Saturday's Child by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Part Three. Service
December was unusually cold and bleak, that year, and after the holidays came six long weeks during which there were but a few glimpses of watery sunlight, between long intervals of fogs and rains. Day after day broke dark and stormy, day after day the office-going crowds jostled each other under wet umbrellas, or, shivering in wet shoes and damp outer garments, packed the street- cars.
Mrs. Lancaster's home, like all its type, had no furnace, and moisture and cold seemed to penetrate it, and linger therein. Wind howled past the dark windows, rain dripped from the cornice above the front door, the acrid odor of drying woolens and wet rubber coats permeated the halls. Mrs. Lancaster said she never had known of so much sickness everywhere, and sighed over the long list of unknown dead in the newspaper every morning.
"And I shouldn't be one bit surprised if you were sickening for something, Susan," her aunt said, in a worried way, now and then. But Susan, stubbornly shaking her head, fighting against tears, always answered with ill-concealed impatience:
"Oh, please don't, auntie! I'M all right!"
No such welcome event as a sudden and violent and fatal illness was likely to come her way, she used bitterly to reflect. She was here, at home again, in the old atmosphere of shabbiness and poverty; nothing was changed, except that now her youth was gone, and her heart broken, and her life wrecked beyond all repairing. Of the great world toward which she had sent so many hopeful and wistful and fascinated glances, a few years ago, she now stood in fear. It was a cruel world, cold and big and selfish; it had torn her heart out of her, and cast her aside like a dry husk. She could not keep too far enough away from it to satisfy herself in future, she only prayed for obscurity and solitude for the rest of her difficult life.
She had been helped through the first dreadful days that had followed the sailing of the Nippon Maru, by a terrified instinct of self-protection. Having failed so signally in this venture, her only possible course was concealment. Mary Lord did not guess--Mrs. Saunders did not guess--Auntie did not guess! Susan spent every waking hour, and many of the hours when she was supposedly asleep, in agonized search for some unguarded move by which she might be betrayed.
A week went by, two weeks--life resumed its old aspect outwardly. No newspaper had any sensational revelation to make in connection with the news of the Nippon Maru's peaceful arrival in Honolulu harbor, and the reception given there for the eminent New York novelist. Nobody spoke to Susan of Bocqueraz; her heart began to resume its natural beat. And with ebbing terror it was as if the full misery of her heart was revealed.
She had severed her connections with the Saunders family; she told her aunt quietly, and steeled herself for the scene that followed, which was more painful even than she had feared. Mrs. Lancaster felt indignantly that an injustice had been done Susan, was not at all sure that she herself would not call upon Miss Saunders and demand a full explanation. Susan combated this idea with surprising energy; she was very silent and unresponsive in these days, but at this suggestion she became suddenly her old vigorous self.
"I don't understand you lately, Sue," her aunt said disapprovingly, after this outburst. "You don't act like yourself at all! Sometimes you almost make auntie think that you've got something on your mind."
Something on her mind! Susan could have given a mad laugh at the suggestion. Madness seemed very near sometimes, between the anguished aching of her heart, and the chaos of shame and grief and impotent rebellion that possessed her soul. She was sickened with the constant violence of her emotions, whether anger or shame shook her, or whether she gave way to desperate longings for the sound of Stephen Bocqueraz's voice, and the touch of his hand again, she was equally miserable. Perhaps the need of him brought the keenest pang, but, after all, love with Susan was still the unknown quantity, she was too closely concerned with actual discomforts to be able to afford the necessary hours and leisure for brooding over a disappointment in love. That pain came only at intervals,--a voice, overheard in the street, would make her feel cold and weak with sudden memory, a poem or a bit of music that recalled Stephen Bocqueraz would ring her heart with sorrow, or, worst of all, some reminder of the great city where he made his home, and the lives that gifted and successful and charming men and women lived there, would scar across the dull wretchedness of Susan's thoughts with a touch of flame. But the steady misery of everyday had nothing to do with these, and, if less sharp, was still terrible to bear.
Desperately, with deadly determination, she began to plan an escape. She told herself that she would not go away until she was sure that Stephen was not coming back for her, sure that he was not willing to accept the situation as she had arranged it. If he rebelled,--if he came back for her,--if his devotion were unaffected by what had passed, then she must meet that situation as it presented itself.
