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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 20)


"Baby mine," he said, "do you understand all about this? Do you know exactly what you're doing when you come with me this way?"

"I think I do."

She struck her boot and looked at the ground, and then up through the trees at the blue sky.

"Look at me, honey."

"I don't want to."

"But look at me, sweet. I want to ask you something."

"Don't make me, Frank, please. I can't."

"Oh yes, you can look at me."

"No."

She backed away as he took her hands, but came forward again, easily enough.

"Now look in my eyes."

"I can't."

"See here."

"I can't. Don't ask me. I'll answer you, but don't make me look at you."

His hand stole to her cheek and fondled it. He petted her shoulder, and she leaned her head against him.

"Sweet, you're so beautiful," he said finally, "I can't give you up. I know what I ought to do. You know, too, I suppose; but I can't. I must have you. If this should end in exposure, it would be quite bad for you and me. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"I don't know your brothers very well; but from looking at them I judge they're pretty determined people. They think a great deal of you."

"Indeed, they do." Her vanity prinked slightly at this.

"They would probably want to kill me, and very promptly, for just this much. What do you think they would want to do if-well, if anything should happen, some time?"

He waited, watching her pretty face.

"But nothing need happen. We needn't go any further."

"Aileen!"

"I won't look at you. You needn't ask. I can't."

"Aileen! Do you mean that?"

"I don't know. Don't ask me, Frank."

"You know it can't stop this way, don't you? You know it. This isn't the end. Now, if-" He explained the whole theory of illicit meetings, calmly, dispassionately. "You are perfectly safe, except for one thing, chance exposure. It might just so happen; and then, of course, there would be a great deal to settle for. Mrs. Cowperwood would never give me a divorce; she has no reason to. If I should clean up in the way I hope to-if I should make a million-I wouldn't mind knocking off now. I don't expect to work all my days. I have always planned to knock off at thirty-five. I'll have enough by that time. Then I want to travel. It will only be a few more years now. If you were free-if your father and mother were dead"-curiously she did not wince at this practical reference-"it would be a different matter."

He paused. She still gazed thoughtfully at the water below, her mind running out to a yacht on the sea with him, a palace somewhere just they two. Her eyes, half closed, saw this happy world; and, listening to him, she was fascinated.

"Hanged if I see the way out of this, exactly. But I love you!" He caught her to him. "I love you-love you!"

"Oh, yes," she replied intensely, "I want you to. I'm not afraid."

"I've taken a house in North Tenth Street," he said finally, as they walked over to the horses and mounted them. "It isn't furnished yet; but it will be soon. I know a woman who will take charge."

"Who is she?"

"An interesting widow of nearly fifty. Very intelligent-she is attractive, and knows a good deal of life. I found her through an advertisement. You might call on her some afternoon when things are arranged, and look the place over. You needn't meet her except in a casual way. Will you?"

She rode on, thinking, making no reply. He was so direct and practical in his calculations.

"Will you? It will be all right. You might know her. She isn't objectionable in any way. Will you?"

"Let me know when it is ready," was all she said finally. Chapter XXI
The vagaries of passion! Subtleties! Risks! What sacrifices are not laid willfully upon its altar! In a little while this more than average residence to which Cowperwood had referred was prepared solely to effect a satisfactory method of concealment. The house was governed by a seemingly recently-bereaved widow, and it was possible for Aileen to call without seeming strangely out of place. In such surroundings, and under such circumstances, it was not difficult to persuade her to give herself wholly to her lover, governed as she was by her wild and unreasoning affection and passion. In a way, there was a saving element of love, for truly, above all others, she wanted this man. She had no thought or feeling toward any other. All her mind ran toward visions of the future, when, somehow, she and he might be together for all time. Mrs. Cowperwood might die, or he might run away with her at thirty-five when he had a million. Some adjustment would be made, somehow. Nature had given her this man. She relied on him implicitly. When he told her that he would take care of her so that nothing evil should befall, she believed him fully. Such sins are the commonplaces of the confessional.

