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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 7
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The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 7 Post by :lauco Category :Long Stories Author :David Graham Phillips Date :May 2012 Read :967

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The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 7


In the cold clear open he proceeded to take the usual account of stock--with dismal results. She had wound him round her fingers, had made him say only the things he should not have said, and leave unsaid the things that might have furthered his purposes. He had conducted the affair ridiculously--"just what is to be expected of an infatuated fool." However, there was no consolation in the discovery that he was reduced, after all these years of experience, to the common level--man weak and credulous in his dealings with woman. He hoped that his disgust with himself would lead on to disgust, or, rather, distaste for her. It is the primal instinct of vanity to dislike and to shun those who have witnessed its humiliation.

"I believe I am coming to my senses," he said. And he ventured to call her up before him for examination and criticism. This as he stood upon the forward deck of the ferry with the magnificent panorama of New York before him. New York! And he, of its strong men, of the few in all that multitude who had rank and power--he who had won as his promised wife the daughter of one of the dozen mighty ones of the nation! What an ill-timed, what an absurd, what a crazy step down this excursion of his! And for what? There he summoned her before him. And at the first glance of his fancy at her fair sweet face and lovely figure, he quailed. He was hearing her voice again. He was feeling the yield of her smooth, round form to his embrace, the yield of her smooth white cheek to his caress. In his nostrils was the fragrance of her youth, the matchless perfume of nature, beyond any of the distillations of art in its appeal to his normal and healthy nerves. And he burned with the fire only she could quench. "I must--I must.--My God, I _must_!" he muttered.

When he reached home, he asked whether his sister was in. The butler said that Mrs. Fitzhugh had just come from the theater. In search of her, he went to the library, found her seated there with a book and a cigarette, her wrap thrown back upon her chair. "Come out to supper with me, Ursula," he said. "I'm starved and bored."

"Why, you're not dressed!" exclaimed his sister. "I thought you were at the Cameron dance with Josephine."

"Had to cut it out," replied he curtly. "Will you come?"

"I can't eat, but I'll drink. Yes, let's have a spree. It's been years since we had one--not since we were poor. Let's not go to a _deadly respectable place. Let's go where there are some of the other kind, too."

"But I must have food. Why not the Martin?"

"That'll do--though I'd prefer something a little farther up Broadway."

"The Martin is gay enough. The truth is, there's nothing really gay any more. There's too much money. Money suffocates gayety."

To the Martin they went, and he ordered an enormous supper--one of those incredible meals for which he was famous. They dispatched a quart of champagne before the supper began to come, he drinking at least two thirds of it. He drank as much while he was eating--and called for a third bottle when the coffee was served. He had eaten half a dozen big oysters, a whole guinea hen, a whole portion of salad, another of Boniface cheese, with innumerable crackers.

"If I could eat as you do!" sighed Ursula enviously. "Yet it's only one of your accomplishments."

"I'm not eating much nowadays," said he gloomily. "I'm losing my appetite." And he lit a long black cigar and swallowed half a large glass of the champagne. "Nothing tastes good--not even champagne."

"There _is something wrong with you," said Ursula. "Did you ask me out for confidences, or for advice--or for both?"

"None of them," replied he. "Only for company. I knew I'd not be able to sleep for hours, and I wanted to put off the time when I'd be alone."

"I wish I had as much influence with you as you have with me," said Ursula, by way of preparation for confidences.

"Influence? Don't I do whatever you say?"

She laughed. "Nobody has influence over you," she said.

"Not even myself," replied he morosely.

"Well--that talking-to you gave me has had its effect," proceeded Mrs. Fitzhugh. "It set me to thinking. There are other things besides love--man and woman love. I've decided to--to behave myself and give poor Clayton a chance to rest." She smiled, a little maliciously. "He's had a horrible fright. But it's over now. What a fine thing it is for a woman to have a sensible brother!"

Norman grunted, took another liberal draught of the champagne.

"If I had a mind like yours!" pursued Ursula. "Now, you simply couldn't make a fool of yourself."

He looked at her sharply. He felt as if she had somehow got wind of his eccentric doings.

"I've always resented your rather contemptuous attitude toward women," she went on. "But you are right--really you are. We're none of us worth the excitement men make about us."

"It isn't the woman who makes a fool of the man," said Norman. "It's the man who makes a fool of himself. A match can cause a terrific explosion if it's in the right place--but not if it isn't."

She nodded. "That's it. We're simply matches--and most of us of the poor sputtering kind that burns with a bad odor and goes out right away. A very inferior quality of matches."