But almost from the very first she knew that he would not come back and, as the days went by, and not even a letter came, however much her pride suffered, she could not tell herself that she was very much surprised. In her most sanguine moments she could dream that he had had news in Honolulu,--his wife was dead, he had hurried home, he would presently come back to San Francisco, and claim Susan's promise. But for the most part she did not deceive herself; her friendship with Stephen Bocqueraz was over. It had gone out of her life as suddenly as it had come, and with it, Susan told herself, had gone so much more! Her hope of winning a place for herself, her claim on the life she loved, her confidence that, as she was different, so would her life be different from the other lives she knew. All, all was gone. She was as helpless and as impotent as Mary Lou!
She had her moods when planning vague enterprises in New York or Boston satisfied her, and other moods when she determined to change her name, and join a theatrical troupe. From these some slight accident might dash her to the bitterest depths of despondency. She would have a sudden, sick memory of Stephen's clear voice, of the touch of his hand, she would be back at the Browning dance again, or sitting between him and Billy at that memorable first supper---
"Oh, my God, what shall I do?" she would whisper, dizzy with pain, stopping short over her sewing, or standing still in the street, when the blinding rush of recollection came. And many a night she lay wakeful beside Mary Lou, her hands locked tight over her fast- beating heart, her lips framing again the hopeless, desperate little prayer: "Oh, God, what shall I do!"
No avenue of thought led to comfort, there was no comfort anywhere. Susan grew sick of her own thoughts. Chief among them was the conviction of failure, she had tried to be good and failed. She had consented to be what was not good, and failed there, too.
Shame rose like a rising tide. She could not stem it; she could not even recall the arguments that had influenced her so readily a few months ago, much less be consoled by them. Over and over again the horrifying fact sprang from her lulled reveries: she was bad--she was, at heart at least, a bad woman--she was that terrible, half- understood thing of which all good women stood in virtuous fear.
Susan rallied to the charge as well as she could. She had not really sinned in actual fact, after all, and one person only knew that she had meant to do so. She had been blinded and confused by her experience in a world where every commandment was lightly broken, where all sacred matters were regarded as jokes.
But the stain remained, rose fresh and dreadful through her covering excuses. Consciousness of it influenced every moment of her day and kept her wakeful far into the night. Susan's rare laughter was cut short by it, her brave resolves were felled by it, her ambition sank defeated before the memory of her utter, pitiable weakness. A hundred times a day she writhed with the same repulsion and shock that she might have felt had her offense been a well-concealed murder.
She had immediately written Stephen Bocqueraz a shy, reserved little letter, in the steamship company's care at Yokohama. But it would be two months before an answer to that might be expected, and meanwhile there was great financial distress at the boarding-house. Susan could not witness it without at least an effort to help.
Finally she wrote Ella a gay, unconcerned note, veiling with nonsense her willingness to resume the old relationship. The answer cut her to the quick. Ella had dashed off only a few lines of crisp news; Mary Peacock was with them now, they were all crazy about her. If Susan wanted a position why didn't she apply to Madame Vera? Ella had heard her say that she needed girls. And she was sincerely Susan's, Ella Cornwallis Saunders.
Madame Vera was a milliner; the most popular of her day. Susan's cheeks flamed as she read the little note. But, meditating drearily, it occurred to her that it might be as well to go and see the woman. She, Susan, had a knowledge of the social set that might be valuable in that connection. While she dressed, she pleased herself with a vision of Mademoiselle Brown, very dignified and severely beautiful, in black silk, as Madame Vera's right-hand woman.
The milliner was rushing about the back of her store at the moment that Susan chanced to choose for her nervously murmured remarks, and had to have them repeated several times. Then she laughed heartily and merrily, and assured Susan in very imperfect and very audible English, that forty girls were already on her list waiting for positions in her establishment.
"I thought perhaps--knowing all the people--" Susan stammered very low.
"How--why should that be so good?" Madame asked, with horrible clearness. "Do I not know them myself?"
Susan was glad to escape without further parley.
"See, now," said Madame Vera in a low tone, as she followed Susan to the door, "You do not come into my workshop, eh?"
"How much?" asked Susan, after a second's thought.
"Seven dollars," said the other with a quick persuasive nod, "and your dinner. That is something, eh? And more after a while."
But Susan shook her head. And, as she went out into the steadily falling rain again, bitter tears blinded her eyes.
She cried a great deal in these days, became nervous and sensitive and morbid. She moped about the house, restless and excited, unwilling to do anything that would take her away from the house when the postman arrived, reading the steamship news in every morning's paper.
Yet, curiously enough, she never accepted this experience as similar to what poor Mary Lou had undergone so many years ago,--this was not a "disappointment in love,"--this was only a passing episode. Presently she would get herself in hand again and astonish them with some achievement brilliant enough to sweep these dark days from everyone's memory.
