Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall by David Graham Phillips
At the hotel they had been Mr. and Mrs. Spenser. When they moved, he tried to devise some way round this; but it was necessary that they have his address at the office, and Mrs. Pershall with the glistening old-fashioned false teeth who kept the furnished-room house was not one in whose withered bosom it would be wise to raise a suspicion as to respectability. Only in a strenuously respectable house would he live; in the other sort, what might not untrustworthy Susan be up to? So Mr. and Mrs. Spenser they remained, and the truth was suspected by only a few of their acquaintances, was known by two or three of his intimates whom he told in those bursts of confidence to which voluble, careless men are given--and for which they in resolute self-excuse unjustly blame strong drink.
One of his favorite remarks to her--sometimes made laughingly, again ironically, again angrily, again insultingly, was in this strain:
"Your face is demure enough. But you look too damned attractive about those beautiful feet of yours to be respectable at heart--and trustable."
That matter of her untrustworthiness had become a fixed idea with him. The more he concentrated upon her physical loveliness, the more he revolved the dangers, the possibilities of unfaithfulness; for a physical infatuation is always jealous. His work on the Herald made close guarding out of the question. The best he could do was to pop in unexpectedly upon her from time to time, to rummage through her belongings, to check up her statements as to her goings and comings by questioning the servants and, most important of all, each day to put her through searching and skillfully planned cross-examination. She had to tell him everything she did--every little thing--and he calculated the time, to make sure she had not found half an hour or so in which to deceive him. If she had sewed, he must look at the sewing; if she had read, he must know how many pages and must hear a summary of what those pages contained. As she would not and could not deceive him in any matter, however small, she was compelled to give over a plan quietly to look for work and to fit herself for some occupation that would pay a living wage--if there were such for a beginning woman worker.
At first he was covert in this detective work, being ashamed of his own suspicions. But as he drank, as he associated again with the same sort of people who had wasted his time in Cincinnati, he rapidly became franker and more inquisitorial. And she dreaded to see the look she knew would come into his eyes, the cruel tightening of his mouth, if in her confusion and eagerness she should happen not instantly to satisfy the doubt behind each question. He tormented her; he tormented himself. She suffered from humiliation; but she suffered more because she saw how his suspicions were torturing him. And in her humility and helplessness and inexperience, she felt no sense of right to resist, no impulse to resist.
And she forced herself to look on his spasms of jealousy as the occasional storms which occur even in the best climates. She reminded herself that she was secure of his love, secure in his love; and in her sad mood she reproached herself for not being content when at bottom everything was all right. After what she had been through, to be sad because the man she loved loved her too well! It was absurd, ungrateful.
He pried into every nook and corner of her being with that ingenious and tireless persistence human beings reserve for searches for what they do not wish to find. At last he contrived to find, or to imagine he had found, something that justified his labors and vindicated his disbelief in her.
They were walking in Fifth Avenue one afternoon, at the hour when there is the greatest press of equipages whose expensively and showily dressed occupants are industriously engaged in the occupation of imagining they are doing something when in fact they are doing nothing. What a world! What a grotesque confusing of motion and progress! What fantastic delusions that one is busy when one is merely occupied! They were between Forty-sixth Street and Forty-seventh, on the west side, when a small victoria drew up at the curb and a woman descended and crossed the sidewalk before them to look at the display in a milliner's window. Susan gave her the swift, seeing glance which one woman always gives another--the glance of competitors at each other's offerings. Instead of glancing away, Susan stopped short and gazed. Forgetting Rod, she herself went up to the millinery display that she might have a fuller view of the woman who had fascinated her.
"What's the matter?" cried Spenser. "Come on. You don't want any of those hats."
But Susan insisted that she must see, made him linger until the woman returned to her carriage and drove away. She said to Rod:
"Did you see her?"
"Yes. Rather pretty--nothing to scream about."
"But her style!" cried Susan.
"Oh, she was nicely dressed--in a quiet way. You'll see thousands a lot more exciting after you've been about in this town a while."
"I've seen scores of beautifully dressed women here--and in Cincinnati, too," replied Susan. "But that woman--she was perfect. And that's a thing I've never seen before." "I'm glad you have such quiet tastes--quiet and inexpensive."
"Inexpensive!" exclaimed Susan. "I don't dare think how much that woman's clothes cost. You only glanced at her, Rod, you didn't look. If you had, you'd have seen. Everything she wore was just right." Susan's eyes were brilliant. "Oh, it was wonderful! The colors--the fit--the style--the making--every big and little thing. She was a work of art, Rod! That's the first woman I've seen in my life that I through and through envied."
Rod's look was interested now. "You like that sort of thing a lot?" he inquired with affected carelessness.
"Every woman does," replied she, unsuspicious. "But I care--well, not for merely fine clothes. But for the--the kind that show what sort of person is in them." She sighed. "I wonder if I'll ever learn--and have money enough to carry out. It'll take so much--so much!" She laughed. "I've got terribly extravagant ideas. But don't be alarmed--I keep them chained up."
