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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 40)


The matter of entering a place of this kind and trying to find any one was, as Alderson informed Butler on hearing of its character, exceedingly difficult. It involved the right of search, which was difficult to get. To enter by sheer force was easy enough in most instances where the business conducted was in contradistinction to the moral sentiment of the community; but sometimes one encountered violent opposition from the tenants themselves. It might be so in this case. The only sure way of avoiding such opposition would be to take the woman who ran the place into one's confidence, and by paying her sufficiently insure silence. "But I do not advise that in this instance," Alderson had told Butler, "for I believe this woman is particularly friendly to your man. It might be better, in spite of the risk, to take it by surprise." To do that, he explained, it would be necessary to have at least three men in addition to the leader-perhaps four, who, once one man had been able to make his entrance into the hallway, on the door being opened in response to a ring, would appear quickly and enter with and sustain him. Quickness of search was the next thing the prompt opening of all doors. The servants, if any, would have to be overpowered and silenced in some way. Money sometimes did this; force accomplished it at other times. Then one of the detectives simulating a servant could tap gently at the different doors-Butler and the others standing by-and in case a face appeared identify it or not, as the case might be. If the door was not opened and the room was not empty, it could eventually be forced. The house was one of a solid block, so that there was no chance of escape save by the front and rear doors, which were to be safe-guarded. It was a daringly conceived scheme. In spite of all this, secrecy in the matter of removing Aileen was to be preserved.

When Butler heard of this he was nervous about the whole terrible procedure. He thought once that without going to the house he would merely talk to his daughter declaring that he knew and that she could not possibly deny it. He would then give her her choice between going to Europe or going to a reformatory. But a sense of the raw brutality of Aileen's disposition, and something essentially coarse in himself, made him eventually adopt the other method. He ordered Alderson to perfect his plan, and once he found Aileen or Cowperwood entering the house to inform him quickly. He would then drive there, and with the assistance of these men confront her.

It was a foolish scheme, a brutalizing thing to do, both from the point of view of affection and any corrective theory he might have had. No good ever springs from violence. But Butler did not see that. He wanted to frighten Aileen, to bring her by shock to a realization of the enormity of the offense she was committing. He waited fully a week after his word had been given; and then, one afternoon, when his nerves were worn almost thin from fretting, the climax came. Cowperwood had already been indicted, and was now awaiting trial. Aileen had been bringing him news, from time to time, of just how she thought her father was feeling toward him. She did not get this evidence direct from Butler, of course-he was too secretive, in so far as she was concerned, to let her know how relentlessly he was engineering Cowperwood's final downfall but from odd bits confided to Owen, who confided them to Callum, who in turn, innocently enough, confided them to Aileen. For one thing, she had learned in this way of the new district attorney elect-his probable attitude-for he was a constant caller at the Butler house or office. Owen had told Callum that he thought Shannon was going to do his best to send Cowperwood "up"-that the old man thought he deserved it.

In the next place she had learned that her father did not want Cowperwood to resume business-did not feel he deserved to be allowed to. "It would be a God's blessing if the community were shut of him," he had said to Owen one morning, apropos of a notice in the papers of Cowperwood's legal struggles; and Owen had asked Callum why he thought the old man was so bitter. The two sons could not understand it. Cowperwood heard all this from her, and more-bits about Judge Payderson, the judge who was to try him, who was a friend of Butler's-also about the fact that Stener might be sent up for the full term of his crime, but that be would be pardoned soon afterward.

Apparently Cowperwood was not very much frightened. He told her that he had powerful financial friends who would appeal to the governor to pardon him in case he was convicted; and, anyhow, that he did not think that the evidence was strong enough to convict him. He was merely a political scapegoat through public clamor and her father's influence; since the latter's receipt of the letter about them he had been the victim of Butler's enmity, and nothing more. "If it weren't for your father, honey," he declared, "I could have this indictment quashed in no time. Neither Mollenhauer nor Simpson has anything against me personally, I am sure. They want me to get out of the street-railway business here in Philadelphia, and, of course, they wanted to make things look better for Stener at first; but depend upon it, if your father hadn't been against me they wouldn't have gone to any such length in making me the victim. Your father has this fellow Shannon and these minor politicians just where he wants them, too. That's where the trouble lies. They have to go on."

