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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Financier - Chapter 54
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The Financier - Chapter 54 Post by :barnone Category :Long Stories Author :Theodore Dreiser Date :February 2011 Read :2395

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The Financier - Chapter 54

Those who by any pleasing courtesy of fortune, accident of birth,
inheritance, or the wisdom of parents or friends, have succeeded
in avoiding making that anathema of the prosperous and comfortable,
"a mess of their lives," will scarcely understand the mood of
Cowperwood, sitting rather gloomily in his cell these first days,
wondering what, in spite of his great ingenuity, was to become of
him. The strongest have their hours of depression. There are
times when life to those endowed with the greatest intelligence--
perhaps mostly to those--takes on a somber hue. They see so many
phases of its dreary subtleties. It is only when the soul of man
has been built up into some strange self-confidence, some curious
faith in its own powers, based, no doubt, on the actual presence
of these same powers subtly involved in the body, that it fronts
life unflinchingly. It would be too much to say that Cowperwood's
mind was of the first order. It was subtle enough in all conscience--
and involved, as is common with the executively great, with a strong
sense of personal advancement. It was a powerful mind, turning,
like a vast searchlight, a glittering ray into many a dark corner;
but it was not sufficiently disinterested to search the ultimate
dark. He realized, in a way, what the great astronomers,
sociologists, philosophers, chemists, physicists, and physiologists
were meditating; but he could not be sure in his own mind that,
whatever it was, it was important for him. No doubt life held
many strange secrets. Perhaps it was essential that somebody
should investigate them. However that might be, the call of his
own soul was in another direction. His business was to make money--
to organize something which would make him much money, or, better
yet, save the organization he had begun.

But this, as he now looked upon it, was almost impossible. It had
been too disarranged and complicated by unfortunate circumstances.
He might, as Steger pointed out to him, string out these bankruptcy
proceedings for years, tiring out one creditor and another, but in
the meantime the properties involved were being seriously damaged.
Interest charges on his unsatisfied loans were making heavy inroads;
court costs were mounting up; and, to cap it all, he had discovered
with Steger that there were a number of creditors--those who had
sold out to Butler, and incidentally to Mollenhauer--who would
never accept anything except the full value of their claims. His
one hope now was to save what he could by compromise a little later,
and to build up some sort of profitable business through Stephen
Wingate. The latter was coming in a day or two, as soon as Steger
had made some working arrangement for him with Warden Michael
Desmas who came the second day to have a look at the new prisoner.

Desmas was a large man physically--Irish by birth, a politician by
training--who had been one thing and another in Philadelphia from
a policeman in his early days and a corporal in the Civil War to
a ward captain under Mollenhauer. He was a canny man, tall,
raw-boned, singularly muscular-looking, who for all his fifty-seven
years looked as though he could give a splendid account of himself
in a physical contest. His hands were large and bony, his face
more square than either round or long, and his forehead high. He
had a vigorous growth of short-clipped, iron-gray hair, and a
bristly iron-gray mustache, very short, keen, intelligent blue-gray
eyes; a florid complexion; and even-edged, savage-looking teeth,
which showed the least bit in a slightly wolfish way when he smiled.
However, he was not as cruel a person as he looked to be;
temperamental, to a certain extent hard, and on occasions savage,
but with kindly hours also. His greatest weakness was that he was
not quite mentally able to recognize that there were mental and
social differences between prisoners, and that now and then one
was apt to appear here who, with or without political influences,
was eminently worthy of special consideration. What he could
recognize was the differences pointed out to him by the politicians
in special cases, such as that of Stener--not Cowperwood. However,
seeing that the prison was a public institution apt to be visited
at any time by lawyers, detectives, doctors, preachers, propagandists,
and the public generally, and that certain rules and regulations
had to be enforced (if for no other reason than to keep a moral
and administrative control over his own help), it was necessary
to maintain--and that even in the face of the politician--a certain
amount of discipline, system, and order, and it was not possible
to be too liberal with any one. There were, however, exceptional
cases--men of wealth and refinement, victims of those occasional
uprisings which so shocked the political leaders generally--who
had to be looked after in a friendly way.

