Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall by David Graham Phillips
Like days later, on the Eastern Express, they were not so confident as they had been over the St. Nicholas champagne. As confident about the remoter future, it was that annoying little stretch near at hand which gave them secret uneasiness. There had been nothing but dreaming and sentimentalizing in those four days--and that disquietingly suggested the soldier who with an impressive flourish highly resolves to give battle, then sheathes his sword and goes away to a revel. Also, like all idlers, they had spent money--far more money than total net cash resources of less than five hundred dollars warranted.
"We've spent an awful lot of money," said Susan.
She was quick to see the faint frown, the warning that she was on dangerous ground. Said he:
"Do you regret?"
"No, indeed--no!" cried she, eager to have that cloud vanish, but honest too.
She no more than he regretted a single moment of the dreaming and love-making, a single penny of the eighty and odd dollars that had enabled them fittingly to embower their romance, to twine myrtle in their hair and to provide Cupid's torch-bowls with fragrant incense. Still--with the battle not begun, there gaped that deep, wide hollow in the war chest.
Spenser's newspaper connection got them passes over one of the cheaper lines to New York--and he tried to console himself by setting this down as a saving of forty dollars against the eighty dollars of the debit item. But he couldn't altogether forget that they would have traveled on passes, anyhow. He was not regretting that he had indulged in the extravagance of a stateroom--but he couldn't deny that it was an extravagance. However, he had only to look at her to feel that he had done altogether well in providing for her the best, and to believe that he could face with courage any fate so long as he had her at his side.
"Yes, I can face anything with you," he said. "What I feel for you is the real thing. The real thing, at last."
She had no disposition to inquire curiously into this. Her reply was a flash of a smile that was like a flash of glorious light upon the crest of a wave surging straight from her happy heart.
They were opposite each other at breakfast in the restaurant car. He delighted in her frank delight in the novelty of travel--swift and luxurious travel. He had never been East before, himself, but he had had experience of sleepers and diners; she had not, and every moment she was getting some new sensation. She especially enjoyed this sitting at breakfast with the express train rushing smoothly along through the mountains--the first mountains either had seen. At times they were so intensely happy that they laughed with tears in their eyes and touched hands across the table to get from physical contact the reassurances of reality.
"How good to eat everything is!" she exclaimed. "You'll think me very greedy, I'm afraid. But if you'd eaten the stuff I have since we dined on the rock!"
They were always going back to the rock, and neither wearied of recalling and reminding each other of the smallest details. It seemed to them that everything, even the least happening, at that sacred spot must be remembered, must be recorded indelibly in the book of their romance. "I'm glad we were happy together in such circumstances," she went on. "It was a test--wasn't it, Rod?"
"If two people don't love each other enough to be happy anywhere, they could be happy nowhere," declared he.
"So, we'll not mind being very, very careful about spending money in New York," she ventured--for she was again bringing up the subject she had been privately revolving ever since they had formed the partnership. In her wanderings with Burlingham, in her sojourn in the tenements, she had learned a great deal about the care and spending of money--had developed that instinct for forehandedness which nature has implanted in all normal women along with the maternal instinct--and as a necessary supplement to it. This instinct is more or less futile in most women because they are more or less ignorant of the realities as to wise and foolish expenditure. But it is found in the most extravagant women no less than in the most absurdly and meanly stingy.
"Of course, we must be careful," assented Rod. "But I can't let you be uncomfortable."
"Now, dear," she remonstrated, "you mustn't treat me that way. I'm better fitted for hardship than you. I'd mind it less."
He laughed; she looked so fine and delicate, with her transparent skin and her curves of figure, he felt that anything so nearly perfect could not but easily be spoiled. And there he showed how little he appreciated her iron strength, her almost exhaustless endurance. He fancied he was the stronger because he could have crushed her in his muscular arms. But exposures, privations, dissipations that would have done for a muscularly stronger man than he would have left no trace upon her after a few days of rest and sleep.
"It's the truth," she insisted. "I could prove it, but I shan't. I don't want to remember vividly. Rod, we must live cheaply in New York until you sell a play and I have a place in some company."
