Saturday's Child by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Part Two. Wealth
Susan went straight downstairs, and, with as little self- consciousness as if the house had been on fire, tapped at and opened the door of Stephen Bocqueraz's study. He half rose, with a smile of surprise and pleasure, as she came in, but his own face instantly reflected the concern and distress on hers, and he came to her, and took her hand in his.
"What is it, Susan?" he asked, sharply.
Susan had closed the door behind her. Now she drew him swiftly to the other side of the room, as far from the hall as possible. They stood in the window recess, Susan holding tight to the author's hand; Stephen eyeing her anxiously and eagerly.
"My very dear little girl, what is it?"
"Kenneth wants me to marry him," Susan said panting. "He's got to go to France, you know. They want me to go with him."
"What?" Bocqueraz asked slowly. He dropped her hands.
"Oh, don't!" Susan said, stung by his look. "Would I have come straight to you, if I had agreed?"
"You said 'no'?" he asked quickly.
"I didn't say anything!" she answered, almost with anger. "I don't know what to do--or what to say!" she finished forlornly.
"You don't know what to do?" echoed Stephen, in his clear, decisive tones. "What do you mean? Of course, it's monstrous! Ella never should have permitted it. There's only one thing for you to do?"
"It's not so easy as that," Susan said.
"How do you mean that it's not easy? You can't care for him?"
"Care for him!" Susan's scornful voice was broken by tears. "Of course I don't care for him!" she said. "But--can't you see? If I displease them, if I refuse to do this, that they've all thought out evidently, and planned, I'll have to go back to my aunt's!"
Stephen Bocqueraz, his hands in his coat-pockets, stood silently watching her.
"And fancy what it would mean to Auntie," Susan said, beginning to pace the floor in agony of spirit. "Comfort for the rest of her life! And everything for the girls! I would do anything else in the world," she said distressfully, "for one tenth the money, for one twentieth of it! And I believe he would be kind to me, and he says he is positively going to stop--and it isn't as if you and I--you and-I---" she stopped short, childishly.
"Of course you would be extremely rich," Stephen said quietly.
"Oh, rich--rich--rich!" Susan pressed her locked hands to her heart with a desperate gesture. "Sometimes I think we are all crazy, to make money so important!" she went on passionately. "What good did it ever bring anyone! Why aren't we taught when we're little that it doesn't count, that it's only a side-issue! I've seen more horrors in the past year-and-a-half than I ever did in my life before;-- disease and lying and cruelty, all covered up with a layer of flowers and rich food and handsome presents! Nobody enjoys anything; even wedding-presents are only a little more and a little better than the things a girl has had all her life; even children don't count; one can't get near them! Stephen," Susan laid her hand upon his arm, "I've seen the horribly poor side of life,--the poverty that is worse than want, because it's hopeless,--and now I see the rich side, and I don't wonder any longer that sometimes people take violent means to get away from it!"
She dropped into the chair that faced his, at the desk, and cupped her face in her hands, staring gloomily before her. "If any of my own people knew that I refused to marry Kenneth Saunders," she went on presently, "they would simply think me mad; and perhaps I am! But, although he was his very sweetest and nicest this morning,--and I know how different he can be!--somehow, when I leaned over him, the little odor of ether!--" She broke off short, with a little shudder.
There was a silence. Then Susan looked at her companion uncomfortably.
"Why don't you talk to me?" she asked, with a tremulous smile.
Bocqueraz sat down at the desk opposite her, and stared at her across folded arms.
"Nothing to say," he said quietly. But instantly some sudden violent passion shook him; he pressed both palms to his temples, and Susan could see that the fingers with which he covered his eyes were shaking. "My God! What more can I do?" he said aloud, in a low tone. "What more can I do? You come to me with this, little girl," he said, gripping her hands in his. "You turn to me, as your only friend just now. And I'm going to be worthy of your trust in me!"
He got up and walked to the window, and Susan followed him there.
"Sweetheart," he said to her, and in his voice was the great relief that follows an ended struggle, "I'm only a man, and I love you! You are the dearest and truest and wittiest and best woman I ever knew. You've made all life over for me, Susan, and you've made me believe in what I always thought was only the fancy of writers and poets;-- that a man and woman are made for each other by God, and can spend all their lives,--yes, and other lives elsewhere--in glorious companionship, wanting nothing but each other. I've seen a good many women, but I never saw one like you. Will you let me take care of you, dear? Will you trust me? You know what I am, Sue; you know what my work stands for. I couldn't lie to you. You say you know the two extremes of life, dear, but I want to show you a third sort; where money isn't paramount, where rich people have souls, and where poor people get all the happiness that there is in life!"
