It was during the earlier phases of his connection with Chicago street-railways that Cowperwood, ardently interesting himself in Stephanie Platow, developed as serious a sex affair as any that had yet held him. At once, after a few secret interviews with her, he adopted his favorite ruse in such matters and established bachelor quarters in the down-town section as a convenient meeting-ground. Several conversations with Stephanie were not quite as illuminating as they might have been, for, wonderful as she was—a kind of artistic godsend in this dull Western atmosphere—she was also enigmatic and elusive, very. He learned speedily, in talking with her on several days when they met for lunch, of her dramatic ambitions, and of the seeming spiritual and artistic support she required from some one who would have faith in her and inspire her by his or her confidence. He learned all about the Garrick Players, her home intimacies and friends, the growing quarrels in the dramatic organization. He asked her, as they sat in a favorite and inconspicuous resort of his finding, during one of those moments when blood and not intellect was ruling between them, whether she had ever—
"Once," she naively admitted.
It was a great shock to Cowperwood. He had fancied her refreshingly innocent. But she explained it was all so accidental, so unintentional on her part, very. She described it all so gravely, soulfully, pathetically, with such a brooding, contemplative backward searching of the mind, that he was astonished and in a way touched. What a pity! It was Gardner Knowles who had done this, she admitted. But he was not very much to blame, either. It just happened. She had tried to protest, but— Wasn't she angry? Yes, but then she was sorry to do anything to hurt Gardner Knowles. He was such a charming boy, and he had such a lovely mother and sister, and the like.
Cowperwood was astonished. He had reached that point in life where the absence of primal innocence in a woman was not very significant; but in Stephanie, seeing that she was so utterly charming, it was almost too bad. He thought what fools the Platows must be to tolerate this art atmosphere for Stephanie without keeping a sharp watch over it. Nevertheless, he was inclined to believe from observation thus far that Stephanie might be hard to watch. She was ingrainedly irresponsible, apparently—so artistically nebulous, so non-self-protective. To go on and be friends with this scamp! And yet she protested that never after that had there been the least thing between them. Cowperwood could scarcely believe it. She must be lying, and yet he liked her so. The very romantic, inconsequential way in which she narrated all this staggered, amused, and even fascinated him.
"But, Stephanie," he argued, curiously, "there must been some aftermath to all this. What happened? What did you do?"
"Nothing." She shook her head.
He had to smile.
"But oh, don't let's talk about it!" she pleaded. "I don't want to. It hurts me. There was nothing more."
She sighed, and Cowperwood meditated. The evil was now done, and the best that he could do, if he cared for her at all—and he did—was to overlook it. He surveyed her oddly, wonderingly. What a charming soul she was, anyhow! How naive—how brooding! She had art—lots of it. Did he want to give her up?
As he might have known, it was dangerous to trifle with a type of this kind, particularly once awakened to the significance of promiscuity, and unless mastered by some absorbing passion. Stephanie had had too much flattery and affection heaped upon her in the past two years to be easily absorbed. Nevertheless, for the time being, anyhow, she was fascinated by the significance of Cowperwood. It was wonderful to have so fine, so powerful a man care for her. She conceived of him as a very great artist in his realm rather than as a business man, and he grasped this fact after a very little while and appreciated it. To his delight, she was even more beautiful physically than he had anticipated—a smoldering, passionate girl who met him with a fire which, though somber, quite rivaled his own. She was different, too, in her languorous acceptance of all that he bestowed from any one he had ever known. She was as tactful as Rita Sohlberg—more so—but so preternaturally silent at times.
"Stephanie," he would exclaim, "do talk. What are you thinking of? You dream like an African native."
She merely sat and smiled in a dark way or sketched or modeled him. She was constantly penciling something, until moved by the fever of her blood, when she would sit and look at him or brood silently, eyes down. Then, when he would reach for her with seeking hands, she would sigh, "Oh yes, oh yes!"
Those were delightful days with Stephanie.
In the matter of young MacDonald's request for fifty thousand dollars in securities, as well as the attitude of the other editors—Hyssop, Braxton, Ricketts, and so on—who had proved subtly critical, Cowperwood conferred with Addison and McKenty.
"A likely lad, that," commented McKenty, succintly, when he heard it. "He'll do better than his father in one way, anyhow. He'll probably make more money."
McKenty had seen old General MacDonald just once in his life, and liked him.
