The residence of Henry A. Mollenhauer was, at that time, in a section of the city which was almost as new as that in which Butler was living. It was on South Broad Street, near a handsome library building which had been recently erected. It was a spacious house of the type usually affected by men of new wealth in those days—a structure four stories in height of yellow brick and white stone built after no school which one could readily identify, but not unattractive in its architectural composition. A broad flight of steps leading to a wide veranda gave into a decidedly ornate door, which was set on either side by narrow windows and ornamented to the right and left with pale-blue jardinieres of considerable charm of outline. The interior, divided into twenty rooms, was paneled and parqueted in the most expensive manner for homes of that day. There was a great reception-hall, a large parlor or drawing-room, a dining-room at least thirty feet square paneled in oak; and on the second floor were a music-room devoted to the talents of Mollenhauer's three ambitious daughters, a library and private office for himself, a boudoir and bath for his wife, and a conservatory.
Mollenhauer was, and felt himself to be, a very important man. His financial and political judgment was exceedingly keen. Although he was a German, or rather an American of German parentage, he was a man of a rather impressive American presence. He was tall and heavy and shrewd and cold. His large chest and wide shoulders supported a head of distinguished proportions, both round and long when seen from different angles. The frontal bone descended in a protruding curve over the nose, and projected solemnly over the eyes, which burned with a shrewd, inquiring gaze. And the nose and mouth and chin below, as well as his smooth, hard cheeks, confirmed the impression that he knew very well what he wished in this world, and was very able without regard to let or hindrance to get it. It was a big face, impressive, well modeled. He was an excellent friend of Edward Malia Butler's, as such friendships go, and his regard for Mark Simpson was as sincere as that of one tiger for another. He respected ability; he was willing to play fair when fair was the game. When it was not, the reach of his cunning was not easily measured.
When Edward Butler and his son arrived on this Sunday evening, this distinguished representative of one-third of the city's interests was not expecting them. He was in his library reading and listening to one of his daughters playing the piano. His wife and his other two daughters had gone to church. He was of a domestic turn of mind. Still, Sunday evening being an excellent one for conference purposes generally in the world of politics, he was not without the thought that some one or other of his distinguished confreres might call, and when the combination footman and butler announced the presence of Butler and his son, he was well pleased.
"So there you are," he remarked to Butler, genially, extending his hand. "I'm certainly glad to see you. And Owen! How are you, Owen? What will you gentlemen have to drink, and what will you smoke? I know you'll have something. John"—to the servitor—-"see if you can find something for these gentlemen. I have just been listening to Caroline play; but I think you've frightened her off for the time being."
He moved a chair into position for Butler, and indicated to Owen another on the other side of the table. In a moment his servant had returned with a silver tray of elaborate design, carrying whiskies and wines of various dates and cigars in profusion. Owen was the new type of young financier who neither smoked nor drank. His father temperately did both.
"It's a comfortable place you have here," said Butler, without any indication of the important mission that had brought him. "I don't wonder you stay at home Sunday evenings. What's new in the city?"
"Nothing much, so far as I can see," replied Mollenhauer, pacifically. "Things seem to be running smooth enough. You don't know anything that we ought to worry about, do you?"
"Well, yes," said Butler, draining off the remainder of a brandy and soda that had been prepared for him. "One thing. You haven't seen an avenin' paper, have you?"
"No, I haven't," said Mollenhauer, straightening up. "Is there one out? What's the trouble anyhow?"
"Nothing—except Chicago's burning, and it looks as though we'd have a little money-storm here in the morning."
"You don't say! I didn't hear that. There's a paper out, is there? Well, well—is it much of a fire?"
"The city is burning down, so they say," put in Owen, who was watching the face of the distinguished politician with considerable interest.
"Well, that is news. I must send out and get a paper. John!" he called. His man-servant appeared. "See if you can get me a paper somewhere." The servant disappeared. "What makes you think that would have anything to do with us?" observed Mollenhauer, returning to Butler.
"Well, there's one thing that goes with that that I didn't know till a little while ago and that is that our man Stener is apt to be short in his accounts, unless things come out better than some people seem to think," suggested Butler, calmly. "That might not look so well before election, would it?" His shrewd gray Irish eyes looked into Mollenhauer's, who returned his gaze.
"Where did you get that?" queried Mr. Mollenhauer icily. "He hasn't deliberately taken much money, has he? How much has he taken—do you know?"
"Quite a bit," replied Butler, quietly. "Nearly five hundred thousand, so I understand. Only I wouldn't say that it has been taken as yet. It's in danger of being lost."
"Five hundred thousand!" exclaimed Mollenhauer in amazement, and yet preserving his usual calm. "You don't tell me! How long has this been going on? What has he been doing with the money?"
"He's loaned a good deal—about five hundred thousand dollars to this young Cowperwood in Third Street, that's been handlin' city loan. They've been investin' it for themselves in one thing and another—mostly in buyin' up street-railways." (At the mention of street-railways Mollenhauer's impassive countenance underwent a barely perceptible change.) "This fire, accordin' to Cowperwood, is certain to produce a panic in the mornin', and unless he gets considerable help he doesn't see how he's to hold out. If he doesn't hold out, there'll be five hundred thousand dollars missin' from the city treasury which can't be put back. Stener's out of town and Cowperwood's come to me to see what can be done about it. As a matter of fact, he's done a little business for me in times past, and he thought maybe I could help him now—that is, that I might get you and the Senator to see the big bankers with me and help support the market in the mornin'. If we don't he's goin' to fail, and he thought the scandal would hurt us in the election. He doesn't appear to me to be workin' any game—just anxious to save himself and do the square thing by me—by us, if he can." Butler paused.
