Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall by David Graham Phillips
Spenser had time and thought for his play only. He no longer tormented himself with jealousy of the abilities and income and fame of Brent and the other successful writers for the stage; was not he about to equal them, probably to surpass them? As a rule, none of the mean emotions is able to thrive--unless it has the noxious vapors from disappointment and failure to feed upon. Spenser, in spirits and in hope again, was content with himself. Jealousy of Brent about Susan had been born of dissatisfaction with himself as a failure and envy of Brent as a success; it died with that dissatisfaction and that envy. His vanity assured him that while there might be possibly--ways in which he was not without rivals, certainly where women were concerned he simply could not be equaled; the woman he wanted he could have--and he could hold her as long as he wished. The idea that Susan would give a sentimental thought to a man "old enough to be her father"--Brent was forty-one--was too preposterous to present itself to his mind. She loved the handsome, fascinating, youthful Roderick Spenser; she would soon be crazy about him.
Rarely does it occur to a man to wonder what a woman is thinking. During courtship very young men attribute intellect and qualities of mystery and awe to the woman they love. But after men get an insight into the mind of woman and discover how trivial are the matters that of necessity usually engage it, they become skeptical about feminine mentality; they would as soon think of speculating on what profundities fill the brain of the kitten playing with a ball as of seeking a solution of the mystery behind a woman's fits of abstraction. However, there was in Susan's face, especially in her eyes, an expression so unusual, so arresting that Spenser, self-centered and convinced of woman's intellectual deficiency though he was, did sometimes inquire what she was thinking about. He asked this question at breakfast the morning after that second visit to Brent.
"Was I thinking?" she countered.
"You certainly were not listening. You haven't a notion what I was talking about."
"About your play."
"Of course. You know I talk nothing else," laughed he. "I must bore you horribly."
"No, indeed," protested she.
"No, I suppose not. You're not bored because you don't listen."
He was cheerful about it. He talked merely to arrange his thoughts, not because he expected Susan to understand matters far above one whom nature had fashioned and experience had trained to minister satisfyingly to the physical and sentimental needs of man. He assumed that she was as worshipful before his intellect as in the old days. He would have been even more amazed than enraged had he known that she regarded his play as mediocre claptrap, false to life, fit only for the unthinking, sloppily sentimental crowd that could not see the truth about even their own lives, their own thoughts and actions.
"There you go again!" cried he, a few minutes later. "What are you thinking about? I forgot to ask how you got on with Brent. Poor chap--he's had several failures in the past year. He must be horribly cut up. They say he's written out. What does he think he's trying to get at with you?"
"Acting, as I told you," replied Susan. She felt ashamed for him, making this pitiable exhibition of patronizing a great man.
"Sperry tells me he has had that twist in his brain for a long time--that he has tried out a dozen girls or more--drops them after a few weeks or months. He has a regular system about it--runs away abroad, stops the pay after a month or so."
"Well, the forty a week's clear gain while it lasts," said Susan. She tried to speak lightly. But she felt hurt and uncomfortable. There had crept into her mind one of those disagreeable ideas that skurry into some dusky corner to hide, and reappear from time to time making every fit of the blues so much the sadder and aggravating despondency toward despair.
"Oh, I didn't mean to suggest that you wouldn't succeed," Spenser hastened to apologize with more or less real kindliness. "Sperry says Brent has some good ideas about acting. So, you'll learn something--maybe enough to enable me to put you in a good position--if Brent gets tired and if you still want to be independent, as you call it."
"I hope so," said Susan absently.
Spenser was no more absorbed in his career than she in hers; only, she realized how useless it would be to try to talk it to him--that he would not give her so much as ears in an attitude of polite attention. If he could have looked into her head that morning and seen what thoughts were distracting her from hearing about the great play, he would have been more amused and disgusted than ever with feminine frivolity of mind and incapacity in serious matters. For, it so happened that at the moment Susan was concentrating on a new dress. He would have laughed in the face of anyone saying to him that this new dress was for Susan in the pursuit of her scheme of life quite as weighty a matter, quite as worthy of the most careful attention, as was his play for him. Yet that would have been the literal truth. Primarily man's appeal is to the ear, woman's to the eye--the reason, by the way, why the theater--preeminently the place to see--tends to be dominated by woman.
