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Chapter XLVI






Meanwhile, in the Butler home the family was assembling for dinner. Mrs. Butler was sitting in rotund complacency at the foot of the table, her gray hair combed straight back from her round, shiny forehead. She had on a dark-gray silk dress, trimmed with gray-and-white striped ribbon. It suited her florid temperament admirably. Aileen had dictated her mothers choice, and had seen that it had been properly made. Norah was refreshingly youthful in a pale-green dress, with red-velvet cuffs and collar. She looked young, slender, gay. Her eyes, complexion and hair were fresh and healthy. She was trifling with a string of coral beads which her mother had just given her.

Oh, look, Callum, she said to her brother opposite her, who was drumming idly on the table with his knife and fork. Arent they lovely? Mama gave them to me.

Mama does more for you than I would. You know what youd get from me, dont you?

What?

He looked at her teasingly. For answer Norah made a face at him. Just then Owen came in and took his place at the table. Mrs. Butler saw Norahs grimace.

Well, thatll win no love from your brother, ye can depend on that, she commented.

Lord, what a day! observed Owen, wearily, unfolding his napkin. Ive had my fill of work for once.

Whats the trouble? queried his mother, feelingly.

No real trouble, mother, he replied. Just everythingducks and drakes, thats all.

Well, ye must ate a good, hearty meal now, and thatll refresh ye, observed his mother, genially and feelingly. Thompsonshe was referring to the family grocerbrought us the last of his beans. You must have some of those.

Sure, beansll fix it, whatever it is, Owen, joked Callum. Mothers got the answer.

Theyre fine, Id have ye know, replied Mrs. Butler, quite unconscious of the joke.

No doubt of it, mother, replied Callum. Real brain-food. Lets feed some to Norah.

Youd better eat some yourself, smarty. My, but youre gay! I suppose youre going out to see somebody. Thats why.

Right you are, Norah. Smart girl, you. Five or six. Ten to fifteen minutes each. Id call on you if you were nicer.

You would if you got the chance, mocked Norah. Id have you know I wouldnt let you. Id feel very bad if I couldnt get somebody better than you.

As good as, you mean, corrected Callum.

Children, children! interpolated Mrs. Butler, calmly, looking about for old John, the servant. Youll be losin your tempers in a minute. Hush now. Here comes your father. Wheres Aileen?

Butler walked heavily in and took his seat.

John, the servant, appeared bearing a platter of beans among other things, and Mrs. Butler asked him to send some one to call Aileen.



Its gettin colder, Im thinkin, said Butler, by way of conversation, and eyeing Aileens empty chair. She would come soon nowhis heavy problem. He had been very tactful these last two monthsavoiding any reference to Cowperwood in so far as he could help in her presence.

Its colder, remarked Owen, much colder. Well soon see real winter now.

Old John began to offer the various dishes in order; but when all had been served Aileen had not yet come.

See where Aileen is, John, observed Mrs. Butler, interestedly. The meal will be gettin cold.

Old John returned with the news that Aileen was not in her room.

Sure she must be somewhere, commented Mrs. Butler, only slightly perplexed. Shell be comin, though, never mind, if she wants to. She knows its meal-time.

The conversation drifted from a new water-works that was being planned to the new city hall, then nearing completion; Cowperwoods financial and social troubles, and the state of the stock market generally; a new gold-mine in Arizona; the departure of Mrs. Mollenhauer the following Tuesday for Europe, with appropriate comments by Norah and Callum; and a Christmas ball that was going to be given for charity.

Aileenll be wantin to go to that, commented Mrs. Butler.

Im going, you bet, put in Norah.

Whos going to take you? asked Callum.

Thats my affair, mister, she replied, smartly.

The meal was over, and Mrs. Butler strolled up to Aileens room to see why she had not come down to dinner. Butler entered his den, wishing so much that he could take his wife into his confidence concerning all that was worrying him. On his desk, as he sat down and turned up the light, he saw the note. He recognized Aileens handwriting at once. What could she mean by writing him? A sense of the untoward came to him, and he tore it open slowly, and, putting on his glasses, contemplated it solemnly.



