The Financier

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter XXXVII

In spite of Butler’s rage and his determination to do many things to the financier, if he could, he was so wrought up and shocked by the attitude of Aileen that he could scarcely believe he was the same man he had been twenty-four hours before. She was so nonchalant, so defiant. He had expected to see her wilt completely when confronted with her guilt. Instead, he found, to his despair, after they were once safely out of the house, that he had aroused a fighting quality in the girl which was not incomparable to his own. She had some of his own and Owen’s grit. She sat beside him in the little runabout—not his own—in which he was driving her home, her face coloring and blanching by turns, as different waves of thought swept over her, determined to stand her ground now that her father had so plainly trapped her, to declare for Cowperwood and her love and her position in general. What did she care, she asked herself, what her father thought now? She was in this thing. She loved Cowperwood; she was permanently disgraced in her father’s eyes. What difference could it all make now? He had fallen so low in his parental feeling as to spy on her and expose her before other men—strangers, detectives, Cowperwood. What real affection could she have for him after this? He had made a mistake, according to her. He had done a foolish and a contemptible thing, which was not warranted however bad her actions might have been. What could he hope to accomplish by rushing in on her in this way and ripping the veil from her very soul before these other men—these crude detectives? Oh, the agony of that walk from the bedroom to the reception-room! She would never forgive her father for this—never, never, never! He had now killed her love for him—that was what she felt. It was to be a battle royal between them from now on. As they rode—in complete silence for a while—her hands clasped and unclasped defiantly, her nails cutting her palms, and her mouth hardened.

It is an open question whether raw opposition ever accomplishes anything of value in this world. It seems so inherent in this mortal scheme of things that it appears to have a vast validity. It is more than likely that we owe this spectacle called life to it, and that this can be demonstrated scientifically; but when that is said and done, what is the value? What is the value of the spectacle? And what the value of a scene such as this enacted between Aileen and her father?

The old man saw nothing for it, as they rode on, save a grim contest between them which could end in what? What could he do with her? They were riding away fresh from this awful catastrophe, and she was not saying a word! She had even asked him why he had come there! How was he to subdue her, when the very act of trapping her had failed to do so? His ruse, while so successful materially, had failed so utterly spiritually. They reached the house, and Aileen got out. The old man, too nonplussed to wish to go further at this time, drove back to his office. He then went out and walked—a peculiar thing for him to do; he had done nothing like that in years and years—walking to think. Coming to an open Catholic church, he went in and prayed for enlightenment, the growing dusk of the interior, the single everlasting lamp before the repository of the chalice, and the high, white altar set with candles soothing his troubled feelings.

He came out of the church after a time and returned home. Aileen did not appear at dinner, and he could not eat. He went into his private room and shut the door—thinking, thinking, thinking. The dreadful spectacle of Aileen in a house of ill repute burned in his brain. To think that Cowperwood should have taken her to such a place—his Aileen, his and his wife’s pet. In spite of his prayers, his uncertainty, her opposition, the puzzling nature of the situation, she must be got out of this. She must go away for a while, give the man up, and then the law should run its course with him. In all likelihood Cowperwood would go to the penitentiary—if ever a man richly deserved to go, it was he. Butler would see that no stone was left unturned. He would make it a personal issue, if necessary. All he had to do was to let it be known in judicial circles that he wanted it so. He could not suborn a jury, that would be criminal; but he could see that the case was properly and forcefully presented; and if Cowperwood were convicted, Heaven help him. The appeal of his financial friends would not save him. The judges of the lower and superior courts knew on which side their bread was buttered. They would strain a point in favor of the highest political opinion of the day, and he certainly could influence that. Aileen meanwhile was contemplating the peculiar nature of her situation. In spite of their silence on the way home, she knew that a conversation was coming with her father. It had to be. He would want her to go somewhere. Most likely he would revive the European trip in some form—she now suspected the invitation of Mrs. Mollenhauer as a trick; and she had to decide whether she would go. Would she leave Cowperwood just when he was about to be tried? She was determined she would not. She wanted to see what was going to happen to him. She would leave home first—run to some relative, some friend, some stranger, if necessary, and ask to be taken in. She had some money—a little. Her father had always been very liberal with her. She could take a few clothes and disappear. They would be glad enough to send for her after she had been gone awhile. Her mother would be frantic; Norah and Callum and Owen would be beside themselves with wonder and worry; her father—she could see him. Maybe that would bring him to his senses. In spite of all her emotional vagaries, she was the pride and interest of this home, and she knew it.