Susan had made up her mind not only that she would rapidly improve herself in every way, but also how she would go about the improving. She saw that, for a woman at least, dress is as much the prime essential as an arresting show window for a dealer in articles that display well. She knew she was far from the goal of which she dreamed--the position where she would no longer be a woman primarily but a personage. Dress would not merely increase her physical attractiveness; it would achieve the far more important end of gaining her a large measure of consideration. She felt that Brent, even Brent, dealer in actualities and not to be fooled by pretenses, would in spite of himself change his opinion of her if she went to him dressed less like a middle class working girl, more like the woman of the upper classes. At best, using all the advantages she had, she felt there was small enough chance of her holding his interest; for she could not make herself believe that he was not deceiving himself about her. However, to strengthen herself in every way with him was obviously the wisest effort she could make. So, she must have a new dress for the next meeting, one which would make him better pleased to take her out to dinner. True, if she came in rags, he would not be disturbed--for he had nothing of the snob in him. But at the same time, if she came dressed like a woman of his own class, he would be impressed. "He's a man, if he is a genius," reasoned she.
Vital though the matter was, she calculated that she did not dare spend more than twenty-five dollars on this toilet. She must put by some of her forty a week; Brent might give her up at any time, and she must not be in the position of having to choose immediately between submitting to the slavery of the kept woman as Spenser's dependent and submitting to the costly and dangerous and repulsive freedom of the woman of the streets. Thus, to lay out twenty-five dollars on a single costume was a wild extravagance. She thought it over from every point of view; she decided that she must take the risk.
Late in the afternoon she walked for an hour in Fifth Avenue. After some hesitation she ventured into the waiting- and dressing-rooms of several fashionable hotels. She was in search of ideas for the dress, which must be in the prevailing fashion. She had far too good sense and good taste to attempt to be wholly original in dress; she knew that the woman who understands her business does not try to create a fashion but uses the changing and capricious fashion as the means to express a constant and consistent style of her own. She appreciated her limitations in such matters--how far she as yet was from the knowledge necessary to forming a permanent and self-expressive style. She was prepared to be most cautious in giving play to an individual taste so imperfectly educated as hers had necessarily been.
She felt that she had the natural instinct for the best and could recognize it on sight--an instinct without which no one can go a step forward in any of the arts. She had long since learned to discriminate among the vast masses of offering, most of them tasteless or commonplace, to select the rare and few things that have merit. Thus, she had always stood out in the tawdrily or drearily or fussily dressed throngs, had been a pleasure to the eyes even of those who did not know why they were pleased. On that momentous day, she finally saw a woman dressed in admirable taste who was wearing a costume simple enough for her to venture to think of copying the main points. She walked several blocks a few yards behind this woman, then hurried ahead of her, turned and walked toward her to inspect the front of the dress. She repeated this several times between the St. Regis and Sherry's. The woman soon realized, as women always do, what the girl in the shirtwaist and short skirt was about. But she happened to be a good-natured person, and smiled pleasantly at Susan, and got in return a smile she probably did not soon forget.
The next morning Susan went shopping. She had it in mind to get the materials for a costume of a certain delicate shade of violet. A dress of that shade, and a big hat trimmed in tulle to match or to harmonize, with a bunch of silk violets fastened in the tulle in a certain way.
