Saturday's Child by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Part Two. Wealth
Susan lay awake almost all night, quiet and wide-eyed in the darkness, thinking, thinking, thinking. She arraigned herself mentally before a jury of her peers, and pleaded her own case. She did not think of Stephen Bocqueraz to-night,--thought of him indeed did not lead to rational argument!--but she confined her random reflections to the conduct of other women. There was a moral code of course, there were Commandments. But by whose decree might some of these be set aside, and ignored, while others must still be observed in the letter and the spirit? Susan knew that Ella would discharge a maid for stealing perfumery or butter, and within the hour be entertaining a group of her friends with the famous story of her having taken paste jewels abroad, to be replaced in London by real stones and brought triumphantly home under the very eyes of the custom-house inspectors. She had heard Mrs. Porter Pitts, whose second marriage followed her divorce by only a few hours, addressing her respectful classes in the Correction Home for Wayward Girls. She had heard Mrs. Leonard Orvis congratulated upon her lineage and family connections on the very same occasion when Mrs. Orvis had entertained a group of intimates with a history of her successful plan for keeping the Orvis nursery empty.
It was to the Ellas, the Pitts, the Orvises, that Susan addressed her arguments. They had broken laws. She was only temporarily following their example. She heard the clock strike four, before she went to sleep, and was awakened by Emily at nine o'clock the next morning.
It was a rainy, gusty morning, with showers slapping against the windows. The air in the house was too warm, radiators were purring everywhere, logs crackled in the fireplaces of the dining-room and hall. Susan, looking into the smaller library, saw Ella in a wadded silk robe, comfortably ensconced beside the fire, with the newspapers.
"Good-morning, Sue," said Ella politely. Susan's heart sank. "Come in," said Ella. "Had your breakfast?"
"Not yet," said Susan, coming in.
"Well, I just want to speak to you a moment," said Ella, and Susan knew, from the tone, that she was in for an unpleasant half-hour. Emily, following Susan, entered the library, too, and seated herself on the window-seat. Susan did not sit down.
"I've got something on my mind, Susan," Ella said, frowning as she tossed aside her papers, "and,--you know me. I'm like all the Roberts, when I want to say a thing, I say it!" Ella eyed her groomed fingers a moment, bit at one before she went on. "Now, there's only one important person in this house, Sue, as I always tell everyone, and that's Mamma! 'Em and I don't matter,' I say, 'but Mamma's old, and she hasn't very much longer to live, and she does count!' I--you may not always see it," Ella went on with dignity, "but I always arrange my engagements so that Mamma shall be the first consideration, she likes to have me go places, and I like to go, but many and many a night when you and Em think that I am out somewhere I'm in there with Mamma---"
Susan knew that they were in the realm of pure fiction now, but she could only listen. She glanced at Emily, but Emily only looked impressed and edified.
"So--" Ella, unchallenged, went on. "So when I see anyone inclined to be rude to Mamma, Sue---"
"As you certainly were---" Emily began.
"Keep out of this, Baby," Ella said. Susan asked in astonishment;
"But, good gracious, Ella! When was I ever rude to your mother?"
"Just--one--moment, Sue," Ella said, politely declining to be hurried. "Well! So when I realize that you deceived Mamma, Sue, it-- I've always liked you, and I've always said that there was a great deal of allowance to be made for you," Ella interrupted herself to say kindly, "but, you know, that is the one thing I can't forgive!-- In just a moment---" she added, as Susan was about to speak again. "Well, about a week ago, as you know, Ken's doctor said that he must positively travel. Mamma isn't well enough to go, the kid can't go, and I can't get away just now, even," Ella was deriving some enjoyment from her new role of protectress, "even if I would leave Mamma. What Ken suggested, you know, seemed a suitable enough arrangement at the time, although I think, and I know Mamma thinks, that it was just one of the poor boy's ideas which might have worked very well, and might not! One never can tell about such things. Be that as it may, however---"
"Oh, Ella, what on earth are you getting at!" asked Susan, in sudden impatience.
"Really, Sue!" Emily said, shocked at this irreverence, but Ella, flushing a little, proceeded with a little more directness.
"I'm getting at this--please shut up, Baby! You gave Mamma to understand that it was all right between you and Ken, and Mamma told me so before I went to the Grahams' dinner, and I gave Eva Graham a pretty strong hint! Now Ken tells Mamma that that isn't so at all,-- I must say Ken, for a sick boy, acted very well! And really, Sue, to have you willing to add anything to Mamma's natural distress and worry now it,--well, I don't like it, and I say so frankly!"
Susan, angered past the power of reasonable speech, remained silent for half-a-minute, holding the back of a chair with both hands, and looking gravely into Ella's face.
"Is that all?" she asked mildly.
"Except that I'm surprised at you," Ella said a little nettled.
"I'm not going to answer you," Susan said, "because you know very well that I have always loved your Mother, and that I deceived nobody! And you can't make me think she has anything to do with this! It isn't my fault that I don't want to marry your brother, and Emily knows how utterly unfair this is!"
"Really, I don't know anything about it!" Emily said airily.
"Oh, very well," Susan said, at white heat. She turned and went quietly from the room.
She went upstairs, and sat down crosswise on a small chair, and stared gloomily out of the window. She hated this house, she said to herself, and everyone in it! A maid, sympathetically fluttering about, asked Miss Brown if she would like her breakfast brought up.
"Oh, I would!" said Susan gratefully. Lizzie presently brought in a tray, and arranged an appetizing little meal.
