryhart, there had already been a number of references to the probability that now, since Cowperwood and his friends were in charge, the sky-rocketing tactics of the old Lake View, Hyde Park, and other gas organizations would be repeated. Braxton's Globe, owned by Merrill, being semi-neutral, had merely suggested that it hoped that no such methods would be repeated here.) "Perhaps you may know," Cowperwood continued, "that we have a very sweeping programme of improvement in mind, if we can obtain proper public consideration and assistance."

At this point he reached down in one of his pockets and drew forth astutely drafted maps and blue-prints, especially prepared for this occasion. They showed main cable lines on North Clark, La Salle, and Wells streets. These lines coming down-town converged at Illinois and La Salle streets on the North Side—and though Cowperwood made no reference to it at the moment, they were indicated on the map in red as running over or under the river at La Salle Street, where was no bridge, and emerging therefrom, following a loop along La Salle to Munroe, to Dearborn, to Randolph, and thence into the tunnel again. Cowperwood allowed Haguenin to gather the very interesting traffic significance of it all before he proceeded.

"On the map, Mr. Haguenin, I have indicated a plan which, if we can gain the consent of the city, will obviate any quarrel as to the great expense of reconstructing the bridges, and will make use of a piece of property which is absolutely without value to the city at present, but which can be made into something of vast convenience to the public. I am referring, as you see"—he laid an indicative finger on the map in Mr. Haguenin's hands—"to the old La Salle Street tunnel, which is now boarded up and absolutely of no use to any one. It was built apparently under a misapprehension as to the grade the average loaded wagon could negotiate. When it was found to be unprofitable it was sold to the city and locked up. If you have ever been through it you know what condition it is in. My engineers tell me the walls are leaking, and that there is great danger of a cave-in unless it is very speedily repaired. I am also told that it will require about four hundred thousand dollars to put it in suitable condition for use. My theory is that if the North Chicago Street Railway is willing to go to this expense for the sake of solving this bridge-crush problem, and giving the residents of the North Side a sensible and uninterrupted service into the business heart, the city ought to be willing to make us a present of this tunnel for the time being, or at least a long lease at a purely nominal rental."

Cowperwood paused to see what Haguenin would say.

The latter was looking at the map gravely, wondering whether it was fair for Cowperwood to make this demand, wondering whether the city should grant it to him without compensation, wondering whether the bridge-traffic problem was as serious as he pointed out, wondering, indeed, whether this whole move was not a clever ruse to obtain something for nothing.

"And what is this?" he asked, laying a finger on the aforementioned loop.

"That," replied Cowperwood, "is the only method we have been able to figure out of serving the down-town business section and the North Side, and of solving this bridge problem. If we obtain the tunnel, as I hope we shall, all the cars of these North Side lines will emerge here"—he pointed to La Salle and Randolph—"and swing around—that is, they will if the city council give us the right of way. I think, of course, there can be no reasonable objection to that. There is no reason why the citizens of the North Side shouldn't have as comfortable an access to the business heart as those of the West or South Side."

"None in the world," Mr. Haguenin was compelled to admit. "Are you satisfied, however, that the council and the city should sanction the gift of a loop of this kind without some form of compensation?"

"I see no reason why they shouldn't," replied Cowperwood, in a somewhat injured tone. "There has never been any question of compensation where other improvements have been suggested for the city in the past. The South Side company has been allowed to turn in a loop around State and Wabash. The Chicago City Passenger Railway has a loop in Adams and Washington streets."

"Quite so," said Mr. Haguenin, vaguely. "That is true. But this tunnel, now—do you think that should fall in the same category of public beneficences?"

At the same time he could not help thinking, as he looked at the proposed loop indicated on the map, that the new cable line, with its string of trailers, would give down-town Chicago a truly metropolitan air and would provide a splendid outlet for the North Side. The streets in question were magnificent commercial thoroughfares, crowded even at this date with structures five, six, seven, and even eight stories high, and brimming with heavy streams of eager life—young, fresh, optimistic. Because of the narrow area into which the commercial life of the city tended to congest itself, this property and these streets were immensely valuable—among the most valuable in the whole city. Also he observed that if this loop did come here its cars, on their return trip along Dearborn Street, would pass by his very door—the office of the Press—thereby enhancing the value of that property of which he was the owner.

