Saturday's Child by Kathleen Thompson Norris
Part Three. Service
For their daughter's first Thanksgiving Day the Olivers invited a dozen friends to their Oakland house for dinner; the first really large gathering of their married lives.
"We have always been too poor, or I haven't been well, or there's been some other good reason for lying low," wrote Mrs. Oliver to Mrs. Carroll, "but this year the stork is apparently filling previous orders, and our trio is well, and we have been blessed beyond all rhyme and reason, and want to give thanks. Anna and Conrad and the O'Connors have promised, Jinny will be here, and I'm only waiting to hear from you three to write and ask Phil and Mary and Pillsey and the baby. So do come--for next year Anna says that it's her turn, and by the year after we may be so prosperous that I'll have to keep two maids, and miss half the fun--it will certainly break my heart if I ever have to say, 'We'll have roast turkey, Jane, and mince pies,' instead of making them myself. Please come, we are dying to see the little cousins together, they will be simply heavenly---"
"There's more than wearing your best dress and eating too much turkey to Thanksgiving," said Susan to Billy, when they were extending the dining-table to its largest proportions on the day before Thanksgiving. "It's just one of those things, like having a baby, that you have to do to appreciate. It's old-fashioned, and homelike, and friendly. Perhaps I have a commonplace, middle-class mind, but I do love all this! I love the idea of everyone arriving, and a big fire down here, and Betts and her young man trying to sneak away to the sun-room, and the boys sitting in Grandma's lap, and being given tastes of white meat and mashed potato at dinnertime. Me to the utterly commonplace, every time!"
"When you are commonplace, Sue," said her husband, coming out from under the table, where hasps had been absorbing his attention, "you'll be ready for the family vault at Holy Cross, and not one instant before!"
"No, but the consolation is," Susan reflected, "that if this is happiness,--if it makes me feel like the Lord Mayor's wife to have three children, a husband whom most people think is either a saint or a fool,--I think he's a little of both, myself!--and a new sun- room built off my dining-room,--why, then there's an unexpected amount of happiness in this world! In me--a plain woman, sir, with my hands still odorous of onion dressing, and a safety-pin from my daughter's bathing-struggle still sticking into my twelve-and-a- half-cent gingham,--in me, I say, you behold a contented human creature, who confidently hopes to live to be ninety-seven!"
"And then we'll have eternity together!" said the dusty Billy, with an arm about her.
"And not a minute too long!" answered his suddenly serious wife.
"You absolutely radiate content, Sue," Anna said to her wistfully, the next day.
Anna had come early to Oakland, to have luncheon and a few hours' gossip with her hostess before the family's arrival for the six o'clock dinner. The doctor's wife reached the gate in her own handsome little limousine, and Susan had shared her welcome of Anna with enthusiasm for Anna's loose great sealskin coat.
"Take the baby and let me try it on," said Susan. "Woman--it is the most gorgeous thing I ever saw!"
"Conrad says I will need it in the east,--we go after Christmas," Anna said, her face buried against the baby.
Susan, having satisfied herself that what she really wanted, when Billy's ship came in, was a big sealskin coat, had taken her guest upstairs, to share the scuffle that preceded the boys' naps, and hold Josephine while Susan put the big bedroom in order, and laid out the little white suits for the afternoon.
Now the two women were sitting together, Susan in a rocker, with her sleepy little daughter in the curve of her arm, Anna in a deep low chair, with her head thrown back, and her eyes on the baby.
"Radiate happiness?" Susan echoed briskly, "My dear, you make me ashamed. Why, there are whole days when I get really snappy and peevish,--truly I do! running from morning until night. As for getting up in the dead of night, to feed the baby, Billy says I look like desolation--'like something the cat dragged in,' was his latest pretty compliment. But no," Susan interrupted herself honestly, "I won't deny it. I am happy. I am the happiest woman in the world."
"Yet you always used to begin your castles in Spain with a million dollars," Anna said, half-wistfully, half-curiously. "Everything else being equal, Sue," she pursued, "wouldn't you rather be rich?"
"Everything else never is equal," Susan answered thoughtfully. "I used to think it was--but it's not! Now, for instance, take the case of Isabel Wallace. Isabel is rich and beautiful, she has a good husband,--to me he's rather tame, but probably she thinks of Billy as a cave-man, so that doesn't count!--she has everything money can buy, she has a gorgeous little boy, older than Mart, and now she has a girl, two or three months old. And she really is a darling, Nance, you never liked her particularly---"
"Well, she was so perfect," pleaded Anna smiling, "so gravely wise and considerate and low-voiced, and light-footed---!"