Desmas was quite aware, of course, of the history of Cowperwood
and Stener. The politicians had already given him warning that
Stener, because of his past services to the community, was to be
treated with special consideration. Not so much was said about
Cowperwood, although they did admit that his lot was rather hard.
Perhaps he might do a little something for him but at his own risk.

"Butler is down on him," Strobik said to Desmas, on one occasion.
"It's that girl of his that's at the bottom of it all. If you
listened to Butler you'd feed him on bread and water, but he isn't
a bad fellow. As a matter of fact, if George had had any sense
Cowperwood wouldn't be where he is to-day. But the big fellows
wouldn't let Stener alone. They wouldn't let him give Cowperwood
any money."

Although Strobik had been one of those who, under pressure from
Mollenhauer, had advised Stener not to let Cowperwood have any
more money, yet here he was pointing out the folly of the victim's
course. The thought of the inconsistency involved did not trouble
him in the least.

Desmas decided, therefore, that if Cowperwood were persona non
grata to the "Big Three," it might be necessary to be indifferent
to him, or at least slow in extending him any special favors. For
Stener a good chair, clean linen, special cutlery and dishes, the
daily papers, privileges in the matter of mail, the visits of
friends, and the like. For Cowperwood--well, he would have to
look at Cowperwood and see what he thought. At the same time,
Steger's intercessions were not without their effect on Desmas.
So the morning after Cowperwood's entrance the warden received a
letter from Terrence Relihan, the Harrisburg potentate, indicating
that any kindness shown to Mr. Cowperwood would be duly appreciated
by him. Upon the receipt of this letter Desmas went up and looked
through Cowperwood's iron door. On the way he had a brief talk
with Chapin, who told him what a nice man he thought Cowperwood
was.

Desmas had never seen Cowperwood before, but in spite of the shabby
uniform, the clog shoes, the cheap shirt, and the wretched cell,
he was impressed. Instead of the weak, anaemic body and the shifty
eyes of the average prisoner, he saw a man whose face and form
blazed energy and power, and whose vigorous erectness no wretched
clothes or conditions could demean. He lifted his head when Desmas
appeared, glad that any form should have appeared at his door, and
looked at him with large, clear, examining eyes--those eyes that
in the past had inspired so much confidence and surety in all those
who had known him. Desmas was stirred. Compared with Stener,
whom he knew in the past and whom he had met on his entry, this
man was a force. Say what you will, one vigorous man inherently
respects another. And Desmas was vigorous physically. He eyed
Cowperwood and Cowperwood eyed him. Instinctly Desmas liked him.
He was like one tiger looking at another.

Instinctively Cowperwood knew that he was the warden. This is Mr.
Desmas, isn't it?" he asked, courteously and pleasantly.

"Yes, sir, I'm the man," replied Desmas interestedly. "These rooms
are not as comfortable as they might be, are they?" The warden's
even teeth showed in a friendly, yet wolfish, way.

"They certainly are not, Mr. Desmas," replied Cowperwood, standing
very erect and soldier-like. "I didn't imagine I was coming to a
hotel, however." He smiled.

"There isn't anything special I can do for you, is there, Mr.
Cowperwood?" began Desmas curiously, for he was moved by a thought
that at some time or other a man such as this might be of service
to him. "I've been talking to your lawyer." Cowperwood was
intensely gratified by the Mr. So that was the way the wind was
blowing. Well, then, within reason, things might not prove so bad
here. He would see. He would sound this man out.

"I don't want to be asking anything, Warden, which you cannot
reasonably give," he now returned politely. "But there are a few
things, of course, that I would change if I could. I wish I might
have sheets for my bed, and I could afford better underwear if you
would let me wear it. This that I have on annoys me a great deal."