It is a curious fact that by some subtlety of logic in the Christian world, it has come to be believed that there can be no love outside the conventional process of courtship and marriage. One life, one love, is the Christian idea, and into this sluice or mold it has been endeavoring to compress the whole world. Pagan thought held no such belief. A writing of divorce for trivial causes was the theory of the elders; and in the primeval world nature apparently holds no scheme for the unity of two beyond the temporary care of the young. That the modern home is the most beautiful of schemes, when based upon mutual sympathy and understanding between two, need not be questioned. And yet this fact should not necessarily carry with it a condemnation of all love not so fortunate as to find so happy a denouement. Life cannot be put into any mold, and the attempt might as well be abandoned at once. Those so fortunate as to find harmonious companionship for life should congratulate themselves and strive to be worthy of it. Those not so blessed, though they be written down as pariahs, have yet some justification. And, besides, whether we will or not, theory or no theory, the basic facts of chemistry and physics remain. Like is drawn to like. Changes in temperament bring changes in relationship. Dogma may bind some minds; fear, others. But there are always those in whom the chemistry and physics of life are large, and in whom neither dogma nor fear is operative. Society lifts its hands in horror; but from age to age the Helens, the Messalinas, the Du Barrys, the Pompadours, the Maintenons, and the Nell Gwyns flourish and point a freer basis of relationship than we have yet been able to square with our lives.

These two felt unutterably bound to each other. Cowperwood, once he came to understand her, fancied that he had found the one person with whom he could live happily the rest of his life. She was so young, so confident, so hopeful, so undismayed. All these months since they had first begun to reach out to each other he had been hourly contrasting her with his wife. As a matter of fact, his dissatisfaction, though it may be said to have been faint up to this time, was now surely tending to become real enough. Still, his children were pleasing to him; his home beautiful. Lillian, phlegmatic and now thin, was still not homely. All these years he had found her satisfactory enough; but now his dissatisfaction with her began to increase. She was not like Aileen-not young, not vivid, not as unschooled in the commonplaces of life. And while ordinarily, he was not one who was inclined to be querulous, still now on occasion, he could be. He began by asking questions concerning his wife's appearance-irritating little whys which are so trivial and yet so exasperating and discouraging to a woman. Why didn't she get a mauve hat nearer the shade of her dress? Why didn't she go out more? Exercise would do her good. Why didn't she do this, and why didn't she do that? He scarcely noticed that he was doing this; but she did, and she felt the undertone-the real significance-and took umbrage.

"Oh, why-why?" she retorted, one day, curtly. "Why do you ask so many questions? You don't care so much for me any more; that's why. I can tell."

He leaned back startled by the thrust. It had not been based on any evidence of anything save his recent remarks; but he was not absolutely sure. He was just the least bit sorry that he had irritated her, and he said so.

"Oh, it's all right," she replied. "I don't care. But I notice that you don't pay as much attention to me as you used to. It's your business now, first, last, and all the time. You can't get your mind off of that."

He breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't suspect, then.

But after a little time, as he grew more and more in sympathy with Aileen, he was not so disturbed as to whether his wife might suspect or not. He began to think on occasion, as his mind followed the various ramifications of the situation, that it would be better if she did. She was really not of the contentious fighting sort. He now decided because of various calculations in regard to her character that she might not offer as much resistance to some ultimate rearrangement, as he had originally imagined. She might even divorce him. Desire, dreams, even in him were evoking calculations not as sound as those which ordinarily generated in his brain.

No, as he now said to himself, the rub was not nearly so much in his own home, as it was in the Butler family. His relations with Edward Malia Butler had become very intimate. He was now advising with him constantly in regard to the handling of his securities, which were numerous. Butler held stocks in such things as the Pennsylvania Coal Company, the Delaware and Hudson Canal, the Morris and Essex Canal, the Reading Railroad. As the old gentleman's mind had broadened to the significance of the local street-railway problem in Philadelphia, he had decided to close out his other securities at such advantageous terms as he could, and reinvest the money in local lines. He knew that Mollenhauer and Simpson were doing this, and they were excellent judges of the significance of local affairs. Like Cowperwood, he had the idea that if he controlled sufficient of the local situation in this field, he could at last effect a joint relationship with Mollenhauer and Simpson. Political legislation, advantageous to the combined lines, could then be so easily secured. Franchises and necessary extensions to existing franchises could be added. This conversion of his outstanding stock in other fields, and the picking up of odd lots in the local street-railway, was the business of Cowperwood. Butler, through his sons, Owen and Callum, was also busy planning a new line and obtaining a franchise, sacrificing, of course, great blocks of stock and actual cash to others, in order to obtain sufficient influence to have the necessary legislation passed. Yet it was no easy matter, seeing that others knew what the general advantages of the situation were, and because of this Cowperwood, who saw the great source of profit here, was able, betimes, to serve himself-buying blocks, a part of which only went to Butler, Mollenhauer or others. In short he was not as eager to serve Butler, or any one else, as he was to serve himself if he could.

