"Isn't that terrible?" she said, weakly, her hands trembling in a nervous way. "Isn't it dreadful? Isn't there anything more you can do, truly?" You won't really have to go to prison, will you?" He objected to her distress and her nervous fears. He preferred a stronger, more self-reliant type of woman, but still she was his wife, and in his day he had loved her much.
"It looks that way, Lillian," he said, with the first note of real sympathy he had used in a long while, for he felt sorry for her now. At the same time he was afraid to go any further along that line, for fear it might give her a false sense as to his present attitude toward her which was one essentially of indifference. But she was not so dull but what she could see that the consideration in his voice had been brought about by his defeat, which meant hers also. She choked a little-and even so was touched. The bare suggestion of sympathy brought back the old days so definitely gone forever. If only they could be brought back!
"I don't want you to feel distressed about me, though," he went on, before she could say anything to him. "I'm not through with my fighting. I'll get out of this. I have to go to prison, it seems, in order to get things straightened out properly. What I would like you to do is to keep up a cheerful appearance in front of the rest of the family-father and mother particularly. They need to be cheered up." He thought once of taking her hand, then decided not. She noted mentally his hesitation, the great difference between his attitude now and that of ten or twelve years before. It did not hurt her now as much as she once would have thought. She looked at him, scarcely knowing what to say. There was really not so much to say.
"Will you have to go soon, if you do have to go?" she ventured, wearily.
"I can't tell yet. Possibly to-night. Possibly Friday. Possibly not until Monday. I'm waiting to hear from Steger. I expect him here any minute."
To prison! To prison! Her Frank Cowperwood, her husband-the substance of their home here-and all their soul destruction going to prison. And even now she scarcely grasped why! She stood there wondering what she could do
"Is there anything I can get for you?" she asked, starting forward as if out of a dream. "Do you want me to do anything? Don't you think perhaps you had better leave Philadelphia, Frank? You needn't go to prison unless you want to."
She was a little beside herself, for the first time in her life shocked out of a deadly calm.
He paused and looked at her for a moment in his direct, examining way, his hard commercial business judgment restored on the instant.
"That would be a confession of guilt, Lillian, and I'm not guilty," he replied, almost coldly. "I haven't done anything that warrants my running away or going to prison, either. I'm merely going there to save time at present. I can't be litigating this thing forever. I'll get out-be pardoned out or sued out in a reasonable length of time. Just now it's better to go, I think. I wouldn't think of running away from Philadelphia. Two of five judges found for me in the decision. That's pretty fair evidence that the State has no case against me."
His wife saw she had made a mistake. It clarified her judgment on the instant. "I didn't mean in that way, Frank," she replied, apologetically. "You know I didn't. Of course I know you're not guilty. Why should I think you were, of all people?"
She paused, expecting some retort, some further argument-a kind word maybe. A trace of the older, baffling love, but he had quietly turned to his desk and was thinking of other things.
At this point the anomaly of her own state came over her again. It was all so sad and so hopeless. And what was she to do in the future? And what was he likely to do? She paused half trembling and yet decided, because of her peculiarly nonresisting nature– why trespass on his time? Why bother? No good would really come of it. He really did not care for her any more-that was it. Nothing could make him, nothing could bring them together again, not even this tragedy. He was interested in another woman-Aileen– and so her foolish thoughts and explanations, her fear, sorrow, distress, were not important to him. He could take her agonized wish for his freedom as a comment on his probable guilt, a doubt of his innocence, a criticism of him! She turned away for a minute, and he started to leave the room.
"I'll be back again in a few moments," he volunteered. "Are the children here?"
"Yes, they're up in the play-room," she answered, sadly, utterly nonplussed and distraught.
