Saturday's Child by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Part Three. Service
The days that followed were brightened or darkened with moods so intense, that it was a real, if secret, relief to Susan when the forest visit was over, and sun-burned and shabby and loaded with forest spoils, they all came home again. Jim's first position awaited him, and Anna was assistant matron in the surgical hospital now,--fated to see the man she loved almost every day, and tortured afresh daily by the realization of his greatness, his wealth, his quiet, courteous disregard of the personality of the dark-eyed, deft little nurse. Dr. Conrad Hoffman was seventeen years older than Anna. Susan secretly thought of Anna's attachment as quite hopeless.
Philip and Betts and Susan were expected back at their respective places too, and Billy was deeply interested in the outcome of the casual, friendly letters he had written during the month in camp to Joseph Rassette. These letters had been passed about among the men until they were quite worn out; Clem Cudahy had finally had one or two printed, for informal distribution, and there had been a little sensation over them. Now, eastern societies had written asking for back numbers of the "Oliver Letter," and a labor journal had printed one almost in full. Clement Cudahy was anxious to discuss with Billy the feasibility of printing such a letter weekly for regular circulation, and Billy thought well of the idea, and was eager to begin the enterprise.
Susan was glad to get back to the little "Democrat," and worked very hard during the fall and winter. She was not wholly happy, or, rather, she was not happy all the time. There were times, especially when Billy was not about, when it seemed very pleasant to be introduced as an engaged girl, and to get the respectful, curious looks of other girls. She liked to hear Mrs. Carroll and Anna praise Billy, and she liked Betts' enthusiasm about him.
But little things about him worried her inordinately, sometimes she resented, for a whole silent evening, his absorption in other people, sometimes grew pettish and unresponsive and offended because he could keep neither eyes nor hands from her. And there were evenings when they seemed to have nothing to talk about, and Billy, too tired to do anything but drowse in his big chair, was confronted with an alert and horrified Susan, sick with apprehension of all the long evenings, throughout all the years. Susan was fretted by the financial barrier to the immediate marriage, too, it was humiliating, at twenty-six, to be affected by a mere matter of dollars and cents.
They quarreled, and came home silently from a dinner in town, Susan's real motive in yielding to a reconciliation being her disinclination to confess to Mrs. Carroll,--and those motherly eyes read her like a book,--that she was punishing Billy for asking her not to "show off" before the waiter!
But early in the new year, they were drawn together by rapidly maturing plans. The "Oliver Letter," called the "Saturday Protest" now, was fairly launched. Billy was less absorbed in the actual work, and began to feel sure of a moderate success. He had rented for his office half of the lower floor of an old house in the Mission. Like all the old homes that still stand to mark the era when Valencia Street was as desired an address as California Street is to-day, it stood upon bulkheaded ground, with a fat-pillared wooden fence bounding the wide lawns.
The fence was full of gaps, and the house, with double bay-windows, and with a porch over its front door, was shabby and bare. Its big front door usually stood open; opposite Billy, across a wide hall, was a modest little millinery establishment, upstairs a nurses' home, and a woman photographer occupied the top floor. The "Protest," a slim little sheet, innocent of contributed matter or advertising, and written, proofed and set up by Billy's own hands, was housed in what had been the big front drawing-room. Billy kept house in the two back rooms that completed the little suite.
Susan first saw the house on a Saturday in January, a day that they both remembered afterwards as being the first on which their marriage began to seem a definite thing. It was in answer to Billy's rather vague suggestion that they must begin to look at flats in the neighborhood that Susan said, half in earnest:
"We couldn't begin here, I suppose? Have the office downstairs in the big front room, and clean up that old downstairs kitchen, and fix up these three rooms!"
Billy dismissed the idea. But it rose again, when they walked downtown, in the afternoon sunlight, and kept them in animated talk over a happy dinner.
"The rent for the whole thing is only twenty dollars!" said Susan, "and we can fix it all up, pretty old-fashioned papers, and white paint! You won't know it!"
"I adore you, Sue--isn't this fun?" was William's somewhat indirect answer. They missed one boat, missed another, finally decided to leave it to Mrs. Carroll.
Mrs. Carroll's decision was favorable. "Loads of sunlight and fresh air, Sue, and well up off the ground!" she summarized it.