It was in this direction that her mind was running when her father, a few days after the dreadful exposure in the Sixth Street house, sent for her to come to him in his room. He had come home from his office very early in the afternoon, hoping to find Aileen there, in order that he might have a private interview with her, and by good luck found her in. She had had no desire to go out into the world these last few days—she was too expectant of trouble to come. She had just written Cowperwood asking for a rendezvous out on the Wissahickon the following afternoon, in spite of the detectives. She must see him. Her father, she said, had done nothing; but she was sure he would attempt to do something. She wanted to talk to Cowperwood about that.

“I’ve been thinkin’ about ye, Aileen, and what ought to be done in this case,” began her father without preliminaries of any kind once they were in his “office room” in the house together. “You’re on the road to ruin if any one ever was. I tremble when I think of your immortal soul. I want to do somethin’ for ye, my child, before it’s too late. I’ve been reproachin’ myself for the last month and more, thinkin’, perhaps, it was somethin’ I had done, or maybe had failed to do, aither me or your mother, that has brought ye to the place where ye are to-day. Needless to say, it’s on me conscience, me child. It’s a heartbroken man you’re lookin’ at this day. I’ll never be able to hold me head up again. Oh, the shame—the shame! That I should have lived to see it!”

“But father,” protested Aileen, who was a little distraught at the thought of having to listen to a long preachment which would relate to her duty to God and the Church and her family and her mother and him. She realized that all these were important in their way; but Cowperwood and his point of view had given her another outlook on life. They had discussed this matter of families—parents, children, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters—from almost every point of view. Cowperwood’s laissez-faire attitude had permeated and colored her mind completely. She saw things through his cold, direct “I satisfy myself” attitude. He was sorry for all the little differences of personality that sprang up between people, causing quarrels, bickerings, oppositions, and separation; but they could not be helped. People outgrew each other. Their points of view altered at varying ratios—hence changes. Morals—those who had them had them; those who hadn’t, hadn’t. There was no explaining. As for him, he saw nothing wrong in the sex relationship. Between those who were mutually compatible it was innocent and delicious. Aileen in his arms, unmarried, but loved by him, and he by her, was as good and pure as any living woman—a great deal purer than most. One found oneself in a given social order, theory, or scheme of things. For purposes of social success, in order not to offend, to smooth one’s path, make things easy, avoid useless criticism, and the like, it was necessary to create an outward seeming—ostensibly conform. Beyond that it was not necessary to do anything. Never fail, never get caught. If you did, fight your way out silently and say nothing. That was what he was doing in connection with his present financial troubles; that was what he had been ready to do the other day when they were caught. It was something of all this that was coloring Aileen’s mood as she listened at present.

“But father,” she protested, “I love Mr. Cowperwood. It’s almost the same as if I were married to him. He will marry me some day when he gets a divorce from Mrs. Cowperwood. You don’t understand how it is. He’s very fond of me, and I love him. He needs me.”

Butler looked at her with strange, non-understanding eyes. “Divorce, did you say,” he began, thinking of the Catholic Church and its dogma in regard to that. “He’ll divorce his own wife and children—and for you, will he? He needs you, does he?” he added, sarcastically. “What about his wife and children? I don’t suppose they need him, do they? What talk have ye?”

Aileen flung her head back defiantly. “It’s true, nevertheless,” she reiterated. “You just don’t understand.”

Butler could scarcely believe his ears. He had never heard such talk before in his life from any one. It amazed and shocked him. He was quite aware of all the subtleties of politics and business, but these of romance were too much for him. He knew nothing about them. To think a daughter of his should be talking like this, and she a Catholic! He could not understand where she got such notions unless it was from the Machiavellian, corrupting brain of Cowperwood himself.

“How long have ye had these notions, my child?” he suddenly asked, calmly and soberly. “Where did ye get them? Ye certainly never heard anything like that in this house, I warrant. Ye talk as though ye had gone out of yer mind.”

“Oh, don’t talk nonsense, father,” flared Aileen, angrily, thinking how hopeless it was to talk to her father about such things anyhow. “I’m not a child any more. I’m twenty-four years of age. You just don’t understand. Mr. Cowperwood doesn’t like his wife. He’s going to get a divorce when he can, and will marry me. I love him, and he loves me, and that’s all there is to it.”

“Is it, though?” asked Butler, grimly determined by hook or by crook, to bring this girl to her senses. “Ye’ll be takin’ no thought of his wife and children then? The fact that he’s goin’ to jail, besides, is nawthin’ to ye, I suppose. Ye’d love him just as much in convict stripes, I suppose—more, maybe.” (The old man was at his best, humanly speaking, when he was a little sarcastic.) “Ye’ll have him that way, likely, if at all.”