"Yes," repeated Norman, "it's the man who does the whole business."

A mocking smile curled her lips. "I knew you weren't in love with Josephine."

He stared gloomily at his cigar.

"But you're going to marry her?"

"I'm in love with her," he said angrily. "And I'm going to marry her."

She eyed him shrewdly. "Fred--are you in love with some one else?"

He did not answer immediately. When he did it was with a "No" that seemed the more emphatic for the delay.

"Oh, just one of your little affairs." And she began to poke fun at him. "I thought you had dropped that sort of thing for good and all. I hope Josie won't hear of it. She'd not understand. Women never do--unless they don't care a rap about the man. . . . Is she on the stage? I know you'll not tell me, but I like to ask."

Her brother looked at her rather wildly. "Let's go home," he said. He was astounded and alarmed by the discovery that his infatuation had whirled him to the lunacy of longing to confide--and he feared lest, if he should stay on, he would blurt out his disgraceful secret. "Waiter, the bill."

"Don't let's go yet," urged his sister. "The most interesting people are beginning to come. Besides, I want more champagne."

He yielded. While she gazed round with the air of a visitor to a Zoo that is affected by fashionable people, and commented on the faces, figures, and clothes of the women, he stared at his plate and smoked and drank. Finally she said, "I'd give anything to see you make a fool of yourself, just once."

He grinned. "Things are in the way to having your wish gratified," he said. "It looks to me as if my time had come."

She tried to conceal her anxiety. "Are you serious?" she asked. Then added: "Of course not. You simply couldn't. Especially now--when Josephine might hear. I suppose you've noticed how Joe Culver is hanging round her?"

He nodded.

"There's no danger--unless----"

"I shall marry Josephine."

"Not if she hears."

"She's not going to hear."

"Don't be too sure. Women love to boast. It tickles their vanity to have a man. Yes, they pretend to be madly in love simply to give themselves the excuse for tattling."

"She'll not hear."

"You can't be sure."

"I want you to help me out. I'm going to tell her I'm tremendously busy these few next days--or weeks."

"Weeks!" Ursula Fitzhugh laughed. "My, it must be serious!"

"Weeks," repeated her brother. "And I want you to say things that'll help out--and to see a good deal of her." He flung down his cigar. "You women don't understand how it is with a man."

"Don't we though! Why, it's a very ordinary occurrence for a woman to be really in love with several men at once."

His eyes gleamed jealously. "I don't believe it," he cried.

"Not Josephine," she said reassuringly. "She's one of those single-hearted, untemperamental women. They concentrate. They have no imagination."

"I wasn't thinking of Josephine," said he sullenly. "To go back to what I was saying, I am in love with Josephine and with no one else. I can't explain to you how or why I'm entangled. But I'll get myself untangled all right--and very shortly."

"I know that, Fred. You aren't the permanent damn-fool sort."

"I should say not!" exclaimed he. "It's a hopeful sign that I know exactly how big a fool I am."

She shook her head in strong dissent. "On the contrary," said she, "it's a bad sign. I didn't realize I was making a fool of myself until you pointed it out to me. That stopped me. If I had been doing it with my eyes open, your jacking me up would only have made me go ahead."

"A woman's different. It doesn't take much to stop a woman. She's about half stopped when she begins."

Ursula was thoroughly alarmed. "Fred," she said earnestly, "you're running bang into danger. The time to stop is right now."

"Can't do it," he said. "Let's not talk about it."

"Can't? That word from _you_?"

"From me," replied he. "Don't forget helping out with Josephine. Let's go."

And he refused to be persuaded to stay on--or to be cajoled or baited into talking further of this secret his sister saw was weighing heavily.

* * * * *

He was down town half an hour earlier than usual the next morning. But no one noted it because his habit had always been to arrive among the first--not to set an example but to give his prodigious industry the fullest swing. There was in Turkey a great poet of whom it is said that he must have written twenty-five hours a day. Norman's accomplishment bulked in that same way before his associates. He had not slept the whole night. But, thanks to his enormous vitality, no trace of this serious dissipation showed. The huge supper he had eaten--and drunk--the sleepless night and the giant breakfast of fruit and cereal and chops and wheat cakes and coffee he had laid in to stay him until lunch time, would together have given pause to any but such a physical organization as his. The only evidence of it was a certain slight irritability--but this may have been due to his state of intense self-dissatisfaction.

As he entered the main room his glance sought the corner where Miss Hallowell was ensconced. She happened to look up at that instant. With a radiant smile she bowed to him in friendliest fashion. He colored deeply, frowned with annoyance, bowed coldly and strode into his room. He fussed and fretted about with his papers for a few minutes, then rang the bell.

