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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 18
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The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 18 Post by :Merger Category :Long Stories Author :David Graham Phillips Date :May 2012 Read :2395

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The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 18

CHAPTER XVIII

A few days later, Tetlow, having business with Norman, tried to reach him by telephone. After several failures he went to the hotel, and in the bar learned enough to enable him to guess that Norman was of on a mad carouse. He had no difficulty in finding the trail or in following it; the difficulty lay in catching up, for Norman was going fast. Not until late at night--that is, early in the morning--of the sixth day from the beginning of his search did he get his man.

He was prepared to find a wreck, haggard, wildly nervous and disreputably disheveled; for, so far as he could ascertain Norman had not been to bed, but had gone on and on from one crowd of revelers to another, in a city where it is easy to find companions in dissipation at any hour of the twenty-four. Tetlow was even calculating upon having to put off their business many weeks while the crazy man was pulling through delirium tremens or some other form of brain fever.

An astonishing sight met his eyes in the Third Avenue oyster house before which the touring car Norman had been using was drawn up. At a long table, eating oysters as fast as the opener could work, sat Norman and his friend Gaskill, a fellow member of the Federal Club, and about a score of broken and battered tramps. The supper or breakfast was going forward in admirable order. Gaskill, whom Norman had picked up a few hours before, showed signs of having done some drinking. But not Norman. It is true his clothing might have looked fresher; but hardly the man himself.

"Just in time!" he cried out genially, at sight of Tetlow. "Sit down with us. Waiter, a chair next to mine. Gentlemen, Mr. Tetlow. Mr. Tetlow, gentlemen. What'll you have, old man?"

Tetlow declined champagne, accepted half a dozen of the huge oysters. "I've been after you for nearly a week," said he to Norman.

"Pity you weren't _with me," said Norman. "I've been getting acquainted with large numbers of my fellow citizens."

"From the Bowery to Yonkers."

"Exactly. Don't fall asleep, Gaskill."

But Gaskill was snoring with his head on the back of his chair and his throat presented as if for the as of the executioner. "He's all in," said Tetlow.

"That's the way it goes," complained Norman. "I can't find anyone to keep me company."

Tetlow laughed. "You look as if you had just started out," said he. "Tell me--_where have you slept?"

"I haven't had time to sleep as yet."

"I dropped in to suggest that a little sleep wouldn't do any harm."

"Not quite yet. Watch our friends eat. It gives me an appetite. Waiter, another dozen all round--and some more of this carbonated white wine you've labeled champagne."

As he called out this order, a grunt of satisfaction ran round the row of human derelicts. Tetlow shuddered, yet was moved and thrilled, too, as he glanced from face to face--those hideous hairy countenances, begrimed and beslimed, each countenance expressing in its own repulsive way the one emotion of gratified longing for food and drink. "Where did you get 'em?" inquired he.

"From the benches in Madison Square," replied Norman. He laughed queerly. "Recognize yourself in any of those mugs, Tetlow?" he asked.

Tetlow shivered. "I should say not!" he exclaimed.

Norman's eyes gleamed. "I see myself in all of 'em," said he.

"Poor wretches!" muttered Tetlow.

"Pity wasted," he rejoined. "You might feel sorry for a man on the way to where they've got. But once arrived--as well pity a dead man sleeping quietly in his box with three feet of solid earth between him and worries of every kind."

"Shake this crowd," said Tetlow impatiently. "I want to talk with you."

"All right, if it bores you." He sent the waiter out for enough lodging-house tickets to provide for all. He distributed them himself, to make sure that the proprietor of the restaurant did not attempt to graft. Then he roused Gaskill and bundled him into the car and sent it away to his address. The tramps gathered round and gave Norman three cheers--they pressed close while four of them tried to pick his and Tetlow's pockets. Norman knocked them away good-naturedly, and he and Tetlow climbed into Tetlow's hansom.

"To my place," suggested Tetlow.

"No, to mine--the Knickerbocker," replied Norman.

"I'd rather you went to my place first," said Tetlow uneasily.

"My wife isn't with me. She has left me," said Norman calmly.

Tetlow hesitated, extremely nervous, finally acquiesced. They drove a while in silence, then Norman said, "What's the business?"

"Galloway wants to see you."

"Tell him to come to my office to-morrow--that means to-day--at any time after eleven."

"But that gives you no chance to pull yourself together," objected Tetlow.

Norman's face, seen in the light of the street lamp they happened to be passing, showed ironic amusement. "Never mind about me, Billy. Tell him to come."

Tetlow cleared his throat nervously. "Don't you think, old man, that you'd better go to see him? I'll arrange the appointment."