"They're not the best wool, that's true enough," replied Desmas,
solemnly. "They're made for the State out here in Pennsylvania
somewhere. I suppose there's no objection to your wearing your
own underwear if you want to. I'll see about that. And the sheets,
too. We might let you use them if you have them. We'll have to
go a little slow about this. There are a lot of people that take
a special interest in showing the warden how to tend to his business."

"I can readily understand that, Warden," went on Cowperwood briskly,
"and I'm certainly very much obliged to you. You may be sure that
anything you do for me here will be appreciated, and not misused,
and that I have friends on the outside who can reciprocate for me
in the course of time." He talked slowly and emphatically, looking
Desmas directly in the eye all of the time. Desmas was very much
impressed.

"That's all right," he said, now that he had gone so far as to be
friendly. "I can't promise much. Prison rules are prison rules.
But there are some things that can be done, because it's the rule
to do them for other men when they behave themselves. You can
have a better chair than that, if you want it, and something to
read too. If you're in business yet, I wouldn't want to do anything
to stop that. We can't have people running in and out of here every
fifteen minutes, and you can't turn a cell into a business office--
that's not possible. It would break up the order of the place.
Still, there's no reason why you shouldn't see some of your friends
now and then. As for your mail--well, that will have to be opened
in the ordinary way for the time being, anyhow. I'll have to see
about that. I can't promise too much. You'll have to wait until
you come out of this block and down-stairs. Some of the cells
have a yard there; if there are any empty--" The warden cocked his
eye wisely, and Cowperwood saw that his tot was not to be as bad
as he had anticipated--though bad enough. The warden spoke to him
about the different trades he might follow, and asked him to think
about the one he would prefer. "You want to have something to
keep your hands busy, whatever else you want. You'll find you'll
need that. Everybody here wants to work after a time. I notice
that."

Cowperwood understood and thanked Desmas profusely. The horror
of idleness in silence and in a cell scarcely large enough to turn
around in comfortably had already begun to creep over him, and the
thought of being able to see Wingate and Steger frequently, and
to have his mail reach him, after a time, untampered with, was a
great relief. He was to have his own underwear, silk and wool--
thank God!--and perhaps they would let him take off these shoes
after a while. With these modifications and a trade, and perhaps
the little yard which Desmas had referred to, his life would be,
if not ideal, at least tolerable. The prison was still a prison,
but it looked as though it might not be so much of a terror to him
as obviously it must be to many.

During the two weeks in which Cowperwood was in the "manners squad,"
in care of Chapin, he learned nearly as much as he ever learned of
the general nature of prison life; for this was not an ordinary
penitentiary in the sense that the prison yard, the prison squad,
the prison lock-step, the prison dining-room, and prison associated
labor make the ordinary penitentiary. There was, for him and for
most of those confined there, no general prison life whatsoever.
The large majority were supposed to work silently in their cells
at the particular tasks assigned them, and not to know anything of
the remainder of the life which went on around them, the rule of
this prison being solitary confinement, and few being permitted
to work at the limited number of outside menial tasks provided.
Indeed, as he sensed and as old Chapin soon informed him, not more
than seventy-five of the four hundred prisoners confined here were
so employed, and not all of these regularly--cooking, gardening
in season, milling, and general cleaning being the only avenues
of escape from solitude. Even those who so worked were strictly
forbidden to talk, and although they did not have to wear the
objectionable hood when actually employed, they were supposed to
wear it in going to and from their work. Cowperwood saw them
occasionally tramping by his cell door, and it struck him as
strange, uncanny, grim. He wished sincerely at times since old
Chapin was so genial and talkative that he were to be under him
permanently; but it was not to be.

