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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Titan - chapter XVI - A Fateful Interlude
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The Titan - chapter XVI - A Fateful Interlude Post by :essential Category :Long Stories Author :Theodore Dreiser Date :March 2011 Read :1193

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The Titan - chapter XVI - A Fateful Interlude

Cowperwood was enchanted. He kept the proposed tryst with eagerness
and found her all that he had hoped. She was sweeter, more colorful,
more elusive than anybody he had ever known. In their charming
apartment on the North Side which he at once engaged, and where
he sometimes spent mornings, evenings, afternoons, as opportunity
afforded, he studied her with the most critical eye and found her
almost flawless. She had that boundless value which youth and a
certain insouciance of manner contribute. There was, delicious
to relate, no melancholy in her nature, but a kind of innate
sufficiency which neither looked forward to nor back upon troublesome
ills. She loved beautiful things, but was not extravagant; and
what interested him and commanded his respect was that no urgings
of his toward prodigality, however subtly advanced, could affect
her. She knew what she wanted, spent carefully, bought tastefully,
arrayed herself in ways which appealed to him as the flowers did.
His feeling for her became at times so great that he wished, one
might almost have said, to destroy it--to appease the urge and
allay the pull in himself, but it was useless. The charm of her
endured. His transports would leave her refreshed apparently,
prettier, more graceful than ever, it seemed to him, putting back
her ruffled hair with her hand, mouthing at herself prettily in
the glass, thinking of many remote delicious things at once.

"Do you remember that picture we saw in the art store the other
day, Algernon?" she would drawl, calling him by his second name,
which she had adopted for herself as being more suited to his moods
when with her and more pleasing to her. Cowperwood had protested,
but she held to it. "Do you remember that lovely blue of the old
man's coat?" (It was an "Adoration of the Magi.") "Wasn't that

She drawled so sweetly and fixed her mouth in such an odd way that
he was impelled to kiss her. "You clover blossom," he would say
to her, coming over and taking her by the arms. "You sprig of
cherry bloom. You Dresden china dream."

"Now, are you going to muss my hair, when I've just managed to fix

The voice was the voice of careless, genial innocence--and the

"Yes, I am, minx."

"Yes, but you mustn't smother me, you know. Really, you know you
almost hurt me with your mouth. Aren't you going to be nice to me?"

"Yes, sweet. But I want to hurt you, too."

"Well, then, if you must."

But for all his transports the lure was still there. She was like
a butterfly, he thought, yellow and white or blue and gold,
fluttering over a hedge of wild rose.

In these intimacies it was that he came quickly to understand how
much she knew of social movements and tendencies, though she was
just an individual of the outer fringe. She caught at once a clear
understanding of his social point of view, his art ambition, his
dreams of something better for himself in every way. She seemed
to see clearly that he had not as yet realized himself, that Aileen
was not just the woman for him, though she might be one. She
talked of her own husband after a time in a tolerant way--his
foibles, defects, weaknesses. She was not unsympathetic, he
thought, just weary of a state that was not properly balanced
either in love, ability, or insight. Cowperwood had suggested
that she could take a larger studio for herself and Harold--do
away with the petty economies that had hampered her and him--and
explain it all on the grounds of a larger generosity on the part
of her family. At first she objected; but Cowperwood was tactful
and finally brought it about. He again suggested a little while
later that she should persuade Harold to go to Europe. There would
be the same ostensible reason--additional means from her relatives.
Mrs. Sohlberg, thus urged, petted, made over, assured, came finally
to accept his liberal rule--to bow to him; she became as contented
as a cat. With caution she accepted of his largess, and made the
cleverest use of it she could. For something over a year neither
Sohlberg nor Aileen was aware of the intimacy which had sprung up.
Sohlberg, easily bamboozled, went back to Denmark for a visit,
then to study in Germany. Mrs. Sohlberg followed Cowperwood to
Europe the following year. At Aix-les-Bains, Biarritz, Paris,
even London, Aileen never knew that there was an additional figure
in the background. Cowperwood was trained by Rita into a really
finer point of view. He came to know better music, books, even
the facts. She encouraged him in his idea of a representative
collection of the old masters, and begged him to be cautious in
his selection of moderns. He felt himself to be delightfully
situated indeed.

