Saturday's Child by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Part One. Poverty
The McAllister Street cable-car, packed to its last inch, throbbed upon its way so jerkily that Susan, who was wedged in close to the glass shield at the front of the car, had sometimes to cling to the seat with knees and finger-tips to keep from sliding against her neighbor, a young man deep in a trade-journal, and sometimes to brace herself to withstand his helpless sliding against her. They both laughed presently at the absurdity of it.
"My, don't they jerk!" said the friendly Susan, and the young man agreed fervently, in a bashful mumble, "It's fierce, all right," and returned to his book. Susan, when she got down at her corner, gave him a little nod and smile, and he lifted his hat, and smiled brightly in return.
There was a little bakery on this corner, with two gaslights flaring in its window. Several flat pies and small cakes were displayed there, and a limp curtain, on a string, shut off the shop, where a dozen people were waiting now. A bell in the door rang violently, whenever anyone came out or in. Susan knew the bakery well, knew when the rolls were hot, and just the price and variety of the cookies and the pies.
She knew, indeed, every inch of the block, a dreary block at best, perhaps especially dreary in this gloomy pitiless summer twilight. It was lined with shabby, bay-windowed, three-story wooden houses, all exactly alike. Each had a flight of wooden steps running up to the second floor, a basement entrance under the steps, and a small cemented yard, where papers and chaff and orange peels gathered, and grass languished and died. The dining-room of each house was in the basement, and slatternly maids, all along the block, could be seen setting tables, by flaring gas-light, inside. Even the Nottingham lace curtains at the second-story windows seemed akin, although they varied from the stiff, immaculate, well-darned lengths that adorned the rooms where the Clemenceaus--grandmother, daughter and granddaughter, and direct descendants of the Comte de Moran--were genteelly starving to death, to the soft, filthy, torn strips that finished off the parlor of the noisy, cheerful, irrepressible Daleys' once-pretentious home. Poverty walked visibly upon this block, the cold, forbidding poverty of pride and courage gone wrong, the idle, decorous, helpless poverty of fallen gentility. Poverty spoke through the unobtrusive little signs over every bell, "Rooms," and through the larger signs that said "Costello. Modes and Children's Dressmaker." Still another sign in a second-story bay said "Alice. Milliner," and a few hats, dimly discernible from the street, bore out the claim.
Upon the house where Susan Brown lived with her aunt, and her aunt's three daughters, there was no sign, although Mrs. Lancaster, and Mary Lou, Virginia and Georgianna had supported themselves for many years by the cheerless process known as taking boarders. Sometimes, when the Lancasters were in especially trying financial straits, the possibility of a little sign was discussed. But so far, the humiliating extreme had been somehow avoided.
"No, I feel that Papa wouldn't like it," Mrs. Lancaster persisted.
"Oh, Papa! He'd have died first!" the daughters would agree, in eager sympathy. And the question of the sign would be dismissed again.
"Papa" had been a power in his day, a splendid, audacious, autocratic person, successful as a pioneer, a miner, a speculator, proud of a beautiful and pampered Southern wife and a nurseryful of handsome children. These were the days of horses and carriages, when the Eddy Street mansion was built, when a score of servants waited upon Ma and the children. But terrible times came finally upon this grandeur, the stock madness seized "Papa," he was a rich man one day, a millionaire the next,--he would be a multi-millionaire next week! Ma never ceased to be grateful that Papa, on the very day that his fortune crashed to ruin, came home too sick and feverish to fully comprehend the calamity, and was lying in his quiet grave before his widow and her children did.
Mrs. Lancaster, in her fresh expensive black, with her five black- clad children beside her, thus had the world to face, at thirty- four. George, the first-born, destined to die in his twentieth summer, was eighteen then, Mary Lou sixteen, helpless and feminine, and Alfred, at thirteen, already showed indications of being entirely spoiled. Then came conscientious, gentle little Virginia, ten years old, and finally Georgianna, who was eight.