His two weeks soon passed--drearily enough in all conscience but
they passed, interlaced with his few commonplace tasks of bed-making,
floor-sweeping, dressing, eating, undressing, rising at five-thirty,
and retiring at nine, washing his several dishes after each meal,
etc. He thought he would never get used to the food. Breakfast,
as has been said, was at six-thirty, and consisted of coarse black
bread made of bran and some white flour, and served with black
coffee. Dinner was at eleven-thirty, and consisted of bean or
vegetable soup, with some coarse meat in it, and the same bread.
Supper was at six, of tea and bread, very strong tea and the same
bread--no butter, no milk, no sugar. Cowperwood did not smoke,
so the small allowance of tobacco which was permitted was without
value to him. Steger called in every day for two or three weeks,
and after the second day, Stephen Wingate, as his new business
associate, was permitted to see him also--once every day, if he
wished, Desmas stated, though the latter felt he was stretching
a point in permitting this so soon. Both of these visits rarely
occupied more than an hour, or an hour and a half, and after that
the day was long. He was taken out on several days on a court
order, between nine and five, to testify in the bankruptcy
proceedings against him, which caused the time in the beginning
to pass quickly.

It was curious, once he was in prison, safely shut from the world
for a period of years apparently, how quickly all thought of
assisting him departed from the minds of those who had been most
friendly. He was done, so most of them thought. The only thing
they could do now would be to use their influence to get him out
some time; how soon, they could not guess. Beyond that there was
nothing. He would really never be of any great importance to any
one any more, or so they thought. It was very sad, very tragic,
but he was gone--his place knew him not.

"A bright young man, that," observed President Davison of the
Girard National, on reading of Cowperwood's sentence and incarceration.
"Too bad! Too bad! He made a great mistake."

Only his parents, Aileen, and his wife--the latter with mingled
feelings of resentment and sorrow--really missed him. Aileen,
because of her great passion for him, was suffering most of all.
Four years and three months; she thought. If he did not get out
before then she would be nearing twenty-nine and he would be nearing
forty. Would he want her then? Would she be so attractive? And
would nearly five years change his point of view? He would have
to wear a convict suit all that time, and be known as a convict
forever after. It was hard to think about, but only made her more
than ever determined to cling to him, whatever happened, and to
help him all she could.

Indeed the day after his incarceration she drove out and looked
at the grim, gray walls of the penitentiary. Knowing nothing
absolutely of the vast and complicated processes of law and penal
servitude, it seemed especially terrible to her. What might not
they be doing to her Frank? Was he suffering much? Was he thinking
of her as she was of him? Oh, the pity of it all! The pity! The
pity of herself--her great love for him! She drove home, determined
to see him; but as he had originally told her that visiting days
were only once in three months, and that he would have to write
her when the next one was, or when she could come, or when he could
see her on the outside, she scarcely knew what to do. Secrecy was
the thing.

The next day, however, she wrote him just the same, describing the
drive she had taken on the stormy afternoon before--the terror of
the thought that he was behind those grim gray walls--and declaring
her determination to see him soon. And this letter, under the new
arrangement, he received at once. He wrote her in reply, giving
the letter to Wingate to mail. It ran:

My sweet girl:--I fancy you are a little downhearted to think
I cannot be with you any more soon, but you mustn't be. I
suppose you read all about the sentence in the paper. I came
out here the same morning--nearly noon. If I had time, dearest,
I'd write you a long letter describing the situation so as to
ease your mind; but I haven't. It's against the rules, and I
am really doing this secretly. I'm here, though, safe enough,
and wish I were out, of course. Sweetest, you must be careful
how you try to see me at first. You can't do me much service
outside of cheering me up, and you may do yourself great harm.
Besides, I think I have done you far more harm than I can ever
make up to you and that you had best give me up, although I know
you do not think so, and I would be sad, if you did. I am to be
in the Court of Special Pleas, Sixth and Chestnut, on Friday at
two o'clock; but you cannot see me there. I'll be out in charge
of my counsel. You must be careful. Perhaps you'll think
better, and not come here.

