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.
Then, too, due to one whisper and another, and these originating with the girl who had written Butler and Cowperwood’s wife, there was at this time a growing volume of gossip relating to the alleged relations of Cowperwood with Butler’s daughter, Aileen. There had been a house in Tenth Street. It had been maintained by Cowperwood for her. No wonder Butler was so vindictive. This, indeed, explained much. And even in the practical, financial world, criticism was now rather against Cowperwood than his enemies. For, was it not a fact, that at the inception of his career, he had been befriended by Butler? And what a way to reward that friendship! His oldest and firmest admirers wagged their heads. For they sensed clearly that this was another illustration of that innate “I satisfy myself” attitude which so regulated Cowperwood’s conduct. He was a strong man, surely—and a brilliant one. Never had Third Street seen a more pyrotechnic, and yet fascinating and financially aggressive, and at the same time, conservative person. Yet might one not fairly tempt Nemesis by a too great daring and egotism? Like Death, it loves a shining mark. He should not, perhaps, have seduced Butler’s daughter; unquestionably he should not have so boldly taken that check, especially after his quarrel and break with Stener. He was a little too aggressive. Was it not questionable whether—with such a record—he could be restored to his former place here? The bankers and business men who were closest to him were decidedly dubious.
But in so far as Cowperwood and his own attitude toward life was concerned, at this time—the feeling he had—“to satisfy myself”—when combined with his love of beauty and love and women, still made him ruthless and thoughtless. Even now, the beauty and delight of a girl like Aileen Butler were far more important to him than the good-will of fifty million people, if he could evade the necessity of having their good-will. Previous to the Chicago fire and the panic, his star had been so rapidly ascending that in the helter-skelter of great and favorable events he had scarcely taken thought of the social significance of the thing he was doing. Youth and the joy of life were in his blood. He felt so young, so vigorous, so like new grass looks and feels. The freshness of spring evenings was in him, and he did not care. After the crash, when one might have imagined he would have seen the wisdom of relinquishing Aileen for the time being, anyhow, he did not care to. She represented the best of the wonderful days that had gone before. She was a link between him and the past and a still-to-be triumphant future.
His worst anxiety was that if he were sent to the penitentiary, or adjudged a bankrupt, or both, he would probably lose the privilege of a seat on ‘change, and that would close to him the most distinguished avenue of his prosperity here in Philadelphia for some time, if not forever. At present, because of his complications, his seat had been attached as an asset, and he could not act. Edward and Joseph, almost the only employees he could afford, were still acting for him in a small way; but the other members on ‘change naturally suspected his brothers as his agents, and any talk that they might raise of going into business for themselves merely indicated to other brokers and bankers that Cowperwood was contemplating some concealed move which would not necessarily be advantageous to his creditors, and against the law anyhow. Yet he must remain on ‘change, whatever happened, potentially if not actively; and so in his quick mental searchings he hit upon the idea that in order to forfend against the event of his being put into prison or thrown into bankruptcy, or both, he ought to form a subsidiary silent partnership with some man who was or would be well liked on ‘change, and whom he could use as a cat’s-paw and a dummy.
Finally he hit upon a man who he thought would do. He did not amount to much—had a small business; but he was honest, and he liked Cowperwood. His name was Wingate—Stephen Wingate—and he was eking out a not too robust existence in South Third Street as a broker. He was forty-five years of age, of medium height, fairly thick-set, not at all unprepossessing, and rather intelligent and active, but not too forceful and pushing in spirit. He really needed a man like Cowperwood to make him into something, if ever he was to be made. He had a seat on ‘change, and was well thought of; respected, but not so very prosperous. In times past he had asked small favors of Cowperwood—the use of small loans at a moderate rate of interest, tips, and so forth; and Cowperwood, because he liked him and felt a little sorry for him, had granted them. Now Wingate was slowly drifting down toward a none too successful old age, and was as tractable as such a man would naturally be. No one for the time being would suspect him of being a hireling of Cowperwood’s, and the latter could depend on him to execute his orders to the letter. He sent for him and had a long conversation with him. He told him just what the situation was, what he thought he could do for him as a partner, how much of his business he would want for himself, and so on, and found him agreeable.
“I’ll be glad to do anything you say, Mr. Cowperwood,” he assured the latter. “I know whatever happens that you’ll protect me, and there’s nobody in the world I would rather work with or have greater respect for. This storm will all blow over, and you’ll be all right. We can try it, anyhow. If it don’t work out you can see what you want to do about it later.”
And so this relationship was tentatively entered into and Cowperwood began to act in a small way through Wingate.