The difficulty with this situation, as with all such where an
individual ventures thus bucaneeringly on the sea of sex, is the
possibility of those storms which result from misplaced confidence,
and from our built-up system of ethics relating to property in
women. To Cowperwood, however, who was a law unto himself, who
knew no law except such as might be imposed upon him by his lack
of ability to think, this possibility of entanglement, wrath, rage,
pain, offered no particular obstacle. It was not at all certain
that any such thing would follow. Where the average man might
have found one such liaison difficult to manage, Cowperwood, as
we have seen, had previously entered on several such affairs almost
simultaneously; and now he had ventured on yet another; in the
last instance with much greater feeling and enthusiasm. The
previous affairs had been emotional makeshifts at best--more or
less idle philanderings in which his deeper moods and feelings
were not concerned. In the case of Mrs. Sohlberg all this was
changed. For the present at least she was really all in all to
him. But this temperamental characteristic of his relating to his
love of women, his artistic if not emotional subjection to their
beauty, and the mystery of their personalities led him into still
a further affair, and this last was not so fortunate in its outcome.

Antoinette Nowak had come to him fresh from a West Side high school
and a Chicago business college, and had been engaged as his private
stenographer and secretary. This girl had blossomed forth into
something exceptional, as American children of foreign parents are
wont to do. You would have scarcely believed that she, with her
fine, lithe body, her good taste in dress, her skill in stenography,
bookkeeping, and business details, could be the daughter of a
struggling Pole, who had first worked in the Southwest Chicago
Steel Mills, and who had later kept a fifth-rate cigar, news, and
stationery store in the Polish district, the merchandise of
playing-cards and a back room for idling and casual gaming being
the principal reasons for its existence. Antoinette, whose first
name had not been Antoinette at all, but Minka (the Antoinette
having been borrowed by her from an article in one of the Chicago
Sunday papers), was a fine dark, brooding girl, ambitious and
hopeful, who ten days after she had accepted her new place was
admiring Cowperwood and following his every daring movement with
almost excited interest. To be the wife of such a man, she
thought--to even command his interest, let alone his affection
--must be wonderful. After the dull world she had known--it seemed
dull compared to the upper, rarefied realms which she was beginning
to glimpse through him--and after the average men in the real-estate
office over the way where she had first worked, Cowperwood, in his
good clothes, his remote mood, his easy, commanding manner, touched
the most ambitious chords of her being. One day she saw Aileen
sweep in from her carriage, wearing warm brown furs, smart polished
boots, a street-suit of corded brown wool, and a fur toque sharpened
and emphasized by a long dark-red feather which shot upward like
a dagger or a quill pen. Antoinette hated her. She conceived
herself to be better, or as good at least. Why was life divided
so unfairly? What sort of a man was Cowperwood, anyhow? One night
after she had written out a discreet but truthful history of himself
which he had dictated to her, and which she had sent to the Chicago
newspapers for him soon after the opening of his brokerage office
in Chicago, she went home and dreamed of what he had told her,
only altered, of course, as in dreams. She thought that Cowperwood
stood beside her in his handsome private office in La Salle Street
and asked her:

"Antoinette, what do you think of me?" Antoinette was nonplussed,
but brave. In her dream she found herself intensely interested
in him.

"Oh, I don't know what to think. I'm so sorry," was her answer.
Then he laid his hand on hers, on her cheek, and she awoke. She
began thinking, what a pity, what a shame that such a man should
ever have been in prison. He was so handsome. He had been married
twice. Perhaps his first wife was very homely or very mean-spirited.
She thought of this, and the next day went to work meditatively.
Cowperwood, engrossed in his own plans, was not thinking of her
at present. He was thinking of the next moves in his interesting
gas war. And Aileen, seeing her one day, merely considered her
an underling. The woman in business was such a novelty that as
yet she was declasse. Aileen really thought nothing of Antoinette
at all.

Somewhat over a year after Cowperwood had become intimate with
Mrs. Sohlberg his rather practical business relations with Antoinette
Nowak took on a more intimate color. What shall we say of this
--that he had already wearied of Mrs. Sohlberg? Not in the least.
He was desperately fond of her. Or that he despised Aileen, whom
he was thus grossly deceiving? Not at all. She was to him at
times as attractive as ever--perhaps more so for the reason that
her self-imagined rights were being thus roughly infringed upon.
He was sorry for her, but inclined to justify himself on the ground
that these other relations--with possibly the exception of Mrs.
Sohlherg--were not enduring. If it had been possible to marry
Mrs. Sohlberg he might have done so, and he did speculate at times
as to whether anything would ever induce Aileen to leave him; but
this was more or less idle speculation. He rather fancied they
would live out their days together, seeing that he was able thus
easily to deceive her. But as for a girl like Antoinette Nowak,
she figured in that braided symphony of mere sex attraction which
somehow makes up that geometric formula of beauty which rules the
world. She was charming in a dark way, beautiful, with eyes that
burned with an unsatisfied fire; and Cowperwood, although at first
only in the least moved by her, became by degrees interested in
her, wondering at the amazing, transforming power of the American

"Are your parents English, Antoinette?" he asked her, one morning,
with that easy familiarity which he assumed to all underlings and
minor intellects--an air that could not be resented in him, and
which was usually accepted as a compliment.

