Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 42)

"But father," she protested, "I love Mr. Cowperwood. It's almost the same as if I were married to him. He will marry me some day when he gets a divorce from Mrs. Cowperwood. You don't understand how it is. He's very fond of me, and I love him. He needs me."

Butler looked at her with strange, non-understanding eyes. "Divorce, did you say," he began, thinking of the Catholic Church and its dogma in regard to that. "He'll divorce his own wife and children and for you, will he? He needs you, does he?" he added, sarcastically. "What about his wife and children? I don't suppose they need him, do they? What talk have ye?"

Aileen flung her head back defiantly. "It's true, nevertheless," she reiterated. "You just don't understand."

Butler could scarcely believe his ears. He had never heard such talk before in his life from any one. It amazed and shocked him. He was quite aware of all the subtleties of politics and business, but these of romance were too much for him. He knew nothing about them. To think a daughter of his should be talking like this, and she a Catholic! He could not understand where she got such notions unless it was from the Machiavellian, corrupting brain of Cowperwood himself.

"How long have ye had these notions, my child?" he suddenly asked, calmly and soberly. "Where did ye get them? Ye certainly never heard anything like that in this house, I warrant. Ye talk as though ye had gone out of yer mind."

"Oh, don't talk nonsense, father," flared Aileen, angrily, thinking how hopeless it was to talk to her father about such things anyhow. "I'm not a child any more. I'm twenty-four years of age. You just don't understand. Mr. Cowperwood doesn't like his wife. He's going to get a divorce when he can, and will marry me. I love him, and he loves me, and that's all there is to it."

"Is it, though?" asked Butler, grimly determined by hook or by crook, to bring this girl to her senses. "Ye'll be takin' no thought of his wife and children then? The fact that he's goin' to jail, besides, is nawthin' to ye, I suppose. Ye'd love him just as much in convict stripes, I suppose-more, maybe." (The old man was at his best, humanly speaking, when he was a little sarcastic.) "Ye'll have him that way, likely, if at all."

Aileen blazed at once to a furious heat. "Yes, I know," she sneered. "That's what you would like. I know what you've been doing. Frank does, too. You're trying to railroad him to prison for something he didn't do-and all on account of me. Oh, I know. But you won't hurt him. You can't! He's bigger and finer than you think he is and you won't hurt him in the long run. He'll get out again. You want to punish him on my account; but he doesn't care. I'll marry him anyhow. I love him, and I'll wait for him and marry him, and you can do what you please. So there!"

"Ye'll marry him, will you?" asked Butler, nonplussed and further astounded. "So ye'll wait for him and marry him? Ye'll take him away from his wife and children, where, if he were half a man, he'd be stayin' this minute instead of gallivantin' around with you. And marry him? Ye'd disgrace your father and yer mother and yer family? Ye'll stand here and say this to me, I that have raised ye, cared for ye, and made somethin' of ye? Where would you be if it weren't for me and your poor, hard-workin' mother, schemin' and plannin' for you year in and year out? Ye're smarter than I am, I suppose. Ye know more about the world than I do, or any one else that might want to say anythin' to ye. I've raised ye to be a fine lady, and this is what I get. Talk about me not bein' able to understand, and ye lovin' a convict-to-be, a robber, an embezzler, a bankrupt, a lyin', thavin'-"

"Father!" exclaimed Aileen, determinedly. "I'll not listen to you talking that way. He's not any of the things that you say. I'll not stay here." She moved toward the door; but Butler jumped up now and stopped her. His face for the moment was flushed and swollen with anger.

"But I'm not through with him yet," he went on, ignoring her desire to leave, and addressing her direct-confident now that she was as capable as another of understanding him. "I'll get him as sure as I have a name. There's law in this land, and I'll have it on him. I'll show him whether he'll come sneakin' into dacent homes and robbin' parents of their children."

He paused after a time for want of breath and Aileen stared, her face tense and white. Her father could be so ridiculous. He was, contrasted with Cowperwood and his views, so old-fashioned. To think he could be talking of some one coming into their home and stealing her away from him, when she had been so willing to go. What silliness! And yet, why argue? What good could be accomplished, arguing with him here in this way? And so for the moment, she said nothing more-merely looked. But Butler was by no means done. His mood was too stormy even though he was doing his best now to subdue himself.

"It's too bad, daughter," he resumed quietly, once he was satisfied that she was going to have little, if anything, to say. "I'm lettin' my anger get the best of me. It wasn't that I intended talkin' to ye about when I ast ye to come in. It's somethin' else I have on me mind. I was thinkin', perhaps, ye'd like to go to Europe for the time bein' to study music. Ye're not quite yourself just at present. Ye're needin' a rest. It would be good for ye to go away for a while. Ye could have a nice time over there. Norah could go along with ye, if you would, and Sister Constantia that taught you. Ye wouldn't object to havin' her, I suppose?"

