"Yes, dear, yes," she declared, slipping her arms under his and pulling him tight. "Oh, yes! You can depend on me. Oh, Frank, I love you so! I'm so sorry. Oh, I do hope you don't fail! But it doesn't make any difference, dear, between you and me, whatever happens, does it? We will love each other just the same. I'll do anything for you, honey! I'll do anything you say. You can trust me. They sha'n't know anything from me."
She looked at his still, pale face, and a sudden strong determination to fight for him welled up in her heart. Her love was unjust, illegal, outlawed; but it was love, just the same, and had much of the fiery daring of the outcast from justice.
"I love you! I love you! I love you, Frank!" she declared. He unloosed her hands.
"Run, sweet. To-morrow at four. Don't fail. And don't talk. And don't admit anything, whatever you do."
"And don't worry about me. I'll be all right."
He barely had time to straighten his tie, to assume a nonchalant attitude by the window, when in hurried Stener's chief clerk-pale, disturbed, obviously out of key with himself.
"Mr. Cowperwood! You know that check I gave you last night? Mr. Stener says it's illegal, that I shouldn't have given it to you, that he will hold me responsible. He says I can be arrested for compounding a felony, and that he will discharge me and have me sent to prison if I don't get it back. Oh, Mr. Cowperwood, I am only a young man! I'm just really starting out in life. I've got my wife and little boy to look after. You won't let him do that to me? You'll give me that check back, won't you? I can't go back to the office without it. He says you're going to fail, and that you knew it, and that you haven't any right to it."
Cowperwood looked at him curiously. He was surprised at the variety and character of these emissaries of disaster. Surely, when troubles chose to multiply they had great skill in presenting themselves in rapid order. Stener had no right to make any such statement. The transaction was not illegal. The man had gone wild. True, he, Cowperwood, had received an order after these securities were bought not to buy or sell any more city loan, but that did not invalidate previous purchases. Stener was browbeating and frightening his poor underling, a better man than himself, in order to get back this sixty-thousand-dollar check. What a petty creature he was! How true it was, as somebody had remarked, that you could not possibly measure the petty meannesses to which a fool could stoop!
"You go back to Mr. Stener, Albert, and tell him that it can't be done. The certificates of loan were purchased before his order arrived, and the records of the exchange will prove it. There is no illegality here. I am entitled to that check and could have collected it in any qualified court of law. The man has gone out of his head. I haven't failed yet. You are not in any danger of any legal proceedings; and if you are, I'll help defend you. I can't give you the check back because I haven't it to give; and if I had, I wouldn't. That would be allowing a fool to make a fool of me. I'm sorry, very, but I can't do anything for you."
"Oh, Mr. Cowperwood!" Tears were in Stires's eyes. "He'll discharge me! He'll forfeit my sureties. I'll be turned out into the street. I have only a little property of my own-outside of my salary!"
He wrung his hands, and Cowperwood shook his head sadly.
"This isn't as bad as you think, Albert. He won't do what he says. He can't. It's unfair and illegal. You can bring suit and recover your salary. I'll help you in that as much as I'm able. But I can't give you back this sixty-thousand-dollar check, because I haven't it to give. I couldn't if I wanted to. It isn't here any more. I've paid for the securities I bought with it. The securities are not here. They're in the sinking-fund, or will be."
He paused, wishing he had not mentioned that fact. It was a slip of the tongue, one of the few he ever made, due to the peculiar pressure of the situation. Stires pleaded longer. It was no use, Cowperwood told him. Finally he went away, crestfallen, fearsome, broken. There were tears of suffering in his eyes. Cowperwood was very sorry. And then his father was announced.
The elder Cowperwood brought a haggard face. He and Frank had had a long conversation the evening before, lasting until early morning, but it had not been productive of much save uncertainty.
"Hello, father!" exclaimed Cowperwood, cheerfully, noting his father's gloom. He was satisfied that there was scarcely a coal of hope to be raked out of these ashes of despair, but there was no use admitting it.
"Well?" said his father, lifting his sad eyes in a peculiar way.
