The arrival of Steger with the information that no move of any kind would be made by the sheriff until Monday morning, when Cowperwood could present himself, eased matters. This gave him time to think—to adjust home details at his leisure. He broke the news to his father and mother in a consoling way and talked with his brothers and father about getting matters immediately adjusted in connection with the smaller houses to which they were now shortly to be compelled to move. There was much conferring among the different members of this collapsing organization in regard to the minor details; and what with his conferences with Steger, his seeing personally Davison, Leigh, Avery Stone, of Jay Cooke & Co., George Waterman (his old-time employer Henry was dead), ex-State Treasurer Van Nostrand, who had gone out with the last State administration, and others, he was very busy. Now that he was really going into prison, he wanted his financial friends to get together and see if they could get him out by appealing to the Governor. The division of opinion among the judges of the State Supreme Court was his excuse and strong point. He wanted Steger to follow this up, and he spared no pains in trying to see all and sundry who might be of use to him—Edward Tighe, of Tighe & Co., who was still in business in Third Street; Newton Targool; Arthur Rivers; Joseph Zimmerman, the dry-goods prince, now a millionaire; Judge Kitchen; Terrence Relihan, the former representative of the money element at Harrisburg; and many others.
Cowperwood wanted Relihan to approach the newspapers and see if he could not readjust their attitude so as to work to get him out, and he wanted Walter Leigh to head the movement of getting up a signed petition which should contain all the important names of moneyed people and others, asking the Governor to release him. Leigh agreed to this heartily, as did Relihan, and many others.
And, afterwards there was really nothing else to do, unless it was to see Aileen once more, and this, in the midst of his other complications and obligations, seemed all but impossible at times—and yet he did achieve that, too—so eager was he to be soothed and comforted by the ignorant and yet all embracing volume of her love. Her eyes these days! The eager, burning quest of him and his happiness that blazed in them. To think that he should be tortured so—her Frank! Oh, she knew—whatever he said, and however bravely and jauntily he talked. To think that her love for him should have been the principal cause of his being sent to jail, as she now believed. And the cruelty of her father! And the smallness of his enemies—that fool Stener, for instance, whose pictures she had seen in the papers. Actually, whenever in the presence of her Frank, she fairly seethed in a chemic agony for him—her strong, handsome lover—the strongest, bravest, wisest, kindest, handsomest man in the world. Oh, didn’t she know! And Cowperwood, looking in her eyes and realizing this reasonless, if so comforting fever for him, smiled and was touched. Such love! That of a dog for a master; that of a mother for a child. And how had he come to evoke it? He could not say, but it was beautiful.
And so, now, in these last trying hours, he wished to see her much—and did—meeting her at least four times in the month in which he had been free, between his conviction and the final dismissal of his appeal. He had one last opportunity of seeing her—and she him—just before his entrance into prison this last time—on the Saturday before the Monday of his sentence. He had not come in contact with her since the decision of the Supreme Court had been rendered, but he had had a letter from her sent to a private mail-box, and had made an appointment for Saturday at a small hotel in Camden, which, being across the river, was safer, in his judgment, than anything in Philadelphia. He was a little uncertain as to how she would take the possibility of not seeing him soon again after Monday, and how she would act generally once he was where she could not confer with him as often as she chose. And in consequence, he was anxious to talk to her. But on this occasion, as he anticipated, and even feared, so sorry for her was he, she was not less emphatic in her protestations than she had ever been; in fact, much more so. When she saw him approaching in the distance, she went forward to meet him in that direct, forceful way which only she could attempt with him, a sort of mannish impetuosity which he both enjoyed and admired, and slipping her arms around his neck, said: “Honey, you needn’t tell me. I saw it in the papers the other morning. Don’t you mind, honey. I love you. I’ll wait for you. I’ll be with you yet, if it takes a dozen years of waiting. It doesn’t make any difference to me if it takes a hundred, only I’m so sorry for you, sweetheart. I’ll be with you every day through this, darling, loving you with all my might.”
She caressed him while he looked at her in that quiet way which betokened at once his self-poise and yet his interest and satisfaction in her. He couldn’t help loving Aileen, he thought who could? She was so passionate, vibrant, desireful. He couldn’t help admiring her tremendously, now more than ever, because literally, in spite of all his intellectual strength, he really could not rule her. She went at him, even when he stood off in a calm, critical way, as if he were her special property, her toy. She would talk to him always, and particularly when she was excited, as if he were just a baby, her pet; and sometimes he felt as though she would really overcome him mentally, make him subservient to her, she was so individual, so sure of her importance as a woman.
Now on this occasion she went babbling on as if he were broken-hearted, in need of her greatest care and tenderness, although he really wasn’t at all; and for the moment she actually made him feel as though he was.
“It isn’t as bad as that, Aileen,” he ventured to say, eventually; and with a softness and tenderness almost unusual for him, even where she was concerned, but she went on forcefully, paying no heed to him.
“Oh, yes, it is, too, honey. I know. Oh, my poor Frank! But I’ll see you. I know how to manage, whatever happens. How often do they let visitors come out to see the prisoners there?”
“Only once in three months, pet, so they say, but I think we can fix that after I get there; only do you think you had better try to come right away, Aileen? You know what the feeling now is. Hadn’t you better wait a while? Aren’t you in danger of stirring up your father? He might cause a lot of trouble out there if he were so minded.”
“Only once in three months!” she exclaimed, with rising emphasis, as he began this explanation. “Oh, Frank, no! Surely not! Once in three months! Oh, I can’t stand that! I won’t! I’ll go and see the warden myself. He’ll let me see you. I’m sure he will, if I talk to him.”
She fairly gasped in her excitement, not willing to pause in her tirade, but Cowperwood interposed with her, “You’re not thinking what you’re saying, Aileen. You’re not thinking. Remember your father! Remember your family! Your father may know the warden out there. You don’t want it to get all over town that you’re running out there to see me, do you? Your father might cause you trouble. Besides you don’t know the small party politicians as I do. They gossip like a lot of old women. You’ll have to be very careful what you do and how you do it. I don’t want to lose you. I want to see you. But you’ll have to mind what you’re doing. Don’t try to see me at once. I want you to, but I want to find out how the land lies, and I want you to find out too. You won’t lose me. I’ll be there, well enough.”
He paused as he thought of the long tier of iron cells which must be there, one of which would be his—for how long?—and of Aileen seeing him through the door of it or in it. At the same time he was thinking, in spite of all his other calculations, how charming she was looking to-day. How young she kept, and how forceful! While he was nearing his full maturity she was a comparatively young girl, and as beautiful as ever. She was wearing a black-and-white-striped silk in the curious bustle style of the times, and a set of sealskin furs, including a little sealskin cap set jauntily on top her red-gold hair.
“I know, I know,” replied Aileen, firmly. “But think of three months! Honey, I can’t! I won’t! It’s nonsense. Three months! I know that my father wouldn’t have to wait any three months if he wanted to see anybody out there, nor anybody else that he wanted to ask favors for. And I won’t, either. I’ll find some way.”
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.