Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall by David Graham Phillips
The Susan Lenox who left Delancey Street at half past two that afternoon to call upon Robert Brent was not the Susan Lenox who returned to Delancey Street at half-past five. A man is wandering, lost in a cave, is groping this way and that in absolute darkness, with flagging hope and fainting strength--has reached the point where he wonders at his own folly in keeping on moving--is persuading himself that the sensible thing would be to lie down and give up. He sees a gleam of light. Is it a reality? Is it an illusion--one more of the illusions that have lured him on and on? He does not know; but instantly a fire sweeps through him, warming his dying strength into vigor.
So it was with Susan.
The pariah class--the real pariah class--does not consist of merely the women formally put beyond the pale for violations of conventional morality and the men with the brand of thief or gambler upon them. Our social, our industrial system has made it far vaster. It includes almost the whole population--all those who sell body or brain or soul in an uncertain market for uncertain hire, to gain the day's food and clothing, the night's shelter. This vast mass floats hither and yon on the tides and currents of destiny. Now it halts, resting sluggishly in a dead calm; again it moves, sometimes slowly, sometimes under the lash of tempest. But it is ever the same vast inertia, with no particle of it possessing an aim beyond keeping afloat and alive. Susan had been an atom, a spray of weed, in this Sargasso Sea.
If you observe a huge, unwieldy crowd so closely packed that nothing can be done with it and it can do nothing with itself, you will note three different types. There are the entirely inert--and they make up most of the crowd. They do not resist; they helplessly move this way and that as the chance waves of motion prompt. Of this type is the overwhelming majority of the human race. Here and there in the mass you will see examples of a second type. These are individuals who are restive and resentful under the sense of helplessness and impotence. They struggle now gently, now furiously. They thrust backward or forward or to one side. They thresh about. But nothing comes of their efforts beyond a brief agitation, soon dying away in ripples. The inertia of the mass and their own lack of purpose conquer them. Occasionally one of these grows so angry and so violent that the surrounding inertia quickens into purpose--the purpose of making an end of this agitation which is serving only to increase the general discomfort. And the agitator is trampled down, disappears, perhaps silently, perhaps with groan or shriek. Continue to look at this crowd, so pitiful, so terrible, such a melancholy waste of incalculable power--continue to observe and you may chance upon an example of the third type. You are likely at first to confuse the third type with the second, for they seem to be much alike. Here and there, of the resentful strugglers, will be one whose resentment is intelligent. He struggles, but it is not aimless struggle. He has seen or suspected in a definite direction a point where he would be more or less free, perhaps entirely free. He realizes how he is hemmed in, realizes how difficult, how dangerous, will be his endeavor to get to that point. And he proceeds to try to minimize or overcome the difficulties, the dangers. He struggles now gently, now earnestly, now violently--but always toward his fixed objective. He is driven back, to one side, is almost overwhelmed. He causes commotions that threaten to engulf him, and must pause or retreat until they have calmed. You may have to watch him long before you discover that, where other strugglers have been aimless, he aims and resolves. And little by little he gains, makes progress toward his goal--and once in a long while one such reaches that goal. It is triumph, success.
Susan, young, inexperienced, dazed; now too despondent, now too hopeful; now too gentle and again too infuriated--Susan had been alternating between inertia and purposeless struggle. Brent had given her the thing she lacked--had given her a definite, concrete, tangible purpose. He had shown her the place where, if she should arrive, she might be free of that hideous slavery of the miserable mass; and he had inspired her with the hope that she could reach it.
And that was the Susan Lenox who came back to the little room in Delancey Street at half-past five.
Curiously, while she was thinking much about Brent, she was thinking even more about Burlingham--about their long talks on the show boat and in their wanderings in Louisville and Cincinnati. His philosophy, his teachings--the wisdom he had, but was unable to apply--began to come back to her. It was not strange that she should remember it, for she had admired him intensely and had listened to his every word, and she was then at the time when the memory takes its clearest and strongest impressions. The strangeness lay in the suddenness with which Burlingham, so long dead, suddenly came to life, changed from a sad and tender memory to a vivid possibility, advising her, helping her, urging her on.
Clara, dressed to go to dinner with her lover, was waiting to arrange about their meeting to make together the usual rounds in the evening. "I've got an hour before I'm due at the hospital," said Susan. "Let's go down to Kelly's for a drink."
