The Titan

by Theodore Dreiser

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Chapter XI: In Search of Victory

In the mean time the social affairs of Aileen had been prospering in a small way, for while it was plain that they were not to be taken up at once—that was not to be expected—it was also plain that they were not to be ignored entirely. One thing that helped in providing a nice harmonious working atmosphere was the obvious warm affection of Cowperwood for his wife. While many might consider Aileen a little brash or crude, still in the hands of so strong and capable a man as Cowperwood she might prove available. So thought Mrs. Addison, for instance, and Mrs. Rambaud. McKibben and Lord felt the same way. If Cowperwood loved her, as he seemed to do, he would probably "put her through" successfully. And he really did love her, after his fashion. He could never forget how splendid she had been to him in those old days when, knowing full well the circumstances of his home, his wife, his children, the probable opposition of her own family, she had thrown over convention and sought his love. How freely she had given of hers! No petty, squeamish bickering and dickering here. He had been "her Frank" from the start, and he still felt keenly that longing in her to be with him, to be his, which had produced those first wonderful, almost terrible days. She might quarrel, fret, fuss, argue, suspect, and accuse him of flirtation with other women; but slight variations from the norm in his case did not trouble her—at least she argued that they wouldn't. She had never had any evidence. She was ready to forgive him anything, she said, and she was, too, if only he would love her.

"You devil," she used to say to him, playfully. "I know you. I can see you looking around. That's a nice stenographer you have in the office. I suppose it's her."

"Don't be silly, Aileen," he would reply. "Don't be coarse. You know I wouldn't take up with a stenographer. An office isn't the place for that sort of thing."

"Oh, isn't it? Don't silly me. I know you. Any old place is good enough for you."

He laughed, and so did she. She could not help it. She loved him so. There was no particular bitterness in her assaults. She loved him, and very often he would take her in his arms, kiss her tenderly, and coo: "Are you my fine big baby? Are you my red-headed doll? Do you really love me so much? Kiss me, then." Frankly, pagan passion in these two ran high. So long as they were not alienated by extraneous things he could never hope for more delicious human contact. There was no reaction either, to speak of, no gloomy disgust. She was physically acceptable to him. He could always talk to her in a genial, teasing way, even tender, for she did not offend his intellectuality with prudish or conventional notions. Loving and foolish as she was in some ways, she would stand blunt reproof or correction. She could suggest in a nebulous, blundering way things that would be good for them to do. Most of all at present their thoughts centered upon Chicago society, the new house, which by now had been contracted for, and what it would do to facilitate their introduction and standing. Never did a woman's life look more rosy, Aileen thought. It was almost too good to be true. Her Frank was so handsome, so loving, so generous. There was not a small idea about him. What if he did stray from her at times? He remained faithful to her spiritually, and she knew as yet of no single instance in which he had failed her. She little knew, as much as she knew, how blandly he could lie and protest in these matters. But he was fond of her just the same, and he really had not strayed to any extent.

By now also, Cowperwood had invested about one hundred thousand dollars in his gas-company speculations, and he was jubilant over his prospects; the franchises were good for twenty years. By that time he would be nearly sixty, and he would probably have bought, combined with, or sold out to the older companies at a great profit. The future of Chicago was all in his favor. He decided to invest as much as thirty thousand dollars in pictures, if he could find the right ones, and to have Aileen's portrait painted while she was still so beautiful. This matter of art was again beginning to interest him immensely. Addison had four or five good pictures—a Rousseau, a Greuze, a Wouverman, and one Lawrence—picked up Heaven knows where. A hotel-man by the name of Collard, a dry-goods and real-estate merchant, was said to have a very striking collection. Addison had told him of one Davis Trask, a hardware prince, who was now collecting. There were many homes, he knew where art was beginning to be assembled. He must begin, too.