Susan knew she had good looks, knew what was becoming to her darkly and softly fringed violet eyes, pallid skin, to her rather tall figure, slender, not voluptuous yet suggesting voluptuousness. She could see herself in that violet costume. But when she began to look at materials she hesitated. The violet would be beautiful; but it was not a wise investment for a girl with few clothes, with but one best dress. She did not give it up definitely, however, until she came upon a sixteen-yard remnant of soft gray China crepe. Gray was a really serviceable color for the best dress of a girl of small means. And this remnant, certainly enough for a dress, could be had for ten dollars, where violet China crepe of the shade she wanted would cost her a dollar a yard. She took the remnant.
She went to the millinery department and bought a large hat frame. It was of a good shape and she saw how it could be bent to suit her face. She paid fifty cents for this, and two dollars and seventy cents for four yards of gray tulle. She found that silk flowers were beyond her means; so she took a bunch of presentable looking violets of the cheaper kind at two dollars and a half. She happened to pass a counter whereon were displayed bargains in big buckles and similar odds and ends of steel and enamel. She fairly pounced upon a handsome gray buckle with violet enamel, which cost but eighty-nine cents. For a pair of gray suede ties she paid two dollars; for a pair of gray silk stockings, ninety cents. These matters, with some gray silk net for the collar, gray silk for a belt, linings and the like, made her total bill twenty-three dollars and sixty-seven cents. She returned home content and studied "Cavalleria" until her purchases arrived.
Spenser was out now, was working all day and in the evenings at Sperry's office high up in the Times Building. So, Susan had freedom for her dressmaking operations. To get them off her mind that she might work uninterruptedly at learning Lola's part in "Cavalleria," she toiled all Saturday, far into Sunday morning, was astir before Spenser waked, finished the dress soon after breakfast and the hat by the middle of the afternoon. When Spenser returned from Sperry's office to take her to dinner, she was arrayed. For the first time he saw her in fashionable attire and it was really fashionable, for despite all her disadvantages she, who had real and rare capacity for learning, had educated herself well in the chief business of woman the man-catcher in her years in New York.
He stood rooted to the threshold. It would have justified a vanity less vigorous than Susan or any other normal human being possessed, to excite such a look as was in his eyes. He drew a long breath by way of breaking the spell over speech.
"You are beautiful!" he exclaimed.
And his eyes traveled from the bewitching hat, set upon her head coquettishly yet without audacity, to the soft crepe dress, its round collar showing her perfect throat, its graceful lines subtly revealing her alluring figure, to the feet that men always admired, whatever else of beauty or charm they might fail to realize.
"How you have grown!" he ejaculated. Then, "How did you do it?"
"By all but breaking myself."
"It's worth whatever it cost. If I had a dress suit, we'd go to Sherry's or the Waldorf. I'm willing to go, without the dress suit."
"No. I've got everything ready for dinner at home."
"Then, why on earth did you dress? To give me a treat?"
"Oh, I hate to go out in a dress I've never worn. And a woman has to wear a hat a good many times before she knows how."
"What a lot of fuss you women do make about clothes." "You seem to like it, all the same."
"Of course. But it's a trifle."
"It has got many women a good provider for life. And not paying attention to dress or not knowing how has made most of the old maids. Are those things trifles?"
Spenser laughed and shifted his ground without any sense of having been pressed to do so. "Men are fools where women are concerned."
"Or women are wise where men are concerned."
"I guess they do know their business--some of them," he confessed. "Still, it's a silly business, you must admit."
"Nothing is silly that's successful," said Susan.
"Depends on what you mean by success," argued he.
"Success is getting what you want."
"Provided one wants what's worth while," said he.
"And what's worth while?" rejoined she. "Why, whatever one happens to want."
To avoid any possible mischance to the grande toilette he served the dinner and did the dangerous part of the clearing up. They went to the theater, Rod enjoying even more than she the very considerable admiration she got. When she was putting the dress away carefully that night, Rod inquired when he was to be treated again.
"Oh--I don't know," replied she. "Not soon."