He was eying her unpleasantly. Suddenly she became confused. He thought it was because she was seeing and understanding his look and was frightened at his having caught her at last. In fact, it was because it all at once struck her that what she had innocently and carelessly said sounded like a hint or a reproach to him. He sneered:
"So you're crazy about finery--eh?"
"Oh, Rod!" she cried. "You know I didn't mean it that way. I long for and dream about a whole lot of beautiful things, but nothing else in the world's in the same class with--with what we've got."
"You needn't try to excuse yourself," said he in a tone that silenced her.
She wished she had not seen the woman who had thus put a cloud over their afternoon's happiness. But long after she had forgotten his queerness about what she said, she continued to remember that "perfect" woman--to see every detail of her exquisite toilet, so rare in a world where expensive-looking finery is regarded as the chief factor in the art of dress. How much she would have to learn before she could hope to dress like that!--learn not merely about dress but about the whole artistic side of life. For that woman had happened to cross Susan's vision at just the right moment--in development and in mood--to reveal to her clearly a world into which she had never penetrated--a world of which she had vaguely dreamed as she read novels of life in the lands beyond the seas, the life of palaces and pictures and statuary, of opera and theater, of equipages and servants and food and clothing of rare quality. She had rather thought such a life did not exist outside of novels and dreams. What she had seen of New York--the profuse, the gigantic but also the undiscriminating--had tended to strengthen the suspicion. But this woman proved her mistaken.
Our great forward strides are made unconsciously, are the results of apparently trivial, often unnoted impulses. Susan, like all our race, had always had vague secret dreams of ambition--so vague thus far that she never thought of them as impelling purposes in her life. Her first long forward stride toward changing these dreams from the vague to the definite was when Rod, before her on the horse on the way to Brooksburg, talked over his shoulder to her of the stage and made her feel that it was the life for her, the only life open to her where a woman could hope to be judged as human being instead of as mere instrument of sex. Her second long forward movement toward sharply defined ambition dated from the sight of the woman of the milliner's window--the woman who epitomized to Susan the whole art side of life that always gives its highest expression in some personal achievement--the perfect toilet, the perfect painting or sculpture, the perfect novel or play.
But Rod saw in her enthusiasm only evidence of a concealed longing for the money to indulge extravagant whims. With his narrowing interest in women--narrowed now almost to sex--his contempt for them as to their minds and their hearts was so far advancing that he hardly took the trouble to veil it with remnants of courtesy. If Susan had clearly understood--even if she had let herself understand what her increasing knowledge might have enabled her to understand--she would have hated him in spite of the hold gratitude and habit had given him upon her loyal nature--and despite the fact that she had, as far as she could see, no alternative to living with him but the tenements or the streets.
One day in midsummer she chanced to go into the Hotel Astor to buy a magazine. As she had not been there before she made a wrong turning and was forced to cross one of the restaurants. In a far corner, half hidden by a group of palms, she saw Rod at a small table with a strikingly pretty woman whose expression and dress and manner most energetically proclaimed the actress. The woman was leaning toward him, was touching his hand and looking into his eyes with that show of enthusiasm which raises doubts of sincerity in an experienced man and sets him to keeping an eye or a hand--or both--upon his money. Real emotion, even a professional expert at display of emotion, is rarely so adept at exhibiting itself.
It may have been jealousy that guided her to this swift judgment upon the character of the emotion correctly and charmingly expressing itself. If so, jealousy was for once a trustworthy guide. She turned swiftly and escaped unseen. The idea of trapping him, of confronting him, never occurred to her. She felt ashamed and self-reproachful that she had seen. Instead of the anger that fires a vain woman, whether she cares about a man or not, there came a profound humiliation. She had in some way fallen short; she had not given him all he needed; it must be that she hadn't it to give, since she had given him all she had. He must not know--he must not! For if he knew he might dislike her, might leave her--and she dared not think what life would be without him, her only source of companionship and affection, her only means of support. She was puzzled that her discovery, not of his treachery--he had so broken her spirit with his suspicions and his insulting questions that she did not regard herself as of the rank and dignity that has the right to exact fidelity--but of his no longer caring enough to be content with her alone, had not stunned her with amazement. She did not realize how completely the instinct that he was estranged from her had prepared her for the thing that always accompanies estrangement. Between the perfect accord, that is, the never realized ideal for a man and a woman living together, and the intolerable discord that means complete repulse there is a vast range of states of feeling imperceptibly shading into each other. Most couples constantly move along this range, now toward the one extreme, now toward the other. As human kings are not given to self-analysis, and usually wander into grotesque error whenever they attempt it, no couple knows precisely where it is upon the range, until something crucial happens to compel them to know. Susan and Rod had begun as all couples begin--with an imaginary ideal accord based upon their ignorance of each other and their misunderstanding of what qualities they thought they understood in each other. The delusion of accord vanished that first evening in New York. What remained? What came in the place? They knew no more about that than does the next couple. They were simply "living along." A crisis, drawing them close together or flinging them forever apart or forcing them to live together, he frankly as keeper and she frankly as kept, might come any day, any hour. Again it might never come.