While they were going and as they sat in the clean little back room of Kelly's well ordered and select corner saloon, Clara gave her all the news she had gathered in an afternoon of visits among their acquaintances--how, because of a neighborhood complaint, there was to be a fake raid on Gussie's opium joint at midnight; that Mazie had caught a frightful fever; and that Nettie was dying in Governeur of the stab in the stomach her lover had given her at a ball three nights before; that the police had raised the tariff for sporting houses, and would collect seventy-five and a hundred a month protection money where the charge had been twenty-five and fifty--the plea was that the reformers, just elected and hoping for one term only, were compelling a larger fund from vice than the old steady year-in-and-year-out ruling crowd. "And they may raise us to fifteen a week," said Clara, "though I doubt it. They'll not cut off their nose to spite their face. If they raised the rate for the streets they'd drive two-thirds of the girls back to the factories and sweat shops. You're not listening, Lorna. What's up?"
"Your fellow's not had a relapse?"
"Need some money? I can lend you ten. I did have twenty, but I gave Sallie and that little Jew girl who's her side partner ten for the bail bondsman. They got pinched last night for not paying up to the police. They've gone crazy about that prize fighter--at least, he thinks he is--that Joe O'Mara, and they're giving him every cent they make. It's funny about Sallie. She's a Catholic and goes to mass regular. And she keeps straight on Sunday--no money'll tempt her--I've seen it tried. Do you want the ten?"
"No. I've got plenty."
"We must look in at that Jolly Rovers' ball tonight. There'll be a lot of fellows with money there.
"We can sure pull off something pretty good. Anyhow, we'll have fun. But you don't care for the dances. Well, they are a waste of time. And because the men pay for a few bum drinks and dance with a girl, they don't want to give up anything more. How's she to live, I want to know?"
"Would you like to get out of this, Clara?" interrupted Susan, coming out of her absent-mindedness.
"Would I! But what's the use of talking?"
"But I mean, would you really?"
"Oh--if there was something better. But is there? I don't see how I'd be as well off, respectable. As I said to the rescue woman, what is there in it for a `reclaimed' girl, as they call it? When they ask a man to reform they can offer him something--and he can go on up and up. But not for girls. Nothing doing but charity and pity and the second table and the back door. I can make more money at this and have a better time, as long as my looks last. And I've turned down already a couple of chances to marry--men that wouldn't have looked at me if I'd been in a store or a factory or living out. I may marry."
"Don't do that," said Susan. "Marriage makes brutes of men, and slaves of women."
"You speak as if you knew."
"I do," said Susan, in a tone that forbade question.
"I ain't exactly stuck on the idea myself," pursued Clara. "And if I don't, why when my looks are gone, where am I worse off than I'd be at the same age as a working girl? If I have to get a job then, I can get it--and I'll not be broken down like the respectable women at thirty--those that work or those that slop round boozing and neglecting their children while their husbands work. Of course, there's chances against you in this business. But so there is in every business. Suppose I worked in a factory and lost a leg in the machinery, like that girl of Mantell, the bricklayer's? Suppose I get an awful disease--to hear some people talk you'd think there wasn't any chances of death or horrible diseases at respectable work. Why, how could anybody be worse off than if they got lung trouble and boils as big as your fist like those girls over in the tobacco factory?"
"You needn't tell me about work," said Susan. "The streets are full of wrecks from work--and the hospitals--and the graveyard over on the Island. You can always go to that slavery. But I mean a respectable life, with everything better."
"Has one of those swell women from uptown been after you?"
"No. This isn't a pious pipe dream."
"You sound like it. One of them swell silk smarties got at me when I was in the hospital with the fever. She was a bird--she was. She handed me a line of grand talk, and I, being sort of weak with sickness, took it in. Well, when she got right down to business, what did she want me to do? Be a dressmaker or a lady's maid. Me work twelve, fourteen, God knows how many hours--be too tired to have any fun--travel round with dead ones--be a doormat for a lot of cheap people that are tryin' to make out they ain't human like the rest of us. Me! And when I said, `No, thank you,' what do you think?"
"Did she offer to get you a good home in the country?" said Susan.
