Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise

SUSAN LENOX: HER FALL AND RISE ***

SUSAN LENOX: HER FALL AND RISE

by David Graham Phillips

Volume I

WITH A PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY NEW YORK LONDON

1917

DAVID GRAHAM PHILLIPS

A TRIBUTE

Even now I cannot realize that he is dead, and often in the city streets--on Fifth Avenue in particular--I find myself glancing ahead for a glimpse of the tall, boyish, familiar figure--experience once again a flash of the old happy expectancy.

I have lived in many lands, and have known men. I never knew a finer man than Graham Phillips.

His were the clearest, bluest, most honest eyes I ever saw--eyes that scorned untruth--eyes that penetrated all sham.

In repose his handsome features were a trifle stern--and the magic of his smile was the more wonderful--such a sunny, youthful, engaging smile.

His mere presence in a room was exhilarating. It seemed to freshen the very air with a keen sweetness almost pungent.

He was tall, spare, leisurely, iron-strong; yet figure, features and bearing were delightfully boyish.

Men liked him, women liked him when he liked them.

He was the most honest man I ever knew, clean in mind, clean-cut in body, a little over-serious perhaps, except when among intimates; a little prone to hoist the burdens of the world on his young shoulders.

His was a knightly mind; a paladin character. But he could unbend, and the memory of such hours with him--hours that can never be again--hurts more keenly than the memory of calmer and more sober moments.

We agreed in many matters, he and I; in many we differed. To me it was a greater honor to differ in opinion with such a man than to find an entire synod of my own mind.

Because--and of course this is the opinion of one man and worth no more than that--I have always thought that Graham Phillips was head and shoulders above us all in his profession.

He was to have been really great. He is--by his last book, "Susan Lenox."

Not that, when he sometimes discussed the writing of it with me, I was in sympathy with it. I was not. We always were truthful to each other.

But when a giant molds a lump of clay into tremendous masses, lesser men become confused by the huge contours, the vast distances, the terrific spaces, the majestic scope of the ensemble. So I. But he went on about his business.

I do not know what the public may think of "Susan Lenox." I scarcely know what I think.

It is a terrible book--terrible and true and beautiful.

Under the depths there are unspeakable things that writhe. His plumb-line touches them and they squirm. He bends his head from the clouds to do it. Is it worth doing? I don't know.

But this I do know--that within the range of all fiction of all lands and of all times no character has so overwhelmed me as the character of Susan Lenox.

She is as real as life and as unreal. She is Life. Hers was the concentrated nobility of Heaven and Hell. And the divinity of the one and the tragedy of the other. For she had known both--this girl--the most pathetic, the most human, the most honest character ever drawn by an American writer.

In the presence of his last work, so overwhelming, so stupendous, we lesser men are left at a loss. Its magnitude demands the perspective that time only can lend it. Its dignity and austerity and its pitiless truth impose upon us that honest and intelligent silence which even the quickest minds concede is necessary before an honest verdict.

Truth was his goddess; he wrought honestly and only for her.

He is dead, but he is to have his day in court. And whatever the verdict, if it be a true one, were he living he would rest content.

ROBERT W. CHAMBERS.

BEFORE THE CURTAIN

A few years ago, as to the most important and most interesting subject in the world, the relations of the sexes, an author had to choose between silence and telling those distorted truths beside which plain lying seems almost white and quite harmless. And as no author could afford to be silent on the subject that underlies all subjects, our literature, in so far as it attempted to deal with the most vital phases of human nature, was beneath contempt. The authors who knew they were lying sank almost as low as the nasty-nice purveyors of fake idealism and candied pruriency who fancied they were writing the truth. Now it almost seems that the day of lying conscious and unconscious is about run. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

There are three ways of dealing with the sex relations of men and women--two wrong and one right.

For lack of more accurate names the two wrong ways may be called respectively the Anglo-Saxon and the Continental. Both are in essence processes of spicing up and coloring up perfectly innocuous facts of nature to make them poisonously attractive to perverted palates. The wishy-washy literature and the wishy-washy morality on which it is based are not one stage more--or less--rotten than the libertine literature and the libertine morality on which it is based. So far as degrading effect is concerned, the "pure, sweet" story or play, false to nature, false to true morality, propagandist of indecent emotions disguised as idealism, need yield nothing to the so-called "strong" story. Both pander to different forms of the same diseased craving for the unnatural. Both produce moral atrophy. The one tends to encourage the shallow and unthinking in ignorance of life and so causes them to suffer the merciless penalties of ignorance. The other tends to miseducate the shallow and unthinking, to give them a ruinously false notion of the delights of vice. The Anglo-Saxon "morality" is like a nude figure salaciously draped; the Continental "strength" is like a nude figure salaciously distorted. The Anglo-Saxon article reeks the stench of disinfectants; the Continental reeks the stench of degenerate perfume. The Continental shouts "Hypocrisy!" at the Anglo-Saxon; the Anglo-Saxon shouts "Filthiness!" at the Continental. Both are right; they are twin sisters of the same horrid mother. And an author of either allegiance has to have many a redeeming grace of style, of character drawing, of philosophy, to gain him tolerance in a clean mind.

There is the third and right way of dealing with the sex relations of men and women. That is the way of simple candor and naturalness. Treat the sex question as you would any other question. Don't treat it reverently; don't treat it rakishly. Treat it naturally. Don't insult your intelligence and lower your moral tone by thinking about either the decency or the indecency of matters that are familiar, undeniable, and unchangeable facts of life. Don't look on woman as mere female, but as human being. Remember that she has a mind and a heart as well as a body. In a sentence, don't join in the prurient clamor of "purity" hypocrites and "strong" libertines that exaggerates and distorts the most commonplace, if the most important feature of life. Let us try to be as sensible about sex as we are trying to be about all the other phenomena of the universe in this more enlightened day.

Nothing so sweetens a sin or so delights a sinner as getting big-eyed about it and him. Those of us who are naughty aren't nearly so naughty as we like to think; nor are those of us who are nice nearly so nice. Our virtues and our failings are--perhaps to an unsuspected degree--the result of the circumstances in which we are placed. The way to improve individuals is to improve these circumstances; and the way to start at improving the circumstances is by looking honestly and fearlessly at things as they are. We must know our world and ourselves before we can know what should be kept and what changed. And the beginning of this wisdom is in seeing sex relations rationally. Until that fundamental matter is brought under the sway of good common sense, improvement in other directions will be slow indeed. Let us stop lying--to others--to ourselves.

D.G.P.

July, 1908.

SUSAN LENOX

CHAPTER I

"THE child's dead," said Nora, the nurse. It was the upstairs sitting-room in one of the pretentious houses of Sutherland, oldest and most charming of the towns on the Indiana bank of the Ohio. The two big windows were open; their limp and listless draperies showed that there was not the least motion in the stifling humid air of the July afternoon. At the center of the room stood an oblong table; over it were neatly spread several thicknesses of white cotton cloth; naked upon them lay the body of a newborn girl baby. At one side of the table nearer the window stood Nora. Hers were the hard features and corrugated skin popularly regarded as the result of a life of toil, but in fact the result of a life of defiance to the laws of health. As additional penalties for that same self-indulgence she had an enormous bust and hips, thin face and arms, hollow, sinew-striped neck. The young man, blond and smooth faced, at the other side of the table and facing the light, was Doctor Stevens, a recently graduated pupil of the famous Schulze of Saint Christopher who as much as any other one man is responsible for the rejection of hocus-pocus and the injection of common sense into American medicine. For upwards of an hour young Stevens, coat off and shirt sleeves rolled to his shoulders, had been toiling with the lifeless form on the table. He had tried everything his training, his reading and his experience suggested--all the more or less familiar devices similar to those indicated for cases of drowning. Nora had watched him, at first with interest and hope, then with interest alone, finally with swiftly deepening disapproval, as her compressed lips and angry eyes plainly revealed. It seemed to her his effort was degenerating into sacrilege, into defiance of an obvious decree of the Almighty. However, she had not ventured to speak until the young man, with a muttered ejaculation suspiciously like an imprecation, straightened his stocky figure and began to mop the sweat from his face, hands and bared arms.

When she saw that her verdict had not been heard, she repeated it more emphatically. "The child's dead," said she, "as I told you from the set-out." She made the sign of the cross on her forehead and bosom, while her fat, dry lips moved in a "Hail, Mary."

The young man did not rouse from his reverie. He continued to gaze with a baffled expression at the tiny form, so like a whimsical caricature of humanity. He showed that he had heard the woman's remark by saying, to himself rather than to her, "Dead? What's that? Merely another name for ignorance." But the current of his thought did not swerve. It held to the one course: What would his master, the dauntless, the infinitely resourceful Schulze, do if he were confronted by this intolerable obstacle of a perfect machine refusing to do its duty and pump vital force through an eagerly waiting body? "He'd _make_ it go, I'd bet my life," the young man muttered. "I'm ashamed of myself."

As if the reproach were just the spur his courage and his intelligence had needed, his face suddenly glowed with the upshooting fire of an inspiration. He thrust the big white handkerchief into his hip pocket, laid one large strong hand upon the small, beautifully arched chest of the baby. Nora, roused by his expression even more than by his gesture, gave an exclamation of horror. "Don't touch it again," she cried, between entreaty and command. "You've done all you can--and more."

Stevens was not listening. "Such a fine baby, too," he said, hesitating--the old woman mistakenly fancied it was her words that made him pause. "I feel no good at all," he went on, as if reasoning with himself, "no good at all, losing both the mother and the child."

"_She_ didn't want to live," replied Nora. Her glances stole somewhat fearfully toward the door of the adjoining room--the bedroom where the mother lay dead.

"There wasn't nothing but disgrace ahead for both of them. Everybody'll be glad."

"Such a fine baby," muttered the abstracted young doctor.

"Love-children always is," said Nora. She was looking sadly and tenderly down at the tiny, symmetrical form--symmetrical to her and the doctor's expert eyes. "Such a deep chest," she sighed. "Such pretty hands and feet. A real love-child." There she glanced nervously at the doctor; it was meet and proper and pious to speak well of the dead, but she felt she might be going rather far for a "good woman."

"I'll try it," cried the young man in a resolute tone. "It can't do any harm, and----"

Without finishing his sentence he laid hold of the body by the ankles, swung it clear of the table. As Nora saw it dangling head downwards like a dressed suckling pig on a butcher's hook she vented a scream and darted round the table to stop by main force this revolting desecration of the dead. Stevens called out sternly: "Mind your business, Nora! Push the table against the wall and get out of the way. I want all the room there is."

"Oh, Doctor--for the blessed Jesus' sake----"

"Push back that table!"

Nora shrank before his fierce eyes. She thought his exertions, his disappointment and the heat had combined to topple him over into insanity. She retreated toward the farther of the open windows. With a curse at her stupidity Stevens kicked over the table, used his foot vigorously in thrusting it to the wall. "Now!" exclaimed he, taking his stand in the center of the room and gauging the distance of ceiling, floor and walls.

Nora, her back against the window frame, her fingers sunk in her big loose bosom, stared petrified. Stevens, like an athlete swinging an indian club, whirled the body round and round his head, at the full length of his powerful arms. More and more rapidly he swung it, until his breath came and went in gasps and the sweat was trickling in streams down his face and neck. Round and round between ceiling and floor whirled the naked body of the baby--round and round for minutes that seemed hours to the horrified nurse--round and round with all the strength and speed the young man could put forth--round and round until the room was a blur before his throbbing eyes, until his expression became fully as demoniac as Nora had been fancying it. Just as she was recovering from her paralysis of horror and was about to fly shrieking from the room she was halted by a sound that made her draw in air until her bosom swelled as if it would burst its gingham prison. She craned eagerly toward Stevens. He was whirling the body more furiously than ever.

"Was that you?" asked Nora hoarsely. "Or was it----" She paused, listened.

The sound came again--the sound of a drowning person fighting for breath.

"It's--it's----" muttered Nora. "What is it, Doctor?"

"Life!" panted Stevens, triumph in his glistening, streaming face. "Life!"

He continued to whirl the little form, but not so rapidly or so vigorously. And now the sound was louder, or, rather, less faint, less uncertain--was a cry--was the cry of a living thing. "She's alive--alive!" shrieked the woman, and in time with his movements she swayed to and fro from side to side, laughing, weeping, wringing her hands, patting her bosom, her cheeks. She stretched out her arms. "My prayers are answered!" she cried. "Don't kill her, you brute! Give her to me. You shan't treat a baby that way."

The unheeding doctor kept on whirling until the cry was continuous, a low but lusty wail of angry protest. Then he stopped, caught the baby up in both arms, burst out laughing. "You little minx!" he said--or, rather, gasped--a tenderness quite maternal in his eyes. "But I got you! Nora, the table."

Nora righted the table, spread and smoothed the cloths, extended her scrawny eager arms for the baby. Stevens with a jerk of the head motioned her aside, laid the baby on the table. He felt for the pulse at its wrist, bent to listen at the heart. Quite useless. That strong, rising howl of helpless fury was proof enough. Her majesty the baby was mad through and through--therefore alive through and through.

"Grand heart action!" said the young man. He stood aloof, hands on his hips, head at a proud angle. "You never saw a healthier specimen. It'll be many a year, bar accidents, before she's that near death again."

But it was Nora's turn not to hear. She was soothing and swaddling the outraged baby. "There--there!" she crooned. "Nora'll take care of you. The bad man shan't come near my little precious--no, the wicked man shan't touch her again."

The bedroom door opened. At the slight noise superstitious Nora paled, shriveled within her green and white checked gingham. She slowly turned her head as if on this day of miracles she expected yet another--the resurrection of the resurrected baby's mother, "poor Miss Lorella." But Lorella Lenox was forever tranquil in the sleep that engulfed her and the sorrows in which she had been entangled by an impetuous, trusting heart. The apparition in the doorway was commonplace--the mistress of the house, Lorella's elder and married sister Fanny--neither fair nor dark, neither tall nor short, neither thin nor fat, neither pretty nor homely, neither stupid nor bright, neither neat nor dowdy--one of that multitude of excellent, unobtrusive human beings who make the restful stretches in a world of agitations--and who respond to the impetus of circumstance as unresistingly as cloud to wind.

As the wail of the child smote upon Fanny's ears she lifted her head, startled, and cried out sharply, "What's that?"

"We've saved the baby, Mrs. Warham," replied the young doctor, beaming on her through his glasses.

"Oh!" said Mrs. Warham. And she abruptly seated herself on the big chintz-covered sofa beside the door.

"And it's a lovely child," pleaded Nora. Her woman's instinct guided her straight to the secret of the conflict raging behind Mrs. Warham's unhappy face.

"The finest girl in the world," cried Stevens, well-meaning but tactless.

"Girl!" exclaimed Fanny, starting up from the sofa. "Is it a _girl_?"

Nora nodded. The young man looked downcast; he was realizing the practical side of his victory for science--the consequences to the girl child, to all the relatives.

"A girl!" moaned Fanny, sinking to the sofa again. "God have mercy on us!"

Louder and angrier rose the wail. Fanny, after a brief struggle with herself, hurried to the table, looked down at the tiny helplessness. Her face softened. She had been a mother four times. Only one had lived--her fair little two-year-old Ruth--and she would never have any more children. The tears glistened in her eyes. "What ails you, Nora Mulvey?" she demanded. "Why aren't you 'tending to this poor little creature?"

Nora sprang into action, but she wrapped the baby herself. The doctor in deep embarrassment withdrew to the farther window. She fussed over the baby lingeringly, but finally resigned it to the nurse. "Take it into the bathroom," she said, "where everything's ready to feed it--though I never dreamed----" As Nora was about to depart, she detained her. "Let me look at it again."

The nurse understood that Fanny Warham was searching for evidence of the mysterious but suspected paternity whose secret Lorella, with true Lenox obstinacy, had guarded to the end. The two women scanned the features. A man would at a glance have abandoned hope of discovering anything from a chart so vague and confused as that wrinkled, twisted, swollen face of the newborn. Not so a woman. Said Nora: "She seems to me to favor the Lenoxes. But I think--I _kind_ o' think--I see a _trace_ of--of----" There she halted, waiting for encouragement.

"Of Galt?" suggested Fanny, in an undertone.

"Of Galt," assented Nora, her tone equally discreet. "That nose is Galt-like and the set of the ears--and a kind of something to the neck and shoulders."

"Maybe so," said Fanny doubtfully. She shook her head drearily, sighed. "What's the use? Lorella's gone. And this morning General Galt came down to see my husband with a letter he'd got from Jimmie. Jimmie denies it. Perhaps so. Again, perhaps the General wrote him to write that, and threatened him if he didn't. But what's the use? We'll never know."

And they never did.

When young Stevens was leaving, George Warham waylaid him at the front gate, separated from the spacious old creeper-clad house by long lawns and an avenue of elms. "I hear the child's going to live," said he anxiously.

"I've never seen anything more alive," replied Stevens.

Warham stared gloomily at the ground. He was evidently ashamed of his feelings, yet convinced that they were human and natural. A moment's silence between the men, then Stevens put his hand on the gate latch. "Did--did--my wife----" began Warham. "Did she say what she calculated to do?"

"Not a word, George." After a silence. "You know how fond she is of babies."

"Yes, I know," replied Warham. "Fanny is a true woman if ever there was one." With a certain defiance, "And Lorella--she was a sweet, womanly girl!"

"As sweet and good as she was pretty," replied Stevens heartily.

"The way she kept her mouth shut about that hound, whoever he is!" Warham's Roman face grew savage, revealed in startling apparition a stubborn cruelty of which there was not a trace upon the surface. "If I ever catch the ---- ---- I'll fill him full of holes."

"He'd be lynched--_whoever_ he is," said Stevens.

"That's right!" cried Warham. "This is the North, but it's near enough to Kentucky to know what to do with a wretch of that sort." His face became calmer. "That poor little baby! He'll have a hard row to hoe."

Stevens flushed a guilty red. "It's--it's--a girl," he stammered.

Warham stared. "A _girl_!" he cried. Then his face reddened and in a furious tone he burst out: "Now don't that beat the devil for luck!. . . A girl! Good Lord--a girl!"

"Nobody in this town'll blame her," consoled Stevens.

"You know better than that, Bob! A girl! Why, it's downright wicked. . . I wonder what Fanny allows to do?" He showed what fear was in his mind by wheeling savagely on Stevens with a stormy, "We can't keep her--we simply can't!"

"What's to become of her?" protested Stevens gently.

Warham made a wild vague gesture with both arms. "Damn if I know! I've got to look out for my own daughter. I won't have it. Damn it, I won't have it!" Stevens lifted the gate latch. "Well----

"Good-by, George. I'll look in again this evening." And knowing the moral ideas of the town, all he could muster by way of encouragement was a half-hearted "Don't borrow trouble."

But Warham did not hear. He was moving up the tanbark walk toward the house, muttering to himself. When Fanny, unable longer to conceal Lorella's plight, had told him, pity and affection for his sweet sister-in-law who had made her home with them for five years had triumphed over his principles. He had himself arranged for Fanny to hide Lorella in New York until she could safely return. But just as the sisters were about to set out, Lorella, low in body and in mind, fell ill. Then George--and Fanny, too--had striven with her to give them the name of her betrayer, that he might be compelled to do her justice. Lorella refused. "I told him," she said, "and he--I never want to see him again." They pleaded the disgrace to them, but she replied that he would not marry her even if she would marry him; and she held to her refusal with the firmness for which the Lenoxes were famous. They suspected Jimmie Galt, because he had been about the most attentive of the young men until two or three months before, and because he had abruptly departed for Europe to study architecture. Lorella denied that it was he. "If you kill him," she said to Warham, "you kill an innocent man." Warham was so exasperated by her obstinacy that he was at first for taking her at her offer and letting her go away. But Fanny would not hear of it, and he acquiesced. Now--"This child must be sent away off somewhere, and never be heard of again," he said to himself. "If it'd been a boy, perhaps it might have got along. But a girl----

"There's nothing can be done to make things right for a girl that's got no father and no name."

The subject did not come up between him and his wife until about a week after Lorella's funeral. But he was thinking of nothing else. At his big grocery store--wholesale and retail--he sat morosely in his office, brooding over the disgrace and the danger of deeper disgrace--for he saw what a hold the baby already had upon his wife. He was ashamed to appear in the streets; he knew what was going on behind the sympathetic faces, heard the whisperings as if they had been trumpetings. And he was as much afraid of his own soft heart as of his wife's. But for the sake of his daughter he must be firm and just.

One morning, as he was leaving the house after breakfast, he turned back and said abruptly: "Fan, don't you think you'd better send the baby away and get it over with?"

"No," said his wife unhesitatingly--and he knew his worst suspicion was correct. "I've made up my mind to keep her."

"It isn't fair to Ruth."

"Send it away--where?"

"Anywhere. Get it adopted in Chicago--Cincinnati--Louisville."

"Lorella's baby?"

"When she and Ruth grow up--what then?"

"People ain't so low as some think."

"'The sins of the parents are visited on the children unto----'"

"I don't care," interrupted Fanny. "I love her. I'm going to keep her. Wait here a minute."

When she came back she had the baby in her arms. "Just look," she said softly.

George frowned, tried not to look, but was soon drawn and held by the sweet, fresh, blooming face, so smooth, so winning, so innocent.

"And think how she was sent back to life--from beyond the grave. It must have been for some purpose."

Warham groaned, "Oh, Lord, I don't know _what_ to do! But--it ain't fair to our Ruth."

"I don't see it that way. . . . Kiss her, George."

Warham kissed one of the soft cheeks, swelling like a ripening apple. The baby opened wide a pair of wonderful dark eyes, threw up its chubby arms and laughed--such a laugh!. . . There was no more talk of sending her away.

CHAPTER II

NOT quite seventeen years later, on a fine June morning, Ruth Warham issued hastily from the house and started down the long tanbark walk from the front veranda to the street gate. She was now nineteen--nearer twenty--and a very pretty young woman, indeed. She had grown up one of those small slender blondes, exquisite and doll-like, who cannot help seeming fresh and sweet, whatever the truth about them, without or within. This morning she had on a new summer dress of a blue that matched her eyes and harmonized with her coloring. She was looking her best, and she had the satisfying, confidence-giving sense that it was so. Like most of the unattached girls of small towns, she was always dreaming of the handsome stranger who would fall in love--the thrilling, love-story kind of love at first sight. The weather plays a conspicuous part in the romancings of youth; she felt that this was precisely the kind of day fate would be most likely to select for the meeting. Just before dressing she had been reading about the wonderful _him_--in Robert Chambers' latest story--and she had spent full fifteen minutes of blissful reverie over the accompanying Fisher illustration. Now she was issuing hopefully forth, as hopefully as if adventure were the rule and order of life in Sutherland, instead of a desperate monotony made the harder to bear by the glory of its scenery.

She had got only far enough from the house to be visible to the second-story windows when a young voice called:

"Ruthie! Aren't you going to wait for me?"

Ruth halted; an expression anything but harmonious with the pretty blue costume stormed across her face. "I won't have her along!" she muttered. "I simply won't!" She turned slowly and, as she turned, effaced every trace of temper with a dexterity which might have given an onlooker a poorer opinion of her character than perhaps the facts as to human nature justify. The countenance she presently revealed to those upper windows was sunny and sweet. No one was visible; but the horizontal slats in one of the only closed pair of shutters and a vague suggestion of movement rather than form behind them gave the impression that a woman, not far enough dressed to risk being seen from the street, was hidden there. Evidently Ruth knew, for it was toward this window that she directed her gaze and the remark: "Can't wait, dear. I'm in a great hurry. Mamma wants the silk right away and I've got to match it."

"But I'll be only a minute," pleaded the voice--a much more interesting, more musical voice than Ruth's rather shrill and thin high soprano.

"No--I'll meet you up at papa's store."

"All right."

Ruth resumed her journey. She smiled to herself. "That means," said she, half aloud, "I'll steer clear of the store this morning."

But as she was leaving the gate into the wide, shady, sleepy street, who should come driving past in a village cart but Lottie Wright! And Lottie reined her pony in to the sidewalk and in the shade of a symmetrical walnut tree proceeded to invite Ruth to a dance--a long story, as Lottie had to tell all about it, the decorations, the favors, the food, who would be there, what she was going to wear, and so on and on. Ruth was intensely interested but kept remembering something that caused her to glance uneasily from time to time up the tanbark walk under the arching boughs toward the house. Even if she had not been interested, she would hardly have ventured to break off; Lottie Wright was the only daughter of the richest man in Sutherland and, therefore, social arbiter to the younger set.

Lottie stopped abruptly, said: "Well, I really must get on. And there's your cousin coming down the walk. I know you've been waiting for her."

Ruth tried to keep in countenance, but a blush of shame and a frown of irritation came in spite of her.

"I'm sorry I can't ask Susie, too," pursued Lottie, in a voice of hypocritical regret. "But there are to be exactly eighteen couples--and I couldn't."

"Of course not," said Ruth heartily. "Susan'll understand."

"I wouldn't for the world do anything to hurt her feelings," continued Lottie with the self-complacent righteousness of a deacon telling the congregation how good "grace" has made him. Her prominent commonplace brown eyes were gazing up the walk, an expression distressingly like envious anger in them. She had a thick, pudgy face, an oily skin, an outcropping of dull red pimples on the chin. Many women can indulge their passion for sweets at meals and sweets between meals without serious injury--to complexion; Lottie Wright, unluckily, couldn't.

"I feel sorry for Susie," she went on, in the ludicrous patronizing tone that needs no describing to anyone acquainted with any fashionable set anywhere from China to Peru. "And I think the way you all treat her is simply beautiful. But, then, everybody feels sorry for her and tries to be kind. She knows--about herself, I mean--doesn't she, Ruthie?"

"I guess so," replied Ruth, almost hanging her head in her mortification. "She's very good and sweet."

"Indeed, she is," said Lottie. "And father says she's far and away the prettiest girl in town."

With this parting shot, which struck precisely where she had aimed, Lottie gathered up the reins and drove on, calling out a friendly "Hello, Susie dearie," to Susan Lenox, who, on her purposely lagging way from the house, had nearly reached the gate.

"What a nasty thing Lottie Wright is!" exclaimed Ruth to her cousin.

"She has a mean tongue," admitted Susan, tall and slim and straight, with glorious dark hair and a skin healthily pallid and as smooth as clear. "But she's got a good heart. She gives a lot away to poor people."

"Because she likes to patronize and be kowtowed to," retorted Ruth. "She's mean, I tell you." Then, with a vicious gleam in the blue eyes that hinted a deeper and less presentable motive for the telling, she added: "Why, she's not going to ask you to her party."

Susan was obviously unmoved. "She has the right to ask whom she pleases. And"--she laughed--"if I were giving a party I'd not want to ask her--though I might do it for fear she'd feel left out."

"Don't you feel--left out?"

Susan shook her head. "I seem not to care much about going to parties lately. The boys don't like to dance with me, and I get tired of sitting the dances out."

This touched Ruth's impulsively generous heart and woman's easy tears filled her eyes; her cousin's remark was so pathetic, the more pathetic because its pathos was absolutely unconscious. Ruth shot a pitying glance at Susan, but the instant she saw the loveliness of the features upon which that expression of unconsciousness lay like innocence upon a bed of roses, the pity vanished from her eyes to be replaced by a disfiguring envy as hateful as an evil emotion can be at nineteen. Susan still lacked nearly a month of seventeen, but she seemed older than Ruth because her mind and her body had developed beyond her years--or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say beyond the average of growth at seventeen. Also, her personality was stronger, far more definite. Ruth tried to believe herself the cleverer and the more beautiful, at times with a certain success. But as she happened to be a shrewd young person--an inheritance from the Warhams--she was haunted by misgivings--and worse. Those whose vanity never suffers from these torments will, of course, condemn her; but whoever has known the pain of having to concede superiority to someone with whom she or he--is constantly contrasted will not be altogether without sympathy for Ruth in her struggles, often vain struggles, against the mortal sin of jealousy.

The truth is, Susan was beyond question the beauty of Sutherland. Her eyes, very dark at birth, had changed to a soft, dreamy violet-gray. Hair and coloring, lashes and eyebrows remained dark; thus her eyes and the intense red of her lips had that vicinage of contrast which is necessary to distinction. To look at her was to be at once fascinated by those violet-gray eyes--by their color, by their clearness, by their regard of calm, grave inquiry, by their mystery not untouched by a certain sadness. She had a thick abundance of wavy hair, not so long as Ruth's golden braids, but growing beautifully instead of thinly about her low brow, about her delicately modeled ears, and at the back of her exquisite neck. Her slim nose departed enough from the classic line to prevent the suggestion of monotony that is in all purely classic faces. Her nostrils had the sensitiveness that more than any other outward sign indicates the imaginative temperament. Her chin and throat--to look at them was to know where her lover would choose to kiss her first. When she smiled her large even teeth were dazzling. And the smile itself was exceedingly sweet and winning, with the violet-gray eyes casting over it that seriousness verging on sadness which is the natural outlook of a highly intelligent nature. For while stupid vain people are suspicious and easily offended, only the intelligent are truly sensitive--keenly susceptible to all sensations. The dull ear is suspicious; the acute ear is sensitive.

The intense red of her lips, at times so vivid that it seemed artificial, and their sinuous, sensitive curve indicated a temperament that was frankly proclaimed in her figure--sensuous, graceful, slender--the figure of girlhood in its perfection and of perfect womanhood, too--like those tropical flowers that look innocent and young and fresh, yet stir in the beholder passionate longings and visions. Her walk was worthy of face and figure--free and firm and graceful, the small head carried proudly without haughtiness.

This physical beauty had as an aureole to illuminate it and to set it off a manner that was wholly devoid of mannerisms--of those that men and women think out and exhibit to give added charm to themselves--tricks of cuteness, as lisp and baby stare; tricks of dignity, as grave brow and body always carried rigidly erect; tricks of sweetness and kindliness, as the ever ready smile and the warm handclasp. Susan, the interested in the world about her, Susan, the self-unconscious, had none of these tricks. She was at all times her own self. Beauty is anything but rare, likewise intelligence. But this quality of naturalness is the greatest of all qualities. It made Susan Lenox unique.

It was not strange--nor inexcusable that the girls and their parents had begun to pity Susan as soon as this beauty developed and this personality had begun to exhale its delicious perfume. It was but natural that they should start the whole town to "being kind to the poor thing." And it was equally the matter of course that they should have achieved their object--should have impressed the conventional masculine mind of the town with such a sense of the "poor thing's" social isolation and "impossibility" that the boys ceased to be her eagerly admiring friends, were afraid to be alone with her, to ask her to dance. Women are conventional as a business; but with men conventionality is a groveling superstition. The youths of Sutherland longed for, sighed for the alluring, sweet, bright Susan; but they dared not, with all the women saying "Poor thing! What a pity a nice man can't afford to have anything to do with her!" It was an interesting typical example of the profound snobbishness of the male character. Rarely, after Susan was sixteen, did any of the boys venture to ask her to dance and so give himself the joy of encircling that lovely form of hers; yet from babyhood her fascination for the male sex, regardless of age or temperament, had been uncanny--"naturally, she being a love-child," said the old women. And from fourteen on, it grew steadily.

It would be difficult for one who has not lived in a small town to understand exactly the kind of isolation to which Sutherland consigned the girl without her realizing it, without their fully realizing it themselves. Everyone was friendly with her. A stranger would not have noticed any difference in the treatment of her and of her cousin Ruth. Yet not one of the young men would have thought of marrying her, would have regarded her as his equal or the equal of his sisters. She went to all the general entertainments. She was invited to all the houses when failure to invite her would have seemed pointed--but only then. She did not think much about herself; she was fond of study--fonder of reading--fondest, perhaps, of making dresses and hats, especially for Ruth, whom she thought much prettier than herself. Thus, she was only vaguely, subconsciously conscious of there being something peculiar and mysterious in her lot.

This isolation, rather than her dominant quality of self-effacing consideration for others, was the chief cause of the extraordinary innocence of her mind. No servant, no girl, no audacious boy ever ventured to raise with her any question remotely touching on sex. All those questions seemed to Puritan Sutherland in any circumstances highly indelicate; in relation to Susan they seemed worse than indelicate, dreadful though the thought was that there could be anything worse than indelicacy. At fifteen she remained as unaware of even the existence of the mysteries of sex as she had been at birth. Nothing definite enough to arouse her curiosity had ever been said in her hearing; and such references to those matters as she found in her reading passed her by, as any matter of which he has not the beginnings of knowledge will fail to arrest the attention of any reader. It was generally assumed that she knew all about her origin, that someone had, some time or other, told her. Even her Aunt Fanny thought so, thought she was hiding the knowledge deep in her heart, explained in that way her content with the solitude of books and sewing.

Susan was the worst possible influence in Ruth's life. Our character is ourself, is born with us, clings to us as the flesh to our bones, persists unchanged until we die. But upon the circumstances that surround us depends what part of our character shall show itself. Ruth was born with perhaps something more than the normal tendency to be envious and petty. But these qualities might never have shown themselves conspicuously had there been no Susan for her to envy. The very qualities that made Susan lovable reacted upon the pretty, pert blond cousin to make her the more unlovable. Again and again, when she and Susan were about to start out together, and Susan would appear in beauty and grace of person and dress, Ruth would excuse herself, would fly to her room to lock herself in and weep and rage and hate. And at the high school, when Susan scored in a recitation or in some dramatic entertainment, Ruth would sit with bitten lip and surging bosom, pale with jealousy. Susan's isolation, the way the boys avoided having with her the friendly relations that spring up naturally among young people these gave Ruth a partial revenge. But Susan, seemingly unconscious, rising sweetly and serenely above all pettiness--

Ruth's hatred deepened, though she hid it from everyone, almost from herself. And she depended more and more utterly upon Susan to select her clothes for her, to dress her, to make her look well; for Susan had taste and Ruth had not.

On that bright June morning as the cousins went up Main Street together, Susan gave herself over to the delight of sun and air and of the flowering gardens before the attractive houses they were passing; Ruth, with the day quite dark for her, all its joys gone, was fighting against a hatred of her cousin so vicious that it made her afraid. "I'll have no chance at all," her angry heart was saying, "so long as Susie's around, keeping everybody reminded of the family shame." And that was a truth she could not downface, mean and ungenerous though thinking it might be. The worst of all was that Susan, in a simple white dress and an almost untrimmed white straw hat with a graceful curve to its brim and set at the right angle upon that wavy dark hair, was making the beauty of her short blond cousin dim and somehow common.

At the corner of Maple Street Ruth's self-control reached its limit. She halted, took the sample of silk from her glove. There was not a hint of her feelings in her countenance, for shame and the desire to seem to be better than she was were fast making her an adept in hypocrisy. "You go ahead and match it for mamma," said she. "I've got to run in and see Bessie Andrews."

"But I promised Uncle George I'd come and help him with the monthly bills," objected Susan.

"You can do both. It'll take you only a minute. If mother had known you were going uptown, she'd never have trusted _me_." And Ruth had tucked the sample in Susan's belt and was hurrying out Maple Street. There was nothing for Susan to do but go on alone.

Two squares, and she was passing the show place of Sutherland, the home of the Wrights. She paused to regale herself with a glance into the grove of magnificent elms with lawns and bright gardens beyond--for the Wright place filled the entire square between Broad and Myrtle Streets and from Main to Monroe. She was starting on when she saw among the trees a young man in striped flannels. At the same instant he saw her.

"Hel-_lo_, Susie!" he cried. "I was thinking about you."

Susan halted. "When did you get back, Sam?" she asked. "I heard you were going to stay on in the East all summer."

After they had shaken hands across the hedge that came almost to their shoulders, Susan began to move on. Sam kept pace with her on his side of the carefully trimmed boxwood barrier. "I'm going back East in about two weeks," said he. "It's awfully dull here after Yale. I just blew in--haven't seen Lottie or father yet. Coming to Lottie's party?"

"No," said Susan.

"Why not?"

Susan laughed merrily. "The best reason in the world. Lottie has only invited just so many couples."

"I'll see about that," cried Sam. "You'll be asked all right, all right."

"No," said Susan. She was one of those whose way of saying no gives its full meaning and intent. "I'll not be asked, thank you--and I'll not go if I am."

By this time they were at the gate. He opened it, came out into the street. He was a tallish, athletic youth, dark, and pleasing enough of feature to be called handsome. He was dressed with a great deal of style of the efflorescent kind called sophomoric. He was a Sophomore at Yale. But that was not so largely responsible for his self-complacent expression as the deference he had got from babyhood through being heir apparent to the Wright fortune. He had a sophisticated way of inspecting Susan's charms of figure no less than charms of face that might have made a disagreeable impression upon an experienced onlooker. There is a time for feeling without knowing why one feels; and that period ought not to have been passed for young Wright for many a year.

"My, but you're looking fine, Susie!" exclaimed he. "I haven't seen anyone that could hold a candle to you even in the East."

Susan laughed and blushed with pleasure. "Go on," said she with raillery. "I love it."

"Come in and sit under the trees and I'll fill all the time you'll give me."

This reminded her. "I must hurry uptown," she said. "Good-by."

"Hold on!" cried he. "What have you got to do?" He happened to glance down the street. "Isn't that Ruth coming?"

"So it is," said Susan. "I guess Bessie Andrews wasn't at home."

Sam waved at Ruth and called, "Hello! Glad to see you."

Ruth was all sweetness and smiles. She and her mother--quite privately and with nothing openly said on either side--had canvassed Sam as a "possibility." There had been keen disappointment at the news that he was not coming home for the long vacation. "How are you, Sam?" said she, as they shook hands. "My, Susie, _doesn't_ he look New York?"

Sam tried to conceal that he was swelling with pride. "Oh, this is nothing," said he deprecatingly.

Ruth's heart was a-flutter. The Fisher picture of the Chambers love-maker, thought she, might almost be a photograph of Sam. She was glad she had obeyed the mysterious impulse to make a toilette of unusual elegance that morning. How get rid of Susan? "_I_'ll take the sample, Susie," said she. "Then you won't have to keep father waiting."

Susie gave up the sample. Her face was no longer so bright and interested.

"Oh, drop it," cried Sam. "Come in--both of you. I'll telephone for Joe Andrews and we'll take a drive--or anything you like." He was looking at Susan.

"Can't do it," replied Susan. "I promised Uncle George."

"Oh, bother!" urged Sam. "Telephone him. It'll be all right--won't it, Ruth?"

"You don't know Susie," said Ruth, with a queer, strained laugh. "She'd rather die than break a promise."

"I must go," Susan now said. "Good-by."

"Come on, Ruth," cried Sam. "Let's walk uptown with her."

"And you can help match the silk," said Ruth.

"Not for me," replied young Wright. Then to Susan, "What've _you_ got to do? Maybe it's something I could help at."

"No. It's for Uncle George and me."

"Well, I'll go as far as the store. Then--we'll see."

They were now in the business part of Main Street, were at Wilson's dry goods store. "You might find it here," suggested the innocent Susan to her cousin.

Ruth colored, veiled her eyes to hide their flash. "I've got to go to the store first--to get some money," she hastily improvised.

Sam had been walking between the two girls. He now changed to the outside and, so, put himself next Susan alone, put Susan between him and Ruth. The maneuver seemed to be a mere politeness, but Ruth knew better. What fate had intended as her lucky day was being changed into unlucky by this cousin of hers. Ruth walked sullenly along, hot tears in her eyes and a choke in her throat, as she listened to Sam's flatterings of her cousin, and to Susan's laughing, delighted replies. She tried to gather herself together, to think up something funny or at least interesting with which to break into the _tête-à-tête_ and draw Sam to herself. She could think nothing but envious, hateful thoughts. At the doors of Warham and Company, wholesale and retail grocers, the three halted.

"I guess I'll go to Vandermark's," said Ruth. "I really don't need money. Come on, Sam."

"No--I'm going back home. I ought to see Lottie and father. My, but it's dull in this town!"

"Well, so long," said Susan. She nodded, sparkling of hair and skin and eyes, and went into the store.

Sam and Ruth watched her as she walked down the broad aisle between the counters. From the store came a mingling of odors of fruit, of spices, of freshly ground coffee. "Susan's an awful pretty girl, isn't she?" declared Sam with rude enthusiasm.

"Indeed she is," replied Ruth as heartily--and with an honest if discouraged effort to feel enthusiastic.

"What a figure! And she has such a good walk. Most women walk horribly."

"Come on to Vandermark's with me and I'll stroll back with you," offered Ruth. Sam was still gazing into the store where, far to the rear, Susan could be seen; the graceful head, the gently swelling bust, the soft lines of the white dress, the pretty ankles revealed by the short skirt--there was, indeed, a profile worth a man's looking at on a fine June day. Ruth's eyes were upon Sam, handsome, dressed in the Eastern fashion, an ideal lover. "Come on, Sam," urged Ruth.

"No, thanks," he replied absently. "I'll go back. Good luck!" And not glancing at her, he lifted his straw hat with its band of Yale blue and set out.

Ruth moved slowly and disconsolately in the opposite direction. She was ashamed of her thoughts; but shame never yet withheld anybody from being human in thought. As she turned to enter Vandermark's she glanced down the street. There was Sam, returned and going into her father's store. She hesitated, could devise no plan of action, hurried into the dry goods store. Sinclair, the head salesman and the beau of Sutherland, was an especial friend of hers. The tall, slender, hungry-looking young man, devoured with ambition for speedy wealth, had no mind to neglect so easy an aid to that ambition as nature gave him in making him a lady-charmer. He had resolved to marry either Lottie Wright or Ruth Warham--Ruth preferred, because, while Lottie would have many times more money, her skin made her a stiff dose for a young man brought up to the American tradition that the face is the woman. But that morning Sinclair exerted his charms in vain. Ruth was in a hurry, was distinctly rude, cut short what in other circumstances would have been a prolonged and delightful flirtation by tossing the sample on the counter and asking him to do the matching for her and to send the silk right away. Which said, she fairly bolted from the store.

She arrived barely in time. Young Wright was issuing from Warham and Company. He smiled friendly enough, but Ruth knew where his thoughts were. "Get what you wanted?" inquired he, and went on to explain: "I came back to find out if you and Susie were to be at home this evening. Thought I'd call."

Ruth paled with angry dismay. She was going to a party at the Sinclairs'--one to which Susan was not invited. "Aren't you going to Sinclairs'?" said she.

"I was. But I thought I'd rather call. Perhaps I'll go there later."

He was coming to call on Susan! All the way down Main Street to the Wright place Ruth fought against her mood of angry and depressed silence, tried to make the best of her chance to impress Sam. But Sam was absent and humiliatingly near to curt. He halted at his father's gate. She halted also, searched the grounds with anxious eyes for sign of Lottie that would give her the excuse for entering.

"So long," said Sam.

"Do come to Sinclairs' early. You always did dance so well."

"Oh, dancing bores me," said the blasé Sophomore. "But I'll be round before the shindy's over. I've got to take Lot home."

He lifted the hat again with what both he and Ruth regarded as a gesture of most elegant carelessness. Ruth strolled reluctantly on, feeling as if her toilet had been splashed or crushed. As she entered the front door her mother, in a wrapper and curl papers, appeared at the head of the stairs. "Why!" cried she. "Where's the silk? It's for your dress tonight, you know."

"It'll be along," was Ruth's answer, her tone dreary, her lip quivering. "I met Sam Wright."

"Oh!" exclaimed her mother. "He's back, is he?"

Ruth did not reply. She came on up the stairs, went into the sitting-room--the room where Doctor Stevens seventeen years before had torn the baby Susan from the very claws of death. She flung herself down, buried her head in her arms upon that same table. She burst into a storm of tears.

"Why, dearie dear," cried her mother, "whatever is the matter?"

"It's wicked and hateful," sobbed the girl, "but---- Oh, mamma, I _hate_ Susan! She was along, and Sam hardly noticed me, and he's coming here this evening to call."

"But you'll be at Sinclairs'!" exclaimed Mrs. Warham.

"Not Susan," sobbed Ruth. "He wants to see only her."