At the mention of this idea of a trip of Europe again, with Sister Constantia and music thrown in to give it a slightly new form, Aileen bridled, and yet half-smiled to herself now. It was so ridiculous-so tactless, really, for her father to bring up this now, and especially after denouncing Cowperwood and her, and threatening all the things he had. Had he no diplomacy at all where she was concerned? It was really too funny! But she restrained herself here again, because she felt as well as saw, that argument of this kind was all futile now.

"I wish you wouldn't talk about that, father," she began, having softened under his explanation. "I don't want to go to Europe now. I don't want to leave Philadelphia. I know you want me to go; but I don't want to think of going now. I can't."

Butler's brow darkened again. What was the use of all this opposition on her part? Did she really imagine that she was going to master him-her father, and in connection with such an issue as this? How impossible! But tempering his voice as much as possible, he went on, quite softly, in fact. "But it would be so fine for ye, Aileen. Ye surely can't expect to stay here after-" He paused, for he was going to say "what has happened." He knew she was very sensitive on that point. His own conduct in hunting her down had been such a breach of fatherly courtesy that he knew she felt resentful, and in a way properly so. Still, what could be greater than her own crime? "After," he concluded, "ye have made such a mistake ye surely wouldn't want to stay here. Ye won't be wantin' to keep up that-committin' a mortal sin. It's against the laws of God and man."

He did so hope the thought of sin would come to Aileen-the enormity of her crime from a spiritual point of view-but Aileen did not see it at all.

"You don't understand me, father," she exclaimed, hopelessly toward the end. "You can't. I have one idea, and you have another. But I don't seem to be able to make you understand now. The fact is, if you want to know it, I don't believe in the Catholic Church any more, so there."

The moment Aileen had said this she wished she had not. It was a slip of the tongue. Butler's face took on an inexpressibly sad, despairing look.

"Ye don't believe in the Church?" he asked.

"No, not exactly-not like you do."

He shook his head.

"The harm that has come to yer soul!" he replied. "It's plain to me, daughter, that somethin' terrible has happened to ye. This man has ruined ye, body and soul. Somethin' must be done. I don't want to be hard on ye, but ye must leave Philadelphy. Ye can't stay here. I can't permit ye. Ye can go to Europe, or ye can go to yer aunt's in New Orleans; but ye must go somewhere. I can't have ye stayin' here-it's too dangerous. It's sure to be comin' out. The papers'll be havin' it next. Ye're young yet. Yer life is before you. I tremble for yer soul; but so long as ye're young and alive ye may come to yer senses. It's me duty to be hard. It's my obligation to you and the Church. Ye must quit this life. Ye must lave this man. Ye must never see him any more. I can't permit ye. He's no good. He has no intintion of marrying ye, and it would be a crime against God and man if he did. No, no! Never that! The man's a bankrupt, a scoundrel, a thafe. If ye had him, ye'd soon be the unhappiest woman in the world. He wouldn't be faithful to ye. No, he couldn't. He's not that kind." He paused, sick to the depths of his soul. "Ye must go away. I say it once and for all. I mane it kindly, but I want it. I have yer best interests at heart. I love ye; but ye must. I'm sorry to see ye go-I'd rather have ye here. No one will be sorrier; but ye must. Ye must make it all seem natcheral and ordinary to yer mother; but ye must go-d'ye hear? Ye must."

He paused, looking sadly but firmly at Aileen under his shaggy eyebrows. She knew he meant this. It was his most solemn, his most religious expression. But she did not answer. She could not. What was the use? Only she was not going. She knew that-and so she stood there white and tense.

"Now get all the clothes ye want," went on Butler, by no means grasping her true mood. "Fix yourself up in any way you plase. Say where ye want to go, but get ready."

"But I won't, father," finally replied Aileen, equally solemnly, equally determinedly. "I won't go! I won't leave Philadelphia."

"Ye don't mane to say ye will deliberately disobey me when I'm asking ye to do somethin' that's intended for yer own good, will ye daughter?"

"Yes, I will," replied Aileen, determinedly. "I won't go! I'm sorry, but I won't!"

"Ye really mane that, do ye?" asked Butler, sadly but grimly.

"Yes, I do," replied Aileen, grimly, in return.