Mollenhauer, sly and secretive himself, was apparently not at all moved by this unexpected development. At the same time, never having thought of Stener as having any particular executive or financial ability, he was a little stirred and curious. So his treasurer was using money without his knowing it, and now stood in danger of being prosecuted! Cowperwood he knew of only indirectly, as one who had been engaged to handle city loan. He had profited by his manipulation of city loan. Evidently the banker had made a fool of Stener, and had used the money for street-railway shares! He and Stener must have quite some private holdings then. That did interest Mollenhauer greatly.
"Five hundred thousand dollars!" he repeated, when Butler had finished. "That is quite a little money. If merely supporting the market would save Cowperwood we might do that, although if it's a severe panic I do not see how anything we can do will be of very much assistance to him. If he's in a very tight place and a severe slump is coming, it will take a great deal more than our merely supporting the market to save him. I've been through that before. You don't know what his liabilities are?"
"I do not," said Butler.
"He didn't ask for money, you say?"
"He wants me to l'ave a hundred thousand he has of mine until he sees whether he can get through or not."
"Stener is really out of town, I suppose?" Mollenhauer was innately suspicious.
"So Cowperwood says. We can send and find out."
Mollenhauer was thinking of the various aspects of the case. Supporting the market would be all very well if that would save Cowperwood, and the Republican party and his treasurer. At the same time Stener could then be compelled to restore the five hundred thousand dollars to the city treasury, and release his holdings to some one—preferably to him—Mollenhauer. But here was Butler also to be considered in this matter. What might he not want? He consulted with Butler and learned that Cowperwood had agreed to return the five hundred thousand in case he could get it together. The various street-car holdings were not asked after. But what assurance had any one that Cowperwood could be so saved? And could, or would get the money together? And if he were saved would he give the money back to Stener? If he required actual money, who would loan it to him in a time like this—in case a sharp panic was imminent? What security could he give? On the other hand, under pressure from the right parties he might be made to surrender all his street-railway holdings for a song—his and Stener's. If he (Mollenhauer) could get them he would not particularly care whether the election was lost this fall or not, although he felt satisfied, as had Owen, that it would not be lost. It could be bought, as usual. The defalcation—if Cowperwood's failure made Stener's loan into one—could be concealed long enough, Mollenhauer thought, to win. Personally as it came to him now he would prefer to frighten Stener into refusing Cowperwood additional aid, and then raid the latter's street-railway stock in combination with everybody else's, for that matter—Simpson's and Butler's included. One of the big sources of future wealth in Philadelphia lay in these lines. For the present, however, he had to pretend an interest in saving the party at the polls.
"I can't speak for the Senator, that's sure," pursued Mollenhauer, reflectively. "I don't know what he may think. As for myself, I am perfectly willing to do what I can to keep up the price of stocks, if that will do any good. I would do so naturally in order to protect my loans. The thing that we ought to be thinking about, in my judgment, is how to prevent exposure, in case Mr. Cowperwood does fail, until after election. We have no assurance, of course, that however much we support the market we will be able to sustain it."
"We have not," replied Butler, solemnly.
Owen thought he could see Cowperwood's approaching doom quite plainly. At that moment the door-bell rang. A maid, in the absence of the footman, brought in the name of Senator Simpson.
"Just the man," said Mollenhauer. "Show him up. You can see what he thinks."
"Perhaps I had better leave you alone now," suggested Owen to his father. "Perhaps I can find Miss Caroline, and she will sing for me. I'll wait for you, father," he added.
Mollenhauer cast him an ingratiating smile, and as he stepped out Senator Simpson walked in.
A more interesting type of his kind than Senator Mark Simpson never flourished in the State of Pennsylvania, which has been productive of interesting types. Contrasted with either of the two men who now greeted him warmly and shook his hand, he was physically unimpressive. He was small—five feet nine inches, to Mollenhauer's six feet and Butler's five feet eleven inches and a half, and then his face was smooth, with a receding jaw. In the other two this feature was prominent. Nor were his eyes as frank as those of Butler, nor as defiant as those of Mollenhauer; but for subtlety they were unmatched by either—deep, strange, receding, cavernous eyes which contemplated you as might those of a cat looking out of a dark hole, and suggesting all the artfulness that has ever distinguished the feline family. He had a strange mop of black hair sweeping down over a fine, low, white forehead, and a skin as pale and bluish as poor health might make it; but there was, nevertheless, resident here a strange, resistant, capable force that ruled men—the subtlety with which he knew how to feed cupidity with hope and gain and the ruthlessness with which he repaid those who said him nay. He was a still man, as such a man might well have been—feeble and fish-like in his handshake, wan and slightly lackadaisical in his smile, but speaking always with eyes that answered for every defect.
"Av'nin', Mark, I'm glad to see you," was Butler's greeting.
"How are you, Edward?" came the quiet reply.
"Well, Senator, you're not looking any the worse for wear. Can I pour you something?"
"Nothing to-night, Henry," replied Simpson. "I haven't long to stay. I just stopped by on my way home. My wife's over here at the Cavanaghs', and I have to stop by to fetch her."
"Well, it's a good thing you dropped in, Senator, just when you did," began Mollenhauer, seating himself after his guest. "Butler here has been telling me of a little political problem that has arisen since I last saw you. I suppose you've heard that Chicago is burning?"
"Yes; Cavanagh was just telling me. It looks to be quite serious. I think the market will drop heavily in the morning."
"I wouldn't be surprised myself," put in Mollenhauer, laconically.