"Oh, I know," replied Aileen. "It's me, just me, that's all. If it weren't for me and what he suspects he'd help you in a minute. Sometimes, you know, I think I've been very bad for you. I don't know what I ought to do. If I thought it would help you any I'd not see you any more for a while, though I don't see what good that would do now. Oh, I love you, love you, Frank! I would do anything for you. I don't care what people think or say. I love you."

"Oh, you just think you do," he replied, jestingly. "You'll get over it. There are others."

"Others!" echoed Aileen, resentfully and contemptuously. "After you there aren't any others. I just want one man, my Frank. If you ever desert me, I'll go to hell. You'll see."

"Don't talk like that, Aileen," he replied, almost irritated. "I don't like to hear you. You wouldn't do anything of the sort. I love you. You know I'm not going to desert you. It would pay you to desert me just now."

"Oh, how you talk!" she exclaimed. "Desert you! It's likely, isn't it? But if ever you desert me, I'll do just what I say. I swear it."

"Don't talk like that. Don't talk nonsense."

"I swear it. I swear by my love. I swear by your success-my own happiness. I'll do just what I say. I'll go to hell."

Cowperwood got up. He was a little afraid now of this deep-seated passion he had aroused. It was dangerous. He could not tell where it would lead.

It was a cheerless afternoon in November, when Alderson, duly informed of the presence of Aileen and Cowperwood in the South Sixth Street house by the detective on guard drove rapidly up to Butler's office and invited him to come with him. Yet even now Butler could scarcely believe that he was to find his daughter there. The shame of it. The horror. What would he say to her? How reproach her? What would he do to Cowperwood? His large hands shook as he thought. They drove rapidly to within a few doors of the place, where a second detective on guard across the street approached. Butler and Alderson descended from the vehicle, and together they approached the door. It was now almost four-thirty in the afternoon. In a room within the house, Cowperwood, his coat and vest off, was listening to Aileen's account of her troubles.

The room in which they were sitting at the time was typical of the rather commonplace idea of luxury which then prevailed. Most of the "sets" of furniture put on the market for general sale by the furniture companies were, when they approached in any way the correct idea of luxury, imitations of one of the Louis periods. The curtains were always heavy, frequently brocaded, and not infrequently red. The carpets were richly flowered in high colors with a thick, velvet nap. The furniture, of whatever wood it might be made, was almost invariably heavy, floriated, and cumbersome. This room contained a heavily constructed bed of walnut, with washstand, bureau, and wardrobe to match. A large, square mirror in a gold frame was hung over the washstand. Some poor engravings of landscapes and several nude figures were hung in gold frames on the wall. The gilt-framed chairs were upholstered in pink-and-white-flowered brocade, with polished brass tacks. The carpet was of thick Brussels, pale cream and pink in hue, with large blue jardinieres containing flowers woven in as ornaments. The general effect was light, rich, and a little stuffy.

"You know I get desperately frightened, sometimes," said Aileen. "Father might be watching us, you know. I've often wondered what I'd do if he caught us. I couldn't lie out of this, could I?"

"You certainly couldn't," said Cowperwood, who never failed to respond to the incitement of her charms. She had such lovely smooth arms, a full, luxuriously tapering throat and neck; her golden-red hair floated like an aureole about her head, and her large eyes sparkled. The wondrous vigor of a full womanhood was hers-errant, ill-balanced, romantic, but exquisite, "but you might as well not cross that bridge until you come to it," he continued. "I myself have been thinking that we had better not go on with this for the present. That letter ought to have been enough to stop us for the time."

He came over to where she stood by the dressing-table, adjusting her hair.

"You're such a pretty minx," he said. He slipped his arm about her and kissed her pretty mouth. "Nothing sweeter than you this side of Paradise," he whispered in her ear.

While this was enacting, Butler and the extra detective had stepped out of sight, to one side of the front door of the house, while Alderson, taking the lead, rang the bell. A negro servant appeared.