So Aileen was gone. The old man stared at each word as if it had been written in fire. She said she had not gone with Cowperwood. It was possible, just the same, that he had run away from Philadelphia and taken her with him. This was the last straw. This ended it. Aileen lured away from hometo whereto what? Butler could scarcely believe, though, that Cowperwood had tempted her to do this. He had too much at stake; it would involve his own and Butlers families. The papers would be certain to get it quickly. He got up, crumpling the paper in his hand, and turned about at a noise. His wife was coming in. He pulled himself together and shoved the letter in his pocket.

Aileens not in her room, she said, curiously. She didnt say anything to you about going out, did she?

No, he replied, truthfully, wondering how soon he should have to tell his wife.

Thats odd, observed Mrs. Butler, doubtfully. She must have gone out after somethin. Its a wonder she wouldnt tell somebody.

Butler gave no sign. He dared not. Shell be back, he said, more in order to gain time than anything else. He was sorry to have to pretend. Mrs. Butler went out, and he closed the door. Then he took out the letter and read it again. The girl was crazy. She was doing an absolutely wild, inhuman, senseless thing. Where could she go, except to Cowperwood? She was on the verge of a public scandal, and this would produce it. There was just one thing to do as far as he could see. Cowperwood, if he were still in Philadelphia, would know. He would go to himthreaten, cajole, actually destroy him, if necessary. Aileen must come back. She need not go to Europe, perhaps, but she must come back and behave herself at least until Cowperwood could legitimately marry her. That was all he could expect now. She would have to wait, and some day perhaps he could bring himself to accept her wretched proposition. Horrible thought! It would kill her mother, disgrace her sister. He got up, took down his hat, put on his overcoat, and started out.

Arriving at the Cowperwood home he was shown into the reception-room. Cowperwood at the time was in his den looking over some private papers. When the name of Butler was announced he immediately went down-stairs. It was characteristic of the man that the announcement of Butlers presence created no stir in him whatsoever. So Butler had come. That meant, of course, that Aileen had gone. Now for a battle, not of words, but of weights of personalities. He felt himself to be intellectually, socially, and in every other way the more powerful man of the two. That spiritual content of him which we call life hardened to the texture of steel. He recalled that although he had told his wife and his father that the politicians, of whom Butler was one, were trying to make a scapegoat of him, Butler, nevertheless, was not considered to be wholly alienated as a friend, and civility must prevail. He would like very much to placate him if he could, to talk out the hard facts of life in a quiet and friendly way. But this matter of Aileen had to be adjusted now once and for all. And with that thought in his mind he walked quickly into Butlers presence.

The old man, when he learned that Cowperwood was in and would see him, determined to make his contact with the financier as short and effective as possible. He moved the least bit when he heard Cowperwoods step, as light and springy as ever.

Good evening, Mr. Butler, said Cowperwood, cheerfully, when he saw him, extending his hand. What can I do for you?

Ye can take that away from in front of me, for one thing, said Butler, grimly referring to his hand. I have no need of it. Its my daughter Ive come to talk to ye about, and I want plain answers. Where is she?

You mean Aileen? said Cowperwood, looking at him with steady, curious, unrevealing eyes, and merely interpolating this to obtain a moment for reflection. What can I tell you about her?

Ye can tell me where she is, that I know. And ye can make her come back to her home, where she belongs. It was bad fortune that ever brought ye across my doorstep; but Ill not bandy words with ye here. Yell tell me where my daughter is, and yell leave her alone from now, or Ill The old mans fists closed like a vise, and his chest heaved with suppressed rage. Yell not be drivin me too far, man, if yere wise, he added, after a time, recovering his equanimity in part. I want no truck with ye. I want my daughter.

Listen, Mr. Butler, said Cowperwood, quite calmly, relishing the situation for the sheer sense of superiority it gave him. I want to be perfectly frank with you, if you will let me. I may know where your daughter is, and I may not. I may wish to tell you, and I may not. She may not wish me to. But unless you wish to talk with me in a civil way there is no need of our going on any further. You are privileged to do what you like. Wont you come up-stairs to my room? We can talk more comfortably there.