"Send in Miss Pritchard--no, Mr. Gowdy--no, Miss Hallowell," he said to the office boy. And then he looked sharply at the pert young face for possible signs of secret cynical amusement. He saw none such, but was not convinced. He knew too well how by a sort of occult process the servants, all the subordinates, round a person like himself discover the most intimate secrets, almost get the news before anything has really occurred.

Miss Hallowell appeared, and very cold and reserved she looked as she stood waiting.

"I sent for you because--" he began. He glanced at the door to make sure that it was closed--"because I wanted to hear your voice." And he laughed boyishly. He was in high good humor now.

"Why did you speak to me as you did when you came in?" said she.

There was certainly novelty in this direct attack, this equal to equal criticism of his manners. He was not pleased with the novelty; but at the same time he felt a lack of the courage to answer her as she deserved, even if she was playing a clever game. "It isn't necessary that the whole office should know our private business," said he.

She seemed astonished. "What private business?"

"Last night," said he, uncertain whether she was trifling with him or was really the innocent she pretended to be. "If I were you, I'd not speak as friendlily as you did this morning--not before people."

"Why?" inquired she, her sweet young face still more perplexed.

"This isn't a small town out West," explained he. "It's New York. People misunderstand--or rather--" He gave her a laughing, mischievous glance--"or rather--they don't."

"I can't see anything to make a mystery about," declared the girl. "Why, you act as if there were something to be ashamed of in coming to see me."

He was observing her sharply. How could a girl live in the New York atmosphere several years without getting a sensible point of view? Yet, so far as he could judge, this girl was perfectly honest in her ignorance. "Don't be foolish," said he. "Please accept the fact as I give it to you. You mustn't let people see everything."

She made no attempt to conceal her dislike for this. "I won't be mixed up in anything like that," said she, quite gently and without a suggestion of pique or anger. "It makes me feel low--and it's horribly common. Either we are going to be friends or we aren't. And if we are, why, we're friends whenever we meet. I'm not ashamed of you. And if you are ashamed of me, you can cut me out altogether."

His color deepened until his face was crimson. His eyes avoided hers. "I was thinking chiefly of you," he said--and he honestly thought he was speaking the whole truth.

"Then please don't do so any more," said she, turning to go. "I understand about New York snobbishness. I want nothing to do with it."

He disregarded the danger of the door being opened at any moment. He rushed to her and took her reluctant hand. "You mustn't blame me for the ways of the world. I can't change them. Do be sensible, dearest. You're only going to be here a few days longer. I've got that plan for you and your father all thought out. I'll put it through at once. I don't want the office talking scandal about us--do you?"

She looked at him pityingly. His eyes fell before hers. "I know it's a weakness," he said, giving up trying to deceive her and himself. "But I can't help it. I was brought up that way."

"Well--I wasn't. I see we can never be friends."

What a mess he had made of this affair! This girl must be playing upon him. In his folly he had let her see how completely he was in her power, and she was using that power to establish relations between them that were the very opposite of what he desired--and must have. He must control himself. "As you please," he said coldly, dropping her hand. "I'm sorry, but unless you are reasonable I can do nothing for you." And he went to his desk.

She hesitated a moment; as her back was toward him, he could not see her expression. Without looking round she went out of his office. It took all his strength to let her go. "She's bluffing," he muttered. "And yet--perhaps she isn't. There may be people like that left in New York." Whatever the truth, he simply must make a stand. He knew women; no woman had the least respect for a man who let her rule--and this woman, relying upon his weakness for her, was bent upon ruling. If he did not make a stand, she was lost to him. If he did make a stand, he could no more than lose her. Lose her! That thought made him sick at heart. "What a fool I am about her!" he cried. "I must hurry things up. I must get enough of her--must get through it and back to my sober senses."

That was a time of heavy pressure of important affairs. He furiously attacked one task after another, only to abandon each in turn. His mind, which had always been his obedient, very humble servant, absolutely refused to obey. He turned everything over to his associates or to subordinates, fighting all morning against the longing to send for her. At half past twelve he strode out of the office, putting on the air of the big man absorbed in big affairs. He descended to the street. But instead of going up town to keep an appointment at a business lunch he hung round the entrance to the opposite building.

She did not appear until one o'clock. Then out she came--with the head office boy!--the good-looking, young head office boy.