"They're something awful, that's what I say," said Lizzie presently in a cautious undertone. "But I've been here twelve years, and I say there's worse places! Miss Ella may be a little raspy now, Miss Brown, but don't you take it to heart!" Susan, the better for hot coffee and human sympathy, laughed out in cheerful revulsion of feeling.
"Things are all mixed up, Lizzie, but it's not my fault," she said gaily.
"Well, it don't matter," said the literal Lizzie, referring to the tray. "I pile 'em up anyhow to carry 'em downstairs!"
Breakfast over, Susan still loitered in her own apartments. She wanted to see Stephen, but not enough to risk encountering someone else in the halls. At about eleven o'clock, Ella knocked at the door, and came in.
"I'm in a horrible rush," said Ella, sitting down on the bed and interesting herself immediately in a silk workbag of Emily's that hung there. "I only want to say this, Sue," she began. "It has nothing to do with what we were talking of this morning, but--I've just been discussing it with Mamma!--but we all feel, and I'm sure you do, too, that this is an upset sort of time. Emily, now," said Ella, reaching her sister's name with obvious relief, "Em's not at all well, and she feels that she needs a nurse,--I'm going to try to get that nurse Betty Brock had,--Em may have to go back to the hospital, in fact, and Mamma is so nervous about Ken, and I---" Ella cleared her throat, "I feel this way about it," she said. "When you came here it was just an experiment, wasn't it?"
"Certainly," Susan agreed, very red in the face.
"Certainly, and a most successful one, too," Ella conceded relievedly. "But, of course, if Mamma takes Baby abroad in the spring,--you see how it is? And of course, even in case of a change now, we'd want you to take your time. Or,--I'll tell you, suppose you go home for a visit with your aunt, now. Monday is Christmas, and then, after New Year's, we can write about it, if you haven't found anything else you want to do, and I'll let you know---"
"I understand perfectly," Susan said quietly, but with a betraying color. "Certainly, I think that would be wisest."
"Well, I think so," said Ella with a long breath. "Now, don't be in a hurry, even if Miss Polk comes, because you could sleep upstairs-- -"
"Oh, I'd rather go at once-to-day," Susan said.
"Indeed not, in this rain," Ella said with her pleasant, half- humorous air of concern. "Mamma and Baby would think I'd scared you away. Tomorrow, Sue, if you're in such a hurry. But this afternoon some people are coming in to meet Stephen--he's really going on Sunday, he says,--stay and pour!"
It would have been a satisfaction to Susan's pride to refuse. She knew that Ella really needed her this afternoon, and would have liked to punish that lady to that extent. But hurry was undignified and cowardly, and Stephen's name was a charm, and so it happened that Susan found herself in the drawing-room at five o'clock, in the center of a chattering group, and stirred, as she was always stirred, by Stephen's effect on the people he met. He found time to say to her only a few words, "You are more adorable than ever!" but they kept Susan's heart singing all evening, and she and Emily spent the hours after dinner in great harmony; greater indeed than they had enjoyed for months.
The next day she said her good-byes, agitated beyond the capacity to feel any regret, for Stephen Bocqueraz had casually announced his intention to take the same train that she did for the city. Ella gave her her check; not for the sixty dollars that would have been Susan's had she remained to finish out her month, but for ten dollars less.
Emily chattered of Miss Polk, "she seemed to think I was so funny and so odd, when we met her at Betty's," said Emily, "isn't she crazy? Do you think I'm funny and odd, Sue?"
Stephen put her in a carriage at the ferry and they went shopping together. He told her that he wanted to get some things "for a small friend," and Susan, radiant in the joy of being with him, in the delicious bright winter sunshine, could not stay his hand when he bought the "small friend" a delightful big rough coat, which Susan obligingly tried on, and a green and blue plaid, for steamer use, a trunk, and a parasol "because it looked so pretty and silly," and in Shreve's, as they loitered about, a silver scissors and a gold thimble, a silver stamp-box and a traveler's inkwell, a little silver watch no larger than a twenty-five-cent piece, a little crystal clock, and, finally, a ring, with three emeralds set straight across it, the loveliest great bright stones that Susan had ever seen, "green for an Irish gir-rl," said Stephen.
Then they went to tea, and Susan laughed at him because he remembered that Orange Pekoe was her greatest weakness, and he laughed at Susan because she was so often distracted from what she was saying by the flash of her new ring.
"What makes my girl suddenly look so sober?"
Susan smiled, colored.
"I was thinking of what people will say."
"I think you over-estimate the interest that the world is going to take in our plans, Susan," he said, gravely, after a thoughtful moment. "We take our place in New York, in a year or two, as married people. 'Mrs. Bocqueraz'"--the title thrilled Susan unexpectedly,-- "'Mrs. Bocqueraz is his second wife,' people will say. 'They met while they were both traveling about the world, I believe.' And that's the end of it!"
"But the newspapers may get it," Susan said, fearfully.
"I don't see how," he reassured her. "Ella naturally can't give it to them, for she will think you are at your aunt's. Your aunt---"
"Oh, I shall write the truth to Auntie," Susan said, soberly. "Write her from Honolulu, probably. And wild horses wouldn't get it out of her. But if the slightest thing should go wrong---"
"Nothing will, dear. We'll drift about the world awhile, and the first thing you know you'll find yourself married hard and tight, and being invited to dinners and lunches and things in New York!"
Susan's dimples came into view.