"Oh, Frank!" she had it on her lips to cry, but before she could utter it he had bustled down the steps and was gone. She turned back to the table, her left hand to her mouth, her eyes in a queer, hazy, melancholy mist. Could it be, she thought, that life could really come to this-that love could so utterly, so thoroughly die? Ten years before-but, oh, why go back to that? Obviously it could, and thoughts concerning that would not help now. Twice now in her life her affairs had seemed to go to pieces-once when her first husband had died, and now when her second had failed her, had fallen in love with another and was going to be sent off to prison. What was it about her that caused such things? Was there anything wrong with her? What was she going to do? Where go? She had no idea, of course, for how long a term of years he would be sent away. It might be one year or it might be five years, as the papers had said. Good heavens! The children could almost come to forget him in five years. She put her other hand to her mouth, also, and then to her forehead, where there was a dull ache. She tried to think further than this, but somehow, just now, there was no further thought. Suddenly quite outside of her own volition, with no thought that she was going to do such a thing, her bosom began to heave, her throat contracted in four or five short, sharp, aching spasms, her eyes burned, and she shook in a vigorous, anguished, desperate, almost one might have said dry-eyed, cry, so hot and few were the tears. She could not stop for the moment, just stood there and shook, and then after a while a dull ache succeeded, and she was quite as she had been before.
"Why cry?" she suddenly asked herself, fiercely-for her. "Why break down in this stormy, useless way? Would it help?"
But, in spite of her speculative, philosophic observations to herself, she still felt the echo, the distant rumble, as it were, of the storm in her own soul. "Why cry? Why not cry?" She might have said-but wouldn't, and in spite of herself and all her logic, she knew that this tempest which had so recently raged over her was now merely circling around her soul's horizon and would return to break again.Chapter L
The arrival of Steger with the information that no move of any
kind would be made by the sheriff until Monday morning, when
Cowperwood could present himself, eased matters. This gave him
time to think-to adjust home details at his leisure. He broke
the news to his father and mother in a consoling way and talked
with his brothers and father about getting matters immediately
adjusted in connection with the smaller houses to which they were
now shortly to be compelled to move. There was much conferring
among the different members of this collapsing organization in
regard to the minor details; and what with his conferences with
Steger, his seeing personally Davison, Leigh, Avery Stone, of Jay
Cooke & Co., George Waterman (his old-time employer Henry was dead),
ex-State Treasurer Van Nostrand, who had gone out with the last
State administration, and others, he was very busy. Now that he
was really going into prison, he wanted his financial friends to
get together and see if they could get him out by appealing to the
Governor. The division of opinion among the judges of the State
Supreme Court was his excuse and strong point. He wanted Steger
to follow this up, and he spared no pains in trying to see all
and sundry who might be of use to him-Edward Tighe, of Tighe &
Co., who was still in business in Third Street; Newton Targool;
Arthur Rivers; Joseph Zimmerman, the dry-goods prince, now a
millionaire; Judge Kitchen; Terrence Relihan, the former
representative of the money element at Harrisburg; and many others.
Cowperwood wanted Relihan to approach the newspapers and see if he could not readjust their attitude so as to work to get him out, and he wanted Walter Leigh to head the movement of getting up a signed petition which should contain all the important names of moneyed people and others, asking the Governor to release him. Leigh agreed to this heartily, as did Relihan, and many others.
And, afterwards there was really nothing else to do, unless it was to see Aileen once more, and this, in the midst of his other complications and obligations, seemed all but impossible at times– and yet he did achieve that, too-so eager was he to be soothed and comforted by the ignorant and yet all embracing volume of her love. Her eyes these days! The eager, burning quest of him and his happiness that blazed in them. To think that he should be tortured so-her Frank! Oh, she knew-whatever he said, and however bravely and jauntily he talked. To think that her love for him should have been the principal cause of his being sent to jail, as she now believed. And the cruelty of her father! And the smallness of his enemies-that fool Stener, for instance, whose pictures she had seen in the papers. Actually, whenever in the presence of her Frank, she fairly seethed in a chemic agony for him-her strong, handsome lover-the strongest, bravest, wisest, kindest, handsomest man in the world. Oh, didn't she know! And Cowperwood, looking in her eyes and realizing this reasonless, if so comforting fever for him, smiled and was touched. Such love! That of a dog for a master; that of a mother for a child. And how had he come to evoke it? He could not say, but it was beautiful.
