Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 41)

"Don't be nervous," he said, "no doubt it's only the servant. I'll go."

He started, but Aileen interfered. "Wait," she said. Somewhat reassured, she went to the closet, and taking down a dressing-gown, slipped it on. Meanwhile the tap came again. Then she went to the door and opened it the least bit.

"Mrs. Montague," exclaimed Mrs. Davis, in an obviously nervous, forced voice, "there's a gentleman downstairs who wishes to see you."

"A gentleman to see me!" exclaimed Aileen, astonished and paling. "Are you sure?"

"Yes; he says he wants to see you. There are several other men with him. I think it's some one who belongs to you, maybe."

Aileen realized on the instant, as did Cowperwood, what had in all likelihood happened. Butler or Mrs. Cowperwood had trailed them in all probability her father. He wondered now what he should do to protect her, not himself. He was in no way deeply concerned for himself, even here. Where any woman was concerned he was too chivalrous to permit fear. It was not at all improbable that Butler might want to kill him; but that did not disturb him. He really did not pay any attention to that thought, and he was not armed.

"I'll dress and go down," he said, when he saw Aileen's pale face. "You stay here. And don't you worry in any way for I'll get you out of this-now, don't worry. This is my affair. I got you in it and I'll get you out of it." He went for his hat and coat and added, as he did so, "You go ahead and dress; but let me go first."

Aileen, the moment the door closed, had begun to put on her clothes swiftly and nervously. Her mind was working like a rapidly moving machine. She was wondering whether this really could be her father. Perhaps it was not. Might there be some other Mrs. Montague-a real one? Supposing it was her father-he had been so nice to her in not telling the family, in keeping her secret thus far. He loved her-she knew that. It makes all the difference in the world in a child's attitude on an occasion like this whether she has been loved and petted and spoiled, or the reverse. Aileen had been loved and petted and spoiled. She could not think of her father doing anything terrible physically to her or to any one else. But it was so hard to confront him-to look into his eyes. When she had attained a proper memory of him, her fluttering wits told her what to do.

"No, Frank," she whispered, excitedly; "if it's father, you'd better let me go. I know how to talk to him. He won't say anything to me. You stay here. I'm not afraid-really, I'm not. If I want you, I'll call you."

He had come over and taken her pretty chin in his hands, and was looking solemnly into her eyes.

"You mustn't be afraid," he said. "I'll go down. If it's your father, you can go away with him. I don't think he'll do anything either to you or to me. If it is he, write me something at the office. I'll be there. If I can help you in any way, I will. We can fix up something. There's no use trying to explain this. Say nothing at all."

He had on his coat and overcoat, and was standing with his hat in his hand. Aileen was nearly dressed, struggling with the row of red current-colored buttons which fastened her dress in the back. Cowperwood helped her. When she was ready-hat, gloves, and all he said:

"Now let me go first. I want to see."

"No; please, Frank," she begged, courageously. "Let me, I know it's father. Who else could it be?" She wondered at the moment whether her father had brought her two brothers but would not now believe it. He would not do that, she knew. "You can come if I call." She went on. "Nothing's going to happen, though. I understand him. He won't do anything to me. If you go it will only make him angry. Let me go. You stand in the door here. If I don't call, it's all right. Will you?"

She put her two pretty hands on his shoulders, and he weighed the matter very carefully. "Very well," he said, "only I'll go to the foot of the stairs with you."

They went to the door and he opened it. Outside were Alderson with two other detectives and Mrs. Davis, standing perhaps five feet away.

"Well," said Cowperwood, commandingly, looking at Alderson.

"There's a gentleman down-stairs wishes to see the lady," said Alderson. "It's her father, I think," he added quietly.

Cowperwood made way for Aileen, who swept by, furious at the presence of men and this exposure. Her courage had entirely returned. She was angry now to think her father would make a public spectacle of her. Cowperwood started to follow.

"I'd advise you not to go down there right away," cautioned Alderson, sagely. "That's her father. Butler's her name, isn't it? He don't want you so much as he wants her."

Cowperwood nevertheless walked slowly toward the head of the stairs, listening.

"What made you come here, father?" he heard Aileen ask.

