The Financier

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter XXXVI

The very next day there called at Butler’s office a long, preternaturally solemn man of noticeable height and angularity, dark-haired, dark-eyed, sallow, with a face that was long and leathery, and particularly hawk-like, who talked with Butler for over an hour and then departed. That evening he came to the Butler house around dinner-time, and, being shown into Butler’s room, was given a look at Aileen by a ruse. Butler sent for her, standing in the doorway just far enough to one side to yield a good view of her. The detective stood behind one of the heavy curtains which had already been put up for the winter, pretending to look out into the street.

“Did any one drive Sissy this mornin’?” asked Butler of Aileen, inquiring after a favorite family horse. Butler’s plan, in case the detective was seen, was to give the impression that he was a horseman who had come either to buy or to sell. His name was Jonas Alderson, and be looked sufficiently like a horsetrader to be one.

“I don’t think so, father,” replied Aileen. “I didn’t. I’ll find out.”

“Never mind. What I want to know is did you intend using her to-morrow?”

“No, not if you want her. Jerry suits me just as well.”

“Very well, then. Leave her in the stable.” Butler quietly closed the door. Aileen concluded at once that it was a horse conference. She knew he would not dispose of any horse in which she was interested without first consulting her, and so she thought no more about it.

After she was gone Alderson stepped out and declared that he was satisfied. “That’s all I need to know,” he said. “I’ll let you know in a few days if I find out anything.”

He departed, and within thirty-six hours the house and office of Cowperwood, the house of Butler, the office of Harper Steger, Cowperwood’s lawyer, and Cowperwood and Aileen separately and personally were under complete surveillance. It took six men to do it at first, and eventually a seventh, when the second meeting-place, which was located in South Sixth Street, was discovered. All the detectives were from New York. In a week all was known to Alderson. It bad been agreed between him and Butler that if Aileen and Cowperwood were discovered to have any particular rendezvous Butler was to be notified some time when she was there, so that he might go immediately and confront her in person, if he wished. He did not intend to kill Cowperwood—and Alderson would have seen to it that he did not in his presence at least, but he would give him a good tongue-lashing, fell him to the floor, in all likelihood, and march Aileen away. There would be no more lying on her part as to whether she was or was not going with Cowperwood. She would not be able to say after that what she would or would not do. Butler would lay down the law to her. She would reform, or he would send her to a reformatory. Think of her influence on her sister, or on any good girl—knowing what she knew, or doing what she was doing! She would go to Europe after this, or any place he chose to send her.

In working out his plan of action it was necessary for Butler to take Alderson into his confidence and the detective made plain his determination to safeguard Cowperwood’s person.

“We couldn’t allow you to strike any blows or do any violence,” Alderson told Butler, when they first talked about it. “It’s against the rules. You can go in there on a search-warrant, if we have to have one. I can get that for you without anybody’s knowing anything about your connection with the case. We can say it’s for a girl from New York. But you’ll have to go in in the presence of my men. They won’t permit any trouble. You can get your daughter all right—we’ll bring her away, and him, too, if you say so; but you’ll have to make some charge against him, if we do. Then there’s the danger of the neighbors seeing. You can’t always guarantee you won’t collect a crowd that way.” Butler had many misgivings about the matter. It was fraught with great danger of publicity. Still he wanted to know. He wanted to terrify Aileen if he could—to reform her drastically.

Within a week Alderson learned that Aileen and Cowperwood were visiting an apparently private residence, which was anything but that. The house on South Sixth Street was one of assignation purely; but in its way it was superior to the average establishment of its kind—of red brick, white-stone trimmings, four stories high, and all the rooms, some eighteen in number, furnished in a showy but cleanly way. It’s patronage was highly exclusive, only those being admitted who were known to the mistress, having been introduced by others. This guaranteed that privacy which the illicit affairs of this world so greatly required. The mere phrase, “I have an appointment,” was sufficient, where either of the parties was known, to cause them to be shown to a private suite. Cowperwood had known of the place from previous experiences, and when it became necessary to abandon the North Tenth Street house, he had directed Aileen to meet him here.