"Well, it looks like stormy weather, doesn't it? I've decided to call a meeting of my creditors, father, and ask for time. There isn't anything else to do. I can't realize enough on anything to make it worth while talking about. I thought Stener might change his mind, but he's worse rather than better. His head bookkeeper just went out of here."
"What did he want?" asked Henry Cowperwood.
"He wanted me to give him back a check for sixty thousand that he paid me for some city loan I bought yesterday morning." Frank did not explain to his father, however, that he had hypothecated the certificates this check had paid for, and used the check itself to raise money enough to pay the Girard National Bank and to give himself thirty-five thousand in cash besides.
"Well, I declare!" replied the old man. "You'd think he'd have better sense than that. That's a perfectly legitimate transaction. When did you say he notified you not to buy city loan?"
"He's out of his mind," Cowperwood, Sr., commented, laconically.
"It's Mollenhauer and Simpson and Butler, I know. They want my street-railway lines. Well, they won't get them. They'll get them through a receivership, and after the panic's all over. Our creditors will have first chance at these. If they buy, they'll buy from them. If it weren't for that five-hundred-thousand-dollar loan I wouldn't think a thing of this. My creditors would sustain me nicely. But the moment that gets noised around!Е And this election! I hypothecated those city loan certificates because I didn't want to get on the wrong side of Davison. I expected to take in enough by now to take them up. They ought to be in the sinking-fund, really."
The old gentleman saw the point at once, and winced.
"They might cause you trouble, there, Frank."
"It's a technical question," replied his son. "I might have been intending to take them up. As a matter of fact, I will if I can before three. I've been taking eight and ten days to deposit them in the past. In a storm like this I'm entitled to move my pawns as best I can."
Cowperwood, the father, put his hand over his mouth again. He felt very disturbed about this. He saw no way out, however. He was at the end of his own resources. He felt the side-whiskers on his left cheek. He looked out of the window into the little green court. Possibly it was a technical question, who should say. The financial relations of the city treasury with other brokers before Frank had been very lax. Every banker knew that. Perhaps precedent would or should govern in this case. He could not say. Still, it was dangerous-not straight. If Frank could get them out and deposit them it would be so much better.
"I'd take them up if I were you and I could," he added.
"I will if I can."
"How much money have you?"
"Oh, twenty thousand, all told. If I suspend, though, I'll have to have a little ready cash."
"I have eight or ten thousand, or will have by night, I hope."
He was thinking of some one who would give him a second mortgage on his house.
Cowperwood looked quietly at him. There was nothing more to be said to his father. "I'm going to make one more appeal to Stener after you leave here," be said. "I'm going over there with Harper Steger when he comes. If he won't change I'll send out notice to my creditors, and notify the secretary of the exchange. I want you to keep a stiff upper lip, whatever happens. I know you will, though. I'm going into the thing head down. If Stener had any sense-" He paused. "But what's the use talking about a damn fool?"
He turned to the window, thinking of how easy it would have been, if Aileen and he had not been exposed by this anonymous note, to have arranged all with Butler. Rather than injure the party, Butler, in extremis, would have assisted him. NowЕ!
His father got up to go. He was as stiff with despair as though he were suffering from cold.
"Well," he said, wearily.
Cowperwood suffered intensely for him. What a shame! His father! He felt a great surge of sorrow sweep over him but a moment later mastered it, and settled to his quick, defiant thinking. As the old man went out, Harper Steger was brought in. They shook hands, and at once started for Stener's office. But Stener had sunk in on himself like an empty gas-bag, and no efforts were sufficient to inflate him. They went out, finally, defeated.
"I tell you, Frank," said Steger, "I wouldn't worry. We can tie this thing up legally until election and after, and that will give all this row a chance to die down. Then you can get your people together and talk sense to them. They're not going to give up good properties like this, even if Stener does go to jail."
Steger did not know of the sixty thousand dollars' worth of hypothecated securities as yet. Neither did he know of Aileen Butler and her father's boundless rage.