After a few weeks the matter that had been out of her mind accidentally and indirectly came to the surface in a chance remark. She said:
"Sometimes I half believe a man could be untrue to a woman, even though he loved her."
She did not appreciate the bearings of her remark until it was spoken. With a sensation of terror lest the dreaded crisis might be about to burst, she felt his quick, nervous glance. She breathed freely again when she felt his reassurance and relief as she successfully withstood.
"Certainly," he said with elaborate carelessness. "Men are a rotten, promiscuous lot. That's why it's necessary for a woman to be good and straight."
All this time his cross-examination had grown in severity. Evidently he was fearing that she might be having a recurrence of the moral disease which was fatal in womankind, though only mild indiscretion in a man, if not positively a virtue, an evidence of possessing a normal masculine nature. Her mind began curiously--sadly--to revolve the occasional presents--of money, of books, of things to wear--which he gave, always quite unexpectedly. At first unconsciously, but soon consciously, she began to associate these gifts, given always in an embarrassed, shamefaced way, with certain small but significant indications of his having strayed. And it was not long before she understood; she was receiving his expiations for his indiscretions. Like an honest man and a loyal--masculinely loyal--lover he was squaring accounts. She never read the books she owed to these twinges; it was thus that she got her aversion to Thackeray--one of his "expiations" was a set of Thackeray. The things to wear she contrived never to use. The conscience money she either spent upon him or put back into his pocket a little at a time, sure that he, the most careless of men about money, would never detect her.
His work forced him to keep irregular hours; thus she could pretend to herself that his absences were certainly because of office duty. Still, whenever he was gone overnight, she became unhappy--not the crying kind of unhappiness; to that she was little given--but the kind that lies awake and aches and with morbid vivid fancy paints the scenes suspicion suggests, and stares at them not in anger but in despair. She was always urging herself to content herself with what she was getting. She recalled and lived again the things she had forgotten while Roderick was wholly hers--the penalties of the birth brand of shame--her wedding night--the miseries of the last period of her wanderings with Burlingham--her tenement days--the dirt, the nakedness, the brutal degradation, the vermin, the savage cold. And the instant he returned, no matter how low-spirited she had been, she was at once gay, often deliriously gay--until soon his awakened suspicion as to what she had been up to in his absence quieted her. There was little forcing or pretense in this gayety; it bubbled and sparkled from the strong swift current of her healthy passionate young life which, suspended in the icy clutch of fear when he was away from her, flowed as freely as the brooks in spring as soon as she realized that she still had him.
Did she really love him? She believed she did. Was she right? Love is of many degrees--and kinds. And strange and confused beyond untangling is the mixture of motives and ideas in the mind of any human being as to any other being with whom his or her relations are many sided.
Anyone who had not been roughly seized by destiny and forced to fight desperately weaponless might have found it difficult to understand how this intelligent, high-spirited girl could be so reasonable--coarsely practical, many people would have said. A brave soul--truly brave with the unconscious courage that lives heroically without any taint of heroics--such a soul learns to accept the facts of life, to make the best of things, to be grateful for whatever sunshine may be and not to shriek and gesticulate at storm. Suffering had given this sapling of a girl the strong fiber that enables a tree to push majestically up toward the open sky. Because she did not cry out was no sign that she was not hurt; and because she did not wither and die of her wounds was only proof of her strength of soul. The weak wail and the weak succumb; the strong persist--and a world of wailers and weaklings calls them hard, insensible, coarse.
Spenser was fond of exhibiting to his men friends--to some of them--this treasure to which he always returned the more enamoured for his vagary and its opportunity of comparison. Women he would not permit. In general, he held that all women, the respectable no less than the other kind, put mischief in each other's heads and egged each other on to carry out the mischief already there in embryo. In particular, he would have felt that he was committing a gross breach of the proprieties, not to say the decencies, had he introduced a woman of Susan's origin, history and present status to the wives and sisters of his friends; and, for reasons which it was not necessary even to pretend to conceal from her, he forbade her having anything to do with the kinds of woman who would not have minded, had they known all about her. Thus, her only acquaintances, her only associates, were certain carefully selected men. He asked to dinner or to the theater or to supper at Jack's or Rector's only such men as he could trust. And trustworthy meant physically unattractive. Having small and dwindling belief in the mentality of women, and no belief whatever in mentality as a force in the relations of the sexes, he was satisfied to have about her any man, however clever, provided he was absolutely devoid of physical charm.
The friend who came oftenest was Drumley, an editorial writer who had been his chum at college and had got him the place on the Herald. Drumley he would have trusted alone with her on a desert island; for several reasons, all of his personal convenience, it pleased him that Susan liked Drumley and was glad of his company, no matter how often he came or how long he stayed. Drumley was an emaciated Kentucky giant with grotesquely sloping shoulders which not all the ingenious padding of his tailor could appreciably mitigate. His spare legs were bowed in the calves. His skin looked rough and tough, like sandpaper and emery board. The thought of touching his face gave one the same sensation as a too deeply cut nail. His neck was thin and long, and he wore a low collar--through that interesting passion of the vain for seeing a defect in themselves as a charm and calling attention to it. The lower part of his sallow face suggested weakness--the weakness so often seen in the faces of professional men, and explaining why they chose passive instead of active careers. His forehead was really fine, but the development of the rest of the cranium above the protuberant little ears was not altogether satisfying to a claim of mental powers.