The matter of entering a place of this kind and trying to find any one was, as Alderson informed Butler on hearing of its character, exceedingly difficult. It involved the right of search, which was difficult to get. To enter by sheer force was easy enough in most instances where the business conducted was in contradistinction to the moral sentiment of the community; but sometimes one encountered violent opposition from the tenants themselves. It might be so in this case. The only sure way of avoiding such opposition would be to take the woman who ran the place into one’s confidence, and by paying her sufficiently insure silence. “But I do not advise that in this instance,” Alderson had told Butler, “for I believe this woman is particularly friendly to your man. It might be better, in spite of the risk, to take it by surprise.” To do that, he explained, it would be necessary to have at least three men in addition to the leader—perhaps four, who, once one man had been able to make his entrance into the hallway, on the door being opened in response to a ring, would appear quickly and enter with and sustain him. Quickness of search was the next thing—the prompt opening of all doors. The servants, if any, would have to be overpowered and silenced in some way. Money sometimes did this; force accomplished it at other times. Then one of the detectives simulating a servant could tap gently at the different doors—Butler and the others standing by—and in case a face appeared identify it or not, as the case might be. If the door was not opened and the room was not empty, it could eventually be forced. The house was one of a solid block, so that there was no chance of escape save by the front and rear doors, which were to be safe-guarded. It was a daringly conceived scheme. In spite of all this, secrecy in the matter of removing Aileen was to be preserved.

When Butler heard of this he was nervous about the whole terrible procedure. He thought once that without going to the house he would merely talk to his daughter declaring that he knew and that she could not possibly deny it. He would then give her her choice between going to Europe or going to a reformatory. But a sense of the raw brutality of Aileen’s disposition, and something essentially coarse in himself, made him eventually adopt the other method. He ordered Alderson to perfect his plan, and once he found Aileen or Cowperwood entering the house to inform him quickly. He would then drive there, and with the assistance of these men confront her.

It was a foolish scheme, a brutalizing thing to do, both from the point of view of affection and any corrective theory he might have had. No good ever springs from violence. But Butler did not see that. He wanted to frighten Aileen, to bring her by shock to a realization of the enormity of the offense she was committing. He waited fully a week after his word had been given; and then, one afternoon, when his nerves were worn almost thin from fretting, the climax came. Cowperwood had already been indicted, and was now awaiting trial. Aileen had been bringing him news, from time to time, of just how she thought her father was feeling toward him. She did not get this evidence direct from Butler, of course—he was too secretive, in so far as she was concerned, to let her know how relentlessly he was engineering Cowperwood’s final downfall—but from odd bits confided to Owen, who confided them to Callum, who in turn, innocently enough, confided them to Aileen. For one thing, she had learned in this way of the new district attorney elect—his probable attitude—for he was a constant caller at the Butler house or office. Owen had told Callum that he thought Shannon was going to do his best to send Cowperwood “up”—that the old man thought he deserved it.

In the next place she had learned that her father did not want Cowperwood to resume business—did not feel he deserved to be allowed to. “It would be a God’s blessing if the community were shut of him,” he had said to Owen one morning, apropos of a notice in the papers of Cowperwood’s legal struggles; and Owen had asked Callum why he thought the old man was so bitter. The two sons could not understand it. Cowperwood heard all this from her, and more—bits about Judge Payderson, the judge who was to try him, who was a friend of Butler’s—also about the fact that Stener might be sent up for the full term of his crime, but that he would be pardoned soon afterward.

Apparently Cowperwood was not very much frightened. He told her that he had powerful financial friends who would appeal to the governor to pardon him in case he was convicted; and, anyhow, that he did not think that the evidence was strong enough to convict him. He was merely a political scapegoat through public clamor and her father’s influence; since the latter’s receipt of the letter about them he had been the victim of Butler’s enmity, and nothing more. “If it weren’t for your father, honey,” he declared, “I could have this indictment quashed in no time. Neither Mollenhauer nor Simpson has anything against me personally, I am sure. They want me to get out of the street-railway business here in Philadelphia, and, of course, they wanted to make things look better for Stener at first; but depend upon it, if your father hadn’t been against me they wouldn’t have gone to any such length in making me the victim. Your father has this fellow Shannon and these minor politicians just where he wants them, too. That’s where the trouble lies. They have to go on.”

“Oh, I know,” replied Aileen. “It’s me, just me, that’s all. If it weren’t for me and what he suspects he’d help you in a minute. Sometimes, you know, I think I’ve been very bad for you. I don’t know what I ought to do. If I thought it would help you any I’d not see you any more for a while, though I don’t see what good that would do now. Oh, I love you, love you, Frank! I would do anything for you. I don’t care what people think or say. I love you.”

“Oh, you just think you do,” he replied, jestingly. “You’ll get over it. There are others.”

