The Cost

Author: David Graham Phillips

I. A Father Invites Disaster

Pauline Gardiner joined us on the day that we, the Second Reader class, moved from the basement to the top story of the old Central Public School. Her mother brought her and, leaving, looked round at us, meeting for an instant each pair of curious eyes with friendly appeal.

We knew well the enchanted house where she lived—stately, retreated far into large grounds in Jefferson Street; a high brick wall all round, and on top of the wall broken glass set in cement. Behind that impassable barrier which so teased our young audacity were flower-beds and "shrub" bushes, whose blossoms were wonderfully sweet if held a while in the closed hand; grape arbors and shade and fruit trees, haunted by bees; winding walks strewn fresh each spring with tan-bark that has such a clean, strong odor, especially just after a rain, and that is at once firm and soft beneath the feet. And in the midst stood the only apricot tree in Saint X. As few of us had tasted apricots, and as those few pronounced them better far than oranges or even bananas, that tree was the climax of tantalization.

The place had belonged to a childless old couple who hated children—or did they bar them out and drive them away because the sight and sound of them quickened the ache of empty old age into a pain too keen to bear? The husband died, the widow went away to her old maid sister at Madison; and the Gardiners, coming from Cincinnati to live in the town where Colonel Gardiner was born and had spent his youth, bought the place. On our way to and from school in the first weeks of that term, pausing as always to gaze in through the iron gates of the drive, we had each day seen Pauline walking alone among the flowers. And she would stop and smile at us; but she was apparently too shy to come to the gates; and we, with the memory of the cross old couple awing us, dared not attempt to make friends with her.

She was eight years old, tall for her age, slender but strong, naturally graceful. Her hazel eyes were always dancing mischievously. She liked boys’ games better than girls’. In her second week she induced several of the more daring girls to go with her to the pond below town and there engage in a raft-race with the boys. And when John Dumont, seeing that the girls’ raft was about to win, thrust the one he was piloting into it and upset it, she was the only girl who did not scream at the shock of the sudden tumble into the water or rise in tears from the shallow, muddy bottom.

She tried going barefooted; she was always getting bruised or cut in attempts—usually successful— at boys’ recklessness; yet her voice was sweet and her manner toward others, gentle. She hid her face when Miss Stone whipped any one— more fearful far than the rise and fall of Miss Stone’s ferule was the soaring and sinking of her broad, bristling eyebrows.

From the outset John Dumont took especial delight in teasing her—John Dumont, the roughest boy in the school. He was seven years older than she, but was only in the Fourth Reader—a laggard in his studies because his mind was incurious about books and the like, was absorbed in games, in playing soldier and robber, in swimming and sledding, in orchard-looting and fighting. He was impudent and domineering, a bully but not a coward, good-natured when deferred to, the feared leader of a boisterous, imitative clique. Until Pauline came he had rarely noticed a girl—never except to play her some prank more or less cruel.

After the adventure of the raft he watched Pauline afar off, revolving plans for approaching her without impairing his barbaric dignity, for subduing her without subduing himself to her. But he knew only one way of making friends, the only kind of friends he had or could conceive—loyal subjects, ruled through their weaknesses and fears. And as that way was to give the desired addition to his court a sound thrashing, he felt it must be modified somewhat to help him in his present conquest. He tied her hair to the back of her desk; he snowballed her and his sister Gladys home from school. He raided her playhouse and broke her dishes and—she giving desperate battle—fled with only the parents of her doll family. With Gladys shrieking for their mother, he shook her out of a tree in their yard, and it sprained her ankle so severely that she had to stay away from school for a month. The net result of a year’s arduous efforts was that she had singled him out for detestation—this when her conquest of him was complete because she had never told on him, had never in her worst encounters with him shown the white feather.

But he had acted more wisely than he knew, for she had at least singled him out from the crowd of boys. And there was a certain frank good-nature about him, a fearlessness—and she could not help admiring his strength and leadership. Presently she discovered his secret—that his persecutions were not through hatred of her but through anger at her resistance, anger at his own weakness in being fascinated by her. This discovery came while she was shut in the house with her sprained ankle. As she sat at her corner bay-window she saw him hovering in the neighborhood, now in the alley at the side of the house, now hurrying past, whistling loudly as if bent upon some gay and remote errand, now skulking along as if he had stolen something, again seated on the curbstone at the farthest crossing from which he could see her window out of the corner of his eye. She understood—and forthwith forgave the past. She was immensely flattered that this big, audacious creature, so arrogant with the boys, so contemptuous toward the girls, should be her captive.

