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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Financier - Chapter 5
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The Financier - Chapter 5 Post by :David_C_H Category :Long Stories Author :Theodore Dreiser Date :February 2011 Read :2986

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The Financier - Chapter 5

The following October, having passed his eighteenth year by nearly
six months, and feeling sure that he would never want anything to
do with the grain and commission business as conducted by the
Waterman Company, Cowperwood decided to sever his relations with
them and enter the employ of Tighe & Company, bankers and brokers.

Cowperwood's meeting with Tighe & Company had come about in the
ordinary pursuance of his duties as outside man for Waterman &
Company. From the first Mr. Tighe took a keen interest in this
subtle young emissary.

"How's business with you people?" he would ask, genially; or,
"Find that you're getting many I.O.U.'s these days?"

Because of the unsettled condition of the country, the over-inflation
of securities, the slavery agitation, and so forth, there were
prospects of hard times. And Tighe--he could not have told you
why--was convinced that this young man was worth talking to in
regard to all this. He was not really old enough to know, and yet
he did know.

"Oh, things are going pretty well with us, thank you, Mr. Tighe,"
Cowperwood would answer.

"I tell you," he said to Cowperwood one morning, "this slavery
agitation, if it doesn't stop, is going to cause trouble."

A negro slave belonging to a visitor from Cuba had just been
abducted and set free, because the laws of Pennsylvania made freedom
the right of any negro brought into the state, even though in
transit only to another portion of the country, and there was
great excitement because of it. Several persons had been arrested,
and the newspapers were discussing it roundly.

"I don't think the South is going to stand for this thing. It's
making trouble in our business, and it must be doing the same
thing for others. We'll have secession here, sure as fate, one of
these days." He talked with the vaguest suggestion of a brogue.

"It's coming, I think," said Cowperwood, quietly. "It can't be
healed, in my judgment. The negro isn't worth all this excitement,
but they'll go on agitating for him--emotional people always do
this. They haven't anything else to do. It's hurting our Southern
trade."

"I thought so. That's what people tell me."

He turned to a new customer as young Cowperwood went out, but again
the boy struck him as being inexpressibly sound and deep-thinking
on financial matters. "If that young fellow wanted a place, I'd
give it to him," he thought.

Finally, one day he said to him: "How would you like to try your
hand at being a floor man for me in 'change? I need a young man
here. One of my clerks is leaving."

"I'd like it," replied Cowperwood, smiling and looking intensely
gratified. "I had thought of speaking to you myself some time."

"Well, if you're ready and can make the change, the place is open.
Come any time you like."

"I'll have to give a reasonable notice at the other place,"
Cowperwood said, quietly. "Would you mind waiting a week or two?"

"Not at all. It isn't as important as that. Come as soon as you
can straighten things out. I don't want to inconvenience your
employers."

It was only two weeks later that Frank took his departure from
Waterman & Company, interested and yet in no way flustered by his
new prospects. And great was the grief of Mr. George Waterman.
As for Mr. Henry Waterman, he was actually irritated by this
defection.

"Why, I thought," he exclaimed, vigorously, when informed by
Cowperwood of his decision, "that you liked the business. Is it
a matter of salary?"

"No, not at all, Mr. Waterman. It's just that I want to get into
the straight-out brokerage business."

"Well, that certainly is too bad. I'm sorry. I don't want to
urge you against your own best interests. You know what you are
doing. But George and I had about agreed to offer you an interest
in this thing after a bit. Now you're picking up and leaving.
Why, damn it, man, there's good money in this business."

"I know it," smiled Cowperwood, "but I don't like it. I have
other plans in view. I'll never be a grain and commission man."
Mr. Henry Waterman could scarcely understand why obvious success
in this field did not interest him. He feared the effect of his
departure on the business.