This last touch was one of pure gloom, the first Cowperwood had
ever introduced into their relationship but conditions had changed
him. Hitherto he had been in the position of the superior being,
the one who was being sought--although Aileen was and had been
well worth seeking--and he had thought that he might escape unscathed,
and so grow in dignity and power until she might not possibly be
worthy of him any longer. He had had that thought. But here, in
stripes, it was a different matter. Aileen's position, reduced
in value as it was by her long, ardent relationship with him, was
now, nevertheless, superior to his--apparently so. For after all,
was she not Edward Butler's daughter, and might she, after she had
been away from him a while, wish to become a convict's bride. She
ought not to want to, and she might not want to, for all he knew;
she might change her mind. She ought not to wait for him. Her
life was not yet ruined. The public did not know, so he thought--
not generally anyhow--that she had been his mistress. She might
marry. Why not, and so pass out of his life forever. And would
not that be sad for him? And yet did he not owe it to her, to a
sense of fair play in himself to ask her to give him up, or at
least think over the wisdom of doing so?

He did her the justice to believe that she would not want to give
him up; and in his position, however harmful it might be to her,
it was an advantage, a connecting link with the finest period of
his past life, to have her continue to love him. He could not,
however, scribbling this note in his cell in Wingate's presence,
and giving it to him to mail (Overseer Chapin was kindly keeping
a respectful distance, though he was supposed to be present),
refrain from adding, at the last moment, this little touch of doubt
which, when she read it, struck Aileen to the heart. She read it
as gloom on his part--as great depression. Perhaps, after all,
the penitentiary and so soon, was really breaking his spirit, and
he had held up so courageously so long. Because of this, now she
was madly eager to get to him, to console him, even though it was
difficult, perilous. She must, she said.

In regard to visits from the various members of his family--his
mother and father, his brother, his wife, and his sister--Cowperwood
made it plain to them on one of the days on which he was out
attending a bankruptcy hearing, that even providing it could be
arranged he did not think they should come oftener than once in
three months, unless he wrote them or sent word by Steger. The
truth was that he really did not care to see much of any of them
at present. He was sick of the whole social scheme of things.
In fact he wanted to be rid of the turmoil he had been in, seeing
it had proved so useless. He had used nearly fifteen thousand
dollars thus far in defending himself--court costs, family
maintenance, Steger, etc.; but he did not mind that. He expected
to make some little money working through Wingate. His family
were not utterly without funds, sufficient to live on in a small
way. He had advised them to remove into houses more in keeping
with their reduced circumstances, which they had done--his mother
and father and brothers and sister to a three-story brick house
of about the caliber of the old Buttonwood Street house, and his
wife to a smaller, less expensive two-story one on North Twenty-first
Street, near the penitentiary, a portion of the money saved out
of the thirty-five thousand dollars extracted from Stener under
false pretenses aiding to sustain it. Of course all this was a
terrible descent from the Girard Avenue mansion for the elder
Cowperwood; for here was none of the furniture which characterized
the other somewhat gorgeous domicile--merely store-bought, ready-made
furniture, and neat but cheap hangings and fixtures generally.
The assignees, to whom all Cowperwood's personal property belonged,
and to whom Cowperwood, the elder, had surrendered all his holdings,
would not permit anything of importance to be removed. It had all
to be sold for the benefit of creditors. A few very small things,
but only a few, had been kept, as everything had been inventoried
some time before. One of the things which old Cowperwood wanted
was his own desk which Frank had had designed for him; but as it
was valued at five hundred dollars and could not be relinquished
by the sheriff except on payment of that sum, or by auction, and
as Henry Cowperwood had no such sum to spare, he had to let the
desk go. There were many things they all wanted, and Anna Adelaide
had literally purloined a few though she did not admit the fact
to her parents until long afterward.