When she was in her first year at the High School and he in his last he walked home with her every day; and they regarded themselves as engaged. Her once golden hair had darkened now to a beautiful brown with red flashing from its waves; and her skin was a clear olive pallid but healthy. And she had shot up into a tall, slender young woman; her mother yielded to her pleadings, let her put her hair into a long knot at the back of her neck and wear skirts ALMOST to the ground.

When he came from Ann Arbor for his first Christmas holidays each found the other grown into a new person. She thought him a marvel of wisdom and worldly experience. He thought her a marvel of ideal womanhood—gay, lively; not a bit "narrow" in judging him, yet narrow to primness in her ideas of what she herself could do, and withal charming physically. He would not have cared to explain how he came by the capacity for such sophisticated judgment of a young woman. They were to be married as soon as he had his degree; and he was immediately to be admitted to partnership in his father’s woolen mills—the largest in the state of Indiana.

He had been home three weeks of the long vacation between his sophomore and junior years. There appeared on the town’s big and busy stream of gossip, stories of his life at Ann Arbor—of drinking and gambling and wild "tears" in Detroit. And it was noted that the fast young men of Saint X—so every one called Saint Christopher—were going a more rapid gait. Those turbulent fretters against the dam of dullness and stern repression of even normal and harmless gaiety had long caused scandal. But never before had they been so daring, so defiant.

One night after leaving Pauline he went to play poker in Charley Braddock’s rooms. Braddock, only son of the richest banker in Saint X, had furnished the loft of his father’s stable as bachelor quarters and entertained his friends there without fear that the noise would break the sleep and rouse the suspicions of his father. That night, besides Braddock and Dumont, there were Jim Cauldwell and his brother Will. As they played they drank; and Dumont, winning steadily, became offensive in his raillery. There was a quarrel, a fight; Will Cauldwell, accidently toppled down a steep stairway by Dumont, was picked up with a broken arm and leg.

By noon the next day the town was boiling with this outbreak of deviltry in the leading young men, the sons and prospective successors of the "bulwarks of religion and morality." The Episcopalian and Methodist ministers preached against Dumont, that "importer of Satan’s ways into our peaceful midst," and against Charley Braddock with his "ante-room to Sheol"—the Reverend Sweetser had just learned the distinction between Sheol and Hades. The Presbyterian preacher wrestled spiritually with Will Cauldwell and so wrought upon his depression that he gave out a solemn statement of confession, remorse and reform. In painting himself in dark colors he painted Jack Dumont jet black.

Pauline had known that Dumont was "lively"—he was far too proud of his wild oats wholly to conceal them from her. And she had all the tolerance and fascinated admiration of feminine youth for the friskiness of masculine freedom. Thus, though she did not precisely approve what he and his friends had done, she took no such serious view of it as did her parents and his. The most she could do with her father was to persuade him to suspend sentence pending the conclusion of an investigation into Jack’s doings at the University of Michigan and in Detroit. Colonel Gardiner was not so narrow or so severe as Jack said or as Pauline thought. He loved his daughter; so he inquired thoroughly. He knew that his daughter loved Dumont; so he judged liberally. When he had done he ordered the engagement broken and forbade Dumont the house.

"He is not wild merely; he is—worse than you can imagine," said the colonel to his wife, in concluding his account of his discoveries and of Dumont’s evasive and reluctant admissions—an account so carefully expurgated that it completely misled her. "Tell Pauline as much as you can—enough to convince her."

This, when Mrs. Gardiner was not herself convinced. She regarded the colonel as too high-minded to be a fit judge of human frailty; and his over-caution in explanation had given her the feeling that he had a standard for a husband for their daughter which only another such rare man as himself could live up to. Further, she had always been extremely reserved in mother-and-daughter talk with Pauline, and thus could not now give her a clear idea of what little she had been able to gather from Colonel Gardiner’s half-truths. This typical enacting of a familiar domestic comedy-tragedy had the usual result: the girl was confirmed in her original opinion and stand.

"Jack’s been a little too lively," was her unexpressed conclusion from her mother’s dilution of her father’s dilution of the ugly truth. "He’s sorry and won’t do it again, and—well, I’d hate a milksop. Father has forgotten that he was young himself once."

Dumont’s father and mother charged against Ann Arbor that which they might have charged against their own alternations of tyranny and license, had they not been humanly lenient in self-excuse. "No more college!" said his father.

"The place for you, young man, is my office, where I can keep an eye or two on you."

