The Titan

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter XXXVIII: An Hour of Defeat

The stoic Cowperwood, listening to the blare and excitement that went with the fall campaign, was much more pained to learn of Aileen's desertion than to know that he had arrayed a whole social element against himself in Chicago. He could not forget the wonder of those first days when Aileen was young, and love and hope had been the substance of her being. The thought ran through all his efforts and cogitations like a distantly orchestrated undertone. In the main, in spite of his activity, he was an introspective man, and art, drama, and the pathos of broken ideals were not beyond him. He harbored in no way any grudge against Aileen—only a kind of sorrow over the inevitable consequences of his own ungovernable disposition, the will to freedom within himself. Change! Change! the inevitable passing of things! Who parts with a perfect thing, even if no more than an unreasoning love, without a touch of self-pity?

But there followed swiftly the sixth of November, with its election, noisy and irrational, and the latter resulted in a resounding defeat. Out of the thirty-two Democratic aldermen nominated only ten were elected, giving the opposition a full two-thirds majority in council, Messrs. Tiernan and Kerrigan, of course, being safely in their places. With them came a Republican mayor and all his Republican associates on the ticket, who were now supposed to carry out the theories of the respectable and the virtuous. Cowperwood knew what it meant and prepared at once to make overtures to the enemy. From McKenty and others he learned by degrees the full story of Tiernan's and Kerrigan's treachery, but he did not store it up bitterly against them. Such was life. They must be looked after more carefully in future, or caught in some trap and utterly undone. According to their own accounts, they had barely managed to scrape through.

"Look at meself! I only won by three hundred votes," archly declared Mr. Kerrigan, on divers and sundry occasions. "By God, I almost lost me own ward!"

Mr. Tiernan was equally emphatic. "The police was no good to me," he declared, firmly. "They let the other fellows beat up me men. I only polled six thousand when I should have had nine."

But no one believed them.

While McKenty meditated as to how in two years he should be able to undo this temporary victory, and Cowperwood was deciding that conciliation was the best policy for him, Schryhart, Hand, and Arneel, joining hands with young MacDonald, were wondering how they could make sure that this party victory would cripple Cowperwood and permanently prevent him from returning to power. It was a long, intricate fight that followed, but it involved (before Cowperwood could possibly reach the new aldermen) a proposed reintroduction and passage of the much-opposed General Electric franchise, the granting of rights and privileges in outlying districts to various minor companies, and last and worst—a thing which had not previously dawned on Cowperwood as in any way probable—the projection of an ordinance granting to a certain South Side corporation the privilege of erecting and operating an elevated road. This was as severe a blow as any that had yet been dealt Cowperwood, for it introduced a new factor and complication into the Chicago street-railway situation which had hitherto, for all its troubles, been comparatively simple.

In order to make this plain it should be said that some eighteen or twenty years before in New York there had been devised and erected a series of elevated roads calculated to relieve the congestion of traffic on the lower portion of that long and narrow island, and they had proved an immense success. Cowperwood had been interested in them, along with everything else which pertained to public street traffic, from the very beginning. In his various trips to New York he had made a careful physical inspection of them. He knew all about their incorporation, backers, the expense connected with them, their returns, and so forth. Personally, in so far as New York was concerned, he considered them an ideal solution of traffic on that crowded island. Here in Chicago, where the population was as yet comparatively small—verging now toward a million, and widely scattered over a great area—he did not feel that they would be profitable—certainly not for some years to come. What traffic they gained would be taken from the surface lines, and if he built them he would be merely doubling his expenses to halve his profits. From time to time he had contemplated the possibility of their being built by other men—providing they could secure a franchise, which previous to the late election had not seemed probable—and in this connection he had once said to Addison: "Let them sink their money, and about the time the population is sufficient to support the lines they will have been driven into the hands of receivers. That will simply chase the game into my bag, and I can buy them for a mere song." With this conclusion Addison had agreed. But since this conversation circumstances made the construction of these elevated roads far less problematic.