The members of the Second Presbyterian Church, of which Fanny Warham was about the most exemplary and assiduous female member, would hardly have recognized the face encircled by that triple row of curl-papered locks, shinily plastered with quince-seed liquor. She was at woman's second critical age, and the strange emotions working in her mind--of whose disorder no one had an inkling--were upon the surface now. She ventured this freedom of facial expression because her daughter's face was hid. She did not speak. She laid a tender defending hand for an instant upon her daughter's shoulder--like the caress of love and encouragement the lioness gives her cub as she is about to give battle for it. Then she left the room. She did not know what to do, but she knew she must and would do something.

CHAPTER III

THE telephone was downstairs, in the rear end of the hall which divided the lower floor into two equal parts. But hardly had Mrs. Warham given the Sinclairs' number to the exchange girl when Ruth called from the head of the stairs:

"What're you doing there, mamma?"

"I'll tell Mrs. Sinclair you're sick and can't come. Then I'll send Susan in your place."

"Don't!" cried Ruth, in an agitated, angry voice. "Ring off--quick!"

"Now, Ruth, let me----"

"Ring off!" ordered Ruth. "You mustn't do that. You'll have the whole town talking about how I'm throwing myself at Sam's head--and that I'm jealous of Susan."

Mrs. Warham said, "Never mind" into the telephone sender and hung up the receiver. She was frightened, but not convinced. Hers was a slow, old-fashioned mind, and to it the scheme it had worked out seemed a model of skillful duplicity. But Ruth, of the younger and subtler generation, realized instantly how transparent the thing was. Mrs. Warham was abashed but not angered by her daughter's curt contempt.

"It's the only way I can think of," said she. "And I still don't see----"

"Of course you don't," cut in Ruth, ruffled by the perilously narrow escape from being the laughing stock of the town. "People aren't as big fools as they used to be, mamma. They don't believe nowadays everything that's told them. There isn't anybody that doesn't know I'm never sick. No--we'll have to----"

She reflected a moment, pausing halfway down the stairs, while her mother watched her swollen and tear-stained face.

"We might send Susan away for the evening," suggested the mother.

"Yes," assented the daughter. "Papa could take her with him for a drive to North Sutherland--to see the Provosts. Then Sam'd come straight on to the Sinclairs'."

"I'll call up your father."

"No!" cried Ruth, stamping her foot. "Call up Mr. Provost, and tell him papa's coming. Then you can talk with papa when he gets home to dinner."

"But maybe----"

"If that doesn't work out we can do something else this afternoon."

The mother and the daughter avoided each other's eyes. Both felt mean and small, guilty toward Susan; but neither was for that reason disposed to draw back. As Mrs. Warham was trying the new dress on her daughter, she said:

"Anyhow, Sam'd be wasting time on Susan. He'd hang round her for no good. She'd simply get talked about. The poor child can't be lively or smile but what people begin to wonder if she's going the way of--of Lorella."

"That's so," agreed Ruth, and both felt better. "Was Aunt Lorella _very_ pretty, mamma?"

"Lovely!" replied Fanny, and her eyes grew tender, for she had adored Lorella. "You never saw such a complexion--like Susan's, only snow-white." Nervously and hastily, "Most as fine as yours, Ruthie."

Ruth gazed complacently into the mirror. "I'm glad I'm fair, and not big," said she.

"Yes, indeed! I like the womanly woman. And so do men."

"Don't you think we ought to send Susan away to visit somewhere?" asked Ruth at the next opportunity for talk the fitting gave. "It's getting more and more--pointed--the way people act. And she's so sweet and good, I'd hate to have her feelings hurt." In a burst of generosity, "She's the most considerate human being I ever knew. She'd give up anything rather than see someone else put out. She's too much that way."

"We can't be too much that way," said Mrs. Warham in mechanical Christian reproof.

"Oh, I know," retorted Ruth, "that's all very well for church and Sundays. But I guess if you want to get along you've got to look out for Number One. . . . Yes, she ought to visit somewhere."

"I've been trying to think," said her mother. "She couldn't go any place but your Uncle Zeke's. But it's so lonesome out there I haven't the heart to send her. Besides, she wouldn't know what to make of it."

"What'd father say?"

"That's another thing." Mrs. Warham had latterly grown jealous--not without reason--of her husband's partiality for Susan.

Ruth sighed. "Oh, dear!" cried she. "I don't know what to do. How's she ever going to get married!"

"If she'd only been a boy!" said Mrs. Warham, on her knees, taking the unevenness out of the front of the skirt. "A girl has to suffer for her mother's sins."

Ruth made no reply. She smiled to herself--the comment of the younger generation upon the older. Sin it might have been; but, worse than that, it was a stupidity--to let a man make a fool of her. Lorella must have been a poor weak-minded creature.

By dinner time Ruth had completely soothed and smoothed her vanity. Sam had been caught by Susan simply because he had seen Susan before he saw her.

All that would be necessary was a good chance at him, and he would never look at Susan again. He had been in the East, where the admired type was her own--refined, ladylike, the woman of the dainty appearance and manners and tastes. A brief undisturbed exposure to her charms and Susan would seem coarse and countrified to him. There was no denying that Susan had style, but it was fully effective only when applied to a sunny fairy-like beauty such as hers.

But at midday, when Susan came in with Warham, Ruth's jealousy opened all her inward-bleeding wounds again. Susan's merry eyes, her laughing mouth, her funny way of saying even commonplace things--how could quiet, unobtrusive, ladylike charms such as Ruth's have a chance if Susan were about? She waited, silent and anxious, while her mother was having the talk with her father in the sitting-room. Warham, mere man, was amused by his wife's scheming.

"Don't put yourself out, Fanny," said he. "If the boy wants Ruth and she wants him, why, well and good. But you'll only make a mess interfering. Let the young people alone."

"I'm surprised, George Warham," cried Fanny, "that you can show so little sense and heart."

"To hear you talk, I'd think marriage was a business, like groceries."

Mrs. Warham thought it was, in a sense. But she would never have dared say so aloud, even to her husband--or, rather, especially to her husband. In matters of men and women he was thoroughly innocent, with the simplicity of the old-time man of the small town and the country; he fancied that, while in grocery matters and the like the world was full of guile, in matters of the heart it was idyllic, Arcadian, with never a thought of duplicity, except among a few obviously wicked and designing people.

"I guess we both want to see Ruth married well," was all she could venture.

"I'd rather the girls stayed with us," declared Warham. "I'd hate to give them up."

"Of course," hastily agreed Fanny. "Still--it's the regular order of nature."

"Oh, Ruth'll marry--only too soon," said Warham. "And marry well. I'm not so sure, though, that marrying any of old Wright's breed would be marrying what ought to be called well. Money isn't everything--not by a long sight--though, of course, it's comfortable."

"I never heard anything against Sam," protested Mrs. Warham.

"You've heard what I've heard--that he's wild and loose. But then you women like that in a man."

"We've got to put up with it, you mean," cried Fanny, indignant.

"Women like it," persisted Warham. "And I guess Sam's only sowing the usual wild oats, getting ready to settle. No, mother, you let Ruth alone. If she wants him, she'll get him--she or Susan."

Mrs. Warham compressed her lips and lowered her eyes. Ruth or Susan--as if it didn't matter which! "Susan isn't _ours_," she could not refrain from saying.

"Indeed, she is!" retorted George warmly. "Why, she couldn't be more our own----"

"Yes, certainly," interrupted Fanny.

She moved toward the door. She saw that without revealing her entire scheme--hers and Ruth's--she could make no headway with George. And if she did reveal it he would sternly veto it. So she gave up that direction. She went upstairs; George took his hat from the front hall rack and pushed open the screen door. As he appeared on the veranda Susan was picking dead leaves from one of the hanging baskets; Ruth, seated in the hammock, hands in lap, her whole attitude intensely still, was watching her with narrowed eyes.

"What's this I hear," cried Warham, laughing, "about you two girls setting your caps for Sam Wright?" And his good-humored brown eyes glanced at Ruth, passed on to Susan's wealth of wavy dark hair and long, rounded form, and lingered there.

Ruth lowered her eyes and compressed her lips, a trick she had borrowed from her mother along with the peculiarities of her mother's disposition that it fitted. Susan flung a laughing glance over her shoulder at her uncle. "Not Ruth," said she. "Only me. I saw him first, so he's mine. He's coming to see me this evening."

"So I hear. Well, the moon's full and your aunt and I'll not interrupt--at least not till ten o'clock. No callers on a child like you after ten."

"Oh, I don't think I'll be able to hold him that long."

"Don't you fret, Brownie. But I mustn't make you vain. Coming along to the store?"

"No. Tomorrow," said Susan. "I can finish in the morning. I'm going to wear my white dress with embroidery, and it's got to be pressed--and that means I must do it myself."

"Poor Sam! And I suppose, when he calls, you'll come down as if you'd put on any old thing and didn't care whether he came or not. And you'll have primped for an hour--and he, too--shaving and combing and trying different ties."

Susan sparkled at the idea of a young man, and _such_ a young man, taking trouble for her. Ruth, pale, kept her eyes down and her lips compressed. She was picturing the gallant appearance the young Sophomore from Yale, away off in the gorgeous fashionable East, would make as he came in at that gate yonder and up the walk and seated himself on the veranda--with Susan! Evidently her mother had failed; Susan was not to be taken away.

When Warham departed down the walk Ruth rose; she could not bear being alone with her triumphant rival--triumphant because unconscious. She knew that to get Sam to herself all she would have to do would be to hint to Susan, the generous, what she wanted. But pride forbade that. As her hand was on the knob of the screen door, Susan said: "Why don't you like Sam?"

"Oh, I think he's stuck-up. He's been spoiled in the East."

"Why, I don't see any sign of it."

"You were too flattered by his talking to you," said Ruth, with a sweet-sour little laugh--an asp of a sneer hid in a basket of flowers.

Susan felt the sting; but, seeing only the flowers, did not dream whence it had come. "It _was_ nice, wasn't it?" said she, gayly. "Maybe you're right about him, but I can't help liking him. You must admit he's handsome."

"He has a bad look in his eyes," replied Ruth. Such rage against Susan was swelling within her that it seemed to her she would faint if she did not release at least part of it. "You want to look out for him, Susie," said she, calmly and evenly. "You don't want to take what he says seriously."

"Of course not," said Susan, quite honestly, though she, no more than the next human being, could avoid taking seriously whatever was pleasantly flattering.

"He'd never think of marrying you." Ruth trembled before and after delivering this venomous shaft.

"Marrying!" cried Susan, again quite honestly. "Why, I'm only seventeen."

Ruth drew a breath of relief. The shaft had glanced off the armor of innocence without making the faintest dent. She rushed into the house. She did not dare trust herself with her cousin. What might the demon within her tempt her to say next?

"Come up, Ruth!" called her mother. "The dress is ready for the last try-on. I think it's going to hang beautifully."

Ruth dragged herself up the stairs, lagged into the sitting-room, gazed at the dress with a scowl. "What did father say?" she asked.

"It's no use trying to do anything with your father."

Ruth flung herself in a corner of the sofa.

"The only thing I can think of," said her mother, humbly and timidly, "is phone the Sinclairs as I originally set out to do."

"And have the whole town laughing at me. . . . Oh, what do I care, anyhow!"

"Arthur Sinclair's taller and a sight handsomer. Right in the face, Sam's as plain as Dick's hatband. His looks is all clothes and polish--and mighty poor polish, I think. Arthur's got rise in him, too, while Sam--well, I don't know what'd become of him if old Wright lost his money."

But Arthur, a mere promise, seemed poor indeed beside Sam, the actually arrived. To marry Sam would be to step at once into grandeur; to marry Arthur would mean years of struggle. Besides, Arthur was heavy, at least seemed heavy to light Ruth, while Sam was her ideal of gay elegance. "I _detest_ Arthur Sinclair," she now announced.

"You can get Sam if you want him," said her mother confidently. "One evening with a mere child like Susie isn't going to amount to much."

Ruth winced. "Do you suppose I don't know that?" cried she. "What makes me so mad is his impudence--coming here to see her when he wouldn't marry her or take her any place. It's insulting to us all."

"Oh, I don't think it's as bad as all that, Ruthie," soothed her mother, too simple-minded to accept immediately this clever subtlety of self-deception.

"You know this town--how people talk. Why, his sister----" and she related their conversation at the gate that morning.

"You ought to have sat on her hard, Ruth," said Mrs. Warham, with dangerously sparkling eyes. "No matter what we may think privately, it gives people a low opinion of us to----"

"Don't I know that!" shrilled Ruth. She began to weep. "I'm ashamed of myself."

"But we must try the dress on." Mrs. Warham spread the skirt, using herself as form. "Isn't it too lovely!"

Ruth dried her eyes as she gazed. The dress was indeed lovely. But her pleasure in it was shadowed by the remembrance that most of the loveliness was due to Susan's suggestions. Still, she tried it on, and felt better. She would linger until Sam came, would exhibit herself to him; and surely he would not tarry long with Susan. This project improved the situation greatly. She began her toilet for the evening at once, though it was only three o'clock. Susan finished her pressing and started to dress at five--because she knew Ruth would be appealing to her to come in and help put the finishing touches to the toilet for the party. And, sure enough, at half-past five, before she had nearly finished, Ruth, with a sneaking humility, begged her to come "for half a minute--if you don't mind--and have got time."

Susan did Ruth's hair over, made her change to another color of stockings and slippers, put the dress on her, did nearly an hour's refitting and redraping. Both were late for supper; and after supper Susan had to make certain final amendments to the wonderful toilet, and then get herself ready. So it was Ruth alone who went down when Sam Wright came. "My, but you do look all to the good, Ruth!" cried Sam. And his eyes no less than his tone showed that he meant it. He hadn't realized what a soft white neck the blond cousin had, or how perfectly her shoulders rounded into her slim arms. As Ruth moved to depart, he said: "Don't be in such a rush. Wait till Susie finishes her primping and comes down."

"She had to help me," said Ruth, with a righteousness she could justly plume herself upon. "That's why she's late. No, I must get along." She was wise enough to resist the temptation to improve upon an already splendid impression. "Come as soon as you can."

"I'll be there in a few minutes," Sam assured her convincingly. "Save some dances for me."

Ruth went away happy. At the gate she glanced furtively back. Sam was looking after her. She marched down the street with light step. "I must wear low-necked dresses more in the evenings," she said to herself. "It's foolish for a girl to hide a good neck."

Sam, at the edge of the veranda, regretting his promise to call on Susan, was roused by her voice: "Did you ever see anything as lovely as Ruth?"

Sam's regret vanished the instant he looked at her, and the greedy expression came into his sensual, confident young face. "She's a corker," said he. "But I'm content to be where I am."

Susan's dress was not cut out in the neck, was simply of the collarless kind girls of her age wear. It revealed the smooth, voluptuous yet slender column of her throat. And her arms, bare to just above the elbows, were exquisite. But Susan's fascination did not lie in any or in all of her charms, but in that subtlety of magnetism which account for all the sensational phenomena of the relations of men and women. She was a clever girl--clever beyond her years, perhaps--though in this day seventeen is not far from fully developed womanhood. But even had she been silly, men would have been glad to linger on and on under the spell of the sex call which nature had subtly woven into the texture of her voice, into the glance of her eyes, into the delicate emanations of her skin.

They talked of all manner of things--games and college East and West--the wonders of New York--the weather, finally. Sam was every moment of the time puzzling how to bring up the one subject that interested both above all others, that interested him to the exclusion of all others. He was an ardent student of the game of man and woman, had made considerable progress at it--remarkable progress, in view of his bare twenty years. He had devised as many "openings" as an expert chess player. None seemed to fit this difficult case how to make love to a girl of his own class whom his conventional, socially ambitious nature forbade him to consider marrying. As he observed her in the moonlight, he said to himself: "I've got to look out or I'll make a damn fool of myself with her." For his heady passion was fast getting the better of those prudent instincts he had inherited from a father who almost breathed by calculation.

While he was still struggling for an "opening," Susan eager to help him but not knowing how, there came from the far interior of the house three distant raps. "Gracious!" exclaimed Susan. "That's Uncle George. It must be ten o'clock." With frank regret, "I'm so sorry. I thought it was early."

"Yes, it did seem as if I'd just come," said Sam. Her shy innocence was contagious. He felt an awkward country lout. "Well, I suppose I must go."

"But you'll come again--sometime?" she asked wistfully. It was her first real beau--the first that had interested her--and what a dream lover of a beau he looked, standing before her in that wonderful light!

"Come? Rather!" exclaimed he in a tone of enthusiasm that could not but flatter her into a sort of intoxication. "I'd have hard work staying away. But Ruth--she'll always be here."

"Oh, she goes out a lot--and I don't."

"Will you telephone me--next time she's to be out?"

"Yes," agreed she with a hesitation that was explained when she added: "But don't think you've got to come. . . . Oh, I must go in!"

"Good night--Susie." Sam held out his hand. She took it with a queer reluctance. She felt nervous, afraid, as if there were something uncanny lurking somewhere in those moonlight shadows. She gently tried to draw her hand away, but he would not let her. She made a faint struggle, then yielded. It was so wonderful, the sense of the touch of his hand. "Susie!" he said hoarsely. And she knew he felt as she did. Before she realized it his arms were round her, and his lips had met hers. "You drive me crazy," he whispered.

Both were trembling; she had become quite cold--her cheeks, her hand, her body even. "You mustn't," she murmured, drawing gently away.

"You set me crazy," he repeated. "Do you--love me--a little?"

"Oh, I must go!" she pleaded. Tears were glistening in her long dark lashes. The sight of them maddened him. "Do you--Susie?" he pleaded.

"I'm--I'm--very young," she stammered.

"Yes--yes--I know," he assented eagerly. "But not too young to love, Susie? No. Because you do--don't you?"

The moonlit world seemed a fairyland. "Yes," she said softly. "I guess so. I must go. I must."

And moved beyond her power to control herself, she broke from his detaining hand and fled into the house. She darted up to her room, paused in the middle of the floor, her hands clasped over her wildly beating heart. When she could move she threw open the shutters and went out on the balcony. She leaned against the window frame and gazed up at the stars, instinctively seeking the companionship of the infinite. Curiously enough, she thought little about Sam. She was awed and wonderstruck before the strange mysterious event within her, the opening up, the flowering of her soul. These vast emotions, where did they come from? What were they? Why did she long to burst into laughter, to burst into tears? Why did she do neither, but simply stand motionless, with the stars blazing and reeling in the sky and her heart beating like mad and her blood surging and ebbing? Was this--love? Yes--it must be love. Oh, how wonderful love was--and how sad--and how happy beyond all laughter--and how sweet! She felt an enormous tenderness for everybody and for everything, for all the world--an overwhelming sense of beauty and goodness. Her lips were moving. She was amazed to find she was repeating the one prayer she knew, the one Aunt Fanny had taught her in babyhood. Why should she find herself praying? Love--love love! She was a woman and she loved! So this was what it meant to be a woman; it meant to love!

She was roused by the sound of Ruth saying good night to someone at the gate, invisible because of the intervening foliage. Why, it must be dreadfully late. The Dipper had moved away round to the south, and the heat of the day was all gone, and the air was full of the cool, scented breath of leaves and flowers and grass. Ruth's lights shone out upon the balcony. Susan turned to slip into her own room. But Ruth heard, called out peevishly:

"Who's there?"

"Only me," cried Susan.

She longed to go in and embrace Ruth, and kiss her. She would have liked to ask Ruth to let her sleep with her, but she felt Ruth wouldn't understand.

"What are you doing out there?" demanded Ruth. "It's 'way after one."

"Oh--dear--I must go to bed," cried Susan. Ruth's voice somehow seemed to be knocking and tumbling her new dream-world.

"What time did Sam Wright leave here?" asked Ruth.

She was standing in her window now. Susan saw that her face looked tired and worn, almost homely.

"At ten," she replied. "Uncle George knocked on the banister."

"Are you sure it was ten?" said Ruth sharply.

"I guess so. Yes--it was ten. Why?"

"Oh--nothing."

"Was he at Sinclairs'?"

"He came as it was over. He and Lottie brought me home." Ruth was eyeing her cousin evilly. "How did you two get on?"

Susan flushed from head to foot. "Oh--so-so," she answered, in an uncertain voice.

"I don't know why he didn't come to Sinclairs'," snapped Ruth.

Susan flushed again--a delicious warmth from head to foot. She knew why. So he, too, had been dreaming alone. Love! Love!

"What are you smiling at?" cried Ruth crossly.

"Was I smiling?. . . Do you want me to help you undress?"

"No," was the curt answer. "Good night."

"Please let me unhook it, at least," urged Susan, following Ruth into her room.

Ruth submitted.

"Did you have a good time?" asked Susan.

"Of course," snapped Ruth. "What made you think I didn't?"

"Don't be a silly, dear. I didn't think so."

"I had an awful time--awful!"

Ruth began to sob, turned fiercely on Susan. "Leave me alone!" she cried. "I hate to have you touch me." The dress was, of course, entirely unfastened in the back.

"You had a quarrel with Arthur?" asked Susan with sympathy. "But you know he can't keep away from you. Tomorrow----"

"Be careful, Susan, how you let Sam Wright hang around you," cried Ruth, with blazing eyes and trembling lips. "You be careful--that's all I've got to say."

"Why, what do you mean?" asked Susan wonderingly.

"Be careful! He'd never think for a minute of marrying you."

The words meant nothing to Susan; but the tone stabbed into her heart. "Why not?" she said.

Ruth looked at her cousin, hung her head in shame. "Go--go!" she begged. "Please go. I'm a bad girl--bad--_bad_! Go!" And, crying hysterically, she pushed amazed Susan through the connecting door, closed and bolted it.

CHAPTER IV

WHEN Fanny Warham was young her mother--compelled by her father--roused--"routed out"--the children at half-past six on week days and at seven on Sundays for prayers and breakfast, no matter what time they had gone to bed the night before. The horror of this made such an impression upon her that she never permitted Ruth and Susan to be awakened; always they slept until they had "had their sleep out." Regularity was no doubt an excellent thing for health and for moral discipline; but the best rule could be carried to foolish extremes. Until the last year Mrs. Warham had made her two girls live a life of the strictest simplicity and regularity, with the result that they were the most amazingly, soundly, healthy girls in Sutherland. And the regimen still held, except when they had company in the evening or went out--and Mrs. Warham saw to it that there was not too much of that sort of thing. In all her life thus far Susan had never slept less than ten hours, rarely less than twelve.

It lacked less than a minute of ten o'clock the morning after Sam's call when Susan's eyes opened upon her simple, pale-gray bedroom, neat and fresh. She looked sleepily at the little clock on the night stand.

"Mercy me!" she cried. And her bare feet were on the floor and she was stretching her lithe young body, weak from the relaxation of her profound sleep.

She heard someone stirring in Ruth's room; instantly Ruth's remark, "He'd never think for a minute of marrying you," popped into her head. It still meant nothing to her. She could not have explained why it came back or why she fell to puzzling over it as if it held some mysterious meaning. Perhaps the reason was that from early childhood there had been accumulating in some dusky chamber of her mind stray happenings and remarks, all baring upon the unsuspected secret of her birth and the unsuspected strangeness of her position in the world where everyone else was definitely placed and ticketed. She was wondering about Ruth's queer hysterical outburst, evidently the result of a quarrel with Arthur Sinclair. "I guess Ruth cares more for him than she lets on," thought she. This love that had come to her so suddenly and miraculously made her alert for signs of love elsewhere.

She went to the bolted connecting door; she could not remember when it had ever been bolted before, and she felt forlorn and shut out. "Ruth!" she called.

"Is that you?"

A brief silence, then a faint "Yes."

"May I come in?"

"You'd better take your bath and get downstairs."

This reminded her that she was hungry. She gathered her underclothes together, and with the bundle in her arms darted across the hall into the bathroom. The cold water acted as champagne promises to act but doesn't. She felt giddy with health and happiness. And the bright sun was flooding the bathroom, and the odors from the big bed of hyacinths in the side lawn scented the warm breeze from the open window. When she dashed back to her room she was singing, and her singing voice was as charming as her speaking voice promised. A few minutes and her hair had gone up in careless grace and she was clad in a fresh dress of tan linen, full in the blouse. This, with her tan stockings and tan slippers and the radiant youth of her face, gave her a look of utter cleanness and freshness that was exceedingly good to see.

"I'm ready," she called.

There was no answer; doubtless Ruth had already descended. She rushed downstairs and into the dining-room. No one was at the little table set in one of the windows in readiness for the late breakfasters.

Molly came, bringing cocoa, a cereal, hot biscuit and crab-apple preserves, all attractively arranged on a large tray.

"I didn't bring much, Miss Susie," she apologized. "It's so late, and I don't want you to spoil your dinner. We're going to have the grandest chicken that ever came out of an egg."

Susan surveyed the tray with delighted eyes. "That's plenty," she said, "if you don't talk too much about the chicken. Where's Ruth?"

"She ain't coming down. She's got a headache. It was that salad for supper over to Sinclairs' last night. Salad ain't fit for a dog to eat, nohow--that's _my_ opinion. And at night--it's sure to bust your face out or give you the headache or both."

Susan ate with her usual enthusiasm, thinking the while of Sam and wondering how she could contrive to see him. She remembered her promise to her uncle. She had not eaten nearly so much as she wanted. But up she sprang and in fifteen minutes was on her way to the store. She had seen neither Ruth nor her aunt. "_He_'ll be waiting for me to pass," she thought. And she was not disappointed. There he stood, at the footpath gate into his father's place. He had arrayed himself in a blue and white flannel suit, white hat and shoes; a big expensive-looking cigarette adorned his lips. The Martins, the Delevans, the Castles and the Bowens, neighbors across the way, were watching him admiringly through the meshes of lace window curtains. She expected that he would come forward eagerly. Instead, he continued to lean indolently on the gate, as if unaware of her approach. And when she was close at hand, his bow and smile were, so it seemed to her, almost coldly polite. Into her eyes came a confused, hurt expression.

"Susie--sweetheart," he said, the voice in as astonishing contrast as the words to his air of friendly indifference. "They're watching us from the windows all around here."

"Oh--yes," assented she, as if she understood. But she didn't. In Sutherland the young people were not so mindful of gossip, which it was impossible to escape, anyhow. Still--off there in the East, no doubt, they had more refined ways; without a doubt, whatever Sam did was the correct thing.

"Do you still care as you did last night?" he asked. The effect of his words upon her was so obvious that he glanced nervously round. It was delightful to be able to evoke a love like this; but he did wish others weren't looking.

"I'm going to Uncle's store," she said. "I'm late."

"I'll walk part of the way with you," he volunteered, and they started on. "That--that kiss," he stammered. "I can feel it yet."

She blushed deeply, happily. Her beauty made him tingle. "So can I," she said.

They walked in silence several squares. "When will I see you again?" he asked. "Tonight?"

"Yes--do come down. But--Ruth'll be there. I believe Artie Sinclair's coming."

"Oh, that counter-jumper?"

She looked at him in surprise. "He's an awfully nice fellow," said she. "About the nicest in town."

"Of course," replied Sam elaborately. "I beg your pardon. They think differently about those things in the East."

"What thing?"

"No matter."

Sam, whose secret dream was to marry some fashionable Eastern woman and cut a dash in Fifth Avenue life, had no intention of explaining what was what to one who would not understand, would not approve, and would be made auspicious of him. "I suppose Ruth and Sinclair'll pair off and give us a chance."

"You'll come?"

"Right after din--supper, I mean. In the East we have dinner in the evening."

"Isn't that queer!" exclaimed Susan. But she was thinking of the joys in store for her at the close of the day.

"I must go back now," said Sam. Far up the street he saw his sister's pony cart coming.

"You might as well walk to the store." It seemed to her that they both had ever so much to say to each other, and had said nothing.

"No. I can't go any further. Good-by--that is, till tonight."

He was red and stammering. As they shook hands emotion made them speechless. He stumbled awkwardly as he turned to leave, became still more hotly self-conscious when he saw the grin on the faces of the group of loungers at a packing case near the curb. Susan did not see the loafers, did not see anything distinctly. Her feet sought the uneven brick sidewalk uncertainly, and the blood was pouring into her cheeks, was steaming in her brain, making a red mist before her eyes. She was glad he had left her. The joy of being with him was so keen that it was pain. Now she could breathe freely and could dream--dream--dream. She made blunder after blunder in working over the accounts with her uncle, and he began to tease her.

"You sure are in love, Brownie," declared he. Her painful but happy blush delighted him.

"Tell me all about it?"

She shook her head, bending it low to hide her color.

"No?. . . Sometime?"

She nodded. She was glancing shyly and merrily at him now.

"Well, some hold that first love's best. Maybe so. But it seems to me any time's good enough. Still--the first time's mighty fine eh?" He sighed. "My, but it's good to be young!" And he patted her thick wavy hair.

It did not leak out until supper that Sam was coming. Warham said to Susan, "While Ruth's looking out for Artie, you and I'll have a game or so of chess, Brownie." Susan colored violently. "What?" laughed Warham. "Are _you_ going to have a beau too?"

Susan felt two pairs of feminine eyes pounce--hostile eyes, savagely curious. She paled with fright as queer, as unprecedented, as those hostile glances. It seemed to her that she had done or was about to do something criminal. She could not speak.

An awful silence, then her aunt--she no longer seemed her loving aunt--asked in an ominous voice: "Is someone coming to see you, Susan?"

"Sam Wright"--stammered Susan--"I saw him this morning--he was at their gate--and he said--I think he's coming."

A dead silence--Warham silent because he was eating, but the two others not for that reason.

Susan felt horribly guilty, and for no reason. "I'd have spoken of it before," she said, "but there didn't seem to be any chance." She had the instinct of fine shy nature to veil the soul; she found it hard to speak of anything as sacred as this love of hers and whatever related to it.

"I can't allow this, Susie," said her aunt, with lips tightly drawn against the teeth. "You are too young."

"Oh, come now, mother," cried Warham, good-humoredly. "That's foolishness. Let the young folks have a good time. You didn't think you were too young at Susie's age."

"You don't understand, George," said Fanny after she had given him a private frown. Susie's gaze was on the tablecloth. "I can't permit Sam to come here to see Susie."

Ruth's eyes were down also. About her lips was a twitching that meant a struggle to hide a pleased smile.

"I've no objection to Susie's having boys of her own age come to see her," continued Mrs. Warham in the same precise, restrained manner. "But Sam is too old."

"Now, mother----"

Mrs. Warham met his eyes steadily. "I must protect my sister's child, George," she said. At last she had found what she felt was a just reason for keeping Sam away from Susan, so her tone was honest and strong.

Warham lowered his gaze. He understood. "Oh--as you think best, Fan; I didn't mean to interfere," said he awkwardly. He turned on Susan with his affection in his eyes. "Well, Brownie, it looks like chess with your old uncle, doesn't it?"

Susan's bosom was swelling, her lip trembling. "I--I----" she began. She choked back the sobs, faltered out: "I don't think I could, Uncle," and rushed from the room.

There was an uncomfortable pause. Then Warham said, "I must say, Fan, I think--if you had to do it--you might have spared the girl's feelings."

Mrs. Warham felt miserable about it also. "Susie took me by surprise," she apologized. Then, defiantly, "And what else can I do? You know he doesn't come for any good."

Warham stared in amazement. "Now, what does _that_ mean?" he demanded.

"You know very well what it means," retorted his wife.

Her tone made him understand. He reddened, and with too blustering anger brought his fist down on the table.

"Susan's our daughter. She's Ruth's sister."

Ruth pushed back her chair and stood up. Her expression made her look much older than she was. "I wish you could induce the rest of the town to think that, papa," said she. "It'd make my position less painful." And she, too, left the room.

"What's she talking about?" asked Warham.

"It's true, George," replied Fanny with trembling lip. "It's all my fault--insisting on keeping her. I might have known!"

"I think you and Ruth must be crazy. I've seen no sign."

"Have you seen any of the boys calling on Susan since she shot up from a child to a girl? Haven't you noticed she isn't invited any more except when it can't be avoided?"

Warham's face was fiery with rage. He looked helplessly, furiously about. But he said nothing. To fight public sentiment would be like trying to thrust back with one's fists an oncreeping fog. Finally he cried, "It's too outrageous to talk about."

"If I only knew what to do!" moaned Fanny.

A long silence, while Warham was grasping the fullness of the meaning, the frightful meaning, in these revelations so astounding to him. At last he said:

"Does _she_ realize?"

"I guess so . . . I don't know . . . I don't believe she does. She's the most innocent child that ever grew up."

"If I had a chance, I'd sell out and move away."

"Where?" said his wife. "Where would people accept--her?"

Warham became suddenly angry again. "I don't believe it!" he cried, his look and tone contradicting his words. "You've been making a mountain out of a molehill."

And he strode from the room, flung on his hat and went for a walk. As Mrs. Warham came from the dining-room a few minutes later, Ruth appeared in the side veranda doorway. "I think I'll telephone Arthur to come tomorrow evening instead," said she. "He'd not like it, with Sam here too."

"That would be better," assented her mother. "Yes, I'd telephone him if I were you."

Thus it came about that Susan, descending the stairs to the library to get a book, heard Ruth say into the telephone in her sweetest voice, "Yes--tomorrow evening, Arthur. Some others are coming--the Wrights. You'd have to talk to Lottie . . . I don't blame you. . . . Tomorrow evening, then. So sorry. Good-by."

The girl on the stairway stopped short, shrank against the wall. A moment, and she hastily reascended, entered her room, closed the door. Love had awakened the woman; and the woman was not so unsuspecting, so easily deceived as the child had been. She understood what her cousin and her aunt were about; they were trying to take her lover from her! She understood her aunt's looks and tones, her cousin's temper and hysteria. She sat down upon the floor and cried with a breaking heart. The injustice of it! The meanness of it! The wickedness of a world where even her sweet cousin, even her loving aunt were wicked! She sat there on the floor a long time, abandoned to the misery of a first shattered illusion, a misery the more cruel because never before had either cousin or aunt said or done anything to cause her real pain. The sound of voices coming through the open window from below made her start up and go out on the balcony. She leaned over the rail. She could not see the veranda for the masses of creeper, but the voices were now quite plain in the stillness. Ruth's voice gay and incessant. Presently a man's voice _his_--and laughing! Then his voice speaking--then the two voices mingled--both talking at once, so eager were they! Her lover--and Ruth was stealing him from her! Oh, the baseness, the treachery! And her aunt was helping!. . . Sore of heart, utterly forlorn, she sat in the balcony hammock, aching with love and jealousy. Every now and then she ran in and looked at the clock. He was staying on and on, though he must have learned she was not coming down. She heard her uncle and aunt come up to bed. Now the piano in the parlor was going. First it was Ruth singing one of her pretty love songs in that clear small voice of hers. Then Sam played and sang--how his voice thrilled her! Again it was Ruthie singing--"Sweet Dream Faces"--Susan began to sob afresh. She could see Ruth at the piano, how beautiful she looked--and that song--it would be impossible for him not to be impressed. She felt the jealousy of despair. . . . Ten o'clock--half-past--eleven o'clock! She heard them at the edge of the veranda--so, at last he was going. She was able to hear their words now:

"You'll be up for the tennis in the morning?" he was saying.

"At ten," replied Ruth.

"Of course Susie's asked, too," he said--and his voice sounded careless, not at all earnest.

"Certainly," was her cousin's reply. "But I'm not sure she can come."

It was all the girl at the balcony rail could do to refrain from crying out a protest. But Sam was saying to Ruth:

"Well--good night. Haven't had so much fun in a long time. May I come again?"

"If you don't, I'll think you were bored."

"Bored!" He laughed. "That's too ridiculous. See you in the morning. Good night. . . . Give my love to Susie, and tell her I was sorry not to see her."

Susan was all in a glow as her cousin answered, "I'll tell her." doubtless Sam didn't note it, but Susan heard the constraint, the hypocrisy in that sweet voice.

She watched him stroll down to the gate under the arch of boughs dimly lit by the moon. She stretched her arms passionately toward him. Then she went in to go to bed. But at the sound of Ruth humming gayly in the next room, she realized that she could not sleep with her heart full of evil thoughts. She must have it out with her cousin. She knocked on the still bolted door.

"What is it?" asked Ruth coldly.

"Let me in," answered Susan. "I've got to see you."

"Go to bed, Susie. It's late."

"You must let me in."

The bolt shot back. "All right. And please unhook my dress--there's a dear."

Susan opened the door, stood on the threshold, all her dark passion in her face. "Ruth!" she cried.

Ruth had turned her back, in readiness for the service the need of which had alone caused her to unbolt the door. At that swift, fierce ejaculation she started, wheeled round. At sight of that wild anger she paled. "Why, Susie!" she gasped.

"I've found you out!" raged Susan. "You're trying to steal him from me--you and Aunt Fanny. It isn't fair! I'll not stand it!"

"What _are_ you talking about?" cried Ruth. "You must have lost your senses."

"I'll not stand it," Susan repeated, advancing threateningly "He loves me and I love him."

Ruth laughed. "You foolish girl! Why, he cares nothing about you. The idea of your having your head turned by a little politeness!"

"He loves me he told me so. And I love him. I told him so. He's mine! You shan't take him from me!"

"He told you he loved you?"

Ruth's eyes were gleaming and her voice was shrill with hate. "He told you _that_?"

"Yes--he did!"

"I don't believe you."

"We love each other," cried the dark girl. "He came to see _me_. You've got Arthur Sinclair. You shan't take him away!"

The two girls, shaking with fury, were facing each other, were looking into each other's eyes. "If Sam Wright told you he loved you," said Ruth, with the icy deliberateness of a cold-hearted anger, "he was trying to--to make a fool of you. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. _We_'re trying to save you."

"He and I are engaged!" declared Susan. "You shan't take him--and you can't! He _loves_ me!"

"Engaged!" jeered Ruth. "Engaged!" she laughed, pretending not to believe, yet believing. She was beside herself with jealous anger. "Yes--we'll save you from yourself. You're like your mother. You'd disgrace us--as she did."

"Don't you dare talk that way, Ruth Warham. It's false--_false_! My mother is dead--and you're a wicked girl."

"It's time you knew the truth," said Ruth softly. Her eyes were half shut now and sparkling devilishly. "You haven't got any name. You haven't got any father. And no man of any position would marry you. As for Sam----" She laughed contemptuously. "Do you suppose Sam Wright would marry a girl without a name?"

Susan had shrunk against the door jamb. She understood only dimly, but things understood dimly are worse than things that are clear. "Me?" she muttered. "Me? Oh, Ruth, you don't mean that."

"It's true," said Ruth, calmly. "And the sooner you realize it the less likely you are to go the way your mother did."

Susan stood as if petrified.

"If Sam Wright comes hanging round you any more, you'll know how to treat him," Ruth went on. "You'll appreciate that he hasn't any respect for you--that he thinks you're someone to be trifled with. And if he talked engagement, it was only a pretense. Do you understand?"

The girl leaning in the doorway gazed into vacancy. After a while she answered dully, "I guess so."

Ruth began to fuss with the things on her bureau. Susan went into her room, sat on the edge of the bed. A few minutes, and Ruth, somewhat cooled down and not a little frightened, entered. She looked uneasily at the motionless figure. Finally she said,

"Susie!"

No answer.

More sharply, "Susie!"

"Yes," said Susan, without moving.

"You understand that I told you for your own good? And you'll not say anything to mother or father? They feel terribly about it, and don't want it ever mentioned. You won't let on that you know?"

"I'll not tell," said Susan.

"You know we're fond of you--and want to do everything for you?"

No answer.

"It wasn't true--what you said about Sam's making love to you?"

"That's all over. I don't want to talk about it."

"You're not angry with me, Susie? I admit I was angry, but it was best for you to know--wasn't it?"

"Yes," said Susan.

"You're not angry with me?"

"No."

Ruth, still more uneasy, turned back into her own room because there was nothing else to do. She did not shut the door between. When she was in her nightgown she glanced in at her cousin. The girl was sitting on the edge of the bed in the same position. "It's after midnight," said Ruth. "You'd better get undressed."

Susan moved a little. "I will," she said.

Ruth went to bed and soon fell asleep. After an hour or so she awakened. Light was streaming through the open connecting door. She ran to it, looked in. Susan's clothes were in a heap beside the bed. Susan herself, with the pillows propping her, was staring wide-eyed at the ceiling. It was impossible for Ruth to realize any part of the effect upon her cousin of a thing she herself had known for years and had taken always as a matter of course; she simply felt mildly sorry for unfortunate Susan.

"Susie, dear," she said gently, "do you want me to turn out the light?"

"Yes," said Susan.

Ruth switched off the light and went back to bed, better content. She felt that now Susan would stop her staring and would go to sleep. Sam's call had been very satisfactory. Ruth felt she had shown off to the best advantage, felt that he admired her, would come to see _her_ next time. And now that she had so arranged it that Susan would avoid him, everything would turn out as she wished. "I'll use Arthur to make him jealous after a while--and then--I'll have things my own way." As she fell asleep she was selecting the rooms Sam and she would occupy in the big Wright mansion--"when we're not in the East or in Europe."

CHAPTER V

RUTH had forgotten to close her shutters, so toward seven o'clock the light which had been beating against her eyelids for three hours succeeded in lifting them. She stretched herself and yawned noisily. Susan appeared in the connecting doorway.

"Are you awake?" she said softly.

"What time is it?" asked Ruth, too lazy to turn over and look at her clock.

"Ten to seven."

"Do close my shutters for me. I'll sleep an hour or two." She hazily made out the figure in the doorway. "You're dressed, aren't you?" she inquired sleepily.

"Yes," replied Susan. "I've been waiting for you to wake."

Something in the tone made Ruth forget about sleep and rub her fingers over her eyes to clear them for a view of her cousin. Susan seemed about as usual--perhaps a little serious, but then she had the habit of strange moods of seriousness. "What did you want?" said Ruth.

Susan came into the room, sat at the foot of the bed--there was room, as the bed was long and Ruth short. "I want you to tell me what my mother did."

"Did?" echoed Ruth feebly.

"Did, to disgrace you and--me."

"Oh, I couldn't explain--not in a few words. I'm so sleepy. Don't bother about it, Susan." And she thrust her head deeper into the pillow. "Close the shutters."

"Then I'll have to ask Aunt Fanny--or Uncle George or everybody--till I find out."

"But you mustn't do that," protested Ruth, flinging herself from left to right impatiently. "What is it you want to know?"

"About my mother--and what she did. And why I have no father--why I'm not like you--and the other girls."

"Oh--it's nothing. I can't explain. Don't bother about it. It's no use. It can't be helped. And it doesn't really matter."

"I've been thinking," said Susan. "I understand a great many things I didn't know I'd noticed--ever since I was a baby. But what I don't understand----" She drew a long breath, a cautious breath, as if there were danger of awakening a pain. "What I don't understand is--why. And--you must tell me all about it. . . . Was my mother bad?"

"Not exactly bad," Ruth answered uncertainly. "But she did one thing that was wicked--at least that a woman never can be forgiven for, if it's found out."

"Did she--did she take something that didn't belong to her?"

"No--nothing like that. No, she was, they say, as nice and sweet as she could be--except---- She wasn't married to your father."

Susan sat in a brown study. "I can't understand," she said at last. "Why--she _must_ have been married, or--or--there wouldn't have been me."

Ruth smiled uneasily. "Not at all. Don't you really understand?"

Susan shook her head.

"He--he betrayed her--and left her--and then everybody knew because you came."

Susan's violet-gray eyes rested a grave, inquiring glance upon her cousin's face. "But if he betrayed her---- What does 'betray' mean? Doesn't it mean he promised to marry her and didn't?"

"Something like that," said Ruth. "Yes--something like that."

"Then _he_ was the disgrace," said the dark cousin, after reflecting. "No--you're not telling me, Ruth. _What_ did my mother do?"

"She had you without being married."

Again Susan sat in silence, trying to puzzle it out. Ruth lifted herself, put the pillows behind her back. "You don't understand--anything--do you? Well, I'll try to explain--though I don't know much about it."

And hesitatingly, choosing words she thought fitted to those innocent ears, hunting about for expressions she thought comprehensible to that innocent mind, Ruth explained the relations of the sexes--an inaccurate, often absurd, explanation, for she herself knew only what she had picked up from other girls--the fantastic hodgepodge of pruriency, physiology and sheer nonsense which under our system of education distorts and either alarms or inflames the imaginations of girls and boys where the clean, simple truth would at least enlighten them. Susan listened with increasing amazement.