"I certainly do, Mr. Haguenin," returned Cowperwood, emphatically, in answer to his query. "Personally, I should think Chicago would be glad to pay a bonus to get its street-railway service straightened out, especially where a corporation comes forward with a liberal, conservative programme such as this. It means millions in growth of property values on the North Side. It means millions to the business heart to have this loop system laid down just as I suggest."

He put his finger firmly on the map which he had brought, and Haguenin agreed with him that the plan was undoubtedly a sound business proposition. "Personally, I should be the last to complain," he added, "for the line passes my door. At the same time this tunnel, as I understand it, cost in the neighborhood of eight hundred thousand or a million dollars. It is a delicate problem. I should like to know what the other editors think of it, and how the city council itself would feel toward it."

Cowperwood nodded. "Certainly, certainly," he said. "With pleasure. I would not come here at all if I did not feel that I had a perfectly legitimate proposition—one that the press of the city should unite in supporting. Where a corporation such as ours is facing large expenditures, which have to be financed by outside capital, it is only natural that we should wish to allay useless, groundless opposition in advance. I hope we may command your support."

"I hope you may," smiled Mr. Haguenin. They parted the best of friends.

The other publishers, guardians of the city's privileges, were not quite so genial as Haguenin in their approval of Cowperwood's proposition. The use of a tunnel and several of the most important down-town streets might readily be essential to the development of Cowperwood's North Side schemes, but the gift of them was a different matter. Already, as a matter of fact, the various publishers and editors had been consulted by Schryhart, Merrill, and others with a view to discovering how they felt as to this new venture, and whether Cowperwood would be cheerfully indorsed or not. Schryhart, smarting from the wounds he had received in the gas war, viewed this new activity on Cowperwood's part with a suspicious and envious eye. To him much more than to the others it spelled a new and dangerous foe in the street-railway field, although all the leading citizens of Chicago were interested.

"I suppose now," he said one evening to the Hon. Walter Melville Hyssop, editor and publisher of the Transcript and the Evening Mail, whom he met at the Union League, "that this fellow Cowperwood will attempt some disturbing coup in connection with street-railway affairs. He is just the sort. I think, from an editorial point of view, his political connections will bear watching." Already there were rumors abroad that McKenty might have something to do with the new company.

Hyssop, a medium-sized, ornate, conservative person, was not so sure. "We shall find out soon enough, no doubt, what propositions Mr. Cowperwood has in hand," he remarked. "He is very energetic and capable, as I understand it."

Hyssop and Schryhart, as well as the latter and Merrill, had been social friends for years and years.

After his call on Mr. Haguenin, Cowperwood's naturally selective and self-protective judgment led him next to the office of the Inquirer, old General MacDonald's paper, where he found that because of rhuematism and the severe, inclement weather of Chicago, the old General had sailed only a few days before for Italy. His son, an aggressive, mercantile type of youth of thirty-two, and a managing editor by the name of Du Bois were acting in his stead. In the son, Truman Leslie MacDonald, an intense, calm, and penetrating young man, Cowperwood encountered some one who, like himself, saw life only from the point of view of sharp, self-centered, personal advantage. What was he, Truman Leslie MacDonald, to derive from any given situation, and how was he to make the Inquirer an even greater property than it had been under his father before him? He did not propose to be overwhelmed by the old General's rather flowery reputation. At the same time he meant to become imposingly rich. An active member of a young and very smart set which had been growing up on the North Side, he rode, drove, was instrumental in organizing a new and exclusive country club, and despised the rank and file as unsuited to the fine atmosphere to which he aspired. Mr. Clifford Du Bois, the managing editor, was a cool reprobate of forty, masquerading as a gentleman, and using the Inquirer in subtle ways for furthering his personal ends, and that under the old General's very nose. He was osseous, sandy-haired, blue-eyed, with a keen, formidable nose and a solid chin. Clifford Du Bois was always careful never to let his left hand know what his right hand did.

It was this sapient pair that received Cowperwood in the old General's absence, first in Mr. Du Bois's room and then in that of Mr. MacDonald. The latter had already heard much of Cowperwood's doings. Men who had been connected with the old gas war—Jordan Jules, for instance, president of the old North Chicago Gas Company, and Hudson Baker, president of the old West Chicago Gas Company—had denounced him long before as a bucaneer who had pirated them out of very comfortable sinecures. Here he was now invading the North Chicago street-railway field and coming with startling schemes for the reorganization of the down-town business heart. Why shouldn't the city have something in return; or, better yet, those who helped to formulate the public opinion, so influential in the success of Cowperwood's plans? Truman Leslie MacDonald, as has been said, did not see life from his father's point of view at all. He had in mind a sharp bargain, which he could drive with Cowperwood during the old gentleman's absence. The General need never know.