Norman said quietly: "Tetlow, I've dropped pretty far. But not so far that I go to my clients. The rule of calls is that the man seeking the favor goes to the man who can grant it."

"But it isn't the custom nowadays for a lawyer to deal that way with a man like Galloway."

"And neither is it the custom for anyone to have any self-respect. Does Galloway need my brains more than I need his money, or do I need his money more than he needs my brains? You know what the answer to that is, Billy. We are partners--you and I. I'm training you for the position."

"Galloway won't come," said Tetlow curtly.

"So much the worse for him," retorted Norman placidly. "No--I've not been drinking too much, old man--as your worried--old-maid look suggests. Do a little thinking. If Galloway doesn't get me, whom will he get?"

"You know very well, Norman, there are scores of lawyers, good ones, who'd crawl at his feet for his business. Nowadays, most lawyers are always looking round for a pair of rich man's boots to lick."

"But I am not 'most lawyers,'" said Norman. "Of course, if Galloway could make me come to him, he'd be a fool to come to me. But when he finds I'm not coming, why, he'll behave himself--if his business is important enough for me to bother with."

"But if he doesn't come, Fred?"

"Then--my Universal Fuel scheme, or some other equally good. But you will never see me limbering my knees in the anteroom of a rich man, when he needs me and I don't need him."

"Well, we'll see," said Tetlow, with the air of a sober man patient with one who is not sober.

"By the way," continued Norman, "if Galloway says he's too ill to come--or anything of that sort--tell him I'd not care to undertake the affairs of a man too old or too feeble to attend to business, as he might die in the midst of it."

Tetlow's face was such a wondrous exhibit of discomfiture that Norman laughed outright. Evidently he had forestalled his fat friend in a scheme to get him to Galloway in spite of himself. "All right--all right," said Tetlow fretfully. "We'll sleep on this. But I don't see why you're so opposed to going to see the man. It looks like snobbishness to me--false pride--silly false pride."

"It _is snobbishness," said Norman. "But you forget that snobbishness rules the world. The way to rule fools is to make them respect you. And the way to make them respect you is by showing them that they are your inferiors. I want Galloway's respect because I want his money. And I'll not get his money--as much of it as belongs to me--except by showing him my value. Not my value as a lawyer, for he knows that already, but my value as a man. Do you see?"

"No, I don't," snapped Tetlow.

"That's what it means to be Tetlow. Now, I do see--and that's why I'm Norman."

Tetlow looked at him doubtfully, uncertain whether he had been listening to wisdom put in a jocose form of audacious egotism or to the effervescings of intoxication. The hint of a smile lurking in the sobriety of the powerful features of his extraordinary friend only increased his doubt. Was Norman mocking him, and himself as well? If so, was it the mockery of sober sense or of drunkenness?

"You seem to be puzzled, Billy," said Norman, and Tetlow wondered how he had seen. "Don't get your brains in a stew trying to understand me. I'm acting the way I've always acted--except in one matter. You know that I know what I'm about?"

"I certainly do," replied his admirer.

"Then, let it go at that. If you could understand me--the sort of man I am, the sort of thing I do--you'd not need me, but would be the whole show yourself--eh? That being true, don't show yourself a commonplace nobody by deriding and denying what your brain is unable to comprehend. Show yourself a somebody by seeing the limitations of your ability. The world is full of little people who criticise and judge and laugh at and misunderstand the few real intelligences. And very tedious interruptions of the scenery those little people are. Don't be one of them. . . . Did you know my wife's father?"

Tetlow startled. "No--that is, yes," he stammered. "That is, I met him a few times."

"Often enough to find out that he was crazy?"

"Oh, yes. He explained some of his ideas to me. Yes--he was quite mad, poor fellow."

Norman gave way to a fit of silent laughter. "I can imagine," he presently said, "what you'd have thought if Columbus or Alexander or Napoleon or Stevenson or even the chaps who doped out the telephone and the telegraph--if they had talked to you before they arrived. Or even after they arrived, if they had been explaining some still newer and bigger idea not yet accomplished."

"You don't think Mr. Hallowell was mad?"

"He was mad, assuming that you are the standard of sanity. Otherwise, he was a great man. There'll be statues erected and pages of the book of fame devoted to the men who carry out his ideas."

"His death was certainly a great loss to his daughter," said Tetlow in his heaviest, most bourgeois manner.

"I said he was a great man," observed Norman. "I didn't say he was a great father. A great man is never a great father. It takes a small man to be a great father."

"At any rate, her having no parents or relatives doesn't matter, now that she has you," said Tetlow, his manner at once forced and constrained.

"Um," muttered Norman.