"Yes," he conceded. "But, Susie, not too cheap. A cheap way of living makes a cheap man--gives a man a cheap outlook on life. Besides, don't forget--if the worst comes to the worst, I can always get a job on a newspaper."
She would not have let him see how uneasy this remark made her. However, she could not permit it to pass without notice. Said she a little nervously:
"But you've made up your mind to devote yourself to plays--to stand or fall by that."
He remembered how he had thrilled her and himself with brave talk about the necessity of concentrating, of selecting a goal and moving relentlessly for it, letting nothing halt him or turn him aside. For his years Rod Spenser was as wise in the philosophy of success as Burlingham or Tom Brashear. But he had done that brave and wise talking before he loved her as he now did--before he realized how love can be in itself an achievement and a possession so great that other ambitions dwarf beside it. True, away back in his facile, fickle mind, behind the region where self-excuse and somebody-else-always-to-blame reigned supreme, a something--the something that had set the marks of success so strongly upon his face--was whispering to him the real reason for his now revolving a New York newspaper job. Real reasons as distinguished from alleged reasons and imagined reasons, from the reasons self-deception invents and vanity gives out--real reasons are always interesting and worth noting. What was Rod's? Not his love for her; nothing so superior, so superhuman as that. No, it was weak and wobbly misgivings as to his own ability to get on independently, the misgivings that menace every man who has never worked for himself but has always drawn pay--the misgivings that paralyze most men and keep them wage or salary slaves all their lives. Rod was no better pleased at this sly, unwelcome revelation of his real self to himself than the next human being is in similar circumstances. The whispering was hastily suppressed; love for her, desire that she should be comfortable--those must be the real reasons. But he must be careful lest she, the sensitive, should begin to brood over a fear that she was already weakening him and would become a drag upon him--the fear that, he knew, would take shape in his own mind if things began to go badly. "You may be sure, dearest," he said, "I'll do nothing that won't help me on." He tapped his forehead with his finger. "This is a machine for making plays. Everything that's put into it will be grist for it."
She was impressed but not convinced. He had made his point about concentration too clear to her intelligence. She persisted:
"But you said if you took a place on a newspaper it would make you fight less hard."
"I say a lot of things," he interrupted laughingly. "Don't be frightened about me. What I'm most afraid of is that you'll desert me. That would be a real knock-out blow."
He said this smilingly; but she could not bear jokes on that one subject.
"What do you mean, Rod?"
"Now, don't look so funereal, Susie. I simply meant that I hate to think of your going on the stage--or at anything else. I want you to help me. Selfish, isn't it? But, dear heart, if I could feel that the plays were ours, that we were both concentrated on the one career--darling. To love each other, to work together--not separately but together--don't you understand?"
Her expression showed that she understood, but was not at all in sympathy. "I've got to earn my living, Rod," she objected. "I shan't care anything about what I'll be doing. I'll do it simply to keep from being a burden to you----"
"A burden, Susie! You! Why, you're my wings that enable me to fly. It's selfish, but I want all of you. Don't you think, dear, that if it were possible, it would be better for you to make us a home and hold the fort while I go out to give battle to managers--and bind up my wounds when I come back--and send me out the next day well again? Don't you think we ought to concentrate?"
The picture appealed to her. All she wanted in life now was his success. "But," she objected, "it's useless to talk of that until we get on our feet--perfectly useless."
"It's true," he admitted with a sigh.
"And until we do, we must be economical."
"What a persistent lady it is," laughed he. "I wish I were like that."
In the evening's gathering dusk the train steamed into Jersey City; and Spenser and Susan Lenox, with the adventurer's mingling hope and dread, confidence and doubt, courage and fear, followed the crowd down the long platform under the vast train shed, went through the huge thronged waiting-room and aboard the giant ferryboat which filled both with astonishment because of its size and luxuriousness.
"I am a jay!" said she. "I can hardly keep my mouth from dropping open."
"You haven't any the advantage of me," he assured her. "Are you trembling all over?"