His arm was about her now; her senses on fire; her eyes brimming.
"But do you love me?" whispered Susan.
"Love you!" His face had grown pale. "To have you ask me that," he said under his breath, "is the most heavenly--the most wonderful thing that ever came into my life! I'm not worthy of it. But God knows that I will take care of you, Sue, and, long before I take you to New York, to my own people, these days will be only a troubled dream. You will be my wife then--"
The wonderful word brought the happy color to her face.
"I believe you," she said seriously, giving him both her hands, and looking bravely into his eyes. "You are the best man I ever met--I can't let you go. I believe it would be wrong to let you go." She hesitated, groped for words. "You're the only thing in the world that seems real to me," Susan said. "I knew that the old days at Auntie's were all wrong and twisted somehow, and here--" She indicated the house with a shudder. "I feel stifled here!" she said. "But--but if there is really some place where people are good and simple, whether they're rich or poor, and honest, and hard-working-- I want to go there! We'll have books and music, and a garden," she went on hurriedly, and he felt that the hands in his were hot, "and we'll live so far away from all this sort of thing, that we'll forget it and they'll forget us! I would rather," Susan's eyes grew wistful, "I would rather have a garden where my babies could make mud-pies and play, then be married to Kenneth Saunders in the Cathedral with ten brides-maids!"
Perhaps something in the last sentence stirred him to sudden compunction.
"You know that it means going away with me, little girl?" he asked.
"No, it doesn't mean that," she answered honestly. "I could go back to Auntie, I suppose. I could wait!" "I've been thinking of that," he said, seriously. "I want you to listen to me. I have been half planning a trip to Japan, Susan, I want to take you with me. We'll loiter through the Orient--that makes your eyes dance, my little Irishwoman; but wait until you are really there; no books and no pictures do it justice! We'll go to India, and you shall see the Taj Mahal--all lovers ought to see it!"
"And the great desert--" Susan said dreamily.
"And the great desert. We'll come home by Italy and France, and we'll go to London. And while we're there, I will correspond with Lillian, or Lillian's lawyer. There will be no reason then why she should hold me."
"You mean," said Susan, scarlet-cheeked, "that--that just my going with you will be sufficient cause?"
"It is the only ground on which she would," he assented, watching her, "that she could, in fact." Susan stared thoughtfully out of the window. "Then," he took up the narrative, "then we stay a few months in London, are quietly married there,--or, better yet, sail at once for home, and are married in some quiet little Jersey town, say, and then--then I bring home the loveliest bride in the world! No one need know that our trip around the world was not completely chaperoned. No one will ask questions. You shall have your circle--"
"But I thought you were not going to Japan until the serial rights of the novel were sold?" Susan temporized.
For answer he took a letter from his pocket, and with her own eyes she read an editor's acceptance of the new novel for what seemed to her a fabulous sum. No argument could have influenced her as the single typewritten sheet did. Why should she not trust this man, whom all the world admired and trusted? Heart and mind were reconciled now; Susan's eyes, when they were raised to his, were full of shy adoration and confidence.
"That's my girl!" he said, very low. He put his arm about her and she leaned her head on his shoulder, grateful to him that he said no more just now, and did not even claim the kiss of the accepted lover. Together they stood looking down at the leafless avenue, for a long moment.
"Stephen!" called Ella's voice at the door. Susan's heart lost a beat; gave a sick leap of fear; raced madly.
"Just a moment," Bocqueraz said pleasantly. He stepped noiselessly to the door of the porch, noiselessly opened it, and Susan slipped through.
"Don't let me interrupt you, but is Susan here?" called Ella.
"Susan? No," Susan herself heard him say, before she went quietly about the corner of the house and, letting herself in at the side- door, lost the sound of their voices.
She had entered the rear hall, close to a coat-closet; and now, following a sudden impulse, she put on a rough little hat and the long cloak she often wore for tramps, ran down the drive, crossed behind the stables, and was out in the quiet highway, in the space of two or three minutes.