"I forget what a very big person you are," she smiled. "I begin to think you can do anything you want to do!"
She had a reminder of his greatness even before they left the tea- room, for while they were walking up the wide passage toward the arcade, a young woman, an older woman, and a middle-aged man, suddenly addressed the writer.
"Oh, do forgive me!" said the young woman, "but aren't you Stephen Graham Bocqueraz? We've been watching you--I just couldn't help--"
"My daughter is a great admirer---" the man began, but the elder woman interrupted him.
"We're all great admirers of your books, Mr. Bocqueraz," said she, "but it was Helen, my daughter here!--who was sure she recognized you. We went to your lecture at our club, in Los Angeles---"
Stephen shook hands, smiled and was very gracious, and Susan, shyly smiling, too, felt her heart swell with pride. When they went on together the little episode had subtly changed her attitude toward him; Susan was back for the moment in her old mood, wondering gratefully what the great man saw in her to attract him!
A familiar chord was touched when an hour later, upon getting out of a carriage at her aunt's door, she found the right of way disputed by a garbage cart, and Mary Lou, clad in a wrapper, holding the driver in spirited conversation through a crack in the door. Susan promptly settled a small bill, kissed Mary Lou, and went upstairs in harmonious and happy conversation.
"I was just taking a bath!" said Mary Lou, indignantly. Mary Lou never took baths easily, or as a matter of course. She always made an event of them, choosing an inconvenient hour, assembling soap, clothing and towels with maddening deliberation, running about in slippered feet for a full hour before she locked herself into, and everybody else out of, the bathroom. An hour later she would emerge from the hot and steam-clouded apartment, to spend another hour in her room in leisurely dressing. She was at this latter stage now, and regaled Susan with all the family news, as she ran her hand into stocking after stocking in search of a whole heel, and forced her silver cuff-links into the starched cuffs of her shirtwaist.
Ferd Eastman's wife had succumbed, some weeks before, to a second paralytic stroke, and Mary Lou wept unaffectedly at the thought of poor Ferd's grief. She said she couldn't help hoping that some sweet and lovely girl,--"Ferd knows so many!" said Lou, sighing,--would fill the empty place. Susan, with an unfavorable recollection of Ferd's fussy, important manner and red face, said nothing. Georgie, Mary Lou reported, was a very sick woman, in Ma's and Mary Lou's opinion. Ma had asked the young O'Connors to her home for Christmas dinner; "perhaps they expected us to ask the old lady," said Mary Lou, resentfully, "anyway, they aren't coming!" Georgie's baby, it appeared, was an angel, but Joe disciplined the poor little thing until it would make anyone's heart sick.
Of Alfie the report was equally discouraging: "Alfie's wife is perfectly awful," his sister said, "and their friends, Sue,--barbers and butchers! However, Ma's asked 'em here for Christmas dinner, and then you'll see them!" Virginia was still at the institution, but of late some hope of eventual restoration of her sight had been given her. "It would break your heart to see her in that place, it seems like a poorhouse!" said Mary Lou, with trembling lips, "but Jinny's an angel. She gets the children about her, and tells them stories; they say she's wonderful with them!"
There was really good news of the Lord sisters, Susan was rejoiced to hear. They had finally paid for their lot in Piedmont Hills, and a new trolley-car line, passing within one block of it, had trebled its value. This was Lydia's chance to sell, in Mary Lou's opinion, but Lydia intended instead to mortgage the now valuable property, and build a little two-family house upon it with the money thus raised. She had passed the school-examinations, and had applied for a Berkeley school. "But better than all," Mary Lou announced, "that great German muscle doctor has been twice to see Mary,--isn't that amazing? And not a cent charged---"
"Oh, God bless him!" said Susan, her eyes flashing through sudden mist. "And will she be cured?"
"Not ever to really be like other people, Sue. But he told her, last time, that by the time that Piedmont garden was ready for her, she'd be ready to go out and sit in it every day! Lydia fainted away when he said it,--yes, indeed she did!"
"Well, that's the best news I've heard for many a day!" Susan rejoiced. She could not have explained why, but some queer little reasoning quality in her brain made her own happiness seem the surer when she heard of the happiness of other people.
The old odors in the halls, the old curtains and chairs and dishes, the old, old conversation; Mrs. Parker reading a clean, neatly lined, temperate little letter from Loretta, signed "Sister Mary Gregory"; Major Watts anxious to explain to Susan just the method of building an army bridge that he had so successfully introduced during the Civil War,--"S'ee, 'Who is this boy, Cutter?' 'Why, sir, I don't know,' says Captain Cutter, 'but he says his name is Watts!' 'Watts?' says the General, 'Well,' s'ee, 'If I had a few more of your kind, Watts, we'd get the Yanks on the run, and we'd keep 'em on the run.'"
Lydia Lord came down to get Mary's dinner, and again Susan helped the watery vegetable into a pyramid of saucers, and passed the green glass dish of pickles, and the pink china sugar-bowl. But she was happy to-night, and it seemed good to be home, where she could be her natural self, and put her elbows on the table, and be listened to and laughed at, instead of playing a role.
"Gosh, we need you in this family, Susie!" said William Oliver, won from fatigue and depression to a sudden appreciation of her gaiety.
"Do you, Willie darling?"
"Don't you call me Willie!" he looked up to say scowlingly.
"Well, don't you call me Susie, then!" retorted Susan. Mrs. Lancaster patted her hand, and said affectionately, "Don't it seem good to have the children scolding away at each other again!"