The decision made all sorts of madness reasonable. If they were to live there, would this thing fit--would that thing fit--why not see paperers at once, why not look at stoves? Susan and Billy must "get an idea" of chairs and tables, must "get an idea" of curtains and rugs.
"And when do you think, children?" asked Mrs. Carroll.
"June," said Susan, all roses.
"April," said the masterful male.
"Oh, doesn't it begin to seem exciting!" burst from Betsey. The engagement was an old story now, but this revived interest in it.
"Clothes!" said Anna rapturously. "Sue, you must be married in another pongee, you never had anything so becoming!"
"We must decide about the wedding too," Mrs. Carroll said. "Certain old friends of your mother, Sue---"
"Barrows can get me announcements at cost," Philip contributed.
After that Susan and Billy had enough to talk about. Love-making must be managed at odd moments; Billy snatched a kiss when the man who was selling them linoleums turned his back for a moment; Susan offered him another as she demurely flourished the coffee-pot, in the deep recesses of a hardware shop.
"Do let me have my girl for two seconds together!" Billy pleaded, when between Anna, with samples of gowns, Betts, wild with excitement over an arriving present, and Mrs. Carroll's anxiety that they should not miss a certain auction sale, he had only distracted glimpses of his sweetheart.
It is an undeniable and blessed thing that, to the girl who is buying it, the most modest trousseau in the world seems wonderful and beautiful and complete beyond dreams. Susan's was far from being the most modest in the world, and almost every day brought her beautiful additions to it. Georgie, kept at home by a delicate baby, sent one delightful box after another; Mary Lou sent a long strip of beautiful lace, wrapped about Ferd's check for a hundred dollars.
"It was Aunt Sue Rose's lace," wrote Mary Lou, "and I am going to send you a piece of darling Ma's, too, and one or two of her spoons,"
This reminded Georgie of "Aunt Sue Rose's box," which, unearthed, brought forth more treasures; a thin old silver ladle, pointed tea- spoons connected with Susan's infant memories of castor-oil. Virginia had a blind friend from whom she ordered a wonderful knitted field-coat. Anna telephoned about a patient who must go into mourning, and wanted to sell at less than half its cost, the loveliest of rose-wreathed hats.
Susan and Anna shopped together, Anna consulting a shabby list, Susan rushing off at a hundred tangents. Boxes and boxes and boxes came home, the engagement cups had not stopped coming when the wedding presents began. The spareroom closet was hung with fragrant new clothes, its bed was heaped with tissue-wrapped pieces of silver.
Susan crossed the bay two or three times a week to rush through some bit of buying, and to have dinner with Billy. They liked all the little Spanish and French restaurants, loitered over their sweet black coffee, and dry cheese, explored the fascinating dark streets of the Chinese Quarter, or went to see the "Marionettes" next door to the old Broadway jail. All of it appealed to Susan's hunger for adventure, she wove romances about the French families among whom they dined,--stout fathers, thin, nervous mothers, stolid, claret- drinking little girls, with manes of black hair,--about the Chinese girls, with their painted lips, and the old Italian fishers, with scales glittering on their rough coats.
"We've got to run for it, if we want it!" Billy would say, snatching her coat from a chair. Susan after jabbing in her hatpins before a mirror decorated with arabesques of soap, would rush with him into the street. Fog and pools of rain water all about, closed warehouses and lighted saloons, dark crossings--they raced madly across the ferry place at last, with the clock in the tower looking down on them.
"We're all right now!" Billy would gasp. But they still ran, across the long line of piers, and through the empty waiting-room, and the iron gates.
"That was the closest yet!" Susan, reaching the upper deck, could stop to breathe. There were seats facing the water, under the engine-house, where Billy might put his arm about her unobserved. Their talk went on.
Usually they had the night boat to themselves, but now and then Susan saw somebody that she knew on board. One night she went in to talk for a moment with Ella Saunders. Ella was gracious, casual. Ken was married, as Susan knew,--the newspapers had left nothing to be imagined of the most brilliant of the season's matches, and pictures of the fortunate bride, caught by the cameras as she made her laughing way to her carriage, a white blur of veil and flowers, had appeared everywhere. Emily was not well, said Ella, might spend the summer in the east; Mama was not very well. She asked Susan no questions, and Susan volunteered nothing.