Quick-rising clouds were shutting out the sun; a thick fog was creeping up from the bay, the sunny bright morning was to be followed by a dark and gloomy afternoon. Everything looked dark and gloomy already; gardens everywhere were bare; a chilly breeze shook the ivy leaves on the convent wall. As Susan passed the big stone gateway, in its close-drawn network of bare vines, the Angelus rang suddenly from the tower;--three strokes, a pause, three more, a final three,--dying away in a silence as deep as that of a void. Susan remembered another convent-bell, heard years ago, a delicious assurance of meal-time. A sharp little hungry pang assailed her even now at the memory, and with the memory came just a fleeting glimpse of a little girl, eager, talkative, yellow of braids, leading the chattering rush of girls into the yard.
The girls were pouring out of the big convent-doors now, some of them noticed the passer-by, eyed her respectfully. She knew that they thought of her as a "young lady." She longed for a wistful moment to be one of them, to be among them, to have no troubles but the possible "penance" after school, no concern but for the contents of her lunch-basket!
She presently came to the grave-yard gate, and went in, and sat down on a tilted little filigree iron bench, near one of the graves. She could look down on the roofs of the village below, and the circle of hills beyond, and the marshes, cut by the silver ribbons of streams that went down to the fog-veiled bay. Cocks crowed, far and near, and sometimes there came to her ears the shouts of invisible children, but she was shut out of the world by the soft curtain of the fog.
Not even now did her breath come evenly. Susan began to think that her heart would never beat normally again. She tried to collect her thoughts, tried to analyze her position, only to find herself studying, with amused attention, the interest of a brown bird in the tip of her shoe, or reflecting with distaste upon the fact that somehow she must go back to the house, and settle the matter of her attitude toward Kenneth, once and for all.
Over all her musing poured the warm flood of excitement and delight that the thought of Stephen Bocqueraz invariably brought. Her most heroic effort at self-blame melted away at the memory of his words. What nonsense to treat this affair as a dispassionate statement of the facts might represent it! Whatever the facts, he was Stephen Bocqueraz, and she Susan Brown, and they understood each other, and were not afraid!
Susan smiled as she thought of the romances built upon the histories of girls who were "led astray," girls who were "ruined," men whose promises of marriage did not hold. It was all such nonsense! It did not seem right to her even to think of these words in connection with this particular case; she felt as if it convicted her somehow of coarseness.
She abandoned consecutive thought, and fell to happy musing. She shut her eyes and dreamed of crowded Oriental streets, of a great desert asleep under the moonlight, of New York shining clean and bright, the spring sunlight, and people walking the streets under the fresh green of tall trees. She had seen it so, in many pictures, and in all her dreams, she liked the big city the best. She dreamed of a little dining-table in a flying railway-train--
But when Stephen Bocqueraz entered the picture, so near, so kind, so big and protecting, Susan thought as if her heart would burst, she opened her eyes, the color flooding her face.
The cemetery was empty, dark, silent. The glowing visions faded, and Susan made one more conscientious effort to think of herself, what she was doing, what she planned to do.
"Suppose I go to Auntie's and simply wait--" she began firmly. The thought went no further. Some little memory, drifting across the current, drew her after it. A moment later, and the dreams had come back in full force.
"Well, anyway, I haven't done anything yet and, if I don't want to, I can always simply stop at the last moment," she said to herself, as she began to walk home.
At the great gateway of the Wallace home, two riders overtook her; Isabel, looking exquisitely pretty in her dashing habit and hat, and her big cavalier were galloping home for a late luncheon.
"Come in and have lunch with us!" Isabel called gaily, reining in. But Susan shook her head, and refused their urging resolutely. Isabel's wedding was but a few weeks off now, and Susan knew that she was very busy. But, beside that, her heart was so full of her own trouble, that the sight of the other girl, radiant, adored, surrounded by her father and mother, her brothers, the evidences of a most unusual popularity, would have stabbed Susan to the heart. What had Isabel done, Susan asked herself bitterly, to have every path in life made so lovely and so straight, while to her, Susan, even the most beautiful thing in the world had come in so clouded and distorted a form.
But he loved her! And she loved him, and that was all that mattered, after all, she said to herself, as she reentered the house and went upstairs.
Ella called her into her bed-room as she passed the door, by humming the Wedding-march.
"Tum-tum-ti-tum! Tum tum-ti-tum!" sang Ella, and Susan, uneasy but smiling, went to the doorway and looked in.
"Come in, Sue," said Ella, pausing in the act of inserting a large bare arm into a sleeve almost large enough to accommodate Susan's head. "Where've you been all this time? Mama thought that you were upstairs with Ken, but the nurse says that he's been asleep for an hour."
