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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 44)


"Why, how you talk!" she exclaimed. "You know I won't leave Philadelphia now. You certainly don't expect me to leave you."

Cowperwood saw it all very clearly. He was too shrewd not to. He was immensely fond of her. Good heaven, he thought, he would not hurt her feelings for the world!

"Honey," he said, quickly, when he saw her eyes, "you don't understand. I want you to do what you want to do. You've planned this out in order to be with me; so now you do it. Don't think any more about me or anything I've said. I was merely thinking that it might make matters worse for both of us; but I don't believe it will. You think your father loves you so much that after you're gone he'll change his mind. Very good; go. But we must be very careful, sweet-you and I-really we must. This thing is getting serious. If you should go and your father should charge me with abduction-take the public into his confidence and tell all about this, it would be serious for both of us-as much for you as for me, for I'd be convicted sure then, just on that account, if nothing else. And then what? You'd better not try to see me often for the present-not any oftener than we can possibly help. If we had used common sense and stopped when your father got that letter, this wouldn't have happened. But now that it has happened, we must be as wise as we can, don't you see? So, think it over, and do what you think best and then write me and whatever you do will be all right with me-do you hear?" He drew her to him and kissed her. "You haven't any money, have you?" he concluded wisely.

Aileen, deeply moved by all he had just said, was none the less convinced once she had meditated on it a moment, that her course was best. Her father loved her too much. He would not do anything to hurt her publicly and so he would not attack Cowperwood through her openly. More than likely, as she now explained to Frank, he would plead with her to come back. And he, listening, was compelled to yield. Why argue? She would not leave him anyhow.

He went down in his pocket for the first time since he had known Aileen and produced a layer of bills. "Here's two hundred dollars, sweet," he said, "until I see or hear from you. I'll see that you have whatever you need; and now don't think that I don't love you. You know I do. I'm crazy about you."

Aileen protested that she did not need so much-that she did not really need any-she had some at home; but he put that aside. He knew that she must have money.

"Don't talk, honey," he said. "I know what you need." She had been so used to receiving money from her father and mother in comfortable amounts from time to time that she thought nothing of it. Frank loved her so much that it made everything right between them. She softened in her mood and they discussed the matter of letters, reaching the conclusion that a private messenger would be safest. When finally they parted, Aileen, from being sunk in the depths by his uncertain attitude, was now once more on the heights. She decided that he did love her, and went away smiling. She had her Frank to fall back on-she would teach her father. Cowperwood shook his head, following her with his eyes. She represented an additional burden, but give her up, he certainly could not. Tear the veil from this illusion of affection and make her feel so wretched when he cared for her so much? No. There was really nothing for him to do but what he had done. After all, he reflected, it might not work out so badly. Any detective work that Butler might choose to do would prove that she had not run to him. If at any moment it became necessary to bring common sense into play to save the situation from a deadly climax, he could have the Butlers secretly informed as to Aileen's whereabouts. That would show he had little to do with it, and they could try to persuade Aileen to come home again. Good might result-one could not tell. He would deal with the evils as they arose. He drove quickly back to his office, and Aileen returned to her home determined to put her plan into action. Her father had given her some little time in which to decide-possibly he would give her longer-but she would not wait. Having always had her wish granted in everything, she could not understand why she was not to have her way this time. It was about five o'clock now. She would wait until all the members of the family were comfortably seated at the dinner-table, which would be about seven o'clock, and then slip out.

On arriving home, however, she was greeted by an unexpected reason for suspending action. This was the presence of a certain Mr. and Mrs. Steinmetz-the former a well-known engineer who drew the plans for many of the works which Butler undertook. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and they were eager to have Aileen and Norah accompany them for a fortnight's stay at their new home in West Chester-a structure concerning the charm of which Aileen had heard much. They were exceedingly agreeable people– comparatively young and surrounded by a coterie of interesting friends. Aileen decided to delay her flight and go. Her father was most cordial. The presence and invitation of the Steinmetzes was as much a relief to him as it was to Aileen. West Chester being forty miles from Philadelphia, it was unlikely that Aileen would attempt to meet Cowperwood while there.