And on another occasion they were swept into the company of the Furlongs. Isabel was obviously charmed with Billy, and Billy, Susan thought, made John Furlong seem rather stupid and youthful.
"And you must come and dine with us!" said Isabel. Obviously not in the month before the wedding, Isabel's happy excuses, in an aside to Susan, were not necessary, "---But when you come back," said Isabel.
"And you with us in our funny little rooms in the Mission," Susan said gaily. Isabel took her husband's arm, and gave it a little squeeze.
"He'd love to!" she assured Susan. "He just loves things like that. And you must let us help get the dinner!"
On Sundays the old walks to the beach had been resumed, and the hills never had seemed to Susan as beautiful as they did this year, when the first spring sweetness began to pierce the air, and the breeze brought faint odors of grass, and good wet earth, and violets. Spring this year meant to the girl's glowing and ardent nature what it meant to the birds, with apple-blossoms and mustard- tops, lilacs and blue skies, would come the mating time. Susan was the daughter of her time; she did not know why all the world seemed made for her now; her heritage of ignorance and fear was too great. But Nature, stronger than any folly of her children, made her great claim none the less. Susan thrilled in the sunshine and warm air, dreamed of her lover's kisses, gloried in the fact that youth was not to pass her by without youth's hour.
By March all Sausalito was mantled with acacia bloom, and the silent warm days were sweet with violets. The sunshine was soft and warm, if there was still chill in the shade. The endless weeks had dragged themselves away; Susan and Billy were going to be married.
Susan walked in a radiant dream, curiously wrapped away from reality, yet conscious, in a new and deep and poignant way, of every word, of every waking instant.
"I am going to be married next week," she heard herself saying. Other women glanced at her; she knew they thought her strangely unmoved. She thought herself so. But she knew that running under the serene surface of her life was a dazzling great river of joy! Susan could not look upon it yet. Her eyes were blinded.
Presents came in, more presents. A powder box from Ella, candle- sticks from Emily, a curiously embroidered tablecloth from the Kenneth Saunders in Switzerland. And from old Mrs. Saunders a rather touching note, a request that Susan buy herself "something pretty," with a check for fifty dollars, "from her sick old friend, Fanny Saunders."
Mary Lou, very handsomely dressed and prosperous, and her beaming husband, came down for the wedding. Mary Lou had a hundred little babyish, new mannerisms, she radiated the complacency of the adored woman, and, when Susan spoke of Billy, Mary Lou was instantly reminded of Ferd, the salary Ferd made at twenty, the swiftness of his rise in the business world, his present importance. Mary Lou could not hide the pity she felt for Susan's very modest beginning. "I wish Ferd could find Billy some nice, easy position," said Mary Lou. "I don't like you to live out in that place. I don't believe Ma would!"
Virginia was less happy than her sister. The Eastmans were too busy together to remember her loneliness. "Sometimes it seems as if Mary Lou just likes to have me there to remind her how much better off she is," said Virginia mildly, to Susan. "Ferd buys her things, and takes her places, and all I can do is admire and agree! Of course they're angels," added Virginia, wiping her eyes, "but I tell you it's hard to be dependent, Sue!"
Susan sympathized, laughed, chattered, stood still under dressmakers' hands, dashed off notes, rushed into town for final purchases, opened gifts, consulted with everyone,--all in a golden, whirling dream. Sometimes a cold little doubt crossed her mind, and she wondered whether she was taking all this too much for granted, whether she really loved Billy, whether they should not be having serious talks now, whether changes, however hard, were not wiser "before than after"?
But it was too late for that now. The big wheels were set in motion, the day was coming nearer and more near. Susan's whole being was tuned to the great event; she felt herself the pivot upon which all her world turned. A hundred things a day brought the happy color to her face, stopped her heart-beats for a second. She had a little nervous qualm over the announcements; she dreamed for a moment over the cards that bore the new name of Mrs. William Jerome Oliver. "It seems so--so funny to have these things here in my trunk, before I'm married!" said Susan.
Anna came home, gravely radiant; Betsy exulted in a new gown of flimsy embroidered linen; Philip, in the character of best man, referred to a list of last-moment reminders.
Three days more--two days more--then Susan was to be married to- morrow. She and Billy had enough that was practical to discuss the last night, before he must run for his boat. She went with him to the door.