And once the change was made Cowperwood was convinced that this
new work was more suited to him in every way--as easy and more
profitable, of course. In the first place, the firm of Tighe &
Co., unlike that of Waterman & Co., was located in a handsome
green-gray stone building at 66 South Third Street, in what was
then, and for a number of years afterward, the heart of the
financial district. Great institutions of national and international
import and repute were near at hand--Drexel & Co., Edward Clark &
Co., the Third National Bank, the First National Bank, the Stock
Exchange, and similar institutions. Almost a score of smaller
banks and brokerage firms were also in the vicinity. Edward
Tighe, the head and brains of this concern, was a Boston Irishman,
the son of an immigrant who had flourished and done well in that
conservative city. He had come to Philadelphia to interest himself
in the speculative life there. "Sure, it's a right good place for
those of us who are awake," he told his friends, with a slight
Irish accent, and he considered himself very much awake. He was a
medium-tall man, not very stout, slightly and prematurely gray,
and with a manner which was as lively and good-natured as it was
combative and self-reliant. His upper lip was ornamented by a
short, gray mustache.

"May heaven preserve me," he said, not long after he came there,
"these Pennsylvanians never pay for anything they can issue bonds
for." It was the period when Pennsylvania's credit, and for that
matter Philadelphia's, was very bad in spite of its great wealth.
"If there's ever a war there'll be battalions of Pennsylvanians
marching around offering notes for their meals. If I could just
live long enough I could get rich buyin' up Pennsylvania notes and
bonds. I think they'll pay some time; but, my God, they're mortal
slow! I'll be dead before the State government will ever catch up
on the interest they owe me now."

It was true. The condition of the finances of the state and city
was most reprehensible. Both State and city were rich enough; but
there were so many schemes for looting the treasury in both
instances that when any new work had to be undertaken bonds were
necessarily issued to raise the money. These bonds, or warrants,
as they were called, pledged interest at six per cent.; but when
the interest fell due, instead of paying it, the city or State
treasurer, as the case might be, stamped the same with the date
of presentation, and the warrant then bore interest for not only
its original face value, but the amount then due in interest. In
other words, it was being slowly compounded. But this did not help
the man who wanted to raise money, for as security they could not
be hypothecated for more than seventy per cent. of their market
value, and they were not selling at par, but at ninety. A man might
buy or accept them in foreclosure, but he had a long wait. Also,
in the final payment of most of them favoritism ruled, for it was
only when the treasurer knew that certain warrants were in the hands
of "a friend" that he would advertise that such and such warrants--
those particular ones that he knew about--would be paid.

What was more, the money system of the United States was only then
beginning slowly to emerge from something approximating chaos to
something more nearly approaching order. The United States Bank,
of which Nicholas Biddle was the progenitor, had gone completely
in 1841, and the United States Treasury with its subtreasury system
had come in 1846; but still there were many, many wildcat banks,
sufficient in number to make the average exchange-counter broker
a walking encyclopedia of solvent and insolvent institutions.
Still, things were slowly improving, for the telegraph had facilitated
stock-market quotations, not only between New York, Boston, and
Philadelphia, but between a local broker's office in Philadelphia
and his stock exchange. In other words, the short private wire
had been introduced. Communication was quicker and freer, and
daily grew better.

Railroads had been built to the South, East, North, and West.
There was as yet no stock-ticker and no telephone, and the
clearing-house had only recently been thought of in New York,
and had not yet been introduced in Philadelphia. Instead of a
clearing-house service, messengers ran daily between banks and
brokerage firms, balancing accounts on pass-books, exchanging
bills, and, once a week, transferring the gold coin, which was
the only thing that could be accepted for balances due, since
there was no stable national currency. "On 'change," when the
gong struck announcing the close of the day's business, a company
of young men, known as "settlement clerks," after a system borrowed
from London, gathered in the center of the room and compared or
gathered the various trades of the day in a ring, thus eliminating
all those sales and resales between certain firms which naturally
canceled each other. They carried long account books, and called
out the transactions--"Delaware and Maryland sold to Beaumont and
Company," "Delware and Maryland sold to Tighe and Company," and so
on. This simplified the bookkeeping of the various firms, and
made for quicker and more stirring commercial transactions.

Seats "on 'change" sold for two thousand dollars each. The members
of the exchange had just passed rules limiting the trading to the
hours between ten and three (before this they had been any time
between morning and midnight), and had fixed the rates at which
brokers could do business, in the face of cut-throat schemes which
had previously held. Severe penalties were fixed for those who
failed to obey. In other words, things were shaping up for a
great 'change business, and Edward Tighe felt, with other brokers,
that there was a great future ahead.

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