She was too wise to tell him that the dress would not be worn again until Brent was to see it. The hat she took out of the closet from time to time and experimented with it, reshaping the brim, studying the different effects of different angles. It delighted Spenser to catch her at this "foolishness"; he felt so superior, and with his incurable delusion of the shallow that dress is an end, not merely a means, he felt more confident than ever of being able to hold her when he should have the money to buy her what her frivolous and feminine nature evidently craved beyond all else in the world. But----
When he bought a ready-to-wear evening suit, he made more stir about it than had Susan about her costume--this, when dress to him was altogether an end in itself and not a shrewd and useful means. He spent more time in admiring himself in it before the mirror, and looked at it, and at himself in it, with far more admiration and no criticism at all. Susan noted this--and after the manner of women who are wise or indifferent--or both--she made no comment.
At the studio floor of Brent's house the door of the elevator was opened for Susan by a small young man with a notably large head, bald and bulging. His big smooth face had the expression of extreme amiability that usually goes with weakness and timidity. "I am Mr. Brent's secretary, Mr. Garvey," he explained. And Susan--made as accurate as quick in her judgments of character by the opportunities and the necessities of her experience--saw that she had before her one of those nice feeble folk who either get the shelter of some strong personality as a bird hides from the storm in the thick branches of a great tree or are tossed and torn and ruined by life and exist miserably until rescued by death. She knew the type well; it had been the dominant type in her surroundings ever since she left Sutherland. Indeed, is it not the dominant type in the whole ill-equipped, sore-tried human race? And does it not usually fail of recognition because so many of us who are in fact weak, look--and feel--strong because we are sheltered by inherited money or by powerful friends or relatives or by chance lodgment in a nook unvisited of the high winds of life in the open? Susan liked Garvey at once; they exchanged smiles and were friends.
She glanced round the room. At the huge open window Brent, his back to her, was talking earnestly to a big hatchet-faced man with a black beard. Even as Susan glanced Brent closed the interview; with an emphatic gesture of fist into palm he exclaimed, "And that's final. Good-by." The two men came toward her, both bowed, the hatchet-faced man entered the elevator and was gone. Brent extended his hand with a smile.
"You evidently didn't come to work today," said he with a careless, fleeting glance at the grande toilette. "But we are prepared against such tricks. Garvey, take her down to the rear dressing-room and have the maid lay her out a simple costume." To Susan, "Be as quick as you can." And he seated himself at his desk and was reading and signing letters.
Susan, crestfallen, followed Garvey down the stairway. She had confidently expected that he would show some appreciation of her toilette. She knew she had never in her life looked so well. In the long glass in the dressing-room, while Garvey was gone to send the maid, she inspected herself again. Yes--never anything like so well. And Brent had noted her appearance only to condemn it. She was always telling herself that she wished him to regard her as a working woman, a pupil in stagecraft. But now that she had proof that he did so regard her, she was depressed, resentful. However, this did not last long. While she was changing to linen skirt and shirtwaist, she began to laugh at herself. How absurd she had been, thinking to impress this man who had known so many beautiful women, who must have been satiated long ago with beauty--she thinking to create a sensation in such a man, with a simple little costume of her own crude devising. She reappeared in the studio, laughter in her eyes and upon her lips. Brent apparently did not glance at her; yet he said, "What's amusing you?"
She confessed all, on one of her frequent impulses to candor--those impulses characteristic both of weak natures unable to exercise self-restraint and of strong natures, indifferent to petty criticism and misunderstanding, and absent from vain mediocrity, which always has itself--that is, appearances--on its mind. She described in amusing detail how she had planned and got together the costume how foolish his reception of it had made her feel. "I've no doubt you guessed what was in my head," concluded she. "You see everything."
"I did notice that you were looking unusually well, and that you felt considerably set up over it," said he. "But why not? Vanity's an excellent thing. Like everything else it's got to be used, not misused. It can help us to learn instead of preventing."