In the first place, public interest in the idea of elevated roads was increasing. They were a novelty, a factor in the life of New York; and at this time rivalry with the great cosmopolitan heart was very keen in the mind of the average Chicago citizen. Public sentiment in this direction, however naive or unworthy, was nevertheless sufficient to make any elevated road in Chicago popular for the time being. In the second place, it so happened that because of this swelling tide of municipal enthusiasm, this renaissance of the West, Chicago had finally been chosen, at a date shortly preceding the present campaign, as the favored city for an enormous international fair—quite the largest ever given in America. Men such as Hand, Schryhart, Merrill, and Arneel, to say nothing of the various newspaper publishers and editors, had been enthusiastic supporters of the project, and in this Cowperwood had been one with them. No sooner, however, had the award actually been granted than Cowperwood's enemies made it their first concern to utilize the situation against him.

To begin with, the site of the fair, by aid of the new anti-Cowperwood council, was located on the South Side, at the terminus of the Schryhart line, thus making the whole city pay tribute to that corporation. Simultaneously the thought suddenly dawned upon the Schryhart faction that it would be an excellent stroke of business if the New York elevated-road idea were now introduced into the city—not so much with the purpose of making money immediately, but in order to bring the hated magnate to an understanding that he had a formidable rival which might invade the territory that he now monopolized, curtailing his and thus making it advisable for him to close out his holdings and depart. Bland and interesting were the conferences held by Mr. Schryhart with Mr. Hand, and by Mr. Hand with Mr. Arneel on this subject. Their plan as first outlined was to build an elevated road on the South Side—south of the proposed fair-grounds—and once that was popular—having previously secured franchises which would cover the entire field, West, South, and North—to construct the others at their leisure, and so to bid Mr. Cowperwood a sweet and smiling adieu.

Cowperwood, awaiting the assembling of the new city council one month after election, did not propose to wait in peace and quiet until the enemy should strike at him unprepared. Calling those familiar agents, his corporation attorneys, around him, he was shortly informed of the new elevated-road idea, and it gave him a real shock. Obviously Hand and Schryhart were now in deadly earnest. At once he dictated a letter to Mr. Gilgan asking him to call at his office. At the same time he hurriedly adjured his advisers to use due diligence in discovering what influences could be brought to bear on the new mayor, the honorable Chaffee Thayer Sluss, to cause him to veto the ordinances in case they came before him—to effect in him, indeed, a total change of heart.

The Hon. Chaffee Thayer Sluss, whose attitude in this instance was to prove crucial, was a tall, shapely, somewhat grandiloquent person who took himself and his social and commercial opportunities and doings in the most serious and, as it were, elevated light. You know, perhaps, the type of man or woman who, raised in an atmosphere of comparative comfort and some small social pretension, and being short of those gray convolutions in the human brain-pan which permit an individual to see life in all its fortuitousness and uncertainty, proceed because of an absence of necessity and the consequent lack of human experience to take themselves and all that they do in the most reverential and Providence-protected spirit. The Hon. Chaffee Thayer Sluss reasoned that, because of the splendid ancestry on which he prided himself, he was an essentially honest man. His father had amassed a small fortune in the wholesale harness business. The wife whom at the age of twenty-eight he had married—a pretty but inconsequential type of woman—was the daughter of a pickle manufacturer, whose wares were in some demand and whose children had been considered good "catches" in the neighborhood from which the Hon. Chaffee Sluss emanated. There had been a highly conservative wedding feast, and a honeymoon trip to the Garden of the Gods and the Grand Canon. Then the sleek Chaffee, much in the grace of both families because of his smug determination to rise in the world, had returned to his business, which was that of a paper-broker, and had begun with the greatest care to amass a competence on his own account.

The Honorable Chaffee, be it admitted, had no particular faults, unless those of smugness and a certain over-carefulness as to his own prospects and opportunities can be counted as such. But he had one weakness, which, in view of his young wife's stern and somewhat Puritanic ideas and the religious propensities of his father and father-in-law, was exceedingly disturbing to him. He had an eye for the beauty of women in general, and particularly for plump, blonde women with corn-colored hair. Now and then, in spite of the fact that he had an ideal wife and two lovely children, he would cast a meditative and speculative eye after those alluring forms that cross the path of all men and that seem to beckon slyly by implication if not by actual, open suggestion.

