Theodore Dreiser >> The Financier (page 54)

He paused and looked calmly at the old contractor, who eyed him grimly in return.

"What proposition are ye talkin' about?" asked Butler, interested by the peculiar developments of this argument. In spite of himself he was getting a slightly different angle on the whole situation. The scene was shifting to a certain extent. Cowperwood appeared to be reasonably sincere in the matter. His promises might all be wrong, but perhaps he did love Aileen; and it was possible that he did intend to get a divorce from his wife some time and marry her. Divorce, as Butler knew, was against the rules of the Catholic Church, which he so much revered. The laws of God and any sense of decency commanded that Cowperwood should not desert his wife and children and take up with another woman-not even Aileen, in order to save her. It was a criminal thing to plan, sociologically speaking, and showed what a villain Cowperwood inherently was; but, nevertheless, Cowperwood was not a Catholic, his views of life were not the same as his own, Butler's, and besides and worst of all (no doubt due in part to Aileen's own temperament), he had compromised her situation very materially. She might not easily be restored to a sense of of the normal and decent, and so the matter was worth taking into thought. Butler knew that ultimately he could not countenance any such thing-certainly not, and keep his faith with the Church-but he was human enough none the less to consider it. Besides, he wanted Aileen to come back; and Aileen from now on, he knew, would have some say as to what her future should be.

"Well, it's simple enough," replied Cowperwood. "I should like to have you withdraw your opposition to Aileen's remaining in Philadelphia, for one thing; and for another, I should like you to stop your attacks on me." Cowperwood smiled in an ingratiating way. He hoped really to placate Butler in part by his generous attitude throughout this procedure. "I can't make you do that, of course, unless you want to. I merely bring it up, Mr. Butler, because I am sure that if it hadn't been for Aileen you would not have taken the course you have taken toward me. I understood you received an anonymous letter, and that afternoon you called your loan with me. Since then I have heard from one source and another that you were strongly against me, and I merely wish to say that I wish you wouldn't be. I am not guilty of embezzling any sixty thousand dollars, and you know it. My intentions were of the best. I did not think I was going to fail at the time I used those certificates, and if it hadn't been for several other loans that were called I would have gone on to the end of the month and put them back in time, as I always had. I have always valued your friendship very highly, and I am very sorry to lose it. Now I have said all I am going to say."

Butler looked at Cowperwood with shrewd, calculating eyes. The man had some merit, but much unconscionable evil in him. Butler knew very well how he had taken the check, and a good many other things in connection with it. The manner in which he had played his cards to-night was on a par with the way he had run to him on the night of the fire. He was just shrewd and calculating and heartless.

"I'll make ye no promise," he said. "Tell me where my daughter is, and I'll think the matter over. Ye have no claim on me now, and I owe ye no good turn. But I'll think it over, anyhow."

"That's quite all right," replied Cowperwood. "That's all I can expect. But what about Aileen? Do you expect her to leave Philadelphia?"

"Not if she settles down and behaves herself: but there must be an end of this between you and her. She's disgracin' her family and ruinin' her soul in the bargain. And that's what you are doin' with yours. It'll be time enough to talk about anything else when you're a free man. More than that I'll not promise."

Cowperwood, satisfied that this move on Aileen's part had done her a real service if it had not aided him especially, was convinced that it would be a good move for her to return to her home at once. He could not tell how his appeal to the State Supreme Court would eventuate. His motion for a new trial which was now to be made under the privilege of the certificate of reasonable doubt might not be granted, in which case he would have to serve a term in the penitentiary. If he were compelled to go to the penitentiary she would be safer-better off in the bosom of her family. His own hands were going to be exceedingly full for the next two months until he knew how his appeal was coming out. And after that-well, after that he would fight on, whatever happened.