Butler's reply he could not hear, but he was now at ease for he knew how much Butler loved his daughter.

Confronted by her father, Aileen was now attempting to stare defiantly, to look reproachful, but Butler's deep gray eyes beneath their shaggy brows revealed such a weight of weariness and despair as even she, in her anger and defiance, could not openly flaunt. It was all too sad.

"I never expected to find you in a place like this, daughter," he said. "I should have thought you would have thought better of yourself." His voice choked and he stopped.

"I know who you're here with," he continued, shaking his head sadly. "The dog! I'll get him yet. I've had men watchin' you all the time. Oh, the shame of this day! The shame of this day! You'll be comin' home with me now."

"That's just it, father," began Aileen. "You've had men watching me. I should have thought-" She stopped, because he put up his hand in a strange, agonized, and yet dominating way.

"None of that! none of that!" he said, glowering under his strange, sad, gray brows. "I can't stand it! Don't tempt me! We're not out of this place yet. He's not! You'll come home with me now."

Aileen understood. It was Cowperwood he was referring to. That frightened her.

"I'm ready," she replied, nervously.

The old man led the way broken-heartedly. He felt he would never live to forget the agony of this hour.

Chapter XXXVII
In spite of Butler's rage and his determination to do many things to the financier, if he could, he was so wrought up and shocked by the attitude of Aileen that he could scarcely believe he was the same man he had been twenty-four hours before. She was so nonchalant, so defiant. He had expected to see her wilt completely when confronted with her guilt. Instead, he found, to his despair, after they were once safely out of the house, that he had aroused a fighting quality in the girl which was not incomparable to his own. She had some of his own and Owen's grit. She sat beside him in the little runabout-not his own-in which he was driving her home, her face coloring and blanching by turns, as different waves of thought swept over her, determined to stand her ground now that her father had so plainly trapped her, to declare for Cowperwood and her love and her position in general. What did she care, she asked herself, what her father thought now? She was in this thing. She loved Cowperwood; she was permanently disgraced in her father's eyes. What difference could it all make now? He had fallen so low in his parental feeling as to spy on her and expose her before other men-strangers, detectives, Cowperwood. What real affection could she have for him after this? He had made a mistake, according to her. He had done a foolish and a contemptible thing, which was not warranted however bad her actions might have been. What could he hope to accomplish by rushing in on her in this way and ripping the veil from her very soul before these other men-these crude detectives? Oh, the agony of that walk from the bedroom to the reception-room! She would never forgive her father for this-never, never, never! He had now killed her love for him-that was what she felt. It was to be a battle royal between them from now on. As they rode-in complete silence for a while-her hands clasped and unclasped defiantly, her nails cutting her palms, and her mouth hardened.

It is an open question whether raw opposition ever accomplishes anything of value in this world. It seems so inherent in this mortal scheme of things that it appears to have a vast validity. It is more than likely that we owe this spectacle called life to it, and that this can be demonstrated scientifically; but when that is said and done, what is the value? What is the value of the spectacle? And what the value of a scene such as this enacted between Aileen and her father?

The old man saw nothing for it, as they rode on, save a grim contest between them which could end in what? What could he do with her? They were riding away fresh from this awful catastrophe, and she was not saying a word! She had even asked him why he had come there! How was he to subdue her, when the very act of trapping her had failed to do so? His ruse, while so successful materially, had failed so utterly spiritually. They reached the house, and Aileen got out. The old man, too nonplussed to wish to go further at this time, drove back to his office. He then went out and walked-a peculiar thing for him to do; he had done nothing like that in years and years-walking to think. Coming to an open Catholic church, he went in and prayed for enlightenment, the growing dusk of the interior, the single everlasting lamp before the repository of the chalice, and the high, white altar set with candles soothing his troubled feelings.