"Oh, that's good!" said Susan, trying to speak naturally, but turning scarlet. "The more he sleeps the better!"
"I want to tell you something, Susan," said Ella, violently tugging at the hooks of her skirt,--"Damn this thing!--I want to tell you something, Susan. You're a very lucky girl; don't you fool yourself about that! Now it's none of my affair, and I'm not butting in, but, at the same time, Ken's health makes this whole matter a little unusual, and the fact that, as a family--" Ella picked up a hand- mirror, and eyed the fit of her skirt in the glass--"as a family," she resumed, after a moment, "we all think it's the wisest thing that Ken could do, or that you could do, makes this whole thing very different in the eyes of society from what it might be! I don't say it's a usual marriage; I don't say that we'd all feel as favorably toward it as we do if the circumstances were different," Ella rambled on, snapping the clasp of a long jeweled chain, and pulling it about her neck to a becoming position. "But I do say that it's a very exceptional opportunity for a girl in your position, and one that any sensible girl would jump at. I may be Ken's sister," finished Ella, rapidly assorting rings and slipping a selected few upon her fingers, "but I must say that!"
"I know," said Susan, uncomfortably. Ella, surprised perhaps at the listless tone, gave her a quick glance.
"Mama," said Miss Saunders, with a little color, "Mama is the very mildest of women, but as Mama said, 'I don't see what more any girl could wish!' Ken has got the easiest disposition in the world, if he's let alone, and, as Hudson said, there's nothing really the matter with him, he may live for twenty or thirty years, probably will!"
"Yes, I know," Susan said quickly, wishing that some full and intelligent answer would suggest itself to her.
"And finally," Ella said, quite ready to go downstairs for an informal game of cards, but not quite willing to leave the matter here. "Finally, I must say, Sue, that I think this shilly-shallying is very--very unbecoming. I'm not asking to be in your confidence, I don't care one way or the other, but Mama and the Kid have always been awfully kind to you--"
"You've all been angels," Susan was glad to say eagerly.
"Awfully kind of you," Ella pursued, "and all I say is this, make up your mind! It's unexpected, and it's sudden, and all that,--very well! But you're of age, and you've nobody to please but yourself, and, as I say--as I say--while it's nothing to me, I like you and I hate to have you make a fool of yourself!"
"Did Ken say anything to you?" Susan asked, with flaming cheeks.
"No, he just said something to Mama about it's being a shame to ask a girl your age to marry a man as ill as he. But that's all sheer nonsense," Ella said briskly, "and it only goes to show that Ken is a good deal more decent than people might think! What earthly objection any girl could have I can't imagine myself!" Ella finished pointedly.
"Nobody could!" Susan said loyally.
"Nobody could,--exactly!" Ella said in a satisfied tone. "For a month or two," she admitted reasonably, "you may have to watch his health pretty closely. I don't deny it. But you'll be abroad, you'll have everything in the world that you want. And, as he gets stronger, you can go about more and more. And, whatever Hudson says, I think that the day will come when he can live where he chooses, and do as he likes, just like anyone else! And I think---" Ella, having convinced herself entirely unaided by Susan, was now in a mellowed mood. "I think you're doing much the wisest thing!" she said. "Go up and see him later, there's a nice child! The doctor's coming at three; wait until he goes."
And Ella was gone.
Susan shut the door of Ella's room, and took a deep chair by a window. It was perhaps the only place in the house in which no one would think of looking for her, and she still felt the need of being alone.
She sat back in the chair, and folded her arms across her chest, and fell to deep thinking. She had let Ella leave her under a misunderstanding, not because she did not know how to disabuse Ella's mind of the idea that she would marry Kenneth, and not because she was afraid of the result of such a statement, but because, in her own mind, she could not be sure that Kenneth Saunders, with his millions, was not her best means of escape from a step even more serious in the eyes of the world than this marriage would have been.
If she would be pitied by a few people for marrying Kenneth, she would be envied by a thousand. The law, the church, the society in which they moved could do nothing but approve. On the other hand, if she went away with Stephen Bocqueraz, all the world would rise up to blame her and to denounce her. A third course would be to return to her aunt's house,--with no money, no work, no prospects of either, and to wait, years perhaps---
No, no, she couldn't wait. Rebellion rose in her heart at the mere thought. "I love him!" said Susan to herself, thrilled through and through by the mere words. What would life be without him now-- without the tall and splendid figure, the big, clever hands, the rich and well-trained voice, without his poetry, his glowing ideals, his intimate knowledge of that great world in whose existence she had always had a vague and wistful belief?