Out of the general wreckage, the Fulton Street house was saved, and to the Fulton Street house the spoiled, terrified little family moved. Mary Lou sometimes told Susan with mournful pride of the weeping and wailing of those days, of dear George's first job, that, with the check that Ma's uncle in Albany sent every month, supported the family. Then the uncle died, and George died, and Ma, shaken from her silent and dignified retirement, rose to the occasion in a manner that Mary Lou always regarded as miraculous, and filled the house with boarders. And enjoyed the new venture thoroughly, too, although Mary Lou never suspected that. Perhaps Ma, herself, did not realize how much she liked to bustle and toil, how gratifying the stir and confusion in the house were, after the silent want and loneliness. Ma always spoke of women in business as unfortunate and hardened; she never spoke of her livelihood as anything but a temporary arrangement, never made out a bill in her life. Upon her first boarders, indeed, she took great pride in lavishing more than the luxuries for which their board money could possibly pay. Ma reminded them that she had no rent to pay, and that the girls would soon be married, and Alfie working.
But Papa had been dead for twenty years now, and still the girls were unmarried, and Alfred, if he was working, was doing it in so fitful and so casual a manner as to be much more of a burden than a help to his mother. Alfred lost one position after another because he drank, and Ma, upon whose father's table wine had been quite a matter of course, could not understand why a little too much drinking should be taken so seriously by Alfie's employers, and why they could not give the boy another--and another, and another-- chance. Ma never alluded, herself, to this little weakness of Alfie's. He was still her darling, the one son she had left, the last of the Lancasters.
But, as the years went on, she grew to be less of the shrinking Southern lady, more the boarding-house keeper. If she wrote no bills, she kept them pretty straight in her head, and only her endless courage and industry kept the crazy enterprise afloat, and the three idle girls comfortable and decently dressed. Theoretically, they "helped Ma." Really, one well-trained servant could have done far more than Mary Lou, Virginia and Georgie did between them. This was, of course, primarily her own fault. Ma belonged to the brisk and bustling type that shoves aside a pair of eager little hands, with "Here, I can do that better myself!" She was indeed proud of the fact that Mary Lou, at thirty-six, could not rent a room or receipt a bill if her life were at stake. "While I'm here, I'll do this, dear," said Ma, cheerfully. "When I'm gone you'll have quite enough to do!"
Susan entered a small, square entrance-hall, papered in arabesques of green against a dark brown, where a bead of gas flickered dispiritedly in a red glass shade over the newel post. Some fly- specked calling cards languished in the brass tray of an enormous old walnut hat-rack, where several boarders had already hung wraps and hats.
The upper part of the front door was set with two panels of beveled glass, decorated with a scroll design in frosted glass. When Susan Brown had been a very small girl she would sometimes stand inside this door and study the passing show of Fulton Street for hours at a time. Somebody would come running up the street steps, and pull the bell! Susan could hear it tinkle far downstairs in the kitchen, and would bashfully retire to the niche by the hat-rack. Minnie or Lizzie, or perhaps a Japanese schoolboy,--whoever the servant of the hour might be, would come slowly up the inside stairs, and cautiously open the street door an inch or two.
A colloquy would ensue. No, Mrs. Lancaster wasn't in, no, none of the family wasn't in. He could leave it. She didn't know, they hadn't said. He could leave it. No, she didn't know.
The collector would discontentedly depart, and instantly Mary Lou or Georgie, or perhaps both, would hang over the railing in the upper hall.
"Lizzie, who was it?" they would call down softly, impatient and excited, as Lizzie dragged her way upstairs.
"Who was it, Mary Lou?"
"Why, how do I know?"
"Here, give it to me, Lizzie!"
A silence. Then, "Oh, pshaw!" and the sound of a closing door. Then Lizzie would drag downstairs again, and Susan would return to her silent contemplation of the street.
