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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Cost - Chapter 5. Four Friends
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The Cost - Chapter 5. Four Friends Post by :Jigger Category :Long Stories Author :David Graham Phillips Date :May 2012 Read :800

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The Cost - Chapter 5. Four Friends

CHAPTER V. FOUR FRIENDS

As Mrs. Trent's was the best board in Battle Field there were more applicants than she could make places for at her one table. In the second week of the term she put a small table in the alcove of the dining-room and gave it to her "star" boarders--Pierson, Olivia and Pauline. They invited Scarborough to take the fourth place. Not only did Pierson sit opposite Olivia and Scarborough opposite Pauline three times a day in circumstances which make for intimacy, but also Olivia and Pierson studied together in his sitting-room and Pauline and Scarborough in her sitting-room for several hours three or four times a week. Olivia and Pierson were sophomores. Pauline and Scarborough were freshmen; also, they happened to have the same three "senior prep" conditions to "work off"--Latin, zoology and mathematics.

Such intimacies as these were the matter-of-course at Battle Field. They were usually brief and strenuous. A young man and a young woman would be seen together constantly, would fall in love, would come to know each the other thoroughly. Then, with the mind and character and looks and moods of each fully revealed to the other, they would drift or fly in opposite directions, wholly disillusioned. Occasionally they found that they were really congenial, and either love remained or a cordial friendship sprang up. The modes of thought, inconceivable to Europeans or Europeanized Americans, made catastrophe all but impossible.

It was through the girls that Scarborough got his invitation to the alcove table. There he came to know Pierson and to like him. One evening he went into Pierson's rooms--the suite under Olivia and Pauline's. He had never seen--but had dreamed of--such a luxurious bachelor interior. Pierson's father had insisted that his son must go to the college where forty years before he had split wood and lighted fires and swept corridors to earn two years of higher education. Pierson's mother, defeated in her wish that her son should go East to college, had tried to mitigate the rigors of Battle Field's primitive simplicity by herself fitting up his quarters. And she made them the show-rooms of the college.

"Now let's see what can be done for you," said Pierson, with the superiority of a whole year's experience where Scarborough was a beginner. "I'll put you in the Sigma Alpha fraternity for one thing. It's the best here."

"I don't know anything about fraternities," Scarborough said. "What are they for?"

"Oh, everybody that is anybody belongs to a fraternity. There are about a dozen of them here, and among them they get all the men with any claim to recognition. Just now, we lean rather toward taking in the fellows who've been well brought up."

"Does everybody belong to a fraternity?"

"Lord, no! Two-thirds don't belong. The fellows outside are called 'barbs'--that is, barbarians; we on the inside are Greeks. Though, I must say, very few of us are Athenians and most of us are the rankest Macedonians. But the worst Greeks are better than the best barbs. They're the rummest lot of scrubs you ever saw--stupid drudges who live round in all sorts of holes and don't amount to anything. The brush of the backwoods."

"Oh, yes--mm--I see." Scarborough was looking uncomfortable.

"The Sigma Alphas'll take you in next Saturday," said Pierson. "They do as I say, between ourselves."

"I'm ever so much obliged, but----" Scarborough was red and began to stammer. "You see--I--it----"

"What's the matter? Expense? Don't let that bother you. The cost's nothing at all, and the membership is absolutely necessary to your position."

"Yes--a matter of expense." Scarborough was in control of himself now. "But not precisely the kind of expense you mean. No--I can't join I'd rather not explain. I'm ever so much obliged, but really I can't."

"As you please." Pierson was offended. "But I warn you, you've got to belong to one or the other of these fraternities or you'll be cut off from everything. And you oughtn't to miss the chance to join the best."

"I see I've offended you." Scarborough spoke regretfully. "Please don't think I'm not appreciating your kindness. But--I've made a sort of agreement with myself never to join anything that isn't organized for a general purpose and that won't admit anybody who has that purpose, too."

Pierson thought on this for a moment. "Pardon me for saying so, but that's nonsense. You can't afford to stand alone. It'll make everything harder for you--many things impossible. You've got to yield to the prejudices of people in these matters. Why, even the barbs have no use for each other and look up to us. When we have an election in the Literary Society I can control more barb votes than any one else in college. And the reason is--well, you can imagine." (Mr. Pierson was only twenty years old when he made that speech.)

"It doesn't disturb me to think of myself as alone." The strong lines in Scarborough's face were in evidence. "But it would disturb me if I were propped up and weren't sure I could stand alone. I'm afraid to lean on any one or anything--my prop might give way. And I don't want any friends or any associates who value me for any other reason than what I myself am. I purpose never to 'belong' to anything or anybody."

Pierson laughed. "Do as you please," he said. "I'd like to myself if it wasn't such an awful lot of trouble!"

"Not in the end," replied Scarborough.

"Oh, bother the end. To-day's good enough for me."

"You'd better not let Miss Shrewsbury hear you say that," said Scarborough, his eyes mocking.

Pierson grew serious at once. "Splendid girl, isn't she?" She happened to be the first he had known at all well who hadn't agreed with him in everything he said, hadn't shown the greatest anxiety to please him and hadn't practically thrown herself at his head. His combination of riches, good looks, an easy-going disposition and cleverness had so agitated those who had interested him theretofore that they had overreached themselves. Besides, his mother had been subtly watchful.

