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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cost - Chapter 15. Graduated Pearls
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The Cost - Chapter 15. Graduated Pearls Post by :Jigger Category :Long Stories Author :David Graham Phillips Date :May 2012 Read :3450

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The Cost - Chapter 15. Graduated Pearls

CHAPTER XV. GRADUATED PEARLS

But Scarborough declined her invitation. However, he did come to dinner ten days later; and Gladys, who had no lack of confidence in her power to charm when and whom she chose, was elated by his friendliness then and when she met him at other houses.

"He's not a bit sentimental," she told Pauline, whose silence whenever she tried to discuss him did not discourage her. "But if he ever does care for a woman he'll care in the same tremendous way that he sweeps things before him in his career. Don't you think so?"

"Yes," said Pauline.

She had now lingered at Saint X two months beyond the time she originally set. She told herself she had reached the limit of endurance, that she must fly from the spectacle of Gladys' growing intimacy with Scarborough; she told Gladys it was impossible for her longer to neglect the new house in Fifth Avenue. With an effort she added: "You'd rather stay on here, wouldn't you?"

"I detest New York," replied Gladys. "And I've never enjoyed myself in my whole life as I'm enjoying it here."

So she went East alone, went direct to Dawn Hill, their country place at Manhasset, Long Island, which Dumont never visited. She invited Leonora Fanshaw down to stand between her thoughts and herself. Only the society of a human being, one who was light-hearted and amusing, could tide her back to any sort of peace in the old life--her books and her dogs, her horseback and her drawing and her gardening. A life so full of events, so empty of event. It left her hardly time for proper sleep, yet it had not a single one of those vivid threads of intense and continuous interest--and one of them is enough to make bright the dullest pattern that issues from the Loom.

In her "splendor" her nearest approach to an intimacy had been with Leonora.

She had no illusions about the company she was keeping in the East. To her these "friends" seemed in no proper sense either her friends or one another's. Drawn together from all parts of America, indeed of the world, by the magnetism of millions, they had known one another not at all or only slightly in the period of life when thorough friendships are made; even where they had been associates as children, the association had rarely been of the kind that creates friendship's democratic intimacy. They had no common traditions, no real class-feeling, no common enthusiasms--unless the passion for keeping rich, for getting richer, for enjoying and displaying riches, could be called enthusiasm. They were mere intimate acquaintances, making small pretense of friendship, having small conception of it or desire for it beyond that surface politeness which enables people whose selfish interests lie in the same direction to get on comfortably together.

She divided them into two classes. There were those who, like herself, kept up great establishments and entertained lavishly and engaged in the courteous but fierce rivalry of fashionable ostentation. Then there were those who hung about the courts of the rich, invited because they filled in the large backgrounds and contributed conversation or ideas for new amusements, accepting because they loved the atmosphere of luxury which they could not afford to create for themselves.

Leonora was undeniably in the latter class. But she was associated in Pauline's mind with the period before her splendor. She had been friendly when Dumont was unknown beyond Saint X. The others sought her--well, for the same reasons of desire for distraction and dread of boredom which made her welcome them. But Leonora, she more than half believed, liked her to a certain extent for herself--"likes me better than I like her." And at times she was self-reproachful for being thus exceeded in self-giving. Leonora, for example, told her her most intimate secrets, some of them far from creditable to her. Pauline told nothing in return. She sometimes longed for a confidant, or, rather, for some person who would understand without being told, some one like Olivia; but her imagination refused to picture Leonora as that kind of friend. Even more pronounced than her frankness, and she was frank to her own hurt, was her biting cynicism--it was undeniably amusing; it did not exactly inspire distrust, but it put Pauline vaguely on guard. Also, she was candidly mercenary, and, in some moods, rapaciously envious. "But no worse," thought Pauline, "than so many of the others here, once one gets below their surface. Besides, it's in a good-natured, good-hearted way."