"I should like to know what the General would think of that if he knew," commented Addison, who admired the old editor greatly. "I'm afraid he wouldn't sleep very well."
"There is just one thing," observed Cowperwood, thoughtfully. "This young man will certainly come into control of the Inquirer sometime. He looks to me like some one who would not readily forget an injury." He smiled sardonically. So did McKenty and Addison.
"Be that as it may," suggested the latter, "he isn't editor yet." McKenty, who never revealed his true views to any one but Cowperwood, waited until he had the latter alone to observe:
What can they do? Your request is a reasonable one. Why shouldn't the city give you the tunnel? It's no good to anyone as it is. And the loop is no more than the other roads have now. I'm thinking it's the Chicago City Railway and that silk-stocking crowd on State Street or that gas crowd that's talking against you. I've heard them before. Give them what they want, and it's a fine moral cause. Give it to anyone else, and there's something wrong with it. It's little attention I pay to them. We have the council, let it pass the ordinances. It can't be proved that they don't do it willingly. The mayor is a sensible man. He'll sign them. Let young MacDonald talk if he wants to. If he says too much you can talk to his father. As for Hyssop, he's an old grandmother anyhow. I've never known him to be for a public improvement yet that was really good for Chicago unless Schryhart or Merrill or Arneel or someone else of that crowd wanted it. I know them of old. My advice is to go ahead and never mind them. To hell with them! Things will be sweet enough, once you are as powerful as they are. They'll get nothing in the future without paying for it. It's little enough they've ever done to further anything that I wanted.
Cowperwood, however, remained cool and thoughtful. Should he pay young MacDonald? he asked himself. Addison knew of no influence that he could bring to bear. Finally, after much thought, he decided to proceed as he had planned. Consequently, the reporters around the City Hall and the council-chamber, who were in touch with Alderman Thomas Dowling, McKenty's leader on the floor of council, and those who called occasionally—quite regularly, in fact—at the offices of the North Chicago Street Railway Company, Cowperwood's comfortable new offices in the North Side, were now given to understand that two ordinances—one granting the free use of the La Salle Street tunnel for an unlimited period (practically a gift of it), and another granting a right of way in La Salle, Munroe, Dearborn, and Randolph streets for the proposed loop—would be introduced in council very shortly. Cowperwood granted a very flowery interview, in which he explained quite enthusiastically all that the North Chicago company was doing and proposed to do, and made clear what a splendid development it would assure to the North Side and to the business center.
At once Schryhart, Merrill, and some individuals connected with the Chicago West Division Company, began to complain in the newspaper offices and at the clubs to Ricketts, Braxton, young MacDonald, and the other editors. Envy of the pyrotechnic progress of the man was as much a factor in this as anything else. It did not make the slightest difference, as Cowperwood had sarcastically pointed out, that every other corporation of any significance in Chicago had asked and received without money and without price. Somehow his career in connection with Chicago gas, his venturesome, if unsuccessful effort to enter Chicago society, his self-acknowledged Philadelphia record, rendered the sensitive cohorts of the ultra-conservative exceedingly fearful. In Schryhart's Chronicle appeared a news column which was headed, "Plain Grab of City Tunnel Proposed." It was a very truculent statement, and irritated Cowperwood greatly. The Press (Mr. Haguenin's paper), on the other hand, was most cordial to the idea of the loop, while appearing to be a little uncertain as to whether the tunnel should be granted without compensation or not. Editor Hyssop felt called upon to insist that something more than merely nominal compensation should be made for the tunnel, and that "riders" should be inserted in the loop ordinance making it incumbent upon the North Chicago company to keep those thoroughfares in full repair and well lighted. The Inquirer, under Mr. MacDonald, junior, and Mr. Du Bois, was in rumbling opposition. No free tunnels, it cried; no free ordinances for privileges in the down-town heart. It had nothing to say about Cowperwood personally. The Globe, Mr. Braxton's paper, was certain that no free rights to the tunnel should be given, and that a much better route for the loop could be found—one larger and more serviceable to the public, one that might be made to include State Street or Wabash Avenue, or both, where Mr. Merrill's store was located. So it went, and one could see quite clearly to what extent the interests of the public figured in the majority of these particular viewpoints.
