Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 30)

Old Butler looked at her narrowly, solemnly. He was not deceived to any extent by her bravado. If she were really innocent, he knew she would have jumped to her feet in her defiant way. Protest would have been written all over her. As it was, she only stared haughtily. He read through her eager defiance to the guilty truth.

"How do ye know, daughter, that I haven't had the house watched?" he said, quizzically. "How do ye know that ye haven't been seen goin' in there?"

Only Aileen's solemn promise to her lover could have saved her from this subtle thrust. As it was, she paled nervously; but she saw Frank Cowperwood, solemn and distinguished, asking her what she would say if she were caught.

"It's a lie!" she said, catching her breath. "I wasn't at any house at that number, and no one saw me going in there. How can you ask me that, father?"

In spite of his mixed feelings of uncertainty and yet unshakable belief that his daughter was guilty, he could not help admiring her courage-she was so defiant, as she sat there, so set in her determination to lie and thus defend herself. Her beauty helped her in his mood, raised her in his esteem. After all, what could you do with a woman of this kind? She was not a ten-year-old girl any more, as in a way he sometimes continued to fancy her.

"Ye oughtn't to say that if it isn't true, Aileen," he said. "Ye oughtn't to lie. It's against your faith. Why would anybody write a letter like that if it wasn't so?"

"But it's not so," insisted Aileen, pretending anger and outraged feeling, "and I don't think you have any right to sit there and say that to me. I haven't been there, and I'm not running around with Mr. Cowperwood. Why, I hardly know the man except in a social way."

Butler shook his head solemnly.

"It's a great blow to me, daughter. It's a great blow to me," he said. "I'm willing to take your word if ye say so; but I can't help thinkin' what a sad thing it would be if ye were lyin' to me. I haven't had the house watched. I only got this this mornin'. And what's written here may not be so. I hope it isn't. But we'll not say any more about that now. If there is anythin' in it, and ye haven't gone too far yet to save yourself, I want ye to think of your mother and your sister and your brothers, and be a good girl. Think of the church ye was raised in, and the name we've got to stand up for in the world. Why, if ye were doin' anything wrong, and the people of Philadelphy got a hold of it, the city, big as it is, wouldn't be big enough to hold us. Your brothers have got a reputation to make, their work to do here. You and your sister want to get married sometime. How could ye expect to look the world in the face and do anythin' at all if ye are doin' what this letter says ye are, and it was told about ye?"

The old man's voice was thick with a strange, sad, alien emotion. He did not want to believe that his daughter was guilty, even though he knew she was. He did not want to face what he considered in his vigorous, religious way to be his duty, that of reproaching her sternly. There were some fathers who would have turned her out, he fancied. There were others who might possibly kill Cowperwood after a subtle investigation. That course was not for him. If vengeance he was to have, it must be through politics and finance he must drive him out. But as for doing anything desperate in connection with Aileen, he could not think of it.

"Oh, father," returned Aileen, with considerable histrionic ability in her assumption of pettishness, "how can you talk like this when you know I'm not guilty? When I tell you so?"

The old Irishman saw through her make-believe with profound sadness-the feeling that one of his dearest hopes had been shattered. He had expected so much of her socially and matrimonially. Why, any one of a dozen remarkable young men might have married her, and she would have had lovely children to comfort him in his old age.

"Well, we'll not talk any more about it now, daughter," he said, wearily. "Ye've been so much to me during all these years that I can scarcely belave anythin' wrong of ye. I don't want to, God knows. Ye're a grown woman, though, now; and if ye are doin' anythin' wrong I don't suppose I could do so much to stop ye. I might turn ye out, of course, as many a father would; but I wouldn't like to do anythin' like that. But if ye are doin' anythin' wrong" and he put up his hand to stop a proposed protest on the part of Aileen-"remember, I'm certain to find it out in the long run, and Philadelphy won't be big enough to hold me and the man that's done this thing to me. I'll get him," he said, getting up dramatically. "I'll get him, and when I do-" He turned a livid face to the wall, and Aileen saw clearly that Cowperwood, in addition to any other troubles which might beset him, had her father to deal with. Was this why Frank had looked so sternly at her the night before?