Drumley was a good sort--not so much through positive virtue as through the timidity which too often accounts for goodness, that is, for the meek conformity which passes as goodness. He was an insatiable reader, had incredible stores of knowledge; and as he had a large vocabulary and a ready speech he could dole out of those reservoirs an agreeable treacle of commonplace philosophy or comment--thus he had an ideal equipment for editorial writing. He was absolutely without physical magnetism. The most he could ever expect from any woman was respect; and that woman would have had to be foolish enough not to realize that there is as abysmal a difference between knowledge and mentality as there is between reputation and character. Susan liked him because he knew so much. She had developed still further her innate passion for educating herself. She now wanted to know all about everything. He told her what to read, set her in the way to discovering and acquiring the art of reading--an art he was himself capable of acquiring only in its rudiments--an art the existence of which is entirely unsuspected by most persons who regard themselves and are regarded as readers. He knew the histories and biographies that are most amusing and least shallow and mendacious. He instructed her in the great playwrights and novelists and poets, and gave--as his own--the reasons for their greatness assigned by the world's foremost critical writers. He showed her what scientific books to read--those that do not bore and do not hide the simple fascinating facts about the universe under pretentious, college-professor phraseology.
He was a pedant, but his pedantry was disguised, therefore mitigated by his having associated with men of the world instead of with the pale and pompous capons of the student's closet. His favorite topic was beauty and ugliness--and his abhorrence for anyone who was not good to look at. As he talked this subject, his hearers were nervous and embarrassed. He was a drastic cure for physical vanity. If this man could so far deceive himself that he thought himself handsome, who in all the world could be sure he or she was not the victim of the same incredible delusion? It was this hallucination of physical beauty that caused Rod to regard him as the safest of the safe. For it made him pitiful and ridiculous.
At first he came only with Spenser. Afterward, Spenser used to send him to dine with Susan and to spend the evenings with her when he himself had to be--or wished to be elsewhere. When she was with Drumley he knew she was not "up to any of her old tricks." Drumley fell in love with her; but, as in his experience the female sex was coldly chaste, he never developed even the slight hope necessary to start in a man's mind the idea of treachery to his friend about a woman. Whenever Drumley heard that a woman other than the brazenly out and out disreputables was "loose" or was inclined that way, he indignantly denied it as a libel upon the empedestaled sex. If proofs beyond dispute were furnished, he raved against the man with all the venom of the unsuccessful hating the successful for their success. He had been sought of women, of course, for he had a comfortable and secure position and money put by. But the serious women who had set snares for him for the sake of a home had not attracted him; as for the better looking and livelier women who had come a-courting with alimony in view, they had unwisely chosen the method of approach that caused him to set them down as nothing but professional loose characters. Thus his high ideal of feminine beauty and his lofty notion of his own deserts, on the one hand, and his reverence for womanly propriety, on the other hand, had kept his charms and his income unshared.
Toward the end of Spenser's first year on the Herald--it was early summer--he fell into a melancholy so profound and so prolonged that Susan became alarmed. She was used to his having those fits of the blues that are a part of the nervous, morbidly sensitive nature and in the unhealthfulness of an irregular and dissipated life recur at brief intervals. He spent more and more time with her, became as ardent as in their first days together, with an added desperation of passionate clinging that touched her to the depths. She had early learned to ignore his moods, to avoid sympathy which aggravates, and to meet his blues with a vigorous counterirritant of liveliness. After watching the course of this acute attack for more than a month, she decided that at the first opportunity she would try to find out from Drumley what the cause was. Perhaps she could cure him if she were not working in the dark.
One June evening Drumley came to take her to dinner at the Casino in Central Park. She hesitated. She still liked Drumley's mind; but latterly he had fallen into the way of gazing furtively, with a repulsive tremulousness of his loose eyelids, at her form and at her ankles--especially at her ankles--especially at her ankles. This furtive debauch gave her a shivery sense of intrusion. She distinctly liked the candid, even the not too coarse, glances of the usual man. But not this shy peeping. However, as there were books she particularly wished to talk about with him, she accepted.
