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Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 58)


Cowperwood had to smile. You could not defeat Aileen so easily.

"But you're not your father, honey; and you don't want him to know."

"I know I don't, but they don't need to know who I am. I can go heavily veiled. I don't think that the warden knows my father. He may. Anyhow, he doesn't know me; and he wouldn't tell on me if he did if I talked to him."

Her confidence in her charms, her personality, her earthly privileges was quite anarchistic. Cowperwood shook his head.

"Honey, you're about the best and the worst there is when it comes to a woman," he observed, affectionately, pulling her head down to kiss her, "but you'll have to listen to me just the same. I have a lawyer, Steger-you know him. He's going to take up this matter with the warden out there-is doing it today. He may be able to fix things, and he may not. I'll know to-morrow or Sunday, and I'll write you. But don't go and do anything rash until you hear. I'm sure I can cut that visiting limit in half, and perhaps down to once a month or once in two weeks even. They only allow me to write one letter in three months"-Aileen exploded again-"and I'm sure I can have that made different-some; but don't write me until you hear, or at least don't sign any name or put any address in. They open all mail and read it. If you see me or write me you'll have to be cautious, and you're not the most cautious person in the world. Now be good, will you?"

They talked much more-of his family, his court appearance Monday, whether he would get out soon to attend any of the suits still pending, or be pardoned. Aileen still believed in his future. She had read the opinions of the dissenting judges in his favor, and that of the three agreed judges against him. She was sure his day was not over in Philadelphia, and that he would some time reestablish himself and then take her with him somewhere else. She was sorry for Mrs. Cowperwood, but she was convinced that she was not suited to him-that Frank needed some one more like herself, some one with youth and beauty and force-her, no less. She clung to him now in ecstatic embraces until it was time to go. So far as a plan of procedure could have been adjusted in a situation so incapable of accurate adjustment, it had been done. She was desperately downcast at the last moment, as was he, over their parting; but she pulled herself together with her usual force and faced the dark future with a steady eye.Chapter LI
Monday came and with it his final departure. All that could be done had been done. Cowperwood said his farewells to his mother and father, his brothers and sister. He had a rather distant but sensible and matter-of-fact talk with his wife. He made no special point of saying good-by to his son or his daughter; when he came in on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, after he had learned that he was to depart Monday, it was with the thought of talking to them a little in an especially affectionate way. He realized that his general moral or unmoral attitude was perhaps working them a temporary injustice. Still he was not sure. Most people did fairly well with their lives, whether coddled or deprived of opportunity. These children would probably do as well as most children, whatever happened-and then, anyhow, he had no intention of forsaking them financially, if he could help it. He did not want to separate his wife from her children, nor them from her. She should keep them. He wanted them to be comfortable with her. He would like to see them, wherever they were with her, occasionally. Only he wanted his own personal freedom, in so far as she and they were concerned, to go off and set up a new world and a new home with Aileen. So now on these last days, and particularly this last Sunday night, he was rather noticeably considerate of his boy and girl, without being too openly indicative of his approaching separation from them.

"Frank," he said to his notably lackadaisical son on this occasion, "aren't you going to straighten up and be a big, strong, healthy fellow? You don't play enough. You ought to get in with a gang of boys and be a leader. Why don't you fit yourself up a gymnasium somewhere and see how strong you can get?"

They were in the senior Cowperwood's sitting-room, where they had all rather consciously gathered on this occasion.

Lillian, second, who was on the other side of the big library table from her father, paused to survey him and her brother with interest. Both had been carefully guarded against any real knowledge of their father's affairs or his present predicament. He was going away on a journey for about a month or so they understood. Lillian was reading in a Chatterbox book which had been given her the previous Christmas.

"He won't do anything," she volunteered, looking up from her reading in a peculiarly critical way for her. "Why, he won't ever run races with me when I want him to."

"Aw, who wants to run races with you, anyhow?" returned Frank, junior, sourly. "You couldn't run if I did want to run with you."

"Couldn't I?" she replied. "I could beat you, all right."

"Lillian!" pleaded her mother, with a warning sound in her voice.