She awaited her hour, impatiently at first, later with a sort of resentful calm. Susan's return home, however it affected them financially, was a real delight to her aunt and Mary Lou. The cousins roomed together, were together all day long.
Susan presently flooded the house with the circulars of a New York dramatic school, wrote mysterious letters pertaining to them. After a while these disappeared, and she spent a satisfied evening or two in filling blanks of application for admission into a hospital training-school. In February she worked hard over a short story that was to win a hundred dollar prize. Mary Lou had great confidence in it.
The two loitered over their toast and coffee, after the boarders' breakfast, made more toast to finish the coffee, and more coffee to finish the toast. The short winter mornings were swiftly gone; in the afternoon Susan and Mary Lou dressed with great care and went to market. They would stop at the library for a book, buy a little bag of candy to eat over their solitaire in the evening, perhaps pay a call on some friend, whose mild history of financial difficulties and helpless endurance matched their own.
Now and then, on Sundays, the three women crossed the Oakland ferry and visited Virginia, who was patiently struggling back to the light. They would find her somewhere in the great, orderly, clean institution, with a knot of sweet-faced, vague-eyed children clustered about her. "Good-bye, Miss 'Ginia!" the unearthly, happy little voices would call, as the uncertain little feet echoed away. Susan rather liked the atmosphere of the big institution, and vaguely envied the brisk absorbed attendants who passed them on swift errands. Stout Mrs. Lancaster, for all her panting and running, invariably came within half a second of missing the return train for the city; the three would enter it laughing and gasping, and sink breathless into their seats, unable for sheer mirth to straighten their hats, or glance at their fellow-passengers.
In March Georgie's second little girl, delicate and tiny, was born too soon, and the sturdy Myra came to her maternal grandmother for an indefinite stay. Georgie's disappointment over the baby's sex was instantly swallowed up in anxiety over the diminutive Helen's weight and digestion, and Susan and Mary Lou were delighted to prolong Myra's visit from week to week. Georgie's first-born was a funny, merry little girl, and Susan developed a real talent for amusing her and caring for her, and grew very fond of her. The new baby was well into her second month before they took Myra home,--a dark, crumpled little thing Susan thought the newcomer, and she thought that she had never seen Georgie looking so pale and thin. Georgie had always been freckled, but now the freckles seemed fairly to stand out on her face. But in spite of the children's exactions, and the presence of grim old Mrs. O'Connor, Susan saw a certain strange content in the looks that went between husband and wife.
"Look here, I thought you were going to be George Lancaster O'Connor!" said Susan, threateningly, to the new baby.
"I don't know why a boy wouldn't have been named Joseph Aloysius, like his father and grandfather," said the old lady disapprovingly.
But Georgie paid no heed. The baby's mother was kneeling beside the bed where little Helen lay, her eyes fairly devouring the tiny face.
"You don't suppose God would take her away from me, Sue, because of that nonsense about wanting a boy?" Georgie whispered.
Susan's story did not win the hundred dollar prize, but it won a fifth prize of ten dollars, and kept her in pocket money for some weeks. After that Mary Lord brought home an order for twenty place- cards for a child's Easter Party, and Susan spent several days happily fussing with water colors and so earned five dollars more.
Time did not hang at all heavily on her hands; there was always an errand or two to be done for auntie, and always a pack of cards and a library book with which to fill the evening. Susan really enjoyed the lazy evenings, after the lazy days. She and Mary Lou spent the first week in April in a flurry of linens and ginghams, making shirtwaists for the season; for three days they did not leave the house, nor dress fully, and they ate their luncheons from the wing of the sewing-machine.
Spring came and poured over the whole city a bath of warmth and perfume. The days lengthened, the air was soft and languid. Susan loved to walk to market now, loved to loiter over calls in the late after-noon, and walk home in the lingering sunset light. If a poignant regret smote her now and then, its effect was not lasting, she dismissed it with a bitter sigh.
But constant humiliation was good for neither mind nor body; Susan felt as pinched in soul as she felt actually pinched by the old cheerless, penniless condition, hard and bitter elements began to show themselves in her nature. She told herself that one great consolation in her memories of Stephen Bocqueraz was that she was too entirely obscure a woman to be brought to the consideration of the public, whatever her offense might or might not be. Cold and sullen, Susan saw herself as ill-used, she could not even achieve human contempt--she was not worthy of consideration. Just one of the many women who were weak---
And sometimes, to escape the desperate circling of her thoughts, she would jump up and rush out for a lonely walk, through the wind- blown, warm disorder of the summer streets, or sometimes, dropping her face suddenly upon a crooked arm, she would burst into bitter weeping.