"That was it. The country! The nerve of her! But I called her bluff, all right, all right. I says to her, `Are you going to the country to live?' And she reared at me daring to question her, and said she wasn't. `You'd find it dead slow, wouldn't you?' says I. And she kind o' laughed and looked almost human. `Then,' says I, `no more am I going to the country. I'll take my chances in little old New York,' I says."
"I should think so!" exclaimed Susan.
"I'd like to be respectable, if I could afford it. But there's nothing in that game for poor girls unless they haven't got no looks to sell and have to sell the rest of themselves for some factory boss to get rich off of while they get poorer and weaker every day. And when they say `God' to me, I say, `Who's he? He must be somebody that lives up on Fifth Avenue. We ain't seen him down our way.'"
"I mean, go on the stage," resumed Susan.
"I wouldn't mind, if I could get in right. Everything in this world depends on getting in right. I was born four flights up in a tenement, and I've been in wrong ever since."
"I was in wrong from the beginning, too," said Susan, thoughtfully. "In wrong--that's it exactly." Clara's eyes again became eager with the hope of a peep into the mystery of Susan's origin. But Susan went on, "Yes, I've always been in wrong. Always."
"Oh, no," declared Clara. "You've got education--and manners--and ladylike instincts. I'm at home here. I was never so well off in my life. I'm, you might say, on my way up in the world. Most of us girls are--like the fellow that ain't got nothing to eat or no place to sleep and gets into jail--he's better off, ain't he? But you--you don't belong here at all."
"I belong anywhere--and everywhere--and nowhere," said Susan. "Yes, I belong here. I've got a chance uptown. If it pans out, I'll let you in."
Clara looked at her wistfully. Clara had a wicked temper when she was in liquor, and had the ordinary human proneness to lying, to mischievous gossip, and to utter laziness. The life she led, compelling cleanliness and neatness and a certain amount of thrift under penalty of instant ruin, had done her much good in saving her from going to pieces and becoming the ordinary sloven and drag on the energies of some man. "Lorna," she now said, "I do believe you like me a little." "More than that," Susan assured her. "You've saved me from being hard-hearted. I must go to the hospital. So long!"
"How about this evening?" asked Clara.
"I'm staying in. I've got something to do."
"Well--I may be home early--unless I go to the ball."
Susan was refused admittance at the hospital. Spenser, they said, had received a caller, had taxed his strength enough for the day. Nor would it be worth while to return in the morning. The same caller was coming again. Spenser had said she was to come in the afternoon. She received this cheerfully, yet not without a certain sense of hurt--which, however, did not last long.
When she was admitted to Spenser the following afternoon, she faced him guiltily--for the thoughts Brent had set to bubbling and boiling in her. And her guilt showed in the tone of her greeting, in the reluctance and forced intensity of her kiss and embrace. She had compressed into the five most receptive years of a human being's life an experience that was, for one of her intelligence and education, equal to many times five years of ordinary life. And this experience had developed her instinct for concealing her deep feelings into a fixed habit. But it had not made her a liar--had not robbed her of her fundamental courage and self-respect which made her shrink in disdain from deceiving anyone who seemed to her to have the right to frankness. Spenser, she felt as always, had that right--this, though he had not been frank with her; still, that was a matter for his own conscience and did not affect her conscience as to what was courageous and honorable toward him. So, had he been observing, he must have seen that something was wrong. But he was far too excited about his own affairs to note her.
"My luck's turned!" cried he, after kissing her with enthusiasm. "Fitzalan has sent Jack Sperry to me, and we're to collaborate on a play. I told you Fitz was the real thing."
Susan turned hastily away to hide her telltale face.
"Who's Sperry?" asked she, to gain time for self-control.
"Oh, He's a play-smith--and a bear at it. He has knocked together half a dozen successes. He'll supply the trade experience that I lack, and Fitzalan will be sure to put on our piece."
"You're a lot better--aren't you?"
"Better? I'm almost well."