She wrote Cowperwood of the changed condition and departed, and he breathed a sigh of relief, fancying at the time that this storm had permanently blown over.

Chapter XXXIX
In the meanwhile the day of Cowperwood's trial was drawing near. He was under the impression that an attempt was going to be made to convict him whether the facts warranted it or not. He did not see any way out of his dilemma, however, unless it was to abandon everything and leave Philadelphia for good, which was impossible. The only way to guard his future and retain his financial friends was to stand trial as quickly as possible, and trust them to assist him to his feet in the future in case he failed. He discussed the possibilities of an unfair trial with Steger, who did not seem to think that there was so much to that. In the first place, a jury could not easily be suborned by any one. In the next place, most judges were honest, in spite of their political cleavage, and would go no further than party bias would lead them in their rulings and opinions, which was, in the main, not so far. The particular judge who was to sit in this case, one Wilbur Payderson, of the Court of Quarter Sessions, was a strict party nominee, and as such beholden to Mollenhauer, Simpson, and Butler; but, in so far as Steger had ever heard, he was an honest man.

"What I can't understand," said Steger, "is why these fellows should be so anxious to punish you, unless it is for the effect on the State at large. The election's over. I understand there's a movement on now to get Stener out in case he is convicted, which he will be. They have to try him. He won't go up for more than a year, or two or three, and if he does he'll be pardoned out in half the time or less. It would be the same in your case, if you were convicted. They couldn't keep you in and let him out. But it will never get that far-take my word for it. We'll win before a jury, or we'll reverse the judgment of conviction before the State Supreme Court, certain. Those five judges up there are not going to sustain any such poppycock idea as this."

Steger actually believed what he said, and Cowperwood was pleased. Thus far the young lawyer had done excellently well in all of his cases. Still, he did not like the idea of being hunted down by Butler. It was a serious matter, and one of which Steger was totally unaware. Cowperwood could never quite forget that in listening to his lawyer's optimistic assurances.

The actual beginning of the trial found almost all of the inhabitants of this city of six hundred thousand "keyed up." None of the women of Cowperwood's family were coming into court. He had insisted that there should be no family demonstration for the newspapers to comment upon. His father was coming, for he might be needed as a witness. Aileen had written him the afternoon before saying she had returned from West Chester and wishing him luck. She was so anxious to know what was to become of him that she could not stay away any longer and had returned-not to go to the courtroom, for he did not want her to do that, but to be as near as possible when his fate was decided, adversely or otherwise. She wanted to run and congratulate him if he won, or to console with him if he lost. She felt that her return would be likely to precipitate a collision with her father, but she could not help that.

The position of Mrs. Cowperwood was most anomalous. She had to go through the formality of seeming affectionate and tender, even when she knew that Frank did not want her to be. He felt instinctively now that she knew of Aileen. He was merely awaiting the proper hour in which to spread the whole matter before her. She put her arms around him at the door on the fateful morning, in the somewhat formal manner into which they had dropped these later years, and for a moment, even though she was keenly aware of his difficulties, she could not kiss him. He did not want to kiss her, but he did not show it. She did kiss him, though, and added: "Oh, I do hope things come out all right."

"You needn't worry about that, I think, Lillian," he replied, buoyantly. "I'll be all right."

He ran down the steps and walked out on Girard Avenue to his former car line, where he bearded a car. He was thinking of Aileen and how keenly she was feeling for him, and what a mockery his married life now was, and whether he would face a sensible jury, and so on and so forth. If he didn't-if he didn't-this day was crucial!

He stepped off the car at Third and Market and hurried to his office. Steger was already there. "Well, Harper," observed Cowperwood, courageously, "today's the day."

