Wednesday, October 24, 2007



David Graham Phillips
Volume I
Even now I cannot realize that he is dead, and often in the city
streets--on Fifth Avenue in particular--I find myself glancing
ahead for a glimpse of the tall, boyish, familiar
figure--experience once again a flash of the old happy expectancy.
I have lived in many lands, and have known men. I never knew a
finer man than Graham Phillips.
His were the clearest, bluest, most honest eyes I ever saw--eyes
that scorned untruth--eyes that penetrated all sham.
In repose his handsome features were a trifle stern--and the
magic of his smile was the more wonderful--such a sunny,
youthful, engaging smile.
His mere presence in a room was exhilarating. It seemed to
freshen the very air with a keen sweetness almost pungent.
He was tall, spare, leisurely, iron-strong; yet figure, features
and bearing were delightfully boyish.
Men liked him, women liked him when he liked them.
He was the most honest man I ever knew, clean in mind, clean-cut
in body, a little over-serious perhaps, except when among
intimates; a little prone to hoist the burdens of the world on
his young shoulders.
His was a knightly mind; a paladin character. But he could
unbend, and the memory of such hours with him--hours that can
never be again--hurts more keenly than the memory of calmer and
more sober moments.
We agreed in many matters, he and I; in many we differed. To me
it was a greater honor to differ in opinion with such a man than
to find an entire synod of my own mind.
Because--and of course this is the opinion of one man and worth
no more than that--I have always thought that Graham Phillips
was head and shoulders above us all in his profession.
He was to have been really great. He is--by his last book,
"Susan Lenox."
Not that, when he sometimes discussed the writing of it with me,
I was in sympathy with it. I was not. We always were truthful to
each other.
But when a giant molds a lump of clay into tremendous masses,
lesser men become confused by the huge contours, the vast
distances, the terrific spaces, the majestic scope of the
ensemble. So I. But he went on about his business.
I do not know what the public may think of "Susan Lenox." I
scarcely know what I think.
It is a terrible book--terrible and true and beautiful.
Under the depths there are unspeakable things that writhe. His
plumb-line touches them and they squirm. He bends his head from
the clouds to do it. Is it worth doing? I don't know.
But this I do know--that within the range of all fiction of all
lands and of all times no character has so overwhelmed me as the
character of Susan Lenox.
She is as real as life and as unreal. She is Life. Hers was the
concentrated nobility of Heaven and Hell. And the divinity of
the one and the tragedy of the other. For she had known
both--this girl--the most pathetic, the most human, the most
honest character ever drawn by an American writer.
In the presence of his last work, so overwhelming, so
stupendous, we lesser men are left at a loss. Its magnitude
demands the perspective that time only can lend it. Its dignity
and austerity and its pitiless truth impose upon us that honest
and intelligent silence which even the quickest minds concede is
necessary before an honest verdict.
Truth was his goddess; he wrought honestly and only for her.
He is dead, but he is to have his day in court. And whatever the
verdict, if it be a true one, were he living he would rest content.
A few years ago, as to the most important and most interesting
subject in the world, the relations of the sexes, an author had
to choose between silence and telling those distorted truths
beside which plain lying seems almost white and quite harmless.
And as no author could afford to be silent on the subject that
underlies all subjects, our literature, in so far as it
attempted to deal with the most vital phases of human nature,
was beneath contempt. The authors who knew they were lying sank
almost as low as the nasty-nice purveyors of fake idealism and
candied pruriency who fancied they were writing the truth. Now
it almost seems that the day of lying conscious and unconscious
is about run. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall
make you free."
There are three ways of dealing with the sex relations of men
and women--two wrong and one right.
For lack of more accurate names the two wrong ways may be called
respectively the Anglo-Saxon and the Continental. Both are in
essence processes of spicing up and coloring up perfectly
innocuous facts of nature to make them poisonously attractive to
perverted palates. The wishy-washy literature and the
wishy-washy morality on which it is based are not one stage
more--or less--rotten than the libertine literature and the
libertine morality on which it is based. So far as degrading
effect is concerned, the "pure, sweet" story or play, false to
nature, false to true morality, propagandist of indecent
emotions disguised as idealism, need yield nothing to the
so-called "strong" story. Both pander to different forms of the
same diseased craving for the unnatural. Both produce moral
atrophy. The one tends to encourage the shallow and unthinking
in ignorance of life and so causes them to suffer the merciless
penalties of ignorance. The other tends to miseducate the
shallow and unthinking, to give them a ruinously false notion of
the delights of vice. The Anglo-Saxon "morality" is like a nude
figure salaciously draped; the Continental "strength" is like a
nude figure salaciously distorted. The Anglo-Saxon article reeks
the stench of disinfectants; the Continental reeks the stench of
degenerate perfume. The Continental shouts "Hypocrisy!" at the
Anglo-Saxon; the Anglo-Saxon shouts "Filthiness!" at the
Continental. Both are right; they are twin sisters of the same
horrid mother. And an author of either allegiance has to have
many a redeeming grace of style, of character drawing, of
philosophy, to gain him tolerance in a clean mind.
There is the third and right way of dealing with the sex
relations of men and women. That is the way of simple candor and
naturalness. Treat the sex question as you would any other
question. Don't treat it reverently; don't treat it rakishly.
Treat it naturally. Don't insult your intelligence and lower
your moral tone by thinking about either the decency or the
indecency of matters that are familiar, undeniable, and
unchangeable facts of life. Don't look on woman as mere female,
but as human being. Remember that she has a mind and a heart as
well as a body. In a sentence, don't join in the prurient clamor
of "purity" hypocrites and "strong" libertines that exaggerates
and distorts the most commonplace, if the most important feature
of life. Let us try to be as sensible about sex as we are trying
to be about all the other phenomena of the universe in this more
enlightened day.
Nothing so sweetens a sin or so delights a sinner as getting
big-eyed about it and him. Those of us who are naughty aren't
nearly so naughty as we like to think; nor are those of us who
are nice nearly so nice. Our virtues and our failings
are--perhaps to an unsuspected degree--the result of the
circumstances in which we are placed. The way to improve
individuals is to improve these circumstances; and the way to
start at improving the circumstances is by looking honestly and
fearlessly at things as they are. We must know our world and
ourselves before we can know what should be kept and what
changed. And the beginning of this wisdom is in seeing sex
relations rationally. Until that fundamental matter is brought
under the sway of good common sense, improvement in other directions
will be slow indeed. Let us stop lying--to others--to ourselves.
July, 1908.
THE child's dead," said Nora, the nurse. It was the upstairs
sitting-room in one of the pretentious houses of Sutherland,
oldest and most charming of the towns on the Indiana bank of the
Ohio. The two big windows were open; their limp and listless
draperies showed that there was not the least motion in the
stifling humid air of the July afternoon. At the center of the
room stood an oblong table; over it were neatly spread several
thicknesses of white cotton cloth; naked upon them lay the body
of a newborn girl baby. At one side of the table nearer the
window stood Nora. Hers were the hard features and corrugated
skin popularly regarded as the result of a life of toil, but in
fact the result of a life of defiance to the laws of health. As
additional penalties for that same self-indulgence she had an
enormous bust and hips, thin face and arms, hollow,
sinew-striped neck. The young man, blond and smooth faced, at
the other side of the table and facing the light, was Doctor
Stevens, a recently graduated pupil of the famous Schulze of
Saint Christopher who as much as any other one man is
responsible for the rejection of hocus-pocus and the injection
of common sense into American medicine. For upwards of an hour
young Stevens, coat off and shirt sleeves rolled to his
shoulders, had been toiling with the lifeless form on the table.
He had tried everything his training, his reading and his
experience suggested--all the more or less familiar devices
similar to those indicated for cases of drowning. Nora had
watched him, at first with interest and hope, then with interest
alone, finally with swiftly deepening disapproval, as her
compressed lips and angry eyes plainly revealed. It seemed to
her his effort was degenerating into sacrilege, into defiance of
an obvious decree of the Almighty. However, she had not ventured
to speak until the young man, with a muttered ejaculation
suspiciously like an imprecation, straightened his stocky figure
and began to mop the sweat from his face, hands and bared arms.
When she saw that her verdict had not been heard, she repeated
it more emphatically. "The child's dead," said she, "as I told
you from the set-out." She made the sign of the cross on her
forehead and bosom, while her fat, dry lips moved in a "Hail, Mary."
The young man did not rouse from his reverie. He continued to
gaze with a baffled expression at the tiny form, so like a
whimsical caricature of humanity. He showed that he had heard
the woman's remark by saying, to himself rather than to her,
"Dead? What's that? Merely another name for ignorance." But the
current of his thought did not swerve. It held to the one
course: What would his master, the dauntless, the infinitely
resourceful Schulze, do if he were confronted by this
intolerable obstacle of a perfect machine refusing to do its
duty and pump vital force through an eagerly waiting body?
"He'd _make_ it go, I'd bet my life," the young man muttered.
"I'm ashamed of myself."
As if the reproach were just the spur his courage and his
intelligence had needed, his face suddenly glowed with the
upshooting fire of an inspiration. He thrust the big white
handkerchief into his hip pocket, laid one large strong hand
upon the small, beautifully arched chest of the baby. Nora,
roused by his expression even more than by his gesture, gave an
exclamation of horror. "Don't touch it again," she cried,
between entreaty and command. "You've done all you can--and more."
Stevens was not listening. "Such a fine baby, too," he said,
hesitating--the old woman mistakenly fancied it was her words
that made him pause. "I feel no good at all," he went on, as if
reasoning with himself, "no good at all, losing both the mother
and the child."
"_She_ didn't want to live," replied Nora. Her glances stole
somewhat fearfully toward the door of the adjoining room--the
bedroom where the mother lay dead.
"There wasn't nothing but disgrace ahead for both of them.
Everybody'll be glad."
"Such a fine baby," muttered the abstracted young doctor.
"Love-children always is," said Nora. She was looking sadly and
tenderly down at the tiny, symmetrical form--symmetrical to her
and the doctor's expert eyes. "Such a deep chest," she sighed.
"Such pretty hands and feet. A real love-child." There she
glanced nervously at the doctor; it was meet and proper and
pious to speak well of the dead, but she felt she might be going
rather far for a "good woman."
"I'll try it," cried the young man in a resolute tone. "It can't
do any harm, and----"
Without finishing his sentence he laid hold of the body by the
ankles, swung it clear of the table. As Nora saw it dangling
head downwards like a dressed suckling pig on a butcher's hook
she vented a scream and darted round the table to stop by main
force this revolting desecration of the dead. Stevens called out
sternly: "Mind your business, Nora! Push the table against the
wall and get out of the way. I want all the room there is."
"Oh, Doctor--for the blessed Jesus' sake----"
"Push back that table!"
Nora shrank before his fierce eyes. She thought his exertions,
his disappointment and the heat had combined to topple him over
into insanity. She retreated toward the farther of the open
windows. With a curse at her stupidity Stevens kicked over the
table, used his foot vigorously in thrusting it to the wall.
"Now!" exclaimed he, taking his stand in the center of the room
and gauging the distance of ceiling, floor and walls.
Nora, her back against the window frame, her fingers sunk in her
big loose bosom, stared petrified. Stevens, like an athlete
swinging an indian club, whirled the body round and round his
head, at the full length of his powerful arms. More and more
rapidly he swung it, until his breath came and went in gasps and
the sweat was trickling in streams down his face and neck. Round
and round between ceiling and floor whirled the naked body of
the baby--round and round for minutes that seemed hours to the
horrified nurse--round and round with all the strength and speed
the young man could put forth--round and round until the room
was a blur before his throbbing eyes, until his expression
became fully as demoniac as Nora had been fancying it. Just as
she was recovering from her paralysis of horror and was about to
fly shrieking from the room she was halted by a sound that made
her draw in air until her bosom swelled as if it would burst its
gingham prison. She craned eagerly toward Stevens. He was
whirling the body more furiously than ever.
"Was that you?" asked Nora hoarsely. "Or was it----" She paused, listened.
The sound came again--the sound of a drowning person fighting for breath.
"It's--it's----" muttered Nora. "What is it, Doctor?"
"Life!" panted Stevens, triumph in his glistening, streaming face. "Life!"
He continued to whirl the little form, but not so rapidly or so
vigorously. And now the sound was louder, or, rather, less
faint, less uncertain--was a cry--was the cry of a living thing.
"She's alive--alive!" shrieked the woman, and in time with his
movements she swayed to and fro from side to side, laughing,
weeping, wringing her hands, patting her bosom, her cheeks. She
stretched out her arms. "My prayers are answered!" she cried.
"Don't kill her, you brute! Give her to me. You shan't treat a
baby that way."
The unheeding doctor kept on whirling until the cry was
continuous, a low but lusty wail of angry protest. Then he
stopped, caught the baby up in both arms, burst out laughing.
"You little minx!" he said--or, rather, gasped--a tenderness
quite maternal in his eyes. "But I got you! Nora, the table."
Nora righted the table, spread and smoothed the cloths, extended
her scrawny eager arms for the baby. Stevens with a jerk of the
head motioned her aside, laid the baby on the table. He felt for
the pulse at its wrist, bent to listen at the heart. Quite
useless. That strong, rising howl of helpless fury was proof
enough. Her majesty the baby was mad through and
through--therefore alive through and through.
"Grand heart action!" said the young man. He stood aloof, hands
on his hips, head at a proud angle. "You never saw a healthier
specimen. It'll be many a year, bar accidents, before she's that
near death again."
But it was Nora's turn not to hear. She was soothing and
swaddling the outraged baby. "There--there!" she crooned.
"Nora'll take care of you. The bad man shan't come near my
little precious--no, the wicked man shan't touch her again."
The bedroom door opened. At the slight noise superstitious Nora
paled, shriveled within her green and white checked gingham. She
slowly turned her head as if on this day of miracles she
expected yet another--the resurrection of the resurrected
baby's mother, "poor Miss Lorella." But Lorella Lenox was
forever tranquil in the sleep that engulfed her and the sorrows
in which she had been entangled by an impetuous, trusting heart.
The apparition in the doorway was commonplace--the mistress of
the house, Lorella's elder and married sister Fanny--neither
fair nor dark, neither tall nor short, neither thin nor fat,
neither pretty nor homely, neither stupid nor bright, neither
neat nor dowdy--one of that multitude of excellent, unobtrusive
human beings who make the restful stretches in a world of
agitations--and who respond to the impetus of circumstance as
unresistingly as cloud to wind.
As the wail of the child smote upon Fanny's ears she lifted her
head, startled, and cried out sharply, "What's that?"
"We've saved the baby, Mrs. Warham," replied the young doctor,
beaming on her through his glasses.
"Oh!" said Mrs. Warham. And she abruptly seated herself on the
big chintz-covered sofa beside the door.
"And it's a lovely child," pleaded Nora. Her woman's instinct
guided her straight to the secret of the conflict raging behind
Mrs. Warham's unhappy face.
"The finest girl in the world," cried Stevens, well-meaning but tactless.
"Girl!" exclaimed Fanny, starting up from the sofa. "Is it a _girl_?"
Nora nodded. The young man looked downcast; he was realizing the
practical side of his victory for science--the consequences to
the girl child, to all the relatives.
"A girl!" moaned Fanny, sinking to the sofa again. "God have mercy on us!"
Louder and angrier rose the wail. Fanny, after a brief struggle
with herself, hurried to the table, looked down at the tiny
helplessness. Her face softened. She had been a mother four
times. Only one had lived--her fair little two-year-old Ruth--and
she would never have any more children. The tears glistened in
her eyes. "What ails you, Nora Mulvey?" she demanded. "Why
aren't you 'tending to this poor little creature?"
Nora sprang into action, but she wrapped the baby herself. The
doctor in deep embarrassment withdrew to the farther window. She
fussed over the baby lingeringly, but finally resigned it to the
nurse. "Take it into the bathroom," she said, "where everything's
ready to feed it--though I never dreamed----" As Nora was about
to depart, she detained her. "Let me look at it again."
The nurse understood that Fanny Warham was searching for
evidence of the mysterious but suspected paternity whose secret
Lorella, with true Lenox obstinacy, had guarded to the end. The
two women scanned the features. A man would at a glance have
abandoned hope of discovering anything from a chart so vague and
confused as that wrinkled, twisted, swollen face of the newborn.
Not so a woman. Said Nora: "She seems to me to favor the
Lenoxes. But I think--I _kind_ o' think--I see a _trace_
of--of----" There she halted, waiting for encouragement.
"Of Galt?" suggested Fanny, in an undertone.
"Of Galt," assented Nora, her tone equally discreet. "That nose
is Galt-like and the set of the ears--and a kind of something to
the neck and shoulders."
"Maybe so," said Fanny doubtfully. She shook her head drearily,
sighed. "What's the use? Lorella's gone. And this morning
General Galt came down to see my husband with a letter he'd got
from Jimmie. Jimmie denies it. Perhaps so. Again, perhaps the
General wrote him to write that, and threatened him if he
didn't. But what's the use? We'll never know."
And they never did.
When young Stevens was leaving, George Warham waylaid him at the
front gate, separated from the spacious old creeper-clad house
by long lawns and an avenue of elms. "I hear the child's going
to live," said he anxiously.
"I've never seen anything more alive," replied Stevens.
Warham stared gloomily at the ground. He was evidently ashamed
of his feelings, yet convinced that they were human and natural.
A moment's silence between the men, then Stevens put his hand on
the gate latch. "Did--did--my wife----" began Warham. "Did she
say what she calculated to do?"
"Not a word, George." After a silence. "You know how fond she
is of babies."
"Yes, I know," replied Warham. "Fanny is a true woman if ever
there was one." With a certain defiance, "And Lorella--she was
a sweet, womanly girl!"
"As sweet and good as she was pretty," replied Stevens heartily.
"The way she kept her mouth shut about that hound, whoever he
is!" Warham's Roman face grew savage, revealed in startling
apparition a stubborn cruelty of which there was not a trace
upon the surface. "If I ever catch the---- ----I'll fill him
full of holes."
"He'd be lynched--_whoever_ he is," said Stevens.
"That's right!" cried Warham. "This is the North, but it's near
enough to Kentucky to know what to do with a wretch of that
sort." His face became calmer. "That poor little baby! He'll
have a hard row to hoe."
Stevens flushed a guilty red. "It's--it's--a girl," he stammered.
Warham stared. "A _girl_!" he cried. Then his face reddened and
in a furious tone he burst out: "Now don't that beat the devil
for luck!. . . A girl! Good Lord--a girl!"
"Nobody in this town'll blame her," consoled Stevens.
"You know better than that, Bob! A girl! Why, it's downright
wicked. . . I wonder what Fanny allows to do?" He showed what
fear was in his mind by wheeling savagely on Stevens with a
stormy, "We can't keep her--we simply can't!"
"What's to become of her?" protested Stevens gently.
Warham made a wild vague gesture with both arms. "Damn if I
know! I've got to look out for my own daughter. I won't have it.
Damn it, I won't have it!" Stevens lifted the gate latch. "Well----
"Good-by, George. I'll look in again this evening." And knowing
the moral ideas of the town, all he could muster by way of
encouragement was a half-hearted "Don't borrow trouble."
But Warham did not hear. He was moving up the tanbark walk
toward the house, muttering to himself. When Fanny, unable
longer to conceal Lorella's plight, had told him, pity and
affection for his sweet sister-in-law who had made her home with
them for five years had triumphed over his principles. He had
himself arranged for Fanny to hide Lorella in New York until she
could safely return. But just as the sisters were about to set
out, Lorella, low in body and in mind, fell ill. Then
George--and Fanny, too--had striven with her to give them the
name of her betrayer, that he might be compelled to do her
justice. Lorella refused. "I told him," she said, "and he--I
never want to see him again." They pleaded the disgrace to them,
but she replied that he would not marry her even if she would
marry him; and she held to her refusal with the firmness for
which the Lenoxes were famous. They suspected Jimmie Galt,
because he had been about the most attentive of the young men
until two or three months before, and because he had abruptly
departed for Europe to study architecture. Lorella denied that
it was he. "If you kill him," she said to Warham, "you kill an
innocent man." Warham was so exasperated by her obstinacy that
he was at first for taking her at her offer and letting her go
away. But Fanny would not hear of it, and he acquiesced.
Now--"This child must be sent away off somewhere, and never be
heard of again," he said to himself. "If it'd been a boy,
perhaps it might have got along. But a girl----
"There's nothing can be done to make things right for a girl
that's got no father and no name."
The subject did not come up between him and his wife until about
a week after Lorella's funeral. But he was thinking of nothing
else. At his big grocery store--wholesale and retail--he sat
morosely in his office, brooding over the disgrace and the
danger of deeper disgrace--for he saw what a hold the baby
already had upon his wife. He was ashamed to appear in the
streets; he knew what was going on behind the sympathetic faces,
heard the whisperings as if they had been trumpetings. And he
was as much afraid of his own soft heart as of his wife's. But
for the sake of his daughter he must be firm and just.
One morning, as he was leaving the house after breakfast, he
turned back and said abruptly: "Fan, don't you think you'd
better send the baby away and get it over with?"
"No," said his wife unhesitatingly--and he knew his worst
suspicion was correct. "I've made up my mind to keep her."
"It isn't fair to Ruth."
"Send it away--where?"
"Anywhere. Get it adopted in Chicago--Cincinnati--Louisville."
"Lorella's baby?"
"When she and Ruth grow up--what then?"
"People ain't so low as some think."
"`The sins of the parents are visited on the children unto----'"
"I don't care," interrupted Fanny. "I love her. I'm going to
keep her. Wait here a minute."
When she came back she had the baby in her arms. "Just look,"
she said softly.
George frowned, tried not to look, but was soon drawn and held by
the sweet, fresh, blooming face, so smooth, so winning, so innocent.
"And think how she was sent back to life--from beyond the grave.
It must have been for some purpose."
Warham groaned, "Oh, Lord, I don't know _what_ to do! But--it
ain't fair to our Ruth."
"I don't see it that way. . . . Kiss her, George."
Warham kissed one of the soft cheeks, swelling like a ripening
apple. The baby opened wide a pair of wonderful dark eyes, threw
up its chubby arms and laughed--such a laugh!. . . There was no
more talk of sending her away.
NOT quite seventeen years later, on a fine June morning, Ruth
Warham issued hastily from the house and started down the long
tanbark walk from the front veranda to the street gate. She was
now nineteen--nearer twenty--and a very pretty young woman,
indeed. She had grown up one of those small slender blondes,
exquisite and doll-like, who cannot help seeming fresh and
sweet, whatever the truth about them, without or within. This
morning she had on a new summer dress of a blue that matched her
eyes and harmonized with her coloring. She was looking her best,
and she had the satisfying, confidence-giving sense that it was
so. Like most of the unattached girls of small towns, she was
always dreaming of the handsome stranger who would fall in
love--the thrilling, love-story kind of love at first sight. The
weather plays a conspicuous part in the romancings of youth; she
felt that this was precisely the kind of day fate would be most
likely to select for the meeting. Just before dressing she had
been reading about the wonderful _him_--in Robert Chambers'
latest story--and she had spent full fifteen minutes of blissful
reverie over the accompanying Fisher illustration. Now she was
issuing hopefully forth, as hopefully as if adventure were the
rule and order of life in Sutherland, instead of a desperate
monotony made the harder to bear by the glory of its scenery.
She had got only far enough from the house to be visible to the
second-story windows when a young voice called:
"Ruthie! Aren't you going to wait for me?"
Ruth halted; an expression anything but harmonious with the
pretty blue costume stormed across her face. "I won't have her
along!" she muttered. "I simply won't!" She turned slowly and,
as she turned, effaced every trace of temper with a dexterity
which might have given an onlooker a poorer opinion of her
character than perhaps the facts as to human nature justify. The
countenance she presently revealed to those upper windows was
sunny and sweet. No one was visible; but the horizontal slats in
one of the only closed pair of shutters and a vague suggestion
of movement rather than form behind them gave the impression
that a woman, not far enough dressed to risk being seen from the
street, was hidden there. Evidently Ruth knew, for it was toward
this window that she directed her gaze and the remark: "Can't
wait, dear. I'm in a great hurry. Mamma wants the silk right
away and I've got to match it."
"But I'll be only a minute," pleaded the voice--a much more
interesting, more musical voice than Ruth's rather shrill and
thin high soprano.
"No--I'll meet you up at papa's store."
"All right."
Ruth resumed her journey. She smiled to herself. "That means,"
said she, half aloud, "I'll steer clear of the store this morning."
But as she was leaving the gate into the wide, shady, sleepy
street, who should come driving past in a village cart but
Lottie Wright! And Lottie reined her pony in to the sidewalk and
in the shade of a symmetrical walnut tree proceeded to invite
Ruth to a dance--a long story, as Lottie had to tell all about
it, the decorations, the favors, the food, who would be there,
what she was going to wear, and so on and on. Ruth was intensely
interested but kept remembering something that caused her to
glance uneasily from time to time up the tanbark walk under the
arching boughs toward the house. Even if she had not been
interested, she would hardly have ventured to break off; Lottie
Wright was the only daughter of the richest man in Sutherland
and, therefore, social arbiter to the younger set.
Lottie stopped abruptly, said: "Well, I really must get on. And
there's your cousin coming down the walk. I know you've been
waiting for her."
Ruth tried to keep in countenance, but a blush of shame and a
frown of irritation came in spite of her.
"I'm sorry I can't ask Susie, too," pursued Lottie, in a voice
of hypocritical regret. "But there are to be exactly eighteen
couples--and I couldn't."
"Of course not," said Ruth heartily. "Susan'll understand."
"I wouldn't for the world do anything to hurt her feelings,"
continued Lottie with the self-complacent righteousness of a
deacon telling the congregation how good "grace" has made him.
Her prominent commonplace brown eyes were gazing up the walk, an
expression distressingly like envious anger in them. She had a
thick, pudgy face, an oily skin, an outcropping of dull red
pimples on the chin. Many women can indulge their passion for
sweets at meals and sweets between meals without serious
injury--to complexion; Lottie Wright, unluckily, couldn't.
"I feel sorry for Susie," she went on, in the ludicrous
patronizing tone that needs no describing to anyone acquainted
with any fashionable set anywhere from China to Peru. "And I
think the way you all treat her is simply beautiful. But, then,
everybody feels sorry for her and tries to be kind. She
knows--about herself, I mean--doesn't she, Ruthie?"
"I guess so," replied Ruth, almost hanging her head in her
mortification. "She's very good and sweet."
"Indeed, she is," said Lottie. "And father says she's far and
away the prettiest girl in town."
With this parting shot, which struck precisely where she had
aimed, Lottie gathered up the reins and drove on, calling out a
friendly "Hello, Susie dearie," to Susan Lenox, who, on her
purposely lagging way from the house, had nearly reached the gate.
"What a nasty thing Lottie Wright is!" exclaimed Ruth to her cousin.
"She has a mean tongue," admitted Susan, tall and slim and
straight, with glorious dark hair and a skin healthily pallid
and as smooth as clear. "But she's got a good heart. She gives
a lot away to poor people."
"Because she likes to patronize and be kowtowed to," retorted
Ruth. "She's mean, I tell you." Then, with a vicious gleam in
the blue eyes that hinted a deeper and less presentable motive
for the telling, she added: "Why, she's not going to ask you
to her party."
Susan was obviously unmoved. "She has the right to ask whom she
pleases. And"--she laughed--"if I were giving a party I'd not
want to ask her--though I might do it for fear she'd feel left out."
"Don't you feel--left out?"
Susan shook her head. "I seem not to care much about going to
parties lately. The boys don't like to dance with me, and I get
tired of sitting the dances out."
This touched Ruth's impulsively generous heart and woman's easy
tears filled her eyes; her cousin's remark was so pathetic, the
more pathetic because its pathos was absolutely unconscious.
Ruth shot a pitying glance at Susan, but the instant she saw the
loveliness of the features upon which that expression of
unconsciousness lay like innocence upon a bed of roses, the pity
vanished from her eyes to be replaced by a disfiguring envy as
hateful as an evil emotion can be at nineteen. Susan still
lacked nearly a month of seventeen, but she seemed older than
Ruth because her mind and her body had developed beyond her
years--or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say beyond the
average of growth at seventeen. Also, her personality was
stronger, far more definite. Ruth tried to believe herself the
cleverer and the more beautiful, at times with a certain
success. But as she happened to be a shrewd young person--an
inheritance from the Warhams--she was haunted by misgivings--and
worse. Those whose vanity never suffers from these torments
will, of course, condemn her; but whoever has known the pain of
having to concede superiority to someone with whom she or he--is
constantly contrasted will not be altogether without sympathy
for Ruth in her struggles, often vain struggles, against the
mortal sin of jealousy.
The truth is, Susan was beyond question the beauty of
Sutherland. Her eyes, very dark at birth, had changed to a soft,
dreamy violet-gray. Hair and coloring, lashes and eyebrows
remained dark; thus her eyes and the intense red of her lips had
that vicinage of contrast which is necessary to distinction. To
look at her was to be at once fascinated by those violet-gray
eyes--by their color, by their clearness, by their regard of
calm, grave inquiry, by their mystery not untouched by a certain
sadness. She had a thick abundance of wavy hair, not so long as
Ruth's golden braids, but growing beautifully instead of thinly
about her low brow, about her delicately modeled ears, and at
the back of her exquisite neck. Her slim nose departed enough
from the classic line to prevent the suggestion of monotony that
is in all purely classic faces. Her nostrils had the
sensitiveness that more than any other outward sign indicates
the imaginative temperament. Her chin and throat--to look at
them was to know where her lover would choose to kiss her first.
When she smiled her large even teeth were dazzling. And the
smile itself was exceedingly sweet and winning, with the
violet-gray eyes casting over it that seriousness verging on
sadness which is the natural outlook of a highly intelligent
nature. For while stupid vain people are suspicious and easily
offended, only the intelligent are truly sensitive--keenly
susceptible to all sensations. The dull ear is suspicious; the
acute ear is sensitive.
The intense red of her lips, at times so vivid that it seemed
artificial, and their sinuous, sensitive curve indicated a
temperament that was frankly proclaimed in her figure--sensuous,
graceful, slender--the figure of girlhood in its perfection and
of perfect womanhood, too--like those tropical flowers that look
innocent and young and fresh, yet stir in the beholder
passionate longings and visions. Her walk was worthy of face and
figure--free and firm and graceful, the small head carried
proudly without haughtiness.
This physical beauty had as an aureole to illuminate it and to
set it off a manner that was wholly devoid of mannerisms--of
those that men and women think out and exhibit to give added
charm to themselves--tricks of cuteness, as lisp and baby stare;
tricks of dignity, as grave brow and body always carried rigidly
erect; tricks of sweetness and kindliness, as the ever ready
smile and the warm handclasp. Susan, the interested in the
world about her, Susan, the self-unconscious, had none of these
tricks. She was at all times her own self. Beauty is anything
but rare, likewise intelligence. But this quality of naturalness
is the greatest of all qualities. It made Susan Lenox unique.
It was not strange--nor inexcusable that the girls and their
parents had begun to pity Susan as soon as this beauty developed
and this personality had begun to exhale its delicious perfume.
It was but natural that they should start the whole town to
"being kind to the poor thing." And it was equally the matter of
course that they should have achieved their object--should have
impressed the conventional masculine mind of the town with such
a sense of the "poor thing's" social isolation and
"impossibility" that the boys ceased to be her eagerly admiring
friends, were afraid to be alone with her, to ask her to dance.
Women are conventional as a business; but with men
conventionality is a groveling superstition. The youths of
Sutherland longed for, sighed for the alluring, sweet, bright
Susan; but they dared not, with all the women saying "Poor
thing! What a pity a nice man can't afford to have anything to
do with her!" It was an interesting typical example of the
profound snobbishness of the male character. Rarely, after Susan
was sixteen, did any of the boys venture to ask her to dance and
so give himself the joy of encircling that lovely form of hers;
yet from babyhood her fascination for the male sex, regardless
of age or temperament, had been uncanny--"naturally, she being
a love-child," said the old women. And from fourteen on, it grew
It would be difficult for one who has not lived in a small town
to understand exactly the kind of isolation to which Sutherland
consigned the girl without her realizing it, without their fully
realizing it themselves. Everyone was friendly with her. A
stranger would not have noticed any difference in the treatment
of her and of her cousin Ruth. Yet not one of the young men
would have thought of marrying her, would have regarded her as
his equal or the equal of his sisters. She went to all the
general entertainments. She was invited to all the houses when
failure to invite her would have seemed pointed--but only then.
She did not think much about herself; she was fond of
study--fonder of reading--fondest, perhaps, of making dresses
and hats, especially for Ruth, whom she thought much prettier
than herself. Thus, she was only vaguely, subconsciously
conscious of there being something peculiar and mysterious in
her lot.
This isolation, rather than her dominant quality of
self-effacing consideration for others, was the chief cause of
the extraordinary innocence of her mind. No servant, no girl, no
audacious boy ever ventured to raise with her any question
remotely touching on sex. All those questions seemed to Puritan
Sutherland in any circumstances highly indelicate; in relation
to Susan they seemed worse than indelicate, dreadful though the
thought was that there could be anything worse than indelicacy.
At fifteen she remained as unaware of even the existence of the
mysteries of sex as she had been at birth. Nothing definite
enough to arouse her curiosity had ever been said in her
hearing; and such references to those matters as she found in
her reading passed her by, as any matter of which he has not the
beginnings of knowledge will fail to arrest the attention of any
reader. It was generally assumed that she knew all about her
origin, that someone had, some time or other, told her. Even her
Aunt Fanny thought so, thought she was hiding the knowledge deep
in her heart, explained in that way her content with the
solitude of books and sewing.
Susan was the worst possible influence in Ruth's life. Our
character is ourself, is born with us, clings to us as the flesh
to our bones, persists unchanged until we die. But upon the
circumstances that surround us depends what part of our
character shall show itself. Ruth was born with perhaps
something more than the normal tendency to be envious and petty.
But these qualities might never have shown themselves
conspicuously had there been no Susan for her to envy. The very
qualities that made Susan lovable reacted upon the pretty, pert
blond cousin to make her the more unlovable. Again and again,
when she and Susan were about to start out together, and Susan
would appear in beauty and grace of person and dress, Ruth would
excuse herself, would fly to her room to lock herself in and
weep and rage and hate. And at the high school, when Susan
scored in a recitation or in some dramatic entertainment, Ruth
would sit with bitten lip and surging bosom, pale with jealousy.
Susan's isolation, the way the boys avoided having with her the
friendly relations that spring up naturally among young people
these gave Ruth a partial revenge. But Susan, seemingly
unconscious, rising sweetly and serenely above all pettiness--
Ruth's hatred deepened, though she hid it from everyone, almost
from herself. And she depended more and more utterly upon Susan
to select her clothes for her, to dress her, to make her look
well; for Susan had taste and Ruth had not.
On that bright June morning as the cousins went up Main Street
together, Susan gave herself over to the delight of sun and air
and of the flowering gardens before the attractive houses they
were passing; Ruth, with the day quite dark for her, all its
joys gone, was fighting against a hatred of her cousin so
vicious that it made her afraid. "I'll have no chance at all,"
her angry heart was saying, "so long as Susie's around, keeping
everybody reminded of the family shame." And that was a truth
she could not downface, mean and ungenerous though thinking it
might be. The worst of all was that Susan, in a simple white
dress and an almost untrimmed white straw hat with a graceful
curve to its brim and set at the right angle upon that wavy dark
hair, was making the beauty of her short blond cousin dim and
somehow common.
At the corner of Maple Street Ruth's self-control reached its
limit. She halted, took the sample of silk from her glove. There
was not a hint of her feelings in her countenance, for shame and
the desire to seem to be better than she was were fast making
her an adept in hypocrisy. "You go ahead and match it for
mamma," said she. "I've got to run in and see Bessie Andrews."
"But I promised Uncle George I'd come and help him with the
monthly bills," objected Susan.
"You can do both. It'll take you only a minute. If mother had
known you were going uptown, she'd never have trusted _me_." And
Ruth had tucked the sample in Susan's belt and was hurrying out
Maple Street. There was nothing for Susan to do but go on alone.
Two squares, and she was passing the show place of Sutherland,
the home of the Wrights. She paused to regale herself with a
glance into the grove of magnificent elms with lawns and bright
gardens beyond--for the Wright place filled the entire square
between Broad and Myrtle Streets and from Main to Monroe. She
was starting on when she saw among the trees a young man in
striped flannels. At the same instant he saw her.
"Hel-_lo_, Susie!" he cried. "I was thinking about you."
Susan halted. "When did you get back, Sam?" she asked. "I heard
you were going to stay on in the East all summer."
After they had shaken hands across the hedge that came almost to
their shoulders, Susan began to move on. Sam kept pace with her
on his side of the carefully trimmed boxwood barrier. "I'm going
back East in about two weeks," said he. "It's awfully dull here
after Yale. I just blew in--haven't seen Lottie or father yet.
Coming to Lottie's party?"
"No," said Susan.
"Why not?"
Susan laughed merrily. "The best reason in the world. Lottie has
only invited just so many couples."
"I'll see about that," cried Sam. "You'll be asked all right, all right."
"No," said Susan. She was one of those whose way of saying no
gives its full meaning and intent. "I'll not be asked, thank
you--and I'll not go if I am."
By this time they were at the gate. He opened it, came out into
the street. He was a tallish, athletic youth, dark, and pleasing
enough of feature to be called handsome. He was dressed with a
great deal of style of the efflorescent kind called sophomoric.
He was a Sophomore at Yale. But that was not so largely
responsible for his self-complacent expression as the deference
he had got from babyhood through being heir apparent to the
Wright fortune. He had a sophisticated way of inspecting Susan's
charms of figure no less than charms of face that might have made
a disagreeable impression upon an experienced onlooker. There is
a time for feeling without knowing why one feels; and that period
ought not to have been passed for young Wright for many a year.
"My, but you're looking fine, Susie!" exclaimed he. "I haven't
seen anyone that could hold a candle to you even in the East."
Susan laughed and blushed with pleasure. "Go on," said she with
raillery. "I love it."
"Come in and sit under the trees and I'll fill all the time
you'll give me."
This reminded her. "I must hurry uptown," she said. "Good-by."
"Hold on!" cried he. "What have you got to do?" He happened to
glance down the street. "Isn't that Ruth coming?"
"So it is," said Susan. "I guess Bessie Andrews wasn't at home."
Sam waved at Ruth and called, "Hello! Glad to see you."
Ruth was all sweetness and smiles. She and her mother--quite
privately and with nothing openly said on either side--had
canvassed Sam as a "possibility." There had been keen
disappointment at the news that he was not coming home for the
long vacation. "How are you, Sam?" said she, as they shook
hands. "My, Susie, _doesn't_ he look New York?"
Sam tried to conceal that he was swelling with pride. "Oh, this
is nothing," said he deprecatingly.
Ruth's heart was a-flutter. The Fisher picture of the Chambers
love-maker, thought she, might almost be a photograph of Sam.
She was glad she had obeyed the mysterious impulse to make a
toilette of unusual elegance that morning. How get rid of Susan?
"_I_'ll take the sample, Susie," said she. "Then you won't have to
keep father waiting."
Susie gave up the sample. Her face was no longer so bright and interested.
"Oh, drop it," cried Sam. "Come in--both of you. I'll telephone
for Joe Andrews and we'll take a drive--or anything you like."
He was looking at Susan.
"Can't do it," replied Susan. "I promised Uncle George."
"Oh, bother!" urged Sam. "Telephone him. It'll be all
right--won't it, Ruth?"
"You don't know Susie," said Ruth, with a queer, strained laugh.
"She'd rather die than break a promise."
"I must go," Susan now said. "Good-by."
"Come on, Ruth," cried Sam. "Let's walk uptown with her."
"And you can help match the silk," said Ruth.
"Not for me," replied young Wright. Then to Susan, "What've _you_
got to do? Maybe it's something I could help at."
"No. It's for Uncle George and me."
"Well, I'll go as far as the store. Then--we'll see."
They were now in the business part of Main Street, were at
Wilson's dry goods store. "You might find it here," suggested
the innocent Susan to her cousin.
Ruth colored, veiled her eyes to hide their flash. "I've got to
go to the store first--to get some money," she hastily improvised.
Sam had been walking between the two girls. He now changed to
the outside and, so, put himself next Susan alone, put Susan
between him and Ruth. The maneuver seemed to be a mere
politeness, but Ruth knew better. What fate had intended as her
lucky day was being changed into unlucky by this cousin of hers.
Ruth walked sullenly along, hot tears in her eyes and a choke in
her throat, as she listened to Sam's flatterings of her cousin,
and to Susan's laughing, delighted replies. She tried to gather
herself together, to think up something funny or at least
interesting with which to break into the _tete-a-tete_ and draw
Sam to herself. She could think nothing but envious, hateful
thoughts. At the doors of Warham and Company, wholesale and
retail grocers, the three halted.
"I guess I'll go to Vandermark's," said Ruth. "I really don't
need money. Come on, Sam."
"No--I'm going back home. I ought to see Lottie and father. My,
but it's dull in this town!"
"Well, so long," said Susan. She nodded, sparkling of hair and
skin and eyes, and went into the store.
Sam and Ruth watched her as she walked down the broad aisle
between the counters. From the store came a mingling of odors of
fruit, of spices, of freshly ground coffee. "Susan's an awful
pretty girl, isn't she?" declared Sam with rude enthusiasm.
"Indeed she is," replied Ruth as heartily--and with an honest if
discouraged effort to feel enthusiastic.
"What a figure! And she has such a good walk. Most women walk horribly."
"Come on to Vandermark's with me and I'll stroll back with you,"
offered Ruth. Sam was still gazing into the store where, far to
the rear, Susan could be seen; the graceful head, the gently
swelling bust, the soft lines of the white dress, the pretty
ankles revealed by the short skirt--there was, indeed, a profile
worth a man's looking at on a fine June day. Ruth's eyes were
upon Sam, handsome, dressed in the Eastern fashion, an ideal
lover. "Come on, Sam," urged Ruth.
"No, thanks," he replied absently. "I'll go back. Good luck!"
And not glancing at her, he lifted his straw hat with its band
of Yale blue and set out.
Ruth moved slowly and disconsolately in the opposite direction.
She was ashamed of her thoughts; but shame never yet withheld
anybody from being human in thought. As she turned to enter
Vandermark's she glanced down the street. There was Sam,
returned and going into her father's store. She hesitated, could
devise no plan of action, hurried into the dry goods store.
Sinclair, the head salesman and the beau of Sutherland, was an
especial friend of hers. The tall, slender, hungry-looking young
man, devoured with ambition for speedy wealth, had no mind to
neglect so easy an aid to that ambition as nature gave him in
making him a lady-charmer. He had resolved to marry either
Lottie Wright or Ruth Warham--Ruth preferred, because, while
Lottie would have many times more money, her skin made her a
stiff dose for a young man brought up to the American tradition
that the face is the woman. But that morning Sinclair exerted
his charms in vain. Ruth was in a hurry, was distinctly rude,
cut short what in other circumstances would have been a
prolonged and delightful flirtation by tossing the sample on the
counter and asking him to do the matching for her and to send
the silk right away. Which said, she fairly bolted from the store.
She arrived barely in time. Young Wright was issuing from Warham
and Company. He smiled friendly enough, but Ruth knew where his
thoughts were. "Get what you wanted?" inquired he, and went on
to explain: "I came back to find out if you and Susie were to be
at home this evening. Thought I'd call."
Ruth paled with angry dismay. She was going to a party at the
Sinclairs'--one to which Susan was not invited. "Aren't you
going to Sinclairs'?" said she.
"I was. But I thought I'd rather call. Perhaps I'll go there later."
He was coming to call on Susan! All the way down Main Street to
the Wright place Ruth fought against her mood of angry and
depressed silence, tried to make the best of her chance to
impress Sam. But Sam was absent and humiliatingly near to curt.
He halted at his father's gate. She halted also, searched the
grounds with anxious eyes for sign of Lottie that would give her
the excuse for entering.
"So long," said Sam.
"Do come to Sinclairs' early. You always did dance so well."
"Oh, dancing bores me," said the blase Sophomore. "But I'll be
round before the shindy's over. I've got to take Lot home."
He lifted the hat again with what both he and Ruth regarded as
a gesture of most elegant carelessness. Ruth strolled
reluctantly on, feeling as if her toilet had been splashed or
crushed. As she entered the front door her mother, in a wrapper
and curl papers, appeared at the head of the stairs. "Why!" cried
she. "Where's the silk? It's for your dress tonight, you know."
"It'll be along," was Ruth's answer, her tone dreary, her lip
quivering. "I met Sam Wright."
"Oh!" exclaimed her mother. "He's back, is he?"
Ruth did not reply. She came on up the stairs, went into the
sitting-room--the room where Doctor Stevens seventeen years
before had torn the baby Susan from the very claws of death. She
flung herself down, buried her head in her arms upon that same
table. She burst into a storm of tears.
"Why, dearie dear," cried her mother, "whatever is the matter?"
"It's wicked and hateful," sobbed the girl, "but----Oh, mamma, I
_hate_ Susan! She was along, and Sam hardly noticed me, and he's
coming here this evening to call."
"But you'll be at Sinclairs'!" exclaimed Mrs. Warham.
"Not Susan," sobbed Ruth. "He wants to see only her."
The members of the Second Presbyterian Church, of which Fanny
Warham was about the most exemplary and assiduous female member,
would hardly have recognized the face encircled by that triple
row of curl-papered locks, shinily plastered with quince-seed
liquor. She was at woman's second critical age, and the strange
emotions working in her mind--of whose disorder no one had an
inkling--were upon the surface now. She ventured this freedom of
facial expression because her daughter's face was hid. She did
not speak. She laid a tender defending hand for an instant upon
her daughter's shoulder--like the caress of love and
encouragement the lioness gives her cub as she is about to give
battle for it. Then she left the room. She did not know what to
do, but she knew she must and would do something.
THE telephone was downstairs, in the rear end of the hall which
divided the lower floor into two equal parts. But hardly had
Mrs. Warham given the Sinclairs' number to the exchange girl
when Ruth called from the head of the stairs:
"What're you doing there, mamma?"
"I'll tell Mrs. Sinclair you're sick and can't come. Then I'll
send Susan in your place."
"Don't!" cried Ruth, in an agitated, angry voice. "Ring off--quick!"
"Now, Ruth, let me----"
"Ring off!" ordered Ruth. "You mustn't do that. You'll have the
whole town talking about how I'm throwing myself at Sam's
head--and that I'm jealous of Susan."
Mrs. Warham said, "Never mind" into the telephone sender and
hung up the receiver. She was frightened, but not convinced.
Hers was a slow, old-fashioned mind, and to it the scheme it had
worked out seemed a model of skillful duplicity. But Ruth, of
the younger and subtler generation, realized instantly how
transparent the thing was. Mrs. Warham was abashed but not
angered by her daughter's curt contempt.
"It's the only way I can think of," said she. "And I still
don't see----"
"Of course you don't," cut in Ruth, ruffled by the perilously
narrow escape from being the laughing stock of the town. "People
aren't as big fools as they used to be, mamma. They don't
believe nowadays everything that's told them. There isn't
anybody that doesn't know I'm never sick. No--we'll have to----"
She reflected a moment, pausing halfway down the stairs, while
her mother watched her swollen and tear-stained face.
"We might send Susan away for the evening," suggested the mother.
"Yes," assented the daughter. "Papa could take her with him for
a drive to North Sutherland--to see the Provosts. Then Sam'd
come straight on to the Sinclairs'."
"I'll call up your father."
"No!" cried Ruth, stamping her foot. "Call up Mr. Provost, and
tell him papa's coming. Then you can talk with papa when he gets
home to dinner."
"But maybe----"
"If that doesn't work out we can do something else this afternoon."
The mother and the daughter avoided each other's eyes. Both felt
mean and small, guilty toward Susan; but neither was for that
reason disposed to draw back. As Mrs. Warham was trying the new
dress on her daughter, she said:
"Anyhow, Sam'd be wasting time on Susan. He'd hang round her for
no good. She'd simply get talked about. The poor child can't be
lively or smile but what people begin to wonder if she's going
the way of--of Lorella."
"That's so," agreed Ruth, and both felt better. "Was Aunt
Lorella _very_ pretty, mamma?"
"Lovely!" replied Fanny, and her eyes grew tender, for she had
adored Lorella. "You never saw such a complexion--like Susan's, only
snow-white." Nervously and hastily, "Most as fine as yours, Ruthie."
Ruth gazed complacently into the mirror. "I'm glad I'm fair, and
not big," said she.
"Yes, indeed! I like the womanly woman. And so do men."
"Don't you think we ought to send Susan away to visit
somewhere?" asked Ruth at the next opportunity for talk the
fitting gave. "It's getting more and more--pointed--the way
people act. And she's so sweet and good, I'd hate to have her
feelings hurt." In a burst of generosity, "She's the most
considerate human being I ever knew. She'd give up anything
rather than see someone else put out. She's too much that way."
"We can't be too much that way," said Mrs. Warham in mechanical
Christian reproof.
"Oh, I know," retorted Ruth, "that's all very well for church
and Sundays. But I guess if you want to get along you've got to
look out for Number One. . . . Yes, she ought to visit somewhere."
"I've been trying to think," said her mother. "She couldn't go
any place but your Uncle Zeke's. But it's so lonesome out there
I haven't the heart to send her. Besides, she wouldn't know what
to make of it."
"What'd father say?"
"That's another thing." Mrs. Warham had latterly grown jealous--
not without reason--of her husband's partiality for Susan.
Ruth sighed. "Oh, dear!" cried she. "I don't know what to do.
How's she ever going to get married!"
"If she'd only been a boy!" said Mrs. Warham, on her knees,
taking the unevenness out of the front of the skirt. "A girl has
to suffer for her mother's sins."
Ruth made no reply. She smiled to herself--the comment of the
younger generation upon the older. Sin it might have been; but,
worse than that, it was a stupidity--to let a man make a fool of
her. Lorella must have been a poor weak-minded creature.
By dinner time Ruth had completely soothed and smoothed her
vanity. Sam had been caught by Susan simply because he had seen
Susan before he saw her.
All that would be necessary was a good chance at him, and he
would never look at Susan again. He had been in the East, where
the admired type was her own--refined, ladylike, the woman of
the dainty appearance and manners and tastes. A brief
undisturbed exposure to her charms and Susan would seem coarse
and countrified to him. There was no denying that Susan had
style, but it was fully effective only when applied to a sunny
fairy-like beauty such as hers.
But at midday, when Susan came in with Warham, Ruth's jealousy
opened all her inward-bleeding wounds again. Susan's merry eyes,
her laughing mouth, her funny way of saying even commonplace
things--how could quiet, unobtrusive, ladylike charms such as
Ruth's have a chance if Susan were about? She waited, silent and
anxious, while her mother was having the talk with her father in the
sitting-room. Warham, mere man, was amused by his wife's scheming.
"Don't put yourself out, Fanny," said he. "If the boy wants Ruth
and she wants him, why, well and good. But you'll only make a
mess interfering. Let the young people alone."
"I'm surprised, George Warham," cried Fanny, "that you can show
so little sense and heart."
"To hear you talk, I'd think marriage was a business, like groceries."
Mrs. Warham thought it was, in a sense. But she would never have
dared say so aloud, even to her husband--or, rather, especially
to her husband. In matters of men and women he was thoroughly
innocent, with the simplicity of the old-time man of the small
town and the country; he fancied that, while in grocery matters
and the like the world was full of guile, in matters of the
heart it was idyllic, Arcadian, with never a thought of duplicity,
except among a few obviously wicked and designing people.
"I guess we both want to see Ruth married well," was all she
could venture.
"I'd rather the girls stayed with us," declared Warham. "I'd
hate to give them up."
"Of course," hastily agreed Fanny. "Still--it's the regular
order of nature."
"Oh, Ruth'll marry--only too soon," said Warham. "And marry
well. I'm not so sure, though, that marrying any of old Wright's
breed would be marrying what ought to be called well. Money
isn't everything--not by a long sight--though, of course, it's
"I never heard anything against Sam," protested Mrs. Warham.
"You've heard what I've heard--that he's wild and loose. But
then you women like that in a man."
"We've got to put up with it, you mean," cried Fanny, indignant.
"Women like it," persisted Warham. "And I guess Sam's only
sowing the usual wild oats, getting ready to settle. No, mother,
you let Ruth alone. If she wants him, she'll get him--she or Susan."
Mrs. Warham compressed her lips and lowered her eyes. Ruth or
Susan--as if it didn't matter which! "Susan isn't _ours_," she
could not refrain from saying.
"Indeed, she is!" retorted George warmly. "Why, she couldn't be
more our own----"
"Yes, certainly," interrupted Fanny.
She moved toward the door. She saw that without revealing her
entire scheme--hers and Ruth's--she could make no headway with
George. And if she did reveal it he would sternly veto it. So
she gave up that direction. She went upstairs; George took his
hat from the front hall rack and pushed open the screen door. As
he appeared on the veranda Susan was picking dead leaves from
one of the hanging baskets; Ruth, seated in the hammock, hands
in lap, her whole attitude intensely still, was watching her
with narrowed eyes.
"What's this I hear," cried Warham, laughing, "about you two
girls setting your caps for Sam Wright?" And his good-humored
brown eyes glanced at Ruth, passed on to Susan's wealth of wavy
dark hair and long, rounded form, and lingered there.
Ruth lowered her eyes and compressed her lips, a trick she had
borrowed from her mother along with the peculiarities of her
mother's disposition that it fitted. Susan flung a laughing
glance over her shoulder at her uncle. "Not Ruth," said she.
"Only me. I saw him first, so he's mine. He's coming to see me
this evening."
"So I hear. Well, the moon's full and your aunt and I'll not
interrupt--at least not till ten o'clock. No callers on a child
like you after ten."
"Oh, I don't think I'll be able to hold him that long."
"Don't you fret, Brownie. But I mustn't make you vain. Coming
along to the store?"
"No. Tomorrow," said Susan. "I can finish in the morning. I'm
going to wear my white dress with embroidery, and it's got to be
pressed--and that means I must do it myself."
"Poor Sam! And I suppose, when he calls, you'll come down as if
you'd put on any old thing and didn't care whether he came or
not. And you'll have primped for an hour--and he, too--shaving
and combing and trying different ties."
Susan sparkled at the idea of a young man, and _such_ a young
man, taking trouble for her. Ruth, pale, kept her eyes down and
her lips compressed. She was picturing the gallant appearance
the young Sophomore from Yale, away off in the gorgeous
fashionable East, would make as he came in at that gate yonder
and up the walk and seated himself on the veranda--with Susan!
Evidently her mother had failed; Susan was not to be taken away.
When Warham departed down the walk Ruth rose; she could not bear
being alone with her triumphant rival--triumphant because
unconscious. She knew that to get Sam to herself all she would
have to do would be to hint to Susan, the generous, what she
wanted. But pride forbade that. As her hand was on the knob of
the screen door, Susan said: "Why don't you like Sam?"
"Oh, I think he's stuck-up. He's been spoiled in the East."
"Why, I don't see any sign of it."
"You were too flattered by his talking to you," said Ruth, with a
sweet-sour little laugh--an asp of a sneer hid in a basket of flowers.
Susan felt the sting; but, seeing only the flowers, did not
dream whence it had come. "It _was_ nice, wasn't it?" said she,
gayly. "Maybe you're right about him, but I can't help liking
him. You must admit he's handsome."
"He has a bad look in his eyes," replied Ruth. Such rage against
Susan was swelling within her that it seemed to her she would
faint if she did not release at least part of it. "You want to
look out for him, Susie," said she, calmly and evenly. "You
don't want to take what he says seriously."
"Of course not," said Susan, quite honestly, though she, no more
than the next human being, could avoid taking seriously whatever
was pleasantly flattering.
"He'd never think of marrying you." Ruth trembled before and
after delivering this venomous shaft.
"Marrying!" cried Susan, again quite honestly. "Why, I'm only seventeen."
Ruth drew a breath of relief. The shaft had glanced off the
armor of innocence without making the faintest dent. She rushed
into the house. She did not dare trust herself with her cousin.
What might the demon within her tempt her to say next?
"Come up, Ruth!" called her mother. "The dress is ready for the
last try-on. I think it's going to hang beautifully."
Ruth dragged herself up the stairs, lagged into the
sitting-room, gazed at the dress with a scowl. "What did father
say?" she asked.
"It's no use trying to do anything with your father."
Ruth flung herself in a corner of the sofa.
"The only thing I can think of," said her mother, humbly and
timidly, "is phone the Sinclairs as I originally set out to do."
"And have the whole town laughing at me. . . . Oh, what do I
care, anyhow!"
"Arthur Sinclair's taller and a sight handsomer. Right in the
face, Sam's as plain as Dick's hatband. His looks is all clothes
and polish--and mighty poor polish, I think. Arthur's got rise
in him, too, while Sam--well, I don't know what'd become of him
if old Wright lost his money."
But Arthur, a mere promise, seemed poor indeed beside Sam, the
actually arrived. To marry Sam would be to step at once into
grandeur; to marry Arthur would mean years of struggle.
Besides, Arthur was heavy, at least seemed heavy to light Ruth,
while Sam was her ideal of gay elegance. "I _detest_ Arthur
Sinclair," she now announced.
"You can get Sam if you want him," said her mother confidently. "One
evening with a mere child like Susie isn't going to amount to much."
Ruth winced. "Do you suppose I don't know that?" cried she.
"What makes me so mad is his impudence--coming here to see her
when he wouldn't marry her or take her any place. It's insulting
to us all."
"Oh, I don't think it's as bad as all that, Ruthie," soothed her
mother, too simple-minded to accept immediately this clever
subtlety of self-deception.
"You know this town--how people talk. Why, his sister----" and
she related their conversation at the gate that morning.
"You ought to have sat on her hard, Ruth," said Mrs. Warham,
with dangerously sparkling eyes. "No matter what we may think
privately, it gives people a low opinion of us to----"
"Don't I know that!" shrilled Ruth. She began to weep. "I'm
ashamed of myself."
"But we must try the dress on." Mrs. Warham spread the skirt,
using herself as form. "Isn't it too lovely!"
Ruth dried her eyes as she gazed. The dress was indeed lovely.
But her pleasure in it was shadowed by the remembrance that most
of the loveliness was due to Susan's suggestions. Still, she
tried it on, and felt better. She would linger until Sam came,
would exhibit herself to him; and surely he would not tarry long
with Susan. This project improved the situation greatly. She
began her toilet for the evening at once, though it was only
three o'clock. Susan finished her pressing and started to dress
at five--because she knew Ruth would be appealing to her to come
in and help put the finishing touches to the toilet for the
party. And, sure enough, at half-past five, before she had
nearly finished, Ruth, with a sneaking humility, begged her to
come "for half a minute--if you don't mind--and have got time."
Susan did Ruth's hair over, made her change to another color of
stockings and slippers, put the dress on her, did nearly an
hour's refitting and redraping. Both were late for supper; and
after supper Susan had to make certain final amendments to the
wonderful toilet, and then get herself ready. So it was Ruth
alone who went down when Sam Wright came. "My, but you do look
all to the good, Ruth!" cried Sam. And his eyes no less than his
tone showed that he meant it. He hadn't realized what a soft
white neck the blond cousin had, or how perfectly her shoulders
rounded into her slim arms. As Ruth moved to depart, he said:
"Don't be in such a rush. Wait till Susie finishes her primping
and comes down."
"She had to help me," said Ruth, with a righteousness she could
justly plume herself upon. "That's why she's late. No, I must
get along." She was wise enough to resist the temptation to
improve upon an already splendid impression. "Come as soon as
you can."
"I'll be there in a few minutes," Sam assured her convincingly.
"Save some dances for me."
Ruth went away happy. At the gate she glanced furtively back.
Sam was looking after her. She marched down the street with
light step. "I must wear low-necked dresses more in the
evenings," she said to herself. "It's foolish for a girl to
hide a good neck."
Sam, at the edge of the veranda, regretting his promise to call
on Susan, was roused by her voice: "Did you ever see anything as
lovely as Ruth?"
Sam's regret vanished the instant he looked at her, and the
greedy expression came into his sensual, confident young face.
"She's a corker," said he. "But I'm content to be where I am."
Susan's dress was not cut out in the neck, was simply of the
collarless kind girls of her age wear. It revealed the smooth,
voluptuous yet slender column of her throat. And her arms, bare
to just above the elbows, were exquisite. But Susan's
fascination did not lie in any or in all of her charms, but in
that subtlety of magnetism which account for all the sensational
phenomena of the relations of men and women. She was a clever
girl--clever beyond her years, perhaps--though in this day
seventeen is not far from fully developed womanhood. But even
had she been silly, men would have been glad to linger on and on
under the spell of the sex call which nature had subtly woven
into the texture of her voice, into the glance of her eyes, into
the delicate emanations of her skin.
They talked of all manner of things--games and college East and
West--the wonders of New York--the weather, finally. Sam was
every moment of the time puzzling how to bring up the one
subject that interested both above all others, that interested
him to the exclusion of all others. He was an ardent student of
the game of man and woman, had made considerable progress at
it--remarkable progress, in view of his bare twenty years. He
had devised as many "openings" as an expert chess player. None
seemed to fit this difficult case how to make love to a girl of
his own class whom his conventional, socially ambitious nature
forbade him to consider marrying. As he observed her in the
moonlight, he said to himself: "I've got to look out or I'll
make a damn fool of myself with her." For his heady passion was
fast getting the better of those prudent instincts he had
inherited from a father who almost breathed by calculation.
While he was still struggling for an "opening," Susan eager to
help him but not knowing how, there came from the far interior
of the house three distant raps. "Gracious!" exclaimed Susan.
"That's Uncle George. It must be ten o'clock." With frank
regret, "I'm so sorry. I thought it was early."
"Yes, it did seem as if I'd just come," said Sam. Her shy
innocence was contagious. He felt an awkward country lout.
"Well, I suppose I must go."
"But you'll come again--sometime?" she asked wistfully. It was
her first real beau--the first that had interested her--and what
a dream lover of a beau he looked, standing before her in that
wonderful light!
"Come? Rather!" exclaimed he in a tone of enthusiasm that could
not but flatter her into a sort of intoxication. "I'd have hard
work staying away. But Ruth--she'll always be here."
"Oh, she goes out a lot--and I don't."
"Will you telephone me--next time she's to be out?"
`Yes," agreed she with a hesitation that was explained when she
added: "But don't think you've got to come. . . . Oh, I must go in!"
"Good night--Susie." Sam held out his hand. She took it with a
queer reluctance. She felt nervous, afraid, as if there were
something uncanny lurking somewhere in those moonlight shadows.
She gently tried to draw her hand away, but he would not let
her. She made a faint struggle, then yielded. It was so
wonderful, the sense of the touch of his hand. "Susie!" he said
hoarsely. And she knew he felt as she did. Before she realized
it his arms were round her, and his lips had met hers. "You
drive me crazy," he whispered.
Both were trembling; she had become quite cold--her cheeks, her hand,
her body even. "You mustn't," she murmured, drawing gently away.
"You set me crazy," he repeated. "Do you--love me--a little?"
"Oh, I must go!" she pleaded. Tears were glistening in her long dark
lashes. The sight of them maddened him. "Do you--Susie?" he pleaded.
"I'm--I'm--very young," she stammered.
"Yes--yes--I know," he assented eagerly. "But not too young to
love, Susie? No. Because you do--don't you?"
The moonlit world seemed a fairyland. "Yes," she said softly. "I
guess so. I must go. I must."
And moved beyond her power to control herself, she broke from
his detaining hand and fled into the house. She darted up to her
room, paused in the middle of the floor, her hands clasped over
her wildly beating heart. When she could move she threw open the
shutters and went out on the balcony. She leaned against the
window frame and gazed up at the stars, instinctively seeking
the companionship of the infinite. Curiously enough, she thought
little about Sam. She was awed and wonderstruck before the
strange mysterious event within her, the opening up, the
flowering of her soul. These vast emotions, where did they come
from? What were they? Why did she long to burst into laughter,
to burst into tears? Why did she do neither, but simply stand
motionless, with the stars blazing and reeling in the sky and
her heart beating like mad and her blood surging and ebbing? Was
this--love? Yes--it must be love. Oh, how wonderful love
was--and how sad--and how happy beyond all laughter--and how
sweet! She felt an enormous tenderness for everybody and for
everything, for all the world--an overwhelming sense of beauty
and goodness. Her lips were moving. She was amazed to find she
was repeating the one prayer she knew, the one Aunt Fanny had
taught her in babyhood. Why should she find herself praying?
Love--love love! She was a woman and she loved! So this was what
it meant to be a woman; it meant to love!
She was roused by the sound of Ruth saying good night to someone
at the gate, invisible because of the intervening foliage. Why,
it must be dreadfully late. The Dipper had moved away round to
the south, and the heat of the day was all gone, and the air was
full of the cool, scented breath of leaves and flowers and
grass. Ruth's lights shone out upon the balcony. Susan turned to
slip into her own room. But Ruth heard, called out peevishly:
"Who's there?"
"Only me," cried Susan.
She longed to go in and embrace Ruth, and kiss her. She would
have liked to ask Ruth to let her sleep with her, but she felt
Ruth wouldn't understand.