"Yes," she admitted. "And my heart's like lead. I suppose there are thousands on thousands like us, from all over the country--who come here every day--feeling as we do. "
"Let's go out on the front deck--where we can see it."
They went out on the upper front deck and, leaning against the forward gates, with their traveling bags at their feet, they stood dumb before the most astounding and most splendid scene in the civilized world. It was not quite dark yet; the air was almost July hot, as one of those prematurely warm days New York so often has in March. The sky, a soft and delicate blue shading into opal and crimson behind them, displayed a bright crescent moon as it arched over the fairyland in the dusk before them. Straight ahead, across the broad, swift, sparkling river--the broadest water Susan had ever seen--rose the mighty, the majestic city. It rose direct from the water. Endless stretches of ethereal-looking structure, reaching higher and higher, in masses like mountain ranges, in peaks, in towers and domes. And millions of lights, like fairy lamps, like resplendent jewels, gave the city a glory beyond that of the stars thronging the heavens on a clear summer night.
They looked toward the north; on and on, to the far horizon's edge stretched the broad river and the lovely city that seemed the newborn offspring of the waves; on and on, the myriad lights, in masses, in festoons, in great gleaming globes of fire from towers rising higher than Susan's and Rod's native hills. They looked to the south. There, too, rose city, mile after mile, and then beyond it the expanse of the bay; and everywhere the lights, the beautiful, soft, starlike lights, shedding a radiance as of heaven itself over the whole scene. Majesty and strength and beauty.
"I love it!" murmured the girl. "Already I love it."
"I never dreamed it was like this," said Roderick, in an awed tone.
"The City of the Stars," said she, in the caressing tone in which a lover speaks the name of the beloved.
They moved closer together and clasped hands and gazed as if they feared the whole thing--river and magic city and their own selves--would fade away and vanish forever. Susan clutched Rod in terror as she saw the vision suddenly begin to move, to advance toward her, like apparitions in a dream before they vanish. Then she exclaimed, "Why, we are moving!" The big ferryboat, swift, steady as land, noiseless, had got under way. Upon them from the direction of the distant and hidden sea blew a cool, fresh breeze. Never before had either smelled that perfume, strong and keen and clean, which comes straight from the unbreathed air of the ocean to bathe New York, to put life and hope and health into its people. Rod and Susan turned their faces southward toward this breeze, drank in great draughts of it. They saw a colossal statue, vivid as life in the dusk, in the hand at the end of the high-flung arm a torch which sent a blaze of light streaming out over land and water.
"That must be Liberty," said Roderick.
Susan slipped her arm through his. She was quivering with excitement and joy. "Rod--Rod!" she murmured. "It's the isles of freedom. Kiss me."
And he bent and kissed her, and his cheek felt the tears upon hers. He reached for her hand, with an instinct to strengthen her. But when he had it within his its firm and vital grasp sent a thrill of strength through him.
A few minutes, and they paused at the exit from the ferry house. They almost shrank back, so dazed and helpless did they feel before the staggering billows of noise that swept savagely down upon them--roar and crash, shriek and snort; the air was shuddering with it, the ground quaking. The beauty had vanished--the beauty that was not the city but a glamour to lure them into the city's grasp; now that city stood revealed as a monster about to seize and devour them.
"God!" He shouted in her ear. "Isn't this frightful!"
She was recovering more quickly than he. The faces she saw reassured her. They were human faces; and while they were eager and restless, as if the souls behind them sought that which never could be found, they were sane and kind faces, too. Where others of her own race lived, and lived without fear, she, too, could hope to survive. And already she, who had loved this mighty offspring of the sea and the sky at first glance, saw and felt another magic--the magic of the peopled solitude. In this vast, this endless solitude she and he would be free. They could do as they pleased, live as they pleased, without thought of the opinion of others. Here she could forget the bestial horrors of marriage; here she would fear no scornful pointing at her birthbrand of shame. She and Rod could be poor without shame; they could make their fight in the grateful darkness of obscurity.
"Scared?" he asked.
"Not a bit," was her prompt answer. "I love it more than ever."
"Well, it frightens me a little. I feel helpless--lost in the noise and the crowd. How can I do anything here!"