"Here's the paper now," said Butler, as John, the servant, came in from the street bearing the paper in his hand. Mollenhauer took it and spread it out before them. It was among the earliest of the "extras" that were issued in this country, and contained a rather impressive spread of type announcing that the conflagration in the lake city was growing hourly worse since its inception the day before.
"Well, that is certainly dreadful," said Simpson. "I'm very sorry for Chicago. I have many friends there. I shall hope to hear that it is not so bad as it seems."
The man had a rather grandiloquent manner which he never abandoned under any circumstances.
"The matter that Butler was telling me about," continued Mollenhauer, "has something to do with this in a way. You know the habit our city treasurers have of loaning out their money at two per cent.?"
"Yes?" said Simpson, inquiringly.
"Well, Mr. Stener, it seems, has been loaning out a good deal of the city's money to this young Cowperwood, in Third Street, who has been handling city loans."
"You don't say!" said Simpson, putting on an air of surprise. "Not much, I hope?" The Senator, like Butler and Mollenhauer, was profiting greatly by cheap loans from the same source to various designated city depositories.
"Well, it seems that Stener has loaned him as much as five hundred thousand dollars, and if by any chance Cowperwood shouldn't be able to weather this storm, Stener is apt to be short that amount, and that wouldn't look so good as a voting proposition to the people in November, do you think? Cowperwood owes Mr. Butler here one hundred thousand dollars, and because of that he came to see him to-night. He wanted Butler to see if something couldn't be done through us to tide him over. If not"—he waved one hand suggestively—"well, he might fail."
Simpson fingered his strange, wide mouth with his delicate hand. "What have they been doing with the five hundred thousand dollars?" he asked.
"Oh, the boys must make a little somethin' on the side," said Butler, cheerfully. "I think they've been buyin' up street-railways, for one thing." He stuck his thumbs in the armholes of his vest. Both Mollenhauer and Simpson smiled wan smiles.
"Quite so," said Mollenhauer. Senator Simpson merely looked the deep things that he thought.
He, too, was thinking how useless it was for any one to approach a group of politicians with a proposition like this, particularly in a crisis such as bid fair to occur. He reflected that if he and Butler and Mollenhauer could get together and promise Cowperwood protection in return for the surrender of his street-railway holdings it would be a very different matter. It would be very easy in this case to carry the city treasury loan along in silence and even issue more money to support it; but it was not sure, in the first place, that Cowperwood could be made to surrender his stocks, and in the second place that either Butler or Mollenhauer would enter into any such deal with him, Simpson. Butler had evidently come here to say a good word for Cowperwood. Mollenhauer and himself were silent rivals. Although they worked together politically it was toward essentially different financial ends. They were allied in no one particular financial proposition, any more than Mollenhauer and Butler were. And besides, in all probability Cowperwood was no fool. He was not equally guilty with Stener; the latter had loaned him money. The Senator reflected on whether he should broach some such subtle solution of the situation as had occurred to him to his colleagues, but he decided not. Really Mollenhauer was too treacherous a man to work with on a thing of this kind. It was a splendid chance but dangerous. He had better go it alone. For the present they should demand of Stener that he get Cowperwood to return the five hundred thousand dollars if he could. If not, Stener could be sacrificed for the benefit of the party, if need be. Cowperwood's stocks, with this tip as to his condition, would, Simpson reflected, offer a good opportunity for a little stock-exchange work on the part of his own brokers. They could spread rumors as to Cowperwood's condition and then offer to take his shares off his hands—for a song, of course. It was an evil moment that led Cowperwood to Butler.
"Well, now," said the Senator, after a prolonged silence, "I might sympathize with Mr. Cowperwood in his situation, and I certainly don't blame him for buying up street-railways if he can; but I really don't see what can be done for him very well in this crisis. I don't know about you, gentlemen, but I am rather certain that I am not in a position to pick other people's chestnuts out of the fire if I wanted to, just now. It all depends on whether we feel that the danger to the party is sufficient to warrant our going down into our pockets and assisting him."
At the mention of real money to be loaned Mollenhauer pulled a long face. "I can't see that I will be able to do very much for Mr. Cowperwood," he sighed.
"Begad," said Buler, with a keen sense of humor, "it looks to me as if I'd better be gettin' in my one hundred thousand dollars. That's the first business of the early mornin'." Neither Simpson nor Mollenhauer condescended on this occasion to smile even the wan smile they had smiled before. They merely looked wise and solemn.
"But this matter of the city treasury, now," said Senator Simpson, after the atmosphere had been allowed to settle a little, "is something to which we shall have to devote a little thought. If Mr. Cowperwood should fail, and the treasury lose that much money, it would embarrass us no little. What lines are they," he added, as an afterthought, "that this man has been particularly interested in?"
"I really don't know," replied Butler, who did not care to say what Owen had told him on the drive over.
"I don't see," said Mollenhauer, "unless we can make Stener get the money back before this man Cowperwood fails, how we can save ourselves from considerable annoyance later; but if we did anything which would look as though we were going to compel restitution, he would probably shut up shop anyhow. So there's no remedy in that direction. And it wouldn't be very kind to our friend Edward here to do it until we hear how he comes out on his affair." He was referring to Butler's loan.
"Certainly not," said Senator Simpson, with true political sagacity and feeling.
"I'll have that one hundred thousand dollars in the mornin'," said Butler, "and never fear."
"I think," said Simpson, "if anything comes of this matter that we will have to do our best to hush it up until after the election. The newspapers can just as well keep silent on that score as not. There's one thing I would suggest"—and he was now thinking of the street-railway properties which Cowperwood had so judiciously collected—"and that is that the city treasurer be cautioned against advancing any more money in a situation of this kind. He might readily be compromised into advancing much more. I suppose a word from you, Henry, would prevent that."