"What are you doing out there?" demanded Ruth. "It's 'way after one."
"Oh--dear--I must go to bed," cried Susan. Ruth's voice somehow
seemed to be knocking and tumbling her new dream-world.
"What time did Sam Wright leave here?" asked Ruth.
She was standing in her window now. Susan saw that her face
looked tired and worn, almost homely.
"At ten," she replied. "Uncle George knocked on the banister."
"Are you sure it was ten?" said Ruth sharply.
"I guess so. Yes--it was ten. Why?"
"Was he at Sinclairs'?"
"He came as it was over. He and Lottie brought me home." Ruth
was eyeing her cousin evilly. "How did you two get on?"
Susan flushed from head to foot. "Oh--so-so," she answered, in
an uncertain voice.
"I don't know why he didn't come to Sinclairs'," snapped Ruth.
Susan flushed again--a delicious warmth from head to foot. She
knew why. So he, too, had been dreaming alone. Love! Love!
"What are you smiling at?" cried Ruth crossly.
"Was I smiling?. . . Do you want me to help you undress?"
"No," was the curt answer. "Good night."
"Please let me unhook it, at least," urged Susan, following Ruth
into her room.
Ruth submitted.
"Did you have a good time?" asked Susan.
"Of course," snapped Ruth. "What made you think I didn't?"
"Don't be a silly, dear. I didn't think so."
"I had an awful time--awful!"
Ruth began to sob, turned fiercely on Susan. "Leave me alone!"
she cried. "I hate to have you touch me." The dress was, of
course, entirely unfastened in the back.
"You had a quarrel with Arthur?" asked Susan with sympathy. "But
you know he can't keep away from you. Tomorrow----"
"Be careful, Susan, how you let Sam Wright hang around you,"
cried Ruth, with blazing eyes and trembling lips. "You be
careful--that's all I've got to say."
"Why, what do you mean?" asked Susan wonderingly.
"Be careful! He'd never think for a minute of marrying you."
The words meant nothing to Susan; but the tone stabbed into her
heart. "Why not?" she said.
Ruth looked at her cousin, hung her head in shame. "Go--go!" she
begged. "Please go. I'm a bad girl--bad--_bad_! Go!" And, crying
hysterically, she pushed amazed Susan through the connecting
door, closed and bolted it.
WHEN Fanny Warham was young her mother--compelled by her
father--roused--"routed out"--the children at half-past six on
week days and at seven on Sundays for prayers and breakfast, no
matter what time they had gone to bed the night before. The
horror of this made such an impression upon her that she never
permitted Ruth and Susan to be awakened; always they slept until
they had "had their sleep out." Regularity was no doubt an
excellent thing for health and for moral discipline; but the
best rule could be carried to foolish extremes. Until the last
year Mrs. Warham had made her two girls live a life of the
strictest simplicity and regularity, with the result that they
were the most amazingly, soundly, healthy girls in Sutherland.
And the regimen still held, except when they had company in the
evening or went out--and Mrs. Warham saw to it that there was
not too much of that sort of thing. In all her life thus far
Susan had never slept less than ten hours, rarely less than twelve.
It lacked less than a minute of ten o'clock the morning after
Sam's call when Susan's eyes opened upon her simple, pale-gray
bedroom, neat and fresh. She looked sleepily at the little clock
on the night stand.
"Mercy me!" she cried. And her bare feet were on the floor and
she was stretching her lithe young body, weak from the
relaxation of her profound sleep.
She heard someone stirring in Ruth's room; instantly Ruth's
remark, "He'd never think for a minute of marrying you," popped
into her head. It still meant nothing to her. She could not have
explained why it came back or why she fell to puzzling over it
as if it held some mysterious meaning. Perhaps the reason was
that from early childhood there had been accumulating in some
dusky chamber of her mind stray happenings and remarks, all
baring upon the unsuspected secret of her birth and the
unsuspected strangeness of her position in the world where
everyone else was definitely placed and ticketed. She was
wondering about Ruth's queer hysterical outburst, evidently the
result of a quarrel with Arthur Sinclair. "I guess Ruth cares
more for him than she lets on," thought she. This love that had
come to her so suddenly and miraculously made her alert for
signs of love elsewhere.
She went to the bolted connecting door; she could not remember
when it had ever been bolted before, and she felt forlorn and
shut out. "Ruth!" she called.
"Is that you?"
A brief silence, then a faint "Yes."
"May I come in?"
"You'd better take your bath and get downstairs."
This reminded her that she was hungry. She gathered her
underclothes together, and with the bundle in her arms darted
across the hall into the bathroom. The cold water acted as
champagne promises to act but doesn't. She felt giddy with
health and happiness. And the bright sun was flooding the
bathroom, and the odors from the big bed of hyacinths in the
side lawn scented the warm breeze from the open window. When she
dashed back to her room she was singing, and her singing voice
was as charming as her speaking voice promised. A few minutes
and her hair had gone up in careless grace and she was clad in
a fresh dress of tan linen, full in the blouse. This, with her
tan stockings and tan slippers and the radiant youth of her
face, gave her a look of utter cleanness and freshness that was
exceedingly good to see.
"I'm ready," she called.
There was no answer; doubtless Ruth had already descended. She
rushed downstairs and into the dining-room. No one was at the
little table set in one of the windows in readiness for the late
Molly came, bringing cocoa, a cereal, hot biscuit and crab-apple
preserves, all attractively arranged on a large tray.
"I didn't bring much, Miss Susie," she apologized. "It's so
late, and I don't want you to spoil your dinner. We're going to
have the grandest chicken that ever came out of an egg."
Susan surveyed the tray with delighted eyes. "That's plenty," she
said, "if you don't talk too much about the chicken. Where's Ruth?"
"She ain't coming down. She's got a headache. It was that salad
for supper over to Sinclairs' last night. Salad ain't fit for a
dog to eat, nohow--that's _my_ opinion. And at night--it's sure
to bust your face out or give you the headache or both."
Susan ate with her usual enthusiasm, thinking the while of Sam
and wondering how she could contrive to see him. She remembered
her promise to her uncle. She had not eaten nearly so much as
she wanted. But up she sprang and in fifteen minutes was on her
way to the store. She had seen neither Ruth nor her aunt.
"_He_'ll be waiting for me to pass," she thought. And she was not
disappointed. There he stood, at the footpath gate into his
father's place. He had arrayed himself in a blue and white
flannel suit, white hat and shoes; a big expensive-looking
cigarette adorned his lips. The Martins, the Delevans, the
Castles and the Bowens, neighbors across the way, were watching
him admiringly through the meshes of lace window curtains. She
expected that he would come forward eagerly. Instead, he
continued to lean indolently on the gate, as if unaware of her
approach. And when she was close at hand, his bow and smile
were, so it seemed to her, almost coldly polite. Into her eyes
came a confused, hurt expression.
"Susie--sweetheart," he said, the voice in as astonishing
contrast as the words to his air of friendly indifference.
"They're watching us from the windows all around here."
"Oh--yes," assented she, as if she understood. But she didn't.
In Sutherland the young people were not so mindful of gossip,
which it was impossible to escape, anyhow. Still--off there in
the East, no doubt, they had more refined ways; without a doubt,
whatever Sam did was the correct thing.
"Do you still care as you did last night?" he asked. The effect
of his words upon her was so obvious that he glanced nervously
round. It was delightful to be able to evoke a love like this;
but he did wish others weren't looking.
"I'm going to Uncle's store," she said. "I'm late."
"I'll walk part of the way with you," he volunteered, and they
started on. "That--that kiss," he stammered. "I can feel it yet."
She blushed deeply, happily. Her beauty made him tingle. "So can
I," she said.
They walked in silence several squares. "When will I see you
again?" he asked. "Tonight?"
"Yes--do come down. But--Ruth'll be there. I believe Artie
Sinclair's coming."
"Oh, that counter-jumper?"
She looked at him in surprise. "He's an awfully nice fellow,"
said she. "About the nicest in town."
"Of course," replied Sam elaborately. "I beg your pardon. They
think differently about those things in the East."
"What thing?"
"No matter."
Sam, whose secret dream was to marry some fashionable Eastern
woman and cut a dash in Fifth Avenue life, had no intention of
explaining what was what to one who would not understand, would
not approve, and would be made auspicious of him. "I suppose
Ruth and Sinclair'll pair off and give us a chance."
"You'll come?"
"Right after din--supper, I mean. In the East we have dinner in
the evening."
"Isn't that queer!" exclaimed Susan. But she was thinking of the
joys in store for her at the close of the day.
"I must go back now," said Sam. Far up the street he saw his
sister's pony cart coming.
"You might as well walk to the store." It seemed to her that they
both had ever so much to say to each other, and had said nothing.
"No. I can't go any further. Good-by--that is, till tonight."
He was red and stammering. As they shook hands emotion made them
speechless. He stumbled awkwardly as he turned to leave, became
still more hotly self-conscious when he saw the grin on the
faces of the group of loungers at a packing case near the curb.
Susan did not see the loafers, did not see anything distinctly.
Her feet sought the uneven brick sidewalk uncertainly, and the
blood was pouring into her cheeks, was steaming in her brain,
making a red mist before her eyes. She was glad he had left her.
The joy of being with him was so keen that it was pain. Now she
could breathe freely and could dream--dream--dream. She made
blunder after blunder in working over the accounts with her
uncle, and he began to tease her.
"You sure are in love, Brownie," declared he.
Her painful but happy blush delighted him.
"Tell me all about it?"
She shook her head, bending it low to hide her color.
"No?. . . Sometime?"
She nodded. She was glancing shyly and merrily at him now.
"Well, some hold that first love's best. Maybe so. But it seems
to me any time's good enough. Still--the first time's mighty fine
eh?" He sighed. "My, but it's good to be young!" And he patted
her thick wavy hair.
It did not leak out until supper that Sam was coming. Warham
said to Susan, "While Ruth's looking out for Artie, you and I'll
have a game or so of chess, Brownie." Susan colored violently.
"What?" laughed Warham. "Are _you_ going to have a beau too?"
Susan felt two pairs of feminine eyes pounce--hostile eyes,
savagely curious. She paled with fright as queer, as
unprecedented, as those hostile glances. It seemed to her that
she had done or was about to do something criminal. She could
not speak.
An awful silence, then her aunt--she no longer seemed her loving
aunt--asked in an ominous voice: "Is someone coming to see you, Susan?"
"Sam Wright"--stammered Susan--"I saw him this morning--he was
at their gate--and he said--I think he's coming."
A dead silence--Warham silent because he was eating, but the two
others not for that reason.
Susan felt horribly guilty, and for no reason. "I'd have spoken
of it before," she said, "but there didn't seem to be any
chance." She had the instinct of fine shy nature to veil the
soul; she found it hard to speak of anything as sacred as this
love of hers and whatever related to it.
"I can't allow this, Susie," said her aunt, with lips tightly
drawn against the teeth. "You are too young."
"Oh, come now, mother," cried Warham, good-humoredly. "That's
foolishness. Let the young folks have a good time. You didn't
think you were too young at Susie's age."
"You don't understand, George," said Fanny after she had given
him a private frown. Susie's gaze was on the tablecloth. "I
can't permit Sam to come here to see Susie."
Ruth's eyes were down also. About her lips was a twitching that
meant a struggle to hide a pleased smile.
"I've no objection to Susie's having boys of her own age come to
see her," continued Mrs. Warham in the same precise, restrained
manner. "But Sam is too old."
"Now, mother----"
Mrs. Warham met his eyes steadily. "I must protect my sister's
child, George," she said. At last she had found what she felt
was a just reason for keeping Sam away from Susan, so her tone
was honest and strong.
Warham lowered his gaze. He understood. "Oh--as you think best,
Fan; I didn't mean to interfere," said he awkwardly. He turned
on Susan with his affection in his eyes. "Well, Brownie, it
looks like chess with your old uncle, doesn't it?"
Susan's bosom was swelling, her lip trembling. "I--I----" she
began. She choked back the sobs, faltered out: "I don't think I
could, Uncle," and rushed from the room.
There was an uncomfortable pause. Then Warham said, "I must say,
Fan, I think--if you had to do it--you might have spared the
girl's feelings."
Mrs. Warham felt miserable about it also. "Susie took me by
surprise," she apologized. Then, defiantly, "And what else can
I do? You know he doesn't come for any good."
Warham stared in amazement. "Now, what does _that_ mean?" he demanded.
"You know very well what it means," retorted his wife.
Her tone made him understand. He reddened, and with too
blustering anger brought his fist down on the table.
"Susan's our daughter. She's Ruth's sister."
Ruth pushed back her chair and stood up. Her expression made her
look much older than she was. "I wish you could induce the rest
of the town to think that, papa," said she. "It'd make my
position less painful." And she, too, left the room.
"What's she talking about?" asked Warham.
"It's true, George," replied Fanny with trembling lip. "It's all
my fault--insisting on keeping her. I might have known!"
"I think you and Ruth must be crazy. I've seen no sign."
"Have you seen any of the boys calling on Susan since she shot
up from a child to a girl? Haven't you noticed she isn't invited
any more except when it can't be avoided?"
Warham's face was fiery with rage. He looked helplessly,
furiously about. But he said nothing. To fight public sentiment
would be like trying to thrust back with one's fists an oncreeping
fog. Finally he cried, "It's too outrageous to talk about."
"If I only knew what to do!" moaned Fanny.
A long silence, while Warham was grasping the fullness of the
meaning, the frightful meaning, in these revelations so
astounding to him. At last he said:
"Does _she_ realize?"
"I guess so . . . I don't know . . . I don't believe she does.
She's the most innocent child that ever grew up."
"If I had a chance, I'd sell out and move away."
"Where?" said his wife. "Where would people accept--her?"
Warham became suddenly angry again. "I don't believe it!" he
cried, his look and tone contradicting his words. "You've been
making a mountain out of a molehill."
And he strode from the room, flung on his hat and went for a
walk. As Mrs. Warham came from the dining-room a few minutes
later, Ruth appeared in the side veranda doorway. "I think I'll
telephone Arthur to come tomorrow evening instead," said she.
"He'd not like it, with Sam here too."
"That would be better," assented her mother. "Yes, I'd telephone
him if I were you."
Thus it came about that Susan, descending the stairs to the
library to get a book, heard Ruth say into the telephone in her
sweetest voice, "Yes--tomorrow evening, Arthur. Some others are
coming--the Wrights. You'd have to talk to Lottie . . . I don't
blame you. . . . Tomorrow evening, then. So sorry. Good-by."
The girl on the stairway stopped short, shrank against the wall.
A moment, and she hastily reascended, entered her room, closed
the door. Love had awakened the woman; and the woman was not so
unsuspecting, so easily deceived as the child had been. She
understood what her cousin and her aunt were about; they were
trying to take her lover from her! She understood her aunt's
looks and tones, her cousin's temper and hysteria. She sat down
upon the floor and cried with a breaking heart. The injustice of
it! The meanness of it! The wickedness of a world where even her
sweet cousin, even her loving aunt were wicked! She sat there on
the floor a long time, abandoned to the misery of a first
shattered illusion, a misery the more cruel because never before
had either cousin or aunt said or done anything to cause her
real pain. The sound of voices coming through the open window
from below made her start up and go out on the balcony. She
leaned over the rail. She could not see the veranda for the
masses of creeper, but the voices were now quite plain in the
stillness. Ruth's voice gay and incessant. Presently a man's
voice _his_--and laughing! Then his voice speaking--then the two
voices mingled--both talking at once, so eager were they! Her
lover--and Ruth was stealing him from her! Oh, the baseness, the
treachery! And her aunt was helping!. . . Sore of heart,
utterly forlorn, she sat in the balcony hammock, aching with
love and jealousy. Every now and then she ran in and looked at
the clock. He was staying on and on, though he must have learned
she was not coming down. She heard her uncle and aunt come up to
bed. Now the piano in the parlor was going. First it was Ruth
singing one of her pretty love songs in that clear small voice
of hers. Then Sam played and sang--how his voice thrilled her!
Again it was Ruthie singing--"Sweet Dream Faces"--Susan began to
sob afresh. She could see Ruth at the piano, how beautiful she
looked--and that song--it would be impossible for him not to be
impressed. She felt the jealousy of despair. . . . Ten
o'clock--half-past--eleven o'clock! She heard them at the edge of
the veranda--so, at last he was going. She was able to hear
their words now:
"You'll be up for the tennis in the morning?" he was saying.
"At ten," replied Ruth.
"Of course Susie's asked, too," he said--and his voice sounded
careless, not at all earnest.
"Certainly," was her cousin's reply. "But I'm not sure she can come."
It was all the girl at the balcony rail could do to refrain from
crying out a protest. But Sam was saying to Ruth:
"Well--good night. Haven't had so much fun in a long time. May
I come again?"
"If you don't, I'll think you were bored."
"Bored!" He laughed. "That's too ridiculous. See you in the
morning. Good night. . . . Give my love to Susie, and tell her
I was sorry not to see her."
Susan was all in a glow as her cousin answered, "I'll tell her."
doubtless Sam didn't note it, but Susan heard the constraint,
the hypocrisy in that sweet voice.
She watched him stroll down to the gate under the arch of boughs
dimly lit by the moon. She stretched her arms passionately
toward him. Then she went in to go to bed. But at the sound of
Ruth humming gayly in the next room, she realized that she could
not sleep with her heart full of evil thoughts. She must have it
out with her cousin. She knocked on the still bolted door.
"What is it?" asked Ruth coldly.
"Let me in," answered Susan. "I've got to see you."
"Go to bed, Susie. It's late."
"You must let me in."
The bolt shot back. "All right. And please unhook my
dress--there's a dear."
Susan opened the door, stood on the threshold, all her dark
passion in her face. "Ruth!" she cried.
Ruth had turned her back, in readiness for the service the need
of which had alone caused her to unbolt the door. At that swift,
fierce ejaculation she started, wheeled round. At sight of that
wild anger she paled. "Why, Susie!" she gasped.
"I've found you out!" raged Susan. "You're trying to steal him
from me--you and Aunt Fanny. It isn't fair! I'll not stand it!"
"What _are_ you talking about?" cried Ruth. "You must have lost
your senses."
"I'll not stand it," Susan repeated, advancing threateningly "He
loves me and I love him."
Ruth laughed. "You foolish girl! Why, he cares nothing about you.
The idea of your having your head turned by a little politeness!"
"He loves me he told me so. And I love him. I told him so. He's
mine! You shan't take him from me!"
"He told you he loved you?"
Ruth's eyes were gleaming and her voice was shrill with hate.
"He told you _that_?"
"Yes--he did!"
"I don't believe you."
"We love each other," cried the dark girl. "He came to see _me_.
You've got Arthur Sinclair. You shan't take him away!"
The two girls, shaking with fury, were facing each other, were
looking into each other's eyes. "If Sam Wright told you he loved
you," said Ruth, with the icy deliberateness of a cold-hearted
anger, "he was trying to--to make a fool of you. You ought to be
ashamed of yourself. _We_'re trying to save you."
"He and I are engaged!" declared Susan. "You shan't take
him--and you can't! He _loves_ me!"
"Engaged!" jeered Ruth. "Engaged!" she laughed, pretending not
to believe, yet believing. She was beside herself with jealous
anger. "Yes--we'll save you from yourself. You're like your
mother. You'd disgrace us--as she did."
"Don't you dare talk that way, Ruth Warham. It's false--_false_!
My mother is dead--and you're a wicked girl."
"It's time you knew the truth," said Ruth softly. Her eyes were
half shut now and sparkling devilishly. "You haven't got any
name. You haven't got any father. And no man of any position
would marry you. As for Sam----" She laughed contemptuously. "Do
you suppose Sam Wright would marry a girl without a name?"
Susan had shrunk against the door jamb. She understood only
dimly, but things understood dimly are worse than things that are
clear. "Me?" she muttered. "Me? Oh, Ruth, you don't mean that."
"It's true," said Ruth, calmly. "And the sooner you realize it
the less likely you are to go the way your mother did."
Susan stood as if petrified.
"If Sam Wright comes hanging round you any more, you'll know how
to treat him," Ruth went on. "You'll appreciate that he hasn't
any respect for you--that he thinks you're someone to be trifled
with. And if he talked engagement, it was only a pretense. Do
you understand?"
The girl leaning in the doorway gazed into vacancy. After a
while she answered dully, "I guess so."
Ruth began to fuss with the things on her bureau. Susan went
into her room, sat on the edge of the bed. A few minutes, and
Ruth, somewhat cooled down and not a little frightened, entered.
She looked uneasily at the motionless figure. Finally she said,
No answer.
More sharply, "Susie!"
"Yes," said Susan, without moving.
"You understand that I told you for your own good? And you'll
not say anything to mother or father? They feel terribly about it,
and don't want it ever mentioned. You won't let on that you know?"
"I'll not tell," said Susan.
"You know we're fond of you--and want to do everything for you?"
No answer.
"It wasn't true--what you said about Sam's making love to you?"
"That's all over. I don't want to talk about it."
"You're not angry with me, Susie? I admit I was angry, but it
was best for you to know--wasn't it?"
"Yes," said Susan.
"You're not angry with me?"
Ruth, still more uneasy, turned back into her own room because
there was nothing else to do. She did not shut the door between.
When she was in her nightgown she glanced in at her cousin. The
girl was sitting on the edge of the bed in the same position.
"It's after midnight," said Ruth. "You'd better get undressed."
Susan moved a little. "I will," she said.
Ruth went to bed and soon fell asleep. After an hour or so she
awakened. Light was streaming through the open connecting door.
She ran to it, looked in. Susan's clothes were in a heap beside
the bed. Susan herself, with the pillows propping her, was
staring wide-eyed at the ceiling. It was impossible for Ruth to
realize any part of the effect upon her cousin of a thing she
herself had known for years and had taken always as a matter of
course; she simply felt mildly sorry for unfortunate Susan.
"Susie, dear," she said gently, "do you want me to turn out the light?"
"Yes," said Susan.
Ruth switched off the light and went back to bed, better
content. She felt that now Susan would stop her staring and
would go to sleep. Sam's call had been very satisfactory. Ruth
felt she had shown off to the best advantage, felt that he
admired her, would come to see _her_ next time. And now that she
had so arranged it that Susan would avoid him, everything would
turn out as she wished. "I'll use Arthur to make him jealous
after a while--and then--I'll have things my own way." As she fell
asleep she was selecting the rooms Sam and she would occupy in
the big Wright mansion--"when we're not in the East or in Europe."
RUTH had forgotten to close her shutters, so toward seven
o'clock the light which had been beating against her eyelids for
three hours succeeded in lifting them. She stretched herself and
yawned noisily. Susan appeared in the connecting doorway.
"Are you awake?" she said softly.
"What time is it?" asked Ruth, too lazy to turn over and look at
her clock.
"Ten to seven."
"Do close my shutters for me. I'll sleep an hour or two." She
hazily made out the figure in the doorway. "You're dressed,
aren't you?" she inquired sleepily.
"Yes," replied Susan. "I've been waiting for you to wake."
Something in the tone made Ruth forget about sleep and rub her
fingers over her eyes to clear them for a view of her cousin.
Susan seemed about as usual--perhaps a little serious, but then
she had the habit of strange moods of seriousness. "What did you
want?" said Ruth.
Susan came into the room, sat at the foot of the bed--there was
room, as the bed was long and Ruth short. "I want you to tell me
what my mother did."
"Did?" echoed Ruth feebly.
"Did, to disgrace you and--me."
"Oh, I couldn't explain--not in a few words. I'm so sleepy.
Don't bother about it, Susan." And she thrust her head deeper
into the pillow. "Close the shutters."
"Then I'll have to ask Aunt Fanny--or Uncle George or
everybody--till I find out."
"But you mustn't do that," protested Ruth, flinging herself from
left to right impatiently. "What is it you want to know?"
"About my mother--and what she did. And why I have no
father--why I'm not like you--and the other girls."
"Oh--it's nothing. I can't explain. Don't bother about it. It's
no use. It can't be helped. And it doesn't really matter."
"I've been thinking," said Susan. "I understand a great many
things I didn't know I'd noticed--ever since I was a baby. But
what I don't understand----" She drew a long breath, a cautious
breath, as if there were danger of awakening a pain. "What I don't
understand is--why. And--you must tell me all about it. . . . Was
my mother bad?"
"Not exactly bad," Ruth answered uncertainly. "But she did one
thing that was wicked--at least that a woman never can be
forgiven for, if it's found out."
"Did she--did she take something that didn't belong to her?"
"No--nothing like that. No, she was, they say, as nice and sweet
as she could be--except----She wasn't married to your father."
Susan sat in a brown study. "I can't understand," she said at
last. "Why--she _must_ have been married, or--or--there wouldn't
have been me."
Ruth smiled uneasily. "Not at all. Don't you really understand?"
Susan shook her head.
"He--he betrayed her--and left her--and then everybody knew
because you came."
Susan's violet-gray eyes rested a grave, inquiring glance upon
her cousin's face. "But if he betrayed her----What does `betray'
mean? Doesn't it mean he promised to marry her and didn't?"
"Something like that," said Ruth. "Yes--something like that."
"Then _he_ was the disgrace," said the dark cousin, after reflecting.
"No--you're not telling me, Ruth. _What_ did my mother do?"
"She had you without being married."
Again Susan sat in silence, trying to puzzle it out. Ruth lifted
herself, put the pillows behind her back. "You don't
understand--anything--do you? Well, I'll try to explain--though
I don't know much about it."
And hesitatingly, choosing words she thought fitted to those
innocent ears, hunting about for expressions she thought
comprehensible to that innocent mind, Ruth explained the
relations of the sexes--an inaccurate, often absurd,
explanation, for she herself knew only what she had picked up
from other girls--the fantastic hodgepodge of pruriency,
physiology and sheer nonsense which under our system of
education distorts and either alarms or inflames the imaginations
of girls and boys where the clean, simple truth would at least
enlighten them. Susan listened with increasing amazement.
"Well, do you understand?" Ruth ended. "How we come into the
world--and what marriage means?"
"I don't believe it," declared Susan. "It's--awful!" And she
shivered with disgust.
"I tell you it's true," insisted Ruth. "I thought it was awful
when I first heard--when Lottie Wright took me out in their
orchard, where nobody could listen, and told me what their cook
had told her. But I've got kind of used to it."
"But it--it's so, then; my mother did marry my father," said Susan.
"No. She let him betray her. And when a woman lets a man betray
her without being married by the preacher or somebody, why,
she's ruined forever."
"But doesn't marriage mean where two people promise to love each
other and then betray each other?"
"If they're married, it isn't betraying," explained Ruth. "If
they're not, it is betraying." Susan reflected, nodded slowly.
"I guess I understand. But don't you see it was my father who was
the disgrace? He was the one that promised to marry and didn't."
"How foolish you are!" cried Ruth. "I never knew you to be stupid."
"But isn't it so?" persisted Susan.
"Yes--in a way," her cousin admitted. "Only--the woman must keep
herself pure until the ceremony has been performed."
"But if he said so to her, wasn't that saying so to God just as
much as if the preacher had been there?"
"No, it wasn't," said Ruth with irritation. "And it's wicked to
think such things. All I know is, God says a woman must be
married before she--before she has any children. And your mother
wasn't." Susan shook her head. "I guess you don't understand any
better than I do--really."
"No, I don't," confessed Ruth. "But I'd like to see any man more
than kiss me or put his arm round me without our having been married."
"But," urged Susan, "if he kissed you, wouldn't that be like marriage?"
"Some say so," admitted Ruth. "But I'm not so strict. A little
kissing and that often leads a man to propose." Susan reflected
again. "It all sounds low and sneaking to me," was her final
verdict. "I don't want to have anything to do with it. But I'm
sure my mother was a good woman. It wasn't her fault if she was
lied to, when she loved and believed. And anybody who blames her
is low and bad. I'm glad I haven't got any father, if fathers
have to be made to promise before everybody or else they'll not
keep their word."
"Well, I'll not argue about it," said Ruth. "I'm telling you the
way things are. The woman has to take _all_ the blame." Susan
lifted her head haughtily. "I'd be glad to be blamed by anybody
who was wicked enough to be that unjust. I'd not have anything
to do with such people."
"Then you'd live alone."
"No, I shouldn't. There are lots of people who are good and----"
"That's wicked, Susan," interrupted Ruth. "All good people think
as I tell you they do."
"Do Aunt Fanny and Uncle George blame my mother?"
"Of course. How could they help it, when she----" Ruth was checked
by the gathering lightnings in those violet-gray eyes.
"But," pursued Susan, after a pause, "even if they were wicked
enough to blame my mother, they couldn't blame me."
"Of course not," declared Ruth warmly. "Hasn't everybody always
been sweet and kind to you?"
"But last night you said----"
Ruth hid her face. "I'm ashamed of what I said last night," she
murmured. "I've got, Oh, such a _nasty_ disposition, Susie."
"But what you said--wasn't it so?" Ruth turned away her head.
Susan drew a long sigh, so quietly that Ruth could not have heard.
"You understand," Ruth said gently, "everybody feels sorry for
you and----"
Susan frowned stormily, "They'd better feel sorry for themselves."
"Oh, Susie, dear," cried Ruth, impulsively catching her hand,
"we all love you, and mother and father and I--we'll stand up
for you through everything----"
"Don't you _dare_ feel sorry for me!" Susan cried, wrenching her
hand away.
Ruth's eyes filled with tears.
"You can't blame us because everybody----You know, God says,
`The sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children----'"
"I'm done with everybody," cried Susan, rising and lifting her
proud head, "I'm done with God."
Ruth gave a low scream and shuddered. Susan looked round
defiantly, as if she expected a bolt from the blue to come
hurtling through the open window. But the sky remained serene,
and the quiet, scented breeze continued to play with the lace
curtains, and the birds on the balcony did not suspend their
chattering courtship. This lack of immediate effect from her
declaration of war upon man and God was encouraging. The last of
the crushed, cowed feeling Ruth had inspired the night before
disappeared. With a soul haughtily plumed and looking defiance
from the violet-gray eyes, Susan left her cousin and betook
herself down to breakfast.
In common with most children, she had always dreamed of a
mysterious fate for herself, different from the commonplace
routine around her. Ruth's revelations, far from daunting her,
far from making her feel like cringing before the world in
gratitude for its tolerance of her bar sinister, seemed a
fascinatingly tragic confirmation of her romantic longings and
beliefs. No doubt it was the difference from the common lot that
had attracted Sam to her; and this difference would make their
love wholly unlike the commonplace Sutherland wooing and
wedding. Yes, hers had been a mysterious fate, and would
continue to be. Nora, an old woman now, had often related in her
presence how Doctor Stevens had brought her to life when she lay
apparently, indeed really, dead upon the upstairs sitting-room
table--Doctor Stevens and Nora's own prayers. An extraordinary
birth, in defiance of the laws of God and man; an extraordinary
resurrection, in defiance of the laws of nature--yes, hers would
be a life superbly different from the common. And when she and
Sam married, how gracious and forgiving she would be to all
those bad-hearted people; how she would shame them for their
evil thoughts against her mother and herself!
The Susan Lenox who sat alone at the little table in the
dining-room window, eating bread and butter and honey in the
comb, was apparently the same Susan Lenox who had taken three
meals a day in that room all those years--was, indeed, actually
the same, for character is not an overnight creation. Yet it was
an amazingly different Susan Lenox, too. The first crisis had
come; she had been put to the test; and she had not collapsed in
weakness but had stood erect in strength.
After breakfast she went down Main Street and at Crooked Creek
Avenue took the turning for the cemetery. She sought the Warham
plot, on the western slope near the quiet brook. There was a
clump of cedars at each corner of the plot; near the largest of
them were three little graves--the three dead children of George
and Fanny. In the shadow of the clump and nearest the brook was
a fourth grave apart and, to the girl, now thrillingly mysterious:
BORN MAY 9, 1859
DIED JULY 17, 1879
Twenty years old! Susan's tears scalded her eyes. Only a little
older than her cousin Ruth was now--Ruth who often seemed to her,
and to everybody, younger than herself. "And she was good--I
know she was good!" thought Susan. "_He_ was bad, and the people
who took his part against her were bad. But _she_ was good!"
She started as Sam's voice, gay and light, sounded directly
behind her. "What are you doing in a graveyard?" cried he.
"How did you find me?" she asked, paling and flushing and paling again.
"I've been following you ever since you left home."
He might have added that he did not try to overtake her until
they were where people would be least likely to see.
"Whose graves are those?" he went on, cutting across a plot and
stepping on several graves to join her.
She was gazing at her mothers simple headstone. His glance
followed hers, he read.
"Oh--beg pardon," he said confusedly. "I didn't see."
She turned her serious gaze from the headstone to his face,
which her young imagination transfigured. "You know--about her?"
she asked.
"I--I--I've heard," he confessed. "But--Susie, it doesn't amount
to anything. It happened a long time ago--and everybody's
forgotten--and----" His stammering falsehoods died away before
her steady look. "How did you find out?"
"Someone just told me," replied she. "And they said you'd never
respect or marry a girl who had no father. No--don't
deny--please! I didn't believe it--not after what we had said
to each other."
Sam, red and shifting uneasily, could not even keep his downcast
eyes upon the same spot of ground.
"You see," she went on, sweet and grave, "they don't understand
what love means--do they?"
"I guess not," muttered he, completely unnerved.
Why, how seriously the girl had taken him and his words--such a
few words and not at all definite! No, he decided, it was the
kiss. He had heard of girls so innocent that they thought a kiss
meant the same as being married. He got himself together as well
as he could and looked at her.
"But, Susie," he said, "you're too young for anything
definite--and I'm not halfway through college."
"I understand," said she. "But you need not be afraid I'll change."
She was so sweet, so magnetic, so compelling that in spite of
the frowns of prudence he seized her hand. At her touch he flung
prudence to the winds. "I love you," he cried; and putting his
arm around her, he tried to kiss her. She gently but strongly
repulsed him. "Why not, dear?" he pleaded. "You love me--don't you?"
"Yes," she replied, her honest eyes shining upon his. "But we
must wait until we're married. I don't care so much for the
others, but I'd not want Uncle George to feel I had disgraced him."
"Why, there's no harm in a kiss," pleaded he.
"Kissing you is--different," she replied. "It's--it's--marriage."
He understood her innocence that frankly assumed marriage where
a sophisticated girl would, in the guilt of designing thoughts,
have shrunk in shame from however vaguely suggesting such a
thing. He realized to the full his peril. "I'm a damn fool," he
said to himself, "to hang about her. But somehow I can't help
it--I can't!" And the truth was, he loved her as much as a boy
of his age is capable of loving, and he would have gone on and
married her but for the snobbishness smeared on him by the
provincialism of the small town and burned in by the toadyism of
his fashionable college set. As he looked at her he saw beauty
beyond any he had ever seen elsewhere and a sweetness and
honesty that made him ashamed before her. "No, I couldn't harm
her," he told himself. "I'm not such a dog as that. But there's
no harm in loving her and kissing her and making her as happy as
it's right to be."
"Don't be mean, Susan," he begged, tears in his eyes. "If you
love me, you'll let me kiss you."
And she yielded, and the shock of the kiss set both to
trembling. It appealed to his vanity, it heightened his own
agitations to see how pale she had grown and how her rounded
bosom rose and fell in the wild tumult of her emotions. "Oh, I
can't do without seeing you," she cried. "And Aunt Fanny has
forbidden me."
"I thought so!" exclaimed he. "I did what I could last night to
throw them off the track. If Ruth had only known what I was
thinking about all the time. Where were you?"
"Upstairs--on the balcony."
"I felt it," he declared. "And when she sang love songs I could
hardly keep from rushing up to you. Susie, we _must_ see each other."
"I can come here, almost any day."
"But people'd soon find out--and they'd say all sorts of things.
And your uncle and aunt would hear."
There was no disputing anything so obvious.
"Couldn't you come down tonight, after the others are in bed and
the house is quiet?" he suggested.
She hesitated before the deception, though she felt that her family
had forfeited the right to control her. But love, being the supreme
necessity, conquered. "For a few minutes," she conceded.
She had been absorbed; but his eyes, kept alert by his
conventional soul, had seen several people at a distance
observing without seeming to do so. "We must separate," he now
said. "You see, Susie, we mustn't be gossiped about. You know
how determined they are to keep us apart."
"Yes--yes," she eagerly agreed. "Will you go first, or shall I?"
"You go--the way you came. I'll jump the brook down where it's
narrow and cut across and into our place by the back way. What
time tonight?"
"Arthur's coming," reflected Susie aloud. "Ruth'll not let him
stay late. She'll be sleepy and will go straight to bed. About
half past ten. If I'm not on the front veranda--no, the side
veranda--by eleven, you'll know something has prevented."
"But you'll surely come?"
"I'll come." And it both thrilled and alarmed him to see how
much in earnest she was. But he looked love into her loving eyes
and went away, too intoxicated to care whither this adventure
was leading him.
At dinner she felt she was no longer a part of this family. Were
they not all pitying and looking down on her in their hearts?
She was like a deformed person who has always imagined the
consideration he has had was natural and equal, and suddenly
discovers that it is pity for his deformity. She now acutely
felt her aunt's, her cousin's, dislike; and her uncle's
gentleness was not less galling. In her softly rounded youthful
face there was revealed definitely for the first time an
underlying expression of strength, of what is often confused
with its feeble counterfeit, obstinacy--that power to resist
circumstances which makes the unusual and the firm character.
The young mobility of her features suggested the easy swaying of
the baby sapling in the gentlest breeze. Singularly at variance
with it was this expression of tenacity. Such an expression in
the face of the young infallibly forecasts an agitated and
agitating life. It seemed amazingly out of place in Susan
because theretofore she had never been put to the test in any
but unnoted trifles and so had given the impression that she was
as docile as she was fearful of giving annoyance or pain and
indifferent to having her own way. Those who have this
temperament of strength encased in gentleness are invariably
misunderstood. When they assert themselves, though they are in
the particular instance wholly right, they are regarded as
wholly and outrageously wrong. Life deals hardly with them,
punishes them for the mistaken notion of themselves they have
through forbearance and gentleness of heart permitted an
unobservant world to form.
Susan spent the afternoon on the balcony before her window,
reading and sewing--or, rather, dreaming over first a book, then
a dress. When she entered the dining-room at supper time the
others were already seated. She saw instantly that something had
occurred--something ominous for her. Mrs. Warham gave her a
penetrating, severe look and lowered her eyes; Ruth was gazing
sullenly at her plate. Warham's glance was stern and
reproachful. She took her place opposite Ruth, and the meal was
eaten in silence. Ruth left the table first. Next Mrs. Warham
rose and saying, "Susan, when you've finished, I wish to see you
in the sitting-room upstairs," swept in solemn dignity from the
room. Susan rose at once to follow. As she was passing her uncle
he put out his hand and detained her.
"I hope it was only a foolish girl's piece of nonsense," said he
with an attempt at his wonted kindliness. "And I know it won't
occur again. But when your aunt says things you won't like to
hear, remember that you brought this on yourself and that she
loves you as we all do and is thinking only of your good."
"What is it, Uncle George?" cried Susan, amazed. "What have I done?"
Warham looked sternly grieved. "Brownie," he reproached, "you
mustn't deceive. Go to your aunt."
She found her aunt seated stiffly in the living-room, her hands
folded upon her stomach. So gradual had been the crucial
middle-life change in Fanny that no one had noted it. This
evening Susan, become morbidly acute, suddenly realized the
contrast between the severe, uncertain-tempered aunt of today
and the amiable, altogether and always gentle aunt of two years
"What is it, aunt?" she said, feeling as if she were before a
stranger and an enemy.
"The whole town is talking about your disgraceful doings this
morning," Ruth's mother replied in a hard voice.
The color leaped in Susan's cheeks.
"Yesterday I forbade you to see Sam Wright again. And already
you disobey."
"I did not say I would not see him again," replied Susan.
"I thought you were an honest, obedient girl," cried Fanny, the
high shrill notes in her voice rasping upon the sensitive, the
now morbidly sensitive, Susan. "Instead--you slip away from the
house and meet a young man--and permit him to take _liberties_
with you."
Susan braced herself. "I did not go to the cemetery to meet
him," she replied; and that new or, rather, newly revived
tenacity was strong in her eyes, in the set of her sweet mouth.
"He saw me on the way and followed. I did let him kiss me--once.
But I had the right to."
"You have disgraced yourself--and us all."
"We are going to be married."
"I don't want to hear such foolish talk!" cried Mrs. Warham
violently. "If you had any sense, you'd know better."
"He and I do not feel as you do about my mother," said the girl
with quiet dignity.
Mrs. Warham shivered before this fling. "Who told you?" she demanded.
"It doesn't matter; I know."
"Well, miss, since you know, then I can tell you that your uncle
and I realize you're going the way your mother went. And the
whole town thinks you've gone already. They're all saying, `I
told you so! I told you so! Like her mother!'" Mrs. Warham was
weeping hysterical tears of fury. "The whole town! And it'll
reflect on my Ruth. Oh, you miserable girl! Whatever possessed
me to take pity on you!"
Susan's hands clutched until the nails sunk into the palms. She
shut her teeth together, turned to fly.
"Wait!" commanded Mrs. Warham. "Wait, I tell you!"
Susan halted in the doorway, but did not turn.
"Your uncle and I have talked it over."
"Oh!" cried Susan.
Mrs. Warham's eyes glistened. "Yes, he has wakened up at last.
There's one thing he isn't soft about----"
"You've turned him against me!" cried the girl despairingly.
"You mean _you_ have turned him against you," retorted her aunt.
"Anyhow, you can't wheedle him this time. He's as bent as I am.
And you must promise us that you won't see Sam again."
A pause. Then Susan said, "I can't."
"Then we'll send you away to your Uncle Zeke's. It's quiet out
there and you'll have a chance to think things over. And I
reckon he'll watch you. He's never forgiven your mother. Now,
will you promise?"
"No," said Susan calmly. "You have wicked thoughts about my
mother, and you are being wicked to me--you and Ruth. Oh, I
"Don't you dare stand there and lie that way!" raved Mrs.
Warham. "I'll give you tonight to think about it. If you don't
promise, you leave this house. Your uncle has been weak where
you were concerned, but this caper of yours has brought him to
his senses. We'll not have you a loose character--and your
cousin's life spoiled by it. First thing we know, no respectable
man'll marry her, either."
From between the girl's shut teeth issued a cry. She darted
across the hall, locked herself in her room.
SAM did not wait until Arthur Sinclair left, but, all ardor and
impatience, stole in at the Warhams' front gate at ten o'clock.
He dropped to the grass behind a clump of lilacs, and to calm
his nerves and to make the time pass more quickly, smoked a
cigarette, keeping its lighted end carefully hidden in the
hollow of his hand. He was not twenty feet away, was seeing and
hearing, when Arthur kissed Ruth good night. He laughed to
himself. "How disappointed she looked last night when she saw I
wasn't going to do that!" What a charmer Susie must be when the
thought of her made the idea of kissing as pretty a girl as Ruth
uninteresting, almost distasteful!
Sinclair departed; the lights in parlor and hall went out;
presently light appeared through the chinks in some of the
second-story shutters. Then followed three-quarters of an hour
of increasing tension. The tension would have been even greater
had he seen the young lady going leisurely about her
preparations for bed. For Ruth was of the orderly, precise women
who are created to foster the virtue of patience in those about
them. It took her nearly as long to dress for bed as for a
party. She did her hair up in curl papers with the utmost care;
she washed and rinsed and greased her face and neck and gave
them a thorough massage. She shook out and carefully hung or
folded or put to air each separate garment. She examined her
silk stockings for holes, found one, darned it with a neatness
rivaling that of a _stoppeur_. She removed from her dressing
table and put away in drawers everything that was out of place.
She closed each drawer tightly, closed and locked the closets,
looked under the bed, turned off the lights over the dressing
table. She completed her toilet with a slow washing of her
teeth, a long spraying of her throat, and a deliberate,
thoroughgoing dripping of boracic acid into each eye to keep and
improve its clearness and brilliancy. She sat on the bed,
reflected on what she had done, to assure herself that nothing
had been omitted. After a slow look around she drew off her
bedroom slippers, set them carefully side by side near the head
of the bed. She folded her nightgown neatly about her legs,
thrust them down into the bed. Again she looked slowly,
searchingly, about the room to make absolutely sure she had
forgotten nothing, had put everything in perfect order. Once in
bed, she hated to get out; yet if she should recall any
omission, however slight, she would be unable to sleep until she
had corrected it. Finally, sure as fallible humanity can be, she
turned out the last light, lay down--went instantly to sleep.
It was hardly a quarter of an hour after the vanishing of that
last ray when Sam, standing now with heart beating fast and a
lump of expectancy, perhaps of trepidation, too, in his throat,
saw a figure issue from the front door and move round to the
side veranda. He made a detour on the lawn, so as to keep out of
view both from house and street, came up to the veranda, called
to her softly.
"Can you get over the rail?" asked she in the same low tone.
"Let's go back to the summer house," urged he.
"No. Come up here," she insisted. "Be careful. The windows above
are open."
He climbed the rail noiselessly and made an impetuous move for
her hand. She drew back. "No, Sam dear," she said. "I know it's
foolish. But I've an instinct against it--and we mustn't."
She spoke so gently that he persisted and pleaded. It was some
time before he realized how much firmness there was under her
gentleness. She was so afraid of making him cross; yet he also
saw that she would withstand at any cost. He placed himself
beside her on the wicker lounge, sitting close, his cheek almost
against hers, that they might hear each other without speaking
above a whisper. After one of those silences which are the
peculiar delight of lovers, she drew a long breath and said:
"I've got to go away, Sam. I shan't see you again for a long time."
"They heard about this morning? They're sending you away?"
"No--I'm going. They feel that I'm a disgrace and a drag. So I
can't stay."
"But--you've _got_ to stay!" protested Sam. In wild alarm he
suspected she was preparing to make him elope with her--and he
did not know to what length of folly his infatuation might whirl
him. "You've no place to go," he urged.
"I'll find a place," said she.
"You mustn't--you mustn't, Susie! Why, you're only
seventeen--and have no experience."
"I'll _get_ experience," said she. "Nothing could be so bad as
staying here. Can't you see that?"
He could not. Like so many of the children of the rich, he had
no trace of overnice sense of self-respect, having been lying
and toadying all his life to a father who used the power of his
wealth at home no less, rather more, than abroad. But he vaguely
realized what delicacy of feeling lay behind her statement of
her position; and he did not dare express his real opinion. He
returned to the main point. "You've simply got to put up with it
for the present, Susie," he insisted. "But, then, of course,
you're not serious."
"Yes. I am going."
"You'll think it over, and see I'm right, dear."
"I'm going tonight."
"Tonight!" he cried.
Sam looked apprehensively around. Both breathed softly and
listened with straining ears. His exclamation had not been loud,
but the silence was profound. "I guess nobody heard," he finally
whispered. "You mustn't go, Susie." He caught her hand and held
it. "I love you, and I forbid it."
"I _must_ go, dear," answered she. "I've decided to take the
midnight boat for Cincinnati."
In the half darkness he gazed in stupefaction at her--this girl
of only seventeen calmly resolving upon and planning an
adventure so daring, so impossible. As he had been born and bred
in that western country where the very children have more
independence than the carefully tamed grown people of the East,
he ought to have been prepared for almost anything. But his
father had undermined his courage and independence; also his
year in the East had given him somewhat different ideas of
women. Susan's announcement seemed incredible. He was gathering
himself for pouring out a fresh protest when it flashed through
his mind--Why not? She would go to Cincinnati. He could follow
in a few days or a week--and then--
Well, at least they would be free and could have many happy days
"Why, how could you get to Cincinnati?" he said. "You haven't
any money."
"I've a twenty-dollar gold piece Uncle gave me as a keepsake.
And I've got seventeen dollars in other money, and several
dollars in change," explained she. "I've got two hundred and
forty-three dollars and fifty cents in the bank, but I can't get
that--not now. They'll send it to me when I find a place and am
settled and let them know."
"You can't do it, Susie! You can't and you mustn't."
"If you knew what they said to me! Oh, I _couldn't_ stay, Sam.
I've got some of my clothes--a little bundle behind the front
door. As soon as I'm settled I'll let you know."
A silence, then he, hesitatingly, "Don't you--do you--hadn't I
better go with you?"
She thrilled at this generosity, this new proof of love. But she
said: "No, I wouldn't let you do that. They'd blame you. And I
want them to know it's all my own doing."
"You're right, Susie," said the young man, relieved and
emphatic. "If I went with you, it'd only get both of us into
deeper trouble." Again silence, with Sam feeling a kind of awe
as he studied the resolute, mysterious profile of the girl,
which he could now see clearly. At last he said: "And after you
get there, Susie--what will you do?"
"Find a boarding house, and then look for a place."
"What kind of a place?"
"In a store--or making dresses--or any kind of sewing. Or I
could do housework."
The sex impulse is prolific of generous impulses. He, sitting so
close to her and breathing in through his skin the emanations of
her young magnetism, was moved to the depths by the picture her
words conjured. This beautiful girl, a mere child, born and bred
in the lady class, wandering away penniless and alone, to be a
prey to the world's buffetings which, severe enough in reality,
seem savage beyond endurance to the children of wealth.
As he pictured it his heart impulsively expanded. It was at his
lips to offer to marry her. But his real self--and one's real
self is vastly different from one's impulses--his real self
forbade the words passage. Not even the sex impulse,
intoxicating him as it then was, could dethrone snobbish
calculation. He was young; so while he did not speak, he felt
ashamed of himself for not speaking. He felt that she must be
expecting him to speak, that she had the right to expect it. He
drew a little away from her, and kept silent.
"The time will soon pass," said she absently.
"The time? Then you intend to come back?"
"I mean the time until you're through college and we can be together."
She spoke as one speaks of a dream as to which one has never a
doubt but that it will come true. It was so preposterous, this
idea that he would marry her, especially after she had been a
servant or God knows what for several years--it was so absurd
that he burst into a sweat of nervous terror. And he hastily
drew further away.
She felt the change, for she was of those who are born
sensitive. But she was far too young and inexperienced to have
learned to interpret aright the subtle warning of the nerves.
"You are displeased with me?" she asked timidly.
"No--Oh, no, Susie," he stammered. "I--I was thinking. Do put
off going for a day or two. There's no need of hurrying."
But she felt that by disobeying her aunt and coming down to see
him she had forfeited the right to shelter under that roof. "I
can't go back," said she. "There's a reason." She would not tell
him the reason; it would make him feel as if he were to blame.
"When I get a place in Cincinnati," she went on, "I'll write to you."
"Not here," he objected. "That wouldn't do at all. No, send me a
line to the Gibson House in Cincinnati, giving me your address."
"The Gibson House," she repeated. "I'll not forget that name.
Gibson House."
"Send it as soon as you get a place. I may be in Cincinnati
soon. But this is all nonsense. You're not going. You'd be afraid."
She laughed softly. "You don't know me. Now that I've got to go,
I'm glad."
And he realized that she was not talking to give herself
courage, that her words were literally true. This made him
admire her, and fear her, too. There must be something wild and
unwomanly in her nature. "I guess she inherits it from her
mother--and perhaps her father, whoever he was." Probably she
was simply doing a little early what she'd have been sure to do
sooner or later, no matter what had happened. On the whole, it
was just as well that she was going. "I can take her on East in
the fall. As soon as she has a little knowledge of the world
she'll not expect me to marry her. She can get something to do.
I'll help her." And now he felt in conceit with himself again--
felt that he was going to be a good, generous friend to her.
"Perhaps you'll be better off--once you get started," said he.
"I don't see how I could be worse off. What is there here for _me_?"
He wondered at the good sense of this from a mere child. It was
most unlikely that any man of the class she had been brought up
in would marry her; and how could she endure marriage with a man
of the class in which she might possibly find a husband? As for
She, an illegitimate child, never could have a reputation, at
least not so long as she had her looks. After supper, to kill
time, he had dropped in at Willett's drug store, where the young
fellows loafed and gossiped in the evenings; all the time he was
there the conversation had been made up of sly digs and hints
about graveyard trysts, each thrust causing the kind of laughter
that is the wake of the prurient and the obscene. Yes, she was
right. There could be "nothing in it" for her in Sutherland. He
was filled with pity for her. "Poor child! What a shame!" There
must be something wrong with a world that permitted such iniquities.
The clock struck twelve. "You must go," she said. "Sometimes
the boat comes as early as half-past." And she stood up.
As he faced her the generous impulse surged again. He caught her
in his arms, she not resisting. He kissed her again and again,
murmuring disconnected words of endearment and fighting back the
offer to marry her. "I mustn't! I mustn't!" he said to himself.
"What'd become of us?" If his passions had been as virgin, as
inexperienced, as hers, no power could have held him from going
with her and marrying her. But experience had taught him the
abysmal difference between before and after; and he found
strength to be sensible, even in the height of his passionate
longing for her.
She clasped her arms about his neck. "Oh, my dear love!" she
murmured. "I'd do anything for you. I feel that you love me as
I love you."
"Yes--yes." And he pressed his lips to hers. An instant and she
drew away, shaking and panting. He tried to clasp her again, but
she would not have it. "I can't stand it!" he murmured. "I must
go with you--I must!"
"No!" she replied. "It wouldn't do unless we were really
married." Wistfully, "And we can't be that yet--can we? There
isn't any way?"
His passion cooled instantly.
"There isn't any way," he said regretfully. "I'd not dare tell
my father."
"Yes, we must wait till you're of age, and have your education,
and are free. Then----" She drew a long breath, looked at him
with a brave smile. The large moon was shining upon them. "We'll
think of that, and not let ourselves be unhappy--won't we?"
"Yes," he said. "But I must go."
"I forgot for the minute. Good-by, dearest." She put up her
lips. He kissed her, but without passion now.
"You might go with me as far as the wharf," she suggested.
"No--someone might see--and that would ruin everything. I'd like
"It wouldn't do," she interrupted. "I wouldn't let you come."
With sudden agitation she kissed him--he felt that her lips were
cold. He pressed her hands--they, too, were cold. "Good-by, my
darling," he murmured, vaulted lightly over the rail and
disappeared in the deep shadows of the shrubbery. When he was
clear of the grounds he paused to light a cigarette. His hand
was shaking so that the match almost dropped from his fingers.
"I've been making a damn fool of myself," he said half aloud. "A
double damn fool! I've got to stop that talk about marrying,
somehow--or keep away from her. But I can't keep away. I _must_
have her! Why in the devil can't she realize that a man in my
position couldn't marry her? If it wasn't for this marrying
talk, I'd make her happy. I've simply got to stop this marrying
talk. It gets worse and worse."
Her calmness deceived her into thinking herself perfectly sane
and sober, perfectly aware of what she was about. She had left
her hat and her bundle behind the door. She put on the hat in
the darkness of the hall with steady fingers, took up the
well-filled shawl strap and went forth, closing the door behind
her. In the morning they would find the door unlocked but that
would not cause much talk, as Sutherland people were all rather
careless about locking up. They would not knock at the door of
her room until noon, perhaps. Then they would find on the
pincushion the letter she had written to her uncle, saying
good-by and explaining that she had decided to remove forever
the taint of her mother and herself from their house and their
lives--a somewhat theatrical letter, modeled upon Ouida, whom
she thought the greatest writer that had ever lived, Victor Hugo
and two or three poets perhaps excepted.
Her bundle was not light, but she hardly felt it as she moved
swiftly through the deserted, moonlit streets toward the river.
The wharf boat for the Cincinnati and Louisville mail steamers
was anchored at the foot of Pine Street. On the levee before it
were piled the boxes, bags, cases, crates, barrels to be loaded
upon the "up boat." She was descending the gentle slope toward
this mass of freight when her blood tingled at a deep, hoarse,
mournful whistle from far away; she knew it was the up boat,
rounding the bend and sighting the town. The sound echoed
musically back and forth between the Kentucky and the Indiana
bluffs, died lingeringly away. Again the whistle boomed, again
the dark forest-clad steeps sent the echoes to and fro across the
broad silver river. And now she could see the steamer, at the
bend--a dark mass picked out with brilliant dots of light; the
big funnels, the two thick pennants of black smoke. And she
could hear the faint pleasant stroke of the paddles of the big
side wheels upon the water.
At the wharf boat there had not been a sign of life. But with
the dying away of the second whistle lights--the lights of
lanterns--appeared on the levee close to the water's edge and on
the wharf boat itself. And, behind her, the doors of the
Sutherland Hotel opened and its office lit up, in preparation
for any chance arrivals. She turned abruptly out of the beaten
path down the gravel levee, made for the lower and darker end of
the wharf boat. There would be Sutherland people going up the
river. But they would be more than prompt; everyone came early
to boats and trains to begin the sweet draught of the excitement
of journeying. So she would wait in the darkness and go aboard
when the steamer was about to draw in its planks. At the upper
end of the wharf boat there was the broad gangway to the levee
for passengers and freight; at the lower and dark and deserted
end a narrow beam extended from boat to shore, to hold the boat
steady. Susan, balancing herself with her bundle, went up to the
beam, sat down upon a low stanchion in the darkness where she
could see the river.
Louder and louder grew the regular musical beat of engine and
paddle. The searchlight on the forward deck of the _General
Lytle_, after peering uncertainly, suspiciously, at the entire
levee, and at the river, and at the Kentucky shore, abruptly
focused upon the wharf boat. The _General Lytle_ now seemed a
blaze of lights--from lower deck, from saloon deck, from pilot
house deck, and forward and astern. A hundred interesting sounds
came from her--tinkling of bells, calls from deck to deck,
whistling, creaking of pulleys, lowing of cattle, grunting of
swine, plaint of agitated sheep, the resigned cluckings of many
chickens. Along the rail of the middle or saloon deck were
seated a few passengers who had not yet gone to bed. On the
lower deck was a swarm of black roustabouts, their sooty animal
faces, their uncannily contrasting white teeth and eyeballs,
their strange and varied rags lit up by the torches blazing
where a gangplank lay ready for running out. And high and clear
in the lovely June night sailed the moon, spreading a faint
benign light upon hills and shores and glistening river, upon
the graceful, stately mail steamer, now advancing majestically
upon the wharf boat. Susan watched all, saw all, with quick
beating heart and quivering interest. It was the first time that
her life had been visited by the fascinating sense of event,
real event. The tall, proud, impetuous child-woman, standing in
the semi-darkness beside her bundle, was about to cast her stake
upon the table in a bold game with Destiny. Her eyes shone with
the wonderful expression that is seen only when courage gazes
into the bright face of danger.
The steamer touched the edge of the wharf-boat with gentle care;
the wharf-boat swayed and groaned. Even as the gangplanks were
pushing out, the ragged, fantastic roustabouts, with wild,
savage, hilarious cries, ran and jumped and scrambled to the
wharf-boat like a band of escaping lunatics and darted down its
shore planks to pounce upon the piles of freight. The mate, at
the steamer edge to superintend the loading, and the wharf
master on the levee beside the freight released each a hoarse
torrent of profanity to spur on the yelling, laughing
roustabouts, more brute than man. Torches flared; cow and sheep,
pig and chicken, uttered each its own cry of dissatisfaction or
dismay; the mate and wharf master cursed because it was the
custom to curse; the roustabouts rushed ashore empty-handed,
came filing back, stooping under their burdens. It was a scene
of animation, of excitement, savage, grotesque, fascinating.
Susan, trembling a little, so tense were her nerves, waited
until the last struggling roustabouts were staggering on the
boat, until the deep whistle sounded, warning of approaching
departure. Then she took up her bundle and put herself in the
line of roustabouts, between a half-naked negro, black as coal
and bearing a small barrel of beer, and a half-naked mulatto
bearing a bundle of loud-smelling untanned skins. "Get out of
the way, lady!" yelled the mate, eagerly seizing upon a new text
for his denunciations. "Get out of the way, you black hellions!
Let the lady pass! Look out, lady! You damned sons of hell,
what're you about! I'll rip out your bowels----"
Susan fled across the deck and darted up the stairs to the
saloon. The steamer was all white without except the black metal
work. Within--that is, in the long saloon out of which the
cabins opened to right and left and in which the meals were
served at extension tables--there was the palatial splendor of
white and gilt. At the forward end near the main entrance was
the office. Susan, peering in from the darkness of the deck, saw
that the way was clear. The Sutherland passengers had been
accommodated. She entered, put her bundle down, faced the clerk
behind the desk.
"Why, howdy, Miss Lenox," said he genially, beginning to twist
his narrow, carefully attended blond mustache. "Any of the folks
with you?"
She remembered his face but not his name. She remembered him as
one of the "river characters" regarded as outcast by the
Christian respectability of Sutherland. But she who could not
but be polite to everybody smiled pleasantly, though she did not
like his expression as he looked at her. "No, I'm alone," said she.
"Oh--your friends are going to meet you at the wharf in the
morning," said he, content with his own explanation. "Just sign
here, please." And, as she wrote, he went on: "I've got one room
left. Ain't that lucky? It's a nice one, too. You'll be very
comfortable. Everybody at home well? I ain't been in Sutherland
for nigh ten years. Every week or so I think I will, and then
somehow I don't. Here's your key--number 34 right-hand side,
well down toward the far end, yonder. Two dollars, please. Thank
you--exactly right. Hope you sleep well."
"Thank you," said Susan.
She turned away with the key which was thrust through one end of
a stick about a foot long, to make it too bulky for
absent-minded passengers to pocket. She took up her bundle,
walked down the long saloon with its gilt decorations, its
crystal chandeliers, its double array of small doors, each
numbered. The clerk looked after her, admiration of the fine
curve of her shoulders, back, and hips written plain upon his
insignificant features. And it was a free admiration he would
not have dared show had she not been a daughter of
illegitimacy--a girl whose mother's "looseness" raised pleasing
if scandalous suggestions and even possibilities in the mind of
every man with a carnal eye. And not unnaturally. To think of
her was to think of the circumstances surrounding her coming
into the world; and to think of those circumstances was to think
of immorality.
Susan, all unconscious of that polluted and impudent gaze, was
soon standing before the narrow door numbered 34, as she barely
made out, for the lamps in the saloon chandeliers were turned
low. She unlocked it, entered the small clean stateroom and
deposited her bundle on the floor. With just a glance at her
quarters she hurried to the opposite door--the one giving upon
the promenade. She opened it, stepped out, crossed the deserted
deck and stood at the rail.
The _General Lytle_ was drawing slowly away from the wharf-boat.
As that part of the promenade happened to be sheltered from the
steamer's lights, she was seeing the panorama of Sutherland--its
long stretch of shaded waterfront, its cupolas and steeples, the
wide leafy streets leading straight from the river by a gentle
slope to the base of the dark towering bluffs behind the
town--all sleeping in peace and beauty in the soft light of the
moon. That farthest cupola to the left--it was the Number Two
engine house, and the third place from it was her uncle's house.
Slowly the steamer, now in mid-stream, drew away from the town.
One by one the familiar landmarks--the packing house, the soap
factory, the Geiss brewery, the tall chimney of the pumping
station, the shorn top of Reservoir Hill--slipped ghostlily away
to the southwest. The sobs choked up into her throat and the
tears rained from her eyes. They all pitied and looked down on
her there; still, it had been home the only home she ever had
known or ever would know. And until these last few frightful
days, how happy she had been there! For the first time she felt
desolate, weak, afraid. But not daunted. It is strange to see in
strong human character the strength and the weakness, two flat
contradictions, existing side by side and making weak what seems
so strong and making strong what seems so weak. However, human
character is a tangle of inconsistencies, as disorderly and
inchoate as the tangible and visible parts of nature. Susan felt
weak, but not the kind of weakness that skulks. And there lay
the difference, the abysmal difference, between courage and
cowardice. Courage has full as much fear as cowardice, often
more; but it has a something else that cowardice has not. It
trembles and shivers but goes forward.
Wiping her eyes she went back to her own cabin. She had
neglected closing its other door, the one from the saloon. The
clerk was standing smirking in the doorway.
"You must be going away for quite some time," said he. And he
fixed upon her as greedy and impudent eyes as ever looked from
a common face. It was his battle glance. Guileful women, bent on
trimming him for anything from a piece of plated jewelry to a
saucer of ice cream, had led him to believe that before it walls
of virtue tottered and fell like Jericho's before the trumpets
of Joshua.
"It makes me a little homesick to see the old town disappear,"
hastily explained Susan, recovering herself. The instant anyone
was watching, her emotions always hid.
"Wouldn't you like to sit out on deck a while?" pursued the
clerk, bringing up a winning smile to reinforce the fetching stare.
The idea was attractive, for she did not feel like sleep. It
would be fine to sit out in the open, watch the moon and the
stars, the mysterious banks gliding swiftly by, and new vistas
always widening out ahead. But not with this puny, sandy little
"river character," not with anybody that night. "No," replied
she. "I think I'll go to bed."
She had hesitated--and that was enough to give him
encouragement. "Now, do come," he urged. "You don't know how
nice it is. And they say I'm mighty good company."
"No, thanks." Susan nodded a pleasant dismissal.
The clerk lingered. "Can't I help you in some way? Wouldn't you
like me to get you something?"
"Going to visit in Cincinnati? I know the town from A to Izzard.
It's a lot of fun over the Rhine. I've had mighty good times
there--the kind a pretty, lively girl like you would take to."