He certainly had made a sudden stride toward health. By way of doing something progressive he had had a shave, and that had restored the look of youth to his face--or, rather, had uncovered it. A strong, handsome face it was--much handsomer than Brent's--and with the subtle, moral weakness of optimistic vanity well concealed. Yes, much handsomer than Brent's, which wasn't really handsome at all--yet was superbly handsomer, also--the handsomeness that comes from being through and through a somebody. She saw again why she had cared for Rod so deeply; but she also saw why she could not care again, at least not in that same absorbed, self-effacing way. Physical attraction--yes. And a certain remnant of the feeling of comradeship, too. But never again utter belief, worshipful admiration--or any other degree of belief or admiration beyond the mild and critical. She herself had grown. Also, Brent's penetrating and just analysis of Spenser had put clearly before her precisely what he was--precisely what she herself had been vaguely thinking of him.
As he talked on and on of Sperry's visit and the new projects, she listened, looking at his character in the light Brent had turned upon it--Brent who had in a few brief moments turned such floods of light upon so many things she had been seeing dimly or not at all. Moderate prosperity and moderate adversity bring out the best there is in a man; the extreme of either brings out his worst. The actual man is the best there is in him, and not the worst, but it is one of the tragedies of life that those who have once seen his worst ever afterward have sense of it chiefly, and cannot return to the feeling they had for him when his worst was undreamed of. "I'm not in love with Brent," thought Susan. "But having known him, I can't ever any more care for Rod. He seems small beside Brent--and he is small."
Spenser in his optimistic dreaming aloud had reached a point where it was necessary to assign Susan a role in his dazzling career. "You'll not have to go on the stage," said he. "I'll look out for you. By next week Sperry and I will have got together a scenario for the play and when Sperry reads it to Fitzalan we'll get an advance of at least five hundred. So you and I will take a nice room and bath uptown--as a starter--and we'll be happy again--happier than before."
"No, I'm going to support myself," said Susan promptly.
"Trash!" cried Spenser, smiling tenderly at her. "Do you suppose I'd allow you to mix up in stage life? You've forgotten how jealous I am of you. You don't know what I've suffered since I've been here sick, brooding over what you're doing, to----"
She laid her fingers on his lips. "What's the use of fretting about anything that has to be?" said she, smilingly. "I'm going to support myself. You may as well make up your mind to it."
"Plenty of time to argue that out," said he, and his tone forecast his verdict on the arguing. And he changed the subject by saying, "I see you still cling to your fad of looking fascinating about the feet. That was one of the reasons I never could trust you. A girl with as charming feet and ankles as you have, and so much pride in getting them up well, simply cannot be trustworthy." He laughed. "No, you were made to be taken care of, my dear."
She did not press the matter. She had taken her stand; that was enough for the present. After an hour with him, she went home to get herself something to eat on her gas stove. Spenser's confidence in the future did not move her even to the extent of laying out half a dollar on a restaurant dinner. Women have the habit of believing in the optimistic outpourings of egotistical men, and often hasten men along the road to ruin by proclaiming this belief and acting upon it. But not intelligent women of experience; that sort of woman, by checking optimistic husbands, fathers, sons, lovers, has even put off ruin--sometimes until death has had the chance to save the optimist from the inevitable consequence of his folly. When she finished her chop and vegetable, instead of lighting a cigarette and lingering over a cup of black coffee she quickly straightened up and began upon the play Brent had given her. She had read it several times the night before, and again and again during the day. But not until now did she feel sufficiently calmed down from her agitations of thought and emotion to attack the play understandingly.
Thanks to defective education the most enlightened of us go through life much like a dim-sighted man who has no spectacles. Almost the whole of the wonderful panorama of the universe is unseen by us, or, if seen, is but partially understood or absurdly misunderstood. When it comes to the subtler things, the things of science and art, rarely indeed is there anyone who has the necessary training to get more than the crudest, most imperfect pleasure from them. What little training we have is so limping that it spoils the charm of mystery with which savage ignorance invests the universe from blade of grass to star, and does not put in place of that broken charm the profounder and loftier joy of understanding. To take for illustration the most widely diffused of all the higher arts and sciences, reading: How many so-called "educated" people can read understandingly even a novel, the form of literature designed to make the least demand upon the mind? People say they have read, but, when questioned, they show that they have got merely a glimmering of the real action, the faintest hint of style and characterization, have perhaps noted some stray epigram which they quote with evidently faulty grasp of its meaning.
