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The Dust by David Graham Phillips

Part 8 out of 8

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poor support, and so on--if I were one of those
men, what you say might be true. But what deep and
permanent mischief can a frail woman do a strong

"There's instance after instance in history"

"Of strong men wrecking THEMSELVES through various
kinds of madness, including sex madness. But, my
dear Ursula, not an instance--not one--where the
woman was responsible. If history were truth, instead
of lies--you women might have less conceit."

"You--talking this way!" mocked Ursula.

"Meaning, I suppose, my late infatuation?"
inquired he, unruffled.

"I never saw or read of a worse case."

"Am I ruined?"

"No. But why not? Because you got her. If
you hadn't--" Ursula blew out a large cloud of
cigarette smoke with a "Pouf!"

"If I hadn't got her," said Norman, "I'd have got
well, just the same, in due time. A sick WEAK man goes
down; a sick STRONG man gets well. When a man who's
reputed to be strong doesn't get well, it's because he
merely seemed strong but wasn't. The poets and novelists
and the historians and the rest of the nature fakers
fail to tell ALL the facts, dear sister. All the facts would
spoil a pretty story."

Ursula thought a few minutes, suddenly burst out
with, "Do you think Dorothy loves you now?"

Norman rose to go out doors. "I don't think about
such unprofitable things," said he. "As long as we suit
each other and get along pleasantly--why bother about
a name for it?"

In the French window he paused, stood looking out
with an expression so peculiar that Ursula, curious,
came to see the cause. A few yards away, under a big
symmetrical maple in full leaf sat Dorothy with the
baby on her lap. She was dressed very simply in white.
There was a little sunlight upon her hair, a sheen of gold
over her skin. She was looking down at the baby. Her

Said Ursula: "Several of the great painters have
tried to catch that expression. But they've failed."

Norman made no reply. He had not heard. All
in an instant there had been revealed to him a whole
new world--a view of man and woman--of woman--
of sex--its meaning so different from what he had
believed and lived.

"What're you thinking about, Fred?" inquired his

He shook his head, with a mysterious smile, and
strolled away.


THE baby grew and thrived, as the habit is with
healthy children well taken care of. Mrs. Norman soon
got back her strength, her figure, and perhaps more
than her former beauty--as the habit is with healthy
women well taken care of. Norman's career continued
to prosper, likewise according to the habit of all healthy
things well taken care of. In a world where nothing
happens by chance, mischance, to be serious, must have
some grave fault as its hidden cause. We mortals, who
love to live at haphazard and to blame God or destiny
or "bad luck" for our calamities, hate to take this
modern and scientific view of the world and life. But,
whether we like it or not, it is the truth--and, as we
can't get round it, why not accept it cheerfully and, so
appear a little less ignorant and ridiculous?

During their first year at the Hempstead place the
results in luxury and comfort had at no time accounted
for the money it cost and the servants it employed--
that is to say, paid. But Norman was neither unreasonable
nor impatient. Also, in his years of experience
with his sister's housekeeping, and of observation of
the other women, he had grown exceedingly moderate
in his estimate of the ability of women and in his
expectations from them. He had reached the conclusion
that the women who were sheltered and pampered by
the men of the successful classes were proficient only
in those things that call for no skill or effort beyond
the wagging of the tongue. He saw that Dorothy was
making honest endeavor to learn her business, and he
knew that learning takes time--much time.

He believed that in the end she would do better than
any other wife of his acquaintance, at the business of
wife and mother.