"When do we get to Cincinnati?"
"About eight--maybe half-past seven. Depends on the landings we
have to make, and the freight."
"Then I'll not have much time for sleep," said Susan. "Good
night." And no more realizing the coldness of her manner than
the reason for his hanging about, she faced him, hand on the
door to close it.
"You ain't a bit friendly," wheedled he.
"I'm sorry you think so. Good night--and thank you." And he
could not but withdraw his form from the door. She closed it and
forgot him. And she did not dream she had passed through one of
those perilous adventures incident to a female traveling
alone--adventures that even in the telling frighten ladies whose
nervousness for their safety seems to increase in direct
proportion to the degree of tranquillity their charms create in
the male bosom. She decided it would be unwise regularly to
undress; the boat might catch fire or blow up or something. She
took off skirt, hat and ties, loosened her waist, and lay upon
the lower of the two plain, hard little berths. The throb of the
engines, the beat of the huge paddles, made the whole boat
tremble and shiver. Faintly up from below came the sound of
quarrels over crap-shooting, of banjos and singing--from the
roustabouts amusing themselves between landings. She thought she
would not be able to sleep in these novel and exciting
surroundings. She had hardly composed herself before she lost
consciousness, to sleep on and on dreamlessly, without motion.
SHE was awakened by a crash so uproarious that she sat bolt
upright before she had her eyes open. Her head struck stunningly
against the bottom of the upper berth. This further confused her
thoughts. She leaped from the bed, caught up her slippers,
reached for her opened-up bundle. The crash was still billowing
through the boat; she now recognized it as a great gong sounding
for breakfast. She sat down on the bed and rubbed her head and
laughed merrily. "I _am_ a greenhorn!" she said. "Another minute
and I'd have had the whole boat laughing at me."
She felt rested and hungry--ravenously hungry. She tucked in her
blouse, washed as well as she could in the tiny bowl on the
little washstand. Then before the cloudy watermarked mirror she
arranged her scarcely mussed hair. A charming vision of fresh
young loveliness, strong, erect, healthy, bright of eye and of
cheek, she made as, after a furtive look up and down the saloon,
she stepped from her door a very few minutes after the crash of
that gong. With much scuffling and bustling the passengers, most
of them country people, were hurrying into places at the tables
which now had their extension leaves and were covered with
coarse white tablecloths and with dishes of nicked stoneware,
white, indeed, but shabbily so. But Susan's young eyes were not
critical. To her it all seemed fine, with the rich flavor of
adventure. A more experienced traveler might have been filled
with gloomy foreboding by the quality of the odor from the
cooking. She found it delightful and sympathized with the
unrestrained eagerness of the homely country faces about her,
with the children beating their spoons on their empty plates.
The colored waiters presently began to stream in, each wearing
a soiled white jacket, each bearing aloft a huge tray on which
were stacked filled dishes and steaming cups.
Colored people have a keen instinct for class. One of the
waiters happened to note her, advanced bowing and smiling with
that good-humored, unservile courtesy which is the peculiar
possession of the Americanized colored race. He flourished her
into a chair with a "Good morning, miss. It's going to be a fine
day." And as soon as she was seated he began to form round her
plate a large inclosing arc of side dishes--fried fish, fried
steak, fried egg, fried potatoes, wheat cakes, canned peaches,
a cup of coffee. He drew toward her a can of syrup, a pitcher of
cream, and a bowl of granulated sugar.
"Anything else?" said he, with a show of teeth white and sound.
"No--nothing. Thank you so much."
Her smile stimulated him to further courtesies. "Some likes the
yeggs biled. Shall I change 'em?"
"No. I like them this way." She was so hungry that the idea of
taking away a certainty on the chance of getting something out
of sight and not yet cooked did not attract her.
"Perhaps--a little better piece of steak?"
"No--this looks fine." Her enthusiasm was not mere politeness.
"I clean forgot your hot biscuits." And away he darted.
When he came back with a heaping plate of hot biscuits, Sally
Lunn and cornbread, she was eating as heartily as any of her
neighbors. It seemed to her that never had she tasted such grand
food as this served in the white and gold saloon with
strangeness and interest all about her and the delightful sense
of motion--motion into the fascinating golden unknown. The men
at the table were eating with their knives; each had one
protecting forearm and hand cast round his arc of small dishes
as if to ward off probable attempt at seizure. And they
swallowed as if the boat were afire. The women ate more
daintily, as became members of the finer sex on public
exhibition. They were wearing fingerless net gloves, and their
little fingers stood straight out in that gesture which every
truly elegant woman deems necessary if the food is to be
daintily and artistically conveyed to her lips. The children
mussed and gormed themselves, their dishes, the tablecloth.
Susan loved it all. Her eyes sparkled. She ate everything, and
regretted that lack of capacity made it impossible for her to
yield to the entreaties of her waiter that she "have a little more."
She rose, went into the nearest passageway between saloon and
promenade, stealthily took a ten-cent piece from her pocketbook.
She called her waiter and gave it to him. She was blushing
deeply, frightened lest this the first tip she had ever given or
seen given be misunderstood and refused. "I'm so much obliged,"
she said. "You were very nice."
The waiter bowed like a prince, always with his simple, friendly
smile; the tip disappeared under his apron. "Nobody could help
being nice to you, lady."
She thanked him again and went to the promenade. It seemed to
her that they had almost arrived. Along shore stretched a
continuous line of houses--pretty houses with gardens. There
were electric cars. Nearer the river lay several parallel lines
of railway track along which train after train was speeding,
some of them short trains of ordinary day coaches, others long
trains made up in part of coaches grander and more beautiful
than any she had ever seen. She knew they must be the parlor and
dining and sleeping cars she had read about. And now they were
in the midst of a fleet of steamers and barges, and far ahead
loomed the first of Cincinnati's big suspension bridges,
pictures of which she had many a time gazed at in wonder. There
was a mingling of strange loud noises--whistles, engines, on the
water, on shore; there was a multitude of what seemed to her
feverish activities--she who had not been out of quiet
Sutherland since she was a baby too young to note things.
The river, the shores, grew more and more crowded. Susan's eyes
darted from one new object to another; and eagerly though she
looked she felt she was missing more than she saw.
"Why, Susan Lenox!" exclaimed a voice almost in her ear.
She closed her teeth upon a cry; suddenly she was back from
wonderland to herself. She turned to face dumpy, dressy Mrs.
Waterbury and her husband with the glossy kinky ringlets and the
long wavy mustache. "How do you do?" she stammered.
"We didn't know you were aboard," said Mrs. Waterbury, a silly,
duck-legged woman looking proudly uncomfortable in her
bead-trimmed black silk.
"Yes--I'm--I'm here," confessed Susan.
"Going to the city to visit?"
"Yes," said Susan. She hesitated, then repeated, "Yes."
"What elegant breakfasts they do serve on these boats! I suppose
your friends'll meet you. But Mort and I'll look after you till
they come."
"Oh, it isn't necessary," protested Susan. The steamer was
passing under the bridge. There were cities on both shores--huge
masses of dingy brick, streets filled with motion of every
kind--always motion, incessant motion, and change. "We're about
there, aren't we?" she asked.
"The wharf's up beyond the second bridge--the Covington Bridge,"
explained Waterbury with the air of the old experienced
globe-trotter. "There's a third one, further up, but you can't
see it for the smoke." And he went on and on, volubly airing his
intimate knowledge of the great city which he visited once a
year for two or three days to buy goods. He ended with a
scornful, "My, but Cincinnati's a dirty place!"
Dirty it might be, but Susan loved it, dirt and all. The smoke,
the grime somehow seemed part of it, one of its charms, one of
the things that made it different from, and superior to,
monotonous country and country town. She edged away from the
Waterburys, hid in her stateroom watching the panorama through
the curtained glass of her promenade deck door. She was
completely carried away. The city! So, this was the city! And
her dreams of travel, of new sights, new faces, were beginning
to come true. She forgot herself, forgot what she had left
behind, forgot what she was to face. All her power of thought
and feeling was used up in absorbing these unfolding wonders.
And when the June sun suddenly pierced the heavy clouds of fog and
smoke, she clasped her hands and gasped, "Lovely! Oh, how lovely!"
And now the steamer was at the huge wharf-boat, in shape like
the one at Sutherland, but in comparative size like the real
Noah's Ark beside a toy ark. And from the whole tremendous scene
rose an enormous clamor, the stentorian voice of the city. That
voice is discordant and terrifying to many. To Susan, on that
day, it was the most splendid burst of music. "Awake--awake!" it
cried. "Awake, and _live!_" She opened her door that she might
hear it better--rattle and rumble and roar, shriek of whistle,
clang of bell. And the people!--Thousands on thousands hurrying
hither and yon, like bees in a hive. "Awake awake, and live!"
The noises from the saloon reminded her that the journey was
ended, that she must leave the boat. And she did not know where
to go--she and her bundle. She waited until she saw the
Waterburys, along with the other passengers, moving up the
levee. Then she issued forth--by the promenade deck door so that
she would not pass the office. But at the head of the
companionway, in the forward part of the deck, there the clerk
stood, looking even pettier and more offensive by daylight. She
thought to slip by him. But he stopped stroking his mustache and
called out to her, "Haven't your friends come?"
She frowned, angry in her nervousness. "I shall get on very
well," she said curtly. Then she repented, smiled politely,
added, "Thank you."
"I'll put you in a carriage," he offered, hastening down the
stairs to join her.
She did not know what to say or do. She walked silently beside
him, he carrying her bundle. They crossed the wharf-boat. A line
of dilapidated looking carriages was drawn up near the end of
the gangplank. The sight of them, the remembrance of what she
had heard of the expensiveness of city carriages, nerved her to
desperation. "Give me my things, please," she said. "I think I'll
"Where do you want to go?"
The question took her breath away. With a quickness that amazed
her, her lips uttered, "The Gibson House."
"Oh! That's a right smart piece. But you can take a car. I'll walk
with you to the car. There's a line a couple of squares up that
goes almost by the door. You know it isn't far from Fourth Street."
She was now in a flutter of terror. She went stumbling along
beside him, not hearing a word of his voluble and flirtatious
talk. They were in the midst of the mad rush and confusion. The
noises, no longer mingled but individual, smote savagely upon
her ears, startling her, making her look dazedly round as if
expecting death to swoop upon her. At the corner of Fourth Street
the clerk halted. He was clear out of humor with her, so dumb,
so unappreciative. "There'll be a car along soon," said he sourly.
"You needn't wait," said she timidly. "Thank you again."
"You can't miss it. Good-by." And he lifted his hat--"tipped"
it, rather--for he would not have wasted a full lift upon such
a female. She gave a gasp of relief when he departed; then a
gasp of terror--for upon the opposite corner stood the
Waterburys. The globe-trotter and his wife were so dazed by the
city that they did not see her, though in their helpless
glancing round they looked straight at her. She hastily ran into
a drug store on the corner. A young man in shirt sleeves held up
by pink garters, and with oily black hair carefully parted and
plastered, put down a pestle and mortar and came forward. He had
kind brown eyes, but there was something wrong with the lower
part of his face. Susan did not dare look to see what it was,
lest he should think her unfeeling. He was behind the counter.
Susan saw the soda fountain. As if by inspiration, she said,
"Some chocolate soda, please."
"Ice cream?" asked the young man in a peculiar voice, like that
of one who has a harelip.
"Please," said Susan. And then she saw the sign, "Ice Cream, ten
cents," and wished she hadn't.
The young man mixed the soda, put in a liberal helping of ice
cream, set it before her with a spoon in it, rested the knuckles
of his brown hairy hands on the counter and said:
"It _is_ hot."
"Yes, indeed," assented Susan. "I wonder where I could leave my
bundle for a while. I'm a stranger and I want to look for a
boarding house."
"You might leave it here with me," said the young man. "That's
about our biggest line of trade--that and postage stamps and
telephone--_and_ the directory. " He laughed heartily. Susan did
not see why; she did not like the sound, either, for the young
man's deformity of lower jaw deformed his laughter as well as
his speech. However, she smiled politely and ate and drank her
soda slowly.
"I'll be glad to take care of your bundle," the young man said
presently. "Ever been here before?"
"No," said Susan. "That is, not since I was about four years old."
"I was four," said the young man, "when a horse stepped on my
mouth in the street."
"My, how dreadful!" exclaimed Susan.
"You can see some of the scar yet," the young man assured her,
and he pointed to his curiously sunken mouth. "The doctors said
it was the most remarkable case of the kind on record,"
continued he proudly. "That was what led me into the medical
line. You don't seem to have your boarding house picked."
"I was going to look in the papers."
"That's dangerous--especially for a young lady. Some of them
boarding houses--well, they're no better'n they ought to be."
"I don't suppose you know of any?"
"My aunt keeps one. And she's got a vacancy, it being summer."
"I'm afraid it'd be too expensive for me," said Susan, to feel her way.
The young man was much flattered. But he said, "Oh, it ain't so
toppy. I think you could make a deal with her for five per."
Susan looked inquiring.
"Five a week--room and board."
"I might stand that," said Susan reflectively. Then, deciding
for complete confidence, "I'm looking for work, too."
"What line?"
"Oh, I never tried anything. I thought maybe dressmaking or millinery."
"Mighty poor season for jobs. The times are bad, anyhow." He was
looking at her with kindly curiosity. "If I was you, I'd go back
home--and wait."
Susan shrank within herself. "I can't do that," she said.
The young man thought awhile, then said: "If you should go to my
aunt's, you can say Mr. Ellison sent you. No, that ain't me.
It's the boss. You see, a respectable boarding house asks for
Susan colored deeply and her gaze slowly sank. "I didn't know
that," she murmured.
"Don't be afraid. Aunt Kate ain't so particular--leastways, not
in summer when things is slow. And I know you're quiet."
By the time the soda was finished, the young man--who said his
name was Robert Wylie--had written on the back of Ellison's
business card in a Spencerian hand: "Mrs. Kate Wylie, 347 West
Sixth Street." He explained that Susan was to walk up two
squares and take the car going west; the conductor would let her
off at the right place. "You'd better leave your things here,"
said Mr. Wylie, holding up the card so that they could admire
his penmanship together. "You may not hit it off with Aunt Kate.
Don't think you've got to stay there just because of me."
"I'm sure I'll like it," Susan declared confidently. Her spirits
were high; she felt that she was in a strong run of luck.
Wylie lifted her package over the counter and went to the door
with her to point out the direction. "This is Fourth. The next
up is Fifth. The next wide one is Sixth--and you can read it on
the lamp-post, too."
"Isn't that convenient!" exclaimed Susan. "What a lovely city this is!"
"There's worse," said Mr. Wylie, not to seem vain of his native town.
They shook hands most friendly and she set out in the direction
he had indicated. She was much upset by the many vehicles and
the confusion, but she did her best to seem at ease and at home.
She watched a girl walking ahead of her--a shopgirl who seemed
well-dressed and stylish, especially about the hat and hair.
Susan tried to walk like her. "I suppose I look and act greener
than I really am," thought she. "But I'll keep my eyes open and
catch on." And in this, as in all her thoughts and actions since
leaving, she showed confidence not because she was conceited,
but because she had not the remotest notion what she was
actually attempting. How many of us get credit for courage as we
walk unconcerned through perils, or essay and conquer great
obstacles, when in truth we are not courageous but simply
unaware! As a rule knowledge is power or, rather, a source of
power, but there are times when ignorance is a power and
knowledge a weakness. If Susan had known, she might perhaps have
stayed at home and submitted and, with crushed spirit, might
have sunk under the sense of shame and degradation. But she did
not know; so Columbus before his sailors or Caesar at the
Rubicon among his soldiers did not seem more tranquil than she
really was. Wylie, who suspected in the direction of the truth,
wondered at her. "She's game, she is," he muttered again and
again that morning. "What a nerve for a kid--and a lady, too!"
She found the right corner and the right car without further
adventure; and the conductor assured her that he would set her
down before the very door of the address on the card. It was an
open car with few passengers. She took the middle of the long
seat nearest the rear platform and looked about her like one in
a happy dream. On and on and yet on they went. With every square
they passed more people, so it seemed to her, than there were in
all Sutherland. And what huge stores! And what wonderful
displays of things to wear! Where would the people be found to
buy such quantities, and where would they get the money to pay?
How many restaurants and saloons! Why, everybody must be eating
and drinking all the time. And at each corner she looked up and
down the cross streets, and there were more and ever more
magnificent buildings, throngs upon throngs of people. Was there
no end to it? This was Sixth Street, still Sixth Street, as she
saw at the corner lamp-posts. Then there must be five more such
streets between this and the river; and she could see, up the
cross streets, that the city was even vaster in the direction of
the hills. And there were all these cross streets! It was
She began to be nervous, they were going so far. She glanced
anxiously at the conductor. He was watching her interestedly,
understood her glance, answered it with a reassuring nod. He
called out:
"I'm looking out for you, miss. I've got you on my mind. Don't
you fret."
She gave him a bright smile of relief. They were passing through
a double row of what seemed to her stately residences, and there
were few people on the sidewalks. The air, too, was clearer,
though the walls were grimy and also the grass in the occasional
tiny front yards. But the curtains at the windows looked clean
and fresh, and so did the better class of people among those on
the sidewalk. It delighted her to see so many well-dressed
women, wearing their clothes with an air which she told herself
she must acquire. She was startled by the conductor's calling out:
"Now, miss!"
She rose as he rang the bell and was ready to get off when the
car stopped, for she was eager to cause him as little trouble as
"The house is right straight before you," said the conductor.
"The number's in the transom."
She thanked him, descended, was on the sidewalk before Mrs.
Wylie's. She looked at the house and her heart sank. She thought
of the small sum in her purse; it was most unlikely that such a
house as this would harbor her. For here was a grand stone
stairway ascending to a deep stone portico, and within it great
doors, bigger than those of the Wright mansion, the palace of
Sutherland. However, she recalled the humble appearance and mode
of speech of her friend the drug clerk and plucked up the
courage to ascend and to ring.
A slattern, colored maid opened the door. At the first glance
within, at the first whiff of the interior air, Susan felt more
at ease. For she was seeing what even her bedazzled eyes
recognized as cheap dowdiness, and the smell that assailed her
nostrils was that of a house badly and poorly kept--the smell of
cheap food and bad butter cooking, of cats, of undusted rooms,
of various unrecognizable kinds of staleness. She stood in the
center of the big dingy parlor, gazing round at the grimed
chromos until Mrs. Wylie entered--a thin middle-aged woman with
small brown eyes set wide apart, a perpetual frown, and a chin
so long and so projected that she was almost jimber-jawed. While
Susan explained stammeringly what she had come for, Mrs. Wylie
eyed her with increasing disfavor. When Susan had finished, she
unlocked her lips for the first time to say:
"The room's took."
"Oh!" cried Susan in dismay.
The telephone rang in the back parlor. Mrs. Wylie excused
herself to answer. After a few words she closed the doors
between. She was gone fully five minutes; to Susan it seemed an
hour. She came back, saying:
"I've been talking to my nephew. He called up. Well, I reckon
you can have the room. It ain't my custom to take in ladies as
young as you. But you seem to be all right. Your parents allowed
you to come?"
"I haven't any," replied Susan. "I'm here to find a place and
support myself."
Mrs. Wylie continued to eye her dubiously. "Well, I have no wish
to pry into your affairs. `Mind your own business,' that's my
rule." She spoke with defiance, as if the contrary were being
asserted by some invisible person who might appear and gain
hearing and belief. She went on: "If Mr. Ellison wants it, why I
suppose it's all right. But you can't stay out later'n ten o'clock."
"I shan't go out at all of nights," said Susan eagerly.
"You _look_ quiet," said Mrs. Wylie, with the air of adding that
appearances were rarely other than deceptive.
"Oh, I _am_ quiet," declared Susan. It puzzled her, this
recurrence of the suggestion of noisiness.
"I can't allow much company--none in your room."
"There won't be any company." She blushed deeply. "That is, a--a
young man from our town--he may call once. But he'll be off for
the East right away."
Mrs. Wylie reflected on this, Susan the while standing uneasily,
dreading lest decision would be against her. Finally Mrs. Wylie said:
"Robert says you want the five-dollar room. I'll show it to you."
They ascended two flights through increasing shabbiness. On the
third floor at the rear was a room--a mere continuation of the
narrow hall, partitioned off. It contained a small folding bed,
a small table, a tiny bureau, a washstand hardly as large as
that in the cabin on the boat, a row of hooks with a curtain of
flowered chintz before them, a kitchen chair, a chromo of "Awake
and Asleep," a torn and dirty rag carpet. The odor of the room,
stale, damp, verging on moldy, seemed the fitting exhalation
from such an assemblage of forbidding objects.
"It's a nice, comfortable room," said Mrs. Wylie aggressively.
"I couldn't afford to give it and two meals for five dollars
except till the first of September. After that it's eight."
"I'll be glad to stay, if you'll let me," said Susan. Mrs.
Wylie's suspicion, so plain in those repellent eyes, took all
the courage out of her. The great adventure seemed rapidly to be
losing its charms. She could not think of herself as content or
anything but sad and depressed in such surroundings as these.
How much better it would be if she could live out in the open,
out where it was attractive!
"I suppose you've got some baggage," said Mrs. Wylie, as if she
rather expected to hear that she had not.
"I left it at the drug store," explained Susan.
"Your trunk?"
Susan started nervously at that explosive exclamation. "I--I
haven't got a trunk--only a few things in a shawl strap."
"Well, I never!"
Mrs. Wylie tossed her head, clucked her tongue disgustedly
against the roof of her mouth. "But I suppose if Mr. Ellison
says so, why you can stay."
"Thank you," said Susan humbly. Even if it would not have been
basest ingratitude to betray her friend, Mr. Wylie, still she
would not have had the courage to confess the truth about Mr.
Ellison and so get herself ordered into the street. "I--I think
I'll go for my things."
"The custom is to pay in advance," said Mrs. Wylie sharply.
"Oh, yes--of course," stammered Susan.
She seated herself on the wooden chair and opened out her purse.
She found the five among her few bills, extended it with
trembling fingers toward Mrs. Wylie. At the same time she lifted
her eyes. The woman's expression as she bored into the
pocketbook terrified her. Never before had she seen the savage
greediness that is bred in the city among the people who fight
against fearful odds to maintain their respectability and to
save themselves from the ever threatened drop to the despised
working class.
"Thank you, " said Mrs. Wylie, taking the bill as if she were
conferring a favor upon Susan. "I make everybody pay promptly.
The first of the week or out they go! I used to be easy and I
came near going down."
"Oh, I shouldn't stay a minute if I couldn't pay," said the
girl. "I'm going to look for something right away."
"Well, I don't want to discourage you, but there's a great many
out of work. Still, I suppose you'll be able to wheedle some man
into giving you a job. But I warn you I'm very particular about
morals. If I see any signs----" Mrs. Wylie did not finish her
sentence. Any words would have been weaker than her look.
Susan colored and trembled. Not at the poisonous hint as to how
money could be got to keep on paying for that room, for the hint
passed wide of Susan. She was agitated by the thought: if Mrs.
Wylie should learn that she was not respectable! If Mrs. Wylie
should learn that she was nameless--was born in disgrace so deep
that, no matter how good she might be, she would yet be classed
with the wicked.
"I'm down like a thousand of brick on any woman that is at all
loose with the men," continued the landlady. "I never could
understand how any woman could so far forget herself." And the
woman whom the men had all her life been helping to their
uttermost not to "forget herself" looked sharp suspicion and
envy at Susan, the lovely. Why are women of the Mrs. Wylie sort
so swift to suspect? Can it be that in some secret chamber of
their never assailed hearts there lurks a longing--a feeling as
to what they would do if they had the chance? Mrs. Wylie
continued, "I hope you have strict Christian principles?"
"I was brought up Presbyterian," said Susan anxiously. She was
far from sure that in Cincinnati and by its Mrs. Wylies
Presbyterian would be regarded as Christian.
"There's your kind of a church a few squares from here," was all
Mrs. Wylie deigned to reply. Susan suspected a sneer at
Presbyterianism in her accent.
"That'll be nice," she murmured. She was eager to escape. "I'll
go for my things."
"You can walk down and take the Fourth Street car," suggested
her landlady. "Then you can watch out and not miss the store.
The conductors are very impudent and forgetful."
Susan escaped from the house as speedily as her flying feet
would take her down the two flights. In the street once more,
her spirits rose. She went south to Fourth Street, decided to
walk instead of taking a car. She now found herself in much more
impressive surroundings than before, and realized that Sixth
Street was really one of the minor streets. The further uptown
she went, the more excited she became. After the district of
stately mansions with wonderful carriages driving up and away
and women dressed like those in the illustrated story papers,
came splendid shops and hotels, finer than Susan had believed
there were anywhere in the world. And most of the people--the
crowds on crowds of people!--looked prosperous and cheerful and
so delightfully citified! She wondered why so many of the men
stared at her. She assumed it must be something rural in her
appearance though that ought to have set the women to staring,
too. But she thought little about this, so absorbed was she in
seeing all the new things. She walked slowly, pausing to inspect
the shop windows--the gorgeous dresses and hats and jewelry, the
thousand costly things scattered in careless profusion. And the
crowds! How secure she felt among these multitudes of strangers,
not one of them knowing or suspecting her secret of shame! She
no longer had the sense of being outcast, branded.
When she had gone so far that it seemed to her she certainly
must have missed the drug store, carefully though she had
inspected each corner as she went, she decided that she must
stop someone of this hurrying throng and inquire the way. While
she was still screwing her courage to this boldness, she espied
the sign and hastened joyfully across the street. She and Wylie
welcomed each other like old friends. He was delighted when he
learned that she had taken the room.
"You won't mind Aunt Kate after a while," said he. "She's sour
and nosey, but she's honest and respectable--and that's the main
thing just now with you. And I think you'll get a job all right.
Aunt Kate's got a lady friend that's head saleslady at
Shillito's. She'll know of something."
Wylie was so kind and so hopeful that Susan felt already
settled. As soon as customers came in, she took her parcel and
went, Wylie saying, "I'll drop round after supper and see how
things are getting on." She took the Sixth Street car back, and
felt like an old resident. She was critical of Sixth Street now,
and of the women she had been admiring there less than two hours
before--critical of their manners and of their dress. The
exterior of the boarding house no longer awed her. She was
getting a point of view--as she proudly realized. By the time
Sam came--and surely that wouldn't be many days--she would be
quite transformed.
She mounted the steps and was about to ring when Mrs. Wylie
herself, with stormy brow and snapping eyes, opened the door.
"Go into the parlor," she jerked out from between her
unpleasant-looking receding teeth.
Susan gave her a glance of frightened wonder and obeyed.
AT the threshold her bundles dropped to the floor and all color
fled from her face. Before her stood her Uncle George and Sam
Wright and his father. The two elderly men were glowering at
her; Sam, white as his shirt and limp, was hanging his head.
"So, miss!--You've got back, eh?" cried her uncle in a tone she
would not have believed could come from him.
As quickly as fear had seized her she now shook it off. "Yes,
Uncle," she said calmly, meeting his angry eyes without
flinching. And back came that expression of resolution--of
stubbornness we call it when it is the flag of opposition to
_our_ will.
"What'd have become of you," demanded her uncle, "if I hadn't
found out early this morning, and got after Sam here and choked
the truth out of him?"
Susan gazed at Sam; but he was such a pitiful figure, so mean and
frightened, that she glanced quickly back to her uncle. She said:
"But he didn't know where I was."
"Don't lie to me," cried Warham. "It won't do you any good, any
more than his lying kept us from finding you. We came on the
train and saw the Waterburys in the street and they'd seen you
go into the drug store. We'd have caught you there if we'd been
a few minutes sooner, but we drove, and got here in time. Now,
tell me, Susan"--and his voice was cruelly harsh--"all about
what's been going on between you and Sam."
She gazed fearlessly and was silent.
"Speak up!" commanded Sam's father.
"Yes--and no lies," said her uncle.
"I don't know what you mean," Susan at last answered--truthfully
enough, yet to gain time, too.
"You can't play that game any longer," cried Warham. "You did make
a fool of me, but my eyes are open. Your aunt's right about you."
"Oh, Uncle George!" said the girl, a sob in her voice.
But he gazed pitilessly--gazed at the woman he was now abhorring
as the treacherous, fallen, unsexed daughter of fallen Lorella.
"Speak out. Crying won't help you. What have you and this fellow
been up to? You disgrace!"
Susan shrank and shivered, but answered steadfastly, "That's
between him and me, Uncle."
Warham gave a snort of fury, turned to the elder Wright. "You
see, Wright," cried he. "It's as my wife and I told you. Your
boy's lying. We'll send the landlady out for a preacher and
marry them."
"Hold on, George," objected Wright soothingly. "I agreed to that
only if there'd been something wrong. I'm not satisfied yet." He
turned to Susan, said in his gruff, blunt way:
"Susan, have you been loose with my boy here?"
"Loose?" said Susan wonderingly.
Sam roused himself. "Tell them it isn't so, Susan," he pleaded,
and his voice was little better than a whine of terror. "Your
uncle's going to kill me and my father'll kick me out."
Susan's heart grew sick as she looked at him--looked furtively,
for she was ashamed to see him so abject. "If you mean did I let
him kiss me," she said to Mr. Wright, "why, I did. We kissed
several times. But we had the right to. We were engaged."
Sam turned on his father in an agony of terror. "That isn't
true!" he cried. "I swear it isn't, father. We aren't engaged. I
only made love to her a little, as a fellow does to lots of girls."
Susan looked at him with wide, horrified eyes. "Sam!" she
exclaimed breathlessly. "Sam!"
Sam's eyes dropped, but he managed to turn his face in her
direction. The situation was too serious for him; he did not
dare to indulge in such vanities as manhood or manly appearance.
"That's the truth, Susan," he said sullenly. "_You_ talked a lot
about marrying but _I_ never thought of such a thing."
"But--you said--you loved me."
"I didn't mean anything by it."
There fell a silence that was interrupted by Mr. Wright. "You
see there's nothing in it, Warham. I'll take my boy and go."
"Not by a damn sight!" cried Warham. "He's got to marry her.
Susan, did Sam promise to marry you?"
"When he got through college," replied Susan.
"I thought so! And he persuaded you to run away."
"No," said Susan. "He----"
"I say yes," stormed her uncle. "Don't lie!"
"Warham! Warham!" remonstrated Mr. Wright. "Don't browbeat the girl."
"He begged me not to go," said Susan.
"You lying fool!" shouted her uncle. Then to Wright, "If he did
ask her to stay it was because he was afraid it would all come
out--just as it has."
"I never promised to marry her!" whined Sam. "Honest to God,
father, I never did. Honest to God, Mr. Warham! You know that's
so, Susan. It was you that did all the marrying talk."
"Yes," she said slowly. "Yes, I believe it was." She looked
dazedly at the three men. "I supposed he meant marriage
because--" her voice faltered, but she steadied it and went
on--"because we loved each other."
"I knew it!" cried her uncle. "You hear, Wright? She admits he
betrayed her."
Susan remembered the horrible part of her cousin's sex
revelations. "Oh, no!" she cried. "I wouldn't have let him do
that--even if he had wanted to. No--not even if we'd been married."
"You see, Warham!" cried Mr. Wright, in triumph.
"I see a liar!" was Warham's furious answer. "She's trying to
defend him and make out a case for herself."
"I am telling the truth," said Susan.
Warham gazed unbelievingly at her, speechless with fury. Mr.
Wright took his silk hat from the corer of the piano. "I'm
satisfied they're innocent," said he. "So I'll take my boy and go."
"Not if I know it!" retorted Warham. "He's got to marry her."
"But the girl says she's pure, says he never spoke of marriage,
says he begged her not to run away. Be reasonable, Warham."
"For a good Christian," sneered he at Wright, "you're mighty
easily convinced by a flimsy lie. In your heart you know the boy
has wronged her and that she's shielding him, just as----" There
Warham checked himself; it would be anything but timely to
remind Wright of the character of the girl's mother.
"I'll admit," said Mr. Wright smoothly, "that I
wasn't overanxious for my boy's marriage with a girl whose
mother was--unfortunate. But if your charge had been true,
Warham, I'd have made the boy do her justice, she being only
seventeen. Come, Sam."
Sam slunk toward the door. Warham stared fiercely at the elder
Wright. "And you call yourself a Christian!" he sneered.
At the door--Sam had already disappeared--Mr. Wright paused to
say, "I'm going to give Sam a discipline he'll remember. The
girl's only been foolish. Don't be harsh with her."
"You damned hypocrite!" shouted Warham. "I might have known what
to expect from a man who cut the wages of his hands to pay his
church subscription."
But Wright was far too crafty to be drawn. He went on pushing
Sam before him.
As the outer door closed behind them Mrs. Wylie appeared. "I
want you both to get out of my house as quick as you can," she
snapped. "My boarders'll be coming to dinner in a few minutes."
Warham took his straw hat from the floor beside the chair behind
him. "I've nothing to do with this girl here. Good day, madam."
And he strode out of the house, slamming the door behind him.
Mrs. Wylie looked at Susan with storming face and bosom. Susan
did not see. She was gazing into space, her face blanched.
"Clear out!" cried Mrs. Wylie. And she ran to the outer door and
opened it. "How dare you come into a respectable house!" She
wished to be so wildly angry that she would forget the five
dollars which she, as a professing Christian in full church
standing, would have to pay back if she remembered. "Clear out
this minute!" she cried shrilly. "If you don't, I'll throw your
bundle into the street and you after it."
Susan took up the bundle mechanically, slowly went out on the
stoop. The door closed with a slam behind her. She descended
the steps, walked a few yards up the street, paused at the edge
of the curb and looked dazedly about. Her uncle stood beside
her. "Now where are you going?" he said roughly.
Susan shook her head.
"I suppose," he went on, "I've got to look after you. You shan't
disgrace my daughter any further."
Susan simply looked at him, her eyes unseeing, her brain swept
clean of thought by the cyclone that had destroyed all her
dreams and hopes. She was not horrified by his accusations; such
things had little meaning for one practically in complete
ignorance of sex relations. Besides, the miserable fiasco of her
romantic love left her with a feeling of abasement, of
degradation little different from that which overwhelms a woman
who believes her virtue is her all and finds herself betrayed
and abandoned. She now felt indeed the outcast, looked down upon
by all the world.
"If you hadn't lied," he fumed on, "you'd have been his wife and
a respectable woman."
The girl shivered.
"Instead, you're a disgrace. Everybody in Sutherland'll know
you've gone the way your mother went."
"Go away," said the girl piteously. "Let me alone."
"Alone? What will become of you?" He addressed the question to
himself, not to her.
"It doesn't matter," was her reply in a dreary tone. "I've been
betrayed, as my mother was. It doesn't matter what----"
"I knew it!" cried Warham, with no notion of what the girl meant
by the word "betrayed." "Why didn't you confess the truth while
he was here and his father was ready to marry him to you? I knew
you'd been loose with him, as your Aunt Fanny said."
"But I wasn't," said Susan. "I wouldn't do such a thing."
"There you go, lying again!"
"It doesn't matter," said she. "All I want is for you to go away."
"You do?" sneered he. "And then what? I've got to think of
Ruthie." He snatched the bundle from her hand. "Come on! I must
do all I can to keep the disgrace to my family down. As for you,
you don't deserve anything but the gutter, where you'd sink if
I left you. Your aunt's right. You're rotten. You were born
rotten. You're your mother's own brat."
"Yes, I am," she cried. "And I'm proud of it!" She turned from
him, was walking rapidly away.
"Come with me!" ordered Warham, following and seizing her by the arm.
"No," said Susan, wrenching herself free.
"Then I'll call a policeman and have you locked up."
Uncle and niece stood regarding each other, hatred and contempt
in his gaze, hatred and fear in hers.
"You're a child in law--though, God knows, you're anything but
a child in fact. Come along with me. You've got to. I'm going to
see that you're put out of harm's way."
"You wouldn't take me back to Sutherland!" she cried.
He laughed savagely. "I guess not! You'll not show your face
there again--though I've no doubt you'd be brazen enough to
brass it out. No--you can't pollute my home again."
"I can't go back to Sutherland!"
"You shan't, I say. You ran off because you had disgraced yourself."
"No!" cried Susan. "No!"
"Don't lie to me! Don't speak to me. I'll see what I can do to
hide this mess. Come along!"
Susan looked helplessly round the street, saw nothing, not even
eager, curious faces pressed against many a window pane, saw
only a desolate waste. Then she walked along beside her uncle,
both of them silent, he carrying her bundle, she tightly
clutching her little purse.
Perhaps the most amazing, the most stunning, of all the blows
fate had thus suddenly showered upon her was this transformation
of her uncle from gentleness to ferocity. But many a far older
and far wiser woman than seventeen-year-old Susan has failed to
understand how it is with the man who does not regard woman as
a fellow human being. To such she is either an object of
adoration, a quintessence of purity and innocence, or less than
the dust, sheer filth. Warham's anger was no gust. He was simply
the average man of small intelligence, great vanity, and abject
snobbishness or terror of public opinion. There could be but one
reason for the flight of Lorella's daughter--rottenness. The
only point to consider now was how to save the imperiled family
standing, how to protect his own daughter, whom his good nature
and his wife's weakness had thus endangered. The one thing that
could have appeased his hatred of Susan would have been her
marriage to Sam Wright. Then he would have--not, indeed,
forgiven or reinstated her--but tolerated her. It is the
dominance of such ideas as his that makes for woman the slavery
she discovers beneath her queenly sway if she happens to do
something deeply displeasing to her masculine subject and adorer.
They went to the Central Station. The O. and M. express which
connected with the train on the branch line to Sutherland would
not leave until a quarter past two. It was only a few minutes
past one. Warham led the way into the station restaurant; with
a curt nod he indicated a seat at one of the small tables, and
dropped into the opposite seat. He ordered beefsteak and fried
potatoes, coffee and apple pie.
"Sit still!" he said to her roughly and rose to go out to buy a paper.
The girl sat with her hands in her lap and her eyes upon them.
She looked utterly, pitifully tired. A moment and he came back
to resume his seat and read the paper. When the waiter flopped
down the steak and the dish of greasily fried potatoes before
his plate, he stuffed the paper in his pocket, cut a slice of
the steak and put it on the plate. The waiter noisily exchanged
it for the empty plate before Susan. Warham cut two slices of
the steak for himself, took a liberal helping of the potatoes,
pushed the dish toward her.
"Do you want the coffee now, or with the pie?" asked the waiter.
"Now," said Warham.
"Coffee for the young lady, too?"
Warham scowled at her. "Coffee?" he demanded.
She did not answer; she did not hear.
"Yes, she wants coffee," said Warham. "Hustle it!"
"Yes, sir." And the waiter bustled away with a great deal of
motion that created a deceptive impression of speed. Warham was
helping himself to steak again when the coffee came a
suspicious-looking liquid diffusing an odor of staleness
reheated again and again, an under odor of metal pot not too
frequently scoured.
Warham glanced at Susan's plate. She had not disturbed the knife
and fork on either side of it. "Eat!" he commanded. And when she
gave no sign of having heard, he repeatedly sharply, "Eat, I
tell you."
She started, nervously took up the knife and fork, cut a morsel
off the slice of steak. When she lifted it to her lips, she
suddenly put it back in the plate. "I can't," she said.
"You've got to," ordered he. "I won't have you acting this way."
"I can't," she repeated monotonously. "I feel sick." Nature had
luckily so made her that it was impossible for her to swallow
when her nerves were upset or when she was tired; thus, she
would not have the physical woes that aggravate and prolong
mental disturbance if food is taken at times when it instantly
turns to poison.
He repeated his order in a still more savage tone. She put her
elbows on the table, rested her head wearily upon her hands,
shook her head. He desisted.
When he had eaten all of the steak, except the fat and the
gristly tail, and nearly all the potatoes, the waiter took the
used dishes away and brought two generous slices of apple pie
and set down one before each. With the pie went a cube of
American cream or "rat-trap" cheese. Warham ate his own pie and
cheese; then, as she had not touched hers, he reached for it and
ate it also. Now he was watching the clock and, between liftings
of laden fork to his mouth, verifying the clock's opinion of the
hour by his own watch. He called for the bill, paid it, gave the
waiter five cents--a concession to the tipping custom of the
effete city which, judging by the waiter's expression, might as
well not have been made. Still, Warham had not made it with an
idea of promoting good feeling between himself and the waiter,
but simply to show that he knew the city and its ways. He took
up the shawl strap, said, "Come on" in the voice which he deemed
worthy of the fallen creature he must, through Christian duty
and worldly prudence, for the time associate with. She rose and
followed him to the ticket office. He had the return half of his
own ticket. When she heard him ask for a ticket to North
Sutherland she shivered. She knew that her destination was his
brother Zeke's farm.
From Cincinnati to North Vernon, where they were to change cars,
he sat beside her without speech. At North Vernon, where they
had to occupy a bench outside the squat and squalid station for
nearly two hours, he sat beside her without speech. And without
a single word on either side they journeyed in the poking,
no-sooner-well-started-than-stopping accommodation train
southbound. Several Sutherland people were aboard. He nodded
surlily to those who spoke to him. He read an Indianapolis paper
which he had bought at North Vernon. All the way she gazed
unseeingly out over the fair June landscape of rolling or hilly
fields ripening in the sun.
At North Sutherland he bade her follow him to a dilapidated barn
a few yards from the railway tracks, where was displayed a
homemade sign--"V. Goslin. Livery and Sale Stable." There was
dickering and a final compromise on four dollars where the
proprieter had demanded five and Warham had declared two fifty
liberal. A surrey was hitched with two horses. Warham opened the
awkward door to the rear seat and ordered Susan to jump in. She
obeyed; he put the bundle on the floor beside her. He sat with
the driver--the proprietor himself. The horses set off at a
round pace over the smooth turnpike. It was evening, and a
beautiful coolness issued from the woods on either side. They
skimmed over the long level stretches; they climbed hills, they
raced down into valleys. Warham and the ragged, rawboned old
proprietor kept up a kind of conversation--about crops and
politics, about the ownership, value, and fertility of the farms
they were passing. Susan sat quiet, motionless most of the time.
The last daylight faded; the stars came out; the road wound in
and out, up and down, amid cool dark silence and mysterious
fascinating shadows. The moon appeared above the tree tops
straight ahead--a big moon, with a lower arc of the rim clipped
off. The turnpike ended; they were making equally rapid progress
over the dirt road which was in perfect condition as there had
been no rain for several days. The beat of the flying hoofs was
soft now; the two men's voices, fell into a lower key; the moon
marked out the line of the road clearly, made strange spectral
minglings of light and darkness in the woods, glorified the open
fields and gave the occasional groups of farm buildings an
ancient beauty and dignity. The girl slept.
At nine o'clock the twenty-mile drive ended in a long, slow
climb up a road so washed out, so full of holes and bowlders,
that it was no road at all but simply a weather-beaten hillside.
A mile of this, with the liveryman's curses--"dod rot it" and
"gosh dang it" and similar modifications of profanity for
Christian use and for the presence of "the sex"--ringing out at
every step. Susan soon awakened, rather because the surrey was
pitching so wildly than because of Goslin's denunciations. A
brief level stretch and they stopped for Warham to open the
outer gate into his brother Zeke's big farm. A quarter of a mile
through wheat to the tops of the wheels and they reached the
second gate. A descent into a valley, a crossing of a creek, an
ascent of a steep hill, and they were at the third gate--between
pasture and barnyard. Now they came into view of the house, set
upon a slope where a spring bubbled out. The house was white and
a white picket fence cut off its lawn from the barnyard. A dog
with a deep voice began to bark. They drove up to the front gate
and stopped. The dog barked in a frenzy of rage, and they heard
his straining and jerking at his chain. A clump of cedars
brooded to the right of the house; their trunks were whitewashed
up to the lowest branches. The house had a high stoop with
wooden steps.
As Warham descended and hallooed, there came a fierce tugging at
the front door from the inside. But the front door was not in
the habit of being opened, and stoutly resisted. The assault
grew more strenuous; the door gave way and a tall thin farmer
"Hello, Zeke," called George. He opened the surrey door. "Get
down," he said to the girl, at the same time taking her bundle.
He set it on the horse block beside the gate, took out his
pocketbook and paid over the four dollars. "Good-by, Vic," said
he pleasantly. "That's a good team you've got."
"Not so coarse," said Vic. "Good-by, Mr. Warham." And off he drove.
Zeke Warham had now descended the steps and was opening the
front gate, which was evidently as unaccustomed to use as the
front door. "Howdy, George," said he. "Ain't that Susie you've
got with you?" Like George, Zeke had had an elementary
education. But he had married an ignorant woman, and had lived
so long among his farm hands and tenants that he used their mode
of speech.
"Yes, it's Susie," said George, shaking hands with his brother.
"Howdy, Susie," said Zeke, shaking hands with her. "I see you've
got your things with you. Come to stay awhile?"
George interrupted. "Susan, go up on the porch and take your bundle."
The girl took up the shawl strap and went to the front door. She
leaned upon the railing of the stoop and watched the two men
standing at the gate. George was talking to his brother in a low
tone. Occasionally the brother uttered an ejaculation. She could
not hear; their heads were so turned that she could not see
their faces. The moon made it almost as bright as day. From the
pasture woods came a low, sweet chorus of night life--frogs and
insects and occasionally a night bird. From the orchard to the
left and the clover fields beyond came a wonderful scented
breeze. She heard a step in the hall; her Aunt Sallie
appeared--a comfortable, voluble woman, a hard worker and a
harder eater and showing it in thin hair and wrinkled face.
"Why, Susie Lenox, ain't that you?" she exclaimed.
"Yes, Aunt," said Susan.
Her aunt kissed her, diffusing that earthy odor which is the
basis of the smell of country persons. At various hours of the
day this odor would be modified with the smell of cow stables,
of chickens, of cooking, according to immediate occupation. But
whatever other smell there was, the earthy smell persisted. And
it was the smell of the house, too.
"Who's at the gate with your Uncle Zeke?" inquired Sallie.
"Ain't it George?"
"Yes," said Susan.
"Why don't he come in?" She raised her voice. "George, ain't you
coming in?"
"Howdy, Sallie," called George. "You take the girl in. Zeke and
I'll be along."
"Some business, I reckon," said her aunt to Susan. "Come on.
Have you had supper?"
"No," said Susan. She was hungry now. The splendid health of the
girl that had calmed her torment of soul into a dull ache was
clamoring for food--food to enable her body to carry her strong
and enduring through whatever might befall.
"I'll set something out for you," said Sallie. "Come right in.
You might leave your bundle here by the parlor door. We'll put
you in the upstairs room."
They passed the front stairway, went back through the hall,
through the big low-ceilinged living-room with its vast
fireplace now covered for the warm season by a screen of
flowered wallpaper. They were in the plain old dining-room with
its smaller fireplace and its big old-fashioned cupboards built
into the wall on either side of the projecting chimney-piece.
"There ain't much," resumed Sallie. "But I reckon you kin make out."
On the gayly patterned table cover she set an array of
substantial plates and glasses. From various cupboards in
dining-room and adjoining kitchen she assembled a glass pitcher
of sweet milk, a glass pitcher of buttermilk, a plate of cold
cornbread, a platter of cold fried chicken, a dish of golden
butter, a pan of cold fried potatoes, a jar of preserved crab
apples and another of peach butter. Susan watched with hungry
eyes. She was thinking of nothing but food now. Her aunt looked
at her and smiled.
"My, but you're shootin' up!" she exclaimed, admiring the girl's
tall, straight figure. "And you don't seem to get stringy and
bony like so many, but keep nice and round. Do set down."
"I--I think I'll wait until Uncle George comes."
"Nothing of the kind!" She pushed a wooden chair before one of
the two plates she had laid. "I see you've still got that lovely
skin. And how tasty you dress! Now, do set!"
Susan seated herself.
"Pitch right in, child," urged Sallie. "How's yer aunt and her Ruth?"
"They're--they're well, thank you."
"Do eat!"
"No," said Susan. "I'll wait for Uncle."
"Never mind your manners. I know you're starved." Then seeing
that the girl would not eat, she said, "Well, I'll go fetch him."
But Susan stopped her. "Please please don't," she entreated.
Sallie stared to oppose; then, arrested by the intense,
appealing expression in those violet-gray eyes, so beautifully
shaded by dark lashes and brows, she kept silent, bustled
aimlessly about, boiling with suddenly aroused curiosity. It was
nearly half an hour by the big square wooden clock on the
chimney-piece when Susan heard the steps of her two uncles. Her
hunger fled; the deathly sickness surged up again. She trembled,
grew ghastly in the yellow lamplight. Her hands clutched each
other in her lap.
"Why, Susie!" cried her aunt. "Whatever is the matter of you!"
The girl lifted her eyes to her aunt's face the eyes of a
wounded, suffering, horribly suffering animal. She rose,
rushed out of the door into the yard, flung herself down on the
grass. But still she could not get the relief of tears. After a
while she sat up and listened. She heard faintly the voices of
her uncle and his relatives. Presently her aunt came out to her.
She hid her face in her arm and waited for the new harshness to
"Get up and come in, Susie." The voice was kind, was
pitying--not with the pity that galls, but with the pity of one
who understands and feels and is also human, the pity that
soothes. At least to this woman she was not outcast.
The girl flung herself down again and sobbed--poured out upon the
bosom of our mother earth all the torrents of tears that had been
damming up within her. And Sallie knelt beside her and patted
her now and then, with a "That's right. Cry it out, sweetie."
When tears and sobs subsided Sallie lifted her up, walked to the
house with her arm round her. "Do you feel better?"
"Some," admitted Susan.
"The men folks have went. So we kin be comfortable. After you've
et, you'll feel still better."
Gorge Warham had made a notable inroad upon the food and drink.
But there was an abundance left. Susan began with a hesitating
sipping at a glass of milk and nibbling at one of the generous
cubes of old-fashioned cornbread. Soon she was busy. It
delighted Sallie to see her eat. She pressed the preserves, the
chicken, the cornbread upon her. "I haven't eaten since early
this morning," apologized the girl.
"That means a big hole to fill," observed Sallie. "Try this buttermilk."
But Susan could hold no more.
"I reckon you're pretty well tired out," observed Sallie.
"I'll help you straighten up," said Susan, rising.
"No. Let me take you up to bed--while the men's still outside."
Susan did not insist. They returned through the empty
sitting-room and along the hall. Aunt Sallie took the bundle,
and they ascended to the spare bedroom. Sallie showed her into
the front room--a damp, earthy odor; a wallpaper with countless
reproductions of two little brown girls in a brown swing under
a brown tree; a lofty bed, white and tomb-like; some
preposterous artificial flowers under glass on chimney-piece and
table; three bright chromos on the walls; "God Bless Our Home"
in pink, blue and yellow worsted over the door.
"I'll run down and put the things away," said her aunt. "Then
I'll come back."
Susan put her bundle on the sofa, opened it, found nightgown and
toilet articles on top. She looked uncertainly about, rapidly
undressed, got into the nightgown. "I'll turn down the bed and
lie on it until Auntie comes," she said to herself. The bed was
delightfully cool; the shuck mattress made soft crackling sounds
under her and gave out a soothing odor of the fields. Hardly had
her head touched the pillow when she fell sound asleep. In a few
minutes her aunt came hurrying in, stopped short at sight of
that lovely childlike face with the lamplight full upon it. One
of Susan's tapering arms was flung round her dark wavy hair.
Sallie Warham smiled gently. "Bless the baby" she said half
aloud. Then her smile faded and a look of sadness and pity came.
"Poor child!" she murmured. "The Warham men's hard. But then all
the men's hard. Poor child." And gently she kissed the girl's
flushed cheek. "And she never had no mother, nor nothing." She
sighed, gradually lowered the flame of the little old glass
lamp, blew it out, and went noiselessly from the room, closing
the door behind her.
SUSAN sat up in bed suddenly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
It was broad day, and the birds were making a mighty clamor. She
gazed round, astonished that it was not her own room. Then she
remembered. But it was as a child remembers; for when we have
the sense of perfect physical well-being we cannot but see our
misfortunes with the child's sense of unreality--and Susan had
not only health but youth, was still in the child stage of the
period between childhood and womanhood. She lay down again, with
the feeling that so long as she could stay in that comfortable
bed, with the world shut out, just so long would all be well
with her. Soon, however, the restlessness of all nature under
the stimulus and heat of that brilliant day communicated itself
to her vigorous young body. For repose and inaction are as
foreign to healthy life as death itself, of which they are the
symptoms; and if ever there was an intense and vivid life, Susan
had it. She got up and dressed, and leaned from the window,
watching the two-horse reaper in the wheat fields across the
hollow of the pasture, and listening to its faint musical whirr.
The cows which had just been milked were moving sedately through
the gate into the pasture, where the bull, under a tree, was
placidly awaiting them. A boy, in huge straw hat and a blue
cotton shirt and linsey woolsey trousers rolled high upon his
brown bare legs, was escorting the herd.
Her aunt in fresh, blue, checked calico came in. "Wouldn't you
like some breakfast?" said she. And Susan read in her manner
that the men were out of the way.
"No, I don't feel hungry," Susan replied.
She thought this was true; but when she was at the table she ate
almost as heartily as she had the night before. As Susan ate she
gazed out into the back yard of the house, where chickens of all
sizes, colors and ages were peering and picking about. Through
the fence of the kitchen garden she saw Lew, the farm hand,
digging potatoes. There were ripening beans on tall poles, and
in the farther part the forming heads of cabbages, the sprouting
melon vines, the beautiful fresh green of the just springing
garden corn. The window through which she was looking was framed
in morning glories and hollyhocks, and over by the garden gate
were on the one side a clump of elders, on the other the hardy
graceful stalks of gaudily spreading sunflowers. Bees flew in
and out, and one lighted upon the dish of honey in the comb that
went so well with the hot biscuit.
She rose and wandered out among the chickens, to pick up little
fluffy youngsters one after another, and caress them, to look in
the henhouse itself, where several hens were sitting with the
pensive expression that accompanies the laying of eggs. She
thought of those other hens, less conventional, who ran away to
lay in secret places in the weeds, to accumulate a store against
the time when the setting instinct should possess them.
She thought of those cannier, less docile hens and laughed. She
opened a gate into the barnyard, intending to go to the barn for
a look at the horses, taking in the duck pond and perhaps the
pigs on the way. Her Uncle Gorge's voice arrested her.
"Susan," he cried. "Come here."
She turned and looked wistfully at him. The same harsh,
unforgiving countenance--mean with anger and petty thoughts. As
she moved hesitatingly toward him he said, "You are not to go
out of the yard." And he reentered the house. What a mysterious
cruel world! Could it be the same world she had lived in so
happily all the years until a few days ago--the same she had always
found "God's beautiful world," full of gentleness and kindness?
And why had it changed? What was this sin that after a long
sleep in her mother's grave had risen to poison everyone against
her? And why had it risen? It was all beyond her.
She strolled wretchedly within bounds, with a foreboding of
impending evil. She watched Lew in the garden; she got her aunt
to let her help with the churning--drive the dasher monotonously
up and down until the butter came; then she helped work the
butter, helped gather the vegetables for dinner, did everything
and anything to keep herself from thinking. Toward eleven
o'clock her Uncle Zeke appeared in the dining-room, called his
wife from the kitchen. Susan felt that at last something was to
happen. After a long time her aunt returned; there were all the
evidences of weeping in her face.
"You'd better go to your room and straighten it up," she said
without looking at the girl. "The thing has aired long enough,
I reckon. . . . And you'd better stay up there till I call you."
Susan had finished the room, was about to unpack the heavy-laden
shawl strap and shake the wrinkles out of the skirts, folded
away for two days now. She heard the sound of a horse's hoofs,
went to the window. A young man whom she recognized as one of
her Uncle Zeke's tenants was hitching to the horse block a
well-set-up young mare drawing a species of broad-seated
breaking sulky. He had a handsome common face, a wavy black
mustache. She remembered that his name was Ferguson--Jeb
Ferguson, and that he was working on shares what was known as
"the creek-bottom farm," which began about a mile and a half
away, straight down the pasture hollow. He glanced up at the
window, raised his black slouch hat, and nodded with the
self-conscious, self-assured grin of the desired of women. She
tried to return this salute with a pleasant smile. He entered
the gate and she heard his boots upon the front steps.
Now away across the hollow another figure appeared--a man on
horseback coming through the wheat fields. He was riding toward
the farther gate of the pasture at a leisurely dignified pace.
She had only made out that he had abundant whiskers when the
sound of a step upon the stairs caused her to turn. As that step
came nearer her heart beat more and more wildly. Her wide eyes
fixed upon the open door of the room. It was her Uncle George.
"Sit down," he said as he reached the threshhold{sic}. "I want
to talk to you."
She seated herself, with hands folded in her lap. Her head was
aching from the beat of the blood in her temples.
"Zeke and I have talked it over," said Warham. "And we've
decided that the only thing to do with you is to get you
settled. So in a few minutes now you're going to be married."
Her lack of expression showed that she did not understand. In
fact, she could only feel--feel the cruel, contemptuous anger of
that voice which all her days before had caressed her.
"We've picked out a good husband for you," Warham continued.
"It's Jeb Ferguson."
Susan quivered. "I--I don't want to," she said.
"It ain't a question of what you want," retorted Warham roughly.
He was twenty-four hours and a night's sleep away from his first
fierce outblazing of fury--away from the influence of his wife
and his daughter. If it had not been for his brother Zeke,
narrow and cold, the event might have been different. But Zeke
was there to keep his "sense of duty" strong. And that he might
nerve himself and hide and put down any tendency to be a
"soft-hearted fool"--a tendency that threatened to grow as he
looked at the girl--the child--he assumed the roughest manner he
could muster.
"It ain't a question of what you want," he repeated. "It's a
question of what's got to be done, to save my family and you,
too--from disgrace. We ain't going to have any more bastards in
this family."
The word meant nothing to the girl. But the sound of it, as her
uncle pronounced it, made her feel as though the blood were
drying up in her veins.
"We ain't going to take any chances," pursued Warham, less
roughly; for now that he had looked the situation full and
frankly in the face, he had no nerve to brace himself. The
necessity of what he was prepared to do and to make her do was
too obvious. "Ferguson's here, and Zeke saw the preacher we sent
for riding in from the main road. So I've come to tell you. If
you'd like to fix up a little, why your Aunt Sallie'll be here
in a minute. You want to pray God to make you a good wife. And
you ought to be thankful you have sensible relations to step in
and save you from yourself."
Susan tried to speak; her voice died in her throat. She made
another effort. "I don't want to," she said.
"Then what do you want to do--tell me that!" exclaimed her
uncle, rough again. For her manner was very moving, the more so
because there was none of the usual appeal to pity and to mercy.
She was silent.
"There isn't anything else for you to do."
"I want to--to stay here."
"Do you think Zeke'd harbor you--when you're about certain to up
and disgrace us as your mother did?"
"I haven't done anything wrong," said the girl dully.
"Don't you dare lie about that!"
"I've seen Ruth do the same with Artie Sinclair--and all the
girls with different boys."
"You miserable girl!" cried her uncle.
"I never heard it was so dreadful to let a boy kiss you."
"Don't pretend to be innocent. You know the difference between
that and what you did!"
Susan realized that when she had kissed Sam she had really loved
him. Perhaps that was the fatal difference. And her mother--the
sin there had been that she really loved while the man hadn't.
Yes, it must be so. Ruth's explanation of these mysteries had
been different; but then Ruth had also admitted that she knew
little about the matter--and Susan most doubted the part that
Ruth had assured her was certainly true.
"I didn't know," said Susan to her uncle. "Nobody ever told me.
I thought we were engaged."
"A good woman don't need to be told," retorted Warham. "But I'm
not going to argue with you. You've got to marry."
"I couldn't do that," said the girl. "No, I couldn't."
"You'll either take him or you go back to Sutherland and I'll
have you locked up in the jail till you can be sent to the House
of Correction. You can take your choice."
Susan sat looking at her slim brown hands and interlacing her
long fingers. The jail! The House of Correction was dreadful
enough, for though she had never seen it she had heard what it
was for, what kind of boys and girls lived there. But the
jail--she had seen the jail, back behind the courthouse, with
its air of mystery and of horror. Not Hell itself seemed such a
frightful thing as that jail.
"Well--which do you choose?" said her uncle in a sharp voice.
The girl shivered. "I don't care what happens to me," she said,
and her voice was dull and sullen and hard.
"And it doesn't much matter," sneered Warham. Every time he
looked at her his anger flamed again at the outrage to his love,
his trust, his honor, and the impending danger of more
illegitimacy. "Marrying Jeb will give you a chance to reform and
be a good woman. He understands--so you needn't be afraid of
what he'll find out."
"I don't care what happens to me," the girl repeated in the same
monotonous voice.
Warham rose. "I'll send your Aunt Sallie," said he. "And when I
call, she'll bring you down."
The girl's silence, her non-resistance the awful expression of
her still features--made him uneasy. He went to the window
instead of to the door. He glanced furtively at her; but he
might have glanced openly as there wasn't the least danger of
meeting her eyes. "You're marrying about as well as you could
have hoped to, anyhow--better, probably," he observed, in an
argumentative, defensive tone. "Zeke says Jeb's about the
likeliest young fellow he knows--a likelier fellow than either
Zeke or I was at his age. I've given him two thousand dollars in
cash. That ought to start you off well." And he went out without
venturing another look at her. Her youth and helplessness, her
stony misery, were again making it harder for him to hold
himself to what he and the fanatic Zeke had decided to be his
duty as a Christian, as a father, as a guardian. Besides, he did
not dare face his wife and his daughter until the whole business
was settled respectably and finally.
His sister-in-law was waiting in the next room. As soon as his
descent cleared the way she hurried in. From the threshold she
glanced at the girl; what she saw sent her hurrying out to
recompose herself. But the instant she again saw that expression
of mute and dazed despair the tears fought for release. The
effort to suppress outward signs of pity made her plain fat face
grotesque. She could not speak. With a corner of her apron she
wiped imaginary dust from the glass bells that protected the
artificial flowers. The poor child! And all for no fault of
hers--and because she had been born out of wedlock. But then,
the old woman reflected, was it not one of the most familiar of
God's mysterious ways that people were punished most severely of
all for the things that weren't their fault--for being born in
shame, or in bad or low families, or sickly, or for being stupid
or ugly or ignorant? She envied Zeke--his unwavering belief in
religion. She believed, but her tender heart was always leading
her into doubts.
She at last got some sort of control over her voice. "It'll turn
out for the best," she said, with her back to Susan. "It don't
make much difference nohow who a woman marries, so long as he's
steady and a good provider. Jeb seems to be a nice feller. He's
better looking than your Uncle George was before he went to town
and married a Lenox and got sleeked up. And Jeb ain't near so
close as some. That's a lot in a husband." And in a kind of
hysteria, bred of fear of silence just then, she rattled on,
telling how this man lay awake o' nights thinking how to skin a
flea for its hide and tallow, how that one had said only a fool
would pay over a quarter for a new hat for his wife----
"Will it be long?" asked the girl.
"I'll go down and see," said Mrs. Warham, glad of a real excuse
for leaving the room. She began to cry as soon as she was in the
hall. Two sparrows lit upon the window sill near Susan and
screamed and pecked at each other in a mock fight. She watched
them; but her shiver at the faint sound of her aunt's returning
step far away down the stairs showed where her attention was.
When Zeke's wife entered she was standing and said:
"Is it time?"
"Come on, honey. Now don't be afraid."
Susan advanced with a firm step, preceded her aunt down the
stairs. The black slouch hat and the straw of dignified cut were
side by side on the shiny hall table. The parlor door was open;
the rarely used showroom gave forth an earthy, moldy odor like
that of a disturbed grave. Its shutters, for the first time in
perhaps a year, were open; the mud daubers that had built in the
crevices between shutters and sills, fancying they would never
be disturbed, were buzzing crossly about their ruined homes. The
four men were seated, each with his legs crossed, and each
wearing the funereal expression befitting a solemn occasion.
Susan did not lift her eyes. The profusely whiskered man seated
on the haircloth sofa smoothed his black alpaca coat, reset the
black tie deep hid by his beard, rose and advanced with a
clerical smile whose real kindliness took somewhat from its
offensive unction. "This is the young lady, is it?" said he,
reaching for Susan's rising but listless hand. "She is indeed a
_young_ lady!"
The two Warham men stood, shifting uneasily from leg to leg and
rubbing their faces from time to time. Sallie Warham was
standing also, her big unhealthy face twitching fantastically.
Jeb alone was seated--chair tilted back, hands in trousers
pockets, a bucolic grin of embarrassment giving an expression of
pain to his common features. A strained silence, then Zeke
Warham said:
"I reckon we might as well go ahead."
The preacher took a small black-bound book from the inside
pocket of his limp and dusty coat, cleared his throat, turned
over the pages. That rustling, the creaking of his collar on his
overstarched shirt band, and the buzzing of the mud daubers
round the windows were the only sounds. The preacher found the
place, cleared his throat again.
"Mr. Ferguson----"
Jeb, tall, spare, sallow, rose awkwardly.
"--You and Miss Lenox will take your places here----" and he
indicated a position before him.
