The business of arranging Cowperwood’s sentence for Monday was soon disposed of through Shannon, who had no personal objection to any reasonable delay.
Steger next visited the county jail, close on to five o’clock, when it was already dark. Sheriff Jaspers came lolling out from his private library, where he had been engaged upon the work of cleaning his pipe.
“How are you, Mr. Steger?” he observed, smiling blandly. “How are you? Glad to see you. Won’t you sit down? I suppose you’re round here again on that Cowperwood matter. I just received word from the district attorney that he had lost his case.”
“That’s it, Sheriff,” replied Steger, ingratiatingly. “He asked me to step around and see what you wanted him to do in the matter. Judge Payderson has just fixed the sentence time for Monday morning at ten o’clock. I don’t suppose you’ll be much put out if he doesn’t show up here before Monday at eight o’clock, will you, or Sunday night, anyhow? He’s perfectly reliable, as you know.” Steger was sounding Jaspers out, politely trying to make the time of Cowperwood’s arrival a trivial matter in order to avoid paying the hundred dollars, if possible. But Jaspers was not to be so easily disposed of. His fat face lengthened considerably. How could Steger ask him such a favor and not even suggest the slightest form of remuneration?
“It’s ag’in’ the law, Mr. Steger, as you know,” he began, cautiously and complainingly. “I’d like to accommodate him, everything else being equal, but since that Albertson case three years ago we’ve had to run this office much more careful, and—”
“Oh, I know, Sheriff,” interrupted Steger, blandly, “but this isn’t an ordinary case in any way, as you can see for yourself. Mr. Cowperwood is a very important man, and he has a great many things to attend to. Now if it were only a mere matter of seventy-five or a hundred dollars to satisfy some court clerk with, or to pay a fine, it would be easy enough, but—” He paused and looked wisely away, and Mr. Jaspers’s face began to relax at once. The law against which it was ordinarily so hard to offend was not now so important. Steger saw that it was needless to introduce any additional arguments.
“It’s a very ticklish business, this, Mr. Steger,” put in the sheriff, yieldingly, and yet with a slight whimper in his voice. “If anything were to happen, it would cost me my place all right. I don’t like to do it under any circumstances, and I wouldn’t, only I happen to know both Mr. Cowperwood and Mr. Stener, and I like ‘em both. I don’ think they got their rights in this matter, either. I don’t mind making an exception in this case if Mr. Cowperwood don’t go about too publicly. I wouldn’t want any of the men in the district attorney’s office to know this. I don’t suppose he’ll mind if I keep a deputy somewhere near all the time for looks’ sake. I have to, you know, really, under the law. He won’t bother him any. Just keep on guard like.” Jaspers looked at Mr. Steger very flatly and wisely—almost placatingly under the circumstances—and Steger nodded.
“Quite right, Sheriff, quite right. You’re quite right,” and he drew out his purse while the sheriff led the way very cautiously back into his library.
“I’d like to show you the line of law-books I’m fixing up for myself in here, Mr. Steger,” he observed, genially, but meanwhile closing his fingers gently on the small roll of ten-dollar bills Steger was handing him. “We have occasional use for books of that kind here, as you see. I thought it a good sort of thing to have them around.” He waved one arm comprehensively at the line of State reports, revised statutes, prison regulations, etc., the while he put the money in his pocket and Steger pretended to look.
“A good idea, I think, Sheriff. Very good, indeed. So you think if Mr. Cowperwood gets around here very early Monday morning, say eight or eight-thirty, that it will be all right?”
“I think so,” replied the sheriff, curiously nervous, but agreeable, anxious to please. “I don’t think that anything will come up that will make me want him earlier. If it does I’ll let you know, and you can produce him. I don’t think so, though, Mr. Steger; I think everything will be all right.” They were once more in the main hall now. “Glad to have seen you again, Mr. Steger—very glad,” he added. “Call again some day.”
Waving the sheriff a pleasant farewell, he hurried on his way to Cowperwood’s house.
You would not have thought, seeing Cowperwood mount the front steps of his handsome residence in his neat gray suit and well-cut overcoat on his return from his office that evening, that he was thinking that this might be his last night here. His air and walk indicated no weakening of spirit. He entered the hall, where an early lamp was aglow, and encountered “Wash” Sims, an old negro factotum, who was just coming up from the basement, carrying a bucket of coal for one of the fireplaces.