It was an excursion of which she was fond. They strolled along Seventh Avenue to the Park, entered and followed the lovely walk, quiet and green and odorous, to the Mall. They sauntered in the fading light up the broad Mall, with its roof of boughs of majestic trees, with its pale blue vistas of well-kept lawns. At the steps leading to the Casino they paused to delight in the profusely blooming wistaria and to gaze away northward into and over what seemed an endless forest with towers and cupolas of castle and fortress and cathedral rising serene and graceful here and there above the sea of green. There was the sound of tinkling fountains, the musical chink-chink of harness chains of elegant equipages; on the Mall hundreds of children were playing furiously, to enjoy to the uttermost the last few moments before being snatched away to bed--and the birds were in the same hysterical state as they got ready for their evening song. The air was saturated with the fresh odors of spring and early summer flowers. Susan, walking beside the homely Drumley, was a charming and stylish figure of girlish womanhood. The year and three months in New York had wrought the same transformations in her that are so noticeable whenever an intelligent and observant woman with taste for the luxuries is dipped in the magic of city life. She had grown, was now perhaps a shade above the medium height for women, looked even taller because of the slenderness of her arms, of her neck, of the lines of her figure. There was a deeper melancholy in her violet-gray eyes. Experience had increased the allure of her wide, beautifully curved mouth.
They took a table under the trees, with beds of blooming flowers on either hand. Drumley ordered the sort of dinner she liked, and a bottle of champagne and a bottle of fine burgundy to make his favorite drink--champagne and burgundy, half and half. He was running to poetry that evening--Keats and Swinburne. Finally, after some hesitation, he produced a poem by Dowson--"I ran across it today. It's the only thing of his worth while, I believe--and it's so fine that Swinburne must have been sore when he read it because he hadn't thought to write it himself. Its moral tone is not high, but it's so beautiful, Mrs. Susan, that I'll venture to show it to you. It comes nearer to expressing what men mean by the man sort of constancy than anything I ever read. Listen to this:
"I cried for madder music and for stronger wine, But when the feast is finished, and the lamps expire, Then falls thy shadow, Cynara!--the night is thine; And I am desolate and sick of an old passion, Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire; I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fashion."
Susan took the paper, read the four stanzas several times, handed it back to him without a word. "Don't you think it fine?" asked he, a little uneasily--he was always uneasy with a woman when the conversation touched the relations of the sexes--uneasy lest he might say or might have said something to send a shiver through her delicate modesty.
"Fine," Susan echoed absently. "And true. . . . I suppose it is the best a woman can expect--to be the one he returns to. And--isn't that enough?"
"You are very different from any woman I ever met," said Drumley. "Very different from what you were last fall--wonderfully different. But you were different then, too."
"I'd have been a strange sort of person if it weren't so. I've led a different life. I've learned--because I've had to learn."
"You've been through a great deal--suffered a great deal for one of your age?"
Susan shrugged her shoulders slightly. She had her impulses to confide, but she had yet to meet the person who seriously tempted her to yield to them. Not even Rod; no, least of all Rod.
"Happy--and more. I'm content."
The reply was the truth, as she saw the truth. Perhaps it was also the absolute truth; for when a woman has the best she has ever actually possessed, and when she knows there is nowhere else on earth for her, she is likely to be content. Their destiny of subordination has made philosophers of women.
Drumley seemed to be debating how to disclose something he had in mind. But after several glances at the sweet, delicate face of the girl, he gave it over. In the subdued light from the shaded candles on their table, she looked more child-like than he had ever seen. Perhaps her big pale-blue hat and graceful pale-blue summer dress had something to do with it, also. "How old are you?" he asked abruptly.
"I feel like saying, `So much!'--and also `So little!' How long have you been married?"
"Why all these questions?" demanded she, smiling.
He colored with embarrassment. "I didn't mean to be impertinent," said he.
"It isn't impertinence--is it?--to ask a woman how long she's been married."
But she did not go on to tell him; instead, she pretended to have her attention distracted by a very old man and a very young girl behaving in most lover-like fashion, the girl outdoing the man in enthusiastic determination to convince. She was elegantly and badly dressed in new clothes--and she seemed as new to that kind of clothes as those particular clothes were new to her. After dinner they walked down through the Park by the way they had come; it did not look like the same scene now, with the moonlight upon it, with soft shadows everywhere and in every shadow a pair of lovers. They had nearly reached the entrance when Drumley said: "Let's sit on this bench here. I want to have a serious talk with you."
Susan seated herself and waited. He lit a cigar with the deliberation of one who is striving to gain time. The bench happened to be one of those that are divided by iron arms into individual seats. He sat with a compartment between them. The moonbeams struck across his profile as he turned it toward her; they shone full upon her face. He looked, hastily glanced away. With a gruffness as if the evening mist had got into his throat he said:
"Let's take another bench."
"Why?" objected she. "I like this beautiful light."
He rose. "Please let me have my way." And he led her to a bench across which a tree threw a deep shadow; as they sat there, neither could see the other's face except in dimmest outline. After a brief silence he began:
"You love Rod--don't you?"
She laughed happily.
"Above everything on earth?"
"Or in heaven."
"You'd do anything to have him succeed?"
"No one could prevent his succeeding. He's got it in him. It's bound to come out."
"So I'd have said--until a year ago--that is, about a year ago."
As her face turned quickly toward him, he turned profile to her. "What do you mean?" said she, quickly, almost imperiously.
"Yes--I mean you," replied he.
"You mean you think I'm hindering him?"
When Drumley's voice finally came, it was funereally solemn. "You are dragging him down. You are killing his ambition."
"You don't understand," she protested with painful expression. "If you did, you wouldn't say that."