Susan was already in place; Jeb shuffled up to stand at her
left. Sallie Warham hid her face in her apron. The preacher
cleared his throat vigorously, began--"Dearly beloved"--and so on
and on. When he put the questions to Susan and Jeb he told them
what answer was expected, and they obeyed him, Jeb muttering,
Susan with a mere, movement of the lips. When he had finished--a
matter of less than three minutes--he shook hands warmly first
with Susan, then with Jeb. "Live in the fear of the Lord," he
said. "That's all that's necessary."
Sallie put down her apron. Her face was haggard and gray. She
kissed Susan tenderly, then led her from the room. They went
upstairs to the bedroom. "Do you want to stay to dinner?" she
asked in the hoarse undertone of funeral occasions. "Or would
you rather go right away?"
"I'd rather go," said the girl.
"You set down and make yourself comfortable. I'll hook up your
shawl strap."
Susan sat by the window, her hands in her lap. The hand with the
new circlet of gold on it was uppermost. Sallie busied herself
with the bundle; abruptly she threw her apron over her face,
knelt by the bed and sobbed and uttered inarticulate moans. The
girl made no sound, did not move, looked unseeingly at her inert
hands. A few moments and Sallie set to work again. She soon had
the bundle ready, brought Susan's hat, put it on.
"It's so hot, I reckon you'll carry your jacket. I ain't seen as
pretty a blue dress as this--yet it's plainlike, too." She went
to the top of the stairs. "She wants to go, Jeb," she called
loudly. "You'd better get the sulky ready."
The answer from below was the heavy thump of Jeb's boots on the
oilcloth covering of the hall floor. Susan, from the window,
dully watched the young farmer unhitch the mare and lead her up
in front of the gate.
"Come on, honey," said Aunt Sallie, taking up the bundle.
The girl--she seemed a child now--followed her. On the front
stoop were George and his brother and the preacher. The men made
room for them to pass. Sallie opened the gate; Susan went out.
"You'll have to hold the bundle," said Sallie. Susan mounted to
the seat, took the bundle on her knees. Jeb, who had the lines,
left the mare's head and got up beside his bride.
"Good day, all," he said, nodding at the men on the stoop. "Good
day, Mrs. Warham."
"Come and see us real soon," said Sallie. Her fat chin was
quivering; her tired-looking, washed-out eyes gazed mournfully
at the girl who was acting and looking as if she were walking in
her sleep.
"Good day, all," repeated Jeb, and again he made the clucking sound.
"Good-by and God bless you," said the preacher. His nostrils were
luxuriously sniffing the air which bore to them odors of cookery.
The mare set out. Susan's gaze rested immovably upon the heavy
bundle in her lap. As the road was in wretched repair, Jeb's
whole attention was upon his driving. At the gate between
barnyard and pasture he said, "You hold the lines while I get down."
Susan's fingers closed mechanically upon the strips of leather.
Jeb led the mare through the gate, closed it, resumed his seat.
This time the mare went on without exacting the clucking sound.
They were following the rocky road along the wester hillside of
the pasture hollow. As they slowly made their way among the deep
ruts and bowlders, from frequent moistenings of the lips and
throats, noises, and twitchings of body and hands, it was
evident that the young farmer was getting ready for
conversation. The struggle at last broke surface with, "Zeke
Warham don't waste no time road patchin'--does he?"
Susan did not answer.
Jeb studied her out of the corner of his eye, the first time a
fairly good bit of roadway permitted. He could make nothing of
her face except that it was about the prettiest he had ever
seen. Plainly she was not eager to get acquainted; still,
acquainted they must get. So he tried again:
"My sister Keziah--she keeps house for me--she'll be mighty
surprised when I turn up with a wife. I didn't let on to her
what I was about, nary a word."
He laughed and looked expectantly at the girl. Her expression
was unchanged. Jeb again devoted himself to his driving.
"No, I didn't let on," he presently resumed. "Fact is, I wan't
sure myself till I seed you at the winder." He smiled
flirtatiously at her. "Then I decided to go ahead. I dunno, but
I somehow kinder allow you and me'll hit it off purty
well--don't you?"
Susan tried to speak. She found that she could not--that she had
nothing to say.
"You're the kind of a girl I always had my mind set on," pursued
Jeb, who was an expert love-maker. "I like a smooth skin and
pouty lips that looks as if they wanted to be kissed." He took
the reins in one hand, put his arm round her, clumsily found her
lips with his. She shrank slightly, then submitted. But Jeb
somehow felt no inclination to kiss her again. After a moment he
let his arm drop away from her waist and took the reins in both
hands with an elaborate pretense that the bad road compelled it.
A long silence, then he tried again: "It's cool and nice under
these here trees, ain't it?"
"Yes," she said.
"I ain't saw you out here for several years now. How long has it been?"
"Three summers ago."
"You must 'a' growed some. I don't seem to recollect you. You
like the country?"
"Sho! You're just sayin' that. You want to live in town. Well,
so do I. And as soon as I get things settled a little I'm goin'
to take what I've got and the two thousand from your Uncle
George and open up a livery stable in town."
Susan's strange eyes turned upon him. "In Sutherland?" she asked
"Right in Sutherland," replied he complacently. "I think I'll
buy Jake Antle's place in Jefferson Street."
Susan was blanched and trembling. "Oh, no," she cried. "You
mustn't do that!"
Jeb laughed. "You see if I don't. And we'll live in style, and
you can keep a gal and stay dolled up all the time. Oh, I know
how to treat you."
"I want to stay in the country," cried Susan. "I hate Sutherland."
"Now, don't you be afraid," soothed Jeb. "When people see you've
got a husband and money they'll not be down on you no more.
They'll forget all about your maw--and they won't know nothin'
about the other thing. You treat me right and I'll treat you
right. I'm not one to rake up the past. There ain't arry bit of
meanness about me!"
"But you'll let me stay here in the country?" pleaded Susan. Her
imagination was torturing her with pictures of herself in
Sutherland and the people craning and whispering and mocking.
"You go where I go," replied Jeb. "A woman's place is with her
man. And I'll knock anybody down that looks cockeyed at you."
"Oh!" murmured Susan, sinking back against the support.
"Don't you fret, Susie," ordered Jeb, confident and patronizing.
"You do what I say and everything'll be all right. That's the
way to get along with me and get nice clothes--do what I say.
With them that crosses me I'm mighty ugly. But you ain't a-goin'
to cross me. . . . Now, about the house. I reckon I'd better
send Keziah off right away. You kin cook?"
"A--a little," said Susan.
Jeb looked relieved. "Then she'd be in the way. Two women about
always fights--and Keziah's got the Ferguson temper. She's
afraid of me, but now and then she fergits and has a tantrum."
Jeb looked at her with a smile and a frown. "Perk up a little,"
he more than half ordered. "I don't want Keziah jeerin' at me."
Susan made a pitiful effort to smile. He eyed it sourly,
grunted, gave the mare a cut with the whip that caused her to
leap forward in a gallop. "Whoa!" he yelled. "Whoa--damn you!"
And he sawed cruelly at her mouth until she quieted down. A
turning and they were before a shallow story-and-a-half frame
house which squatted like an old roadside beggar behind a
weather-beaten picket fence. The sagging shingle roof sloped
abruptly; there were four little windows downstairs and two
smaller upstairs. The door was in the center of the house; a
weedy path led from its crooked step, between two patches of
weedy grass, to the gate in the fence.
"Whoa!" shouted Jeb, with the double purpose of stopping the
mare and informing the house of his arrival. Then to Susan: "You
git down and I'll drive round to the barn yonder." He nodded
toward a dilapidated clapboard structure, small and mean, set
between a dirty lopsided straw heap and a manure heap. "Go right
in and make yourself at home. Tell Keziah who you air. I'll be
along, soon as I unhitch and feed the mare."
Susan was staring stupidly at the house--at her new home.
"Git down," he said sharply. "You don't act as if your hearin'
or your manners was much to brag on."
He felt awkward and embarrassed with this delicately bred,
lovely child-woman in the, to him, wonderfully fine and
fashionable dress. To hide his nervousness and to brave it out,
he took the only way he knew, the only way shy people usually
know--the way of gruffness. It was not a ferocious gruffness for
a man of his kind; but it seemed so to her who had been used to
gentleness only, until these last few days. His grammar, his
untrained voice, his rough clothes, the odor of stale sweat and
farm labor he exhaled, made him horrible to her--though she only
vaguely knew why she felt so wretched and why her body shrank
from him.
She stepped down from the sulky, almost falling in her dizziness
and blindness. Jeb touched the mare with the whip and she was
alone before the house--a sweet forlorn figure, childish,
utterly out of place in those surroundings. On the threshold, in
faded and patched calico, stood a tall gaunt woman with a family
likeness to Jeb. She had thin shiny black hair, a hard brown
skin, high cheekbones and snapping black eyes. When her thin
lips parted she showed on the left side of the mouth three large
and glittering gold teeth that in the contrast made their gray,
not too clean neighbors seem white.
"Howdy!" she called in a tone of hostility.
Susan tried in vain to respond. She stood gazing.
"What d'ye want?"
"He he told me to go in," faltered Susan. She had no sense of
reality. It was a dream--only a dream--and she would awaken in
her own clean pretty pale-gray bedroom with Ruth gayly calling
her to come down to breakfast.
"Who are you?" demanded Keziah--for at a glance it was the sister.
"I'm--I'm Susan Lenox."
"Oh--Zeke Warham's niece. Come right in." And Keziah looked as
if she were about to bite and claw.
Susan pushed open the latchless gate, went up the short path to
the doorstep. "I think I'll wait till he comes," she said.
"No. Come in and sit down, Miss Lenox." And Keziah drew a
rush-bottomed rocking chair toward the doorway. Susan was
looking at the interior. The lower floor of the house was
divided into three small rooms. This central room was obviously
the parlor--the calico-covered sofa, the center table, the two
dingy chromos, and a battered cottage organ made that certain.
On the floor was a rag carpet; on the walls, torn and dirty
paper, with huge weather stains marking where water had leaked
from the roof down the supporting beams. Keziah scowled at
Susan's frank expression of repulsion for the surroundings.
Susan seated herself on the edge of the chair, put her bundle
beside her.
"I allow you'll stay to dinner," said Keziah.
"Yes," replied Susan.
"Then I'll go put on some more to cook."
"Oh, no--please don't--I couldn't eat anything--really, I
couldn't." The girl spoke hysterically.
Just then Jeb came round the house and appeared in the doorway.
He grinned and winked at Susan, looked at his sister. "Well,
Keziah," said he, "what d'ye think of her?"
"She says she's going to stay to dinner, " observed Keziah, trying
to maintain the veneer of manners she had put on for company.
The young man laughed loudly. "That's a good one--that is!" he
cried, nodding and winking at Susan. "So you ain't tole her? Well,
Keziah, I've been and gone and got married. And there _she_ is."
"Shut up--you fool!" said Keziah. And she looked apologetically
at their guest. But the expression of Susan's face made her
catch her breath. "For the Lord's sake!" she ejaculated. "She
ain't married _you!_"
"Why not?" demanded Jeb. "Ain't this a free country? Ain't I as
good as anybody?"
Keziah blew out her breath in a great gust and seated herself on
the tattered calico cover of the sofa. Susan grew deathly white.
Her hands trembled. Then she sat quiet upon the edge of the old
rush-bottomed chair. There was a terrible silence, broken by
Jeb's saying loudly and fiercely, "Keziah, you go get the
dinner. Then you pack your duds and clear out for Uncle Bob's."
Keziah stared at the bride, rose and went to the rear door. "I'm
goin' now," she answered. "The dinner's ready except for putting
on the table."
Through the flimsy partitions they heard her mounting the
uncarpeted stairs, hustling about upon an uncarpeted floor above,
and presently descending. "I'll hoof it," she said, reappearing
in the doorway. "I'll send for my things this afternoon."
Jeb, not caring to provoke the "Ferguson temper," said nothing.
"As for this here marryin'," continued Keziah, "I never allowed
you'd fall so low as to take a baby, and a bastard at that."
She whirled away. Jeb flung his hat on the table, flung himself
on the sofa. "Well--that's settled," said he. "You kin get the
dinner. It's all in there." And he jerked his head toward the
door in the partition to the left. Susan got up, moved toward
the indicated door. Jeb laughed. "Don't you think you might take
off your hat and stay awhile?" said he.
She removed her hat, put it on top of the bundle which she left
on the floor beside the rocking chair. She went into the kitchen
dining-room. It was a squalid room, its ceiling and walls
smoke-stained from the cracked and never polished stove in the
corner. The air was foul with the strong old onions stewing on
the stove. In a skillet slices of pork were frying. On the back
of the stove stood a pan of mashed potatoes and a tin coffeepot.
On the stained flowered cloth which covered the table in the
middle of the room had been laid coarse, cracked dishes and
discolored steel knives and forks with black wooden handles.
Susan, half fainting, dropped into a chair by one of the open
windows. A multitude of fat flies from the stable were running
and crawling everywhere, were buzzing about her head. She was
aroused by Jeb's voice: "Why, what the--the damnation! You've
fell asleep!"
She started up. "In a minute!" she muttered, nervously.
And somehow, with Jeb's eyes on her from the doorway, she got
the evil-smelling messes from the stove into table dishes from
the shelves and then on the table, where the flies descended
upon them in troops of scores and hundreds. Jeb, in his shirt
sleeves now, sat down and fell to. She sat opposite him, her
hands in her lap. He used his knife in preference to his fork,
leaping the blade high, packing the food firmly upon it with
fork or fingers, then thrusting it into his mouth. He ate
voraciously, smacking his lips, breathing hard, now and then
eructing with frank energy and satisfaction.
"My stummick's gassy right smart this year," he observed after
a huge gulp of coffee. "Some says the heavy rains last spring
put gas into everything, but I dunno. Maybe it's Keziah's
cooking. I hope you'll do better. Why, you ain't eatin' nothin'!"
"I'm not hungry," said Susan. Then, as he frowned suspiciously,
"I had a late breakfast."
He laughed. "And the marrying, too," he suggested with a flirtatious
nod and wink. "Women's always upset by them kind of things."
When he had filled himself he pushed his chair back. "I'll set
with you while you wash up," said he. "But you'd better take off
them Sunday duds. You'll find some calikers that belonged to maw
in a box under the bed in our room." He laughed and winked at her.
"That's the one on t'other side of the settin'-room. Yes--that's
our'n!" And he winked again.
The girl, ghastly white, her great eyes staring like a
sleepwalker's, rose and stood resting one hand on the back of
the chair to steady her.
Jeb drew a cigar from his waistcoat pocket and lighted it.
"Usually," said he, "I take a pipe or a chaw. But this bein' a
weddin' day----"
He laughed and winked again, rose, took her in his arms and
kissed her. She made a feeble gesture of thrusting him away. Her
head reeled, her stomach turned.
She got away as soon as he would release her, crossed the
sitting-room and entered the tiny dingy bedroom. The windows
were down and the bed had not yet been made. The odor was
nauseating--the staleness left by a not too clean sleeper who
abhors fresh air. Susan saw the box under the bed, knelt to draw
it out. But instead she buried her face in her hands, burst into
wild sobs. "Oh, God," she prayed, "stop punishing me. I didn't
mean to do wrong--and I'm sure my mother didn't, either. Stop,
for Thy Son's sake, amen." Now surely she would wake. God must
answer that prayer. She dared not take her palms from her eyes.
Suddenly she felt herself caught from behind. She gave a wild
scream and sprang up.
Jeb was looking at her with eyes that filled her with a fear
more awful than the fear of death. "Don't!" she cried. "Don't!"
"Never mind, hon," said he in a voice that was terrible just
because it was soft. "It's only your husband. My, but you're
purty!" And he seized her. She fought. He crushed her. He kissed
her with great slobbering smacks and gnawed at the flesh of her
neck with teeth that craved to bite.
"Oh, Mr. Ferguson, for pity's sake!" she wailed. Then she opened
her mouth wide as one gasping for breath where there is no air;
and pushing at him with all her strength she vented a series of
maniac shrieks.
LATE that afternoon Jeb returned to the house after several
hours of uneasy, aimless pottering about at barn and woodshed.
He stumped and stamped around the kitchen, then in the
sitting-room, finally he mustered the courage to look into the
bedroom, from which he had slunk like a criminal three hours
before. There she lay, apparently in the same position. Her
waxen color and her absolute stillness added fear to his sense
of guilt--a guilt against which he protested, because he felt he
had simply done what God and man expected of him. He stood in
the low doorway for some time, stood there peering and craning
until his fear grew so great that he could no longer put off
ending or confirming it.
"Sleepin'?" said he in a hoarse undertone.
She did not reply; she did not move. He could not see that she
was breathing.
"It'll soon be time to git supper," he went on--not because he
was thinking of supper but because he was desperately clutching
for something that must draw a reply from her--if she could reply.
"Want me to clean up the dinner and put the supper things on?"
She made a feeble effort to rise, sank back again. He drew an
audible sigh of relief; at least she was not what her color
had suggested.
In fact, she was morbidly conscious. The instant she had heard
him at the outer door she had begun to shiver and shake, and not
until he moved toward the bedroom door did she become quiet.
Then a calm had come into her nerves and her flesh--the calm
that descends upon the brave when the peril actually faces. As
he stood there her eyes were closed, but the smell of
him--beneath the earthy odor of his clothing the odor of the
bodies of those who eat strong, coarse food--stole into her
nostrils, into her nerves. Her whole body sickened and
shrank--for to her now that odor meant marriage--and she would
not have believed Hell contained or Heaven permitted such a
thing as was marriage. She understood now why the Bible always
talked of man as a vile creature born in sin.
Jeb was stealthily watching her ghastly face, her limp body.
"Feelin' sickish?" he asked.
A slight movement of the head in assent.
"I kin ride over to Beecamp and fetch Doc Christie."
Another and negative shake of the head, more determined. The
pale lips murmured, "No--no, thank you." She was not hating him.
He existed for her only as a symbol, in this hideous dream
called life, that was coiled like a snake about her and was
befouling her and stinging her to death.
"Don't you bother 'bout supper," said he with gruff, shamefaced
generosity. "I'll look out for myself, this onct."
He withdrew to the kitchen, where she heard him clattering
dishes and pans. Daylight waned to twilight, twilight to dusk,
to darkness. She did not think; she did not feel, except an
occasional dull pang from some bodily bruise. Her soul, her
mind, were absolutely numb. Suddenly a radiance beat upon her
eyes. All in an instant, before the lifting of her eyelids, soul
and body became exquisitely acute; for she thought it was he
come again, with a lamp. She looked; it was the moon whose beams
struck full in at the uncurtained window and bathed her face in
their mild brighteness. She closed her eyes again and presently
fell asleep--the utter relaxed sleep of a child that is worn out
with pain, when nature turns gentle nurse and sets about healing
and soothing as only nature can. When she awoke it was with a
scream. No, she was not dreaming; there was an odor in the
room--his odor, with that of a saloon added to it.
After cooking and eating supper he had taken the jug from its
concealment behind the woodbox and had proceeded to cheer his
drooped spirits. The more he drank the better content he was
with himself, with his conduct, and the clearer became his
conviction that the girl was simply playing woman's familiar
game of dainty modesty. A proper game it was too; only a man
must not pay attention to it unless he wished his woman to
despise him. When this conviction reached the point of action he
put away the jug, washed the glass, ate a liberal mouthful of
the left-over stewed onions, as he would not for worlds have his
bride catch him tippling. He put out the lamp and went to the
bedroom, chuckling to himself like a man about to play a
particularly clever and extremely good-humored practical joke.
His preparations for the night were, as always, extremely simple
merely a flinging off of his outer clothes and, in summer, his
socks. From time to time he cast an admiring amorous glance at
the lovely childlike face in the full moonlight. As he was about
to stretch himself on the bed beside her he happened to note
that she was dressed as when she came. That stylish, Sundayish
dress was already too much mussed and wrinkled. He leaned over to
wake her with a kiss. It was then that she started up with a scream.
"Oh--oh--my God!" she exclaimed, passing her hand over her brow
and staring at him with crazed, anguished eyes.
"It's jest me," said he. "Thought you'd want to git ready fur
bed, like as not."
"No, thank you, no," she stammered, drawing away toward the
inner side of the bed. "Please I want to be as I am."
"Now, don't put on, sweetness," he wheedled. "You know you're
married and 'ave got to git used to it."
He laid his hand on her arm. She had intended to obey, since
that was the law of God and man and since in all the world there
was no other place for her, nameless and outcast. But at his
touch she clenched her teeth, cried:
"No--Mr. Ferguson--please--_please_ let me be."
"Now, hon," he pleaded, seizing her with strong gentleness.
"There ain't no call to be skittish. We're married, you know."
She wrenched herself free. He seized her again. "What's the use
of puttin' on? I know all about you. You little no-name," he
cursed, when her teeth sank into his hand. For an instant, at
that reminder of her degradation, her indelible shame that made
her of the low and the vile, she collapsed in weakness. Then
with new and fierce strength she fought again. When she had
exhausted herself utterly she relaxed, fell to sobbing and
moaning, feebly trying to shelter her face from his gluttonous
and odorous kisses. And upon the scene the moon shone in all
that beauty which from time immemorial has filled the hearts of
lovers with ecstasy and of devotees with prayer.
They lay quietly side by side; he fell into a profound sleep. He
was full upon his back, his broad chest heaving in the gray
cotton undershirt, his mouth wide open with its upper fringe of
hair in disarray and agitated by his breath. Soon he began to
snore, a deafening clamor that set some loose object in the dark
part of the room to vibrating with a tapping sound. Susan
stealthily raised herself upon her elbow, looked at him. There
was neither horror nor fear in her haggard face but only
eagerness to be sure he would not awaken. She, inch by inch,
more softly than a cat, climbed over the low footboard, was
standing on the floor. One silent step at a time, with eyes
never from his face so clear in the moonlight, she made her way
toward the door. The snoring stopped--and her heart stopped with
it. He gasped, gurgled, gave a snort, and sat up.
"What--which----" he ejaculated. Then he saw her near the door.
"Hello--whar ye goin'?"
"I thought I'd undress," she lied, calmly and smoothly.
"Oh--that's right." And he lay down.
She stood in the darkness, making now and then a faint sound
suggestive of undressing. The snoring began again--soft, then
deep, then the steady, uproarious intake with the fierce
whistling exhalation. She went into the sitting-room, felt round
in the darkness, swift and noiseless. On the sofa she found her
bundle, tore it open. By feeling alone she snatched her sailor
hat, a few handkerchiefs, two stockings, a collar her fingers
chanced upon and a toothbrush. She darted to the front door, was
outside, was gliding down the path, out through the gate into
the road.
To the left would be the way she had come. She ran to the right,
with never a backward glance--ran with all the speed in her
lithe young body, ran with all the energy of her fear and horror
and resolve to die rather than be taken. For a few hundred yards
the road lay between open fields. But after that it entered a
wood. And in that dimness she felt the first beginnings of a
sense of freedom. Half a mile and open fields again, with a
small house on the right, a road southeastward on the left. That
would be away from her Uncle Zeke's and also away from
Sutherland, which lay twenty miles to the southwest. When she
would be followed Jeb would not think of this direction until he
had exhausted the other two.
She walked, she ran, she rested; she walked and ran and walked
again. The moon ascended to the zenith, crossed the levels of
the upper sky, went down in the west; a long bar of dusky gray
outlined a cloud low upon the horizon in the northeast. She was
on the verge of collapse. Her skin, the inside of her mouth,
were hot and dry. She had to walk along at snail's pace or her
heart would begin to beat as if it were about to burst and the
blood would choke up into the veins of her throat to suffocate
her. A terrible pain came in her side--came and went--came and
stayed. She had passed turning after turning, to the right, to
the left--crossroads leading away in all directions. She had
kept to the main road because she did not wish to lose time,
perhaps return upon her path, in the confusion of the darkness.
Now she began to look about her at the country. It was still the
hills as round Zeke Warham's--the hills of southeastern Indiana.
But they were steeper and higher, for she was moving toward the
river. There was less open ground, more and denser undergrowth
and forest. She felt that she was in a wilderness, was safe.
Night still lay too thick upon the landscape for her to
distinguish anything but outlines. She sat down on the ruined
and crumbling panel of a zigzag fence to rest and to wait for
light. She listened; a profound hush. She was alone, all alone.
How far had she come? She could not guess; but she knew that she
had done well. She would have been amazed if she had known how
well. All the years of her life, thanks to Mrs. Warham's good
sense about health, she had been steadily adding to the vitality
and strength that were hers by inheritance. Thus, the response
to this first demand upon them had been almost inevitable. It
augured well for the future, if the future should draw her into
hardships. She knew she had gone far and in what was left of the
night and with what was left of her strength she would put such
a distance between her and them that they would never believe
she had got so far, even should they seek in this direction. She
was supporting her head upon her hands, her elbows upon her
knees. Her eyes closed, her head nodded; she fought against the
impulse, but she slept.
When she straightened up with a start it was broad day. The
birds must have finished their morning song, for there was only
happy, comfortable chirping in the branches above her. She rose
stiffly. Her legs, her whole body, ached; and her feet were
burning and blistered. But she struck out resolutely.
After she had gone halfway down a long steep hill, she had to
turn back because she had left her only possessions. It was a
weary climb, and her heart quaked with terror. But no one
appeared, and at last she was once more at the ruins of the
fence panel. There lay her sailor hat, the handkerchiefs,
wrapped round the toothbrush, the collar--and two stockings, one
black, the other brown. And where was her purse? Not there,
certainly. She glanced round in swift alarm. No one. Yet she had
been absolutely sure she had taken her purse from the
sitting-room table when she came upon it, feeling about in the
dark. She had forgotten it; she was without a cent!
But she had no time to waste in self-reproaches or forebodings.
Though the stockings would be of no use to her, she took them
along because to leave them was to leave a trail. She hastened
down the hill. At the bottom ran a deep creek--without a bridge.
The road was now a mere cowpath which only the stoutest vehicles
or a horseman would adventure. To her left ran an even wilder
trail, following the downward course of the creek. She turned
out of the road, entered the trail. She came to a place where
the bowlders over which the creek foamed and splashed as it
hurried southeastward were big and numerous enough to make a
crossing. She took it, went slowly on down the other bank.
There was no sign of human intrusion. Steeply on either side
rose a hill, strewn with huge bowlders, many of them large as
large houses. The sun filtered through the foliage to make a
bright pattern upon the carpet of last year's leaves. The birds
twittered and chirped; the creek hummed its drowsy, soothing
melody. She was wretchedly weary, and Oh, so hungry! A little
further, and two of the great bowlders, tumbled down from the
steeps, had cut off part of the creek, had formed a pool which
their seamed and pitted and fernadorned walls hid from all
observation except that of the birds and the squirrels in the boughs.
At once she thought how refreshed she would be if she could
bathe in those cool waters. She looked round, stepped in between
the bowlders. She peered out; she listened. She was safe; she
drew back into her little inclosure. There was a small dry shelf
of rock. She hurried off her clothes, stood a moment in the
delicious warmth of the sunshine, stepped into the pool. She
would have liked to splash about; but she dared make no sound
that could be heard above the noise of the water. Luckily the
creek was just there rather loud, as it was expressing its
extreme annoyance over the stolid impudence of the interrupting
bowlders. While she was waiting for the sun to dry her she
looked at her underclothes. She simply could not put them on as
they were. She knelt at the edge of the shelf and rinsed them
out as well as she could. Then she spread them on the thick
tufts of overhanging fern where the hot sun would get full swing
at them. The brown stocking of the two mismates she had brought
along almost matched the pair she was wearing. As there was a
hole in the toe of one of them, she discarded it, and so had one
fresh stocking. She dried her feet thoroughly with the stocking
she was discarding. Then she put her corsets and her dress
directly upon her body. She could not afford to wait until the
underclothes dried; she would carry them until she found for
herself a more remote and better hiding place where she could
await nightfall. She stuffed the stocking with the hole deep
into a cleft in the rock and laid a small stone upon it so that
it was concealed. Here where there were no traces, no reminders
of the human race which had cast her out and pursued her with
torture of body and soul, here in the wilderness her spirits
were going up, and her young eyes were looking hopefully round
and forward. The up-piling horrors of those two days and their
hideous climax seemed a dream which the sun had scattered.
Hopefully! That blessed inexperience and sheer imagination of
youth enabling it to hope in a large, vague way when to hope for
any definite and real thing would be impossible.
She cleaned her tan low shoes with branches of fern and grass,
put them on. It is impossible to account for the peculiarities
of physical vanity. Probably no one was ever born who had not
physical vanity of some kind; Susan's was her feet and ankles.
Not her eyes, nor her hair, nor her contour, nor her skin, nor
her figure, though any or all of these might well have been her
pleasure. Of them she never thought in the way of pride or
vanity. But of her feet and ankles she was both proud and
vain--in a reserved, wholly unobtrusive way, be it said, so
quietly that she had passed unsuspected. There was reason for
this shy, secret self-satisfaction, so amusing in one otherwise
self-unconscious. Her feet were beautifully formed and the
curves of her instep and ankle were beautiful. She gave more
attention now to the look of her shoes and of her stockings than
to all the rest of this difficult woodland toilet. She then put
on the sailor hat, fastened the collar to her garter, slipped
the handkerchiefs into the legs of her stockings. Carrying her
underclothes, ready to roll them into a ball should she meet
anyone, she resumed her journey into that rocky wilderness. She
was sore, she had pains that were the memories of the worst
horrors of her hideous dream, but up in her strong, healthy
body, up through her strong young soul, surged joy of freedom
and joy of hope. Compared with what her lot had been until such
a few brief days before, this lot of friendless wanderer in the
wilderness was dark indeed. But she was comparing it with the
monstrous dream from which it was the awakening. She was almost
happy--and madly hungry.
An enormous bowlder, high above her and firmly fixed in the
spine of the hill, invited as a place where she could see
without being seen, could hide securely until darkness came
again. She climbed to the base of it, found that she might reach
the top by stepping from ledge to ledge with the aid of the
trees growing so close around it that some of their boughs
seemed rooted in its weather-dented cliffs. She dragged herself
upward the fifty or sixty feet, glad of the difficulties because
they would make any pursuer feel certain she had not gone that
way. After perhaps an hour she came upon a flat surface where
soil had formed, where grass and wild flowers and several little
trees gave shade and a place to sleep. And from her eyrie she
commanded a vast sweep of country--hills and valleys, fields,
creeks, here and there lonely farmhouses, and far away to the
east the glint of the river!
To the river! That was her destination. And somehow it would be
kind, would take her where she would never, never dream those
frightful dreams again!
She went to the side of the bowlder opposite that which she had
climbed. She drew back hastily, ready to cry with vexation. It
was not nearly so high or so steep; and on the slope of the hill
a short distance away was set a little farmhouse, with smoke
curling up from its rough stone chimney. She dropped to all
fours in the tall grass and moved cautiously toward the edge.
Flat upon her breast, she worked her way to the edge and looked
down. A faintly lined path led from the house through a gate in
a zigzag fence and up to the base of her fortress. The rock had
so crumbled on that side that a sort of path extended clear up
to the top. But her alarm quieted somewhat when she noted how
the path was grass-grown.
As nearly as she could judge it was about five o'clock. So that
smoke meant breakfast! Her eyes fixed hungrily upon the thin
column of violet vapor mounting straight into the still morning
air. When smoke rose in that fashion, she remembered, it was
sure sign of clear weather. And then the thought came, "What if
it had been raining!" She simply could not have got away.
As she interestedly watched the little house and its yard she
saw hurrying through the burdock and dog fennel toward the base
of her rock a determined looking hen. Susan laughed silently, it
was so obvious that the hen was on a pressing and secret
business errand. But almost immediately her attention was
distracted to observing the movements of a human being she could
obscurely make out through one of the windows just back of the
chimney. Soon she saw that it was a woman, cleaning up a kitchen
after breakfast--the early breakfast of the farmhouse in summer.
What had they had for breakfast? She sniffed the air. "I think
I can smell ham and cornbread," she said aloud, and laughed,
partly at the absurdity of her fancy, chiefly at the idea of
such attractive food. She aggravated her hunger by letting her
imagination loose upon the glorious possibilities. A stealthy
fluttering brought her glance back to the point where the hen
had disappeared. The hen reappeared, hastened down the path and
through the weeds, and rejoined the flock in the yard with an
air which seemed to say, "No, indeed, I've been right here all
the time."
"Now, what was she up to?" wondered Susan, and the answer came to
her. Eggs! A nest hidden somewhere near or in the base of the rock!
Could she get down to that nest without being seen from the
house or from any other part of the region below? She drew back
from the edge, crawled through the grass to the place where the
path, if path it could be called, reached the top. She was
delighted to find that it made the ascent through a wide cleft
and not along the outside. She let herself down cautiously as
the footway was crumbling and rotten and slippery with grass. At
the lower end of the cleft she peered out. Trees and
bushes--plenty of them, a thick shield between her and the
valleys. She moved slowly downward; a misstep might send her
through the boughs to the hillside forty feet below. She had
gone up and down several times before her hunger-sharpened eyes
caught the gleam of white through the ferns growing thickly out
of the moist mossy cracks which everywhere seamed the wall. She
pushed the ferns aside. There was the nest, the length of her
forearm into the dim seclusion of a deep hole. She felt round,
found the egg that was warm. And as she drew it out she laughed
softly and said half aloud: "Breakfast is ready!"
No, not quite ready. Hooking one arm round the bough of a tree
that shot up from the hillside to the height of the rock and
beyond, she pressed her foot firmly against the protecting root
of an ancient vine of poison ivy. Thus ensconced, she had free
hands; and she proceeded to remove the thin shell of the egg
piece by piece. She had difficulty in restraining herself until
the end. At last she put the whole egg into her mouth. And never
had she tasted anything so good.
But one egg was only an appetizer. She reached in again. She did
not wish to despoil the meritorious hen unnecessarily, so she
held the egg up in her inclosing fingers and looked through it,
as she had often seen the cook do at home. She was not sure, but
the inside seemed muddy. She laid it to one side, tried another.
It was clear and she ate it as she had eaten the first. She laid
aside the third, the fourth, and the fifth. The sixth seemed all
right--but was not. Fortunately she had not been certain enough
to feel justified in putting the whole egg into her mouth before
tasting it. The taste, however, was enough to make her reflect
that perhaps on the whole two eggs were sufficient for
breakfast, especially as there would be at least dinner and
supper before she could go further. As she did not wish to risk
another descent, she continued to sort out the eggs. She found
four that were, or seemed to be, all right. The thirteen that
looked doubtful or worse when tested by the light she restored
with the greatest care. It was an interesting illustration of
the rare quality of consideration which at that period of her
life dominated her character.
She put the four eggs in the bosom of her blouse and climbed up
to her eyrie. All at once she felt the delicious languor of body
and mind which is Nature's forewarning that she is about to put
us to sleep, whether we will or no. She lost all anxiety about
safety, looked hastily around for a bed. She found just the
place in a corner of the little tableland where the grass grew
tall and thick. She took from her bosom the four eggs--her
dinner and supper--and put them between the roots of a tree with
a cover of broad leaves over them to keep them cool. She pulled
grass to make a pillow, took off her collar and laid herself
down to sleep. And that day's sun did not shine upon a prettier
sight than this soundly and sweetly sleeping girl, with her oval
face suffused by a gentle flush, with her rounded young
shoulders just moving the bosom of her gray silk blouse, with
her slim, graceful legs curled up to the edge of her carefully
smoothed blue serge skirt. You would have said never a care,
much less a sorrow, had shadowed her dawning life. And that is
what it means to be young--and free from the curse of self-pity,
and ignorant of life's saddest truth, that future and past are
not two contrasts; one is surely bright and the other is sober,
but they are parts of a continuous fabric woven of the same
threads and into the same patterns from beginning to end.
When she awoke, beautifully rested, her eyes clear and soft, the
shadows which had been long toward the southwest were long,
though not so long, toward the southeast. She sat up and smiled;
it was so fine to be free! And her woes had not in the least
shaken that serene optimism which is youth's most delightful if
most dangerous possession. She crawled through the grass to the
edge of the rock and looked out through the screening leaves of
the dense undergrowth. There was no smoke from the chimney of
the house. The woman, in a blue calico, was sitting on the back
doorstep knitting. Farther away, in fields here and there, a few
men--not a dozen in all--were at work. From a barnyard at the
far edge of the western horizon came the faint sound of a steam
thresher, and she thought she could see the men at work around
it, but this might have been illusion. It was a serene and
lovely panorama of summer and country. Last of all her eyes
sought the glimpse of distant river.
She ate two of her four eggs, put on the underclothes which were
now thoroughly sun-dried, shook out and rebraided her hair. Then
she cast about for some way to pass the time.
She explored the whole top of the rock, but that did not use up
more than fifteen minutes, as it was so small that every part
was visible from every other part. However, she found a great
many wild flowers and gathered a huge bouquet of the audacious
colors of nature's gardens, so common yet so effective. She did
a little botanizing--anything to occupy her mind and keep it
from the ugly visions and fears. But all too soon she had
exhausted the resources of her hiding place. She looked down
into the valley to the north--the valley through which she had
come. She might go down there and roam; it would be something to
do, and her young impatience of restraint was making her so
restless that she felt she could not endure the confines of that
little rock. It had seemed huge; a brief experience of freedom,
a few hours between her and the night's horrors and terrors, and
it had shrunk to a tiny prison cell. Surely she would run no
risk in journeying through that trackless wilderness; she need
not be idle, she could hasten her destiny by following the creek
in its lonely wanderings, which must sooner or later bring it to
the river. The river!
She was about to get the two remaining eggs and abandon her
stronghold when it occurred to her that she would do well to
take a last look all around. She went back to the side of the
rock facing the house.
The woman had suspended knitting and was gazing intently across
the hollow to the west, where the road from the north entered
the landscape. Susan turned her eyes in that direction. Two
horsemen at a gallop were moving southward. The girl was well
screened, but instinctively she drew still further back behind
the bushes--but not so far that the two on horseback, riding so
eagerly, were out of her view. The road dipped into the hollow.
the galloping horsemen disappeared with it. Susan shifted her
gaze to the point on the brow of the hill where the road
reappeared. She was quivering in every nerve. When they came
into view again she would know.
The place she was watching swam before her eyes. Suddenly the
two, still at a gallop, rose upon the crest of the hill. Jeb and
her Uncle Zeke! Her vision cleared, her nerve steadied.
They did not draw rein until they were at the road gate of the
little house. The woman rose, put down her knitting in the seat
of her stiff, rush-bottomed rocker, advanced to the fence. The
air was still, but Susan could not hear a sound, though she
craned forward and strained her ears to the uttermost. She
shrank as if she had been struck when the three began to gaze up
at the rock--to gaze, it seemed to her, at the very spot where
she was standing. Was her screen less thick than she thought?
Had they seen--if not her, perhaps part of her dress?
Wildly her heart beat as Jeb dismounted from his horse the mare
behind which she had made her wedding journey--and stood in the
gateway, talking with the woman and looking toward the top of
the rock. Zeke Warham turned his horse and began to ride slowly
away. He got as far as the brow of the hill, with Jeb still in
the gateway, hesitating. Then Susan heard:
"Hold on, Mr. Warham. I reckon you're right."
Warham halted his horse, Jeb remounted and joined him. As the
woman returned toward the back doorstep, the two men rode at a
walk down into the hollow. When they reappeared it was on the
road by which they had come. And the girl knew the pursuit in
that direction--the right direction--was over. Trembling and
with a fluttering in her breast like the flapping of a bird's
wings, she sank to the ground. Presently she burst into a
passion of tears. Without knowing why, she tore off the wedding
ring which until then she had forgotten, and flung it out among
the treetops. A few minutes, and she dried her eyes and stood
up. The two horsemen were leaving the landscape at the point at
which they had entered it. The girl would not have known, would
have been frightened by, her own face had she seen it as she
watched them go out of her sight--out of her life. She did not
understand herself, for she was at that age when one is no more
conscious of the forces locked up within his unexplored and
untested character than the dynamite cartridge is of its secrets
of power and terror.
SHE felt free to go now. She walked toward the place where she
had left the eggs. It was on the side of the rock overlooking
the creek. As she knelt to remove the leaves, she heard from far
below a man's voice singing. She leaned forward and glanced down
at the creek. In a moment appeared a young man with a fishing
rod and a bag slung over his shoulder. His gray and white striped
flannel trousers were rolled to his knees. His fair skin and the
fair hair waving about his forehead were exposed by the
flapping-brimmed straw hat set upon the back of his head. His
voice, a strong and manly tenor, was sending up those steeps a
song she had never heard before--a song in Italian. She had not
seen what he looked like when she remembered herself and hastily
fell back from view. She dropped to the grass and crawled out
toward the ledge. When she showed her face it so happened that
he was looking straight at her.
"Hello!" he shouted. "That you, Nell?"
Susan drew back, her blood in a tumult. From below, after a
brief silence, came a burst of laughter.
She waited a long time, then through a shield of bunches of
grass looked again. The young man was gone. She wished that he
had resumed his song, for she thought she had never heard one so
beautiful. Because she did not feel safe in descending until he
was well out of the way, and because she was so comfortable
lying there in the afternoon sunshine watching the birds and
listening to them, she continued on there, glancing now and then
at where the creek entered and where it left her range of
vision, to make sure that no one else should come and catch her.
Suddenly sounded a voice from somewhere behind her:
"Hey, Nell! I'm coming!"
She sprang to her feet, faced about; and Crusoe was not more
agitated when he saw the print of the naked foot on his island's
strand. The straw hat with the flapping brim was just lifting
above the edge of the rock at the opposite side, where the path
was. She could not escape; the shelf offered no hiding place.
Now the young man was stepping to the level, panting loudly.
"Gee, what a climb for a hot day!" he cried. "Where are you?"
With that he was looking at Susan, less than twenty yards away
and drawn up defiantly. He stared, took off his hat. He had
close-cropped wavy hair and eyes as gray as Susan's own, but it
was a blue-gray instead of violet. His skin was fair, too, and
his expression intelligent and sympathetic. In spite of his hat,
and his blue cotton shirt, and trousers rolled high on bare
sunburned legs, there was nothing of the yokel about him.
"I beg your pardon," he exclaimed half humorously. "I thought it
was my cousin Nell."
"No," said Susan, disarmed by his courtesy and by the frank
engaging manner of it.
"I didn't mean to intrude." He showed white teeth in a broad
smile. "I see from your face that this is your private domain."
"Oh, no--not at all," stammered Susan.
"Yes, I insist," replied he. "Will you let me stay and rest a
minute? I ran round the rock and climbed pretty fast."
"Yes--do," said Susan.
The young man sat on the grass near where he had appeared, and
crossed his long legs. The girl, much embarrassed, looked
uneasily about. "Perhaps you'd sit, too?" suggested he, after
eyeing her in a friendly way that could not cause offense and
somehow did not cause any great uneasiness.
Susan hesitated, went to the shadow of a little tree not far
from him. He was fanning his flushed face with his hat. The
collar of his shirt was open; below, where the tan ended
abruptly, his skin was beautifully white. Now that she had been
discovered, it was as well to be pleasant, she reasoned. "It's
a fine day," she observed with a grown-up gravity that much
amused him.
"Not for fishing," said he. "I caught nothing. You are a
stranger in these parts?"
Susan colored and a look of terror flitted into her eyes. "Yes,"
she admitted. "I'm--I'm passing through."
The young man had all he could do to conceal his amusement.
Susan flushed deeply again, not because she saw his expression,
for she was not looking at him, but because her remark seemed to
her absurd and likely to rouse suspicion.
"I suppose you came up here to see the view," said the man. He
glanced round. "It _is_ pretty good. You're not visiting down
Brooksburg way, by any chance?"
"No," replied Susan, rather composedly and determined to change
the subject. "What was that song I heard you singing?"
"Oh--you heard, did you?" laughed he. "It's the Duke's song from
"That's an opera, isn't it--like `Trovatore'?"
"Yes--an Italian opera. Same author."
"It's a beautiful song." It was evident that she longed to ask
him to sing it. She felt at ease with him; he was so unaffected
and simple, was one of those people who seem to be at home
wherever they are.
"Do you sing?" he inquired.
"Not really," replied she.
"Neither do I. So if you'll sing to me, I'll sing to you."
Susan looked round in alarm. "Oh, dear, no--please don't," she cried.
"Why not?" he asked curiously. "There isn't a soul about."
"I know--but--really, you mustn't."
"Very well," said he, seeing that her nervousness was not at all
from being asked to sing. They sat quietly, she gazing off at
the horizon, he fanning himself and studying her lovely young
face. He was somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five and a
close observer would have suspected him of an unusual amount of
experience, even for a good-looking, expansive youth of that age.
He broke the long silence. "I'm a newspaper man from Cincinnati.
I'm on the _Commercial_ there. My name's Roderick Spenser. My
father's Clayton Spenser, down at Brooksburg"--he pointed to the
southeast--"beyond that hill there, on the river. I'm here on my
vacation." And he halted, looking at her expectantly.
It seemed to her that there was in courtesy no escape without a
return biographical sketch. She hung her head, twisted her
tapering fingers in her lap, and looked childishly embarrassed
and unhappy. Another long silence; again he broke it. "You'll
pardon my saying so, but--you're very young, aren't you?"
"Not so--so _terribly_ young. I'm almost seventeen," replied she,
glancing this way and that, as if thinking of flight.
"You look like a child, yet you don't," he went on, and his
frank, honest voice calmed her. "You've had some painful
experience, I'd say."
She nodded, her eyes down.
A pause, then he: "Honest, now--aren't you--running away?"
She lifted her eyes to his piteously. "Please don't ask me," she said.
"I shouldn't think of it," replied he, with a gentleness in his
persistence that made her feel still more like trusting him, "if
it wasn't that----
"Well, this world isn't the easiest sort of a place. Lots of
rough stretches in the road. I've struck several and I've always
been glad when somebOdy has given me a lift. And I want to pass
it on--if you'll let me. It's something we owe each other--don't
you think?"
The words were fine enough; but it was the voice in which he
said them that went to her heart. She covered her face with her
hands and released her pent emotions. He took a package of
tobacco and a sheaf of papers from his trousers pocket, rolled
and lighted a cigarette. After a while she dried her eyes,
looked at him shamefacedly. But he was all understanding and
"Now you feel better, don't you?"
"Much," said she. And she laughed. "I guess I'm more upset than
I let myself realize."
"Sorry you left home?"
"I haven't any home," answered she simply. "And I wouldn't go
back alive to the place I came from."
There was a quality in the energy she put into her words that
made him thoughtful. He counseled with the end of his cigarette.
Finally he inquired:
"Where are you bound for?"
"I don't know exactly," confessed she, as if it were a small matter.
He shook his head. "I see you haven't the faintest notion what
you're up against."
"Oh, I'll get along. I'm strong, and I can learn."
He looked at her critically and rather sadly.
"Yes--you are strong," said he. "But I wonder if you're strong enough."
"I never was sick in my life."
"I don't mean that. . . . I'm not sure I know just what I do mean."
"Is it very hard to get to Chicago?" inquired she.
"It's easier to get to Cincinnati."
She shook her head positively. "It wouldn't do for me to go there."
"Oh, you come from Cincinnati?"
"No--but I--I've been there."
"Oh, they caught you and brought you back?"
She nodded. This young man must be very smart to understand so quickly.
"How much money have you got?" he asked abruptly.
But his fear that she would think him impertinent came of an
underestimate of her innocence. "I haven't got any," replied
she. "I forgot my purse. It had thirty dollars in it."
At once he recognized the absolute child; only utter
inexperience of the world could speak of so small a sum so
respectfully. "I don't understand at all," said he. "How long
have you been here?"
"All day. I got here early this morning."
"And you haven't had anything to eat!"
"Oh, yes! I found some eggs. I've got two left."
Two eggs--and no money and no friends--and a woman. Yet she was
facing the future hopefully! He smiled, with tears in his eyes.
"You mustn't tell anybody you saw me," she went on. "No matter
what they say, don't think you ought to tell on me."
He looked at her, she at him. When he had satisfied himself he
smiled most reassuringly. "I'll not," was his answer, and now
she _knew_ she could trust him.
She drew a breath of relief, and went on as if talking with an
old friend. "I've got to get a long ways from here. As soon as
it's dark I'm going."
"Toward the river." And her eyes lit.
"The river? What's there?"
"I don't know," said she triumphantly.
But he understood. He had the spirit of adventure himself--one
could see it at a glance--the spirit that instinctively shuns
yesterday and all its works and wings eagerly into tomorrow,
unknown, different, new--therefore better. But this girl, this
child-woman--or was she rather woman-child?--penniless, with
nothing but two eggs between her and starvation, alone, without
plans, without experience--
What would become of her?. . . "Aren't you--afraid?" he asked.
"Of what?" she inquired calmly.
It was the mere unconscious audacity of ignorance, yet he saw in
her now--not fancied he saw, but saw--a certain strength of
soul, both courage and tenacity. No, she might suffer, sink--but
she would die fighting, and she would not be afraid. And he
admired and envied her.
"Oh, I'll get along somehow," she assured him in the same
self-reliant tone. Suddenly she felt it would no longer give her
the horrors to speak of what she had been through. "I'm not very
old," said she, and hers was the face of a woman now. "But I've
learned a great deal."
"You are sure you are not making a mistake in--in--running away?"
"I couldn't do anything else," replied she. "I'm all alone in
the world. There's no one--except----
"I hadn't done anything, and they said I had disgraced them--and
they----" Her voice faltered, her eyes sank, the color flooded
into her face. "They gave me to a man--and he--I had hardly seen
him before--he----" She tried but could not pronounce the
dreadful word.
"Married, you mean?" said the young man gently.
The girl shuddered. "Yes," she answered. "And I ran away."
So strange, so startling, so moving was the expression of her
face that he could not speak for a moment. A chill crept over
him as he watched her wide eyes gazing into vacancy. What vision
of horror was she seeing, he wondered. To rouse her he spoke the
first words he could assemble:
"When was this?"
The vision seemed slowly to fade and she looked at him in
astonishment. "Why, it was last night!" she said, as if dazed by
the discovery. "Only last night!"
"Last night! Then you haven't got far."
"No. But I must. I will. And I'm not afraid of anything except
of being taken back."
"But you don't realize what may be--probably is--waiting for
you--at the river--and beyond."
"Nothing could be so bad," said she. The words were nothing, but
the tone and the expression that accompanied them somehow
convinced him beyond a doubt.
"You'll let me help you?"
She debated. "You might bring me something to eat--mightn't you?
The eggs'll do for supper. But there's tomorrow. I don't want to
be seen till I get a long ways off."
He rose at once. "Yes, I'll bring you something to eat." He took
a knockabout watch from the breast pocket of his shirt. "It's
now four o'clock. I've got three miles to walk. I'll ride back
and hitch the horse down the creek--a little ways down, so it
won't attract attention to your place up here. I'll be back in
about an hour and a half. . . . Maybe I'll think of something
that'll help. Can I bring you anything else?
"No. That is--I'd like a little piece of soap."
"And a towel?" he suggested.
"I could take care of a towel," agreed she. "I'll send it back
to you when I get settled."
"Good heavens!" He laughed at her simplicity. "What an honest
child you are!" He put out his hand, and she took it with
charming friendliness. "Good-by. I'll hurry."
"I'm so glad you caught me," said she. Then, apologetically, "I
don't want to be any trouble. I hate to be troublesome. I've
never let anybody wait on me."
"I don't know when I've had as much pleasure as this is giving
me." And he made a bow that hid its seriousness behind a smile
of good-humored raillery.
She watched him descend with a sinking heart. The rock--the
world--her life, seemed empty now. He had reminded her that
there were human beings with good hearts. But--perhaps if he
knew, his kindness would turn also. . . . No, she decided not.
Men like him, women like Aunt Sallie--they did not believe
those dreadful, wicked ideas that people said God had ordained.
Still--if he knew about her birth--branded outcast--he might
change. She must not really hope for anything much until she was
far, far away in a wholly new world where there would be a
wholly new sort of people, of a kind she had never met. But she
was sure they would welcome her, and give her a chance.
She returned to the tree against which she had been sitting, for
there she could look at the place his big frame had pressed down
in the tall grass, and could see him in it, and could recall his
friendly eyes and voice, and could keep herself assured she had
not been dreaming. He was a citified man, like Sam--but how
different! A man with a heart like his would never marry a
woman--no, never! He couldn't be a brute like that. Still,
perhaps nice men married because it was supposed to be the
right thing to do, and was the only way to have children without
people thinking you a disgrace and slighting the children--and
then marrying made brutes of them. No wonder her uncles could
treat her so. They were men who had married.
Afar off she heard the manly voice singing the song from
"Rigoletto." She sprang up and listened, with eyes softly
shining and head a little on one side. The song ended; her heart
beat fast. It was not many minutes before she, watching at the
end of the path, saw him appear at the bottom of the huge cleft.
And the look in his eyes, the merry smile about his expressive
mouth, delighted her. "I'm so glad to see you!" she cried.
Over his shoulder was flung his fishing bag, and it bulged.
"Don't be scared by the size of my pack," he called up, as he
climbed. "We're going to have supper together--if you'll let me
stay. Then you can take as much or as little as you like of
what's left."
Arrived at the top, he halted for a long breath. They stood
facing each other. "My, what a tall girl you are for your age!"
said he admiringly.
She laughed up at him. "I'll be as tall as you when I get my growth."
She was so lovely that he could scarcely refrain from telling
her so. It seemed to him, however, it would be taking an unfair
advantage to say that sort of thing when she was in a way at his
mercy. "Where shall we spread the table?" said he. "I'm hungry
as the horseleech's daughter. And you--why, you must be starved.
I'm afraid I didn't bring what you like. But I did the best I
could. I raided the pantry, took everything that was portable."
He had set down the bag and had loosened its strings. First he
took out a tablecloth. She laughed. "Gracious! How stylish we
shall be!"
"I didn't bring napkins. We can use the corners of the cloth."
He had two knives, two forks, and a big spoon rolled up in the
cloth, and a saltcellar. "Now, here's my triumph!" he cried,
drawing from the bag a pair of roasted chickens. Next came a jar
of quince jelly; next, a paper bag with cold potatoes and cold
string beans in it. Then he fished out a huge square of
cornbread and a loaf of salt-rising bread, a pound of butter--
"What will your folks say?" exclaimed she, in dismay.
He laughed. "They always have thought I was crazy, ever since I
went to college and then to the city instead of farming." And
out of the bag came a big glass jar of milk. "I forgot to bring
a glass!" he apologized. Then he suspended unpacking to open the
jar. "Why, you must be half-dead with thirst, up here all day
with not a drop of water." And he held out the jar to her.
"Drink hearty!" he cried.
The milk was rich and cold; she drank nearly a fourth of it
before she could wrest the jar away from her lips. "My, but that
was good!" she remarked. He had enjoyed watching her drink.
"Surely you haven't got anything else in that bag?"
"Not much," replied he. "Here's a towel, wrapped round the soap.
And here are three cakes of chocolate. You could live four or
five days on them, if you were put to it. So whatever else you
leave, don't leave them. And--Oh, yes, here's a calico slip and
a sunbonnet, and a paper of pins. And that's all."
"What are they for?"
"I thought you might put them on--the slip over your dress--and
you wouldn't look quite so--so out of place--if anybody should
see you."
"What a fine idea!" cried Susan, shaking out the slip delightedly.
He was spreading the supper on the tablecloth. He carved one of
the chickens, opened the jelly, placed the bread and vegetables
and butter. "Now!" he cried. "Let's get busy."
And he set her an example she was not slow to follow. The sun
had slipped down behind the hills of the northwest horizon. The
birds were tuning for their evening song. A breeze sprang up and
coquetted with the strays of her wavy dark hair. And they sat
cross-legged on the grass on opposite sides of the tablecloth
and joked and laughed and ate, and ate and laughed and joked
until the stars began to appear in the vast paling opal of the
sky. They had chosen the center of the grassy platform for their
banquet; thus, from where they sat only the tops of trees and
the sky were to be seen. And after they had finished she leaned
on her elbow and listened while he, smoking his cigarette, told
her of his life as a newspaper man in Cincinnati. The twilight
faded into dusk, the dusk into a scarlet darkness.
"When the moon comes up we'll start," said he. "You can ride
behind me on the horse part of the way, anyhow."
The shadow of the parting, the ending of this happiness, fell
upon her. How lonely it would be when he was gone! "I haven't
told you my name," she said.
"I've told you mine Roderick Spenser--with an _s_, not a _c_."
"I remember," said she. "I'll never forget. . . . Mine's Susan Lenox."
"What was it--before----" He halted.
"Before what?" His silence set her to thinking. "Oh!" she
exclaimed, in a tone that made him curse his stupidity in
reminding her. "My name's Susan Lenox--and always will be. It
was my mother's name." She hesitated, decided for frankness at
any cost, for his kindness forbade her to deceive him in any
way. Proudly, "My mother never let any man marry her. They say
she was disgraced, but I understand now. _She_ wouldn't stoop to
let any man marry her."
Spenser puzzled over this, but could make nothing of it. He felt
that he ought not to inquire further. He saw her anxious eyes,
her expression of one keyed up and waiting for a verdict. "I'd
have only to look at you to know your mother was a fine woman,"
said he. Then, to escape from the neighborhood of the dangerous
riddle, "Now, about your--your going," he began. "I've been
thinking what to do."
"You'll help me?" said she, to dispel her last doubt--a very
faint doubt, for his words and his way of uttering them had
dispelled her real anxiety.
"Help you?" cried he heartily. "All I can. I've got a scheme to
propose to you. You say you can't take the mail boat?"
"They know me. I--I'm from Sutherland."
"You trust me--don't you?"
"Indeed I do."
"Now listen to me--as if I were your brother. Will you?"
"I'm going to take you to Cincinnati with me. I'm going to put
you in my boarding house as my sister. And I'm going to get you
a position. Then--you can start in for yourself."
"But that'll be a great lot of trouble, won't it?"
"Not any more than friends of mine took for me when I was
starting out." Then, as she continued silent, "What are you
thinking? I can't see your face in this starlight."
"I was thinking how good you are," she said simply.
He laughed uneasily. "I'm not often accused of that," he
replied. "I'm like most people--a mixture of good and bad--and
not very strong either way. I'm afraid I'm mostly impulse that
winks out. But--the question is, how to get you to Cincinnati.
It's simply impossible for me to go tonight. I can't take you
home for the night. I don't trust my people. They'd not think I
was good--or you, either. And while usually they'd be
right--both ways--this is an exception." This idea of an
exception seemed to amuse him. He went on, "I don't dare leave you
at any farmhouse in the neighborhood. If I did, you could be traced."
"No--no," she cried, alarmed at the very suggestion. "I mustn't
be seen by anybody."
"We'll go straight to the river, and I'll get a boat and row you
across to Kentucky--over to Carrollton. There's a little hotel.
I can leave you----"
"No--not Carrollton," she interrupted. "My uncle sells goods
there, and they know him. And if anything is in the Sutherland
papers about me, why, they'd know."
"Not with you in that slip and sunbonnet. I'll make up a
story--about our wagon breaking down and that I've got to walk
back into the hills to get another before we can go on.
And--it's the only plan that's at all possible."
Obviously he was right; but she would not consent. By adroit
questioning he found that her objection was dislike of being so
much trouble to him. "That's too ridiculous," cried he. "Why, I
wouldn't have missed this adventure for anything in the world."
His manner was convincing enough, but she did not give in until
moonrise came without her having thought of any other plan. He
was to be Bob Peters, she his sister Kate, and they were to hail
from a farm in the Kentucky hills back of Milton. They practiced
the dialect of the region and found that they could talk it well
enough to pass the test of a few sentences They packed the
fishing bag; she wrapped the two eggs in paper and put them in
the empty milk bottle. They descended by the path--a slow
journey in the darkness of that side of the rock, as there were
many dangers, including the danger of making a noise that might
be heard by some restless person at the house. After half an
hour they were safely at the base of the rock; they skirted it,
went down to the creek, found the horse tied where he had left
it. With her seated sideways behind him and holding on by an arm
half round his waist, they made a merry but not very speedy
advance toward the river, keeping as nearly due south as the
breaks in the hills permitted. After a while he asked: "Do you
ever think of the stage?"
"I've never seen a real stage play," said she. "But I want
to--and I will, the first chance I get."
"I meant, did you ever think of going on the stage?"
"No." So daring a flight would have been impossible for a baby
imagination in the cage of the respectable-family-in-a-small-town.
"It's one of my dreams to write plays," he went on. "Wouldn't it
be queer if some day I wrote plays for you to act in?"
When one's fancy is as free as was Susan's then, it takes any
direction chance may suggest. Susan's fancy instantly winged
along this fascinating route. "I've given recitations at school,
and in the plays we used to have they let me take the best
parts--that is--until--until a year or so ago."
He noted the hesitation, had an instinct against asking why
there had come a time when she no longer got good parts. "I'm
sure you could learn to act," declared he. "And you'll be sure
of it, too, after you've seen the people who do it."
"Oh, I don't believe I could," said she, in rebuke to her own
mounting self-confidence. Then, suddenly remembering her
birth-brand of shame and overwhelmed by it, "No, I can't hope to
be to be anything much. They wouldn't have--_me_."
"I know how you feel," replied he, all unaware of the real
reason for this deep humility. "When I first struck town I felt
that way. It seemed to me I couldn't hope ever to line up with
the clever people they had there. But I soon saw there was
nothing in that idea. The fact is, everywhere in the world
there's a lot more things to do than people who can do them.
Most of those who get to the top--where did they start? Where
we're starting."
She was immensely flattered by that "we" and grateful for it.
But she held to her original opinion. "There wouldn't be a
chance for me," said she. "They wouldn't have me."
"Oh, I understand," said he and he fancied he did. He laughed
gayly at the idea that in the theater anyone would care who she
was--what kind of past she had had--or present either, for that
matter. Said he, "You needn't worry. On the stage they don't ask
any questions--any questions except `Can you act? Can you get it
over? Can you get the hand?'"
Then this stage, it was the world she had dreamed of--the world
where there lived a wholly new kind of people--people who could
make room for her. She thrilled, and her heart beat wildly. In
a strangely quiet, intense voice, she said:
"I want to try. I'm sure I'll get along there. I'll work--Oh, so
hard. I'll do _anything!_"
"That's the talk," cried he. "You've got the stuff in you."
She said little the rest of the journey. Her mind was busy with
the idea he had by merest accident given her. If he could have
looked in upon her thoughts, he would have been amazed and not
a little alarmed by the ferment he had set up.
Where they reached the river the bank was mud and thick willows,
the haunt of incredible armies of mosquitoes. "It's a mystery to
me," cried he, "why these fiends live in lonely places far away
from blood, when they're so mad about it." After some searching
he found a clear stretch of sandy gravel where she would be not
too uncomfortable while he was gone for a boat. He left the
horse with her and walked upstream in the direction of
Brooksburg. As he had warned her that he might be gone a long
time, he knew she would not be alarmed for him--and she had
already proved that timidity about herself was not in her nature.
But he was alarmed for her--this girl alone in that lonely
darkness--with light enough to make her visible to any prowler.
About an hour after he left her he returned in a rowboat he had
borrowed at the water mill. He hitched the horse in the deep
shadow of the break in the bank. She got into the boat, put on
the slip and the sunbonnet, put her sailor hat in the bag. They
pushed off and he began the long hard row across and upstream.
The moon was high now and was still near enough to its full
glory to pour a flood of beautiful light upon the broad
river--the lovely Ohio at its loveliest part.
"Won't you sing?" he asked.
And without hesitation she began one of the simple familiar love
songs that were all the music to which the Sutherland girls had
access. She sang softly, in a deep sweet voice, sweeter even
than her speaking voice. She had the sunbonnet in her lap; the
moon shone full upon her face. And it seemed to him that he was
in a dream; there was nowhere a suggestion of reality--not of
its prose, not even of its poetry. Only in the land no waking
eye has seen could such a thing be. The low sweet voice sang of
love, the oars clicked rhythmically in the locks and clove the
water with musical splash; the river, between its steep hills,
shone in the moonlight, with a breeze like a friendly spirit
moving upon its surface. He urged her, and she sang another
song, and another. She sighed when she saw the red lantern on
the Carrollton wharf; and he, turning his head and seeing,
echoed her sigh.
"The first chance, you must sing me that song," she said.
"From `Rigoletto'? I will. But--it tells how fickle women
are--`like a feather in the wind.'. . . They aren't all like
that, though--don't you think so?"
"Sometimes I think everybody's like a feather in the wind,"
replied she. "About love--and everything."
He laughed. "Except those people who are where there isn't any wind."
FOR some time Spenser had been rowing well in toward the
Kentucky shore, to avoid the swift current of the Kentucky River
which rushes into the Ohio at Carrollton. A few yards below its
mouth, in the quiet stretch of backwater along shore, lay the
wharf-boat, little more than a landing stage. The hotel was but
a hundred feet away, at the top of the steep levee. It was
midnight, so everyone in the village had long been asleep. After
several minutes of thunderous hammering Roderick succeeded in
drawing to the door a barefooted man with a candle in his huge,
knotted hand--a man of great stature, amazingly lean and long of
leg, with a monstrous head thatched and fronted with coarse,
yellow-brown hair. He had on a dirty cotton shirt and dirty
cotton trousers--a night dress that served equally well for the
day. His feet were flat and thick and were hideous with corns
and bunions. Susan had early been made a critical observer of
feet by the unusual symmetry of her own. She had seen few feet
that were fit to be seen; but never, she thought, had she seen
an exhibition so repellent.
