The Grain of Dust

Author: David Graham Phillips


LIFE 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 like, you can go to that corner saloon down there. I’ll know where to find you." And he gave him half a dollar.

The cabman hesitated between two theories of this conduct—whether it was the generosity it seemed or was a ruse to "side step" payment. He—or his thirst —decided for the decency of human nature; he drove confidingly away. Norman went up the tiny stoop and rang. The sound of a piano, in the room on the ground floor where there was light, abruptly ceased. The door opened and Miss Hallowell stood before him. She was throughout a different person from the girl of the office. She had changed to a tight-fitting pale-blue linen dress made all in one piece. Norman could now have not an instant’s doubt about the genuineness, the bewitching actuality, of her beauty. The wonder was how she could contrive to conceal so much of it for the purposes of business. It was a peculiar kind of beauty—not the radiant kind, but that which shines with a soft glow and gives him who sees it the delightful sense of being its original and sole discoverer. An artistic eye—or an eye that discriminates in and responds to feminine loveliness—would have been captivated, as it searched in vain for flaw.

If Norman anticipated that she would be nervous before the task of receiving in her humbleness so distinguished a visitor, he must have been straightway disappointed. Whether from a natural lack of that sense of social differences which is developed to the most pitiful snobbishness in New York or from her youth and inexperience, she received him as if he had been one of the neighbors dropping in after supper. And it was Norman who was ill at ease. Nothing is more disconcerting to a man accustomed to be received with due respect to his importance than to find himself put upon the common human level and compelled to "make good" all over again from the beginning. He felt— he knew—that he was an humble candidate for her favor—a candidate with the chances perhaps against him.

The tiny parlor had little in it beside the upright piano because there was no space. But the paper, the carpet and curtains, the few pieces of furniture, showed no evidence of bad taste, of painful failure at the effort to "make a front." He was in the home of poor people, but they were obviously people who made a highly satisfactory best of their poverty. And in the midst of it all the girl shone like the one evening star in the mystic opalescence of twilight.

"We weren’t sure you were coming," said she. "I’ll call father. . . . No, I’ll take you back to his workshop. He’s easier to get acquainted with there."

"Won’t you play something for me first? Or— perhaps you sing? "

"A very little," she admitted. "Not worth hearing."

"I’m sure I’d like it. I want to get used to my surroundings before I tackle the—the biology."

Without either hesitation or shyness, she seated herself at the piano. "I’ll sing the song I’ve just learned." And she began. Norman moved to the chair that gave him a view of her in profile. For the next five minutes he was witness to one of those rare, altogether charming visions that linger in the memory in freshness and fragrance until memory itself fades away. She sat very straight at the piano, and the position brought out all the long lines of her figure—the long, round white neck and throat, the long back and bosom, the long arms and legs—a series of lovely curves. It has been scientifically demonstrated that pale blue is preeminently the sex color. It certainly was pre-eminently HER color, setting off each and every one of her charms and suggesting the roundness and softness and whiteness her drapery concealed. She was one of those rare beings whose every pose is instinct with grace. And her voice— It was small, rather high, at times almost shrill. But in every note of its register there sounded a mysterious, melancholy-sweet call to the responding nerves of man.

Before she got halfway through the song Norman was fighting against the same mad impulse that had all but overwhelmed him as he watched her in the afternoon. And when her last note rose, swelled, slowly faded into silence, it seemed to him that had she kept on for one note more he would have disclosed to her amazed eyes the insanity raging within him.

She turned on the piano stool, her hands dropped listlessly in her lap. "Aren’t those words beautiful?" she said in a dreamy voice. She was not looking at him. Evidently she was hardly aware of his presence.

He had not heard a word. He was in no mood for mere words. "I’ve never liked anything so well," he said. And he lowered his eyes that she might not see what they must be revealing.

She rose. He made a gesture of protest. "Won’t you sing another?" he asked.

"Not after that," she said. "It’s the best I know. It has put me out of the mood for the ordinary songs."

"You are a dreamer—aren’t you?"