Aileen blazed at once to a furious heat. “Yes, I know,” she sneered. “That’s what you would like. I know what you’ve been doing. Frank does, too. You’re trying to railroad him to prison for something he didn’t do—and all on account of me. Oh, I know. But you won’t hurt him. You can’t! He’s bigger and finer than you think he is and you won’t hurt him in the long run. He’ll get out again. You want to punish him on my account; but he doesn’t care. I’ll marry him anyhow. I love him, and I’ll wait for him and marry him, and you can do what you please. So there!”

“Ye’ll marry him, will you?” asked Butler, nonplussed and further astounded. “So ye’ll wait for him and marry him? Ye’ll take him away from his wife and children, where, if he were half a man, he’d be stayin’ this minute instead of gallivantin’ around with you. And marry him? Ye’d disgrace your father and yer mother and yer family? Ye’ll stand here and say this to me, I that have raised ye, cared for ye, and made somethin’ of ye? Where would you be if it weren’t for me and your poor, hard-workin’ mother, schemin’ and plannin’ for you year in and year out? Ye’re smarter than I am, I suppose. Ye know more about the world than I do, or any one else that might want to say anythin’ to ye. I’ve raised ye to be a fine lady, and this is what I get. Talk about me not bein’ able to understand, and ye lovin’ a convict-to-be, a robber, an embezzler, a bankrupt, a lyin’, thavin’—”

“Father!” exclaimed Aileen, determinedly. “I’ll not listen to you talking that way. He’s not any of the things that you say. I’ll not stay here.” She moved toward the door; but Butler jumped up now and stopped her. His face for the moment was flushed and swollen with anger.

“But I’m not through with him yet,” he went on, ignoring her desire to leave, and addressing her direct—confident now that she was as capable as another of understanding him. “I’ll get him as sure as I have a name. There’s law in this land, and I’ll have it on him. I’ll show him whether he’ll come sneakin’ into dacent homes and robbin’ parents of their children.”

He paused after a time for want of breath and Aileen stared, her face tense and white. Her father could be so ridiculous. He was, contrasted with Cowperwood and his views, so old-fashioned. To think he could be talking of some one coming into their home and stealing her away from him, when she had been so willing to go. What silliness! And yet, why argue? What good could be accomplished, arguing with him here in this way? And so for the moment, she said nothing more—merely looked. But Butler was by no means done. His mood was too stormy even though he was doing his best now to subdue himself.

“It’s too bad, daughter,” he resumed quietly, once he was satisfied that she was going to have little, if anything, to say. “I’m lettin’ my anger get the best of me. It wasn’t that I intended talkin’ to ye about when I ast ye to come in. It’s somethin’ else I have on me mind. I was thinkin’, perhaps, ye’d like to go to Europe for the time bein’ to study music. Ye’re not quite yourself just at present. Ye’re needin’ a rest. It would be good for ye to go away for a while. Ye could have a nice time over there. Norah could go along with ye, if you would, and Sister Constantia that taught you. Ye wouldn’t object to havin’ her, I suppose?”

At the mention of this idea of a trip of Europe again, with Sister Constantia and music thrown in to give it a slightly new form, Aileen bridled, and yet half-smiled to herself now. It was so ridiculous—so tactless, really, for her father to bring up this now, and especially after denouncing Cowperwood and her, and threatening all the things he had. Had he no diplomacy at all where she was concerned? It was really too funny! But she restrained herself here again, because she felt as well as saw, that argument of this kind was all futile now.

“I wish you wouldn’t talk about that, father,” she began, having softened under his explanation. “I don’t want to go to Europe now. I don’t want to leave Philadelphia. I know you want me to go; but I don’t want to think of going now. I can’t.”

Butler’s brow darkened again. What was the use of all this opposition on her part? Did she really imagine that she was going to master him—her father, and in connection with such an issue as this? How impossible! But tempering his voice as much as possible, he went on, quite softly, in fact. “But it would be so fine for ye, Aileen. Ye surely can’t expect to stay here after—” He paused, for he was going to say “what has happened.” He knew she was very sensitive on that point. His own conduct in hunting her down had been such a breach of fatherly courtesy that he knew she felt resentful, and in a way properly so. Still, what could be greater than her own crime? “After,” he concluded, “ye have made such a mistake ye surely wouldn’t want to stay here. Ye won’t be wantin’ to keep up that—committin’ a mortal sin. It’s against the laws of God and man.”

He did so hope the thought of sin would come to Aileen—the enormity of her crime from a spiritual point of view—but Aileen did not see it at all.

“You don’t understand me, father,” she exclaimed, hopelessly toward the end. “You can’t. I have one idea, and you have another. But I don’t seem to be able to make you understand now. The fact is, if you want to know it, I don’t believe in the Catholic Church any more, so there.”

The moment Aileen had said this she wished she had not. It was a slip of the tongue. Butler’s face took on an inexpressibly sad, despairing look.

“Ye don’t believe in the Church?” he asked.