Cowperwood smiled, and laid his hand affectionately on his son's head. "You'll be all right, Frank," he volunteered, pinching his ear lightly. "Don't worry-just make an effort."

The boy did not respond as warmly as he hoped. Later in the evening Mrs. Cowperwood noticed that her husband squeezed his daughter's slim little waist and pulled her curly hair gently. For the moment she was jealous of her daughter.

"Going to be the best kind of a girl while I'm away?" he said to her, privately.

"Yes, papa," she replied, brightly.

"That's right," he returned, and leaned over and kissed her mouth tenderly. "Button Eyes," he said.

Mrs. Cowperwood sighed after he had gone. "Everything for the children, nothing for me," she thought, though the children had not got so vastly much either in the past.

Cowperwood's attitude toward his mother in this final hour was about as tender and sympathetic as any he could maintain in this world. He understood quite clearly the ramifications of her interests, and how she was suffering for him and all the others concerned. He had not forgotten her sympathetic care of him in his youth; and if he could have done anything to have spared her this unhappy breakdown of her fortunes in her old age, he would have done so. There was no use crying over spilled milk. It was impossible at times for him not to feel intensely in moments of success or failure; but the proper thing to do was to bear up, not to show it, to talk little and go your way with an air not so much of resignation as of self-sufficiency, to whatever was awaiting you. That was his attitude on this morning, and that was what he expected from those around him-almost compelled, in fact, by his own attitude.

"Well, mother," he said, genially, at the last moment-he would not let her nor his wife nor his sister come to court, maintaining that it would make not the least difference to him and would only harrow their own feelings uselessly-"I'm going now. Don't worry. Keep up your spirits."

He slipped his arm around his mother's waist, and she gave him a long, unrestrained, despairing embrace and kiss.

"Go on, Frank," she said, choking, when she let him go. "God bless you. I'll pray for you." He paid no further attention to her. He didn't dare.

"Good-by, Lillian," he said to his wife, pleasantly, kindly. "I'll be back in a few days, I think. I'll be coming out to attend some of these court proceedings."

To his sister he said: "Good-by, Anna. Don't let the others get too down-hearted."

"I'll see you three afterward," he said to his father and brothers; and so, dressed in the very best fashion of the time, he hurried down into the reception-hall, where Steger was waiting, and was off. His family, hearing the door close on him, suffered a poignant sense of desolation. They stood there for a moment, his mother crying, his father looking as though he had lost his last friend but making a great effort to seem self-contained and equal to his troubles, Anna telling Lillian not to mind, and the latter staring dumbly into the future, not knowing what to think. Surely a brilliant sun had set on their local scene, and in a very pathetic way.Chapter LII
When Cowperwood reached the jail, Jaspers was there, glad to see him but principally relieved to feel that nothing had happened to mar his own reputation as a sheriff. Because of the urgency of court matters generally, it was decided to depart for the courtroom at nine o'clock. Eddie Zanders was once more delegated to see that Cowperwood was brought safely before Judge Payderson and afterward taken to the penitentiary. All of the papers in the case were put in his care to be delivered to the warden.

"I suppose you know," confided Sheriff Jaspers to Steger, "that Stener is here. He ain't got no money now, but I gave him a private room just the same. I didn't want to put a man like him in no cell." Sheriff Jaspers sympathized with Stener.

"That's right. I'm glad to hear that," replied Steger, smiling to himself.

"I didn't suppose from what I've heard that Mr. Cowperwood would want to meet Stener here, so I've kept 'em apart. George just left a minute ago with another deputy."

"That's good. That's the way it ought to be," replied Steger. He was glad for Cowperwood's sake that the sheriff had so much tact. Evidently George and the sheriff were getting along in a very friendly way, for all the former's bitter troubles and lack of means.

The Cowperwood party walked, the distance not being great, and as they did so they talked of rather simple things to avoid the more serious.

"Things aren't going to be so bad," Edward said to his father. "Steger says the Governor is sure to pardon Stener in a year or less, and if he does he's bound to let Frank out too."