She had seen nothing particularly odd or unattractive about the house in those little-girl days, and it seemed a perfectly normal establishment to her now. It was home, and it was good to get home after the long day. She ran up the flight of stairs that the gas- bead dimly lighted, and up another, where a second gas-jet, this one without a shade, burned unsteadily and opened the door, at the back of the third-floor hall, that gave upon the bedroom that she shared with Mary Lou and Georgianna. The boarding-house was crowded, at this particular time, and Georgie, who flitted about as a rule to whatever room chanced to be empty, was now quartered here and slept on a narrow couch, set at an angle from the bay-window, and covered with a worn strip of chenille.
It was a shabby room, and necessarily crowded, but it was bright, and its one window gave an attractive view of little tree-shaded backyards below, where small tragedies and comedies were continually being enacted by dogs and babies and cats and the crude little maids of the neighborhood. Susan enjoyed these thoroughly, and she and Georgie also liked to watch the girl in the house just behind theirs, who almost always forgot to draw the shades when she lighted her gas. Whatever this unconscious neighbor did they found very amusing.
"Oh, look, Georgie, she's changing her slippers. Don't miss this-- She must be going out to-night!" Susan would quiver with excitement until her cousin joined her at the window.
"Well, I wish you could have seen her trying her new hat on to-day!" Georgie would contribute. And both girls would kneel at the window as long as the bedroom in the next house was lighted. "Gone down to meet that man in the light overcoat," Susan would surmise, when the light went out, and if she and Georgie, hurrying to the bakery, happened to encounter their neighbor, they had much difficulty in suppressing their mirth.
To-night the room that the cousins shared was empty, and Susan threw her hat and coat over the foot of the large, lumpy wooden bed that seemed to take up at least one-half of the floor-space. She sat down on the side of the bed, feeling the tension of the day relax, and a certain lassitude creep over her. An old magazine lay nearby on a chair, she reached for it, and began idly to re-read it.
Beside the bed and Georgie's cot, there was a walnut bureau in the room, two chairs and one rocking chair, and a washstand. One the latter was a china basin, half-full of cold, soapy water, a damp towel was spread upon the pitcher that stood beside it on the floor. The wet pink soap, lying in a blue saucer, scented the room. On the bureau were combs and brushes, powders and cold creams, little brass and china trays filled with pins and buttons, and an old hand- mirror, in a loosened, blackened silver mounting. There was a glazed paper candy-box with hairpins in it, and a little liqueur glass, with "Hotel Netherlands" written upon it in gold, held wooden collar buttons and odd cuff-links. A great many hatpins, some plain, some tarnished and ornate, all bent, were stuck into a little black china boot. A basket of china and gold wire was full of combings, some dotted veils were folded into squares, and pinned into the wooden frame of the mirror, and the mirror itself was thickly rimmed with cards and photographs and small souvenirs of all sorts, that had been stuck in between the glass and the frame. There were dance cards with dangling tiny pencils on tasseled cords, and score cards plastered with tiny stars. There were calling cards, and newspaper clippings, and tintypes taken of young people at the beach or the Chutes. A round pilot-biscuit, with a dozen names written on it in pencil, was tied with a midshipman's hat-ribbon, there were wooden plates and champagne corks, and toy candy-boxes in the shapes of guitars and fire-crackers. Miss Georgie Lancaster, at twenty-eight, was still very girlish and gay, and she shared with her mother and sisters the curious instinctive acquisitiveness of the woman who, powerless financially and incapable of replacing, can only save.
Moments went by, a quarter-hour, a half-hour, and still Susan sat hunched up stupidly over her book. It was not an interesting magazine, she had read it before, and her thoughts ran in an uneasy undercurrent while she read. "I ought to be doing my hair--it must be half-past six o'clock--I must stop this--"
It was almost half-past six when the door opened suddenly, and a large woman came in.