In this connection, the scheme which George W. Stener had brought forward, representing actually in the background Strobik, Wycroft, and Harmon, was an opening wedge for himself. Stener's plan was to loan him money out of the city treasury at two per cent., or, if he would waive all commissions, for nothing (an agent for self-protective purposes was absolutely necessary), and with it take over the North Pennsylvania Company's line on Front Street, which, because of the shortness of its length, one mile and a half, and the brevity of the duration of its franchise, was neither doing very well nor being rated very high. Cowperwood in return for his manipulative skill was to have a fair proportion of the stock-twenty per cent. Strobik and Wycroft knew the parties from whom the bulk of the stock could be secured if engineered properly. Their plan was then, with this borrowed treasury money, to extend its franchise and then the line itself, and then later again, by issuing a great block of stock and hypothecating it with a favored bank, be able to return the principal to the city treasury and pocket their profits from the line as earned. There was no trouble in this, in so far as Cowperwood was concerned, except that it divided the stock very badly among these various individuals, and left him but a comparatively small share-for his thought and pains.

But Cowperwood was an opportunist. And by this time his financial morality had become special and local in its character. He did not think it was wise for any one to steal anything from anybody where the act of taking or profiting was directly and plainly considered stealing. That was unwise-dangerous-hence wrong. There were so many situations wherein what one might do in the way of taking or profiting was open to discussion and doubt. Morality varied, in his mind at least, with conditions, if not climates. Here, in Philadelphia, the tradition (politically, mind you-not generally) was that the city treasurer might use the money of the city without interest so long as he returned the principal intact. The city treasury and the city treasurer were like a honey-laden hive and a queen bee around which the drones-the politicians-swarmed in the hope of profit. The one disagreeable thing in connection with this transaction with Stener was that neither Butler, Mollenhauer nor Simpson, who were the actual superiors of Stener and Strobik, knew anything about it. Stener and those behind him were, through him, acting for themselves. If the larger powers heard of this, it might alienate them. He had to think of this. Still, if he refused to make advantageous deals with Stener or any other man influential in local affairs, he was cutting off his nose to spite his face, for other bankers and brokers would, and gladly. And besides it was not at all certain that Butler, Mollenhauer, and Simpson would ever hear.

In this connection, there was another line, which he rode on occasionally, the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line, which he felt was a much more interesting thing for him to think about, if he could raise the money. It had been originally capitalized for five hundred thousand dollars; but there had been a series of bonds to the value of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars added for improvements, and the company was finding great difficulty in meeting the interest. The bulk of the stock was scattered about among small investors, and it would require all of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to collect it and have himself elected president or chairman of the board of directors. Once in, however, he could vote this stock as he pleased, hypothecating it meanwhile at his father's bank for as much as he could get, and issuing more stocks with which to bribe legislators in the matter of extending the line, and in taking up other opportunities to either add to it by purchase or supplement it by working agreements. The word "bribe" is used here in this matter-of-fact American way, because bribery was what was in every one's mind in connection with the State legislature. Terrence Relihan-the small, dark-faced Irishman, a dandy in dress and manners-who represented the financial interests at Harrisburg, and who had come to Cowperwood after the five million bond deal had been printed, had told him that nothing could be done at the capital without money, or its equivalent, negotiable securities. Each significant legislator, if he yielded his vote or his influence, must be looked after. If he, Cowperwood, had any scheme which he wanted handled at any time, Relihan had intimated to him that he would be glad to talk with him. Cowperwood had figured on this Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street line scheme more than once, but he had never felt quite sure that he was willing to undertake it. His obligations in other directions were so large. But the lure was there, and he pondered and pondered.

Stener's scheme of loaning him money wherewith to manipulate the North Pennsylvania line deal put this Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street dream in a more favorable light. As it was he was constantly watching the certificates of loan issue, for the city treasury, buying large quantities when the market was falling to protect it and selling heavily, though cautiously, when he saw it rising and to do this he had to have a great deal of free money to permit him to do it. He was constantly fearful of some break in the market which would affect the value of all his securities and result in the calling of his loans. There was no storm in sight. He did not see that anything could happen in reason; but he did not want to spread himself out too thin. As he saw it now, therefore if he took one hundred and fifty thousand dollars of this city money and went after this Seventeenth and Nineteenth Street matter it would not mean that he was spreading himself out too thin, for because of this new proposition could he not call on Stener for more as a loan in connection with these other ventures? But if anything should happen-well-

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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