“Others!” echoed Aileen, resentfully and contemptuously. “After you there aren’t any others. I just want one man, my Frank. If you ever desert me, I’ll go to hell. You’ll see.”

“Don’t talk like that, Aileen,” he replied, almost irritated. “I don’t like to hear you. You wouldn’t do anything of the sort. I love you. You know I’m not going to desert you. It would pay you to desert me just now.”

“Oh, how you talk!” she exclaimed. “Desert you! It’s likely, isn’t it? But if ever you desert me, I’ll do just what I say. I swear it.”

“Don’t talk like that. Don’t talk nonsense.”

“I swear it. I swear by my love. I swear by your success—my own happiness. I’ll do just what I say. I’ll go to hell.”

Cowperwood got up. He was a little afraid now of this deep-seated passion he had aroused. It was dangerous. He could not tell where it would lead.

It was a cheerless afternoon in November, when Alderson, duly informed of the presence of Aileen and Cowperwood in the South Sixth Street house by the detective on guard drove rapidly up to Butler’s office and invited him to come with him. Yet even now Butler could scarcely believe that he was to find his daughter there. The shame of it. The horror. What would he say to her? How reproach her? What would he do to Cowperwood? His large hands shook as he thought. They drove rapidly to within a few doors of the place, where a second detective on guard across the street approached. Butler and Alderson descended from the vehicle, and together they approached the door. It was now almost four-thirty in the afternoon. In a room within the house, Cowperwood, his coat and vest off, was listening to Aileen’s account of her troubles.

The room in which they were sitting at the time was typical of the rather commonplace idea of luxury which then prevailed. Most of the “sets” of furniture put on the market for general sale by the furniture companies were, when they approached in any way the correct idea of luxury, imitations of one of the Louis periods. The curtains were always heavy, frequently brocaded, and not infrequently red. The carpets were richly flowered in high colors with a thick, velvet nap. The furniture, of whatever wood it might be made, was almost invariably heavy, floriated, and cumbersome. This room contained a heavily constructed bed of walnut, with washstand, bureau, and wardrobe to match. A large, square mirror in a gold frame was hung over the washstand. Some poor engravings of landscapes and several nude figures were hung in gold frames on the wall. The gilt-framed chairs were upholstered in pink-and-white-flowered brocade, with polished brass tacks. The carpet was of thick Brussels, pale cream and pink in hue, with large blue jardinieres containing flowers woven in as ornaments. The general effect was light, rich, and a little stuffy.

“You know I get desperately frightened, sometimes,” said Aileen. “Father might be watching us, you know. I’ve often wondered what I’d do if he caught us. I couldn’t lie out of this, could I?”

“You certainly couldn’t,” said Cowperwood, who never failed to respond to the incitement of her charms. She had such lovely smooth arms, a full, luxuriously tapering throat and neck; her golden-red hair floated like an aureole about her head, and her large eyes sparkled. The wondrous vigor of a full womanhood was hers—errant, ill-balanced, romantic, but exquisite, “but you might as well not cross that bridge until you come to it,” he continued. “I myself have been thinking that we had better not go on with this for the present. That letter ought to have been enough to stop us for the time.”

He came over to where she stood by the dressing-table, adjusting her hair.

“You’re such a pretty minx,” he said. He slipped his arm about her and kissed her pretty mouth. “Nothing sweeter than you this side of Paradise,” he whispered in her ear.

While this was enacting, Butler and the extra detective had stepped out of sight, to one side of the front door of the house, while Alderson, taking the lead, rang the bell. A negro servant appeared.

“Is Mrs. Davis in?” he asked, genially, using the name of the woman in control. “I’d like to see her.”

“Just come in,” said the maid, unsuspectingly, and indicated a reception-room on the right. Alderson took off his soft, wide-brimmed hat and entered. When the maid went up-stairs he immediately returned to the door and let in Butler and two detectives. The four stepped into the reception-room unseen. In a few moments the “madam” as the current word characterized this type of woman, appeared. She was tall, fair, rugged, and not at all unpleasant to look upon. She had light-blue eyes and a genial smile. Long contact with the police and the brutalities of sex in her early life had made her wary, a little afraid of how the world would use her. This particular method of making a living being illicit, and she having no other practical knowledge at her command, she was as anxious to get along peacefully with the police and the public generally as any struggling tradesman in any walk of life might have been. She had on a loose, blue-flowered peignoir, or dressing-gown, open at the front, tied with blue ribbons and showing a little of her expensive underwear beneath. A large opal ring graced her left middle finger, and turquoises of vivid blue were pendent from her ears. She wore yellow silk slippers with bronze buckles; and altogether her appearance was not out of keeping with the character of the reception-room itself, which was a composite of gold-flowered wall-paper, blue and cream-colored Brussels carpet, heavily gold-framed engravings of reclining nudes, and a gilt-framed pier-glass, which rose from the floor to the ceiling. Needless to say, Butler was shocked to the soul of him by this suggestive atmosphere which was supposed to include his daughter in its destructive reaches.