"What t'hell----" he began. Then, discovering Susan, he growled,
"Beg pardon, miss."
Roderick explained--that is, told the prearranged story. The man
pointed to a grimy register on the office desk, and Roderick set
down the fishing bag and wrote in a cramped, scrawly hand, "Kate
Peters, Milton, Ky."
The man looked at it through his screen of hair and beard, said,
"Come on, ma'am."
"Just a minute," said Roderick, and he drew "Kate" aside and said
to her in a low tone: "I'll be back sometime tomorrow, and then
we'll start at once. But--to provide against everything--don't be
alarmed if I don't come. You'll know I couldn't help it. And wait."
Susan nodded, looking at him with trustful, grateful eyes.
"And," he went on hurriedly, "I'll leave this with you, to take
care of. It's yours as much as mine."
She saw that it was a pocketbook, instinctively put her hands
behind her.
"Don't be silly," he said, with good-humored impatience. "You'll
probably not need it. If you do, you'll need it bad. And you'll
pay me back when you get your place."
He caught one of her hands and put the pocketbook in it. As his
argument was unanswerable, she did not resist further. She
uttered not a word of thanks, but simply looked at him, her eyes
swimming and about her mouth a quiver that meant a great deal in
her. Impulsively and with flaming cheek he kissed her on the
cheek. "So long, sis," he said loudly, and strode into the night.
Susan did not flush; she paled. She gazed after him with some
such expression as a man lost in a cave might have as he watches
the flickering out of his only light. "This way, ma'am," said
the hotel man sourly, taking up the fishing bag. She started,
followed him up the noisy stairs to a plain, neat country
bedroom. "The price of this here's one fifty a day," said he.
"We've got 'em as low as a dollar."
"I'll take a dollar one, please," said Susan.
The man hesitated. "Well," he finally snarled, "business is
slack jes' now. Seein' as you're a lady, you kin have this here
un fur a dollar."
"Oh, thank you--but if the price is more----"
"The other rooms ain't fit fur a lady," said the hotel man. Then
he grinned a very human humorous grin that straightway made him
much less repulsive. "Anyhow, them two durn boys of mine an'
their cousins is asleep in 'em. I'd as lief rout out a nest of
hornets. I'll leave you the candle."
As soon as he had gone Susan put out the light, ran to the
window. She saw the rowboat and Spenser, a black spot far out on
the river, almost gone from view to the southwest. Hastily she
lighted the candle again, stood at the window and waved a white
cover she snatched from the table. She thought she saw one of
the oars go up and flourish, but she could not be sure. She
watched until the boat vanished in the darkness at the bend. She
found the soap in the bag and took a slow but thorough bath in
the washbowl. Then she unbraided her hair, combed it out as well
as she could with her fingers, rubbed it thoroughly with a towel
and braided it again. She put on the calico slip as a
nightdress, knelt down to say her prayers. But instead of
prayers there came flooding into her mind memories of where she
had been last night, of the horrors, of the agonies of body and
soul. She rose from her knees, put out the light, stood again at
the window. In after years she always looked back upon that hour
as the one that definitely marked the end of girlhood, of the
thoughts and beliefs which go with the sheltered life, and the
beginning of womanhood, of self-reliance and of the
hardiness--so near akin to hardness--the hardiness that must
come into the character before a man or a woman is fit to give
and take in the combat of life.
The bed was coarse, but white and clean. She fell asleep
instantly and did not awaken until, after the vague, gradually
louder sound of hammering on the door, she heard a female voice
warning her that breakfast was "put nigh over an' done." She got
up, partly drew on one stocking, then without taking it off
tumbled over against the pillow and was asleep. When she came to
herself again, the lay of the shadows told her it must be after
twelve o'clock. She dressed, packed her serge suit in the bag
with the sailor hat, smoothed out the pink calico slip and put
it on. For more than a year she had worn her hair in a braid
doubled upon itself and tied with a bow at the back of her neck.
She decided that if she would part it, plait it in two braids
and bring them round her head, she would look older. She tried
this and was much pleased with the result. She thought the new
style not only more grown-up, but also more becoming. The pink
slip, too, seemed to her a success. It came almost to her ankles
and its strings enabled her to make it look something like a
dress. Carrying the pink sunbonnet, down she went in search of
something to eat.
The hall was full of smoke and its air seemed greasy with the
odor of frying. She found that dinner was about to be served. A
girl in blue calico skirt and food-smeared, sweat-discolored
blue jersey ushered her to one of the tables in the dining-room.
"There's a gentleman comin'," said she. "I'll set him down with
you. He won't bite, I don't reckon, and there ain't no use
mussin' up two tables."
There was no protesting against two such arguments; so Susan
presently had opposite her a fattish man with long oily hair and
a face like that of a fallen and dissipated preacher. She
recognized him at once as one of those wanderers who visit small
towns with cheap shows or selling patent medicines and doing
juggling tricks on the street corners in the flare of a gasoline
lamp. She eyed him furtively until he caught her at it--he being
about the same business himself. Thereafter she kept her eyes
steadily upon the tablecloth, patched and worn thin with much
washing. Soon the plate of each was encircled by the familiar
arc of side dishes containing assorted and not very appetizing
messes--fried steak, watery peas, stringy beans, soggy turnips,
lumpy mashed potatoes, a perilous-looking chicken stew,
cornbread with streaks of baking soda in it. But neither of the
diners was critical, and the dinner was eaten with an enthusiasm
which the best rarely inspires.
With the prunes and dried-apple pie, the stranger expanded.
"Warm day, miss," he ventured.
"Yes, it is a little warm," said Susan. She ventured a direct
look at him. Above the pleasant, kindly eyes there was a brow so
unusually well shaped that it arrested even her young and
untrained attention. Whatever the man's character or station,
there could be no question as to his intelligence.
"The flies are very bothersome," continued he. "But nothing like
Australia. There the flies have to be picked off, and they're
big, and they bite--take a piece right out of you. The natives
used to laugh at us when we were in the ring and would try to
brush, em away." The stranger had the pleasant, easy manner of
one who through custom of all kinds of people and all varieties
of fortune, has learned to be patient and good-humored--to take
the day and the hour as the seasoned gambler takes the cards
that are dealt him.
Susan said nothing; but she had listened politely. The man went
on amusing himself with his own conversation. "I was in the show
business then. Clown was my line, but I was rotten at it--simply
rotten. I'm still in the show business--different line, though.
I've got a show of my own. If you're going to be in town perhaps
you'll come to see us tonight. Our boat's anchored down next to the
wharf. You can see it from the windows. Come, and bring your folks."
"Thank you," said Susan--she had for gotten her role and its
accent. "But I'm afraid we'll not be here."
There was an expression in the stranger's face--a puzzled,
curious expression, not impertinent, rather covert--an
expression that made her uneasy. It warned her that this man saw
she was not what she seemed to be, that he was trying to peer
into her secret. His brown eyes were kind enough, but alarmingly
keen. With only half her pie eaten, she excused herself and
hastened to her room.
At the threshold she remembered the pocketbook Spenser had given
her. She had left it by the fishing bag on the table. There was
the bag but not the pocketbook. "I must have put it in the bag,"
she said aloud, and the sound and the tone of her voice
frightened her. She searched the bag, then the room which had
not yet been straightened up. She shook out the bed covers,
looked in all the drawers, under the bed, went over the contents
of the bag again. The pocketbook was gone--stolen.
She sat down on the edge of the bed, her hands in her lap, and
stared at the place where she had last seen the pocketbook--_his_
pocketbook, which he had asked her to take care of. How could
she face him! What would he think of her, so untrustworthy! What
a return for his kindness! She felt weak--so weak that she lay
down. The food she had taken turned to poison and her head ached
fiercely. What could she do? To speak to the proprietor would be
to cause a great commotion, to attract attention to herself--and
how would that help to bring back the stolen pocketbook, taken
perhaps by the proprietor himself? She recalled that as she
hurried through the office from the dining-room he had a queer
shifting expression, gave her a wheedling, cringing good morning
not at all in keeping with the character he had shown the night
before. The slovenly girl came to do the room; Susan sent her
away, sat by the window gazing out over the river and
downstream. He would soon be here; the thought made her long to
fly and hide. He had been all generosity; and this was her way
of appreciating it!
They sent for her to come down to supper. She refused, saying
she was not feeling well. She searched the room, the bag, again
and again. She would rest a few minutes, then up she would
spring and tear everything out. Then back to the window to sit
and stare at the river over which the evening shadows were
beginning to gather. Once, as she was sitting there, she
happened to see the gaudily painted and decorated show boat. A
man--the stranger of the dinner table--was standing on the
forward end, smoking a cigar. She saw that he was observing her,
realized he could have seen her stirring feverishly about her
room. A woman came out of the cabin and joined him. As soon as
his attention was distracted she closed her shutters. And there
she sat alone, with the hours dragging their wretched minutes
slowly away.
That was one of those nights upon which anyone who has had
them--and who has not?--looks back with wonder at how they ever
lived, how they ever came to an end. She slept a little toward
dawn--for youth and health will not let the most despairing
heart suffer in sleeplessness. Her headache went, but the misery
of soul which had been a maddening pain settled down into a
throbbing ache. She feared he would come; she feared he would
not come. The servants tried to persuade her to take breakfast.
She could not have swallowed food; she would not have dared take
food for which she could not pay. What would they do with her if
he did not come? She searched the room again, hoping against
hope, a hundred times fancying she felt the purse under some
other things, each time suffering sickening disappointment.
Toward noon the servant came knocking. "A letter for you, ma'am."
Susan rushed to the door, seized the letter, tore it open, read:
When I got back to the horse and started to mount, he kicked me
and broke my leg. You can go on south to the L. and N. and take
a train to Cincinnati. When you find a boarding house send your
address to me at the office. I'll come in a few weeks. I'd write
more but I can't. Don't worry. Everything'll come out right. You
are brave and sensible, and I _back you to win_.
With the unsigned letter crumpled in her hands she sat at the
window with scarcely a motion until noon. She then went down to
the show boat. Several people--men and women--were on the
forward end, quarreling. She looked only at her acquaintance.
His face was swollen and his eyes bloodshot, but he still wore
the air of easy and patient good-humor. She said, standing on
the shore, "Could I speak to you a minute?"
"Certainly, ma'am," replies he, lifting his dingy straw hat with
gaudy, stained band. He came down the broad plank to the shore.
"Why, what's the matter?" This in a sympathetic tone.
"Will you lend me two dollars and take me along to work it out?"
she asked.
He eyed her keenly. "For the hotel bill?" he inquired, the cigar
tucked away in the corner of his mouth.
She nodded.
"He didn't show up?"
"He broke his leg."
"Oh!" The tone was politely sympathetic, but incredulous. He eyed
her critically, thoughtfully. "Can you sing?" he finally asked.
"A little."
His hands were deep in the pockets of his baggy light trousers.
He drew one of them out with a two-dollar bill in it. "Go and
pay him and bring your things. We're about to push off."
"Thank you," said the girl in the same stolid way. She returned
to the hotel, brought the bag down from her room, stood at the
office desk.
The servant came. "Mr. Gumpus has jes' stepped out," said she.
"Here is the money for my room." And Susan laid the two-dollar
bill on the register.
"Ain't you goin' to wait fur yer--yer brother?"
"He's not coming," replied the girl. "So--I'll go. Good-by."
"Good-by. It's awful, bein' took sick away from home."
"Thank you," said Susan. "Good-by."
The girl's homely, ignorant face twisted in a grin. But Susan
did not see, would have been indifferent had she seen. Since she
accepted the war earth and heaven had declared against her, she
had ceased from the little thought she had once given to what
was thought of her by those of whom she thought not at all. She
went down to the show boat. The plank had been taken in. Her
acquaintance was waiting for her, helped her to the deck, jumped
aboard himself, and was instantly busy helping to guide the boat
out into mid-stream. Susan looked back at the hotel. Mr. Gumpus
was in the doorway, amusement in every line of his ugly face.
Beside him stood the slovenly servant. She was crying--the more
human second thought of a heart not altogether corrupted by the
sordid hardness of her lot. How can faith in the human race
falter when one considers how much heart it has in spite of all
it suffers in the struggle upward through the dense fogs of
ignorance upward, toward the truth, toward the light of which it
never ceases to dream and to hope?
Susan stood in the same place, with her bag beside her, until
her acquaintance came.
"Now," said he, comfortably, as he lighted a fresh cigar, "we'll
float pleasantly along. I guess you and I had better get
acquainted. What is your name?"
Susan flushed. "Kate Peters is the name I gave at the hotel.
That'll do, won't it?"
"Never in the world!" replied he. "You must have a good catchy
name. Say--er--er----" He rolled his cigar slowly, looking
thoughtfully toward the willows thick and green along the
Indiana shore. "Say--well, say--Lorna--Lorna--Lorna Sackville!
That's a winner. Lorna Sackville!--A stroke of genius! Don't you
think so?"
"Yes," said Susan. "It doesn't matter."
"But it does," remonstrated he. "You are an artist, now, and an
artist's name should always arouse pleasing and romantic
anticipations. It's like the odor that heralds the dish. You
must remember, my dear, that you have stepped out of the world
of dull reality into the world of ideals, of dreams."
The sound of two harsh voices, one male, the other female, came
from within the cabin--oaths, reproaches. Her acquaintance
laughed. "That's one on me--eh? Still, what I say is true--or at
least ought to be. By the way, this is the Burlingham Floating
Palace of Thespians, floating temple to the histrionic art. I am
Burlingham--Robert Burlingham." He smiled, extended his hand.
"Glad to meet you, Miss Lorna Sackville--don't forget!"
She could not but reflect a smile so genuine, so good-humored.
"We'll go in and meet the others--your fellow stars--for this is
an all-star aggregation."
Over the broad entrance to the cabin was a chintz curtain strung
upon a wire. Burlingham drew this aside. Susan was looking into
a room about thirty feet long, about twelve feet wide, and a
scant six feet high. Across it with an aisle between were narrow
wooden benches with backs. At the opposite end was a stage, with
the curtain up and a portable stove occupying the center. At the
stove a woman in a chemise and underskirt, with slippers on her
bare feet, was toiling over several pots and pans with fork and
spoon. At the edge of the stage, with legs swinging, sat another
woman, in a blue sailor suit neither fresh nor notably clean but
somehow coquettish. Two men in flannel shirts were seated, one
on each of the front benches, with their backs to her.
As Burlingham went down the aisle ahead of her, he called out:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to present the latest valuable
addition to our company--Miss Lorna Sackville, the renowned
ballad singer."
The two men turned lazily and stared at Susan, each with an arm
hanging over the back of the bench.
Burlingham looked at the woman bent over the stove--a fat,
middle-aged woman with thin, taffy-yellow hair done sleekly over
a big rat in front and made into a huge coil behind with the aid
of one or more false braids. She had a fat face, a broad expanse
of unpleasant-looking, elderly bosom, big, shapeless white arms.
Her contour was almost gone. Her teeth were a curious mixture of
natural, gold, and porcelain. "Miss Anstruther--Miss Sackville,"
called Burlingham. "Miss Sackville, Miss Violet Anstruther."
Miss Anstruther and Susan exchanged bows--Susan's timid and
frightened, Miss Anstruther's accompanied by a hostile stare and
a hardening of the fat, decaying face.
"Miss Connemora--Miss Sackville." Burlingham was looking at the
younger woman--she who sat on the edge of the little stage. She,
too, was a blond, but her hair had taken to the chemical
somewhat less reluctantly than had Miss Anstruther's, with the
result that Miss Connemora's looked golden. Her face--of the
baby type must have been softly pretty at one time--not so very
distant. Now lines were coming and the hard look that is
inevitable with dyed hair. Also her once fine teeth were rapidly
going off, as half a dozen gold fillings in front proclaimed. At
Susan's appealing look and smile Miss Connemora nodded not
"Good God, Bob," said she to Burlingham with a laugh, "are you
going to get the bunch of us pinched for child-stealing?"
Burlingham started to laugh, suddenly checked himself, looked
uneasily and keenly at Susan. "Oh, it's all right," he said with
a wave of the hand. But his tone belied his words. He puffed
twice at his cigar, then introduced the men--Elbert Eshwell and
Gregory Tempest--two of the kind clearly if inelegantly placed
by the phrase, "greasy hamfats." Mr. Eshwell's blackdyed hair
was smoothly brushed down from a central part, Mr. Tempest's
iron-gray hair was greasily wild--a disarray of romantic
ringlets. Eshwell was inclined to fat; Tempest was gaunt and had
the hollow, burning eye that bespeaks the sentimental ass.
"Now, Miss Sackville," said Burlingham, "we'll go on the forward
deck and canvass the situation. What for dinner, Vi?"
"Same old rot," retorted Miss Anstruther, wiping the sweat from
her face and shoulders with a towel that served also as a
dishcloth. "Pork and beans--potatoes--peach pie."
"Cheer up," said Burlingham. "After tomorrow we'll do better."
"That's been the cry ever since we started," snapped Violet.
"For God's sake, shut up, Vi," groaned Eshwell. "You're always kicking."
The cabin was not quite the full width of the broad house boat.
Along the outside, between each wall and the edge, there was
room for one person to pass from forward deck to rear. From the
cabin roof, over the rear deck, into the water extended a big
rudder oar. When Susan, following Burlingham, reached the rear
deck, she saw the man at this oar--a fat, amiable-looking
rascal, in linsey woolsey and a blue checked shirt open over his
chest and revealing a mat of curly gray hair. Burlingham hailed
him as Pat--his only known name. But Susan had only a glance for
him and no ear at all for the chaffing between him and the
actor-manager. She was gazing at the Indiana shore, at a tiny
village snuggled among trees and ripened fields close to the
water's edge. She knew it was Brooksburg. She remembered the
long covered bridge which they had crossed--Spenser and she, on
the horse. To the north of the town, on a knoll, stood a large
red brick house trimmed with white veranda and balconies--far
and away the most pretentious house in the landscape. Before the
door was a horse and buggy. She could make out that there were
several people on the front veranda, one of them a man in
black--the doctor, no doubt. Sobs choked up into her throat. She
turned quickly away that Burlingham might not see. And under her
breath she said,
"Good-by, dear. Forgive me--forgive me."
WOMAN'S worktable, a rocking chair and another with a swayback
that made it fairly comfortable for lounging gave the rear deck
the air of an outdoor sitting-room, which indeed it was.
Burlingham, after a comprehensive glance at the panorama of
summer and fruitfulness through which they were drifting,
sprawled himself in the swayback chair, indicating to Susan that
she was to face him in the rocker. "Sit down, my dear," said he.
"And tell me you are at least eighteen and are not running away
from home. You heard what Miss Connemora said."
"I'm not running away from home," replied Susan, blushing
violently because she was evading as to the more important fact.
"I don't know anything about you, and I don't want to know,"
pursued Burlingham, alarmed by the evidences of a dangerous
tendency to candor. "I've no desire to have my own past dug
into, and turn about's fair play. You came to me to get an
engagement. I took you. Understand?"
Susan nodded.
"You said you could sing--that is, a little."
"A very little," said the girl.
"Enough, no doubt. That has been our weak point--lack of a
ballad singer. Know any ballads?--Not fancy ones. Nothing fancy!
We cater to the plain people, and the plain people only like the
best--that is, the simplest--the things that reach for the
heartstrings with ten strong fingers. You don't happen to know
`I Stood on the Bridge at Midnight'?"
"No--Ruth sings that," replied Susan, and colored violently.
Burlingham ignored the slip. "`Blue Alsatian Mountains'?"
"Yes. But that's very old."
"Exactly. Nothing is of any use to the stage until it's very
old. Audiences at theaters don't want to _hear_ anything they
don't already know by heart. They've come to _see_, not to hear.
So it annoys them to have to try to hear. Do you understand that?"
"No," confessed Susan. "I'm sorry. But I'll think about it, and
try to understand it." She thought she was showing her inability
to do what was expected of her in paying back the two dollars.
"Don't bother," said Burlingham. "Pat!"
"Yes, boss," said the man at the oar, without looking or
removing his pipe.
"Get your fiddle."
Pat tied the oar fast and went forward along the roof of the
cabin. While he was gone Burlingham explained, "A frightful
souse, Pat--almost equal to Eshwell and far the superior of
Tempest or Vi--that is, of Tempest. But he's steady enough for
our purposes, as a rule. He's the pilot, the orchestra, the
man-of-all-work, the bill distributor. Oh, he's a wonder.
Graduate of Trinity College, Dublin--yeggman--panhandler--
barrel-house bum--genius, nearly. Has drunk as much booze as
there is water in this river----"
Pat was back beside the handle of the oar, with a violin.
Burlingham suggested to Susan that she'd better stand while she
sang, "and if you've any tendency to stage fright, remember it's
your bread and butter to get through well. You'll not bother
about your audience."
Susan found this thought a potent strengthener--then and
afterward. With surprisingly little embarrassment she stood
before her good-natured, sympathetic employer, and while Pat
scraped out an accompaniment sang the pathetic story of the
"maiden young and fair" and the "stranger in the spring" who
"lingered near the fountains just to hear the maiden sing," and
how he departed after winning her love, and how "she will never
see the stranger where the fountains fall again--ade, ade, ade."
Her voice was deliciously young and had the pathetic quality
that is never absent from anything which has enduring charm for
us. Tears were in Burlingham's voice--tears for the fate of the
maiden, tears of response to the haunting pathos of Susan's sweet
contralto, tears of joy at the acquisition of such a "number"
for his program. As her voice died away he beat his plump hands
together enthusiastically.
"She'll do--eh, Pat? She'll set the hay-tossers crazy!"
Susan's heart was beating fast from nervousness. She sat down.
Burlingham sprang up and put his hands on her shoulders and
kissed her. He laughed at her shrinking.
"Don't mind, my dear," he cried. "It's one of our ways. Now,
what others do you know?"
She tried to recall, and with his assistance finally did
discover that she possessed a repertoire of "good old stale
ones," consisting of "Coming Thro' the Rye," "Suwanee River,"
"Annie Laurie" and "Kathleen Mavourneen." She knew many other
songs, but either Pat could not play them or Burlingham declared
them "above the head of Reub the rotter."
"Those five are quite enough," said Burlingham. "Two regulars,
two encores, with a third in case of emergency. After dinner
Miss Anstruther and I'll fit you out with a costume. You'll make
a hit at Sutherland tonight."
"Sutherland!" exclaimed Susan, suddenly pale. "I can't sing
there--really, I can't."
Burlingham made a significant gesture toward Pat at the oar
above them, and winked at her. "You'll not have stage fright, my
dear. You'll pull through."
Susan understood that nothing more was to be said before Pat.
Soon Burlingham told him to tie the oar again and retire to the
cabin. "I'll stand watch," said he. "I want to talk business
with Miss Sackville."
When Pat had gone, Burlingham gave her a sympathetic look. "No
confidences, mind you, my dear," he warned. "All I want to know
is that it isn't stage fright that's keeping you off the program
at Sutherland."
"No," replied the girl. "It isn't stage fright. I'm--I'm sorry
I can't begin right away to earn the money to pay you back.
But--I can't."
"Not even in a velvet and spangle costume--Low neck, short
sleeves, with blond wig and paint and powder? You'll not know
yourself, my dear--really."
"I couldn't," said Susan. "I'd not be able to open my lips."
"Very well. That's settled." It was evident that Burlingham was
deeply disappointed. "We were going to try to make a killing at
Sutherland." He sighed. "However, let that pass. If you can't,
you can't."
"I'm afraid you're angry with me," cried she.
"I--angry!" He laughed. "I've not been angry in ten years. I'm
such a _damn_, damn fool that with all the knocks life's given me
I haven't learned much. But at least I've learned not to get
angry. No, I understand, my dear--and will save you for the next
town below." He leaned forward and gave her hands a fatherly
pat as they lay in her lap. "Don't give it a second thought," he
said. "We've got the whole length of the river before us."
Susan showed her gratitude in her face better far than she could
have expressed it in words. The two sat silent. When she saw his
eyes upon her with that look of smiling wonder in them, she
said, "You mustn't think I've done anything dreadful. I
haven't--really, I haven't."
He laughed heartily. "And if you had, you'd not need to hang
your head in this company, my dear. We're all people who have
_lived_--and life isn't exactly a class meeting with the elders
taking turns at praying and the organ wheezing out gospel hymns.
No, we've all been up against it most of our lives--which means
we've done the best we could oftener than we've had the chance
to do what we ought." He gave her one of his keen looks, nodded:
"I like you. . . . What do they tell oftenest when they're
talking about how you were as a baby?"
Susan did not puzzle over the queerness of this abrupt question.
She fell to searching her memory diligently for an answer. "I'm
not sure, but I think they speak oftenest of how I never used to
like anybody to take my hand and help me along, even when I was
barely able to walk. They say I always insisted on trudging
along by myself."
Burlingham nodded, slapped his knee. "I can believe it," he
cried. "I always ask everybody that question to see whether I've
sited 'em up right. I rather think I hit you off to a T--as you
faced me at dinner yesterday in the hotel. Speaking of
dinner--let's go sit in on the one I smell."
They returned to the cabin where, to make a table, a board had
been swung between the backs of the second and third benches
from the front on the left side of the aisle. Thus the three men
sat on the front bench with their legs thrust through between
seat and back, while the three women sat in dignity and comfort
on the fourth bench. Susan thought the dinner by no means
justified Miss Anstruther's pessimism. It was good in itself,
and the better for being in this happy-go-lucky way, in this
happy-go-lucky company. Once they got started, all the
grouchiness disappeared. Susan, young and optimistic and
determined to be pleased, soon became accustomed to the looks of
her new companions--that matter of mere exterior about which we
shallow surface-skimmers make such a mighty fuss, though in the
test situations of life, great and small, it amounts to precious
little. They were all human beings, and the girl was unspoiled,
did not think of them as failures, half-wolves, of no social
position, of no standing in the respectable world. She still had
much of the natural democracy of children, and she admired these
new friends who knew so much more than she did, who had lived,
had suffered, had come away from horrible battles covered with
wounds, the scars of which they would bear into the
grave--battles they had lost; yet they had not given up, but had
lived on, smiling, courageous, kind of heart. It was their kind
hearts that most impressed her--their kind taking in of her whom
those she loved had cast out--her, the unknown stranger,
helpless and ignorant. And what Spenser had told her about the
stage and its people made her almost believe that they would not
cast her out, though they knew the dreadful truth about her birth.
Tempest told a story that was "broad." While the others laughed,
Susan gazed at him with a puzzled expression. She wished to be
polite, to please, to enjoy. But what that story meant she could
not fathom. Miss Anstruther jeered at her. "Look at the
innocent," she cried.
"Shut up, Vi," retorted Miss Connemora. "It's no use for us to
try to be anything but what we are. Still, let the baby alone."
"Yes--let her alone," said Burlingham.
"It'll soak in soon enough," Miss Connemora went on. "No use
rubbing it in."
"What?" said Susan, thinking to show her desire to be friendly,
to be one of them.
"Dirt," said Burlingham dryly. "And don't ask any more questions."
When the three women had cleared away the dinner and had stowed
the dishes in one of the many cubbyholes along the sides of the
cabin, the three men got ready for a nap. Susan was delighted to
see them drop to the tops of the backs of the seats three berths
which fitted snugly into the walls when not in use. She saw now
that there were five others of the same kind, and that there was
a contrivance of wires and curtains by which each berth could be
shut off to itself. She had a thrilling sense of being in a kind
of Swiss Family Robinson storybook come to life. She unpacked
her bag, contributed the food in it to the common store, spread
out her serge suit which Miss Anstruther offered to press and
insisted on pressing, though Susan protested she could do it
herself quite well.
"You'll want to put it on for the arrival at Sutherland," said
Mabel Connemora.
"No," replied Susan nervously. "Not till tomorrow."
She saw the curious look in all their eyes at sight of that
dress, so different from the calico she was wearing. Mabel took
her out on the forward deck where there was an awning and a good
breeze. They sat there, Mabel talking, Susan gazing rapt at land
and water and at the actress, and listening as to a fairy
story--for the actress had lived through many and strange
experiences in the ten years since she left her father's roof in
Columbia, South Carolina. Susan listened and absorbed as a dry
sponge dropped into a pail of water. At her leisure she would
think it all out, would understand, would learn.
"Now, tell _me_ about _your_self," said Mabel when she had
exhausted all the reminiscences she could recall at the
moment--all that were fit for a "baby's" ears.
"I will, some time," said Susan, who was ready for the question.
"But I can't--not yet."
"It seems to me you're very innocent," said Mabel, "even for a
well-brought-up girl. _I_ was well brought up, too. I wish to God
my mother had told me a few things. But no--not a thing."
"What do you mean?" inquired Susan.
That set the actress to probing the girl's innocence--what she
knew and what she did not. It had been many a day since Miss
Connemora had had so much pleasure. "Well!" she finally said. "I
never would have believed it--though I know these things are so.
Now I'm going to teach you. Innocence may be a good thing for
respectable women who are going to marry and settle down with a
good husband to look after them. But it won't do at all--not at
all, my dear!--for a woman who works--who has to meet men in
their own world and on their own terms. It's hard enough to get
along, if you know. If you don't--when you're knocked down, you
stay knocked down."
"Yes--I want to learn," said Susan eagerly. "I want to
"You're not going back?" Mabel pointed toward the shore, to a
home on a hillside, with a woman sewing on the front steps and
children racing about the yard. "Back to that sort of thing?"
"No," replied Susan. "I've got nothing to go back to."
"Nothing," repeated Susan in the same simple, final way. "I'm
an outcast."
The ready tears sprang to Mabel's dissipated but still bright
eyes. Susan's unconscious pathos was so touching. "Then I'll
educate you. Now don't get horrified or scandalized at me. When
you feel that way, remember that Mabel Connemora didn't make the
world, but God. At least, so they say--though personally I feel
as if the devil had charge of things, and the only god was in us
poor human creatures fighting to be decent. I tell you, men and
women ain't bad--not so damn bad--excuse me; they will slip out.
No, it's the things that happen to them or what they're
afraid'll happen--it's those things that compel them to be
bad--and get them in the way of being bad--hard to each other,
and to hate and to lie and to do all sorts of things."
The show boat drifted placidly down with the current of the
broad Ohio. Now it moved toward the left bank and now toward the
right, as the current was deflected by the bends--the beautiful
curves that divided the river into a series of lovely, lake-like
reaches, each with its emerald oval of hills and rolling valleys
where harvests were ripening. And in the shadow of the awning
Susan heard from those pretty, coarse lips, in language softened
indeed but still far from refined, about all there is to know
concerning the causes and consequences of the eternal struggle
that rages round sex. To make her tale vivid, Mabel illustrated
it by the story of her own life from girlhood to the present
hour. And she omitted no detail necessary to enforce the lesson
in life. A few days before Susan would not have believed, would
not have understood. Now she both believed and understood. And
nothing that Mabel told her--not the worst of the possibilities
in the world in which she was adventuring--burned deep enough to
penetrate beyond the wound she had already received and to give
her a fresh sensation of pain and horror.
"You don't seem to be horrified," said Mabel.
Susan shook her head. "No," she said. "I feel--somehow I feel better."
Mabel eyed her curiously--had a sense of a mystery of suffering
which she dared not try to explore. She said: "Better? That's
queer. You don't take it at all as I thought you would."
Said Susan: "I had about made up my mind it was all bad. I see
that maybe it isn't."
"Oh, the world isn't such a bad place--in lots of ways. You'll
get a heap of fun out of it if you don't take things or yourself
seriously. I wish to God I'd had somebody to tell me, instead of
having to spell it out, a letter at a time. I've got just two
pieces of advice to give you." And she stopped speaking and
gazed away toward the shore with a look that seemed to be
piercing the hills.
"Please do," urged Susan, when Mabel's long mood of abstraction
tried her patience.
"Oh--yes--two pieces of advice. The first is, don't drink.
There's nothing to it--and it'll play hell--excuse me--it'll
spoil your looks and your health and give you a woozy head when
you most need a steady one. Don't drink--that's the first advice."
"I won't," said Susan.
"Oh, yes, you will. But remember my advice all the same. The
second is, don't sell your body to get a living, unless you've
got to."
"I couldn't do that," said the girl.
Mabel laughed queerly. "Oh, yes, you could--and will. But
remember my advice. Don't sell your body because it seems to be
the easy way to make a living. I know most women get their
living that way."
"Oh--no--no, indeed!" protested Susan.
"What a child you are!" laughed Mabel. "What's marriage but
that?. . . Believe your Aunt Betsy, it's the poorest way to make
a living that ever was invented--marriage or the other thing.
Sometimes you'll be tempted to. You're pretty, and you'll find
yourself up against it with no way out. You'll have to give in
for a time, no doubt. The men run things in this world, and
they'll compel it--one way or another. But fight back to your
feet again. If I'd taken my own advice, my name would be on
every dead wall in New York in letters two feet high.
Instead----" She laughed, without much bitterness. "And why? All
because I never learned to stand alone. I've even supported
men--to have something to lean on! How's that for a poor fool?"
There Violet Anstruther called her. She rose. "You won't take my
advice," she said by way of conclusion. "Nobody'll take advice.
Nobody can. We ain't made that way. But don't forget what I've
said. And when you've wobbled way off maybe it'll give you
something to steer back by."
Susan sat on there, deep in the deepest of those brown studies
that had been characteristic of her from early childhood.
Often--perhaps most often--abstraction means only mental
fogginess. But Susan happened to be of those who can
concentrate--can think things out. And that afternoon, oblivious
of the beauty around her, even unconscious of where she was, she
studied the world of reality--that world whose existence, even
the part of it lying within ourselves, we all try to ignore or
to evade or to deny, and get soundly punished for our folly.
Taking advantage of the floods of light Mabel Connemora had let
in upon her--full light where there had been a dimness that was
equal to darkness--she drew from the closets of memory and
examined all the incidents of her life--all that were typical or
for other reasons important. One who comes for the first time
into new surroundings sees more, learns more about them in a
brief period than has been seen and known by those who have
lived there always. After a few hours of recalling and
reconstructing Susan Lenox understood Sutherland probably better
than she would have understood it had she lived a long eventless
life there. And is not every Sutherland the world in miniature?
She also understood her own position--why the world of
respectability had cast her out as soon as she emerged from
childhood--why she could not have hoped for the lot to which
other girls looked forward--why she belonged with the outcasts,
in a world apart--and must live her life there. She felt that
she could not hope to be respected, loved, married. She must
work out her destiny along other lines. She understood it all,
more clearly than would have been expected of her. And it is
important to note that she faced her future without repining or
self-pity, without either joy or despondency. She would go on;
she would do as best she could. And nothing that might befall
could equal what she had suffered in the throes of the casting out.
Burlingham roused her from her long reverie. He evidently had
come straight from his nap--stocking feet, shirt open at the
collar, trousers sagging and face shiny with the sweat that
accumulates during sleep on a hot day. "Round that bend ahead of
us is Sutherland," said he, pointing forward.
Up she started in alarm.
"Now, don't get fractious," cried he cheerfully. "We'll not
touch shore for an hour, at least. And nobody's allowed aboard.
You can keep to the cabin. I'll see that you're not bothered."
"And--this evening?"
"You can keep to the dressing-room until the show's over and the
people've gone ashore. And tomorrow morning, bright and early, we'll
be off. I promised Pat a day for a drunk at Sutherland. He'll have
to postpone it. I'll give him three at Jeffersonville, instead."
Susan put on her sunbonnet as soon as the show boat rounded the
bend above town. Thus she felt safe in staying on deck and
watching the town drift by. She did not begin to think of going
into the cabin until Pat was working the boat in toward the
landing a square above the old familiar wharf-boat. "What day is
this?" she asked Eshwell.
Only Saturday! And last Monday--less than five days ago--she had
left this town for her Cincinnati adventure. She felt as if
months, years, had passed. The town seemed strange to her, and
she recalled the landmarks as if she were revisiting in age the
scenes of youth. How small the town seemed, after Cincinnati!
And how squat! Then----
She saw the cupola of the schoolhouse. Its rooms, the
playgrounds flashed before her mind's eye--the teachers she had
liked--those she had feared--the face of her uncle, so kind and
loving--that same face, with hate and contempt in it----
She hurried into the cabin, tears blinding her eyes, her throat
choked with sobs.
The Burlingham Floating Palace of Thespians tied up against the
float of Bill Phibbs's boathouse--a privilege for which
Burlingham had to pay two dollars. Pat went ashore with a sack
of handbills to litter through the town. Burlingham followed, to
visit the offices of the two evening newspapers and by "handing
them out a line of smooth talk"--the one art whereof he was
master--to get free advertising. Also there were groceries to
buy and odds and ends of elastic, fancy crepe, paper muslin and
the like for repairing the shabby costumes. The others remained
on board, Eshwell and Tempest to guard the boat against the
swarms of boys darting and swooping and chattering like a huge
flock of impudent English sparrows. An additional--and the
chief--reason for Burlingham's keeping the two actors close was
that Eshwell was a drunkard and Tempest a gambler. Neither could
be trusted where there was the least temptation. Each despised
the other's vice and despised the other for being slave to it.
Burlingham could trust Eshwell to watch Tempest, could trust
Tempest to watch Eshwell.
Susan helped Mabel with the small and early supper--cold chicken
and ham, fried potatoes and coffee. Afterward all dressed in the
cabin. Some of the curtains for dividing off the berths were
drawn, out of respect to Susan not yet broken to the ways of a
mode of life which made privacy and personal modesty
impossible--and when any human custom becomes impossible, it
does not take human beings long to discover that it is also
foolish and useless. The women had to provide for a change of
costumes. As the dressing-room behind the stage was only a
narrow space between the back drop and the forward wall of the
cabin, dressing in it was impossible, so Mabel and Vi put on a
costume of tights, and over it a dress. Susan was invited to
remain and help. The making-up of the faces interested her; she
was amazed by the transformation of Mabel into youthful
loveliness, with a dairy maid's bloom in place of her pallid
pastiness. On the other hand, make-up seemed to bring out the
horrors of Miss Anstruther's big, fat, yet hollow face, and to
create other and worse horrors--as if in covering her face it
somehow uncovered her soul. When the two women stripped and got
into their tights, Susan with polite modesty turned away.
However, catching sight of Miss Anstruther in the mirror that
had been hung up under one of the side lamps, she was so
fascinated that she gazed furtively at her by that indirect way.
Violet happened to see, laughed. "Look at the baby's shocked
face, Mabel," she cried.
But she was mistaken. It was sheer horror that held Susan's gaze
upon Violet's incredible hips and thighs, violently obtruded by
the close-reefed corset. Mabel had a slender figure, the waist
too short and the legs too nearly of the same girth from hip to
ankle, but for all that, attractive. Susan had never before seen
a woman in tights without any sort of skirt.
"You would show up well in those things," Violet said to her,
"that is, for a thin woman. The men don't care much for thinness."
"Not the clodhoppers and roustabouts that come to see us,"
retorted Mabel. "The more a woman looks like a cow or a sow, the
better they like it. They don't believe it's female unless it
looks like what they're used to in the barnyard and the cattle pen."
Miss Anstruther was not in the least offended. She paraded,
jauntily switching her great hips and laughing. "Jealous!" she
teased. "You poor little broomstick."
Burlingham was in a white flannel suit that looked well enough
in those dim lights. The make-up gave him an air of rakish
youth. Eshwell had got himself into an ordinary sack suit.
Tempest was in the tattered and dirty finery of a
seventeenth-century courtier. The paint and black made Eshwell's
face fat and comic; it gave Tempest distinction, made his hollow
blazing eyes brilliant and large. All traces of habitation were
effaced from the "auditorium"; the lamps were lighted, a ticket
box was set up on the rear deck and an iron bar was thrown half
across the rear entrance to the cabin, that only one person at
a time might be able to pass. The curtain was let down--a gaudy
smear of a garden scene in a French palace in the eighteenth
century. Pat, the orchestra, put on a dress coat and vest and
a "dickey"; the coat had white celluloid cuffs pinned in the
sleeves at the wrists.
As it was still fully an hour and a half from dark, Susan hid on
the stage; when it should be time for the curtain to go up she
would retreat to the dressing-room. Through a peephole in the
curtain she admired the auditorium; and it did look surprisingly
well by lamplight, with the smutches and faded spots on its
bright paint softened or concealed. "How many will it hold?" she
asked Mabel, who was walking up and down, carrying her long train.
"A hundred and twenty comfortably," replied Miss Connemora. "A
hundred and fifty crowded. It has held as high as thirty
dollars, but we'll be lucky if we get fifteen tonight."
Susan glanced round at her. She was smoking a cigarette,
handling it like a man. Susan's expression was so curious that
Mabel laughed. Susan, distressed, cried: "I'm sorry if--if I was
"Oh, you couldn't be impolite," said Mabel. "You've got that to
learn, too--and mighty important it is. We all smoke. Why not?
We got out of cigarettes, but Bob bought a stock this afternoon."
Susan turned to the peephole. Pat, ready to take tickets, was
"barking" vigorously in the direction of shore, addressing a
crowd which Susan of course could not see. Whenever he paused
for breath, Burlingham leaned from the box and took it up,
pouring out a stream of eulogies of his show in that easy,
lightly cynical voice of his. And the audience straggled
in--young fellows and their girls, roughs from along the river
front, farmers in town for a day's sport. Susan did not see a
single familiar face, and she had supposed she knew, by sight at
least, everyone in Sutherland. From fear lest she should see
someone she knew, her mind changed to longing. At last she was
rewarded. Down the aisle swaggered Redney King, son of the
washerwoman, a big hulking bully who used to tease her by
pulling her hair during recess and by kicking at her shins when
they happened to be next each other in the class standing in
long line against the wall of the schoolroom for recitation.
From her security she smiled at Redney as representative of all
she loved in the old town.
And now the four members of the company on the stage and in the
dressing-room lost their ease and contemptuous indifference.
They had been talking sneeringly about "yokels" and "jays" and
"slum bums." They dropped all that, as there spread over them
the mysterious spell of the crowd. As individuals the
provincials in those seats were ridiculous; as a mass they were
an audience, an object of fear and awe. Mabel was almost in
tears; Violet talked rapidly, with excited gestures and nervous
adjustments of various parts of her toilet. The two men paced
about, Eshwell trembling, Tempest with sheer fright in his
rolling eyes.
They wet their dry lips with dry tongues. Each again and again
asked the other anxiously how he was looking and paced away
without waiting for the answer. The suspense and nervous terror
took hold of Susan; she stood in the corner of the
dressing-room, pressing herself close against the wall, her
fingers tightly interlocked and hot and cold tremors chasing up
and down her body.
Burlingham left the box and combined Pat's duties with his
own--a small matter, as the audience was seated and a guard at
the door was necessary only to keep the loafers on shore from
rushing in free. Pat advanced to the little space reserved
before the stage, sat down and fell to tuning his violin with
all the noise he could make, to create the illusion of a full
orchestra. Miss Anstruther appeared in one of the forward side
doors of the auditorium, very dignified in her black satin
(paper muslin) dress, with many and sparkling hair and neck
ornaments and rings that seemed alight. She bowed to the
audience, pulled a little old cottage organ from under the stage
and seated herself at it.
After the overture, a pause. Susan, peeping through a hole in
the drop, saw the curtain go up, drew a long breath of terror as
the audience was revealed beyond the row of footlights, beyond
the big, befrizzled blond head of Violet and the drink-seared
face of Pat. From the rear of the auditorium came Burlingham's
smooth-flowing, faintly amused voice, announcing the beginning
of the performance "a delightful feast throughout, ladies and
gentlemen, amusing yet elevating, ever moral yet with none of
the depressing sadness of puritanism. For, ladies and gentlemen,
while we are pious, we are not puritan. The first number is a
monologue, `The Mad Prince,' by that eminent artist, Gregory
Tempest. He has delivered it before vast audiences amid thunders
of applause."
Susan thrilled as Tempest strode forth--Tempest transformed by
the footlights and by her young imagination into a true king
most wonderfully and romantically bereft of reason by the woes
that had assailed him in horrid phalanxes. If anyone had pointed
out to her that Tempest's awful voice was simply cheap ranting,
or that her own woes had been as terrible as any that had ever
visited a king, or that when people go mad it is never from
grief but from insides unromantically addled by foolish eating
and drinking--if anyone had attempted then and there to educate
the girl, how angry it would have made her, how she would have
hated that well-meaning person for spoiling her illusion!
The spell of the stage seized her with Tempest's first line,
first elegant despairing gesture. It held her through Burlingham
and Anstruther's "sketch" of a matrimonial quarrel, through
Connemora and Eshwell's "delicious symphonic romanticism" of a
lovers' quarrel and making up, through Tempest's recitation of
"Lasca," dying to shield her cowboy lover from the hoofs of the
stampeded herd. How the tears did stream from Susan's eyes, as
Tempest wailed out those last lines:
But I wonder why I do not care for the things that are like the
things that were?
Can it be that half my heart lies buried there, in Texas down by
the Rio Grande?
She saw the little grave in the desert and the vast blue sky and
the buzzard sailing lazily to and fro, and it seemed to her that
Tempest himself had inspired such a love, had lost a sweetheart
in just that way. No wonder he looked gaunt and hollow-eyed and
sallow. The last part of the performance was Holy Land and comic
pictures thrown from the rear on a sheet substituted for the
drop. As Burlingham had to work the magic lantern from the
dressing-room (while Tempest, in a kind of monk's robe, used
his voice and elocutionary powers in describing the pictures,
now lugubriously and now in "lighter vein"), Susan was forced to
retreat to the forward deck and missed that part of the show.
But she watched Burlingham shifting the slides and altering the
forms of the lenses, and was in another way as much thrilled and
spellbound as by the acting.
Nor did the spell vanish when, with the audience gone, they all
sat down to a late supper, and made coarse jests and mocked at
their own doings and at the people who had applauded. Susan did
not hear. She felt proud that she was permitted in so
distinguished a company. Every disagreeable impression vanished.
How could she have thought these geniuses common and cheap! How
had she dared apply to them the standards of the people, the
dull, commonplace people, among whom she had been brought up! If
she could only qualify for membership in this galaxy! The
thought made her feel like a worm aspiring to be a star.
Tempest, whom she had liked least, now filled her with
admiration. She saw the tragedy of his life plain and sad upon
his features. She could not look at him without her heart's
contracting in an ache.
It was not long before Mr. Tempest, who believed himself a
lady-killer, noted the ingenuous look in the young girl's face,
and began to pose. And it was hardly three bites of a ham
sandwich thereafter when Mabel Connemora noted Tempest's
shootings of his cuffs and rumplings of his oily ringlets and
rollings of his hollow eyes. And at the sight Miss Mabel's
bright eyes became bad and her tongue shot satire at him. But
Susan did not observe this.
After supper they went straightway to bed. Burlingham drew the
curtains round the berth let down for Susan. The others indulged
in no such prudery on so hot a night. They put out the lamps and
got ready for bed and into it by the dim light trickling in
through the big rear doorway and the two small side doorways
forward. To help on the circulation of air Pat raised the stage
curtain and drop, and opened the little door forward. Each
sleeper had a small netting suspended over him from the ceiling;
without that netting the dense swarms of savage mosquitoes would
have made sleep impossible. As it was, the loud singing of these
baffled thousands kept Susan awake.
After a while, to calm her brain, excited by the evenings
thronging impressions and by the new--or, rather,
reviewed--ambitions born of them, Susan rose and went softly out
on deck, in her nightgown of calico slip. Because of the breeze
the mosquitoes did not trouble her there, and she stood a long
time watching the town's few faint lights--watching the stars,
the thronging stars of the Milky Way--dreaming--dreaming--dreaming.
Yesterday had almost faded from her, for youth lives only in
tomorrow--youth in tomorrow, age in yesterday, and none of us
in today which is all we really have. And she, with her wonderful
health of body meaning youth as long as it lasted, she would
certainly be young until she was very old--would keep her youth--her
dreams--her living always in tomorrow. She was dreaming of her
first real tomorrow, now. She would work hard at this wonderful
profession--_her_ profession!--would be humble and attentive; and
surely the day must come when she too would feel upon her heart
the intoxicating beat of those magic waves of applause!
Susan, more excited than ever, slipped softly into the cabin and
stole into her curtained berth. Like the soughing of the storm
above the whimper of the tortured leaves the stentorian snorings
of two of the sleepers resounded above the noise of the
mosquitoes. She had hardly extended herself in her close little
bed when she heard a stealthy step, saw one of her curtains
drawn aside.
"Who is it?" she whispered, unsuspiciously, for she could see
only a vague form darkening the space between the parted curtains.
The answer came in a hoarse undertone: "Ye dainty little
darling!" She sat up, struck out madly, screamed at the top of
her lungs. The curtains fell back into place, the snoring
stopped. Susan, all in a sweat and a shiver, lay quiet. Hoarse
whispering; then in Burlingham's voice stern and gruff--"Get
back to your bed and let her alone, you rolling-eyed----" The
sentence ended with as foul a spatter of filth as man can fling
at man. Silence again, and after a few minutes the two snores
resumed their bass accompaniment to the falsetto of the mosquito
Susan got a little troubled sleep, was wide awake when Violet
came saying, "If you want to bathe, I'll bring you a bucket of
water and you can put up your berth and do it behind your curtains."
Susan thanked her and got a most refreshing bath. When she
looked out the men were on deck, Violet was getting breakfast,
and Connemora was combing her short, thinning, yellow hair
before a mirror hung up near one of the forward doors. In the
mirror Connemora saw her, smiled and nodded.
"You can fix your hair here," said she. "I'm about done. You can
use my brush."
And when Susan was busy at the mirror, Mabel lounged on a seat
near by smoking a before-breakfast cigarette. "I wish to God
I had your hair," said she. "I never did have such a wonderful
crop of grass on the knoll, and the way it up and drops out in
bunches every now and then sets me crazy. It won't be long
before I'll be down to Vi's three hairs and a half. You haven't
seen her without her wigs? Well, don't, if you happen to be
feeling a bit off. How Burlingham can--" There she stopped, blew
out a volume of smoke, grinned half amusedly, half in sympathy
with the innocence she was protecting--or, rather, was
initiating by cautious degrees. "Who was it raised the row last
night?" she inquired.
"I don't know," said Susan, her face hid by the mass of wavy
hair she was brushing forward from roots to ends.
"You don't? I guess you've got a kind of idea, though."
No answer from the girl.
"Well, it doesn't matter. It isn't your fault." Mabel smoked
reflectively. "I'm not jealous of _him_--a woman never is. It's
the idea of another woman's getting away with her property,
whether she wants it or not--_that's_ what sets her mad-spot to
humming. No, I don't give a--a cigarette butt--for that greasy
bum actor. But I've always got to have somebody." She laughed.
"The idea of his thinking _you'd_ have _him_! What peacocks men are!"
Susan understood. The fact of this sort of thing was no longer
a mystery to her. But the why of the fact--that seemed more
amazing than ever. Now that she had discovered that her notion
of love being incorporeal was as fanciful as Santa Claus, she
could not conceive why it should be at all. As she was bringing
round the braids for the new coiffure she had adopted she said
to Mabel:
"You--love him?"
"I?" Mabel laughed immoderately. "You can have him, if you want him."
Susan shuddered. "Oh, no," she said. "I suppose he's very
nice--and really he's quite a wonderful actor. But I--I don't
care for men."
Mabel laughed again--curt, bitter. "Wait," she said.
Susan shook her head, with youth's positiveness.
"What's caring got to do with it?" pursued Mabel, ignoring the
headshake. "I've been about quite a bit, and I've yet to see
anybody that really cared for anybody else. We care for
ourselves. But a man needs a woman, and a woman needs a man. They
call it loving. They might as well call eating loving. Ask Burly."
AT breakfast Tempest was precisely as usual, and so were the
others. Nor was there effort or any sort of pretense in this. We
understand only that to which we are accustomed; the man of
peace is amazed by the veteran's nonchalance in presence of
danger and horror, of wound and death. To these river wanderers,
veterans in the unconventional life, where the unusual is the
usual, the unexpected the expected, whatever might happen was
the matter of course, to be dealt with and dismissed. Susan
naturally took her cue from them. When Tempest said something to
her in the course of the careless conversation round the
breakfast table, she answered--and had no sense of constraint.
Thus, an incident that in other surroundings would have been in
some way harmful through receiving the exaggeration of undue
emphasis, caused less stir than the five huge and fiery mosquito
bites Eshwell had got in the night. And Susan unconsciously
absorbed one of those lessons in the science and art of living
that have decisive weight in shaping our destinies. For
intelligent living is in large part learning to ignore the
unprofitable that one may concentrate upon the profitable.
Burlingham announced that they would cast off and float down to
Bethlehem. There was a chorus of protests. "Why, we ought to
stay here a week!" cried Miss Anstruther. "We certainly caught
on last night."
"Didn't we take in seventeen dollars?" demanded Eshwell. "We
can't do better than that anywhere."
"Who's managing this show?" asked Burlingham in his suave but
effective way. "I think I know what I'm about."
He met their grumblings with the utmost good-humor and remained
inflexible. Susan listened with eyes down and burning cheeks.
She knew Burlingham was "leaving the best cow unmilked," as
Connemora put it, because he wished to protect her. She told him
so when they were alone on the forward deck a little later, as
the boat was floating round the bend below Sutherland.
"Yes," he admitted. "I've great hopes from your ballads. I want
to get you on." He looked round casually, saw that no one was
looking, drew a peculiarly folded copy of the _Sutherland
Courier_ from his pocket. "Besides"--said he, holding out the
paper--"read that."
Susan read:
George Warham, Esq., requests us to announce that he has
increased the reward for information as to the whereabouts of
Mrs. Susan Ferguson, his young niece, nee Susan Lenox, to one
thousand dollars. There are grave fears that the estimable and
lovely young lady, who disappeared from her husband's farm the
night of her marriage, has, doubtless in a moment of insanity,
ended her life. We hope not.
Susan lifted her gaze from this paragraph, after she had read it
until the words ran together in a blur. She found Burlingham
looking at her. Said he: "As I told you before, I don't want to
know anything. But when I read that, it occurred to me, if some
of the others saw it they might think it was you--and might do
a dirty trick." He sighed, with a cynical little smile. "I was
tempted, myself. A thousand is quite a bunch. You don't
know--not yet--how a chance to make some money--any old
way--compels a man--or a woman--when money's as scarce and as
useful as it is in this world. As you get along, you'll notice,
my dear, that the people who get moral goose flesh at the shady
doings of others are always people who haven't ever really been
up against it. I don't know why I didn't----" He shrugged his
shoulders. "Now, my dear, you're in on the secret of why I
haven't got up in the world." He smiled cheerfully. "But I may
yet. The game's far from over."
She realized that he had indeed made an enormous sacrifice for
her; for, though very ignorant about money, a thousand dollars
seemed a fortune. She had no words; she looked away toward the
emerald shore, and her eyes filled and her lip quivered. How
much goodness there was in the world--how much generosity and
"I'm not sure," he went on, "that you oughtn't to go back. But
it's your own business. I've a kind of feeling you know what
you're about."
"No matter what happens to me," said she, "I'll never regret
what I've done. I'd kill myself before I'd spend another day
with the man they made me marry."
"Well--I'm not fond of dying," observed Burlingham, in the
light, jovial tone that would most quickly soothe her agitation,
"but I think I'd take my chances with the worms rather than with
the dry rot of a backwoods farm. You may not get your meals so
regular out in the world, but you certainly do live. Yes--that
backwoods life, for anybody with a spark of spunk, is simply
being dead and knowing it." He tore the _Courier_ into six
pieces, flung them over the side. "None of the others saw the
paper," said he. "So--Miss Lorna Sackville is perfectly safe."
He patted her on the shoulder. "And she owes me a thousand and
two dollars."
"I'll pay--if you'll be patient," said the girl, taking his jest gravely.
"It's a good gamble," said he. Then he laughed. "I guess that
had something to do with my virtue. There's always a practical
But the girl was not hearing his philosophies. Once more she was
overwhelmed and stupefied by the events that had dashed in,
upon, and over her like swift succeeding billows that give the
swimmer no pause for breath or for clearing the eyes.
"No--you're not dreaming," said Burlingham, laughing at her
expression. "At least, no more than we all are. Sometimes I
suspect the whole damn shooting-match is nothing but a dream.
Well, it's a pretty good one eh?"
And she agreed with him, as she thought how smoothly and
agreeably they were drifting into the unknown, full of the most
fascinating possibilities. How attractive this life was, how
much at home she felt among these people, and if anyone should
tell him about her birth or about how she had been degraded by
Ferguson, it wouldn't in the least affect their feeling toward
her, she was sure. "When do--do you--try me?" she asked.
"Tomorrow night, at Bethlehem--a bum little town for us. We'll
stay there a couple of days. I want you to get used to
appearing." He nodded at her encouragingly. "You've got stuff in
you, real stuff. Don't you doubt it. Get self-confidence--conceit,
if you please. Nobody arrives anywhere without it. You want to
feel that you can do what you want to do. A fool's conceit is
that he's it already. A sensible man's conceit is that he can be
it, if he'll only work hard and in the right way. See?"
"I--I think I do," said the girl. "I'm not sure."
Burlingham smoked his cigar in silence. When he spoke, it was
with eyes carefully averted. "There's another subject the spirit
moves me to talk to you about. That's the one Miss Connemora
opened up with you yesterday." As Susan moved uneasily, "Now,
don't get scared. I'm not letting the woman business bother me
much nowadays. All I think of is how to get on my feet again. I
want to have a theater on Broadway before the old black-flagger
overtakes my craft and makes me walk the plank and jump out into
the Big Guess. So you needn't think I'm going to worry you. I'm not."
"Oh, I didn't think----"
"You ought to have, though," interrupted he. "A man like me is
a rare exception. I'm a rare exception to my ordinary self, to
be quite honest. It'll be best for you always to assume that every
man you run across is looking for just one thing. You know what?"
Susan, the flush gone from her cheeks, nodded.
"I suppose Connemora has put you wise. But there are some things
even she don't know about that subject. Now, I want you to
listen to your grandfather. Remember what he says. And think it
over until you understand it."
"I will," said Susan.
"In the life you've come out of, virtue in a woman's everything.
She's got to be virtuous, or at least to have the reputation of
it--or she's nothing. You understand that?"
"Yes," said Susan. "I understand that--now."
"Very well. Now in the life you're going into, virtue in a woman
is nothing--no more than it is in a man anywhere. The woman who
makes a career becomes like the man who makes a career. How is
it with a man? Some are virtuous, others are not. But no man
lets virtue bother him and nobody bothers about his virtue.
That's the way it is with a woman who cuts loose from the
conventional life of society and home and all that. She is
virtuous or not, as she happens to incline. Her real interest in
herself, her real value, lies in another direction. If it
doesn't, if she continues to be agitated about her virtue as if
it were all there is to her--then the sooner she hikes back to
respectability, to the conventional routine, why the better for
her. She'll never make a career, any more than she could drive
an automobile through a crowded street and at the same time keep
a big picture hat on straight. Do you follow me?"
"I'm not sure," said the girl. "I'll have to think about it."
"That's right. Don't misunderstand. I'm not talking for or
against virtue. I'm simply talking practical life, and all I
mean is that you won't get on there by your virtue, and you
won't get on by your lack of virtue. Now for my advice."
Susan's look of unconscious admiration and attention was the
subtlest flattery. Its frank, ingenuous showing of her implicit
trust in him so impressed him with his responsibility that he
hesitated before he said:
"Never forget this, and don't stop thinking about it until you
understand it: Make men _as_ men incidental in your life, precisely
as men who amount to anything make women _as_ women incidental."
Her first sensation was obviously disappointing. She had
expected something far more impressive. Said she:
"I don't care anything about men."
"Be sensible! How are you to know now what you care about and
what you don't?" was Burlingham's laughing rebuke. "And in the
line you've taken--the stage--with your emotions always being
stirred up, with your thoughts always hovering round the
relations of men and women--for that's the only subject of plays
and music, and with opportunity thrusting at you as it never
thrusts at conventional people you'll probably soon find you
care a great deal about men. But don't ever let your emotions
hinder or hurt or destroy you. Use them to help you. I guess I'm
shooting pretty far over that young head of yours, ain't I?"
"Not so very far," said the girl. "Anyhow, I'll remember."
"If you live big enough and long enough, you'll go through three
stages. The first is the one you're in now. They've always
taught you without realizing it, and so you think that only the
strong can afford to do right. You think doing right makes the
ordinary person, like yourself, easy prey for those who do
wrong. You think that good people--if they're really good--have
to wait until they get to Heaven before they get a chance."
"Isn't that so?"
"No. But you'll not realize it until you pass into the second
stage. There, you'll think you see that only the strong can
afford to do wrong. You'll think that everyone, except the
strong, gets it in the neck if he or she does anything out of
the way. You'll think you're being punished for your sins, and
that, if you had behaved yourself, you'd have got on much
better. That's the stage that's coming; and what you go through
with there--how you come out of the fight--will decide your
fate--show whether or not you've got the real stuff in you. Do
you understand?"
Susan shook her head.
"I thought not. You haven't lived long enough yet. Well, I'll
finish, anyhow."
"I'll remember," said Susan. "I'll think about it until I do understand."
"I hope so. The weather and the scenery make me feel like
philosophizing. Finally, if you come through the second stage
all right, you'll enter the third stage. There, you'll see that
you were right at first when you thought only the strong could
afford to do right. And you'll see that you were right in the
second stage when you thought only the strong could afford to do
wrong. For you'll have learned that only the strong can afford
to act at all, and that they can do right or wrong as they
please _because they are strong_."
"Then you don't believe in right, at all!" exclaimed the girl,
much depressed, but whether for the right or for her friend she
could not have told.
"Now, who said that?" Demanded he, amused. "What _did_ I say?
Why--if you want to do right, be strong or you'll be crushed;
and if you want to do wrong, take care again to be strong--or
you'll be crushed. My moral is, be strong! In this world the
good weaklings and the bad weaklings had better lie low, hide in
the tall grass. The strong inherit the earth."
They were silent a long time, she thinking, he observing her
with sad tenderness. At last he said:
"You are a nice sweet girl--well brought up. But that means
badly brought up for the life you've got to lead--the life
you've got to learn to lead."
"I'm beginning to see that," said the girl. Her gravity made him
feel like laughing, and brought the tears to his eyes. The
laughter he suppressed.
"You're going to fight your way up to what's called the
triumphant class--the people on top--they have all the success,
all the money, all the good times. Well, the things you've been
taught--at church--in the Sunday School--in the nice storybooks
you've read--those things are all for the triumphant class, or
for people working meekly along in `the station to which God has
appointed them' and handing over their earnings to their
betters. But those nice moral things you believe in--they don't
apply to people like you--fighting their way up from the meek
working class to the triumphant class. You won't believe me
now--won't understand thoroughly. But soon you'll see. Once
you've climbed up among the successful people you can afford to
indulge--in moderation--in practicing the good old moralities.
Any dirty work you may need done you can hire done and pretend
not to know about it. But while you're climbing, no Golden Rule
and no turning of the cheek. Tooth and claw then--not sheathed
but naked--not by proxy but in your own person."
"But you're not like that," said the girl.
"The more fool I," repeated he.
She was surprised that she understood so much of what he had
said--childlike wonder at her wise old heart, made wise almost
in a night--a wedding night. When Burlingham lapsed into
silence, laughing at himself for having talked so far over the
"kiddie's" head, she sat puzzling out what he had said. The
world seemed horribly vast and forbidding, and the sky, so blue
and bright, seemed far, far away. She sighed profoundly. "I am
so weak," she murmured. "I am so ignorant."
Burlingham nodded and winked. "Yes, but you'll grow," said be.
"I back you to win."
The color poured into her cheeks, and she burst into tears.
Burlingham thought he understood; for once his shrewdness went
far astray. Excusably, since he could not know that he had used
the same phrase that had closed Spenser's letter to her.
Late in the afternoon, when the heat had abated somewhat and
they were floating pleasantly along with the washing gently
a-flutter from lines on the roof of the auditorium, Burlingham
put Eshwell at the rudder and with Pat and the violin rehearsed
her. "The main thing, the only thing to worry about," explained
he, "is beginning right." She was standing in the center of the
stage, he on the floor of the auditorium beside the seated
orchestra. "That means," he went on, "you've simply got to learn
to come in right. We'll practice that for a while."
She went to the wings--where there was barely space for her to
conceal herself by squeezing tightly against the wall. At the
signal from him she walked out. As she had the utmost confidence
in his kindness, and as she was always too deeply interested in
what she and others were doing to be uncomfortably
self-conscious, she was not embarrassed, and thought she made
the crossing and took her stand very well. He nodded approvingly.
"But," said he, "there's a difference between a stage walk and
walking anywhere else--or standing. Nothing is natural on the stage.