"Others have. Others do."
"Yes--yes! That's so. We must take hold!" And he selected a cabman from the shouting swarm. "We want to go, with two trunks, to the Hotel St. Denis," said he.
"All right, sir! Gimme the checks, please."
Spenser was about to hand them over when Susan said in an undertone, "You haven't asked the price."
Spenser hastened to repair this important omission. "Ten dollars," replied the cabman as if ten dollars were some such trifle as ten cents.
Spenser laughed at the first experience of the famous New York habit of talking in a faint careless way of large sums of money--other people's money. "You did save us a swat," he said to Susan, and beckoned another man. The upshot of a long and arduous discussion, noisy and profane, was that they got the carriage for six dollars--a price which the policeman who had been drawn into the discussion vouched for as reasonable. Spenser knew it was too high, knew the policeman would get a dollar or so of the profit, but he was weary of the wrangle; and he would not listen to Susan's suggestion that they have the trunks sent by the express company and themselves go in a street car for ten cents. At the hotel they got a large comfortable room and a bath for four dollars a day. Spenser insisted it was cheap; Susan showed her alarm--less than an hour in New York and ten dollars gone, not to speak of she did not know how much change. For Roderick had been scattering tips with what is for some mysterious reason called "a princely hand," though princes know too well the value of money and have too many extravagant tastes ever to go far in sheer throwing away.
They had dinner in the restaurant of the hotel and set out to explore the land they purposed to subdue and to possess. They walked up Broadway to Fourteenth, missed their way in the dazzle and glare of south Union Square, discovered the wandering highway again after some searching. After the long, rather quiet stretch between Union Square and Thirty-fourth Street they found themselves at the very heart of the city's night life. They gazed in wonder upon the elevated road with its trains thundering by high above them. They crossed Greeley Square and stood entranced before the spectacle--a street bright as day with electric signs of every color, shape and size; sidewalks jammed with people, most of them dressed with as much pretense to fashion as the few best in Cincinnati; one theater after another, and at Forty-second Street theaters in every direction. Surely--surely--there would be small difficulty in placing his play when there were so many theaters, all eager for plays.
They debated going to the theater, decided against it, as they were tired from the journey and the excitement of crowding new sensations. "I've never been to a real theater in my life," said Susan. "I want to be fresh the first time I go."
"Yes," cried Rod. "That's right. Tomorrow night. That will be an experience!" And they read the illuminated signs, inspected the show windows, and slowly strolled back toward the hotel. As they were recrossing Union Square, Spenser said, "Have you noticed how many street girls there are? We must have passed a thousand. Isn't it frightful?"
"Yes," said Susan.
Rod made a gesture of disgust, and said with feeling, "How low a woman must have sunk before she could take to that life!"
"Yes," said Susan.
"So low that there couldn't possibly be left any shred of feeling or decency anywhere in her." Susan did not reply.
"It's not a question of morals, but of sensibility," pursued he. "Some day I'm going to write a play or a story about it. A woman with anything to her, who had to choose between that life and death, wouldn't hesitate an instant. She couldn't. A streetwalker!" And again he made that gesture of disgust.
"Before you write," said Susan, in a queer, quiet voice, "you'll find out all about it. Maybe some of these girls--most of them--all of them--are still human beings. It's not fair to judge people unless you know. And it's so easy to say that someone else ought to die rather than do this or that."
"You can't imagine yourself doing such a thing," urged he.
Susan hesitated, then--"Yes," she said.
Her tone irritated him. "Oh, nonsense! You don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes," said Susan.
"Susie!" he exclaimed, looking reprovingly at her.
She met his eyes without flinching. "Yes," she said. "I have."
He stopped short and his expression set her bosom to heaving. But her gaze was steady upon his. "Why did you tell me!" he cried. "Oh, it isn't so--it can't be. You don't mean exactly that."
"Yes, I do," said she.
"Don't tell me! I don't want to know." And he strode on, she keeping beside him.
"I can't let you believe me different from what I am," replied she. "Not you. I supposed you guessed."