"Yes; I can do that," said Mollenhauer, solemnly.
"My judgement would be," said Butler, in a rather obscure manner, thinking of Cowperwood's mistake in appealing to these noble protectors of the public, "that it's best to let sleepin' dogs run be thimselves."
Thus ended Frank Cowperwood's dreams of what Butler and his political associates might do for him in his hour of distress.
The energies of Cowperwood after leaving Butler were devoted to the task of seeing others who might be of some assistance to him. He had left word with Mrs. Stener that if any message came from her husband he was to be notified at once. He hunted up Walter Leigh, of Drexel & Co., Avery Stone of Jay Cooke & Co., and President Davison of the Girard National Bank. He wanted to see what they thought of the situation and to negotiate a loan with President Davison covering all his real and personal property.
"I can't tell you, Frank," Walter Leigh insisted, "I don't know how things will be running by to-morrow noon. I'm glad to know how you stand. I'm glad you're doing what you're doing—getting all your affairs in shape. It will help a lot. I'll favor you all I possibly can. But if the chief decides on a certain group of loans to be called, they'll have to be called, that's all. I'll do my best to make things look better. If the whole of Chicago is wiped out, the insurance companies—some of them, anyhow—are sure to go, and then look out. I suppose you'll call in all your loans?"
"Not any more than I have to."
"Well, that's just the way it is here—or will be."
The two men shook hands. They liked each other. Leigh was of the city's fashionable coterie, a society man to the manner born, but with a wealth of common sense and a great deal of worldly experience.
"I'll tell you, Frank," he observed at parting, "I've always thought you were carrying too much street-railway. It's great stuff if you can get away with it, but it's just in a pinch like this that you're apt to get hurt. You've been making money pretty fast out of that and city loans."
He looked directly into his long-time friend's eyes, and they smiled.
It was the same with Avery Stone, President Davison, and others. They had all already heard rumors of disaster when he arrived. They were not sure what the morrow would bring forth. It looked very unpromising.
Cowperwood decided to stop and see Butler again for he felt certain his interview with Mollenhauer and Simpson was now over. Butler, who had been meditating what he should say to Cowperwood, was not unfriendly in his manner. "So you're back," he said, when Cowperwood appeared.
"Yes, Mr. Butler."
"Well, I'm not sure that I've been able to do anything for you. I'm afraid not," Butler said, cautiously. "It's a hard job you set me. Mollenhauer seems to think that he'll support the market, on his own account. I think he will. Simpson has interests which he has to protect. I'm going to buy for myself, of course."
He paused to reflect.
"I couldn't get them to call a conference with any of the big moneyed men as yet," he added, warily. "They'd rather wait and see what happens in the mornin'. Still, I wouldn't be down-hearted if I were you. If things turn out very bad they may change their minds. I had to tell them about Stener. It's pretty bad, but they're hopin' you'll come through and straighten that out. I hope so. About my own loan—well, I'll see how things are in the mornin'. If I raisonably can I'll lave it with you. You'd better see me again about it. I wouldn't try to get any more money out of Stener if I were you. It's pretty bad as it is."
Cowperwood saw at once that he was to get no aid from the politicians. The one thing that disturbed him was this reference to Stener. Had they already communicated with him—warned him? If so, his own coming to Butler had been a bad move; and yet from the point of view of his possible failure on the morrow it had been advisable. At least now the politicians knew where he stood. If he got in a very tight corner he would come to Butler again—the politicians could assist him or not, as they chose. If they did not help him and he failed, and the election were lost, it was their own fault. Anyhow, if he could see Stener first the latter would not be such a fool as to stand in his own light in a crisis like this.
"Things look rather dark to-night, Mr. Butler," he said, smartly, "but I still think I'll come through. I hope so, anyhow. I'm sorry to have put you to so much trouble. I wish, of course, that you gentlemen could see your way clear to assist me, but if you can't, you can't. I have a number of things that I can do. I hope that you will leave your loan as long as you can."
He went briskly out, and Butler meditated. "A clever young chap that," he said. "It's too bad. But he may come out all right at that."
Cowperwood hurried to his own home only to find his father awake and brooding. To him he talked with that strong vein of sympathy and understanding which is usually characteristic of those drawn by ties of flesh and blood. He liked his father. He sympathized with his painstaking effort to get up in the world. He could not forget that as a boy he had had the loving sympathy and interest of his father. The loan which he had from the Third National, on somewhat weak Union Street Railway shares he could probably replace if stocks did not drop too tremendously. He must replace this at all costs. But his father's investments in street-railways, which had risen with his own ventures, and which now involved an additional two hundred thousand—how could he protect those? The shares were hypothecated and the money was used for other things. Additional collateral would have to be furnished the several banks carrying them. It was nothing except loans, loans, loans, and the need of protecting them. If he could only get an additional deposit of two or three hundred thousand dollars from Stener. But that, in the face of possible financial difficulties, was rank criminality. All depended on the morrow.
Monday, the ninth, dawned gray and cheerless. He was up with the first ray of light, shaved and dressed, and went over, under the gray-green pergola, to his father's house. He was up, also, and stirring about, for he had not been able to sleep. His gray eyebrows and gray hair looked rather shaggy and disheveled, and his side-whiskers anything but decorative. The old gentleman's eyes were tired, and his face was gray. Cowperwood could see that he was worrying. He looked up from a small, ornate escritoire of buhl, which Ellsworth had found somewhere, and where he was quietly tabulating a list of his resources and liabilities. Cowperwood winced. He hated to see his father worried, but he could not help it. He had hoped sincerely, when they built their houses together, that the days of worry for his father had gone forever.