If it were it would look unnatural, because the stage itself is
artificial and whatever is there must be in harmony with it. So
everything must be done unnaturally in such a way that it _seems_
natural. Just as a picture boat looks natural though it's painted
on a flat surface. Now I'll illustrate."
He gave her his hand to help her jump down; then he climbed to
the stage. He went to the wings and walked out. As he came he
called her attention to how he poised his body, how he advanced
so that there would be from the auditorium no unsightly view of
crossing legs, how he arranged hands, arms, shoulders, legs,
head, feet for an attitude of complete rest. He repeated his
illustration again and again, Susan watching and listening with
open-eyed wonder and admiration. She had never dreamed that so
simple a matter could be so complex. When he got her up beside
him and went through it with her, she soon became as used to the
new motions as a beginner at the piano to stretching an octave.
But it was only after more than an hour's practice that she
moved him to say:
"That'll do for a beginning. Now, we'll sing."
She tried "Suwanee River" first and went through it fairly well,
singing to him as he stood back at the rear door. He was
enthusiastic--cunning Burlingham, who knew so well how to get
the best out of everyone! "Mighty good--eh, Pat? Yes, mighty
good. You've got something better than a great voice, my dear.
You've got magnetism. The same thing that made me engage you the
minute you asked me is going to make you--well, go a long
ways--a _long_ ways. Now, we'll try `The Last Rose of Summer.'"
She sang even better. And this improvement continued through the
other four songs of her repertoire. His confidence in her was
contagious; it was so evident that he really did believe in her.
And Pat, too, wagged his head in a way that made her feel good
about herself. Then Burlingham called in the others whom he had
sent to the forward deck. Before them the girl went all to
pieces. She made her entrance badly, she sang worse. And the
worse she sang, the worse she felt and the worse her next
attempt was. At last, with nerves unstrung, she broke down and
sobbed. Burlingham climbed up to pat her on the shoulder.
"That's the best sign yet," said he. "It shows you've got
temperament. Yes--you've got the stuff in you."
He quieted her, interested her in the purely mechanical part of
what she was doing. "Don't think of who you're doing it before,
or of how you're doing it, but only of getting through each step
and each note. If your head's full of that, you'll have no room
for fright." And she was ready to try again. When she finished
the last notes of "Suwanee River," there was an outburst of
hearty applause. And the sound that pleased her most was
Tempest's rich rhetorical "Bravo!" As a man she abhorred him;
but she respected the artist. And in unconsciously drawing this
distinction she gave proof of yet another quality that was to
count heavily in the coming days. Artist he was not. But she
thought him an artist. A girl or boy without the intelligence
that can develop into flower and fruit would have seen and felt
only Tempest, the odious personality.
Burlingham did not let her off until she was ready to drop with
exhaustion. And after supper, when they were floating slowly on,
well out of the channel where they might be run down by some
passing steamer with a flint-hearted captain or pilot, she had
to go at it again. She went to bed early, and she slept without
a motion or a break until the odor of the cooking breakfast
awakened her. When she came out, her face was bright for the
first time. She was smiling, laughing, chatting, was delighted
with everything and everybody. Even the thought of Roderick
Spenser laid up with a broken leg recurred less often and less
vividly. It seemed to her that the leg must be about well. The
imagination of healthy youth is reluctant to admit ideas of
gloom in any circumstances. In circumstances of excitement and
adventure, such as Susan's at that time, it flatly refuses to
admit them.
They were at anchor before a little town sprawled upon the
fields between hills and river edge. A few loafers were chewing
tobacco and inspecting the show boat from the shady side of a
pile of lumber. Pat had already gone forth with the bundle of
handbills; he was not only waking up the town, but touring the
country in horse and buggy, was agitating the farmers--for the
show boat was to stay at least two nights at Bethlehem. "And we
ought to do pretty well," said Burlingham. "The wheat's about
all threshed, and there's a kind of lull. The hayseeds aren't so
dead tired at night. A couple of weeks ago we couldn't have got
half a house by paying for it."
As the afternoon wore away and the sun disappeared behind the
hills to the southwest, Susan's spirits oozed. Burlingham and
the others--deliberately--paid no attention to her, acted as if
no great, universe-stirring event were impending. Immediately
after supper Burlingham said:
"Now, Vi, get busy and put her into her harness. Make her
a work of art."
Never was there a finer display of unselfishness than in their
eagerness to help her succeed, in their intense nervous anxiety
lest she should not make a hit. The bad in human nature, as
Mabel Connemora had said, is indeed almost entirely if not
entirely the result of the compulsion of circumstances; the good
is the natural outcropping of normal instincts, and resumes
control whenever circumstances permit. These wandering players
had suffered too much not to have the keenest and gentlest
sympathy. Susan looked on Tempest as a wicked man; yet she could
not but be touched by his almost hysterical excitement over her
debut, when the near approach of the hour made it impossible for
his emotional temperament longer to hide its agitation. Every
one of them gave or loaned her a talisman--Tempest, a bit of
rabbit's foot; Anstruther, a ring that had twice saved her from
drowning (at least, it had been on her finger each time);
Connemora, a hunchback's tooth on a faded velvet string; Pat, a
penny which happened to be of the date of her birth year (the
presence of the penny was regarded by all as a most encouraging
sign); Eshwell loaned her a miniature silver bug he wore on his
watch chain; Burlingham's contribution was a large
buckeye----"Ever since I've had that, I've never been without at
least the price of a meal in my pocket."
They had got together for her a kind of evening dress, a pale
blue chiffon-like drapery that left her lovely arms and
shoulders bare and clung softly to the lines of her figure. They
did her hair up in a graceful sweep from the brow and a simple
coil behind. She looked like a woman, yet like a child dressed
as a woman, too, for there was as always that exuberant vitality
which made each of the hairs of her head seem individual,
electric. The rouge gave her color, enhanced into splendor the
brilliance of her violet-gray eyes--eyes so intensely colored
and so admirably framed that they were noted by the least
observant. When Anstruther had put the last touches to her
toilet and paraded her to the others, there was a chorus of
enthusiasm. The men no less than the women viewed her with the
professional eye.
"Didn't I tell you all?" cried Burlingham, as they looked her up
and down like a group of connoisseurs inspecting a statue.
"Wasn't I right?"
"`It is the dawn, and Juliet is the east,'" orated Tempest in
rich, romantic tones.
"A damn shame to waste her on these yaps," said Eshwell.
Connemora embraced her with tearful eyes. "And as sweet as you
are lovely, you dear!" she cried. "You simply can't help winning."
The two women thought her greatest charms were her form and her
feet and ankles. The men insisted that her charm of charms was
her eyes. And certainly, much could be said for that view.
Susan's violet-gray eyes, growing grayer when she was
thoughtful, growing deeper and clearer and softer shining
violet when her emotions were touched--Susan's eyes were
undoubtedly unusual even in a race in which homely eyes are the
When it was her turn and she emerged into the glare of the
footlights, she came to a full stop and an awful wave of
weakness leaped up through legs and body to blind her eyes and
crash upon her brain. She shook her head, lifted it high like a
swimmer shaking off a wave. Her gaze leaped in terror across the
blackness of the auditorium with its thick-strewn round white
disks of human faces, sought the eyes of Burlingham standing in
full view in the center of the rear doorway--where he had told
her to look for him. She heard Pat playing the last of the
opening chords; Burlingham lifted his hand like a leader's
baton. And naturally and sweetly the notes, the words of the old
darkey song of longing for home began to float out through the
She did not take her gaze from Burlingham. She sang her best,
sang to please him, to show him how she appreciated what he had
done for her. And when she finished and bowed, the outburst of
applause unnerved her, sent her dizzy and almost staggering into
the wings. "Splendid! Splendid!" cried Mabel, and Anstruther
embraced her, and Tempest and Eshwell kissed her hands. They all
joined in pushing her out again for the encore--"Blue Alsatian
Mountains." She did not sing quite so steadily, but got through
in good form, the tremolo of nervousness in her voice adding to
the wailing pathos of the song's refrain:
Ade, ade, ade, such dreams must pass away,
But the Blue Alsatian Mountains seem to watch and wait alway.
The crowd clapped, stamped, whistled, shouted; but Burlingham
defied it. "The lady will sing again later," he cried. "The next
number on the regular program is," etc., etc. The crowd yelled;
Burlingham stood firm, and up went the curtain on Eshwell and
Connemora's sketch. It got no applause. Nor did any other
numbers on the program. The contrast between the others and the
beauty of the girl, her delicate sweetness, her vital youth, her
freshness of the early morning flower, was inevitable.
The crowd could think only of her. The quality of magnetism
aside, she had sung neither very well nor very badly. But had
she sung badly, still her beauty would have won her the same
triumph. When she came on for her second number with a
cloud-like azure chiffon flung carelessly over her dark hair as
a scarf, Spanish fashion, she received a stirring welcome. It
frightened her, so that Pat had to begin four times before her
voice faintly took up the tune. Again Burlingham's encouraging,
confident gaze, flung across the gap between them like a strong
rescuing hand, strengthened her to her task. This time he let
the crowd have two encores--and the show was over; for the
astute manager, seeing how the girl had caught on, had moved her
second number to the end.
Burlingham lingered in the entrance to the auditorium to feast
himself on the comments of the crowd as it passed out. When he
went back he had to search for the girl, found her all in a heap
in a chair at the outer edge of the forward deck. She was
sobbing piteously. "Well, for God's sake!" cried he. "Is _this_
the way you take it!"
She lifted her head. "Did I do very badly?" she asked.
"You swept 'em off their big hulking feet," replied he.
"When you didn't come, I thought I'd disappointed you."
"I'll bet my hand there never was such a hit made in a river
show boat--and they've graduated some of the swells of the
profession. We'll play here a week to crowded houses--matinees
every day, too. And this is a two-night stand usually. I must
find some more songs." He slapped his thigh. "The very thing!"
he cried. "We'll ring in some hymns. `Rock of Ages,' say--and
`Jesus, Lover of my Soul'--and you can get 'em off in a churchy
kind of costume something like a surplice. That'll knock 'em
stiff. And Anstruther can dope out the accompaniments on that
wheezer. What d'you think?"
"Whatever you want," said the girl. "Oh, I am so glad!"
"I don't see how you got through so well," said he.
"I didn't dare fail," replied Susan. "If I had, I couldn't have
faced you." And by the light of the waning moon he saw the
passionate gratitude of her sensitive young face.
"Oh--I've done nothing," said he, wiping the tears from his
eyes--for he had his full share of the impulsive, sentimental
temperament of his profession. "Pure selfishness."
Susan gazed at him with eyes of the pure deep violet of
strongest feeling. "__I_ _know what you did," she said in a low
voice. "And--I'd die for you."
Burlingham had to use his handkerchief in dealing with his eyes
now. "This business has given me hysterics," said he with a
queer attempt at a laugh. Then, after a moment, "God bless you,
little girl. You wait here a moment. I'll see how supper's
getting on."
He wished to go ahead of her, for he had a shrewd suspicion as
to the state of mind of the rest of the company. And he was
right. There they sat in the litter of peanut hulls, popcorn,
and fruit skins which the audience had left. On every
countenance was jealous gloom.
"What's wrong?" inquired Burlingham in his cheerful derisive
way. "You are a nice bunch, you are!"
They shifted uneasily. Mabel snapped out, "Where's the infant
prodigy? Is she so stuck on herself already that she won't
associate with us?"
"You grown-up babies," mocked Burlingham. "I found her out there
crying in darkness because she thought she'd failed. Now you go
bring her in, Conny. As for the rest of you, I'm disgusted. Here
we've hit on something that'll land us in Easy Street, and
you're all filled up with poison."
They were ashamed of themselves. Burlingham had brought back to
them vividly the girl's simplicity and sweetness that had won
their hearts, even the hearts of the women in whom jealousy of
her young beauty would have been more than excusable. Anstruther
began to get out the supper dishes and Mabel slipped away toward
the forward deck. "When the child comes in," pursued Burlingham,
"I want to see you people looking and acting human."
"We are a lot of damn fools," admitted Eshwell. "That's why we're
bum actors instead of doing well at some respectable business."
And his jealousy went the way of Violet's and Mabel's. Pat began
to remember that he had shared in the triumph--where would she
have been without his violin work? But Tempest remained somber.
In his case better nature was having a particularly hard time of
it. His vanity had got savage wounds from the hoots and the "Oh,
bite it off, hamfat," which had greeted his impressive lecture on
the magic lantern pictures. He eyed Burlingham glumly. He
exonerated the girl, but not Burlingham. He was convinced that
the manager, in a spirit of mean revenge, had put up a job on
him. It simply could not be in the ordinary course that any
audience, without some sly trickery of prompting from an old
expert of theatrical "double-crossing," would be impatient for
a mere chit of an amateur when it might listen to his rich,
mellow eloquence.
Susan came shyly--and at the first glance into her face her
associates despised themselves for their pettiness. It is
impossible for envy and jealousy and hatred to stand before the
light of such a nature as Susan's. Away from her these very
human friends of hers might hate her--but in her presence they
could not resist the charm of her sincerity.
Everyone's spirits went up with the supper. It was Pat who said
to Burlingham, "Bob, we're going to let the pullet in on the
profits equally, aren't we?"
"Sure," replied Burlingham. "Anybody kicking?"
The others protested enthusiastically except Tempest, who shot
a glance of fiery scorn at Burlingham over a fork laden with
potato salad. "Then--you're elected, Miss Sackville," said
Susan's puzzled eyes demanded an explanation. "Just this," said
he. "We divide equally at the end of the trip all we've raked
in, after the rent of the boat and expenses are taken off. You
get your equal share exactly as if you started with us."
"But that wouldn't be fair," protested the girl. "I must pay
what I owe you first."
"She means two dollars she borrowed of me at Carrollton,"
explained Burlingham. And they all laughed uproariously.
"I'll only take what's fair," said the girl.
"I vote we give it all to her," rolled out Tempest in tragedy's
tone for classic satire.
Before Mabel could hurl at him the probably coarse retort she
instantly got her lips ready to make, Burlingham's cool,
peace-compelling tones broke in:
"Miss Sackville's right. She must get only what's fair. She
shares equally from tonight on--less two dollars."
Susan nodded delightedly. She did not know--and the others did
not at the excited moment recall--that the company was to date
eleven dollars less well off than when it started from the
headwaters of the Ohio in early June. But Burlingham knew, and
that was the cause of the quiet grin to which he treated himself.
BURLINGHAM had lived too long, too actively, and too
intelligently to have left any of his large, original stock of
the optimism that had so often shipwrecked his career in spite
of his talents and his energy. Out of the bitterness of
experience he used to say, "A young optimist is a young fool. An
old optimist is an old ass. A fool may learn, an ass can't." And
again, "An optimist steams through the fog, taking it for
granted everything's all right. A pessimist steams ahead too,
but he gets ready for trouble." However, he was wise enough to
keep his private misgivings and reservations from his
associates; the leaders of the human race always talk optimism
and think pessimism. He had told the company that Susan was sure
to make a go; and after she had made a go, he announced the
beginning of a season of triumph. But he was surprised when his
prediction came true and they had to turn people away from the
next afternoon's performance. He began to believe they really
could stay a week, and hired a man to fill the streets of New
Washington and other inland villages and towns of the county
with a handbill headlining Susan.
The news of the lovely young ballad singer in the show boat at
Bethlehem spread, as interesting news ever does, and down came
the people to see and hear, and to go away exclaiming.
Bethlehem, the sleepy, showed that it could wake when there was
anything worth waking for. Burlingham put on the hymns in the
middle of the week, and even the clergy sent their families.
Every morning Susan, either with Mabel or with Burlingham, or
with both, took a long walk into the country. It was Burlingham,
by the way, who taught her the necessity of regular and
methodical long walks for the preservation of her health. When
she returned there was always a crowd lounging about the landing
waiting to gape at her and whisper. It was intoxicating to her,
this delicious draught of the heady wine of fame; and Burlingham
was not unprepared for the evidences that she thought pretty
well of herself, felt that she had arrived. He laughed to
himself indulgently. "Let the kiddie enjoy herself," thought he.
"She needs the self-confidence now to give her a good foundation
to stand on. Then when she finds out what a false alarm this jay
excitement was, she'll not be swept clean away into despair."
The chief element in her happiness, he of course knew nothing
about. Until this success--which she, having no basis for
comparison, could not but exaggerate--she had been crushed and
abused more deeply than she had dared admit to herself by her
birth which made all the world scorn her and by the series of
calamities climaxing in that afternoon and night of horror at
Ferguson's. This success--it seemed to her to give her the right
to have been born, the right to live on and hold up her head
without effort after Ferguson. "I'll show them all, before I get
through," she said to herself over and over again. "They'll be
proud of me. Ruth will be boasting to everyone that I'm her
cousin. And Sam Wright--he'll wonder that he ever dared touch
such a famous, great woman." She only half believed this
herself, for she had much common sense and small
self-confidence. But pretending that she believed it all gave
her the most delicious pleasure.
Burlingham took such frank joy in her innocent vanity--so far as
he understood it and so far as she exhibited it--that the others
were good-humored about it too--all the others except Tempest,
whom conceit and defeat had long since soured through and
through. A tithe of Susan's success would have made him
unbearable, for like most human beings he had a vanity that was
Atlantosaurian on starvation rations and would have filled the
whole earth if it had been fed a few crumbs. Small wonder that
we are ever eagerly on the alert for signs of vanity in others;
we are seeking the curious comfort there is in the feeling that
others have our own weakness to a more ridiculous degree.
Tempest twitched to jeer openly at Susan, whose exhibition was
really timid and modest and not merely excusable but
justifiable. But he dared go no further than holding haughtily
aloof and casting vaguely into the air ever and anon a tragic
sneer. Susan would not have understood if she had seen, and did
not see. She was treading the heights, her eyes upon the sky.
She held grave consultation with Burlingham, with Violet, with
Mabel, about improving her part. She took it all very, very
seriously--and Burlingham was glad of that. "Yes, she does take
herself seriously," he admitted to Anstruther. "But that won't
do any harm as she's so young, and as she takes her work
seriously, too. The trouble about taking oneself seriously is it
stops growth. She hasn't got that form of it."
"Not yet," said Violet.
"She'll wake from her little dream, poor child, long before the
fatal stage." And he heaved a sigh for his own lost
illusions--those illusions that had cost him so dear.
Burlingham had intended to make at least one stop before
Jeffersonville, the first large town on the way down. But
Susan's capacities as a house-filler decided him for pushing
straight for it. "We'll go where there's a big population to be
drawn on," said he. But he did not say that in the back of his
head there was forming a plan to take a small theater at
Jeffersonville if the girl made a hit there.
Eshwell, to whom he was talking, looked glum. "She's going
pretty good with these greenies," observed he. "But I've my
doubts whether city people'll care for anything so milk-like."
Burlingham had his doubts, too; but he retorted warmly: "Don't
you believe it, Eshie. City's an outside. Underneath, there's
still the simple, honest, grassy-green heart of the country."
Eshwell laughed. "So you've stopped jeering at jays. You've
forgotten what a lot of tightwads and petty swindlers they are.
Well, I don't blame you. Now that they're giving down to us so
freely, I feel better about them myself. It's a pity we can't
lower the rest of the program to the level of their intellectuals."
Burlingham was not tactless enough to disturb Eshwell's
consoling notion that while Susan was appreciated by these
ignorant country-jakes, the rest of the company were too subtle
and refined in their art. "That's a good idea," replied he.
"I'll try to get together some simple slop. Perhaps a melodrama,
a good hot one, would go--eh?"
After ten days the receipts began to drop. On the fifteenth day
there was only a handful at the matinee, and in the evening half
the benches were empty. "About milked dry," said Burlingham at
the late supper. "We'll move on in the morning."
This pleased everyone. Susan saw visions of bigger triumphs; the
others felt that they were going where dramatic talent, not to
say genius, would be at least not entirely unappreciated. So the
company was at its liveliest next morning as the
mosquito-infested willows of the Bethlehem shore slowly dropped
away. They had made an unusually early start, for the river
would be more and more crowded as they neared the three
close-set cities--Louisville, Jeffersonville, and New Albany,
and the helpless little show boat must give the steamers no
excuse for not seeing her. All day--a long, dreamy, summer
day--they drifted lazily downstream, and, except Tempest, all
grew gayer and more gay. Burlingham had announced that there
were three hundred and seventy-eight dollars in the japanned tin
box he kept shut up in his bag.
At dusk a tug, for three dollars, nosed them into a wharf which
adjoined the thickly populated labor quarter of Jeffersonville.
Susan was awakened by a scream. Even as she opened her eyes a
dark cloud, a dull suffocating terrifying pain, descended upon
her. When she again became conscious, she was lying upon a mass
of canvas on the levee with three strange men bending over her.
She sat up, instinctively caught together the front of the
nightdress she had bought in Bethlehem the second day there.
Then she looked wildly from face to face.
"You're all right, ma'am," said one of the men. "Not a
scratch--only stunned."
"What was it?" said the girl. "Where are they?"
As she spoke, she saw Burlingham in his nightshirt propped
against a big blue oil barrel. He was staring stupidly at the
ground. And now she noted the others scattered about the levee,
each with a group around him or her. "What was it?" she repeated.
"A tug butted its tow of barges into you," said someone.
"Crushed your boat like an eggshell."
Burlingham staggered to his feet, stared round, saw her. "Thank
God!" he cried. "Anyone drowned? Anyone hurt?"
"All saved--no bones broken," someone responded.
"And the boat?"
"Gone down. Nothing left of her but splinters. The barges were
full of coal and building stone."
"The box!" suddenly shouted Burlingham. "The box!"
"What kind of a box?" asked a boy with lean, dirty, and much
scratched bare legs. "A little black tin box like they keep
money in?"
"That's it. Where is it?"
"It's all right," said the boy. "One of your people, a black
actor-looking fellow----"
"Tempest," interjected Burlingham. "Go on."
"He dressed on the wharf and he had the box."
"Where is he?"
"He said he was going for a doctor. Last I seed of him he was up
to the corner yonder. He was movin' fast."
Burlingham gave a kind of groan. Susan read in his face his
fear, his suspicion--the suspicion he was ashamed of himself for
having. She noted vaguely that he talked with the policeman
aside for a few minutes, after which the policeman went up the
levee. Burlingham rejoined his companions and took command. The
first thing was to get dressed as well as might be from such of
the trunks as had been knocked out of the cabin by the barge and
had been picked up. They were all dazed. Even Burlingham could
not realize just what had occurred. They called to one another
more or less humorous remarks while they were dressing behind
piles of boxes, crates, barrels and sacks in the wharf-boat. And
they laughed gayly when they assembled. Susan made the best
appearance, for her blue serge suit had been taken out dry when
she herself was lifted from the sinking wreck; the nightgown
served as a blouse. Mabel's trunk had been saved. Violet could
wear none of her things, as they were many sizes too small, so
she appeared in a property skirt of black paper muslin, a black
velvet property basque, a pair of shoes belonging to Tempest.
Burlingham and Eshwell made a fairly respectable showing in
clothing from Tempest's trunk. Their own trunks had gone down.
"Why, where's Tempest?" asked Eshwell.
"He'll be back in a few minutes," replied Burlingham. "In fact,
he ought to be back now." His glance happened to meet Susan's;
he hastily shifted his eyes.
"Where's the box?" asked Violet.
"Tempest's taking care of it," was the manager's answer.
"Tempest!" exclaimed Mabel. Her shrewd, dissipated eyes
contracted with suspicion.
"Anybody got any money?" inquired Eshwell, as he fished in his pockets.
No one had a cent. Eshwell searched Tempest's trunk, found a
two-dollar bill and a one wrapped round a silver dollar and
wadded in among some ragged underclothes. Susan heard Burlingham
mutter "Wonder how he happened to overlook that!" But no one
else heard.
"Well, we might have breakfast," suggested Mabel.
They went out on the water deck of the wharf-boat, looked down
at the splinters of the wreck lying in the deep yellow river.
"Come on," said Burlingham, and he led the way up the levee.
There was no attempt at jauntiness; they all realized now.
"How about Tempest?" said Eshwell, stopping short halfway up.
"Tempest--hell!" retorted Mabel. "Come on."
"What do you mean?" cried Violet, whose left eye was almost
closed by a bruise.
"We'll not see him again. Come on."
"Bob!" shrieked Violet at Burlingham. "Do you hear that?"
"Yes," said he. "Keep calm, and come on. "
"Aren't you going to _do_ anything?" she screamed, seizing him by
the coat tail. "You must, damn it--you must!"
"I got the policeman to telephone headquarters," said
Burlingham. "What else can be done? Come on."
And a moment later the bedraggled and dejected company filed
into a cheap levee restaurant. "Bring some coffee," Burlingham
said to the waiter. Then to the others, "Does anybody want
anything else?" No one spoke. "Coffee's all," he said to the waiter.
It came, and they drank it in silence, each one's brain busy
with the disaster from the standpoint of his own resulting ruin.
Susan glanced furtively at each face in turn. She could not
think of her own fate, there was such despair in the faces of
these others. Mabel looked like an old woman. As for Violet,
every feature of her homeliness, her coarseness, her dissipated
premature old age stood forth in all its horror. Susan's heart
contracted and her flesh crept as she glanced quickly away. But
she still saw, and it was many a week before she ceased to see
whenever Violet's name came into her mind. Burlingham, too,
looked old and broken. Eshwell and Pat, neither of whom had ever
had the smallest taste of success, were stolid, like cornered
curs taking their beating and waiting in silence for the blows
to stop.
"Here, Eshie," said the manager, "take care of the three
dollars." And he handed him the bills. "I'll pay for the coffee
and keep the change. I'm going down to the owners of that tug
and see what I can do."
When he had paid they followed him out. At the curbstone he
said, "Keep together somewhere round the wharf-boat. So long."
He lifted the battered hat he was wearing, smiled at Susan.
"Cheer up, Miss Sackville. We'll down 'em yet!" And away he
went--a strange figure, his burly frame squeezed into a dingy
old frock suit from among Tempest's costumes.
A dreary two hours, the last half-hour in a drizzling rain from
which the narrow eaves of the now closed and locked wharf-boat
sheltered them only a little. "There he comes!" cried Susan; and
sure enough, Burlingham separated from the crowd streaming along
the street at the top of the levee, and began to descend the
slope toward them. They concentrated on his face, hoping to get
some indication of what to expect; but he never permitted his
face to betray his mind. He strode up the plank and joined them.
"Tempest come?" he asked.
"Tempest!" cried Mabel. "Haven't I told you he's jumped? Don't
you suppose __I_ _know him?"
"And you brought him into the company," raged Violet.
"Burlingham didn't want to take him. He looked the fool and
jackass he is. Why didn't you warn us he was a rotten thief, too?"
"Wasn't it for shoplifting you served six months in Joliet?"
retorted Mabel.
"You lie--you streetwalker!" screamed Violet.
"Ladies! Ladies!" said Eshwell.
"That's what __I__ say," observed Pat.
"I'm no lady," replied Mabel. "I'm an actress."
"An actress--he-he!" jeered Violet. "An actress!"
"Shut up, all of you," commanded Burlingham. "I've got some
money. I settled for cash."
"How much?" cried Mabel and Violet in the same breath, their
quarrel not merely finished but forgotten.
"Three hundred dollars."
"For the boat and all?" demanded Eshwell. "Why, Bob----"
"They think it was for boat and all," interrupted Burlingham
with his cynical smile. "They set out to bully and cheat me.
They knew I couldn't get justice. So I let 'em believe I owned
the boat--and I've got fifty apiece for us."
"Sixty," said Violet.
"Fifty. There are six of us."
"You don't count in this little Jonah here, do you?" cried
Violet, scowling evilly at Susan.
"No--no--don't count me in," begged Susan. "I didn't lose anything."
Mabel pinched her arm. "You're right, Mr. Burlingham," said
she. "Miss Sackville ought to share. We're all in the same box."
"Miss Sackville will share," said Burlingham. "There's going to
be no skunking about this, as long as I'm in charge."
Eshwell and Pat sided with Violet. While the rain streamed, the
five, with Susan a horrified onlooker, fought on and on about
the division of the money. Their voices grew louder. They hurled
the most frightful epithets at one another. Violet seized Mabel
by the hair, and the men interfered, all but coming to blows
themselves in the melee. The wharfmaster rushed from his office,
drove them off to the levee. They continued to yell and curse,
even Burlingham losing control of himself and releasing all
there was of the tough and the blackguard in his nature. Two
policemen came, calmed them with threat of arrest. At last
Burlingham took from his pocket one at a time three small rolls
of bills. He flung one at each of the three who were opposing
his division. "Take that, you dirty curs," he said. "And be glad
I'm giving you anything at all. Most managers wouldn't have come
back. Come on, Miss Sackville. Come on, Mabel." And the two
followed him up the levee, leaving the others counting their shares.
At the street corner they went into a general store where
Burlingham bought two ninety-eight-cent umbrellas. He gave Mabel
one, held the other over Susan and himself as they walked along.
"Well, ladies," said he, "we begin life again. A clean slate, a
fresh start--as if nothing had ever happened."
Susan looked at him to try to give him a grateful and
sympathetic smile. She was surprised to see that, so far as she
could judge, he had really meant the words he had spoken.
"Yes, I mean it," said he. "Always look at life as it is--as a
game. With every deal, whether you win or lose, your stake
grows--for your stake's your wits, and you add to 'em by
learning something with each deal. What are you going to do, Mabel?"
"Get some clothes. The water wrecked mine and this rain has
finished my hat."
"We'll go together," said Burlingham.
They took a car for Louisville, descended before a department
store. Burlingham had to fit himself from the skin out; Mabel
had underclothes, needed a hat, a dress, summer shoes. Susan
needed underclothes, shoes, a hat, for she was bareheaded. They
arranged to meet at the first entrance down the side street;
Burlingham gave Susan and Mabel each their fifty dollars and
went his way. When they met again in an hour and a half, they
burst into smiles of delight. Burlingham had transformed himself
into a jaunty, fashionable young middle-aged man, with an air of
success achieved and prosperity assured. He had put the fine
finishing touch to his transformation by getting a haircut and
a shave. Mabel looked like a showy chorus girl, in a striped
blue and white linen suit, a big beflowered hat, and a fluffy
blouse of white chiffon. Susan had resisted Mabel's entreaties,
had got a plain, sensible linen blouse of a kind that on a pinch
might be washed out and worn without ironing. Her new hat was a
simple blue sailor with a dark blue band that matched her dress.
"I spent thirty-six dollars," said Burlingham.
"I only spent twenty-two," declared Mabel. "And this child here
only parted with seven of her dollars.
I had no idea she was so thrifty. "
"And now--what?" said Burlingham.
"I'm going round to see a friend of mine," replied Mabel. "She's
on the stage, too. There's sure to be something doing at the
summer places. Maybe I can ring Miss Sackville in. There ought
to be a good living in those eyes of hers and those feet and
ankles. I'm sure I can put her next to something."
"Then you can give her your address," said Burlingham.
"Why, she's going with me," cried Mabel. "You don't suppose I'd
leave the child adrift?"
"No, she's going with me to a boarding house I'll find for her,"
said Burlingham.
Into Mabel's face flashed the expression of the suspicion such
a statement would at once arouse in a mind trained as hers had
been. Burlingham's look drove the expression out of her face,
and suspicion at least into the background. "She's not going
with your friend," said Burlingham, a hint of sternness in his
voice. "That's best--isn't it?"
Miss Connemora's eyes dropped. "Yes, I guess it is," replied
she. "Well--I turn down this way."
"We'll keep on and go out Chestnut Street," said Burlingham.
"You can write to her--or to me--care of the General Delivery."
"That's best. You may hear from Tempest. You can write me there,
too." Mabel was constrained and embarrassed. "Good-by, Miss
Susan embraced and kissed her. Mabel began to weep. "Oh, it's
all so sudden--and frightful," she said. "Do try to be good,
Lorna. You can trust Bob." She looked earnestly, appealingly, at
him. "Yes, I'm sure you can. And--he's right about me. Good-by."
She hurried away, not before Susan had seen the tears falling
from her kind, fast-fading eyes.
Susan stood looking after her. And for the first time the truth
about the catastrophe came to her. She turned to Burlingham.
"How brave you are!" she cried.
"Oh, what'd be the use in dropping down and howling like a dog?"
replied he. "That wouldn't bring the boat back. It wouldn't get
me a job."
"And you shared equally, when you lost the most of all."
They were walking on. "The boat was mine, too," said he in a dry
reflective tone. "I told 'em it wasn't when we started out
because I wanted to get a good share for rent and so on, without
any kicking from anybody."
The loss did not appeal to her; it was the lie he had told. She
felt her confidence shaking. "You didn't mean to--to----" she
faltered, stopped.
"To cheat them?" suggested he. "Yes, I did. So--to sort of
balance things up I divided equally all I got from the tug
people. What're you looking so unhappy about?"
"I wish you hadn't told me," she said miserably. "I don't see
why you did."
"Because I don't want you making me into a saint. I'm like the
rest you see about in pants, cheating and lying, with or without
pretending to themselves that they're honest. Don't trust
anybody, my dear. The sooner you get over the habit, the sooner
you'll cease to tempt people to be hypocrites. All the serious
trouble I've ever got into has come through trusting or being
He looked gravely at her, burst out laughing at her perplexed,
alarmed expression. "Oh, Lord, it isn't as bad as all that,"
said he. "The rain's stopped. Let's have breakfast. Then--a new
deal--with everything to gain and nothing to lose. It's a great
advantage to be in a position where you've got nothing to lose!"
BURLINGHAM found for her a comfortable room in a flat in West
Chestnut Street--a respectable middle-class neighborhood with
three churches in full view and the spires of two others visible
over the housetops. Her landlady was Mrs. Redding, a
simple-hearted, deaf old widow with bright kind eyes beaming
guilelessness through steel-framed spectacles. Mrs. Redding had
only recently been reduced to the necessity of letting a room.
She stated her moderate price--seven dollars a week for room and
board--as if she expected to be arrested for attempted
extortion. "I give good meals," she hastened to add. "I do the
cooking myself--and buy the best. I'm no hand for canned stuff.
As for that there cold storage, it's no better'n slow poison,
and not so terrible slow at that. Anything your daughter wants
I'll give her."
"She's not my daughter," said Burlingham, and it was his turn to
be red and flustered. "I'm simply looking after her, as she's
alone in the world. I'm going to live somewhere else. But I'll
come here for meals, if you're willing, ma'am."
"I--I'd have to make that extry, I'm afraid," pleaded Mrs. Redding.
"Rather!" exclaimed Burlingham. "I eat like a pair of Percherons."
"How much did you calculate to pay?" inquired the widow. Her one
effort at price fixing, though entirely successful, had
exhausted her courage.
Burlingham was clear out of his class in those idyllic days of
protector of innocence. He proceeded to be more than honest.
"Oh, say five a week."
"Gracious! That's too much," protested she. "I hate to charge a
body for food, somehow. It don't seem to be accordin' to what
God tells us. But I don't see no way out."
"I'll come for five not a cent less," insisted Burlingham. "I
want to feel free to eat as much as I like." And it was so
arranged. Away he went to look up his acquaintances, while Susan
sat listening to the widow and trying to convince her that she
and Mr. Burlingham didn't want and couldn't possibly eat all
the things she suggested as suitable for a nice supper. Susan
had been learning rapidly since she joined the theatrical
profession. She saw why this fine old woman was getting poorer
steadily, was arranging to spend her last years in an almshouse.
What a queer world it was! What a strange way for a good God to
order things! The better you were, the worse off you were. No
doubt it was Burlingham's lifelong goodness of heart as shown in
his generosity to her, that had kept him down. It was the same
way with her dead mother--she had been loving and trusting, had
given generously without thought of self, with generous
confidence in the man she loved--and had paid with reputation
and life.
She compelled Burlingham to take what was left of her fifty
dollars. "You wouldn't like to make me feel mean," was the
argument she used. "I must put in what I've got--the same as you
do. Now, isn't that fair?" And as he was dead broke and had been
unable to borrow, he did not oppose vigorously.
She assumed that after a day or two spent in getting his
bearings he would take her with him as he went looking. When she
suggested it, he promptly vetoed it. "That isn't the way
business is done in the profession," said he. "The star--you're
the star--keeps in the background, and her manager--that's me
does the hustling."
She had every reason for believing this; but as the days passed
with no results, sitting about waiting began to get upon her
nerves. Mrs. Redding had the remnant of her dead husband's
library, and he had been a man of broad taste in literature. But
Susan, ardent reader though she was, could not often lose
herself in books now. She was too impatient for realities, too
anxious about them.
Burlingham remained equable, neither hopeful nor gloomy; he made
her feel that he was strong, and it gave her strength. Thus she
was not depressed when on the last day of their week he said: "I
think we'd better push on to Cincinnati tomorrow. There's
nothing here, and we've got to get placed before our cash gives
out. In Cincinnati there are a dozen places to one in this snide town."
The idea of going to Cincinnati gave her a qualm of fear; but
it passed away when she considered how she had dropped out of
the world. "They think I'm dead," she reflected. "Anyhow, I'd
never be looked for among the kind of people I'm in with now."
The past with which she had broken seemed so far away and so dim
to her that she could not but feel it must seem so to those who
knew her in her former life. She had such a sense of her own
insignificance, now that she knew something of the vastness and
business of the world, that she was without a suspicion of the
huge scandal and excitement her disappearance had caused in
To Cincinnati they went next day by the L. and N. and took two
tiny rooms in the dingy old Walnut Street House, at a special
rate--five dollars a week for the two, as a concession to the
profession. "We'll eat in cheap restaurants and spread our
capital out," said Burlingham. "I want you to get placed _right_,
not just placed." He bought a box of blacking and a brush,
instructed her in the subtle art of making a front--an art
whereof he was past master, as Susan had long since learned.
"Never let yourself look poor or act poor, until you simply have
to throw up the sponge," said he. "The world judges by
appearances. Put your first money and your last into clothes.
And never--never--tell a hard-luck story. Always seem to be
doing well and comfortably looking out for a chance to do
better. The whole world runs from seedy people and whimperers."
"Am I--that way?" she asked nervously.
"Not a bit," declared he. "The day you came up to me in
Carrollton I knew you were playing in the hardest kind of hard
luck because of what I had happened to see and hear--and guess.
But you weren't looking for pity--and that was what I liked. And
it made me feel you had the stuff in you. I'd not waste breath
teaching a whiner or a cheap skate. You couldn't be cheap if you
tried. The reason I talk to you about these things is so you'll
learn to put the artistic touches by instinct into what you do."
"You've taken too much trouble for me," said the girl.
"Don't you believe it, my dear," laughed he. "If I can do with
you what I hope--I've an instinct that if I win out for you, I'll
come into my own at last."
"You've taught me a lot," said she.
"I wonder," replied he. "That is, I wonder how much you've
learned. Perhaps enough to keep you--not to keep from being
knocked down by fate, but to get on your feet afterward. I hope
so--I hope so."
They dropped coffee, bought milk by the bottle, he smuggling it
to their rooms disguised as a roll of newspapers. They carried
in rolls also, and cut down their restaurant meals to supper
which they got for twenty-five cents apiece at a bakery
restaurant in Seventh Street. There is a way of resorting to
these little economies--a snobbish, self-despairing way--that
makes them sordid and makes the person indulging in them sink
lower and lower. But Burlingham could not have taken that way.
He was the adventurer born, was a hardy seasoned campaigner who
had never looked on life in the snob's way, had never felt the
impulse to apologize for his defeats or to grow haughty over his
successes. Susan was an apt pupil; and for the career that lay
before her his instructions were invaluable. He was teaching her
how to keep the craft afloat and shipshape through the worst
weather that can sweep the sea of life.
"How do you make yourself look always neat and clean?" he asked.
She confessed: "I wash out my things at night and hang them on
the inside of the shutters to dry. They're ready to wear again
in the morning."
"Getting on!" cried he, full of admiration. "They simply can't
down us, and they might as well give up trying."
"But I don't look neat," sighed she. "I can't iron."
"No--that's the devil of it," laughed he. He pulled aside his
waistcoat and she saw he was wearing a dickey. "And my cuffs are
pinned in," he said. "I have to be careful about raising and
lowering my arms."
"Can't I wash out some things for you?" she said, then hurried
on to put it more strongly. "Yes, give them to me when we get
back to the hotel."
"It does help a man to feel he's clean underneath. And we've got
nothing to waste on laundries."
"I wish I hadn't spent that fifteen cents to have my heels
straightened and new steels put in them." She had sat in a
cobbler's while this repair to the part of her person she was
most insistent upon had been effected.
He laughed. "A good investment, that," said he. "I've been
noticing how you always look nice about the feet. Keep it up.
The surest sign of a sloven and a failure, of a moral, mental,
and physical no-good is down-at-the-heel. Always keep your heels
straight, Lorna."
And never had he given her a piece of advice more to her liking.
She thought she knew now why she had always been so particular
about her boots and shoes, her slippers and her stockings. He
had given her a new confidence in herself--in a strength within her
somewhere beneath the weakness she was always seeing and feeling.
Not until she thought it out afterward did she realize what they
were passing through, what frightful days of failure he was
enduring. He acted like the steady-nerved gambler at life that
he was. He was not one of those more or less weak losers who
have to make desperate efforts to conceal a fainting heart. His
heart was not fainting. He simply played calmly on, feeling that
the next throw was as likely to be for as against him. She kept
close to her room, walking about there--she had never been much
of a sitter--thinking, practicing the new songs he had got for
her--character songs in which he trained her as well as he could
without music or costume or any of the accessories. He also had
an idea for a church scene, with her in a choir boy's costume,
singing the most moving of the simple religious songs to organ
music. She from time to time urged him to take her on the rounds
with him. But he stood firm, giving always the same reason of
the custom in the profession. Gradually, perhaps by some form of
that curious process of infiltration that goes on between two
minds long in intimate contact, the conviction came to her that
the reason he alleged was not his real reason; but as she had
absolute confidence in him she felt that there was some good
reason or he would not keep her in the background--and that his
silence about it must be respected. So she tried to hide from
him how weary and heartsick inaction was making her, how hard it
was for her to stay alone so many hours each day.
As he watched her closely, it soon dawned on him that something
was wrong, and after a day or so he worked out the explanation.
He found a remedy--the reading room of the public library where
she could make herself almost content the whole day long.
He began to have a haggard look, and she saw he was sick, was
keeping up his strength with whisky. "It's only this infernal
summer cold I caught in the smashup," he explained. "I can't
shake it, but neither can it get me down. I'd not dare fall
sick. What'd become of _us_?"
She knew that "us" meant only herself. Her mind had been aging
rapidly in those long periods of unbroken reflection. To develop
a human being, leave him or her alone most of the time; it is
too much company, too little time to digest and assimilate, that
keep us thoughtless and unformed until life is half over. She
astonished him by suddenly announcing one evening:
"I am a drag on you. I'm going to take a place in a store."
He affected an indignation so artistic that it ought to have
been convincing. "I'm ashamed of you!" he cried. "I see you're
losing your nerve."
This was ingenious, but it did not succeed. "You can't deceive
me any longer," was her steady answer. "Tell me honest--couldn't
you have got something to do long ago, if it hadn't been for
trying to do something for me?"
"Sure," replied he, too canny to deny the obvious. "But what has
that to do with it? If I'd had a living offer, I'd have taken
it. But at my age a man doesn't dare take certain kinds of
places. It'd settle him for life. And I'm playing for a really big
stake and I'll win. When I get what I want for you, we'll make as
much money a month as I could make a year. Trust me, my dear."
It was plausible; and her "loss of nerve" was visibly
aggravating his condition--the twitching of hands and face, the
terrifying brightness of his eyes, of the color in the deep
hollows under his cheek bones. But she felt that she must
persist. "How much money have we got?" she asked.
"Oh--a great deal enough."
"You must play square with me," said she. "I'm not a baby, but
a woman--and your partner."
"Don't worry me, child. We'll talk about it tomorrow."
"How much? You've no right to hide things from me. You--hurt me."
"Eleven dollars and eighty cents--when this bill for supper's
paid and the waitress tipped."
"I'll try for a place in a store," said she.
"Don't talk that way or think that way," cried he angrily.
"There's where so many people fail in life. They don't stick to
their game. I wish to God I'd had sense enough to break straight
for Chicago or New York. But it's too late now. What I lack is
nerve--nerve to do the big, bold things my brains show me I ought."
His distress was so obvious that she let the subject drop. That
night she lay awake as she had fallen into the habit of doing.
But instead of purposeless, rambling thoughts, she was trying
definitely to plan a search for work. Toward three in the
morning she heard him tossing and muttering--for the wall
between their rooms was merely plastered laths covered with
paper. She tried his door; it was locked. She knocked, got no
answer but incoherent ravings. She roused the office, and the
night porter forced the door. Burlingham's gas was lighted; he
was sitting up in bed--a haggard, disheveled, insane man, raving
on and on--names of men and women she had never heard--oaths,
disjointed sentences.
"Brain fever, I reckon," said the porter. "I'll call a doctor."
In a few minutes Susan was gladdened by the sight of a young man
wearing the familiar pointed beard and bearing the familiar
black bag. He made a careful examination, asked her many
questions, finally said:
"Your father has typhoid, I fear. He must be taken to a hospital."
"But we have very little money," said Susan.
"I understand," replied the doctor, marveling at the calmness of one
so young. "The hospital I mean is free. I'll send for an ambulance."
While they were waiting beside Burlingham, whom the doctor had
drugged into unconsciousness with a hypodermic, Susan said: "Can
I go to the hospital and take care of him?"
"No," replied the doctor. "You can only call and inquire how he
is, until he's well enough to see you."
"And how long will that be?"
"I can't say." He hadn't the courage to tell her it would be
three weeks at least, perhaps six or seven.
He got leave of the ambulance surgeon for Susan to ride to the
hospital, and he went along himself. As the ambulance sped
through the dimly lighted streets with clanging bell and heavy
pounding of the horse's hoofs on the granite pavement, Susan
knelt beside Burlingham, holding one of his hot hands. She was
remembering how she had said that she would die for him--and here
it was he that was dying for her. And her heart was heavy with
a load of guilt, the heaviest she was ever to feel in her life.
She could not know how misfortune is really the lot of human
beings; it seemed to her that a special curse attended her,
striking down all who befriended her.
They dashed up to great open doors of the hospital. Burlingham
was lifted, was carried swiftly into the receiving room. Susan
with tearless eyes bent over, embraced him lingeringly, kissed
his fiery brow, his wasted cheeks. One of the surgeons in white
duck touched her on the arm.
"We can't delay," he said.
"No indeed," she replied, instantly drawing back.
She watched the stretcher on wheels go noiselessly down the
corridor toward the elevator and when it was gone she still
continued to look. "You can come at any hour to inquire," said
the young doctor who had accompanied her. "Now we'll go into the
office and have the slip made out."
They entered a small room, divided unequally by a barrier desk;
behind it stood a lean, coffee-sallowed young man with a scrawny
neck displayed to the uttermost by a standing collar scarcely
taller than the band of a shirt. He directed at Susan one of
those obtrusively shrewd glances which shallow people practice
and affect to create the impression that they have a genius for
character reading. He drew a pad of blank forms toward him,
wiped a pen on the mat into which his mouse-colored hair was
roached above his right temple. "Well, miss, what's the
patient's name?"
"Robert Burlingham."
"I don't know."
"About what?"
"I--I don't know. I guess he isn't very young. But I don't know."
"Put down forty, Sim," said the doctor.
"Very well, Doctor Hamilton." Then to Susan: "Color white, I
suppose. Nativity?"
Susan recalled that she had heard him speak of Liverpool as his
birthplace. "English," said she.
"He hasn't any. It was sunk at Jeffersonville. We stop at the
Walnut Street House."
"Walnut Street House. Was he married or single?"
"Single." Then she recalled some of the disconnected ravings.
"I--I--don't know."
"Single," said the clerk. "No, I guess I'll put it widower. Next
friend or relative?"
"I am. "
"Daughter. First name?"
"I am not his daughter. "
"Oh, niece. Full name, please."
"I am no relation--just his--his friend."
Sim the clerk looked up sharply. Hamilton reddened, glowered at
him. "I understand," said Sim, leering at her. And in a tone
that reeked insinuation which quite escaped her, he went on,
"We'll put your name down. What is it?"
"Lorna Sackville."
"You don't look English--not at all the English style of beauty,
"That's all, Miss Sackville," said Hamilton, with a scowl at the
clerk. Susan and he went out into Twelfth Street. Hamilton from
time to time stole a glance of sympathy and inquiry into the sad
young face, as he and she walked eastward together. "He's a
strong man and sure to pull through," said the doctor. "Are you
alone at the hotel?"
"I've nobody but him in the world," replied she.
"I was about to venture to advise that you go to a boarding
house," pursued the young man.
"Thank you. I'll see."
"There's one opposite the hospital--a reasonable place."
"I've got to go to work," said the girl, to herself rather than to him.
"Oh, you have a position."
Susan did not reply, and he assumed that she had.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to call and see--Mr. Burlingham.
The physicians at the hospital are perfectly competent, as good
as there are in the city. But I'm not very busy, and I'd be
glad to go."
"We haven't any money," said the girl. "And I don't know when we
shall have. I don't want to deceive you."
"I understand perfectly," said the young man, looking at her
with interested but respectful eyes. "I'm poor, myself, and have
just started."
"Will they treat him well, when he's got no money?"
"As well as if he paid."
"And you will go and see that everything's all right?"
"It'll be a pleasure."
Under a gas lamp he took out a card and gave it to her. She
thanked him and put it in the bosom of her blouse where lay all
the money they had--the eleven dollars and eighty cents. They
walked to the hotel, as cars were few at that hour. He did all
the talking--assurances that her "father" could not fail to get
well, that typhoid wasn't anything like the serious disease it
used to be, and that he probably had a light form of it. The
girl listened, but her heart could not grow less heavy. As he
was leaving her at the hotel door, he hesitated, then asked if
she wouldn't let him call and take her to the hospital the next
morning, or, rather, later that same morning. She accepted, she
hoped that, if he were with her, she gratefully; would be
admitted to see Burlingham and could assure herself that he was
well taken care of.
The night porter tried to detain her for a little chat. "Well,"
said he, "it's a good hospital--for you folks with money. Of
course, for us poor people it's different. You couldn't hire _me_
to go there."
Susan turned upon him. "Why not?" she asked.
"Oh, if a man's poor, or can't pay for nice quarters, they treat
him any old way. Yes, they're good doctors and all that. But
they're like everybody else. They don't give a darn for poor
people. But your uncle'll be all right there."
For the first time in her life Susan did not close her eyes in sleep.
The young doctor was so moved by her worn appearance that he
impulsively said: "Have you some troubles you've said nothing
about? Please don't hesitate to tell me."
"Oh, you needn't worry about me," replied she. "I simply didn't
sleep--that's all. Do they treat charity patients badly at the
"Certainly not," declared he earnestly. "Of course, a charity
patient can't have a room to himself. But that's no disadvantage."
"How much is a room?"
"The cheapest are ten dollars a week. That includes private
attendance--a little better nursing than the public patients
get--perhaps. But, really--Miss Sackville----"
"He must have a room," said Susan.
"You are sure you can afford it? The difference isn't----"
"He must have a room." She held out a ten-dollar bill--ten
dollars of the eleven dollars and eighty cents. "This'll pay for
the first week. You fix it, won't you?"
Young Doctor Hamilton hesitatingly took the money. "You are
quite, quite sure, Miss Sackville?--Quite sure you can afford
this extravagance--for it is an extravagance."
"He must have the best we can afford," evaded she.
She waited in the office while Hamilton went up. When he came
down after perhaps half an hour, he had an air of cheerfulness.
"Everything going nicely," said he.
Susan's violet-gray eyes gazed straight into his brown eyes; and
the brown eyes dropped. "You are not telling me the truth," said she.
"I'm not denying he's a very sick man," protested Hamilton.
"Is he----"
She could not pronounce the word.
"Nothing like that--believe me, nothing. He has the chances all with him."
And Susan tried to believe. "He will have a room?"
"He has a room. That's why I was so long. And I'm glad he
has--for, to be perfectly honest, the attendance--not the
treatment, but the attendance--is much hetter for private
Susan was looking at the floor. Presently she drew a long
breath, rose. "Well, I must be going," said she. And she went to
the street, he accompanying her.
"If you're going back to the hotel," said he, "I'm walking that way."
"No, I've got to go this way," replied she, looking up Elm Street.
He saw she wished to be alone, and left her with the promise to
see Burlingham again that afternoon and let her know at the
hotel how he was getting on. He went east, she north. At the
first corner she stopped, glanced back to make sure he was not
following. From her bosom she drew four business cards. She had
taken the papers from the pockets of Burlingham's clothes and
from the drawer of the table in his room, to put them all
together for safety; she had found these cards, the addresses
of theatrical agents. As she looked at them, she remembered
Burlingham's having said that Blynn--Maurice Blynn, at Vine and
Ninth Streets--might give them something at one of the "over the
Rhine" music halls, as a last resort. She noted the address, put
away the cards and walked on, looking about for a policeman.
Soon she came to a bridge over a muddy stream--a little river,
she thought at first, then remembered that it must be the
canal--the Rhine, as it was called, because the city's huge
German population lived beyond it, keeping up the customs and
even the language of the fatherland. She stood on the bridge,
watching the repulsive waters from which arose the stench of
sewage; watching canal boats dragged drearily by mules with
harness-worn hides; followed with her melancholy eyes the course
of the canal under bridge after bridge, through a lane of dirty,
noisy factories pouring out from lofty chimneys immense clouds
of black smoke. It ought to have been a bright summer day, but
the sun shone palely through the dense clouds; a sticky, sooty
moisture saturated the air, formed a skin of oily black ooze
over everything exposed to it. A policeman, a big German, with
stupid honest face, brutal yet kindly, came lounging along.
"I beg your pardon," said Susan, "but would you mind telling me
where--" she had forgotten the address, fumbled in her bosom for
the cards, showed him Blynn's card--"how I can get to this?"
The policeman nodded as he read the address. "Keep on this way,
lady"--he pointed his baton south--"until you've passed four
streets. At the fifth street turn east. Go one--two--three--
four--five streets east. Understand?"
"Yes, thank you," said the girl with the politeness of deep gratitude.
"You'll be at Vine. You'll see the name on the street lamp.
Blynn's on the southwest corner. Think you can find it?"
"I'm sure I can."
"I'm going that way," continued the policeman.
"But you'd better walk ahead. If you walked with me, they'd
think you was pinched--and we'd have a crowd after us." And he
laughed with much shaking of his fat, tightly belted body.
Susan contrived to force a smile, though the suggestion of such
a disgraceful scene made her shudder. "Thank you so much. I'm
sure I'll find it." And she hastened on, eager to put distance
between herself and that awkward company.
"Don't mention it, lady," the policeman called after her, tapping
his baton on the rim of his helmet, as a mark of elegant courtesy.
She was not at ease until, looking back, she no longer saw the
bluecoat for the intervening crowds. After several slight
mistakes in the way, she descried ahead of her a large sign
painted on the wall of a three-story brick building:
After some investigation she discovered back of the saloon which
occupied the street floor a grimy and uneven wooden staircase
leading to the upper stories. At the first floor she came face
to face with a door on the glass of which was painted the same
announcement she had read from the wall. She knocked timidly,
then louder. A shrill voice came from the interior:
"The door's open. Come in."
She turned the knob and entered a small, low-ceilinged room
whose general grime was streaked here and there with smears of
soot. It contained a small wooden table at which sprawled a
freckled and undernourished office boy, and a wooden bench where
fretted a woman obviously of "the profession." She was dressed
in masses of dirty white furbelows. On her head reared a big
hat, above an incredible quantity of yellow hair; on the hat
were badly put together plumes of badly curled ostrich feathers.
Beneath her skirt was visible one of her feet; it was large and
fat, was thrust into a tiny slipper with high heel ending under
the arch of the foot. The face of the actress was young and
pertly pretty, but worn, overpainted, overpowdered and
underwashed. She eyed Susan insolently.
"Want to see the boss?" said the boy.
"If you please," murmured Susan.
"I'm looking for a--for a place."
The boy examined her carefully. "Appointment?"
"No, sir," replied the girl.
"Well--he'll see you, anyhow," said the boy, rising.
The mass of plumes and yellow bangs and furbelows on the bench
became violently agitated. "I'm first," cried the actress.
"Oh, you sit tight, Mame," jeered the boy. He opened a solid
door behind him. Through the crack Susan saw busily writing at
a table desk a bald, fat man with a pasty skin and a veined and
bulbous nose.
"Lady to see you," said the boy in a tone loud enough for both
Susan and the actress to hear.
"Who? What name?" snapped the man, not ceasing or looking up.
"She's young, and a queen," said the boy. "Shall I show her in?"
The actress started up. "Mr. Blynn----" she began in a loud,
threatening, elocutionary voice.
"'Lo, Mame," said Blynn, still busy. "No time to see you.
Nothing doing. So long."
"But, Mr. Blynn----"
"Bite it off, Mame," ordered the boy. "Walk in, miss."
Susan, deeply colored from sympathy with the humiliated actress
and from nervousness in those forbidding and ominous
surroundings, entered the private office. The boy closed the
door behind her. The pen scratched on. Presently the man said:
"Well, my dear, what's your name?"
With the last word, the face lifted and Susan saw a seamed and
pitted skin, small pale blue eyes showing the white, or rather
the bloodshot yellow all round the iris, a heavy mouth and jaw,
thick lips; the lower lip protruded and was decorated with a
blue-black spot like a blood boil, as if to indicate where the
incessant cigar usually rested. At first glance into Susan's
sweet, young face the small eyes sparkled and danced, traveled
on to the curves of her form.
"Do sit down, my dear," said he in a grotesquely wheedling
voice. She took the chair close to him as it was the only one in
the little room.
"What can I do for you? My, how fresh and pretty you are!"
"Mr. Burlingham----" began Susan.
"Oh--you're the girl Bob was talking about." He smiled and
nodded at her. "No wonder he kept you out of sight." He
inventoried her charms again with his sensual, confident glance.
"Bob certainly has got good taste."
"He's in the hospital," said Susan desperately. "So I've come to
get a place if you can find me one."
"Hospital? I'm sorry to hear that." And Mr. Blynn's tones had
that accent of deep sympathy which get a man or woman without
further evidence credit for being "kind-hearted whatever else he is."
"Yes, he's very ill--with typhoid," said the girl. "I must do
something right away to help him."
"That's fine--fine," said Mr. Blynn in the same effective tone.
"I see you're as sweet as you are pretty. Yes--that's
fine--fine!" And the moisture was in the little eyes. "Well, I
think I can do something for you. I _must_ do something for you.
Had much experience?--Professional, I mean."
Mr. Blynn laughed at his, to Susan, mysterious joke. Susan
smiled faintly in polite response. He rubbed his hands and
smacked his lips, the small eyes dancing. The moisture had vanished.
"Oh, yes, I can place you, if you can do anything at all," he
went on. "I'd 'a' done it long ago, if Bob had let me see you.
But he was too foxy. He ought to be ashamed of himself, standing
in the way of your getting on, just out of jealousy. Sing or
dance--or both?"
"I can sing a little, I think," said Susan.
"Now, that's modest. Ever worn tights?"
Susan shook her head, a piteous look in her violet-gray eyes.
"Oh, you'll soon get used to that. And mighty well you'll look
in 'em, I'll bet, eh? Where did Bob get you? And when?" Before
she could answer, he went on, "Let's see, I've got a date for
this evening, but I'll put it off. And she's a peach, too. So
you see what a hit you've made with me. We'll have a nice little
dinner at the Hotel du Rhine and talk things over."
"Couldn't I go to work right away?" asked the girl.
"Sure. I'll have you put on at Schaumer's tomorrow night----" He
looked shrewdly, laughingly, at her, with contracted eyelids.
"_If_ everything goes well. Before I do anything for you, I have
to see what you can do for me." And he nodded and smacked his
lips. "Oh, we'll have a lovely little dinner!" He looked
expectantly at her. "You certainly are a queen! What a dainty
little hand!" He reached out one of his hands--puffy as if it
had been poisoned, very white, with stubby fingers. Susan
reluctantly yielded her hand to his close, mushy embrace. "No
rings. That's a shame, petty----" He was talking as if to a
baby.--"That'll have to be fixed--yes, it will, my little
sweetie. My, how nice and fresh you are!" And his great
nostrils, repulsively hairy within, deeply pitted without,
sniffed as if over an odorous flower.
Susan drew her hand away. "What will they give me?" she asked.
"How greedy it is!" he wheedled. "Well, you'll get plenty--plenty."
"How much?" said the girl. "Is it a salary?"
"Of course, there's the regular salary. But that won't amount to
much. You know how those things are."
"How much?"
"Oh, say a dollar a night--until you make a hit."
"Six dollars a week."
"Seven. This is a Sunday town. Sunday's the big day. You'll have
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees, but they don't pay for them."
"Seven dollars a week." And the hospital wanted ten. "Couldn't
I get--about fifteen--or fourteen? I think I could do on fourteen."
"Rather! I was talking only of the salary. You'll make a good
many times fifteen--if you play your cards right. It's true
Schaumer draws only a beer crowd. But as soon as the word flies
round that _you_'re there, the boys with the boodle'll flock in.
Oh, you'll wear the sparklers all right, pet."
Rather slowly it was penetrating to Susan what Mr. Blynn had in
mind. "I'd--I'd rather take a regular salary," said she. "I must
have ten a week for him. I can live any old way."
"Oh, come off!" cried Mr. Blynn with a wink. "What's your game?
Anyhow, don't play it on me. You understand that you can't get
something for nothing. It's all very well to love your friend
and be true to him. But he can't expect--he'll not ask you to
queer yourself. That sort of thing don't go in the profession. . . .
Come now, I'm willing to set you on your feet, give you a
good start, if you'll play fair with me--show appreciation. Will
you or won't you?"
"You mean----" began Susan, and paused there, looking at him
with grave questioning eyes.
His own eyes shifted. "Yes, I mean that. I'm a business man, not
a sentimentalist. I don't want love. I've got no time for it.
But when it comes to giving a girl of the right sort a square
deal and a good time, why you'll find I'm as good as there is
going." He reached for her hands again, his empty, flabby chin
bags quivering. "I want to help Bob, and I want to help you."
She rose slowly, pushing her chair back. She understood now why
Burlingham had kept her in the background, why his quest had
been vain, why it had fretted him into mortal illness.
"I--couldn't do that," she said. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't."
He looked at her in a puzzled way. "You belong to Bob, don't you?"
"You mean you're straight--a good girl?"
He was half inclined to believe her, so impressive was her quiet
natural way, in favorable contrast to the noisy protests of
women posing as virtuous. "Well--if that's so--why you'd better
drop out of the profession--and get away from Bob Burlingham."
"Can't I have a place without--what you said?"
"Not as pretty a girl as you. And if they ain't pretty the
public don't want 'em."
Susan went to the door leading into the office. "No--the other
door," said Blynn hastily. He did not wish the office boy to
read his defeat in Susan's countenance. He got up himself,
opened the door into the hall. Susan passed out. "Think it
over," said he, eyes and mouth full of longing. "Come round in
a day or two, and we'll have another talk."
"Thank you," said Susan. She felt no anger against him. She felt
about him as she had about Jeb Ferguson. It was not his fault;
it was simply the way life was lived--part of the general misery
and horror of the established order--like marriage and the rest
of it.
"I'll treat you white," urged Blynn, tenderly. "I've got a soft
heart--that's why I'll never get rich. Any of the others'd ask
more and give less."
She looked at him with an expression that haunted him for
several hours. "Thank you. Good-by," she said, and went down the
narrow, rickety stairs--and out into the confused maze of
streets full of strangers.
AT the hotel again; she went to Burlingham's room, gathered his
belongings--his suit, his well-worn, twice-tapped shoes, his one
extra suit of underclothes, a soiled shirt, two dickeys and
cuffs, his whisk broom, toothbrush, a box of blacking, the
blacking brush. She made the package as compact as she could--it
was still a formidable bundle both for size and weight--and
carried it into her room. Then she rolled into a small parcel
her own possessions--two blouses, an undervest, a pair of
stockings, a nightgown--reminder of Bethlehem and her brief sip
at the cup of success--a few toilet articles. With the two
bundles she descended to the office.
"I came to say," she said calmly to the clerk, "that we have no
money to pay what we owe. Mr. Burlingham is at the
hospital--very sick with typhoid. Here is a dollar and eighty
cents. You can have that, but I'd like to keep it, as it's all
we've got."
The clerk called the manager, and to him Susan repeated. She
used almost the same words; she spoke in the same calm,
monotonous way. When she finished, the manager, a small, brisk
man with a large brisk beard, said:
"No. Keep the money. I'd like to ask you to stay on. But we run
this place for a class of people who haven't much at best and
keep wobbling back and forth across the line. If I broke my
He made a furious gesture, looked at the girl angrily--holding
her responsible for his being in a position where he must do
violence to every decent instinct--"My God, miss, I've got a
wife and children to look after. If I ran my hotel on sympathy,
what'd become of them?"
"I wouldn't take anything I couldn't pay for," said Susan. "As
soon as I earn some money----"
"Don't worry about that," interrupted the manager. He saw now
that he was dealing with one who would in no circumstances
become troublesome; he went on in an easier tone: "You can stay
till the house fills up."
