Read CHAPTER XV of The Wall Street Girl , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

COST

It was quite evident that Farnsworth had something in mind; for, beginning that week, he assigned Don to a variety of new tasks to checking and figuring and copying, sometimes at the ticker, sometimes in the cashier’s cage of the bond department, sometimes on the curb. For the most part, it was dull, uninspiring drudgery of a clerical nature, and it got on Don’s nerves. Within a month he had reached the conclusion that this was nothing short of a conspiracy on Farnsworth’s part to tempt him to resign. It had the effect of making him hold on all the more tenaciously. He did his work conscientiously, and with his lips a little more tightly set than was his custom kept his own counsel.

He had no alternative. His new work gave him little opportunity to talk with Miss Winthrop, and she was the one person in the world in whom he felt he could confide safely and at length. She herself was very busy. Mr. Seagraves, having accidentally discovered her ability, was now employing her more and more in his private office.

It was about this time that a lot of petty outside matters came up, further to vex him. Up to this point Don’s wardrobe had held out fairly well; but it was a fact that he needed a new business suit, and a number of tailors were thoughtfully reminding him that, with March approaching, it was high time he began to consider seriously his spring and summer outfit. Until now such details had given him scarcely more concern than the question of food in his daily life. Some three or four times a year, at any convenient opportunity, he strolled into his tailor’s and examined samples at his leisure. Always recognizing at sight just what he wanted, no great mental strain was involved. He had merely to wave his cigarette toward any pleasing cloth, mention the number of buttons desired on coat and waistcoat, and the matter was practically done.

But when Graustein & Company announced to him their new spring importations, and he dropped in there one morning on his way downtown, he recognized the present necessity of considering the item of cost. It was distinctly a disturbing and embarrassing necessity, which Mr. Graustein did nothing to soften. He looked his surprise when Don, in as casual a fashion as possible, inquired:

“What will you charge for making up this?”

“But you have long had an account with us!” he exclaimed. “Here is something here, Mr. Pendleton, an exclusive weave.”

“No,” answered Don firmly; “I don’t want that. But this other you said you’d make that for how much?”

Graustein appeared injured. He waved his hand carelessly.

“Eighty dollars,” he replied. “You really need two more, and I’ll make the three for two hundred.”

“Thanks. I will tell you when to go ahead.”

“We like to have plenty of time on your work, Mr. Pendleton,” said Graustein.

Two hundred dollars! Once upon the street again, Don caught his breath. His bill at Graustein’s had often amounted to three times that, but it had not then come out of a salary of twenty-five dollars a week. Without extra expenses he seldom had more than a dollar left on Saturday. By the strictest economy, he figured, it might be possible to save five. To pay a bill of two hundred dollars would at that rate require forty working weeks. By then the clothes would be worn out.

It was facts like these that brought home to Don how little he was earning, and that made that ten-thousand-dollar salary appear like an actual necessity. It was facts like these that helped him to hold on.

But it was also facts like these that called his attention to this matter of cost in other directions. Within the next two months, one item after another of his daily life became reduced to figures, until he lived in a world fairly bristling with price-tags. Collars were so much apiece, cravats so much apiece, waistcoats and shoes and hats so much. As he passed store windows the price-tags were the first thing he saw. It seemed that everything was labeled, even such articles of common household use as bed-linen, chairs and tables, carpets and draperies. When they were not, he entered and asked the prices. It became a passion with him to learn the cost of things.

It was toward the middle of May that Frances first mentioned a possible trip abroad that summer.

“Dolly Seagraves is going, and wishes me to go with her,” she announced.

“It will take a lot of money,” he said.

“What do you mean, Don?”

One idle evening he had figured the cost of the wedding trip they had proposed. He estimated it at three years’ salary.

“Well, the tickets and hotel bills ” he began.

“But, Don, dear,” she protested mildly, “I don’t expect you to pay my expenses.”

“I wish to Heavens I could, and go with you!”

“We had planned on June, hadn’t we?” she smiled.

“On June,” he nodded.

She patted his arm.

“Dear old Don! Well, I think a fall wedding would be nicer, anyway. And Dolly has an English cousin or something who may have us introduced at court. What do you think of that?”

“I’d rather have you right here. I thought after the season here I might be able to see more of you.”

“Nonsense! You don’t think we’d stay in town all summer? Don, dear, I think you’re getting a little selfish.”

“Well, you’d be in town part of the summer.”

She shook her head.

“We shall sail early, in order to have some gowns made. But if you could meet us there for a few weeks you do have a vacation, don’t you?”

“Two weeks, I think.”

“Oh, dear, then you can’t.”

“Holy smoke, do you know what a first-class passage costs?”

“I don’t want to know. Then you couldn’t go, anyway, could you?”

“Hardly.”

“Shall you miss me?”

“Yes.”

“That will be nice, and I shall send you a card every day.”

“Good Heavens!” he exclaimed. “If your father would only go broke before then. If only he would!”

Stuyvesant did not go broke, and Frances sailed on the first of June. Don went to the boat to see her off, and the band on the deck played tunes that brought lumps to his throat. Then the hoarse whistle boomed huskily, and from the Hoboken sheds he watched her until she faded into nothing but a speck of waving white handkerchief. In twenty minutes he was back again in the office of Carter, Rand & Seagraves back again to sheets of little figures with dollar signs before them. These he read off to Speyer, who in turn pressed the proper keys on the adding-machine an endless, tedious, irritating task. The figures ran to hundreds, to thousands, to tens of thousands.

Nothing could have been more uninteresting, nothing more meaningless. He could not even visualize the sums as money. It was like adding so many columns of the letter “s.” And yet, it was the accident of an unfair distribution of these same dollar signs that accounted for the fact that Frances was now sailing out of New York harbor, while he remained here before this desk.

They represented the week’s purchase of bonds, and if the name “Pendleton, Jr.,” had appeared at the head of any of the accounts he might have been by her side.

Something seemed wrong about that. Had she been a steam yacht he could have understood it. Much as he might have desired a steam yacht, he would have accepted cheerfully the fact that he did not have the wherewithal to purchase it. He would have felt no sense of injustice. But it scarcely seemed decent to consider Frances from this point of view, though a certain parallel could be drawn: her clean-cut lines, her nicety of finish, a certain air of silver and mahogany about her, affording a basis of comparison; but this was from the purely artistic side. One couldn’t very well go further and estimate the relative initial cost and amount for upkeep without doing the girl an injustice. After all, there was a distinction between a gasolene engine and a heart, no matter how close an analogy physicians might draw.

And yet, the only reason he was not now with her was solely a detail of bookkeeping. It was a matter of such fundamental inconsequence as the amount of his salary. He was separated from her by a single cipher.

But that cipher had nothing whatever to do with his regard for her. It had played no part in his first meeting with her, or in the subsequent meetings, when frank admiration had developed into an ardent attachment. It had nothing to do with the girl herself, as he had seen her for the moment he succeeded in isolating her in a corner of the upper deck before she sailed. It had nothing to do with certain moments at the piano when she sang for him. It had nothing to do with her eyes, as he had seen them that night she had consented to marry him. To be sure, these were only detached moments which were not granted him often; but he had a conviction that they stood for something deeper in her than the everyday moments.