Norman's contempt for himself there reached its lowest ebb. For his blood boiled with jealousy--jealousy of his head office boy!--and about an obscure little typewriter! He followed the two, keeping to the other side of the street. Doubtless those who saw and recognized him fancied him deep in thought about some mighty problem of corporate law or policy, as he moved from and to some meeting with the great men who dictated to a nation of ninety millions what they should buy and how much they should pay for it. He saw the two enter a quick-lunch restaurant--struggled with a crack-brained impulse to join them--dragged himself away to his appointment.

He was never too amiable in dealing with his clients, because he had found that, in self-protection, to avoid being misunderstood and largely increasing the difficulties of amicable intercourse, he must keep the feel of iron very near the surface. That day he was for the first time irascible. If the business his clients were engaged in had been less perilous and his acute intelligence not indispensable, he would have cost the firm dear. But in business circles, where every consideration yields to that of material gain, the man with the brain may conduct himself as he pleases--and usually does so, when he has strength of character.

All afternoon he wrestled with himself to keep away from the office. He won, but it was the sort of victory that gives the winner the chagrin and despondency of defeat. At home, late in the afternoon, he found Josephine in the doorway, just leaving. "You'll walk home with me--won't you?" she said. And, taken unawares and intimidated by guilt, he could think of no excuse.

Some one--probably a Frenchman--has said that there are always in a man's life three women--the one on the way out, the one that is, and the one that is to be. Norman--ever the industrious trafficker with the feminine that the man of the intense vitality necessary to a great career of action is apt to be--was by no means new to the situation in which he now found himself. But never before had the circumstances been so difficult. Josephine in no way resembled any woman with whom he had been involved; she was the first he had taken seriously. Nor did the other woman resemble the central figure in any of his affairs. He did not know what she was like, how to classify her; but he did know that she was unlike any woman he had ever known and that his feeling for her was different--appallingly different--from any emotion any other woman had inspired in him. So--a walk alone with Josephine--a first talk with her after his secret treachery--was no light matter. "Deeper and deeper," he said to himself. "Where is this going to end?"

She began by sympathizing with him for having so much to do--"and father says you can get through more work than any man he ever knew, not excluding himself." She was full of tenderness and compliment, of a kind of love that made him feel as the dirt beneath his feet. She respected him so highly; she believed in him so entirely. The thought of her discovering the truth, or any part of it, gave him a sensation of nausea. He was watching her out of the corner of his eye. Never had he seen her more statelily beautiful. If he should lose her! "I'm mad--_mad_!" he said to himself.

"Josephine is as high above her as heaven above earth. What is there to her, anyhow? Not brains--nor taste--nor such miraculous beauty. Why do I make an ass of myself about her? I ought to go to my doctor."

"I don't believe you're listening to what I'm saying," laughed Josephine.

"My head's in a terrible state," replied he. "I can't think of anything."

"Don't try to talk or to listen, dearest," said she in the sweet and soothing tone that is neither sweet nor soothing to a man in a certain species of unresponsive mood. "This air will do you good. It doesn't annoy you for me to talk to you, does it?"

The question was one of those which confidently expects, even demands, a sincere and strenuous negative for answer. It fretted him, this matter-of-course assumption of hers that she could not but be altogether pleasing, not to say enchanting to him. Her position, her wealth, the attentions she had received, the flatteries--In her circumstances could it be in human nature not to think extremely well of oneself? And he admitted that she had the right so to think. Still--For the first time she scraped upon his nerves. His reply, "Annoy me? The contrary," was distinctly crisp. To an experienced ear there would have sounded the faint warning under-note of sullenness.

But she, believing in his love and in herself, saw nothing, suspected nothing. "We know each other so thoroughly," she went on, "that we don't need to make any effort. How congenial we are! I always understand you. I feel such a sense of the perfect freedom and perfect frankness between us. Don't you?"

"You have wonderful intuitions," said he.

It was the time to alarm him by coldness, by capriciousness. But how could she know it? And she was in love--really in love--not with herself, not with love, but with him. Thus, she made the mistake of all true lovers in those difficult moments. She let him see how absolutely she was his. Nor did the spectacle of her sincerity, of her belief in his sincerity put him in any better humor with himself.

The walk was a mere matter of a dozen blocks. He thought it would never end. "You are sure you aren't ill?" she said, when they were at her door--a superb bronze door it was, opening into a house of the splendor that for the acclimated New Yorker quite conceals and more than compensates absence of individual taste. "You don't look ill. But you act queerly."

"I'm often this way when they drive me too hard down town."