"Now I'll always think of it--whenever I look at you. . . . I simply can't believe it. . . . You spoke of it as if you weren't ashamed."
"I'm not ashamed," she said. "Not before you. There isn't anything I've done that I wouldn't be willing to have you know. I'd have told you, except that I didn't want to recall it. You know that nobody can live without getting dirty. The thing is to want to be clean--and to try to get clean afterward--isn't it?"
"Yes," he admitted, as if he had not been hearing. "I wish you hadn't told me. I'll always see it and feel it when I look at you."
"I want you to," said she. "I couldn't love you as I do if I hadn't gone through a great deal."
"But it must have left its stains upon you," said he. Again he stopped short in the street, faced her at the curb, with the crowd hurrying by and jostling them. "Tell me about it!" he commanded.
She shook her head. "I couldn't." To have told would have been like tearing open closed and healed wounds. Also it would have seemed whining--and she had utter contempt for whining. "I'll answer any question, but I can't just go on and tell."
"You deliberately went and did--that?"
"Haven't you any excuse, any defense?"
She might have told him about Burlingham dying and the need of money to save him. She might have told him about Etta--her health going--her mind made up to take to the streets, with no one to look after her. She might have made it all a moving and a true tale--of self-sacrifice for the two people who had done most for her. But it was not in her simple honest nature to try to shift blame. So all she said was:
"And you didn't want to kill yourself first?"
"No. I wanted to live. I was dirty--and I wanted to be clean. I was hungry--and I wanted food. I was cold--that was the worst. I was cold, and I wanted to get warm. And--I had been married--but I couldn't tell even you about that--except--after a woman's been through what I went through then, nothing in life has any real terror or horror for her."
He looked at her long. "I don't understand," he finally said. "Come on. Let's go back to the hotel."
She walked beside him, making no attempt to break his gloomy silence. They went up to their room and she sat on the lounge by the window. He lit a cigarette and half sat, half lay, upon the bed. After a long time he said with a bitter laugh, "And I was so sure you were a good woman!"
"I don't feel bad," she ventured timidly. "Am I?"
"Do you mean to tell me," he cried, sitting up, "that you don't think anything of those things?"
"Life can be so hard and cruel, can make one do so many----"
"But don't you realize that what you've done is the very worst thing a woman can do?"
"No," said she. "I don't. . . . I'm sorry you didn't understand. I thought you did--not the details, but in a general sort of way. I didn't mean to deceive you. That would have seemed to me much worse than anything I did."
"I might have known! I might have known!" he cried--rather theatrically, though sincerely withal--for Mr. Spenser was a diligent worker with the tools of the play-making trade. "I learned who you were as soon as I got home the night I left you in Carrolton. They had been telephoning about you to the village. So I knew about you."
"About my mother?" asked she. "Is that what you mean?"
"Oh, you need not look so ashamed," said he, graciously, pityingly.
"I am not ashamed," said she. But she did not tell him that her look came from an awful fear that he was about to make her ashamed of him.
"No, I suppose you aren't," he went on, incensed by this further evidence of her lack of a good woman's instincts. "I really ought not to blame you. You were born wrong--born with the moral sense left out."
"Yes, I suppose so," said she, wearily.
"If only you had lied to me--told me the one lie!" cried he. "Then you wouldn't have destroyed my illusion. You wouldn't have killed my love."
She grew deathly white; that was all.
"I don't mean that I don't love you still," he hurried on. "But not in the same way. That's killed forever."
"Are there different ways of loving?" she asked. "How can I give you the love of respect and trust--now?"
"Don't you trust me--any more?"
"I couldn't. I simply couldn't. It was hard enough before on account of your birth. But now----Trust a woman who had been a-- a--I can't speak the word. Trust you? You don't understand a man."
"No, I don't." She looked round drearily. Everything in ruins. Alone again. Outcast. Nowhere to go but the streets--the life that seemed the only one for such as she. "I don't understand people at all. . . . Do you want me to go?"
She had risen as she asked this. He was beside her instantly. "Go!" he cried. "Why I couldn't get along without you."