"I understand your point of view, Mr. Cowperwood," he commented, loftily, "but where does the city come in? I see very clearly how important this is to the people of the North Side, and even to the merchants and real-estate owners in the down-town section; but that simply means that it is ten times as important to you. Undoubtedly, it will help the city, but the city is growing, anyhow, and that will help you. I've said all along that these public franchises were worth more than they used to be worth. Nobody seems to see it very clearly as yet, but it's true just the same. That tunnel is worth more now than the day it was built. Even if the city can't use it, somebody can."

He was meaning to indicate a rival car line.

Cowperwood bristled internally.

"That's all very well," he said, preserving his surface composure, "but why make fish of one and flesh of another? The South Side company has a loop for which it never paid a dollar. So has the Chicago City Passenger Railway. The North Side company is planning more extensive improvements than were ever undertaken by any single company before. I hardly think it is fair to raise the question of compensation and a franchise tax at this time, and in connection with this one company only."

"Um—well, that may be true of the other companies. The South Side company had those streets long ago. They merely connected them up. But this tunnel, now—that's a different matter, isn't it? The city bought and paid for that, didn't it?"

"Quite true—to help out men who saw that they couldn't make another dollar out of it," said Cowperwood, acidly. "But it's of no use to the city. It will cave in pretty soon if it isn't repaired. Why, the consent of property-owners alone, along the line of this loop, is going to aggregate a considerable sum. It seems to me instead of hampering a great work of this kind the public ought to do everything in its power to assist it. It means giving a new metropolitan flavor to this down-town section. It is time Chicago was getting out of its swaddling clothes."

Mr. MacDonald, the younger, shook his head. He saw clearly enough the significance of the points made, but he was jealous of Cowperwood and of his success. This loop franchise and tunnel gift meant millions for some one. Why shouldn't there be something in it for him? He called in Mr. Du Bois and went over the proposition with him. Quite without effort the latter sensed the drift of the situation.

"It's an excellent proposition," he said. "I don't see but that the city should have something, though. Public sentiment is rather against gifts to corporations just at present."

Cowperwood caught the drift of what was in young MacDonald's mind.

"Well, what would you suggest as a fair rate of compensation to the city?" he asked, cautiously, wondering whether this aggressive youth would go so far as to commit himself in any way.

"Oh, well, as to that," MacDonald replied, with a deprecatory wave of his hand, "I couldn't say. It ought to bear a reasonable relationship to the value of the utility as it now stands. I should want to think that over. I shouldn't want to see the city demand anything unreasonable. Certainly, though, there is a privilege here that is worth something."

Cowperwood flared inwardly. His greatest weakness, if he had one, was that he could but ill brook opposition of any kind. This young upstart, with his thin, cool face and sharp, hard eyes! He would have liked to tell him and his paper to go to the devil. He went away, hoping that he could influence the Inquirer in some other way upon the old General's return.

As he was sitting next morning in his office in North Clark Street he was aroused by the still novel-sounding bell of the telephone—one of the earliest in use—on the wall back of him. After a parley with his secretary, he was informed that a gentleman connected with the Inquirer wished to speak with him.

"This is the Inquirer," said a voice which Cowperwood, his ear to the receiver, thought he recognized as that of young Truman MacDonald, the General's son. "You wanted to know," continued the voice, "what would be considered adequate compensation so far as that tunnel matter is concerned. Can you hear me?"

"Yes," replied Cowperwood.

"Well, I should not care to influence your judgment one way or the other; but if my opinion were asked I should say about fifty thousand dollars' worth of North Chicago Street Railway stock would be satisfactory."

The voice was young, clear, steely.

"To whom would you suggest that it might be paid?" Cowperwood asked, softly, quite genially.

"That, also, I would suggest, might be left to your very sound judgment."

The voice ceased. The receiver was hung up.

"Well, I'll be damned!" Cowperwood said, looking at the floor reflectively. A smile spread over his face. "I'm not going to be held up like that. I don't need to be. It isn't worth it. Not at present, anyhow." His teeth set.

He was underestimating Mr. Truman Leslie MacDonald, principally because he did not like him. He thought his father might return and oust him. It was one of the most vital mistakes he ever made in his life.

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