And how he wanted her---! Susan could feel the nearness of his eagerness, without sharing it.
She herself belonged to that very large class of women for whom passion is only a rather-to-be-avoided word. She was loving, and generous where she loved, but far too ignorant of essential facts regarding herself, and the world about her, to either protect herself from being misunderstood, or to give even her thoughts free range, had she desired to do so. What knowledge she had had come to her,--in Heaven alone knows what distorted shape!--from some hazily remembered passage in a play, from some joke whose meaning had at first entirely escaped her, or from some novel, forbidden by Auntie as "not nice," but read nevertheless, and construed into a hundred vague horrors by the mystified little brain.
Lately all this mass of curiously mixed information had had new light thrown upon it because of the sudden personal element that entered into Susan's view. Love became the great Adventure, marriage was no longer merely a question of gifts and new clothes and a honeymoon trip, and a dear little newly furnished establishment. Nothing sordid, nothing sensual, touched Susan's dreams even now, but she began to think of the constant companionship, the intimacy of married life, the miracle of motherhood, the courage of the woman who can put her hand in any man's hand, and walk with him out from the happy, sheltered pale of girlhood, and into the big world!
She was interrupted in her dreaming by Ella's maid, who put her head into the room with an apologetic:
"Miss Saunders says she's sorry, Miss Brown, but if Mrs. Richardson isn't here, and will you come down to fill the second table?"
Downstairs went Susan, to be hastily pressed into service.
"Heaven bless you, Sue," said Ella, the cards already being dealt. "Kate Richardson simply hasn't come, and if you'll fill in until she does----You say hearts?" Ella interrupted herself to say to her nearest neighbor. "Well, I can't double that. I lead and you're down, Elsa--"
To Susan it seemed a little flat to sit here seriously watching the fall of the cards, deeply concerned in the doubled spade or the dummy for no trump. When she was dummy she sat watching the room dreamily, her thoughts drifting idly to and fro. It was all curiously unreal,--Stephen gone to a club dinner in the city, Kenneth lying upstairs, she, sitting here, playing cards! When she thought of Kenneth a little flutter of excitement seized her; with Stephen's memory a warm flood of unreasoning happiness engulfed her.
"I beg your pardon!" said Susan, suddenly aroused.
"Your lead, Miss Brown---"
"Mine? Oh, surely. You made it---?"
"I bridged it. Mrs. Chauncey made it diamonds."
"Oh, surely!" Susan led at random. "Oh, I didn't mean to lead that!" she exclaimed. She attempted to play the hand, and the following hand, with all her power, and presently found herself the dummy again.
Again serious thought pressed in upon her from all sides. She could not long delay the necessity of letting Kenneth, and Kenneth's family, know that she would not do her share in their most recent arrangement for his comfort. And after that---? Susan had no doubt that it would be the beginning of the end of her stay here. Not that it would be directly given as the reason for her going; they had their own ways of bringing about what suited them, these people.
But what of Stephen? And again warmth and confidence and joy rose in her heart. How big and true and direct he was, how far from everything that flourished in this warm and perfumed atmosphere! "It must be right to trust him," Susan said to herself, and it seemed to her that even to trust him supremely, and to brave the storm that would follow, would be a step in the right direction. Out of the unnatural atmosphere of this house, gone forever from the cold and repressing poverty of her aunt's, she would be out in the open air, free to breathe and think and love and work---
"Oh, that nine is the best, Miss Brown! You trumped it---"
Susan brought her attention to the game again. When the cards were finally laid down, tea followed, and Susan must pour it. After that she ran up to her room to find Emily there, dressing for dinner.
"Oh, Sue, there you are! Listen, Mama wants you to go in and see her a minute before dinner," Emily said.
"I am dead!" Susan began flinging off her things, loosened the masses of her hair, and shook it about her, tore off her tight slippers and flung them away.
"Should think you would be," Emily said sympathetically. She was evidently ready for confidences, but Susan evaded them. At least she owed no explanation to Emily!
"El wants to put you up for the club," called Emily above the rush of hot water into the bathtub.
"Why should she?" Susan called back smiling, but uneasy, but Emily evidently did not hear.
"Don't forget to look in on Mama," she said again, when Susan was dressed. Susan nodded.
"But, Lord, this is a terrible place to try to think in!" the girl thought, knocking dutifully on Mrs. Saunders' door.