"Well, hello, little girlie!" said the newcomer, panting from the climb upstairs, and turning a cold, fresh-colored cheek for Susan's kiss. She took off a long coat, displaying beneath, a black walking- skirt, an elaborate high collar, and a view of shabby corset and shabby corset-cover between. "Ma wanted butter," she explained, with a pleasant, rueful smile, "and I just slipped into anything to go for it!"
"You're an angel, Mary Lou," Susan said affectionately.
"Oh, angel!" Miss Lancaster laughed wearily, but she liked the compliment for all that. "I'm not much of an angel," she said with a sigh, throwing her hat and coat down beside Susan's, and assuming a somewhat spotted serge skirt, and a limp silk waist a trifle too small for her generous proportions. Susan watched her in silence, while she vigorously jerked the little waist this way and that, pinning its torn edges down firmly, adjusting her skirt over it, and covering the safety-pin that united them with a cracked patent- leather belt.
"There!" said Mary Lou, "that doesn't look very well, but I guess it'll do. I have to serve to-night, and I will not wear my best skirt into the kitchen. Ready to go down?"
Susan flung her book down, yawned.
"I ought to do my hair--" she began.
"Oh, you look all right," her cousin assured her, "I wouldn't bother."
She took a small paper bag full of candy from her shopping bag and tucked it out of sight in a bureau drawer. "Here's a little sweet bite for you and me, Sue," said she, with childish, sweet slyness, "when Jinny and Ma go to the lecture to-night, we'll have our little party, too. Just a little secret between you and me."
They went downstairs with their arms about each other, to the big front dining-room in the basement. The lower hall was dark and draughty, and smelled of boiling vegetables. There was a telephone on a little table, close by the dining-room door, and a slender, pretty young woman was seated before it. She put her hand over the transmitter, as they came downstairs, and said in a smiling whisper, "Hello, darling!" to Susan. "Shut the door," she added, very low, "when you go into the dining-room."
Susan nodded, and Georgianna Lancaster returned at once to her telephoned conversation.
"Yes, you did!" said she, satirically, "I believe that! ... Oh, of course you did! ... And I suppose you wrote me a note, too, only I didn't get it. Now, listen, why don't you say that you forgot all about it, I wouldn't care ... Honestly, I wouldn't ... honestly, I wouldn't ... Yes, I've heard that before ... No, he didn't either, Rose was furious. ... No, I wasn't furious at all, but at the same time I didn't think it was a very gentlemanly way to act, on your part ..."
Susan and Mary Lou went into the dining-room, and the closing door shut off the rest of the conversation. The household was quite used to Georgie's quarrels with her male friends.
A large, handsome woman, who did not look her sixty years, was moving about the long table, which, spread with a limp and slightly spotted cloth, was partially laid for dinner. Knives, spoons, forks and rolled napkins were laid in a little heap at each place, the length of the table was broken by salt shakers of pink and blue glass, plates of soda crackers, and saucers of green pickles.
"Hello, Auntie!" Susan said, laying an arm about the portly figure, and giving the lady a kiss. Mrs. Lancaster's anxious eye went to her oldest daughter.
"Who's Georgie talking to?" she asked, in a low tone.
"I don't know, Ma," Mary Lou said, sympathetically, pushing a chair against the table with her knee, "Fred Persons, most likely."
"No. 'Tisn't Fred. She just spoke about Fred," said the mother uneasily. "This is the man that didn't meet them Sunday. Sometimes," she complained, "it don't seem like Georgie has any dignity at all!" She had moved to the china closet at one end of the room, and now stood staring at it. "What did I come here for?" she asked, helplessly.
"Glasses," prompted Susan, taking some down herself.
"Glasses," Mrs. Lancaster echoed, in relief. "Get the butter, Mary Lou?"