"Well, do you understand?" Ruth ended. "How we come into the world--and what marriage means?"

"I don't believe it," declared Susan. "It's--awful!" And she shivered with disgust.

"I tell you it's true," insisted Ruth. "I thought it was awful when I first heard--when Lottie Wright took me out in their orchard, where nobody could listen, and told me what their cook had told her. But I've got kind of used to it."

"But it--it's so, then; my mother did marry my father," said Susan.

"No. She let him betray her. And when a woman lets a man betray her without being married by the preacher or somebody, why, she's ruined forever."

"But doesn't marriage mean where two people promise to love each other and then betray each other?"

"If they're married, it isn't betraying," explained Ruth. "If they're not, it is betraying." Susan reflected, nodded slowly. "I guess I understand. But don't you see it was my father who was the disgrace? He was the one that promised to marry and didn't."

"How foolish you are!" cried Ruth. "I never knew you to be stupid."

"But isn't it so?" persisted Susan.

"Yes--in a way," her cousin admitted. "Only--the woman must keep herself pure until the ceremony has been performed."

"But if he said so to her, wasn't that saying so to God just as much as if the preacher had been there?"

"No, it wasn't," said Ruth with irritation. "And it's wicked to think such things. All I know is, God says a woman must be married before she--before she has any children. And your mother wasn't." Susan shook her head. "I guess you don't understand any better than I do--really."

"No, I don't," confessed Ruth. "But I'd like to see any man more than kiss me or put his arm round me without our having been married."

"But," urged Susan, "if he kissed you, wouldn't that be like marriage?"

"Some say so," admitted Ruth. "But I'm not so strict. A little kissing and that often leads a man to propose." Susan reflected again. "It all sounds low and sneaking to me," was her final verdict. "I don't want to have anything to do with it. But I'm sure my mother was a good woman. It wasn't her fault if she was lied to, when she loved and believed. And anybody who blames her is low and bad. I'm glad I haven't got any father, if fathers have to be made to promise before everybody or else they'll not keep their word."

"Well, I'll not argue about it," said Ruth. "I'm telling you the way things are. The woman has to take _all_ the blame." Susan lifted her head haughtily. "I'd be glad to be blamed by anybody who was wicked enough to be that unjust. I'd not have anything to do with such people."

"Then you'd live alone."

"No, I shouldn't. There are lots of people who are good and----"

"That's wicked, Susan," interrupted Ruth. "All good people think as I tell you they do."

"Do Aunt Fanny and Uncle George blame my mother?"

"Of course. How could they help it, when she----" Ruth was checked by the gathering lightnings in those violet-gray eyes.

"But," pursued Susan, after a pause, "even if they were wicked enough to blame my mother, they couldn't blame me."

"Of course not," declared Ruth warmly. "Hasn't everybody always been sweet and kind to you?"

"But last night you said----"

Ruth hid her face. "I'm ashamed of what I said last night," she murmured. "I've got, Oh, such a _nasty_ disposition, Susie."

"But what you said--wasn't it so?" Ruth turned away her head.

Susan drew a long sigh, so quietly that Ruth could not have heard.

"You understand," Ruth said gently, "everybody feels sorry for you and----"

Susan frowned stormily, "They'd better feel sorry for themselves."

"Oh, Susie, dear," cried Ruth, impulsively catching her hand, "we all love you, and mother and father and I--we'll stand up for you through everything----"

"Don't you _dare_ feel sorry for me!" Susan cried, wrenching her hand away.

Ruth's eyes filled with tears.

"You can't blame us because everybody---- You know, God says, 'The sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children----'"

"I'm done with everybody," cried Susan, rising and lifting her proud head, "I'm done with God."

Ruth gave a low scream and shuddered. Susan looked round defiantly, as if she expected a bolt from the blue to come hurtling through the open window. But the sky remained serene, and the quiet, scented breeze continued to play with the lace curtains, and the birds on the balcony did not suspend their chattering courtship. This lack of immediate effect from her declaration of war upon man and God was encouraging. The last of the crushed, cowed feeling Ruth had inspired the night before disappeared. With a soul haughtily plumed and looking defiance from the violet-gray eyes, Susan left her cousin and betook herself down to breakfast.

In common with most children, she had always dreamed of a mysterious fate for herself, different from the commonplace routine around her. Ruth's revelations, far from daunting her, far from making her feel like cringing before the world in gratitude for its tolerance of her bar sinister, seemed a fascinatingly tragic confirmation of her romantic longings and beliefs. No doubt it was the difference from the common lot that had attracted Sam to her; and this difference would make their love wholly unlike the commonplace Sutherland wooing and wedding. Yes, hers had been a mysterious fate, and would continue to be. Nora, an old woman now, had often related in her presence how Doctor Stevens had brought her to life when she lay apparently, indeed really, dead upon the upstairs sitting-room table--Doctor Stevens and Nora's own prayers. An extraordinary birth, in defiance of the laws of God and man; an extraordinary resurrection, in defiance of the laws of nature--yes, hers would be a life superbly different from the common. And when she and Sam married, how gracious and forgiving she would be to all those bad-hearted people; how she would shame them for their evil thoughts against her mother and herself!

The Susan Lenox who sat alone at the little table in the dining-room window, eating bread and butter and honey in the comb, was apparently the same Susan Lenox who had taken three meals a day in that room all those years--was, indeed, actually the same, for character is not an overnight creation. Yet it was an amazingly different Susan Lenox, too. The first crisis had come; she had been put to the test; and she had not collapsed in weakness but had stood erect in strength.

After breakfast she went down Main Street and at Crooked Creek Avenue took the turning for the cemetery. She sought the Warham plot, on the western slope near the quiet brook. There was a clump of cedars at each corner of the plot; near the largest of them were three little graves--the three dead children of George and Fanny. In the shadow of the clump and nearest the brook was a fourth grave apart and, to the girl, now thrillingly mysterious:

LORELLA LENOX
BORN MAY 9, 1859
DIED JULY 17, 1879

Twenty years old! Susan's tears scalded her eyes. Only a little older than her cousin Ruth was now--Ruth who often seemed to her, and to everybody, younger than herself. "And she was good--I know she was good!" thought Susan. "_He_ was bad, and the people who took his part against her were bad. But _she_ was good!"

She started as Sam's voice, gay and light, sounded directly behind her. "What are you doing in a graveyard?" cried he.

"How did you find me?" she asked, paling and flushing and paling again.

"I've been following you ever since you left home."

He might have added that he did not try to overtake her until they were where people would be least likely to see.

"Whose graves are those?" he went on, cutting across a plot and stepping on several graves to join her.

She was gazing at her mothers simple headstone. His glance followed hers, he read.

"Oh--beg pardon," he said confusedly. "I didn't see."

She turned her serious gaze from the headstone to his face, which her young imagination transfigured. "You know--about her?" she asked.

"I--I--I've heard," he confessed. "But--Susie, it doesn't amount to anything. It happened a long time ago--and everybody's forgotten--and----" His stammering falsehoods died away before her steady look. "How did you find out?"

"Someone just told me," replied she. "And they said you'd never respect or marry a girl who had no father. No--don't deny--please! I didn't believe it--not after what we had said to each other."

Sam, red and shifting uneasily, could not even keep his downcast eyes upon the same spot of ground.

"You see," she went on, sweet and grave, "they don't understand what love means--do they?"

"I guess not," muttered he, completely unnerved.

Why, how seriously the girl had taken him and his words--such a few words and not at all definite! No, he decided, it was the kiss. He had heard of girls so innocent that they thought a kiss meant the same as being married. He got himself together as well as he could and looked at her.

"But, Susie," he said, "you're too young for anything definite--and I'm not halfway through college."

"I understand," said she. "But you need not be afraid I'll change."

She was so sweet, so magnetic, so compelling that in spite of the frowns of prudence he seized her hand. At her touch he flung prudence to the winds. "I love you," he cried; and putting his arm around her, he tried to kiss her. She gently but strongly repulsed him. "Why not, dear?" he pleaded. "You love me--don't you?"

"Yes," she replied, her honest eyes shining upon his. "But we must wait until we're married. I don't care so much for the others, but I'd not want Uncle George to feel I had disgraced him."

"Why, there's no harm in a kiss," pleaded he.

"Kissing you is--different," she replied. "It's--it's--marriage."

He understood her innocence that frankly assumed marriage where a sophisticated girl would, in the guilt of designing thoughts, have shrunk in shame from however vaguely suggesting such a thing. He realized to the full his peril. "I'm a damn fool," he said to himself, "to hang about her. But somehow I can't help it--I can't!" And the truth was, he loved her as much as a boy of his age is capable of loving, and he would have gone on and married her but for the snobbishness smeared on him by the provincialism of the small town and burned in by the toadyism of his fashionable college set. As he looked at her he saw beauty beyond any he had ever seen elsewhere and a sweetness and honesty that made him ashamed before her. "No, I couldn't harm her," he told himself. "I'm not such a dog as that. But there's no harm in loving her and kissing her and making her as happy as it's right to be."

"Don't be mean, Susan," he begged, tears in his eyes. "If you love me, you'll let me kiss you."

And she yielded, and the shock of the kiss set both to trembling. It appealed to his vanity, it heightened his own agitations to see how pale she had grown and how her rounded bosom rose and fell in the wild tumult of her emotions. "Oh, I can't do without seeing you," she cried. "And Aunt Fanny has forbidden me."

"I thought so!" exclaimed he. "I did what I could last night to throw them off the track. If Ruth had only known what I was thinking about all the time. Where were you?"

"Upstairs--on the balcony."

"I felt it," he declared. "And when she sang love songs I could hardly keep from rushing up to you. Susie, we _must_ see each other."

"I can come here, almost any day."

"But people'd soon find out--and they'd say all sorts of things. And your uncle and aunt would hear."

There was no disputing anything so obvious.

"Couldn't you come down tonight, after the others are in bed and the house is quiet?" he suggested.

She hesitated before the deception, though she felt that her family had forfeited the right to control her. But love, being the supreme necessity, conquered. "For a few minutes," she conceded.

She had been absorbed; but his eyes, kept alert by his conventional soul, had seen several people at a distance observing without seeming to do so. "We must separate," he now said. "You see, Susie, we mustn't be gossiped about. You know how determined they are to keep us apart."

"Yes--yes," she eagerly agreed. "Will you go first, or shall I?"

"You go--the way you came. I'll jump the brook down where it's narrow and cut across and into our place by the back way. What time tonight?"

"Arthur's coming," reflected Susie aloud. "Ruth'll not let him stay late. She'll be sleepy and will go straight to bed. About half past ten. If I'm not on the front veranda--no, the side veranda--by eleven, you'll know something has prevented."

"But you'll surely come?"

"I'll come." And it both thrilled and alarmed him to see how much in earnest she was. But he looked love into her loving eyes and went away, too intoxicated to care whither this adventure was leading him.

At dinner she felt she was no longer a part of this family. Were they not all pitying and looking down on her in their hearts? She was like a deformed person who has always imagined the consideration he has had was natural and equal, and suddenly discovers that it is pity for his deformity. She now acutely felt her aunt's, her cousin's, dislike; and her uncle's gentleness was not less galling. In her softly rounded youthful face there was revealed definitely for the first time an underlying expression of strength, of what is often confused with its feeble counterfeit, obstinacy--that power to resist circumstances which makes the unusual and the firm character. The young mobility of her features suggested the easy swaying of the baby sapling in the gentlest breeze. Singularly at variance with it was this expression of tenacity. Such an expression in the face of the young infallibly forecasts an agitated and agitating life. It seemed amazingly out of place in Susan because theretofore she had never been put to the test in any but unnoted trifles and so had given the impression that she was as docile as she was fearful of giving annoyance or pain and indifferent to having her own way. Those who have this temperament of strength encased in gentleness are invariably misunderstood. When they assert themselves, though they are in the particular instance wholly right, they are regarded as wholly and outrageously wrong. Life deals hardly with them, punishes them for the mistaken notion of themselves they have through forbearance and gentleness of heart permitted an unobservant world to form.

Susan spent the afternoon on the balcony before her window, reading and sewing--or, rather, dreaming over first a book, then a dress. When she entered the dining-room at supper time the others were already seated. She saw instantly that something had occurred--something ominous for her. Mrs. Warham gave her a penetrating, severe look and lowered her eyes; Ruth was gazing sullenly at her plate. Warham's glance was stern and reproachful. She took her place opposite Ruth, and the meal was eaten in silence. Ruth left the table first. Next Mrs. Warham rose and saying, "Susan, when you've finished, I wish to see you in the sitting-room upstairs," swept in solemn dignity from the room. Susan rose at once to follow. As she was passing her uncle he put out his hand and detained her.

"I hope it was only a foolish girl's piece of nonsense," said he with an attempt at his wonted kindliness. "And I know it won't occur again. But when your aunt says things you won't like to hear, remember that you brought this on yourself and that she loves you as we all do and is thinking only of your good."

"What is it, Uncle George?" cried Susan, amazed. "What have I done?"

Warham looked sternly grieved. "Brownie," he reproached, "you mustn't deceive. Go to your aunt."

She found her aunt seated stiffly in the living-room, her hands folded upon her stomach. So gradual had been the crucial middle-life change in Fanny that no one had noted it. This evening Susan, become morbidly acute, suddenly realized the contrast between the severe, uncertain-tempered aunt of today and the amiable, altogether and always gentle aunt of two years before.

"What is it, aunt?" she said, feeling as if she were before a stranger and an enemy.

"The whole town is talking about your disgraceful doings this morning," Ruth's mother replied in a hard voice.

The color leaped in Susan's cheeks.

"Yesterday I forbade you to see Sam Wright again. And already you disobey."

"I did not say I would not see him again," replied Susan.

"I thought you were an honest, obedient girl," cried Fanny, the high shrill notes in her voice rasping upon the sensitive, the now morbidly sensitive, Susan. "Instead--you slip away from the house and meet a young man--and permit him to take _liberties_ with you."

Susan braced herself. "I did not go to the cemetery to meet him," she replied; and that new or, rather, newly revived tenacity was strong in her eyes, in the set of her sweet mouth. "He saw me on the way and followed. I did let him kiss me--once. But I had the right to."

"You have disgraced yourself--and us all."

"We are going to be married."

"I don't want to hear such foolish talk!" cried Mrs. Warham violently. "If you had any sense, you'd know better."

"He and I do not feel as you do about my mother," said the girl with quiet dignity.

Mrs. Warham shivered before this fling. "Who told you?" she demanded.

"It doesn't matter; I know."

"Well, miss, since you know, then I can tell you that your uncle and I realize you're going the way your mother went. And the whole town thinks you've gone already. They're all saying, 'I told you so! I told you so! Like her mother!'" Mrs. Warham was weeping hysterical tears of fury. "The whole town! And it'll reflect on my Ruth. Oh, you miserable girl! Whatever possessed me to take pity on you!"

Susan's hands clutched until the nails sunk into the palms. She shut her teeth together, turned to fly.

"Wait!" commanded Mrs. Warham. "Wait, I tell you!"

Susan halted in the doorway, but did not turn.

"Your uncle and I have talked it over."

"Oh!" cried Susan.

Mrs. Warham's eyes glistened. "Yes, he has wakened up at last. There's one thing he isn't soft about----"

"You've turned him against me!" cried the girl despairingly.

"You mean _you_ have turned him against you," retorted her aunt. "Anyhow, you can't wheedle him this time. He's as bent as I am. And you must promise us that you won't see Sam again."

A pause. Then Susan said, "I can't."

"Then we'll send you away to your Uncle Zeke's. It's quiet out there and you'll have a chance to think things over. And I reckon he'll watch you. He's never forgiven your mother. Now, will you promise?"

"No," said Susan calmly. "You have wicked thoughts about my mother, and you are being wicked to me--you and Ruth. Oh, I understand!"

"Don't you dare stand there and lie that way!" raved Mrs. Warham. "I'll give you tonight to think about it. If you don't promise, you leave this house. Your uncle has been weak where you were concerned, but this caper of yours has brought him to his senses. We'll not have you a loose character--and your cousin's life spoiled by it. First thing we know, no respectable man'll marry her, either."

From between the girl's shut teeth issued a cry. She darted across the hall, locked herself in her room.

CHAPTER VI

SAM did not wait until Arthur Sinclair left, but, all ardor and impatience, stole in at the Warhams' front gate at ten o'clock. He dropped to the grass behind a clump of lilacs, and to calm his nerves and to make the time pass more quickly, smoked a cigarette, keeping its lighted end carefully hidden in the hollow of his hand. He was not twenty feet away, was seeing and hearing, when Arthur kissed Ruth good night. He laughed to himself. "How disappointed she looked last night when she saw I wasn't going to do that!" What a charmer Susie must be when the thought of her made the idea of kissing as pretty a girl as Ruth uninteresting, almost distasteful!

Sinclair departed; the lights in parlor and hall went out; presently light appeared through the chinks in some of the second-story shutters. Then followed three-quarters of an hour of increasing tension. The tension would have been even greater had he seen the young lady going leisurely about her preparations for bed. For Ruth was of the orderly, precise women who are created to foster the virtue of patience in those about them. It took her nearly as long to dress for bed as for a party. She did her hair up in curl papers with the utmost care; she washed and rinsed and greased her face and neck and gave them a thorough massage. She shook out and carefully hung or folded or put to air each separate garment. She examined her silk stockings for holes, found one, darned it with a neatness rivaling that of a _stoppeur_. She removed from her dressing table and put away in drawers everything that was out of place. She closed each drawer tightly, closed and locked the closets, looked under the bed, turned off the lights over the dressing table. She completed her toilet with a slow washing of her teeth, a long spraying of her throat, and a deliberate, thoroughgoing dripping of boracic acid into each eye to keep and improve its clearness and brilliancy. She sat on the bed, reflected on what she had done, to assure herself that nothing had been omitted. After a slow look around she drew off her bedroom slippers, set them carefully side by side near the head of the bed. She folded her nightgown neatly about her legs, thrust them down into the bed. Again she looked slowly, searchingly, about the room to make absolutely sure she had forgotten nothing, had put everything in perfect order. Once in bed, she hated to get out; yet if she should recall any omission, however slight, she would be unable to sleep until she had corrected it. Finally, sure as fallible humanity can be, she turned out the last light, lay down--went instantly to sleep.

It was hardly a quarter of an hour after the vanishing of that last ray when Sam, standing now with heart beating fast and a lump of expectancy, perhaps of trepidation, too, in his throat, saw a figure issue from the front door and move round to the side veranda. He made a detour on the lawn, so as to keep out of view both from house and street, came up to the veranda, called to her softly.

"Can you get over the rail?" asked she in the same low tone.

"Let's go back to the summer house," urged he.

"No. Come up here," she insisted. "Be careful. The windows above are open."

He climbed the rail noiselessly and made an impetuous move for her hand. She drew back. "No, Sam dear," she said. "I know it's foolish. But I've an instinct against it--and we mustn't."

She spoke so gently that he persisted and pleaded. It was some time before he realized how much firmness there was under her gentleness. She was so afraid of making him cross; yet he also saw that she would withstand at any cost. He placed himself beside her on the wicker lounge, sitting close, his cheek almost against hers, that they might hear each other without speaking above a whisper. After one of those silences which are the peculiar delight of lovers, she drew a long breath and said: "I've got to go away, Sam. I shan't see you again for a long time."

"They heard about this morning? They're sending you away?"

"No--I'm going. They feel that I'm a disgrace and a drag. So I can't stay."

"But--you've _got_ to stay!" protested Sam. In wild alarm he suspected she was preparing to make him elope with her--and he did not know to what length of folly his infatuation might whirl him. "You've no place to go," he urged.

"I'll find a place," said she.

"You mustn't--you mustn't, Susie! Why, you're only seventeen--and have no experience."

"I'll _get_ experience," said she. "Nothing could be so bad as staying here. Can't you see that?"

He could not. Like so many of the children of the rich, he had no trace of over-nice sense of self-respect, having been lying and toadying all his life to a father who used the power of his wealth at home no less, rather more, than abroad. But he vaguely realized what delicacy of feeling lay behind her statement of her position; and he did not dare express his real opinion. He returned to the main point. "You've simply got to put up with it for the present, Susie," he insisted. "But, then, of course, you're not serious."

"Yes. I am going."

"You'll think it over, and see I'm right, dear."

"I'm going tonight."

"Tonight!" he cried.

"Sh-h!"

Sam looked apprehensively around. Both breathed softly and listened with straining ears. His exclamation had not been loud, but the silence was profound. "I guess nobody heard," he finally whispered. "You mustn't go, Susie." He caught her hand and held it. "I love you, and I forbid it."

"I _must_ go, dear," answered she. "I've decided to take the midnight boat for Cincinnati."

In the half darkness he gazed in stupefaction at her--this girl of only seventeen calmly resolving upon and planning an adventure so daring, so impossible. As he had been born and bred in that western country where the very children have more independence than the carefully tamed grown people of the East, he ought to have been prepared for almost anything. But his father had undermined his courage and independence; also his year in the East had given him somewhat different ideas of women. Susan's announcement seemed incredible. He was gathering himself for pouring out a fresh protest when it flashed through his mind--Why not? She would go to Cincinnati. He could follow in a few days or a week--and then--

Well, at least they would be free and could have many happy days together.

"Why, how could you get to Cincinnati?" he said. "You haven't any money."

"I've a twenty-dollar gold piece Uncle gave me as a keepsake. And I've got seventeen dollars in other money, and several dollars in change," explained she. "I've got two hundred and forty-three dollars and fifty cents in the bank, but I can't get that--not now. They'll send it to me when I find a place and am settled and let them know."

"You can't do it, Susie! You can't and you mustn't."

"If you knew what they said to me! Oh, I _couldn't_ stay, Sam. I've got some of my clothes--a little bundle behind the front door. As soon as I'm settled I'll let you know."

A silence, then he, hesitatingly, "Don't you--do you--hadn't I better go with you?"

She thrilled at this generosity, this new proof of love. But she said: "No, I wouldn't let you do that. They'd blame you. And I want them to know it's all my own doing."

"You're right, Susie," said the young man, relieved and emphatic. "If I went with you, it'd only get both of us into deeper trouble." Again silence, with Sam feeling a kind of awe as he studied the resolute, mysterious profile of the girl, which he could now see clearly. At last he said: "And after you get there, Susie--what will you do?"

"Find a boarding house, and then look for a place."

"What kind of a place?"

"In a store--or making dresses--or any kind of sewing. Or I could do housework."

The sex impulse is prolific of generous impulses. He, sitting so close to her and breathing in through his skin the emanations of her young magnetism, was moved to the depths by the picture her words conjured. This beautiful girl, a mere child, born and bred in the lady class, wandering away penniless and alone, to be a prey to the world's buffetings which, severe enough in reality, seem savage beyond endurance to the children of wealth.

As he pictured it his heart impulsively expanded. It was at his lips to offer to marry her. But his real self--and one's real self is vastly different from one's impulses--his real self forbade the words passage. Not even the sex impulse, intoxicating him as it then was, could dethrone snobbish calculation. He was young; so while he did not speak, he felt ashamed of himself for not speaking. He felt that she must be expecting him to speak, that she had the right to expect it. He drew a little away from her, and kept silent.

"The time will soon pass," said she absently.

"The time? Then you intend to come back?"

"I mean the time until you're through college and we can be together."

She spoke as one speaks of a dream as to which one has never a doubt but that it will come true. It was so preposterous, this idea that he would marry her, especially after she had been a servant or God knows what for several years--it was so absurd that he burst into a sweat of nervous terror. And he hastily drew further away.

She felt the change, for she was of those who are born sensitive. But she was far too young and inexperienced to have learned to interpret aright the subtle warning of the nerves. "You are displeased with me?" she asked timidly.

"No--Oh, no, Susie," he stammered. "I--I was thinking. Do put off going for a day or two. There's no need of hurrying."

But she felt that by disobeying her aunt and coming down to see him she had forfeited the right to shelter under that roof. "I can't go back," said she. "There's a reason." She would not tell him the reason; it would make him feel as if he were to blame. "When I get a place in Cincinnati," she went on, "I'll write to you."

"Not here," he objected. "That wouldn't do at all. No, send me a line to the Gibson House in Cincinnati, giving me your address."

"The Gibson House," she repeated. "I'll not forget that name. Gibson House."

"Send it as soon as you get a place. I may be in Cincinnati soon. But this is all nonsense. You're not going. You'd be afraid."

She laughed softly. "You don't know me. Now that I've got to go, I'm glad."

And he realized that she was not talking to give herself courage, that her words were literally true. This made him admire her, and fear her, too. There must be something wild and unwomanly in her nature. "I guess she inherits it from her mother--and perhaps her father, whoever he was." Probably she was simply doing a little early what she'd have been sure to do sooner or later, no matter what had happened. On the whole, it was just as well that she was going. "I can take her on East in the fall. As soon as she has a little knowledge of the world she'll not expect me to marry her. She can get something to do. I'll help her." And now he felt in conceit with himself again--felt that he was going to be a good, generous friend to her.

"Perhaps you'll be better off--once you get started," said he.

"I don't see how I could be worse off. What is there here for _me_?"

He wondered at the good sense of this from a mere child. It was most unlikely that any man of the class she had been brought up in would marry her; and how could she endure marriage with a man of the class in which she might possibly find a husband? As for reputation--

She, an illegitimate child, never could have a reputation, at least not so long as she had her looks. After supper, to kill time, he had dropped in at Willett's drug store, where the young fellows loafed and gossiped in the evenings; all the time he was there the conversation had been made up of sly digs and hints about graveyard trysts, each thrust causing the kind of laughter that is the wake of the prurient and the obscene. Yes, she was right. There could be "nothing in it" for her in Sutherland. He was filled with pity for her. "Poor child! What a shame!" There must be something wrong with a world that permitted such iniquities.

The clock struck twelve. "You must go," she said. "Sometimes the boat comes as early as half-past." And she stood up.

As he faced her the generous impulse surged again. He caught her in his arms, she not resisting. He kissed her again and again, murmuring disconnected words of endearment and fighting back the offer to marry her. "I mustn't! I mustn't!" he said to himself. "What'd become of us?" If his passions had been as virgin, as inexperienced, as hers, no power could have held him from going with her and marrying her. But experience had taught him the abysmal difference between before and after; and he found strength to be sensible, even in the height of his passionate longing for her.

She clasped her arms about his neck. "Oh, my dear love!" she murmured. "I'd do anything for you. I feel that you love me as I love you."

"Yes--yes." And he pressed his lips to hers. An instant and she drew away, shaking and panting. He tried to clasp her again, but she would not have it. "I can't stand it!" he murmured. "I must go with you--I must!"

"No!" she replied. "It wouldn't do unless we were really married." Wistfully, "And we can't be that yet--can we? There isn't any way?"

His passion cooled instantly.

"There isn't any way," he said regretfully. "I'd not dare tell my father."

"Yes, we must wait till you're of age, and have your education, and are free. Then----" She drew a long breath, looked at him with a brave smile. The large moon was shining upon them. "We'll think of that, and not let ourselves be unhappy--won't we?"

"Yes," he said. "But I must go."

"I forgot for the minute. Good-by, dearest." She put up her lips. He kissed her, but without passion now.

"You might go with me as far as the wharf," she suggested.

"No--someone might see--and that would ruin everything. I'd like to--I'd----"

"It wouldn't do," she interrupted. "I wouldn't let you come."

With sudden agitation she kissed him--he felt that her lips were cold. He pressed her hands--they, too, were cold. "Good-by, my darling," he murmured, vaulted lightly over the rail and disappeared in the deep shadows of the shrubbery. When he was clear of the grounds he paused to light a cigarette. His hand was shaking so that the match almost dropped from his fingers. "I've been making a damn fool of myself," he said half aloud. "A double damn fool! I've got to stop that talk about marrying, somehow--or keep away from her. But I can't keep away. I _must_ have her! Why in the devil can't she realize that a man in my position couldn't marry her? If it wasn't for this marrying talk, I'd make her happy. I've simply got to stop this marrying talk. It gets worse and worse."

Her calmness deceived her into thinking herself perfectly sane and sober, perfectly aware of what she was about. She had left her hat and her bundle behind the door. She put on the hat in the darkness of the hall with steady fingers, took up the well-filled shawl strap and went forth, closing the door behind her. In the morning they would find the door unlocked but that would not cause much talk, as Sutherland people were all rather careless about locking up. They would not knock at the door of her room until noon, perhaps. Then they would find on the pincushion the letter she had written to her uncle, saying good-by and explaining that she had decided to remove forever the taint of her mother and herself from their house and their lives--a somewhat theatrical letter, modeled upon Ouida, whom she thought the greatest writer that had ever lived, Victor Hugo and two or three poets perhaps excepted.

Her bundle was not light, but she hardly felt it as she moved swiftly through the deserted, moonlit streets toward the river. The wharf boat for the Cincinnati and Louisville mail steamers was anchored at the foot of Pine Street. On the levee before it were piled the boxes, bags, cases, crates, barrels to be loaded upon the "up boat." She was descending the gentle slope toward this mass of freight when her blood tingled at a deep, hoarse, mournful whistle from far away; she knew it was the up boat, rounding the bend and sighting the town. The sound echoed musically back and forth between the Kentucky and the Indiana bluffs, died lingeringly away. Again the whistle boomed, again the dark forest-clad steeps sent the echoes to and fro across the broad silver river. And now she could see the steamer, at the bend--a dark mass picked out with brilliant dots of light; the big funnels, the two thick pennants of black smoke. And she could hear the faint pleasant stroke of the paddles of the big side wheels upon the water.

At the wharf boat there had not been a sign of life. But with the dying away of the second whistle lights--the lights of lanterns--appeared on the levee close to the water's edge and on the wharf boat itself. And, behind her, the doors of the Sutherland Hotel opened and its office lit up, in preparation for any chance arrivals. She turned abruptly out of the beaten path down the gravel levee, made for the lower and darker end of the wharf boat. There would be Sutherland people going up the river. But they would be more than prompt; everyone came early to boats and trains to begin the sweet draught of the excitement of journeying. So she would wait in the darkness and go aboard when the steamer was about to draw in its planks. At the upper end of the wharf boat there was the broad gangway to the levee for passengers and freight; at the lower and dark and deserted end a narrow beam extended from boat to shore, to hold the boat steady. Susan, balancing herself with her bundle, went up to the beam, sat down upon a low stanchion in the darkness where she could see the river.

Louder and louder grew the regular musical beat of engine and paddle. The searchlight on the forward deck of the _General Lytle_, after peering uncertainly, suspiciously, at the entire levee, and at the river, and at the Kentucky shore, abruptly focused upon the wharf boat. The _General Lytle_ now seemed a blaze of lights--from lower deck, from saloon deck, from pilot house deck, and forward and astern. A hundred interesting sounds came from her--tinkling of bells, calls from deck to deck, whistling, creaking of pulleys, lowing of cattle, grunting of swine, plaint of agitated sheep, the resigned cluckings of many chickens. Along the rail of the middle or saloon deck were seated a few passengers who had not yet gone to bed. On the lower deck was a swarm of black roustabouts, their sooty animal faces, their uncannily contrasting white teeth and eyeballs, their strange and varied rags lit up by the torches blazing where a gangplank lay ready for running out. And high and clear in the lovely June night sailed the moon, spreading a faint benign light upon hills and shores and glistening river, upon the graceful, stately mail steamer, now advancing majestically upon the wharf boat. Susan watched all, saw all, with quick beating heart and quivering interest. It was the first time that her life had been visited by the fascinating sense of event, real event. The tall, proud, impetuous child-woman, standing in the semi-darkness beside her bundle, was about to cast her stake upon the table in a bold game with Destiny. Her eyes shone with the wonderful expression that is seen only when courage gazes into the bright face of danger.

The steamer touched the edge of the wharf-boat with gentle care; the wharf-boat swayed and groaned. Even as the gangplanks were pushing out, the ragged, fantastic roustabouts, with wild, savage, hilarious cries, ran and jumped and scrambled to the wharf-boat like a band of escaping lunatics and darted down its shore planks to pounce upon the piles of freight. The mate, at the steamer edge to superintend the loading, and the wharf master on the levee beside the freight released each a hoarse torrent of profanity to spur on the yelling, laughing roustabouts, more brute than man. Torches flared; cow and sheep, pig and chicken, uttered each its own cry of dissatisfaction or dismay; the mate and wharf master cursed because it was the custom to curse; the roustabouts rushed ashore empty-handed, came filing back, stooping under their burdens. It was a scene of animation, of excitement, savage, grotesque, fascinating.

Susan, trembling a little, so tense were her nerves, waited until the last struggling roustabouts were staggering on the boat, until the deep whistle sounded, warning of approaching departure. Then she took up her bundle and put herself in the line of roustabouts, between a half-naked negro, black as coal and bearing a small barrel of beer, and a half-naked mulatto bearing a bundle of loud-smelling untanned skins. "Get out of the way, lady!" yelled the mate, eagerly seizing upon a new text for his denunciations. "Get out of the way, you black hellions! Let the lady pass! Look out, lady! You damned sons of hell, what're you about! I'll rip out your bowels----"

Susan fled across the deck and darted up the stairs to the saloon. The steamer was all white without except the black metal work. Within--that is, in the long saloon out of which the cabins opened to right and left and in which the meals were served at extension tables--there was the palatial splendor of white and gilt. At the forward end near the main entrance was the office. Susan, peering in from the darkness of the deck, saw that the way was clear. The Sutherland passengers had been accommodated. She entered, put her bundle down, faced the clerk behind the desk.

"Why, howdy, Miss Lenox," said he genially, beginning to twist his narrow, carefully attended blond mustache. "Any of the folks with you?"

She remembered his face but not his name. She remembered him as one of the "river characters" regarded as outcast by the Christian respectability of Sutherland. But she who could not but be polite to everybody smiled pleasantly, though she did not like his expression as he looked at her. "No, I'm alone," said she.

"Oh--your friends are going to meet you at the wharf in the morning," said he, content with his own explanation. "Just sign here, please." And, as she wrote, he went on: "I've got one room left. Ain't that lucky? It's a nice one, too. You'll be very comfortable. Everybody at home well? I ain't been in Sutherland for nigh ten years. Every week or so I think I will, and then somehow I don't. Here's your key--number 34 right-hand side, well down toward the far end, yonder. Two dollars, please. Thank you--exactly right. Hope you sleep well."

"Thank you," said Susan.

She turned away with the key which was thrust through one end of a stick about a foot long, to make it too bulky for absent-minded passengers to pocket. She took up her bundle, walked down the long saloon with its gilt decorations, its crystal chandeliers, its double array of small doors, each numbered. The clerk looked after her, admiration of the fine curve of her shoulders, back, and hips written plain upon his insignificant features. And it was a free admiration he would not have dared show had she not been a daughter of illegitimacy--a girl whose mother's "looseness" raised pleasing if scandalous suggestions and even possibilities in the mind of every man with a carnal eye. And not unnaturally. To think of her was to think of the circumstances surrounding her coming into the world; and to think of those circumstances was to think of immorality.

Susan, all unconscious of that polluted and impudent gaze, was soon standing before the narrow door numbered 34, as she barely made out, for the lamps in the saloon chandeliers were turned low. She unlocked it, entered the small clean stateroom and deposited her bundle on the floor. With just a glance at her quarters she hurried to the opposite door--the one giving upon the promenade. She opened it, stepped out, crossed the deserted deck and stood at the rail.

The _General Lytle_ was drawing slowly away from the wharf-boat. As that part of the promenade happened to be sheltered from the steamer's lights, she was seeing the panorama of Sutherland--its long stretch of shaded waterfront, its cupolas and steeples, the wide leafy streets leading straight from the river by a gentle slope to the base of the dark towering bluffs behind the town--all sleeping in peace and beauty in the soft light of the moon. That farthest cupola to the left--it was the Number Two engine house, and the third place from it was her uncle's house. Slowly the steamer, now in mid-stream, drew away from the town. One by one the familiar landmarks--the packing house, the soap factory, the Geiss brewery, the tall chimney of the pumping station, the shorn top of Reservoir Hill--slipped ghostlily away to the southwest. The sobs choked up into her throat and the tears rained from her eyes. They all pitied and looked down on her there; still, it had been home the only home she ever had known or ever would know. And until these last few frightful days, how happy she had been there! For the first time she felt desolate, weak, afraid. But not daunted. It is strange to see in strong human character the strength and the weakness, two flat contradictions, existing side by side and making weak what seems so strong and making strong what seems so weak. However, human character is a tangle of inconsistencies, as disorderly and inchoate as the tangible and visible parts of nature. Susan felt weak, but not the kind of weakness that skulks. And there lay the difference, the abysmal difference, between courage and cowardice. Courage has full as much fear as cowardice, often more; but it has a something else that cowardice has not. It trembles and shivers but goes forward.

Wiping her eyes she went back to her own cabin. She had neglected closing its other door, the one from the saloon. The clerk was standing smirking in the doorway.

"You must be going away for quite some time," said he. And he fixed upon her as greedy and impudent eyes as ever looked from a common face. It was his battle glance. Guileful women, bent on trimming him for anything from a piece of plated jewelry to a saucer of ice cream, had led him to believe that before it walls of virtue tottered and fell like Jericho's before the trumpets of Joshua.

"It makes me a little homesick to see the old town disappear," hastily explained Susan, recovering herself. The instant anyone was watching, her emotions always hid.

"Wouldn't you like to sit out on deck a while?" pursued the clerk, bringing up a winning smile to reinforce the fetching stare.

The idea was attractive, for she did not feel like sleep. It would be fine to sit out in the open, watch the moon and the stars, the mysterious banks gliding swiftly by, and new vistas always widening out ahead. But not with this puny, sandy little "river character," not with anybody that night. "No," replied she. "I think I'll go to bed."

She had hesitated--and that was enough to give him encouragement. "Now, do come," he urged. "You don't know how nice it is. And they say I'm mighty good company."

"No, thanks." Susan nodded a pleasant dismissal.

The clerk lingered. "Can't I help you in some way? Wouldn't you like me to get you something?"

"No--nothing."

"Going to visit in Cincinnati? I know the town from A to Izzard. It's a lot of fun over the Rhine. I've had mighty good times there--the kind a pretty, lively girl like you would take to."

"When do we get to Cincinnati?"

"About eight--maybe half-past seven. Depends on the landings we have to make, and the freight."

"Then I'll not have much time for sleep," said Susan. "Good night." And no more realizing the coldness of her manner than the reason for his hanging about, she faced him, hand on the door to close it.

"You ain't a bit friendly," wheedled he.

"I'm sorry you think so. Good night--and thank you." And he could not but withdraw his form from the door. She closed it and forgot him. And she did not dream she had passed through one of those perilous adventures incident to a female traveling alone--adventures that even in the telling frighten ladies whose nervousness for their safety seems to increase in direct proportion to the degree of tranquillity their charms create in the male bosom. She decided it would be unwise regularly to undress; the boat might catch fire or blow up or something. She took off skirt, hat and ties, loosened her waist, and lay upon the lower of the two plain, hard little berths. The throb of the engines, the beat of the huge paddles, made the whole boat tremble and shiver. Faintly up from below came the sound of quarrels over crap-shooting, of banjos and singing--from the roustabouts amusing themselves between landings. She thought she would not be able to sleep in these novel and exciting surroundings. She had hardly composed herself before she lost consciousness, to sleep on and on dreamlessly, without motion.

CHAPTER VII

SHE was awakened by a crash so uproarious that she sat bolt upright before she had her eyes open. Her head struck stunningly against the bottom of the upper berth. This further confused her thoughts. She leaped from the bed, caught up her slippers, reached for her opened-up bundle. The crash was still billowing through the boat; she now recognized it as a great gong sounding for breakfast. She sat down on the bed and rubbed her head and laughed merrily. "I _am_ a greenhorn!" she said. "Another minute and I'd have had the whole boat laughing at me."

She felt rested and hungry--ravenously hungry. She tucked in her blouse, washed as well as she could in the tiny bowl on the little washstand. Then before the cloudy watermarked mirror she arranged her scarcely mussed hair. A charming vision of fresh young loveliness, strong, erect, healthy, bright of eye and of cheek, she made as, after a furtive look up and down the saloon, she stepped from her door a very few minutes after the crash of that gong. With much scuffling and bustling the passengers, most of them country people, were hurrying into places at the tables which now had their extension leaves and were covered with coarse white tablecloths and with dishes of nicked stoneware, white, indeed, but shabbily so. But Susan's young eyes were not critical. To her it all seemed fine, with the rich flavor of adventure. A more experienced traveler might have been filled with gloomy foreboding by the quality of the odor from the cooking. She found it delightful and sympathized with the unrestrained eagerness of the homely country faces about her, with the children beating their spoons on their empty plates. The colored waiters presently began to stream in, each wearing a soiled white jacket, each bearing aloft a huge tray on which were stacked filled dishes and steaming cups.

Colored people have a keen instinct for class. One of the waiters happened to note her, advanced bowing and smiling with that good-humored, unservile courtesy which is the peculiar possession of the Americanized colored race. He flourished her into a chair with a "Good morning, miss. It's going to be a fine day." And as soon as she was seated he began to form round her plate a large inclosing arc of side dishes--fried fish, fried steak, fried egg, fried potatoes, wheat cakes, canned peaches, a cup of coffee. He drew toward her a can of syrup, a pitcher of cream, and a bowl of granulated sugar.

"Anything else?" said he, with a show of teeth white and sound.

"No--nothing. Thank you so much."

Her smile stimulated him to further courtesies. "Some likes the yeggs biled. Shall I change 'em?"

"No. I like them this way." She was so hungry that the idea of taking away a certainty on the chance of getting something out of sight and not yet cooked did not attract her.

"Perhaps--a little better piece of steak?"

"No--this looks fine." Her enthusiasm was not mere politeness.

"I clean forgot your hot biscuits." And away he darted.

When he came back with a heaping plate of hot biscuits, Sally Lunn and cornbread, she was eating as heartily as any of her neighbors. It seemed to her that never had she tasted such grand food as this served in the white and gold saloon with strangeness and interest all about her and the delightful sense of motion--motion into the fascinating golden unknown. The men at the table were eating with their knives; each had one protecting forearm and hand cast round his arc of small dishes as if to ward off probable attempt at seizure. And they swallowed as if the boat were afire. The women ate more daintily, as became members of the finer sex on public exhibition. They were wearing fingerless net gloves, and their little fingers stood straight out in that gesture which every truly elegant woman deems necessary if the food is to be daintily and artistically conveyed to her lips. The children mussed and gormed themselves, their dishes, the tablecloth. Susan loved it all. Her eyes sparkled. She ate everything, and regretted that lack of capacity made it impossible for her to yield to the entreaties of her waiter that she "have a little more."

She rose, went into the nearest passageway between saloon and promenade, stealthily took a ten-cent piece from her pocketbook. She called her waiter and gave it to him. She was blushing deeply, frightened lest this the first tip she had ever given or seen given be misunderstood and refused. "I'm so much obliged," she said. "You were very nice."

The waiter bowed like a prince, always with his simple, friendly smile; the tip disappeared under his apron. "Nobody could help being nice to you, lady."

She thanked him again and went to the promenade. It seemed to her that they had almost arrived. Along shore stretched a continuous line of houses--pretty houses with gardens. There were electric cars. Nearer the river lay several parallel lines of railway track along which train after train was speeding, some of them short trains of ordinary day coaches, others long trains made up in part of coaches grander and more beautiful than any she had ever seen. She knew they must be the parlor and dining and sleeping cars she had read about. And now they were in the midst of a fleet of steamers and barges, and far ahead loomed the first of Cincinnati's big suspension bridges, pictures of which she had many a time gazed at in wonder. There was a mingling of strange loud noises--whistles, engines, on the water, on shore; there was a multitude of what seemed to her feverish activities--she who had not been out of quiet Sutherland since she was a baby too young to note things.

The river, the shores, grew more and more crowded. Susan's eyes darted from one new object to another; and eagerly though she looked she felt she was missing more than she saw.

"Why, Susan Lenox!" exclaimed a voice almost in her ear.

She closed her teeth upon a cry; suddenly she was back from wonderland to herself. She turned to face dumpy, dressy Mrs. Waterbury and her husband with the glossy kinky ringlets and the long wavy mustache. "How do you do?" she stammered.