“No, not exactly—not like you do.”

He shook his head.

“The harm that has come to yer soul!” he replied. “It’s plain to me, daughter, that somethin’ terrible has happened to ye. This man has ruined ye, body and soul. Somethin’ must be done. I don’t want to be hard on ye, but ye must leave Philadelphy. Ye can’t stay here. I can’t permit ye. Ye can go to Europe, or ye can go to yer aunt’s in New Orleans; but ye must go somewhere. I can’t have ye stayin’ here—it’s too dangerous. It’s sure to be comin’ out. The papers’ll be havin’ it next. Ye’re young yet. Yer life is before you. I tremble for yer soul; but so long as ye’re young and alive ye may come to yer senses. It’s me duty to be hard. It’s my obligation to you and the Church. Ye must quit this life. Ye must lave this man. Ye must never see him any more. I can’t permit ye. He’s no good. He has no intintion of marrying ye, and it would be a crime against God and man if he did. No, no! Never that! The man’s a bankrupt, a scoundrel, a thafe. If ye had him, ye’d soon be the unhappiest woman in the world. He wouldn’t be faithful to ye. No, he couldn’t. He’s not that kind.” He paused, sick to the depths of his soul. “Ye must go away. I say it once and for all. I mane it kindly, but I want it. I have yer best interests at heart. I love ye; but ye must. I’m sorry to see ye go—I’d rather have ye here. No one will be sorrier; but ye must. Ye must make it all seem natcheral and ordinary to yer mother; but ye must go—d’ye hear? Ye must.”

He paused, looking sadly but firmly at Aileen under his shaggy eyebrows. She knew he meant this. It was his most solemn, his most religious expression. But she did not answer. She could not. What was the use? Only she was not going. She knew that—and so she stood there white and tense.

“Now get all the clothes ye want,” went on Butler, by no means grasping her true mood. “Fix yourself up in any way you plase. Say where ye want to go, but get ready.”

“But I won’t, father,” finally replied Aileen, equally solemnly, equally determinedly. “I won’t go! I won’t leave Philadelphia.”

“Ye don’t mane to say ye will deliberately disobey me when I’m asking ye to do somethin’ that’s intended for yer own good, will ye daughter?”

“Yes, I will,” replied Aileen, determinedly. “I won’t go! I’m sorry, but I won’t!”

“Ye really mane that, do ye?” asked Butler, sadly but grimly.

“Yes, I do,” replied Aileen, grimly, in return.

“Then I’ll have to see what I can do, daughter,” replied the old man. “Ye’re still my daughter, whatever ye are, and I’ll not see ye come to wreck and ruin for want of doin’ what I know to be my solemn duty. I’ll give ye a few more days to think this over, but go ye must. There’s an end of that. There are laws in this land still. There are things that can be done to those who won’t obey the law. I found ye this time—much as it hurt me to do it. I’ll find ye again if ye try to disobey me. Ye must change yer ways. I can’t have ye goin’ on as ye are. Ye understand now. It’s the last word. Give this man up, and ye can have anything ye choose. Ye’re my girl—I’ll do everything I can in this world to make ye happy. Why, why shouldn’t I? What else have I to live for but me children? It’s ye and the rest of them that I’ve been workin’ and plannin’ for all these years. Come now, be a good girl. Ye love your old father, don’t ye? Why, I rocked ye in my arms as a baby, Aileen. I’ve watched over ye when ye were not bigger than what would rest in me two fists here. I’ve been a good father to ye—ye can’t deny that. Look at the other girls you’ve seen. Have any of them had more nor what ye have had? Ye won’t go against me in this. I’m sure ye won’t. Ye can’t. Ye love me too much—surely ye do—don’t ye?” His voice weakened. His eyes almost filled.

He paused and put a big, brown, horny hand on Aileen’s arm. She had listened to his plea not unmoved—really more or less softened—because of the hopelessness of it. She could not give up Cowperwood. Her father just did not understand. He did not know what love was. Unquestionably he had never loved as she had.

She stood quite silent while Butler appealed to her.

“I’d like to, father,” she said at last and softly, tenderly. “Really I would. I do love you. Yes, I do. I want to please you; but I can’t in this—I can’t! I love Frank Cowperwood. You don’t understand—really you don’t!”

At the repetition of Cowperwood’s name Butler’s mouth hardened. He could see that she was infatuated—that his carefully calculated plea had failed. So he must think of some other way.

“Very well, then,” he said at last and sadly, oh, so sadly, as Aileen turned away. “Have it yer own way, if ye will. Ye must go, though, willy-nilly. It can’t be any other way. I wish to God it could.”

Aileen went out, very solemn, and Butler went over to his desk and sat down. “Such a situation!” he said to himself. “Such a complication!”


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