"You mean because he is not true to you?"
"Isn't he?" said she, loyally trying to pretend surprise. "If that's so, you've no right to tell me--you, his friend. If it isn't, you----"
"In either case I'd be beneath contempt--unless I knew that you knew already. Oh, I've known a long time that you knew--ever since the night you looked away when he absentmindedly pulled a woman's veil and gloves out of his pocket. I've watched you since then, and I know."
"You are a very dear friend, Mr. Drumley," said she. "But you must not talk of him to me."
"I must," he replied. And he hastened to make the self-fooled hypocrite's familiar move to the safety of duty's skirts. "It would be a crime to keep silent."
She rose. "I can't listen. It may be your duty to speak. It's my duty to refuse to hear."
"He is overwhelmed with debt. He is about to lose his position. It is all because he is degraded--because he feels he is entangled in an intrigue with a woman he is ashamed to love--a woman he has struggled in vain to put out of his heart."
Susan, suddenly weak, had seated herself again. From his first words she had been prey to an internal struggle--her heart fighting against understanding things about her relations with Rod, about his feeling toward her, which she had long been contriving to hide from herself. When Drumley began she knew that the end of self-deception was at hand--if she let him speak. But the instant he had spoken, the struggle ended. If he had tried to stop she would have compelled him to go on.
"That woman is you," he continued in the same solemn measured way. "Rod will not marry you. He cannot leave you. And you are dragging him down. You are young. You don't know that passionate love is a man's worst enemy. It satisfies his ambition--why struggle when one already has attained the climax of desire? It saps his strength, takes from him the energy without which achievement is impossible. Passion dies poisoned of its own sweets. But passionate love kills--at least, it kills the man. If you did not love him, I'd not be talking to you now. But you do love him. So I say, you are killing him. . . . Don't think he has told me "
"I know he didn't," she interrupted curtly. "He does not whine."
She hadn't a doubt of the truth of her loyal defense. And Drumley could not have raised a doubt, even if she had been seeing the expression of his face. His long practice of the modern editorial art of clearness and brevity and compact statement had enabled him to put into those few sentences more than another might have been unable to express in hours of explanation and appeal. And the ideas were not new to her. Rod had often talked them in a general way and she had thought much about them. Until now she had never seen how they applied to Rod and herself. But she was seeing and feeling it now so acutely that if she had tried to speak or to move she could not have done so.
After a long pause, Drumley said: "Do you comprehend what I mean?"
She was silent--so it was certain that she comprehended. "But you don't believe?. . . He began to borrow money almost immediately on his arrival here last summer. He has been borrowing ever since--from everybody and anybody. He owes now, as nearly as I can find out, upwards of three thousand dollars."
Susan made a slight but sharp movement.
"You don't believe me?"
"Yes. Go on."
"He has it in him, I'm confident, to write plays--strong plays. Does he ever write except ephemeral space stuff for the paper?"
"And he never will so long as he has you to go home to. He lives beyond his means because he will have you in comfortable surroundings and dressed to stimulate his passion. If he would marry you, it might be a little better--though still he would never amount to anything as long as his love lasted--the kind of love you inspire. But he will never marry you. I learned that from what I know of his ideas and from what I've observed as to your relations--not from anything he ever said about you."
If Susan had been of the suspicious temperament, or if she had been a few years older, the manner of this second protest might have set her to thinking how unlike Drumley, the inexpert in matters of love and passion, it was to analyze thus and to form such judgments. And thence she might have gone on to consider that Drumley's speeches sounded strangely like paraphrases of Spenser's eloquent outbursts when he "got going." But she had not a suspicion. Besides, her whole being was concentrated upon the idea Drumley was trying to put into words. She asked:
"Why are you telling me?"
"Because I love him," replied Drumley with feeling. "We're about the same age, but he's been like my son ever since we struck up a friendship in the first term of Freshman year."
"Is that your only reason?"
"On my honor." And so firmly did he believe it, he bore her scrutiny as she peered into his face through the dimness.
She drew back. "Yes," she said in a low voice, half to herself. "Yes, I believe it is." There was silence for a long time, then she asked quietly:
"What do you think I ought to do?"
"Leave him--if you love him," replied Drumley.
"What else can you do?. . . Stay on and complete his ruin?"
"And if I go--what?"
"Oh, you can do any one of many things. You can----"
"I mean--what about him?"
"He will be like a crazy man for a while. He'll make that a fresh excuse for keeping on as he's going now. Then he'll brace up, and I'll be watching over him, and I'll put him to work in the right direction. He can't be saved, he can't even be kept afloat as long as you are with him, or within reach. With you gone out of his life--his strength will return, his self-respect can be roused. I've seen the same thing in other cases again and again. I could tell you any number of stories of----"
"He does not care for me?"
"In one way, a great deal. But you're like drink, like a drug to him. It is strange that a woman such as you, devoted, single-hearted, utterly loving, should be an influence for bad. But it's true of wives also. The best wives are often the worst. The philosophers are right. A man needs tranquillity at home."