"Counting up?" he asked, familiarly, with a smile. He wanted to hearten the old gentleman as much as possible.
"I was just running over my affairs again to see where I stood in case—" He looked quizzically at his son, and Frank smiled again.
"I wouldn't worry, father. I told you how I fixed it so that Butler and that crowd will support the market. I have Rivers and Targool and Harry Eltinge on 'change helping me sell out, and they are the best men there. They'll handle the situation carefully. I couldn't trust Ed or Joe in this case, for the moment they began to sell everybody would know what was going on with me. This way my men will seem like bears hammering the market, but not hammering too hard. I ought to be able to unload enough at ten points off to raise five hundred thousand. The market may not go lower than that. You can't tell. It isn't going to sink indefinitely. If I just knew what the big insurance companies were going to do! The morning paper hasn't come yet, has it?"
He was going to pull a bell, but remembered that the servants would scarcely be up as yet. He went to the front door himself. There were the Press and the Public Ledger lying damp from the presses. He picked them up and glanced at the front pages. His countenance fell. On one, the Press, was spread a great black map of Chicago, a most funereal-looking thing, the black portion indicating the burned section. He had never seen a map of Chicago before in just this clear, definite way. That white portion was Lake Michigan, and there was the Chicago River dividing the city into three almost equal portions—the north side, the west side, the south side. He saw at once that the city was curiously arranged, somewhat like Philadelphia, and that the business section was probably an area of two or three miles square, set at the juncture of the three sides, and lying south of the main stem of the river, where it flowed into the lake after the southwest and northwest branches had united to form it. This was a significant central area; but, according to this map, it was all burned out. "Chicago in Ashes" ran a great side-heading set in heavily leaded black type. It went on to detail the sufferings of the homeless, the number of the dead, the number of those whose fortunes had been destroyed. Then it descanted upon the probable effect in the East. Insurance companies and manufacturers might not be able to meet the great strain of all this.
"Damn!" said Cowperwood gloomily. "I wish I were out of this stock-jobbing business. I wish I had never gotten into it." He returned to his drawing-room and scanned both accounts most carefully.
Then, though it was still early, he and his father drove to his office. There were already messages awaiting him, a dozen or more, to cancel or sell. While he was standing there a messenger-boy brought him three more. One was from Stener and said that he would be back by twelve o'clock, the very earliest he could make it. Cowperwood was relieved and yet distressed. He would need large sums of money to meet various loans before three. Every hour was precious. He must arrange to meet Stener at the station and talk to him before any one else should see him. Clearly this was going to be a hard, dreary, strenuous day.
Third Street, by the time he reached there, was stirring with other bankers and brokers called forth by the exigencies of the occasion. There was a suspicious hurrying of feet—that intensity which makes all the difference in the world between a hundred people placid and a hundred people disturbed. At the exchange, the atmosphere was feverish. At the sound of the gong, the staccato uproar began. Its metallic vibrations were still in the air when the two hundred men who composed this local organization at its utmost stress of calculation, threw themselves upon each other in a gibbering struggle to dispose of or seize bargains of the hour. The interests were so varied that it was impossible to say at which pole it was best to sell or buy.
Targool and Rivers had been delegated to stay at the center of things, Joseph and Edward to hover around on the outside and to pick up such opportunities of selling as might offer a reasonable return on the stock. The "bears" were determined to jam things down, and it all depended on how well the agents of Mollenhauer, Simpson, Butler, and others supported things in the street-railway world whether those stocks retained any strength or not. The last thing Butler had said the night before was that they would do the best they could. They would buy up to a certain point. Whether they would support the market indefinitely he would not say. He could not vouch for Mollenhauer and Simpson. Nor did he know the condition of their affairs.
While the excitement was at its highest Cowperwood came in. As he stood in the door looking to catch the eye of Rivers, the 'change gong sounded, and trading stopped. All the brokers and traders faced about to the little balcony, where the secretary of the 'change made his announcements; and there he stood, the door open behind him, a small, dark, clerkly man of thirty-eight or forty, whose spare figure and pale face bespoke the methodic mind that knows no venturous thought. In his right hand he held a slip of white paper.
"The American Fire Insurance Company of Boston announces its inability to meet its obligations." The gong sounded again.
Immediately the storm broke anew, more voluble than before, because, if after one hour of investigation on this Monday morning one insurance company had gone down, what would four or five hours or a day or two bring forth? It meant that men who had been burned out in Chicago would not be able to resume business. It meant that all loans connected with this concern had been, or would be called now. And the cries of frightened "bulls" offering thousand and five thousand lot holdings in Northern Pacific, Illinois Central, Reading, Lake Shore, Wabash; in all the local streetcar lines; and in Cowperwood's city loans at constantly falling prices was sufficient to take the heart out of all concerned. He hurried to Arthur Rivers's side in the lull; but there was little he could say.
"It looks as though the Mollenhauer and Simpson crowds aren't doing much for the market," he observed, gravely.
"They've had advices from New York," explained Rivers solemnly. "It can't be supported very well. There are three insurance companies over there on the verge of quitting, I understand. I expect to see them posted any minute."