"I had an excuse for dressing up," she reminded him. "You said we were to dine together. I thought you wouldn't want there to be too much contrast between us. Next time I'll be more sensible."
"Dress as you like for the present," said he. "You can always change here. Later on dress will be one of the main things, of course. But not now. Have you learned the part?"
And they began. She saw at the far end of the room a platform about the height of a stage. He explained that Garvey, with the book of the play, would take the other parts in Lola's scenes, and sent them both to the stage. "Don't be nervous," Garvey said to her in an undertone. "He doesn't expect anything of you. This is simply to get started." But she could not suppress the trembling in her legs and arms, the hysterical contractions of her throat. However, she did contrive to go through the part--Garvey prompting. She knew she was ridiculous; she could not carry out a single one of the ideas of "business" which had come to her as she studied; she was awkward, inarticulate, panic-stricken.
"Rotten!" exclaimed Brent, when she had finished. "Couldn't be worse therefore, couldn't be better."
She dropped to a chair and sobbed hysterically.
"That's right--cry it out," said Brent. "Leave us alone, Garvey."
Brent walked up and down smoking until she lifted her head and glanced at him with a pathetic smile. "Take a cigarette," he suggested. "We'll talk it over. Now, we've got something to talk about."
She found relief from her embarrassment in the cigarette. "You can laugh at me now," she said. "I shan't mind. In fact, I didn't mind, though I thought I did. If I had, I'd not have let you see me cry."
"Don't think I'm discouraged," said Brent. "The reverse. You showed that you have nerve a very different matter from impudence. Impudence fails when it's most needed. Nerve makes one hang on, regardless. In such a panic as yours was, the average girl would have funked absolutely. You stuck it out. Now, you and I will try Lola's first entrance. No, don't throw away your cigarette. Lola might well come in smoking a cigarette." She did better. What Burlingham had once thoroughly drilled into her now stood her in good stead, and Brent's sympathy and enthusiasm gave her the stimulating sense that he and she were working together. They spent the afternoon on the one thing--Lola coming on, singing her gay song, her halt at sight of Santuzza and Turiddu, her look at Santuzza, at Turiddu, her greeting. for each. They tried it twenty different ways. They discussed what would have been in the minds of all three. They built up "business" for Lola, and for the two others to increase the significance of Lola's actions.
"As I've already told you," said he, "anyone with a voice and a movable body can learn to act. There's no question about your becoming a good actress. But it'll be some time before I can tell whether you can be what I hope--an actress who shows no sign that she's acting."
Susan showed the alarm she felt. "I'm afraid you'll find at the end that you've been wasting your time," said she.
"Put it straight out of your head," replied he. "I never waste time. To live is to learn. Already you've given me a new play--don't forget that. In a month I'll have it ready for us to use. Besides, in teaching you I teach myself. Hungry?"
"No--that is, yes. I hadn't thought of it, but I'm starved."
"This sort of thing gives one an appetite like a field hand." He accompanied her to the door of the rear dressing-room on the floor below. "Go down to the reception room when you're ready," said he, as he left her to go on to his own suite to change his clothes. "I'll be there."
The maid came immediately, drew a bath for her, afterward helped her to dress. It was Susan's first experience with a maid, her first realization how much time and trouble one saves oneself if free from the routine, menial things. And then and there a maid was set down upon her secret list of the luxurious comforts to which she would treat herself--when? The craving for luxury is always a part, usually a powerful part, of an ambitious temperament. Ambition is simply a variously manifested and variously directed impulse toward improvement--a discomfort so keen that it compels effort to change to a position less uncomfortable. There had never been a time when luxury had not attracted her. At the slightest opportunity she had always pushed out for luxuries--for better food, better clothing, more agreeable surroundings. Even in her worst hours of discouragement she had not really relaxed in the struggle against rags and dirt. And when moral horror had been blunted by custom and drink, physical horror had remained acute. For, human nature being a development upward through the physical to the spiritual, when a process of degeneration sets in, the topmost layers, the spiritual, wear away first--then those in which the spiritual is a larger ingredient than the material--then those in which the material is the larger--and last of all those that are purely material. As life educated her, as her intelligence and her knowledge grew, her appreciation of luxury had grown apace and her desire for it. With most human beings, the imagination is a heavy bird of feeble wing; it flies low, seeing only the things of the earth. When they describe heaven, it has houses of marble and streets of gold. Their pretense to sight of higher things is either sheer pretense or sight at second hand. Susan was of the few whose fancy can soar. She saw the earthy things; she saw the things of the upper regions also. And she saw the lower region from the altitudes of the higher--and in their perspective.