There came a day when the two houses in Girard Avenue were the
scene of a sheriffs sale, during which the general public, without
let or hindrance, was permitted to tramp through the rooms and
examine the pictures, statuary, and objects of art generally,
which were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Considerable fame
had attached to Cowperwood's activities in this field, owing in
the first place to the real merit of what he had brought together,
and in the next place to the enthusiastic comment of such men as
Wilton Ellsworth, Fletcher Norton, Gordon Strake--architects and
art dealers whose judgment and taste were considered important in
Philadelphia. All of the lovely things by which he had set great
store--small bronzes, representative of the best period of the
Italian Renaissance; bits of Venetian glass which he had collected
with great care--a full curio case; statues by Powers, Hosmer,
and Thorwaldsen--things which would be smiled at thirty years
later, but which were of high value then; all of his pictures by
representative American painters from Gilbert to Eastman Johnson,
together with a few specimens of the current French and English
schools, went for a song. Art judgment in Philadelphia at this
time was not exceedingly high; and some of the pictures, for lack
of appreciative understanding, were disposed of at much too low a
figure. Strake, Norton, and Ellsworth were all present and bought
liberally. Senator Simpson, Mollenhauer, and Strobik came to see
what they could see. The small-fry politicians were there, en
masse. But Simpson, calm judge of good art, secured practically
the best of all that was offered. To him went the curio case of
Venetian glass; one pair of tall blue-and-white Mohammedan cylindrical
vases; fourteen examples of Chinese jade, including several artists'
water-dishes and a pierced window-screen of the faintest tinge of
green. To Mollenhauer went the furniture and decorations of the
entry-hall and reception-room of Henry Cowperwood's house, and to
Edward Strobik two of Cowperwood's bird's-eye maple bedroom suites
for the most modest of prices. Adam Davis was present and secured
the secretaire of buhl which the elder Cowperwood prized so highly.
To Fletcher Norton went the four Greek vases--a kylix, a water-jar,
and two amphorae--which he had sold to Cowperwood and which he
valued highly. Various objects of art, including a Sevres dinner
set, a Gobelin tapestry, Barye bronzes and pictures by Detaille,
Fortuny, and George Inness, went to Walter Leigh, Arthur Rivers,
Joseph Zimmerman, Judge Kitchen, Harper Steger, Terrence Relihan,
Trenor Drake, Mr. and Mrs. Simeon Jones, W. C. Davison, Frewen
Kasson, Fletcher Norton, and Judge Rafalsky.

Within four days after the sale began the two houses were bare of
their contents. Even the objects in the house at 931 North Tenth
Street had been withdrawn from storage where they had been placed
at the time it was deemed advisable to close this institution, and
placed on sale with the other objects in the two homes. It was
at this time that the senior Cowperwoods first learned of something
which seemed to indicate a mystery which had existed in connection
with their son and his wife. No one of all the Cowperwoods was
present during all this gloomy distribution; and Aileen, reading
of the disposition of all the wares, and knowing their value to
Cowperwood, to say nothing of their charm for her, was greatly
depressed; yet she was not long despondent, for she was convinced
that Cowperwood would some day regain his liberty and attain a
position of even greater significance in the financial world. She
could not have said why but she was sure of it.

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The Financier - Chapter 55 The Financier - Chapter 55

The Financier - Chapter 55
In the meanwhile Cowperwood had been transferred to a new overseerand a new cell in Block 3 on the ground door, which was like allthe others in size, ten by sixteen, but to which was attached thesmall yard previously mentioned. Warden Desmas came up two daysbefore he was transferred, and had another short conversation withhim through his cell door."You'll be transferred on Monday," he said, in his reserved, slowway. "They'll give you a yard, though it won't be much good toyou--we only allow a half-hour a day in it. I've told the overseerabout your business arrangements. He'll
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The Financier - Chapter 53 The Financier - Chapter 53

The Financier - Chapter 53
The Eastern District Penitentiary of Pennsylvania, standing atFairmount Avenue and Twenty-first Street in Philadelphia Cowperwood was now to serve his sentence of four years and threemonths, was a large, gray-stone structure, solemn and momentousin its mien, not at all unlike the palace of Sforzas at Milan,although not so distinguished. It stretched its gray length forseveral blocks along four different streets, and looked as lonelyand forbidding as a prison should. The wall which inclosed itsgreat area extending over ten acres and gave it so much of itssolemn dignity was thirty-five feet high and some seven feet thick.The prison proper, which
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