"That suits me," replied the son, indifferently—he made small pretense of repentance at home.

"I never wanted to go to college."

"Yes, it was your mother’s doing," said old Dumont. "Now we’ll try MY way of educating a boy."

So Jack entered the service of his father’s god-of-the-six-days, and immediately showed astonishing talent and twelve-to-fourteen-hour assiduity. He did not try to talk with Pauline. He went nowhere but to business; he avoided the young men.

"It’s a bad idea to let your home town know too much about you," he reflected, and he resolved that his future gambols out of bounds should be in the security of distant and large cities—and they were. Seven months after he went to work he amazed and delighted his father by informing him that he had bought five hundred shares of stock in the mills—he had made the money, fifty-odd thousand dollars, by a speculation in wool. He was completely reestablished with his father and with all Saint X except Colonel Gardiner.

"That young Jack Dumont’s a wonder," said everybody. "He’ll make the biggest kind of a fortune or the biggest kind of a smash before he gets through."

He felt that he was fully entitled to the rights of the regenerate; he went to Colonel Gardiner’s law office boldly to claim them.

At sight of him the colonel’s face hardened into an expression as near to hate as its habit of kindliness would concede. "Well, sir!" said he, sharply, eying the young man over the tops of his glasses.

Dumont stiffened his strong, rather stocky figure and said, his face a study of youthful frankness: "You know what I’ve come for, sir. I want you to give me a trial."

"No!" Colonel Gardiner shut his lips firmly.

"Good morning, sir!" And he was writing again.

"You are very hard," said Dumont, bitterly.

"You are driving me to ruin."

"How DARE you!" The old man rose and went up to him, eyes blazing scorn. "You deceive others, but not me with my daughter’s welfare as my first duty. It is an insult to her that you presume to lift your eyes to her."

Dumont colored and haughtily raised his head. He met the colonel’s fiery gaze without flinching.

"I was no worse than other young men—"

"It’s a slander upon young men for you to say that they—that any of them with a spark of decency—would do as you have done, as you DO! Leave my office at once, sir!"

"I’ve not only repented—I’ve shown that I was ashamed of—of that," said Dumont. "Yet you refuse me a chance!"

The colonel was shaking with anger.

"You left here for New York last Thursday night," he said. "Where and how did you spend Saturday night and Sunday and Monday?"

Dumont’s eyes shifted and sank.

"It’s false," he muttered. "It’s lies."

"I expected this call from you," continued Colonel Gardiner, "and I prepared for it so that I could do what was right. I’d rather see my daughter in her shroud than in a wedding-dress for you."

Dumont left without speaking or looking up.

"The old fox!" he said to himself. "Spying on me—what an idiot I was not to look out for that. The narrow old fool! He doesn’t know what `man of the world’ means. But I’ll marry her in spite of him. I’ll let nobody cheat me out of what I want, what belongs to me."

A few nights afterward he went to a dance at Braddock’s, hunted out Pauline and seated himself beside her. In a year he had not been so near her, though they had seen each other every few days and he had written her many letters which she had read, had treasured, but had been held from answering by her sense of honor, unless her looks whenever their eyes met could be called answers.

"You mustn’t, Jack," she said, her breath coming fast, her eyes fever-bright. "Father has forbidden me—and it’ll only make him the harder."

"You, too, Polly? Well, then, I don’t care what becomes of me."

He looked so desperate that she was frightened.

"It isn’t that, Jack—you KNOW it isn’t that."

"I’ve been to see your father. And he told me he’d never consent—never! I don’t deserve that—and I can’t stand it to lose you. No matter what I’ve done, God knows I love you, Polly."

Pauline’s face was pale. Her hands, in her lap, were gripping her little handkerchief.

"You don’t say that, too—you don’t say `never’?"

She raised her eyes to his and their look thrilled through and through him. "Yes, John, I say `never’—I’ll NEVER give you up."

All the decent instincts in his nature showed in his handsome face, in which time had not as yet had the chance clearly to write character. "No wonder I love you—there never was anybody so brave and so true as you. But you must help me. I must see you and talk to you—once in a while, anyhow."

Pauline flushed painfully.

"Not till—they—let me—or I’m older, John. They’ve always trusted me and left me free. And I can’t deceive them."

He liked this—it was another proof that she was, through and through, the sort of woman who was worthy to be his wife.

"Well—we’ll wait," he said. "And if they won’t be fair to us, why, we’ll have a right to do the best we can." He gave her a tragic look.