"I'm going to be crazy about my wife!" whispered Billy, with his arms about her. Susan was not in a responsive mood.
"I'm dead!" she said wearily, resting her head against his shoulder like a tired child.
She went upstairs slowly to her room. It was strewn with garments and hats and cardboard boxes; Susan's suitcase, with the things in it that she would need for a fortnight in the woods, was open on the table. The gas flared high, Betsey at the mirror was trying a new method of arranging her hair. Mrs. Carroll was packing Susan's trunk, Anna sat on the bed.
"Sue, dear," said the mother, "are you going to be warm enough up in the forest? It may be pretty cold."
"Oh, we'll have fires!" Susan said.
"Well, you are the coolest!" ejaculated Betsey. "I should think you'd feel so funny, going up there alone with Billy---"
"I'd feel funnier going up without him," Susan said equably. She got into a loose wrapper, braided her hair. Mrs. Carroll and Betsey kissed her and went away; Susan and Anna talked for a few minutes, then Susan went to sleep. But Anna lay awake for a long time thinking,--thinking what it would be like to know that only a few hours lay between the end of the old life and the beginning of the new.
"My wedding day." Susan said it slowly when she awakened in the morning. She felt that the words should convey a thrill, but somehow the day seemed much like any other day. Anna was gone, there was a subdued sound of voices downstairs.
A day that ushered in the full glory of the spring. All the flowers were blooming at once, at noon the air was hot and still, not a leaf stirred. Before Susan had finished her late breakfast Billy arrived; there was talk of tickets and train time before she went upstairs. Mary Lou had come early to watch the bride dress; good, homely, happy Miss Lydia Lord must run up to Susan's room too,--the room was full of women. Isabel Furlong was throned in the big chair, John was to take her away before the wedding, but she wanted to kiss Susan in her wedding gown.
Susan presently saw a lovely bride, smiling in the depths of the mirror, and was glad for Billy's sake that she looked "nice." Tall and straight, with sky-blue eyes shining under a crown of bright hair, with the new corsets setting off the lovely gown to perfection, her mother's lace at her throat and wrists, and the rose-wreathed hat matching her cheeks, she looked the young and happy woman she was, stepping bravely into the world of loving and suffering.
The pretty gown must be gathered up safely for the little walk to church. "Are we all ready?" asked Susan, running concerned eyes over the group.
"Don't worry about us!" said Philip. "You're the whole show to-day!"
In a dream they were walking through the fragrant roads, in a dream they entered the unpretentious little church, and were questioned by the small Spanish sexton at the door. No, that was Miss Carroll,-- this was Miss Brown. Yes, everyone was here. The groom and his best man had gone in the other door. Who would give away the bride? This gentleman, Mr. Eastman, who was just now standing very erect and offering her his arm. Susan Ralston Brown--William Jerome Oliver-- quite right. But they must wait a moment; the sexton must go around by the vestry for some last errand.
The little organ wheezed forth a march; Susan walked slowly at Ferd Eastman's side,--stopped,--and heard a rich Italian voice asking questions in a free and kindly whisper. The gentleman this side--and the lady here--so!
The voice suddenly boomed out loud and clear and rapid. Susan knew that this was Billy beside her, but she could not raise her eyes. She studied the pattern that fell on the red altar-carpet through a sun-flooded window. She told herself that she must think now seriously; she was getting married. This was one of the great moments of her life.
She raised her head, looked seriously into the kind old face so near her, glanced at Billy, who was very pale.
"I will," said Susan, clearing her throat. She reflected in a panic that she had not been ready for the question, and wondered vaguely if that invalidated her marriage, in the eyes of Heaven at least. Getting married seemed a very casual and brief matter. Susan wished that there was more form to it; pages, and heralds with horns, and processions. What an awful carpet this red one must be to sweep, showing every speck! She and Billy had painted their floors, and would use rugs---
This was getting married. "I wish my mother was here!" said Susan to herself, perfunctorily. The words had no meaning for her.
They knelt down to pray. And suddenly Susan, whose ungloved hand, with its lilies-of-the-valley, had dropped by her side, was thrilled to the very depth of her being by the touch of Billy's cold fingers on hers.