During all the time that Cowperwood had been arguing his case in this fashion he had been thinking how he could adjust this compromise so as to retain the affection of Aileen and not offend her sensibilities by urging her to return. He knew that she would not agree to give up seeing him, and he was not willing that she should. Unless he had a good and sufficient reason, he would be playing a wretched part by telling Butler where she was. He did not intend to do so until he saw exactly how to do it-the way that would make it most acceptable to Aileen. He knew that she would not long be happy where she was. Her flight was due in part to Butler's intense opposition to himself and in part to his determination to make her leave Philadelphia and behave; but this last was now in part obviated. Butler, in spite of his words, was no longer a stern Nemesis. He was a melting man-very anxious to find his daughter, very willing to forgive her. He was whipped, literally beaten, at his own game, and Cowperwood could see it in the old man's eyes. If he himself could talk to Aileen personally and explain just how things were, he felt sure he could make her see that it would be to their mutual advantage, for the present at least, to have the matter amicably settled. The thing to do was to make Butler wait somewhere-here, possibly-while he went and talked to her. When she learned how things were she would probably acquiesce.

"The best thing that I can do under the circumstances," he said, after a time, "would be to see Aileen in two or three days, and ask her what she wishes to do. I can explain the matter to her, and if she wants to go back, she can. I will promise to tell her anything that you say."

"Two or three days!" exclaimed Butler, irritably. "Two or three fiddlesticks! She must come home to-night. Her mother doesn't know she's left the place yet. To-night is the time! I'll go and fetch her meself to-night."

"No, that won't do," said Cowperwood. "I shall have to go myself. If you wish to wait here I will see what can be done, and let you know."

"Very well," grunted Butler, who was now walking up and down with his hands behind his back. "But for Heaven's sake be quick about it. There's no time to lose." He was thinking of Mrs. Butler. Cowperwood called the servant, ordered his runabout, and told George to see that his private office was not disturbed. Then, as Butler strolled to and fro in this, to him, objectionable room, Cowperwood drove rapidly away.

Chapter XLVII
Although it was nearly eleven o'clock when he arrived at the Calligans', Aileen was not yet in bed. In her bedroom upstairs she was confiding to Mamie and Mrs. Calligan some of her social experiences when the bell rang, and Mrs. Calligan went down and opened the door to Cowperwood.

"Miss Butler is here, I believe," he said. "Will you tell her that there is some one here from her father?" Although Aileen had instructed that her presence here was not to be divulged even to the members of her family the force of Cowperwood's presence and the mention of Butler's name cost Mrs. Calligan her presence of mind. "Wait a moment," she said; "I'll see."

She stepped back, and Cowperwood promptly stepped in, taking off his hat with the air of one who was satisfied that Aileen was there. "Say to her that I only want to speak to her for a few moments," he called, as Mrs. Calligan went up-stairs, raising his voice in the hope that Aileen might hear. She did, and came down promptly. She was very much astonished to think that he should come so soon, and fancied, in her vanity, that there must be great excitement in her home. She would have greatly grieved if there had not been.

The Calligans would have been pleased to hear, but Cowperwood was cautious. As she came down the stairs he put his finger to his lips in sign for silence, and said, "This is Miss Butler, I believe."

"Yes," replied Aileen, with a secret smile. Her one desire was to kiss him. "What's the trouble darling?" she asked, softly.

"You'll have to go back, dear, I'm afraid," whispered Cowperwood. "You'll have everything in a turmoil if you don't. Your mother doesn't know yet, it seems, and your father is over at my place now, waiting for you. It may be a good deal of help to me if you do. Let me tell you-" He went off into a complete description of his conversation with Butler and his own views in the matter. Aileen's expression changed from time to time as the various phases of the matter were put before her; but, persuaded by the clearness with which he put the matter, and by his assurance that they could continue their relations as before uninterrupted, once this was settled, she decided to return. In a way, her father's surrender was a great triumph. She made her farewells to the Calligans, saying, with a smile, that they could not do without her at home, and that she would send for her belongings later, and returned with Cowperwood to his own door. There he asked her to wait in the runabout while he sent her father down.

"Well?" said Butler, turning on him when he opened the door, and not seeing Aileen.

"You'll find her outside in my runabout," observed Cowperwood. "You may use that if you choose. I will send my man for it."

"No, thank you; we'll walk," said Butler.

Cowperwood called his servant to take charge of the vehicle, and Butler stalked solemnly out.