"In the kitchen, Ma." Miss Lancaster went into the kitchen herself, and Susan went on with the table-setting. Before she had finished, a boarder or two, against the unwritten law of the house, had come downstairs. Mrs. Cortelyou, a thin little wisp of a widow, was in the rocker in the bay-window, Major Kinney, fifty, gray, dried-up, was on the horsehair sofa, watching the kitchen door over his paper. Georgia, having finished her telephoning, had come in to drop idly into her own chair, and play with her knives and forks. Miss Lydia Lord, a plain, brisk woman, her upper lip darkened with hair, her figure flat and square, like a boy's, had come down for her sister's tray, and was talking to Susan in the resolutely cheerful tone that Susan always found annoying, when she was tired.
"The Keiths are off for Europe again, Susan,--dear me! isn't it lovely for the people who can do those things!" said Miss Lord, who was governess in a very wealthy household, and liked to talk of the city's prominent families. "Some day you and I will have to find a million dollars and run away for a year in Italy! I wonder, Sue," the mild banter ceased, "if you could get Mary's dinner? I hate to go into the kitchen, they're all so busy--"
Susan took the tray, and went through the swinging door, and into the kitchen. Two or three forms were flitting about in the steam and smoke and flickering gas-light, water was running, gravy hissing on the stove; Alice, the one poor servant the establishment boasted, was attempting to lift a pile of hot plates with an insufficient cloth. Susan filled her tray silently.
"Anything I can do, Mary Lou?"
"Just get out of the way, lovey--that's about all--I salted that once, Ma. If you don't want that table, Sue--and shut the door, dear! The smoke--"
Susan was glad to get out of the kitchen, and in a moment Mrs. Lancaster and Mary Lou came into the dining-room, too, and Alice rang the dinner bell. Instantly the boarders streamed downstairs, found their places with a general murmuring of mild little pleasantries. Mrs. Lancaster helped the soup rapidly from a large tureen, her worried eyes moved over the table-furnishings without pause.
The soup was well cooled before the place next to Susan was filled by a tall and muscular young man, with very blue eyes, and a large and exceptionally charming mouth. The youth had teeth of a dazzling whiteness, a smile that was a bewildering Irish compound of laughter and tears, and sooty blue-black hair that fitted his head like a thick cap. He was a noisy lad, this William Oliver, opinionated, excitable, a type that in its bigness and broadness seemed almost coarse, sometimes, but he had all a big man's tenderness and sweetness, and everyone liked him. Susan and he quarreled with and criticized each other, William imitating her little affectations of speech and manner, Susan reviling his transparent and absurd ambitions, but they had been good friends for years. Young Oliver's mother had been Mrs. Lancaster's housekeeper for the most prosperous period in the history of the house, and if Susan naturally felt that the son of a working housekeeper was seriously handicapped in a social sense, she nevertheless had many affectionate memories of his mother, as the kindly dignified "Nellie" who used to amuse them so delightfully on rainy days. Nellie had been long dead, now, and her son had grown up into a vigorous, enthusiastic young person, burning his big hands with experiments in physics and chemistry, reading the Scientific American late into the night, until his broad shoulders were threatened with a permanent stoop, and his eager eyes blinked wearily at breakfast, anxious to disprove certain accepted theories, and as eager to introduce others, unaffected, irreverent, and irresistibly buoyant. William could not hear an opera praised without dragging Susan off to gallery seats, which the lady frankly characterized as "smelly," to see if his opinion agreed with that of the critics. If it did not, Susan must listen to long dissertations upon the degeneracy of modern music. His current passion was the German language, which he was studying in odd moments so that he might translate certain scientific treatises in a manner more to the scientific mind.
"Hello, Susan, darling!" he said now, as he slipped into his chair.
"Hello, heart's delight!" Susan answered composedly.
"Well, here--here--here!" said an aged gentleman who was known for no good reason as "Major," "what's all this? You young folks going to give us a wedding?"
"Not unless I'm chloroformed first, Major," Susan said, briskly, and everybody laughed absently at the well-known pleasantry. They were all accustomed to the absurdity of the Major's question, and far more absorbed just now in watching the roast, which had just come on. Another pot-roast. Everybody sighed.