"Why, your mother would die of a broken heart if she thought there was anybody could say the least word against ye," pursued Butler, in a shaken voice. "This man has a family-a wife and children, Ye oughtn't to want to do anythin' to hurt them. They'll have trouble enough, if I'm not mistaken-facin' what's comin' to them in the future," and Butler's jaw hardened just a little. "Ye're a beautiful girl. Ye're young. Ye have money. There's dozens of young men'd be proud to make ye their wife. Whatever ye may be thinkin' or doin', don't throw away your life. Don't destroy your immortal soul. Don't break my heart entirely."

Aileen, not ungenerous-fool of mingled affection and passion could now have cried. She pitied her father from her heart; but her allegiance was to Cowperwood, her loyalty unshaken. She wanted to say something, to protest much more; but she knew that it was useless. Her father knew that she was lying.

"Well, there's no use of my saying anything more, father," she said, getting up. The light of day was fading in the windows. The downstairs door closed with a light slam, indicating that one of the boys had come in. Her proposed trip to the library was now without interest to her. "You won't believe me, anyhow. I tell you, though, that I'm innocent just the same."

Butler lifted his big, brown hand to command silence. She saw that this shameful relationship, as far as her father was concerned, had been made quite clear, and that this trying conference was now at an end. She turned and walked shamefacedly out. He waited until he heard her steps fading into faint nothings down the hall toward her room. Then he arose. Once more he clinched his big fists.

"The scoundrel!" he said. "The scoundrel! I'll drive him out of Philadelphy, if it takes the last dollar I have in the world."Chapter XXVII
For the first time in his life Cowperwood felt conscious of having been in the presence of that interesting social phenomenon-the outraged sentiment of a parent. While he had no absolute knowledge as to why Butler had been so enraged, he felt that Aileen was the contributing cause. He himself was a father. His boy, Frank, Jr., was to him not so remarkable. But little Lillian, with her dainty little slip of a body and bright-aureoled head, had always appealed to him. She was going to be a charming woman one day, he thought, and he was going to do much to establish her safely. He used to tell her that she had "eyes like buttons," "feet like a pussy-cat," and hands that were "just five cents' worth," they were so little. The child admired her father and would often stand by his chair in the library or the sitting-room, or his desk in his private office, or by his seat at the table, asking him questions.

This attitude toward his own daughter made him see clearly how Butler might feel toward Aileen. He wondered how he would feel if it were his own little Lillian, and still he did not believe he would make much fuss over the matter, either with himself or with her, if she were as old as Aileen. Children and their lives were more or less above the willing of parents, anyhow, and it would be a difficult thing for any parent to control any child, unless the child were naturally docile-minded and willing to be controlled.

It also made him smile, in a grim way, to see how fate was raining difficulties on him. The Chicago fire, Stener's early absence, Butler, Mollenhauer, and Simpson's indifference to Stener's fate and his. And now this probable revelation in connection with Aileen. He could not be sure as yet, but his intuitive instincts told him that it must be something like this.

Now he was distressed as to what Aileen would do, say if suddenly she were confronted by her father. If he could only get to her! But if he was to meet Butler's call for his loan, and the others which would come yet to-day or on the morrow, there was not a moment to lose. If he did not pay he must assign at once. Butler's rage, Aileen, his own danger, were brushed aside for the moment. His mind concentrated wholly on how to save himself financially.

He hurried to visit George Waterman; David Wiggin, his wife's brother, who was now fairly well to do; Joseph Zimmerman, the wealthy dry-goods dealer who had dealt with him in the past; Judge Kitchen, a private manipulator of considerable wealth; Frederick Van Nostrand, the State treasurer, who was interested in local street-railway stocks, and others. Of all those to whom he appealed one was actually not in a position to do anything for him; another was afraid; a third was calculating eagerly to drive a hard bargain; a fourth was too deliberate, anxious to have much time. All scented the true value of his situation, all wanted time to consider, and he had no time to consider. Judge Kitchen did agree to lend him thirty thousand dollars-a paltry sum. Joseph Zimmerman would only risk twenty-five thousand dollars. He could see where, all told, he might raise seventy-five thousand dollars by hypothecating double the amount in shares; but this was ridiculously insufficient. He had figured again, to a dollar, and he must have at least two hundred and fifty thousand dollars above all his present holdings, or he must close his doors. To-morrow at two o'clock he would know. If he didn't he would be written down as "failed" on a score of ledgers in Philadelphia.