When the thing read is a play, almost no one can get from it a coherent notion of what it is about. Most of us have nothing that can justly be called imagination; our early training at home and at school killed in the shoot that finest plant of the mind's garden. So there is no ability to fill in the picture which the dramatic author draws in outline. Susan had not seen "Cavalleria Rusticana" either as play or as opera. But when she and Spenser were together in Forty-fourth Street, she had read plays and had dreamed over them; the talk had been almost altogether of plays--of writing plays, of constructing scenes, of productions, of acting, of all the many aspects of the theater. Spenser read scenes to her, got her to help him with criticism, and she was present when he went over his work with Drumley, Riggs, Townsend and the others. Thus, reading a play was no untried art to her.
She read "Cavalleria" through slowly, taking about an hour to it. She saw now why Brent had given it to her as the primer lesson--the simple, elemental story of a peasant girl's ruin under promise of marriage; of her lover's wearying of one who had only crude physical charm; of his being attracted by a young married woman, gay as well as pretty, offering the security in intrigue that an unmarried woman could not offer. Such a play is at once the easiest and the hardest to act--the easiest because every audience understands it perfectly and supplies unconsciously almost any defect in the acting; the hardest because any actor with the education necessary to acting well finds it next to impossible to divest himself or herself of the sophistications of education and get back to the elemental animal.
Santuzza or Lola? Susan debated. Santuzza was the big and easy part; Lola, the smaller part, was of the kind that is usually neglected. But Susan saw possibilities in the character of the woman who won Turiddu away--the triumphant woman. The two women represented the two kinds of love--the love that is serious, the love that is light. And experience had taught her why it is that human nature soon tires of intensity, turns to frivolity. She felt that, if she could act, she would try to show that not Turiddu's fickleness nor his contempt of the woman who had yielded, but Santuzza's sad intensity and Lola's butterfly gayety had cost Santuzza her lover and her lover his life. So, it was not Santuzza's but Lola's first entrance that she studied.
In the next morning's mail, under cover addressed "Miss Susan Lenox, care of Miss Lorna Sackville," as she had written it for Brent, came the promised check for forty dollars. It was signed John P. Garvey, Secretary, and was inclosed with a note bearing the same signature:
Herewith I send you a check for forty dollars for the first week's salary under your arrangement with Mr. Brent. No receipt is necessary. Until further notice a check for the same amount will be mailed you each Thursday. Unless you receive notice to the contrary, please call as before, at three o'clock next Wednesday.
It made her nervous to think of those five days before she should see Brent. He had assured her he would expect nothing from her; but she felt she must be able to show him that she had not been wasting her time--his time, the time for which he was paying nearly six dollars a day. She must work every waking hour, except the two hours each day at the hospital. She recalled what Brent had said about the advantage of being contented alone--and how everything worth doing must be done in solitude. She had never thought about her own feelings as to company and solitude, as it was not her habit to think about herself. But now she realized how solitary she had been, and how it had bred in her habits of thinking and reading--and how valuable these habits would be to her in her work. There was Rod, for example. He hated being alone, must have someone around even when he was writing; and he had no taste for order or system. She understood why it was so hard for him to stick at anything, to put anything through to the finish. With her fondness for being alone, with her passion for reading and thinking about what she read, surely she ought soon to begin to accomplish something--if there was any ability in her.
She found Rod in higher spirits. Several ideas for his play had come to him; he already saw it acted, successful, drawing crowded houses, bringing him in anywhere from five hundred to a thousand a week. She was not troubled hunting for things to talk about with him--she, who could think of but one thing and that a secret from him. He talked his play, a steady stream with not a seeing glance at her or a question about her. She watched the little clock at the side of the bed. At the end of an hour to the minute, she interrupted him in the middle of a sentence. "I must go now," said she, rising.
"Sit down," he cried. "You can stay all day. The doctor says it will do me good to have you to talk with. And Sperry isn't coming until tomorrow."
"I can't do it," said she. "I must go."
He misunderstood her avoiding glance. "Now, Susie--sit down there," commanded he. "We've got plenty of money. You--you needn't bother about it any more."
"We're not settled yet," said she. "Until we are, I'd not dare take the risk." She was subtly adroit by chance, not by design.
"Risk!" exclaimed he angrily. "There's no risk. I've as good as got the advance money. Sit down."
She hesitated. "Don't be angry," pleaded she in a voice that faltered. "But I must go."