"We didn't know you were aboard," said Mrs. Waterbury, a silly, duck-legged woman looking proudly uncomfortable in her bead-trimmed black silk.

"Yes--I'm--I'm here," confessed Susan.

"Going to the city to visit?"

"Yes," said Susan. She hesitated, then repeated, "Yes."

"What elegant breakfasts they do serve on these boats! I suppose your friends'll meet you. But Mort and I'll look after you till they come."

"Oh, it isn't necessary," protested Susan. The steamer was passing under the bridge. There were cities on both shores--huge masses of dingy brick, streets filled with motion of every kind--always motion, incessant motion, and change. "We're about there, aren't we?" she asked.

"The wharf's up beyond the second bridge--the Covington Bridge," explained Waterbury with the air of the old experienced globe-trotter. "There's a third one, further up, but you can't see it for the smoke." And he went on and on, volubly airing his intimate knowledge of the great city which he visited once a year for two or three days to buy goods. He ended with a scornful, "My, but Cincinnati's a dirty place!"

Dirty it might be, but Susan loved it, dirt and all. The smoke, the grime somehow seemed part of it, one of its charms, one of the things that made it different from, and superior to, monotonous country and country town. She edged away from the Waterburys, hid in her stateroom watching the panorama through the curtained glass of her promenade deck door. She was completely carried away. The city! So, this was the city! And her dreams of travel, of new sights, new faces, were beginning to come true. She forgot herself, forgot what she had left behind, forgot what she was to face. All her power of thought and feeling was used up in absorbing these unfolding wonders. And when the June sun suddenly pierced the heavy clouds of fog and smoke, she clasped her hands and gasped, "Lovely! Oh, how lovely!"

And now the steamer was at the huge wharf-boat, in shape like the one at Sutherland, but in comparative size like the real Noah's Ark beside a toy ark. And from the whole tremendous scene rose an enormous clamor, the stentorian voice of the city. That voice is discordant and terrifying to many. To Susan, on that day, it was the most splendid burst of music. "Awake--awake!" it cried. "Awake, and _live!_" She opened her door that she might hear it better--rattle and rumble and roar, shriek of whistle, clang of bell. And the people!--Thousands on thousands hurrying hither and yon, like bees in a hive. "Awake awake, and live!"

The noises from the saloon reminded her that the journey was ended, that she must leave the boat. And she did not know where to go--she and her bundle. She waited until she saw the Waterburys, along with the other passengers, moving up the levee. Then she issued forth--by the promenade deck door so that she would not pass the office. But at the head of the companionway, in the forward part of the deck, there the clerk stood, looking even pettier and more offensive by daylight. She thought to slip by him. But he stopped stroking his mustache and called out to her, "Haven't your friends come?"

She frowned, angry in her nervousness. "I shall get on very well," she said curtly. Then she repented, smiled politely, added, "Thank you."

"I'll put you in a carriage," he offered, hastening down the stairs to join her.

She did not know what to say or do. She walked silently beside him, he carrying her bundle. They crossed the wharf-boat. A line of dilapidated looking carriages was drawn up near the end of the gangplank. The sight of them, the remembrance of what she had heard of the expensiveness of city carriages, nerved her to desperation. "Give me my things, please," she said. "I think I'll walk."

"Where do you want to go?"

The question took her breath away. With a quickness that amazed her, her lips uttered, "The Gibson House."

"Oh! That's a right smart piece. But you can take a car. I'll walk with you to the car. There's a line a couple of squares up that goes almost by the door. You know it isn't far from Fourth Street."

She was now in a flutter of terror. She went stumbling along beside him, not hearing a word of his voluble and flirtatious talk. They were in the midst of the mad rush and confusion. The noises, no longer mingled but individual, smote savagely upon her ears, startling her, making her look dazedly round as if expecting death to swoop upon her. At the corner of Fourth Street the clerk halted. He was clear out of humor with her, so dumb, so unappreciative. "There'll be a car along soon," said he sourly.

"You needn't wait," said she timidly. "Thank you again."

"You can't miss it. Good-by." And he lifted his hat--"tipped" it, rather--for he would not have wasted a full lift upon such a female. She gave a gasp of relief when he departed; then a gasp of terror--for upon the opposite corner stood the Waterburys. The globe-trotter and his wife were so dazed by the city that they did not see her, though in their helpless glancing round they looked straight at her. She hastily ran into a drug store on the corner. A young man in shirt sleeves held up by pink garters, and with oily black hair carefully parted and plastered, put down a pestle and mortar and came forward. He had kind brown eyes, but there was something wrong with the lower part of his face. Susan did not dare look to see what it was, lest he should think her unfeeling. He was behind the counter. Susan saw the soda fountain. As if by inspiration, she said, "Some chocolate soda, please."

"Ice cream?" asked the young man in a peculiar voice, like that of one who has a harelip.

"Please," said Susan. And then she saw the sign, "Ice Cream, ten cents," and wished she hadn't.

The young man mixed the soda, put in a liberal helping of ice cream, set it before her with a spoon in it, rested the knuckles of his brown hairy hands on the counter and said:

"It _is_ hot."

"Yes, indeed," assented Susan. "I wonder where I could leave my bundle for a while. I'm a stranger and I want to look for a boarding house."

"You might leave it here with me," said the young man. "That's about our biggest line of trade--that and postage stamps and telephone--_and_ the directory. "He laughed heartily. Susan did not see why; she did not like the sound, either, for the young man's deformity of lower jaw deformed his laughter as well as his speech. However, she smiled politely and ate and drank her soda slowly.

"I'll be glad to take care of your bundle," the young man said presently. "Ever been here before?"

"No," said Susan. "That is, not since I was about four years old."

"I was four," said the young man, "when a horse stepped on my mouth in the street."

"My, how dreadful!" exclaimed Susan.

"You can see some of the scar yet," the young man assured her, and he pointed to his curiously sunken mouth. "The doctors said it was the most remarkable case of the kind on record," continued he proudly. "That was what led me into the medical line. You don't seem to have your boarding house picked."

"I was going to look in the papers."

"That's dangerous--especially for a young lady. Some of them boarding houses--well, they're no better'n they ought to be."

"I don't suppose you know of any?"

"My aunt keeps one. And she's got a vacancy, it being summer."

"I'm afraid it'd be too expensive for me," said Susan, to feel her way.

The young man was much flattered. But he said, "Oh, it ain't so toppy. I think you could make a deal with her for five per."

Susan looked inquiring.

"Five a week--room and board."

"I might stand that," said Susan reflectively. Then, deciding for complete confidence, "I'm looking for work, too."

"What line?"

"Oh, I never tried anything. I thought maybe dressmaking or millinery."

"Mighty poor season for jobs. The times are bad, anyhow." He was looking at her with kindly curiosity. "If I was you, I'd go back home--and wait."

Susan shrank within herself. "I can't do that," she said.

The young man thought awhile, then said: "If you should go to my aunt's, you can say Mr. Ellison sent you. No, that ain't me. It's the boss. You see, a respectable boarding house asks for references."

Susan colored deeply and her gaze slowly sank. "I didn't know that," she murmured.

"Don't be afraid. Aunt Kate ain't so particular--leastways, not in summer when things is slow. And I know you're quiet."

By the time the soda was finished, the young man--who said his name was Robert Wylie--had written on the back of Ellison's business card in a Spencerian hand: "Mrs. Kate Wylie, 347 West Sixth Street." He explained that Susan was to walk up two squares and take the car going west; the conductor would let her off at the right place. "You'd better leave your things here," said Mr. Wylie, holding up the card so that they could admire his penmanship together. "You may not hit it off with Aunt Kate. Don't think you've got to stay there just because of me."

"I'm sure I'll like it," Susan declared confidently. Her spirits were high; she felt that she was in a strong run of luck.

Wylie lifted her package over the counter and went to the door with her to point out the direction. "This is Fourth. The next up is Fifth. The next wide one is Sixth--and you can read it on the lamp-post, too."

"Isn't that convenient!" exclaimed Susan. "What a lovely city this is!"

"There's worse," said Mr. Wylie, not to seem vain of his native town.

They shook hands most friendly and she set out in the direction he had indicated. She was much upset by the many vehicles and the confusion, but she did her best to seem at ease and at home. She watched a girl walking ahead of her--a shopgirl who seemed well-dressed and stylish, especially about the hat and hair. Susan tried to walk like her. "I suppose I look and act greener than I really am," thought she. "But I'll keep my eyes open and catch on." And in this, as in all her thoughts and actions since leaving, she showed confidence not because she was conceited, but because she had not the remotest notion what she was actually attempting. How many of us get credit for courage as we walk unconcerned through perils, or essay and conquer great obstacles, when in truth we are not courageous but simply unaware! As a rule knowledge is power or, rather, a source of power, but there are times when ignorance is a power and knowledge a weakness. If Susan had known, she might perhaps have stayed at home and submitted and, with crushed spirit, might have sunk under the sense of shame and degradation. But she did not know; so Columbus before his sailors or Caesar at the Rubicon among his soldiers did not seem more tranquil than she really was. Wylie, who suspected in the direction of the truth, wondered at her. "She's game, she is," he muttered again and again that morning. "What a nerve for a kid--and a lady, too!"

She found the right corner and the right car without further adventure; and the conductor assured her that he would set her down before the very door of the address on the card. It was an open car with few passengers. She took the middle of the long seat nearest the rear platform and looked about her like one in a happy dream. On and on and yet on they went. With every square they passed more people, so it seemed to her, than there were in all Sutherland. And what huge stores! And what wonderful displays of things to wear! Where would the people be found to buy such quantities, and where would they get the money to pay? How many restaurants and saloons! Why, everybody must be eating and drinking all the time. And at each corner she looked up and down the cross streets, and there were more and ever more magnificent buildings, throngs upon throngs of people. Was there no end to it? This was Sixth Street, still Sixth Street, as she saw at the corner lamp-posts. Then there must be five more such streets between this and the river; and she could see, up the cross streets, that the city was even vaster in the direction of the hills. And there were all these cross streets! It was stupefying--overwhelming--incredible.

She began to be nervous, they were going so far. She glanced anxiously at the conductor. He was watching her interestedly, understood her glance, answered it with a reassuring nod. He called out:

"I'm looking out for you, miss. I've got you on my mind. Don't you fret."

She gave him a bright smile of relief. They were passing through a double row of what seemed to her stately residences, and there were few people on the sidewalks. The air, too, was clearer, though the walls were grimy and also the grass in the occasional tiny front yards. But the curtains at the windows looked clean and fresh, and so did the better class of people among those on the sidewalk. It delighted her to see so many well-dressed women, wearing their clothes with an air which she told herself she must acquire. She was startled by the conductor's calling out:

"Now, miss!"

She rose as he rang the bell and was ready to get off when the car stopped, for she was eager to cause him as little trouble as possible.

"The house is right straight before you," said the conductor. "The number's in the transom."

She thanked him, descended, was on the sidewalk before Mrs. Wylie's. She looked at the house and her heart sank. She thought of the small sum in her purse; it was most unlikely that such a house as this would harbor her. For here was a grand stone stairway ascending to a deep stone portico, and within it great doors, bigger than those of the Wright mansion, the palace of Sutherland. However, she recalled the humble appearance and mode of speech of her friend the drug clerk and plucked up the courage to ascend and to ring.

A slattern, colored maid opened the door. At the first glance within, at the first whiff of the interior air, Susan felt more at ease. For she was seeing what even her bedazzled eyes recognized as cheap dowdiness, and the smell that assailed her nostrils was that of a house badly and poorly kept--the smell of cheap food and bad butter cooking, of cats, of undusted rooms, of various unrecognizable kinds of staleness. She stood in the center of the big dingy parlor, gazing round at the grimed chromos until Mrs. Wylie entered--a thin middle-aged woman with small brown eyes set wide apart, a perpetual frown, and a chin so long and so projected that she was almost jimber-jawed. While Susan explained stammeringly what she had come for, Mrs. Wylie eyed her with increasing disfavor. When Susan had finished, she unlocked her lips for the first time to say:

"The room's took."

"Oh!" cried Susan in dismay.

The telephone rang in the back parlor. Mrs. Wylie excused herself to answer. After a few words she closed the doors between. She was gone fully five minutes; to Susan it seemed an hour. She came back, saying:

"I've been talking to my nephew. He called up. Well, I reckon you can have the room. It ain't my custom to take in ladies as young as you. But you seem to be all right. Your parents allowed you to come?"

"I haven't any," replied Susan. "I'm here to find a place and support myself."

Mrs. Wylie continued to eye her dubiously. "Well, I have no wish to pry into your affairs. 'Mind your own business,' that's my rule." She spoke with defiance, as if the contrary were being asserted by some invisible person who might appear and gain hearing and belief. She went on: "If Mr. Ellison wants it, why I suppose it's all right. But you can't stay out later'n ten o'clock."

"I shan't go out at all of nights," said Susan eagerly.

"You _look_ quiet," said Mrs. Wylie, with the air of adding that appearances were rarely other than deceptive.

"Oh, I _am_ quiet," declared Susan. It puzzled her, this recurrence of the suggestion of noisiness.

"I can't allow much company--none in your room."

"There won't be any company." She blushed deeply. "That is, a--a young man from our town--he may call once. But he'll be off for the East right away."

Mrs. Wylie reflected on this, Susan the while standing uneasily, dreading lest decision would be against her. Finally Mrs. Wylie said:

"Robert says you want the five-dollar room. I'll show it to you."

They ascended two flights through increasing shabbiness. On the third floor at the rear was a room--a mere continuation of the narrow hall, partitioned off. It contained a small folding bed, a small table, a tiny bureau, a washstand hardly as large as that in the cabin on the boat, a row of hooks with a curtain of flowered chintz before them, a kitchen chair, a chromo of "Awake and Asleep," a torn and dirty rag carpet. The odor of the room, stale, damp, verging on moldy, seemed the fitting exhalation from such an assemblage of forbidding objects.

"It's a nice, comfortable room," said Mrs. Wylie aggressively. "I couldn't afford to give it and two meals for five dollars except till the first of September. After that it's eight."

"I'll be glad to stay, if you'll let me," said Susan. Mrs. Wylie's suspicion, so plain in those repellent eyes, took all the courage out of her. The great adventure seemed rapidly to be losing its charms. She could not think of herself as content or anything but sad and depressed in such surroundings as these. How much better it would be if she could live out in the open, out where it was attractive!

"I suppose you've got some baggage," said Mrs. Wylie, as if she rather expected to hear that she had not.

"I left it at the drug store," explained Susan.

"Your trunk?"

Susan started nervously at that explosive exclamation. "I--I haven't got a trunk--only a few things in a shawl strap."

"Well, I never!"

Mrs. Wylie tossed her head, clucked her tongue disgustedly against the roof of her mouth. "But I suppose if Mr. Ellison says so, why you can stay."

"Thank you," said Susan humbly. Even if it would not have been basest ingratitude to betray her friend, Mr. Wylie, still she would not have had the courage to confess the truth about Mr. Ellison and so get herself ordered into the street. "I--I think I'll go for my things."

"The custom is to pay in advance," said Mrs. Wylie sharply.

"Oh, yes--of course," stammered Susan.

She seated herself on the wooden chair and opened out her purse. She found the five among her few bills, extended it with trembling fingers toward Mrs. Wylie. At the same time she lifted her eyes. The woman's expression as she bored into the pocketbook terrified her. Never before had she seen the savage greediness that is bred in the city among the people who fight against fearful odds to maintain their respectability and to save themselves from the ever threatened drop to the despised working class.

"Thank you," said Mrs. Wylie, taking the bill as if she were conferring a favor upon Susan. "I make everybody pay promptly. The first of the week or out they go! I used to be easy and I came near going down."

"Oh, I shouldn't stay a minute if I couldn't pay," said the girl. "I'm going to look for something right away."

"Well, I don't want to discourage you, but there's a great many out of work. Still, I suppose you'll be able to wheedle some man into giving you a job. But I warn you I'm very particular about morals. If I see any signs----" Mrs. Wylie did not finish her sentence. Any words would have been weaker than her look.

Susan colored and trembled. Not at the poisonous hint as to how money could be got to keep on paying for that room, for the hint passed wide of Susan. She was agitated by the thought: if Mrs. Wylie should learn that she was not respectable! If Mrs. Wylie should learn that she was nameless--was born in disgrace so deep that, no matter how good she might be, she would yet be classed with the wicked.

"I'm down like a thousand of brick on any woman that is at all loose with the men," continued the landlady. "I never could understand how any woman could so far forget herself." And the woman whom the men had all her life been helping to their uttermost not to "forget herself" looked sharp suspicion and envy at Susan, the lovely. Why are women of the Mrs. Wylie sort so swift to suspect? Can it be that in some secret chamber of their never assailed hearts there lurks a longing--a feeling as to what they would do if they had the chance? Mrs. Wylie continued, "I hope you have strict Christian principles?"

"I was brought up Presbyterian," said Susan anxiously. She was far from sure that in Cincinnati and by its Mrs. Wylies Presbyterian would be regarded as Christian.

"There's your kind of a church a few squares from here," was all Mrs. Wylie deigned to reply. Susan suspected a sneer at Presbyterianism in her accent.

"That'll be nice," she murmured. She was eager to escape. "I'll go for my things."

"You can walk down and take the Fourth Street car," suggested her landlady. "Then you can watch out and not miss the store. The conductors are very impudent and forgetful."

Susan escaped from the house as speedily as her flying feet would take her down the two flights. In the street once more, her spirits rose. She went south to Fourth Street, decided to walk instead of taking a car. She now found herself in much more impressive surroundings than before, and realized that Sixth Street was really one of the minor streets. The further uptown she went, the more excited she became. After the district of stately mansions with wonderful carriages driving up and away and women dressed like those in the illustrated story papers, came splendid shops and hotels, finer than Susan had believed there were anywhere in the world. And most of the people--the crowds on crowds of people!--looked prosperous and cheerful and so delightfully citified! She wondered why so many of the men stared at her. She assumed it must be something rural in her appearance though that ought to have set the women to staring, too. But she thought little about this, so absorbed was she in seeing all the new things. She walked slowly, pausing to inspect the shop windows--the gorgeous dresses and hats and jewelry, the thousand costly things scattered in careless profusion. And the crowds! How secure she felt among these multitudes of strangers, not one of them knowing or suspecting her secret of shame! She no longer had the sense of being outcast, branded.

When she had gone so far that it seemed to her she certainly must have missed the drug store, carefully though she had inspected each corner as she went, she decided that she must stop someone of this hurrying throng and inquire the way. While she was still screwing her courage to this boldness, she espied the sign and hastened joyfully across the street. She and Wylie welcomed each other like old friends. He was delighted when he learned that she had taken the room.

"You won't mind Aunt Kate after a while," said he. "She's sour and nosey, but she's honest and respectable--and that's the main thing just now with you. And I think you'll get a job all right. Aunt Kate's got a lady friend that's head saleslady at Shillito's. She'll know of something."

Wylie was so kind and so hopeful that Susan felt already settled. As soon as customers came in, she took her parcel and went, Wylie saying, "I'll drop round after supper and see how things are getting on." She took the Sixth Street car back, and felt like an old resident. She was critical of Sixth Street now, and of the women she had been admiring there less than two hours before--critical of their manners and of their dress. The exterior of the boarding house no longer awed her. She was getting a point of view--as she proudly realized. By the time Sam came--and surely that wouldn't be many days--she would be quite transformed.

She mounted the steps and was about to ring when Mrs. Wylie herself, with stormy brow and snapping eyes, opened the door. "Go into the parlor," she jerked out from between her unpleasant-looking receding teeth.

Susan gave her a glance of frightened wonder and obeyed.

CHAPTER VIII

AT the threshold her bundles dropped to the floor and all color fled from her face. Before her stood her Uncle George and Sam Wright and his father. The two elderly men were glowering at her; Sam, white as his shirt and limp, was hanging his head.

"So, miss!--You've got back, eh?" cried her uncle in a tone she would not have believed could come from him.

As quickly as fear had seized her she now shook it off. "Yes, Uncle," she said calmly, meeting his angry eyes without flinching. And back came that expression of resolution--of stubbornness we call it when it is the flag of opposition to _our_ will.

"What'd have become of you," demanded her uncle, "if I hadn't found out early this morning, and got after Sam here and choked the truth out of him?"

Susan gazed at Sam; but he was such a pitiful figure, so mean and frightened, that she glanced quickly back to her uncle. She said:

"But he didn't know where I was."

"Don't lie to me," cried Warham. "It won't do you any good, any more than his lying kept us from finding you. We came on the train and saw the Waterburys in the street and they'd seen you go into the drug store. We'd have caught you there if we'd been a few minutes sooner, but we drove, and got here in time. Now, tell me, Susan"--and his voice was cruelly harsh--"all about what's been going on between you and Sam."

She gazed fearlessly and was silent.

"Speak up!" commanded Sam's father.

"Yes--and no lies," said her uncle.

"I don't know what you mean," Susan at last answered--truthfully enough, yet to gain time, too.

"You can't play that game any longer," cried Warham. "You did make a fool of me, but my eyes are open. Your aunt's right about you."

"Oh, Uncle George!" said the girl, a sob in her voice.

But he gazed pitilessly--gazed at the woman he was now abhorring as the treacherous, fallen, unsexed daughter of fallen Lorella. "Speak out. Crying won't help you. What have you and this fellow been up to? You disgrace!"

Susan shrank and shivered, but answered steadfastly, "That's between him and me, Uncle."

Warham gave a snort of fury, turned to the elder Wright. "You see, Wright," cried he. "It's as my wife and I told you. Your boy's lying. We'll send the landlady out for a preacher and marry them."

"Hold on, George," objected Wright soothingly. "I agreed to that only if there'd been something wrong. I'm not satisfied yet." He turned to Susan, said in his gruff, blunt way:

"Susan, have you been loose with my boy here?"

"Loose?" said Susan wonderingly.

Sam roused himself. "Tell them it isn't so, Susan," he pleaded, and his voice was little better than a whine of terror. "Your uncle's going to kill me and my father'll kick me out."

Susan's heart grew sick as she looked at him--looked furtively, for she was ashamed to see him so abject. "If you mean did I let him kiss me," she said to Mr. Wright, "why, I did. We kissed several times. But we had the right to. We were engaged."

Sam turned on his father in an agony of terror. "That isn't true!" he cried. "I swear it isn't, father. We aren't engaged. I only made love to her a little, as a fellow does to lots of girls."

Susan looked at him with wide, horrified eyes. "Sam!" she exclaimed breathlessly. "Sam!"

Sam's eyes dropped, but he managed to turn his face in her direction. The situation was too serious for him; he did not dare to indulge in such vanities as manhood or manly appearance. "That's the truth, Susan," he said sullenly. "_You_ talked a lot about marrying but _I_ never thought of such a thing."

"But--you said--you loved me."

"I didn't mean anything by it."

There fell a silence that was interrupted by Mr. Wright. "You see there's nothing in it, Warham. I'll take my boy and go."

"Not by a damn sight!" cried Warham. "He's got to marry her. Susan, did Sam promise to marry you?"

"When he got through college," replied Susan.

"I thought so! And he persuaded you to run away."

"No," said Susan. "He----"

"I say yes," stormed her uncle. "Don't lie!"

"Warham! Warham!" remonstrated Mr. Wright. "Don't browbeat the girl."

"He begged me not to go," said Susan.

"You lying fool!" shouted her uncle. Then to Wright, "If he did ask her to stay it was because he was afraid it would all come out--just as it has."

"I never promised to marry her!" whined Sam. "Honest to God, father, I never did. Honest to God, Mr. Warham! You know that's so, Susan. It was you that did all the marrying talk."

"Yes," she said slowly. "Yes, I believe it was." She looked dazedly at the three men. "I supposed he meant marriage because--" her voice faltered, but she steadied it and went on--"because we loved each other."

"I knew it!" cried her uncle. "You hear, Wright? She admits he betrayed her."

Susan remembered the horrible part of her cousin's sex revelations. "Oh, no!" she cried. "I wouldn't have let him do that--even if he had wanted to. No--not even if we'd been married."

"You see, Warham!" cried Mr. Wright, in triumph.

"I see a liar!" was Warham's furious answer. "She's trying to defend him and make out a case for herself."

"I am telling the truth," said Susan.

Warham gazed unbelievingly at her, speechless with fury. Mr. Wright took his silk hat from the corner of the piano. "I'm satisfied they're innocent," said he. "So I'll take my boy and go."

"Not if I know it!" retorted Warham. "He's got to marry her."

"But the girl says she's pure, says he never spoke of marriage, says he begged her not to run away. Be reasonable, Warham."

"For a good Christian," sneered he at Wright, "you're mighty easily convinced by a flimsy lie. In your heart you know the boy has wronged her and that she's shielding him, just as----" There Warham checked himself; it would be anything but timely to remind Wright of the character of the girl's mother.

"I'll admit," said Mr. Wright smoothly, "that I wasn't overanxious for my boy's marriage with a girl whose mother was--unfortunate. But if your charge had been true, Warham, I'd have made the boy do her justice, she being only seventeen. Come, Sam."

Sam slunk toward the door. Warham stared fiercely at the elder Wright. "And you call yourself a Christian!" he sneered.

At the door--Sam had already disappeared--Mr. Wright paused to say, "I'm going to give Sam a discipline he'll remember. The girl's only been foolish. Don't be harsh with her."

"You damned hypocrite!" shouted Warham. "I might have known what to expect from a man who cut the wages of his hands to pay his church subscription."

But Wright was far too crafty to be drawn. He went on pushing Sam before him.

As the outer door closed behind them Mrs. Wylie appeared. "I want you both to get out of my house as quick as you can," she snapped. "My boarders'll be coming to dinner in a few minutes."

Warham took his straw hat from the floor beside the chair behind him. "I've nothing to do with this girl here. Good day, madam." And he strode out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

Mrs. Wylie looked at Susan with storming face and bosom. Susan did not see. She was gazing into space, her face blanched. "Clear out!" cried Mrs. Wylie. And she ran to the outer door and opened it. "How dare you come into a respectable house!" She wished to be so wildly angry that she would forget the five dollars which she, as a professing Christian in full church standing, would have to pay back if she remembered. "Clear out this minute!" she cried shrilly. "If you don't, I'll throw your bundle into the street and you after it."

Susan took up the bundle mechanically, slowly went out on the stoop. The door closed with a slam behind her. She descended the steps, walked a few yards up the street, paused at the edge of the curb and looked dazedly about. Her uncle stood beside her. "Now where are you going?" he said roughly.

Susan shook her head.

"I suppose," he went on, "I've got to look after you. You shan't disgrace my daughter any further."

Susan simply looked at him, her eyes unseeing, her brain swept clean of thought by the cyclone that had destroyed all her dreams and hopes. She was not horrified by his accusations; such things had little meaning for one practically in complete ignorance of sex relations. Besides, the miserable fiasco of her romantic love left her with a feeling of abasement, of degradation little different from that which overwhelms a woman who believes her virtue is her all and finds herself betrayed and abandoned. She now felt indeed the outcast, looked down upon by all the world.

"If you hadn't lied," he fumed on, "you'd have been his wife and a respectable woman."

The girl shivered.

"Instead, you're a disgrace. Everybody in Sutherland'll know you've gone the way your mother went."

"Go away," said the girl piteously. "Let me alone."

"Alone? What will become of you?" He addressed the question to himself, not to her.

"It doesn't matter," was her reply in a dreary tone. "I've been betrayed, as my mother was. It doesn't matter what----"

"I knew it!" cried Warham, with no notion of what the girl meant by the word "betrayed." "Why didn't you confess the truth while he was here and his father was ready to marry him to you? I knew you'd been loose with him, as your Aunt Fanny said."

"But I wasn't," said Susan. "I wouldn't do such a thing."

"There you go, lying again!"

"It doesn't matter," said she. "All I want is for you to go away."

"You do?" sneered he. "And then what? I've got to think of Ruthie." He snatched the bundle from her hand. "Come on! I must do all I can to keep the disgrace to my family down. As for you, you don't deserve anything but the gutter, where you'd sink if I left you. Your aunt's right. You're rotten. You were born rotten. You're your mother's own brat."

"Yes, I am," she cried. "And I'm proud of it!" She turned from him, was walking rapidly away.

"Come with me!" ordered Warham, following and seizing her by the arm.

"No," said Susan, wrenching herself free.

"Then I'll call a policeman and have you locked up."

Uncle and niece stood regarding each other, hatred and contempt in his gaze, hatred and fear in hers.

"You're a child in law--though, God knows, you're anything but a child in fact. Come along with me. You've got to. I'm going to see that you're put out of harm's way."

"You wouldn't take me back to Sutherland!" she cried.

He laughed savagely. "I guess not! You'll not show your face there again--though I've no doubt you'd be brazen enough to brass it out. No--you can't pollute my home again."

"I can't go back to Sutherland!"

"You shan't, I say. You ran off because you had disgraced yourself."

"No!" cried Susan. "No!"

"Don't lie to me! Don't speak to me. I'll see what I can do to hide this mess. Come along!"

Susan looked helplessly round the street, saw nothing, not even eager, curious faces pressed against many a window pane, saw only a desolate waste. Then she walked along beside her uncle, both of them silent, he carrying her bundle, she tightly clutching her little purse.

Perhaps the most amazing, the most stunning, of all the blows fate had thus suddenly showered upon her was this transformation of her uncle from gentleness to ferocity. But many a far older and far wiser woman than seventeen-year-old Susan has failed to understand how it is with the man who does not regard woman as a fellow human being. To such she is either an object of adoration, a quintessence of purity and innocence, or less than the dust, sheer filth. Warham's anger was no gust. He was simply the average man of small intelligence, great vanity, and abject snobbishness or terror of public opinion. There could be but one reason for the flight of Lorella's daughter--rottenness. The only point to consider now was how to save the imperiled family standing, how to protect his own daughter, whom his good nature and his wife's weakness had thus endangered. The one thing that could have appeased his hatred of Susan would have been her marriage to Sam Wright. Then he would have--not, indeed, forgiven or reinstated her--but tolerated her. It is the dominance of such ideas as his that makes for woman the slavery she discovers beneath her queenly sway if she happens to do something deeply displeasing to her masculine subject and adorer.

They went to the Central Station. The O. and M. express which connected with the train on the branch line to Sutherland would not leave until a quarter past two. It was only a few minutes past one. Warham led the way into the station restaurant; with a curt nod he indicated a seat at one of the small tables, and dropped into the opposite seat. He ordered beefsteak and fried potatoes, coffee and apple pie.

"Sit still!" he said to her roughly and rose to go out to buy a paper.

The girl sat with her hands in her lap and her eyes upon them. She looked utterly, pitifully tired. A moment and he came back to resume his seat and read the paper. When the waiter flopped down the steak and the dish of greasily fried potatoes before his plate, he stuffed the paper in his pocket, cut a slice of the steak and put it on the plate. The waiter noisily exchanged it for the empty plate before Susan. Warham cut two slices of the steak for himself, took a liberal helping of the potatoes, pushed the dish toward her.

"Do you want the coffee now, or with the pie?" asked the waiter.

"Now," said Warham.

"Coffee for the young lady, too?"

Warham scowled at her. "Coffee?" he demanded.

She did not answer; she did not hear.

"Yes, she wants coffee," said Warham. "Hustle it!"

"Yes, sir." And the waiter bustled away with a great deal of motion that created a deceptive impression of speed. Warham was helping himself to steak again when the coffee came a suspicious-looking liquid diffusing an odor of staleness reheated again and again, an under odor of metal pot not too frequently scoured.

Warham glanced at Susan's plate. She had not disturbed the knife and fork on either side of it. "Eat!" he commanded. And when she gave no sign of having heard, he repeatedly sharply, "Eat, I tell you."

She started, nervously took up the knife and fork, cut a morsel off the slice of steak. When she lifted it to her lips, she suddenly put it back in the plate. "I can't," she said.

"You've got to," ordered he. "I won't have you acting this way."

"I can't," she repeated monotonously. "I feel sick." Nature had luckily so made her that it was impossible for her to swallow when her nerves were upset or when she was tired; thus, she would not have the physical woes that aggravate and prolong mental disturbance if food is taken at times when it instantly turns to poison.

He repeated his order in a still more savage tone. She put her elbows on the table, rested her head wearily upon her hands, shook her head. He desisted.

When he had eaten all of the steak, except the fat and the gristly tail, and nearly all the potatoes, the waiter took the used dishes away and brought two generous slices of apple pie and set down one before each. With the pie went a cube of American cream or "rat-trap" cheese. Warham ate his own pie and cheese; then, as she had not touched hers, he reached for it and ate it also. Now he was watching the clock and, between liftings of laden fork to his mouth, verifying the clock's opinion of the hour by his own watch. He called for the bill, paid it, gave the waiter five cents--a concession to the tipping custom of the effete city which, judging by the waiter's expression, might as well not have been made. Still, Warham had not made it with an idea of promoting good feeling between himself and the waiter, but simply to show that he knew the city and its ways. He took up the shawl strap, said, "Come on" in the voice which he deemed worthy of the fallen creature he must, through Christian duty and worldly prudence, for the time associate with. She rose and followed him to the ticket office. He had the return half of his own ticket. When she heard him ask for a ticket to North Sutherland she shivered. She knew that her destination was his brother Zeke's farm.

From Cincinnati to North Vernon, where they were to change cars, he sat beside her without speech. At North Vernon, where they had to occupy a bench outside the squat and squalid station for nearly two hours, he sat beside her without speech. And without a single word on either side they journeyed in the poking, no-sooner-well-started-than-stopping accommodation train southbound. Several Sutherland people were aboard. He nodded surlily to those who spoke to him. He read an Indianapolis paper which he had bought at North Vernon. All the way she gazed unseeingly out over the fair June landscape of rolling or hilly fields ripening in the sun.

At North Sutherland he bade her follow him to a dilapidated barn a few yards from the railway tracks, where was displayed a homemade sign--"V. Goslin. Livery and Sale Stable." There was dickering and a final compromise on four dollars where the proprietor had demanded five and Warham had declared two fifty liberal. A surrey was hitched with two horses. Warham opened the awkward door to the rear seat and ordered Susan to jump in. She obeyed; he put the bundle on the floor beside her. He sat with the driver--the proprietor himself. The horses set off at a round pace over the smooth turnpike. It was evening, and a beautiful coolness issued from the woods on either side. They skimmed over the long level stretches; they climbed hills, they raced down into valleys. Warham and the ragged, rawboned old proprietor kept up a kind of conversation--about crops and politics, about the ownership, value, and fertility of the farms they were passing. Susan sat quiet, motionless most of the time.

The last daylight faded; the stars came out; the road wound in and out, up and down, amid cool dark silence and mysterious fascinating shadows. The moon appeared above the tree tops straight ahead--a big moon, with a lower arc of the rim clipped off. The turnpike ended; they were making equally rapid progress over the dirt road which was in perfect condition as there had been no rain for several days. The beat of the flying hoofs was soft now; the two men's voices, fell into a lower key; the moon marked out the line of the road clearly, made strange spectral minglings of light and darkness in the woods, glorified the open fields and gave the occasional groups of farm buildings an ancient beauty and dignity. The girl slept.

At nine o'clock the twenty-mile drive ended in a long, slow climb up a road so washed out, so full of holes and bowlders, that it was no road at all but simply a weather-beaten hillside. A mile of this, with the liveryman's curses--"dod rot it" and "gosh dang it" and similar modifications of profanity for Christian use and for the presence of "the sex"--ringing out at every step. Susan soon awakened, rather because the surrey was pitching so wildly than because of Goslin's denunciations. A brief level stretch and they stopped for Warham to open the outer gate into his brother Zeke's big farm. A quarter of a mile through wheat to the tops of the wheels and they reached the second gate. A descent into a valley, a crossing of a creek, an ascent of a steep hill, and they were at the third gate--between pasture and barnyard. Now they came into view of the house, set upon a slope where a spring bubbled out. The house was white and a white picket fence cut off its lawn from the barnyard. A dog with a deep voice began to bark. They drove up to the front gate and stopped. The dog barked in a frenzy of rage, and they heard his straining and jerking at his chain. A clump of cedars brooded to the right of the house; their trunks were whitewashed up to the lowest branches. The house had a high stoop with wooden steps.

As Warham descended and hallooed, there came a fierce tugging at the front door from the inside. But the front door was not in the habit of being opened, and stoutly resisted. The assault grew more strenuous; the door gave way and a tall thin farmer appeared.

"Hello, Zeke," called George. He opened the surrey door. "Get down," he said to the girl, at the same time taking her bundle. He set it on the horse block beside the gate, took out his pocketbook and paid over the four dollars. "Good-by, Vic," said he pleasantly. "That's a good team you've got."

"Not so coarse," said Vic. "Good-by, Mr. Warham." And off he drove.

Zeke Warham had now descended the steps and was opening the front gate, which was evidently as unaccustomed to use as the front door. "Howdy, George," said he. "Ain't that Susie you've got with you?" Like George, Zeke had had an elementary education. But he had married an ignorant woman, and had lived so long among his farm hands and tenants that he used their mode of speech.

"Yes, it's Susie," said George, shaking hands with his brother.

"Howdy, Susie," said Zeke, shaking hands with her. "I see you've got your things with you. Come to stay awhile?"

George interrupted. "Susan, go up on the porch and take your bundle."

The girl took up the shawl strap and went to the front door. She leaned upon the railing of the stoop and watched the two men standing at the gate. George was talking to his brother in a low tone. Occasionally the brother uttered an ejaculation. She could not hear; their heads were so turned that she could not see their faces. The moon made it almost as bright as day. From the pasture woods came a low, sweet chorus of night life--frogs and insects and occasionally a night bird. From the orchard to the left and the clover fields beyond came a wonderful scented breeze. She heard a step in the hall; her Aunt Sallie appeared--a comfortable, voluble woman, a hard worker and a harder eater and showing it in thin hair and wrinkled face.

"Why, Susie Lenox, ain't that you?" she exclaimed.

"Yes, Aunt," said Susan.

Her aunt kissed her, diffusing that earthy odor which is the basis of the smell of country persons. At various hours of the day this odor would be modified with the smell of cow stables, of chickens, of cooking, according to immediate occupation. But whatever other smell there was, the earthy smell persisted. And it was the smell of the house, too.

"Who's at the gate with your Uncle Zeke?" inquired Sallie. "Ain't it George?"

"Yes," said Susan.

"Why don't he come in?" She raised her voice. "George, ain't you coming in?"

"Howdy, Sallie," called George. "You take the girl in. Zeke and I'll be along."

"Some business, I reckon," said her aunt to Susan. "Come on. Have you had supper?"

"No," said Susan. She was hungry now. The splendid health of the girl that had calmed her torment of soul into a dull ache was clamoring for food--food to enable her body to carry her strong and enduring through whatever might befall.

"I'll set something out for you," said Sallie. "Come right in. You might leave your bundle here by the parlor door. We'll put you in the upstairs room."

They passed the front stairway, went back through the hall, through the big low-ceilinged living-room with its vast fireplace now covered for the warm season by a screen of flowered wallpaper. They were in the plain old dining-room with its smaller fireplace and its big old-fashioned cupboards built into the wall on either side of the projecting chimney-piece. "There ain't much," resumed Sallie. "But I reckon you kin make out."

On the gayly patterned table cover she set an array of substantial plates and glasses. From various cupboards in dining-room and adjoining kitchen she assembled a glass pitcher of sweet milk, a glass pitcher of buttermilk, a plate of cold cornbread, a platter of cold fried chicken, a dish of golden butter, a pan of cold fried potatoes, a jar of preserved crab apples and another of peach butter. Susan watched with hungry eyes. She was thinking of nothing but food now. Her aunt looked at her and smiled.

"My, but you're shootin' up!" she exclaimed, admiring the girl's tall, straight figure. "And you don't seem to get stringy and bony like so many, but keep nice and round. Do set down."

"I--I think I'll wait until Uncle George comes."

"Nothing of the kind!" She pushed a wooden chair before one of the two plates she had laid. "I see you've still got that lovely skin. And how tasty you dress! Now, do set!"

Susan seated herself.

"Pitch right in, child," urged Sallie. "How's yer aunt and her Ruth?"

"They're--they're well, thank you."

"Do eat!"

"No," said Susan. "I'll wait for Uncle."

"Never mind your manners. I know you're starved." Then seeing that the girl would not eat, she said, "Well, I'll go fetch him."

But Susan stopped her. "Please please don't," she entreated.

Sallie stared to oppose; then, arrested by the intense, appealing expression in those violet-gray eyes, so beautifully shaded by dark lashes and brows, she kept silent, bustled aimlessly about, boiling with suddenly aroused curiosity. It was nearly half an hour by the big square wooden clock on the chimney-piece when Susan heard the steps of her two uncles. Her hunger fled; the deathly sickness surged up again. She trembled, grew ghastly in the yellow lamplight. Her hands clutched each other in her lap.

"Why, Susie!" cried her aunt. "Whatever is the matter of you!"

The girl lifted her eyes to her aunt's face the eyes of a wounded, suffering, horribly suffering animal. She rose, rushed out of the door into the yard, flung herself down on the grass. But still she could not get the relief of tears. After a while she sat up and listened. She heard faintly the voices of her uncle and his relatives. Presently her aunt came out to her. She hid her face in her arm and waited for the new harshness to strike.

"Get up and come in, Susie." The voice was kind, was pitying--not with the pity that galls, but with the pity of one who understands and feels and is also human, the pity that soothes. At least to this woman she was not outcast.

The girl flung herself down again and sobbed--poured out upon the bosom of our mother earth all the torrents of tears that had been damming up within her. And Sallie knelt beside her and patted her now and then, with a "That's right. Cry it out, sweetie."

When tears and sobs subsided Sallie lifted her up, walked to the house with her arm round her. "Do you feel better?"

"Some," admitted Susan.

"The men folks have went. So we kin be comfortable. After you've et, you'll feel still better."

George Warham had made a notable inroad upon the food and drink. But there was an abundance left. Susan began with a hesitating sipping at a glass of milk and nibbling at one of the generous cubes of old-fashioned cornbread. Soon she was busy. It delighted Sallie to see her eat. She pressed the preserves, the chicken, the cornbread upon her. "I haven't eaten since early this morning," apologized the girl.

"That means a big hole to fill," observed Sallie. "Try this buttermilk."

But Susan could hold no more.

"I reckon you're pretty well tired out," observed Sallie.

"I'll help you straighten up," said Susan, rising.

"No. Let me take you up to bed--while the men's still outside."

Susan did not insist. They returned through the empty sitting-room and along the hall. Aunt Sallie took the bundle, and they ascended to the spare bedroom. Sallie showed her into the front room--a damp, earthy odor; a wallpaper with countless reproductions of two little brown girls in a brown swing under a brown tree; a lofty bed, white and tomb-like; some preposterous artificial flowers under glass on chimney-piece and table; three bright chromos on the walls; "God Bless Our Home" in pink, blue and yellow worsted over the door.

"I'll run down and put the things away," said her aunt. "Then I'll come back."

Susan put her bundle on the sofa, opened it, found nightgown and toilet articles on top. She looked uncertainly about, rapidly undressed, got into the nightgown. "I'll turn down the bed and lie on it until Auntie comes," she said to herself. The bed was delightfully cool; the shuck mattress made soft crackling sounds under her and gave out a soothing odor of the fields. Hardly had her head touched the pillow when she fell sound asleep. In a few minutes her aunt came hurrying in, stopped short at sight of that lovely childlike face with the lamplight full upon it. One of Susan's tapering arms was flung round her dark wavy hair. Sallie Warham smiled gently. "Bless the baby" she said half aloud. Then her smile faded and a look of sadness and pity came. "Poor child!" she murmured. "The Warham men's hard. But then all the men's hard. Poor child." And gently she kissed the girl's flushed cheek. "And she never had no mother, nor nothing." She sighed, gradually lowered the flame of the little old glass lamp, blew it out, and went noiselessly from the room, closing the door behind her.