Her heart flooded with a sudden rushing sense of his goodness, his simplicity. He was marrying his girl, and praying for them both, his whole soul was filled with the solemn responsibility he incurred now.
She clung to his hand, and shut her eyes.
"Oh, God, take care of us," she prayed, "and make us love each other, and make us good! Make us good---"
She was deep in her prayer, eyes tightly closed, lips moving fast, when suddenly everything was over. Billy and she were walking down the aisle again, Susan's ringed hand on the arm that was hers now, to the end of the world.
"Billy, you didn't kiss her!" Betts reproached him in the vestibule.
"Didn't I? Well, I will!" He had a fragrant, bewildered kiss from his wife before Anna and Mrs. Carroll and all the others claimed her.
Then they walked home, and Susan protested that it did not seem right to sit at the head of the flower trimmed table, and let everyone wait on her. She ran upstairs with Anna to get into her corduroy camping-suit, and dashing little rough hat, ran down for kisses and good-byes. Betsey--Mary Lou--Philip--Mary Lou again.
"Good-bye, adorable darling!" said Betts, laughing through tears.
"Good-bye, dearest," whispered Anna, holding her close.
"Good-bye, my own girl!" The last kiss was for Mrs. Carroll, and Susan knew of whom the mother was thinking as the first bride ran down the path.
"Well, aren't they all darlings?" said young Mrs. Oliver, in the train.
"Corkers!" agreed the groom. "Don't you want to take your hat off, Sue?"
"Well, I think I will," Susan said pleasantly. Conversation languished.
"Oh, no!" Susan said brightly.
"I wonder if you can smoke in here," Billy observed, after a pause.
"I don't believe you can!" Susan said, interestedly.
"Well, when he comes through I'll ask him---"
Susan felt as if she should never speak spontaneously again. She was very tired, very nervous, able, with cold dispassion, to wonder what she and Billy Oliver were doing in this close, dirty train,--to wonder why people ever spoke of a wedding-day as especially pleasant,--what people found in life worth while, anyway!
She thought that it would be extremely silly in them to attempt to reach the cabin to-night; far more sensible to stay at Farwoods, where there was a little hotel, or, better yet, go back to the city. But Billy, although a little regretful for the darkness in which they ended their journey, suggested no change of plan, and Susan found herself unable to open the subject. She made the stage trip wedged in between Billy and the driver, climbed down silently at the foot of the familiar trail, and carried the third suitcase up to the cabin.
"You can't hurt that dress, can you, Sue?" said Billy, busy with the key.
"No!" Susan said, eager for the commonplace. "It's made for just this!"
"Then hustle and unpack the eats, will you? And I'll start a fire!"
"Two seconds!" Susan took off her hat, and enveloped herself in a checked apron. There was a heavy chill in the room; there was that blank forbidding air in the dusty, orderly room that follows months of unuse. Susan unpacked, went to and fro briskly; the claims of housekeeping reassured and soothed her.
Billy made thundering journeys for wood. Presently there was a flare of lighted papers in the fireplace, and the heartening snap and crackle of wood. The room was lighted brilliantly; delicious odors of sap mingled with the fragrance from Susan's coffee pot.
"Oh, keen idea!" said Billy, when she brought the little table close to the hearth. "Gee, that's pretty!" he added, as she shook over it the little fringed tablecloth, and laid the blue plates neatly at each side.
"Isn't this fun?" It burst spontaneously from the bride.
"Fun!" Billy flung down an armful of logs, and came to stand beside her, watching the flames. "Lord, Susan," he said, with simple force, "if you only knew how perfect you seem to me! If you only knew how many years I've been thinking how beautiful you were, and how clever, and how far above me-----I"
"Go right on thinking so, darling!" said Susan, practically, escaping from his arm, and taking her place behind the cold chicken. "Do ye feel like ye could eat a little mite, Pa?" asked she.
"Well, I dunno, mebbe I could!" William answered hilariously. "Say, Sue, oughtn't those blankets be out here, airing?" he added suddenly.
"Oh, do let's have dinner first. They make everything look so horrid," said young Mrs. Oliver, composedly carving. "They can dry while we're doing the dishes."
"You know, until we can afford a maid, I'm going to help you every night with the dishes," said Billy.