Cowperwood, once the franchises had been secured, had installed Sippens in his own office, giving him charge for the time being. Small rented offices and clerks were maintained in the region where practical plant-building was going on. All sorts of suits to enjoin, annul, and restrain had been begun by the various old companies, but McKibben, Stimson, and old General Van Sickle were fighting these with Trojan vigor and complacency. It was a pleasant scene. Still no one knew very much of Cowperwood's entrance into Chicago as yet. He was a very minor figure. His name had not even appeared in connection with this work. Other men were being celebrated daily, a little to his envy. When would he begin to shine? Soon, now, surely. So off they went in June, comfortable, rich, gay, in the best of health and spirits, intent upon enjoying to the full their first holiday abroad.

It was a wonderful trip. Addison was good enough to telegraph flowers to New York for Mrs. Cowperwood to be delivered on shipboard. McKibben sent books of travel. Cowperwood, uncertain whether anybody would send flowers, ordered them himself—two amazing baskets, which with Addison's made three—and these, with attached cards, awaited them in the lobby of the main deck. Several at the captain's table took pains to seek out the Cowperwoods. They were invited to join several card-parties and to attend informal concerts. It was a rough passage, however, and Aileen was sick. It was hard to make herself look just nice enough, and so she kept to her room. She was very haughty, distant to all but a few, and to these careful of her conversation. She felt herself coming to be a very important person.

Before leaving she had almost exhausted the resources of the Donovan establishment in Chicago. Lingerie, boudoir costumes, walking-costumes, riding-costumes, evening-costumes she possessed in plenty. She had a jewel-bag hidden away about her person containing all of thirty thousand dollars' worth of jewels. Her shoes, stockings, hats, and accessories in general were innumerable. Because of all this Cowperwood was rather proud of her. She had such a capacity for life. His first wife had been pale and rather anemic, while Aileen was fairly bursting with sheer physical vitality. She hummed and jested and primped and posed. There are some souls that just are, without previous revision or introspection. The earth with all its long past was a mere suggestion to Aileen, dimly visualized if at all. She may have heard that there were once dinosaurs and flying reptiles, but if so it made no deep impression on her. Somebody had said, or was saying, that we were descended from monkeys, which was quite absurd, though it might be true enough. On the sea the thrashing hills of green water suggested a kind of immensity and terror, but not the immensity of the poet's heart. The ship was safe, the captain at table in brass buttons and blue uniform, eager to be nice to her—told her so. Her faith really, was in the captain. And there with her, always, was Cowperwood, looking at this whole, moving spectacle of life with a suspicious, not apprehensive, but wary eye, and saying nothing about it.

In London letters given them by Addison brought several invitations to the opera, to dinner, to Goodwood for a weekend, and so on. Carriages, tallyhoes, cabs for riding were invoked. A week-end invitation to a houseboat on the Thames was secured. Their English hosts, looking on all this as a financial adventure, good financial wisdom, were courteous and civil, nothing more. Aileen was intensely curious. She noted servants, manners, forms. Immediately she began to think that America was not good enough, perhaps; it wanted so many things.

"Now, Aileen, you and I have to live in Chicago for years and years," commented Cowperwood. "Don't get wild. These people don't care for Americans, can't you see that? They wouldn't accept us if we were over here—not yet, anyhow. We're merely passing strangers, being courteously entertained." Cowperwood saw it all.

Aileen was being spoiled in a way, but there was no help. She dressed and dressed. The Englishmen used to look at her in Hyde Park, where she rode and drove; at Claridges' where they stayed; in Bond Street, where she shopped. The Englishwomen, the majority of them remote, ultra-conservative, simple in their tastes, lifted their eyes. Cowperwood sensed the situation, but said nothing. He loved Aileen, and she was satisfactory to him, at least for the present, anyhow, beautiful. If he could adjust her station in Chicago, that would be sufficient for a beginning. After three weeks of very active life, during which Aileen patronized the ancient and honorable glories of England, they went on to Paris.

Here she was quickened to a child-like enthusiasm. "You know," she said to Cowperwood, quite solemnly, the second morning, "the English don't know how to dress. I thought they did, but the smartest of them copy the French. Take those men we saw last night in the Cafe d'Anglais. There wasn't an Englishman I saw that compared with them."

"My dear, your tastes are exotic," replied Cowperwood, who was watching her with pleased interest while he adjusted his tie. "The French smart crowd are almost too smart, dandified. I think some of those young fellows had on corsets."