Cowperwood, individual, reliant, utterly indifferent to opposition of any kind, was somewhat angered by the manner in which his overtures had been received, but still felt that the best way out of his troubles was to follow McKenty's advice and get power first. Once he had his cable-conduit down, his new cars running, the tunnel rebuilt, brilliantly lighted, and the bridge crush disposed of, the public would see what a vast change for the better had been made and would support him. Finally all things were in readiness and the ordinance jammed through. McKenty, being a little dubious of the outcome, had a rocking-chair brought into the council-chamber itself during the hours when the ordinances were up for consideration. In this he sat, presumably as a curious spectator, actually as a master dictating the course of liquidation in hand. Neither Cowperwood nor any one else knew of McKenty's action until too late to interfere with it. Addison and Videra, when they read about it as sneeringly set forth in the news columns of the papers, lifted and then wrinkled their eyebrows.
"That looks like pretty rough work to me," commented Addison. "I thought McKenty had more tact. That's his early Irish training."
Alexander Rambaud, who was an admirer and follower of Cowperwood's, wondered whether the papers were lying, whether it really could be true that Cowperwood had a serious political compact with McKenty which would allow him to walk rough-shod over public opinion. Rambaud considered Cowperwood's proposition so sane and reasonable that he could not understand why there should be serious opposition, or why Cowperwood and McKenty should have to resort to such methods.
However, the streets requisite for the loop were granted. The tunnel was leased for nine hundred and ninety-nine years at the nominal sum of five thousand dollars per year. It was understood that the old bridges over State, Dearborn, and Clark streets should be put in repair or removed; but there was "a joker" inserted elsewhere which nullified this. Instantly there were stormy outbursts in the Chronicle, Inquirer, and Globe; but Cowperwood, when he read them, merely smiled. "Let them grumble," he said to himself. "I put a very reasonable proposition before them. Why should they complain? I'm doing more now than the Chicago City Railway. It's jealousy, that's all. If Schryhart or Merrill had asked for it, there would have been no complaint."
McKenty called at the offices of the Chicago Trust Company to congratulate Cowperwood. "The boys did as I thought they would," he said. "I had to be there, though, for I heard some one say that about ten of them intended to ditch us at the last moment."
"Good work, good work!" replied Cowperwood, cheerfully. "This row will all blow over. It would be the same whenever we asked. The air will clear up. We'll give them such a fine service that they'll forget all about this, and be glad they gave us the tunnel."
Just the same, the morning after the enabling ordinances had passed, there was much derogatory comment in influential quarters. Mr. Norman Schryhart, who, through his publisher, had been fulminating defensively against Cowperwood, stared solemnly at Mr. Ricketts when they met.
"Well," said the magnate, who imagined he foresaw a threatened attack on his Chicago City Street Railway preserves, "I see our friend Mr. Cowperwood has managed to get his own way with the council. I am morally certain he uses money to get what he is after as freely as a fireman uses water. He's as slippery as an eel. I should be glad if we could establish that there is a community of interest between him and these politicians around City Hall, or between him and Mr. McKenty. I believe he has set out to dominate this city politically as well as financially, and he'll need constant watching. If public opinion can be aroused against him he may be dislodged in the course of time. Chicago may get too uncomfortable for him. I know Mr. McKenty personally, but he is not the kind of man I care to do business with."
Mr. Schryhart's method of negotiating at City Hall was through certain reputable but somewhat slow-going lawyers who were in the employ of the South Side company. They had never been able to reach Mr. McKenty at all. Ricketts echoed a hearty approval. "You're very right," he said, with owlish smugness, adjusting a waistcoat button that had come loose, and smoothing his cuffs. "He's a prince of politicians. We'll have to look sharp if we ever trap him" Mr. Ricketts would have been glad to sell out to Mr. Cowperwood, if he had not been so heavily obligated to Mr. Schryhart. He had no especial affection for Cowperwood, but he recognized in him a coming man.
Young MacDonald, talking to Clifford Du Bois in the office of the Inquirer, and reflecting how little his private telephone message had availed him, was in a waspish, ironic frame of mind.
"Well," he said, "it seems our friend Cowperwood hasn't taken our advice. He may make his mark, but the Inquirer isn't through with him by a long shot. He'll be wanting other things from the city in the future."
Clifford Du Bois regarded his acid young superior with a curious eye. He knew nothing of MacDonald's private telephone message to Cowperwood; but he knew how he himself would have dealt with the crafty financier had he been in MacDonald's position.
