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The Financier - Chapter 1 Post by :marketingtops Category :Long Stories Author :Theodore Dreiser Date :February 2011 Read :922

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The Financier - Chapter 1

The Philadelphia into which Frank Algernon Cowperwood was born
was a city of two hundred and fifty thousand and more. It was
set with handsome parks, notable buildings, and crowded with
historic memories. Many of the things that we and he knew later
were not then in existence--the telegraph, telephone, express
company, ocean steamer, city delivery of mails. There were no
postage-stamps or registered letters. The street car had not
arrived. In its place were hosts of omnibuses, and for longer
travel the slowly developing railroad system still largely
connected by canals.

Cowperwood's father was a bank clerk at the time of Frank's birth,
but ten years later, when the boy was already beginning to turn a
very sensible, vigorous eye on the world, Mr. Henry Worthington
Cowperwood, because of the death of the bank's president and the
consequent moving ahead of the other officers, fell heir to the
place vacated by the promoted teller, at the, to him, munificent
salary of thirty-five hundred dollars a year. At once he decided,
as he told his wife joyously, to remove his family from 21
Buttonwood Street to 124 New Market Street, a much better
neighborhood, where there was a nice brick house of three stories
in height as opposed to their present two-storied domicile. There
was the probability that some day they would come into something
even better, but for the present this was sufficient. He was
exceedingly grateful.

Henry Worthington Cowperwood was a man who believed only what he
saw and was content to be what he was--a banker, or a prospective
one. He was at this time a significant figure--tall, lean,
inquisitorial, clerkly--with nice, smooth, closely-cropped side
whiskers coming to almost the lower lobes of his ears. His upper
lip was smooth and curiously long, and he had a long, straight
nose and a chin that tended to be pointed. His eyebrows were
bushy, emphasizing vague, grayish-green eyes, and his hair was
short and smooth and nicely parted. He wore a frock-coat always--
it was quite the thing in financial circles in those days--and a
high hat. And he kept his hands and nails immaculately clean.
His manner might have been called severe, though really it was
more cultivated than austere.

Being ambitious to get ahead socially and financially, he was
very careful of whom or with whom he talked. He was as much
afraid of expressing a rabid or unpopular political or social
opinion as he was of being seen with an evil character, though
he had really no opinion of great political significance to
express. He was neither anti- nor pro-slavery, though the air
was stormy with abolition sentiment and its opposition. He
believed sincerely that vast fortunes were to be made out of
railroads if one only had the capital and that curious thing, a
magnetic personality--the ability to win the confidence of others.
He was sure that Andrew Jackson was all wrong in his opposition
to Nicholas Biddle and the United States Bank, one of the great
issues of the day; and he was worried, as he might well be, by the
perfect storm of wildcat money which was floating about and which
was constantly coming to his bank--discounted, of course, and
handed out again to anxious borrowers at a profit. His bank was
the Third National of Philadelphia, located in that center of all
Philadelphia and indeed, at that time, of practically all national
finance--Third Street--and its owners conducted a brokerage
business as a side line. There was a perfect plague of State
banks, great and small, in those days, issuing notes practically
without regulation upon insecure and unknown assets and failing
and suspending with astonishing rapidity; and a knowledge of all
these was an important requirement of Mr. Cowperwood's position.
As a result, he had become the soul of caution. Unfortunately,
for him, he lacked in a great measure the two things that are
necessary for distinction in any field--magnetism and vision. He
was not destined to be a great financier, though he was marked
out to be a moderately successful one.

Mrs. Cowperwood was of a religious temperament--a small woman,
with light-brown hair and clear, brown eyes, who had been very
attractive in her day, but had become rather prim and matter-of-fact
and inclined to take very seriously the maternal care of her three
sons and one daughter. The former, captained by Frank, the eldest,
were a source of considerable annoyance to her, for they were
forever making expeditions to different parts of the city, getting
in with bad boys, probably, and seeing and hearing things they
should neither see nor hear.

Frank Cowperwood, even at ten, was a natural-born leader. At the
day school he attended, and later at the Central High School, he
was looked upon as one whose common sense could unquestionably be
trusted in all cases. He was a sturdy youth, courageous and
defiant. From the very start of his life, he wanted to know about
economics and politics. He cared nothing for books. He was a
clean, stalky, shapely boy, with a bright, clean-cut, incisive
face; large, clear, gray eyes; a wide forehead; short, bristly,
dark-brown hair. He had an incisive, quick-motioned, self-sufficient
manner, and was forever asking questions with a keen desire for an
intelligent reply. He never had an ache or pain, ate his food with
gusto, and ruled his brothers with a rod of iron. "Come on, Joe!"
"Hurry, Ed!" These commands were issued in no rough but always a
sure way, and Joe and Ed came. They looked up to Frank from the
first as a master, and what he had to say was listened to eagerly.