"That’s my real life," replied she. "I go through the other part just to get to the dreams."

"What do you dream?"

She laughed carelessly. "Oh, you’d not be interested. It would seem foolish to you."

"You’re mistaken there," cried he. "The only thing that ever has interested me in life is dreams— and making them come true."

"But not MY kind of dreams. The only kind I like are the ones that couldn’t possibly come true."

"There isn’t any dream that can’t be made to come true."

She looked at him eagerly. "You think so?"

"The wildest ones are often the easiest." He had a moving voice himself, and it had been known to affect listening ears hypnotically when he was deeply in earnest, was possessed by one of those desires that conquer men of will and then make them irresistible instruments. "What is your dream?—happiness? . . . love?"

She gazed past him with swimming eyes, with a glance that seemed like a brave bright bird exploring infinity. "Yes," she said under her breath. "But it could never—never come true. It’s too perfect."

"Don’t doubt," he said, in a tone that fitted her mood as the rhythm of the cradle fits the gentle breathing of the sleeping child. "Don’t ever doubt. And the dream will come true."

"You have been in love?" she said, under the spell of his look and tone.

He nodded slowly. "I am," he replied, and he was under the spell of her beauty.

"Is it—wonderful?"

"Like nothing else on earth. Everything else seems —poor and cheap—beside it."

He drew a step nearer. "But you couldn’t love— not yet," he said. "You haven’t had the experience. You will have to learn."

"You don’t know me," she cried. "I have been teaching myself ever since I was a little girl. I’ve thought of nothing else most of the time. Oh—" she clasped her white hands against her small bosom—"if I ever have the chance, how much I shall give!"

"I know it! I know it!" he replied. "You will make some man happier than ever man was before." His infatuation did not blind him to the fact that she cared nothing about him, looked on him in the most unpersonal way. But that knowledge seemed only to inflame him the more, to lash him on to the folly of an ill-timed declaration. "I have felt how much you will give—how much you will love—I’ve felt it from the second time I saw you—perhaps from the first. I’ve never seen any woman who interested me as you do— who drew me as you do—against my ambition—against my will. I—I----"

He had been fighting against the words that would come in spite of him. He halted now because the food of emotion suffocated speech. He stood before her, ghastly pale and trembling. She did not draw back. She seemed compelled by his will, by the force of his passion, to stay where she was. But in her eyes was a fascinated terror—a fear of him—of the passion that dominated him, a passion like the devils that made men gash themselves and leap from precipices into the sea. To unaccustomed eyes the first sight of passion is always terrifying and is usually repellent. One must learn to adventure the big wave, the great hissing, towering billow that conceals behind its menace the wild rapture of infinite longing realized.

"I have frightened you?" he said.

"Yes," was her whispered reply.

"But it is your dream come true."

She shrank back—not in aversion, but gently. "No —it isn’t my dream," she replied.

"You don’t realize it yet, but you will."

She shook her head positively. "I couldn’t ever think of you in that way."

He did not need to ask why. She had already explained when they were talking of Tetlow. There was a finality in her tone that filled him with despair. It was his turn to look at her in terror. What power this slim delicate girl had over him! What a price she could exact if she but knew! Knew? Why, he had told her—was telling her in look and tone and gesture —was giving himself frankly into captivity—was prostrate, inviting her to trample. His only hope of escape lay in her inexperience—that she would not realize. In the insanities of passion, as in some other forms of dementia, there is always left a streak of reason—of that craft which leads us to try to get what we want as cheaply as possible. Men, all but beside themselves with love, will bargain over the terms, if they be of the bargaining kind by nature. Norman was not a haggler. But common prudence was telling him how unwise his conduct was, how he was inviting the defeat of his own purposes.

He waved his hand impatiently. "We’ll see, my dear," he said with a light good-humored laugh. "I mustn’t forget that I came to see your father."

She looked at him doubtfully. She did not understand— did not quite like—this abrupt change of mood. It suggested to her simplicity a lack of seriousness, of sincerity. "Do you really wish to see my father?" she inquired.