Butler looked at his former protege in utter astonishment. He had never before in all his experience come up against a more ruthless typesuave, bland, forceful, unterrified. This man had certainly come to him as a sheep, and had turned out to be a ravening wolf. His incarceration had not put him in the least awe.

Ill not come up to your room, Butler said, and yell not get out of Philadelphy with her if thats what yere plannin. I can see to that. Ye think ye have the upper hand of me, I see, and yere anxious to make something of it. Well, yere not. It wasnt enough that ye come to me as a beggar, cravin the help of me, and that I took ye in and helped ye all I couldye had to steal my daughter from me in the bargain. If it wasnt for the girls mother and her sister and her brothersdacenter men than ever yell know how to beId brain ye where ye stand. Takin a young, innocent girl and makin an evil woman out of her, and ye a married man! Its a Gods blessin for ye that its me, and not one of me sons, thats here talkin to ye, or ye wouldnt be alive to say what yed do.

The old man was grim but impotent in his rage.

Im sorry, Mr. Butler, replied Cowperwood, quietly. Im willing to explain, but you wont let me. Im not planning to run away with your daughter, nor to leave Philadelphia. You ought to know me well enough to know that Im not contemplating anything of that kind; my interests are too large. You and I are practical men. We ought to be able to talk this matter over together and reach an understanding. I thought once of coming to you and explaining this; but I was quite sure you wouldnt listen to me. Now that you are here I would like to talk to you. If you will come up to my room I will be glad tootherwise not. Wont you come up?

Butler saw that Cowperwood had the advantage. He might as well go up. Otherwise it was plain he would get no information.

Very well, he said.

Cowperwood led the way quite amicably, and, having entered his private office, closed the door behind him.

We ought to be able to talk this matter over and reach an understanding, he said again, when they were in the room and he had closed the door. I am not as bad as you think, though I know I appear very bad. Butler stared at him in contempt. I love your daughter, and she loves me. I know you are asking yourself how I can do this while I am still married; but I assure you I can, and that I do. I am not happily married. I had expected, if this panic hadnt come along, to arrange with my wife for a divorce and marry Aileen. My intentions are perfectly good. The situation which you can complain of, of course, is the one you encountered a few weeks ago. It was indiscreet, but it was entirely human. Your daughter does not complainshe understands. At the mention of his daughter in this connection Butler flushed with rage and shame, but he controlled himself.

And ye think because she doesnt complain that its all right, do ye? he asked, sarcastically.

From my point of view, yes; from yours no. You have one view of life, Mr. Butler, and I have another.

Yere right there, put in Butler, for once, anyhow.

That doesnt prove that either of us is right or wrong. In my judgment the present end justifies the means. The end I have in view is to marry Aileen. If I can possibly pull myself out of this financial scrape that I am in I will do so. Of course, I would like to have your consent for thatso would Aileen; but if we cant, we cant. (Cowperwood was thinking that while this might not have a very soothing effect on the old contractors point of view, nevertheless it must make some appeal to his sense of the possible or necessary. Aileens present situation was quite unsatisfactory without marriage in view. And even if he, Cowperwood, was a convicted embezzler in the eyes of the public, that did not make him so. He might get free and restore himselfwould certainlyand Aileen ought to be glad to marry him if she could under the circumstances. He did not quite grasp the depth of Butlers religious and moral prejudices.) Lately, he went on, you have been doing all you can, as I understand it, to pull me down, on account of Aileen, I suppose; but that is simply delaying what I want to do.

Yed like me to help ye do that, I suppose? suggested Butler, with infinite disgust and patience.

I want to marry Aileen, Cowperwood repeated, for emphasis sake. She wants to marry me. Under the circumstances, however you may feel, you can have no real objection to my doing that, I am sure; yet you go on fighting memaking it hard for me to do what you really know ought to be done.