He had to admit to himself that the influence of Cowperwood over his daughter was deadly, and probably permanent. The best he could do would be to keep her within the precincts of the home, where she might still, possibly, be brought to her senses. He held a very guarded conversation with her on his way home, for fear that she would take additional offense. Argument was out of the question.

"Ye might have talked with me once more, Aileen," he said, "before ye left. Yer mother would be in a terrible state if she knew ye were gone. She doesn't know yet. Ye'll have to say ye stayed somewhere to dinner."

"I was at the Calligans," replied Aileen. "That's easy enough. Mama won't think anything about it."

"It's a sore heart I have, Aileen. I hope ye'll think over your ways and do better. I'll not say anythin' more now."

Aileen returned to her room, decidedly triumphant in her mood for the moment, and things went on apparently in the Butler household as before. But those who imagine that this defeat permanently altered the attitude of Butler toward Cowperwood are mistaken.

In the meanwhile between the day of his temporary release and the hearing of his appeal which was two months off, Cowperwood was going on doing his best to repair his shattered forces. He took up his work where he left off; but the possibility of reorganizing his business was distinctly modified since his conviction. Because of his action in trying to protect his largest creditors at the time of his failure, he fancied that once he was free again, if ever he got free, his credit, other things being equal, would be good with those who could help him most-say, Cooke & Co., Clark & Co., Drexel & Co., and the Girard National Bank-providing his personal reputation had not been too badly injured by his sentence. Fortunately for his own hopefulness of mind, he failed fully to realize what a depressing effect a legal decision of this character, sound or otherwise, had on the minds of even his most enthusiastic supporters.

His best friends in the financial world were by now convinced that his was a sinking ship. A student of finance once observed that nothing is so sensitive as money, and the financial mind partakes largely of the quality of the thing in which it deals. There was no use trying to do much for a man who might be going to prison for a term of years. Something might be done for him possibly in connection with the governor, providing he lost his case before the Supreme Court and was actually sentenced to prison; but that was two months off, or more, and they could not tell what the outcome of that would be. So Cowperwood's repeated appeals for assistance, extension of credit, or the acceptance of some plan he had for his general rehabilitation, were met with the kindly evasions of those who were doubtful. They would think it over. They would see about it. Certain things were standing in the way. And so on, and so forth, through all the endless excuses of those who do not care to act. In these days he went about the money world in his customary jaunty way, greeting all those whom he had known there many years and pretending, when asked, to be very hopeful, to be doing very well; but they did not believe him, and he really did not care whether they did or not. His business was to persuade or over-persuade any one who could really be of assistance to him, and at this task he worked untiringly, ignoring all others.

"Why, hello, Frank," his friends would call, on seeing him. "How are you getting on?"

"Fine! Fine!" he would reply, cheerfully. "Never better," and he would explain in a general way how his affairs were being handled. He conveyed much of his own optimism to all those who knew him and were interested in his welfare, but of course there were many who were not.

In these days also, he and Steger were constantly to be met with in courts of law, for he was constantly being reexamined in some petition in bankruptcy. They were heartbreaking days, but he did not flinch. He wanted to stay in Philadelphia and fight the thing to a finish-putting himself where he had been before the fire; rehabilitating himself in the eyes of the public. He felt that he could do it, too, if he were not actually sent to prison for a long term; and even then, so naturally optimistic was his mood, when he got out again. But, in so far as Philadelphia was concerned, distinctly he was dreaming vain dreams.

One of the things militating against him was the continued opposition of Butler and the politicians. Somehow-no one could have said exactly why-the general political feeling was that the financier and the former city treasurer would lose their appeals and eventually be sentenced together. Stener, in spite of his original intention to plead guilty and take his punishment without comment, had been persuaded by some of his political friends that it would be better for his future's sake to plead not guilty and claim that his offense had been due to custom, rather than to admit his guilt outright and so seem not to have had any justification whatsoever. This he did, but he was convicted nevertheless. For the sake of appearances, a trumped-up appeal was made which was now before the State Supreme Court.

Title: The Financier
Author: Theodore Dreiser
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