However, it was not until several years after Mr. Sluss had married, and when he might have been considered settled in the ways of righteousness, that he actually essayed to any extent the role of a gay Lothario. An experience or two with the less vigorous and vicious girls of the streets, a tentative love affair with a girl in his office who was not new to the practices she encouraged, and he was fairly launched. He lent himself at first to the great folly of pretending to love truly; but this was taken by one and another intelligent young woman with a grain of salt. The entertainment and preferment he could provide were accepted as sufficient reward. One girl, however, actually seduced, had to be compensated by five thousand dollars—and that after such terrors and heartaches (his wife, her family, and his own looming up horribly in the background) as should have cured him forever of a penchant for stenographers and employees generally. Thereafter for a long time he confined himself strictly to such acquaintances as he could make through agents, brokers, and manufacturers who did business with him, and who occasionally invited him to one form of bacchanalian feast or another.

As time went on he became wiser, if, alas, a little more eager. By association with merchants and some superior politicians whom he chanced to encounter, and because the ward in which he lived happened to be a pivotal one, he began to speak publicly on occasion and to gather dimly the import of that logic which sees life as a pagan wild, and religion and convention as the forms man puts on or off to suit his fancy, mood, and whims during the onward drift of the ages. Not for Chaffee Thayer Sluss to grasp the true meaning of it all. His brain was not big enough. Men led dual lives, it was true; but say what you would, and in the face of his own erring conduct, this was very bad. On Sunday, when he went to church with his wife, he felt that religion was essential and purifying. In his own business he found himself frequently confronted by various little flaws of logic relating to undue profits, misrepresentations, and the like; but say what you would, nevertheless and notwithstanding, God was God, morality was superior, the church was important. It was wrong to yield to one's impulses, as he found it so fascinating to do. One should be better than his neighbor, or pretend to be.

What is to be done with such a rag-bag, moralistic ass as this? In spite of all his philanderings, and the resultant qualms due to his fear of being found out, he prospered in business and rose to some eminence in his own community. As he had grown more lax he had become somewhat more genial and tolerant, more generally acceptable. He was a good Republican, a follower in the wake of Norrie Simms and young Truman Leslie MacDonald. His father-in-law was both rich and moderately influential. Having lent himself to some campaign speaking, and to party work in general, he proved quite an adept. Because of all these things—his ability, such as it was, his pliability, and his thoroughly respectable savor—he had been slated as candidate for mayor on the Republican ticket, which had subsequently been elected.

Cowperwood was well aware, from remarks made in the previous campaign, of the derogatory attitude of Mayor Sluss. Already he had discussed it in a conversation with the Hon. Joel Avery (ex-state senator), who was in his employ at the time. Avery had recently been in all sorts of corporation work, and knew the ins and outs of the courts—lawyers, judges, politicians—as he knew his revised statutes. He was a very little man—not more than five feet one inch tall—with a wide forehead, saffron hair and brows, brown, cat-like eyes and a mushy underlip that occasionally covered the upper one as he thought. After years and years Mr. Avery had learned to smile, but it was in a strange, exotic way. Mostly he gazed steadily, folded his lower lip over his upper one, and expressed his almost unchangeable conclusions in slow Addisonian phrases. In the present crisis it was Mr. Avery who had a suggestion to make.

"One thing that I think could be done," he said to Cowperwood one day in a very confidential conference, "would be to have a look into the—the—shall I say the heart affairs—of the Hon. Chaffee Thayer Sluss." Mr. Avery's cat-like eyes gleamed sardonically. "Unless I am greatly mistaken, judging the man by his personal presence merely, he is the sort of person who probably has had, or if not might readily be induced to have, some compromising affair with a woman which would require considerable sacrifice on his part to smooth over. We are all human and vulnerable"—up went Mr. Avery's lower lip covering the upper one, and then down again—"and it does not behoove any of us to be too severely ethical and self-righteous. Mr. Sluss is a well-meaning man, but a trifle sentimental, as I take it."