There was one development in connection with all of this of which
Cowperwood was as yet unaware. The same day that brought Edward
Butler the anonymous communication in regard to his daughter,
brought almost a duplicate of it to Mrs. Frank Algernon Cowperwood,
only in this case the name of Aileen Butler had curiously been
Perhaps you don't know that your husband is running with
another woman. If you don't believe it, watch the house at
931 North Tenth Street.
Mrs. Cowperwood was in the conservatory watering some plants when this letter was brought by her maid Monday morning. She was most placid in her thoughts, for she did not know what all the conferring of the night before meant. Frank was occasionally troubled by financial storms, but they did not see to harm him.
"Lay it on the table in the library, Annie. I'll get it."
She thought it was some social note.
In a little while (such was her deliberate way), she put down her sprinkling-pot and went into the library. There it was lying on the green leather sheepskin which constituted a part of the ornamentation of the large library table. She picked it up, glanced at it curiously because it was on cheap paper, and then opened it. Her face paled slightly as she read it; and then her hand trembled-not much. Hers was not a soul that ever loved passionately, hence she could not suffer passionately. She was hurt, disgusted, enraged for the moment, and frightened; but she was not broken in spirit entirely. Thirteen years of life with Frank Cowperwood had taught her a number of things. He was selfish, she knew now, self-centered, and not as much charmed by her as he had been. The fear she had originally felt as to the effect of her preponderance of years had been to some extent justified by the lapse of time. Frank did not love her as he had-he had not for some time; she had felt it. What was it?-she had asked herself at times-almost, who was it? Business was engrossing him so.
Finance was his master. Did this mean the end of her regime, she queried. Would he cast her off? Where would she go? What would she do? She was not helpless, of course, for she had money of her own which he was manipulating for her. Who was this other woman? Was she young, beautiful, of any social position? Was it-? Suddenly she stopped. Was it? Could it be, by any chance-her mouth opened-Aileen Butler?
She stood still, staring at this letter, for she could scarcely countenance her own thought. She had observed often, in spite of all their caution, how friendly Aileen had been to him and he to her. He liked her; he never lost a chance to defend her. Lillian had thought of them at times as being curiously suited to each other temperamentally. He liked young people. But, of course, he was married, and Aileen was infinitely beneath him socially, and he had two children and herself. And his social and financial position was so fixed and stable that he did not dare trifle with it. Still she paused; for forty years and two children, and some slight wrinkles, and the suspicion that we may be no longer loved as we once were, is apt to make any woman pause, even in the face of the most significant financial position. Where would she go if she left him? What would people think? What about the children? Could she prove this liaison? Could she entrap him in a compromising situation? Did she want to?
She saw now that she did not love him as some women love their husbands. She was not wild about him. In a way she had been taking him for granted all these years, had thought that he loved her enough not to be unfaithful to her; at least fancied that he was so engrossed with the more serious things of life that no petty liaison such as this letter indicated would trouble him or interrupt his great career. Apparently this was not true. What should she do? What say? How act? Her none too brilliant mind was not of much service in this crisis. She did not know very well how either to plan or to fight.
The conventional mind is at best a petty piece of machinery. It is oyster-like in its functioning, or, perhaps better, clam-like. It has its little siphon of thought-processes forced up or down into the mighty ocean of fact and circumstance; but it uses so little, pumps so faintly, that the immediate contiguity of the vast mass is not disturbed. Nothing of the subtlety of life is perceived. No least inkling of its storms or terrors is ever discovered except through accident. When some crude, suggestive fact, such as this letter proved to be, suddenly manifests itself in the placid flow of events, there is great agony or disturbance and clogging of the so-called normal processes. The siphon does not work right. It sucks in fear and distress. There is great grinding of maladjusted parts-not unlike sand in a machine-and life, as is so often the case, ceases or goes lamely ever after.
Mrs. Cowperwood was possessed of a conventional mind. She really knew nothing about life. And life could not teach her. Reaction in her from salty thought-processes was not possible. She was not alive in the sense that Aileen Butler was, and yet she thought that she was very much alive. All illusion. She wasn't. She was charming if you loved placidity. If you did not, she was not. She was not engaging, brilliant, or forceful. Frank Cowperwood might well have asked himself in the beginning why he married her. He did not do so now because he did not believe it was wise to question the past as to one's failures and errors. It was, according to him, most unwise to regret. He kept his face and thoughts to the future.