She looked at him with fond admiration; he might have been better pleased had there not been in the look a suggestion of the possessive. "How they do need you! Father says--But I mustn't make you any vainer than you are."

He usually loved compliment, could take it in its rawest form with fine human gusto. Now, he did not care enough about that "father says" to rise to her obvious bait. "I'm horribly tired," he said. "Shall I see you to-morrow? No, I guess not--not for several days. You understand?"

"Perfectly," replied she. "I'll miss you dreadfully, but my father has trained me well. I know I mustn't be selfish--and tempt you to neglect things."

"Thank you," said he. "I must be off."

"You'll come in--just a moment?" Her eyes sparkled. "The butler will have sense enough to go straight away--and the small reception room will be quite empty as usual."

He could not escape. A few seconds and he was alone with her in the little room--how often had he--they--been glad of its quiet and seclusion on such occasions! She laid her hand upon his shoulders, gazed at him proudly. "It was here," said she, "that you first kissed me. Do you remember?"

To take her gaze from his face and to avoid seeing her look of loving trust, he put his arms round her. "I don't deserve you," he said--one of those empty pretenses of confession that yet give the human soul a sense of truthfulness.

"You'd not say that if you knew how happy you make me," murmured she.

The welcome sound of a step in the hall give him his release. When he was in the street, he wiped his hot face with his handkerchief. "And I thought I had no moral sense left!" he reflected--not the first man, in this climax day of the triumph of selfish philosophies, to be astonished by the discovery that the dead hands of heredity and tradition have a power that can successfully defy reason.

He started to walk back home, on impulse took a passing taxi and went to his club. It was the Federal. They said of it that no man who amounted to anything in New York could be elected a member, because any man on his way up could not but offend one or more of the important persons in control. Most of its members were nominated at birth or in childhood and elected as soon as they were twenty-one. Norman was elected after he became a man of consequence. He regarded it as one of the signal triumphs of his career; and beyond question it was proof of his power, of the eagerness of important men, despite their jealousy, to please him and to be in a position to get the benefit of his brains should need arise. Norman's whole career, like every career great and small, in the arena of action, was a derision of the ancient moralities, a demonstration of the value of fear as an aid to success. Even his friends--and he had as many as he cared to have--had been drawn to him by the desire to placate him, to stand well where there was danger in standing ill.

Until dinner time he stood at the club bar, drinking one cocktail after another with that supreme indifference to consequences to health which made his fellow men gape and wonder--and cost an occasional imitator health, and perhaps life. Nor did the powerful liquor have the least effect upon him, apparently. Possibly he was in a better humor, but not noticeably so. He dined at the club and spent the evening at bridge, winning several hundred dollars. He enjoyed the consideration he received at that club, for his fellow members being men of both social and financial consequence, their conspicuous respect for him was a concentrated essence of general adulation. He lingered on, eating a great supper with real appetite. He went home in high good humor with himself. He felt that he was a conqueror born, that such things of his desire as did not come could be forced to come. He no longer regarded his passion for the nebulous girl of many personalities as a descent from dignity. Was he not king? Did not his favor give her whatever rank he pleased? Might not a king pick and choose, according to his fancy? Let the smaller fry grow nervous about these matters of caste. They did well to take care lest they should fall. But not he! He had won thus far by haughtiness, never by cringing. His mortal day would be that in which he should abandon his natural tactics for the modes of lesser men. True, only a strong head could remain steady in these giddy altitudes of self-confidence. But was not his head strong?

And without hesitation he called up the vision that made him delirious-and detained it and reveled in it until sleep came.

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The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 8 The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 8

The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 8
CHAPTER VIIIThe longer he thought of it the stronger grew his doubt that the little Hallowell girl could be so indifferent to him as she seemed. Not that she was a fraud--that is, a conscious fraud--even so much of a fraud as the sincerest of the other women he had known. Simply that she was carrying out a scheme of coquetry. Could it be in human nature, even in the nature of the most indiscriminating of the specimens of young feminine ignorance and folly, not to be flattered by the favor of such a man as he? Common sense answered that

The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 6 The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 6

The Grain Of Dust: A Novel - Chapter 6
CHAPTER VILife many another chance explorer from New York, Norman was surprised to discover that, within a few minutes of leaving the railway station, his cab was moving through a not unattractive city. He expected to find the Hallowells in a tenement in some more or less squalid street overhung with railway smoke and bedaubed with railway grime. He was delighted when the driver assured him that there was no mistake, that the comfortable little cottage across the width of the sidewalk and a small front yard was the sought-for destination. "Wait, please," he said to the cabman. "Or, if you