"Could you give me a place to wait on table and clean up
rooms--or help cook?"
"No, I don't need anybody. The town's full of people out of
work. You can't ask me to turn away----"
"Please--I didn't know," cried the girl.
"Anyhow, I couldn't give but twelve a month and board,"
continued the manager. "And the work--for a lady like you----"
A lady! She dropped her gaze in confusion. If he knew about her birth!
"I'll do anything. I'm not a lady," said she. "But I've got to
have at least ten a week in cash."
"No such place here." The manager was glad to find the fault of
uppish ideas in this girl who was making it hard for him to be
businesslike. "No such place anywhere for a beginner."
"I must have it," said the girl.
"I don't want to discourage you, but----" He was speaking less
curtly, for her expression made him suspect why she was bent
upon that particular amount. "I hope you'll succeed. Only--don't
be depressed if you're disappointed."
She smiled gravely at him; he bowed, avoiding her eyes. She took
up her bundles and went out into Walnut Street. He moved a few
steps in obedience to an impulse to follow her, to give her
counsel and warning, to offer to help her about the larger
bundle. But he checked himself with the frown of his own not too
prosperous affairs.
It was the hottest part of the day, and her way lay along
unshaded streets. As she had eaten nothing since the night
before, she felt faint. Her face was ghastly when she entered
the office of the hospital and left Burlingham's parcel. The
clerk at the desk told her that Burlingham was in the same
condition--"and there'll be probably no change one way or the
other for several days."
She returned to the street, wandered aimlessly about. She knew
she ought to eat something, but the idea of food revolted her.
She was fighting the temptation to go to the _Commercial_ office,
Roderick Spenser's office. She had not a suspicion that his
kindness might have been impulse, long since repented of,
perhaps repented of as soon as he was away from her. She felt
that if she went to him he would help her. "But I mustn't do
it," she said to herself. "Not after what I did." No, she must
not see him until she could pay him back. Also, and deeper,
there was a feeling that there was a curse upon her; had not
everyone who befriended her come to grief? She must not draw
anyone else into trouble, must not tangle others in the meshes
of her misfortunes. She did not reason this out, of course; but
the feeling was not the less strong because the reasons for it
were vague in her mind. And there was nothing vague about the
resolve to which she finally came--that she would fight her
battle herself.
Her unheeding wanderings led her after an hour or so to a big
department store. Crowds of shoppers, mussy, hot, and cross,
were pushing rudely in and out of the doors. She entered,
approached a well-dressed, bareheaded old gentleman, whom she
rightly placed as floorwalker, inquired of him:
"Where do they ask for work?"
She had been attracted to him because his was the one face
within view not suggesting temper or at least bad humor. It was
more than pleasant, it was benign. He inclined toward Susan with
an air that invited confidence and application for balm for a
wounded spirit. The instant the nature of her inquiry penetrated
through his pose to the man himself, there was a swift change to
lofty disdain--the familiar attitude of workers toward
fellow-workers of what they regard as a lower class. Evidently
he resented her having beguiled him by the false air of young
lady into wasting upon her, mere servility like himself, a
display reserved exclusively for patrons. It was Susan's first
experience of this snobbishness; it at once humbled her into the
dust. She had been put in her place, and that place was not
among people worthy of civil treatment. A girl of his own class
would have flashed at him, probably would have "jawed" him.
Susan meekly submitted; she was once more reminded that she was
an outcast, one for whom the respectable world had no place. He
made some sort of reply to her question, in the tone the usher
of a fashionable church would use to a stranger obviously not in
the same set as the habitues. She heard the tone, but not the
words; she turned away to seek the street again. She wandered
on--through the labyrinth of streets, through the crowds on
crowds of strangers.
Ten dollars a week! She knew little about wages, but enough to
realize the hopelessness of her quest. Ten dollars a week--and
her own keep beside. The faces of the crowds pushing past her
and jostling her made her heartsick. So much sickness, and
harassment, and discontent--so much unhappiness! Surely all
these sad hearts ought to be kind to each other. Yet they were
not; each soul went selfishly alone, thinking only of its own burden.
She walked on and on, thinking, in this disconnected way
characteristic of a good intelligence that has not yet developed
order and sequence, a theory of life and a purpose. It had
always been her habit to walk about rather than to sit, whether
indoors or out. She could think better when in motion
physically. When she was so tired that she began to feel weak,
she saw a shaded square, with benches under the trees. She
entered, sat down to rest. She might apply to the young doctor.
But, no. He was poor--and what chance was there of her ever
making the money to pay back? No, she could not take alms; than
alms there was no lower way of getting money. She might return
to Mr. Blynn and accept his offer. The man in all his physical
horror rose before her. No, she could not do that. At least, not
yet. She could entertain the idea as a possibility now. She
remembered her wedding--the afternoon, the night. Yes, Blynn's
offer involved nothing so horrible as that--and she had lived
through that. It would be cowardice, treachery, to shrink from
anything that should prove necessary in doing the square thing
by the man who had done so much for her. She had said she would
die for Burlingham; she owed even that to him, if her death
would help him. Had she then meant nothing but mere lying words
of pretended gratitude? But Blynn was always there; something
else might turn up, and her dollar and eighty cents would last
another day or so, and the ten dollars were not due for six
days. No, she would not go to Blynn; she would wait, would take
his advice--"think it over."
A man was walking up and down the shaded alley, passing and
repassing the bench where she sat. She observed him, saw that he
was watching her. He was a young man--a very young man--of
middle height, strongly built. He had crisp, short dark hair, a
darkish skin, amiable blue-gray eyes, pleasing features. She
decided that he was of good family, was home from some college
on vacation. He was wearing a silk shirt, striped flannel
trousers, a thin serge coat of an attractive shade of blue. She
liked his looks, liked the way he dressed. It pleased her that
such a man should be interested in her; he had a frank and
friendly air, and her sad young heart was horribly lonely. She
pretended not to notice him; but after a while he walked up to
her, lifting his straw hat.
"Good afternoon," said he. When he showed his strong sharp teeth
in an amiable smile, she thought of Sam Wright--only this man
was not weak and mean looking, like her last and truest memory
picture of Sam--indeed, the only one she had not lost.
"Good afternoon," replied she politely. For in spite of
Burlingham's explanations and cautionings she was still the
small-town girl, unsuspicious toward courtesy from strange men.
Also, she longed for someone to talk with. It had been weeks
since she had talked with anyone nearer than Burlingham to her
own age and breeding.
"Won't you have lunch with me?" he asked. "I hate to eat alone."
She, faint from hunger, simply could not help obvious hesitation
before saying, "I don't think I care for any."
"You haven't had yours--have you?"
"May I sit down?"
She moved along the bench to indicate that he might, without
definitely committing herself.
He sat, took off his hat. He had a clean, fresh look about the
neck that pleased her. She was weary of seeing grimy, sweaty
people, and of smelling them. Also, except the young doctor,
since Roderick Spenser left her at Carrolltown she had talked
with no one of her own age and class--the class in which she had
been brought up, the class that, after making her one of itself,
had cast her out forever with its mark of shame upon her. Its
mark of shame--burning and stinging again as she sat beside this
young man!
"You're sad about something?" suggested he, himself nearly as
embarrassed as she.
"My friend's ill. He's got typhoid."
"That is bad. But he'll get all right. They always cure typhoid,
nowadays--if it's taken in time and the nursing's good.
Everything depends on the nursing. I had it a couple of years
ago, and pulled through easily."
Susan brightened. He spoke so confidently that the appeal to her
young credulity toward good news and the hopeful, cheerful thing
was irresistible. "Oh, yes--he'll be over it soon," the young
man went on, "especially if he's in a hospital where they've got
the facilities for taking care of sick people. Where is he?"
"In the hospital--up that way." She moved her head vaguely in
the direction of the northwest.
"Oh, yes. It's a good one--for the pay patients. I suppose for
the poor devils that can't pay"--he glanced with careless
sympathy at the dozen or so tramps on benches nearby--"it's like
all the rest of 'em--like the whole world, for that matter. It
must be awful not to have money enough to get on with, I mean.
I'm talking about men." He smiled cheerfully. "With a woman--if
she's pretty--it's different, of course."
The girl was so agitated that she did not notice the sly, if
shy, hint in the remark and its accompanying glance. Said she:
"But it's a good hospital if you pay?"
"None better. Maybe it's good straight through. I've only heard
the servants' talk--and servants are such liars. Still--I'd not
want to trust myself to a hospital unless I could pay. I guess
the common people have good reason for their horror of free
wards. Nothing free is ever good."
The girl's face suddenly and startlingly grew almost hard, so
fierce was the resolve that formed within her. The money must be
got--_must!_--and would. She would try every way she could think
of between now and to-morrow; then--if she failed she would go
to Blynn.
The young man was saying: "You're a stranger in town?"
"I was with a theatrical company on a show boat. It sank."
His embarrassment vanished. She saw, but she did not understand
that it was because he thought he had "placed" her--and that her
place was where he had hoped.
"You _are_ up against it!" said he. "Come have some lunch. You'll
feel better."
The good sense of this was unanswerable. Susan hesitated no
longer, wondered why she had hesitated at first. "Well--I guess
I will." And she rose with a frank, childlike alacrity that
amused him immensely.
"You don't look it, but you've been about some--haven't you?"
"Rather," replied she.
"I somehow thought you knew a thing or two."
They walked west to Race Street. They were about the same
height. Her costume might have been fresher, might have
suggested to an expert eye the passed-on clothes of a richer
relative; but her carriage and the fine look of skin and hair
and features made the defects of dress unimportant. She seemed
of his class--of the class comfortable, well educated, and
well-bred. If she had been more experienced, she would have seen
that he was satisfied with her appearance despite the curious
looking little package, and would have been flattered. As it
was, her interest was absorbed in things apart from herself. He
talked about the town--the amusements, the good times to be had
at the over-the-Rhine beer halls, at the hilltop gardens, at the
dances in the pavilion out at the Zoo. He drew a lively and
charming picture, one that appealed to her healthy youth, to her
unsatisfied curiosity, to her passionate desire to live the gay,
free city life of which the small town reads and dreams.
"You and I can go round together, can't we? I haven't got much,
but I'll not try to take your time for nothing, of course. That
wouldn't be square. I'm sure you'll have no cause to complain.
What do you say?"
"Maybe," replied the girl, all at once absentminded. Her brain
was wildly busy with some ideas started there by his significant
words, by his flirtatious glances at her, by his way of touching
her whenever he could make opportunity. Evidently there was an
alternative to Blynn.
"You like a good time, don't you?" said he.
"Rather!" exclaimed she, the violet eyes suddenly very violet
indeed and sparkling. Her spirits had suddenly soared. She was
acting like one of her age. With that blessed happy hopefulness
of healthy youth, she had put aside her sorrows--not because she
was frivolous but for the best of all reasons, because she was
young and superbly vital. Said she: "I'm crazy about
dancing--and music."
"I only needed to look at your feet--and ankles--to know that,"
ventured he the "ankles" being especially audacious.
She was pleased, and in youth's foolish way tried to hide her
pleasure by saying, "My feet aren't exactly small."
"I should say not!" protested he with energy. "Little feet would
look like the mischief on a girl as tall as you are. Yes, we can
have a lot of fun."
They went into a large restaurant with fly fans speeding. Susan
thought it very grand--and it was the grandest restaurant she
had ever been in. They sat down--in a delightfully cool place by
a window looking out on a little plot of green with a colladium,
a fountain, some oleanders in full and fragrant bloom; the young
man ordered, with an ease that fascinated her, an elaborate
lunch--soup, a chicken, with salad, ice cream, and fresh
peaches. Susan had a menu in her hand and as he ordered she
noted the prices. She was dazzled by his extravagance--dazzled
and frightened--and, in a curious, vague, unnerving way,
fascinated. Money--the thing she must have for Burlingham in
whose case "everything depended on the nursing." In the brief
time this boy and she had been together, he, without making an
effort to impress, had given her the feeling that he was of the
best city class, that he knew the world--the high world. Thus,
she felt that she must be careful not to show her "greenness."
She would have liked to protest against his extravagance, but she
ventured only the timid remonstrance, "Oh, I'm not a bit hungry."
She thought she was speaking the truth, for the ideas whirling
so fast that they were dim quite took away the sense of hunger.
But when the food came she discovered that she was, on the
contrary, ravenous--and she ate with rising spirits, with a
feeling of content and hope. He had urged her to drink wine or
beer, but she refused to take anything but a glass of milk; and
he ended by taking milk himself. He was looking more and more
boldly and ardently into her eyes, and she received his glances
smilingly. She felt thoroughly at ease and at home, as if she
were back once more among her own sort of people--with some
element of disagreeable constraint left out.
Since she was an outcast, she need not bother about the small
restraints the girls felt compelled to put upon themselves in
the company of boys. Nobody respected a "bastard," as they
called her when they spoke frankly. So with nothing to lose she
could at least get what pleasure there was in freedom. She liked
it, having this handsome, well-dressed young man making love to
her in this grand restaurant where things were so good to eat
and so excitingly expensive. He would not regard her as fit to
associate with his respectable mother and sisters. In the casts
of respectability, her place was with Jeb Ferguson! She was
better off, clear of the whole unjust and horrible business of
respectable life, clear of it and free, frankly in the outcast
class. She had not realized--and she did not realize--that
association with the players of the show boat had made any
especial change in her; in fact, it had loosened to the
sloughing point the whole skin of her conventional
training--that surface skin which seems part of the very essence
of our being until something happens to force us to shed it.
Crises, catastrophes, may scratch that skin, or cut clear
through it; but only the gentle, steady, everywhere-acting
prying-loose of day and night association can change it from a
skin to a loose envelope ready to be shed at any moment.
"What are you going to do?" asked the young man, when the
acquaintance had become a friendship--which was before the
peaches and ice cream were served.
"I don't, know " said the girl, with the secretive instinct of
self-reliance hiding the unhappiness his abrupt question set to
throbbing again.
"Honestly, I've never met anyone that was so congenial. But
maybe you don't feel that way?"
"Then again maybe I do," rejoined she, forcing a merry smile.
His face flushed with embarrassment, but his eyes grew more
ardent as he said: "What were you looking for, when I saw you
in Garfield Place?"
"Was that Garfield Place?" she asked, in evasion.
"Yes." And he insisted, "What were you looking for?"
"What were _you_ looking for?"
"For a pretty girl." They both laughed. "And I've found her. I'm
suited if you are. . . . Don't look so serious. You haven't
answered my question."
"I'm looking for work."
He smiled as if it were a joke. "You mean for a place on the stage.
That isn't work. _You_ couldn't work. I can see that at a glance."
"Why not?"
"Oh, you haven't been brought up to that kind of life. You'd
hate it in every way. And they don't pay women anything for
work. My father employs a lot of them. Most of his girls live at
home. That keeps the wages down, and the others have to piece
out with"--he smiled--"one thing and another."
Susan sat gazing straight before her. "I've not had much
experience," she finally said, thoughtfully. "I guess I don't
know what I'm about."
The young man leaned toward her, his face flushing with
earnestness. "You don't know how pretty you are. I wish my
father wasn't so close with me. I'd not let you ever speak of
work again--even on the stage. What good times we could have!"
"I must be going," said she, rising. Her whole body was
alternately hot and cold. In her brain, less vague now, were the
ideas Mabel Connemora had opened up for her.
"Oh, bother!" exclaimed he. "Sit down a minute. You
misunderstood me. I don't mean I'm flat broke."
Susan hastily reseated herself, showing her confusion. "I wasn't
thinking of that."
"Then--what were you thinking of?"
"I don't know," she replied--truthfully, for she could not have
put into words anything definite about the struggle raging in
her like a battle in a fog. "I often don't exactly know what I'm
thinking about. I somehow can't--can't fit it together--yet."
"Do you suppose," he went on, as if she had not spoken, "do you
suppose I don't understand? I know you can't afford to let me
take your time for nothing. . . . Don't you like me a little?"
She looked at him with grave friendliness. "Yes." Then, seized
with a terror which her habitual manner of calm concealed from
him, she rose again.
"Why shouldn't it be me as well as another?. . . At least sit
down till I pay the bill."
She seated herself, stared at her plate.
"Now what are you thinking about?" he asked.
"I don't know exactly. Nothing much."
The waiter brought the bill. The young man merely glanced at the
total, drew a small roll of money from his trousers pocket, put
a five-dollar note on the tray with the bill. Susan's eyes
opened wide when the waiter returned with only two quarters and
a dime. She glanced furtively at the young man, to see if he, too,
was not disconcerted. He waved the tray carelessly aside; the
waiter said "Thank you," in a matter-of-course way, dropped the
sixty cents into his pocket. The waiter's tip was by itself almost
as much as she had ever seen paid out for a meal for two persons.
"Now, where shall we go?" asked the young man.
Susan did not lift her eyes. He leaned toward her, took her
hand. "You're different from the sort a fellow usually finds,"
said he. "And I'm--I'm crazy about you. Let's go," said he.
Susan took her bundle, followed him. She glanced up the street
and down. She had an impulse to say she must go away alone; it
was not strong enough to frame a sentence, much less express her
thought. She was seeing queer, vivid, apparently disconnected
visions--Burlingham, sick unto death, on the stretcher in the
hospital reception room--Blynn of the hideous face and loose,
repulsive body--the contemptuous old gentleman in the shop--odds
and ends of the things Mabel Connemora had told her--the roll of
bills the young man had taken from his pocket when he paid--Jeb
Ferguson in the climax of the horrors of that wedding day and
night. They went to Garfield Place, turned west, paused after a
block or so at a little frame house set somewhat back from the
street. The young man, who had been as silent as she--but
nervous instead of preoccupied--opened the gate in the picket fence.
"This is a first-class quiet place," said he, embarrassed but
trying to appear at ease.
Susan hesitated. She must somehow nerve herself to speak of
money, to say to him that she needed ten dollars--that she must
have it. If she did not speak--if she got nothing for Mr.
Burlingham--or almost nothing--and probably men didn't give
women much--if she were going with him--to endure again the
horrors and the degradation she had suffered from Mr.
Ferguson--if it should be in vain! This nice young man didn't
suggest Mr. Ferguson in any way. But there was such a mystery
about men--they had a way of changing so--Sam Wright--Uncle
George even Mr. Ferguson hadn't seemed capable of torturing a
helpless girl for no reason at all----
"We can't stand here," the young man was saying.
She tried to speak about the ten dollars. She simply could not
force out the words. With brain in a whirl, with blood beating
suffocatingly into her throat and lungs, but giving no outward
sign of agitation, she entered the gate. There was a low,
old-fashioned porch along the side of the house, with an awning
curiously placed at the end toward the street. When they
ascended the steps under the awning, they were screened from the
street. The young man pulled a knob. A bell within tinkled
faintly; Susan started, shivered. But the young man, looking
straight at the door, did not see. A colored girl with a
pleasant, welcoming face opened, stood aside for them to enter.
He went straight up the stairs directly ahead, and Susan
followed. At the threshold the trembling girl looked round in
terror. She expected to see a place like that foul, close little
farm bedroom--for it seemed to her that at such times men must
seek some dreadful place--vile, dim, fitting. She was in a
small, attractively furnished room, with a bow window looking
upon the yard and the street. The furniture reminded her of her
own room at her uncle's in Sutherland, except that the brass bed
was far finer. He closed the door and locked it.
As he advanced toward her he said: "_What_ are you seeing? Please
don't look like that." Persuasively, "You weren't thinking of
me--were you?"
"No--Oh, no," replied she, passing her hand over her eyes to try
to drive away the vision of Ferguson.
"You look as if you expected to be murdered. Do you want to go?"
She forced herself to seem calm. "What a coward I am!" she said
to herself. "If I could only die for him, instead of this. But
I can't. And I _must_ get money for him."
To the young man she said: "No. I--I--want to stay."
Late in the afternoon, when they were once more in the street,
he said. "I'd ask you to go to dinner with me, but I haven't
enough money."
She stopped short. An awful look came into her face.
"Don't be alarmed," cried he, hurried and nervous, and blushing
furiously. "I put the--the present for you in that funny little
bundle of yours, under one of the folds of the nightgown or
whatever it is you've got wrapped on the outside. I didn't like
to hand it to you. I've a feeling somehow that you're not
regularly--that kind."
"Was it--ten dollars?" she said, and for all he could see she
was absolutely calm.
"Yes," replied he, with a look of relief followed by a smile of
amused tenderness.
"I can't make you out," he went on. "You're a queer one. You've
had a look in your eyes all afternoon--well, if I hadn't been
sure you were experienced, you'd almost have frightened me away."
"Yes, I've had experience. The--the worst," said the girl.
"You--you attract me awfully; you've got--well, everything
that's nice about a woman--and at the same time, there's
something in your eyes----Are you very fond of your friend?"
"He's all I've got in the world."
"I suppose it's his being sick that makes you look and act so queer?"
"I don't know what's the matter with me," she said slowly.
"I--don't know."
"I want to see you again--soon. What's your address?"
"I haven't any. I've got to look for a place to live."
"Well, you can give me the place you did live. I'll write you
there, Lorna. You didn't ask me my name when I asked you yours.
You've hardly said anything. Are you always quiet like this?"
"No--not always. At Least, I haven't been."
"No. You weren't, part of the time this afternoon--at the
restaurant. Tell me, what are you thinking about all the time?
You're very secretive. Why don't you tell me? Don't you know I
like you?"
"I don't know," said the girl in a slow dazed way. "I--don't--know."
"I wouldn't take your time for nothing," he went on, after a
pause. "My father doesn't give me much money, but I think I'll
have some more day after tomorrow. Can I see you then?"
"I don't know."
He laughed. "You said that before. Day after tomorrow
afternoon--in the same place. No matter if it's raining. I'll be
there first--at three. Will you come?"
"If I can."
She made a movement to go. But still he detained her. He colored
high again, in the struggle between the impulses of his generous
youth and the fear of being absurd with a girl he had picked up
in the street. He looked at her searchingly, wistfully. "I know
it's your life, but--I hate to think of it," he went on. "You're
far too nice. I don't see how you happened to be in--in this
line. Still, what else is there for a girl, when she's up
against it? I've often thought of those things--and I don't feel
about them as most people do. . . . I'm curious about you.
You'll pardon me, won't you? I'm afraid I'll fall in love with
you, if I see you often. You won't fail to come day after tomorrow?"
"If I can."
"Don't you want to see me again?"
She did not speak or lift her eyes.
"You like me, don't you?"
Still no answer.
"You don't want to be questioned?"
"No," said the girl.
"Where are you going now?"
"To the hospital."
"May I walk up there with you? I live in Clifton. I can go home
that way."
"I'd rather you didn't."
"Then--good-by--till day after tomorrow at three." He put out
his hand; he had to reach for hers and take it. "You're not--not
angry with me?"
His eyes lingered tenderly upon her. "You are _so_ sweet! You
don't know how I want to kiss you. Are you sorry to go--sorry to
leave me--just a little?. . . I forgot. You don't like to be
questioned. Well, good-by, dear."
"Good-by," she said; and still without lifting her gaze from the
ground she turned away, walked slowly westward.
She had not reached the next street to the north when she
suddenly felt that if she did not sit she would drop. She lifted
her eyes for an instant to glance furtively round. She saw a
house with stone steps leading up to the front doors; there was
a "for rent" sign in one of the close-shuttered parlor windows.
She seated herself, supported the upper part of her weary body
by resting her elbows on her knees. Her bundle had rolled to the
sidewalk at her feet. A passing man picked it up, handed it to
her, with a polite bow. She looked at him vaguely, took the
bundle as if she were not sure it was hers.
"Heat been too much for you, miss?" asked the man.
She shook her head. He lingered, talking volubly--about the
weather--then about how cool it was on the hilltops. "We might
go up to the Bellevue," he finally suggested, "if you've nothing
better to do."
"No, thank you," she said.
"I'll go anywhere you like. I've got a little money that I don't
care to keep."
She shook her head.
"I don't mean anything bad," he hastened to suggest--because
that would bring up the subject in discussable form.
"I can't go with you," said the girl drearily. "Don't bother me, please."
"Oh--excuse me." And the man went on.
Susan turned the bundle over in her lap, thrust her fingers
slowly and deliberately into the fold of the soiled blouse which
was on the outside. She drew out the money. A ten and two fives.
Enough to keep his room at the hospital for two weeks. No, for
she must live, herself. Enough to give him a room one week
longer and to enable her to live two weeks at least. . . . And
day after tomorrow--more. Perhaps, soon--enough to see him
through the typhoid. She put the money in her bosom, rose and
went on toward the hospital. She no longer felt weary, and the
sensation of a wound that might ache if she were not so numb
passed away.
A clerk she had not seen before was at the barrier desk. "I came
to ask how Mr. Burlingham is," said she.
The clerk yawned, drew a large book toward him.
"Burlingham--B--Bu--Bur----" he said half to himself, turning
over the leaves. "Yes--here he is." He looked at her. "You his
"No, I'm a friend."
"Oh--then--he died at five o'clock--an hour ago."
He looked up--saw her eyes--only her eyes. They were a deep
violet now, large, shining with tragic softness--like the eyes
of an angel that has lost its birthright through no fault of its
own. He turned hastily away, awed, terrified, ashamed of himself.
THE next thing she knew, she felt herself seized strongly by the
arm. She gazed round in a dazed way. She was in the street--how
she got there she had no idea. The grip on her arm--it was the
young doctor, Hamilton. "I called you twice," explained he, "but
you didn't hear."
"He is dead," said she.
Hamilton had a clear view of her face now. There was not a trace
of the child left. He saw her eyes--quiet, lonely, violet stars.
"You must go and rest quietly, " he said with gentleness. "You
are worn out."
Susan took from her bosom the twenty dollars, handed it to him.
"It belongs to him," said she. "Give it to them, to bury him."
And she started on.
"Where are you going?" asked the young man.
Susan stopped, looked vaguely at him. "Good-by," she said.
"You've been very kind."
"You've found a boarding place?"
"Oh, I'm all right."
"You want to see him?"
"No. Then he'll always be alive to me."
"You had better keep this money. The city will take care of the funeral."
"It belong to him. I couldn't keep it for myself. I must be going."
"Shan't I see you again?"
"I'll not trouble you."
"Let me walk with you as far as your place."
"I'm not feeling--just right. If you don't mind--please--I'd
rather be alone."
"I don't mean to intrude, but----"
"I'm all right," said the girl. "Don't worry about me."
"But you are too young----"
"I've been married. . . . Thank you, but--good-by."
He could think of no further excuse for detaining her. Her
manner disquieted him, yet it seemed composed and natural.
Probably she had run away from a good home, was now sobered and
chastened, was eager to separate herself from the mess she had
got into and return to her own sort of people. It struck him as
heartless that she should go away in this fashion; but on second
thought, he could not associate heartlessness with her. Also, he
saw how there might be something in what she had said about not
wishing to have to think of her friend as dead. He stood
watching her straight narrow young figure until it was lost to
view in the crowd of people going home from work.
Susan went down Elm Street to Garfield Place, seated herself on
one of the benches. She was within sight of the unobtrusive
little house with the awnings; but she did not realize it. She
had no sense of her surroundings, of the passing of time, felt
no grief, no sensation of any kind. She simply sat, her little
bundle in her lap, her hands folded upon it.
A man in uniform paused before her. "Closing-up time," he said,
sharply but in the impartial official way. "I'm going to lock
the gates."
She looked at him.
In a softer, apologetic tone, he said, "I've got to lock the
gates. That's the law, miss."
She did not clearly understand, but rose and went out into Race
Street. She walked slowly along, not knowing or caring where.
She walked--walked--walked. Sometimes her way lay through crowded
streets, again through streets deserted. Now she was stumbling
over the uneven sidewalks of a poor quarter; again it was the
smooth flagstones of the shopping or wholesale districts.
Several times she saw the river with its multitude of boats
great and small; several times she crossed the canal. Twice she
turned back because the street was mounting the hills behind the
city--the hills with the cars swiftly ascending and descending
the inclined planes, and at the crests gayly lighted pavilions
where crowds were drinking and dancing. Occasionally some man
spoke to her, but desisted as she walked straight on, apparently
not hearing. She rested from time to time, on a stoop or on a
barrel or box left out by some shopkeeper, or leaning upon the
rail of a canal bridge. She was walking with a purpose--to try
to scatter the dense fog that had rolled in and enveloped her
mind, and then to try to think.
She sat, or rather dropped, down from sheer fatigue, in that
cool hour which precedes the dawn. It happened to be the steps
of a church. She fell into a doze, was startled back to
consciousness by the deep boom of the bell in the steeple; it
made the stone vibrate under her. One--two--three--four! Toward
the east there shone a flush of light, not yet strong enough to
dim the stars. The sky above her was clear. The pall of smoke
rolled away. The air felt clean and fresh, even had in it a
reminiscence of the green fields whence it had come. She began
to revive, like a sleeper shaking off drowsiness and the spell
of a bad dream and looking forward to the new day. The fog that
had swathed and stupefied her brain seemed to have lifted. At
her heart there was numbness and a dull throbbing, an ache; but
her mind was clear and her body felt intensely, hopelessly
alive and ready, clamorously ready, for food. A movement across
the narrow street attracted her attention. A cellar door was
rising--thrust upward by the shoulders of a man. It fell full
open with a resounding crash, the man revealed by the light from
beneath--a white blouse, a white cap. Toward her wafted the
delicious odor of baking bread. She rose, hesitated only an
instant, crossed the street directly toward the baker who had
come up to the surface for cool air.
"I am hungry," said she to him. "Can't you let me have something
to eat?"
The man--he had a large, smooth, florid face eyed her in amused
astonishment. "Where'd you jump from?" he demanded.
"I was resting on the church steps over there. The smell came to
me and--I couldn't stand it. I can pay."
"Oh, that's all right," said the man, with a strong German
accent. "Come down." And he descended the steps, she following.
It was a large and lofty cellar, paved with cement; floor,
ceilings, walls, were whitened with flour. There were long clean
tables for rolling the dough; big wooden bowls; farther back,
the ovens and several bakers at work adding to the huge piles of
loaves the huge baskets of rolls. Susan's eyes glistened; her
white teeth showed in a delightful smile of hunger about to be
"Do you want bread or rolls?" asked the German. Then without
waiting for her to answer, "I guess some of the `sweet rolls,'
we call 'em, would about suit a lady."
"Yes--the sweet rolls," said the girl.
The baker fumbled about behind a lot of empty baskets, found a
sewing basket, filled it with small rolls--some crescent in
shape, some like lady fingers, some oval, some almost like
biscuit, all with pulverized sugar powdered on them thick as a
frosting. He set the little basket upon an empty kneading table.
"Wait yet a minute," he commanded, and bustled up a flight of
stairs. He reappeared with a bottle of milk and a piece of fresh
butter. He put these beside the basket of rolls, drew a stool up
before them. "How's that?" asked he, his hands on his hips, his
head on one side, and his big jolly face beaming upon her.
"Pretty good, don't it!"
Susan was laughing with pleasure. He pointed to the place well
down in the bottle of milk where the cream ended. "That's the
way it should be always--not so!" said he. She nodded. Then he
shook the bottle to remix the separated cream and milk. "So!" he
cried. Then--" _Ach, dummer Esel!_" he muttered, striking his
brow a resounding thwack with the flat of his hand. "A knife!"
And he hastened to repair that omission.
Susan sat at the table, took one of the fresh rolls, spread
butter upon it. The day will never come for her when she cannot
distinctly remember the first bite of the little sweet buttered
roll, eaten in that air perfumed with the aroma of baking bread.
The milk was as fine as it promised to be she drank it from the bottle.
The German watched her a while, then beckoned to his fellow
workmen. They stood round, reveling in the joyful sight of this
pretty hungry girl eating so happily and so heartily.
"The pie," whispered one workman to another.
They brought a small freshly baked peach pie, light and crisp
and brown. Susan's beautiful eyes danced. "But," she said to her
first friend among the bakers, "I'm afraid I can't afford it."
At this there was a loud chorus of laughter. "Eat it," said her friend.
And when she had finished her rolls and butter, she did eat it.
"I never tasted a pie like that," declared she. "And I like pies
and can make them too."
Once more they laughed, as if she had said the wittiest thing in
the world.
As the last mouthful of the pie was disappearing, her friend
said, "Another!"
"Goodness, no!" cried the girl. "I couldn't eat a bite more."
"But it's an apple pie." And he brought it, holding it on his big
florid fat hand and turning it round to show her its full beauty.
She sighed regretfully. "I simply can't," she said. "How much is
what I've had?"
Her friend frowned. "Vot you take me for--hey?" demanded he,
with a terrible frown--so terrible he felt it to be that,
fearing he had frightened her, he burst out laughing, to reassure.
"Oh, but I must pay," she pleaded. "I didn't come begging."
"Not a cent!" said her friend firmly. "I'm the boss. I won't take it."
She insisted until she saw she was hurting his feelings. Then
she tried to thank him; but he would not listen to that, either.
"Good-by--good-by," he said gruffly. "I must get to work once."
But she understood, and went with a light heart up into the
world again. He stood waist deep in the cellar, she hesitated
upon the sidewalk. "Good-by," she said, with swimming eyes.
"You don't know how good you've been to me."
"All right. Luck!" He waved his hand, half turned his back on
her and looked intently up the street, his eyes blinking.
She went down the street, turned the first corner, dropped on a
doorstep and sobbed and cried, out of the fullness of her heart.
When she rose to go on again, she felt stronger and gentler than
she had felt since her troubles began with the quarrel over Sam
Wright. A little further on she came upon a florist's shop in
front of which a wagon was unloading the supply of flowers for
the day's trade. She paused to look at the roses and carnations,
the lilies and dahlias, the violets and verbenas and geraniums.
The fast brightening air was scented with delicate odors. She
was attracted to a small geranium with many buds and two
full-blown crimson flowers.
"How much for that?" she asked a young man who seemed to be in charge.
He eyed her shrewdly. "Well, I reckon about fifteen cents,"
replied he.
She took from her bosom the dollar bill wrapped round the eighty
cents, gave him what he had asked. "No, you needn't tie it up,"
said she, as he moved to take it into the store. She went back
to the bakeshop. The cellar door was open, but no one was in
sight. Stooping down, she called: "Mr. Baker! Mr. Baker!"
The big smooth face appeared below.
She set the plant down on the top step. "For you," she said, and
hurried away.
On a passing street car she saw the sign "Eden Park." She had
heard of it--of its beauties, of the wonderful museum there. She
took the next car of the same line. A few minutes, and it was
being drawn up the inclined plane toward the lofty hilltops. She
had thought the air pure below. She was suddenly lifted through
a dense vapor--the cloud that always lies over the lower part of
the city. A moment, and she was above the cloud, was being
carried through the wide, clean tree-lined avenue of a beautiful
suburb. On either side, lawns and gardens and charming houses,
a hush brooding over them. Behind these walls, in comfortable
beds, amid the surroundings that come to mind with the word
"home," lay many girls such as she--happy, secure, sheltered.
Girls like herself. A wave of homesickness swept over her,
daunting her for a little while. But she fought it down, watched
what was going on around her. "I mustn't look back--I mustn't!
Nothing there for me." At the main gateway of the park she
descended. There indeed was the, to her, vast building
containing the treasures of art; but she had not come for that.
She struck into the first by-path, sought out a grassy slope
thickly studded with bushes, and laid herself down. She spread
her skirts carefully so as not to muss them. She put her bundle
under her head.
When she awoke the moon was shining upon her face--shining from
a starry sky!
She sat up, looked round in wonder. Yes--it was night
again--very still, very beautiful, and warm, with the air
fragrant and soft. She felt intensely awake, entirely
rested--and full of hope. It was as if during that long
dreamless sleep her whole being had been renewed and magically
borne away from the lands of shadow and pain where it had been
wandering, to a land of bright promise. Oh, youth, youth, that
bears so lightly the burden of the past, that faces so
confidently the mystery of the future! She listened--heard a
faint sound that moved her to investigate. Peering through the
dense bushes, she discovered on the grass in the shadow of the
next clump, a ragged, dirty man and woman, both sound asleep and
snoring gently. She watched them spellbound. The man's face was
deeply shaded by his battered straw hat. But she could see the
woman's face plainly--the thin, white hair, the sunken eyes and
mouth, the skeleton look of old features over which the dry skin
of age is tightly drawn. She gazed until the man, moving in his
sleep, kicked out furiously and uttered a curse. She drew back,
crawled away until she had put several clumps of bushes between
her and the pair. Then she sped down and up the slopes and did
not stop until she was where she could see, far below, the
friendly lights of the city blinking at her through the smoky mist.
She had forgotten her bundle! She did not know how to find the
place where she had left it; and, had she known, she would not
have dared return. This loss, however, troubled her little. Not
in vain had she dwelt with the philosopher Burlingham.
She seated herself on a bench and made herself comfortable. But
she no longer needed sleep. She was awake--wide awake--in every
atom of her vigorous young body. The minutes dragged. She was
impatient for the dawn to give the signal for the future to roll
up its curtain. She would have gone down into the city to walk
about but she was now afraid the police would take her in--and
that probably would mean going to a reformatory, for she could
not give a satisfactory account of herself. True, her older way
of wearing her hair and some slight but telling changes in her
dress had made her look less the child. But she could not hope
to pass for a woman full grown. The moon set; the starlight was
after a long, long time succeeded by the dawn of waking birds,
and of waking city, too--for up from below rose an ever louder
roar like a rising storm. In her restless rovings, she came upon
a fountain; she joined the birds making a toilet in its basin,
and patterned after them--washed her face and hands, dried them
on a handkerchief she by great good luck had put into her
stocking, smoothed her hair, her dress.
And still the sense of unreality persisted, cast its friendly
spell over this child-woman suddenly caught up from the quietest
of quiet lives and whirled into a dizzy vortex of strange events
without parallel, or similitude even, in anything she had ever
known. If anyone had suddenly asked her who she was and she had
tried to recall, she would have felt as if trying to remember a
dream. Sutherland--a faint, faint dream, and the show boat also.
Spenser--a romantic dream--or a first installment of a lovestory
read in some stray magazine. Burlingham--the theatrical
agent--the young man of the previous afternoon--the news of the
death that left her quite alone--all a dream, a tumbled, jumbled
dream, all passed with the night and the awakening. In her youth
and perfect health, refreshed by the long sleep, gladdened by
the bright new day, she was as irresponsible as the merry birds
chattering and flinging the water about at the opposite side of
the fountain's basin. She was now glad she had lost her bundle.
Without it her hands were free both hands free to take whatever
might offer next. And she was eager to see what that would be,
and hopeful about it--no--more than hopeful, confident.
Burlingham, aided by those highly favorable surroundings of the
show boat, and of the vagabond life thereafter, had developed in
her that gambler's spirit which had enabled him to play year
after year of losing hands with unabating courage--the spirit
that animates all the brave souls whose deeds awe the docile,
conventional, craven masses of mankind.
Leisurely as a truant she tramped back toward the city, pausing
to observe anything that chanced to catch her eye. At the moment
of her discovery of the difference between her and most girls
there had begun a cleavage between her and the social system.
And now she felt as if she were of one race and the rest of the
world of another and hostile race. She did not realize it, but
she had taken the first great step along the path that leads to
distinction or destruction. For the world either obeys or
tramples into dust those who, in whatever way, have a lot apart
from the common. She was free from the bonds of convention--free
to soar or to sink.
Her way toward the city lay along a slowly descending street
that had been, not so very long before, a country road. Block
after block there were grassy fields intersected by streets, as
if city had attempted a conquest of country and had abandoned
it. Again the vacant lots were disfigured with the ruins of a
shanty or by dreary dump heaps. For long stretches the way was
built up only on one side. The houses were for the most part
tenement with small and unprosperous shops or saloons on the
ground floor. Toward the foot of the hill, where the line of
tenements was continuous on either side, she saw a sign
"Restaurant" projecting over the sidewalk. When she reached it,
she paused and looked in. A narrow window and a narrow open door
gave a full view of the tiny room with its two rows of plain
tables. Near the window was a small counter with a case
containing cakes and pies and rolls. With back to the window sat
a pretty towheaded girl of about her own age, reading. Susan,
close to the window, saw that the book was Owen Meredith's
"Lucile," one of her own favorites. She could even read the words:
The ways they are many and wide, and seldom are two ways the same.
She entered. The girl glanced up, with eyes slowly changing from
far-away dreaminess to present and practical--pleasant blue eyes
with lashes and brows of the same color as the thick, neatly
done yellowish hair.
"Could I get a glass of milk and a roll?" asked Susan, a modest
demand, indeed, on behalf of a growing girl's appetite
twenty-four hours unsatisfied.
The blonde girl smiled, showing a clean mouth with excellent teeth.
"We sell the milk for five cents, the rolls three for a nickel."
"Then I'll take milk and three rolls," said Susan. "May I sit at
a table? I'll not spoil it."
"Sure. Sit down. That's what the tables are for." And the girl
closed the book, putting a chromo card in it to mark her place,
and stirred about to serve the customer. Susan took the table
nearest the door, took the seat facing the light. The girl set
before her a plate, a knife and fork, a little form of butter, a
tall glass of milk, and three small rolls in a large saucer.
"You're up and out early?" she said to Susan.
On one of those inexplicable impulses of frankness Susan
replied: "I've been sleeping in the park."
The girl had made the remark merely to be polite and was turning
away. As Susan's reply penetrated to her inattentive mind she
looked sharply at her, eyes opening wonderingly. "Did you get
lost? Are you a stranger in town? Why didn't you ask someone to
take you in?"
The girl reflected, realized. "That's so," said she. "I never
thought of it before. . . . Yes, that is so! It must be dreadful
not to have any place to go." She gazed at Susan with admiring
eyes. "Weren't you afraid--up in the park?"
"No," replied Susan. "I hadn't anything anybody'd want to steal."
"But some man might have----" The girl left it to Susan's
imagination to finish the sentence.
"I hadn't anything to steal," repeated Susan, with a kind of
cynical melancholy remotely suggestive of Mabel Connemora.
The restaurant girl retired behind the counter to reflect, while
Susan began upon her meager breakfast with the deliberation of
one who must coax a little to go a great ways. Presently the
girl said:
"Where are you going to sleep tonight?"
"Oh, that's a long ways off," replied the apt pupil of the
happy-go-lucky houseboat show. "I'll find a place, I guess."
The girl looked thoughtfully toward the street. "I was
wondering," she said after a while, "what I'd do if I was to find
myself out in the street, with no money and nowhere to go. . . .
Are you looking for something to do?"
"Do you know of anything?" asked Susan interested at once.
"Nothing worth while. There's a box factory down on the next
square. But only a girl that lives at home can work there. Pa
says the day's coming when women'll be like men--work at
everything and get the same wages. But it isn't so now. A girl's
got to get married."
Such a strange expression came over Susan's face that the
waitress looked apologetic and hastened to explain herself: "I
don't much mind the idea of getting married," said she.
"Only--I'm afraid I can never get the kind of a man I'd want.
The boys round here leave school before the girls, so the girls
are better educated. And then they feel above the boys of their
own class--except those boys that're beginning to get up in the
world--and those kind of boys want some girl who's above them
and can help them up. It's dreadful to be above the people you
know and not good enough for the people you'd like to know."
Susan was not impressed; she could not understand why the
waitress spoke with so much feeling. "Well," said she, pausing
before beginning on the last roll, "I don't care so long as I
find something to do."
"There's another thing," complained the waitress. "If you work
in a store, you can't get wages enough to live on; and you learn
things, and want to live better and better all the time. It
makes you miserable. And you can't marry the men who work at
nice refined labor because they don't make enough to marry on.
And if you work in a factory or as a servant, why all but the
commonest kind of men look down on you. You may get wages enough
to live on, but you can't marry or get up in the world."
"You're very ambitious, aren't you?"
"Indeed I am. I don't want to be in the working class." She was
leaning over the counter now, and her blond face was expressing
deep discontent and scorn. "I _hate_ working people. All of them
who have any sense look down on themselves and wish they could
get something respectable to do."
"Oh, you don't mean that," protested Susan. "Any kind of work's
respectable if it's honest."
"_You_ can say that," retorted the girl. "_You_ don't belong in
our class. You were brought up different. You are a _lady_."
Susan shrank and grew crimson. The other girl did not see. She
went on crossly:
"Upper-class people always talk about how fine it is to be an
honest workingman. But that's all rot. Let 'em try it a while.
And pa says it'll never be straightened out till everybody has
to work."
"What--what does your father do?"
"He was a cabinetmaker. Then one of the other men tipped over a
big chest and his right hand was crushed--smashed to pieces, so
he wasn't able to work any more. But he's mighty smart in his
brains. It's the kind you can't make any money out of. He has
read most everything. The trouble with pa was he had too much
heart. He wasn't mean enough to try and get ahead of the other
workmen, and rise to be a boss over them, and grind them down to
make money for the proprietor. So he stayed on at the bench--he
was a first-class cabinetmaker. The better a man is as a
workman, and the nicer he is as a man, the harder it is for him
to get up. Pa was too good at his trade--and too soft-hearted.
Won't you have another glass of milk?"
"No--thank you," said Susan. She was still hungry, but it
alarmed her to think of taking more than ten cents from her hoard.
"Are you going to ask for work at the box factory?"
"I'm afraid they wouldn't take me. I don't know how to make boxes."
"Oh, that's nothing," assured the restaurant girl.
"It's the easiest kind of work. But then an educated person can
pick up most any trade in a few days, well enough to get along.
They'll make you a paster, at first."
"How much does that pay?"
"He'll offer you two fifty a week, but you must make him give
you three. That's right for beginners. Then, if you stay on and
work hard, you'll be raised to four after six months. The
highest pay's five."
"Three dollars," said Susan. "How much can I rent a room for?"
The restaurant girl looked at her pityingly. "Oh, you can't
afford a room. You'll have to club in with three other girls and
take a room together, and cook your meals yourselves, turn about."
Susan tried not to show how gloomy this prospect seemed. "I'll
try," said she.
She paid the ten cents; her new acquaintance went with her to
the door, pointed out the huge bare wooden building displaying
in great letters "J. C. Matson, Paper Boxes." "You apply at the
office," said the waitress. "There'll be a fat black-complected
man in his shirt with his suspenders let down off his shoulders.
He'll be fresh with you. He used to be a working man himself, so
he hasn't any respect for working people. But he doesn't mean
any harm. He isn't like a good many; he lets his girls alone."
Susan had not got far when the waitress came running after her.
"Won't you come back and let me know how you made out?" she
asked, a little embarrassed. "I hope you don't think I'm fresh."
"I'll be glad to come," Susan assured her. And their eyes met in
a friendly glance.
"If you don't find a place to go, why not come in with me? I've
got only a very little bit of a room, but it's as big and a lot
cleaner than any you'll find with the factory girls."
"But I haven't any money," said Susan regretfully. "And I
couldn't take anything without paying."
"You could pay two dollars and a half a week and eat in with us.
We couldn't afford to give you much for that, but it'd be better
than what you'd get the other way."
"But you can't afford to do that."
The restaurant girl's mind was aroused, was working fast and
well. "You can help in the restaurant of evenings," she promptly
replied. "I'll tell ma you're so pretty you'll draw trade. And
I'll explain that you used to go to school with me--and have
lost your father and mother. My name's Etta Brashear."
"Mine's--Lorna Sackville," said Susan, blushing. "I'll come after
a while, and we'll talk about what to do. I may not get a place."
"Oh, you'll get it. He has hard work finding girls. Factories
usually pay more than stores, because the work's more looked
down on--though Lord knows it's hard to think how anything could
be more looked down on than a saleslady."
"I don't see why you bother about those things. What do they matter?"
"Why, everybody bothers about them. But you don't understand.
You were born a lady, and you'll always feel you've got social
standing, and people'll feel that way too."
"But I wasn't," said Susan earnestly. "Indeed, I wasn't. I was
born--a--a nobody. I can't tell you, but I'm just nobody. I
haven't even got a name."
Etta, as romantic as the next young girl, was only the more
fascinated by the now thrillingly mysterious stranger--so
pretty, so sweet, with such beautiful manners and strangely
outcast no doubt from some family of "high folks." "You'll be
sure to come? You won't disappoint me?"
Susan kissed Etta. Etta embraced Susan, her cheeks flushed, her
eyes brilliant. "`I've taken an awful fancy to you," she said.
"I haven't ever had an intimate lady friend. I don't care for
the girls round here. They're so fresh and common. Ma brought me
up refined; she's not like the ordinary working-class woman."
It hurt Susan deeply--why, she could not have quite
explained--to hear Etta talk in this fashion. And in spite of
herself her tone was less friendly as she said, "I'll come when
I find out."
IN the office of the factory Susan found the man Etta described.
He was seated, or, rather, was sprawled before an open and
overflowing rolltop desk, his collar and cuffs off, and his coat
and waistcoat also. His feet--broad, thick feet with knots at
the great toe joints bulging his shoes--were hoisted upon the
leaf of the desk. Susan's charms of person and manners so
wrought upon him that, during the exchange of preliminary
questions and answers, he slowly took down first one foot then
the other, and readjusted his once muscular but now loose and
pudgy body into a less loaferish posture. He was as unconscious
as she of the cause and meaning of these movements. Had he
awakened to what he was doing he would probably have been
angered against himself and against her; and the direction of
Susan Lenox's life would certainly have been changed. Those who
fancy the human animal is in the custody of some conscious and
predetermining destiny think with their vanity rather than with
their intelligence. A careful look at any day or even hour of
any life reveals the inevitable influence of sheer accidents,
most of them trivial. And these accidents, often the most
trivial, most powerfully determine not only the direction but
also the degree and kind of force--what characteristics shall
develop and what shall dwindle.
"You seem to have a nut on you," said the box manufacturer at
the end of the examination. "I'll start you at three."
Susan, thus suddenly "placed" in the world and ticketed with a
real value, was so profoundly excited that she could not even
make a stammering attempt at expressing gratitude.
"Do your work well," continued Matson, "and you'll have a good
steady job with me till you get some nice young fellow to
support you. Stand the boys off. Don't let 'em touch you till
you're engaged--and not much then till the preacher's said the word."
"Thank you," said Susan, trying to look grave. She was
fascinated by his curious habit of scratching himself as he
talked--head, ribs, arm, legs, the backs of his red hairy hands.
"Stand 'em off," pursued the box-maker, scratching his ribs and
nodding his huge head vigorously. "That's the way my wife got
me. It's pull Dick pull devil with the gals and the boys. And
the gal that's stiff with the men gets a home, while her that
ain't goes to the streets. I always gives my gals a word of good
advice. And many a one I've saved. There's mighty few preachers
does as much good as me. When can you go to work?"
Susan reflected. With heightened color and a slight stammer she
said, "I've got something to do this afternoon, if you'll let
me. Can I come in the morning?"
"Seven sharp. We take off a cent a minute up to a quarter of an
hour. If you're later than that, you get docked for the day. And
no excuses. I didn't climb to the top from spittoon cleaner in
a saloon fifteen years ago by being an easy mark for my hands."
"I'll come at seven in the morning," said Susan.
"Do you live far?"
"I'm going to live just up the street."
"That's right. It adds ten cents a day to your wages--the ten
you'll save in carfare. Sixty cents a week!" And Matson beamed
and scratched as if he felt he had done a generous act. "Who are
you livin' with? Respectable, I hope."
"With Miss Brashear--I think."
"Oh, yes--Tom Brashear's gal. They're nice people. Tom's an
honest fellow--used to make good money till he had his hard
luck. Him and me used to work together. But he never could seem
to learn that it ain't workin' for yourself but makin' others
work for you that climbs a man up. I never was much as a worker.
I was always thinkin' out ways of makin' people work for me. And
here I am at the top. And where's Tom? Well--run along
now--what's your name?"
"Lorna Sackville."
"Lorny." He burst into a loud guffaw. "Lord, what a name! Sounds
like a theayter. Seven sharp, Lorny. So long."
Susan nodded with laughing eyes, thanked him and departed. She
glanced up the street, saw Etta standing in the door of the
restaurant. Etta did not move from her own doorway, though she
was showing every sign of anxiety and impatience. "I can't leave
even for a minute so near the dinner hour," she explained when
Susan came, "or I'd, a' been outside the factory. And ma's got
to stick to the kitchen. I see you got a job. How much?"
"Three," replied Susan.
"He must have offered it to you," said Etta, laughing. "I
thought about it after you were gone and I knew you'd take
whatever he said first. Oh, I've been so scared something'd
happen. I do want you as my lady friend. Was he fresh?"
"Not a bit. He was--very nice."
"Well, he ought to be nice--as pa says, getting richer and
richer, and driving the girls he robs to marry men they hate or
to pick up a living in the gutter."
Susan felt that she owed her benefactor a strong protest. "Maybe
I'm foolish," said she, "but I'm awful glad he's got that place
and can give me work."
Etta was neither convinced nor abashed. "You don't understand
things in our class," replied she. "Pa says it was the kind of
grateful thinking and talking you've just done that's made him
poor in his old age. He says you've either got to whip or be
whipped, rob or be robbed--and that the really good honest
people are the fools who take the losing side. But he says, too,
he'd rather be a fool and a failure than stoop to stamping on
his fellow-beings and robbing them. And I guess he's
right"--there Etta laughed--"though I'll admit I'd hate to be
tempted with a chance to get up by stepping on somebody." She
sighed. "And sometimes I can't help wishing pa had done some
tramping and stamping. Why not? That's all most people are fit
for--to be tramped and stamped on. Now, don't look so shocked.
You don't understand. Wait till you've been at work a while."
Susan changed the subject. "I'm going to work at seven in the
morning. . . . I might as well have gone today. I had a kind of
an engagement I thought I was going to keep, but I've about
decided I won't."
Etta watched with awe and delight the mysterious look in Susan's
suddenly flushed face and abstracted eyes. After a time she
ventured to interrupt with:
"You'll try living with us?"
"If you're quite sure--did you talk to your mother?"
"Mother'll be crazy about you. She wants anything that'll make
me more contented. Oh, I do get so lonesome!"
Mrs. Brashear, a spare woman, much bent by monotonous
work--which, however, had not bent her courage or her
cheerfulness--made Susan feel at home immediately in the little
flat. The tenement was of rather a superior class. But to Susan
it seemed full of noisome smells, and she was offended by the
halls littered with evidences of the uncleanness of the tenants.
She did not then realize that the apparent superior cleanness
and neatness of the better-off classes was really in large part
only affected, that their secluded back doors and back ways gave
them opportunity to hide their uncivilized habits from the world
that saw only the front. However, once inside the Brashear flat,
she had an instant rise of spirits.
"Isn't this nice?" exclaimed she as Etta showed her, at a glance
from the sitting-room, the five small but scrupulously clean
rooms. "I'll like it here!"
Etta reddened, glanced at her for signs of mockery, saw that she
was in earnest. "I'm afraid it's better to look at than to live
in," she began, then decided against saying anything discouraging.
"It seems cramped to us," said she, "after the house we had till
a couple of years ago. I guess we'll make out, somehow."
The family paid twenty dollars a month for the flat. The
restaurant earned twelve to fifteen a week; and the son, Ashbel,
stocky, powerful and stupid, had a steady job as porter at ten
a week. He gave his mother seven, as he had a room to himself
and an enormous appetite. He talked of getting married; if he
did marry, the family finances would be in disorder. But his
girl had high ideas, being the daughter of a grocer who fancied
himself still an independent merchant though he was in fact the
even more poorly paid selling agent of the various food products
trusts. She had fixed twenty a week as the least on which she
would marry; his prospects of any such raise were--luckily for
his family--extremely remote; for he had nothing but physical
strength to sell, and the price of physical strength alone was
going down, under immigrant competition, not only in actual wages
like any other form of wage labor, but also in nominal wages.
Altogether, the Brashears were in excellent shape for a tenement
family, were better off than upwards of ninety per cent of the
families of prosperous and typical Cincinnati. While it was true
that old Tom Brashear drank, it was also true that he carefully
limited himself to two dollars a week. While it was true that he
could not work at his trade and apparently did little but sit
round and talk--usually high above his audience--nevertheless he
was the actual head of the family and its chief bread-winner. It
was his savings that were invested in the restaurant; he bought
the supplies and was shrewd and intelligent about that vitally
important department of the business--the department whose
mismanagement in domestic economy is, next to drink, the main
cause of failure and pauperism, of sickness, of premature
disability, of those profound discouragements that lead to
despair. Also, old Brashear had the sagacity and the nagging
habit that are necessary to keeping people and things up to the
mark. He had ideas--practical ideas as well as ideals--far above
his station. But for him the housekeeping would have been in the
familiar tenement fashion of slovenliness and filth, and the
family would have been neat only on Sundays, and only on the
surface then. Because he had the habit of speaking of himself as
useless, as done for, as a drag, as one lingering on when he
ought to be dead, his family and all the neighborhood thought of
him in that way. Although intelligence, indeed, virtue of every
kind, is expected of tenement house people--and is needed by
them beyond any other condition of humanity--they are
unfortunately merely human, are tainted of all human weaknesses.
They lack, for instance, discrimination. So, it never occurred
to them that Tom Brashear was the sole reason why the Brashears
lived better than any of the other families and yielded less to
the ferocious and incessant downward pressure.
But for one thing the Brashears would have been going up in the
world. That thing was old Tom's honesty. The restaurant gave
good food and honest measure. Therefore, the margin of profit
was narrow--too narrow. He knew what was the matter. He mocked
at himself for being "such a weak fool" when everybody else with
the opportunity and the intelligence was getting on by yielding
to the compulsion of the iron rule of dishonesty in business.
But he remained honest--therefore, remained in the working
class, instead of rising among its exploiters.
"If I didn't drink, I'd kill myself," said old Tom to Susan,
when he came to know her well and to feel that from her he could
get not the mere blind admiration the family gave him but
understanding and sympathy. "Whenever anybody in the working
class has any imagination," he explained, "he either kicks his
way out of it into capitalist or into criminal--or else he takes
to drink. I ain't mean enough to be either a capitalist or a
criminal. So, I've got to drink."
Susan only too soon began to appreciate from her own experience
what he meant.
In the first few days the novelty pleased her, made her think
she was going to be contented. The new friends and
acquaintances, different from any she had known, the new sights,
the new way of living--all this interested her, even when it
shocked one or many of her senses and sensibilities. But the
novelty of folding and pasting boxes, of the queer new kind of
girls who worked with her, hardly survived into the second week.
She saw that she was among a people where the highest known
standard--the mode of life regarded by them as the acme of
elegance and bliss--the best they could conceive was far, far
below what she had been brought up to believe the scantest
necessities of respectable and civilized living. She saw this
life from the inside now--as the comfortable classes never permit
themselves to see it if they can avoid. She saw that to be a
contented working girl, to look forward to the prospect of being
a workingman's wife, a tenement housekeeper and mother, a woman
must have been born to it--and born with little brains--must
have been educated for it, and for nothing else. Etta was
bitterly discontented; yet after all it was a vague endurable
discontent. She had simply heard of and dreamed of and from afar
off--chiefly through novels and poems and the theater--had
glimpsed a life that was broader, that had comfort and luxury,
people with refined habits and manners. Susan had not merely
heard of such a life; she had lived it--it, and no other.
Always of the thoughtful temperament, she had been rapidly
developed first by Burlingham and now by Tom Brashear--had been
taught not only how to think but also how to gather the things
to think about.
With a few exceptions the girls at the factory were woefully
unclean about their persons. Susan did not blame them; she only
wondered at Etta the more, and grew to admire her--and the
father who held the whole family up to the mark. For, in spite
of the difficulties of getting clean, without bathtub, without
any but the crudest and cheapest appliances for cleanliness,
without any leisure time, Etta kept herself in perfect order.
The show boat and the quarters at the hotel had been trying to
Susan. But they had seemed an adventure, a temporary, passing
phase, a sort of somewhat prolonged camping-out lark. Now, she
was settled down, to live, apparently for the rest of her life,
with none of the comforts, with few of the decencies. What Etta
and her people, using all their imagination, would have pictured
as the pinnacle of luxury would have been for Susan a small and
imperfect part of what she had been bred to regard as "living
decently." She suspected that but for Etta's example she would
be yielding, at least in the matter of cleanliness, when the
struggle against dirt was so unequal, was thankless.
Discouragement became her frequent mood; she wondered if the
time would not come when it would be her fixed habit, as it was
with all but a handful of those about her.
Sometimes she and Etta walked in the quarter at the top of the
hill where lived the families of prosperous
merchants--establishments a little larger, a little more
pretentious than her Uncle George's in Sutherland, but on the
whole much like it--the houses of the solid middle class which
fancies itself grandly luxurious where it is in fact merely
comfortable in a crude unimaginative way. Susan was one of those
who are born with the instinct and mental bent for luxurious
comfort; also, she had the accompanying peculiar talent for
assimilating ideas about food and dress and surroundings from
books and magazines, from the study of well-dressed people in
the street, from glances into luxurious interiors through
windows or open doors as she passed by. She saw with even
quicker and more intelligently critical eyes the new thing, the
good idea, the improvement on what she already knew. Etta's
excitement over these commonplace rich people amused her. She
herself, on the wings of her daring young fancy, could soar into
a realm of luxury, of beauty and exquisite comfort, that made
these self-complacent mansions seem very ordinary indeed. It was
no drag upon her fancy, but the reverse, that she was sharing a
narrow bed and a narrow room in a humble and tiny tenement flat.
On one of these walks Etta confided to her the only romance of
her life therefore the real cause of her deep discontent. It was
a young man from one of these houses--a flirtation lasting about
a year. She assured Susan it was altogether innocent.
Susan--perhaps chiefly because Etta protested so insistently
about her unsullied purity--had her doubts.
"Then," said Etta, "when I saw that he didn't care anything
about me except in one way--I didn't see him any more. I--I've
been sorry ever since."
Susan did not offer the hoped-for sympathy. She was silent.
"Did you ever have anything like that happen to you?" inquired Etta.
"Yes," said Susan. "Something like that."
"And what did you do?"
"I didn't want to see him any more."
"I don't know--exactly.
"And you like him?"
"I think I would have liked him."
"You're sorry you stopped?"
"Sometimes," replied she, hesitatingly.
She was beginning to be afraid that she would soon be sorry all
the time. Every day the war within burst forth afresh. She
reproached herself for her growing hatred of her life. Ought she
not to be grateful that she had so much--that she was not one of
a squalid quartette in a foul, vermin-infested back
bedroom--infested instead of only occasionally visited--that she
was not a streetwalker, diseased, prowling in all weathers, the
prey of the coarse humors of contemptuous and usually drunken
beasts; that she was not living where everyone about her would,
by pity or out of spitefulness, tear open the wounds of that
hideous brand which had been put upon her at birth? Above all,
she ought to be thankful that she was not Jeb Ferguson's wife.
But her efforts to make herself resigned and contented, to kill
her doubts as to the goodness of "goodness," were not
successful. She had Tom Brashear's "ungrateful" nature--the
nature that will not let a man or a woman stay in the class of
hewers of wood and drawers of water but drives him or her out of
it--and up or down.
"You're one of those that things happen to," the old
cabinetmaker said to her on a September evening, as they sat on
the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. The tenements had
discharged their swarms into the hot street, and there was that
lively panorama of dirt and disease and depravity which is
fascinating--to unaccustomed eyes. "Yes," said Tom, "things'll
happen to you."
"What--for instance?" she asked.
"God only knows. You'll up and do something some day. You're
settin' here just to grow wings. Some day--swish!--and off you'll
soar. It's a pity you was born female. Still--there's a lot of
females that gets up. Come to think of it, I guess sex don't
matter. It's havin' the soul--and mighty few of either sex has it."
"Oh, I'm like everybody else," said the girl with an impatient
sigh. "I dream, but--it doesn't come to anything."
"No, you ain't like everybody else," retorted he, with a
positive shake of his finely shaped head, thatched superbly with
white hair. "You ain't afraid, for instance. That's the
principal sign of a great soul, I guess."
"Oh, but I _am_ afraid," cried Susan. "I've only lately found out
what a coward I am."
"You think you are," said the cabinetmaker. "There's them that's
afraid to do, and don't do. Then there's them that's afraid to
do, but goes ahead and does anyhow. That's you. I don't know
where you came from--oh, I heard Etta's accountin' for you to
her ma, but that's neither here nor there. I don't know where
you come from, and I don't know where you're going. But--you
ain't afraid--and you have imagination--and those two signs
means something doing."
Susan shook her head dejectedly; it had been a cruelly hard day
at the factory and the odors from the girls working on either
side of her had all but overwhelmed her.
Old Tom nodded with stronger emphasis. "You're too young, yet,"
he said. "And not licked into shape. But wait a while. You'll
get there."
Susan hoped so, but doubted it. There was no time to work at
these large problems of destiny when the daily grind was so
compelling, so wearing, when the problems of bare food, clothing
and shelter took all there was in her.
For example, there was the matter of clothes. She had come with
only what she was wearing. She gave the Brashears every Saturday
two dollars and a half of her three and was ashamed of herself
for taking so much for so little, when she learned about the
cost of living and how different was the food the Brashears had
from that of any other family in those quarters! As soon as she
had saved four dollars from her wages--it took nearly two
months--she bought the necessary materials and made herself two
plain outer skirts, three blouses and three pairs of drawers.