"Why else should I come away over to Jersey City? Couldn’t I have talked with you at the office?"

This seemed convincing. She continued to study his face for light upon the real character of this strange new sort of man. He regarded her with a friendly humorous twinkle in his eyes. "Then I’ll take you to him," she said at length. She was by no means satisfied, but she could not discover why she was dissatisfied.

"I can’t possibly do you any harm," he urged, with raillery.

"No, I think not," replied she gravely. "But you mustn’t say those things!"

"Why not?" Into his eyes came their strongest, most penetrating look. "I want you. And I don’t intend to give you up. It isn’t my habit to give up. So, sooner or later I get what I go after."

"You make me—afraid," she said nervously.

"Of what?" laughed he. "Not of me, certainly. Then it must be of yourself. You are afraid you will end by wanting me to want you."

"No—not that," declared she, confused by his quick cleverness of speech. "I don’t know what I’m afraid of."

"Then let’s go to your father. . . . You’ll not tell Tetlow what I’ve said?"

"No." And once more her simple negation gave him a sense of her absolute truthfulness.

"Or that I’ve been here?"

She looked astonished. "Why not?"

"Oh—office reasons. It wouldn’t do for the others to know."

She reflected on this. "I don’t understand," was the result of her thinking. "But I’ll do as you ask. Only, you must not come again."

"Why not? If they knew at the office, they’d simply talk—unpleasantly."

"Yes," she admitted hesitatingly after reflecting. "So you mustn’t come again. I don’t like some kinds of secrets."

"But your father will know," he urged. "Isn’t that enough for—for propriety?"

"I can’t explain. I don’t understand, myself. I do a lot of things by instinct." She, standing with her hands behind her back and with clear, childlike eyes gravely upon him, looked puzzled but resolved. "And my instinct tells me not to do anything secret about you."

This answer made him wonder whether after all he might not be too positive in his derisive disbelief in women’s instincts. He laughed. "Well—now for your father."

The workshop proved to be an annex to the rear, reached by a passage leading past a cosy little dining room and a kitchen where the order and the shine of cleanness were notable even to masculine eyes. "You are well taken care of," he said to her—she was preceding him to show the way.

"We take care of ourselves," replied she. "I get breakfast before I leave and supper after I come home. Father has a cold lunch in the middle of the day, when he eats at all—which isn’t often. And on Saturday afternoons and Sundays I do the heavy work."

"You ARE a busy lady!"

"Oh, not so very busy. Father is a crank about system and order. He has taught me to plan everything and work by the plans."

For the first time Norman had a glimmer of real interest in meeting her father. For in those remarks of hers he recognized at once the rare superior man— the man who works by plan, where the masses of mankind either drift helplessly or are propelled by some superior force behind them without which they would be, not the civilized beings they seem, but even as the savage in the dugout or as the beast of the field. The girl opened a door; a bright light streamed into the dim hallway.

"Father!" she called. "Here’s Mr. Norman."

Norman saw, beyond the exquisite profile of the girl’s head and figure, a lean tallish old man, dark and gray, whose expression proclaimed him at first glance no more in touch with the affairs of active life in the world than had he been an inhabitant of Mars.

Mr. Hallowell gave his caller a polite glance and handshake—evidence of merest surface interest in him, of amiable patience with an intruder. Norman saw in the neatness of his clothing and linen further proof of the girl’s loving care. For no such abstracted personality as this would ever bother about such things for himself. These details, however, detained Norman only for a moment. In the presence of Hallowell it was impossible not to concentrate upon him.

As we grow older what we are inside, the kind of thoughts we admit as our intimates, appears ever more strongly in the countenance. This had often struck Norman, observing the men of importance about him, noting how as they aged the look of respectability, of intellectual distinction, became a thinner and ever thinner veneer over the selfishness and greediness, the vanity and sensuality and falsehood. But never before had he been so deeply impressed by its truth. Evidently Hallowell during most of his fifty-five or sixty years had lived the purely intellectual life. The result was a look of spiritual beauty, the look of the soul living in the high mountain, with serenity and vast views constantly before it. Such a face fills with awe the ordinary follower of the petty life of the world if he have the brains to know or to suspect the ultimate truth about existence. It filled Norman with awe. He hastily turned his eyes upon the girl—and once more into his face came the resolute, intense, white-hot expression of a man doggedly set upon an earthy purpose.