They stepped apart from the pandemonium, to discuss ways and means. Under his agreement with Stener, Cowperwood could buy up to one hundred thousand dollars of city loan, above the customary wash sales, or market manipulation, by which they were making money. This was in case the market had to be genuinely supported. He decided to buy sixty thousand dollars worth now, and use this to sustain his loans elsewhere. Stener would pay him for this instantly, giving him more ready cash. It might help him in one way and another; and, anyhow, it might tend to strengthen the other securities long enough at least to allow him to realize a little something now at better than ruinous rates. If only he had the means "to go short" on this market! If only doing so did not really mean ruin to his present position. It was characteristic of the man that even in this crisis he should be seeing how the very thing that of necessity, because of his present obligations, might ruin him, might also, under slightly different conditions, yield him a great harvest. He could not take advantage of it, however. He could not be on both sides of this market. It was either "bear" or "bull," and of necessity he was "bull." It was strange but true. His subtlety could not avail him here. He was about to turn and hurry to see a certain banker who might loan him something on his house, when the gong struck again. Once more trading ceased. Arthur Rivers, from his position at the State securities post, where city loan was sold, and where he had started to buy for Cowperwood, looked significantly at him. Newton Targool hurried to Cowperwood's side.
"You're up against it," he exclaimed. "I wouldn't try to sell against this market. It's no use. They're cutting the ground from under you. The bottom's out. Things are bound to turn in a few days. Can't you hold out? Here's more trouble."
He raised his eyes to the announcer's balcony.
"The Eastern and Western Fire Insurance Company of New York announces that it cannot meet its obligations."
A low sound something like "Haw!" broke forth. The announcer's gavel struck for order.
"The Erie Fire Insurance Company of Rochester announces that it cannot meet its obligations."
Again that "H-a-a-a-w!"
Once more the gavel.
"The American Trust Company of New York has suspended payment."
The storm was on.
"What do you think?" asked Targool. "You can't brave this storm. Can't you quit selling and hold out for a few days? Why not sell short?"
"They ought to close this thing up," Cowperwood said, shortly. "It would be a splendid way out. Then nothing could be done."
He hurried to consult with those who, finding themselves in a similar predicament with himself, might use their influence to bring it about. It was a sharp trick to play on those who, now finding the market favorable to their designs in its falling condition, were harvesting a fortune. But what was that to him? Business was business. There was no use selling at ruinous figures, and he gave his lieutenants orders to stop. Unless the bankers favored him heavily, or the stock exchange was closed, or Stener could be induced to deposit an additional three hundred thousand with him at once, he was ruined. He hurried down the street to various bankers and brokers suggesting that they do this—close the exchange. At a few minutes before twelve o'clock he drove rapidly to the station to meet Stener; but to his great disappointment the latter did not arrive. It looked as though he had missed his train. Cowperwood sensed something, some trick; and decided to go to the city hall and also to Stener's house. Perhaps he had returned and was trying to avoid him.
Not finding him at his office, he drove direct to his house. Here he was not surprised to meet Stener just coming out, looking very pale and distraught. At the sight of Cowperwood he actually blanched.
"Why, hello, Frank," he exclaimed, sheepishly, "where do you come from?"
"What's up, George?" asked Cowperwood. "I thought you were coming into Broad Street."
"So I was," returned Stener, foolishly, "but I thought I would get off at West Philadelphia and change my clothes. I've a lot of things to 'tend to yet this afternoon. I was coming in to see you." After Cowperwood's urgent telegram this was silly, but the young banker let it pass.
"Jump in, George," he said. "I have something very important to talk to you about. I told you in my telegram about the likelihood of a panic. It's on. There isn't a moment to lose. Stocks are 'way down, and most of my loans are being called. I want to know if you won't let me have three hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a few days at four or five per cent. I'll pay it all back to you. I need it very badly. If I don't get it I'm likely to fail. You know what that means, George. It will tie up every dollar I have. Those street-car holdings of yours will be tied up with me. I won't be able to let you realize on them, and that will put those loans of mine from the treasury in bad shape. You won't be able to put the money back, and you know what that means. We're in this thing together. I want to see you through safely, but I can't do it without your help. I had to go to Butler last night to see about a loan of his, and I'm doing my best to get money from other sources. But I can't see my way through on this, I'm afraid, unless you're willing to help me." Cowperwood paused. He wanted to put the whole case clearly and succinctly to him before he had a chance to refuse—to make him realize it as his own predicament.
As a matter of fact, what Cowperwood had keenly suspected was literally true. Stener had been reached. The moment Butler and Simpson had left him the night before, Mollenhauer had sent for his very able secretary, Abner Sengstack, and despatched him to learn the truth about Stener's whereabouts. Sengstack had then sent a long wire to Strobik, who was with Stener, urging him to caution the latter against Cowperwood. The state of the treasury was known. Stener and Strobik were to be met by Sengstack at Wilmington (this to forefend against the possibility of Cowperwood's reaching Stener first)—and the whole state of affairs made perfectly plain. No more money was to be used under penalty of prosecution. If Stener wanted to see any one he must see Mollenhauer. Sengstack, having received a telegram from Strobik informing him of their proposed arrival at noon the next day, had proceeded to Wilmington to meet them. The result was that Stener did not come direct into the business heart of the city, but instead got off at West Philadelphia, proposing to go first to his house to change his clothes and then to see Mollenhauer before meeting Cowperwood. He was very badly frightened and wanted time to think.
"I can't do it, Frank," he pleaded, piteously. "I'm in pretty bad in this matter. Mollenhauer's secretary met the train out at Wilmington just now to warn me against this situation, and Strobik is against it. They know how much money I've got outstanding. You or somebody has told them. I can't go against Mollenhauer. I owe everything I've got to him, in a way. He got me this place."