Cowperwood, the elder, had heard this over and over, but he was never tired of hearing it. It was like some simple croon with which babies are hushed to sleep. The snow on the ground, which was enduring remarkably well for this time of year, the fineness of the day, which had started out to be clear and bright, the hope that the courtroom might not be full, all held the attention of the father and his two sons. Cowperwood, senior, even commented on some sparrows fighting over a piece of bread, marveling how well they did in winter, solely to ease his mind. Cowperwood, walking on ahead with Steger and Zanders, talked of approaching court proceedings in connection with his business and what ought to be done.

When they reached the court the same little pen in which Cowperwood had awaited the verdict of his jury several months before was waiting to receive him.

Cowperwood, senior, and his other sons sought places in the courtroom proper. Eddie Zanders remained with his charge. Stener and a deputy by the name of Wilkerson were in the room; but he and Cowperwood pretended now not to see each other. Frank had no objection to talking to his former associate, but he could see that Stener was diffident and ashamed. So he let the situation pass without look or word of any kind. After some three-quarters of an hour of dreary waiting the door leading into the courtroom proper opened and a bailiff stepped in.

"All prisoners up for sentence," he called.

There were six, all told, including Cowperwood and Stener. Two of them were confederate housebreakers who had been caught red-handed at their midnight task.

Another prisoner was no more and no less than a plain horse-thief, a young man of twenty-six, who had been convicted by a jury of stealing a grocer's horse and selling it. The last man was a negro, a tall, shambling, illiterate, nebulous-minded black, who had walked off with an apparently discarded section of lead pipe which he had found in a lumber-yard. His idea was to sell or trade it for a drink. He really did not belong in this court at all; but, having been caught by an undersized American watchman charged with the care of the property, and having at first refused to plead guilty, not quite understanding what was to be done with him, he had been perforce bound over to this court for trial. Afterward he had changed his mind and admitted his guilt, so he now had to come before Judge Payderson for sentence or dismissal. The lower court before which he had originally been brought had lost jurisdiction by binding him over to to higher court for trial. Eddie Zanders, in his self-appointed position as guide and mentor to Cowperwood, had confided nearly all of this data to him as he stood waiting.

The courtroom was crowded. It was very humiliating to Cowperwood to have to file in this way along the side aisle with these others, followed by Stener, well dressed but sickly looking and disconsolate.

The negro, Charles Ackerman, was the first on the list.

"How is it this man comes before me?" asked Payderson, peevishly, when he noted the value of the property Ackerman was supposed to have stolen.

"Your honor," the assistant district attorney explained, promptly, "this man was before a lower court and refused, because he was drunk, or something, to plead guilty. The lower court, because the complainant would not forego the charge, was compelled to bind him over to this court for trial. Since then he has changed his mind and has admitted his guilt to the district attorney. He would not be brought before you except we have no alternative. He has to be brought here now in order to clear the calendar."

Judge Payderson stared quizzically at the negro, who, obviously not very much disturbed by this examination, was leaning comfortably on the gate or bar before which the average criminal stood erect and terrified. He had been before police-court magistrates before on one charge and another-drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and the like-but his whole attitude was one of shambling, lackadaisical, amusing innocence.

"Well, Ackerman," inquired his honor, severely, "did you or did you not steal this piece of lead pipe as charged here-four dollars and eighty cents' worth?"

"Yassah, I did," he began. "I tell you how it was, jedge. I was a-comin' along past dat lumber-yard one Saturday afternoon, and I hadn't been wuckin', an' I saw dat piece o' pipe thoo de fence, lyin' inside, and I jes' reached thoo with a piece o' boad I found dey and pulled it over to me an' tuck it. An' aftahwahd dis Mistah Watchman man"-he waved his hand oratorically toward the witness-chair, where, in case the judge might wish to ask him some questions, the complainant had taken his stand-"come around tuh where I live an' accused me of done takin' it."

"But you did take it, didn't you?"

"Yassah, I done tuck it."

"What did you do with it?"

"I traded it foh twenty-five cents."

"You mean you sold it," corrected his honor.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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