The old lady, in a luxurious dressing-gown, was lying on the wide couch that Miss Baker had drawn up before the fire.
"There's the girl I thought had forgotten all about me!" said Mrs. Saunders in tremulous, smiling reproach. Susan went over and, although uncomfortably conscious of the daughterliness of the act, knelt down beside her, and squeezed the little shell-like hand. Miss Baker smiled from the other side of the room where she was folding up the day-covers of the bed with windmill sweeps of her arms.
"Well, now, I didn't want to keep you from your dinner," murmured the old lady. "I just wanted to give you a little kiss, and tell you that I've been thinking about you!"
Susan gave the nurse, who was barely out of hearing, a troubled look. If Miss Baker had not been there, she would have had the courage to tell Kenneth's mother the truth. As it was, Mrs. Saunders misinterpreted her glance.
"We won't say one word!" she whispered with childish pleasure in the secret. The little claw-like hands drew Susan down for a kiss; "Now, you and Doctor Cooper shall just have some little talks about my boy, and in a year he'll be just as well as ever!" whispered the foolish, fond little mother, "and we'll go into town next week and buy all sorts of pretty things, shall we? And we'll forget all about this bad sickness! Now, run along, lovey, it's late!"
Susan, profoundly apprehensive, went slowly out of the room. She turned to the stairway that led to the upper hall to hear Ella's voice from her own room:
"Sue! Going up to see Ken?"
"Yes," Susan said without turning back.
"That's a good child," Ella called gaily. "The kid's gone down to dinner, but don't hurry. I'm dining out."
"I'll be down directly," Susan said, going on. She crossed the dimly lighted, fragrant upper hall, and knocked on Kenneth's door.
It was instantly opened by the gracious and gray-haired Miss Trumbull, the night nurse. Kenneth, in a gorgeous embroidered Mandarin coat, was sitting up and enjoying his supper.
"Come in, woman," he said, smiling composedly. Susan felt warmed and heartened by his manner, and came to take her chair by the bed. Miss Trumbull disappeared, and the two had the big, quiet room to themselves.
"Well," said Kenneth, laying down a wish-bone, and giving her a shrewd smile. "You can't do it, and you're afraid to say so, is that it?"
A millstone seemed lifted from Susan's heart. She smiled, and the tears rushed into her eyes.
"I--honestly, I'd rather not," she said eagerly.
"That other fellow, eh?" he added, glancing at her before he attacked another bone with knife and fork.
Taken unawares, she could not answer. The color rushed into her face. She dropped her eyes.
"Peter Coleman, isn't it?" Kenneth pursued.
"Peter Coleman!" Susan might never have heard the name before, so unaffected was her astonishment.
"Well, isn't it?"
Susan felt in her heart the first stirring of a genuine affection for Kenneth Saunders. He seemed so bright, so well to-night, he was so kind and brotherly.
"It's Stephen," said she, moved by a sudden impulse to confide. He eyed her in blank astonishment, and Susan saw in it a sort of respect. But he only answered by a long whistle.
"Gosh, that is tough," he said, after a few moments of silence. "That is the limit, you poor kid! Of course his wife is particularly well and husky?"
"Particularly!" echoed Susan with a shaky laugh. For the first time in their lives she and Kenneth talked together with entire naturalness and with pleasure. Susan's heart felt lighter than it had for many a day.
"Stephen can't shake his wife, I suppose?" he asked presently.
"Not--not according to the New York law, I believe," Susan said.
"Well--that's a case where virtue is its own reward,--not," said Kenneth. "And he--he cares, does he?" he asked, with shy interest.
A rush of burning color, and the light in Susan's eyes, were her only answer.
"Shucks, what a rotten shame!" Kenneth said regretfully. "So he goes away to Japan, does he? Lord, what a shame---"
Susan really thought he was thinking more of her heart-affair than his own, when she finally left him. Kenneth was heartily interested in the ill-starred romance. He bade her good-night with real affection and sympathy.
Susan stood bewildered for a moment, outside the door, listening to the subdued murmurs that came up from the house, blinking, after the bright glow of Kenneth's lamps, in the darkness of the hall. Presently she crossed to a wide window that faced across the village, toward the hills. It was closed; the heavy glass gave back only a dim reflection of herself, bare-armed, bare-throated, with spangles winking dully on her scarf.