Alderson motioned one of his detectives to get behind the woman—between her and the door—which he did.

“Sorry to trouble you, Mrs. Davis,” he said, “but we are looking for a couple who are in your house here. We’re after a runaway girl. We don’t want to make any disturbance—merely to get her and take her away.” Mrs. Davis paled and opened her mouth. “Now don’t make any noise or try to scream, or we’ll have to stop you. My men are all around the house. Nobody can get out. Do you know anybody by the name of Cowperwood?”

Mrs. Davis, fortunately from one point of view, was not of a particularly nervous nor yet contentious type. She was more or less philosophic. She was not in touch with the police here in Philadelphia, hence subject to exposure. What good would it do to cry out? she thought. The place was surrounded. There was no one in the house at the time to save Cowperwood and Aileen. She did not know Cowperwood by his name, nor Aileen by hers. They were a Mr. and Mrs. Montague to her.

“I don’t know anybody by that name,” she replied nervously.

“Isn’t there a girl here with red hair?” asked one of Alderson’s assistants. “And a man with a gray suit and a light-brown mustache? They came in here half an hour ago. You remember them, don’t you?”

“There’s just one couple in the house, but I’m not sure whether they’re the ones you want. I’ll ask them to come down if you wish. Oh, I wish you wouldn’t make any disturbance. This is terrible.”

“We’ll not make any disturbance,” replied Alderson, “if you don’t. Just you be quiet. We merely want to see the girl and take her away. Now, you stay where you are. What room are they in?”

“In the second one in the rear up-stairs. Won’t you let me go, though? It will be so much better. I’ll just tap and ask them to come out.”

“No. We’ll tend to that. You stay where you are. You’re not going to get into any trouble. You just stay where you are,” insisted Alderson.

He motioned to Butler, who, however, now that he had embarked on his grim task, was thinking that he had made a mistake. What good would it do him to force his way in and make her come out, unless he intended to kill Cowperwood? If she were made to come down here, that would be enough. She would then know that he knew all. He did not care to quarrel with Cowperwood, in any public way, he now decided. He was afraid to. He was afraid of himself.

“Let her go,” he said grimly, doggedly referring to Mrs. Davis, “But watch her. Tell the girl to come down-stairs to me.”

Mrs. Davis, realizing on the moment that this was some family tragedy, and hoping in an agonized way that she could slip out of it peacefully, started upstairs at once with Alderson and his assistants who were close at his heels. Reaching the door of the room occupied by Cowperwood and Aileen, she tapped lightly. At the time Aileen and Cowperwood were sitting in a big arm-chair. At the first knock Aileen blanched and leaped to her feet. Usually not nervous, to-day, for some reason, she anticipated trouble. Cowperwood’s eyes instantly hardened.

“Don’t be nervous,” he said, “no doubt it’s only the servant. I’ll go.”

He started, but Aileen interfered. “Wait,” she said. Somewhat reassured, she went to the closet, and taking down a dressing-gown, slipped it on. Meanwhile the tap came again. Then she went to the door and opened it the least bit.

“Mrs. Montague,” exclaimed Mrs. Davis, in an obviously nervous, forced voice, “there’s a gentleman downstairs who wishes to see you.”

“A gentleman to see me!” exclaimed Aileen, astonished and paling. “Are you sure?”

“Yes; he says he wants to see you. There are several other men with him. I think it’s some one who belongs to you, maybe.”

Aileen realized on the instant, as did Cowperwood, what had in all likelihood happened. Butler or Mrs. Cowperwood had trailed them—in all probability her father. He wondered now what he should do to protect her, not himself. He was in no way deeply concerned for himself, even here. Where any woman was concerned he was too chivalrous to permit fear. It was not at all improbable that Butler might want to kill him; but that did not disturb him. He really did not pay any attention to that thought, and he was not armed.