“Mahty cold out, dis evenin’, Mistah Coppahwood,” said Wash, to whom anything less than sixty degrees was very cold. His one regret was that Philadelphia was not located in North Carolina, from whence he came.
“‘Tis sharp, Wash,” replied Cowperwood, absentmindedly. He was thinking for the moment of the house and how it had looked, as he came toward it west along Girard Avenue—what the neighbors were thinking of him, too, observing him from time to time out of their windows. It was clear and cold. The lamps in the reception-hall and sitting-room had been lit, for he had permitted no air of funereal gloom to settle down over this place since his troubles had begun. In the far west of the street a last tingling gleam of lavender and violet was showing over the cold white snow of the roadway. The house of gray-green stone, with its lighted windows, and cream-colored lace curtains, had looked especially attractive. He had thought for the moment of the pride he had taken in putting all this here, decorating and ornamenting it, and whether, ever, he could secure it for himself again. “Where is your mistress?” he added to Wash, when he bethought himself.
“In the sitting-room, Mr. Coppahwood, ah think.”
Cowperwood ascended the stairs, thinking curiously that Wash would soon be out of a job now, unless Mrs. Cowperwood, out of all the wreck of other things, chose to retain him, which was not likely. He entered the sitting-room, and there sat his wife by the oblong center-table, sewing a hook and eye on one of Lillian, second’s, petticoats. She looked up, at his step, with the peculiarly uncertain smile she used these days—indication of her pain, fear, suspicion—and inquired, “Well, what is new with you, Frank?” Her smile was something like a hat or belt or ornament which one puts on or off at will.
“Nothing in particular,” he replied, in his offhand way, “except that I understand I have lost that appeal of mine. Steger is coming here in a little while to let me know. I had a note from him, and I fancy it’s about that.”
He did not care to say squarely that he had lost. He knew that she was sufficiently distressed as it was, and he did not care to be too abrupt just now.
“You don’t say!” replied Lillian, with surprise and fright in her voice, and getting up.
She had been so used to a world where prisons were scarcely thought of, where things went on smoothly from day to day without any noticeable intrusion of such distressing things as courts, jails, and the like, that these last few months had driven her nearly mad. Cowperwood had so definitely insisted on her keeping in the background—he had told her so very little that she was all at sea anyhow in regard to the whole procedure. Nearly all that she had had in the way of intelligence had been from his father and mother and Anna, and from a close and almost secret scrutiny of the newspapers.
At the time he had gone to the county jail she did not even know anything about it until his father had come back from the court-room and the jail and had broken the news to her. It had been a terrific blow to her. Now to have this thing suddenly broken to her in this offhand way, even though she had been expecting and dreading it hourly, was too much.
She was still a decidedly charming-looking woman as she stood holding her daughter’s garment in her hand, even if she was forty years old to Cowperwood’s thirty-five. She was robed in one of the creations of their late prosperity, a cream-colored gown of rich silk, with dark brown trimmings—a fetching combination for her. Her eyes were a little hollow, and reddish about the rims, but otherwise she showed no sign of her keen mental distress. There was considerable evidence of the former tranquil sweetness that had so fascinated him ten years before.
“Isn’t that terrible?” she said, weakly, her hands trembling in a nervous way. “Isn’t it dreadful? Isn’t there anything more you can do, truly? You won’t really have to go to prison, will you?” He objected to her distress and her nervous fears. He preferred a stronger, more self-reliant type of woman, but still she was his wife, and in his day he had loved her much.
“It looks that way, Lillian,” he said, with the first note of real sympathy he had used in a long while, for he felt sorry for her now. At the same time he was afraid to go any further along that line, for fear it might give her a false sense as to his present attitude toward her which was one essentially of indifference. But she was not so dull but what she could see that the consideration in his voice had been brought about by his defeat, which meant hers also. She choked a little—and even so was touched. The bare suggestion of sympathy brought back the old days so definitely gone forever. If only they could be brought back!
“I don’t want you to feel distressed about me, though,” he went on, before she could say anything to him. “I’m not through with my fighting. I’ll get out of this. I have to go to prison, it seems, in order to get things straightened out properly. What I would like you to do is to keep up a cheerful appearance in front of the rest of the family—father and mother particularly. They need to be cheered up.” He thought once of taking her hand, then decided not. She noted mentally his hesitation, the great difference between his attitude now and that of ten or twelve years before. It did not hurt her now as much as she once would have thought. She looked at him, scarcely knowing what to say. There was really not so much to say.