As Mr. Avery paused Cowperwood merely contemplated him, amused no less by his personal appearance than by his suggestion.

"Not a bad idea," he said, "though I don't like to mix heart affairs with politics."

"Yes," said Mr. Avery, soulfully, "there may be something in it. I don't know. You never can tell."

The upshot of this was that the task of obtaining an account of Mr. Sluss's habits, tastes, and proclivities was assigned to that now rather dignified legal personage, Mr. Burton Stimson, who in turn assigned it to an assistant, a Mr. Marchbanks. It was an amazing situation in some respects, but those who know anything concerning the intricacies of politics, finance, and corporate control, as they were practised in those palmy days, would never marvel at the wells of subtlety, sinks of misery, and morasses of disaster which they represented.

From another quarter, the Hon. Patrick Gilgan was not slow in responding to Cowperwood's message. Whatever his political connections and proclivities, he did not care to neglect so powerful a man.

"And what can I be doing for you to-day, Mr. Cowperwood?" he inquired, when he arrived looking nice and fresh, very spick and span after his victory.

"Listen, Mr. Gilgan," said Cowperwood, simply, eying the Republican county chairman very fixedly and twiddling his thumbs with fingers interlocked, "are you going to let the city council jam through the General Electric and that South Side 'L' road ordinance without giving me a chance to say a word or do anything about it?"

Mr. Gilgan, so Cowperwood knew, was only one of a new quadrumvirate setting out to rule the city, but he pretended to believe that he was the last word—an all power and authority—after the fashion of McKenty. "Me good man," replied Gilgan, archly, "you flatter me. I haven't the city council in me vest pocket. I've been county chairman, it's true, and helped to elect some of these men, but I don't own 'em. Why shouldn't they pass the General Electric ordinance? It's an honest ordinance, as far as I know. All the newspapers have been for it. As for this 'L' road ordinance, I haven't anything to do with it. It isn't anything I know much about. Young MacDonald and Mr. Schryhart are looking after that."

As a matter of fact, all that Mr. Gilgan was saying was decidedly true. A henchman of young MacDonald's who was beginning to learn to play politics—an alderman by the name of Klemm—had been scheduled as a kind of field-marshal, and it was MacDonald—not Gilgan, Tiernan, Kerrigan, or Edstrom—who was to round up the recalcitrant aldermen, telling them their duty. Gilgan's quadrumvirate had not as yet got their machine in good working order, though they were doing their best to bring this about. "I helped to elect every one of these men, it's true; but that doesn't mean I'm running 'em by any means," concluded Gilgan. "Not yet, anyhow."

At the "not yet" Cowperwood smiled.

"Just the same, Mr. Gilgan," he went on, smoothly, "you're the nominal head and front of this whole movement in opposition to me at present, and you're the one I have to look to. You have this present Republican situation almost entirely in your own fingers, and you can do about as you like if you're so minded. If you choose you can persuade the members of council to take considerable more time than they otherwise would in passing these ordinances—of that I'm sure. I don't know whether you know or not, Mr. Gilgan, though I suppose you do, that this whole fight against me is a strike campaign intended to drive me out of Chicago. Now you're a man of sense and judgment and considerable business experience, and I want to ask you if you think that is fair. I came here some sixteen or seventeen years ago and went into the gas business. It was an open field, the field I undertook to develop—outlying towns on the North, South, and West sides. Yet the moment I started the old-line companies began to fight me, though I wasn't invading their territory at all at the time."

"I remember it well enough," replied Gilgan. "I was one of the men that helped you to get your Hyde Park franchise. You'd never have got it if it hadn't been for me. That fellow McKibben," added Gilgan, with a grin, "a likely chap, him. He always walked as if he had on rubber shoes. He's with you yet, I suppose?"