"Yes, Cowperwood is shrewd," was his comment. "Pritchard, our political man, says the ways of the City Hall are greased straight up to the mayor and McKenty, and that Cowperwood can have anything he wants at any time. Tom Dowling eats out of his hand, and you know what that means. Old General Van Sickle is working for him in some way. Did you ever see that old buzzard flying around if there wasn't something dead in the woods?"
"He's a slick one," remarked MacDonald. "But as for Cowperwood, he can't get away with this sort of thing very long. He's going too fast. He wants too much."
Mr. Du Bois smiled quite secretly. It amused him to see how Cowperwood had brushed MacDonald and his objections aside—dispensed for the time being with the services of the Inquirer. Du Bois confidently believed that if the old General had been at home he would have supported the financier.
Within eight months after seizing the La Salle Street tunnel and gobbling four of the principal down-town streets for his loop, Cowperwood turned his eyes toward the completion of the second part of the programme—that of taking over the Washington Street tunnel and the Chicago West Division Company, which was still drifting along under its old horse-car regime. It was the story of the North Side company all over again. Stockholders of a certain type—the average—are extremely nervous, sensitive, fearsome. They are like that peculiar bivalve, the clam, which at the slightest sense of untoward pressure withdraws into its shell and ceases all activity. The city tax department began by instituting proceedings against the West Division company, compelling them to disgorge various unpaid street-car taxes which had hitherto been conveniently neglected. The city highway department was constantly jumping on them for neglect of street repairs. The city water department, by some hocus-pocus, made it its business to discover that they had been stealing water. On the other hand were the smiling representatives of Cowperwood, Kaifrath, Addison, Videra, and others, approaching one director or stockholder after another with glistening accounts of what a splendid day would set in for the Chicago West Division Company if only it would lease fifty-one per cent. of its holdings—fifty-one per cent. of twelve hundred and fifty shares, par value two hundred dollars—for the fascinating sum of six hundred dollars per share, and thirty per cent. interest on all stock not assumed.
Who could resist? Starve and beat a dog on the one hand; wheedle, pet, and hold meat in front of it on the other, and it can soon be brought to perform. Cowperwood knew this. His emissaries for good and evil were tireless. In the end—and it was not long in coming—the directors and chief stockholders of the Chicago West Division Company succumbed; and then, ho! the sudden leasing by the Chicago West Division Company of all its property—to the North Chicago Street Railway Company, lessee in turn of the Chicago City Passenger Railway, a line which Cowperwood had organized to take over the Washington Street tunnel. How had he accomplished it? The question was on the tip of every financial tongue. Who were the men or the organization providing the enormous sums necessary to pay six hundred dollars per share for six hundred and fifty shares of the twelve hundred and fifty belonging to the old West Division company, and thirty per cent. per year on all the remainder? Where was the money coming from to cable all these lines? It was simple enough if they had only thought. Cowperwood was merely capitalizing the future.
Before the newspapers or the public could suitably protest, crowds of men were at work day and night in the business heart of the city, their flaring torches and resounding hammers making a fitful bedlamic world of that region; they were laying the first great cable loop and repairing the La Salle Street tunnel. It was the same on the North and West Sides, where concrete conduits were being laid, new grip and trailer cars built, new car-barns erected, and large, shining power-houses put up. The city, so long used to the old bridge delays, the straw-strewn, stoveless horse-cars on their jumping rails, was agog to see how fine this new service would be. The La Salle Street tunnel was soon aglow with white plaster and electric lights. The long streets and avenues of the North Side were threaded with concrete-lined conduits and heavy street-rails. The powerhouses were completed and the system was started, even while the contracts for the changes on the West Side were being let.
Schryhart and his associates were amazed at this swiftness of action, this dizzy phantasmagoria of financial operations. It looked very much to the conservative traction interests of Chicago as if this young giant out of the East had it in mind to eat up the whole city. The Chicago Trust Company, which he, Addison, McKenty, and others had organized to manipulate the principal phases of the local bond issues, and of which he was rumored to be in control, was in a flourishing condition. Apparently he could now write his check for millions, and yet he was not beholden, so far as the older and more conservative multimillionaires of Chicago were concerned, to any one of them. The worst of it was that this Cowperwood—an upstart, a jail-bird, a stranger whom they had done their best to suppress financially and ostracize socially, had now become an attractive, even a sparkling figure in the eyes of the Chicago public. His views and opinions on almost any topic were freely quoted; the newspapers, even the most antagonistic, did not dare to neglect him. Their owners were now fully alive to the fact that a new financial rival had appeared who was worthy of their steel.