The Financier, a Novel

Author: Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XL

When Cowperwood came into the crowded courtroom with his father and Steger, quite fresh and jaunty (looking the part of the shrewd financier, the man of affairs), every one stared. It was really too much to expect, most of them thought, that a man like this would be convicted. He was, no doubt, guilty; but, also, no doubt, he had ways and means of evading the law. His lawyer, Harper Steger, looked very shrewd and canny to them. It was very cold, and both men wore long, dark, bluish-gray overcoats, cut in the latest mode. Cowperwood was given to small boutonnieres in fair weather, but to-day he wore none. His tie, however, was of heavy, impressive silk, of lavender hue, set with a large, clear, green emerald. He wore only the thinnest of watch-chains, and no other ornament of any kind. He always looked jaunty and yet reserved, good-natured, and yet capable and self-sufficient. Never had he looked more so than he did to-day.

He at once took in the nature of the scene, which had a peculiar interest for him. Before him was the as yet empty judge’s rostrum, and at its right the empty jury-box, between which, and to the judge’s left, as he sat facing the audience, stood the witness-chair where he must presently sit and testify. Behind it, already awaiting the arrival of the court, stood a fat bailiff, one John Sparkheaver whose business it was to present the aged, greasy Bible to be touched by the witnesses in making oath, and to say, "Step this way," when the testimony was over. There were other bailiffs—one at the gate giving into the railed space before the judge’s desk, where prisoners were arraigned, lawyers sat or pleaded, the defendant had a chair, and so on; another in the aisle leading to the jury-room, and still another guarding the door by which the public entered. Cowperwood surveyed Stener, who was one of the witnesses, and who now, in his helpless fright over his own fate, was without malice toward any one. He had really never borne any. He wished if anything now that he had followed Cowperwood’s advice, seeing where he now was, though he still had faith that Mollenhauer and the political powers represented by him would do something for him with the governor, once he was sentenced. He was very pale and comparatively thin. Already he had lost that ruddy bulk which had been added during the days of his prosperity. He wore a new gray suit and a brown tie, and was clean-shaven. When his eye caught Cowperwood’s steady beam, it faltered and drooped. He rubbed his ear foolishly. Cowperwood nodded.

"You know," he said to Steger, "I feel sorry for George. He’s such a fool. Still I did all I could."

Cowperwood also watched Mrs. Stener out of the tail of his eye— an undersized, peaked, and sallow little woman, whose clothes fitted her abominably. It was just like Stener to marry a woman like that, he thought. The scrubby matches of the socially unelect or unfit always interested, though they did not always amuse, him. Mrs. Stener had no affection for Cowperwood, of course, looking on him, as she did, as the unscrupulous cause of her husband’s downfall. They were now quite poor again, about to move from their big house into cheaper quarters; and this was not pleasing for her to contemplate.

Judge Payderson came in after a time, accompanied by his undersized but stout court attendant, who looked more like a pouter-pigeon than a human being; and as they came, Bailiff Sparkheaver rapped on the judge’s desk, beside which he had been slumbering, and mumbled, "Please rise!" The audience arose, as is the rule of all courts. Judge Payderson stirred among a number of briefs that were lying on his desk, and asked, briskly, "What’s the first case, Mr. Protus?" He was speaking to his clerk.

During the long and tedious arrangement of the day’s docket and while the various minor motions of lawyers were being considered, this courtroom scene still retained interest for Cowperwood. He was so eager to win, so incensed at the outcome of untoward events which had brought him here. He was always intensely irritated, though he did not show it, by the whole process of footing delays and queries and quibbles, by which legally the affairs of men were too often hampered. Law, if you had asked him, and he had accurately expressed himself, was a mist formed out of the moods and the mistakes of men, which befogged the sea of life and prevented plain sailing for the little commercial and social barques of men; it was a miasma of misinterpretation where the ills of life festered, and also a place where the accidentally wounded were ground between the upper and the nether millstones of force or chance; it was a strange, weird, interesting, and yet futile battle of wits where the ignorant and the incompetent and the shrewd and the angry and the weak were made pawns and shuttlecocks for men—lawyers, who were playing upon their moods, their vanities, their desires, and their necessities. It was an unholy and unsatisfactory disrupting and delaying spectacle, a painful commentary on the frailties of life, and men, a trick, a snare, a pit and gin. In the hands of the strong, like himself when he was at his best, the law was a sword and a shield, a trap to place before the feet of the unwary; a pit to dig in the path of those who might pursue. It was anything you might choose to make of it—a door to illegal opportunity; a cloud of dust to be cast in the eyes of those who might choose, and rightfully, to see; a veil to be dropped arbitrarily between truth and its execution, justice and its judgment, crime and punishment. Lawyers in the main were intellectual mercenaries to be bought and sold in any cause. It amused him to hear the ethical and emotional platitudes of lawyers, to see how readily they would lie, steal, prevaricate, misrepresent in almost any cause and for any purpose. Great lawyers were merely great unscrupulous subtleties, like himself, sitting back in dark, close-woven lairs like spiders and awaiting the approach of unwary human flies. Life was at best a dark, inhuman, unkind, unsympathetic struggle built of cruelties and the law, and its lawyers were the most despicable representatives of the whole unsatisfactory mess. Still he used law as he would use any other trap or weapon to rid him of a human ill; and as for lawyers, he picked them up as he would any club or knife wherewith to defend himself. He had no particular respect for any of them—not even Harper Steger, though he liked him. They were tools to be used—knives, keys, clubs, anything you will; but nothing more. When they were through they were paid and dropped—put aside and forgotten. As for judges, they were merely incompetent lawyers, at a rule, who were shelved by some fortunate turn of chance, and who would not, in all likelihood, be as efficient as the lawyers who pleaded before them if they were put in the same position. He had no respect for judges—he knew too much about them. He knew how often they were sycophants, political climbers, political hacks, tools, time-servers, judicial door-mats lying before the financially and politically great and powerful who used them as such. Judges were fools, as were most other people in this dusty, shifty world. Pah! His inscrutable eyes took them all in and gave no sign. His only safety lay, he thought, in the magnificent subtley of his own brain, and nowhere else. You could not convince Cowperwood of any great or inherent virtue in this mortal scheme of things. He knew too much; he knew himself.