“I’ll dress and go down,” he said, when he saw Aileen’s pale face. “You stay here. And don’t you worry in any way for I’ll get you out of this—now, don’t worry. This is my affair. I got you in it and I’ll get you out of it.” He went for his hat and coat and added, as he did so, “You go ahead and dress; but let me go first.”

Aileen, the moment the door closed, had begun to put on her clothes swiftly and nervously. Her mind was working like a rapidly moving machine. She was wondering whether this really could be her father. Perhaps it was not. Might there be some other Mrs. Montague—a real one? Supposing it was her father—he had been so nice to her in not telling the family, in keeping her secret thus far. He loved her—she knew that. It makes all the difference in the world in a child’s attitude on an occasion like this whether she has been loved and petted and spoiled, or the reverse. Aileen had been loved and petted and spoiled. She could not think of her father doing anything terrible physically to her or to any one else. But it was so hard to confront him—to look into his eyes. When she had attained a proper memory of him, her fluttering wits told her what to do.

“No, Frank,” she whispered, excitedly; “if it’s father, you’d better let me go. I know how to talk to him. He won’t say anything to me. You stay here. I’m not afraid—really, I’m not. If I want you, I’ll call you.”

He had come over and taken her pretty chin in his hands, and was looking solemnly into her eyes.

“You mustn’t be afraid,” he said. “I’ll go down. If it’s your father, you can go away with him. I don’t think he’ll do anything either to you or to me. If it is he, write me something at the office. I’ll be there. If I can help you in any way, I will. We can fix up something. There’s no use trying to explain this. Say nothing at all.”

He had on his coat and overcoat, and was standing with his hat in his hand. Aileen was nearly dressed, struggling with the row of red current-colored buttons which fastened her dress in the back. Cowperwood helped her. When she was ready—hat, gloves, and all—he said:

“Now let me go first. I want to see.”

“No; please, Frank,” she begged, courageously. “Let me, I know it’s father. Who else could it be?” She wondered at the moment whether her father had brought her two brothers but would not now believe it. He would not do that, she knew. “You can come if I call.” She went on. “Nothing’s going to happen, though. I understand him. He won’t do anything to me. If you go it will only make him angry. Let me go. You stand in the door here. If I don’t call, it’s all right. Will you?”

She put her two pretty hands on his shoulders, and he weighed the matter very carefully. “Very well,” he said, “only I’ll go to the foot of the stairs with you.”

They went to the door and he opened it. Outside were Alderson with two other detectives and Mrs. Davis, standing perhaps five feet away.

“Well,” said Cowperwood, commandingly, looking at Alderson.

“There’s a gentleman down-stairs wishes to see the lady,” said Alderson. “It’s her father, I think,” he added quietly.

Cowperwood made way for Aileen, who swept by, furious at the presence of men and this exposure. Her courage had entirely returned. She was angry now to think her father would make a public spectacle of her. Cowperwood started to follow.

“I’d advise you not to go down there right away,” cautioned Alderson, sagely. “That’s her father. Butler’s her name, isn’t it? He don’t want you so much as he wants her.”

Cowperwood nevertheless walked slowly toward the head of the stairs, listening.

“What made you come here, father?” he heard Aileen ask.

Butler’s reply he could not hear, but he was now at ease for he knew how much Butler loved his daughter.

Confronted by her father, Aileen was now attempting to stare defiantly, to look reproachful, but Butler’s deep gray eyes beneath their shaggy brows revealed such a weight of weariness and despair as even she, in her anger and defiance, could not openly flaunt. It was all too sad.

“I never expected to find you in a place like this, daughter,” he said. “I should have thought you would have thought better of yourself.” His voice choked and he stopped.

“I know who you’re here with,” he continued, shaking his head sadly. “The dog! I’ll get him yet. I’ve had men watchin’ you all the time. Oh, the shame of this day! The shame of this day! You’ll be comin’ home with me now.”

“That’s just it, father,” began Aileen. “You’ve had men watching me. I should have thought—” She stopped, because he put up his hand in a strange, agonized, and yet dominating way.

“None of that! none of that!” he said, glowering under his strange, sad, gray brows. “I can’t stand it! Don’t tempt me! We’re not out of this place yet. He’s not! You’ll come home with me now.”

Aileen understood. It was Cowperwood he was referring to. That frightened her.

“I’m ready,” she replied, nervously.

The old man led the way broken-heartedly. He felt he would never live to forget the agony of this hour.


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