Books and pictures, random conversations overheard, or contact with human beings all served, in these days, to remind her of herself. Susan's pride and self-confidence and her gay ambition had sustained her through all the self-denial of her childhood. Now, failing these, she became but an irritable, depressed and discouraged caricature of her old self. Her mind was a distressed tribunal where she defended herself day and night; convincing this accuser-- convincing that one--pleading her case to the world at large. Her aunt and cousin, entirely ignorant of its cause, still were aware that there was a great change in her, and watched her with silent and puzzled sympathy.
But they gave her no cause to feel herself a failure. They thought Susan unusually clever and gifted, and, if her list of actual achievements were small, there seemed to be no limit to the things that she could do. Mary Lou loved to read the witty little notes she could dash off at a moment's notice, Lydia Lord wiped her eyes with emotion that Susan's sweet, untrained voice aroused when she sang "Once in a Purple Twilight," or "Absent." Susan's famous eggless ginger-bread was one of the treats of Mrs. Lancaster's table.
"How do you do it, you clever monkey!" said Auntie, watching over Susan's shoulder the girl's quick fingers, as Susan colored Easter cards or drew clever sketches of Georgie's babies, or scribbled a jingle for a letter to amuse Virginia. And when Susan imitated Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Paula, or Mrs. Fiske as Becky Sharp, even William had to admit that she was quite clever enough to be a professional entertainer.
"But I wish I had one definite big gift, Billy," said Susan, on a July afternoon, when she and Mr. Oliver were on the ferry boat, going to Sausalito. It was a Sunday, and Susan thought that Billy looked particularly well to-day, felt indeed, with some discomfort, that he was better groomed and better dressed than she was, and that there was in him some new and baffling quality, some reserve that she could not command. His quick friendly smile did not hide the fact that his attention was not all hers; he seemed pleasantly absorbed in his own thoughts. Susan gave his clean-shaven, clear- skinned face many a half-questioning look as she sat beside him on the boat. He was more polite, more gentle, more kind that she remembered him--what was missing, what was wrong to-day?
It came to her suddenly, half-astonished and half-angry, that he was no longer interested in her. Billy had outgrown her, he had left her behind. He did not give her his confidence to-day, nor ask her advice. He scowled now and then, as if some under-current of her chatter vaguely disturbed him, but offered no comment. Susan felt, with a little, sick pressure at her heart, that somehow she had lost an old friend!
He was stretched out comfortably, his long legs crossed before him, his hands thrust deep in his trousers pockets, and his half-shut, handsome eyes fixed on the rushing strip of green water that was visible between the painted ropes of the deck-rail.
"And what are your own plans, Sue?" he presently asked, unsmilingly.
Susan was chilled by the half-weary tone.
"Well, I'm really just resting and helping Auntie, now," Susan said cheerfully. "But in the fall---" she made a bold appeal to his interest, "--in the fall I think I shall go to New York?"
"New York?" he echoed, aroused. "What for?"
"Oh, anything!" Susan answered confidently. "There are a hundred chances there to every one here," she went on, readily, "institutions and magazines and newspapers and theatrical agencies-- Californians always do well in New York!"
"That sounds like Mary Lou," said Billy, drily. "What does she know about it?"
Susan flushed resentfully.
"Well, what do you!" she retorted with heat.
"No, I've never been there," admitted Billy, with self-possession. "But I know more about it than Mary Lou! She's a wonder at pipe- dreams,--my Lord, I'd rather have a child of mine turned loose in the street than be raised according to Mary Lou's ideas! I don't mean," Billy interrupted himself to say seriously, "that they weren't all perfectly dandy to me when I was a kid--you know how I love the whole bunch! But all that dope about not having a chance here, and being 'unlucky' makes me weary! If Mary Lou would get up in the morning, and put on a clean dress, and see how things were going in the kitchen, perhaps she'd know more about the boarding- house, and less about New York!"
"It may never have occurred to you, Billy, that keeping a boarding- house isn't quite the ideal occupation for a young gentlewoman!" Susan said coldly.
"Oh, darn everything!" Billy said, under his breath. Susan eyed him questioningly, but he did not look at her again, or explain the exclamation.
The always warm and welcoming Carrolls surrounded them joyfully, Susan was kissed by everybody, and Billy had a motherly kiss from Mrs. Carroll in the unusual excitement of the occasion.