Antoinette, clean and fresh in a white shirtwaist, a black
walking-skirt, a ribbon of black velvet about her neck, and her
long, black hair laid in a heavy braid low over her forehead and
held close by a white celluloid comb, looked at him with pleased
and grateful eyes. She had been used to such different types of
men--the earnest, fiery, excitable, sometimes drunken and swearing
men of her childhood, always striking, marching, praying in the
Catholic churches; and then the men of the business world, crazy
over money, and with no understanding of anything save some few
facts about Chicago and its momentary possibilities. In Cowperwood's
office, taking his letters and hearing him talk in his quick,
genial way with old Laughlin, Sippens, and others, she had learned
more of life than she had ever dreamed existed. He was like a
vast open window out of which she was looking upon an almost
illimitable landscape.

"No, sir," she replied, dropping her slim, firm, white hand, holding
a black lead-pencil restfully on her notebook. She smiled quite
innocently because she was pleased.

"I thought not," he said, "and yet you're American enough."

"I don't know how it is," she said, quite solemnly. "I have a
brother who is quite as American as I am. We don't either of us
look like our father or mother."

"What does your brother do?" he asked, indifferently.

"He's one of the weighers at Arneel & Co. He expects to be a
manager sometime." She smiled.

Cowperwood looked at her speculatively, and after a momentary
return glance she dropped her eyes. Slowly, in spite of herself,
a telltale flush rose and mantled her brown cheeks. It always
did when he looked at her.

"Take this letter to General Van Sickle," he began, on this occasion
quite helpfully, and in a few minutes she had recovered. She could
not be near Cowperwood for long at a time, however, without being
stirred by a feeling which was not of her own willing. He fascinated
and suffused her with a dull fire. She sometimes wondered whether
a man so remarkable would ever be interested in a girl like her.

The end of this essential interest, of course, was the eventual
assumption of Antoinette. One might go through all the dissolving
details of days in which she sat taking dictation, receiving
instructions, going about her office duties in a state of apparently
chill, practical, commercial single-mindedness; but it would be
to no purpose. As a matter of fact, without in any way affecting
the preciseness and accuracy of her labor, her thoughts were always
upon the man in the inner office--the strange master who was then
seeing his men, and in between, so it seemed, a whole world of
individuals, solemn and commercial, who came, presented their
cards, talked at times almost interminably, and went away. It was
the rare individual, however, she observed, who had the long
conversation with Cowperwood, and that interested her the more.
His instructions to her were always of the briefest, and he depended
on her native intelligence to supply much that he scarcely more
than suggested.

"You understand, do you?" was his customary phrase.

"Yes," she would reply.

She felt as though she were fifty times as significant here as she
had ever been in her life before.

The office was clean, hard, bright, like Cowperwood himself. The
morning sun, streaming in through an almost solid glass east front
shaded by pale-green roller curtains, came to have an almost
romantic atmosphere for her. Cowperwood's private office, as in
Philadelphia, was a solid cherry-wood box in which he could shut
himself completely--sight-proof, sound-proof. When the door was
closed it was sacrosanct. He made it a rule, sensibly, to keep
his door open as much as possible, even when he was dictating,
sometimes not. It was in these half-hours of dictation--the door
open, as a rule, for he did not care for too much privacy--that
he and Miss Nowak came closest. After months and months, and
because he had been busy with the other woman mentioned, of whom
she knew nothing, she came to enter sometimes with a sense of
suffocation, sometimes of maidenly shame. It would never have
occurred to her to admit frankly that she wanted Cowperwood to
make love to her. It would have frightened her to have thought
of herself as yielding easily, and yet there was not a detail of
his personality that was not now burned in her brain. His light,
thick, always smoothly parted hair, his wide, clear, inscrutable
eyes, his carefully manicured hands, so full and firm, his fresh
clothing of delicate, intricate patterns--how these fascinated her!
He seemed always remote except just at the moment of doing something,
when, curiously enough, he seemed intensely intimate and near.

One day, after many exchanges of glances in which her own always
fell sharply--in the midst of a letter--he arose and closed the
half-open door. She did not think so much of that, as a rule--it
had happened before--but now, to-day, because of a studied glance
he had given her, neither tender nor smiling, she felt as though
something unusual were about to happen. Her own body was going
hot and cold by turns--her neck and hands. She had a fine figure,
finer than she realized, with shapely limbs and torso. Her head
had some of the sharpness of the old Greek coinage, and her hair
was plaited as in ancient cut stone. Cowperwood noted it. He
came back and, without taking his seat, bent over her and intimately
took her hand.

"Antoinette," he said, lifting her gently.