Said Tetlow: "Perhaps you misunderstood why I--I acted as I did about her, toward the last."

"It was of no importance," said Norman brusquely. "I wish to hear nothing about it."

"But I must explain, Fred. She piqued me by showing so plainly that she despised me. I must admit the truth, though I've got as much vanity as the next man, and don't like to admit it. She despised me, and it made me mad."

An expression of grim satire passed over Norman's face. Said he: "She despised me, too."

"Yes, she did," said Tetlow. "And both of us were certainly greatly her superiors--in every substantial way. It seemed to me most--most----"

"Most impertinent of her?" suggested Norman.

"Precisely. _Most impertinent."

"Rather say, ignorant and small. My dear Tetlow, let me tell you something. Anybody, however insignificant, can be loved. To be loved means nothing, except possibly a hallucination in the brain of the lover. But to _love_--that's another matter. Only a great soul is capable of a great love."

"That is true," murmured Tetlow sentimentally, preening in a quiet, gentle way.

Said Norman sententiously: "_You stopped loving. It was _I that kept on."

Tetlow looked uncomfortable. "Yes--yes," he said. "But we were talking of her--of her not appreciating the love she got. And I was about to say--" Earnestly--"Fred, she's not to be blamed for her folly! She's very, very young--and has all the weaknesses and vanities of youth----"

"Here we are," interrupted Norman.

The hansom had stopped in Forty-second Street before the deserted but still brilliantly lighted entrances to the great hotel. Norman sprang out so lightly and surely that Tetlow wondered how it was possible for this to be the man who had been racketing and roistering day after day, night after night for nearly a week. He helped the heavy and awkward Tetlow to descend, said:

"You'll have to pay, Bill. I've got less than a dollar left. And I touched Gaskill for a hundred and fifty to-night. You can imagine how drunk he was, to let me have it. How they've been shying off from _me these last few months!"

"And you want _Galloway to come to _you_," thrust Tetlow, as he counted out the money.

"Don't go back and chew on that," laughed Norman. "It's settled." He took the money, gave it to the driver. "Thanks," he said to Tetlow. "I'll pay you to-morrow--that is, later to-day--when you send me another check."

"Why should you pay for my cab?" rejoined Tetlow.

"Because it's easier for me to make money than it is for you," replied Norman. "If you were in my position--the position I've been in for months--would anybody on earth give you three thousand dollars a month?"

Tetlow looked sour. His good nature was rubbing thin in spots.

"Don't lose your temper," laughed Norman. "I'm pounding away at you about my superiority, partly because I've been drinking, but chiefly for your own good--so that you'll realize I'm right and not mess things with Galloway."

They went up to Norman's suite. Norman tried to unlock the door, found it already unlocked. He turned the knob, threw the door wide for Tetlow to enter first. Then, over Tetlow's shoulder he saw on the marble-topped center table Dorothy's hat and jacket, the one she had worn away, the only one she had. He stared at them, then at Tetlow. A confused look in the fat, slow face made him say sharply:

"What does this mean, Tetlow?"

"Not so loud, Fred," said Tetlow, closing the door into the public hall. "She's in the bedroom--probably asleep. She's been here since yesterday."

"You brought her back?" demanded Norman.

"She wanted to come. I simply----"

Norman made a silencing gesture. Tetlow's faltering voice stopped short. Norman stood near the table, his hands deep in his trousers' pockets, his gaze fixed upon the hat and jacket. When Tetlow's agitation could bear the uncertainties of that silence no longer, he went on:

"Fred, you mustn't forget how young and inexperienced she is. She's been foolish, but nothing more. She's as pure as when she came into the world. And it's the truth that she wanted to come back. I saw it as soon as I began to talk with her."

"What are you chattering about?" said Norman fiercely. "Why did you meddle in my affairs? Why did you bring her back?"

"I knew she needed you," pleaded Tetlow. "Then, too--I was afraid--I knew how you acted before, and I thought you'd not get your gait again until you had her."

Norman gave a short sardonic laugh. "If you'd only stop trying to understand me!" he said.

Tetlow was utterly confused. "But, Fred, you don't realize--not all," he cried imploringly. "She discovered--she thinks, I believe--that is--she--she--that probably--that in a few months you'll be something more than a husband--and she something more than a wife--that you--that--you and she will be a father and a mother."

Tetlow's meaning slowly dawned on Norman. He seated himself in his favorite attitude, legs sprawled, fingers interlaced behind his head.

"Wasn't I right to bring her back--to tell her she needn't fear to come?" pleaded Tetlow.

Norman made no reply. After a brief silence he said: "Well, good night, old man. Come round to my office any time after ten." He rose and gave Tetlow his hand. "And arrange for Galloway whenever you like. Good night."