For there was great news. Susan had it from all of them at once; found herself with her arms linked about the radiant Josephine while she said incredulously:
"Oh, you're not! Oh, Jo, I'm so glad! Who is it--and tell me all about it--and where's his picture---"
In wild confusion they all straggled out to the lawn, and Susan sat down with Betsey at her feet, Anna sitting on one arm of her low chair, and Josephine kneeling, with her hands still in Susan's.
He was Mr. Stewart Frothingham, and Josephine and his mother and sister had gone up to Yale for his graduation, and "it" had been instantaneous, "we knew that very day," said Josephine, with a lovely awe in her eyes, "but we didn't say anything to Mrs. Frothingham or Ethel until later." They had all gone yachting together, and to Bar Harbor, and then Stewart had gone into his uncle's New York office, "we shall have to live in New York," Josephine said, radiantly, "but one of the girls or Mother will always be there!"
"Jo says it's the peachiest house you ever saw!" Betsey contributed.
"Oh, Sue--right down at the end of Fifth Avenue--but you don't know where that is, do you? Anyway, it's wonderful---"
It was all wonderful, everybody beamed over it. Josephine already wore her ring, but no announcement was to be made until after a trip she would make with the Frothinghams to Yellowstone Park in September. Then the gallant and fortunate and handsome Stewart would come to California, and the wedding would be in October.
"And you girls will all fall in love with him!" prophesied Josephine.
"Fall?" echoed Susan studying photographs. "I head the waiting list! You grab-all! He's simply perfection--rich and stunning, and an old friend--and a yacht and a motor---"
"And a fine, hard-working fellow, Sue," added Josephine's mother.
"I begin to feel old and unmarried," mourned Susan. "What did you say, William dear?" she added, suddenly turning to Billy, with a honeyed smile.
They all shouted. But an hour or two later, in the kitchen, Mrs. Carroll suddenly asked her of her friendship with Peter Coleman.
"Oh, we've not seen each other for months, Aunt Jo!" Susan said cheerfully. "I don't even know where he is! I think he lives at the club since the crash."
"There was a crash?"
"A terrible crash. And now the firm's reorganized; it's Hunter, Hunter & Brauer. Thorny told me about it. And Miss Sherman's married, and Miss Cottle's got consumption and has to live in Arizona, or somewhere. However,---" she returned to the original theme, "Peter seems to be still enjoying life! Did you see the account of his hiring an electric delivery truck, and driving it about the city on Christmas Eve, to deliver his own Christmas presents, dressed up himself as an expressman? And at the Bachelor's dance, they said it was his idea to freeze the floor in the Mapleroom, and skate the cotillion!"
"Goose that he is!" Mrs. Carroll smiled. "How hard he works for his fun! Well, after all that's Peter--one couldn't expect him to change!"
"Does anybody change?" Susan asked, a little sadly. "Aren't we all born pretty much as we're going to be? There are so many lives---" She had tried to keep out the personal note, but suddenly it crept in, and she saw the kitchen through a blur of tears. "There are so many lives," she pursued, unsteadily, "that seem to miss their mark. I don't mean poor people. I mean strong, clever young women, who could do things, and who would love to do certain work,--yet who can't get hold of them! Some people are born to be busy and happy and prosperous, and others, like myself," said Susan bitterly, "drift about, and fail at one thing after another, and never get anywhere!"
Suddenly she put her head down on the table and burst into tears.
"Why Sue--why Sue!" The motherly arm was about her, she felt Mrs. Carroll's cheek against her hair. "Why, little girl, you musn't talk of failure at your age!" said Mrs. Carroll, tenderly.
"I'll be twenty-six this fall," Susan said, wiping her eyes, "and I'm not started yet! I don't know how to begin. Sometimes I think," said Susan, with angry vigor, "that if I was picked right out of this city and put down anywhere else on the globe, I could be useful and happy! But here I can't! How---" she appealed to the older woman passionately, "How can I take an interest in Auntie's boarding-house when she herself never keeps a bill, doesn't believe in system, and likes to do things her own way?"
"Sue, I do think that things at home are very hard for you," Mrs. Carroll said with quick sympathy. "It's too bad, dear, it's just the sort of thing that I think you fine, energetic, capable young creatures ought to be saved! I wish we could think of just the work that would interest you."
"But that's it--I have no gift!" Susan said, despondingly.
"But you don't need a gift, Sue. The work of the world isn't all for girls with gifts! No, my dear, you want to use your energies--you won't be happy until you do. You want happiness, we all do. And there's only one rule for happiness in this world, Sue, and that's service. Just to the degree that they serve people are happy, and no more. It's an infallible test. You can try nations by it, you can try kings and beggars. Poor people are just as unhappy as rich people, when they're idle; and rich people are really happy only when they're serving somebody or something. A millionaire--a multimillionaire--may be utterly wretched, and some poor little clerk who goes home to a sick wife, and to a couple of little babies, may be absolutely content--probably is."