Susan and William had one of their long talks, after dinner, while they cracked and ate pine-nuts, and while Mary Lou, at the other end of the dining-room table, painstakingly wrote a letter to a friend of her girlhood. Billy was frankly afraid that his men were reaching the point when a strike would be the natural step, and as president of their new-formed union, and spokesman for them whenever the powers had to be approached, he was anxious to delay extreme measures as long as he could. Susan was inclined to regard the troubles of the workingman as very largely of his own making. "You'll simply lose your job," said Susan, "and that'll be the end of it. If you made friends with the Carpenters, on the other hand, you'd be fixed for life. And the Carpenters are perfectly lovely people. Mrs. Carpenter is on the hospital board, and a great friend of Ella's. And she says that it's ridiculous to think of paying those men better wages when their homes are so dirty and shiftless, and they spend their money as they do! You know very well there will always be rich people and poor people, and that if all the money in the world was divided on Monday morning---"
"Don't get that old chestnut off!" William entreated.
"Well, I don't care!" Susan said, a little more warmly for the interruption. "Why don't they keep their houses clean, and bring their kids up decently, instead of giving them dancing lessons and white stockings!"
"Because they've had no decent training themselves, Sue---"
"Oh, decent training! What about the schools?"
"Schools don't teach anything! But if they had fair play, and decent hours, and time to go home and play with the kids, and do a little gardening, they'd learn fast enough!"
"The poor you have always with you," said Mary Lou, reverently. Susan laughed outright, and went around the table to kiss her cousin.
"You're an old darling, Mary Lou!" said she. Mary Lou accepted the tribute as just.
"No, but I don't think we ought to forget the immense good that rich people do, Billy," she said mildly. "Mrs. Holly's daughters gave a Christmas-tree party for eighty children yesterday, and the Saturday Morning Club will have a tree for two hundred on the twenty-eighth!"
"Holly made his money by running about a hundred little druggists out of the business," said Billy, darkly.
"Bought and paid for their businesses, you mean," Susan amended sharply.
"Yes, paid about two years' profits," Billy agreed, "and would have run them out of business if they hadn't sold. If you call that honest!"
"It's legally honest," Susan said lazily, shuffling a pack for solitaire. "It's no worse than a thousand other things that people do!"
"No, I agree with you there!" Billy said heartily, and he smiled as if he had had the best of the argument.
Susan followed her game for awhile in silence. Her thoughts were glad to escape to more absorbing topics, she reviewed the happy afternoon, and thrilled to a hundred little memories. The quiet, stupid evening carried her back, in spirit, to the Susan of a few years ago, the shabby little ill-dressed clerk of Hunter, Baxter & Hunter, who had been such a limited and suppressed little person. The Susan of to-day was an erect, well-corseted, well-manicured woman of the world; a person of noticeable nicety of speech, accustomed to move in the very highest society. No, she could never come back to this, to the old shiftless, penniless ways. Any alternative rather!
"And, besides, I haven't really done anything yet," Susan said to herself, uneasily, when she was brushing her hair that night, and Mary Lou was congratulating her upon her improved appearance and manner.
On Saturday she introduced her delighted aunt and cousin to Mr. Bocqueraz, who came to take her for a little stroll.
"I've always thought you were quite an unusual girl, Sue," said her aunt later in the afternoon, "and I do think it's a real compliment for a man like that to talk to a girl like you! I shouldn't know what to say to him, myself, and I was real proud of the way you spoke up; so easy and yet so ladylike!"
Susan gave her aunt only an ecstatic kiss for answer. Bread was needed for dinner, and she flashed out to the bakery for it, and came flying back, the bread, wrapped in paper and tied with pink string, under her arm. She proposed a stroll along Filmore Street to Mary Lou, in the evening, and they wrapped up for their walk under the clear stars. There was a holiday tang to the very air; even the sound of a premature horn, now and then; the shops were full of shoppers.
Mary Lou had some cards to buy, at five cents apiece, or two for five cents, and they joined the gently pushing groups in the little stationery stores. Insignificant little shoppers were busily making selections from the open trays of cards; school-teachers, stenographers, bookkeepers and clerks kept up a constant little murmur among themselves.
"How much are these? Thank you!" "She says these are five, Lizzie; do you like them better than the little holly books?" "I'll take these two, please, and will you give me two envelopes?--Wait just a moment, I didn't see these !" "This one was in the ten-cent box, but it's marked five, and that lady says that there were some just like it for five. If it's five, I want it!" "Aren't these cunnin', Lou?" "Yes, I noticed those, did you see these, darling?" "I want this one--I want these, please,--will you give me this one?"
"Are you going to be open at all to-morrow?" Mary Lou asked, unwilling to be hurried into a rash choice. "Isn't this little one with a baby's face sweet?" said a tall, gaunt woman, gently, to Susan.
"Darling!" said Susan.
"But I want it for an unmarried lady, who isn't very fond of children," said the woman delicately. "So perhaps I had better take these two funny little pussies in a hat!"
They went out into the cold street again, and into a toy-shop where a lamb was to be selected for Georgie's baby. And here was a roughly dressed young man holding up a three-year-old boy to see the elephants and horses. Little Three, a noisy little fellow, with cold red little hands, and a worn, soiled plush coat, selected a particularly charming shaggy horse, and shouted with joy as his father gave it to him.
"Do you like that, son? Well, I guess you'll have to have it; there's nothing too good for you!" said the father, and he signaled a saleswoman. The girl looked blankly at the change in her hand.