Yere a scoundrel, said Butler, seeing through his motives quite clearly. Yere a sharper, to my way of thinkin, and its no child of mine I want connected with ye. Im not sayin, seein that things are as they are, that if ye were a free man it wouldnt be better that she should marry ye. Its the one dacent thing ye could doif ye would, which I doubt. But thats nayther here nor there now. What can ye want with her hid away somewhere? Ye cant marry her. Ye cant get a divorce. Yeve got your hands full fightin your lawsuits and kapin yourself out of jail. Shell only be an added expense to ye, and yell be wantin all the money ye have for other things, Im thinkin. Why should ye want to be takin her away from a dacent home and makin something out of her that yed be ashamed to marry if you could? The laist ye could do, if ye were any kind of a man at all, and had any of that thing that yere plased to call love, would be to lave her at home and keep her as respectable as possible. Mind ye, Im not thinkin she isnt ten thousand times too good for ye, whatever yeve made of her. But if ye had any sinse of dacency left, ye wouldnt let her shame her family and break her old mothers heart, and that for no purpose except to make her worse than she is already. What good can ye get out of it, now? What good can ye expect to come of it? Be hivins, if ye had any sinse at all I should think ye could see that for yerself. Yere only addin to your troubles, not takin away from themand shell not thank ye for that later on.

He stopped, rather astonished that he should have been drawn into an argument. His contempt for this man was so great that he could scarcely look at him, but his duty and his need was to get Aileen back. Cowperwood looked at him as one who gives serious attention to another. He seemed to be thinking deeply over what Butler had said.

To tell you the truth, Mr. Butler, he said, I did not want Aileen to leave your home at all; and she will tell you so, if you ever talk to her about it. I did my best to persuade her not to, and when she insisted on going the only thing I could do was to be sure she would be comfortable wherever she went. She was greatly outraged to think you should have put detectives on her trail. That, and the fact that you wanted to send her away somewhere against her will, was the principal reasons for her leaving. I assure you I did not want her to go. I think you forget sometimes, Mr. Butler, that Aileen is a grown woman, and that she has a will of her own. You think I control her to her great disadvantage. As a matter of fact, I am very much in love with her, and have been for three or four years; and if you know anything about love you know that it doesnt always mean control. Im not doing Aileen any injustice when I say that she has had as much influence on me as I have had on her. I love her, and thats the cause of all the trouble. You come and insist that I shall return your daughter to you. As a matter of fact, I dont know whether I can or not. I dont know that she would go if I wanted her to. She might turn on me and say that I didnt care for her any more. That is not true, and I would not want her to feel that way. She is greatly hurt, as I told you, by what you did to her, and the fact that you want her to leave Philadelphia. You can do as much to remedy that as I can. I could tell you where she is, but I do not know that I want to. Certainly not until I know what your attitude toward her and this whole proposition is to be.

He paused and looked calmly at the old contractor, who eyed him grimly in return.

What proposition are ye talkin about? asked Butler, interested by the peculiar developments of this argument. In spite of himself he was getting a slightly different angle on the whole situation. The scene was shifting to a certain extent. Cowperwood appeared to be reasonably sincere in the matter. His promises might all be wrong, but perhaps he did love Aileen; and it was possible that he did intend to get a divorce from his wife some time and marry her. Divorce, as Butler knew, was against the rules of the Catholic Church, which he so much revered. The laws of God and any sense of decency commanded that Cowperwood should not desert his wife and children and take up with another womannot even Aileen, in order to save her. It was a criminal thing to plan, sociologically speaking, and showed what a villain Cowperwood inherently was; but, nevertheless, Cowperwood was not a Catholic, his views of life were not the same as his own, Butlers, and besides and worst of all (no doubt due in part to Aileens own temperament), he had compromised her situation very materially. She might not easily be restored to a sense of the normal and decent, and so the matter was worth taking into thought. Butler knew that ultimately he could not countenance any such thingcertainly not, and keep his faith with the Churchbut he was human enough none the less to consider it. Besides, he wanted Aileen to come back; and Aileen from now on, he knew, would have some say as to what her future should be.