There was an embarrassed silence. Then the girl said, "Show him the worms, father."

Mr. Hallowell smiled. "My little girl thinks no one has seen that sort of thing," said he. "I can’t make her believe it is one of the commonplaces."

"You’ve never had anyone here more ignorant than I, sir," said Norman. "The only claim on your courtesy I can make is that I’m interested and that I perhaps know enough in a general way to appreciate."

Hallowell waved his hand toward a row of large glass bottles on one of the many shelves built against the rough walls of the room. "Here they are," said he. "It’s the familiar illustration of how life may be controlled."

"I don’t understand," said Norman, eying the bottled worms curiously.

"Oh, it’s simply the demonstration that life is a mere chemical process----"

Norman had ceased to listen. The girl was moving toward the door by which they had entered—was in the doorway—was gone! He stood in an attitude of attention; Hallowell talked on and on, passing from one thing to another, forgetting his caller and himself, thinking only of the subject, the beloved science, that has brought into the modern world a type of men like those who haunted the deserts and mountain caves in the days when Rome was falling to pieces. With those saintly hermits of the Dark Ages religion was the allabsorbing subject. And seeking their own salvation was the goal upon which their ardent eyes were necessarily bent. With these modern devotees, science—the search for the truth about the world in which they live —is their religion; and their goal is the redemption of the world. They are resolved—step by step, each worker contributing his mite of discovery—to transform the world from a hell of discomfort and pain and death to a heaven where men and women, free and enlightened and perhaps immortal, shall live in happiness. They even dream that perhaps this race of gods shall learn to construct the means to take them to another and younger planet, when this Earth has become too old and too cold and too nakedly clad in atmosphere properly to sustain life.

From time to time Norman caught a few words of what Hallowell said—words that made him respect the intelligence that had uttered them. But he neither cared nor dared to listen. He refused to be deflected from his one purpose. When he was as old as Hallowell, it would be time to think of these matters. When he had snatched the things he needed, it would be time to take the generous, wide, philosopher view of life. But not yet. He was still young; he could—and he would!—drink of the sparkling heady life of the senses, typefied now for him in this girl. How her loveliness flamed in his blood—flamed as fiercely when he could not see the actual, tangible charms as when they were radiating their fire into his eyes and through his skin! First he must live that glorious life of youth, of nerves aquiver with ecstasy. Also, he must shut out the things of the intellect—must live in brain as well as in body the animal life—in brain the life of cunning and strategy. For the intellectual life would make it impossible to pursue such ignoble things. First, material success and material happiness. Then, in its own time, this intellectual life to which such men as Hallowell ever beckon, from their heights, such men as Norman, deep in the wallow that seems to them unworthy of them, even as they roll in it.

As soon as there came a convenient pause in Hallowell’s talk, Norman said, "And you devote your whole life to these things?"

Hallowell’s countenance lost its fine glow of enthusiasm. "I have to make a living. I do chemical analyses for doctors and druggists. That takes most of my time."

"But you can dispatch those things quickly."

Hallowell shook his head. "There’s only one way to do things. My clients trust me. I can’t shirk."

Norman smiled. He admired this simplicity. But it amused him, too; in a world of shirking and shuffling, not to speak of downright dishonesty, it struck the humorous note of the incongruous. He said:

"But if you could give all your time you would get on faster."

"Yes—if I had the time—AND the money. To make the search exhaustive would take money—five or six thousand a year, at the least. A great deal more than I shall ever have."

"Have you tried to interest capitalists?"

Hallowell smiled ironically. "There is much talk about capitalists and capital opening up things. But I have yet to learn of an instance of their touching anything until they were absolutely sure of large profits. Their failed enterprises are not miscarriage of noble purpose but mistaken judgment, judgment blinded by hope and greed."