As she and Brent stood together on the sidewalk before his house, about to enter his big limousine, his smile told her that he had read her thought--her desire for such an automobile as her very own. "I can't help it," said she. "It's my nature to want these things."
"And to want them intelligently," said he. "Everybody wants, but only the few want intelligently--and they get. The three worst things in the world are sickness, poverty and obscurity. Your splendid health safeguards you against sickness. Your looks and your brains can carry you far away from the other two. Your one danger is of yielding to the temptation to become the wife or the mistress of some rich man. The prospect of several years of heart-breaking hard work isn't wildly attractive at twenty-two."
"You don't know me," said Susan--but the boast was uttered under her breath.
The auto rushed up to Delmonico's entrance, came to a halt abruptly yet gently. The attentiveness of the personnel, the staring and whispering of the people in the palm room showed how well known Brent was. There were several women--handsome women of what is called the New York type, though it certainly does not represent the average New York woman, who is poorly dressed in flimsy ready-made clothes and has the mottled skin that indicates bad food and too little sleep. These handsome women were dressed beautifully as well as expensively, in models got in--not from--Paris. One of them smiled sweetly at Brent, who responded, so Susan thought, rather formally. She felt dowdy in her home-made dress. All her pride in it vanished; she saw only its defects. And the gracefully careless manner of these women--the manners of those who feel sure of themselves--made her feel "green" and out of place. She was disgusted with the folly that had caused her to thrill with pleasure when his order to his chauffeur at his door told her she was actually to be taken to one of the restaurants in which she had wished to exhibit herself with him. She heartily wished she had insisted on going where she would have been as well dressed and as much at home as anyone there.
She lifted her eyes, to distract her mind from these depressing sensations. Brent was looking at her with that amused, mocking yet sympathetic expression which was most characteristic of him. She blushed furiously.
He laughed. "No, I'm not ashamed of your homemade dress," said he. "I don't care what is thought of me by people who don't give me any money. And, anyhow, you are easily the most unusual looking and the most tastefully dressed woman here. The rest of these women are doomed for life to commonplace obscurity. You----
"We'll see your name in letters of fire on the Broadway temples of fame."
"I know you're half laughing at me," said Susan. "But I feel a little better."
"Then I'm accomplishing my object. Let's not think about ourselves. That makes life narrow. Let's keep the thoughts on our work--on the big splendid dreams that come to us and invite us to labor and to dare."
And as they lingered over the satisfactory dinner he had ordered, they talked of acting--of the different roles of "Cavalleria" as types of fundamental instincts and actions--of how best to express those meanings--how to fill out the skeletons of the dramatist into personalities actual and vivid. Susan forgot where she was, forgot to be reserved with him. In her and Rod's happiest days she had never been free from the constraint of his and her own sense of his great superiority. With Brent, such trifles of the petty personal disappeared. And she talked more naturally than she had since a girl at her uncle's at Sutherland. She was amazed by the fountain that had suddenly gushed forth in her mind at the conjuring of Brent's sympathy. She did not recognize herself in this person so open to ideas, so eager to learn, so clear in the expression of her thoughts. Not since the Burlingham days had she spent so long a time with a man in absolute unconsciousness of sex.