And so, now, in these last trying hours, he wished to see her much– and did-meeting her at least four times in the month in which he had been free, between his conviction and the final dismissal of his appeal. He had one last opportunity of seeing her-and she him-just before his entrance into prison this last time-on the Saturday before the Monday of his sentence. He had not come in contact with her since the decision of the Supreme Court had been rendered, but he had had a letter from her sent to a private mail-box, and had made an appointment for Saturday at a small hotel in Camden, which, being across the river, was safer, in his judgment, than anything in Philadelphia. He was a little uncertain as to how she would take the possibility of not seeing him soon again after Monday, and how she would act generally once he was where she could not confer with him as often as she chose. And in consequence, he was anxious to talk to her. But on this occasion, as he anticipated, and even feared, so sorry for her was he, she was not less emphatic in her protestations than she had ever been; in fact, much more so. When she saw him approaching in the distance, she went forward to meet him in that direct, forceful way which only she could attempt with him, a sort of mannish impetuosity which he both enjoyed and admired, and slipping her arms around his neck, said: "Honey, you needn't tell me. I saw it in the papers the other morning. Don't you mind, honey. I love you. I'll wait for you. I'll be with you yet, if it takes a dozen years of waiting. It doesn't make any difference to me if it takes a hundred, only I'm so sorry for you, sweetheart. I'll be with you every day through this, darling, loving you with all my might."
She caressed him while he looked at her in that quiet way which betokened at once his self-poise and yet his interest and satisfaction in her. He couldn't help loving Aileen, he thought who could? She was so passionate, vibrant, desireful. He couldn't help admiring her tremendously, now more than ever, because literally, in spite of all his intellectual strength, he really could not rule her. She went at him, even when he stood off in a calm, critical way, as if he were her special property, her toy. She would talk to him always, and particularly when she was excited, as if he were just a baby, her pet; and sometimes he felt as though she would really overcome him mentally, make him subservient to her, she was so individual, so sure of her importance as a woman.
Now on this occasion she went babbling on as if he were broken-hearted, in need of her greatest care and tenderness, although he really wasn't at all; and for the moment she actually made him feel as though he was.
"It isn't as bad as that, Aileen," he ventured to say, eventually; and with a softness and tenderness almost unusual for him, even where she was concerned, but she went on forcefully, paying no heed to him.
"Oh, yes, it is, too, honey. I know. Oh, my poor Frank! But I'll see you. I know how to manage, whatever happens. How often do they let visitors come out to see the prisoners there?"
"Only once in three months, pet, so they say, but I think we can fix that after I get there; only do you think you had better try to come right away, Aileen? You know what the feeling now is. Hadn't you better wait a while? Aren't you in danger of stirring up your father? He might cause a lot of trouble out there if he were so minded."
"Only once in three months!" she exclaimed, with rising emphasis, as he began this explanation. "Oh, Frank, no! Surely not! Once in three months! Oh, I can't stand that! I won't! I'll go and see the warden myself. He'll let me see you. I'm sure he will, if I talk to him."
She fairly gasped in her excitement, not willing to pause in her tirade, but Cowperwood interposed with her, "You're not thinking what you're saying, Aileen. You're not thinking. Remember your father! Remember your family! Your father may know the warden out there. You don't want it to get all over town that you're running out there to see me, do you? Your father might cause you trouble. Besides you don't know the small party politicians as I do. They gossip like a lot of old women. You'll have to be very careful what you do and how you do it. I don't want to lose you. I want to see you. But you'll have to mind what you're doing. Don't try to see me at once. I want you to, but I want to find out how the land lies, and I want you to find out too. You won't lose me. I'll be there, well enough."
He paused as he thought of the long tier of iron cells which must be there, one of which would be his-for how long?-and of Aileen seeing him through the door of it or in it. At the same time he was thinking, in spite of all his other calculations, how charming she was looking to-day. How young she kept, and how forceful! While he was nearing his full maturity she was a comparatively young girl, and as beautiful as ever. She was wearing a black-and-white-striped silk in the curious bustle style of the times, and a set of sealskin furs, including a little sealskin cap set jauntily on top her red-gold hair.
"I know, I know," replied Aileen, firmly. "But think of three months! Honey, I can't! I won't! It's nonsense. Three months! I know that my father wouldn't have to wait any three months if he wanted to see anybody out there, nor anybody else that he wanted to ask favors for. And I won't, either. I'll find some way."