Before the baby was two years old, his belief was
rewarded. Things began to run better--began to run
well, even. Dorothy--a serious person, unhampered of
a keen sense of humor, had taught herself the duties
of her new position in much the same slow plodding way
in which she had formerly made of herself a fair stenographer
and a tolerable typewriter. Mrs. Lowell had
helped--and Ursula, too--and Norman not a little.
But Dorothy, her husband discovered, was one of those
who thoroughly assimilate what they take in--who make
it over into part of themselves. So, her manner of keeping
house, of arranging the gardens, of bringing up the
baby, of dressing herself, was peculiarly her own. It
was not by any means the best imaginable way. It was
even what many energetic, systematic and highly competent
persons would speak contemptuously of. But it
satisfied Norman--and that was all Dorothy had in

If those who have had any considerable opportunity
to observe married life will forget what they have read
in novels and will fix their minds on what they have
observed at first hand, they will recognize the Norman
marriage, with the husband and wife living together
yet apart as not peculiar but of a rather common type.
Neither Fred nor Dorothy had any especial reason on
any given day to try to alter their relations; so the
law of inertia asserted itself and matters continued as
they had begun. It was, perhaps, a chance remark of
Tetlow's that was the remote but efficient cause of a
change, as the single small stone slipping high up on
the mountain side results in a vast landslide into the
valley miles below. Tetlow said one day, in connection
with some estate they were settling:

"I've always pitied the only child. It must be
miserably lonesome."

No sooner were the words out of his mouth than
he colored violently; for, he remembered that the
Normans had but one child and he knew the probable reason
for it. Norman seemed not to have heard or seen.
Tetlow hoped he hadn't, but, knowing the man, feared
otherwise. And he was right.

In the press of other matters Norman forgot
Tetlow's remark--remembered it again a few days later
when he was taking the baby out for an airing in the
motor--forgot it again--finally, when he took a several
days' rest at home, remembered it and kept it in mind.
He began to think of Dorothy once more in a definite,
personal way, began to observe her as his wife, instead
of as mere part of his establishment. An intellectual
person she certainly was not. She had a quaint
individual way of speaking and of acting. She had the
marvelous changeable beauty that had once caused him
to take the bit in his teeth and run wild. But he would
no more think of talking with her about the affairs that
really interested him than--well, than the other men of
large career in his acquaintance would think of talking
those matters to their wives.

But-- He was astonished to discover that he liked
this slim, quiet, unobtrusive little wife of his better than
he liked anyone else in the world, that he eagerly turned
away from the clever and amusing companionship he
might have at his clubs to come down to the country
and be with her and the baby--not the baby alone, but
her also. Why? He could not find a satisfactory reason.
He saw that she created at that Hempstead place
an atmosphere of rest, of tranquility. But this merely
thrust the mystery one step back. HOW did she create
this atmosphere--and for a man of his varied and
discriminating tastes? To that question he could work
out no answer. She had for him now a charm as different
from the infatuation of former days as calm sea is
from tempest-racked sea--utterly different, yet fully
as potent. As he observed her and wondered at these
discoveries of his, the ghost of a delight he had thought
forever dead stirred in his heart, in his fancy. Yes,
it was a pleasure, a thrilling pleasure to watch her.
There was music in those quiet, graceful movements of
hers, in that quiet, sweet voice. Not the wild, blood-
heating music of the former days, but a kind far more
melodious--tender, restful to nerves sorely tried by the
tensions of ambition. He made some sort of an attempt
to define his feeling for her, but could not. It seemed
to fit into none of the usual classifications.

Then, he wondered-- "What is SHE thinking
of ME?"

To find out he resorted to various elaborate round
about methods that did credit to the ingenuity of his
mind. But he made at every cunning cast a barren
water-haul. Either she was not thinking of him at all
or what she thought swam too deep for any casts he
knew how to make in those hidden and unfamiliar
waters. Or, perhaps she did not herself know what
she thought, being too busy with the baby and the
household to have time for such abstract and not pressing,
perhaps not important, matters. He moved slowly
in his inquiries into her state of mind because there
was all the time in the world and no occasion for haste.
He moved cautiously because he wished to do nothing
that might disturb the present serenity of their home
life. Did she dislike him? Was she indifferent? Had
she developed a habit of having him about that was in
a way equivalent to liking?

