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The Price She Paid   By: (1867-1911)

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David Graham Phillips


HENRY GOWER was dead at sixty one the end of a lifelong fraud which never had been suspected, and never would be. With the world, with his acquaintances and neighbors, with his wife and son and daughter, he passed as a generous, warm hearted, good natured man, ready at all times to do anything to help anybody, incapable of envy or hatred or meanness. In fact, not once in all his days had he ever thought or done a single thing except for his own comfort. Like all intensely selfish people who are wise, he was cheerful and amiable, because that was the way to be healthy and happy and to have those around one agreeable and in the mood to do what one wished them to do. He told people, not the truth, not the unpleasant thing that might help them, but what they wished to hear. His family lived in luxurious comfort only because he himself was fond of luxurious comfort. His wife and his daughter dressed fashionably and went about and entertained in the fashionable, expensive way only because that was the sort of life that gratified his vanity. He lived to get what he wanted; he got it every day and every hour of a life into which no rain ever fell; he died, honored, respected, beloved, and lamented.

The clever trick he had played upon his fellow beings came very near to discovery a few days after his death. His widow and her son and daughter in law and daughter were in the living room of the charming house at Hanging Rock, near New York, alternating between sorrowings over the dead man and plannings for the future. Said the widow:

"If Henry had only thought what would become of us if he were taken away!"

"If he had saved even a small part of what he made every year from the time he was twenty six for he always made a big income," said his son, Frank.

"But he was so generous, so soft hearted!" exclaimed the widow. "He could deny us nothing."

"He couldn't bear seeing us with the slightest wish ungratified," said Frank.

"He was the best father that ever lived!" cried the daughter, Mildred.

And Mrs. Gower the elder and Mrs. Gower the younger wept; and Mildred turned away to hide the emotion distorting her face; and Frank stared gloomily at the carpet and sighed. The hideous secret of the life of duplicity was safe, safe forever.

In fact, Henry Gower had often thought of the fate of his family if he should die. In the first year of his married life, at a time when passion for a beautiful bride was almost sweeping him into generous thought, he had listened for upward of an hour to the eloquence of a life insurance agent. Then the agent, misled by Gower's effusively generous and unselfish expressions, had taken a false tack. He had descanted upon the supreme satisfaction that would be felt by a dying man as he reflected how his young widow would be left in affluence. He made a vivid picture; Gower saw saw his bride happier after his death than she had been during his life, and attracting a swarm of admirers by her beauty, well set off in becoming black, and by her independent income. The generous impulse then and there shriveled to its weak and shallow roots. With tears in his kind, clear eyes he thanked the agent and said:

"You have convinced me. You need say no more. I'll send for you in a few days."

The agent never got into his presence again. Gower lived up to his income, secure in the knowledge that his ability as a lawyer made him certain of plenty of money as long as he should live. But it would show an utter lack of comprehension of his peculiar species of character to imagine that he let himself into the secret of his own icy heartedness by ceasing to think of the problem of his wife and two children without him to take care of them. On the contrary, he thought of it every day, and planned what he would do about it to morrow. And for his delay he had excellent convincing excuses. Did he not take care of his naturally robust health? Would he not certainly outlive his wife, who was always doctoring more or less? Frank would be able to take care of himself; anyhow, it was not well to bring a boy up to expectations, because every man should be self supporting and self reliant... Continue reading book >>

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