The Financier

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter LI

Monday came and with it his final departure. All that could be done had been done. Cowperwood said his farewells to his mother and father, his brothers and sister. He had a rather distant but sensible and matter-of-fact talk with his wife. He made no special point of saying good-by to his son or his daughter; when he came in on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, after he had learned that he was to depart Monday, it was with the thought of talking to them a little in an especially affectionate way. He realized that his general moral or unmoral attitude was perhaps working them a temporary injustice. Still he was not sure. Most people did fairly well with their lives, whether coddled or deprived of opportunity. These children would probably do as well as most children, whatever happened—and then, anyhow, he had no intention of forsaking them financially, if he could help it. He did not want to separate his wife from her children, nor them from her. She should keep them. He wanted them to be comfortable with her. He would like to see them, wherever they were with her, occasionally. Only he wanted his own personal freedom, in so far as she and they were concerned, to go off and set up a new world and a new home with Aileen. So now on these last days, and particularly this last Sunday night, he was rather noticeably considerate of his boy and girl, without being too openly indicative of his approaching separation from them.

“Frank,” he said to his notably lackadaisical son on this occasion, “aren’t you going to straighten up and be a big, strong, healthy fellow? You don’t play enough. You ought to get in with a gang of boys and be a leader. Why don’t you fit yourself up a gymnasium somewhere and see how strong you can get?”

They were in the senior Cowperwood’s sitting-room, where they had all rather consciously gathered on this occasion.

Lillian, second, who was on the other side of the big library table from her father, paused to survey him and her brother with interest. Both had been carefully guarded against any real knowledge of their father’s affairs or his present predicament. He was going away on a journey for about a month or so they understood. Lillian was reading in a Chatterbox book which had been given her the previous Christmas.

“He won’t do anything,” she volunteered, looking up from her reading in a peculiarly critical way for her. “Why, he won’t ever run races with me when I want him to.”

“Aw, who wants to run races with you, anyhow?” returned Frank, junior, sourly. “You couldn’t run if I did want to run with you.”

“Couldn’t I?” she replied. “I could beat you, all right.”

“Lillian!” pleaded her mother, with a warning sound in her voice.

Cowperwood smiled, and laid his hand affectionately on his son’s head. “You’ll be all right, Frank,” he volunteered, pinching his ear lightly. “Don’t worry—just make an effort.”

The boy did not respond as warmly as he hoped. Later in the evening Mrs. Cowperwood noticed that her husband squeezed his daughter’s slim little waist and pulled her curly hair gently. For the moment she was jealous of her daughter.

“Going to be the best kind of a girl while I’m away?” he said to her, privately.

“Yes, papa,” she replied, brightly.

“That’s right,” he returned, and leaned over and kissed her mouth tenderly. “Button Eyes,” he said.

Mrs. Cowperwood sighed after he had gone. “Everything for the children, nothing for me,” she thought, though the children had not got so vastly much either in the past.

Cowperwood’s attitude toward his mother in this final hour was about as tender and sympathetic as any he could maintain in this world. He understood quite clearly the ramifications of her interests, and how she was suffering for him and all the others concerned. He had not forgotten her sympathetic care of him in his youth; and if he could have done anything to have spared her this unhappy breakdown of her fortunes in her old age, he would have done so. There was no use crying over spilled milk. It was impossible at times for him not to feel intensely in moments of success or failure; but the proper thing to do was to bear up, not to show it, to talk little and go your way with an air not so much of resignation as of self-sufficiency, to whatever was awaiting you. That was his attitude on this morning, and that was what he expected from those around him—almost compelled, in fact, by his own attitude.

“Well, mother,” he said, genially, at the last moment—he would not let her nor his wife nor his sister come to court, maintaining that it would make not the least difference to him and would only harrow their own feelings uselessly—“I’m going now. Don’t worry. Keep up your spirits.”

He slipped his arm around his mother’s waist, and she gave him a long, unrestrained, despairing embrace and kiss.

“Go on, Frank,” she said, choking, when she let him go. “God bless you. I’ll pray for you.” He paid no further attention to her. He didn’t dare.

“Good-by, Lillian,” he said to his wife, pleasantly, kindly. “I’ll be back in a few days, I think. I’ll be coming out to attend some of these court proceedings.”

To his sister he said: “Good-by, Anna. Don’t let the others get too down-hearted.”

“I’ll see you three afterward,” he said to his father and brothers; and so, dressed in the very best fashion of the time, he hurried down into the reception-hall, where Steger was waiting, and was off. His family, hearing the door close on him, suffered a poignant sense of desolation. They stood there for a moment, his mother crying, his father looking as though he had lost his last friend but making a great effort to seem self-contained and equal to his troubles, Anna telling Lillian not to mind, and the latter staring dumbly into the future, not knowing what to think. Surely a brilliant sun had set on their local scene, and in a very pathetic way.


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