"This isn't just what I meant to give you good people to-night," said Mrs. Lancaster cheerfully, as she stood up to carve, "but butchers can be tyrants, as we all know. Mary Lou, put vegetables on that for Mrs. Cortelyou."
Mary Lou briskly served potatoes and creamed carrots and summer squash; Susan went down a pyramid of saucers as she emptied a large bowl of rather watery tomato-sauce.
"Well, they tell us meat isn't good for us anyway!" piped Mrs. Kinney, who was rheumatic, and always had scrambled eggs for dinner.
"--elegant chicken, capon, probably, and on Sundays, turkey all winter long!" a voice went on in the pause.
"My father ate meat three times a day, all his life," said Mrs. Parker, a dark, heavy woman, with an angelic-looking daughter of nineteen beside her, "and papa lived to be--let me see--"
"Ah, here's Jinny!" Mrs. Lancaster stopped carving to receive the kiss of a tall, sweet-faced, eye-glassed young woman who came in, and took the chair next hers. "Your soup's cold, dear," said she tenderly.
Miss Virginia Lancaster looked a little chilly; her eyes, always weak, were watery now from the sharp evening air, and her long nose red at the tip. She wore neat, plain clothes, and a small hat, and laid black lisle gloves and a small black book beside her plate as she sat down.
"Good evening, everybody!" said she, pleasantly. "Late comers mustn't complain, Ma, dear. I met Mrs. Curry, poor thing, coming out of the League rooms, and time flew, as time has a way of doing! She was telling me about Harry," Miss Virginia sighed, peppering her soup slowly. "He knew he was going," she resumed, "and he left all his little things--"
"Gracious! A child of seven?" Mrs. Parker said.
"Oh, yes! She said there was no doubt of it."
The conversation turned upon death, and the last acts of the dying. Loretta Parker related the death of a young saint. Miss Lord, pouring a little lime water into most of her food, chewed religiously, her eyes moving from one speaker's face to another.
"I saw my pearl to-day," said William Oliver to Susan, under cover of the general conversation.
"Eleanor Harkness? Where?"
"On Market Street,--the little darling! Walking with Anna Carroll. Going to the boat."
"Oh, and how's Anna?"
"Fine, I guess. I only spoke to them for a minute. I wish you could have seen her dear little laugh--"
"Oh, Billy, you fatuous idiot! It'll be someone else to-morrow."
"It will not," said William, without conviction "No, my little treasure has all my heart--"
"Honestly," said Susan, in fine scorn, "it's cat-sickening to hear you go on that way! Especially with that snapshot of Anna Carroll still in your watch!"
"That snapshot doesn't happen to be still in my watch, if it's any business of yours!" the gentleman said, sweetly.
"Why, it is too! Let's see it, then!"
"No, I won't let you see it, but it's not there, just the same."
"Oh, Billy, what an awful lie!"
"Susan!" said Mrs. Lancaster, partly in reproof, partly to call her niece's attention to apple-pie and tapioca pudding.
"Pudding, please, auntie." Susan subsided, not to break forth again until the events of the day suddenly rushed into her mind. She hastily reviewed them for William's benefit.
"Well, what do you care?" he consoled her for the disappointment, "here's your chance to bone up on the segregating, or crediting, or whatever you call it."
"Yes, and then have someone else get it!"
"No one else could get it, if you understood it best!" he said impatiently.
"That shows just about how much you know about the office!" Susan retorted, vexed at his lack of sympathy. And she returned to her pudding, with the real cream of the day's news yet untold.
A few moments later Billy was excused, for a struggle with German in the night school, and departed with a joyous, "Auf wiedersehen, Fraulein Brown!" to Susan. Such boarders as desired were now drinking their choice between two dark, cool fluids that might have been tea, or might have been coffee, or might have been neither.
"I am going a little ahead of you and Georgie, Ma," said Virginia, rising, "for I want to see Mamie Evans about tickets for Saturday."