"That's two dollars, sir," she said, pleasantly, displaying the tag.
"What?" the man stammered, turning red. "Why--why, sure--that's right! But I thought---" he appealed to Susan. "Don't that look like twenty cents?" he asked.
Mary Lou tugged discreetly at Susan's arm, but Susan would not desert the baby in the plush coat.
"It is!" she agreed warmly.
"Oh, no, ma'am! These are the best German toys," said the salesman firmly.
"Well, then, I guess---" the man tried gently to disengage the horse from the jealous grip of its owner, "I guess we'd better leave this horse here for some other little feller, Georgie," said he, "and we'll go see Santa Claus."
"I thess want my horse that Dad gave me!" said Georgie, happily.
"Shall I ask Santa Claus to send it?" asked the saleswoman, tactfully.
"No-o-o!" said Georgie, uneasily. "Doncher letter have it, Dad!"
"Give the lady the horse, old man," said the father, "and we'll go find something pretty for Mamma and the baby!" The little fellow's lips quivered, but even at three some of the lessons of poverty had been learned. He surrendered the horse obediently, but Susan saw the little rough head go down tight against the man's collar, and saw the clutch of the grimy little hand.
Two minutes later she ran after them, and found them seated upon the lowest step of an out-of-the-way stairway; the haggard, worried young father vainly attempting to console the sobbing mite upon his knee.
"Here, darling," said Susan. And what no words could do, the touch of the rough-coated pony did for her; up came the little face, radiant through tears; Georgie clasped his horse again.
"No, ma'am, you mustn't--I thank you very kindly, ma'am, but----" was all that Susan heard before she ran away.
She would do things like that every day of her life, she thought, lying awake in the darkness that night. Wasn't it better to do that sort of thing with money than to be a Mary Lou, say, without? She was going to take a reckless and unwise step now. Admitted. But it would be the only one. And after busy and blameless years everyone must come to see that it had been for the best.
Every detail was arranged now. She and Stephen had visited the big liner that afternoon; Susan had had her first intoxicating glimpse of the joy of sea-travel, had peeped into the lovely little cabin that was to be her own, had been respectfully treated by the steward as the coming occupant of that cabin. She had seen her new plaid folded on a couch, her new trunk in place, a great jar of lovely freesia lilies already perfuming the fresh orderliness of the place.
Nothing to do now but to go down to the boat in the morning. Stephen had both tickets in his pocket-book. A careful scrutiny of the first-cabin list had assured Susan that no acquaintances of hers were sailing. If, in the leave-taking crowd, she met someone that she knew, what more natural than that Miss Brown had been delegated by the Saunders family to say good-bye to their charming cousin? Friends had promised to see Stephen off, but, if Ella appeared at all, it would be but for a moment, and Susan could easily avoid her. She was not afraid of any mishap.
But three days of the pure, simple old atmosphere had somewhat affected Susan, in spite of herself. She could much more easily have gone away with Stephen Bocqueraz without this interval. Life in the Saunders home stimulated whatever she had of recklessness and independence, frivolity and irreverence of law. She would be admired for this step by the people she had left; she could not think without a heartache of her aunt's shame and distress.
However there seemed nothing to do now but to go to sleep. Susan's last thought was that she had not taken the step yet,--in so much, at least, she was different from the girls who moved upon blind and passionate impulses. She could withdraw even now.
The morning broke like many another morning; sunshine and fog battling out-of-doors, laziness and lack of system making it generally characteristic of a Sunday morning within. Susan went to Church at seven o'clock, because Mary Lou seemed to expect it of her, and because it seemed a good thing to do, and was loitering over her breakfast at half-past-eight, when Mrs. Lancaster came downstairs.
"Any plan for to-day, Sue?" asked her aunt. Susan jumped nervously.
"Goodness, Auntie! I didn't see you there! Yes, you know I have to go and see Mr. Bocqueraz off at eleven."
"Oh, so you do! But you won't go back with the others, dear? Tell them we want you for Christmas!"
"With the others?"
"Miss Ella and Emily," her aunt supplied, mildly surprised.
"Oh! Oh, yes! Yes, I suppose so. I don't know," Susan said in great confusion.
"You'll probably see Lydia Lord there," pursued Mrs. Lancaster, presently. "She's seeing Mrs. Lawrence's cousins off."
"On the Nippon Maru?" Susan asked nervously.
"How you do remember names, Sue! Yes, Lydia's going down."
"I'd go with you, Sue, if it wasn't for those turkeys to stuff," said Mary Lou. "I do love a big ship!"
"Oh, I wish you could!" Susan said.
She went upstairs with a fast-beating heart. Her heart was throbbing so violently, indeed, that, like any near loud noise, it made thought very difficult. Mary Lou came in upon her packing her suitcase.
"I suppose they may want you to go right back," said Mary Lou regretfully, in reference to the Saunders, "but why don't you leave that here in case they don't?"
"Oh, I'd rather take it," said Susan.
She kissed her cousin good-bye, gave her aunt a particularly fervent hug, and went out into the doubtful morning. The fog-horn was booming on the bay, and when Susan joined the little stream of persons filing toward the dock of the great Nippon Maru, fog was already shutting out all the world, and the eaves of the pier dripped with mist. Between the slow-moving motor-cars and trucks on the dock, well-dressed men and women were picking their way through the mud.