Tetlow hesitated. "Fred--you'll not be harsh to her?" he said.

Norman smiled--a satirical smile, yet exquisitely gentle. "If you _only wouldn't try to understand me, Bill," he said.

When he was alone he sat lost in thought. At last he rang for a bell boy. And when the boy came, he said: "That door there"--indicating one in the opposite wall of the sitting room--"what does it lead into?"

"Another bedroom, sir."

"Unlock it, and tell them at the office I wish that room added to my suite."

As soon as the additional bedroom was at his disposal, he went in and began to undress. When he had taken off coat and waistcoat he paused to telephone to the office a call for eight o'clock. As he finished and hung up the receiver, a sound from the direction of the sitting room made him glance in there. On the threshold of the other bedroom stood his wife. She was in her nightgown; her hair, done in a single thick braid, hung down across her bosom. There was in the room and upon her childish loveliness the strange commingling of lights and shadows that falls when the electricity is still on and the early morning light is pushing in at the windows. They looked at each other in silence for some time. If she was frightened or in the least embarrassed she did not show it. She simply looked at him, while ever so slowly a smile dawned--a gleam in the eyes, a flutter round the lips, growing merrier and merrier. He did not smile. He continued to regard her gravely.

"I heard you and Mr. Tetlow come in," she said. "Then--you talked so long--I fell asleep again. I only this minute awakened."

"Well, now you can go to sleep again," said he.

"But I'm not a bit sleepy. What are you doing in that room?"

She advanced toward his door. He stood aside. She peeped in. She was so close to him that her nightgown brushed the bosom of his shirt. "Another bedroom!" she exclaimed. "Just like ours."

"I didn't wish to disturb you," said he, calm and grave.

"But you wouldn't have been disturbing me," protested she, leaning against the door frame, less than two feet away and directly facing him.

"I'll stay on here," said he.

She gazed at him with great puzzled eyes. "Aren't you glad I'm back?" she asked.

"Certainly," said he with a polite smile. "But I must get some sleep." And he moved away.

"You must let me tell you how I happened to go and why I came----"

"Please," he interrupted, looking at her with a piercing though not in the least unfriendly expression that made her grow suddenly pale and thoughtful. "I do not wish to hear about it--not now--not ever. Tetlow told me all that it's necessary for me to know. You have come to stay, I assume?"

"Yes--if"--her lip quivered--"if you'll let me."

"There can be no question of that," said he with the same polite gravity he had maintained throughout.

"You want me to leave you alone?"

"Please. I need sleep badly--and I've only three hours."

"You are--angry with me?"

He looked placidly into her lovely, swimming eyes. "Not in the least."

"But how can you help being? I acted dreadfully."

He smiled gently. "But you are back--and the incident is closed."

She looked down at the carpet, her fingers playing with her braid, twisting and untwisting its strands. He stood waiting to close the door. She said, without lifting her eyes--said in a quiet, expressionless way, "I have killed your love?"

"I'll not trouble you any more," evaded he. And he laid his hand significantly upon the knob.

"I don't understand," she murmured. Then, with a quick apologetic glance at him, "But I'm very inconsiderate. You want to sleep. Good night."

"Good night," said he, beginning to close the door.

She impulsively stood close before him, lifted her small white face, as if for a kiss. "Do you forgive me?" she asked. "I was foolish. I didn't understand--till I went back. Then--nothing was the same. And I knew I wasn't fitted for that life--and didn't really care for him--and----"

He kissed her on the brow. "Don't agitate yourself," said he. "And we will never speak of this again."

She shrank as if he had struck her. Her head drooped, and her shoulders. When she was clear of the door, he quietly closed it.

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CHAPTER XIXIt was not many minutes after ten when Tetlow hurried into Norman's office. "Galloway's coming at eleven!" said he, with an air of triumph. "So you mulled over what I said and decided that I was not altogether drunk?" "I wasn't sure of that," replied Tetlow. "But I was afraid you'd be offended if I didn't try to get him. He gave me no trouble at all. As soon as I told him you'd be glad to see him at your office, he astounded me by saying he'd come." "He and I have had dealings," said Norman. "He understood at
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CHAPTER XVIIAbout half an hour later the door into the bedroom opened and she appeared on the threshold of the sitting room, ready for the street. He stared at her in the dazed amazement of a man faced by the impossible, and uncertain whether it is sight or reason that is tricking him. She had gone into the bedroom not only homely but commonplace, not only commonplace but common, a dingy washed-out blonde girl whom it would be a humiliation to present as his wife. She was standing there, in the majesty of such proud pale beauty as poets delight to
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