Into his eyes came the gleam of distrust and jealousy. "Look at me," he ordered.
With some difficulty she forced her eyes to meet his.
"Have you got a lover?"
"Then where do you get the money we're living on?" He counted on her being too humiliated to answer in words. Instead of the hanging head and burning cheeks he saw clear, steady eyes, heard a calm, gentle and dignified voice say:
"In the streets."
His eyes dropped and a look of abject shame made his face pitiable. "Good Heavens," he muttered.
"How low we are!"
"We've been doing the best we could," said she simply.
"Isn't there any decency anywhere in you?" he flashed out, eagerly seizing the chance to forget his own shame in contemplating her greater degradation.
She looked out of the window. There was something terrible in the calmness of her profile. She finally said in an even, pensive voice:
"You have been intimate with a great many women, Rod. But you have never got acquainted with a single one."
He laughed good-humoredly. "Oh, yes, I have. I've learned that `every woman is at heart a rake,' as Mr. Jingle Pope says."
She looked at him again, her face now curiously lighted by her slow faint smile. "Perhaps they showed you only what they thought you'd be able to appreciate," she suggested.
He took this as evidence of her being jealous of him. "Tell me, Susan, did you leave me--in Forty-fourth Street--because you thought or heard I wasn't true to you?"
"What did Drumley tell you?"
"I asked him, as you said in your note. He told me he knew no reason."
So Drumley had decided it was best Rod should not know why she left. Well, perhaps--probably--Drumley was right. But there was no reason why he shouldn't know the truth now. "I left," said she, "because I saw we were bad for each other."
This amused him. She saw that he did not believe. It wounded her, but she smiled carelessly. Her smile encouraged him to say: "I couldn't quite make up my mind whether the reason was jealousy or because you had the soul of a shameless woman. You see, I know human nature, and I know that a woman who once crosses the line never crosses back. I'll always have to watch you, my dear. But somehow I like it. I guess you have--you and I have--a rotten streak in us. We were brought up too strictly. That always makes one either too firm or too loose. I used to think I liked good women. But I don't. They bore me. That shows I'm rotten."
"Or that your idea of what's good is--is mistaken."
"You don't pretend that you haven't done wrong?" cried Rod.
"I might have done worse," replied she. "I might have wronged others. No, Rod, I can't honestly say I've ever felt wicked."
"Why, what brought you here?"
She reflected a moment, then smiled. "Two things brought me down," said she. "In the first place, I wasn't raised right. I was raised as a lady instead of as a human being. So I didn't know how to meet the conditions of life. In the second place--" her smile returned, broadened--"I was too--too what's called `good.'"
"Pity about you!" mocked he.
"Being what's called good is all very well if you're independent or if you've got a husband or a father to do life's dirty work for you--or, perhaps, if you happen to be in some profession like preaching or teaching--though I don't believe the so-called `goodness' would let you get very far even as a preacher. In most lines, to practice what we're taught as children would be to go to the bottom like a stone. You know this is a hard world, Rod. It's full of men and women fighting desperately for food and clothes and a roof to cover them--fighting each other. And to get on you've got to have the courage and the indifference to your fellow beings that'll enable you to do it."
"There's a lot of truth in that," admitted Spenser. "If I'd not been such a `good fellow,' as they call it--a fellow everybody liked--if I'd been like Brent, for instance--Brent, who never would have any friends, who never would do anything for anybody but himself, who hadn't a thought except for his career--why, I'd be where he is."
It was at the tip of Susan's tongue to say, "Yes--strong--able to help others--able to do things worth while." But she did not speak.
Rod went on: "I'm not going to be a fool any longer. I'm going to be too busy to have friends or to help people or to do anything but push my own interests."
Susan, indifferent to being thus wholly misunderstood, was again moving toward the door. "I'll be back this evening, as usual," said she.
Spenser's face became hard and lowering: "You're going to stay here now, or you're not coming back," said he. "You can take your choice. Do you want me to know you've got the soul of a streetwalker?"
She stood at the foot of the bed, gazing at the wall above his head. "I must earn our expenses until we're safe," said she, once more telling a literal truth that was yet a complete deception.
"Why do you fret me?" exclaimed he. "Do you want me to be sick again?"
"Suppose you didn't get the advance right away," urged she.