"Indeed, yes," assented Scarborough, heartily but not with enthusiasm--he always thought of Olivia as Pauline's cousin.

The four had arranged to go together to Indian Rock on the following Sunday. When the day came Olivia was not well; Pierson went to a poker game at his fraternity house; Pauline and Scarborough walked alone. As she went through the woods beside him she was thinking so intensely that she could not talk. But he was not disturbed by her silence--was it not enough to be near her, alone with her, free to look at her, so graceful and beautiful, so tasteful in dress, in every outward way what he thought a woman ought to be? Presently she roused herself and began a remark that was obviously mere politeness.

He interrupted her. "Don't mind me. Go on with your thinking--unless it's something you can say."

She gave him a quizzical, baffling smile. "How it would startle you if I did!" she said. "But--I shan't. And"--she frowned impatiently--"there's no use in thinking about it. It's all in the future."

"And one can't control the future."

"Yes, indeed--one can," she protested.

"I wish you'd tell me how. Are you sure you don't mean you could so arrange matters that the future would control you? Anybody can SURRENDER to the future and give it hostages. But that's not controlling, is it?"

"Certainly it is--if you give the hostages in exchange for what you want." And she looked triumphant.

"But how do you know what you'll want in the future? The most I can say is that I know a few things I shan't want."

"I shouldn't like to be of that disposition," she said.

"But I'm afraid you are, whether you like it or not." Scarborough was half-serious, half in jest.

"Are you the same person you were a month ago?"

Pauline glanced away. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"I mean in thought--in feeling."

"Yes--and no," she replied presently, when she had recovered from the shock of his chance knock at the very door of her secret. "My coming here has made a sort of revolution in me already. I believe I've a more--more grown-up way of looking at things. And I've been getting into the habit of thinking--and--and acting--for myself."

"That's a dangerous habit to form--in a hurry," said Scarborough. "One oughtn't to try to swim a wide river just after he's had his first lesson in swimming."

Pauline, for no apparent reason, flushed crimson and gave him a nervous look--it almost seemed a look of fright.

"But," he went on, "we were talking of the change in you. If you've changed so much in, thirty days, or, say, in sixty-seven days--you've been here that long, I believe--think of your whole life. The broader your mind and your life become, the less certain you'll be what sort of person to-morrow will find you. It seems to me--I know that, for myself, I'm determined to keep the future clear. I'll never tie myself to the past."

"But there are some things one MUST anchor fast to." Pauline was looking as if Scarborough were trying to turn her adrift in an open boat on a lonely sea. "There are--friends. You wouldn't desert your friends, would you?"

"I couldn't help it if they insisted on deserting me. I'd keep them if their way was mine. If it wasn't--they'd give me up."

"But if you were--were--married?"

Scarborough became intensely self-conscious.

"Well--I don't know--that is----" He paused, went on: "I shouldn't marry until I was sure--her way and mine were the same."

"The right sort of woman makes her husband's way hers," said she.

"Does she? I don't know much about women. But it has always seemed to me that the kind of woman I'd admire would be one who had her own ideals and ideas of life--and that--if--if she liked me, it would be because we suited each other. You wouldn't want to be--like those princesses that are brought up without any beliefs of any sort so that they can accept the beliefs of the kingdom of the man they happen to marry?"

Pauline laughed. "I couldn't, even if I wished," she said.

"I should say not!" he echoed, as if the idea in connection with such an indelibly distinct young woman were preposterous.

"But you have such a queer way of expressing yourself. At first I thought you were talking of upsetting everything."

"I? Mercy, no. I've no idea of upsetting anything. I'm only hoping I can help straighten a few things that have been tumbled over or turned upside down."

Gradually, as they walked and talked, her own affairs--Dumont's and hers--retreated to the background and she gave Scarborough her whole attention. Even in those days--he was then twenty-three--his personality usually dominated whomever he was with. It was not his size or appearance of strength; it was not any compulsion of manner; it was not even what he said or the way he said it. All of these--and his voice contributed; but the real secret of his power was that subtile magnetic something which we try to fix--and fail--when we say "charm."

He attracted Pauline chiefly because he had a way of noting the little things--matters of dress, the flowers, colors in the sky or the landscape, the uncommon, especially the amusing, details of personality--and of connecting these trifles in unexpected ways with the large aspects of things. He saw the mystery of the universe in the contour of a leaf; he saw the secret of a professor's character in the way he had built out his whiskers to hide an absolute lack of chin and to give the impression that a formidable chin was there. He told her stories of life on his father's farm that made her laugh, other stories that made her feel like crying. And--he brought out the best there was in her. She was presently talking of the things about which she had always been reticent--the real thoughts of her mind, those she had suppressed because she had had no sympathetic listener, those she looked forward to talking over with Dumont in that happy time when they would be together and would renew the intimacy interrupted since their High School days.

When she burst in upon Olivia her eyes were sparkling and her cheeks glowing. "The air was glorious," she said, "and Mr. Scarborough; is SO interesting."

And Olivia said to herself: "In spite of his tight clothes he may cure her of that worthless Dumont."

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