She opened the window and the sweet cold night air came in with a rush, and touched her hot cheeks and aching head with an infinite coolness. Susan knelt down and drank deep of it, raised her eyes to the silent circle of the hills, the starry arch of the sky.
There was no moon, but Tamalpais' great shoulder was dimly outlined against darker blackness, and moving, twinkling dots showed where ferryboats were crossing and recrossing the distant bay. San Francisco's lights glittered like a chain of gems, but San Rafael, except for a half-concealed household light, here and there under the trees, was in darkness. Faint echoes of dance-music came from the hotel, the insistent, throbbing bass of a waltz; Susan shuddered at the thought of it; the crowd and the heat, the laughing and flirting, the eating and drinking. Her eyes searched the blackness between the stars;--oh, to plunge into those infinite deeps, to breathe the untainted air of those limitless great spaces!
Garden odors, wet and sweet, came up to her; she got the exquisite breath of drenched violets, of pinetrees. Susan thought of her mother's little garden, years ago, of the sunken stone ale-bottles that framed the beds, of alyssum and marigolds and wall-flowers and hollyhocks growing all together. She remembered her little self, teasing for heart-shaped cookies, or gravely attentive to the bargain driven between her mother and the old Chinese vegetable- vendor, with his loaded, swinging baskets. It went dimly through Susan's mind that she had grown too far away from the good warm earth. It was years since she had had the smell of it and the touch of it, or had lain down in its long grasses. At her aunt's house, in the office, and here, it seemed so far away! Susan had a hazy vision of some sensible linen gardening dresses--of herself out in the spring sunshine, digging, watering, getting happier and dirtier and hotter every minute---
Somebody was playing Walther's song from "Die Meistersinger" far downstairs, and the plaintive passionate notes drew Susan as if they had been the cry of her name. She went down to find Emily and Peter Coleman laughing and flirting over a box of chocolates, at the inglenook seat in the hall, and Stephen Bocqueraz alone in the drawing-room, at the piano. He stopped playing as she came in, and they walked to the fire and took opposite chairs beside the still brightly burning logs.
"Anything new?" he asked.
"Oh, lots!" Susan said wearily. "I've seen Kenneth. But they don't know that I can't--can't do it. And they're rather taking it for granted that I am going to!"
"Going to marry him!" he asked aghast. "Surely you haven't equivocated about it, Susan?" he asked sharply.
"Not with him!" she answered in quick self-defense, with a thrill for the authoritative tone. "I went up there, tired as I am, and told him the absolute truth," said Susan. "But they may not know it!"
"I confess I don't see why," Bocqueraz said, in disapproval. "It would seem to me simple enough to---"
"Oh, perhaps it does seem simple, to you!" Susan defended herself wearily, "but it isn't so easy! Ella is dreadful when she's angry,-- I don't know quite what I will do, if this ends my being here---"
"Why should it?" he asked quickly.
"Because it's that sort of a position. I'm here as long as I'm wanted," Susan said bitterly, "and when I'm not, there'll be a hundred ways to end it all. Ella will resent this, and Mrs. Saunders will resent it, and even if I was legally entitled to stay, it wouldn't be very pleasant under those circumstances!" She rested her head against the curved back of her chair, and he saw tears slip between her lashes.
"Why, my darling! My dearest little girl, you mustn't cry!" he said, in distress. "Come to the window and let's get a breath of fresh air!"
He crossed to a French window, and held back the heavy curtain to let her step out to the wide side porch. Susan's hand held his tightly in the darkness, and he knew by the sound of her breathing that she was crying.
"I don't know what made me go to pieces this way," she said, after a moment. "But it has been such a day!" And she composedly dried her eyes, and restored his handkerchief to him.
"You poor little girl!" he said tenderly. "---Is it going to be too cold out here for you, Sue?"
"No-o!" said Susan, smiling, "it's heavenly!"
"Then we'll talk. And we must make the most of this too, for they may not give us another chance! Cheer up, sweetheart, it's only a short time now! As you say, they're going to resent the fact that my girl doesn't jump at the chance to ally herself with all this splendor, and to-morrow may change things all about for every one of us. Now, Sue, I told Ella to-day that I sail for Japan on Sunday---"
"Oh, my God!" Susan said, taken entirely unawares.
He was near enough to put his arm about her shoulders.
"My little girl," he said, gravely, "did you think that I was going to leave you behind?"
"I couldn't bear it," Susan said simply.