CHAPTER IX

SUSAN sat up in bed suddenly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. It was broad day, and the birds were making a mighty clamor. She gazed round, astonished that it was not her own room. Then she remembered. But it was as a child remembers; for when we have the sense of perfect physical well-being we cannot but see our misfortunes with the child's sense of unreality--and Susan had not only health but youth, was still in the child stage of the period between childhood and womanhood. She lay down again, with the feeling that so long as she could stay in that comfortable bed, with the world shut out, just so long would all be well with her. Soon, however, the restlessness of all nature under the stimulus and heat of that brilliant day communicated itself to her vigorous young body. For repose and inaction are as foreign to healthy life as death itself, of which they are the symptoms; and if ever there was an intense and vivid life, Susan had it. She got up and dressed, and leaned from the window, watching the two-horse reaper in the wheat fields across the hollow of the pasture, and listening to its faint musical whirr. The cows which had just been milked were moving sedately through the gate into the pasture, where the bull, under a tree, was placidly awaiting them. A boy, in huge straw hat and a blue cotton shirt and linsey woolsey trousers rolled high upon his brown bare legs, was escorting the herd.

Her aunt in fresh, blue, checked calico came in. "Wouldn't you like some breakfast?" said she. And Susan read in her manner that the men were out of the way.

"No, I don't feel hungry," Susan replied.

She thought this was true; but when she was at the table she ate almost as heartily as she had the night before. As Susan ate she gazed out into the back yard of the house, where chickens of all sizes, colors and ages were peering and picking about. Through the fence of the kitchen garden she saw Lew, the farm hand, digging potatoes. There were ripening beans on tall poles, and in the farther part the forming heads of cabbages, the sprouting melon vines, the beautiful fresh green of the just springing garden corn. The window through which she was looking was framed in morning glories and hollyhocks, and over by the garden gate were on the one side a clump of elders, on the other the hardy graceful stalks of gaudily spreading sunflowers. Bees flew in and out, and one lighted upon the dish of honey in the comb that went so well with the hot biscuit.

She rose and wandered out among the chickens, to pick up little fluffy youngsters one after another, and caress them, to look in the henhouse itself, where several hens were sitting with the pensive expression that accompanies the laying of eggs. She thought of those other hens, less conventional, who ran away to lay in secret places in the weeds, to accumulate a store against the time when the setting instinct should possess them.

She thought of those cannier, less docile hens and laughed. She opened a gate into the barnyard, intending to go to the barn for a look at the horses, taking in the duck pond and perhaps the pigs on the way. Her Uncle George's voice arrested her.

"Susan," he cried. "Come here."

She turned and looked wistfully at him. The same harsh, unforgiving countenance--mean with anger and petty thoughts. As she moved hesitatingly toward him he said, "You are not to go out of the yard." And he reëntered the house. What a mysterious cruel world! Could it be the same world she had lived in so happily all the years until a few days ago--the same she had always found "God's beautiful world," full of gentleness and kindness?

And why had it changed? What was this sin that after a long sleep in her mother's grave had risen to poison everyone against her? And why had it risen? It was all beyond her.

She strolled wretchedly within bounds, with a foreboding of impending evil. She watched Lew in the garden; she got her aunt to let her help with the churning--drive the dasher monotonously up and down until the butter came; then she helped work the butter, helped gather the vegetables for dinner, did everything and anything to keep herself from thinking. Toward eleven o'clock her Uncle Zeke appeared in the dining-room, called his wife from the kitchen. Susan felt that at last something was to happen. After a long time her aunt returned; there were all the evidences of weeping in her face.

"You'd better go to your room and straighten it up," she said without looking at the girl. "The thing has aired long enough, I reckon. . . . And you'd better stay up there till I call you."

Susan had finished the room, was about to unpack the heavy-laden shawl strap and shake the wrinkles out of the skirts, folded away for two days now. She heard the sound of a horse's hoofs, went to the window. A young man whom she recognized as one of her Uncle Zeke's tenants was hitching to the horse block a well-set-up young mare drawing a species of broad-seated breaking sulky. He had a handsome common face, a wavy black mustache. She remembered that his name was Ferguson--Jeb Ferguson, and that he was working on shares what was known as "the creek-bottom farm," which began about a mile and a half away, straight down the pasture hollow. He glanced up at the window, raised his black slouch hat, and nodded with the self-conscious, self-assured grin of the desired of women. She tried to return this salute with a pleasant smile. He entered the gate and she heard his boots upon the front steps.

Now away across the hollow another figure appeared--a man on horseback coming through the wheat fields. He was riding toward the farther gate of the pasture at a leisurely dignified pace. She had only made out that he had abundant whiskers when the sound of a step upon the stairs caused her to turn. As that step came nearer her heart beat more and more wildly. Her wide eyes fixed upon the open door of the room. It was her Uncle George.

"Sit down," he said as he reached the threshold. "I want to talk to you."

She seated herself, with hands folded in her lap. Her head was aching from the beat of the blood in her temples.

"Zeke and I have talked it over," said Warham. "And we've decided that the only thing to do with you is to get you settled. So in a few minutes now you're going to be married."

Her lack of expression showed that she did not understand. In fact, she could only feel--feel the cruel, contemptuous anger of that voice which all her days before had caressed her.

"We've picked out a good husband for you," Warham continued. "It's Jeb Ferguson."

Susan quivered. "I--I don't want to," she said.

"It ain't a question of what you want," retorted Warham roughly. He was twenty-four hours and a night's sleep away from his first fierce outblazing of fury--away from the influence of his wife and his daughter. If it had not been for his brother Zeke, narrow and cold, the event might have been different. But Zeke was there to keep his "sense of duty" strong. And that he might nerve himself and hide and put down any tendency to be a "soft-hearted fool"--a tendency that threatened to grow as he looked at the girl--the child--he assumed the roughest manner he could muster.

"It ain't a question of what you want," he repeated. "It's a question of what's got to be done, to save my family and you, too--from disgrace. We ain't going to have any more bastards in this family."

The word meant nothing to the girl. But the sound of it, as her uncle pronounced it, made her feel as though the blood were drying up in her veins.

"We ain't going to take any chances," pursued Warham, less roughly; for now that he had looked the situation full and frankly in the face, he had no nerve to brace himself. The necessity of what he was prepared to do and to make her do was too obvious. "Ferguson's here, and Zeke saw the preacher we sent for riding in from the main road. So I've come to tell you. If you'd like to fix up a little, why your Aunt Sallie'll be here in a minute. You want to pray God to make you a good wife. And you ought to be thankful you have sensible relations to step in and save you from yourself."

Susan tried to speak; her voice died in her throat. She made another effort. "I don't want to," she said.

"Then what do you want to do--tell me that!" exclaimed her uncle, rough again. For her manner was very moving, the more so because there was none of the usual appeal to pity and to mercy.

She was silent.

"There isn't anything else for you to do."

"I want to--to stay here."

"Do you think Zeke'd harbor you--when you're about certain to up and disgrace us as your mother did?"

"I haven't done anything wrong," said the girl dully.

"Don't you dare lie about that!"

"I've seen Ruth do the same with Artie Sinclair--and all the girls with different boys."

"You miserable girl!" cried her uncle.

"I never heard it was so dreadful to let a boy kiss you."

"Don't pretend to be innocent. You know the difference between that and what you did!"

Susan realized that when she had kissed Sam she had really loved him. Perhaps that was the fatal difference. And her mother--the sin there had been that she really loved while the man hadn't. Yes, it must be so. Ruth's explanation of these mysteries had been different; but then Ruth had also admitted that she knew little about the matter--and Susan most doubted the part that Ruth had assured her was certainly true.

"I didn't know," said Susan to her uncle. "Nobody ever told me. I thought we were engaged."

"A good woman don't need to be told," retorted Warham. "But I'm not going to argue with you. You've got to marry."

"I couldn't do that," said the girl. "No, I couldn't."

"You'll either take him or you go back to Sutherland and I'll have you locked up in the jail till you can be sent to the House of Correction. You can take your choice."

Susan sat looking at her slim brown hands and interlacing her long fingers. The jail! The House of Correction was dreadful enough, for though she had never seen it she had heard what it was for, what kind of boys and girls lived there. But the jail--she had seen the jail, back behind the courthouse, with its air of mystery and of horror. Not Hell itself seemed such a frightful thing as that jail.

"Well--which do you choose?" said her uncle in a sharp voice.

The girl shivered. "I don't care what happens to me," she said, and her voice was dull and sullen and hard.

"And it doesn't much matter," sneered Warham. Every time he looked at her his anger flamed again at the outrage to his love, his trust, his honor, and the impending danger of more illegitimacy. "Marrying Jeb will give you a chance to reform and be a good woman. He understands--so you needn't be afraid of what he'll find out."

"I don't care what happens to me," the girl repeated in the same monotonous voice.

Warham rose. "I'll send your Aunt Sallie," said he. "And when I call, she'll bring you down."

The girl's silence, her non-resistance the awful expression of her still features--made him uneasy. He went to the window instead of to the door. He glanced furtively at her; but he might have glanced openly as there wasn't the least danger of meeting her eyes. "You're marrying about as well as you could have hoped to, anyhow--better, probably," he observed, in an argumentative, defensive tone. "Zeke says Jeb's about the likeliest young fellow he knows--a likelier fellow than either Zeke or I was at his age. I've given him two thousand dollars in cash. That ought to start you off well." And he went out without venturing another look at her. Her youth and helplessness, her stony misery, were again making it harder for him to hold himself to what he and the fanatic Zeke had decided to be his duty as a Christian, as a father, as a guardian. Besides, he did not dare face his wife and his daughter until the whole business was settled respectably and finally. His sister-in-law was waiting in the next room. As soon as his descent cleared the way she hurried in. From the threshold she glanced at the girl; what she saw sent her hurrying out to recompose herself. But the instant she again saw that expression of mute and dazed despair the tears fought for release. The effort to suppress outward signs of pity made her plain fat face grotesque. She could not speak. With a corner of her apron she wiped imaginary dust from the glass bells that protected the artificial flowers. The poor child! And all for no fault of hers--and because she had been born out of wedlock. But then, the old woman reflected, was it not one of the most familiar of God's mysterious ways that people were punished most severely of all for the things that weren't their fault--for being born in shame, or in bad or low families, or sickly, or for being stupid or ugly or ignorant? She envied Zeke--his unwavering belief in religion. She believed, but her tender heart was always leading her into doubts.

She at last got some sort of control over her voice. "It'll turn out for the best," she said, with her back to Susan. "It don't make much difference nohow who a woman marries, so long as he's steady and a good provider. Jeb seems to be a nice feller. He's better looking than your Uncle George was before he went to town and married a Lenox and got sleeked up. And Jeb ain't near so close as some. That's a lot in a husband." And in a kind of hysteria, bred of fear of silence just then, she rattled on, telling how this man lay awake o' nights thinking how to skin a flea for its hide and tallow, how that one had said only a fool would pay over a quarter for a new hat for his wife----

"Will it be long?" asked the girl.

"I'll go down and see," said Mrs. Warham, glad of a real excuse for leaving the room. She began to cry as soon as she was in the hall. Two sparrows lit upon the window sill near Susan and screamed and pecked at each other in a mock fight. She watched them; but her shiver at the faint sound of her aunt's returning step far away down the stairs showed where her attention was. When Zeke's wife entered she was standing and said:

"Is it time?"

"Come on, honey. Now don't be afraid."

Susan advanced with a firm step, preceded her aunt down the stairs. The black slouch hat and the straw of dignified cut were side by side on the shiny hall table. The parlor door was open; the rarely used showroom gave forth an earthy, moldy odor like that of a disturbed grave. Its shutters, for the first time in perhaps a year, were open; the mud daubers that had built in the crevices between shutters and sills, fancying they would never be disturbed, were buzzing crossly about their ruined homes. The four men were seated, each with his legs crossed, and each wearing the funereal expression befitting a solemn occasion. Susan did not lift her eyes. The profusely whiskered man seated on the haircloth sofa smoothed his black alpaca coat, reset the black tie deep hid by his beard, rose and advanced with a clerical smile whose real kindliness took somewhat from its offensive unction. "This is the young lady, is it?" said he, reaching for Susan's rising but listless hand. "She is indeed a _young_ lady!"

The two Warham men stood, shifting uneasily from leg to leg and rubbing their faces from time to time. Sallie Warham was standing also, her big unhealthy face twitching fantastically. Jeb alone was seated--chair tilted back, hands in trousers pockets, a bucolic grin of embarrassment giving an expression of pain to his common features. A strained silence, then Zeke Warham said:

"I reckon we might as well go ahead."

The preacher took a small black-bound book from the inside pocket of his limp and dusty coat, cleared his throat, turned over the pages. That rustling, the creaking of his collar on his overstarched shirt band, and the buzzing of the mud daubers round the windows were the only sounds. The preacher found the place, cleared his throat again.

"Mr. Ferguson----"

Jeb, tall, spare, sallow, rose awkwardly.

"--You and Miss Lenox will take your places here----" and he indicated a position before him.

Susan was already in place; Jeb shuffled up to stand at her left. Sallie Warham hid her face in her apron. The preacher cleared his throat vigorously, began--"Dearly beloved"--and so on and on. When he put the questions to Susan and Jeb he told them what answer was expected, and they obeyed him, Jeb muttering, Susan with a mere, movement of the lips. When he had finished--a matter of less than three minutes--he shook hands warmly first with Susan, then with Jeb. "Live in the fear of the Lord," he said. "That's all that's necessary."

Sallie put down her apron. Her face was haggard and gray. She kissed Susan tenderly, then led her from the room. They went upstairs to the bedroom. "Do you want to stay to dinner?" she asked in the hoarse undertone of funeral occasions. "Or would you rather go right away?"

"I'd rather go," said the girl.

"You set down and make yourself comfortable. I'll hook up your shawl strap."

Susan sat by the window, her hands in her lap. The hand with the new circlet of gold on it was uppermost. Sallie busied herself with the bundle; abruptly she threw her apron over her face, knelt by the bed and sobbed and uttered inarticulate moans. The girl made no sound, did not move, looked unseeingly at her inert hands. A few moments and Sallie set to work again. She soon had the bundle ready, brought Susan's hat, put it on.

"It's so hot, I reckon you'll carry your jacket. I ain't seen as pretty a blue dress as this--yet it's plain-like, too." She went to the top of the stairs. "She wants to go, Jeb," she called loudly. "You'd better get the sulky ready."

The answer from below was the heavy thump of Jeb's boots on the oilcloth covering of the hall floor. Susan, from the window, dully watched the young farmer unhitch the mare and lead her up in front of the gate.

"Come on, honey," said Aunt Sallie, taking up the bundle.

The girl--she seemed a child now--followed her. On the front stoop were George and his brother and the preacher. The men made room for them to pass. Sallie opened the gate; Susan went out. "You'll have to hold the bundle," said Sallie. Susan mounted to the seat, took the bundle on her knees. Jeb, who had the lines, left the mare's head and got up beside his bride.

"Good day, all," he said, nodding at the men on the stoop. "Good day, Mrs. Warham."

"Come and see us real soon," said Sallie. Her fat chin was quivering; her tired-looking, washed-out eyes gazed mournfully at the girl who was acting and looking as if she were walking in her sleep.

"Good day, all," repeated Jeb, and again he made the clucking sound.

"Good-by and God bless you," said the preacher. His nostrils were luxuriously sniffing the air which bore to them odors of cookery.

The mare set out. Susan's gaze rested immovably upon the heavy bundle in her lap. As the road was in wretched repair, Jeb's whole attention was upon his driving. At the gate between barnyard and pasture he said, "You hold the lines while I get down."

Susan's fingers closed mechanically upon the strips of leather. Jeb led the mare through the gate, closed it, resumed his seat. This time the mare went on without exacting the clucking sound. They were following the rocky road along the wester hillside of the pasture hollow. As they slowly made their way among the deep ruts and bowlders, from frequent moistenings of the lips and throats, noises, and twitchings of body and hands, it was evident that the young farmer was getting ready for conversation. The struggle at last broke surface with, "Zeke Warham don't waste no time road patchin'--does he?"

Susan did not answer.

Jeb studied her out of the corner of his eye, the first time a fairly good bit of roadway permitted. He could make nothing of her face except that it was about the prettiest he had ever seen. Plainly she was not eager to get acquainted; still, acquainted they must get. So he tried again:

"My sister Keziah--she keeps house for me--she'll be mighty surprised when I turn up with a wife. I didn't let on to her what I was about, nary a word."

He laughed and looked expectantly at the girl. Her expression was unchanged. Jeb again devoted himself to his driving.

"No, I didn't let on," he presently resumed. "Fact is, I wan't sure myself till I seed you at the winder." He smiled flirtatiously at her. "Then I decided to go ahead. I dunno, but I somehow kinder allow you and me'll hit it off purty well--don't you?"

Susan tried to speak. She found that she could not--that she had nothing to say.

"You're the kind of a girl I always had my mind set on," pursued Jeb, who was an expert love-maker. "I like a smooth skin and pouty lips that looks as if they wanted to be kissed." He took the reins in one hand, put his arm round her, clumsily found her lips with his. She shrank slightly, then submitted. But Jeb somehow felt no inclination to kiss her again. After a moment he let his arm drop away from her waist and took the reins in both hands with an elaborate pretense that the bad road compelled it.

A long silence, then he tried again: "It's cool and nice under these here trees, ain't it?"

"Yes," she said.

"I ain't saw you out here for several years now. How long has it been?"

"Three summers ago."

"You must 'a' growed some. I don't seem to recollect you. You like the country?"

"Yes."

"Sho! You're just sayin' that. You want to live in town. Well, so do I. And as soon as I get things settled a little I'm goin' to take what I've got and the two thousand from your Uncle George and open up a livery stable in town."

Susan's strange eyes turned upon him. "In Sutherland?" she asked breathlessly.

"Right in Sutherland," replied he complacently. "I think I'll buy Jake Antle's place in Jefferson Street."

Susan was blanched and trembling. "Oh, no," she cried. "You mustn't do that!"

Jeb laughed. "You see if I don't. And we'll live in style, and you can keep a gal and stay dolled up all the time. Oh, I know how to treat you."

"I want to stay in the country," cried Susan. "I hate Sutherland."

"Now, don't you be afraid," soothed Jeb. "When people see you've got a husband and money they'll not be down on you no more. They'll forget all about your maw--and they won't know nothin' about the other thing. You treat me right and I'll treat you right. I'm not one to rake up the past. There ain't arry bit of meanness about me!"

"But you'll let me stay here in the country?" pleaded Susan. Her imagination was torturing her with pictures of herself in Sutherland and the people craning and whispering and mocking.

"You go where I go," replied Jeb. "A woman's place is with her man. And I'll knock anybody down that looks cockeyed at you."

"Oh!" murmured Susan, sinking back against the support.

"Don't you fret, Susie," ordered Jeb, confident and patronizing. "You do what I say and everything'll be all right. That's the way to get along with me and get nice clothes--do what I say. With them that crosses me I'm mighty ugly. But you ain't a-goin' to cross me. . . . Now, about the house. I reckon I'd better send Keziah off right away. You kin cook?"

"A--a little," said Susan.

Jeb looked relieved. "Then she'd be in the way. Two women about always fights--and Keziah's got the Ferguson temper. She's afraid of me, but now and then she fergits and has a tantrum." Jeb looked at her with a smile and a frown. "Perk up a little," he more than half ordered. "I don't want Keziah jeerin' at me."

Susan made a pitiful effort to smile. He eyed it sourly, grunted, gave the mare a cut with the whip that caused her to leap forward in a gallop. "Whoa!" he yelled. "Whoa--damn you!" And he sawed cruelly at her mouth until she quieted down. A turning and they were before a shallow story-and-a-half frame house which squatted like an old roadside beggar behind a weather-beaten picket fence. The sagging shingle roof sloped abruptly; there were four little windows downstairs and two smaller upstairs. The door was in the center of the house; a weedy path led from its crooked step, between two patches of weedy grass, to the gate in the fence.

"Whoa!" shouted Jeb, with the double purpose of stopping the mare and informing the house of his arrival. Then to Susan: "You git down and I'll drive round to the barn yonder." He nodded toward a dilapidated clapboard structure, small and mean, set between a dirty lopsided straw heap and a manure heap. "Go right in and make yourself at home. Tell Keziah who you air. I'll be along, soon as I unhitch and feed the mare."

Susan was staring stupidly at the house--at her new home.

"Git down," he said sharply. "You don't act as if your hearin' or your manners was much to brag on."

He felt awkward and embarrassed with this delicately bred, lovely child-woman in the, to him, wonderfully fine and fashionable dress. To hide his nervousness and to brave it out, he took the only way he knew, the only way shy people usually know--the way of gruffness. It was not a ferocious gruffness for a man of his kind; but it seemed so to her who had been used to gentleness only, until these last few days. His grammar, his untrained voice, his rough clothes, the odor of stale sweat and farm labor he exhaled, made him horrible to her--though she only vaguely knew why she felt so wretched and why her body shrank from him.

She stepped down from the sulky, almost falling in her dizziness and blindness. Jeb touched the mare with the whip and she was alone before the house--a sweet forlorn figure, childish, utterly out of place in those surroundings. On the threshold, in faded and patched calico, stood a tall gaunt woman with a family likeness to Jeb. She had thin shiny black hair, a hard brown skin, high cheekbones and snapping black eyes. When her thin lips parted she showed on the left side of the mouth three large and glittering gold teeth that in the contrast made their gray, not too clean neighbors seem white.

"Howdy!" she called in a tone of hostility.

Susan tried in vain to respond. She stood gazing.

"What d'ye want?"

"He he told me to go in," faltered Susan. She had no sense of reality. It was a dream--only a dream--and she would awaken in her own clean pretty pale-gray bedroom with Ruth gayly calling her to come down to breakfast.

"Who are you?" demanded Keziah--for at a glance it was the sister.

"I'm--I'm Susan Lenox."

"Oh--Zeke Warham's niece. Come right in." And Keziah looked as if she were about to bite and claw.

Susan pushed open the latchless gate, went up the short path to the doorstep. "I think I'll wait till he comes," she said.

"No. Come in and sit down, Miss Lenox." And Keziah drew a rush-bottomed rocking chair toward the doorway. Susan was looking at the interior. The lower floor of the house was divided into three small rooms. This central room was obviously the parlor--the calico-covered sofa, the center table, the two dingy chromos, and a battered cottage organ made that certain. On the floor was a rag carpet; on the walls, torn and dirty paper, with huge weather stains marking where water had leaked from the roof down the supporting beams. Keziah scowled at Susan's frank expression of repulsion for the surroundings. Susan seated herself on the edge of the chair, put her bundle beside her.

"I allow you'll stay to dinner," said Keziah.

"Yes," replied Susan.

"Then I'll go put on some more to cook."

"Oh, no--please don't--I couldn't eat anything--really, I couldn't." The girl spoke hysterically.

Just then Jeb came round the house and appeared in the doorway. He grinned and winked at Susan, looked at his sister. "Well, Keziah," said he, "what d'ye think of her?"

"She says she's going to stay to dinner," observed Keziah, trying to maintain the veneer of manners she had put on for company.

The young man laughed loudly. "That's a good one--that is!" he cried, nodding and winking at Susan. "So you ain't tole her? Well, Keziah, I've been and gone and got married. And there _she_ is."

"Shut up--you fool!" said Keziah. And she looked apologetically at their guest. But the expression of Susan's face made her catch her breath. "For the Lord's sake!" she ejaculated. "She ain't married _you!_"

"Why not?" demanded Jeb. "Ain't this a free country? Ain't I as good as anybody?"

Keziah blew out her breath in a great gust and seated herself on the tattered calico cover of the sofa. Susan grew deathly white. Her hands trembled. Then she sat quiet upon the edge of the old rush-bottomed chair. There was a terrible silence, broken by Jeb's saying loudly and fiercely, "Keziah, you go get the dinner. Then you pack your duds and clear out for Uncle Bob's."

Keziah stared at the bride, rose and went to the rear door. "I'm goin' now," she answered. "The dinner's ready except for putting on the table."

Through the flimsy partitions they heard her mounting the uncarpeted stairs, hustling about upon an uncarpeted floor above, and presently descending. "I'll hoof it," she said, reappearing in the doorway. "I'll send for my things this afternoon."

Jeb, not caring to provoke the "Ferguson temper," said nothing.

"As for this here marryin'," continued Keziah, "I never allowed you'd fall so low as to take a baby, and a bastard at that."

She whirled away. Jeb flung his hat on the table, flung himself on the sofa. "Well--that's settled," said he. "You kin get the dinner. It's all in there." And he jerked his head toward the door in the partition to the left. Susan got up, moved toward the indicated door. Jeb laughed. "Don't you think you might take off your hat and stay awhile?" said he.

She removed her hat, put it on top of the bundle which she left on the floor beside the rocking chair. She went into the kitchen dining-room. It was a squalid room, its ceiling and walls smoke-stained from the cracked and never polished stove in the corner. The air was foul with the strong old onions stewing on the stove. In a skillet slices of pork were frying. On the back of the stove stood a pan of mashed potatoes and a tin coffeepot. On the stained flowered cloth which covered the table in the middle of the room had been laid coarse, cracked dishes and discolored steel knives and forks with black wooden handles. Susan, half fainting, dropped into a chair by one of the open windows. A multitude of fat flies from the stable were running and crawling everywhere, were buzzing about her head. She was aroused by Jeb's voice: "Why, what the--the damnation! You've fell asleep!"

She started up. "In a minute!" she muttered, nervously.

And somehow, with Jeb's eyes on her from the doorway, she got the evil-smelling messes from the stove into table dishes from the shelves and then on the table, where the flies descended upon them in troops of scores and hundreds. Jeb, in his shirt sleeves now, sat down and fell to. She sat opposite him, her hands in her lap. He used his knife in preference to his fork, leaping the blade high, packing the food firmly upon it with fork or fingers, then thrusting it into his mouth. He ate voraciously, smacking his lips, breathing hard, now and then eructing with frank energy and satisfaction.

"My stummick's gassy right smart this year," he observed after a huge gulp of coffee. "Some says the heavy rains last spring put gas into everything, but I dunno. Maybe it's Keziah's cooking. I hope you'll do better. Why, you ain't eatin' nothin'!"

"I'm not hungry," said Susan. Then, as he frowned suspiciously, "I had a late breakfast."

He laughed. "And the marrying, too," he suggested with a flirtatious nod and wink. "Women's always upset by them kind of things."

When he had filled himself he pushed his chair back. "I'll set with you while you wash up," said he. "But you'd better take off them Sunday duds. You'll find some calikers that belonged to maw in a box under the bed in our room." He laughed and winked at her.

"That's the one on t'other side of the settin'-room. Yes--that's our'n!" And he winked again.

The girl, ghastly white, her great eyes staring like a sleepwalker's, rose and stood resting one hand on the back of the chair to steady her.

Jeb drew a cigar from his waistcoat pocket and lighted it. "Usually," said he, "I take a pipe or a chaw. But this bein' a weddin' day----"

He laughed and winked again, rose, took her in his arms and kissed her. She made a feeble gesture of thrusting him away. Her head reeled, her stomach turned.

She got away as soon as he would release her, crossed the sitting-room and entered the tiny dingy bedroom. The windows were down and the bed had not yet been made. The odor was nauseating--the staleness left by a not too clean sleeper who abhors fresh air. Susan saw the box under the bed, knelt to draw it out. But instead she buried her face in her hands, burst into wild sobs. "Oh, God," she prayed, "stop punishing me. I didn't mean to do wrong--and I'm sure my mother didn't, either. Stop, for Thy Son's sake, amen." Now surely she would wake. God must answer that prayer. She dared not take her palms from her eyes. Suddenly she felt herself caught from behind. She gave a wild scream and sprang up.

Jeb was looking at her with eyes that filled her with a fear more awful than the fear of death. "Don't!" she cried. "Don't!"

"Never mind, hon," said he in a voice that was terrible just because it was soft. "It's only your husband. My, but you're purty!" And he seized her. She fought. He crushed her. He kissed her with great slobbering smacks and gnawed at the flesh of her neck with teeth that craved to bite.

"Oh, Mr. Ferguson, for pity's sake!" she wailed. Then she opened her mouth wide as one gasping for breath where there is no air; and pushing at him with all her strength she vented a series of maniac shrieks.

CHAPTER X

LATE that afternoon Jeb returned to the house after several hours of uneasy, aimless pottering about at barn and woodshed. He stumped and stamped around the kitchen, then in the sitting-room, finally he mustered the courage to look into the bedroom, from which he had slunk like a criminal three hours before. There she lay, apparently in the same position. Her waxen color and her absolute stillness added fear to his sense of guilt--a guilt against which he protested, because he felt he had simply done what God and man expected of him. He stood in the low doorway for some time, stood there peering and craning until his fear grew so great that he could no longer put off ending or confirming it.

"Sleepin'?" said he in a hoarse undertone.

She did not reply; she did not move. He could not see that she was breathing.

"It'll soon be time to git supper," he went on--not because he was thinking of supper but because he was desperately clutching for something that must draw a reply from her--if she could reply. "Want me to clean up the dinner and put the supper things on?"

She made a feeble effort to rise, sank back again. He drew an audible sigh of relief; at least she was not what her color had suggested.

In fact, she was morbidly conscious. The instant she had heard him at the outer door she had begun to shiver and shake, and not until he moved toward the bedroom door did she become quiet. Then a calm had come into her nerves and her flesh--the calm that descends upon the brave when the peril actually faces. As he stood there her eyes were closed, but the smell of him--beneath the earthy odor of his clothing the odor of the bodies of those who eat strong, coarse food--stole into her nostrils, into her nerves. Her whole body sickened and shrank--for to her now that odor meant marriage--and she would not have believed Hell contained or Heaven permitted such a thing as was marriage. She understood now why the Bible always talked of man as a vile creature born in sin.

Jeb was stealthily watching her ghastly face, her limp body. "Feelin' sickish?" he asked.

A slight movement of the head in assent.

"I kin ride over to Beecamp and fetch Doc Christie."

Another and negative shake of the head, more determined. The pale lips murmured, "No--no, thank you." She was not hating him. He existed for her only as a symbol, in this hideous dream called life, that was coiled like a snake about her and was befouling her and stinging her to death.

"Don't you bother 'bout supper," said he with gruff, shamefaced generosity. "I'll look out for myself, this onct."

He withdrew to the kitchen, where she heard him clattering dishes and pans. Daylight waned to twilight, twilight to dusk, to darkness. She did not think; she did not feel, except an occasional dull pang from some bodily bruise. Her soul, her mind, were absolutely numb. Suddenly a radiance beat upon her eyes. All in an instant, before the lifting of her eyelids, soul and body became exquisitely acute; for she thought it was he come again, with a lamp. She looked; it was the moon whose beams struck full in at the uncurtained window and bathed her face in their mild brightness. She closed her eyes again and presently fell asleep--the utter relaxed sleep of a child that is worn out with pain, when nature turns gentle nurse and sets about healing and soothing as only nature can. When she awoke it was with a scream. No, she was not dreaming; there was an odor in the room--his odor, with that of a saloon added to it.

After cooking and eating supper he had taken the jug from its concealment behind the woodbox and had proceeded to cheer his drooped spirits. The more he drank the better content he was with himself, with his conduct, and the clearer became his conviction that the girl was simply playing woman's familiar game of dainty modesty. A proper game it was too; only a man must not pay attention to it unless he wished his woman to despise him. When this conviction reached the point of action he put away the jug, washed the glass, ate a liberal mouthful of the left-over stewed onions, as he would not for worlds have his bride catch him tippling. He put out the lamp and went to the bedroom, chuckling to himself like a man about to play a particularly clever and extremely good-humored practical joke. His preparations for the night were, as always, extremely simple merely a flinging off of his outer clothes and, in summer, his socks. From time to time he cast an admiring amorous glance at the lovely childlike face in the full moonlight. As he was about to stretch himself on the bed beside her he happened to note that she was dressed as when she came. That stylish, Sundayish dress was already too much mussed and wrinkled. He leaned over to wake her with a kiss. It was then that she started up with a scream.

"Oh--oh--my God!" she exclaimed, passing her hand over her brow and staring at him with crazed, anguished eyes.

"It's jest me," said he. "Thought you'd want to git ready fur bed, like as not."

"No, thank you, no," she stammered, drawing away toward the inner side of the bed. "Please I want to be as I am."

"Now, don't put on, sweetness," he wheedled. "You know you're married and 'ave got to git used to it."

He laid his hand on her arm. She had intended to obey, since that was the law of God and man and since in all the world there was no other place for her, nameless and outcast. But at his touch she clenched her teeth, cried:

"No--Mr. Ferguson--please--_please_ let me be."

"Now, hon," he pleaded, seizing her with strong gentleness. "There ain't no call to be skittish. We're married, you know."

She wrenched herself free. He seized her again. "What's the use of puttin' on? I know all about you. You little no-name," he cursed, when her teeth sank into his hand. For an instant, at that reminder of her degradation, her indelible shame that made her of the low and the vile, she collapsed in weakness. Then with new and fierce strength she fought again. When she had exhausted herself utterly she relaxed, fell to sobbing and moaning, feebly trying to shelter her face from his gluttonous and odorous kisses. And upon the scene the moon shone in all that beauty which from time immemorial has filled the hearts of lovers with ecstasy and of devotees with prayer.

They lay quietly side by side; he fell into a profound sleep. He was full upon his back, his broad chest heaving in the gray cotton undershirt, his mouth wide open with its upper fringe of hair in disarray and agitated by his breath. Soon he began to snore, a deafening clamor that set some loose object in the dark part of the room to vibrating with a tapping sound. Susan stealthily raised herself upon her elbow, looked at him. There was neither horror nor fear in her haggard face but only eagerness to be sure he would not awaken. She, inch by inch, more softly than a cat, climbed over the low footboard, was standing on the floor. One silent step at a time, with eyes never from his face so clear in the moonlight, she made her way toward the door. The snoring stopped--and her heart stopped with it. He gasped, gurgled, gave a snort, and sat up.

"What--which----" he ejaculated. Then he saw her near the door. "Hello--whar ye goin'?"

"I thought I'd undress," she lied, calmly and smoothly.

"Oh--that's right." And he lay down.

She stood in the darkness, making now and then a faint sound suggestive of undressing. The snoring began again--soft, then deep, then the steady, uproarious intake with the fierce whistling exhalation. She went into the sitting-room, felt round in the darkness, swift and noiseless. On the sofa she found her bundle, tore it open. By feeling alone she snatched her sailor hat, a few handkerchiefs, two stockings, a collar her fingers chanced upon and a toothbrush. She darted to the front door, was outside, was gliding down the path, out through the gate into the road.

To the left would be the way she had come. She ran to the right, with never a backward glance--ran with all the speed in her lithe young body, ran with all the energy of her fear and horror and resolve to die rather than be taken. For a few hundred yards the road lay between open fields. But after that it entered a wood. And in that dimness she felt the first beginnings of a sense of freedom. Half a mile and open fields again, with a small house on the right, a road southeastward on the left. That would be away from her Uncle Zeke's and also away from Sutherland, which lay twenty miles to the southwest. When she would be followed Jeb would not think of this direction until he had exhausted the other two.

She walked, she ran, she rested; she walked and ran and walked again. The moon ascended to the zenith, crossed the levels of the upper sky, went down in the west; a long bar of dusky gray outlined a cloud low upon the horizon in the northeast. She was on the verge of collapse. Her skin, the inside of her mouth, were hot and dry. She had to walk along at snail's pace or her heart would begin to beat as if it were about to burst and the blood would choke up into the veins of her throat to suffocate her. A terrible pain came in her side--came and went--came and stayed. She had passed turning after turning, to the right, to the left--crossroads leading away in all directions. She had kept to the main road because she did not wish to lose time, perhaps return upon her path, in the confusion of the darkness. Now she began to look about her at the country. It was still the hills as round Zeke Warham's--the hills of southeastern Indiana. But they were steeper and higher, for she was moving toward the river. There was less open ground, more and denser undergrowth and forest. She felt that she was in a wilderness, was safe. Night still lay too thick upon the landscape for her to distinguish anything but outlines. She sat down on the ruined and crumbling panel of a zigzag fence to rest and to wait for light. She listened; a profound hush. She was alone, all alone. How far had she come? She could not guess; but she knew that she had done well. She would have been amazed if she had known how well. All the years of her life, thanks to Mrs. Warham's good sense about health, she had been steadily adding to the vitality and strength that were hers by inheritance. Thus, the response to this first demand upon them had been almost inevitable. It augured well for the future, if the future should draw her into hardships. She knew she had gone far and in what was left of the night and with what was left of her strength she would put such a distance between her and them that they would never believe she had got so far, even should they seek in this direction. She was supporting her head upon her hands, her elbows upon her knees. Her eyes closed, her head nodded; she fought against the impulse, but she slept.

When she straightened up with a start it was broad day. The birds must have finished their morning song, for there was only happy, comfortable chirping in the branches above her. She rose stiffly. Her legs, her whole body, ached; and her feet were burning and blistered. But she struck out resolutely.

After she had gone halfway down a long steep hill, she had to turn back because she had left her only possessions. It was a weary climb, and her heart quaked with terror. But no one appeared, and at last she was once more at the ruins of the fence panel. There lay her sailor hat, the handkerchiefs, wrapped round the toothbrush, the collar--and two stockings, one black, the other brown. And where was her purse? Not there, certainly. She glanced round in swift alarm. No one. Yet she had been absolutely sure she had taken her purse from the sitting-room table when she came upon it, feeling about in the dark. She had forgotten it; she was without a cent!

But she had no time to waste in self-reproaches or forebodings. Though the stockings would be of no use to her, she took them along because to leave them was to leave a trail. She hastened down the hill. At the bottom ran a deep creek--without a bridge. The road was now a mere cowpath which only the stoutest vehicles or a horseman would adventure. To her left ran an even wilder trail, following the downward course of the creek. She turned out of the road, entered the trail. She came to a place where the bowlders over which the creek foamed and splashed as it hurried southeastward were big and numerous enough to make a crossing. She took it, went slowly on down the other bank.

There was no sign of human intrusion. Steeply on either side rose a hill, strewn with huge bowlders, many of them large as large houses. The sun filtered through the foliage to make a bright pattern upon the carpet of last year's leaves. The birds twittered and chirped; the creek hummed its drowsy, soothing melody. She was wretchedly weary, and Oh, so hungry! A little further, and two of the great bowlders, tumbled down from the steeps, had cut off part of the creek, had formed a pool which their seamed and pitted and fern-adorned walls hid from all observation except that of the birds and the squirrels in the boughs.

At once she thought how refreshed she would be if she could bathe in those cool waters. She looked round, stepped in between the bowlders. She peered out; she listened. She was safe; she drew back into her little inclosure. There was a small dry shelf of rock. She hurried off her clothes, stood a moment in the delicious warmth of the sunshine, stepped into the pool. She would have liked to splash about; but she dared make no sound that could be heard above the noise of the water. Luckily the creek was just there rather loud, as it was expressing its extreme annoyance over the stolid impudence of the interrupting bowlders. While she was waiting for the sun to dry her she looked at her underclothes. She simply could not put them on as they were. She knelt at the edge of the shelf and rinsed them out as well as she could. Then she spread them on the thick tufts of overhanging fern where the hot sun would get full swing at them. The brown stocking of the two mismates she had brought along almost matched the pair she was wearing. As there was a hole in the toe of one of them, she discarded it, and so had one fresh stocking. She dried her feet thoroughly with the stocking she was discarding. Then she put her corsets and her dress directly upon her body. She could not afford to wait until the underclothes dried; she would carry them until she found for herself a more remote and better hiding place where she could await nightfall. She stuffed the stocking with the hole deep into a cleft in the rock and laid a small stone upon it so that it was concealed. Here where there were no traces, no reminders of the human race which had cast her out and pursued her with torture of body and soul, here in the wilderness her spirits were going up, and her young eyes were looking hopefully round and forward. The up-piling horrors of those two days and their hideous climax seemed a dream which the sun had scattered. Hopefully! That blessed inexperience and sheer imagination of youth enabling it to hope in a large, vague way when to hope for any definite and real thing would be impossible.

She cleaned her tan low shoes with branches of fern and grass, put them on. It is impossible to account for the peculiarities of physical vanity. Probably no one was ever born who had not physical vanity of some kind; Susan's was her feet and ankles. Not her eyes, nor her hair, nor her contour, nor her skin, nor her figure, though any or all of these might well have been her pleasure. Of them she never thought in the way of pride or vanity. But of her feet and ankles she was both proud and vain--in a reserved, wholly unobtrusive way, be it said, so quietly that she had passed unsuspected. There was reason for this shy, secret self-satisfaction, so amusing in one otherwise self-unconscious. Her feet were beautifully formed and the curves of her instep and ankle were beautiful. She gave more attention now to the look of her shoes and of her stockings than to all the rest of this difficult woodland toilet. She then put on the sailor hat, fastened the collar to her garter, slipped the handkerchiefs into the legs of her stockings. Carrying her underclothes, ready to roll them into a ball should she meet anyone, she resumed her journey into that rocky wilderness. She was sore, she had pains that were the memories of the worst horrors of her hideous dream, but up in her strong, healthy body, up through her strong young soul, surged joy of freedom and joy of hope. Compared with what her lot had been until such a few brief days before, this lot of friendless wanderer in the wilderness was dark indeed. But she was comparing it with the monstrous dream from which it was the awakening. She was almost happy--and madly hungry.

An enormous bowlder, high above her and firmly fixed in the spine of the hill, invited as a place where she could see without being seen, could hide securely until darkness came again. She climbed to the base of it, found that she might reach the top by stepping from ledge to ledge with the aid of the trees growing so close around it that some of their boughs seemed rooted in its weather-dented cliffs. She dragged herself upward the fifty or sixty feet, glad of the difficulties because they would make any pursuer feel certain she had not gone that way. After perhaps an hour she came upon a flat surface where soil had formed, where grass and wild flowers and several little trees gave shade and a place to sleep. And from her eyrie she commanded a vast sweep of country--hills and valleys, fields, creeks, here and there lonely farmhouses, and far away to the east the glint of the river!

To the river! That was her destination. And somehow it would be kind, would take her where she would never, never dream those frightful dreams again!

She went to the side of the bowlder opposite that which she had climbed. She drew back hastily, ready to cry with vexation. It was not nearly so high or so steep; and on the slope of the hill a short distance away was set a little farmhouse, with smoke curling up from its rough stone chimney. She dropped to all fours in the tall grass and moved cautiously toward the edge. Flat upon her breast, she worked her way to the edge and looked down. A faintly lined path led from the house through a gate in a zigzag fence and up to the base of her fortress. The rock had so crumbled on that side that a sort of path extended clear up to the top. But her alarm quieted somewhat when she noted how the path was grass-grown.

As nearly as she could judge it was about five o'clock. So that smoke meant breakfast! Her eyes fixed hungrily upon the thin column of violet vapor mounting straight into the still morning air. When smoke rose in that fashion, she remembered, it was sure sign of clear weather. And then the thought came, "What if it had been raining!" She simply could not have got away.

As she interestedly watched the little house and its yard she saw hurrying through the burdock and dog fennel toward the base of her rock a determined looking hen. Susan laughed silently, it was so obvious that the hen was on a pressing and secret business errand. But almost immediately her attention was distracted to observing the movements of a human being she could obscurely make out through one of the windows just back of the chimney. Soon she saw that it was a woman, cleaning up a kitchen after breakfast--the early breakfast of the farmhouse in summer.

What had they had for breakfast? She sniffed the air. "I think I can smell ham and cornbread," she said aloud, and laughed, partly at the absurdity of her fancy, chiefly at the idea of such attractive food. She aggravated her hunger by letting her imagination loose upon the glorious possibilities. A stealthy fluttering brought her glance back to the point where the hen had disappeared. The hen reappeared, hastened down the path and through the weeds, and rejoined the flock in the yard with an air which seemed to say, "No, indeed, I've been right here all the time."

"Now, what was she up to?" wondered Susan, and the answer came to her. Eggs! A nest hidden somewhere near or in the base of the rock!