"I’ve set my heart on you, Polly, and I never can stand it not to get what I’ve set my heart on. If I lost you, I’d go straight to ruin."

She might have been a great deal older and wiser and still not have seen in this a confirmation of her father’s judgment of her lover. And her parents had unconsciously driven her into a mental state in which, if he had committed a crime, it would have seemed to her their fault rather than his. The next day she opened the subject with her mother—the subject that was never out of their minds.

"I can’t forget him, mother. I CAN’T give him up." With the splendid confidence of youth, "I can save him—he’ll do anything for my sake." With the touching ignorance of youth, "He’s done nothing so very dreadful, I’m sure—I’d believe him against the whole world."

And in the evening her mother approached her father. She was in sympathy with Pauline, though her loyalty to her husband made her careful not to show it. She had small confidence in a man’s judgments of men on their woman-side, great confidence in the power of women to change and uplift men.

"Father," said she, when they were alone on the side porch after supper, "have you noticed how hard Polly is taking IT?"

His eyes and the sudden deepening of the lines in his face answered her.

"Don’t you think maybe we’ve been a little—too—severe?"

"I’ve tried to think so, but—" He shook his head. "Maggie, he’s hopeless, hopeless."

"I don’t know much about those things." This was a mere form of speech. She thought she knew all there was to be known; and as she was an intelligent woman who had lived a long time and had a normal human curiosity she did know a great deal. But, after the fashion of many of the women of the older generation, she had left undisturbed his delusion that her goodness was the result not of intelligence but of ignorance. "But I can’t help fearing it isn’t right to condemn a young man forever because he was led away as a boy."

"I can’t discuss it with you, Maggie—it’s a degradation even to speak of him before a good woman. You must rely upon my judgment. Polly must put him out of her head."

"But what am I to tell her? You can’t make a woman like our Pauline put a man out of her life when she loves him unless you give her a reason that satisfies her. And if you don’t give ME a reason that satisfies me how can I give HER a reason that will satisfy her?"

"I’ll talk to her," said the colonel, after a long pause. "She must—she shall give him up, mother."

"I’ve tried to persuade her to go to visit Olivia," continued Mrs. Gardiner. "But she won’t. And she doesn’t want me to ask Olivia here."

"I’ll ask Olivia before I speak to her."

Mrs. Gardiner went up to her daughter’s room—it had been her play-room, then her study, and was now graduated into her sitting-room. She was dreaming over a book—Tennyson’s poems. She looked up, eyes full of hope.

"He has some good reason, dear," began her mother.

"What is it?" demanded Pauline.

"I can’t tell you any more than I’ve told you already," replied her mother, trying not to show her feelings in her face.

"Why does he treat me—treat you—like two naughty little children?" said Pauline, impatiently tossing the book on the table.

"Pauline!" Her mother’s voice was sharp in reproof. "How can you place any one before your father!"

Pauline was silent—she had dropped the veil over herself. "I—I—where did you place father—when—when—" Her eyes were laughing again.

"You know he’d never oppose your happiness, Polly." Mrs. Gardiner was smoothing her daughter’s turbulent red-brown hair. "You’ll only have to wait under a little more trying circumstances. And if he’s right, the truth will come out. And if he’s mistaken and John’s all you think him, then that will come out."

Pauline knew her father was not opposing her through tyranny or pride of opinion or sheer prejudice; but she felt that this was another case of age’s lack of sympathy with youth, felt it with all the intensity of infatuated seventeen made doubly determined by opposition and concealment. The next evening he and she were walking together in the garden. He suddenly put his arm round her and drew her close to him and kissed her.

"You know I shouldn’t if I didn’t think it the only course—don’t you, Pauline?" he said in a broken voice that went straight to her heart.

"Yes, father." Then, after a silence: "But—we—we’ve been sweethearts since we were children. And—I—father, I MUST stand by him."

"Won’t you trust me, child? Won’t you believe ME rather than him?"

Pauline’s only answer was a sigh. They loved each the other; he adored her, she reverenced him. But between them, thick and high, rose the barrier of custom and training. Comradeship, confidence were impossible.


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Chicago: David Graham Phillips, "I. A Father Invites Disaster," The Cost, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in The Cost (New York: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894), Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023,

MLA: Phillips, David Graham. "I. A Father Invites Disaster." The Cost, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in The Cost, Vol. 22, New York, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894, Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Phillips, DG, 'I. A Father Invites Disaster' in The Cost, ed. . cited in 1894, The Cost, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from