She looked up, then arose--for he slowly drew her--breathless, the
color gone, much of the capable practicality that was hers completely
eliminated. She felt limp, inert. She pulled at her hand faintly,
and then, lifting her eyes, was fixed by that hard, insatiable
gaze of his. Her head swam--her eyes were filled with a telltale


"Yes," she murmured.

"You love me, don't you?"

She tried to pull herself together, to inject some of her native
rigidity of soul into her air--that rigidity which she always
imagined would never desert her--but it was gone. There came
instead to her a picture of the far Blue Island Avenue neighborhood
from which she emanated--its low brown cottages, and then this
smart, hard office and this strong man. He came out of such a
marvelous world, apparently. A strange foaming seemed to be in
her blood. She was deliriously, deliciously numb and happy.


"Oh, I don't know what I think," she gasped. "I-- Oh yes, I do,
I do."

"I like your name," he said, simply. "Antoinette." And then,
pulling her to him, he slipped his arm about her waist.

She was frightened, numb, and then suddenly, not so much from shame
as shock, tears rushed to her eyes. She turned and put her hand
on the desk and hung her head and sobbed.

"Why, Antoinette," he asked, gently, bending over her, are you so
much unused to the world? I thought you said you loved me. Do you
want me to forget all this and go on as before? I can, of course,
if you can, you know."

He knew that she loved him, wanted him.

She heard him plainly enough, shaking.

"Do you?" he said, after a time, giving her moments in which to

"Oh, let me cry!" she recovered herself sufficiently to say, quite
wildly. "I don't know why I'm crying. It's just because I'm
nervous, I suppose. Please don't mind me now."

"Antoinette," he repeated, "look at me! Will you stop?"

"Oh no, not now. My eyes are so bad."

"Antoinette! Come, look!" He put his hand under her chin. "See,
I'm not so terrible."

"Oh," she said, when her eyes met his again, "I--" And then she
folded her arms against his breast while he petted her hand and
held her close.

"I'm not so bad, Antoinette. It's you as much as it is me. You
do love me, then?"

"Yes, yes--oh yes!"

"And you don't mind?"

"No. It's all so strange." Her face was hidden.

"Kiss me, then."

She put up her lips and slipped her arms about him. He held her

He tried teasingly to make her say why she cried, thinking the
while of what Aileen or Rita would think if they knew, but she
would not at first--admitting later that it was a sense of evil.
Curiously she also thought of Aileen, and how, on occasion, she
had seen her sweep in and out. Now she was sharing with her (the
dashing Mrs. Cowperwood, so vain and superior) the wonder of his
affection. Strange as it may seem, she looked on it now as rather
an honor. She had risen in her own estimation--her sense of life
and power. Now, more than ever before, she knew something of life
because she knew something of love and passion. The future seemed
tremulous with promise. She went back to her machine after a
while, thinking of this. What would it all come to? she wondered,
wildly. You could not have told by her eyes that she had been
crying. Instead, a rich glow in her brown cheeks heightened her
beauty. No disturbing sense of Aileen was involved with all this.
Antoinette was of the newer order that was beginning to privately
question ethics and morals. She had a right to her life, lead
where it would. And to what it would bring her. The feel of
Cowperwood's lips was still fresh on hers. What would the future
reveal to her now? What?

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The Titan - chapter XVII - An Overture to Conflict The Titan - chapter XVII - An Overture to Conflict

The Titan - chapter XVII - An Overture to Conflict
The result of this understanding was not so important to Cowperwoodas it was to Antoinette. In a vagrant mood he had unlocked aspirit here which was fiery, passionate, but in his case hopelesslyworshipful. However much she might be grieved by him, Antoinette,as he subsequently learned, would never sin against his personalwelfare. Yet she was unwittingly the means of first opening theflood-gates of suspicion on Aileen, thereby establishing in thelatter's mind the fact of Cowperwood's persistent unfaithfulness.The incidents which led up to this were comparatively trivial--nothing more, indeed, at first than the sight of Miss Nowak andCowperwood talking intimately

The Titan - chapter XV - A New Affection The Titan - chapter XV - A New Affection

The Titan - chapter XV - A New Affection
The growth of a relationship between Cowperwood and Rita Sohlbergwas fostered quite accidentally by Aileen, who took a foolishlysentimental interest in Harold which yet was not based on anythingof real meaning. She liked him because he was a superlativelygracious, flattering, emotional man where women--pretty women--wereconcerned. She had some idea she could send him pupils, and,anyhow, it was nice to call at the Sohlberg studio. Her sociallife was dull enough as it was. So she went, and Cowperwood,mindful of Mrs. Sohlberg, came also. Shrewd to the point ofdestruction, he encouraged Aileen in her interest in them.