These languid but delightful investigations--not
unlike the pastimes one spins out when one has a long,
long lovely summer day with hours on hours for luxurious
happy idling--these investigations were abruptly
suspended by a suddenly compelled trip to Europe.
He arranged for Dorothy to send him a cable every
day--"about yourself and the baby"--and he sent an
occasional cabled bulletin about himself in reply. But
neither wrote to the other; their relationship was not
of the letter-exchanging kind--and had no need of pretense
at what it was not.

In the third month of his absence, his sister Ursula
came over for dresses, millinery and truly aristocratic
society. She had little time for him, or he for her, but
they happened to lunch alone about a week after his

"You're looking cross and unhappy," said she.
"What's the matter? Business?"

"No--everything's going well."

"Same thing that's troubling Dorothy, then?"

"Is Dorothy ill?" inquired he, suddenly as alert as
he had been absent. "She hasn't let me know anything
about it."

"Ill? Of course not," reassured Ursula. "She's
never ill. But--I've not anywhere or ever seen two
people as crazy about each other as you and she."

"Really?" Norman had relapsed into interest in
what he was eating.

"You live all alone down there in the country.
You treat anyone who comes to see you as intruder.
And as soon as darling husband goes away, darling
wife wanders about like a damned soul. Honestly, it
gave me the blues to look at her eyes. And I used to
think she cared more about the baby than about you."

"She's probably worried about something else,"
said Norman. "More salad? No? There's no dessert--
at least I've ordered none. But if you'd like some

"I thought of that," replied Ursula, not to be
deflected. "I mean of her being upset about something
beside you. I'm slow to suspect anyone of really caring
about any ONE else. But, although she didn't confess,
I soon saw that it was your absence. And she
wasn't putting on for my benefit, either. My maid hears
the same thing from all the servants."

"This is pleasant," said Norman in his mocking
good-humored way.

"And you're in the same state," she charged with
laughing but sympathetic eyes. "Why, Fred, you're
as madly in love with her as ever."

"I wonder," said he reflectively.

"Why didn't you bring her with you?"

He stared at his sister like a man who has just
discovered that he, with incredible stupidity, had over-
looked the obvious. "I didn't think I'd be away long,"
evaded he.

He saw Ursula off for the Continent, half promised
to join her in a few weeks at Aix. A day or so after
her departure he had a violent fit of blues, was haunted
by a vision of the baby and the comfortable, peaceful
house on Long Island. He had expected to stay about
two months longer. "I'm sick of England and of
hotels," he said, and closed up his business and sailed the
following week.

She and the baby were at the pier to meet him. He
looked for signs of the mourning Ursula had described,
but he looked in vain. Never had he seen her lovelier,
or so sparkling. And how she did talk!--rattling on
and on, with those interesting commonplaces of domestic
event--the baby, the household, the garden, the baby
--the horses, the dogs, the baby--the servants, her new
dresses, the baby--and so on, and so on--and the

But when they got into the motor at Hempstead
station for the drive home, silence fell upon her--he
had been almost silent from the start of the little
journey. As the motor swung into the grounds, looking
their most beautiful for his homecoming, an enormous
wave of pure delight began to surge up in him, to swell,
to rush, to break, dashing its spray of tears into his
eyes. He turned his head away to hide the too obvious
display of feeling. They went into the house, he carrying
the baby. He gave it to the nurse--and he and
she were alone.

"It certainly is good to be home again," he said.

The words were the tamest commonplace. We always
speak in the old stereotyped commonplaces when
we speak directly from the heart. His tone made her
glance quickly at him.

"Why, I believe you ARE glad," said she.

He took her hand. They looked at each other.
Suddenly she flung herself wildly into his arms and
clung to him in an agony of joy and fear. "Oh, I
missed you so!" she sobbed. "I missed you so!"

"It was frightful," said he. "It shall never
happen again."

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