Could she get down to that nest without being seen from the house or from any other part of the region below? She drew back from the edge, crawled through the grass to the place where the path, if path it could be called, reached the top. She was delighted to find that it made the ascent through a wide cleft and not along the outside. She let herself down cautiously as the footway was crumbling and rotten and slippery with grass. At the lower end of the cleft she peered out. Trees and bushes--plenty of them, a thick shield between her and the valleys. She moved slowly downward; a misstep might send her through the boughs to the hillside forty feet below. She had gone up and down several times before her hunger-sharpened eyes caught the gleam of white through the ferns growing thickly out of the moist mossy cracks which everywhere seamed the wall. She pushed the ferns aside. There was the nest, the length of her forearm into the dim seclusion of a deep hole. She felt round, found the egg that was warm. And as she drew it out she laughed softly and said half aloud: "Breakfast is ready!"

No, not quite ready. Hooking one arm round the bough of a tree that shot up from the hillside to the height of the rock and beyond, she pressed her foot firmly against the protecting root of an ancient vine of poison ivy. Thus ensconced, she had free hands; and she proceeded to remove the thin shell of the egg piece by piece. She had difficulty in restraining herself until the end. At last she put the whole egg into her mouth. And never had she tasted anything so good.

But one egg was only an appetizer. She reached in again. She did not wish to despoil the meritorious hen unnecessarily, so she held the egg up in her inclosing fingers and looked through it, as she had often seen the cook do at home. She was not sure, but the inside seemed muddy. She laid it to one side, tried another. It was clear and she ate it as she had eaten the first. She laid aside the third, the fourth, and the fifth. The sixth seemed all right--but was not. Fortunately she had not been certain enough to feel justified in putting the whole egg into her mouth before tasting it. The taste, however, was enough to make her reflect that perhaps on the whole two eggs were sufficient for breakfast, especially as there would be at least dinner and supper before she could go further. As she did not wish to risk another descent, she continued to sort out the eggs. She found four that were, or seemed to be, all right. The thirteen that looked doubtful or worse when tested by the light she restored with the greatest care. It was an interesting illustration of the rare quality of consideration which at that period of her life dominated her character.

She put the four eggs in the bosom of her blouse and climbed up to her eyrie. All at once she felt the delicious languor of body and mind which is Nature's forewarning that she is about to put us to sleep, whether we will or no. She lost all anxiety about safety, looked hastily around for a bed. She found just the place in a corner of the little tableland where the grass grew tall and thick. She took from her bosom the four eggs--her dinner and supper--and put them between the roots of a tree with a cover of broad leaves over them to keep them cool. She pulled grass to make a pillow, took off her collar and laid herself down to sleep. And that day's sun did not shine upon a prettier sight than this soundly and sweetly sleeping girl, with her oval face suffused by a gentle flush, with her rounded young shoulders just moving the bosom of her gray silk blouse, with her slim, graceful legs curled up to the edge of her carefully smoothed blue serge skirt. You would have said never a care, much less a sorrow, had shadowed her dawning life. And that is what it means to be young--and free from the curse of self-pity, and ignorant of life's saddest truth, that future and past are not two contrasts; one is surely bright and the other is sober, but they are parts of a continuous fabric woven of the same threads and into the same patterns from beginning to end.

When she awoke, beautifully rested, her eyes clear and soft, the shadows which had been long toward the southwest were long, though not so long, toward the southeast. She sat up and smiled; it was so fine to be free! And her woes had not in the least shaken that serene optimism which is youth's most delightful if most dangerous possession. She crawled through the grass to the edge of the rock and looked out through the screening leaves of the dense undergrowth. There was no smoke from the chimney of the house. The woman, in a blue calico, was sitting on the back doorstep knitting. Farther away, in fields here and there, a few men--not a dozen in all--were at work. From a barnyard at the far edge of the western horizon came the faint sound of a steam thresher, and she thought she could see the men at work around it, but this might have been illusion. It was a serene and lovely panorama of summer and country. Last of all her eyes sought the glimpse of distant river.

She ate two of her four eggs, put on the underclothes which were now thoroughly sun-dried, shook out and rebraided her hair. Then she cast about for some way to pass the time.

She explored the whole top of the rock, but that did not use up more than fifteen minutes, as it was so small that every part was visible from every other part. However, she found a great many wild flowers and gathered a huge bouquet of the audacious colors of nature's gardens, so common yet so effective. She did a little botanizing--anything to occupy her mind and keep it from the ugly visions and fears. But all too soon she had exhausted the resources of her hiding place. She looked down into the valley to the north--the valley through which she had come. She might go down there and roam; it would be something to do, and her young impatience of restraint was making her so restless that she felt she could not endure the confines of that little rock. It had seemed huge; a brief experience of freedom, a few hours between her and the night's horrors and terrors, and it had shrunk to a tiny prison cell. Surely she would run no risk in journeying through that trackless wilderness; she need not be idle, she could hasten her destiny by following the creek in its lonely wanderings, which must sooner or later bring it to the river. The river!

She was about to get the two remaining eggs and abandon her stronghold when it occurred to her that she would do well to take a last look all around. She went back to the side of the rock facing the house.

The woman had suspended knitting and was gazing intently across the hollow to the west, where the road from the north entered the landscape. Susan turned her eyes in that direction. Two horsemen at a gallop were moving southward. The girl was well screened, but instinctively she drew still further back behind the bushes--but not so far that the two on horseback, riding so eagerly, were out of her view. The road dipped into the hollow. the galloping horsemen disappeared with it. Susan shifted her gaze to the point on the brow of the hill where the road reappeared. She was quivering in every nerve. When they came into view again she would know.

The place she was watching swam before her eyes. Suddenly the two, still at a gallop, rose upon the crest of the hill. Jeb and her Uncle Zeke! Her vision cleared, her nerve steadied.

They did not draw rein until they were at the road gate of the little house. The woman rose, put down her knitting in the seat of her stiff, rush-bottomed rocker, advanced to the fence. The air was still, but Susan could not hear a sound, though she craned forward and strained her ears to the uttermost. She shrank as if she had been struck when the three began to gaze up at the rock--to gaze, it seemed to her, at the very spot where she was standing. Was her screen less thick than she thought? Had they seen--if not her, perhaps part of her dress?

Wildly her heart beat as Jeb dismounted from his horse the mare behind which she had made her wedding journey--and stood in the gateway, talking with the woman and looking toward the top of the rock. Zeke Warham turned his horse and began to ride slowly away. He got as far as the brow of the hill, with Jeb still in the gateway, hesitating. Then Susan heard:

"Hold on, Mr. Warham. I reckon you're right."

Warham halted his horse, Jeb remounted and joined him. As the woman returned toward the back doorstep, the two men rode at a walk down into the hollow. When they reappeared it was on the road by which they had come. And the girl knew the pursuit in that direction--the right direction--was over. Trembling and with a fluttering in her breast like the flapping of a bird's wings, she sank to the ground. Presently she burst into a passion of tears. Without knowing why, she tore off the wedding ring which until then she had forgotten, and flung it out among the treetops. A few minutes, and she dried her eyes and stood up. The two horsemen were leaving the landscape at the point at which they had entered it. The girl would not have known, would have been frightened by, her own face had she seen it as she watched them go out of her sight--out of her life. She did not understand herself, for she was at that age when one is no more conscious of the forces locked up within his unexplored and untested character than the dynamite cartridge is of its secrets of power and terror.

CHAPTER XI

SHE felt free to go now. She walked toward the place where she had left the eggs. It was on the side of the rock overlooking the creek. As she knelt to remove the leaves, she heard from far below a man's voice singing. She leaned forward and glanced down at the creek. In a moment appeared a young man with a fishing rod and a bag slung over his shoulder. His gray and white striped flannel trousers were rolled to his knees. His fair skin and the fair hair waving about his forehead were exposed by the flapping-brimmed straw hat set upon the back of his head. His voice, a strong and manly tenor, was sending up those steeps a song she had never heard before--a song in Italian. She had not seen what he looked like when she remembered herself and hastily fell back from view. She dropped to the grass and crawled out toward the ledge. When she showed her face it so happened that he was looking straight at her.

"Hello!" he shouted. "That you, Nell?"

Susan drew back, her blood in a tumult. From below, after a brief silence, came a burst of laughter.

She waited a long time, then through a shield of bunches of grass looked again. The young man was gone. She wished that he had resumed his song, for she thought she had never heard one so beautiful. Because she did not feel safe in descending until he was well out of the way, and because she was so comfortable lying there in the afternoon sunshine watching the birds and listening to them, she continued on there, glancing now and then at where the creek entered and where it left her range of vision, to make sure that no one else should come and catch her. Suddenly sounded a voice from somewhere behind her:

"Hey, Nell! I'm coming!"

She sprang to her feet, faced about; and Crusoe was not more agitated when he saw the print of the naked foot on his island's strand. The straw hat with the flapping brim was just lifting above the edge of the rock at the opposite side, where the path was. She could not escape; the shelf offered no hiding place. Now the young man was stepping to the level, panting loudly.

"Gee, what a climb for a hot day!" he cried. "Where are you?"

With that he was looking at Susan, less than twenty yards away and drawn up defiantly. He stared, took off his hat. He had close-cropped wavy hair and eyes as gray as Susan's own, but it was a blue-gray instead of violet. His skin was fair, too, and his expression intelligent and sympathetic. In spite of his hat, and his blue cotton shirt, and trousers rolled high on bare sunburned legs, there was nothing of the yokel about him.

"I beg your pardon," he exclaimed half humorously. "I thought it was my cousin Nell."

"No," said Susan, disarmed by his courtesy and by the frank engaging manner of it.

"I didn't mean to intrude." He showed white teeth in a broad smile. "I see from your face that this is your private domain."

"Oh, no--not at all," stammered Susan.

"Yes, I insist," replied he. "Will you let me stay and rest a minute? I ran round the rock and climbed pretty fast."

"Yes--do," said Susan.

The young man sat on the grass near where he had appeared, and crossed his long legs. The girl, much embarrassed, looked uneasily about. "Perhaps you'd sit, too?" suggested he, after eyeing her in a friendly way that could not cause offense and somehow did not cause any great uneasiness.

Susan hesitated, went to the shadow of a little tree not far from him. He was fanning his flushed face with his hat. The collar of his shirt was open; below, where the tan ended abruptly, his skin was beautifully white. Now that she had been discovered, it was as well to be pleasant, she reasoned. "It's a fine day," she observed with a grown-up gravity that much amused him.

"Not for fishing," said he. "I caught nothing. You are a stranger in these parts?"

Susan colored and a look of terror flitted into her eyes. "Yes," she admitted. "I'm--I'm passing through."

The young man had all he could do to conceal his amusement. Susan flushed deeply again, not because she saw his expression, for she was not looking at him, but because her remark seemed to her absurd and likely to rouse suspicion.

"I suppose you came up here to see the view," said the man. He glanced round. "It _is_ pretty good. You're not visiting down Brooksburg way, by any chance?"

"No," replied Susan, rather composedly and determined to change the subject. "What was that song I heard you singing?"

"Oh--you heard, did you?" laughed he. "It's the Duke's song from 'Rigoletto.'"

"That's an opera, isn't it--like 'Trovatore'?"

"Yes--an Italian opera. Same author."

"It's a beautiful song." It was evident that she longed to ask him to sing it. She felt at ease with him; he was so unaffected and simple, was one of those people who seem to be at home wherever they are.

"Do you sing?" he inquired.

"Not really," replied she.

"Neither do I. So if you'll sing to me, I'll sing to you."

Susan looked round in alarm. "Oh, dear, no--please don't," she cried.

"Why not?" he asked curiously. "There isn't a soul about."

"I know--but--really, you mustn't."

"Very well," said he, seeing that her nervousness was not at all from being asked to sing. They sat quietly, she gazing off at the horizon, he fanning himself and studying her lovely young face. He was somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-five and a close observer would have suspected him of an unusual amount of experience, even for a good-looking, expansive youth of that age.

He broke the long silence. "I'm a newspaper man from Cincinnati. I'm on the _Commercial_ there. My name's Roderick Spenser. My father's Clayton Spenser, down at Brooksburg"--he pointed to the southeast--"beyond that hill there, on the river. I'm here on my vacation." And he halted, looking at her expectantly.

It seemed to her that there was in courtesy no escape without a return biographical sketch. She hung her head, twisted her tapering fingers in her lap, and looked childishly embarrassed and unhappy. Another long silence; again he broke it. "You'll pardon my saying so, but--you're very young, aren't you?"

"Not so--so _terribly_ young. I'm almost seventeen," replied she, glancing this way and that, as if thinking of flight.

"You look like a child, yet you don't," he went on, and his frank, honest voice calmed her. "You've had some painful experience, I'd say."

She nodded, her eyes down.

A pause, then he: "Honest, now--aren't you--running away?"

She lifted her eyes to his piteously. "Please don't ask me," she said.

"I shouldn't think of it," replied he, with a gentleness in his persistence that made her feel still more like trusting him, "if it wasn't that----

"Well, this world isn't the easiest sort of a place. Lots of rough stretches in the road. I've struck several and I've always been glad when somebody has given me a lift. And I want to pass it on--if you'll let me. It's something we owe each other--don't you think?"

The words were fine enough; but it was the voice in which he said them that went to her heart. She covered her face with her hands and released her pent emotions. He took a package of tobacco and a sheaf of papers from his trousers pocket, rolled and lighted a cigarette. After a while she dried her eyes, looked at him shamefacedly. But he was all understanding and sympathy.

"Now you feel better, don't you?"

"Much," said she. And she laughed. "I guess I'm more upset than I let myself realize."

"Sorry you left home?"

"I haven't any home," answered she simply. "And I wouldn't go back alive to the place I came from."

There was a quality in the energy she put into her words that made him thoughtful. He counseled with the end of his cigarette. Finally he inquired:

"Where are you bound for?"

"I don't know exactly," confessed she, as if it were a small matter.

He shook his head. "I see you haven't the faintest notion what you're up against."

"Oh, I'll get along. I'm strong, and I can learn."

He looked at her critically and rather sadly.

"Yes--you are strong," said he. "But I wonder if you're strong enough."

"I never was sick in my life."

"I don't mean that. . . . I'm not sure I know just what I do mean."

"Is it very hard to get to Chicago?" inquired she.

"It's easier to get to Cincinnati."

She shook her head positively. "It wouldn't do for me to go there."

"Oh, you come from Cincinnati?"

"No--but I--I've been there."

"Oh, they caught you and brought you back?"

She nodded. This young man must be very smart to understand so quickly.

"How much money have you got?" he asked abruptly.

But his fear that she would think him impertinent came of an underestimate of her innocence. "I haven't got any," replied she. "I forgot my purse. It had thirty dollars in it."

At once he recognized the absolute child; only utter inexperience of the world could speak of so small a sum so respectfully. "I don't understand at all," said he. "How long have you been here?"

"All day. I got here early this morning."

"And you haven't had anything to eat!"

"Oh, yes! I found some eggs. I've got two left."

Two eggs--and no money and no friends--and a woman. Yet she was facing the future hopefully! He smiled, with tears in his eyes.

"You mustn't tell anybody you saw me," she went on. "No matter what they say, don't think you ought to tell on me."

He looked at her, she at him. When he had satisfied himself he smiled most reassuringly. "I'll not," was his answer, and now she _knew_ she could trust him.

She drew a breath of relief, and went on as if talking with an old friend. "I've got to get a long ways from here. As soon as it's dark I'm going."

"Where?"

"Toward the river." And her eyes lit.

"The river? What's there?"

"I don't know," said she triumphantly.

But he understood. He had the spirit of adventure himself--one could see it at a glance--the spirit that instinctively shuns yesterday and all its works and wings eagerly into tomorrow, unknown, different, new--therefore better. But this girl, this child-woman--or was she rather woman-child?--penniless, with nothing but two eggs between her and starvation, alone, without plans, without experience--

What would become of her?. . . "Aren't you--afraid?" he asked.

"Of what?" she inquired calmly.

It was the mere unconscious audacity of ignorance, yet he saw in her now--not fancied he saw, but saw--a certain strength of soul, both courage and tenacity. No, she might suffer, sink--but she would die fighting, and she would not be afraid. And he admired and envied her.

"Oh, I'll get along somehow," she assured him in the same self-reliant tone. Suddenly she felt it would no longer give her the horrors to speak of what she had been through. "I'm not very old," said she, and hers was the face of a woman now. "But I've learned a great deal."

"You are sure you are not making a mistake in--in--running away?"

"I couldn't do anything else," replied she. "I'm all alone in the world. There's no one--except----

"I hadn't done anything, and they said I had disgraced them--and they----" Her voice faltered, her eyes sank, the color flooded into her face. "They gave me to a man--and he--I had hardly seen him before--he----" She tried but could not pronounce the dreadful word.

"Married, you mean?" said the young man gently.

The girl shuddered. "Yes," she answered. "And I ran away."

So strange, so startling, so moving was the expression of her face that he could not speak for a moment. A chill crept over him as he watched her wide eyes gazing into vacancy. What vision of horror was she seeing, he wondered. To rouse her he spoke the first words he could assemble:

"When was this?"

The vision seemed slowly to fade and she looked at him in astonishment. "Why, it was last night!" she said, as if dazed by the discovery. "Only last night!"

"Last night! Then you haven't got far."

"No. But I must. I will. And I'm not afraid of anything except of being taken back."

"But you don't realize what may be--probably is--waiting for you--at the river--and beyond."

"Nothing could be so bad," said she. The words were nothing, but the tone and the expression that accompanied them somehow convinced him beyond a doubt.

"You'll let me help you?"

She debated. "You might bring me something to eat--mightn't you? The eggs'll do for supper. But there's tomorrow. I don't want to be seen till I get a long ways off."

He rose at once. "Yes, I'll bring you something to eat." He took a knockabout watch from the breast pocket of his shirt. "It's now four o'clock. I've got three miles to walk. I'll ride back and hitch the horse down the creek--a little ways down, so it won't attract attention to your place up here. I'll be back in about an hour and a half. . . . Maybe I'll think of something that'll help. Can I bring you anything else?

"No. That is--I'd like a little piece of soap."

"And a towel?" he suggested.

"I could take care of a towel," agreed she. "I'll send it back to you when I get settled."

"Good heavens!" He laughed at her simplicity. "What an honest child you are!" He put out his hand, and she took it with charming friendliness. "Good-by. I'll hurry."

"I'm so glad you caught me," said she. Then, apologetically, "I don't want to be any trouble. I hate to be troublesome. I've never let anybody wait on me."

"I don't know when I've had as much pleasure as this is giving me." And he made a bow that hid its seriousness behind a smile of good-humored raillery.

She watched him descend with a sinking heart. The rock--the world--her life, seemed empty now. He had reminded her that there were human beings with good hearts. But--perhaps if he knew, his kindness would turn also. . . . No, she decided not. Men like him, women like Aunt Sallie--they did not believe those dreadful, wicked ideas that people said God had ordained. Still--if he knew about her birth--branded outcast--he might change. She must not really hope for anything much until she was far, far away in a wholly new world where there would be a wholly new sort of people, of a kind she had never met. But she was sure they would welcome her, and give her a chance.

She returned to the tree against which she had been sitting, for there she could look at the place his big frame had pressed down in the tall grass, and could see him in it, and could recall his friendly eyes and voice, and could keep herself assured she had not been dreaming. He was a citified man, like Sam--but how different! A man with a heart like his would never marry a woman--no, never! He couldn't be a brute like that. Still, perhaps nice men married because it was supposed to be the right thing to do, and was the only way to have children without people thinking you a disgrace and slighting the children--and then marrying made brutes of them. No wonder her uncles could treat her so. They were men who had married.

Afar off she heard the manly voice singing the song from "Rigoletto." She sprang up and listened, with eyes softly shining and head a little on one side. The song ended; her heart beat fast. It was not many minutes before she, watching at the end of the path, saw him appear at the bottom of the huge cleft. And the look in his eyes, the merry smile about his expressive mouth, delighted her. "I'm so glad to see you!" she cried.

Over his shoulder was flung his fishing bag, and it bulged. "Don't be scared by the size of my pack," he called up, as he climbed. "We're going to have supper together--if you'll let me stay. Then you can take as much or as little as you like of what's left."

Arrived at the top, he halted for a long breath. They stood facing each other. "My, what a tall girl you are for your age!" said he admiringly.

She laughed up at him. "I'll be as tall as you when I get my growth."

She was so lovely that he could scarcely refrain from telling her so. It seemed to him, however, it would be taking an unfair advantage to say that sort of thing when she was in a way at his mercy. "Where shall we spread the table?" said he. "I'm hungry as the horseleech's daughter. And you--why, you must be starved. I'm afraid I didn't bring what you like. But I did the best I could. I raided the pantry, took everything that was portable."

He had set down the bag and had loosened its strings. First he took out a tablecloth. She laughed. "Gracious! How stylish we shall be!"

"I didn't bring napkins. We can use the corners of the cloth." He had two knives, two forks, and a big spoon rolled up in the cloth, and a saltcellar. "Now, here's my triumph!" he cried, drawing from the bag a pair of roasted chickens. Next came a jar of quince jelly; next, a paper bag with cold potatoes and cold string beans in it. Then he fished out a huge square of cornbread and a loaf of salt-rising bread, a pound of butter--

"What will your folks say?" exclaimed she, in dismay.

He laughed. "They always have thought I was crazy, ever since I went to college and then to the city instead of farming." And out of the bag came a big glass jar of milk. "I forgot to bring a glass!" he apologized. Then he suspended unpacking to open the jar. "Why, you must be half-dead with thirst, up here all day with not a drop of water." And he held out the jar to her. "Drink hearty!" he cried.

The milk was rich and cold; she drank nearly a fourth of it before she could wrest the jar away from her lips. "My, but that was good!" she remarked. He had enjoyed watching her drink. "Surely you haven't got anything else in that bag?"

"Not much," replied he. "Here's a towel, wrapped round the soap. And here are three cakes of chocolate. You could live four or five days on them, if you were put to it. So whatever else you leave, don't leave them. And--Oh, yes, here's a calico slip and a sunbonnet, and a paper of pins. And that's all."

"What are they for?"

"I thought you might put them on--the slip over your dress--and you wouldn't look quite so--so out of place--if anybody should see you."

"What a fine idea!" cried Susan, shaking out the slip delightedly.

He was spreading the supper on the tablecloth. He carved one of the chickens, opened the jelly, placed the bread and vegetables and butter. "Now!" he cried. "Let's get busy."

And he set her an example she was not slow to follow. The sun had slipped down behind the hills of the northwest horizon. The birds were tuning for their evening song. A breeze sprang up and coquetted with the strays of her wavy dark hair. And they sat cross-legged on the grass on opposite sides of the tablecloth and joked and laughed and ate, and ate and laughed and joked until the stars began to appear in the vast paling opal of the sky. They had chosen the center of the grassy platform for their banquet; thus, from where they sat only the tops of trees and the sky were to be seen. And after they had finished she leaned on her elbow and listened while he, smoking his cigarette, told her of his life as a newspaper man in Cincinnati. The twilight faded into dusk, the dusk into a scarlet darkness.

"When the moon comes up we'll start," said he. "You can ride behind me on the horse part of the way, anyhow."

The shadow of the parting, the ending of this happiness, fell upon her. How lonely it would be when he was gone! "I haven't told you my name," she said.

"I've told you mine Roderick Spenser--with an _s_, not a _c_."

"I remember," said she. "I'll never forget. . . . Mine's Susan Lenox."

"What was it--before----" He halted.

"Before what?" His silence set her to thinking. "Oh!" she exclaimed, in a tone that made him curse his stupidity in reminding her. "My name's Susan Lenox--and always will be. It was my mother's name." She hesitated, decided for frankness at any cost, for his kindness forbade her to deceive him in any way. Proudly, "My mother never let any man marry her. They say she was disgraced, but I understand now. _She_ wouldn't stoop to let any man marry her."

Spenser puzzled over this, but could make nothing of it. He felt that he ought not to inquire further. He saw her anxious eyes, her expression of one keyed up and waiting for a verdict. "I'd have only to look at you to know your mother was a fine woman," said he. Then, to escape from the neighborhood of the dangerous riddle, "Now, about your--your going," he began. "I've been thinking what to do."

"You'll help me?" said she, to dispel her last doubt--a very faint doubt, for his words and his way of uttering them had dispelled her real anxiety.

"Help you?" cried he heartily. "All I can. I've got a scheme to propose to you. You say you can't take the mail boat?"

"They know me. I--I'm from Sutherland."

"You trust me--don't you?"

"Indeed I do."

"Now listen to me--as if I were your brother. Will you?"

"Yes."

"I'm going to take you to Cincinnati with me. I'm going to put you in my boarding house as my sister. And I'm going to get you a position. Then--you can start in for yourself."

"But that'll be a great lot of trouble, won't it?"

"Not any more than friends of mine took for me when I was starting out." Then, as she continued silent, "What are you thinking? I can't see your face in this starlight."

"I was thinking how good you are," she said simply.

He laughed uneasily. "I'm not often accused of that," he replied. "I'm like most people--a mixture of good and bad--and not very strong either way. I'm afraid I'm mostly impulse that winks out. But--the question is, how to get you to Cincinnati. It's simply impossible for me to go tonight. I can't take you home for the night. I don't trust my people. They'd not think I was good--or you, either. And while usually they'd be right--both ways--this is an exception." This idea of an exception seemed to amuse him. He went on, "I don't dare leave you at any farmhouse in the neighborhood. If I did, you could be traced."

"No--no," she cried, alarmed at the very suggestion. "I mustn't be seen by anybody."

"We'll go straight to the river, and I'll get a boat and row you across to Kentucky--over to Carrollton. There's a little hotel. I can leave you----"

"No--not Carrollton," she interrupted. "My uncle sells goods there, and they know him. And if anything is in the Sutherland papers about me, why, they'd know."

"Not with you in that slip and sunbonnet. I'll make up a story--about our wagon breaking down and that I've got to walk back into the hills to get another before we can go on. And--it's the only plan that's at all possible."

Obviously he was right; but she would not consent. By adroit questioning he found that her objection was dislike of being so much trouble to him. "That's too ridiculous," cried he. "Why, I wouldn't have missed this adventure for anything in the world."

His manner was convincing enough, but she did not give in until moonrise came without her having thought of any other plan. He was to be Bob Peters, she his sister Kate, and they were to hail from a farm in the Kentucky hills back of Milton. They practiced the dialect of the region and found that they could talk it well enough to pass the test of a few sentences They packed the fishing bag; she wrapped the two eggs in paper and put them in the empty milk bottle. They descended by the path--a slow journey in the darkness of that side of the rock, as there were many dangers, including the danger of making a noise that might be heard by some restless person at the house. After half an hour they were safely at the base of the rock; they skirted it, went down to the creek, found the horse tied where he had left it. With her seated sideways behind him and holding on by an arm half round his waist, they made a merry but not very speedy advance toward the river, keeping as nearly due south as the breaks in the hills permitted. After a while he asked: "Do you ever think of the stage?"

"I've never seen a real stage play," said she. "But I want to--and I will, the first chance I get."

"I meant, did you ever think of going on the stage?"

"No." So daring a flight would have been impossible for a baby imagination in the cage of the respectable-family-in-a-small-town.

"It's one of my dreams to write plays," he went on. "Wouldn't it be queer if some day I wrote plays for you to act in?"

When one's fancy is as free as was Susan's then, it takes any direction chance may suggest. Susan's fancy instantly winged along this fascinating route. "I've given recitations at school, and in the plays we used to have they let me take the best parts--that is--until--until a year or so ago."

He noted the hesitation, had an instinct against asking why there had come a time when she no longer got good parts. "I'm sure you could learn to act," declared he. "And you'll be sure of it, too, after you've seen the people who do it."

"Oh, I don't believe I could," said she, in rebuke to her own mounting self-confidence. Then, suddenly remembering her birth-brand of shame and overwhelmed by it, "No, I can't hope to be to be anything much. They wouldn't have--_me_."

"I know how you feel," replied he, all unaware of the real reason for this deep humility. "When I first struck town I felt that way. It seemed to me I couldn't hope ever to line up with the clever people they had there. But I soon saw there was nothing in that idea. The fact is, everywhere in the world there's a lot more things to do than people who can do them. Most of those who get to the top--where did they start? Where we're starting."

She was immensely flattered by that "we" and grateful for it. But she held to her original opinion. "There wouldn't be a chance for me," said she. "They wouldn't have me."

"Oh, I understand," said he and he fancied he did. He laughed gayly at the idea that in the theater anyone would care who she was--what kind of past she had had--or present either, for that matter. Said he, "You needn't worry. On the stage they don't ask any questions--any questions except 'Can you act? Can you get it over? Can you get the hand?'"

Then this stage, it was the world she had dreamed of--the world where there lived a wholly new kind of people--people who could make room for her. She thrilled, and her heart beat wildly. In a strangely quiet, intense voice, she said:

"I want to try. I'm sure I'll get along there. I'll work--Oh, so hard. I'll do _anything!_"

"That's the talk," cried he. "You've got the stuff in you."

She said little the rest of the journey. Her mind was busy with the idea he had by merest accident given her. If he could have looked in upon her thoughts, he would have been amazed and not a little alarmed by the ferment he had set up.

Where they reached the river the bank was mud and thick willows, the haunt of incredible armies of mosquitoes. "It's a mystery to me," cried he, "why these fiends live in lonely places far away from blood, when they're so mad about it." After some searching he found a clear stretch of sandy gravel where she would be not too uncomfortable while he was gone for a boat. He left the horse with her and walked upstream in the direction of Brooksburg. As he had warned her that he might be gone a long time, he knew she would not be alarmed for him--and she had already proved that timidity about herself was not in her nature. But he was alarmed for her--this girl alone in that lonely darkness--with light enough to make her visible to any prowler.

About an hour after he left her he returned in a rowboat he had borrowed at the water mill. He hitched the horse in the deep shadow of the break in the bank. She got into the boat, put on the slip and the sunbonnet, put her sailor hat in the bag. They pushed off and he began the long hard row across and upstream. The moon was high now and was still near enough to its full glory to pour a flood of beautiful light upon the broad river--the lovely Ohio at its loveliest part.

"Won't you sing?" he asked.

And without hesitation she began one of the simple familiar love songs that were all the music to which the Sutherland girls had access. She sang softly, in a deep sweet voice, sweeter even than her speaking voice. She had the sunbonnet in her lap; the moon shone full upon her face. And it seemed to him that he was in a dream; there was nowhere a suggestion of reality--not of its prose, not even of its poetry. Only in the land no waking eye has seen could such a thing be. The low sweet voice sang of love, the oars clicked rhythmically in the locks and clove the water with musical splash; the river, between its steep hills, shone in the moonlight, with a breeze like a friendly spirit moving upon its surface. He urged her, and she sang another song, and another. She sighed when she saw the red lantern on the Carrollton wharf; and he, turning his head and seeing, echoed her sigh.

"The first chance, you must sing me that song," she said.

"From 'Rigoletto'? I will. But--it tells how fickle women are--'like a feather in the wind.'. . . They aren't all like that, though--don't you think so?"

"Sometimes I think everybody's like a feather in the wind," replied she. "About love--and everything."

He laughed. "Except those people who are where there isn't any wind."

CHAPTER XII

FOR some time Spenser had been rowing well in toward the Kentucky shore, to avoid the swift current of the Kentucky River which rushes into the Ohio at Carrollton. A few yards below its mouth, in the quiet stretch of backwater along shore, lay the wharf-boat, little more than a landing stage. The hotel was but a hundred feet away, at the top of the steep levee. It was midnight, so everyone in the village had long been asleep. After several minutes of thunderous hammering Roderick succeeded in drawing to the door a barefooted man with a candle in his huge, knotted hand--a man of great stature, amazingly lean and long of leg, with a monstrous head thatched and fronted with coarse, yellow-brown hair. He had on a dirty cotton shirt and dirty cotton trousers--a night dress that served equally well for the day. His feet were flat and thick and were hideous with corns and bunions. Susan had early been made a critical observer of feet by the unusual symmetry of her own. She had seen few feet that were fit to be seen; but never, she thought, had she seen an exhibition so repellent.

"What t'hell----" he began. Then, discovering Susan, he growled, "Beg pardon, miss."

Roderick explained--that is, told the prearranged story. The man pointed to a grimy register on the office desk, and Roderick set down the fishing bag and wrote in a cramped, scrawly hand, "Kate Peters, Milton, Ky."

The man looked at it through his screen of hair and beard, said, "Come on, ma'am."

"Just a minute," said Roderick, and he drew "Kate" aside and said to her in a low tone: "I'll be back sometime tomorrow, and then we'll start at once. But--to provide against everything--don't be alarmed if I don't come. You'll know I couldn't help it. And wait."

Susan nodded, looking at him with trustful, grateful eyes.

"And," he went on hurriedly, "I'll leave this with you, to take care of. It's yours as much as mine."

She saw that it was a pocketbook, instinctively put her hands behind her.

"Don't be silly," he said, with good-humored impatience. "You'll probably not need it. If you do, you'll need it bad. And you'll pay me back when you get your place."

He caught one of her hands and put the pocketbook in it. As his argument was unanswerable, she did not resist further. She uttered not a word of thanks, but simply looked at him, her eyes swimming and about her mouth a quiver that meant a great deal in her. Impulsively and with flaming cheek he kissed her on the cheek. "So long, sis," he said loudly, and strode into the night.

Susan did not flush; she paled. She gazed after him with some such expression as a man lost in a cave might have as he watches the flickering out of his only light. "This way, ma'am," said the hotel man sourly, taking up the fishing bag. She started, followed him up the noisy stairs to a plain, neat country bedroom. "The price of this here's one fifty a day," said he. "We've got 'em as low as a dollar."

"I'll take a dollar one, please," said Susan.

The man hesitated. "Well," he finally snarled, "business is slack jes' now. Seein' as you're a lady, you kin have this here un fur a dollar."

"Oh, thank you--but if the price is more----"

"The other rooms ain't fit fur a lady," said the hotel man. Then he grinned a very human humorous grin that straightway made him much less repulsive. "Anyhow, them two durn boys of mine an' their cousins is asleep in 'em. I'd as lief rout out a nest of hornets. I'll leave you the candle."

As soon as he had gone Susan put out the light, ran to the window. She saw the rowboat and Spenser, a black spot far out on the river, almost gone from view to the southwest. Hastily she lighted the candle again, stood at the window and waved a white cover she snatched from the table. She thought she saw one of the oars go up and flourish, but she could not be sure. She watched until the boat vanished in the darkness at the bend. She found the soap in the bag and took a slow but thorough bath in the washbowl. Then she unbraided her hair, combed it out as well as she could with her fingers, rubbed it thoroughly with a towel and braided it again. She put on the calico slip as a nightdress, knelt down to say her prayers. But instead of prayers there came flooding into her mind memories of where she had been last night, of the horrors, of the agonies of body and soul. She rose from her knees, put out the light, stood again at the window. In after years she always looked back upon that hour as the one that definitely marked the end of girlhood, of the thoughts and beliefs which go with the sheltered life, and the beginning of womanhood, of self-reliance and of the hardiness--so near akin to hardness--the hardiness that must come into the character before a man or a woman is fit to give and take in the combat of life.

The bed was coarse, but white and clean. She fell asleep instantly and did not awaken until, after the vague, gradually louder sound of hammering on the door, she heard a female voice warning her that breakfast was "put nigh over an' done." She got up, partly drew on one stocking, then without taking it off tumbled over against the pillow and was asleep. When she came to herself again, the lay of the shadows told her it must be after twelve o'clock. She dressed, packed her serge suit in the bag with the sailor hat, smoothed out the pink calico slip and put it on. For more than a year she had worn her hair in a braid doubled upon itself and tied with a bow at the back of her neck. She decided that if she would part it, plait it in two braids and bring them round her head, she would look older. She tried this and was much pleased with the result. She thought the new style not only more grown-up, but also more becoming. The pink slip, too, seemed to her a success. It came almost to her ankles and its strings enabled her to make it look something like a dress. Carrying the pink sunbonnet, down she went in search of something to eat.

The hall was full of smoke and its air seemed greasy with the odor of frying. She found that dinner was about to be served. A girl in blue calico skirt and food-smeared, sweat-discolored blue jersey ushered her to one of the tables in the dining-room. "There's a gentleman comin'," said she. "I'll set him down with you. He won't bite, I don't reckon, and there ain't no use mussin' up two tables."

There was no protesting against two such arguments; so Susan presently had opposite her a fattish man with long oily hair and a face like that of a fallen and dissipated preacher. She recognized him at once as one of those wanderers who visit small towns with cheap shows or selling patent medicines and doing juggling tricks on the street corners in the flare of a gasoline lamp. She eyed him furtively until he caught her at it--he being about the same business himself. Thereafter she kept her eyes steadily upon the tablecloth, patched and worn thin with much washing. Soon the plate of each was encircled by the familiar arc of side dishes containing assorted and not very appetizing messes--fried steak, watery peas, stringy beans, soggy turnips, lumpy mashed potatoes, a perilous-looking chicken stew, cornbread with streaks of baking soda in it. But neither of the diners was critical, and the dinner was eaten with an enthusiasm which the best rarely inspires.

With the prunes and dried-apple pie, the stranger expanded. "Warm day, miss," he ventured.

"Yes, it is a little warm," said Susan. She ventured a direct look at him. Above the pleasant, kindly eyes there was a brow so unusually well shaped that it arrested even her young and untrained attention. Whatever the man's character or station, there could be no question as to his intelligence.

"The flies are very bothersome," continued he. "But nothing like Australia. There the flies have to be picked off, and they're big, and they bite--take a piece right out of you. The natives used to laugh at us when we were in the ring and would try to brush, em away." The stranger had the pleasant, easy manner of one who through custom of all kinds of people and all varieties of fortune, has learned to be patient and good-humored--to take the day and the hour as the seasoned gambler takes the cards that are dealt him.

Susan said nothing; but she had listened politely. The man went on amusing himself with his own conversation. "I was in the show business then. Clown was my line, but I was rotten at it--simply rotten. I'm still in the show business--different line, though. I've got a show of my own. If you're going to be in town perhaps you'll come to see us tonight. Our boat's anchored down next to the wharf. You can see it from the windows. Come, and bring your folks."

"Thank you," said Susan--she had for gotten her role and its accent. "But I'm afraid we'll not be here."

There was an expression in the stranger's face--a puzzled, curious expression, not impertinent, rather covert--an expression that made her uneasy. It warned her that this man saw she was not what she seemed to be, that he was trying to peer into her secret. His brown eyes were kind enough, but alarmingly keen. With only half her pie eaten, she excused herself and hastened to her room.

At the threshold she remembered the pocketbook Spenser had given her. She had left it by the fishing bag on the table. There was the bag but not the pocketbook. "I must have put it in the bag," she said aloud, and the sound and the tone of her voice frightened her. She searched the bag, then the room which had not yet been straightened up. She shook out the bed covers, looked in all the drawers, under the bed, went over the contents of the bag again. The pocketbook was gone--stolen.

She sat down on the edge of the bed, her hands in her lap, and stared at the place where she had last seen the pocketbook--_his_ pocketbook, which he had asked her to take care of. How could she face him! What would he think of her, so untrustworthy! What a return for his kindness! She felt weak--so weak that she lay down. The food she had taken turned to poison and her head ached fiercely. What could she do? To speak to the proprietor would be to cause a great commotion, to attract attention to herself--and how would that help to bring back the stolen pocketbook, taken perhaps by the proprietor himself? She recalled that as she hurried through the office from the dining-room he had a queer shifting expression, gave her a wheedling, cringing good morning not at all in keeping with the character he had shown the night before. The slovenly girl came to do the room; Susan sent her away, sat by the window gazing out over the river and downstream. He would soon be here; the thought made her long to fly and hide. He had been all generosity; and this was her way of appreciating it!

They sent for her to come down to supper. She refused, saying she was not feeling well. She searched the room, the bag, again and again. She would rest a few minutes, then up she would spring and tear everything out. Then back to the window to sit and stare at the river over which the evening shadows were beginning to gather. Once, as she was sitting there, she happened to see the gaudily painted and decorated show boat. A man--the stranger of the dinner table--was standing on the forward end, smoking a cigar. She saw that he was observing her, realized he could have seen her stirring feverishly about her room. A woman came out of the cabin and joined him. As soon as his attention was distracted she closed her shutters. And there she sat alone, with the hours dragging their wretched minutes slowly away.

That was one of those nights upon which anyone who has had them--and who has not?--looks back with wonder at how they ever lived, how they ever came to an end. She slept a little toward dawn--for youth and health will not let the most despairing heart suffer in sleeplessness. Her headache went, but the misery of soul which had been a maddening pain settled down into a throbbing ache. She feared he would come; she feared he would not come. The servants tried to persuade her to take breakfast. She could not have swallowed food; she would not have dared take food for which she could not pay. What would they do with her if he did not come? She searched the room again, hoping against hope, a hundred times fancying she felt the purse under some other things, each time suffering sickening disappointment.

Toward noon the servant came knocking. "A letter for you, ma'am."

Susan rushed to the door, seized the letter, tore it open, read:

When I got back to the horse and started to mount, he kicked me and broke my leg. You can go on south to the L. and N. and take a train to Cincinnati. When you find a boarding house send your address to me at the office. I'll come in a few weeks. I'd write more but I can't. Don't worry. Everything'll come out right. You are brave and sensible, and I _back you to win_.

With the unsigned letter crumpled in her hands she sat at the window with scarcely a motion until noon. She then went down to the show boat. Several people--men and women--were on the forward end, quarreling. She looked only at her acquaintance. His face was swollen and his eyes bloodshot, but he still wore the air of easy and patient good-humor. She said, standing on the shore, "Could I speak to you a minute?"

"Certainly, ma'am," replies he, lifting his dingy straw hat with gaudy, stained band. He came down the broad plank to the shore. "Why, what's the matter?" This in a sympathetic tone.

"Will you lend me two dollars and take me along to work it out?" she asked.

He eyed her keenly. "For the hotel bill?" he inquired, the cigar tucked away in the corner of his mouth.

She nodded.

"He didn't show up?"

"He broke his leg."

"Oh!" The tone was politely sympathetic, but incredulous. He eyed her critically, thoughtfully. "Can you sing?" he finally asked.

"A little."

His hands were deep in the pockets of his baggy light trousers. He drew one of them out with a two-dollar bill in it. "Go and pay him and bring your things. We're about to push off."

"Thank you," said the girl in the same stolid way. She returned to the hotel, brought the bag down from her room, stood at the office desk.

The servant came. "Mr. Gumpus has jes' stepped out," said she.

"Here is the money for my room." And Susan laid the two-dollar bill on the register.

"Ain't you goin' to wait fur yer--yer brother?"

"He's not coming," replied the girl. "So--I'll go. Good-by."

"Good-by. It's awful, bein' took sick away from home."

"Thank you," said Susan. "Good-by."

The girl's homely, ignorant face twisted in a grin. But Susan did not see, would have been indifferent had she seen. Since she accepted the war earth and heaven had declared against her, she had ceased from the little thought she had once given to what was thought of her by those of whom she thought not at all. She went down to the show boat. The plank had been taken in. Her acquaintance was waiting for her, helped her to the deck, jumped aboard himself, and was instantly busy helping to guide the boat out into mid-stream. Susan looked back at the hotel. Mr. Gumpus was in the doorway, amusement in every line of his ugly face. Beside him stood the slovenly servant. She was crying--the more human second thought of a heart not altogether corrupted by the sordid hardness of her lot. How can faith in the human race falter when one considers how much heart it has in spite of all it suffers in the struggle upward through the dense fogs of ignorance upward, toward the truth, toward the light of which it never ceases to dream and to hope?

Susan stood in the same place, with her bag beside her, until her acquaintance came.

"Now," said he, comfortably, as he lighted a fresh cigar, "we'll float pleasantly along. I guess you and I had better get acquainted. What is your name?"

Susan flushed. "Kate Peters is the name I gave at the hotel. That'll do, won't it?"

"Never in the world!" replied he. "You must have a good catchy name. Say--er--er----" He rolled his cigar slowly, looking thoughtfully toward the willows thick and green along the Indiana shore. "Say--well, say--Lorna--Lorna--Lorna Sackville! That's a winner. Lorna Sackville!--A stroke of genius! Don't you think so?"

"Yes," said Susan. "It doesn't matter."