"I see that a philosopher can know life without living it," said Norman. "But couldn’t you put your scheme in such a way that some capitalist would be led to hope?"

"I’d have to tell them the truth. Possibly I might discover something with commercial value, but I couldn’t promise. I don’t think it is likely."

Norman’s eyes were on the door. His thoughts were reaching out to the distant and faint sound of a piano. "Just what do you propose to search for?" inquired he.

He tried to listen, because it was necessary that he have some knowledge of Hallowell’s plans. But he could not fix his attention. After a few moments he glanced at his watch, interrupted with, "I think I understand enough for the present. I’ve stayed longer than I intended. I must go now. When I come again I may perhaps have some plan to propose."

"Plan?" exclaimed Hallowell, his eyes lighting up.

"I’m not sure—not at all sure," hastily added Norman. "I don’t wish to give you false hopes. The matter is extremely difficult. But I’ll try. I’ve small hope of success, but I’ll try."

"My daughter didn’t explain to me," said the scientist. "She simply said one of the gentlemen for whom she worked was coming to look at my place. I thought it was mere curiosity."

"So it was, Mr. Hallowell," said Norman. "But I have been interested. I don’t as yet see what can be done. I’m only saying that I’ll think it over."

"I understand," said Hallowell. He was trying to seem calm and indifferent. But his voice had the tremulous note of excitement in it and his hands fumbled nervously, touching evidence of the agitated gropings of his mind in the faint, perhaps illusory, light of a newsprung hope. "Yes, I understand perfectly. Still— it is pleasant to think about such a thing, even if there’s no chance of it. I am very fond of dreaming. That has been my life, you know."

Norman colored, moved uneasily. The fineness of this man’s character made him uncomfortable. He could pity Hallowell as a misguided failure. He could dilate himself as prosperous, successful, much the more imposing and important figure in the contrast. Yet there was somehow a point of view at which, if one looked carefully, his own sort of man shriveled and the Hallowell sort towered.

"I MUST be going," Norman said. "No—don’t come with me. I know the way. I’ve interrupted you long enough." And he put out his hand and, by those little clevernesses of manner which he understood so well, made it impossible for Hallowell to go with him to Dorothy.

He was glad when he shut the door between him and her father. He paused in the hall to dispel the vague, self-debasing discomfort—and listening to HER voice as she sang helped wonderfully. There is no more trying test of a personality than to be estimated by the voice alone. That test produces many strange and startling results. Again and again it completely reverses our judgment of the personality, either destroys or enhances its charm. The voice of this girl, floating out upon the quiet of the cottage—the voice, soft and sweet, full of the virginal passion of dreams unmarred by experience— It was while listening to her voice, as he stood there in the dimly lighted hall, that Frederick Norman passed under the spell in all its potency. In taking an anaesthetic there is the stage when we reach out for its soothing effects; then comes the stage when we half desire, half fear; then a stage in which fear is dominant, and we struggle to retain our control of the senses. Last comes the stage when we feel the full power of the drug and relax and yield or are beaten down into quiet. Her voice drew him into the final stage, was the blow of the overwhelming wave’s crest that crushed him into submission.

She glanced toward the door. He was leaning there, an ominous calm in his pale, resolute face. She gazed at him with widening eyes. And her look was the look of helplessness before a force that may, indeed must, be struggled against, but with the foregone certainty of defeat.

A gleam of triumph shone in his eyes. Then his expression changed to one more conventional. "I stopped a moment to listen, on my way out," said he.

Her expression changed also. The instinctive, probably unconscious response to his look faded into the sweet smile, serious rather than merry, that was her habitual greeting. "Mr. Tetlow didn’t get away from father so soon."

"I stayed longer than I intended. I found it even more interesting than I had expected. . . . Would you be glad if your father could be free to do as he likes and not be worried about anything?"

"That is one of my dreams."

"Well, it’s certainly one that might come true. . . . And you— It’s a shame that you should have to do so much drudgery—both here and in New York."