The Court of Quarter Sessions, Part I, where this trial was to take place, was held in famous Independence Hall, at Sixth and Chestnut Streets, which was at this time, as it had been for all of a century before, the center of local executive and judicial life. It was a low two-story building of red brick, with a white wooden central tower of old Dutch and English derivation, compounded of the square, the circle, and the octagon. The total structure consisted of a central portion and two T-shaped wings lying to the right and left, whose small, oval-topped old-fashioned windows and doors were set with those many-paned sashes so much admired by those who love what is known as Colonial architecture. Here, and in an addition known as State House Row (since torn down), which extended from the rear of the building toward Walnut Street, were located the offices of the mayor, the chief of police, the city treasurer, the chambers of council, and all the other important and executive offices of the city, together with the four branches of Quarter Sessions, which sat to hear the growing docket of criminal cases. The mammoth city hall which was subsequently completed at Broad and Market Streets was then building.

An attempt had been made to improve the reasonably large courtrooms by putting in them raised platforms of dark walnut surmounted by large, dark walnut desks, behind which the judges sat; but the attempt was not very successful. The desks, jury-boxes, and railings generally were made too large, and so the general effect was one of disproportion. A cream-colored wall had been thought the appropriate thing to go with black walnut furniture, but time and dust had made the combination dreary. There were no pictures or ornaments of any kind, save the stalky, over-elaborated gas-brackets which stood on his honor's desk, and the single swinging chandelier suspended from the center of the ceiling. Fat bailiffs and court officers, concerned only in holding their workless jobs, did not add anything to the spirit of the scene. Two of them in the particular court in which this trial was held contended hourly as to which should hand the judge a glass of water. One preceded his honor like a fat, stuffy, dusty majordomo to and from his dressing-room. His business was to call loudly, when the latter entered, "His honor the Court, hats off. Everybody please rise," while a second bailiff, standing at the left of his honor when he was seated, and between the jury-box and the witness-chair, recited in an absolutely unintelligible way that beautiful and dignified statement of collective society's obligation to the constituent units, which begins, "Hear ye! hear ye! hear ye!" and ends, "All those of you having just cause for complaint draw near and ye shall be heard." However, you would have thought it was of no import here. Custom and indifference had allowed it to sink to a mumble. A third bailiff guarded the door of the jury-room; and in addition to these there were present a court clerk-small, pale, candle-waxy, with colorless milk-and-water eyes, and thin, pork-fat-colored hair and beard, who looked for all the world like an Americanized and decidedly decrepit Chinese mandarin-and a court stenographer.

Judge Wilbur Payderson, a lean herring of a man, who had sat in this case originally as the examining judge when Cowperwood had been indicted by the grand jury, and who had bound him over for trial at this term, was a peculiarly interesting type of judge, as judges go. He was so meager and thin-blooded that he was arresting for those qualities alone. Technically, he was learned in the law; actually, so far as life was concerned, absolutely unconscious of that subtle chemistry of things that transcends all written law and makes for the spirit and, beyond that, the inutility of all law, as all wise judges know. You could have looked at his lean, pedantic body, his frizzled gray hair, his fishy, blue-gray eyes, without any depth of speculation in them, and his nicely modeled but unimportant face, and told him that he was without imagination; but he would not have believed you-would have fined you for contempt of court. By the careful garnering of all his little opportunities, the furbishing up of every meager advantage; by listening slavishly to the voice of party, and following as nearly as he could the behests of intrenched property, he had reached his present state. It was not very far along, at that. His salary was only six thousand dollars a year. His little fame did not extend beyond the meager realm of local lawyers and judges. But the sight of his name quoted daily as being about his duties, or rendering such and such a decision, was a great satisfaction to him. He thought it made him a significant figure in the world. "Behold I am not as other men," he often thought, and this comforted him. He was very much flattered when a prominent case came to his calendar; and as he sat enthroned before the various litigants and lawyers he felt, as a rule, very significant indeed. Now and then some subtlety of life would confuse his really limited intellect; but in all such cases there was the letter of the law. He could hunt in the reports to find out what really thinking men had decided. Besides, lawyers everywhere are so subtle. They put the rules of law, favorable or unfavorable, under the judge's thumb and nose. "Your honor, in the thirty-second volume of the Revised Reports of Massachusetts, page so and so, line so and so, in Arundel versus Bannerman, you will find, etc." How often have you heard that in a court of law? The reasoning that is left to do in most cases is not much. And the sanctity of the law is raised like a great banner by which the pride of the incumbent is strengthened.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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