"Say, listen, Jin, I'm not going to-night," said Miss Georgie, hastily, and with a little effort.
"Why, you said you were, Georgie!" the older sister said reproachfully. "I thought you'd bring Ma."
"Well, I'm not, so you thought wrong!" Georgie responded airily.
"Somebody coming to see you, dear?" asked her mother.
"I don't know--maybe." Miss Georgie got up, brushing the crumbs from her lap.
"Who is it, dear?" her mother pursued, too casually.
"I tell you it may not be anyone, Ma!" the girl answered, suddenly irritated. A second later they heard her running upstairs.
"I really ought to be early--I promised Miss Evans--" Virginia murmured.
"Yes, I know, lovey," said her mother. "So you run right along. I'll just do a few little things here, and come right after you." Virginia was Mrs. Lancaster's favorite child, now she kissed her warmly. "Don't get all tired out, my darling!" said she, and when the girl was gone she added, "Never gives one thought to herself!"
"She's an angel!" said Loretta Parker fervently.
"But I kind of hate to have you go down to League Hall alone, Ma," said Mary Lou, who was piling dishes and straightening the room, with Susan's help.
"Yes, let us put you on the car," Susan suggested.
"I declare I hate to have you," the older woman hesitated.
"Well, I'll change," Mary Lou sighed wearily. "I'll get right into my things, a breath of air will do us both good, won't it, Sue?"
Presently they all walked to the McAllister Street car. Susan, always glad to be out at night, found something at which to stop in every shop window; she fairly danced along at her cousin's side, on the way back.
"I think Fillmore Street's as gay as Kearney, don't you, Mary Lou? Don't you just hate to go in. Don't you wish something exciting would happen?"
"What a girl you are for wanting excitement, Sue. I want to get back and see that Georgie hasn't shut everyone out of the parlor!" worried Mary Lou.
They went through the basement door to the dining room, where one or two old ladies were playing solitaire, on the red table-cloth, under the gas-light. Susan drew up a chair, and plunged into a new library book. Mary Lou, returning from a trip upstairs, said noiselessly, "Gone walking!" and Susan looked properly disgusted at Georgie's lack of propriety. Mary Lou began a listless game of patience, with a shabby deck of cards taken from the sideboard drawer, presently she grew interested, and Susan put aside her book, and began to watch the cards, too. The old ladies chatted at intervals over their cards. One game followed another, Mary Lou prefacing each with a firm, "Now, no more after this one, Sue," and a mention of the time.
It was like many of their evenings, like three hundred evenings a year. The room grew warm, the gas-lights crept higher and higher, flared noisily, and were lowered. Mary Lou unfastened her collar, Susan rumpled her hair. The conversation, always returning to the red king and the black four-spot, ranged idly here and there. Susan observed that she must write some letters, and meant to take a hot bath and go early to bed. But she sat on and on; the cards, by the smallest percentage of amusement, still held them.
At ten o'clock Mrs. Lancaster and Virginia came in, bright-eyed and chilly, eager to talk of the lecture. Mrs. Lancaster loosened her coat, laid aside the miserable little strip of fur she always wore about her throat, and hung her bonnet, with its dangling widow's veil, over the back of her deep chair. She drew Susan down to sit on her knee. "All the baby auntie's got," she said. Georgie presently came downstairs, her caller, "that fresh kid I met at Sallie's," had gone, and she was good-natured again. Mary Lou produced the forgotten bag of candy; they all munched it and talked. The old ladies had gone upstairs long ago.
All conversations led Mrs. Lancaster into the past, the girls could almost have reconstructed those long-ago, prosperous years, from hearing her tell of them.
"--Papa fairly glared at the man," she was saying presently, won to an old memory by the chance meeting of an old friend to-night, "I can see his face this day! I said, 'Why, papa, I'd just as soon have these rooms!' But, no. Papa had paid for the best, and he was going to have the best--"
"That was Papa!" laughed his daughters.