"What of it?" replied Aileen. "I like it. If you're going to be smart, why not be very smart?"

"I know that's your theory, my dear," he said, "but it can be overdone. There is such a thing as going too far. You have to compromise even if you don't look as well as you might. You can't be too very conspicuously different from your neighbors, even in the right direction."

"You know," she said, stopping and looking at him, "I believe you're going to get very conservative some day—like my brothers."

She came over and touched his tie and smoothed his hair.

"Well, one of us ought to be, for the good of the family," he commented, half smiling.

"I'm not so sure, though, that it will be you, either."

"It's a charming day. See how nice those white-marble statues look. Shall we go to the Cluny or Versailles or Fontainbleau? To-night we ought to see Bernhardt at the Francaise."

Aileen was so gay. It was so splendid to be traveling with her true husband at last.

It was on this trip that Cowperwood's taste for art and life and his determination to possess them revived to the fullest. He made the acquaintance in London, Paris, and Brussels of the important art dealers. His conception of great masters and the older schools of art shaped themselves. By one of the dealers in London, who at once recognized in him a possible future patron, he was invited with Aileen to view certain private collections, and here and there was an artist, such as Lord Leighton, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, or Whistler, to whom he was introduced casually, an interested stranger. These men only saw a strong, polite, remote, conservative man. He realized the emotional, egotistic, and artistic soul. He felt on the instant that there could be little in common between such men and himself in so far as personal contact was concerned, yet there was mutual ground on which they could meet. He could not be a slavish admirer of anything, only a princely patron. So he walked and saw, wondering how soon his dreams of grandeur were to be realized.

In London he bought a portrait by Raeburn; in Paris a plowing scene by Millet, a small Jan Steen, a battle piece by Meissonier, and a romantic courtyard scene by Isabey. Thus began the revival of his former interest in art; the nucleus of that future collection which was to mean so much to him in later years.

On their return, the building of the new Chicago mansion created the next interesting diversion in the lives of Aileen and Cowperwood. Because of some chateaux they saw in France that form, or rather a modification of it as suggested by Taylor Lord, was adopted. Mr. Lord figured that it would take all of a year, perhaps a year and a half, to deliver it in perfect order, but time was of no great importance in this connection. In the mean while they could strengthen their social connections and prepare for that interesting day when they should be of the Chicago elite.

There were, at this time, several elements in Chicago—those who, having grown suddenly rich from dull poverty, could not so easily forget the village church and the village social standards; those who, having inherited wealth, or migrated from the East where wealth was old, understood more of the savoir faire of the game; and those who, being newly born into wealth and seeing the drift toward a smarter American life, were beginning to wish they might shine in it—these last the very young people. The latter were just beginning to dream of dances at Kinsley's, a stated Kirmess, and summer diversions of the European kind, but they had not arrived as yet. The first class, although by far the dullest and most bovine, was still the most powerful because they were the richest, money as yet providing the highest standard. The functions which these people provided were stupid to the verge of distraction; really they were only the week-day receptions and Sunday-afternoon calls of Squeedunk and Hohokus raised to the Nth power. The purpose of the whole matter was to see and be seen. Novelty in either thought or action was decidedly eschewed. It was, as a matter of fact, customariness of thought and action and the quintessence of convention that was desired. The idea of introducing a "play actress," for instance, as was done occasionally in the East or in London—never; even a singer or an artist was eyed askance. One could easily go too far! But if a European prince should have strayed to Chicago (which he never did) or if an Eastern social magnate chanced to stay over a train or two, then the topmost circle of local wealth was prepared to strain itself to the breaking-point. Cowperwood had sensed all this on his arrival, but he fancied that if he became rich and powerful enough he and Aileen, with their fine house to help them, might well be the leaven which would lighten the whole lump. Unfortunately, Aileen was too obviously on the qui vive for those opportunities which might lead to social recognition and equality, if not supremacy. Like the savage, unorganized for protection and at the mercy of the horrific caprice of nature, she was almost tremulous at times with thoughts of possible failure. Almost at once she had recognized herself as unsuited temperamentally for association with certain types of society women. The wife of Anson Merrill, the great dry-goods prince, whom she saw in one of the down-town stores one day, impressed her as much too cold and remote. Mrs. Merrill was a woman of superior mood and education who found herself, in her own estimation, hard put to it for suitable companionship in Chicago. She was Eastern-bred-Boston—and familiar in an offhand way with the superior world of London, which she had visited several times. Chicago at its best was to her a sordid commercial mess. She preferred New York or Washington, but she had to live here. Thus she patronized nearly all of those with whom she condescended to associate, using an upward tilt of the head, a tired droop of the eyelids, and a fine upward arching of the brows to indicate how trite it all was.