"But you don't think that the poor, as a class, are happier than the rich?"
"Why, of course they are!"
"Lots of workingmen's wives are unhappy," submitted Susan.
"Because they're idle and shiftless and selfish, Sue. But there are some among them who are so busy mixing up spice cake, and making school-aprons, and filling lamps and watering gardens that they can't stop to read the new magazines,--and those are the happiest people in the world, I think. No, little girl, remember that rule. Not money, or success, or position or travel or love makes happiness,--service is the secret."
Susan was watching her earnestly, wistfully. Now she asked simply:
"Where can I serve?"
"Where can you serve--you blessed child!" Mrs. Carroll said, ending her little dissertation with a laugh. "Well, let me see--I've been thinking of you lately, Sue, and wondering why you never thought of settlement work? You'd be so splendid, with your good-nature, and your buoyancy, and your love for children. Of course they don't pay much, but money isn't your object, is it?"
"No-o, I suppose it isn't," Susan said uncertainly. "I--I don't see why it should be!" And she seemed to feel her horizon broadening as she spoke.
She and Billy did not leave until ten o'clock, fare-wells, as always, were hurried, but Josephine found time to ask Susan to be her bridesmaid, Betsey pleaded for a long visit after the wedding, "we'll simply die without Jo!" and Anna, with her serious kiss, whispered, "Stand by us, Sue--it's going to break Mother's heart to have her go so far away!"
Susan could speak of nothing but Josephine's happiness for awhile, when she and Billy were on the boat. They had the dark upper deck almost to themselves, lights twinkled everywhere about them, on the black waters of the bay. There was no moon. She presently managed a delicately tentative touch upon his own feeling in the matter. "He-- he was glad, wasn't he? He hadn't been seriously hurt?"
Bill, catching her drift, laughed out joyously.
"That's so--I was crazy about her once, wasn't I?" Billy asked, smilingly reminiscent. "But I like Anna better now. Only I've sort of thought sometimes that Anna has a crush on someone--Peter Coleman, maybe."
"No, not on him," Susan hesitated. "There's a doctor at the hospital, but he's awfully rich and important---" she admitted.
"Oh." Billy withdrew. "And you--are you still crazy about that mutt?" he asked.
"Peter? I've not seen him for months. But I don't see why you call him a mutt!"
"Say, did you ever know that he made a pretty good thing out of Mrs. Carroll's window washer?" Billy asked confidentally, leaning toward her in the dark.
"He paid her five hundred dollars for it!" Susan flashed back. "Did you know that?"
"Sure I knew that," Billy said.
"Well--well, did he make more than that?" Susan asked.
"He sold it to the Wakefield Hardware people for twenty-five thousand dollars," Billy announced.
"For twenty-five thousand," he repeated. "They're going to put them into lots of new apartments. The National Duplex, they call it. Yep, it's a big thing, I guess."
"Bill, you mean twenty-five hundred!"
"Twenty-five thousand, I tell you! It was in the 'Scientific American,' I can show it to you!"
Susan kept a moment's shocked silence.
"Billy, I don't believe he would do that!" she said at last.
"Oh, shucks," Billy said good-naturedly, "it was rotten, but it wasn't as bad as that! It was legal enough. She was pleased with her five hundred, and I suppose he told himself that, but for him, she mightn't have had that! Probably he meant to give her a fat check---."
"Give her? Why, it was hers!" Susan burst out. "What did Peter Coleman have to do with it, anyway!"
"Well, that's the way all big fortunes are built up," Billy said. "You happen to see this, though, and that's why it seems so rotten!"
"I'll never speak to Peter Coleman again!" Susan declared, outraged.
"You'll have to cut out a good many of your friends in the Saunders set if you want to be consistent," Billy said. "This doesn't seem to me half as bad as some others! What I think is rotten is keeping hundreds of acres of land idle, for years and years, or shutting poor little restless kids up in factories, or paying factory girls less than they can live on, and drawing rent from the houses where they are ruined, body and soul! The other day some of our men were discharged because of bad times, and as they walked out they passed Carpenter's eighteen-year-old daughter sitting in the motor, with a chauffeur in livery in front, and with her six-hundred-dollar Pekingese sprawling in her lap, in his little gold collar. Society's built right on that sort of thing, Sue! you'd be pretty surprised if you could see a map of the bad-house district, with the owners' names attached."
"They can't be held responsible for the people who rent their property!" Susan protested.