"But it does," remonstrated he. "You are an artist, now, and an artist's name should always arouse pleasing and romantic anticipations. It's like the odor that heralds the dish. You must remember, my dear, that you have stepped out of the world of dull reality into the world of ideals, of dreams."

The sound of two harsh voices, one male, the other female, came from within the cabin--oaths, reproaches. Her acquaintance laughed. "That's one on me--eh? Still, what I say is true--or at least ought to be. By the way, this is the Burlingham Floating Palace of Thespians, floating temple to the histrionic art. I am Burlingham--Robert Burlingham." He smiled, extended his hand. "Glad to meet you, Miss Lorna Sackville--don't forget!"

She could not but reflect a smile so genuine, so good-humored.

"We'll go in and meet the others--your fellow stars--for this is an all-star aggregation."

Over the broad entrance to the cabin was a chintz curtain strung upon a wire. Burlingham drew this aside. Susan was looking into a room about thirty feet long, about twelve feet wide, and a scant six feet high. Across it with an aisle between were narrow wooden benches with backs. At the opposite end was a stage, with the curtain up and a portable stove occupying the center. At the stove a woman in a chemise and underskirt, with slippers on her bare feet, was toiling over several pots and pans with fork and spoon. At the edge of the stage, with legs swinging, sat another woman, in a blue sailor suit neither fresh nor notably clean but somehow coquettish. Two men in flannel shirts were seated, one on each of the front benches, with their backs to her.

As Burlingham went down the aisle ahead of her, he called out: "Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to present the latest valuable addition to our company--Miss Lorna Sackville, the renowned ballad singer."

The two men turned lazily and stared at Susan, each with an arm hanging over the back of the bench.

Burlingham looked at the woman bent over the stove--a fat, middle-aged woman with thin, taffy-yellow hair done sleekly over a big rat in front and made into a huge coil behind with the aid of one or more false braids. She had a fat face, a broad expanse of unpleasant-looking, elderly bosom, big, shapeless white arms. Her contour was almost gone. Her teeth were a curious mixture of natural, gold, and porcelain. "Miss Anstruther--Miss Sackville," called Burlingham. "Miss Sackville, Miss Violet Anstruther."

Miss Anstruther and Susan exchanged bows--Susan's timid and frightened, Miss Anstruther's accompanied by a hostile stare and a hardening of the fat, decaying face.

"Miss Connemora--Miss Sackville." Burlingham was looking at the younger woman--she who sat on the edge of the little stage. She, too, was a blond, but her hair had taken to the chemical somewhat less reluctantly than had Miss Anstruther's, with the result that Miss Connemora's looked golden. Her face--of the baby type must have been softly pretty at one time--not so very distant. Now lines were coming and the hard look that is inevitable with dyed hair. Also her once fine teeth were rapidly going off, as half a dozen gold fillings in front proclaimed. At Susan's appealing look and smile Miss Connemora nodded not unfriendly.

"Good God, Bob," said she to Burlingham with a laugh, "are you going to get the bunch of us pinched for child-stealing?"

Burlingham started to laugh, suddenly checked himself, looked uneasily and keenly at Susan. "Oh, it's all right," he said with a wave of the hand. But his tone belied his words. He puffed twice at his cigar, then introduced the men--Elbert Eshwell and Gregory Tempest--two of the kind clearly if inelegantly placed by the phrase, "greasy hamfats." Mr. Eshwell's black-dyed hair was smoothly brushed down from a central part, Mr. Tempest's iron-gray hair was greasily wild--a disarray of romantic ringlets. Eshwell was inclined to fat; Tempest was gaunt and had the hollow, burning eye that bespeaks the sentimental ass.

"Now, Miss Sackville," said Burlingham, "we'll go on the forward deck and canvass the situation. What for dinner, Vi?"

"Same old rot," retorted Miss Anstruther, wiping the sweat from her face and shoulders with a towel that served also as a dishcloth. "Pork and beans--potatoes--peach pie."

"Cheer up," said Burlingham. "After tomorrow we'll do better."

"That's been the cry ever since we started," snapped Violet.

"For God's sake, shut up, Vi," groaned Eshwell. "You're always kicking."

The cabin was not quite the full width of the broad house boat. Along the outside, between each wall and the edge, there was room for one person to pass from forward deck to rear. From the cabin roof, over the rear deck, into the water extended a big rudder oar. When Susan, following Burlingham, reached the rear deck, she saw the man at this oar--a fat, amiable-looking rascal, in linsey woolsey and a blue checked shirt open over his chest and revealing a mat of curly gray hair. Burlingham hailed him as Pat--his only known name. But Susan had only a glance for him and no ear at all for the chaffing between him and the actor-manager. She was gazing at the Indiana shore, at a tiny village snuggled among trees and ripened fields close to the water's edge. She knew it was Brooksburg. She remembered the long covered bridge which they had crossed--Spenser and she, on the horse. To the north of the town, on a knoll, stood a large red brick house trimmed with white veranda and balconies--far and away the most pretentious house in the landscape. Before the door was a horse and buggy. She could make out that there were several people on the front veranda, one of them a man in black--the doctor, no doubt. Sobs choked up into her throat. She turned quickly away that Burlingham might not see. And under her breath she said,

"Good-by, dear. Forgive me--forgive me."

CHAPTER XIII

WOMAN'S worktable, a rocking chair and another with a swayback that made it fairly comfortable for lounging gave the rear deck the air of an outdoor sitting-room, which indeed it was. Burlingham, after a comprehensive glance at the panorama of summer and fruitfulness through which they were drifting, sprawled himself in the swayback chair, indicating to Susan that she was to face him in the rocker. "Sit down, my dear," said he. "And tell me you are at least eighteen and are not running away from home. You heard what Miss Connemora said."

"I'm not running away from home," replied Susan, blushing violently because she was evading as to the more important fact.

"I don't know anything about you, and I don't want to know," pursued Burlingham, alarmed by the evidences of a dangerous tendency to candor. "I've no desire to have my own past dug into, and turn about's fair play. You came to me to get an engagement. I took you. Understand?"

Susan nodded.

"You said you could sing--that is, a little."

"A very little," said the girl.

"Enough, no doubt. That has been our weak point--lack of a ballad singer. Know any ballads?--Not fancy ones. Nothing fancy! We cater to the plain people, and the plain people only like the best--that is, the simplest--the things that reach for the heartstrings with ten strong fingers. You don't happen to know 'I Stood on the Bridge at Midnight'?"

"No--Ruth sings that," replied Susan, and colored violently.

Burlingham ignored the slip. "'Blue Alsatian Mountains'?"

"Yes. But that's very old."

"Exactly. Nothing is of any use to the stage until it's very old. Audiences at theaters don't want to _hear_ anything they don't already know by heart. They've come to _see_, not to hear. So it annoys them to have to try to hear. Do you understand that?"

"No," confessed Susan. "I'm sorry. But I'll think about it, and try to understand it." She thought she was showing her inability to do what was expected of her in paying back the two dollars.

"Don't bother," said Burlingham. "Pat!"

"Yes, boss," said the man at the oar, without looking or removing his pipe.

"Get your fiddle."

Pat tied the oar fast and went forward along the roof of the cabin. While he was gone Burlingham explained, "A frightful souse, Pat--almost equal to Eshwell and far the superior of Tempest or Vi--that is, of Tempest. But he's steady enough for our purposes, as a rule. He's the pilot, the orchestra, the man-of-all-work, the bill distributor. Oh, he's a wonder. Graduate of Trinity College, Dublin--yeggman--panhandler--barrel-house bum--genius, nearly. Has drunk as much booze as there is water in this river----"

Pat was back beside the handle of the oar, with a violin. Burlingham suggested to Susan that she'd better stand while she sang, "and if you've any tendency to stage fright, remember it's your bread and butter to get through well. You'll not bother about your audience."

Susan found this thought a potent strengthener--then and afterward. With surprisingly little embarrassment she stood before her good-natured, sympathetic employer, and while Pat scraped out an accompaniment sang the pathetic story of the "maiden young and fair" and the "stranger in the spring" who "lingered near the fountains just to hear the maiden sing," and how he departed after winning her love, and how "she will never see the stranger where the fountains fall again--adé, adé, adé." Her voice was deliciously young and had the pathetic quality that is never absent from anything which has enduring charm for us. Tears were in Burlingham's voice--tears for the fate of the maiden, tears of response to the haunting pathos of Susan's sweet contralto, tears of joy at the acquisition of such a "number" for his program. As her voice died away he beat his plump hands together enthusiastically.

"She'll do--eh, Pat? She'll set the hay-tossers crazy!"

Susan's heart was beating fast from nervousness. She sat down. Burlingham sprang up and put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her. He laughed at her shrinking.

"Don't mind, my dear," he cried. "It's one of our ways. Now, what others do you know?"

She tried to recall, and with his assistance finally did discover that she possessed a repertoire of "good old stale ones," consisting of "Coming Thro' the Rye," "Suwanee River," "Annie Laurie" and "Kathleen Mavourneen." She knew many other songs, but either Pat could not play them or Burlingham declared them "above the head of Reub the rotter."

"Those five are quite enough," said Burlingham. "Two regulars, two encores, with a third in case of emergency. After dinner Miss Anstruther and I'll fit you out with a costume. You'll make a hit at Sutherland tonight."

"Sutherland!" exclaimed Susan, suddenly pale. "I can't sing there--really, I can't."

Burlingham made a significant gesture toward Pat at the oar above them, and winked at her. "You'll not have stage fright, my dear. You'll pull through."

Susan understood that nothing more was to be said before Pat. Soon Burlingham told him to tie the oar again and retire to the cabin. "I'll stand watch," said he. "I want to talk business with Miss Sackville."

When Pat had gone, Burlingham gave her a sympathetic look. "No confidences, mind you, my dear," he warned. "All I want to know is that it isn't stage fright that's keeping you off the program at Sutherland."

"No," replied the girl. "It isn't stage fright. I'm--I'm sorry I can't begin right away to earn the money to pay you back. But--I can't."

"Not even in a velvet and spangle costume--Low neck, short sleeves, with blond wig and paint and powder? You'll not know yourself, my dear--really."

"I couldn't," said Susan. "I'd not be able to open my lips."

"Very well. That's settled." It was evident that Burlingham was deeply disappointed. "We were going to try to make a killing at Sutherland." He sighed. "However, let that pass. If you can't, you can't."

"I'm afraid you're angry with me," cried she.

"I--angry!" He laughed. "I've not been angry in ten years. I'm such a _damn_, damn fool that with all the knocks life's given me I haven't learned much. But at least I've learned not to get angry. No, I understand, my dear--and will save you for the next town below." He leaned forward and gave her hands a fatherly pat as they lay in her lap. "Don't give it a second thought," he said. "We've got the whole length of the river before us."

Susan showed her gratitude in her face better far than she could have expressed it in words. The two sat silent. When she saw his eyes upon her with that look of smiling wonder in them, she said, "You mustn't think I've done anything dreadful. I haven't--really, I haven't."

He laughed heartily. "And if you had, you'd not need to hang your head in this company, my dear. We're all people who have _lived_--and life isn't exactly a class meeting with the elders taking turns at praying and the organ wheezing out gospel hymns. No, we've all been up against it most of our lives--which means we've done the best we could oftener than we've had the chance to do what we ought." He gave her one of his keen looks, nodded: "I like you. . . . What do they tell oftenest when they're talking about how you were as a baby?"

Susan did not puzzle over the queerness of this abrupt question. She fell to searching her memory diligently for an answer. "I'm not sure, but I think they speak oftenest of how I never used to like anybody to take my hand and help me along, even when I was barely able to walk. They say I always insisted on trudging along by myself."

Burlingham nodded, slapped his knee. "I can believe it," he cried. "I always ask everybody that question to see whether I've sited 'em up right. I rather think I hit you off to a T--as you faced me at dinner yesterday in the hotel. Speaking of dinner--let's go sit in on the one I smell."

They returned to the cabin where, to make a table, a board had been swung between the backs of the second and third benches from the front on the left side of the aisle. Thus the three men sat on the front bench with their legs thrust through between seat and back, while the three women sat in dignity and comfort on the fourth bench. Susan thought the dinner by no means justified Miss Anstruther's pessimism. It was good in itself, and the better for being in this happy-go-lucky way, in this happy-go-lucky company. Once they got started, all the grouchiness disappeared. Susan, young and optimistic and determined to be pleased, soon became accustomed to the looks of her new companions--that matter of mere exterior about which we shallow surface-skimmers make such a mighty fuss, though in the test situations of life, great and small, it amounts to precious little. They were all human beings, and the girl was unspoiled, did not think of them as failures, half-wolves, of no social position, of no standing in the respectable world. She still had much of the natural democracy of children, and she admired these new friends who knew so much more than she did, who had lived, had suffered, had come away from horrible battles covered with wounds, the scars of which they would bear into the grave--battles they had lost; yet they had not given up, but had lived on, smiling, courageous, kind of heart. It was their kind hearts that most impressed her--their kind taking in of her whom those she loved had cast out--her, the unknown stranger, helpless and ignorant. And what Spenser had told her about the stage and its people made her almost believe that they would not cast her out, though they knew the dreadful truth about her birth.

Tempest told a story that was "broad." While the others laughed, Susan gazed at him with a puzzled expression. She wished to be polite, to please, to enjoy. But what that story meant she could not fathom. Miss Anstruther jeered at her. "Look at the innocent," she cried.

"Shut up, Vi," retorted Miss Connemora. "It's no use for us to try to be anything but what we are. Still, let the baby alone."

"Yes--let her alone," said Burlingham.

"It'll soak in soon enough," Miss Connemora went on. "No use rubbing it in."

"What?" said Susan, thinking to show her desire to be friendly, to be one of them.

"Dirt," said Burlingham dryly. "And don't ask any more questions."

When the three women had cleared away the dinner and had stowed the dishes in one of the many cubbyholes along the sides of the cabin, the three men got ready for a nap. Susan was delighted to see them drop to the tops of the backs of the seats three berths which fitted snugly into the walls when not in use. She saw now that there were five others of the same kind, and that there was a contrivance of wires and curtains by which each berth could be shut off to itself. She had a thrilling sense of being in a kind of Swiss Family Robinson storybook come to life. She unpacked her bag, contributed the food in it to the common store, spread out her serge suit which Miss Anstruther offered to press and insisted on pressing, though Susan protested she could do it herself quite well.

"You'll want to put it on for the arrival at Sutherland," said Mabel Connemora.

"No," replied Susan nervously. "Not till tomorrow."

She saw the curious look in all their eyes at sight of that dress, so different from the calico she was wearing. Mabel took her out on the forward deck where there was an awning and a good breeze. They sat there, Mabel talking, Susan gazing rapt at land and water and at the actress, and listening as to a fairy story--for the actress had lived through many and strange experiences in the ten years since she left her father's roof in Columbia, South Carolina. Susan listened and absorbed as a dry sponge dropped into a pail of water. At her leisure she would think it all out, would understand, would learn.

"Now, tell _me_ about _your_self," said Mabel when she had exhausted all the reminiscences she could recall at the moment--all that were fit for a "baby's" ears.

"I will, some time," said Susan, who was ready for the question. "But I can't--not yet."

"It seems to me you're very innocent," said Mabel, "even for a well-brought-up girl. _I_ was well brought up, too. I wish to God my mother had told me a few things. But no--not a thing."

"What do you mean?" inquired Susan.

That set the actress to probing the girl's innocence--what she knew and what she did not. It had been many a day since Miss Connemora had had so much pleasure. "Well!" she finally said. "I never would have believed it--though I know these things are so. Now I'm going to teach you. Innocence may be a good thing for respectable women who are going to marry and settle down with a good husband to look after them. But it won't do at all--not at all, my dear!--for a woman who works--who has to meet men in their own world and on their own terms. It's hard enough to get along, if you know. If you don't--when you're knocked down, you stay knocked down."

"Yes--I want to learn," said Susan eagerly. "I want to know--_everything!_"

"You're not going back?" Mabel pointed toward the shore, to a home on a hillside, with a woman sewing on the front steps and children racing about the yard. "Back to that sort of thing?"

"No," replied Susan. "I've got nothing to go back to."

"Nonsense!"

"Nothing," repeated Susan in the same simple, final way. "I'm an outcast."

The ready tears sprang to Mabel's dissipated but still bright eyes. Susan's unconscious pathos was so touching. "Then I'll educate you. Now don't get horrified or scandalized at me. When you feel that way, remember that Mabel Connemora didn't make the world, but God. At least, so they say--though personally I feel as if the devil had charge of things, and the only god was in us poor human creatures fighting to be decent. I tell you, men and women ain't bad--not so damn bad--excuse me; they will slip out. No, it's the things that happen to them or what they're afraid'll happen--it's those things that compel them to be bad--and get them in the way of being bad--hard to each other, and to hate and to lie and to do all sorts of things."

The show boat drifted placidly down with the current of the broad Ohio. Now it moved toward the left bank and now toward the right, as the current was deflected by the bends--the beautiful curves that divided the river into a series of lovely, lake-like reaches, each with its emerald oval of hills and rolling valleys where harvests were ripening. And in the shadow of the awning Susan heard from those pretty, coarse lips, in language softened indeed but still far from refined, about all there is to know concerning the causes and consequences of the eternal struggle that rages round sex. To make her tale vivid, Mabel illustrated it by the story of her own life from girlhood to the present hour. And she omitted no detail necessary to enforce the lesson in life. A few days before Susan would not have believed, would not have understood. Now she both believed and understood. And nothing that Mabel told her--not the worst of the possibilities in the world in which she was adventuring--burned deep enough to penetrate beyond the wound she had already received and to give her a fresh sensation of pain and horror.

"You don't seem to be horrified," said Mabel.

Susan shook her head. "No," she said. "I feel--somehow I feel better."

Mabel eyed her curiously--had a sense of a mystery of suffering which she dared not try to explore. She said: "Better? That's queer. You don't take it at all as I thought you would."

Said Susan: "I had about made up my mind it was all bad. I see that maybe it isn't."

"Oh, the world isn't such a bad place--in lots of ways. You'll get a heap of fun out of it if you don't take things or yourself seriously. I wish to God I'd had somebody to tell me, instead of having to spell it out, a letter at a time. I've got just two pieces of advice to give you." And she stopped speaking and gazed away toward the shore with a look that seemed to be piercing the hills.

"Please do," urged Susan, when Mabel's long mood of abstraction tried her patience.

"Oh--yes--two pieces of advice. The first is, don't drink. There's nothing to it--and it'll play hell--excuse me--it'll spoil your looks and your health and give you a woozy head when you most need a steady one. Don't drink--that's the first advice."

"I won't," said Susan.

"Oh, yes, you will. But remember my advice all the same. The second is, don't sell your body to get a living, unless you've got to."

"I couldn't do that," said the girl.

Mabel laughed queerly. "Oh, yes, you could--and will. But remember my advice. Don't sell your body because it seems to be the easy way to make a living. I know most women get their living that way."

"Oh--no--no, indeed!" protested Susan.

"What a child you are!" laughed Mabel. "What's marriage but that?. . . Believe your Aunt Betsy, it's the poorest way to make a living that ever was invented--marriage or the other thing. Sometimes you'll be tempted to. You're pretty, and you'll find yourself up against it with no way out. You'll have to give in for a time, no doubt. The men run things in this world, and they'll compel it--one way or another. But fight back to your feet again. If I'd taken my own advice, my name would be on every dead wall in New York in letters two feet high. Instead----" She laughed, without much bitterness. "And why? All because I never learned to stand alone. I've even supported men--to have something to lean on! How's that for a poor fool?"

There Violet Anstruther called her. She rose. "You won't take my advice," she said by way of conclusion. "Nobody'll take advice. Nobody can. We ain't made that way. But don't forget what I've said. And when you've wobbled way off maybe it'll give you something to steer back by."

Susan sat on there, deep in the deepest of those brown studies that had been characteristic of her from early childhood. Often--perhaps most often--abstraction means only mental fogginess. But Susan happened to be of those who can concentrate--can think things out. And that afternoon, oblivious of the beauty around her, even unconscious of where she was, she studied the world of reality--that world whose existence, even the part of it lying within ourselves, we all try to ignore or to evade or to deny, and get soundly punished for our folly. Taking advantage of the floods of light Mabel Connemora had let in upon her--full light where there had been a dimness that was equal to darkness--she drew from the closets of memory and examined all the incidents of her life--all that were typical or for other reasons important. One who comes for the first time into new surroundings sees more, learns more about them in a brief period than has been seen and known by those who have lived there always. After a few hours of recalling and reconstructing Susan Lenox understood Sutherland probably better than she would have understood it had she lived a long eventless life there. And is not every Sutherland the world in miniature?

She also understood her own position--why the world of respectability had cast her out as soon as she emerged from childhood--why she could not have hoped for the lot to which other girls looked forward--why she belonged with the outcasts, in a world apart--and must live her life there. She felt that she could not hope to be respected, loved, married. She must work out her destiny along other lines. She understood it all, more clearly than would have been expected of her. And it is important to note that she faced her future without repining or self-pity, without either joy or despondency. She would go on; she would do as best she could. And nothing that might befall could equal what she had suffered in the throes of the casting out.

Burlingham roused her from her long reverie. He evidently had come straight from his nap--stocking feet, shirt open at the collar, trousers sagging and face shiny with the sweat that accumulates during sleep on a hot day. "Round that bend ahead of us is Sutherland," said he, pointing forward.

Up she started in alarm.

"Now, don't get fractious," cried he cheerfully. "We'll not touch shore for an hour, at least. And nobody's allowed aboard. You can keep to the cabin. I'll see that you're not bothered."

"And--this evening?"

"You can keep to the dressing-room until the show's over and the people've gone ashore. And tomorrow morning, bright and early, we'll be off. I promised Pat a day for a drunk at Sutherland. He'll have to postpone it. I'll give him three at Jeffersonville, instead."

Susan put on her sunbonnet as soon as the show boat rounded the bend above town. Thus she felt safe in staying on deck and watching the town drift by. She did not begin to think of going into the cabin until Pat was working the boat in toward the landing a square above the old familiar wharf-boat. "What day is this?" she asked Eshwell.

"Saturday."

Only Saturday! And last Monday--less than five days ago--she had left this town for her Cincinnati adventure. She felt as if months, years, had passed. The town seemed strange to her, and she recalled the landmarks as if she were revisiting in age the scenes of youth. How small the town seemed, after Cincinnati! And how squat! Then----

She saw the cupola of the schoolhouse. Its rooms, the playgrounds flashed before her mind's eye--the teachers she had liked--those she had feared--the face of her uncle, so kind and loving--that same face, with hate and contempt in it----

She hurried into the cabin, tears blinding her eyes, her throat choked with sobs.

The Burlingham Floating Palace of Thespians tied up against the float of Bill Phibbs's boathouse--a privilege for which Burlingham had to pay two dollars. Pat went ashore with a sack of handbills to litter through the town. Burlingham followed, to visit the offices of the two evening newspapers and by "handing them out a line of smooth talk"--the one art whereof he was master--to get free advertising. Also there were groceries to buy and odds and ends of elastic, fancy crêpe, paper muslin and the like for repairing the shabby costumes. The others remained on board, Eshwell and Tempest to guard the boat against the swarms of boys darting and swooping and chattering like a huge flock of impudent English sparrows. An additional--and the chief--reason for Burlingham's keeping the two actors close was that Eshwell was a drunkard and Tempest a gambler. Neither could be trusted where there was the least temptation. Each despised the other's vice and despised the other for being slave to it. Burlingham could trust Eshwell to watch Tempest, could trust Tempest to watch Eshwell.

Susan helped Mabel with the small and early supper--cold chicken and ham, fried potatoes and coffee. Afterward all dressed in the cabin. Some of the curtains for dividing off the berths were drawn, out of respect to Susan not yet broken to the ways of a mode of life which made privacy and personal modesty impossible--and when any human custom becomes impossible, it does not take human beings long to discover that it is also foolish and useless. The women had to provide for a change of costumes. As the dressing-room behind the stage was only a narrow space between the back drop and the forward wall of the cabin, dressing in it was impossible, so Mabel and Vi put on a costume of tights, and over it a dress. Susan was invited to remain and help. The making-up of the faces interested her; she was amazed by the transformation of Mabel into youthful loveliness, with a dairy maid's bloom in place of her pallid pastiness. On the other hand, make-up seemed to bring out the horrors of Miss Anstruther's big, fat, yet hollow face, and to create other and worse horrors--as if in covering her face it somehow uncovered her soul. When the two women stripped and got into their tights, Susan with polite modesty turned away. However, catching sight of Miss Anstruther in the mirror that had been hung up under one of the side lamps, she was so fascinated that she gazed furtively at her by that indirect way.

Violet happened to see, laughed. "Look at the baby's shocked face, Mabel," she cried.

But she was mistaken. It was sheer horror that held Susan's gaze upon Violet's incredible hips and thighs, violently obtruded by the close-reefed corset. Mabel had a slender figure, the waist too short and the legs too nearly of the same girth from hip to ankle, but for all that, attractive. Susan had never before seen a woman in tights without any sort of skirt.

"You would show up well in those things," Violet said to her, "that is, for a thin woman. The men don't care much for thinness."

"Not the clodhoppers and roustabouts that come to see us," retorted Mabel. "The more a woman looks like a cow or a sow, the better they like it. They don't believe it's female unless it looks like what they're used to in the barnyard and the cattle pen."

Miss Anstruther was not in the least offended. She paraded, jauntily switching her great hips and laughing. "Jealous!" she teased. "You poor little broomstick."

Burlingham was in a white flannel suit that looked well enough in those dim lights. The make-up gave him an air of rakish youth. Eshwell had got himself into an ordinary sack suit. Tempest was in the tattered and dirty finery of a seventeenth-century courtier. The paint and black made Eshwell's face fat and comic; it gave Tempest distinction, made his hollow blazing eyes brilliant and large. All traces of habitation were effaced from the "auditorium"; the lamps were lighted, a ticket box was set up on the rear deck and an iron bar was thrown half across the rear entrance to the cabin, that only one person at a time might be able to pass. The curtain was let down--a gaudy smear of a garden scene in a French palace in the eighteenth century. Pat, the orchestra, put on a dress coat and vest and a "dickey"; the coat had white celluloid cuffs pinned in the sleeves at the wrists.

As it was still fully an hour and a half from dark, Susan hid on the stage; when it should be time for the curtain to go up she would retreat to the dressing-room. Through a peephole in the curtain she admired the auditorium; and it did look surprisingly well by lamplight, with the smutches and faded spots on its bright paint softened or concealed. "How many will it hold?" she asked Mabel, who was walking up and down, carrying her long train.

"A hundred and twenty comfortably," replied Miss Connemora. "A hundred and fifty crowded. It has held as high as thirty dollars, but we'll be lucky if we get fifteen tonight."

Susan glanced round at her. She was smoking a cigarette, handling it like a man. Susan's expression was so curious that Mabel laughed. Susan, distressed, cried: "I'm sorry if--if I was impolite."

"Oh, you couldn't be impolite," said Mabel. "You've got that to learn, too--and mighty important it is. We all smoke. Why not? We got out of cigarettes, but Bob bought a stock this afternoon."

Susan turned to the peephole. Pat, ready to take tickets, was "barking" vigorously in the direction of shore, addressing a crowd which Susan of course could not see. Whenever he paused for breath, Burlingham leaned from the box and took it up, pouring out a stream of eulogies of his show in that easy, lightly cynical voice of his. And the audience straggled in--young fellows and their girls, roughs from along the river front, farmers in town for a day's sport. Susan did not see a single familiar face, and she had supposed she knew, by sight at least, everyone in Sutherland. From fear lest she should see someone she knew, her mind changed to longing. At last she was rewarded. Down the aisle swaggered Redney King, son of the washerwoman, a big hulking bully who used to tease her by pulling her hair during recess and by kicking at her shins when they happened to be next each other in the class standing in long line against the wall of the schoolroom for recitation. From her security she smiled at Redney as representative of all she loved in the old town.

And now the four members of the company on the stage and in the dressing-room lost their ease and contemptuous indifference. They had been talking sneeringly about "yokels" and "jays" and "slum bums." They dropped all that, as there spread over them the mysterious spell of the crowd. As individuals the provincials in those seats were ridiculous; as a mass they were an audience, an object of fear and awe. Mabel was almost in tears; Violet talked rapidly, with excited gestures and nervous adjustments of various parts of her toilet. The two men paced about, Eshwell trembling, Tempest with sheer fright in his rolling eyes.

They wet their dry lips with dry tongues. Each again and again asked the other anxiously how he was looking and paced away without waiting for the answer. The suspense and nervous terror took hold of Susan; she stood in the corner of the dressing-room, pressing herself close against the wall, her fingers tightly interlocked and hot and cold tremors chasing up and down her body.

Burlingham left the box and combined Pat's duties with his own--a small matter, as the audience was seated and a guard at the door was necessary only to keep the loafers on shore from rushing in free. Pat advanced to the little space reserved before the stage, sat down and fell to tuning his violin with all the noise he could make, to create the illusion of a full orchestra. Miss Anstruther appeared in one of the forward side doors of the auditorium, very dignified in her black satin (paper muslin) dress, with many and sparkling hair and neck ornaments and rings that seemed alight. She bowed to the audience, pulled a little old cottage organ from under the stage and seated herself at it.

After the overture, a pause. Susan, peeping through a hole in the drop, saw the curtain go up, drew a long breath of terror as the audience was revealed beyond the row of footlights, beyond the big, befrizzled blond head of Violet and the drink-seared face of Pat. From the rear of the auditorium came Burlingham's smooth-flowing, faintly amused voice, announcing the beginning of the performance "a delightful feast throughout, ladies and gentlemen, amusing yet elevating, ever moral yet with none of the depressing sadness of puritanism. For, ladies and gentlemen, while we are pious, we are not puritan. The first number is a monologue, 'The Mad Prince,' by that eminent artist, Gregory Tempest. He has delivered it before vast audiences amid thunders of applause."

Susan thrilled as Tempest strode forth--Tempest transformed by the footlights and by her young imagination into a true king most wonderfully and romantically bereft of reason by the woes that had assailed him in horrid phalanxes. If anyone had pointed out to her that Tempest's awful voice was simply cheap ranting, or that her own woes had been as terrible as any that had ever visited a king, or that when people go mad it is never from grief but from insides unromantically addled by foolish eating and drinking--if anyone had attempted then and there to educate the girl, how angry it would have made her, how she would have hated that well-meaning person for spoiling her illusion!

The spell of the stage seized her with Tempest's first line, first elegant despairing gesture. It held her through Burlingham and Anstruther's "sketch" of a matrimonial quarrel, through Connemora and Eshwell's "delicious symphonic romanticism" of a lovers' quarrel and making up, through Tempest's recitation of "Lasca," dying to shield her cowboy lover from the hoofs of the stampeded herd. How the tears did stream from Susan's eyes, as Tempest wailed out those last lines:

But I wonder why I do not care for the things that are like the things that were?

Can it be that half my heart lies buried there, in Texas down by the Rio Grande?

She saw the little grave in the desert and the vast blue sky and the buzzard sailing lazily to and fro, and it seemed to her that Tempest himself had inspired such a love, had lost a sweetheart in just that way. No wonder he looked gaunt and hollow-eyed and sallow. The last part of the performance was Holy Land and comic pictures thrown from the rear on a sheet substituted for the drop. As Burlingham had to work the magic lantern from the dressing-room (while Tempest, in a kind of monk's robe, used his voice and elocutionary powers in describing the pictures, now lugubriously and now in "lighter vein"), Susan was forced to retreat to the forward deck and missed that part of the show. But she watched Burlingham shifting the slides and altering the forms of the lenses, and was in another way as much thrilled and spellbound as by the acting.

Nor did the spell vanish when, with the audience gone, they all sat down to a late supper, and made coarse jests and mocked at their own doings and at the people who had applauded. Susan did not hear. She felt proud that she was permitted in so distinguished a company. Every disagreeable impression vanished. How could she have thought these geniuses common and cheap! How had she dared apply to them the standards of the people, the dull, commonplace people, among whom she had been brought up! If she could only qualify for membership in this galaxy! The thought made her feel like a worm aspiring to be a star. Tempest, whom she had liked least, now filled her with admiration. She saw the tragedy of his life plain and sad upon his features. She could not look at him without her heart's contracting in an ache.

It was not long before Mr. Tempest, who believed himself a lady-killer, noted the ingenuous look in the young girl's face, and began to pose. And it was hardly three bites of a ham sandwich thereafter when Mabel Connemora noted Tempest's shootings of his cuffs and rumplings of his oily ringlets and rollings of his hollow eyes. And at the sight Miss Mabel's bright eyes became bad and her tongue shot satire at him. But Susan did not observe this.

After supper they went straightway to bed. Burlingham drew the curtains round the berth let down for Susan. The others indulged in no such prudery on so hot a night. They put out the lamps and got ready for bed and into it by the dim light trickling in through the big rear doorway and the two small side doorways forward. To help on the circulation of air Pat raised the stage curtain and drop, and opened the little door forward. Each sleeper had a small netting suspended over him from the ceiling; without that netting the dense swarms of savage mosquitoes would have made sleep impossible. As it was, the loud singing of these baffled thousands kept Susan awake.

After a while, to calm her brain, excited by the evenings thronging impressions and by the new--or, rather, reviewed--ambitions born of them, Susan rose and went softly out on deck, in her nightgown of calico slip. Because of the breeze the mosquitoes did not trouble her there, and she stood a long time watching the town's few faint lights--watching the stars, the thronging stars of the Milky Way--dreaming--dreaming--dreaming. Yesterday had almost faded from her, for youth lives only in tomorrow--youth in tomorrow, age in yesterday, and none of us in today which is all we really have. And she, with her wonderful health of body meaning youth as long as it lasted, she would certainly be young until she was very old--would keep her youth--her dreams--her living always in tomorrow. She was dreaming of her first real tomorrow, now. She would work hard at this wonderful profession--_her_ profession!--would be humble and attentive; and surely the day must come when she too would feel upon her heart the intoxicating beat of those magic waves of applause!

Susan, more excited than ever, slipped softly into the cabin and stole into her curtained berth. Like the soughing of the storm above the whimper of the tortured leaves the stentorian snorings of two of the sleepers resounded above the noise of the mosquitoes. She had hardly extended herself in her close little bed when she heard a stealthy step, saw one of her curtains drawn aside.

"Who is it?" she whispered, unsuspiciously, for she could see only a vague form darkening the space between the parted curtains.

The answer came in a hoarse undertone: "Ye dainty little darling!" She sat up, struck out madly, screamed at the top of her lungs. The curtains fell back into place, the snoring stopped. Susan, all in a sweat and a shiver, lay quiet. Hoarse whispering; then in Burlingham's voice stern and gruff--"Get back to your bed and let her alone, you rolling-eyed----" The sentence ended with as foul a spatter of filth as man can fling at man. Silence again, and after a few minutes the two snores resumed their bass accompaniment to the falsetto of the mosquito chorus.

Susan got a little troubled sleep, was wide awake when Violet came saying, "If you want to bathe, I'll bring you a bucket of water and you can put up your berth and do it behind your curtains."

Susan thanked her and got a most refreshing bath. When she looked out the men were on deck, Violet was getting breakfast, and Connemora was combing her short, thinning, yellow hair before a mirror hung up near one of the forward doors. In the mirror Connemora saw her, smiled and nodded.

"You can fix your hair here," said she. "I'm about done. You can use my brush."

And when Susan was busy at the mirror, Mabel lounged on a seat near by smoking a before-breakfast cigarette. "I wish to God I had your hair," said she. "I never did have such a wonderful crop of grass on the knoll, and the way it up and drops out in bunches every now and then sets me crazy. It won't be long before I'll be down to Vi's three hairs and a half. You haven't seen her without her wigs? Well, don't, if you happen to be feeling a bit off. How Burlingham can--" There she stopped, blew out a volume of smoke, grinned half amusedly, half in sympathy with the innocence she was protecting--or, rather, was initiating by cautious degrees. "Who was it raised the row last night?" she inquired.

"I don't know," said Susan, her face hid by the mass of wavy hair she was brushing forward from roots to ends.

"You don't? I guess you've got a kind of idea, though."

No answer from the girl.

"Well, it doesn't matter. It isn't your fault." Mabel smoked reflectively. "I'm not jealous of _him_--a woman never is. It's the idea of another woman's getting away with her property, whether she wants it or not--_that's_ what sets her mad-spot to humming. No, I don't give a--a cigarette butt--for that greasy bum actor. But I've always got to have somebody." She laughed. "The idea of his thinking _you'd_ have _him_! What peacocks men are!"

Susan understood. The fact of this sort of thing was no longer a mystery to her. But the why of the fact--that seemed more amazing than ever. Now that she had discovered that her notion of love being incorporeal was as fanciful as Santa Claus, she could not conceive why it should be at all. As she was bringing round the braids for the new coiffure she had adopted she said to Mabel:

"You--love him?"

"I?" Mabel laughed immoderately. "You can have him, if you want him."

Susan shuddered. "Oh, no," she said. "I suppose he's very nice--and really he's quite a wonderful actor. But I--I don't care for men."

Mabel laughed again--curt, bitter. "Wait," she said.

Susan shook her head, with youth's positiveness.

"What's caring got to do with it?" pursued Mabel, ignoring the headshake. "I've been about quite a bit, and I've yet to see anybody that really cared for anybody else. We care for ourselves. But a man needs a woman, and a woman needs a man. They call it loving. They might as well call eating loving. Ask Burly."

CHAPTER XIV

AT breakfast Tempest was precisely as usual, and so were the others. Nor was there effort or any sort of pretense in this. We understand only that to which we are accustomed; the man of peace is amazed by the veteran's nonchalance in presence of danger and horror, of wound and death. To these river wanderers, veterans in the unconventional life, where the unusual is the usual, the unexpected the expected, whatever might happen was the matter of course, to be dealt with and dismissed. Susan naturally took her cue from them. When Tempest said something to her in the course of the careless conversation round the breakfast table, she answered--and had no sense of constraint. Thus, an incident that in other surroundings would have been in some way harmful through receiving the exaggeration of undue emphasis, caused less stir than the five huge and fiery mosquito bites Eshwell had got in the night. And Susan unconsciously absorbed one of those lessons in the science and art of living that have decisive weight in shaping our destinies. For intelligent living is in large part learning to ignore the unprofitable that one may concentrate upon the profitable.

Burlingham announced that they would cast off and float down to Bethlehem. There was a chorus of protests. "Why, we ought to stay here a week!" cried Miss Anstruther. "We certainly caught on last night."

"Didn't we take in seventeen dollars?" demanded Eshwell. "We can't do better than that anywhere."

"Who's managing this show?" asked Burlingham in his suave but effective way. "I think I know what I'm about."

He met their grumblings with the utmost good-humor and remained inflexible. Susan listened with eyes down and burning cheeks. She knew Burlingham was "leaving the best cow unmilked," as Connemora put it, because he wished to protect her. She told him so when they were alone on the forward deck a little later, as the boat was floating round the bend below Sutherland.

"Yes," he admitted. "I've great hopes from your ballads. I want to get you on." He looked round casually, saw that no one was looking, drew a peculiarly folded copy of the _Sutherland Courier_ from his pocket. "Besides"--said he, holding out the paper--"read that."

Susan read:

George Warham, Esq., requests us to announce that he has increased the reward for information as to the whereabouts of Mrs. Susan Ferguson, his young niece, nee Susan Lenox, to one thousand dollars. There are grave fears that the estimable and lovely young lady, who disappeared from her husband's farm the night of her marriage, has, doubtless in a moment of insanity, ended her life. We hope not.

Susan lifted her gaze from this paragraph, after she had read it until the words ran together in a blur. She found Burlingham looking at her. Said he: "As I told you before, I don't want to know anything. But when I read that, it occurred to me, if some of the others saw it they might think it was you--and might do a dirty trick." He sighed, with a cynical little smile. "I was tempted, myself. A thousand is quite a bunch. You don't know--not yet--how a chance to make some money--any old way--compels a man--or a woman--when money's as scarce and as useful as it is in this world. As you get along, you'll notice, my dear, that the people who get moral goose flesh at the shady doings of others are always people who haven't ever really been up against it. I don't know why I didn't----" He shrugged his shoulders. "Now, my dear, you're in on the secret of why I haven't got up in the world." He smiled cheerfully. "But I may yet. The game's far from over."

She realized that he had indeed made an enormous sacrifice for her; for, though very ignorant about money, a thousand dollars seemed a fortune. She had no words; she looked away toward the emerald shore, and her eyes filled and her lip quivered. How much goodness there was in the world--how much generosity and affection!

"I'm not sure," he went on, "that you oughtn't to go back. But it's your own business. I've a kind of feeling you know what you're about."

"No matter what happens to me," said she, "I'll never regret what I've done. I'd kill myself before I'd spend another day with the man they made me marry."

"Well--I'm not fond of dying," observed Burlingham, in the light, jovial tone that would most quickly soothe her agitation, "but I think I'd take my chances with the worms rather than with the dry rot of a backwoods farm. You may not get your meals so regular out in the world, but you certainly do live. Yes--that backwoods life, for anybody with a spark of spunk, is simply being dead and knowing it." He tore the _Courier_ into six pieces, flung them over the side. "None of the others saw the paper," said he. "So--Miss Lorna Sackville is perfectly safe." He patted her on the shoulder. "And she owes me a thousand and two dollars."

"I'll pay--if you'll be patient," said the girl, taking his jest gravely.

"It's a good gamble," said he. Then he laughed. "I guess that had something to do with my virtue. There's always a practical reason--always."

But the girl was not hearing his philosophies. Once more she was overwhelmed and stupefied by the events that had dashed in, upon, and over her like swift succeeding billows that give the swimmer no pause for breath or for clearing the eyes.

"No--you're not dreaming," said Burlingham, laughing at her expression. "At least, no more than we all are. Sometimes I suspect the whole damn shooting-match is nothing but a dream. Well, it's a pretty good one eh?"

And she agreed with him, as she thought how smoothly and agreeably they were drifting into the unknown, full of the most fascinating possibilities. How attractive this life was, how much at home she felt among these people, and if anyone should tell him about her birth or about how she had been degraded by Ferguson, it wouldn't in the least affect their feeling toward her, she was sure. "When do--do you--try me?" she asked.

"Tomorrow night, at Bethlehem--a bum little town for us. We'll stay there a couple of days. I want you to get used to appearing." He nodded at her encouragingly. "You've got stuff in you, real stuff. Don't you doubt it. Get self-confidence--conceit, if you please. Nobody arrives anywhere without it. You want to feel that you can do what you want to do. A fool's conceit is that he's it already. A sensible man's conceit is that he can be it, if he'll only work hard and in the right way. See?"

"I--I think I do," said the girl. "I'm not sure."

Burlingham smoked his cigar in silence. When he spoke, it was with eyes carefully averted. "There's another subject the spirit moves me to talk to you about. That's the one Miss Connemora opened up with you yesterday." As Susan moved uneasily, "Now, don't get scared. I'm not letting the woman business bother me much nowadays. All I think of is how to get on my feet again. I want to have a theater on Broadway before the old black-flagger overtakes my craft and makes me walk the plank and jump out into the Big Guess. So you needn't think I'm going to worry you. I'm not."

"Oh, I didn't think----"

"You ought to have, though," interrupted he. "A man like me is a rare exception. I'm a rare exception to my ordinary self, to be quite honest. It'll be best for you always to assume that every man you run across is looking for just one thing. You know what?"

Susan, the flush gone from her cheeks, nodded.

"I suppose Connemora has put you wise. But there are some things even she don't know about that subject. Now, I want you to listen to your grandfather. Remember what he says. And think it over until you understand it."

"I will," said Susan.

"In the life you've come out of, virtue in a woman's everything. She's got to be virtuous, or at least to have the reputation of it--or she's nothing. You understand that?"

"Yes," said Susan. "I understand that--now."