"Only she's honestly and absolutely all of that!" Susan defended her eagerly, "there's no pose! She really is unspoiled and good--my dear, if the other women in her set were one-tenth as good as Isabel! However, to go back. She came over here to spend the day with me, just before Jo was born, and we had a wonderful day. Billy and I were taking our dinners at a boarding-house, for a few months, and Big Mary had nothing else to do but look out for the boys in the afternoon. Isabel watched me giving them their baths, and feeding them their lunches, and finally she said, 'I'd like to do that for Alan, but I never do!' 'Why don't you?' I said. Well, she explained that in the first place there was a splendid experienced woman paid twenty-five dollars a week to do it, and that she herself didn't know how to do it half as well. She said that when she went into the nursery there was a general smoothing out of her way before her, one maid handing her the talcum, another running with towels, and Miss Louise, as they call her, pleasantly directing her and amusing Alan. Naturally, she can't drive them all out; she couldn't manage without them! In fact, we came to the conclusion that you have to be all or nothing to a baby. If Isabel made up her mind to put Alan to bed every night say, she'd have to cut out a separate affair every day for it, rush home from cards, or from the links, or from the matinee, or from tea--Jack wouldn't like it, and she says she doubts if it would make much impression on Alan, after all!"
"I'd do it, just the same!" said Anna, "and I wouldn't have the nurse standing around, either--and yet, I suppose that's not very reasonable," she went on, after a moment's thought, "for that's Conrad's free time. We drive nearly every day, and half the time dine somewhere out of town. And his having to operate at night so much makes him want to sleep in the morning, so that we couldn't very well have a baby in the room. I suppose I'd do as the rest do, pay a fine nurse, and grab minutes with the baby whenever I could!"
"You have to be poor to get all the fun out of children," Susan said. "They're at their very sweetest when they get their clothes off, and run about before their nap, or when they wake up and call you, or when you tell them stories at night."
"But, Sue, a woman like Mrs. Furlong does not have to work so hard," Anna said decidedly, "you must admit that! Her life is full of ease and beauty and power--doesn't that count? Doesn't that give her a chance for self-development, and a chance to make herself a real companion to her husband?" "Well, the problems of the world aren't answered in books, Nance. It just doesn't seem interesting, or worth while to me! She could read books, of course, and attend lectures, and study languages. But--did you see the 'Protest' last week?"
"No, I didn't! It comes, and I put it aside to read--"
"Well, it was a corking number. Bill's been asserting for months, you know, that the trouble isn't any more in any special class, it's because of misunderstanding everywhere. He made the boys wild by saying that when there are as many people at the bottom of the heap reaching up, as there are people at the top reaching down, there'll be no more trouble between capital and labor! And last week he had statistics, he showed them how many thousands of rich people are trying--in their entirely unintelligent ways!--to reach down, and-- my dear, it was really stirring! You know Himself can write when he tries!--and he spoke of the things the laboring class doesn't do, of the way it educates its children, of the way it spends its money,-- it was as good as anything he's ever done, and it made no end of talk!
"And," concluded Susan contentedly, "we're at the bottom of the heap, instead of struggling up in the world, we're struggling down! When I talk to my girls' club, I can honestly say that I know some of their trials. I talked to a mothers' meeting the other day, about simple dressing and simple clothes for children, and they knew I had three children and no more money than they. And they know that my husband began his business career as a puddler, just as their sons are beginning now. In short, since the laboring class can't, seemingly, help itself, and the upper class can't help it, the situation seems to be waiting for just such people as we are, who know both sides!"
"A pretty heroic life, Susan!" Anna said shaking her head.
"Heroic? Nothing!" Susan answered, in healthy denial. "I like it! I've eaten maple mousse and guinea-hen at the Saunders', and I've eaten liver-and-bacon and rice pudding here, and I like this best. Billy's a hero, if you like," she added, suddenly, "Did I tell you about the fracas in August?"
"Not between you and Billy?" Anna laughed.
"No-o-o! We fight," said Susan modestly, "when he thinks Mart ought to be whipped and I don't, or when little Billums wipes sticky fingers on his razor strop, but he ain't never struck me, mum, and that's more than some can say! No, but this was really quite exciting," Susan resumed, seriously. "Let me see how it began--oh, yes!--Isabel Wallace's father asked Billy to dinner at the Bohemian Club,--in August, this was. Bill was terribly pleased, old Wallace introduced him to a lot of men, and asked him if he would like to be put up---"
"Conrad would put him up, Sue---" Anna said jealously.