"Then you love me as I love you," Said she, putting her arms round him. "And that's all I want. I don't want what you call respect. I couldn't ever have hoped to get that, being born as I was--could I? Anyhow, it doesn't seem to me to amount to much. I can't help it, Rod--that's the way I feel. So just love me--do with me whatever you will, so long as it makes you happy. And I don't need to be trusted. I couldn't think of anybody but you."
He felt sure of her again, reascended to the peak of the moral mountain. "You understand, we can never get married. We can never have any children."
"I don't mind. I didn't expect that. We can love--can't we?"
He took her face between his hands. "What an exquisite face it is," he said, "soft and smooth! And what clear, honest eyes! Where is it? Where is it? It must be there!"
She did not wince, but there came into her young face a deeper pathos--and a wan, deprecating, pleading smile. She said:
"Maybe love has washed it away--if it was there. It never seemed to touch me--any more than the dirt when I had to clean up my room."
"You mustn't talk that way. Why you are perfectly calm! You don't cry or feel repentant. You don't seem to care."
"It's so--so past--and dead. I feel as if it were another person. And it was, Rod!"
He shook his head, frowning. "Let's not talk about it," he said harshly. "If only I could stop thinking about it!"
She effaced herself as far as she could, living in the same room with him. She avoided the least show of the tenderness she felt, of the longing to have her wounds soothed. She lay awake the whole night, suffering, now and then timidly and softly caressing him when she was sure that he slept. In the morning she pretended to be asleep, let him call her twice before she showed that she was awake. A furtive glance at him confirmed the impression his voice had given. Behind her pale, unrevealing face there was the agonized throb of an aching heart, but she had the confidence of her honest, utter love; he would surely soften, would surely forgive. As for herself--she had, through loving and feeling that she was loved, almost lost the sense of the unreality of past and present that made her feel quite detached and apart from the life she was leading, from the events in which she was taking part, from the persons most intimately associated with her. Now that sense of isolation, of the mere spectator or the traveler gazing from the windows of the hurrying train--that sense returned. But she fought against the feeling it gave her.
That evening they went to the theater--to see Modjeska in "Magda."
Susan had never been in a real theater. The only approach to a playhouse in Sutherland was Masonic Hall. It had a sort of stage at one end where from time to time wandering players gave poor performances of poor plays or a minstrel show or a low vaudeville. But none of the best people of Sutherland went--at least, none of the women. The notion was strong in Sutherland that the theater was of the Devil--not so strong as in the days before they began to tolerate amateur theatricals, but still vigorous enough to give Susan now, as she sat in the big, brilliant auditorium, a pleasing sense that she, an outcast, was at last comfortably at home. Usually the first sight of anything one has dreamed about is pitifully disappointing. Neither nature nor life can build so splendidly as a vivid fancy. But Susan, in some sort prepared for the shortcomings of the stage, was not disappointed. From rise to fall of curtain she was so fascinated, so absolutely absorbed, that she quite forgot her surroundings, even Rod. And between the acts she could not talk for thinking. Rod, deceived by her silence, was chagrined. He had been looking forward to a great happiness for himself in seeing her happy, and much profit from the study of the viewpoint of an absolutely fresh mind. It wasn't until they were leaving the theater that he got an inkling of the true state of affairs with her.
"Let's go to supper," said he.
"If you don't mind," replied she, "I'd rather go home. I'm very tired."
"You were sound asleep this morning. So you must have slept well," said he sarcastically.
"It's the play," said she.
"Why didn't you like it?" he asked, irritated.
She looked at him in wonder. "Like what? The play?" She drew a long breath. "I feel as if it had almost killed me."
He understood when they were in their room and she could hardly undress before falling into a sleep so relaxed, so profound, that it made him a little uneasy. It seemed to him the exhaustion of a child worn out with the excitement of a spectacle. And her failure to go into ecstasies the next day led him further into the same error. "Modjeska is very good as Magda," said he, carelessly, as one talking without expecting to be understood. "But they say there's an Italian woman--Duse--who is the real thing."
Modjeska--Duse--Susan seemed indeed not to understand. "I hated her father," she said. "He didn't deserve to have such a wonderful daughter."