Susan went unchallenged up the gang-plank, with girls in big coats, carrying candy-boxes and violets, men with cameras, elderly persons who watched their steps nervously. The big ship was filled with chattering groups, young people raced through cabins and passageways, eager to investigate.
Stevedores were slinging trunks and boxes on board; everywhere were stir and shouting and movement. Children shrieked and romped in the fitful sunlight; there were tears and farewells, on all sides; postal-writers were already busy about the tables in the writing- room, stewards were captured on their swift comings and goings, and interrogated and importuned. Fog lay heavy and silent over San Francisco; and the horn still boomed down the bay.
Susan, standing at the rail looking gravely on at the vivid and exciting picture, felt an uneasy and chilling little thought clutch at her heart. She had always said that she could withdraw, at this particular minute she could withdraw. But in a few moments more the dock would be moving steadily away from her; the clock in the ferry- tower, with gulls wheeling about it, the ferry-boats churning long wakes in the smooth surface of the bay, the stir of little craft about the piers, the screaming of a hundred whistles, in a hundred keys, would all be gone. Alcatraz would be passed, Black Point and the Golden Gate; they would be out beyond the rolling head-waters of the harbor. No withdrawing then.
Her attention was attracted by the sudden appearance of guards at the gang-plank, no more visitors would be allowed on board. Susan smiled at the helpless disgust of some late-comers, who must send their candy and books up by the steward. Twenty-five minutes of twelve, said the ferry clock.
"Are you going as far as Japan, my dear?" asked a gentle little lady at Susan's shoulder.
"Yes, we're going even further!" said friendly Susan.
"I'm going all alone," said the little lady, "and old as I am, I so dread it! I tell Captain Wolseley---"
"I'm making my first trip, too," said Susan, "so we'll stand by each other!"
A touch on her arm made her turn suddenly about; her heart thundering. But it was only Lydia Lord.
"Isn't this thrilling, Sue?" asked Lydia, excited and nervous. "What wouldn't you give to be going? Did you go down and see the cabins; aren't they dear? Have you found the Saunders party?"
"Are the Saunders here?" asked Susan.
"Miss Ella was, I know. But she's probably gone now. I didn't see the younger sister. I must get back to the Jeromes," said Lydia; "they began to take pictures, and I'd thought I run away for a little peep at everything, all to myself! They say that we shore people will have to leave the ship at quarter of twelve."
She fluttered away, and a second later Susan found her hand covered by the big glove of Stephen Bocqueraz.
"Here you are, Susan," he said, with business-like satisfaction. "I was kept by Ella and some others, but they've gone now. Everything seems to be quite all right."
Susan turned a rather white and strained face toward him, but even now his bracing bigness and coolness were acting upon her as a tonic.
"We're at the Captain's table," he told her, "which you'll appreciate if you're not ill. If you are ill, you've got a splendid stewardess,--Mrs. O'Connor. She happens to be an old acquaintance of mine; she used to be on a Cunarder, and she's very much interested in my niece, and will look out for you very well." He looked down upon the crowded piers. "Wonderful sight, isn't it?" he asked. Susan leaned beside him at the rail, her color was coming back, but she saw nothing and heard nothing of what went on about her.
"What's he doing that for?" she asked suddenly. For a blue-clad coolie was working his way through the crowded docks, banging violently on a gong. The sound disturbed Susan's overstrained nerves.
"I don't know," said Stephen. "Lunch perhaps. Would you like to have a look downstairs before we go to lunch?"
"That's a warning for visitors to go ashore," volunteered a bright- faced girl near them, who was leaning on the rail, staring down at the pier. "But they'll give a second warning," she added, "for we're going to be a few minutes late getting away. Aren't you glad you don't have to go?" she asked Susan gaily.
"Rather!" said Susan huskily.
Visitors were beginning now to go reluctantly down the gang-plank, and mass themselves on the deck, staring up at the big liner, their faces showing the strained bright smile that becomes so fixed during the long slow process of casting off. Handkerchiefs began to wave, and to wipe wet eyes; empty last promises were exchanged between decks and pier. A woman near Susan began to cry,--a homely little woman, but the big handsome man who kissed her was crying, too.
Suddenly the city whistles, that blow even on Sunday in San Francisco, shrilled twelve. Susan thought of the old lunch-room at Hunter, Baxter & Hunter's, of Thorny and the stewed tomatoes, and felt the bitter tears rise in her throat.
Various passengers now began to turn their interest to the life of the ship. There was talk of luncheon, of steamer chairs, of asking the stewardess for jars to hold flowers. Susan had drawn back from the rail, no one on the ship knew her, but somebody on the pier might.
"Now let us go find Mrs. O'Connor," Stephen said, in a matter-of- fact tone. "Then you can take off your hat and freshen up a bit, and we can look over the ship." He led her cleverly through the now wildly churning crowds, into the comparative quiet of the saloon.
Here they found Mrs. O'Connor, surrounded by an anxious group of travelers. Stephen put Susan into her charge, and the two women studied each other with interest.
Susan saw a big-boned, gray-haired, capable-looking Irishwoman, in a dress of dark-blue duck, with a white collar and white cuffs, heard a warming, big voice, and caught a ready and infectious smile. In all the surrounding confusion Mrs. O'Connor was calm and alert; so normal in manner and speech indeed that merely watching her had the effect of suddenly cooling Susan's blood, of reducing her whirling thoughts to something like their old, sane basis. Travel was nothing to Mrs. O'Connor; farewells were the chief of her diet; and her manner with Stephen Bocqueraz was crisp and quiet. She fixed upon him shrewd, wise eyes that had seen some curious things in their day, but she gave Susan a motherly smile.