"Listen, George. Whatever you do at this time, don't let this political loyalty stuff cloud your judgment. You're in a very serious position and so am I. If you don't act for yourself with me now no one is going to act for you—now or later—no one. And later will be too late. I proved that last night when I went to Butler to get help for the two of us. They all know about this business of our street-railway holdings and they want to shake us out and that's the big and little of it—nothing more and nothing less. It's a case of dog eat dog in this game and this particular situation and it's up to us to save ourselves against everybody or go down together, and that's just what I'm here to tell you. Mollenhauer doesn't care any more for you to-day than he does for that lamp-post. It isn't that money you've paid out to me that's worrying him, but who's getting something for it and what. Well they know that you and I are getting street-railways, don't you see, and they don't want us to have them. Once they get those out of our hands they won't waste another day on you or me. Can't you see that? Once we've lost all we've invested, you're down and so am I—and no one is going to turn a hand for you or me politically or in any other way. I want you to understand that, George, because it's true. And before you say you won't or you will do anything because Mollenhauer says so, you want to think over what I have to tell you."
He was in front of Stener now, looking him directly in the eye and by the kinetic force of his mental way attempting to make Stener take the one step that might save him—Cowperwood—however little in the long run it might do for Stener. And, more interesting still, he did not care. Stener, as he saw him now, was a pawn in whosoever's hands he happened to be at the time, and despite Mr. Mollenhauer and Mr. Simpson and Mr. Butler he proposed to attempt to keep him in his own hands if possible. And so he stood there looking at him as might a snake at a bird determined to galvanize him into selfish self-interest if possible. But Stener was so frightened that at the moment it looked as though there was little to be done with him. His face was a grayish-blue: his eyelids and eye rings puffy and his hands and lips moist. God, what a hole he was in now!
"Say that's all right, Frank," he exclaimed desperately. "I know what you say is true. But look at me and my position, if I do give you this money. What can't they do to me, and won't. If you only look at it from my point of view. If only you hadn't gone to Butler before you saw me."
"As though I could see you, George, when you were off duck shooting and when I was wiring everywhere I knew to try to get in touch with you. How could I? The situation had to be met. Besides, I thought Butler was more friendly to me than he proved. But there's no use being angry with me now, George, for going to Butler as I did, and anyhow you can't afford to be now. We're in this thing together. It's a case of sink or swim for just us two—not any one else—just us—don't you get that? Butler couldn't or wouldn't do what I wanted him to do—get Mollenhauer and Simpson to support the market. Instead of that they are hammering it. They have a game of their own. It's to shake us out—can't you see that? Take everything that you and I have gathered. It is up to you and me, George, to save ourselves, and that's what I'm here for now. If you don't let me have three hundred and fifty thousand dollars—three hundred thousand, anyhow—you and I are ruined. It will be worse for you, George, than for me, for I'm not involved in this thing in any way—not legally, anyhow. But that's not what I'm thinking of. What I want to do is to save us both—put us on easy street for the rest of our lives, whatever they say or do, and it's in your power, with my help, to do that for both of us. Can't you see that? I want to save my business so then I can help you to save your name and money." He paused, hoping this had convinced Stener, but the latter was still shaking.
"But what can I do, Frank?" he pleaded, weakly. "I can't go against Mollenhauer. They can prosecute me if I do that. They can do it, anyhow. I can't do that. I'm not strong enough. If they didn't know, if you hadn't told them, it might be different, but this way—" He shook his head sadly, his gray eyes filled with a pale distress.
"George," replied Cowperwood, who realized now that only the sternest arguments would have any effect here, "don't talk about what I did. What I did I had to do. You're in danger of losing your head and your nerve and making a serious mistake here, and I don't want to see you make it. I have five hundred thousand of the city's money invested for you—partly for me, and partly for you, but more for you than for me"—which, by the way, was not true—"and here you are hesitating in an hour like this as to whether you will protect your interest or not. I can't understand it. This is a crisis, George. Stocks are tumbling on every side—everybody's stocks. You're not alone in this—neither am I. This is a panic, brought on by a fire, and you can't expect to come out of a panic alive unless you do something to protect yourself. You say you owe your place to Mollenhauer and that you're afraid of what he'll do. If you look at your own situation and mine, you'll see that it doesn't make much difference what he does, so long as I don't fail. If I fail, where are you? Who's going to save you from prosecution? Will Mollenhauer or any one else come forward and put five hundred thousand dollars in the treasury for you? He will not. If Mollenhauer and the others have your interests at heart, why aren't they helping me on 'change today? I'll tell you why. They want your street-railway holdings and mine, and they don't care whether you go to jail afterward or not. Now if you're wise you will listen to me. I've been loyal to you, haven't I? You've made money through me—lots of it. If you're wise, George, you'll go to your office and write me your check for three hundred thousand dollars, anyhow, before you do a single other thing. Don't see anybody and don't do anything till you've done that. You can't be hung any more for a sheep than you can for a lamb. No one can prevent you from giving me that check. You're the city treasurer. Once I have that I can see my way out of this, and I'll pay it all back to you next week or the week after—this panic is sure to end in that time. With that put back in the treasury we can see them about the five hundred thousand a little later. In three months, or less, I can fix it so that you can put that back. As a matter of fact, I can do it in fifteen days once I am on my feet again. Time is all I want. You won't have lost your holdings and nobody will cause you any trouble if you put the money back. They don't care to risk a scandal any more than you do. Now what'll you do, George? Mollenhauer can't stop you from doing this any more than I can make you. Your life is in your own hands. What will you do?"