"Yes, he's around here somewhere," replied Cowperwood, loftily. "But to go back to this other matter, most of the men that are behind this General Electric ordinance and this 'L' road franchise were in the gas business—Blackman, Jules, Baker, Schryhart, and others—and they are angry because I came into their field, and angrier still because they had eventually to buy me out. They're angry because I reorganized these old-fashioned street-railway companies here and put them on their feet. Merrill is angry because I didn't run a loop around his store, and the others are angry because I ever got a loop at all. They're all angry because I managed to step in and do the things that they should have done long before. I came here—and that's the whole story in a nutshell. I've had to have the city council with me to be able to do anything at all, and because I managed to make it friendly and keep it so they've turned on me in that section and gone into politics. I know well enough, Mr. Gilgan," concluded Cowperwood, "who has been behind you in this fight. I've known all along where the money has been coming from. You've won, and you've won handsomely, and I for one don't begrudge you your victory in the least; but what I want to know now is, are you going to help them carry this fight on against me in this way, or are you not? Are you going to give me a fighting chance? There's going to be another election in two years. Politics isn't a bed of roses that stays made just because you make it once. These fellows that you have got in with are a crowd of silk stockings. They haven't any sympathy with you or any one like you. They're willing to be friendly with you now—just long enough to get something out of you and club me to death. But after that how long do you think they will have any use for you—how long?"

"Not very long, maybe," replied Gilgan, simply and contemplatively, "but the world is the world, and we have to take it as we find it."

"Quite so," replied Cowperwood, undismayed; "but Chicago is Chicago, and I will be here as long as they will. Fighting me in this fashion—building elevated roads to cut into my profits and giving franchises to rival companies—isn't going to get me out or seriously injure me, either. I'm here to stay, and the political situation as it is to-day isn't going to remain the same forever and ever. Now, you are an ambitious man; I can see that. You're not in politics for your health—that I know. Tell me exactly what it is you want and whether I can't get it for you as quick if not quicker than these other fellows? What is it I can do for you that will make you see that my side is just as good as theirs and better? I am playing a legitimate game in Chicago. I've been building up an excellent street-car service. I don't want to be annoyed every fifteen minutes by a rival company coming into the field. Now, what can I do to straighten this out? Isn't there some way that you and I can come together without fighting at every step? Can't you suggest some programme we can both follow that will make things easier?"

Cowperwood paused, and Gilgan thought for a long time. It was true, as Cowperwood said, that he was not in politics for his health. The situation, as at present conditioned, was not inherently favorable for the brilliant programme he had originally mapped out for himself. Tiernan, Kerrigan, and Edstrom were friendly as yet; but they were already making extravagant demands; and the reformers—those who had been led by the newspapers to believe that Cowperwood was a scoundrel and all his works vile—were demanding that a strictly moral programme be adhered to in all the doings of council, and that no jobs, contracts, or deals of any kind be entered into without the full knowledge of the newspapers and of the public. Gilgan, even after the first post-election conference with his colleagues, had begun to feel that he was between the devil and the deep sea, but he was feeling his way, and not inclined to be in too much of a hurry.

"It's rather a flat proposition you're makin' me," he said softly, after a time, "askin' me to throw down me friends the moment I've won a victory for 'em. It's not the way I've been used to playin' politics. There may be a lot of truth in what you say. Still, a man can't be jumpin' around like a cat in a bag. He has to be faithful to somebody sometime." Mr. Gilgan paused, considerably nonplussed by his own position.

"Well," replied Cowperwood, sympathetically, "think it over. It's difficult business, this business of politics. I'm in it, for one, only because I have to be. If you see any way you can help me, or I can help you, let me know. In the mean time don't take in bad part what I've just said. I'm in the position of a man with his hack to the wall. I'm fighting for my life. Naturally, I'm going to fight. But you and I needn't be the worse friends for that. We may become the best of friends yet."

"It's well I know that," said Gilgan, "and it's the best of friends I'd like to be with you. But even if I could take care of the aldermen, which I couldn't alone as yet, there's the mayor. I don't know him at all except to say how-do-ye-do now and then; but he's very much opposed to you, as I understand it. He'll be running around most likely and talking in the papers. A man like that can do a good deal."

"I may be able to arrange for that," replied Cowperwood. "Perhaps Mr. Sluss can be reached. It may be that he isn't as opposed to me as he thinks he is. You never can tell."

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