Spenser had begun to laugh with her first sentence. At the second he frowned, said bitterly: "I might have known! You get it all wrong. I suppose you sympathize with Magda?"
"I worshiped, her " said Susan, her voice low and tremulous with the intensity of her feeling.
Roderick laughed bitterly. "Naturally," he said. "You can't understand."
An obvious case, thought he. She was indeed one of those instances of absolute lack of moral sense. Just as some people have the misfortune to be born without arms or without legs, so others are doomed to live bereft of a moral sense. A sweet disposition, a beautiful body, but no soul; not a stained soul, but no soul at all. And his whole mental attitude toward her changed; or, rather, it was changed by the iron compulsion of his prejudice. The only change in his physical attitude--that is, in his treatment of her--was in the direction of bolder passion. of complete casting aside of all the restraint a conventional respecter of conventional womanhood feels toward a woman whom he respects. So, naturally, Susan, eager to love and to be loved, and easily confusing the not easily distinguished spiritual and physical, was reassured. Once in a while a look or a phrase from him gave her vague uneasiness; but on the whole she felt that, in addition to clear conscience from straightforwardness, she had a further reason for being glad Chance had forced upon her the alternative of telling him or lying. She did not inquire into the realities beneath the surface of their life--neither into what he thought of her, nor into what she thought of him--thought in the bottom of her heart. She continued to fight against, to ignore, her feeling of aloneness, her feeling of impending departure.
She was aided in this by her anxiety about their finances. In his efforts to place his play he was spending what were for them large sums of money--treating this man and that to dinners, to suppers--inviting men to lunch with him at expensive Broadway restaurants. She assumed that all this was necessary; he said so, and he must know. He was equally open-handed when they were alone, insisting on ordering the more expensive dishes, on having suppers they really did not need and drink which she knew she would be better off without--and, she suspected, he also. It simply was not in him, she saw, to be careful about money. She liked it, as a trait, for to her as to all the young and the unthinking carelessness about money seems a sure, perhaps the surest, sign of generosity--when in fact the two qualities are in no way related. Character is not a collection of ignorant impulses but a solidly woven fabric of deliberate purposes. Carelessness about anything most often indicates a tendency to carelessness about everything. She admired his openhanded way of scattering; she wouldn't have admired it in herself, would have thought it dishonest and selfish. But Rod was different. He had the "artistic temperament," while she was a commonplace nobody, who ought to be--and was--grateful to him for allowing her to stay on and for making such use of her as he saw fit. Still, even as she admired, she saw danger, grave danger, a disturbingly short distance ahead. He described to her the difficulties he was having in getting to managers, in having his play read, and the absurdity of the reasons given for turning it down. He made light of all these; the next manager would see, would give him a big advance, would put the play on--and then, Easy Street!
But experience had already killed what little optimism there was in her temperament--and there had not been much, because George Warham was a successful man in his line, and successful men do not create or permit optimistic atmosphere even in their houses. Nor had she forgotten Burlingham's lectures on the subject with illustrations from his own spoiled career; she understood it all now--and everything else he had given her to store up in her memory that retained everything. With that philippic against optimism in mind, she felt what Spenser was rushing toward. She made such inquiries about work for herself as her inexperience and limited opportunities permitted. She asked, she begged him, to let her try to get a place. He angrily ordered her to put any such notion out of her head. After a time she nerved herself again to speak. Then he frankly showed her why he was refusing.
"No," said he peremptorily, "I couldn't trust you in those temptations. You must stay where I can guard you."
A woman who had deliberately taken to the streets--why, she thought nothing of virtue; she would be having lovers with the utmost indifference; and while she was not a liar yet--"at least, I think not"--how long would that last? With virtue gone, virtue the foundation of woman's character--the rest could no more stand than a house set on sand.
"As long as you want me to love you, you've got to stay with me," he declared. "If you persist, I'll know you're simply looking for a chance to go back to your old ways."