"That was Papa!" his widow smiled and sighed. "Well. The first thing I knew, there was the proprietor,--you may imagine! Papa says, 'Will you kindly tell me why I have to bring my wife, a delicate, refined Southern woman--'"
"And he said beautiful, too, Ma!"
Mrs. Lancaster laughed mildly.
"Poor papa! He was so proud of my looks! 'Will you tell me,' he says, 'why I have to put my wife into rooms like these?' 'Sir,' the landlord says, 'I have only one better suite--'"
"Bridal suite, he said, Ma!"
"Yes, he did. The regular bridal suite. I wasn't a bride then, that was after poor George was born, but I had a very high color, and I always dressed very elegantly. And I had a good figure, your father's two hands could meet around my waist. Anyway, then Papa-- dear me, how it all comes back!--Papa says, fairly shouting, 'Well, why can't I have that suite?' 'Oh, sir,' the landlord says, 'a Mr. George Lancaster has engaged that for his wife, and they say that he's a man who will get what he pays for--'" Another mild laugh interrupted the narrative.
"Didn't you nearly die, Ma?"
"Well, my dear! If you could have seen the man's face when Papa--and how well he did this sort of thing, deary me!--whips out a card--"
They all laughed merrily. Then Mrs. Lancaster sighed.
"Poor Papa, I don't know what he would have done if he could have seen us to-day," she said. "It's just as well we couldn't see ahead, after all!"
"Gee, but I'd like to see what's coming," Susan said thoughtfully.
"Bed is coming next!" Mary Lou said, putting her arm about the girl. Upstairs they all filed sleepily, lowering the hall gases as they went. Susan yawningly kissed her aunt and Virginia good-night, on the second floor, where they had a dark and rather colorless room together. She and the other girls went on up to the third-story room, where they spent nearly another hour in dilatory undressing. Susan hesitated again over the thought of a hot bath, decided against it, decided against even the usual brushing of her hair to- night, and sprang into bed to lie flat on her tired back, watching Mary Lou make up Georgie's bed with dislocating yawns, and Georgie, wincing as she put her hair into tight "kids." Susan slept in a small space bounded by the foot of the bed, the head of the bed, the wall, and her cousin's large person, and, as Mary Lou generally made the bed in the morning by flapping the covers back without removing them, they were apt to feel and smell unaired, and to be rumpled and loose at the foot. Susan could not turn over in the night without arousing Mary Lou, who would mutter a terrified "What is it--what is it?" for the next ten minutes. Years before, Susan, a timid, country-bred child, had awakened many a time in the night, frightened by the strange city noises, or the fire-bells, and had lain, with her mouth dry, and her little heart thundering, through lessening agonies of fright. But she never liked to awake Mary Lou. Now she was used to the city, and used to the lumpy, ill-made bed as well; indeed Susan often complained that she fell asleep too fast, that she wanted to lie awake and think.
But to-night she lay awake for a long time. Susan was at twenty-one no more than a sweet and sunny child, after all. She had accepted a rather cheerless destiny with all the extraordinary philosophy and patience of a child, thankful for small pleasures, enduring small discomforts gaily. No situation was too hopeless for Susan's laughter, and no prospect too dark for her bright dreams. Now, to- night for the first time, the tiny spark of a definite ambition was added to this natural endowment. She would study the work of the, office systematically, she would be promoted, she would be head girl some day, some day very soon, and obliged, as head girl, to come in and out of Mr. Peter Coleman's office constantly. And by the dignity and gravity of her manner, and her personal neatness, and her entire indifference to his charms--always neat little cuffs and collars basted in her tailor-made suit--always in her place on the stroke of half-past eight--
Susan began to get sleepy. She turned over cautiously, and bunched her pillow comfortably under one cheek. Hazy thoughts wheeled through her tired brain. Thorny--the man on the dummy--the black king--