"Bocqueraz told me that night that in New York you'll see nice- looking maids, nice-looking chauffeurs, and magnificent cars, any afternoon, airing the dogs in the park," said Billy.
The name silenced Susan; she felt her breath come short.
"He was a dandy fellow," mused Billy, not noticing. "Didn't you like him?"
"Like him!" burst from Susan's overcharged heart. An amazed question or two from him brought the whole story out. The hour, the darkness, the effect of Josephine's protected happiness, and above all, the desire to hold him, to awaken his interest, combined to break down her guard.
She told him everything, passionately and swiftly, dwelling only upon the swift rush of events that had confused her sense of right and wrong, and upon the writer's unparalleled devotion.
Billy, genuinely shocked at her share of the affair, was not inclined to take Bocqueraz's protestations very seriously. Susan found herself in the odious and unforeseen position of defending Stephen Bocqueraz's intentions.
"What a dirty rotter he must be, when he seemed such a prince!" was William's summary. "Pretty tough on you, Sue," he added, with fraternal kindly contempt, "Of course you would take him seriously, and believe every word! A man like that knows just how to go about it,--and Lord, you came pretty near getting in deep!"
Susan's face burned and she bit her lip in the darkness. It was unbearable that Billy should think Bocqueraz less in earnest than she had been, should imagine her so easily won! She wished heartily that she had not mentioned the affair.
"He probably does that everywhere he goes," said Billy, thoughtfully. "You had a pretty narrow escape, Sue, and I'll bet he thought he got out of it pretty well, too! After the thing had once started, he probably began to realize that you are a lot more decent than most, and you may bet he felt pretty rotten about it---"
"Do you mean to say that he didn't mean to---" began Susan hotly, stung even beyond anger by outraged pride. But, as the enormity of her question smote her suddenly, she stopped short, with a sensation almost of nausea.
"Marry you?" Billy finished it for her. "I don't know--probably he would. Lord, Lord, what a blackguard! What a skunk!" And Billy got up with a short breath, as if he were suffocating, walked away from her, and began to walk up and down across the broad dark deck.
Susan felt bitter remorse and shame sweep her like a flame as he left her. She felt, sitting there alone in the darkness, as if she would die of the bitterness of knowing herself at last. In beginning her confidence, she had been warmed by the thought of the amazing and romantic quality of her news, she had thought that Bocqueraz's admiration would seem a great thing in Billy's eyes. Now she felt sick and cold and ashamed, the glamour fell, once and for all, from what she had done and, as one hideous memory after another roared in her ears, Susan felt as if her thoughts would drive her mad.
Billy came suddenly back to his seat beside her, and laid his hand over hers. She knew that he was trying to comfort her.
"Never you mind, Sue," he said, "it's not your fault that there are men rotten enough to take advantage of a girl like you. You're easy, Susan, you're too darned easy, you poor kid. But thank God, you got out in time. It would have killed your aunt," said Billy, with a little shudder, "and I would never have forgiven myself. You're like my own sister, Sue, and I never saw it coming! I thought you were wise to dope like that---"
"Wise to dope like that!" Susan could have risen up and slapped him, in the darkness. She could have burst into frantic tears; she would gladly have felt the boat sinking--sinking to hide her shame and his contempt for her under the friendly, quiet water.
For long years the memory of that trip home from Sausalito, the boat, the warm and dusty ferry-place, the jerking cable-car, the grimy, wilted street, remained vivid and terrible in her memory.
She found herself in her room, talking to the aroused Mary Lou. She found herself in bed, her heart beating fast, her eyes wide and bright. Susan meant to stop thinking of what could not be helped, and get to sleep at once.
The hours went by, still she lay wakeful and sick at heart. She turned and tossed, sighed, buried her face in her pillow, turned and tossed again. Shame shook her, worried her in dreams, agonized her when she was awake. Susan felt as if she would lose her mind in the endless hours of this terrible night.
There was a little hint of dawn in the sky when she crept wearily over Mary Lou's slumbering form.
"Ha! What is it?" asked Mary Lou.
"It's early--I'm going out--my head aches!" Susan said. Mary Lou sank back gratefully, and Susan dressed in the dim light. She crept downstairs, and went noiselessly out into the chilly street.
Her head ached, and her skin felt dry and hot. She took an early car for North Beach, sat mute and chilled on the dummy until she reached the terminal, and walked blindly down to the water. Little waves shifted wet pebbles on the shore, a cool wind sighed high above her.