"I tell you I shall get it! And I won't have you--do as you are doing. If you go, you go for keeps."
She seated herself. "Do you want me to read or take dictation?"
His face expressed the satisfaction small people find in small successes at asserting authority. "Don't be angry," said he. "I'm acting for your good. I'm saving you from yourself."
"I'm not angry," replied she, her strange eyes resting upon him.
He shifted uncomfortably. "Now what does that look mean?" he demanded with an uneasy laugh.
She smiled, shrugged her shoulders.
Sperry--small and thin, a weather-beaten, wooden face suggesting Mr. Punch, sly keen eyes, theater in every tone and gesture Sperry pushed the scenario hastily to completion and was so successful with Fitzalan that on Sunday afternoon he brought two hundred and fifty dollars, Spenser's half of the advance money.
"Didn't I tell you!" said Spenser to Susan, in triumph. "We'll move at once. Go pack your traps and put them in a carriage, and by the time you're back here Sperry and the nurses will have me ready."
It was about three when Susan got to her room. Clara heard her come in and soon appeared, bare feet in mules, hair hanging every which way. Despite the softening effect of the white nightdress and of the framing of abundant hair, her face was hard and coarse. She had been drunk on liquor and on opium the night before, and the effects were wearing off. As she was only twenty years old, the hard coarse look would withdraw before youth in a few hours; it was there only temporarily as a foreshadowing of what Clara would look like in five years or so.
"Hello, Lorna," said she. "Gee, what a bun my fellow and I had on last night! Did you hear us scrapping when we came in about five o'clock?"
"No," replied Susan. "I was up late and had a lot to do, and was kept at the hospital all day. I guess I must have fallen asleep."
"He gave me an awful beating," pursued Clara. "But I got one good crack at him with a bottle." She laughed. "I don't think he'll be doing much flirting till his cheek heals up. He looks a sight!" She opened her nightdress and showed Susan a deep blue-black mark on her left breast. "I wonder if I'll get cancer from that?" said she. "It'd be just my rotten luck. I've heard of several cases of it lately, and my father kicked my mother there, and she got cancer. Lord, how she did suffer!"
Susan shivered, turned her eyes away. Her blood surged with joy that she had once more climbed up out of this deep, dark wallow where the masses of her fellow beings weltered in darkness and drunkenness and disease--was up among the favored ones who, while they could not entirely escape the great ills of life, at least had the intelligence and the means to mitigate them. How fortunate that few of these unhappy ones had the imagination to realize their own wretchedness! "I don't care what becomes of me," Clara was saying. "What is there in it for me? I can have a good time only as long as my looks last--and that's true of every woman, ain't it? What's a woman but a body? Ain't I right?"
"That's why I'm going to stop being a woman as soon as ever I can," said Susan.
"Why, you're packing up!" cried Clara.
"Yes. My friend's well enough to be moved. We're going to live uptown."
Clara dropped into a chair and began to weep. "I'll miss you something fierce!" sobbed she. "You're the only friend in the world I give a damn for, or that gives a damn for me. I wish to God I was like you. You don't need anybody."
"Oh, yes, I do, dear," cried Susan.
"But, I mean, you don't lean on anybody. I don't mean you're hard-hearted--for you ain't. You've pulled me and a dozen other girls out of the hole lots of times. But you're independent. Can't you take me along? I can drop that bum across the hall. I don't give a hoot for him. But a girl's got to make believe she cares for somebody or she'd blow her brains out."
"I can't take you along, but I'm going to come for you as soon as I'm on my feet," said Susan. "I've got to get up myself first. I've learned at least that much."
"Oh, you'll forget all about me."
"No," said Susan.
And Clara knew that she would not. Moaned Clara, "I'm not fit to go. I'm only a common streetwalker. You belong up there. You're going back to your own. But I belong here. I wish to God I was like most of the people down here, and didn't have any sense. No wonder you used to drink so! I'm getting that way, too. The only people that don't hit the booze hard down here are the muttonheads who don't know nothing and can't learn nothing. . . . I used to be contented. But somehow, being with you so much has made me dissatisfied."
"That means you're on your way up," said Susan, busy with her packing.
"It would, if I had sense enough. Oh, it's torment to have sense enough to see, and not sense enough to do!"
"I'll come for you soon," said Susan. "You're going up with me."