"I understand," said she. "I understand--perfectly. " And her voice was unemotional, as always when she was so deeply moved that she dared not release anything lest all should be released.
She was like a seated statue. The moon had moved so that it shone upon her face. He was astonished by its placid calm. He had expected her to rave and weep, to protest and plead--before denouncing him and bidding him mind his own business. Instead, she was making it clear that after all she did not care about Roderick; probabLy she was wondering what would become of her, now that her love was ruined. Well, wasn't it natural? Wasn't it altogether to her credit--wasn't it additional proof that she was a fine pure woman? How could she have continued deeply to care for a man scandalously untrue, and drunk much of the time? Certainly, it was in no way her fault that Rod made her the object and the victim of the only kind of so-called love of which he was capable. No doubt one reason he was untrue to her was that she was too pure for his debauched fancy. Thus reasoned Drumley with that mingling of truth and error characteristic of those who speculate about matters of which they have small and unfixed experience.
"About yourself," he proceeded. "I have a choice of professions for you--one with a company on the road--on the southern circuit--with good prospects of advancement. I know, from what I have seen of you, and from talks we have had, that you would do well on the stage. But the life might offend your sensibilities. I should hesitate to recommend it to a delicate, fine-fibered woman like you. The other position is a clerkship in a business office in Philadelphia--with an increase as soon as you learn stenography and typewriting. It is respectable. It is sheltered. It doesn't offer anything brilliant. But except the stage and literature, nothing brilliant offers for a woman. Literature is out of the question, I think--certainly for the present. The stage isn't really a place for a woman of lady-like instincts. So I should recommend the office position."
She remained silent.
"While my main purpose in talking to you," he continued, "was to try to save him, I can honestly say that it was hardly less my intention to save you. But for that, I'd not have had the courage to speak. He is on the way down. He's dragging you with him. What future have you with him? You would go on down and down, as low as he should sink and lower. You've completely merged yourself in him--which might do very well if you were his wife and a good influence in his life or a mere negation like most wives. But in the circumstances it means ruin to you. Don't you see that?"
"What did you say?"
"I was talking about you--your future your----"
"Oh, I shall do well enough." She rose. "I must be going."
Her short, indifferent dismissal of what was his real object in speaking--though he did not permit himself to know it--cut him to the quick. He felt a sickening and to him inexplicable sense of defeat and disgrace. Because he must talk to distract his mind from himself, he began afresh by saying:
"You'll think it over?"
"I am thinking it over. . . . I wonder that----"
With the fingers of one hand she smoothed her glove on the fingers of the other--"I wonder that I didn't think of it long ago. I ought to have thought of it. I ought to have seen."
"I can't tell you how I hate to have been the----"
"Please don't say any more," she requested in a tone that made it impossible for a man so timid as he to disobey.
Neither spoke until they were in Fifty-ninth Street; then he, unable to stand the strain of a silent walk of fifteen blocks, suggested that they take the car down. She assented. In the car the stronger light enabled him to see that she was pale in a way quite different from her usual clear, healthy pallor, that there was an unfamiliar look about her mouth and her eyes--a look of strain, of repression, of resolve. These signs and the contrast of her mute motionlessness with her usual vivacity of speech and expression and gesture made him uneasy.
"I'd advise," said he, "that you reflect on it all carefully and consult with me before you do anything--if you think you ought to do anything."
She made no reply. At the door of the house he had to reach for her hand, and her answer to his good night was a vague absent echo of the word. "I've only done what I saw was my duty," said he, appealingly.
"Yes, I suppose so. I must go in."
"And you'll talk with me before you----"
The door had closed behind her; she had not known he was speaking.
When Spenser came, about two hours later, and turned on the light in their bedroom, she was in the bed, apparently asleep. He stood staring with theatric self-consciousness at himself in the glass for several minutes, then sat down before the bureau and pulled out the third drawer--where he kept collars, ties, handkerchiefs, gloves and a pistol concealed under the handkerchiefs. With the awful solemnity of the youth who takes himself--and the theater--seriously he lifted the pistol, eyed it critically, turning it this way and that as if interested in the reflections of light from the bright cylinder and barrel at different angles. He laid it noiselessly back, covered it over with the handkerchiefs, sat with his fingers resting on the edge of the drawer. Presently he moved uneasily, as a man--on the stage or in its amusing imitation called civilized life among the self-conscious classes--moves when he feels that someone is behind him in a "crucial moment."
He slowly turned round. She had shifted her position so that her face was now toward him. But her eyes were closed and her face was tranquil. Still, he hoped she had seen the little episode of the pistol, which he thought fine and impressive. With his arm on the back of the chair and supporting that resolute-looking chin of his, he stared at her face from under his thick eyebrows, so thick that although they were almost as fair as his hair they seemed dark. After a while her eyelids fluttered and lifted to disclose eyes that startled him, so intense, so sleepless were they.
"Kiss me," she said, in her usual sweet, tender way--a little shyness, much of passion's sparkle and allure. "Kiss me."