Stener stood there ridiculously meditating when, as a matter of fact, his very financial blood was oozing away. Yet he was afraid to act. He was afraid of Mollenhauer, afraid of Cowperwood, afraid of life and of himself. The thought of panic, loss, was not so much a definite thing connected with his own property, his money, as it was with his social and political standing in the community. Few people have the sense of financial individuality strongly developed. They do not know what it means to be a controller of wealth, to have that which releases the sources of social action—its medium of exchange. They want money, but not for money's sake. They want it for what it will buy in the way of simple comforts, whereas the financier wants it for what it will control—for what it will represent in the way of dignity, force, power. Cowperwood wanted money in that way; Stener not. That was why he had been so ready to let Cowperwood act for him; and now, when he should have seen more clearly than ever the significance of what Cowperwood was proposing, he was frightened and his reason obscured by such things as Mollenhauer's probable opposition and rage, Cowperwood's possible failure, his own inability to face a real crisis. Cowperwood's innate financial ability did not reassure Stener in this hour. The banker was too young, too new. Mollenhauer was older, richer. So was Simpson; so was Butler. These men, with their wealth, represented the big forces, the big standards in his world. And besides, did not Cowperwood himself confess that he was in great danger—that he was in a corner. That was the worst possible confession to make to Stener—although under the circumstances it was the only one that could be made—for he had no courage to face danger.
So it was that now, Stener stood by Cowperwood meditating—pale, flaccid; unable to see the main line of his interests quickly, unable to follow it definitely, surely, vigorously—while they drove to his office. Cowperwood entered it with him for the sake of continuing his plea.
"Well, George," he said earnestly, "I wish you'd tell me. Time's short. We haven't a moment to lose. Give me the money, won't you, and I'll get out of this quick. We haven't a moment, I tell you. Don't let those people frighten you off. They're playing their own little game; you play yours."
"I can't, Frank," said Stener, finally, very weakly, his sense of his own financial future, overcome for the time being by the thought of Mollenhauer's hard, controlling face. "I'll have to think. I can't do it right now. Strobik just left me before I saw you, and—"
"Good God, George," exclaimed Cowperwood, scornfully, "don't talk about Strobik! What's he got to do with it? Think of yourself. Think of where you will be. It's your future—not Strobik's—that you have to think of."
"I know, Frank," persisted Stener, weakly; "but, really, I don't see how I can. Honestly I don't. You say yourself you're not sure whether you can come out of things all right, and three hundred thousand more is three hundred thousand more. I can't, Frank. I really can't. It wouldn't be right. Besides, I want to talk to Mollenhauer first, anyhow."
"Good God, how you talk!" exploded Cowperwood, angrily, looking at him with ill-concealed contempt. "Go ahead! See Mollenhauer! Let him tell you how to cut your own throat for his benefit. It won't be right to loan me three hundred thousand dollars more, but it will be right to let the five hundred thousand dollars you have loaned stand unprotected and lose it. That's right, isn't it? That's just what you propose to do—lose it, and everything else besides. I want to tell you what it is, George—you've lost your mind. You've let a single message from Mollenhauer frighten you to death, and because of that you're going to risk your fortune, your reputation, your standing—everything. Do you really realize what this means if I fail? You will be a convict, I tell you, George. You will go to prison. This fellow Mollenhauer, who is so quick to tell you what not to do now, will be the last man to turn a hand for you once you're down. Why, look at me—I've helped you, haven't I? Haven't I handled your affairs satisfactorily for you up to now? What in Heaven's name has got into you? What have you to be afraid of?"
Stener was just about to make another weak rejoinder when the door from the outer office opened, and Albert Stires, Stener's chief clerk, entered. Stener was too flustered to really pay any attention to Stires for the moment; but Cowperwood took matters in his own hands.
"What is it, Albert?" he asked, familiarly.
"Mr. Sengstack from Mr. Mollenhauer to see Mr. Stener."
At the sound of this dreadful name Stener wilted like a leaf. Cowperwood saw it. He realized that his last hope of getting the three hundred thousand dollars was now probably gone. Still he did not propose to give up as yet.
"Well, George," he said, after Albert had gone out with instructions that Stener would see Sengstack in a moment. "I see how it is. This man has got you mesmerized. You can't act for yourself now—you're too frightened. I'll let it rest for the present; I'll come back. But for Heaven's sake pull yourself together. Think what it means. I'm telling you exactly what's going to happen if you don't. You'll be independently rich if you do. You'll be a convict if you don't."
And deciding he would make one more effort in the street before seeing Butler again, he walked out briskly, jumped into his light spring runabout waiting outside—a handsome little yellow-glazed vehicle, with a yellow leather cushion seat, drawn by a young, high-stepping bay mare—and sent her scudding from door to door, throwing down the lines indifferently and bounding up the steps of banks and into office doors.
But all without avail. All were interested, considerate; but things were very uncertain. The Girard National Bank refused an hour's grace, and he had to send a large bundle of his most valuable securities to cover his stock shrinkage there. Word came from his father at two that as president of the Third National he would have to call for his one hundred and fifty thousand dollars due there. The directors were suspicious of his stocks. He at once wrote a check against fifty thousand dollars of his deposits in that bank, took twenty-five thousand of his available office funds, called a loan of fifty thousand against Tighe & Co., and sold sixty thousand Green & Coates, a line he had been tentatively dabbling in, for one-third their value—and, combining the general results, sent them all to the Third National. His father was immensely relieved from one point of view, but sadly depressed from another. He hurried out at the noon-hour to see what his own holdings would bring. He was compromising himself in a way by doing it, but his parental heart, as well as is own financial interests, were involved. By mortgaging his house and securing loans on his furniture, carriages, lots, and stocks, he managed to raise one hundred thousand in cash, and deposited it in his own bank to Frank's credit; but it was a very light anchor to windward in this swirling storm, at that. Frank had been counting on getting all of his loans extended three or four days at least. Reviewing his situation at two o'clock of this Monday afternoon, he said to himself thoughtfully but grimly: "Well, Stener has to loan me three hundred thousand—that's all there is to it. And I'll have to see Butler now, or he'll be calling his loan before three."
He hurried out, and was off to Butler's house, driving like mad.