It was a Mrs. Henry Huddlestone who had pointed out Mrs. Merrill to Aileen. Mrs. Huddlestone was the wife of a soap manufacturer living very close to the Cowperwoods' temporary home, and she and her husband were on the outer fringe of society. She had heard that the Cowperwoods were people of wealth, that they were friendly with the Addisons, and that they were going to build a two-hundred-thousand-dollar mansion. (The value of houses always grows in the telling.) That was enough. She had called, being three doors away, to leave her card; and Aileen, willing to curry favor here and there, had responded. Mrs. Huddlestone was a little woman, not very attractive in appearance, clever in a social way, and eminently practical.

"Speaking of Mrs. Merrill," commented Mrs. Huddlestone, on this particular day, "there she is—near the dress-goods counter. She always carries that lorgnette in just that way."

Aileen turned and examined critically a tall, dark, slender woman of the high world of the West, very remote, disdainful, superior.

"You don't know her?" questioned Aileen, curiously, surveying her at leisure.

"No," replied Mrs. Huddlestone, defensively. "They live on the North Side, and the different sets don't mingle so much."

As a matter of fact, it was just the glory of the principal families that they were above this arbitrary division of "sides," and could pick their associates from all three divisions.

"Oh!" observed Aileen, nonchalantly. She was secretly irritated to think that Mrs. Huddlestone should find it necessary to point out Mrs. Merrill to her as a superior person.

"You know, she darkens her eyebrows a little, I think," suggested Mrs. Huddlestone, studying her enviously. "Her husband, they say, isn't the most faithful person in the world. There's another woman, a Mrs. Gladdens, that lives very close to them that he's very much interested in."

"Oh!" said Aileen, cautiously. After her own Philadelphia experience she had decided to be on her guard and not indulge in too much gossip. Arrows of this particular kind could so readily fly in her direction.

"But her set is really much the smartest," complimented Aileen's companion.

Thereafter it was Aileen's ambition to associate with Mrs. Anson Merrill, to be fully and freely accepted by her. She did not know, although she might have feared, that that ambition was never to be realized.

But there were others who had called at the first Cowperwood home, or with whom the Cowperwoods managed to form an acquaintance. There were the Sunderland Sledds, Mr. Sledd being general traffic manager of one of the southwestern railways entering the city, and a gentleman of taste and culture and some wealth; his wife an ambitious nobody. There were the Walter Rysam Cottons, Cotton being a wholesale coffee-broker, but more especially a local social litterateur; his wife a graduate of Vassar. There were the Norrie Simmses, Simms being secretary and treasurer of the Douglas Trust and Savings Company, and a power in another group of financial people, a group entirely distinct from that represented by Addison and Rambaud.

Others included the Stanislau Hoecksemas, wealthy furriers; the Duane Kingslands, wholesale flour; the Webster Israelses, packers; the Bradford Candas, jewelers. All these people amounted to something socially. They all had substantial homes and substantial incomes, so that they were worthy of consideration. The difference between Aileen and most of the women involved a difference between naturalism and illusion. But this calls for some explanation.

To really know the state of the feminine mind at this time, one would have to go back to that period in the Middle Ages when the Church flourished and the industrious poet, half schooled in the facts of life, surrounded women with a mystical halo. Since that day the maiden and the matron as well has been schooled to believe that she is of a finer clay than man, that she was born to uplift him, and that her favors are priceless. This rose-tinted mist of romance, having nothing to do with personal morality, has brought about, nevertheless, a holier-than-thou attitude of women toward men, and even of women toward women. Now the Chicago atmosphere in which Aileen found herself was composed in part of this very illusion. The ladies to whom she had been introduced were of this high world of fancy. They conceived themselves to be perfect, even as they were represented in religious art and in fiction. Their husbands must be models, worthy of their high ideals, and other women must have no blemish of any kind. Aileen, urgent, elemental, would have laughed at all this if she could have understood. Not understanding, she felt diffident and uncertain of herself in certain presences.