Well, its simple enough, replied Cowperwood. I should like to have you withdraw your opposition to Aileens remaining in Philadelphia, for one thing; and for another, I should like you to stop your attacks on me. Cowperwood smiled in an ingratiating way. He hoped really to placate Butler in part by his generous attitude throughout this procedure. I cant make you do that, of course, unless you want to. I merely bring it up, Mr. Butler, because I am sure that if it hadnt been for Aileen you would not have taken the course you have taken toward me. I understood you received an anonymous letter, and that afternoon you called your loan with me. Since then I have heard from one source and another that you were strongly against me, and I merely wish to say that I wish you wouldnt be. I am not guilty of embezzling any sixty thousand dollars, and you know it. My intentions were of the best. I did not think I was going to fail at the time I used those certificates, and if it hadnt been for several other loans that were called I would have gone on to the end of the month and put them back in time, as I always had. I have always valued your friendship very highly, and I am very sorry to lose it. Now I have said all I am going to say.

Butler looked at Cowperwood with shrewd, calculating eyes. The man had some merit, but much unconscionable evil in him. Butler knew very well how he had taken the check, and a good many other things in connection with it. The manner in which he had played his cards to-night was on a par with the way he had run to him on the night of the fire. He was just shrewd and calculating and heartless.

Ill make ye no promise, he said. Tell me where my daughter is, and Ill think the matter over. Ye have no claim on me now, and I owe ye no good turn. But Ill think it over, anyhow.

Thats quite all right, replied Cowperwood. Thats all I can expect. But what about Aileen? Do you expect her to leave Philadelphia?

Not if she settles down and behaves herself: but there must be an end of this between you and her. Shes disgracin her family and ruinin her soul in the bargain. And thats what you are doin with yours. Itll be time enough to talk about anything else when youre a free man. More than that Ill not promise.

Cowperwood, satisfied that this move on Aileens part had done her a real service if it had not aided him especially, was convinced that it would be a good move for her to return to her home at once. He could not tell how his appeal to the State Supreme Court would eventuate. His motion for a new trial which was now to be made under the privilege of the certificate of reasonable doubt might not be granted, in which case he would have to serve a term in the penitentiary. If he were compelled to go to the penitentiary she would be saferbetter off in the bosom of her family. His own hands were going to be exceedingly full for the next two months until he knew how his appeal was coming out. And after thatwell, after that he would fight on, whatever happened.

During all the time that Cowperwood had been arguing his case in this fashion he had been thinking how he could adjust this compromise so as to retain the affection of Aileen and not offend her sensibilities by urging her to return. He knew that she would not agree to give up seeing him, and he was not willing that she should. Unless he had a good and sufficient reason, he would be playing a wretched part by telling Butler where she was. He did not intend to do so until he saw exactly how to do itthe way that would make it most acceptable to Aileen. He knew that she would not long be happy where she was. Her flight was due in part to Butlers intense opposition to himself and in part to his determination to make her leave Philadelphia and behave; but this last was now in part obviated. Butler, in spite of his words, was no longer a stern Nemesis. He was a melting manvery anxious to find his daughter, very willing to forgive her. He was whipped, literally beaten, at his own game, and Cowperwood could see it in the old mans eyes. If he himself could talk to Aileen personally and explain just how things were, he felt sure he could make her see that it would be to their mutual advantage, for the present at least, to have the matter amicably settled. The thing to do was to make Butler wait somewherehere, possiblywhile he went and talked to her. When she learned how things were she would probably acquiesce.

The best thing that I can do under the circumstances, he said, after a time, would be to see Aileen in two or three days, and ask her what she wishes to do. I can explain the matter to her, and if she wants to go back, she can. I will promise to tell her anything that you say.

Two or three days! exclaimed Butler, irritably. Two or three fiddlesticks! She must come home to-night. Her mother doesnt know shes left the place yet. To-night is the time! Ill go and fetch her meself to-night.

No, that wont do, said Cowperwood. I shall have to go myself. If you wish to wait here I will see what can be done, and let you know.

Very well, grunted Butler, who was now walking up and down with his hands behind his back. But for Heavens sake be quick about it. Theres no time to lose. He was thinking of Mrs. Butler. Cowperwood called the servant, ordered his runabout, and told George to see that his private office was not disturbed. Then, as Butler strolled to and fro in this, to him, objectionable room, Cowperwood drove rapidly away.



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