"Oh, I don’t mind about myself. It’s all I’m fit for. I haven’t any talent—except for dreaming."

"And for making—SOME man’s dreams come true."

Her gaze dropped. And as she hid herself she looked once more almost as insignificant and colorless as he had once believed her to be.

"What are you thinking about?"

She shook her head slowly without raising her eyes or emerging from the deep recess of her reserve.

"You are a mystery to me. I can’t decide whether you are very innocent or very—concealing."

She glanced inquiringly at him. "I don’t understand," she said.

He smiled. "No more do I. I’ve seen so much of faking—in women as well as in men—that it’s hard for me to believe anyone is genuine."

"Do you think I am trying to deceive you? About what?"

He made an impatient gesture—impatience with his credulity where she was concerned. "No matter. I want to make you happy—because I want you to make me happy."

Her eyes became as grave as a wondering child’s. "You are laughing at me," she said.

"Why do you say that?"

"Because I could not make you happy."

"Why not?"

"What could a serious man like you find in me?"

His intense, burning gaze held hers. "Some time I will tell you."

She shut herself within herself like a flower folding away its beauty and leaving exposed only the underside of its petals. It was impossible to say whether she understood or was merely obeying an instinct.

He watched her a moment in silence. Then he said:

"I am mad about you—mad. You MUST understand. I can think only of you. I am insane with jealousy of you. I want you—I must have you."

He would have seized her in his arms, but the look of sheer amazement she gave him protected her where no protest or struggle would. "You?" she said. "Did you really mean it? I thought you were just talking."

"Can’t you see that I mean it?"

"Yes—you look as if you did. But I can’t believe it. I could never think of you in that way."

Once more that frank statement of indifference infuriated him. He MUST compel her to feel—he must give that indifference the lie—and at once! He caught her in his arms. He rained kisses upon her pale face. She made not the least resistance, but seemed dazed. "I will teach you to love me," he cried, drunk now with the wine of her lips, with the perfume of her exquisite youth. "I will make you happy. We shall be mad with happiness."

She gently freed herself. "I don’t believe I could ever think of you in that way."

"Yes, darling—you will. You can’t help loving where you are loved so utterly."

She gazed at him wonderingly—the puzzled wonder of a child. "You—love—me?" she said slowly.

"Call it what you like. I am mad about you. I have forgotten everything—pride—position—things you can’t imagine—and I care for nothing but you."

And again he was kissing her with the soft fury of fire; and again she was submitting with the passive, dazed expression that seemed to add to his passion. To make her feel! To make her respond! He, whom so many women had loved—women of position, of fame for beauty, of social distinction or distinction as singers, players—women of society and women of talent all kinds of worth-while women—they had cared, had run after him, had given freely all he had asked and more. And this girl—nobody at all—she had nothing for him.

He held her away from him, cried angrily: "What is the matter with you? What is the matter with me?"

"I don’t understand," she said. "I wish you wouldn’t kiss me so much."

He released her, laughed satirically. "Oh—you are playing a game. I might have known."

"I don’t understand," said she. "A while ago you said you loved me. Now you act as if you didn’t like me at all." And she smiled gayly at him, pouting her lips a little. Once more her beauty was shining. It made his nerves quiver to see the color in her pure white skin where he had kissed her.

"I don’t care whether it is a game or not," he cried. And he was about to seize her again, when she repulsed him. He crushed her resistance, held her tight in his arms.

"You frighten me," she murmured. "You—hurt me."

He released her. "What do you want?" he cried. "Don’t you care at all?"

"Oh, yes. I like you—very much. I have from the first time I saw you. But you seem older—and more serious."

"Never mind about that. We are going to love each other—and I am going to make you and your father happy."

"If you make father happy I will do anything for you. I don’t want anything myself—but he is getting old and sometimes his despair is terrible." There were tears in her voice—tears and the most touching tenderness. "He has some great secret that he wants to discover, and he is afraid he will die without having had the chance."

"You will love me if I make your father happy?"