"You could bear it better than I could," he assured her. "But we'll never be separated again in this life, I hope! And every hour of my life I'm going to spend in trying to show you what it means to me to have you--with your beauty and your wit and your charm--trust me to straighten out all this tangle! You know you are the most remarkable woman I ever knew, Susan," he interrupted himself to say, seriously. "Oh, you can shake your head, but wait until other people agree with me! Wait until you catch the faintest glimpse of what our life is going to be! And how you'll love the sea! And that reminds me," he was all business-like again, "the Nippon Maru sails on Sunday. You and I sail with her."
He paused, and in the gradually brightening gloom Susan's eyes met his, but she did not speak nor stir.
"It's the only way, dear!" he said urgently. "You see that? I can't leave you here and things cannot go on this way. It will be hard for a little while, but we'll make it a wonderful year, Susan, and when it's over, I'll take my wife home with me to New York."
"It seems incredible," said Susan slowly, "that it is ever right to do a thing like this. You--you think I'm a strong woman, Stephen," she went on, groping for the right words, "but I'm not--in this way. I think I could be strong," Susan's eyes were wistful, "I could be strong if my husband were a pioneer, or if I had an invalid husband, or if I had to--to work at anything," she elucidated. "I could even keep a store or plow, or go out and shoot game! But my life hasn't run that way, I can't seem to find what I want to do, I'm always bound by conditions I didn't make---"
"Exactly, dear! And now you are going to make conditions for yourself," he added eagerly, as she hesitated. Susan sighed.
"Not so soon as Sunday," she said, after a pause.
"Sunday too soon? Very well, little girl. If you want to go Sunday, we'll go. And, if you say not, I'll await your plans," he agreed.
"But, Stephen--what about tickets?"
"The tickets are upstairs," he told her. "I reserved the prettiest suite on board for Miss Susan Bocqueraz, my niece, who is going with me to meet her father in India, and a near-by stateroom for myself. But, of course, I'll forfeit these reservations rather than hurry or distress you now. When I saw the big liner, Susan, the cleanness and brightness and airiness of it all; and when I thought of the deliciousness of getting away from the streets and smells and sounds of the city, out on the great Pacific, I thought I would be mad to prolong this existence here an unnecessary day. But that's for you to say."
"I see," she said dreamily. And through her veins, like a soothing draught, ran the premonition of surrender. Delicious to let herself go, to trust him, to get away from all the familiar sights and faces! She turned in the darkness and laid both hands on his shoulders. "I'll be ready on Sunday," said she gravely. "I suppose, as a younger girl, I would have thought myself mad to think of this. But I have been wrong about so many of those old ideas; I don't feel sure of anything any more. Life in this house isn't right, Stephen, and certainly the old life at Auntie's,--all debts and pretense and shiftlessness,--isn't right either."
"You'll not be sorry, dear," he told her, holding her hands.
An instant later they were warned, by a sudden flood of light on the porch, that Mr. Coleman had come to the open French window.
"Come in, you idiots!" said Peter. "We're hunting for something to eat!"
"You come out, it's a heavenly night!" Stephen said readily.
"Nothing stirring," Mr. Coleman said, sauntering toward them nevertheless. "Don't you believe a word she says, Mr. Bocqueraz, she's an absolute liar!"
"Peter, go back, we're talking books," said Susan, unruffled.
"Well, I read a book once, Susan," he assured her proudly. "Say, let's go over to the hotel and have a dance, what?"
"Madman!" the writer said, in indulgent amusement, as Peter went back. "We'll be in directly, Coleman!" he called. Then he said quickly, and in a low tone to Susan. "Shall you stay here until Sunday, or would you rather be with your own people?"
"It just depends upon what Ella and Emily do," Susan answered. "Kenneth may not tell them. If he does, it might be better to go. This is Tuesday. Of course I don't know, Stephen, they may be very generous about it, they may make it as pleasant as they can. But certainly Emily isn't sorry to find some reason for terminating my stay here. We've--perhaps it's my fault, but we've been rather grating on each other lately. So I think it's pretty safe to say that I will go home on Wednesday or Thursday."
"Good," he said. "I can see you there!"
"Oh, will you?" said Susan, pleased.
"Oh, will I! And another thing, dear, you'll need some things. A big coat for the steamer, and some light gowns--but we can get those. We'll do some shopping in Paris---"
He had touched a wrong chord, and Susan winced.
"I have some money," she assured him, hastily, "and I'd rather-- rather get those things myself!"
"You shall do as you like," he said gravely. Silently and thoughtfully they went back to the house.