"I've often thought," said he, "what would I do if I should go smash, reach the end of my string? Would I kill you before taking myself off? Or would that be cowardly?"
She had not a doubt that he meant this melodramatic twaddle. It did not seem twaddle or melodramatic to her--or, for that matter, to him. She clasped him more closely. "What's the matter, dear?" she asked, her head on his breast.
"Oh, I've had a row at the Herald, and have quit. But I'll get another place tomorrow."
"Of course. I wish you'd fix up that play the way Drumley suggested."
"Maybe I shall. We'll see."
"Anything else wrong?"
"Only the same old trouble. I love you too much. Too damn much," he added in a tone not intended for her ears. "Weak fool--that's what I am. Weak fool. I've got you, anyhow. Haven't I?"
"Yes," she said. "I'd do anything for you--anything."
"As long as I keep my eyes on you," said he, half mockingly. "I'm weak, but you're weaker. Aren't you?"
"I guess so. I don't know." And she drew a long breath, nestled into his arms, and upon his breast, with her perfumed hair drowsing his senses.
He soon slept; when he awoke, toward noon, he did not disturb her. He shaved and bathed and dressed, and was about to go out when she called him. "Oh, I thought you were asleep," said he. "I can't wait for you to get breakfast. I must get a move on."
"No, indeed." But his face was not convincing. "So long, pet."
"Aren't you going to kiss me good-by?"
He laughed tenderly, yet in bitter self-mockery too. "And waste an hour or so? Not much. What a siren you are!"
She put her hand over her face quickly.
"Now, perhaps I can risk one kiss." He bent over her; his lips touched her hair. She stretched out her hand, laid it against his cheek. "Dearest," she murmured.
"I must go."
"Just a minute. No, don't look at me. Turn your face so that I can see your profile--so!" She had turned his head with a hand that gently caressed as it pushed. "I like that view best. Yes, you are strong and brave. You will succeed! No--I'll not keep you a minute." She kissed his hand, rested her head for an instant on his lap as he sat on the edge of the bed, suddenly flung herself to the far side of the bed, with her face toward the wall.
"Go to sleep again, lazy!" cried he. "I'll try to be home about dinner-time. See that you behave today! Good lord, how hard it is to leave you! Having you makes nothing else seem worth while. Good-by!"
And he was off. She started to a sitting posture, listened to the faint sound of his descending footsteps. She darted to the window, leaned out, watched him until he rounded the corner into Broadway. Then she dropped down with elbows on the window sill and hands pressing her cheeks; she stared unseeingly at the opposite house, at a gilt cage with a canary hopping and chirping within. And once more she thought all the thoughts that had filled her mind in the sleepless hours of that night and morning. Her eyes shifted in color from pure gray to pure violet--back and forth, as emotion or thought dominated her mind. She made herself coffee in the French machine, heated the milk she brought every day from the dairy, drank her cafe au lait slowly, reading the newspaper advertisements for "help wanted--female"--a habit she had formed when she first came to New York and had never altogether dropped. When she finished her coffee she took the scissors and cut out several of the demands for help.
She bathed and dressed. She moved through the routine of life--precisely as we all do, whatever may be in our minds and hearts. She went out, crossed Long Acre and entered the shop of a dealer in women's cast-off clothes. She reappeared in the street presently with a fat, sloppy looking woman in black. She took her to the rooms, offered for sale her entire wardrobe except the dress she had on and one other, the simply trimmed sailor upon her head, the ties on her feet and one pair of boots and a few small articles. After long haggling the woman made a final price--ninety-five dollars for things, most of them almost new, which had cost upwards of seven hundred. Susan accepted the offer; she knew she could do no better. The woman departed, returned with a porter and several huge sweets of wrapping paper. The two made three bundles of the purchases; the money was paid over; they and Susan's wardrobe departed.
Next, Susan packed in the traveling bag she had brought from Cincinnati the between seasons dress of brown serge she had withheld, and some such collection of bare necessities as she had taken with her when she left George Warham's. Into the bag she put the pistol from under Spenser's handkerchiefs in the third bureau drawer. When all was ready, she sent for the maid to straighten the rooms. While the maid was at work, she wrote this note:
DEAREST--Mr. Drumley will tell you why I have gone. You will find some money under your handkerchiefs in the bureau. When you are on your feet again, I may come--if you want me. It won't be any use for you to look for me. I ought to have gone before, but I was selfish and blind. Good-by, dear love--I wasn't so bad as you always suspected. I was true to you, and for the sake of what you have been to me and done for me I couldn't be so ungrateful as not to go. Don't worry about me. I shall get on. And so will you. It's best for us both. Good-by, dear heart--I was true to you. Good-by.
She sealed this note, addressed it, fastened it over the mantel in the sitting-room where they always put notes for each other. And after she had looked in each drawer and in the closet at all his clothing, and had kissed the pillow on which his head had lain, she took her bag and went. She had left for him the ninety-five dollars and also eleven dollars of the money she had in her purse. She took with her two five-dollar bills and a dollar and forty cents in change.
The violet waned in her eyes, and in its stead came the gray of thought and action.