"Then I'll have to see what I can do, daughter," replied the old man. "Ye're still my daughter, whatever ye are, and I'll not see ye come to wreck and ruin for want of doin' what I know to be my solemn duty. I'll give ye a few more days to think this over, but go ye must. There's an end of that. There are laws in this land still. There are things that can be done to those who won't obey the law. I found ye this time-much as it hurt me to do it. I'll find ye again if ye try to disobey me. Ye must change yer ways. I can't have ye goin' on as ye are. Ye understand now. It's the last word. Give this man up, and ye can have anything ye choose. Ye're my girl-I'll do everything I can in this world to make ye happy. Why, why shouldn't I? What else have I to live for but me children? It's ye and the rest of them that I've been workin' and plannin' for all these years. Come now, be a good girl. Ye love your old father, don't ye? Why, I rocked ye in my arms as a baby, Aileen. I've watched over ye when ye were not bigger than what would rest in me two fists here. I've been a good father to ye ye can't deny that. Look at the other girls you've seen. Have any of them had more nor what ye have had? Ye won't go against me in this. I'm sure ye won't. Ye can't. Ye love me too much-surely ye do-don't ye?" His voice weakened. His eyes almost filled.

He paused and put a big, brown, horny hand on Aileen's arm. She had listened to his plea not unmoved-really more or less softened because of the hopelessness of it. She could not give up Cowperwood. Her father just did not understand. He did not know what love was. Unquestionably he had never loved as she had.

She stood quite silent while Butler appealed to her.

"I'd like to, father," she said at last and softly, tenderly. "Really I would. I do love you. Yes, I do. I want to please you; but I can't in this-I can't! I love Frank Cowperwood. You don't understand-really you don't!"

At the repetition of Cowperwood's name Butler's mouth hardened. He could see that she was infatuated-that his carefully calculated plea had failed. So he must think of some other way.

"Very well, then," he said at last and sadly, oh, so sadly, as Aileen turned away. "Have it yer own way, if ye will. Ye must go, though, willy-nilly. It can't be any other way. I wish to God it could."

Aileen went out, very solemn, and Butler went over to his desk and sat down. "Such a situation!" he said to himself. Such a complication!"

The situation which confronted Aileen was really a trying one. A girl of less innate courage and determination would have weakened and yielded. For in spite of her various social connections and acquaintances, the people to whom Aileen could run in an emergency of the present kind were not numerous. She could scarcely think of any one who would be likely to take her in for any lengthy period, without question. There were a number of young women of her own age, married and unmarried, who were very friendly to her, but there were few with whom she was really intimate. The only person who stood out in her mind, as having any real possibility of refuge for a period, was a certain Mary Calligan, better known as "Mamie" among her friends, who had attended school with Aileen in former years and was now a teacher in one of the local schools.

The Calligan family consisted of Mrs. Katharine Calligan, the mother, a dressmaker by profession and a widow-her husband, a house-mover by trade, having been killed by a falling wall some ten years before-and Mamie, her twenty-three-year-old daughter. They lived in a small two-story brick house in Cherry Street, near Fifteenth. Mrs. Calligan was not a very good dressmaker, not good enough, at least, for the Butler family to patronize in their present exalted state. Aileen went there occasionally for gingham house-dresses, underwear, pretty dressing-gowns, and alterations on some of her more important clothing which was made by a very superior modiste in Chestnut Street. She visited the house largely because she had gone to school with Mamie at St. Agatha's, when the outlook of the Calligan family was much more promising. Mamie was earning forty dollars a month as the teacher of a sixth-grade room in one of the nearby public schools, and Mrs. Calligan averaged on the whole about two dollars a day-sometimes not so much. The house they occupied was their own, free and clear, and the furniture which it contained suggested the size of their joint income, which was somewhere near eighty dollars a month.

Mamie Calligan was not good-looking, not nearly as good-looking as her mother had been before her. Mrs. Calligan was still plump, bright, and cheerful at fifty, with a fund of good humor. Mamie was somewhat duller mentally and emotionally. She was serious-minded made so, perhaps, as much by circumstances as by anything else, for she was not at all vivid, and had little sex magnetism. Yet she was kindly, honest, earnest, a good Catholic, and possessed of that strangely excessive ingrowing virtue which shuts so many people off from the world-a sense of duty. To Mamie Calligan duty (a routine conformity to such theories and precepts as she had heard and worked by since her childhood) was the all-important thing, her principal source of comfort and relief; her props in a queer and uncertain world being her duty to her Church; her duty to her school; her duty to her mother; her duty to her friends, etc. Her mother often wished for Mamie's sake that she was less dutiful and more charming physically, so that the men would like her.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
Viewed 135337 times


Page generation 0.002 seconds