"My dear, wait--wait until you hear the full iniquity of that old divil of a Wallace! Well, he ordered cocktails, and he 'dear boyed' Bill, and they sat down to dinner. Then he began to taffy the 'Protest,' he said that the railroad men were all talking about it, and he asked Bill what he valued it at. Bill said it wasn't for sale. I can imagine just how graciously he said it, too! Well, old Mr. Wallace laughed, and he said that some of the railroad men were really beginning to enjoy the way Billy pitched into them; he said he had started life pretty humbly himself; he said that he wanted some way of reaching his men just now, and he thought that the 'Protest' was the way to do it. He said that it was good as far as it went, but that it didn't go far enough. He proposed to work its circulation up into hundreds of thousands, to buy it at Billy's figure, and to pay him a handsome salary,--six thousand was hinted, I believe,--as editor, under a five-year contract! Billy asked if the policy of the paper was to be dictated, and he said, no, no, everything left to him! Billy came home dazed, my dear, and I confess I was dazed too. Mr. Wallace had said that he wanted Billy, as a sort of side-issue, to live in San Rafael, so that they could see each other easily,--and I wish you could see the house he'd let us have for almost nothing! Then there would be a splendid round sum for the paper, thirty or forty thousand probably, and the salary! I saw myself a lady, Nance, with a 'rising young man' for a husband--- "
"But, Sue--but, Sue," Anna said eagerly, "Billy would be editor-- Billy would be in charge--there would be a contract--nobody could call that selling the paper, or changing the policy of the 'Protest'---"
"Exactly what I said!" laughed Susan. "However, the next morning we rushed over to the Cudahys--you remember that magnificent old person you and Conrad met here? That's Clem. And his wife is quite as wonderful as he is. And Clem of course tore our little dream to rags---"
"Oh, how?" Anna exclaimed regretfully.
"Oh, in every way. He made it betrayal, and selling the birthright. Billy saw it at once. As Clem said, where would Billy be the minute they questioned an article of his, or gave him something for insertion, or cut his proof? And how would the thing sound--a railroad magnate owning the 'Protest'?"
"He might do more good that way than in any other," mourned Anna rebelliously, "and my goodness, Sue, isn't his first duty to you and the children?"
"Bill said that selling the 'Protest' would make his whole life a joke," Susan said. "And now I see it, too. Of course I wept and wailed, at the time, but I love greatness, Nance, and I truly believe Billy is great!" She laughed at the artless admission. "Well, you think Conrad is great," finished Susan, defending herself.
"Yes, sometimes I wish he wasn't--yet," Anna said, sighing. "I never cooked a meal for him, or had to mend his shirts!" she added with a rueful laugh. "But, Sue, shall you be content to have Billy slave as he is slaving now," she presently went on, "right on into middle- age?"
"He'll always slave at something," Susan said, cheerfully, "but that's another funny thing about all this fuss--the boys were simply wild with enthusiasm when they heard about old Wallace and the 'Protest,' trust Clem for that! And Clem assured me seriously that they'd have him Mayor of San Francisco yet!--However," she laughed, "that's way ahead! But next year Billy is going east for two months, to study the situation in different cities, and if he makes up his mind to go, a newspaper syndicate has offered him enough money, for six articles on the subject, to pay his expenses! So, if your angel mother really will come here and live with the babies, and all goes well, I'm going, too!"
"Mother would do anything for you," Anna said, "she loves you for yourself, and sometimes I think that she loves you for--for Jo, you know, too! She's so proud of you, Sue---"
"Well, if I'm ever anything to be proud of, she well may be!" smiled Susan, "for, of all the influences of my life--a sentence from a talk with her stands out clearest! I was moping in the kitchen one day, I forget what the especial grievance was, but I remember her saying that the best of life was service--that any life's happiness may be measured by how much it serves!"
Anna considered it, frowning.
"True enough of her life, Sue!"
"True of us all! Georgie, and Alfie, and Virginia! And Mary Lou,-- did you know that they had a little girl? And Mary Lou just divides her capacity for adoration into two parts, one for Ferd and one for Marie-Louise!"
"Well, you're a delicious old theorist, Sue! But somehow you believe in yourself, and you always do me good!" Anna said laughing. "I share with Mother the conviction that you're rather uncommon--one watches you to see what's next!"
"Putting this child in her crib is next, now," said Susan flushing, a little embarrassed. She lowered Josephine carefully on the little pillow. "Best--girl--her--mudder--ever--did--hab!" said Susan tenderly as the transfer was accomplished. "Come on, Nance!" she whispered, "we'll go down and see what Bill is doing."
So they went down, to add a score of last touches to the orderly, homelike rooms, to cut grape-fruit and taste cranberry sauce, to fill vases with chrysanthemums and ferns, and count chairs for the long table.
"This is fun!" said Susan to her husband, as she filled little dishes with nuts and raisins in the pantry and arranged crackers on a plate.
"You bet your life it's fun!" agreed Billy, pausing in the act of opening a jar of olives. "You look so pretty in that dress, Sue," he went on, contentedly, "and the kids are so good, and it seems dandy to be able to have the family all here! We didn't see this coming when we married on less than a hundred a month, did we?"
He put his arm about her, they stood looking out of the window together.
"We did not! And when you were ill, Billy--and sitting up nights with Mart's croup!" Susan smiled reminiscently.
"And the Thanksgiving Day the milk-bill came in for five months-- when we thought we'd been paying it!"
"We've been through some times, Bill! But isn't it wonderful to--to do it all together--to be married?"
"You bet your life it's wonderful," agreed the unpoetic William.
"It's the loveliest thing in the world," his wife said dreamily. She tightened his arm about her and spoke half aloud, as if to herself. "It is the Great Adventure!" said Susan.