“Will you have to go soon, if you do have to go?” she ventured, wearily.
“I can’t tell yet. Possibly to-night. Possibly Friday. Possibly not until Monday. I’m waiting to hear from Steger. I expect him here any minute.”
To prison! To prison! Her Frank Cowperwood, her husband—the substance of their home here—and all their soul destruction going to prison. And even now she scarcely grasped why! She stood there wondering what she could do.
“Is there anything I can get for you?” she asked, starting forward as if out of a dream. “Do you want me to do anything? Don’t you think perhaps you had better leave Philadelphia, Frank? You needn’t go to prison unless you want to.”
She was a little beside herself, for the first time in her life shocked out of a deadly calm.
He paused and looked at her for a moment in his direct, examining way, his hard commercial business judgment restored on the instant.
“That would be a confession of guilt, Lillian, and I’m not guilty,” he replied, almost coldly. “I haven’t done anything that warrants my running away or going to prison, either. I’m merely going there to save time at present. I can’t be litigating this thing forever. I’ll get out—be pardoned out or sued out in a reasonable length of time. Just now it’s better to go, I think. I wouldn’t think of running away from Philadelphia. Two of five judges found for me in the decision. That’s pretty fair evidence that the State has no case against me.”
His wife saw she had made a mistake. It clarified her judgment on the instant. “I didn’t mean in that way, Frank,” she replied, apologetically. “You know I didn’t. Of course I know you’re not guilty. Why should I think you were, of all people?”
She paused, expecting some retort, some further argument—a kind word maybe. A trace of the older, baffling love, but he had quietly turned to his desk and was thinking of other things.
At this point the anomaly of her own state came over her again. It was all so sad and so hopeless. And what was she to do in the future? And what was he likely to do? She paused half trembling and yet decided, because of her peculiarly nonresisting nature—why trespass on his time? Why bother? No good would really come of it. He really did not care for her any more—that was it. Nothing could make him, nothing could bring them together again, not even this tragedy. He was interested in another woman—Aileen—and so her foolish thoughts and explanations, her fear, sorrow, distress, were not important to him. He could take her agonized wish for his freedom as a comment on his probable guilt, a doubt of his innocence, a criticism of him! She turned away for a minute, and he started to leave the room.
“I’ll be back again in a few moments,” he volunteered. “Are the children here?”
“Yes, they’re up in the play-room,” she answered, sadly, utterly nonplussed and distraught.
“Oh, Frank!” she had it on her lips to cry, but before she could utter it he had bustled down the steps and was gone. She turned back to the table, her left hand to her mouth, her eyes in a queer, hazy, melancholy mist. Could it be, she thought, that life could really come to this—that love could so utterly, so thoroughly die? Ten years before—but, oh, why go back to that? Obviously it could, and thoughts concerning that would not help now. Twice now in her life her affairs had seemed to go to pieces—once when her first husband had died, and now when her second had failed her, had fallen in love with another and was going to be sent off to prison. What was it about her that caused such things? Was there anything wrong with her? What was she going to do? Where go? She had no idea, of course, for how long a term of years he would be sent away. It might be one year or it might be five years, as the papers had said. Good heavens! The children could almost come to forget him in five years. She put her other hand to her mouth, also, and then to her forehead, where there was a dull ache. She tried to think further than this, but somehow, just now, there was no further thought. Suddenly quite outside of her own volition, with no thought that she was going to do such a thing, her bosom began to heave, her throat contracted in four or five short, sharp, aching spasms, her eyes burned, and she shook in a vigorous, anguished, desperate, almost one might have said dry-eyed, cry, so hot and few were the tears. She could not stop for the moment, just stood there and shook, and then after a while a dull ache succeeded, and she was quite as she had been before.
“Why cry?” she suddenly asked herself, fiercely—for her. “Why break down in this stormy, useless way? Would it help?”
But, in spite of her speculative, philosophic observations to herself, she still felt the echo, the distant rumble, as it were, of the storm in her own soul. “Why cry? Why not cry?” She might have said—but wouldn’t, and in spite of herself and all her logic, she knew that this tempest which had so recently raged over her was now merely circling around her soul’s horizon and would return to break again.