He knew it was the question of a fool, but he so longed to hear from her lips some word to give him hope that he could not help asking it. She said:

"Love you as—as you seem to love me? Not that same way. I don’t feel that way toward you. But I will love you in my own way."

He observed her with penetrating eyes. Was this speech of hers innocence or calculation? He could get no clue to the truth. He saw nothing but innocence; the teaching of experience warned him to believe in nothing but guile. He hid his doubt and chagrin behind a mocking smile. "As you please," said he. "I will do my part. Then—we’ll see. . . . Do you care about anyone else—in MY way of loving, I mean?"

It was again the question of an infatuated fool, and put in an infatuated fool’s way. For, if she were a "deep one," how could he hope to get the truth? But her answer reassured him. "No," she said—her simple, direct negation that had a convincing power he had never seen equaled.

"If I ever knew of another man’s touching you," he said, "I’d feel like strangling him." He laughed at himself. "Not that I should strangle him. That sort of thing isn’t done any more. But I’d do something devilish."

"But I haven’t promised not to kiss anyone else," she said. "Why should I? I don’t love you."

He looked at her strangely. "But you’re going to love me," he said.

She shrank within herself again. She looked at him with uneasy eyes. "You won’t kiss me any more until I tell you that I do love you?" she asked with the gravity and pathos and helplessness of a child.

"Don’t you want to learn to love me?—to learn to love?"

She was silent—a silence that maddened him.

"Don’t be afraid to speak," he said irritably. "What are you thinking?"

"That I don’t want you to kiss me—and that I do want father to be happy."

Was this guile? Was it innocence? He put his arms round her. "Look at me," he said.

She gazed at him frankly.

"You like me?"


"Why don’t you want me to kiss you?"

"I don’t know. It makes me—dislike you."

He released her. She laid her hand on his arm eagerly. "Please—" she implored. "I don’t mean to hurt you. I wouldn’t offend you for anything. Only —when you ask me a question—mustn’t I tell you the truth?"

"Always," he said, believing in her, in spite of the warnings of cynical worldliness. "I don’t know whether you are sincere or not—as yet. So for the present I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt." He stood back and looked at her from head to foot. "You are beautiful!— perfect," he said in a low voice. He laughed. "I’ll resist the temptation to kiss you again. I must go now. About your father—I’ll see what can be done."

She stood with her hands behind her back, looking up at him with an expression he could not fathom. Suddenly she advanced, put up her lips and said gravely,

"Won’t you kiss me?"

He eyed her quizzically. "Oh—you’ve changed your mind? "

She shook her head.

"Then why do you ask me to kiss you? "

"Because of what you said about father."

He laughed and kissed her. And then she, too, laughed. He said, "Not for my own sake—not a little bit?"

"Oh, yes," she cried, "when you kiss me that way. I like to be kissed. I am very affectionate."

He laughed again. "You ARE a queer one. If it’s a game, it’s a good one. Is it a game?"

"I don’t know," said she gayly. "Good night. This is dreadfully late for me."

"Good night," he said, and they shook hands. "Do you like me better—or less?"

"Better," was her prompt, apparently honest reply.

"Curiously enough, I’m beginning to LIKE you," said he. "Now don’t ask me what I mean by that. If you don’t know already, you’ll not find out from me."

"Oh, but I do know," cried she. "The way you kissed me—that was one thing. The way you feel toward me now—that’s a different thing. Isn’t it so?"

"Exactly. I see we are going to get on."

"Yes, indeed."

They shook hands again in friendliest fashion, and she opened the front door for him. And her farewell smile was bright and happy.


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Chicago: David Graham Phillips, "VI," The Grain of Dust, ed. Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934 in The Grain of Dust (New York: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894), Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023,

MLA: Phillips, David Graham. "VI." The Grain of Dust, edited by Hawthorne, Julian, 1846-1934, in The Grain of Dust, Vol. 22, New York, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, 1894, Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Phillips, DG, 'VI' in The Grain of Dust, ed. . cited in 1894, The Grain of Dust, Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from