When the judge finally cleared away the various minor motions pending, he ordered his clerk to call the case of the City of Philadelphia versus Frank A. Cowperwood, which was done in a clear voice. Both Dennis Shannon, the new district attorney, and Steger, were on their feet at once. Steger and Cowperwood, together with Shannon and Strobik, who had now come in and was standing as the representative of the State of Pennsylvania—the complainant—had seated themselves at the long table inside the railing which inclosed the space before the judge’s desk. Steger proposed to Judge Payderson, for effect’s sake more than anything else, that this indictment be quashed, but was overruled.

A jury to try the case was now quickly impaneled—twelve men out of the usual list called to serve for the month—and was then ready to be challenged by the opposing counsel. The business of impaneling a jury was a rather simple thing so far as this court was concerned. It consisted in the mandarin-like clerk taking the names of all the jurors called to serve in this court for the month—some fifty in all—and putting them, each written on a separate slip of paper, in a whirling drum, spinning it around a few times, and then lifting out the first slip which his hand encountered, thus glorifying chance and settling on who should be juror No. 1. His hand reaching in twelve times drew out the names of the twelve jurymen, who as their names were called, were ordered to take their places in the jury-box.

Cowperwood observed this proceeding with a great deal of interest. What could be more important than the men who were going to try him? The process was too swift for accurate judgment, but he received a faint impression of middle-class men. One man in particular, however, an old man of sixty-five, with iron-gray hair and beard, shaggy eyebrows, sallow complexion, and stooped shoulders, struck him as having that kindness of temperament and breadth of experience which might under certain circumstances be argumentatively swayed in his favor. Another, a small, sharp-nosed, sharp-chinned commercial man of some kind, he immediately disliked.

"I hope I don’t have to have that man on my jury," he said to Steger, quietly.

"You don’t," replied Steger. "I’ll challenge him. We have the right to fifteen peremptory challenges on a case like this, and so has the prosecution."

When the jury-box was finally full, the two lawyers waited for the clerk to bring them the small board upon which slips of paper bearing the names of the twelve jurors were fastened in rows in order of their selection—jurors one, two, and three being in the first row; four, five, and six in the second, and so on. It being the prerogative of the attorney for the prosecution to examine and challenge the jurors first, Shannon arose, and, taking the board, began to question them as to their trades or professions, their knowledge of the case before the court, and their possible prejudice for or against the prisoner.

It was the business of both Steger and Shannon to find men who knew a little something of finance and could understand a peculiar situation of this kind without any of them (looking at it from Steger’s point of view) having any prejudice against a man’s trying to assist himself by reasonable means to weather a financial storm or (looking at it from Shannon’s point of view) having any sympathy with such means, if they bore about them the least suspicion of chicanery, jugglery, or dishonest manipulation of any kind. As both Shannon and Steger in due course observed for themselves in connection with this jury, it was composed of that assorted social fry which the dragnets of the courts, cast into the ocean of the city, bring to the surface for purposes of this sort. It was made up in the main of managers, agents, tradesmen, editors, engineers, architects, furriers, grocers, traveling salesmen, authors, and every other kind of working citizen whose experience had fitted him for service in proceedings of this character. Rarely would you have found a man of great distinction; but very frequently a group of men who were possessed of no small modicum of that interesting quality known as hard common sense.

Throughout all this Cowperwood sat quietly examining the men. A young florist, with a pale face, a wide speculative forehead, and anemic hands, struck him as being sufficiently impressionable to his personal charm to be worth while. He whispered as much to Steger. There was a shrewd Jew, a furrier, who was challenged because he had read all of the news of the panic and had lost two thousand dollars in street-railway stocks. There was a stout wholesale grocer, with red cheeks, blue eyes, and flaxen hair, who Cowperwood said he thought was stubborn. He was eliminated. There was a thin, dapper manager of a small retail clothing store, very anxious to be excused, who declared, falsely, that he did not believe in swearing by the Bible. Judge Payderson, eyeing him severely, let him go. There were some ten more in all—men who knew of Cowperwood, men who admitted they were prejudiced, men who were hidebound Republicans and resentful of this crime, men who knew Stener—who were pleasantly eliminated.

By twelve o’clock, however, a jury reasonably satisfactory to both sides had been chosen.


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Chicago: Theodore Dreiser, "Chapter XL," The Financier, a Novel, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in The Financier, a Novel (New York: George E. Wood, 1850), Original Sources, accessed April 24, 2018,

MLA: Dreiser, Theodore. "Chapter XL." The Financier, a Novel, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in The Financier, a Novel, Vol. 22, New York, George E. Wood, 1850, Original Sources. 24 Apr. 2018.

Harvard: Dreiser, T, 'Chapter XL' in The Financier, a Novel, ed. . cited in 1850, The Financier, a Novel, George E. Wood, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 24 April 2018, from