Susan found a sheltered niche among piles of lumber--and sat staring dully ahead of her. The water was dark, but the fog was slowly lifting, to show barges at anchor, and empty rowboats rocking by the pier. The tide was low, piles closely covered with shining black barnacles rose lank from the water; odorous webs of green seaweed draped the wooden cross-bars and rusty iron cleats of the dock.
Susan remembered the beaches she had known in her childhood, when, a small skipping person, she had run ahead of her father and mother, wet her shoes in the sinking watery sand, and curved away from the path of the waves in obedience to her mother's voice. She remembered walks home beside the roaring water, with the wind whistling in her ears, the sunset full in her eyes, her tired little arms hooked in the arms of the parents who shouted and laughed at each other over the noisy elements.
"My good, dear, hungry, little, tired Mouse!" her mother had called her, in the blissful hour of supper and warmth and peace that followed.
Her mother had always been good--her father good. Every one was good,--even impractical, absurd Mary Lou, and homely Lydia Lord, and little Miss Sherman at the office, with her cold red hands, and her hungry eyes,--every one was good, except Susan.
Dawn came, and sunrise. The fog lifted like a curtain, disappeared in curling filaments against the sun. Little brown-sailed fishing- smacks began to come dipping home, sunlight fell warm and bright on the roofs of Alcatraz, the blue hills beyond showed soft against the bluer sky. Ferry boats cut delicate lines of foam in the sheen of the bay, morning whistles awakened the town. Susan felt the sun's grateful warmth on her shoulders and, watching the daily miracle of birth, felt vaguely some corresponding process stir her own heart. Nature cherishes no yesterdays; the work of rebuilding and replenishing goes serenely on. Punctual dawn never finds the world unready, April's burgeoning colors bury away forever the memories of winter wind and deluge.
"There is some work that I may still do, in this world, there is a place somewhere for me," thought Susan, walking home, hungry and weary, "Now the question is to find them!"
Early in October came a round-robin from the Carrolls. Would Susan come to them for Thanksgiving and stay until Josephine's wedding on December third? "It will be our last time all together in one sense," wrote Mrs. Carroll, "and we really need you to help us over the dreadful day after Jo goes!"
Susan accepted delightedly for the wedding, but left the question of Thanksgiving open; her aunt felt the need of her for the anniversary. Jinny would be at home from Berkeley and Alfred and his wife Freda were expected for Thanksgiving Day. Mrs. Alfred was a noisy and assertive little person, whose complacent bullying of her husband caused his mother keen distress. Alfred was a bookkeeper now, in the bakery of his father-in-law, in the Mission, and was a changed man in these days; his attitude toward his wife was one of mingled fear and admiration. It was a very large bakery, and the office was neatly railed off, "really like a bank," said poor Mrs. Lancaster, but Ma had nearly fainted when first she saw her only son in this enclosure, and never would enter the bakery again. The Alfreds lived in a five-room flat bristling with modern art papers and shining woodwork; the dining-room was papered in a bold red, with black wood trimmings and plate-rail; the little drawing-room had a gas-log surrounded with green tiles. Freda made endless pillows for the narrow velour couch, and was very proud of her Mission rocking-chairs and tasseled portieres. Her mother's wedding- gift had been a piano with a mechanical player attached; the bride was hospitable and she loved to have groups of nicely dressed young people listening to the music, while she cooked for them in the chafing-dish. About once a month, instead of going to "Mama's" for an enormous Sunday dinner, she and Alfred had her fat "Mama" and her small wiry "Poppa" and little Augusta and Lulu and Heinie come to eat a Sunday dinner with them. And when this happened stout Mrs. Hultz always sent her own cook over the day before with a string of sausages and a fowl and a great mocha cake, and cheese and hot bread, so that Freda's party should not "cost those kits so awful a lot," as she herself put it.
And no festivity was thought by Freda to warrant Alfred's approach to his old habits. She never allowed him so much as a sherry sauce on his pudding. She frankly admitted that she "yelled bloody murder" if he suggested absenting himself from her side for so much as a single evening. She adored him, she thought him the finest type of man she knew, but she allowed him no liberty.
"A doctor told Ma once that when a man drank, as Alfie did, he couldn't stop right off short, without affecting his heart," said Mary Lou, gently.
"All right, let it affect his heart then!" said the twenty-year-old Freda hardily. Ma herself thought this disgustingly cold-blooded; she said it did not seem refined for a woman to admit that her husband had his failings, and Mary Lou said frankly that it was easy enough to see where that marriage would end, but Susan read more truly the little bride's flashing blue eyes and the sudden scarlet in her cheeks, and she won Freda's undying loyalty by a surreptitious pressure of her fingers.