Instance in this connection Mrs. Norrie Simms, who was a satellite of Mrs. Anson Merrill. To be invited to the Anson Merrills' for tea, dinner, luncheon, or to be driven down-town by Mrs. Merrill, was paradise to Mrs. Simms. She loved to recite the bon mots of her idol, to discourse upon her astonishing degree of culture, to narrate how people refused on occasion to believe that she was the wife of Anson Merrill, even though she herself declared it—those old chestnuts of the social world which must have had their origin in Egypt and Chaldea. Mrs. Simms herself was of a nondescript type, not a real personage, clever, good-looking, tasteful, a social climber. The two Simms children (little girls) had been taught all the social graces of the day—to pose, smirk, genuflect, and the like, to the immense delight of their elders. The nurse in charge was in uniform, the governess was a much put-upon person. Mrs. Simms had a high manner, eyes for those above her only, a serene contempt for the commonplace world in which she had to dwell.

During the first dinner at which she entertained the Cowperwoods Mrs. Simms attempted to dig into Aileen's Philadelphia history, asking if she knew the Arthur Leighs, the Trevor Drakes, Roberta Willing, or the Martyn Walkers. Mrs. Simms did not know them herself, but she had heard Mrs. Merrill speak of them, and that was enough of a handle whereby to swing them. Aileen, quick on the defense, ready to lie manfully on her own behalf, assured her that she had known them, as indeed she had—very casually—and before the rumor which connected her with Cowperwood had been voiced abroad. This pleased Mrs. Simms.

"I must tell Nellie," she said, referring thus familiarly to Mrs. Merrill.

Aileen feared that if this sort of thing continued it would soon be all over town that she had been a mistress before she had been a wife, that she had been the unmentioned corespondent in the divorce suit, and that Cowperwood had been in prison. Only his wealth and her beauty could save her; and would they?

One night they had been to dinner at the Duane Kingslands', and Mrs. Bradford Canda had asked her, in what seemed a very significant way, whether she had ever met her friend Mrs. Schuyler Evans, of Philadelphia. This frightened Aileen.

"Don't you suppose they must know, some of them, about us?" she asked Cowperwood, on the way home.

"I suppose so," he replied, thoughtfully. "I'm sure I don't know. I wouldn't worry about that if I were you. If you worry about it you'll suggest it to them. I haven't made any secret of my term in prison in Philadelphia, and I don't intend to. It wasn't a square deal, and they had no right to put me there."

"I know, dear," replied Aileen, "it might not make so much difference if they did know. I don't see why it should. We are not the only ones that have had marriage troubles, I'm sure.

"There's just one thing about this; either they accept us or they don't. If they don't, well and good; we can't help it. We'll go on and finish the house, and give them a chance to be decent. If they won't be, there are other cities. Money will arrange matters in New York—that I know. We can build a real place there, and go in on equal terms if we have money enough—and I will have money enough," he added, after a moment's pondering. "Never fear. I'll make millions here, whether they want me to or not, and after that—well, after that, we'll see what we'll see. Don't worry. I haven't seen many troubles in this world that money wouldn't cure."

His teeth had that even set that they always assumed when he was dangerously in earnest. He took Aileen's hand, however, and pressed it gently.

"Don't worry," he repeated. "Chicago isn't the only city, and we won't be the poorest people in America, either, in ten years. Just keep up your courage. It will all come out right. It's certain to."

Aileen looked out on the lamp-lit length of Michigan Avenue, down which they were rolling past many silent mansions. The tops of all the lamps were white, and gleamed through the shadows, receding to a thin point. It was dark, but fresh and pleasant. Oh, if only Frank's money could buy them position and friendship in this interesting world; if it only would! She did not quite realize how much on her own personality, or the lack of it, this struggle depended.

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