Say what one will about prison life in general, modify it ever so much by special chambers, obsequious turnkeys, a general tendency to make one as comfortable as possible, a jail is a jail, and there is no getting away from that. Cowperwood, in a room which was not in any way inferior to that of the ordinary boarding-house, was nevertheless conscious of the character of that section of this real prison which was not yet his portion. He knew that there were cells there, probably greasy and smelly and vermin-infested, and that they were enclosed by heavy iron bars, which would have as readily clanked on him as on those who were now therein incarcerated if he had not had the price to pay for something better. So much for the alleged equality of man, he thought, which gave to one man, even within the grim confines of the machinery of justice, such personal liberty as he himself was now enjoying, and to another, because he chanced to lack wit or presence or friends or wealth, denied the more comfortable things which money would buy.
The morning after the trial, on waking, he stirred curiously, and then it suddenly came to him that he was no longer in the free and comfortable atmosphere of his own bedroom, but in a jail-cell, or rather its very comfortable substitute, a sheriff’s rented bedroom. He got up and looked out the window. The ground outside and Passayunk Avenue were white with snow. Some wagons were silently lumbering by. A few Philadelphians were visible here and there, going to and fro on morning errands. He began to think at once what he must do, how he must act to carry on his business, to rehabilitate himself; and as he did so he dressed and pulled the bell-cord, which had been indicated to him, and which would bring him an attendant who would build him a fire and later bring him something to eat. A shabby prison attendant in a blue uniform, conscious of Cowperwood’s superiority because of the room he occupied, laid wood and coal in the grate and started a fire, and later brought him his breakfast, which was anything but prison fare, though poor enough at that.
After that he was compelled to wait in patience several hours, in spite of the sheriff’s assumption of solicitous interest, before his brother Edward was admitted with his clothes. An attendant, for a consideration, brought him the morning papers, and these, except for the financial news, he read indifferently. Late in the afternoon Steger arrived, saying he had been busy having certain proceedings postponed, but that he had arranged with the sheriff for Cowperwood to be permitted to see such of those as had important business with him.
By this time, Cowperwood had written Aileen under no circumstances to try to see him, as he would be out by the tenth, and that either that day, or shortly after, they would meet. As he knew, she wanted greatly to see him, but he had reason to believe she was under surveillance by detectives employed by her father. This was not true, but it was preying on her fancy, and combined with some derogatory remarks dropped by Owen and Callum at the dinner table recently, had proved almost too much for her fiery disposition. But, because of Cowperwood’s letter reaching her at the Calligans’, she made no move until she read on the morning of the tenth that Cowperwood’s plea for a certificate of reasonable doubt had been granted, and that he would once more, for the time being at least, be a free man. This gave her courage to do what she had long wanted to do, and that was to teach her father that she could get along without him and that he could not make her do anything she did not want to do. She still had the two hundred dollars Cowperwood had given her and some additional cash of her own—perhaps three hundred and fifty dollars in all. This she thought would be sufficient to see her to the end of her adventure, or at least until she could make some other arrangement for her personal well-being. From what she knew of the feeling of her family for her, she felt that the agony would all be on their side, not hers. Perhaps when her father saw how determined she was he would decide to let her alone and make peace with her. She was determined to try it, anyhow, and immediately sent word to Cowperwood that she was going to the Calligans and would welcome him to freedom.
In a way, Cowperwood was rather gratified by Aileen’s message, for he felt that his present plight, bitter as it was, was largely due to Butler’s opposition and he felt no compunction in striking him through his daughter. His former feeling as to the wisdom of not enraging Butler had proved rather futile, he thought, and since the old man could not be placated it might be just as well to have Aileen demonstrate to him that she was not without resources of her own and could live without him. She might force him to change his attitude toward her and possibly even to modify some of his political machinations against him, Cowperwood. Any port in a storm—and besides, he had now really nothing to lose, and instinct told him that her move was likely to prove more favorable than otherwise—so he did nothing to prevent it.
She took her jewels, some underwear, a couple of dresses which she thought would be serviceable, and a few other things, and packed them in the most capacious portmanteau she had. Shoes and stockings came into consideration, and, despite her efforts, she found that she could not get in all that she wished. Her nicest hat, which she was determined to take, had to be carried outside. She made a separate bundle of it, which was not pleasant to contemplate. Still she decided to take it. She rummaged in a little drawer where she kept her money and jewels, and found the three hundred and fifty dollars and put it in her purse. It wasn’t much, as Aileen could herself see, but Cowperwood would help her. If he did not arrange to take care of her, and her father would not relent, she would have to get something to do. Little she knew of the steely face the world presents to those who have not been practically trained and are not economically efficient. She did not understand the bitter reaches of life at all. She waited, humming for effect, until she heard her father go downstairs to dinner on this tenth day of December, then leaned over the upper balustrade to make sure that Owen, Callum, Norah, and her mother were at the table, and that Katy, the housemaid, was not anywhere in sight. Then she slipped into her father’s den, and, taking a note from inside her dress, laid it on his desk, and went out. It was addressed to “Father,” and read:
Dear Father,—I just cannot do what you want me to. I have made up my mind that I love Mr. Cowperwood too much, so I am going away. Don’t look for me with him. You won’t find me where you think. I am not going to him; I will not be there. I am going to try to get along by myself for a while, until he wants me and can marry me. I’m terribly sorry; but I just can’t do what you want. I can’t ever forgive you for the way you acted to me. Tell mama and Norah and the boys good-by for me. Aileen
To insure its discovery, she picked up Butler’s heavy-rimmed spectacles which he employed always when reading, and laid them on it. For a moment she felt very strange, somewhat like a thief—a new sensation for her. She even felt a momentary sense of ingratitude coupled with pain. Perhaps she was doing wrong. Her father had been very good to her. Her mother would feel so very bad. Norah would be sorry, and Callum and Owen. Still, they did not understand her any more. She was resentful of her father’s attitude. He might have seen what the point was; but no, he was too old, too hidebound in religion and conventional ideas—he never would. He might never let her come back. Very well, she would get along somehow. She would show him. She might get a place as a school-teacher, and live with the Calligans a long while, if necessary, or teach music.
She stole downstairs and out into the vestibule, opening the outer door and looking out into the street. The lamps were already flaring in the dark, and a cool wind was blowing. Her portmanteau was heavy, but she was quite strong. She walked briskly to the corner, which was some fifty feet away, and turned south, walking rather nervously and irritably, for this was a new experience for her, and it all seemed so undignified, so unlike anything she was accustomed to doing. She put her bag down on a street corner, finally, to rest. A boy whistling in the distance attracted her attention, and as he drew near she called to him: “Boy! Oh, boy!”
He came over, looking at her curiously.
“Do you want to earn some money?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied politely, adjusting a frowsy cap over one ear.
“Carry this bag for me,” said Aileen, and he picked it up and marched off.
In due time she arrived at the Calligans’, and amid much excitement was installed in the bosom of her new home. She took her situation with much nonchalance, once she was properly placed, distributing her toilet articles and those of personal wear with quiet care. The fact that she was no longer to have the services of Kathleen, the maid who had served her and her mother and Norah jointly, was odd, though not trying. She scarcely felt that she had parted from these luxuries permanently, and so made herself comfortable.
Mamie Calligan and her mother were adoring slaveys, so she was not entirely out of the atmosphere which she craved and to which she was accustomed.