Chemises and corset covers she could not afford. She bought a
pair of shoes for a dollar, two pairs of stockings for thirty
cents, a corset for eighty cents, an umbrella for half a dollar,
two underwaists for a quarter. She bought an untrimmed hat for
thirty-five cents and trimmed it with the cleaned ribbon from
her summer sailor and a left over bit of skirt material. She
also made herself a jacket that had to serve as wrap too--and
the materials for this took the surplus of her wages for another
month. The cold weather had come, and she had to walk fast when
she was in the open air not to be chilled to the bone. Her Aunt
Fanny had been one of those women, not too common in America,
who understand and practice genuine economy in the
household--not the shabby stinginess that passes for economy but
the laying out of money to the best advantage that comes only
when one knows values. This training stood Susan in good stead
now. It saved her from disaster--from disintegration.
She and Etta did some washing every night, hanging the things on
the fire escape to dry. In this way she was able to be clean;
but in appearance she looked as poor as she was. She found a
cobbler who kept her shoes in fair order for a few cents; but
nothing was right about them soon--except that they were not
down at the heel. She could recall how she had often wondered
why the poor girls at Sutherland showed so little taste, looked
so dowdy. She wondered at her own stupidity, at the narrowness
of an education, such as hers had been, an education that left
her ignorant of the conditions of life as it was lived by all
but a lucky few of her fellow beings.
How few the lucky! What an amazing world--what a strange
creation the human race! How was it possible that the lucky few,
among whom she had been born and bred, should know so little,
really nothing, about the lot of the vast mass of their fellows,
living all around them, close up against them? "If I had only
known!" she thought. And then she reflected that, if she had
known, pleasure would have been impossible. She could see her
bureau drawers, her closets at home. She had thought herself not
any too well off. Now, how luxurious, how stuffed with shameful,
wasteful unnecessaries those drawers and closets seemed!
And merely to keep herself in underclothes that were at least
not in tatters she had to spend every cent over and above her
board. If she had had to pay carfare ten cents a day, sixty
cents a week!--as did many of the girls who lived at home, she
would have been ruined. She understood now why every girl
without a family back of her, and without good prospect of
marriage, was revolving the idea of becoming a streetwalker--not
as a hope, but as a fear. As she learned to observe more
closely, she found good reasons for suspecting that from time to
time the girls who became too hard pressed relieved the tension
by taking to the streets on Saturday and Sunday nights. She read
in the _Commercial_ one noon--Mr. Matson sometimes left his paper
where she could glance through it--she read an article on
working girls, how they were seduced to lives of shame--by love
of _finery_! Then she read that those who did not fall were
restrained by religion and innate purity. There she
laughed--bitterly. Fear of disease, fear of maternity, yes. But
where was this religion? Who but the dullest fools in the throes
of that bare and tortured life ever thought of God? As for the
purity--what about the obscene talk that made her shudder
because of its sheer filthy stupidity?--what about the frank
shamelessness of the efforts to lure their "steadies" into
speedy matrimony by using every charm of caress and of person to
inflame passion without satisfying it? She had thought she knew
about the relations of the sexes when she came to live and work
in that tenement quarter. Soon her knowledge had seemed
ignorance beside the knowledge of the very babies.
It was a sad, sad puzzle. If one ought to be good--chaste and
clean in mind and body--then, why was there the most tremendous
pressure on all but a few to make them as foul as the
surroundings in which they were compelled to live? If it was
wiser to be good, then why were most people imprisoned in a life
from which they could escape only by being bad? What was this
thing comfortable people had set up as good, anyhow--and what
was bad? She found no answer. How could God condemn anyone for
anything they did in the torments of the hell that life revealed
itself to her as being, after a few weeks of its moral, mental
and physical horrors? Etta's father was right; those who
realized what life really was and what it might be, those who
were sensitive took to drink or went to pieces some other way,
if they were gentle, and if they were cruel, committed any
brutality, any crime to try to escape.
In former days Susan thought well of charity, as she had been
taught. Old Tom Brashear gave her a different point of view. One
day he insulted and drove from the tenement some pious
charitable people who had come down from the fashionable hilltop
to be good and gracious to their "less fashionable
fellow-beings." After they had gone he explained his harshness
to Susan:
"That's the only way you can make them slickedup brutes feel,"
said he, "they're so thick in the hide and satisfied with
themselves. What do they come here for! To do good! Yes--to
themselves. To make themselves feel how generous and sweet they
was. Well, they'd better go home and read their Russia-leather
covered Bibles. They'd find out that when God wanted to really
do something for man, he didn't have himself created a king, or
a plutocrat, or a fat, slimy church deacon in a fashionable
church. No, he had himself born a bastard in a manger."
Susan shivered, for the truth thus put sounded like sacrilege.
Then a glow--a glow of pride and of hope--swept through her.
"If you ever get up into another class," went on old Tom, "don't
come hangin' round the common people you'll be livin' off of and
helpin' to grind down; stick to your own class. That's the only
place anybody can do any good--any real helpin' and lovin', man
to man, and woman to woman. If you want to help anybody that's
down, pull him up into your class first. Stick to your class.
You'll find plenty to do there."
"What, for instance?" asked Susan. She understood a little of
what he had in mind, but was still puzzled.
"Them stall-fed fakers I just threw out," the old man went on.
"They come here, actin' as if this was the Middle Ages and the
lord of the castle was doin' a fine thing when he went down
among the low peasants who'd been made by God to work for the
lords. But this ain't the Middle Ages. What's the truth about it?"
"I don't know," confessed Susan.
"Why, the big lower class is poor because the little upper class
takes away from 'em and eats up all they toil and slave to make.
Oh, it ain't the upper class's fault. They do it because they're
ignorant more'n because they're bad, just as what goes on down
here is ignorance more'n badness. But they do it, all the same.
And they're ignorant and need to be told. Supposin' you saw a
big girl out yonder in the street beatin' her baby sister. What
would you do? Would you go and hold out little pieces of candy
to the baby and say how sorry you was for her? Or would you
first grab hold of that big sister and throw her away from
beatin' of the baby?"
"I see," said Susan.
"That's it exactly," exclaimed the old man, in triumph. "And I
say to them pious charity fakers, `Git the hell out of here
where you can't do no good. Git back to yer own class that makes
all this misery, makes it faster'n all the religion and charity
in the world could help it. Git back to yer own class and work
with them, and teach them and make them stop robbin' and beatin'
the baby.'"
"Yes," said the girl, "you are right. I see it now. But, Mr.
Brashear, they meant well."
"The hell they did," retorted the old man. "If they'd, a' had
love in their hearts, they'd have seen the truth. Love's one of
the greatest teachers in the world. If they'd, a' meant well,
they'd, a' been goin' round teachin' and preachin' and prayin'
at their friends and fathers and brothers, the plutocrats.
They'd never 'a' come down here, pretendin' they was doin' good,
killin' one bedbug out of ten million and offerin' one pair of
good pants where a hundred thousand pairs is needed. They'd
better go read about themselves in their Bible--what Jesus says.
He knew 'em. _He_ belonged to _us_--and _they_ crucified him."
The horrors of that by no means lowest tenement region, its
horrors for a girl bred as Susan had been! Horrors moral,
horrors mental, horrors physical--above all, the physical
horrors; for, worse to her than the dull wits and the lack of
education, worse than vile speech and gesture, was the hopeless
battle against dirt, against the vermin that could crawl
everywhere--and did. She envied the ignorant and the insensible
their lack of consciousness of their own plight--like the
disemboweled horse that eats tranquilly on. At first she had
thought her unhappiness came from her having been used to better
things, that if she had been born to this life she would have
been content, gay at times. Soon she learned that laughter does
not always mean mirth; that the ignorant do not lack the power
to suffer simply because they lack the power to appreciate; that
the diseases, the bent bodies, the harrowed faces, the
drunkenness, quarreling, fighting, were safer guides to the real
conditions of these people than their occasional guffaws and
fits of horseplay.
A woman from the hilltop came in a carriage to see about a
servant. On her way through the hall she cried out: "Gracious!
Why don't these lazy creatures clean up, when soap costs so
little and water nothing at all!" Susan heard, was moved to face
her fiercely, but restrained herself. Of what use? How could the
woman understand, if she heard, "But, you fool, where are we to
get the time to clean up?--and where the courage?--and would soap
enough to clean up and keep clean cost so little, when every
penny means a drop of blood?"
"If they only couldn't drink so much!" said Susan to Tom.
"What, then?" retorted he. "Why, pretty soon wages'd be cut
faster than they was when street carfares went down from ten
cents to five. Whenever the workin' people arrange to live
cheaper and to try to save something, down goes wages. No, they
might as well drink. It helps 'em bear it and winds 'em up
sooner. I tell you, it ain't the workin' people's fault--it's
the bosses, now. It's the system--the system. A new form of
slavery, this here wage system--and it's got to go--like the
slaveholder that looked so copper-riveted and Bible-backed in
its day."
That idea of "the system" was beyond Susan. But not what her
eyes saw, and her ears heard, and her nose smelled, and her
sense of touch shrank from. No ambition and no reason for
ambition. No real knowledge, and no chance to get any--neither
the leisure nor the money nor the teachers. No hope, and no
reason for hope. No God--and no reason for a God.
Ideas beyond her years, beyond her comprehension, were stirring
in her brain, were making her grave and thoughtful. She was
accumulating a store of knowledge about life; she was groping
for the clew to its mystery, for the missing fact or facts which
would enable her to solve the puzzle, to see what its lessons
were for her. Sometimes her heavy heart told her that the
mystery was plain and the lesson easy--hopelessness. For of all
the sadness about her, of all the tragedies so sordid and
unromantic, the most tragic was the hopelessness. It would be
impossible to conceive people worse off; it would be impossible
to conceive _these_ people better off. They were such a
multitude that only they could save themselves--and they had no
intelligence to appreciate, no desire to impel. If their
miseries--miseries to which they had fallen heir at birth--had
made them what they were, it was also true that they were what
they were--hopeless, down to the babies playing in the filth. An
unscalable cliff; at the top, in pleasant lands, lived the
comfortable classes; at the bottom lived the masses--and while
many came whirling down from the top, how few found their way up!
On a Saturday night Ashbel came home with the news that his
wages had been cut to seven dollars. And the restaurant had been
paying steadily less as the hard times grew harder and the cost
of unadulterated and wholesome food mounted higher and higher.
As the family sat silent and stupefied, old Tom looked up from
his paper, fixed his keen, mocking eyes on Susan.
"I see, here," said he, "that _we_ are so rich that they want to
raise the President's salary so as he can entertain
_decently_--and to build palaces at foreign courts so as our
representatives'll live worthy of _us_!"
ON Monday at the lunch hour--or, rather, halfhour--Susan
ventured in to see the boss.
Matson had too recently sprung from the working class and was
too ignorant of everything outside his business to have made
radical changes in his habits. He smoked five-cent cigars
instead of "twofurs"; he ate larger quantities of food, did not
stint himself in beer or in treating his friends in the evenings
down at Wielert's beer garden. Also he wore a somewhat better
quality of clothing; but he looked precisely what he was. Like
all the working class above the pauper line, he made a Sunday
toilet, the chief features of which were the weekly bath and the
weekly clean white shirt. Thus, it being only Monday morning, he
was looking notably clean when Susan entered--and was morally
wound up to a higher key than he would be as the week wore on.
At sight of her his feet on the leaf of the desk wavered, then
became inert; it would not do to put on manners with any of the
"hands." Thanks to the bath, he was not exuding his usual odor
that comes from bolting much strong, cheap food.
"Well, Lorny--what's the kick?" inquired he with his amiable
grin. His rise in the world never for an instant ceased to be a
source of delight to him; it--and a perfect digestion--kept him
in a good humor all the time.
"I want to know," stammered Susan, "if you can't give me a
little more money."
He laughed, eyeing her approvingly. Her clothing was that of the
working girl; but in her face was the look never found in those
born to the modern form of slavery-wage servitude. If he had
been "cultured" he might have compared her to an enslaved
princess, though in fact that expression of her courageous
violet-gray eyes and sensitive mouth could never have been in
the face of princess bred to the enslaving routine of the most
conventional of conventional lives; it could come only from
sheer erectness of spirit, the exclusive birthright of the sons
and daughters of democracy.
"More money!" he chuckled. "You _have_ got a nerve!--when
factories are shutting down everywhere and working people are
tramping the streets in droves."
"I do about one-fourth more than the best hands you've got,"
replied Susan, made audacious by necessity. "And I'll agree to
throw in my lunch time."
"Let me see, how much do you get?"
"Three dollars."
"And you aren't living at home. You must have a hard time. Not
much over for diamonds, eh? You want to hustle round and get
married, Lorny. Looks don't last long when a gal works. But
you're holdin' out better'n them that gads and dances all night."
"I help at the restaurant in the evening to piece out my board.
I'm pretty tired when I get a chance to go to bed."
"I'll bet!. . . So, you want more money. I've been watchin'
you. I watch all my gals--I have to, to keep weedin' out the
fast ones. I won't have no bad examples in _my_ place! As soon as
I ketch a gal livin' beyond her wages I give her the bounce."
Susan lowered her eyes and her cheeks burned--not because Matson
was frankly discussing the frivolous subject of sex. Another
girl might have affected the air of distressed modesty, but it
would have been affectation, pure and simple, as in those
regions all were used to hearing the frankest, vilest
things--and we do not blush at what we are used to hearing.
Still, the tenement female sex is as full of affectation as is
the sex elsewhere. But, Susan, the curiously self-unconscious,
was incapable of affectation. Her indignation arose from her
sense of the hideous injustice of Matson's discharging girls for
doing what his meager wages all but compelled.
"Yes, I've been watching you," he went on, "with a kind of a
sort of a notion of makin' you a forelady. That'd mean six
dollars a week. But you ain't fit. You've got the brains--plenty
of 'em. But you wouldn't be of no use to me as forelady."
"Why not?" asked Susan. Six dollars a week! Affluence! Wealth!
Matson took his feet down, relit his cigar and swung himself
into an oracular attitude.
"I'll show you. What's manufacturin'? Right down at the bottom,
I mean." He looked hard at the girl. She looked receptively at him.
"Why, it's gettin' work out of the hands. New ideas is nothin'.
You can steal 'em the minute the other fellow uses 'em. No, it's
all in gettin' work out of the hands."
Susan's expression suggested one who sees light and wishes to
see more of it. He proceeded:
"You work for me--for instance, now, if every day you make stuff
there's a profit of five dollars on, I get five dollars out of
you. If I can push you to make stuff there's a profit of six
dollars on, I get six dollars--a dollar more. Clear extra gain,
isn't it? Now multiply a dollar by the number of hands, and
you'll see what it amounts to."
"I see," said Susan, nodding thoughtfully.
"Well! How did I get up? Because as a foreman I knew how to work
the hands. I knew how to get those extra dollars. And how do I
keep up? Because I hire forepeople that get work out of the hands."
Susan understood. But her expression was a comment that was not
missed by the shrewd Matson.
"Now, listen to me, Lorny. I want to give you a plain straight
talk because I'd like to see you climb. Ever since you've been
here I've been laughin' to myself over the way your
forelady--she's a fox, she is!--makes you the pacemaker for the
other girls. She squeezes at least twenty-five cents a day over
what she used to out of each hand in your room because you're
above the rest of them dirty, shiftless muttonheads."
Susan flushed at this fling at her fellow-workers.
"Dirty, shiftless muttonheads," repeated Matson. "Ain't I right?
Ain't they dirty? Ain't they shiftless--so no-account that if
they wasn't watched every minute they'd lay down--and let me and
the factory that supports 'em go to rack and ruin? And ain't
they muttonheads? Do you ever find any of 'em saying or doing a
sensible thing?"
Susan could not deny. She could think of excuses--perfect
excuses. But the facts were about as he brutally put it.
"Oh, I know 'em. I've dealt with 'em all my life," pursued the
box manufacturer. "Now, Lorny, you ought to be a forelady.
You've got to toughen up and stop bein' so polite and helpful
and all that. You'll _never_ get on if you don't toughen up.
Business is business. Be as sentimental as you like away from
business, and after you've clum to the top. But not _in_ business
or while you're kickin' and scratchin' and clawin' your way up."
Susan shook her head slowly. She felt painfully young and
inexperienced and unfit for the ferocious struggle called
life. She felt deathly sick.
"Of course it's a hard world," said Matson with a wave of his
cigar. "But did I make it?"
"No," admitted Susan, as his eyes demanded a reply.
"Sure not," said he. "And how's anybody to get up in it? Is
there any other way but by kickin' and stampin', eh?"
"None that I see," conceded Susan reluctantly.
"None that is," declared he. "Them that says there's other ways
either lies or don't know nothin' about the practical game.
Well, then!" Matson puffed triumphantly at the cigar. "Such
bein' the case--and as long as the crowd down below's got to be
kicked in the face by them that's on the way up, why shouldn't
I do the kickin'--which is goin' to be done anyhow--instead of
gettin' kicked? Ain't that sense?"
"Yes," admitted Susan. She sighed. "Yes," she repeated.
"Well--toughen up. Meanwhile, I'll raise you, to spur the others
on. I'll give you four a week." And he cut short her thanks with
an "Oh, don't mention it. I'm only doin' what's square--what
helps me as well as you. I want to encourage you. You don't
belong down among them cattle. Toughen up, Lorny. A girl with
a bank account gets the pick of the beaux." And he nodded a
Matson, and his hands, bosses and workers, brutal, brutalizing
each other more and more as they acted and reacted upon each
other. Where would it end?
She was in dire need of underclothes. Her undershirts were full
of holes from the rubbing of her cheap, rough corset; her
drawers and stockings were patched in several places--in fact,
she could not have worn the stockings had not her skirt now been
well below her shoetops. Also, her shoes, in spite of the money
she had spent upon them, were about to burst round the edges of
the soles. But she would not longer accept from the Brashears
what she regarded as charity.
"You more than pay your share, what with the work you do,"
protested Mrs. Brashear. "I'll not refuse the extra dollar
because I've simply got to take it. But I don't want to pertend."
The restaurant receipts began to fall with the increasing
hardness of the times among the working people. Soon it was down
to practically no profit at all--that is, nothing toward the
rent. Tom Brashear was forced to abandon his policy of honesty,
to do as all the other purveyors were doing--to buy cheap stuff
and to cheapen it still further. He broke abruptly with his
tradition and his past. It aged him horribly all in a few
weeks--but, at least, ruin was put off. Mrs. Brashear had to
draw twenty of the sixty-three dollars which were in the savings
bank against sickness. Funerals would be taken care of by the
burial insurance; each member of the family, including Susan,
had a policy. But sickness had to have its special fund; and it
was frequently drawn upon, as the Brashears knew no more than
their neighbors about hygiene, and were constantly catching the
colds of foolish exposure or indigestion and letting them
develop into fevers, bad attacks of rheumatism, stomach trouble,
backache all regarded by them as by their neighbors as a
necessary part of the routine of life. Those tenement people had
no more notion of self-restraint than had the "better classes"
whose self-indulgences maintain the vast army of doctors and
druggists. The only thing that saved Susan from all but an
occasional cold or sore throat from wet feet was eating little
through being unable to accustom herself to the fare that was
the best the Brashears could now afford--cheap food in cheap
lard, coarse and poisonous sugar, vilely adulterated coffee,
doctored meat and vegetables--the food which the poor in their
ignorance buy--and for which they in their helplessness pay
actually higher prices than do intelligent well-to-do people for
the better qualities. And not only were the times hard, but the
winter also. Snow--sleet--rain--thaw--slush--noisome,
disease-laden vapor--and, of course, sickness everywhere--with
occasional relief in death, relief for the one who died, relief
for the living freed from just so much of the burden. The
sickness on every hand appalled Susan. Surely, she said to old
Brashear, the like had never been before; on the contrary, said
he, the amount of illness and death was, if anything, less than
usual because the hard times gave people less for eating and
drinking. These ghastly creatures crawling toward the hospital
or borne out on stretchers to the ambulance--these yet ghastlier
creatures tottering feebly homeward, discharged as cured--these
corpses of men, of women, of boys and girls, of babies--oh, how
many corpses of babies!--these corpses borne away for burial,
usually to the public burying ground--all these stricken ones in
the battle ever waging, with curses, with hoarse loud laughter,
with shrieks and moans, with dull, drawn faces and jaws set--all
these stricken ones were but the ordinary losses of the battle!
"And in the churches," said old Tom Brashear, "they preach the
goodness and mercy of God. And in the papers they talk about how
rich and prosperous we are."
"I don't care to live! It is too horrible," cried the girl.
"Oh, you mustn't take things so to heart," counseled he. "Us
that live this life can't afford to take it to heart. Leave that
to them who come down here from the good houses and look on us
for a minute and enjoy themselves with a little weepin' and
sighin' as if it was in the theater."
"It seems worse every, day," she said. "I try to fool myself,
because I've got to stay and----"
"Oh, no, you haven't," interrupted he.
Susan looked at him with a startled expression. It seemed to her
that the old man had seen into her secret heart where was daily
raging the struggle against taking the only way out open to a
girl in her circumstances. It seemed to her he was hinting that
she ought to take that way.
If any such idea was in his mind, he did not dare put it into
words. He simply repeated:
"You won't stay. You'll pull out."
"How?" she asked.
"Somehow. When the way opens you'll see it, and take it."
There had long since sprung up between these two a sympathy, a
mutual understanding beyond any necessity of expression in words
or looks. She had never had this feeling for anyone, not even
for Burlingham. This feeling for each other had been like that
of a father and daughter who love each other without either
understanding the other very well or feeling the need of a
sympathetic understanding. There was a strong resemblance
between Burlingham and old Tom. Both belonged to the familiar
philosopher type. But, unlike the actor-manager, the old
cabinetmaker had lived his philosophy, and a very gentle and
tolerant philosophy it was.
After she had looked her request for light upon what way she was
to take, they sat silent, neither looking at the other, yet each
seeing the other with the eye of the mind. She said:
"I may not dare take it."
"You won't have no choice," replied he. "You'll have to take it.
And you'll get away from here. And you mustn't ever come
back--or look back. Forget all this misery. Rememberin' won't do
us no good. It'd only weaken you."
"I shan't ever forget," cried the girl.
"You must," said the old man firmly. He added, "And you will.
You'll have too much else to think about--too much that has to
be attended to."
As the first of the year approached and the small shopkeepers of
the tenements, like the big ones elsewhere, were casting up the
year's balances and learning how far toward or beyond the verge
of ruin the hard times had brought them, the sound of the fire
engines--and of the ambulances--became a familiar part of the
daily and nightly noises of the district. Desperate shopkeepers,
careless of their neighbors' lives and property in fiercely
striving for themselves and their families--workingmen out of a
job and deep in debt--landlords with too heavy interest falling
due--all these were trying to save themselves or to lengthen the
time the fact of ruin could be kept secret by setting fire to
their shops or their flats. The Brashears had been burned out
twice in their wandering tenement house life; so old Tom was
sleeping little; was constantly prowling about the halls of all
the tenements in that row and into the cellars.
He told Susan the open secret of the meaning of most of these
fires. And after he had cursed the fire fiends, he apologized
for them. "It's the curse of the system," explained he. "It's
all the curse of the system. These here storekeepers and the
farmers the same way--they think they're independent, but really
they're nothin' but fooled slaves of the big blood suckers for
the upper class. But these here little storekeepers, they're
tryin' to escape. How does a man escape? Why, by gettin' some
hands together to work for him so that he can take it out of their
wages. When you get together enough to hire help--that's when you
pass out of slavery into the master class--master of slaves."
Susan nodded understandingly.
"Now, how can these little storekeepers like me get together
enough to begin to hire slaves? By a hundred tricks, every one
of them wicked and mean. By skimpin' and slavin' themselves and
their families, by sellin' short weight, by sellin' rotten food,
by sellin' poison, by burnin' to get the insurance. And, at
last, if they don't die or get caught and jailed, they get
together the money to branch out and hire help, and begin to get
prosperous out of the blood of their help. These here arson
fellows--they're on the first rung of the ladder of success. You
heard about that beautiful ladder in Sunday school, didn't you?"
"Yes," said Susan, "that and a great many other lies about God
and man."
Susan had all along had great difficulty in getting sleep
because of the incessant and discordant noises of the district.
The unhappy people added to their own misery by disturbing each
other's rest--and no small part of the bad health everywhere
prevailing was due to this inability of anybody to get proper
sleep because somebody was always singing or quarreling,
shouting or stamping about. But Susan, being young and as yet
untroubled by the indigestion that openly or secretly preyed
upon everyone else, did at last grow somewhat used to noise, did
contrive to get five or six hours of broken sleep. With the
epidemic of fires she was once more restless and wakeful. Every
day came news of fire somewhere in the tenement districts of the
city, with one or more, perhaps a dozen, roasted to death, or
horribly burned. A few weeks, however, and even that peril
became so familiar that she slept like the rest. There were too
many actualities of discomfort, of misery, to harass her all day
long every time her mind wandered from her work.
One night she was awakened by a scream. She leaped from bed to
find the room filling with smoke and the street bright as day,
but with a flickering evil light. Etta was screaming, Ashbel was
bawling and roaring like a tortured bull. Susan, completely
dazed by the uproar, seized Etta and dragged her into the hall.
There were Mr. and Mrs. Brashear, he in his nightdress of
drawers and undershirt, she in the short flannel petticoat and
sacque in which she always slept. Ashbel burst out of his room,
kicking the door down instead of turning the knob.
"Lorny," cried old Tom, "you take mother and Etta to the
escape." And he rushed at his powerful, stupid son and began to
strike him in the face with his one good fist, shrieking, "Shut
up, you damn fool! Shut up!"
Dragging Etta and pushing Mrs. Brashear, Susan moved toward the
end of the hall where the fire escape passed their windows. All
the way down, the landings were littered with bedding, pots,
pans, drying clothes, fire wood, boxes, all manner of rubbish,
the overflow of the crowded little flats. Over these
obstructions and down the ladders were falling and stumbling
men, women, children, babies, in all degrees of nudity--for many
of the big families that slept in one room with windows tight
shut so that the stove heat would not escape and be wasted when
fuel was so dear, slept stark naked. Susan contrived to get
Etta and the old woman to the street; not far behind them came
Tom and Ashbel, the son's face bleeding from the blows his
father had struck to quiet him.
It was a penetrating cold night, with an icy drizzle falling.
The street was filled with engines, hose, all manner of ruined
household effects, firemen shouting, the tenement people
huddling this way and that, barefooted, nearly or quite naked,
silent, stupefied. Nobody had saved anything worth while. The
entire block was ablaze, was burning as if it had been saturated
with coal oil.
"The owner's done this," said old Tom. "I heard he was in
trouble. But though he's a church member and what they call a
philanthropist, I hardly thought he'd stoop to hirin' this
done. If anybody's caught, it'll be some fellow that don't know
who he did it for."
About a hundred families were homeless in the street. Half a
dozen patrol wagons and five ambulances were taking the people
away to shelter, women and babies first. It was an hour--an hour
of standing in the street, with bare feet on the ice, under the
ankledeep slush--before old Tom and his wife got their turn to
be taken. Then Susan and Etta and Ashbel, escorted by a
policeman, set out for the station house. As they walked along,
someone called out to the policeman:
"Anybody killed at the fire, officer?"
"Six jumped and was smashed," replied the policeman. "I seen
three dead babies. But they won't know for several days how many
it'll total."
And all her life long, whenever Susan Lenox heard the clang of
a fire engine, there arose before her the memory picture of that
fire, in all the horror of detail. A fire bell to her meant
wretched families flung into the night, shrieks of mangled and
dying, moans of babies with life oozing from their blue lips,
columns of smoke ascending through icy, soaking air, and a vast
glare of wicked light with flame demons leaping for joy in the
measureless woe over which they were presiding. As the little
party was passing the fire lines, Ashbel's foot slipped on a
freezing ooze of blood and slush, and he fell sprawling upon a
human body battered and trampled until it was like an overturned
basket of butcher's odds and ends.
The station house was eleven long squares away. But before they
started for it they were already at the lowest depth of physical
wretchedness which human nerves can register; thus, they
arrived simply a little more numb. The big room, heated by a
huge, red-hot stove to the point where the sweat starts, was
crowded with abject and pitiful human specimens. Even Susan, the
most sensitive person there, gazed about with stolid eyes. The
nakedness of unsightly bodies, gross with fat or wasted to
emaciation, the dirtiness of limbs and torsos long, long
unwashed, the foul steam from it all and from the water-soaked
rags, the groans of some, the silent, staring misery of others,
and, most horrible of all, the laughter of those who yielded
like animals to the momentary sense of physical well-being as
the heat thawed them out--these sights and sounds together made
up a truly infernal picture. And, like all the tragedies of
abject poverty, it was wholly devoid of that dignity which is
necessary to excite the deep pity of respect, was sordid and
squalid, moved the sensitive to turn away in loathing rather
than to advance with brotherly sympathy and love.
Ashbel, his animal instinct roused by the sight of the stove,
thrust the throng aside rudely as he pushed straight for the
radiating center. Etta and Susan followed in his wake. The
fierce heat soon roused them to the sense of their plight.
Ashbel began to curse, Etta to weep. Susan's mind was staring,
without hope but also without despair, at the walls of the trap
in which they were all caught--was seeking the spot where they
could begin to burrow through and escape.
Beds and covers were gathered in by the police from everywhere
in that district, were ranged upon the floor of the four rooms.
The men were put in the cells downstairs; the women and the
children got the cots. Susan and Etta lay upon the same
mattress, a horse blanket over them. Etta slept; Susan, wide
awake, lived in brain and nerves the heart-breaking scenes
through which she had passed numb and stolid.
About six o'clock a breakfast of coffee, milk and bread was
served. It was evident that the police did not know what to do
with these outcasts who had nothing and no place to go--for
practically all were out of work when the blow came. Ashbel
demanded shoes, pants and a coat.
"I've got to get to my job," shouted he, "or else I'll lose it.
Then where in the hell'd we be!"
His blustering angered the sergeant, who finally told him if he
did not quiet down he would be locked in a cell. Susan
interrupted, explained the situation, got Ashbel the necessary
clothes and freed Etta and herself of his worse than useless
presence. At Susan's suggestion such other men as had jobs were
also fitted out after a fashion and sent away. "You can take the
addresses of their families if you send them anywhere during the
day, and these men can come back here and find out where they've
gone----" this was the plan she proposed to the captain, and he
adopted it. As soon as the morning papers were about the city,
aid of every kind began to pour in, with the result that before
noon many of the families were better established than they had
been before the fire.
Susan and Etta got some clothing, enough to keep them warm on
their way through the streets to the hospital to which Brashear
and his wife had been taken. Mrs. Brashear had died in the
ambulance--of heart disease, the doctors said, but Susan felt it
was really of the sense that to go on living was impossible. And
fond of her though she was, she could not but be relieved that
there was one less factor in the unsolvable problem.
"She's better, off" she said to Etta in the effort to console.
But Etta needed no consolation. "Ever so much better off," she
promptly assented. "Mother hasn't cared about living since we
had to give up our little home and become tenement house people.
And she was right."
As to Brashear, they learned that he was ill; but they did not
learn until evening that he was dying of pneumonia. The two
girls and Ashbel were admitted to the ward where he lay--one of
a long line of sufferers in bare, clean little beds. Screens
were drawn round his bed because he was dying. He had been
suffering torments from the savage assaults of the pneumonia;
but the pain had passed away now, so he said, though the
dreadful sound of his breathing made Susan's heart flutter and
her whole body quiver.
"Do you want a preacher or a priest?" asked the nurse.
"Neither," replied the old man in gasps and whispers. "If there
is a God he'll never let anybody from this hell of a world into
his presence. They might tell him the truth about himself."
"Oh, father, father!" pleaded Etta, and Ashbel burst into a fit
of hysterical and terrified crying.
The old man turned his dying eyes on Susan. He rested a few
minutes, fixing her gaze upon his with a hypnotic stare. Then he
began again:
"You've got somethin' more'n a turnip on your shoulders. Listen
to me. There was a man named Jesus once"--gasp--gasp--"You've
heard about him, but you don't know about
him"--gasp--gasp--"I'll tell you--listen. He was a low fellow--a
workin' man--same trade as mine--born without a father--born in
a horse trough--in a stable"--gasp--gasp--
Susan leaned forward. "Born without a father," she murmured, her
eyes suddenly bright.
"That's him. Listen"--gasp--gasp--gasp--"He was a big
feller--big brain--big heart--the biggest man that ever
lived"--gasp--gasp--gasp--gas--"And he looked at this here hell
of a world from the outside, he being an outcast and a low-down
common workingman. And he _saw_--he did----
"Yes, he saw!"--gasp--gasp--gasp--"And he said all men were
brothers--and that they'd find it out some day. He saw that this
world was put together for the strong and the cruel--that they
could win out--and make the rest of us work for 'em for what they
chose to give--like they work a poor ignorant horse for his feed
and stall in a dirty stable----"gasp--gasp--gasp--
"For the strong and the cruel," said Susan.
"And this feller Jesus--he set round the saloons and such
places--publicans, they called 'em"--gasp--gasp--gasp--"And he
says to all the poor ignorant slaves and such cattle, he says,
`You're all brothers. Love one another'"--gasp--gasp--gasp--"
`Love one another,' he says, `and learn to help each other and
stand up for each other,' he says, `and hate war and fightin'
and money grabbin'----'"gasp--gasp--gasp--"`Peace on earth,' he
says, `Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free'--and
he saw there'd be a time"--the old man raised himself on one
elbow--"Yes, by God--there _will_ be!--a time when men'll learn
not to be beasts and'll be men--_men_, little gal!"
"Men," echoed Susan, her eyes shining, her bosom heaving.
"It ain't sense and it ain't right that everything should be for
the few--for them with brains--and that the rest--the
millions--should be tramped down just because they ain't so
cruel or so `cute'--they and their children tramped down in the
dirt. And that feller Jesus saw it."
"Yes--yes," cried Susan. "He saw it."
"I'll tell you what he was," said old Tom in a hoarse whisper.
"He wasn't no god. He was bigger'n that--bigger'n that, little
gal! He was the first _man_ that ever lived. He said, `Give the
weak a chance so as they kin git strong.' He says----"
The dying man fell back exhausted. His eyes rolled wildly,
closed; his mouth twitched, fell wide open; there came from his
throat a sound Susan had never heard before, but she knew what
it was, what it meant.
Etta and Ashbel were overwhelmed afresh by the disgrace of
having their parents buried in Potter's Field--for the insurance
money went for debts. They did not understand when Susan said,
"I think your father'd have liked to feel that he was going to
be buried there--because then he'll be with--with his Friend.
You know, _He_ was buried in Potter's Field." However, their
grief was shortlived; there is no time in the lives of working
people for such luxuries as grief--no more time than there is at
sea when all are toiling to keep afloat the storm-racked sinking
ship and one sailor is swept overboard. In comfortable lives a
bereavement is a contrast; in the lives of the wretched it is
but one more in the assailing army of woes.
Etta took a job at the box factory at three dollars a week; she
and Susan and Ashbel moved into two small rooms in a flat in a
tenement opposite the factory--a cheaper and therefore lower
house than the one that had burned. They bought on the
installment plan nine dollars' worth of furniture--the scant
minimum of necessities. They calculated that, by careful saving,
they could pay off the debt in a year or so--unless one or the
other fell ill or lost work. "That means," said Etta, eyeing
their flimsy and all but downright worthless purchases, "that
means we'll still be paying when this furniture'll be gone to
pieces and fit only for kindling."
"It's the best we can do," replied Susan. "Maybe one of us'll
get a better job."
"_You_ could, I'm sure, if you had the clothes," said Etta. "But
not in those rags."
"If I had the clothes? Where?"
"At Shillito's or one of the other department stores. They'd
give us both places in one of the men's departments. They like
pretty girls for those places--if they're not giddy and don't
waste time flirting but use flirtation to sell goods. But what's
the sense in talking about it? You haven't got the clothes. A
saleslady's got to be counter-dressed. She can look as bad as
she pleases round the skirt and the feet. But from the waist up
she has to look natty, if she wants wages."
Susan had seen these girls; she understood now why they looked
as if they were the put together upper and lower halves of two
different persons. She recalled that, even though they went into
other business, they still retained the habit, wore toilets that
were counterbuilt. She revolved the problem of getting one of
these toilets and of securing a store job. But she soon saw it
was hopeless, for the time. Every cent the three had was needed
to keep from starving and freezing. Also--though she did not
realize it--her young enthusiasm was steadily being sapped by
the life she was leading. It may have been this rather than
natural gentleness--or perhaps it was as much the one as the
other--that kept Susan from taking Matson's advice and hardening
herself into a forelady. The ruddy glow under her skin had given
place to, the roundness of her form had gone, and its pallor;
beauty remained only because she had a figure which not even
emaciation could have deprived of lines of alluring grace. But
she was no longer quite so straight, and her hair, which it was
a sheer impossibility to care for, was losing its soft vitality.
She was still pretty, but not the beauty she had been when she
was ejected from the class in which she was bred. However, she
gave the change in herself little thought; it was the rapid
decline of Etta's prettiness and freshness that worried her most.
Not many weeks after the fire and the deeper plunge, she began
to be annoyed by Ashbel. In his clumsy, clownish way he was
making advances to her. Several times he tried to kiss her.
Once, when Etta was out, he opened the door of the room where
she was taking a bath in a washtub she had borrowed of the
janitress, leered in at her and very reluctantly obeyed her
sharp order to close the door. She had long known that he was in
reality very different from the silent restrained person fear
of his father made him seem to be. But she thought even the
reality was far above the rest of the young men growing up among
those degrading influences.
The intrusion into her room was on a Sunday; on the following
Sunday he came back as soon as Etta went out. "Look here,
Lorny," said he, with blustering tone and gesture, "I want to
have a plain talk with you. I'm sick and tired of this. There's
got to be a change."
"Sick of what?" asked Susan.
"Of the way you stand me off." He plumped himself sullenly down
on the edge of hers and Etta's bed. "I can't afford to get
married. I've got to stick by you two."
"It strikes me, Ashbel, we all need each other. Who'd marry you
on seven a week?" She laughed good-humoredly. "Anyhow, _you_
wouldn't support a wife. It takes the hardest kind of work to
get your share of the expenses out of you. You always try to
beat us down to letting you off with two fifty a week."
"That's about all Etta pays."
"It's about all she gets. And __I__ pay three fifty--and she and I
do all the work--and give you two meals and a lunch to take with
you--and you've got a room alone--and your mending done. I guess
you know when you're well off."
"But I ain't well off," he cried. "I'm a grown-up man--and I've
got to have a woman."
Susan had become used to tenement conditions. She said,
practically, "Well--there's your left over four dollars a week."
"Huh!" retorted he. "Think I'm goin' to run any risks? I'm no
fool. I take care of my health."
"Well--don't bother me with your troubles--at least, troubles of
that sort."
"Yes, but I will!" shouted he, in one of those sudden furies
that seize upon the stupid ignorant. "You needn't act so nifty
with me. I'm as good as you are. I'm willing to marry you."
"No, thanks," said Susan. "I'm not free to marry--even if I would."
"Oh--you ain't?" For an instant his curiosity, as she thus laid
a hand upon the curtain over her past, distracted his uncertain
attention. But her expression, reserved, cold, maddeningly
reminding him of a class distinction of which he was as
sensitively conscious as she was unconscious--her expression
brought him back with a jerk. "Then you'll have to live with me,
anyhow. I can't stand it, and I'm not goin' to.
If you want me to stay on here, and help out, you've got to
treat me right. Other fellows that do as I'm doing get treated
right. And I've got to be, too--or I'll clear out." And he
squirmed, and waggled his head and slapped and rubbed his heavy,
powerful legs.
"Why, Ashbel," said Susan, patting him on the shoulder. "You and
I are like brother and sister. You might as well talk this way
to Etta."
He gave her a brazen look, uttered a laugh that was like the
flinging out of a bucket of filth. "Why not? Other fellows that
have to support the family and can't afford to marry gets took
care of." Susan shrank away. But Ashbel did not notice it. "It
ain't a question of Etta," he went on. "There's you--and I don't
need to look nowhere else."
Susan had long since lost power to be shocked by any revelation
of the doings of people lashed out of all civilized feelings by
the incessant brutal whips of poverty and driven back to the
state of nature. She had never happened to hear definitely of
this habit--even custom--of incestuous relations; now that she
heard, she instantly accepted it as something of which she had
really known for some time. At any rate, she had no sense of
shock. She felt no horror, no deep disgust, simply the distaste
into which her original sense of horror had been thinned down by
constant contact with poverty's conditions--just as filth no
longer made her shudder, so long as it did not touch her own person.
"You'd better go and chase yourself round the square a few
times," said she, turning away and taking up some mending.
"You see, there ain't no way out of it," pursued he, with an
insinuating grin.
Susan gave him a steady, straight look. "Don't ever speak of it
again," said she quietly. "You ought to be ashamed--and you will
be when you think it over."
He laughed loudly. "I've thought it over. I mean what I say. If
you don't do the square thing by me, you drive me out."
He came hulking up to her, tried to catch her in his big
powerful arms. She put the table between him and her. He kicked
it aside and came on. She saw that her move had given him a
false impression--a notion that she was afraid of him, was
coquetting with him. She opened the door leading into the front
part of the flat where the Quinlan family lived. "If you don't
behave yourself, I'll call Mr. Quinlan," said she, not the least
bluster or fear or nervousness in her tone.
"What'd be the use? He'd only laugh. Why, the same thing's going
on in their family."
"Still, he'd lynch you if I told him what _you_ were trying to do."
Even Ashbel saw this familiar truth of human nature. The fact
that Quinlan was guilty himself, far from staying him from
meting out savage justice to another, would make him the more
relentless and eager. "All right," said he. "Then you want me to
git out?"
"I want you to behave yourself and stay on. Go take a walk, Ashbel."
And Ashbel went. But his expression was not reassuring; Susan
feared he had no intention of accepting his defeat. However, she
reasoned that numbskull though he was, he yet had wit enough to
realize how greatly to his disadvantage any change he could make
would be. She did not speak of the matter to Etta, who was
therefore taken completely by surprise when Ashbel, after a
silent supper that evening, burst out with his grievance:
"I'm going to pack up," said he. "I've found a place where I'll
be treated right." He looked haughtily at Susan. "And the
daughter's a good looker, too. She's got some weight on her. She
ain't like a washed out string."
Etta understood at once. "What a low-down thing you are!" she
cried. "Just like the rest of these filthy tenement house
animals. I thought _you_ had some pride."
"Oh, shut up!" bawled Ashbel. "You're not such a much. What're
we, anyhow, to put on airs? We're as common as dirt--yes, and
that sniffy lady friend of yours, too. Where'd she come from,
anyhow? Some dung pile, I'll bet."
He went into his room, reappeared with his few belongings done
into a bundle. "So long," said he, stalking toward the hall door.
Etta burst into tears, caught him by the arm. "You ain't goin',
are you, Ashy?" cried she.
"Bet your life. Let me loose." And he shook her off. "I'm not
goin' to be saddled with two women that ain't got no gratitude."
"My God, Lorna!" wailed Etta. "Talk to him. Make him stay."
Susan shook her head, went to the window and gazed into the
snowy dreary prospect of tenement house yards. Ashbel, who had
been hesitating through hope, vented a jeering laugh. "Ain't she
the insultin'est, airiest lady!" sneered he. "Well, so long."
"But, Ashy, you haven't paid for last week yet," pleaded Etta,
clinging to his arm.
"You kin have my share of the furniture for that."
"The furniture! Oh, my God!" shrieked Etta, releasing him to
throw out her arms in despair. "How'll we pay for the furniture
if you go?"
"Ask your high and mighty lady friend," said her brother. And he
opened the door, passed into the hall, slammed it behind him.
Susan waited a moment for Etta to speak, then turned to see what
she was doing. She had dropped into one of the flimsy chairs,
was staring into vacancy.
"We'll have to give up these rooms right away," said Susan.
Etta roused herself, looked at her friend. And Susan saw what
Etta had not the courage to express--that she blamed her for not
having "made the best of it" and kept Ashbel. And Susan was by
no means sure that the reproach in Etta's eyes and heart were
not justified. "I couldn't do it, Etta," she said with a faint
suggestion of apology.
"Men are that way," said Etta sullenly.
"Oh, I don't blame him," protested Susan. "I understand. But--I
can't do it, Etta--I simply can't!"
"No," said Etta. "You couldn't. I could, but you couldn't. I'm
not as far down as Ashbel. I'm betwixt and between; so I can
understand you both."
"You go and make up with him and let me look after myself. I'll
get along."
Etta shook her head. "No," said she without any show of
sentiment, but like one stating an unalterable fact. "I've got
to stay on with you. I can't live without you. I don't want to
go down. I want to go up."
"Up!" Susan smiled bitterly.
Silence fell between them, and Susan planned for the new
conditions. She did not speak until Etta said, "What ever
will we do?"
"We've got to give up the furniture. Thank goodness, we've paid
only two-fifty on it."
"Yes, _it's_ got to go," said Etta.
"And we've got to pay Mrs. Quinlan the six we owe her and get
out tonight. We'll go up to the top floor--up to Mrs. Cassatt.
She takes sleepers. Then--we'll see."
An hour later they had moved; for Mrs. Quinlan was able to find
two lodgers to take the rooms at once. They were established
with Mrs. Cassatt, had a foul and foul-smelling bed and one-half
of her back room; the other half barely contained two even
dirtier and more malodorous cots, in one of which slept Mrs.
Cassatt's sixteen-year-old daughter Kate, in the other her
fourteen-year-old son Dan. For these new quarters and the right
to cook their food on the Cassatt stove the girls agreed to pay
three dollars and a half a week--which left them three dollars
and a half a week for food and clothing--and for recreation and
for the exercise of the virtue of thrift which the comfortable
so assiduously urge upon the poor.
EACH girl now had with her at all times everything she possessed
in the world--a toothbrush, a cake of castile soap, the little
money left out of the week's wages, these three items in the
pocket of her one skirt, a cheap dark blue cloth much wrinkled
and patched; a twenty-five cent felt hat, Susan's adorned with
a blue ribbon, Etta's with a bunch of faded roses; a blue cotton
blouse patched under the arms with stuff of a different shade;
an old misshapen corset that cost forty-nine cents in a bargain
sale; a suit of gray shoddy-and-wool underwear; a pair of
fifteen-cent stockings, Susan's brown, Etta's black; a pair of
worn and torn ties, scuffed and down at the heel, bought for a
dollar and nine cents; a dirt-stained dark blue jacket, Susan's
lacking one button, Etta's lacking three and having a patch
under the right arm.
Yet they often laughed and joked with each other, with their
fellow-workers. You might have said their hearts were light; for
so eager are we to believe our fellow-beings comfortable, a
smile of poverty's face convinces us straightway that it is as
happy as we, if not happier. There would have been to their
mirth a little more than mere surface and youthful ability to
find some jest in the most crushing tragedy if only they could
have kept themselves clean. The lack of sufficient food was a
severe trial, for both had voracious appetites; Etta was
tormented by visions of quantity, Susan by visions of quality as
well as of quantity. But only at meal times, or when they had to
omit a meal entirely, were they keenly distressed by the food
question. The cold was a still severer trial; but it was warm in
the factory and it was warm in Mrs. Cassatt's flat, whose
windows were never opened from closing in of winter until spring
came round. The inability to keep clean was the trial of trials.
From her beginning at the box factory the physical uncleanness
of the other girls had made Susan suffer keenly. And her
suffering can be understood only by a clean person who has been
through the same ordeal. She knew that her fellow-workers were
not to blame. She even envied them the ignorance and the
insensibility that enabled them to bear what, she was convinced,
could never be changed. She wondered sometimes at the strength
and grip of the religious belief among the girls--even, or,
rather, especially, among those who had strayed from virtue into
the path their priests and preachers and rabbis told them was
the most sinful of all strayings. But she also saw many signs
that religion was fast losing its hold. One day a Lutheran girl,
Emma Schmeltz, said during a Monday morning lunch talk:
"Well, anyhow, I believe it's all a probation, and everything'll
be made right hereafter. __I__ believe my religion, I do. Yes,
we'll be rewarded in the hereafter."
Becky--Rebecca Lichtenspiel--laughed, as did most of the girls.
Said Becky:
"And there ain't no hereafter. Did you ever see a corpse? Ain't
they the dead ones! Don't talk to me about no hereafter."
Everybody laughed. But this was a Monday morning conversation,
high above the average of the girls' talk in intelligence and
liveliness. Their minds had been stimulated by the Sunday rest
from the dreary and degenerating drudgery of "honest toil."
It was the physical contacts that most preyed upon Susan. She
was too gentle, too considerate to show her feelings; in her
determined and successful effort to conceal them she at times
went to the opposite extreme and not only endured but even
courted contacts that were little short of loathsome. Tongue
could not tell what she suffered through the persistent
affectionateness of Letty Southard, a sweet and pretty young
girl of wretchedly poor family who developed an enormous liking
for her. Letty, dirty and clad in noisome undergarments beneath
soiled rags and patches, was always hugging and kissing her--and
not to have submitted would have been to stab poor Letty to the
heart and humiliate all the other girls. So no one, not even
Etta, suspected what she was going through.
From her coming to the factory in the morning, to hang her hat
and jacket in the only possible place, along with the soiled and
smelling and often vermin-infected wraps of the others--from
early morning until she left at night she was forced into
contacts to which custom never in the least blunted her.
However, so long as she had a home with the Brashears there was
the nightly respite. But now--
There was little water, and only a cracked and filthy basin to
wash in. There was no chance to do laundry work; for their
underclothes must be used as night clothes also. To wash their
hair was impossible.
"Does my hair smell as bad as yours?" said Etta. "You needn't
think yours is clean because it doesn't show the dirt like mine."
"Does my hair smell as bad as the rest of the girls'?" said Susan.
"Not quite," was Etta's consoling reply.
By making desperate efforts they contrived partially to wash
their bodies once a week, not without interruptions of
privacy--to which, however, they soon grew accustomed. In spite
of efforts which were literally heroic, they could not always
keep free from parasites; for the whole tenement and all persons
and things in it were infected--and how could it be otherwise
where no one had time or money or any effective means whatsoever
to combat nature's inflexible determination to breed wherever
there is a breeding spot? The last traces of civilization were
slipping from the two girls; they were sinking to a state of nature.
Even personal pride, powerful in Susan and strong in Etta
through Susan's example, was deserting them. They no longer
minded Dan's sleeping in their room. They saw him, his father,
the other members of the family in all stages of nudity and at
the most private acts; and they were seen by the Cassatts in the
same way. To avoid this was impossible, as impossible as to
avoid the parasites swarming in the bed, in the woodwork, in
cracks of ceiling, walls, floor.
The Cassatts were an example of how much the people who live in
the sheltered and more or less sunny nooks owe to their shelter
and how little to their own boasted superiority of mind and
soul. They had been a high class artisan family until a few
months before. The hard times struck them a series of quick,
savage blows, such as are commonplace enough under our social
system, intricate because a crude jumble of makeshifts, and
easily disordered because intricate. They were swept without a
breathing pause down to the bottom. Those who have always been
accustomed to prosperity have no reserve of experience or
courage to enable them to recuperate from sudden and extreme
adversity. In an amazingly short time the Cassatts had become
demoralized--a familiar illustration of how civilization is
merely a wafer-thin veneer over most human beings as yet. Over
how many is it more? They fought after a fashion; they fought
valiantly. But how would it have been possible not steadily to
yield ground against such a pitiless, powerful foe as poverty?
The man had taken to drink, to blunt outraged self-respect and
to numb his despair before the spectacle of his family's
downfall. Mrs. Cassatt was as poor a manager as the average
woman in whatever walk of life, thanks to the habit of educating
woman in the most slipshod fashion, if at all, in any other part
of the business but sex-trickery. Thus she was helpless before
the tenement conditions. She gave up, went soddenly about in
rags with an incredibly greasy and usually dangling tail of hair.
"Why don't you tie up that tail, ma?" said the son Dan, who had
ideas about neatness.
"What's the use?" said Mrs. Cassatt. "What's the use of _anything_?"
"Ma don't want to look stylish and stuck up," said the daughter.
Mrs. Cassatt's haunting terror was lest someone who had known
them in the days of their prosperity with a decently furnished
little house of their own should run into one of the family now.
Kate, the sixteen-year-old had a place as saleslady in a big shop
in Fifth, Street; her six dollars a week was the family's
entire steady income. She had formerly possessed a good
deal of finery for a girl in her position, though really not
much more than the daughter of the average prosperous artisan or
small shopkeeper expects, and is expected, to have. Being at the
shop where finery was all the talk and sight and thought from
opening until closing had developed in her a greedy taste for
luxury. She pilfered from the stocks of goods within her reach
and exchanged her stealings for the stealings of girls who
happened to be able to get things more to her liking or need.
But now that the family savings--bank account was exhausted, all
these pilferings had to go at once to the pawnshop. Kate grew
more and more ill-tempered as the family sank. Formerly she had
been noted for her amiability, for her vanity easily pleased
with a careless compliment from no matter whom--a jocose,
half-drunken ash man, half-jeering, half-admiring from his cart
seat quite as satisfactory as anybody. But poverty was bringing
out in her all those meanest and most selfish and most brutish
instincts--those primal instincts of human nature that
civilization has slowly been subjecting to the process of
atrophy which has lost us such other primal attributes as, for
example, prehensile toes and a covering of hair.
"Well, I for one don't have to stay in this slop barrel," Kate
was always saying. "Some fine morning I'll turn up missing--and
you'll see me in my own turnout."
She was torturing her mother and father with the dread that she
would leave the family in the lurch and enter a house of
prostitution. She recounted with the utmost detail how the madam
of a house in Longworth Street came from time to time to her
counter in the perfumery and soap department--and urged her to
"stop making a fool of yourself and come get good money for your
looks before you lose 'em drudging behind a counter." The idea
grew less abhorrent, took on allurement as the degradation of
tenement life ate out respect for conventional restraints--for
modesty, for virtue, for cleanness of speech, and the rest. More
and more boldly Kate was announcing that she wasn't going to be
a fool much longer.
Dan, the fourteen-year-old boy, had attracted the attention of
what Cassatt called "a fancy lady" who lived two floors below
them. She made sometimes as much as nine or ten dollars a week
and slept all day or lounged comfortably about in showy, tawdry
stuff that in those surroundings seemed elegant luxury. She was
caught by the boy's young beauty and strength, and was rapidly
training him in every vice and was fitting him to become a
professional seducer and "lover."
Said Mrs. Cassatt in one of her noisy wailing appeals to Dan:
"You better keep away from that there soiled dove. They tell me
she's a thief--has done time--has robbed drunken men in dark
Dan laughed impudently. "She's a cute one. What diff does it
make how she gets the goods as long as she gets it?"
Mrs. Cassatt confided to everybody that she was afraid the woman
would make a thief of her boy--and there was no disputing the
justice of her forebodings.
Foul smells and sights everywhere, and foul language; no
privacy, no possibility of modesty where all must do all in the
same room: vermin, parasites, bad food vilely cooked--in the
midst of these and a multitude of similar ills how was it
possible to maintain a human standard, even if one had by chance
acquired a knowledge of what constituted a human standard? The
Cassatts were sinking into the slime in which their neighbors
were already wallowing. But there was this difference. For the
Cassatts it was a descent; for many of their neighbors it was an
ascent--for the immigrants notably, who had been worse off in
their European homes; in this land not yet completely in the
grip of the capitalist or wage system they were now getting the
first notions of decency and development, the first views and
hope of rising in the world. The Cassatts, though they had
always lived too near the slime to be nauseated by it, still
found it disagreeable and in spots disgusting. Their neighbors--
One of the chief reasons why these people were rising so slowly
where they were rising at all was that the slime seemed to them
natural, and to try to get clean of it seemed rather a foolish,
finicky waste of time and effort. People who have come up--by
accident, or by their own force, or by the force of some at once
shrewd and brutal member of the family--have to be far and long
from the slums before they lose the sense that in conforming to
the decencies of life they are making absurd effeminate concessions.
When they go to buy a toothbrush they blush and stammer.
"Look at Lorna and Etta," Mrs. Cassatt was always saying to Kate.
"Well, I see 'em," Kate would reply. "And I don't see much."
"Ain't you ashamed of yourself!" cried the mother. "Them two
lives straight and decent. And you're better off than they are."
"Don't preach to me, ma," sneered Kate. "When I get ready
I'll--stop making a damn fool of myself."
But the example of the two girls was not without its effect.
They, struggling on in chastity against appalling odds, became
the models, not only to Mrs. Cassatt, but all the mothers of
that row held up to their daughters. The mothers--all of them by
observation, not a few by experience--knew what the "fancy
lady's" life really meant. And they strove mightily to keep
their daughters from it. Not through religion or moral feeling,
though many pretended--perhaps fancied--that this was their
reason; but through the plainest kind of practical sense--the
kind that in the broad determines the actions of human beings of
whatever class, however lofty the idealistic pretenses may be.
These mothers knew that the profession of the pariah meant a
short life and a wretched one, meant disease, lower and ever
lower wages, the scale swiftly descending, meant all the
miseries of respectability plus a heavy burden of miseries of
its own. There were many other girls besides Susan and Etta
holding up their heads--girls with prospects of matrimony, girls
with fairly good wages, girls with fathers and brothers at work
and able to provide a home. But Susan and Etta were peculiarly
valuable as examples because they were making the fight alone
and unaided.
Thus, they were watched closely. In those neighborhoods everyone
knows everyone's else business down to how the last cent is got
and spent. If either girl had appeared in a new pair of shoes,
a new hat, a new garment of any kind, at once the report would
have sped that the wearer had taken a turn in the streets. And
the scandal would have been justified; for where could either
have respectably got the money for the smallest and cheapest
addition to her toilet? Matson, too, proudly pointed them out as
giving the lie to the talk about working girls not getting
living wages, to the muttering against him and his fellow
employers as practically procurers for the pavement and the
dive, for the charity hospital's most dreadful wards, for the
Morgue's most piteous boxes and slabs.
As their strength declined, as their miseries ate in and in, the
two girls ceased talking together; they used to chatter much of
the time like two birds on a leafy, sunny bough. Now they
walked, ate their scanty, repulsive meals, dressed, worked, all
in silence. When their eyes met both glanced guiltily away, each
fearing the other would discover the thought she was
revolving--the thought of the streets. They slept badly--Etta
sometimes, Susan every night. For a long time after she came to
the tenements she had not slept well, despite her youth and the
dull toil that wore her out each day. But after many months she
had grown somewhat used to the noisiness--to fretting babies, to
wailing children, the mixed ale parties, the quarrelings of the
ill and the drunk, the incessant restlessness wherever people
are huddled so close together that repose is impossible. And she
had gradually acquired the habit of sleeping well--that is, well
for the tenement region where no one ever gets the rest without
which health is impossible. Now sleeplessness came again--hours
on hours of listening to the hateful and maddening discords of
densely crowded humanity, hours on hours of
thinking--thinking--in the hopeless circles like those of a
caged animal, treading with soft swift step round and round,
nose to the iron wall, eyes gleaming with despairing pain.
One Saturday evening after a supper of scorched cornmeal which
had been none too fresh when they got it at the swindling
grocer's on the street floor, Etta put on the tattered, patched
old skirt at which she had been toiling. "I can't make it fit to
wear," said she. "It's too far gone; I think"--her eyelids
fluttered--"I'll go see some of the girls."
Susan, who was darning--seated on the one chair--yes, it had once
been a chair--did not look up or speak. Etta put on her
hat--slowly. Then, with a stealthy glance at Susan, she moved
slidingly toward the door. As she reached it Susan's hands
dropped to her lap; so tense were Etta's nerves that the gesture
made her startle. "Etta!" said Susan in an appealing voice.
Etta's hand dropped from the knob. "Well--what is it, Lorna?"
she asked in a low, nervous tone.
"Look at me, dear."
Etta tried to obey, could not.
"Don't do it--yet," said Susan. "Wait--a few more days."
"Wait for what?"
"I don't know. But--wait."
"You get four, I get only three--and there's no chance of a
raise. I work slower instead of faster. I'm going to be
discharged soon. I'm in rags underneath. . . . I've got to go
before I get sick--and won't have anything to--to sell."
Susan did not reply. She stared at the remains of a cheap
stocking in her lap. Yes, there was no doubt about it, Etta's
health was going. Etta was strong, but she had no such store of
strength to draw upon as had accumulated for Susan during the
seventeen years of simple, regular life in healthful
surroundings. A little while and Etta would be ill--would,
perhaps--probably--almost certainly--die--
Dan Cassatt came in at the other door, sat on the edge of his
bed and changed his trousers for what he was pleased to imagine
a less disreputable pair. Midway the boy stopped and eyed
Susan's bare leg and foot, a grin of pleasure and amusement on
his precociously and viciously mature face.
"My, but you keep clean," he cried. "And you've got a mighty
pretty foot. Minnie's is ugly as hell."
Minnie was the "fancy lady" on the floor below--"my skirt," he
called her. Susan evidently did not hear his compliment. Dan
completed his "sporting toilet" with a sleeking down of his long
greasy hair, took himself away to his girl. Susan was watching
a bug crawl down the wall toward their bed with its stained and
malodorous covers of rag. Etta was still standing by the door
motionless. She sighed, once more put her hand on the knob.
Susan's voice came again. "You've never been out, have you?"
"No," replied Etta.
Susan began to put on her stocking. "I'll go," said she. "I'll
"No!" cried Etta, sobbing. "It don't matter about me. I'm bound
to be sucked under. You've got a chance to pull through."
"Not a ghost of a chance," answered Susan. "I'll go. You've
never been."
"I know, but----"
"You've never been," continued Susan, fastening her shoe with
its ragged string. "You've never been. Well--I have."
"You!" exclaimed Etta, horrified though unbelieving. "Oh, no,
you haven't."
"Yes," said Susan. "And worse."
"And worse?" repeated Etta. "Is that what the look I sometimes
see in your eyes--when you don't know anyone's seeing--is that
what it means?"
"I suppose so. I'll go. You stay here."
"And you--out there!"
"It doesn't mean much to me."
Etta looked at her with eyes as devoted as a dog's. "Then we'll
go together," she said.
Susan, pinning on her weather-stained hat, reflected. "Very
well," she said finally. "There's nothing lower than this."
They said no more; they went out into the clear, cold winter
night, out under the brilliant stars. Several handsome theater
buses were passing on their way from the fashionable suburb to
the theater. Etta looked at them, at the splendid horses, at the
men in top hats and fur coats--clean looking, fine looking,
amiable looking men--at the beautiful fur wraps of the delicate
women--what complexions!--what lovely hair!--what jewels! Etta,
her heart bursting, her throat choking, glanced at Susan to see
whether she too was observing. But Susan's eyes were on the
tenement they had just left.
"What are you looking at--so queer?" asked Etta.
"I was thinking that we'll not come back here."
Etta started. "Not come back _home!_"
Susan gave a strange short laugh. "Home!. . . No, we'll not
come back home. There's no use doing things halfway. We've made
the plunge. We'll go--the limit."
Etta shivered. She admired the courage, but it terrified her.
"There's something--something--awful about you, Lorna," she
said. "You've changed till you're like a different person from
what you were when you came to the restaurant. Sometimes--that
look in your eyes--well, it takes my breath away."
"It takes _my_ breath away, too. Come on."
At the foot of the hill they took the shortest route for Vine
Street, the highway of the city's night life.
Though they were so young and walked briskly, their impoverished
blood was not vigorous enough to produce a reaction against the
sharp wind of the zero night which nosed through their few thin
garments and bit into their bodies as if they were naked. They
came to a vast department store. Each of its great show-windows,
flooded with light, was a fascinating display of clothing for
women upon wax models--costly jackets and cloaks of wonderful
furs, white, brown, gray, rich and glossy black; underclothes
fine and soft, with ribbons and flounces and laces; silk
stockings and graceful shoes and slippers; dresses for street,
for ball, for afternoon, dresses with form, with lines, dresses
elegantly plain, dresses richly embroidered. Despite the cold
the two girls lingered, going from window to window, their
freezing faces pinched and purple, their eyes gazing hungrily.
"Now that we've tried 'em all on," said Susan with a short and
bitter laugh, "let's dress in our dirty rags again and go."
"Oh, I couldn't imagine myself in any of those things--could
you?" cried Etta.
"Yes," answered Susan. "And better."
"You were brought up to have those things, I know."
Susan shook her head. "But I'm going to have them."
"When?" said Etta, scenting romance. "Soon?"
"As soon as I learn," was Susan's absent, unsatisfactory reply.
Etta had gone back to her own misery and the contrasts to it. "I
get mad through and through," she cried, "when I think how all
those things go to some women--women that never did work and
never could. And they get them because they happen to belong to
rich fathers and husbands or whoever protects them. It isn't
fair! It makes me crazy!"
Susan gave a disdainful shrug. "What's the use of that kind of
talk!" said she. "No use at all. The thing is, _we_ haven't got
what we want, and we've got to _get_ it--and so we've got to
_learn_ how."

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