"This is my niece, Mrs. O'Connor," said Stephen, introducing Susan. "She's never made the trip before, and I want you to help me turn her over to her Daddy in Manila, in first-class shape."
"I will that," agreed the stewardess, heartily.
"Well, then I'll have a look at my own diggings, and Mrs. O'Connor will take you off to yours. I'll be waiting for you in the library, Sue," Stephen said, walking off, and Susan followed Mrs. O'Connor to her own cabin.
"The very best on the ship, as you might know Mr. Bocqueraz would get for anyone belonging to him," said the stewardess, shaking pillows and straightening curtains with great satisfaction, when they reached the luxurious little suite. "He's your father's brother, he tells me. Was that it?"
She was only making talk, with the kindliest motives, for a nervous passenger, but the blood rushed into Susan's face. Somehow it cut her to the heart to have to remember her father just at this instant; to make him, however distantly, a party to this troubled affair.
"And you've lost your dear mother," Mrs. O'Connor said, misunderstanding the girl's evident distress. "Well, my dear, the trip will do you a world of good, and you're blessed in this--you've a good father left, and an uncle that would lay down and die for you. I leave my own two girls, every time I go," she pursued, comfortably. "Angela's married,--she has a baby, poor child, and she's not very strong,--and Regina is still in boarding-school, in San Rafael. It's hard to leave them---"
Simple, kindly talk, such as Susan had heard from her babyhood. And the homely honest face was not strange, nor the blue, faded eyes, with their heartening assurance of good-fellowship.
But suddenly it seemed to Susan that, with a hideous roaring and rocking, the world was crashing to pieces about her. Her soul sickened and shrank within her. She knew nothing of this good woman, who was straightening blankets and talking--talking--talking, three feet from her, but she felt she could not bear--she could not bear this kindly trust and sympathy--she could not bear the fear that some day she would be known to this woman for what she was!
A gulf yawned before her. She had not foreseen this. She had known that there were women in the world, plenty of them, Stephen said, who would understand what she was doing and like her in spite of it, even admire her.
But what these blue eyes would look when they knew it, she very well knew. Whatever glories and heights awaited Susan Brown in the days to come, she could never talk as an equal with Ann O'Connor or her like again, never exchange homely, happy details of babies and boarding-school and mothers and fathers again!
Plenty of women in the world who would understand and excuse her,-- but Susan had a mad desire to get among these sheltering women somehow, never to come in contact with these stupid, narrow-visioned others---!
"Leo--that's my son-in-law, is an angel to her," Mrs. O'Connor was saying, "and it's not everyone would be, as you know, for poor Angela was sick all the time before Raymond came, and she's hardly able to stir, even yet. But Leo gets his own breakfasts----"
Susan was at the washstand busy with brush and comb. She paused.
Life stretched before her vision a darkened and wearisome place. She had a sudden picture of Mrs. O'Connor's daughter,--of Georgie--of all helpless women upon whom physical weakness lays its heavy load. Pale, dispirited women, hanging over the little cradles, starting up at little cries in the night, comforted by the boyish, sympathetic husbands, and murmuring tired thanks and appreciations---
She, Susan, would be old some day, might be sick and weak any day; there might be a suffering child. What then? What consolation for a woman who set her feet deliberately in the path of wrong? Not even a right to the consolation these others had, to the strong arm and the heartening voice at the day's end. And the child--what could she teach a child of its mother?
"But I might not have one," said Susan to herself. And instantly tears of self-pity bowed her head over the little towel-rack, and turned her heart to water. "I love children so--and I couldn't have children!" came the agonized thought, and she wept bitterly, pressing her eyes against the smooth folds of the towel.
"Come now, come now," said Ann O'Connor, sympathetic but not surprised. "You mustn't feel that way. Dry your eyes, dear, and come up on deck. We'll be casting off any moment now. Think of meeting your good father---"
"Oh, Daddy!---" The words were a long wail. Then Susan straightened up resolutely.
"I mustn't do this," she said sensibly. "I must find Mr. Bocqueraz."
Suddenly it seemed to her that she must have just the sight and touch of Stephen or she would lose all self-control. "How do I get to the library?" she asked, white lipped and breathing hard.
Sympathetic Mrs. O'Connor willingly directed her, and Susan went quickly and unseeingly through the unfamiliar passageway and up the curving staircase. Stephen--said her thoughts over and over again-- just to get to him,--to put herself in his charge, to awaken from the nightmare of her own fears. Stephen would understand--would make everything right. People noticed her, for even in that self-absorbed crowd, she was a curious figure,--a tall, breathless girl, whose eyes burned feverishly blue in her white face. But Susan saw nobody, noticed nothing. Obstructions she put gently aside; voices and laughter she did not hear; and when suddenly a hand was laid upon her arm, she jumped in nervous fright.
It was Lydia Lord who clutched her eagerly by the wrist, homely, excited, shabbily dressed Lydia who clung to her, beaming with relief and satisfaction.
"Oh, Sue,--what a piece of good fortune to find you!" gasped the little governess. "Oh, my dear, I've twisted my ankle on one of those awful deck stairways!" she panted. "I wonder a dozen people a day don't get killed on them! And, Sue, did you know, the second gong has been rung? I didn't hear it, but they say it has! We haven't a second to lose--seems so dreadful--and everyone so polite and yet in such a hurry--this way, dear, he says this way--My! but that is painful!"