He came out of the church after a time and returned home. Aileen did not appear at dinner, and he could not eat. He went into his private room and shut the door-thinking, thinking, thinking. The dreadful spectacle of Aileen in a house of ill repute burned in his brain. To think that Cowperwood should have taken her to such a place-his Aileen, his and his wife's pet. In spite of his prayers, his uncertainty, her opposition, the puzzling nature of the situation, she must be got out of this. She must go away for a while, give the man up, and then the law should run its course with him. In all likelihood Cowperwood would go to the penitentiary if ever a man richly deserved to go, it was he. Butler would see that no stone was left unturned. He would make it a personal issue, if necessary. All he had to do was to let it be known in judicial circles that he wanted it so. He could not suborn a jury, that would be criminal; but he could see that the case was properly and forcefully presented; and if Cowperwood were convicted, Heaven help him. The appeal of his financial friends would not save him. The judges of the lower and superior courts knew on which side their bread was buttered. They would strain a point in favor of the highest political opinion of the day, and he certainly could influence that. Aileen meanwhile was contemplating the peculiar nature of her situation. In spite of their silence on the way home, she knew that a conversation was coming with her father. It had to be. He would want her to go somewhere. Most likely he would revive the European trip in some form-she now suspected the invitation of Mrs. Mollenhauer as a trick; and she had to decide whether she would go. Would she leave Cowperwood just when he was about to be tried? She was determined she would not. She wanted to see what was going to happen to him. She would leave home first-run to some relative, some friend, some stranger, if necessary, and ask to be taken in. She had some money-a little. Her father had always been very liberal with her. She could take a few clothes and disappear. They would be glad enough to send for her after she had been gone awhile. Her mother would be frantic; Norah and Callum and Owen would be beside themselves with wonder and worry; her father-she could see him. Maybe that would bring him to his senses. In spite of all her emotional vagaries, she was the pride and interest of this home, and she knew it.

It was in this direction that her mind was running when her father, a few days after the dreadful exposure in the Sixth Street house, sent for her to come to him in his room. He had come home from his office very early in the afternoon, hoping to find Aileen there, in order that he might have a private interview with her, and by good luck found her in. She had had no desire to go out into the world these last few days-she was too expectant of trouble to come. She had just written Cowperwood asking for a rendezvous out on the Wissahickon the following afternoon, in spite of the detectives. She must see him. Her father, she said, had done nothing; but she was sure he would attempt to do something. She wanted to talk to Cowperwood about that.

"I've been thinkin' about ye, Aileen, and what ought to be done in this case," began her father without preliminaries of any kind once they were in his "office room" in the house together. "You're on the road to ruin if any one ever was. I tremble when I think of your immortal soul. I want to do somethin' for ye, my child, before it's too late. I've been reproachin' myself for the last month and more, thinkin', perhaps, it was somethin' I had done, or maybe had failed to do, aither me or your mother, that has brought ye to the place where ye are to-day. Needless to say, it's on me conscience, me child. It's a heartbroken man you're lookin' at this day. I'll never be able to hold me head up again. Oh, the shame-the shame! That I should have lived to see it!"

"But father," protested Aileen, who was a little distraught at the thought of having to listen to a long preachment which would relate to her duty to God and the Church and her family and her mother and him. She realized that all these were important in their way; but Cowperwood and his point of view had given her another outlook on life. They had discussed this matter of families-parents, children, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters from almost every point of view. Cowperwood's laissez-faire attitude had permeated and colored her mind completely. She saw things through his cold, direct "I satisfy myself" attitude. He was sorry for all the little differences of personality that sprang up between people, causing quarrels, bickerings, oppositions, and separation; but they could not be helped. People outgrew each other. Their points of view altered at varying ratios-hence changes. Morals-those who had them had them; those who hadn't, hadn't. There was no explaining. As for him, he saw nothing wrong in the sex relationship. Between those who were mutually compatible it was innocent and delicious. Aileen in his arms, unmarried, but loved by him, and he by her, was as good and pure as any living woman-a great deal purer than most. One found oneself in a given social order, theory, or scheme of things. For purposes of social success, in order not to offend, to smooth one's path, make things easy, avoid useless criticism, and the like, it was necessary to create an outward seeming-ostensibly conform. Beyond that it was not necessary to do anything. Never fail, never get caught. If you did, fight your way out silently and say nothing. That was what he was doing in connection with his present financial troubles; that was what he had been ready to do the other day when they were caught. It was something of all this that was coloring Aileen's mood as she listened at present.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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