Clara watched her for some time in silence. "You're sure you're going to win?" said she, at last.
"Sure," replied Susan.
"Oh, you can't be as sure as that."
"Yes, but I can," laughed she. "I'm done with foolishness. I've made up my mind to get up in the world--with my self-respect if possible; if not, then without it. I'm going to have everything--money, comfort, luxury, pleasure. Everything!" And she dropped a folded skirt emphatically upon the pile she had been making, and gave a short, sharp nod. "I was taught a lot of things when I was little--things about being sweet and unselfish and all that. They'd be fine, if the world was Heaven. But it isn't."
"Not exactly," said Clara.
"Maybe they're fine, if you want to get to Heaven," continued Susan. "But I'm not trying to get to Heaven. I'm trying to live on earth. I don't like the game, and I don't like its rules. But--it's the only game, and I can't change the rules. So I'm going to follow them--at least, until I get what I want."
"Do you mean to say you've got any respect for yourself?" said Clara. "I haven't. And I don't see how any girl in our line can have."
"I thought I hadn't," was Susan's reply, "until I talked with--with someone I met the other day. If you slipped and fell in the mud--or were thrown into it--you wouldn't say, `I'm dirty through and through. I can never get clean again'--would you?"
"But that's different," objected Clara.
"Not a bit," declared Susan. "If you look around this world, you'll see that everybody who ever moved about at all has slipped and fallen in the mud--or has been pushed in."
"Mostly pushed in."
"Mostly pushed in," assented Susan. "And those that have good sense get up as soon as they can, and wash as much of the mud off as'll come off--maybe all--and go on. The fools--they worry about the mud. But not I--not any more!. . . And not you, my dear--when I get you uptown."
Clara was now looking on Susan's departure as a dawn of good luck for herself. She took a headache powder, telephoned for a carriage, and helped carry down the two big packages that contained all Susan's possessions worth moving. And they kissed each other good-by with smiling faces. Susan did not give Clara, the loose-tongued, her new address; nor did Clara, conscious of her own weakness, ask for it.
"Don't put yourself out about me," cried Clara in farewell. "Get a good tight grip yourself, first."
"That's advice I need," answered Susan. "Good-by. Soon--soon!"
The carriage had to move slowly through those narrow tenement streets, so thronged were they with the people swarmed from hot little rooms into the open to try to get a little air that did not threaten to burn and choke as it entered the lungs. Susan's nostrils were filled with the stenches of animal and vegetable decay--stenches descending in heavy clouds from the open windows of the flats and from the fire escapes crowded with all manner of rubbish; stenches from the rotting, brimful garbage cans; stenches from the groceries and butcher shops and bakeries where the poorest qualities of food were exposed to the contamination of swarms of disgusting fat flies, of mangy, vermin-harassed children and cats and dogs; stenches from the never washed human bodies, clad in filthy garments and drawn out of shape by disease and toil. Sore eyes, scrofula, withered arm or leg, sagged shoulder, hip out of joint--There, crawling along the sidewalk, was the boy whose legs had been cut off by the street car; and the stumps were horribly ulcered. And there at the basement window drooled and cackled the fat idiot girl whose mother sacrificed everything always to dress her freshly in pink. What a world!--where a few people such a very few!--lived in health and comfort and cleanliness--and the millions lived in disease and squalor, ignorant, untouched of civilization save to wear its cast-off clothes and to eat its castaway food and to live in its dark noisome cellars!--And to toil unceasingly to make for others the good things of which they had none themselves! It made her heartsick--the sadder because nothing could be done about it. Stay and help? As well stay to put out a conflagration barehanded and alone.
As the carriage reached wider Second Avenue, the horses broke into a trot. Susan drew a long breath of the purer air--then shuddered as she saw the corner where the dive into which the cadet had lured her flaunted its telltale awnings. Lower still her spirits sank when she was passing, a few blocks further on, the music hall. There, too, she had had a chance, had let hope blaze high. And she was going forward--into--the region where she had been a slave to Freddie Palmer--no, to the system of which he was a slave no less than she----
"I must be strong! I must!" Susan said to herself, and there was desperation in the gleam of her eyes, in the set of her chin. "This time I will fight! And I feel at last that I can."
But her spirits soared no more that day.