They were interrupted by the intrusion of a fashionable young man with the expression of assurance which comes from the possession of wealth and the knowledge that money will buy practically everything and everybody. Brent received him so coldly that, after a smooth sentence or two, he took himself off stammering and in confusion. "I suppose," said Brent when he was gone, "that young ass hoped I would introduce him to you and invite him to sit. But you'll be tempted often enough in the next few years by rich men without my helping to put temptation in your way,"
"I've never been troubled thus far," laughed Susan.
"But you will, now. You have developed to the point where everyone will soon be seeing what it took expert eyes to see heretofore."
"If I am tempted," said Susan, "do you think I'll be able to resist?"
"I don't know," confessed Brent. "You have a strong sense of honesty, and that'll keep you at work with me for a while. Then----
"If you have it in you to be great, you'll go on. If you're merely the ordinary woman, a little more intelligent, you'll probably--sell out. All the advice I have to offer is, don't sell cheap. As you're not hampered by respectability or by inexperience, you needn't." He reflected a moment, then added, "And if you ever do decide that you don't care to go on with a career, tell me frankly. I may be able to help you in the other direction."
"Thank you," said Susan, her strange eyes fixed upon him.
"Why do you put so much gratitude in your tone and in your eyes?" asked he.
"I didn't put it there," she answered. "It--just came. And I was grateful because--well, I'm human, you know, and it was good to feel--that--that----"
"Go on," said he, as she hesitated.
"I'm afraid you'll misunderstand."
"What does it matter, if I do?"
"Well--you've acted toward me as if I were a mere machine that you were experimenting with."
"And so you are."
"I understand that. But when you offered to help me, if I happened to want to do something different from what you want me to do, it made me feel that you thought of me as a human being, too."
The expression of his unseeing eyes puzzled her. She became much embarrassed when he said, "Are you dissatisfied with Spenser? Do you want to change lovers? Are you revolving me as a possibility?"
"I haven't forgotten what you said," she protested.
"But a few words from me wouldn't change you from a woman into a sexless ambition."
An expression of wistful sadness crept into the violet-gray eyes, in contrast to the bravely smiling lips. She was thinking of her birth that had condemned her to that farmer Ferguson, full as much as of the life of the streets, when she said:
"I know that a man like you wouldn't care for a woman of my sort."
"If I were you," said he gently, "I'd not say those things about myself. Saying them encourages you to think them. And thinking them gives you a false point of view. You must learn to appreciate that you're not a sheltered woman, with reputation for virtue as your one asset, the thing that'll enable you to get some man to undertake your support. You are dealing with the world as a man deals with it. You must demand and insist that the world deal with you on that basis." There came a wonderful look of courage and hope into the eyes of Lorella's daughter.
"And the world will," he went on. "At least, the only part of it that's important to you--or really important in any way. The matter of your virtue or lack of it is of no more importance than is my virtue or lack of it."
"Do you really believe that way?" asked Susan, earnestly.
"It doesn't in the least matter whether I do or not," laughed he. "Don't bother about what I think--what anyone thinks--of you. The point here, as always, is that you believe it, yourself. There's no reason why a woman who is making a career should not be virtuous. She will probably not get far if she isn't more or less so. Dissipation doesn't help man or woman, especially the ruinous dissipation of license in passion. On the other hand, no woman can ever hope to make a career who persists in narrowing and cheapening herself with the notion that her virtue is her all. She'll not amount to much as a worker in the fields of action."
Susan reflected, sighed. "It's very, very hard to get rid of one's sex."
"It's impossible," declared he. "Don't try. But don't let it worry you, either."
"Everyone can't be as strong as you are--so absorbed in a career that they care for nothing else."
This amused him. With forearms on the edge of the table he turned his cigarette slowly round between his fingers, watching the smoke curl up from it. She observed that there was more than a light sprinkle of gray in his thick, carefully brushed hair. She was filled with curiosity as to the thoughts just then in that marvelous brain of his; nor did it lessen her curiosity to know that never would those thoughts be revealed to her. What women had he loved? What women had loved him? What follies had he committed? From how many sources he must have gathered his knowledge of human nature of--woman nature! And no doubt he was still gathering. What woman was it now?