"Well, don't put on airs about it," Susan said briskly. "Or I'll leave you to do them entirely alone, while I run over the latest songs on the piarno. Here now, deary, chew this nicely, and when I've had all I want, perhaps I'll give you some more!"
"Sue, aren't we going to have fun--doing things like this all our lives?"
"I think we are," said Susan demurely. It was strange, it had its terrifying phases, but it was curiously exciting and wonderful, too, this wearing of a man's ring and his name, and being alone with him up here in the great forest.
"This is life--this is all good and right," the new-made wife said to herself, with a flutter at her heart. And across her mind there flitted a fragment of the wedding-prayer, "in shamefacedness grave." "I will be grave," thought Susan. "I will be a good wife, with God's help!"
Again morning found the cabin flooded with sunlight, and for all their happy days there the sun shone, and summer silences made the woods seem like June.
"Billum, if only we didn't have to go back!" said William's wife, seated on a stump, and watching him clean trout for their supper, in the soft close of an afternoon.
"Darling, I love to have you sitting there, with your little feet tucked under you, while I work," said William enthusiastically.
"I know," Susan agreed absently. "But don't you wish we didn't?" she resumed, after a moment.
"Well, in a way I do," Billy answered, stooping to souse a fish in the stream beside which he was kneeling. "But there's the 'Protest' you know,--there's a lot to do! And we'll come back here, every year. We'll work like mad for eleven months, and then come up here and loaf."
"But, Bill, how do we know we can manage it financially?" said Susan prudently.
"Oh, Lord, we'll manage it!" he answered comfortably. "Unless, of course, you want to have all the kids brought up in white stockings," grinned Billy, "and have their pictures taken every month!"
"Up here," said Susan dreamily, yet very earnestly too, "I feel so sure of myself! I love the simplicity, I love the work, I could entertain the King of England right here in this forest and not be ashamed! But when we go back, Bill, and I realize that Isabel Wallace may come in and find me pressing my window curtains, or that we honestly can't afford to send someone a handsome wedding present, I'll begin to be afraid. I know that now and then I'll find myself investing in finger-bowls or salted almonds, just because other people do."
"Well, that's not actionable for divorce, woman!"
Susan laughed, but did not answer. She sat looking idly down the long aisles of the forest, palpitating to-day with a rush of new fragrance, new color, new song. Far above, beyond the lacing branches of the redwoods, a buzzard hung motionless in a blue, blue sky.
"Bill," she said presently, "I could live at a settlement house, and be happy all my life showing other women how to live. But when it comes to living down among them, really turning my carpets and scrubbing my own kitchen, I'm sometimes afraid that I'm not big enough woman to be happy!"
"Why, but, Sue dear, there's a decent balance at the bank. We'll build on the Panhandle lots some day, and something comes in from the blue-prints, right along. If you get your own dinner five nights a week, we'll be trotting downtown on other nights, or over at the Carrolls', or up here." Billy stood up. "There's precious little real poverty in the world," he said, cheerfully, "we'll work out our list of expenses, and we'll stick to it! But we're going to prove how easy it is to prosper, not how easy it is to go under. We're the salt of the earth!"
"You're big; I'm not," said Susan, rubbing her head against him as he sat beside her on the stump. But his nearness brought her dimples back, and the sober mood passed.
"Bill, if I die and you remarry, promise me, oh, promise! that you won't bring her here!"
"No, darling, my second wife is going to choose Del Monte or Coronado!" William assured her.
"I'll bet she does, the cat!" Susan agreed gaily, "You know when Elsie Rice married Jerry Philips," she went on, in sudden recollection, "they went to Del Monte. They were both bridge fiends, even when they were engaged everyone who gave them dinners had to have cards afterwards. Well, it seems they went to Del Monte, and they moped about for a day or two, and, finally, Jerry found out that the Joe Carrs were at Santa Cruz,--the Carrs play wonderful bridge. So he and Elsie went straight up there, and they played every afternoon and every night for the next two weeks,--and all went to the Yosemite together, even playing on the train all the way!"
"What a damn fool class for any nation to carry!" Billy commented, mildly.
"Ah, well," Susan said, joyfully, "we'll fix them all! And when there are model poorhouses and prisons, and single tax, and labor pensions, and eight-hour days, and free wool--then we'll come back here and settle down in the woods for ever and ever!"