He was forever pondering, pondering--one fact astonishing him quite
as much as another--for he could not figure out how this thing he
had come into--this life--was organized. How did all these people
get into the world? What were they doing here? Who started things,
anyhow? His mother told him the story of Adam and Eve, but he
didn't believe it. There was a fish-market not so very far from
his home, and there, on his way to see his father at the bank, or
conducting his brothers on after-school expeditions, he liked to
look at a certain tank in front of one store where were kept odd
specimens of sea-life brought in by the Delaware Bay fishermen.
He saw once there a sea-horse--just a queer little sea-animal that
looked somewhat like a horse--and another time he saw an electric
eel which Benjamin Franklin's discovery had explained. One day he
saw a squid and a lobster put in the tank, and in connection with
them was witness to a tragedy which stayed with him all his life
and cleared things up considerably intellectually. The lobster,
it appeared from the talk of the idle bystanders, was offered no
food, as the squid was considered his rightful prey. He lay at
the bottom of the clear glass tank on the yellow sand, apparently
seeing nothing--you could not tell in which way his beady, black
buttons of eyes were looking--but apparently they were never off
the body of the squid. The latter, pale and waxy in texture,
looking very much like pork fat or jade, moved about in torpedo
fashion; but his movements were apparently never out of the eyes
of his enemy, for by degrees small portions of his body began to
disappear, snapped off by the relentless claws of his pursuer.
The lobster would leap like a catapult to where the squid was
apparently idly dreaming, and the squid, very alert, would dart
away, shooting out at the same time a cloud of ink, behind which
it would disappear. It was not always completely successful,
however. Small portions of its body or its tail were frequently
left in the claws of the monster below. Fascinated by the drama,
young Cowperwood came daily to watch.

One morning he stood in front of the tank, his nose almost pressed
to the glass. Only a portion of the squid remained, and his
ink-bag was emptier than ever. In the corner of the tank sat the
lobster, poised apparently for action.

The boy stayed as long as he could, the bitter struggle fascinating
him. Now, maybe, or in an hour or a day, the squid might die,
slain by the lobster, and the lobster would eat him. He looked
again at the greenish-copperish engine of destruction in the corner
and wondered when this would be. To-night, maybe. He would come
back to-night.

He returned that night, and lo! the expected had happened. There
was a little crowd around the tank. The lobster was in the corner.
Before him was the squid cut in two and partially devoured.

"He got him at last," observed one bystander. "I was standing
right here an hour ago, and up he leaped and grabbed him. The
squid was too tired. He wasn't quick enough. He did back up, but
that lobster he calculated on his doing that. He's been figuring
on his movements for a long time now. He got him to-day."

Frank only stared. Too bad he had missed this. The least touch
of sorrow for the squid came to him as he stared at it slain.
Then he gazed at the victor.

"That's the way it has to be, I guess," he commented to himself.
"That squid wasn't quick enough." He figured it out.

"The squid couldn't kill the lobster--he had no weapon. The
lobster could kill the squid--he was heavily armed. There was
nothing for the squid to feed on; the lobster had the squid as
prey. What was the result to be? What else could it be? He didn't
have a chance," he concluded finally, as he trotted on homeward.

The incident made a great impression on him. It answered in a
rough way that riddle which had been annoying him so much in the
past: "How is life organized?" Things lived on each other--that
was it. Lobsters lived on squids and other things. What lived
on lobsters? Men, of course! Sure, that was it! And what lived on
men? he asked himself. Was it other men? Wild animals lived on
men. And there were Indians and cannibals. And some men were
killed by storms and accidents. He wasn't so sure about men living
on men; but men did kill each other. How about wars and street
fights and mobs? He had seen a mob once. It attacked the Public
Ledger building as he was coming home from school. His father had
explained why. It was about the slaves. That was it! Sure, men
lived on men. Look at the slaves. They were men. That's what
all this excitement was about these days. Men killing other men--
negroes.

He went on home quite pleased with himself at his solution.

"Mother!" he exclaimed, as he entered the house, "he finally got
him!"

"Got who? What got what?" she inquired in amazement. "Go wash
your hands."

"Why, that lobster got that squid I was telling you and pa about
the other day."

"Well, that's too bad. What makes you take any interest in such
things? Run, wash your hands."

"Well, you don't often see anything like that. I never did." He
went out in the back yard, where there was a hydrant and a post
with a little table on it, and on that a shining tin-pan and a
bucket of water. Here he washed his face and hands.

"Say, papa," he said to his father, later, "you know that squid?"

"Yes."

"Well, he's dead. The lobster got him."

His father continued reading. "Well, that's too bad," he said,
indifferently.

But for days and weeks Frank thought of this and of the life he
was tossed into, for he was already pondering on what he should
be in this world, and how he should get along. From seeing his
father count money, he was sure that he would like banking; and
Third Street, where his father's office was, seemed to him the
cleanest, most fascinating street in the world.

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