When he lifted his glance from the cigarette, it was to call the waiter and get the bill. "I've a supper engagement," he said, "and it's nearly eleven o'clock."
"Eleven o'clock!" she exclaimed.
"Times does fly--doesn't it?--when a man and a woman, each an unexplored mystery to the other, are dining alone and talking about themselves."
"It was my fault," said Susan.
His quizzical eyes looked into hers--uncomfortably far.
She flushed. "You make me feel guiltier than I am," she protested, under cover of laughing glance and tone of raillery.
"Guilty? Of what?"
"You think I've been trying to--to `encourage' you," replied she frankly.
"And why shouldn't you, if you feel so inclined?" laughed he. "That doesn't compel me to be--encouraged."
"Honestly I haven't," said she, the contents of seriousness still in the gay wrapper of raillery. "At least not any more than----"
"You know, a woman feels bound to `encourage' a man who piques her by seeming--difficult."
"Naturally, you'd not have objected to baptizing the new hat and dress with my heart's blood." She could not have helped laughing with him. "Unfortunately for you--or rather for the new toilette--my poor heart was bled dry long, long ago. I'm a busy man, too--busy and a little tired."
"I deserve it all," said she. "I've brought it on myself. And I'm not a bit sorry I started the subject. I've found out you're quite human--and that'll help me to work better."
They separated with the smiling faces of those who have added an evening altogether pleasant to memory's store of the past's happy hours--that roomy storehouse which is all too empty even where the life has been what is counted happy. He insisted on sending her home in his auto, himself taking a taxi to the Players' where the supper was given. The moment she was alone for the short ride home, her gayety evaporated like a delicious but unstable perfume.
Why? Perhaps it was the sight of the girls on the stroll. Had she really been one of them?--and only a few days ago? Impossible! Not she not the real self . . . and perhaps she would be back there with them before long. No--never, never, in any circumstances!. . . She had said, "Never!" the first time she escaped from the tenements, yet she had gone back. . . were any of those girls strolling along--were, again, any of them Freddie Palmer's? At the thought she shivered and quailed. She had not thought of him, except casually, in many months. What if he should see her, should still feel vengeful--he who never forgot or forgave--who would dare anything! And she would be defenseless against him. . . . She remembered what she had last read about him in the newspaper. He had risen in the world, was no longer in the criminal class apparently, had moved to the class of semi-criminal wholly respectable contractor-politician. No, he had long since forgotten her, vindictive Italian though he was.
The auto set her down at home. Her tremors about Freddie departed; but the depression remained. She felt physically as if she had been sitting all evening in a stuffy room with a dull company after a heavy, badly selected dinner. She fell easy prey to one of those fits of the blues to which all imaginative young people are at least occasional victims, and by which those cursed and hampered with the optimistic temperament are haunted and harassed and all but or quite undone. She had a sense of failure, of having made a bad impression. She feared he, recalling and reinspecting what she had said, would get the idea that she was not in earnest, was merely looking for a lover--for a chance to lead a life of luxurious irresponsibility. Would it not be natural for him, who knew women well, to assume from her mistakenly candid remarks, that she was like the rest of the women, both the respectable and the free? Why should he believe in her, when she did not altogether believe in herself but suspected herself of a secret hankering after something more immediate, more easy and more secure than the stage career? The longer she thought of it the clearer it seemed to her to be that she had once more fallen victim to too much hope, too much optimism, too much and too ready belief in her fellow-beings--she who had suffered so much from these follies, and had tried so hard to school herself against them.
She fought this mood of depression--fought alone, for Spenser did not notice and she would not annoy him. She slept little that night; she felt that she could not hope for peace until she had seen Brent again.