And though she continued to think and cautiously to inquire about work she said no more to him. She spent not a penny, discouraged him from throwing money away--as much as she could without irritating him--and waited for the cataclysm. Waited not in gloom and tears but as normal healthy youth awaits any adversity not definitely scheduled for an hour close at hand. It would be far indeed from the truth to picture Susan as ever for long a melancholy figure to the eye or even wholly melancholy within. Her intelligence and her too sympathetic heart were together a strong force for sadness in her life, as they cannot but be in any life. In this world, to understand and to sympathize is to be saddened. But there was in her a force stronger than either or both. She had superb health. It made her beautiful, strong body happy; and that physical happiness brought her up quickly out of any depths--made her gay in spite of herself, caused her to enjoy even when she felt that it was "almost like hard-heartedness to be happy." She loved the sun and in this city where the sun shone almost all the days, sparkling gloriously upon the tiny salt particles filling the air and making it delicious to breathe and upon the skin--in this City of the Sun as she called it, she was gay even when she was heavy-hearted.
Thus, she was no repellent, aggravating companion to Rod as she awaited the cataclysm.
It came in the third week. He spent the entire day away from her, toward midnight he returned, flushed with liquor. She had gone to bed. "Get up and dress," said he with an irritability toward her which she had no difficulty in seeing was really directed at himself. "I'm hungry--and thirsty. We're going out for some supper."
"Come kiss me first," said she, stretching out her arms. Several times this device had shifted his purpose from spending money on the needless and expensive suppers.
He laughed. "Not a kiss. We're going to have one final blow-out. I start to work tomorrow. I've taken a place on the Herald--on space, guaranty of twenty-five a week, good chance to average fifty or sixty."
He said this hurriedly, carelessly, gayly--guiltily. She showed then and there what a surpassing wise young woman she was, for she did not exclaim or remind him of his high resolve to do or die as a playwright. "I'll be ready in a minute," was all she said.
She dressed swiftly, he lounging on the sofa and watching her. He loved to watch her dress, she did it so gracefully, and the motions brought out latent charms of her supple figure. "You're not so sure-fingered tonight as usual," said he. "I never saw you make so many blunders--and you've got one stocking on wrong side out."
She smiled into the glass at him. "The skirt'll cover that. I guess I was sleepy."
"Never saw your eyes more wide-awake. What're you thinking about?"
"About supper," declared she. "I'm hungry. I didn't feel like eating alone."
"I can't be here always," said he crossly--and she knew he was suspecting what she really must be thinking.
"I wasn't complaining," replied she sweetly. "You know I understand about business."
"Yes, I know," said he, with his air of generosity that always made her feel grateful. "I always feel perfectly free about you."
"I should say!" laughed she. "You know I don't care what happens so long as you succeed." Since their talk in Broadway that first evening in New York she had instinctively never said "we."
When they were at the table at Rector's and he had taken a few more drinks, he became voluble and plausible on the subject of the trifling importance of his setback as a playwright. It was the worst possible time of year; the managers were stocked up; his play would have to be rewritten to suit some particular star; a place on a newspaper, especially such an influential paper as the Herald, would be of use to him in interesting managers. She listened and looked convinced, and strove to convince herself that she believed. But there was no gray in her eyes, only the deepest hue of violets.
Next day they took a suite of two rooms and a bath in a pretentious old house in West Forty-fourth Street near Long Acre Square. She insisted that she preferred another much sunnier and quieter suite with no bath but only a stationary washstand; it was to be had for ten dollars a week. But he laughed at her as too economical in her ideas, and decided for the eighteen-dollar rooms. Also he went with her to buy clothes, made her spend nearly a hundred dollars where she would have spent less than twenty-five. "I prefer to make most of my things," declared she. "And I've all the time in the world." He would not have it. In her leisure time she must read and amuse herself and keep herself up to the mark, especially physically. "I'm proud of your looks," said he. "They belong to me, don't they? Well, take care of my property, Miss."
She looked at him vaguely--a look of distance, of parting, of pain. Then she flung herself into his arms with a hysterical cry--and shut her eyes tight against the beckoning figure calling her away. "No! No!" she murmured. "I belong here--here!"
"What are you saying?" he asked.
"Nothing--nothing," she replied.