Dashed in an instant from absolute security to this terrible danger of discovery, Susan experienced something like vertigo. Her senses seemed actually to fail her. She could do only the obvious thing. Dazed, she gave Lydia her arm, and automatically guided the older woman toward the upper deck. But that this astounding enterprise of hers should be thwarted by Lydia Lord! Not an earthquake, not a convulsed conspiracy of earth and sea, but this little teacher, in her faded little best, with her sprained ankle!
That Lydia Lord, smiling in awkward deprecation, and giving apologetic glances to interested bystanders who watched their limping progress, should consider herself the central interest of this terrible hour!---It was one more utterly irreconcilable note in this time of utter confusion and bewilderment. Terror of discovery, mingled in the mad whirl of Susan's thoughts with schemes of escape; and under all ran the agonizing pressure for time--minutes were precious now--every second was priceless!
Lydia Lord was the least manageable woman in the world. Susan had chafed often enough at her blunt, stupid obstinacy to be sure of that! If she once suspected what was Susan's business on the Nippon Maru--less, if she so much as suspected that Susan was keeping something, anything, from her, she would not be daunted by a hundred captains, by a thousand onlookers. She would have the truth, and until she got it, Susan would not be allowed out of her arm's reach. Lydia would cheerfully be bullied by the ship's authorities, laughed at, insulted, even arrested in happy martyrdom, if it once entered into her head that Mrs. Lancaster's niece, the bright-headed little charge of the whole boarding-house, was facing what Miss Lord, in virtuous ignorance, was satisfied to term "worse than death." Lydia would be loyal to Mrs. Lancaster, and true to the simple rules of morality by which she had been guided every moment of her life. She had sometimes had occasion to discipline Susan in Susan's naughty and fascinating childhood; she would unsparingly discipline Susan now.
Mary Lou might have been evaded; the Saunders could easily have been silenced, as ladies are easily silenced; but Lydia was neither as unsuspecting as Mary Lou, nor was she a lady. Had Susan been rude and cold to this humble friend throughout her childhood, she might have successfully defied and escaped Lydia now. But Susan had always been gracious and sympathetic with Lydia, interested in her problems, polite and sweet and kind. She could not change her manner now; as easily change her eyes or hair as to say, "I'm sorry you've hurt your foot, you'll have to excuse me,--I'm busy!" Lydia would have stopped short in horrified amazement, and, when Susan sailed on the Nippon Maru, Lydia would have sailed, too.
Guided by various voices, breathless and unseeing, they limped on. Past staring men and women, through white-painted narrow doorways, in a general hush of shocked doubt, they made their way.
"We aren't going to make it!" gasped Lydia. Susan felt a sick throb at her heart. What then?
"Oh, yes we are!" she murmured as they came out on the deck near the gang-plank. Embarrassment overwhelmed her; everyone was watching them--suppose Stephen was watching--suppose he called her---
Susan's one prayer now was that she and Lydia might reach the gang- plank, and cross it, and be lost from sight among the crowd on the dock. If there was a hitch now!---
"The shore gong rang ten minutes ago, ladies!" said a petty officer at the gang-plank severely.
"Thank God we're in time!" Lydia answered amiably, with her honest, homely smile.
"You've got to hurry; we're waiting!" added the man less disapprovingly.
Susan, desperate now, was only praying for oblivion. That Lydia and Stephen might not meet--that she might be spared only that--that somehow they might escape this hideous publicity--this noise and blare, was all she asked. She did not dare raise her eyes; her face burned.
"She's hurt her foot!" said pitying voices, as the two women went slowly down the slanting bridge to the dock.
Down, down, down they went! And every step carried Susan nearer to the world of her childhood, with its rigid conventions, its distrust of herself, its timidity of officials, and in crowded places! The influence of the Saunders' arrogance and pride failed her suddenly; the memory of Stephen's bracing belief in the power to make anything possible forsook her. She was only little Susan Brown, not rich and not bold and not independent, unequal to the pressure of circumstances.
She tried, with desperate effort, to rally her courage. Men were waiting even now to take up the gang-plank when she and Lydia left it; in another second it would be too late.
"Is either of you ladies sailing?" asked the guard at its foot.
"No, indeed!" said Lydia, cheerfully. Susan's eye met his miserably- -but she could not speak.
They went slowly along the pier, Susan watching Lydia's steps, and watching nothing else. Her face burned, her heart pounded, her hands and feet were icy cold. She merely wished to get away from this scene without a disgraceful exposition of some sort, to creep somewhere into darkness, and to die. She answered Lydia's cheerful comments briefly; with a dry throat.
Suddenly beside one of the steamer's great red stacks there leaped a plume of white steam, and the prolonged deep blast of her whistle drowned all other sounds.
"There she goes!" said Lydia pausing.
She turned to watch the Nippon Maru move against the pier like a moving wall, swing free, push slowly out into the bay. Susan did not look.
"It makes me sick," she said, when Lydia, astonished, noticed she was not watching.
"Why, I should think it did!" Lydia exclaimed, for Susan's face was ashen, and she was biting her lips hard to keep back the deadly rush of faintness that threatened to engulf her.
"I'm afraid--air--Lyd---" whispered Susan. Lydia forgot her own injured ankle.
"Here, sit on these boxes, darling," she said. "Well, you poor little girl you! There, that's better. Don't worry about anyone watching you, just sit there and rest as long as you feel like it! I guess you need your lunch!"