She wished Fanshaw were as rich as Leonora longed for him to be. She was glad Dumont seemed to be putting him in the way of making a fortune. He was distasteful to her, because she saw that he was an ill-tempered sycophant under a pretense of manliness thick enough to shield him from the unobservant eyes of a world of men and women greedy of flattery and busy each with himself or herself. But for Leonora's sake she invited him. And Leonora was appreciative, was witty, never monotonous or commonplace, most helpful in getting up entertainments, and good to look at--always beautifully dressed and as fresh as if just from a bath; sparkling green eyes, usually with good-humored mockery in them; hard, smooth, glistening shoulders and arms; lips a crimson line, at once cold and sensuous.

On a Friday in December Pauline came up from Dawn Hill and, after two hours at the new house, went to the jeweler's to buy a wedding present for Aurora Galloway. As she was passing the counter where the superintendent had his office, his assistant said: "Beg pardon, Mrs. Dumont. The necklace came in this morning. Would you like to look at it?"

She paused, not clearly hearing him. He took a box from the safe behind him and lifted from it a magnificent necklace of graduated pearls with a huge solitaire diamond clasp. "It's one of the finest we ever got together," he went on. "But you can see for yourself." He was flushing in the excitement of his eagerness to ingratiate himself with such a distinguished customer.

"Beautiful!" said Pauline, taking the necklace as he held it out to her. "May I ask whom it's for?"

The clerk looked puzzled, then frightened, as the implications of her obvious ignorance dawned upon him.

"Oh--I--I----" He almost snatched it from her, dropped it into the box, put on the lid. And he stood with mouth ajar and forehead beaded.

"Please give it to me again," said Pauline, coldly. "I had not finished looking at it."

His uneasy eyes spied the superintendent approaching. He grew scarlet, then white, and in an agony of terror blurted out: "Here comes the superintendent. I beg you, Mrs. Dumont, don't tell him I showed it to you. I've made some sort of a mistake. You'll ruin me if you speak of it to any one. I never thought it might be intended as a surprise to you. Indeed, I wasn't supposed to know anything about it. Maybe I was mistaken----"

His look and voice were so pitiful that Pauline replied reassuringly: "I understand--I'll say nothing. Please show me those," and she pointed to a tray of unset rubies in the show-case.

And when the superintendent, bowing obsequiously, came up himself to take charge of this important customer, she was deep in the rubies which the assistant was showing her with hands that shook and fingers that blundered.

She did not permit her feelings to appear until she was in her carriage again and secure from observation. The clerk's theory she could not entertain for an instant, contradicted as it was by the facts of eight years. She knew she had surprised Dumont. She had learned nothing new; but it forced her to stare straight into the face of that which she had been ignoring, that which she must continue to ignore if she was to meet the ever heavier and crueler exactions of the debt she had incurred when she betrayed her father and mother and herself. At a time when her mind was filled with bitter contrasts between what was and what might have been, it brought bluntly to her the precise kind of life she was leading, the precise kind of surroundings she was tolerating.

"Whom can he be giving such a gift?" she wondered. And she had an impulse to confide in Leonora to the extent of encouraging her to hint who it was. "She would certainly know. No doubt everybody knows, except me."

She called for her, as she had promised, and took her to lunch at Sherry's. But the impulse to confide died as Leonora talked--of money, of ways of spending money; of people who had money, and those who hadn't money; of people who were spending too much money, of those who weren't spending enough money; of what she would do if she had money, of what many did to get money. Money, money, money--it was all of the web and most of the woof of her talk. Now it ran boldly on the surface of the pattern; now it was half hid under something about art or books or plays or schemes for patronizing the poor and undermining their self-respect--but it was always there.

For the first time Leonora jarred upon her fiercely--unendurably. She listened until the sound grew indistinct, became mingled with the chatter of that money-flaunting throng. And presently the chatter seemed to her to be a maddening repetition of one word, money--the central idea in all the thought and all the action of these people. "I must get away," she thought, "or I shall cry out." And she left abruptly, alleging that she must hurry to catch her train.

Money-mad! her thoughts ran on. The only test of honor--money, and ability and willingness to spend it. They must have money or they're nobodies. And if they have money, who cares where it came from? No one asks where the men get it--why should any one ask where the women get it?

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