What a pretty pass for one to come to whose hopes had so recently run so high! There was a loan of one hundred thousand dollars from the Girard National Bank which he was particularly anxious to clear off. This bank was the most important in the city, and if he retained its good will by meeting this loan promptly he might hope for favors in the future whatever happened. Yet, at the moment, he did not see how he could do it. He decided, however, after some reflection, that he would deliver the stocks which Judge Kitchen, Zimmerman, and others had agreed to take and get their checks or cash yet this night. Then he would persuade Stener to let him have a check for the sixty thousand dollars' worth of city loan he had purchased this morning on 'change. Out of it he could take twenty-five thousand dollars to make up the balance due the bank, and still have thirty-five thousand for himself.

The one unfortunate thing about such an arrangement was that by doing it he was building up a rather complicated situation in regard to these same certificates. Since their purchase in the morning, he had not deposited them in the sinking-fund, where they belonged (they had been delivered to his office by half past one in the afternoon), but, on the contrary, had immediately hypothecated them to cover another loan. It was a risky thing to have done, considering that he was in danger of failing and that he was not absolutely sure of being able to take them up in time.

But, he reasoned, he had a working agreement with the city treasurer (illegal of course), which would make such a transaction rather plausible, and almost all right, even if he failed, and that was that none of his accounts were supposed necessarily to be put straight until the end of the month. If he failed, and the certificates were not in the sinking-fund, he could say, as was the truth, that he was in the habit of taking his time, and had forgotten. This collecting of a check, therefore, for these as yet undeposited certificates would be technically, if not legally and morally, plausible. The city would be out only an additional sixty thousand dollars-making five hundred and sixty thousand dollars all told, which in view of its probable loss of five hundred thousand did not make so much difference. But his caution clashed with his need on this occasion, and he decided that he would not call for the check unless Stener finally refused to aid him with three hundred thousand more, in which case he would claim it as his right. In all likelihood Stener would not think to ask whether the certificates were in the sinking-fund or not. If he did, he would have to lie-that was all.

He drove rapidly back to his office, and, finding Butler's note, as he expected, wrote a check on his father's bank for the one hundred thousand dollars which had been placed to his credit by his loving parent, and sent it around to Butler's office. There was another note, from Albert Stires, Stener's secretary, advising him not to buy or sell any more city loan-that until further notice such transactions would not be honored. Cowperwood immediately sensed the source of this warning. Stener had been in conference with Butler or Mollenhauer, and had been warned and frightened. Nevertheless, he got in his buggy again and drove directly to the city treasurer's office.

Since Cowperwood's visit Stener had talked still more with Sengstack, Strobik, and others, all sent to see that a proper fear of things financial had been put in his heart. The result was decidedly one which spelled opposition to Cowperwood.

Strobik was considerably disturbed himself. He and Wycroft and Harmon had also been using money out of the treasury-much smaller sums, of course, for they had not Cowperwood's financial imagination and were disturbed as to how they would return what they owed before the storm broke. If Cowperwood failed, and Stener was short in his accounts, the whole budget might be investigated, and then their loans would be brought to light. The thing to do was to return what they owed, and then, at least, no charge of malfeasance would lie against them.

"Go to Mollenhauer," Strobik had advised Stener, shortly after Cowperwood had left the latter's office, "and tell him the whole story. He put you here. He was strong for your nomination. Tell him just where you stand and ask him what to do. He'll probably be able to tell you. Offer him your holdings to help you out. You have to. You can't help yourself. Don't loan Cowperwood another damned dollar, whatever you do. He's got you in so deep now you can hardly hope to get out. Ask Mollenhauer if he won't help you to get Cowperwood to put that money back. He may be able to influence him."

There was more in this conversation to the same effect, and then Stener hurried as fast as his legs could carry him to Mollenhauer's office. He was so frightened that he could scarcely breathe, and he was quite ready to throw himself on his knees before the big German-American financier and leader. Oh, if Mr. Mollenhauer would only help him! If he could just get out of this without going to jail!

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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