"Is Mrs. Davis in?" he asked, genially, using the name of the woman in control. "I'd like to see her."

"Just come in," said the maid, unsuspectingly, and indicated a reception-room on the right. Alderson took off his soft, wide-brimmed hat and entered. When the maid went up-stairs he immediately returned to the door and let in Butler and two detectives. The four stepped into the reception-room unseen. In a few moments the "madam" as the current word characterized this type of woman, appeared. She was tall, fair, rugged, and not at all unpleasant to look upon. She had light-blue eyes and a genial smile. Long contact with the police and the brutalities of sex in her early life had made her wary, a little afraid of how the world would use her. This particular method of making a living being illicit, and she having no other practical knowledge at her command, she was as anxious to get along peacefully with the police and the public generally as any struggling tradesman in any walk of life might have been. She had on a loose, blue-flowered peignoir, or dressing-gown, open at the front, tied with blue ribbons and showing a little of her expensive underwear beneath. A large opal ring graced her left middle finger, and turquoises of vivid blue were pendent from her ears. She wore yellow silk slippers with bronze buckles; and altogether her appearance was not out of keeping with the character of the reception-room itself, which was a composite of gold-flowered wall-paper, blue and cream-colored Brussels carpet, heavily gold-framed engravings of reclining nudes, and a gilt-framed pier-glass, which rose from the floor to the ceiling. Needless to say, Butler was shocked to the soul of him by this suggestive atmosphere which was supposed to include his daughter in its destructive reaches.

Alderson motioned one of his detectives to get behind the woman between her and the door-which he did.

"Sorry to trouble you, Mrs. Davis," he said, "but we are looking for a couple who are in your house here. We're after a runaway girl. We don't want to make any disturbance-merely to get her and take her away." Mrs. Davis paled and opened her mouth. "Now don't make any noise or try to scream, or we'll have to stop you. My men are all around the house. Nobody can get out. Do you know anybody by the name of Cowperwood?"

Mrs. Davis, fortunately from one point of view, was not of a particularly nervous nor yet contentious type. She was more or less philosophic. She was not in touch with the police here in Philadelphia, hence subject to exposure. What good would it do to cry out? she thought. The place was surrounded. There was no one in the house at the time to save Cowperwood and Aileen. She did not know Cowperwood by his name, nor Aileen by hers. They were a Mr. and Mrs. Montague to her.

"I don't know anybody by that name," she replied nervously.

"Isn't there a girl here with red hair?" asked one of Alderson's assistants. "And a man with a gray suit and a light-brown mustache? They came in here half an hour ago. You remember them, don't you?"

"There's just one couple in the house, but I'm not sure whether they're the ones you want. I'll ask them to come down if you wish. Oh, I wish you wouldn't make any disturbance. This is terrible."

"We'll not make any disturbance," replied Alderson, "if you don't. Just you be quiet. We merely want to see the girl and take her away. Now, you stay where you are. What room are they in?"

"In the second one in the rear up-stairs. Won't you let me go, though? It will be so much better. I'll just tap and ask them to come out."

"No. We'll tend to that. You stay where you are. You're not going to get into any trouble. You just stay where you are," insisted Alderson.

He motioned to Butler, who, however, now that he had embarked on his grim task, was thinking that he had made a mistake. What good would it do him to force his way in and make her come out, unless he intended to kill Cowperwood? If she were made to come down here, that would be enough. She would then know that he knew all. He did not care to quarrel with Cowperwood, in any public way, he now decided. He was afraid to. He was afraid of himself.

"Let her go," he said grimly, doggedly referring to Mrs. Davis, "But watch her. Tell the girl to come down-stairs to me."

Mrs. Davis, realizing on the moment that this was some family tragedy, and hoping in an agonized way that she could slip out of it peacefully, started upstairs at once with Alderson and his assistants who were close at his heels. Reaching the door of the room occupied by Cowperwood and Aileen, she tapped lightly. At the time Aileen and Cowperwood were sitting in a big arm-chair. At the first knock Aileen blanched and leaped to her feet. Usually not nervous, to-day, for some reason, she anticipated trouble. Cowperwood's eyes instantly hardened.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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