"Very well. Now in the life you're going into, virtue in a woman is nothing--no more than it is in a man anywhere. The woman who makes a career becomes like the man who makes a career. How is it with a man? Some are virtuous, others are not. But no man lets virtue bother him and nobody bothers about his virtue. That's the way it is with a woman who cuts loose from the conventional life of society and home and all that. She is virtuous or not, as she happens to incline. Her real interest in herself, her real value, lies in another direction. If it doesn't, if she continues to be agitated about her virtue as if it were all there is to her--then the sooner she hikes back to respectability, to the conventional routine, why the better for her. She'll never make a career, any more than she could drive an automobile through a crowded street and at the same time keep a big picture hat on straight. Do you follow me?"

"I'm not sure," said the girl. "I'll have to think about it."

"That's right. Don't misunderstand. I'm not talking for or against virtue. I'm simply talking practical life, and all I mean is that you won't get on there by your virtue, and you won't get on by your lack of virtue. Now for my advice."

Susan's look of unconscious admiration and attention was the subtlest flattery. Its frank, ingenuous showing of her implicit trust in him so impressed him with his responsibility that he hesitated before he said:

"Never forget this, and don't stop thinking about it until you understand it: Make men _as_ men incidental in your life, precisely as men who amount to anything make women _as_ women incidental."

Her first sensation was obviously disappointing. She had expected something far more impressive. Said she:

"I don't care anything about men."

"Be sensible! How are you to know now what you care about and what you don't?" was Burlingham's laughing rebuke. "And in the line you've taken--the stage--with your emotions always being stirred up, with your thoughts always hovering round the relations of men and women--for that's the only subject of plays and music, and with opportunity thrusting at you as it never thrusts at conventional people you'll probably soon find you care a great deal about men. But don't ever let your emotions hinder or hurt or destroy you. Use them to help you. I guess I'm shooting pretty far over that young head of yours, ain't I?"

"Not so very far," said the girl. "Anyhow, I'll remember."

"If you live big enough and long enough, you'll go through three stages. The first is the one you're in now. They've always taught you without realizing it, and so you think that only the strong can afford to do right. You think doing right makes the ordinary person, like yourself, easy prey for those who do wrong. You think that good people--if they're really good--have to wait until they get to Heaven before they get a chance."

"Isn't that so?"

"No. But you'll not realize it until you pass into the second stage. There, you'll think you see that only the strong can afford to do wrong. You'll think that everyone, except the strong, gets it in the neck if he or she does anything out of the way. You'll think you're being punished for your sins, and that, if you had behaved yourself, you'd have got on much better. That's the stage that's coming; and what you go through with there--how you come out of the fight--will decide your fate--show whether or not you've got the real stuff in you. Do you understand?"

Susan shook her head.

"I thought not. You haven't lived long enough yet. Well, I'll finish, anyhow."

"I'll remember," said Susan. "I'll think about it until I do understand."

"I hope so. The weather and the scenery make me feel like philosophizing. Finally, if you come through the second stage all right, you'll enter the third stage. There, you'll see that you were right at first when you thought only the strong could afford to do right. And you'll see that you were right in the second stage when you thought only the strong could afford to do wrong. For you'll have learned that only the strong can afford to act at all, and that they can do right or wrong as they please _because they are strong_."

"Then you don't believe in right, at all!" exclaimed the girl, much depressed, but whether for the right or for her friend she could not have told.

"Now, who said that?" Demanded he, amused. "What _did_ I say? Why--if you want to do right, be strong or you'll be crushed; and if you want to do wrong, take care again to be strong--or you'll be crushed. My moral is, be strong! In this world the good weaklings and the bad weaklings had better lie low, hide in the tall grass. The strong inherit the earth."

They were silent a long time, she thinking, he observing her with sad tenderness. At last he said:

"You are a nice sweet girl--well brought up. But that means badly brought up for the life you've got to lead--the life you've got to learn to lead."

"I'm beginning to see that," said the girl. Her gravity made him feel like laughing, and brought the tears to his eyes. The laughter he suppressed.

"You're going to fight your way up to what's called the triumphant class--the people on top--they have all the success, all the money, all the good times. Well, the things you've been taught--at church--in the Sunday School--in the nice storybooks you've read--those things are all for the triumphant class, or for people working meekly along in 'the station to which God has appointed them' and handing over their earnings to their betters. But those nice moral things you believe in--they don't apply to people like you--fighting their way up from the meek working class to the triumphant class. You won't believe me now--won't understand thoroughly. But soon you'll see. Once you've climbed up among the successful people you can afford to indulge--in moderation--in practicing the good old moralities. Any dirty work you may need done you can hire done and pretend not to know about it. But while you're climbing, no Golden Rule and no turning of the cheek. Tooth and claw then--not sheathed but naked--not by proxy but in your own person."

"But you're not like that," said the girl.

"The more fool I," repeated he.

She was surprised that she understood so much of what he had said--childlike wonder at her wise old heart, made wise almost in a night--a wedding night. When Burlingham lapsed into silence, laughing at himself for having talked so far over the "kiddie's" head, she sat puzzling out what he had said. The world seemed horribly vast and forbidding, and the sky, so blue and bright, seemed far, far away. She sighed profoundly. "I am so weak," she murmured. "I am so ignorant."

Burlingham nodded and winked. "Yes, but you'll grow," said be. "I back you to win."

The color poured into her cheeks, and she burst into tears. Burlingham thought he understood; for once his shrewdness went far astray. Excusably, since he could not know that he had used the same phrase that had closed Spenser's letter to her.

Late in the afternoon, when the heat had abated somewhat and they were floating pleasantly along with the washing gently a-flutter from lines on the roof of the auditorium, Burlingham put Eshwell at the rudder and with Pat and the violin rehearsed her. "The main thing, the only thing to worry about," explained he, "is beginning right." She was standing in the center of the stage, he on the floor of the auditorium beside the seated orchestra. "That means," he went on, "you've simply got to learn to come in right. We'll practice that for a while."

She went to the wings--where there was barely space for her to conceal herself by squeezing tightly against the wall. At the signal from him she walked out. As she had the utmost confidence in his kindness, and as she was always too deeply interested in what she and others were doing to be uncomfortably self-conscious, she was not embarrassed, and thought she made the crossing and took her stand very well. He nodded approvingly. "But," said he, "there's a difference between a stage walk and walking anywhere else--or standing. Nothing is natural on the stage. If it were it would look unnatural, because the stage itself is artificial and whatever is there must be in harmony with it. So everything must be done unnaturally in such a way that it _seems_ natural. Just as a picture boat looks natural though it's painted on a flat surface. Now I'll illustrate."

He gave her his hand to help her jump down; then he climbed to the stage. He went to the wings and walked out. As he came he called her attention to how he poised his body, how he advanced so that there would be from the auditorium no unsightly view of crossing legs, how he arranged hands, arms, shoulders, legs, head, feet for an attitude of complete rest. He repeated his illustration again and again, Susan watching and listening with open-eyed wonder and admiration. She had never dreamed that so simple a matter could be so complex. When he got her up beside him and went through it with her, she soon became as used to the new motions as a beginner at the piano to stretching an octave. But it was only after more than an hour's practice that she moved him to say:

"That'll do for a beginning. Now, we'll sing."

She tried "Suwanee River" first and went through it fairly well, singing to him as he stood back at the rear door. He was enthusiastic--cunning Burlingham, who knew so well how to get the best out of everyone! "Mighty good--eh, Pat? Yes, mighty good. You've got something better than a great voice, my dear. You've got magnetism. The same thing that made me engage you the minute you asked me is going to make you--well, go a long ways--a _long_ ways. Now, we'll try 'The Last Rose of Summer.'"

She sang even better. And this improvement continued through the other four songs of her repertoire. His confidence in her was contagious; it was so evident that he really did believe in her. And Pat, too, wagged his head in a way that made her feel good about herself. Then Burlingham called in the others whom he had sent to the forward deck. Before them the girl went all to pieces. She made her entrance badly, she sang worse. And the worse she sang, the worse she felt and the worse her next attempt was. At last, with nerves unstrung, she broke down and sobbed. Burlingham climbed up to pat her on the shoulder.

"That's the best sign yet," said he. "It shows you've got temperament. Yes--you've got the stuff in you."

He quieted her, interested her in the purely mechanical part of what she was doing. "Don't think of who you're doing it before, or of how you're doing it, but only of getting through each step and each note. If your head's full of that, you'll have no room for fright." And she was ready to try again. When she finished the last notes of "Suwanee River," there was an outburst of hearty applause. And the sound that pleased her most was Tempest's rich rhetorical "Bravo!" As a man she abhorred him; but she respected the artist. And in unconsciously drawing this distinction she gave proof of yet another quality that was to count heavily in the coming days. Artist he was not. But she thought him an artist. A girl or boy without the intelligence that can develop into flower and fruit would have seen and felt only Tempest, the odious personality.

Burlingham did not let her off until she was ready to drop with exhaustion. And after supper, when they were floating slowly on, well out of the channel where they might be run down by some passing steamer with a flint-hearted captain or pilot, she had to go at it again. She went to bed early, and she slept without a motion or a break until the odor of the cooking breakfast awakened her. When she came out, her face was bright for the first time. She was smiling, laughing, chatting, was delighted with everything and everybody. Even the thought of Roderick Spenser laid up with a broken leg recurred less often and less vividly. It seemed to her that the leg must be about well. The imagination of healthy youth is reluctant to admit ideas of gloom in any circumstances. In circumstances of excitement and adventure, such as Susan's at that time, it flatly refuses to admit them.

They were at anchor before a little town sprawled upon the fields between hills and river edge. A few loafers were chewing tobacco and inspecting the show boat from the shady side of a pile of lumber. Pat had already gone forth with the bundle of handbills; he was not only waking up the town, but touring the country in horse and buggy, was agitating the farmers--for the show boat was to stay at least two nights at Bethlehem. "And we ought to do pretty well," said Burlingham. "The wheat's about all threshed, and there's a kind of lull. The hayseeds aren't so dead tired at night. A couple of weeks ago we couldn't have got half a house by paying for it."

As the afternoon wore away and the sun disappeared behind the hills to the southwest, Susan's spirits oozed. Burlingham and the others--deliberately--paid no attention to her, acted as if no great, universe-stirring event were impending. Immediately after supper Burlingham said:

"Now, Vi, get busy and put her into her harness. Make her a work of art."

Never was there a finer display of unselfishness than in their eagerness to help her succeed, in their intense nervous anxiety lest she should not make a hit. The bad in human nature, as Mabel Connemora had said, is indeed almost entirely if not entirely the result of the compulsion of circumstances; the good is the natural outcropping of normal instincts, and resumes control whenever circumstances permit. These wandering players had suffered too much not to have the keenest and gentlest sympathy. Susan looked on Tempest as a wicked man; yet she could not but be touched by his almost hysterical excitement over her debut, when the near approach of the hour made it impossible for his emotional temperament longer to hide its agitation. Every one of them gave or loaned her a talisman--Tempest, a bit of rabbit's foot; Anstruther, a ring that had twice saved her from drowning (at least, it had been on her finger each time); Connemora, a hunchback's tooth on a faded velvet string; Pat, a penny which happened to be of the date of her birth year (the presence of the penny was regarded by all as a most encouraging sign); Eshwell loaned her a miniature silver bug he wore on his watch chain; Burlingham's contribution was a large buckeye----"Ever since I've had that, I've never been without at least the price of a meal in my pocket."

They had got together for her a kind of evening dress, a pale blue chiffon-like drapery that left her lovely arms and shoulders bare and clung softly to the lines of her figure. They did her hair up in a graceful sweep from the brow and a simple coil behind. She looked like a woman, yet like a child dressed as a woman, too, for there was as always that exuberant vitality which made each of the hairs of her head seem individual, electric. The rouge gave her color, enhanced into splendor the brilliance of her violet-gray eyes--eyes so intensely colored and so admirably framed that they were noted by the least observant. When Anstruther had put the last touches to her toilet and paraded her to the others, there was a chorus of enthusiasm. The men no less than the women viewed her with the professional eye.

"Didn't I tell you all?" cried Burlingham, as they looked her up and down like a group of connoisseurs inspecting a statue. "Wasn't I right?"

"'It is the dawn, and Juliet is the east,'" orated Tempest in rich, romantic tones.

"A damn shame to waste her on these yaps," said Eshwell.

Connemora embraced her with tearful eyes. "And as sweet as you are lovely, you dear!" she cried. "You simply can't help winning."

The two women thought her greatest charms were her form and her feet and ankles. The men insisted that her charm of charms was her eyes. And certainly, much could be said for that view. Susan's violet-gray eyes, growing grayer when she was thoughtful, growing deeper and clearer and softer shining violet when her emotions were touched--Susan's eyes were undoubtedly unusual even in a race in which homely eyes are the exception.

When it was her turn and she emerged into the glare of the footlights, she came to a full stop and an awful wave of weakness leaped up through legs and body to blind her eyes and crash upon her brain. She shook her head, lifted it high like a swimmer shaking off a wave. Her gaze leaped in terror across the blackness of the auditorium with its thick-strewn round white disks of human faces, sought the eyes of Burlingham standing in full view in the center of the rear doorway--where he had told her to look for him. She heard Pat playing the last of the opening chords; Burlingham lifted his hand like a leader's baton. And naturally and sweetly the notes, the words of the old darkey song of longing for home began to float out through the stillness.

She did not take her gaze from Burlingham. She sang her best, sang to please him, to show him how she appreciated what he had done for her. And when she finished and bowed, the outburst of applause unnerved her, sent her dizzy and almost staggering into the wings. "Splendid! Splendid!" cried Mabel, and Anstruther embraced her, and Tempest and Eshwell kissed her hands. They all joined in pushing her out again for the encore--"Blue Alsatian Mountains." She did not sing quite so steadily, but got through in good form, the tremolo of nervousness in her voice adding to the wailing pathos of the song's refrain:

Adé, adé, adé, such dreams must pass away,
But the Blue Alsatian Mountains seem to watch and wait alway.

The crowd clapped, stamped, whistled, shouted; but Burlingham defied it. "The lady will sing again later," he cried. "The next number on the regular program is," etc., etc. The crowd yelled; Burlingham stood firm, and up went the curtain on Eshwell and Connemora's sketch. It got no applause. Nor did any other numbers on the program. The contrast between the others and the beauty of the girl, her delicate sweetness, her vital youth, her freshness of the early morning flower, was inevitable.

The crowd could think only of her. The quality of magnetism aside, she had sung neither very well nor very badly. But had she sung badly, still her beauty would have won her the same triumph. When she came on for her second number with a cloud-like azure chiffon flung carelessly over her dark hair as a scarf, Spanish fashion, she received a stirring welcome. It frightened her, so that Pat had to begin four times before her voice faintly took up the tune. Again Burlingham's encouraging, confident gaze, flung across the gap between them like a strong rescuing hand, strengthened her to her task. This time he let the crowd have two encores--and the show was over; for the astute manager, seeing how the girl had caught on, had moved her second number to the end.

Burlingham lingered in the entrance to the auditorium to feast himself on the comments of the crowd as it passed out. When he went back he had to search for the girl, found her all in a heap in a chair at the outer edge of the forward deck. She was sobbing piteously. "Well, for God's sake!" cried he. "Is _this_ the way you take it!"

She lifted her head. "Did I do very badly?" she asked.

"You swept 'em off their big hulking feet," replied he.

"When you didn't come, I thought I'd disappointed you."

"I'll bet my hand there never was such a hit made in a river show boat--and they've graduated some of the swells of the profession. We'll play here a week to crowded houses--matinées every day, too. And this is a two-night stand usually. I must find some more songs." He slapped his thigh. "The very thing!" he cried. "We'll ring in some hymns. 'Rock of Ages,' say--and 'Jesus, Lover of my Soul'--and you can get 'em off in a churchy kind of costume something like a surplice. That'll knock 'em stiff. And Anstruther can dope out the accompaniments on that wheezer. What d'you think?"

"Whatever you want," said the girl. "Oh, I am so glad!"

"I don't see how you got through so well," said he.

"I didn't dare fail," replied Susan. "If I had, I couldn't have faced you." And by the light of the waning moon he saw the passionate gratitude of her sensitive young face.

"Oh--I've done nothing," said he, wiping the tears from his eyes--for he had his full share of the impulsive, sentimental temperament of his profession. "Pure selfishness."

Susan gazed at him with eyes of the pure deep violet of strongest feeling. "_I_ know what you did," she said in a low voice. "And--I'd die for you."

Burlingham had to use his handkerchief in dealing with his eyes now. "This business has given me hysterics," said he with a queer attempt at a laugh. Then, after a moment, "God bless you, little girl. You wait here a moment. I'll see how supper's getting on."

He wished to go ahead of her, for he had a shrewd suspicion as to the state of mind of the rest of the company. And he was right. There they sat in the litter of peanut hulls, popcorn, and fruit skins which the audience had left. On every countenance was jealous gloom.

"What's wrong?" inquired Burlingham in his cheerful derisive way. "You are a nice bunch, you are!"

They shifted uneasily. Mabel snapped out, "Where's the infant prodigy? Is she so stuck on herself already that she won't associate with us?"

"You grown-up babies," mocked Burlingham. "I found her out there crying in darkness because she thought she'd failed. Now you go bring her in, Conny. As for the rest of you, I'm disgusted. Here we've hit on something that'll land us in Easy Street, and you're all filled up with poison."

They were ashamed of themselves. Burlingham had brought back to them vividly the girl's simplicity and sweetness that had won their hearts, even the hearts of the women in whom jealousy of her young beauty would have been more than excusable. Anstruther began to get out the supper dishes and Mabel slipped away toward the forward deck. "When the child comes in," pursued Burlingham, "I want to see you people looking and acting human."

"We are a lot of damn fools," admitted Eshwell. "That's why we're bum actors instead of doing well at some respectable business."

And his jealousy went the way of Violet's and Mabel's. Pat began to remember that he had shared in the triumph--where would she have been without his violin work? But Tempest remained somber. In his case better nature was having a particularly hard time of it. His vanity had got savage wounds from the hoots and the "Oh, bite it off, hamfat," which had greeted his impressive lecture on the magic lantern pictures. He eyed Burlingham glumly. He exonerated the girl, but not Burlingham. He was convinced that the manager, in a spirit of mean revenge, had put up a job on him. It simply could not be in the ordinary course that any audience, without some sly trickery of prompting from an old expert of theatrical "double-crossing," would be impatient for a mere chit of an amateur when it might listen to his rich, mellow eloquence.

Susan came shyly--and at the first glance into her face her associates despised themselves for their pettiness. It is impossible for envy and jealousy and hatred to stand before the light of such a nature as Susan's. Away from her these very human friends of hers might hate her--but in her presence they could not resist the charm of her sincerity.

Everyone's spirits went up with the supper. It was Pat who said to Burlingham, "Bob, we're going to let the pullet in on the profits equally, aren't we?"

"Sure," replied Burlingham. "Anybody kicking?"

The others protested enthusiastically except Tempest, who shot a glance of fiery scorn at Burlingham over a fork laden with potato salad. "Then--you're elected, Miss Sackville," said Burlingham.

Susan's puzzled eyes demanded an explanation. "Just this," said he. "We divide equally at the end of the trip all we've raked in, after the rent of the boat and expenses are taken off. You get your equal share exactly as if you started with us."

"But that wouldn't be fair," protested the girl. "I must pay what I owe you first."

"She means two dollars she borrowed of me at Carrollton," explained Burlingham. And they all laughed uproariously.

"I'll only take what's fair," said the girl.

"I vote we give it all to her," rolled out Tempest in tragedy's tone for classic satire.

Before Mabel could hurl at him the probably coarse retort she instantly got her lips ready to make, Burlingham's cool, peace-compelling tones broke in:

"Miss Sackville's right. She must get only what's fair. She shares equally from tonight on--less two dollars."

Susan nodded delightedly. She did not know--and the others did not at the excited moment recall--that the company was to date eleven dollars less well off than when it started from the headwaters of the Ohio in early June. But Burlingham knew, and that was the cause of the quiet grin to which he treated himself.

CHAPTER XV

BURLINGHAM had lived too long, too actively, and too intelligently to have left any of his large, original stock of the optimism that had so often shipwrecked his career in spite of his talents and his energy. Out of the bitterness of experience he used to say, "A young optimist is a young fool. An old optimist is an old ass. A fool may learn, an ass can't." And again, "An optimist steams through the fog, taking it for granted everything's all right. A pessimist steams ahead too, but he gets ready for trouble." However, he was wise enough to keep his private misgivings and reservations from his associates; the leaders of the human race always talk optimism and think pessimism. He had told the company that Susan was sure to make a go; and after she had made a go, he announced the beginning of a season of triumph. But he was surprised when his prediction came true and they had to turn people away from the next afternoon's performance. He began to believe they really could stay a week, and hired a man to fill the streets of New Washington and other inland villages and towns of the county with a handbill headlining Susan.

The news of the lovely young ballad singer in the show boat at Bethlehem spread, as interesting news ever does, and down came the people to see and hear, and to go away exclaiming. Bethlehem, the sleepy, showed that it could wake when there was anything worth waking for. Burlingham put on the hymns in the middle of the week, and even the clergy sent their families. Every morning Susan, either with Mabel or with Burlingham, or with both, took a long walk into the country. It was Burlingham, by the way, who taught her the necessity of regular and methodical long walks for the preservation of her health. When she returned there was always a crowd lounging about the landing waiting to gape at her and whisper. It was intoxicating to her, this delicious draught of the heady wine of fame; and Burlingham was not unprepared for the evidences that she thought pretty well of herself, felt that she had arrived. He laughed to himself indulgently. "Let the kiddie enjoy herself," thought he. "She needs the self-confidence now to give her a good foundation to stand on. Then when she finds out what a false alarm this jay excitement was, she'll not be swept clean away into despair."

The chief element in her happiness, he of course knew nothing about. Until this success--which she, having no basis for comparison, could not but exaggerate--she had been crushed and abused more deeply than she had dared admit to herself by her birth which made all the world scorn her and by the series of calamities climaxing in that afternoon and night of horror at Ferguson's. This success--it seemed to her to give her the right to have been born, the right to live on and hold up her head without effort after Ferguson. "I'll show them all, before I get through," she said to herself over and over again. "They'll be proud of me. Ruth will be boasting to everyone that I'm her cousin. And Sam Wright--he'll wonder that he ever dared touch such a famous, great woman." She only half believed this herself, for she had much common sense and small self-confidence. But pretending that she believed it all gave her the most delicious pleasure.

Burlingham took such frank joy in her innocent vanity--so far as he understood it and so far as she exhibited it--that the others were good-humored about it too--all the others except Tempest, whom conceit and defeat had long since soured through and through. A tithe of Susan's success would have made him unbearable, for like most human beings he had a vanity that was Atlantosaurian on starvation rations and would have filled the whole earth if it had been fed a few crumbs. Small wonder that we are ever eagerly on the alert for signs of vanity in others; we are seeking the curious comfort there is in the feeling that others have our own weakness to a more ridiculous degree. Tempest twitched to jeer openly at Susan, whose exhibition was really timid and modest and not merely excusable but justifiable. But he dared go no further than holding haughtily aloof and casting vaguely into the air ever and anon a tragic sneer. Susan would not have understood if she had seen, and did not see. She was treading the heights, her eyes upon the sky. She held grave consultation with Burlingham, with Violet, with Mabel, about improving her part. She took it all very, very seriously--and Burlingham was glad of that. "Yes, she does take herself seriously," he admitted to Anstruther. "But that won't do any harm as she's so young, and as she takes her work seriously, too. The trouble about taking oneself seriously is it stops growth. She hasn't got that form of it."

"Not yet," said Violet.

"She'll wake from her little dream, poor child, long before the fatal stage." And he heaved a sigh for his own lost illusions--those illusions that had cost him so dear.

Burlingham had intended to make at least one stop before Jeffersonville, the first large town on the way down. But Susan's capacities as a house-filler decided him for pushing straight for it. "We'll go where there's a big population to be drawn on," said he. But he did not say that in the back of his head there was forming a plan to take a small theater at Jeffersonville if the girl made a hit there.

Eshwell, to whom he was talking, looked glum. "She's going pretty good with these greenies," observed he. "But I've my doubts whether city people'll care for anything so milk-like."

Burlingham had his doubts, too; but he retorted warmly: "Don't you believe it, Eshie. City's an outside. Underneath, there's still the simple, honest, grassy-green heart of the country."

Eshwell laughed. "So you've stopped jeering at jays. You've forgotten what a lot of tightwads and petty swindlers they are. Well, I don't blame you. Now that they're giving down to us so freely, I feel better about them myself. It's a pity we can't lower the rest of the program to the level of their intellectuals."

Burlingham was not tactless enough to disturb Eshwell's consoling notion that while Susan was appreciated by these ignorant country-jakes, the rest of the company were too subtle and refined in their art. "That's a good idea," replied he. "I'll try to get together some simple slop. Perhaps a melodrama, a good hot one, would go--eh?"

After ten days the receipts began to drop. On the fifteenth day there was only a handful at the matinée, and in the evening half the benches were empty. "About milked dry," said Burlingham at the late supper. "We'll move on in the morning."

This pleased everyone. Susan saw visions of bigger triumphs; the others felt that they were going where dramatic talent, not to say genius, would be at least not entirely unappreciated. So the company was at its liveliest next morning as the mosquito-infested willows of the Bethlehem shore slowly dropped away. They had made an unusually early start, for the river would be more and more crowded as they neared the three close-set cities--Louisville, Jeffersonville, and New Albany, and the helpless little show boat must give the steamers no excuse for not seeing her. All day--a long, dreamy, summer day--they drifted lazily downstream, and, except Tempest, all grew gayer and more gay. Burlingham had announced that there were three hundred and seventy-eight dollars in the japanned tin box he kept shut up in his bag.

At dusk a tug, for three dollars, nosed them into a wharf which adjoined the thickly populated labor quarter of Jeffersonville.

Susan was awakened by a scream. Even as she opened her eyes a dark cloud, a dull suffocating terrifying pain, descended upon her. When she again became conscious, she was lying upon a mass of canvas on the levee with three strange men bending over her. She sat up, instinctively caught together the front of the nightdress she had bought in Bethlehem the second day there. Then she looked wildly from face to face.

"You're all right, ma'am," said one of the men. "Not a scratch--only stunned."

"What was it?" said the girl. "Where are they?"

As she spoke, she saw Burlingham in his nightshirt propped against a big blue oil barrel. He was staring stupidly at the ground. And now she noted the others scattered about the levee, each with a group around him or her. "What was it?" she repeated.

"A tug butted its tow of barges into you," said someone. "Crushed your boat like an eggshell."

Burlingham staggered to his feet, stared round, saw her. "Thank God!" he cried. "Anyone drowned? Anyone hurt?"

"All saved--no bones broken," someone responded.

"And the boat?"

"Gone down. Nothing left of her but splinters. The barges were full of coal and building stone."

"The box!" suddenly shouted Burlingham. "The box!"

"What kind of a box?" asked a boy with lean, dirty, and much scratched bare legs. "A little black tin box like they keep money in?"

"That's it. Where is it?"

"It's all right," said the boy. "One of your people, a black actor-looking fellow----"

"Tempest," interjected Burlingham. "Go on."

"He dressed on the wharf and he had the box."

"Where is he?"

"He said he was going for a doctor. Last I seed of him he was up to the corner yonder. He was movin' fast."

Burlingham gave a kind of groan. Susan read in his face his fear, his suspicion--the suspicion he was ashamed of himself for having. She noted vaguely that he talked with the policeman aside for a few minutes, after which the policeman went up the levee. Burlingham rejoined his companions and took command. The first thing was to get dressed as well as might be from such of the trunks as had been knocked out of the cabin by the barge and had been picked up. They were all dazed. Even Burlingham could not realize just what had occurred. They called to one another more or less humorous remarks while they were dressing behind piles of boxes, crates, barrels and sacks in the wharf-boat. And they laughed gayly when they assembled. Susan made the best appearance, for her blue serge suit had been taken out dry when she herself was lifted from the sinking wreck; the nightgown served as a blouse. Mabel's trunk had been saved. Violet could wear none of her things, as they were many sizes too small, so she appeared in a property skirt of black paper muslin, a black velvet property basque, a pair of shoes belonging to Tempest. Burlingham and Eshwell made a fairly respectable showing in clothing from Tempest's trunk. Their own trunks had gone down.

"Why, where's Tempest?" asked Eshwell.

"He'll be back in a few minutes," replied Burlingham. "In fact, he ought to be back now." His glance happened to meet Susan's; he hastily shifted his eyes.

"Where's the box?" asked Violet.

"Tempest's taking care of it," was the manager's answer.

"Tempest!" exclaimed Mabel. Her shrewd, dissipated eyes contracted with suspicion.

"Anybody got any money?" inquired Eshwell, as he fished in his pockets.

No one had a cent. Eshwell searched Tempest's trunk, found a two-dollar bill and a one wrapped round a silver dollar and wadded in among some ragged underclothes. Susan heard Burlingham mutter "Wonder how he happened to overlook that!" But no one else heard.

"Well, we might have breakfast," suggested Mabel.

They went out on the water deck of the wharf-boat, looked down at the splinters of the wreck lying in the deep yellow river. "Come on," said Burlingham, and he led the way up the levee. There was no attempt at jauntiness; they all realized now.

"How about Tempest?" said Eshwell, stopping short halfway up.

"Tempest--hell!" retorted Mabel. "Come on."

"What do you mean?" cried Violet, whose left eye was almost closed by a bruise.

"We'll not see him again. Come on."

"Bob!" shrieked Violet at Burlingham. "Do you hear that?"

"Yes," said he. "Keep calm, and come on."

"Aren't you going to _do_ anything?" she screamed, seizing him by the coat tail. "You must, damn it--you must!"

"I got the policeman to telephone headquarters," said Burlingham. "What else can be done? Come on."

And a moment later the bedraggled and dejected company filed into a cheap levee restaurant. "Bring some coffee," Burlingham said to the waiter. Then to the others, "Does anybody want anything else?" No one spoke. "Coffee's all," he said to the waiter.

It came, and they drank it in silence, each one's brain busy with the disaster from the standpoint of his own resulting ruin. Susan glanced furtively at each face in turn. She could not think of her own fate, there was such despair in the faces of these others. Mabel looked like an old woman. As for Violet, every feature of her homeliness, her coarseness, her dissipated premature old age stood forth in all its horror. Susan's heart contracted and her flesh crept as she glanced quickly away. But she still saw, and it was many a week before she ceased to see whenever Violet's name came into her mind. Burlingham, too, looked old and broken. Eshwell and Pat, neither of whom had ever had the smallest taste of success, were stolid, like cornered curs taking their beating and waiting in silence for the blows to stop.

"Here, Eshie," said the manager, "take care of the three dollars." And he handed him the bills. "I'll pay for the coffee and keep the change. I'm going down to the owners of that tug and see what I can do."

When he had paid they followed him out. At the curbstone he said, "Keep together somewhere round the wharf-boat. So long." He lifted the battered hat he was wearing, smiled at Susan. "Cheer up, Miss Sackville. We'll down 'em yet!" And away he went--a strange figure, his burly frame squeezed into a dingy old frock suit from among Tempest's costumes.

A dreary two hours, the last half-hour in a drizzling rain from which the narrow eaves of the now closed and locked wharf-boat sheltered them only a little. "There he comes!" cried Susan; and sure enough, Burlingham separated from the crowd streaming along the street at the top of the levee, and began to descend the slope toward them. They concentrated on his face, hoping to get some indication of what to expect; but he never permitted his face to betray his mind. He strode up the plank and joined them.

"Tempest come?" he asked.

"Tempest!" cried Mabel. "Haven't I told you he's jumped? Don't you suppose _I_ know him?"

"And you brought him into the company," raged Violet. "Burlingham didn't want to take him. He looked the fool and jackass he is. Why didn't you warn us he was a rotten thief, too?"

"Wasn't it for shoplifting you served six months in Joliet?" retorted Mabel.

"You lie--you streetwalker!" screamed Violet.

"Ladies! Ladies!" said Eshwell.

"That's what _I_ say," observed Pat.

"I'm no lady," replied Mabel. "I'm an actress."

"An actress--he-he!" jeered Violet. "An actress!"

"Shut up, all of you," commanded Burlingham. "I've got some money. I settled for cash."

"How much?" cried Mabel and Violet in the same breath, their quarrel not merely finished but forgotten.

"Three hundred dollars."

"For the boat and all?" demanded Eshwell. "Why, Bob----"

"They think it was for boat and all," interrupted Burlingham with his cynical smile. "They set out to bully and cheat me. They knew I couldn't get justice. So I let 'em believe I owned the boat--and I've got fifty apiece for us."

"Sixty," said Violet.

"Fifty. There are six of us."

"You don't count in this little Jonah here, do you?" cried Violet, scowling evilly at Susan.

"No--no--don't count me in," begged Susan. "I didn't lose anything."

Mabel pinched her arm. "You're right, Mr. Burlingham," said she. "Miss Sackville ought to share. We're all in the same box."

"Miss Sackville will share," said Burlingham. "There's going to be no skunking about this, as long as I'm in charge."

Eshwell and Pat sided with Violet. While the rain streamed, the five, with Susan a horrified onlooker, fought on and on about the division of the money. Their voices grew louder. They hurled the most frightful epithets at one another. Violet seized Mabel by the hair, and the men interfered, all but coming to blows themselves in the mêlée. The wharfmaster rushed from his office, drove them off to the levee. They continued to yell and curse, even Burlingham losing control of himself and releasing all there was of the tough and the blackguard in his nature. Two policemen came, calmed them with threat of arrest. At last Burlingham took from his pocket one at a time three small rolls of bills. He flung one at each of the three who were opposing his division. "Take that, you dirty curs," he said. "And be glad I'm giving you anything at all. Most managers wouldn't have come back. Come on, Miss Sackville. Come on, Mabel." And the two followed him up the levee, leaving the others counting their shares.

At the street corner they went into a general store where Burlingham bought two ninety-eight-cent umbrellas. He gave Mabel one, held the other over Susan and himself as they walked along. "Well, ladies," said he, "we begin life again. A clean slate, a fresh start--as if nothing had ever happened."

Susan looked at him to try to give him a grateful and sympathetic smile. She was surprised to see that, so far as she could judge, he had really meant the words he had spoken.

"Yes, I mean it," said he. "Always look at life as it is--as a game. With every deal, whether you win or lose, your stake grows--for your stake's your wits, and you add to 'em by learning something with each deal. What are you going to do, Mabel?"

"Get some clothes. The water wrecked mine and this rain has finished my hat."

"We'll go together," said Burlingham.

They took a car for Louisville, descended before a department store. Burlingham had to fit himself from the skin out; Mabel had underclothes, needed a hat, a dress, summer shoes. Susan needed underclothes, shoes, a hat, for she was bareheaded. They arranged to meet at the first entrance down the side street; Burlingham gave Susan and Mabel each their fifty dollars and went his way. When they met again in an hour and a half, they burst into smiles of delight. Burlingham had transformed himself into a jaunty, fashionable young middle-aged man, with an air of success achieved and prosperity assured. He had put the fine finishing touch to his transformation by getting a haircut and a shave. Mabel looked like a showy chorus girl, in a striped blue and white linen suit, a big beflowered hat, and a fluffy blouse of white chiffon. Susan had resisted Mabel's entreaties, had got a plain, sensible linen blouse of a kind that on a pinch might be washed out and worn without ironing. Her new hat was a simple blue sailor with a dark blue band that matched her dress.

"I spent thirty-six dollars," said Burlingham.

"I only spent twenty-two," declared Mabel. "And this child here only parted with seven of her dollars. I had no idea she was so thrifty."

"And now--what?" said Burlingham.

"I'm going round to see a friend of mine," replied Mabel. "She's on the stage, too. There's sure to be something doing at the summer places. Maybe I can ring Miss Sackville in. There ought to be a good living in those eyes of hers and those feet and ankles. I'm sure I can put her next to something."

"Then you can give her your address," said Burlingham.

"Why, she's going with me," cried Mabel. "You don't suppose I'd leave the child adrift?"

"No, she's going with me to a boarding house I'll find for her," said Burlingham.

Into Mabel's face flashed the expression of the suspicion such a statement would at once arouse in a mind trained as hers had been. Burlingham's look drove the expression out of her face, and suspicion at least into the background. "She's not going with your friend," said Burlingham, a hint of sternness in his voice. "That's best--isn't it?"

Miss Connemora's eyes dropped. "Yes, I guess it is," replied she. "Well--I turn down this way."

"We'll keep on and go out Chestnut Street," said Burlingham. "You can write to her--or to me--care of the General Delivery."

"That's best. You may hear from Tempest. You can write me there, too." Mabel was constrained and embarrassed. "Good-by, Miss Sackville."

Susan embraced and kissed her. Mabel began to weep. "Oh, it's all so sudden--and frightful," she said. "Do try to be good, Lorna. You can trust Bob." She looked earnestly, appealingly, at him. "Yes, I'm sure you can. And--he's right about me. Good-by." She hurried away, not before Susan had seen the tears falling from her kind, fast-fading eyes.

Susan stood looking after her. And for the first time the truth about the catastrophe came to her. She turned to Burlingham. "How brave you are!" she cried.

"Oh, what'd be the use in dropping down and howling like a dog?" replied he. "That wouldn't bring the boat back. It wouldn't get me a job."

"And you shared equally, when you lost the most of all."

They were walking on. "The boat was mine, too," said he in a dry reflective tone. "I told 'em it wasn't when we started out because I wanted to get a good share for rent and so on, without any kicking from anybody."

The loss did not appeal to her; it was the lie he had told. She felt her confidence shaking. "You didn't mean to--to----" she faltered, stopped.

"To cheat them?" suggested he. "Yes, I did. So--to sort of balance things up I divided equally all I got from the tug people. What're you looking so unhappy about?"

"I wish you hadn't told me," she said miserably. "I don't see why you did."

"Because I don't want you making me into a saint. I'm like the rest you see about in pants, cheating and lying, with or without pretending to themselves that they're honest. Don't trust anybody, my dear. The sooner you get over the habit, the sooner you'll cease to tempt people to be hypocrites. All the serious trouble I've ever got into has come through trusting or being trusted."

He looked gravely at her, burst out laughing at her perplexed, alarmed expression. "Oh, Lord, it isn't as bad as all that," said he. "The rain's stopped. Let's have breakfast. Then--a new deal--with everything to gain and nothing to lose. It's a great advantage to be in a position where you've got nothing to lose!"

CHAPTER XVI

BURLINGHAM found for her a comfortable room in a flat in West Chestnut Street--a respectable middle-class neighborhood with three churches in full view and the spires of two others visible over the housetops. Her landlady was Mrs. Redding, a simple-hearted, deaf old widow with bright kind eyes beaming guilelessness through steel-framed spectacles. Mrs. Redding had only recently been reduced to the necessity of letting a room. She stated her moderate price--seven dollars a week for room and board--as if she expected to be arrested for attempted extortion. "I give good meals," she hastened to add. "I do the cooking myself--and buy the best. I'm no hand for canned stuff. As for that there cold storage, it's no better'n slow poison, and not so terrible slow at that. Anything your daughter wants I'll give her."

"She's not my daughter," said Burlingham, and it was his turn to be red and flustered. "I'm simply looking after her, as she's alone in the world. I'm going to live somewhere else. But I'll come here for meals, if you're willing, ma'am."

"I--I'd have to make that extry, I'm afraid," pleaded Mrs. Redding.

"Rather!" exclaimed Burlingham. "I eat like a pair of Percherons."

"How much did you calculate to pay?" inquired the widow. Her one effort at price fixing, though entirely successful, had exhausted her courage.

Burlingham was clear out of his class in those idyllic days of protector of innocence. He proceeded to be more than honest.

"Oh, say five a week."

"Gracious! That's too much," protested she. "I hate to charge a body for food, somehow. It don't seem to be accordin' to what God tells us. But I don't see no way out."

"I'll come for five not a cent less," insisted Burlingham. "I want to feel free to eat as much as I like." And it was so arranged. Away he went to look up his acquaintances, while Susan sat listening to the widow and trying to convince her that she and Mr. Burlingham didn't want and couldn't possibly eat all the things she suggested as suitable for a nice supper. Susan had been learning rapidly since she joined the theatrical profession. She saw why this fine old woman was getting poorer steadily, was arranging to spend her last years in an almshouse. What a queer world it was! What a strange way for a good God to order things! The better you were, the worse off you were. No doubt it was Burlingham's lifelong goodness of heart as shown in his generosity to her, that had kept him down. It was the same way with her dead mother--she had been loving and trusting, had given generously without thought of self, with generous confidence in the man she loved--and had paid with reputation and life.

She compelled Burlingham to take what was left of her fifty dollars. "You wouldn't like to make me feel mean," was the argument she used. "I must put in what I've got--the same as you do. Now, isn't that fair?" And as he was dead broke and had been unable to borrow, he did not oppose vigorously.

She assumed that after a day or two spent in getting his bearings he would take her with him as he went looking. When she suggested it, he promptly vetoed it. "That isn't the way business is done in the profession," said he. "The star--you're the star--keeps in the background, and her manager--that's me does the hustling."

She had every reason for believing this; but as the days passed with no results, sitting about waiting began to get upon her nerves. Mrs. Redding had the remnant of her dead husband's library, and he had been a man of broad taste in literature. But Susan, ardent reader though she was, could not often lose herself in books now. She was too impatient for realities, too anxious about them.

Burlingham remained equable, neither hopeful nor gloomy; he made her feel that he was strong, and it gave her strength. Thus she was not depressed when on the last day of their week he said: "I think we'd better push on to Cincinnati tomorrow. There's nothing here, and we've got to get placed before our cash gives out. In Cincinnati there are a dozen places to one in this snide town."

The idea of going to Cincinnati gave her a qualm of fear; but it passed away when she considered how she had dropped out of the world. "They think I'm dead," she reflected. "Anyhow, I'd never be looked for among the kind of people I'm in with now." The past with which she had broken seemed so far away and so dim to her that she could not but feel it must seem so to those who knew her in her former life. She had such a sense of her own insignificance, now that she knew something of the vastness and business of the world, that she was without a suspicion of the huge scandal and excitement her disappearance had caused in Sutherland.

To Cincinnati they went next day by the L. and N. and took two tiny rooms in the dingy old Walnut Street House, at a special rate--five dollars a week for the two, as a concession to the profession. "We'll eat in cheap restaurants and spread our capital out," said Burlingham. "I want you to get placed _right_, not just placed." He bought a box of blacking and a brush, instructed her in the subtle art of making a front--an art whereof he was past master, as Susan had long since learned. "Never let yourself look poor or act poor, until you simply have to throw up the sponge," said he. "The world judges by appearances. Put your first money and your last into clothes. And never--never--tell a hard-luck story. Always seem to be doing well and comfortably looking out for a chance to do better. The whole world runs from seedy people and whimperers."

"Am I--that way?" she asked nervously.

"Not a bit," declared he. "The day you came up to me in Carrollton I knew you were playing in the hardest kind of hard luck because of what I had happened to see and hear--and guess. But you weren't looking for pity--and that was what I liked. And it made me feel you had the stuff in you. I'd not waste breath teaching a whiner or a cheap skate. You couldn't be cheap if you tried. The reason I talk to you about these things is so you'll learn to put the artistic touches by instinct into what you do."

"You've taken too much trouble for me," said the girl. "Don't you believe it, my dear," laughed he. "If I can do with you what I hope--I've an instinct that if I win out for you, I'll come into my own at last."

"You've taught me a lot," said she.

"I wonder," replied he. "That is, I wonder how much you've learned. Perhaps enough to keep you--not to keep from being knocked down by fate, but to get on your feet afterward. I hope so--I hope so."

They dropped coffee, bought milk by the bottle, he smuggling it to their rooms disguised as a roll of newspapers. They carried in rolls also, and cut down their restaurant meals to supper which they got for twenty-five cents apiece at a bakery restaurant in Seventh Street. There is a way of resorting to these little economies--a snobbish, self-despairing way--that makes them sordid and makes the person indulging in them sink lower and lower. But Burlingham could not have taken that way. He was the adventurer born, was a hardy seasoned campaigner who had never looked on life in the snob's way, had never felt the impulse to apologize for his defeats or to grow haughty over his successes. Susan was an apt pupil; and for the career that lay before her his instructions were invaluable. He was teaching her how to keep the craft afloat and shipshape through the worst weather that can sweep the sea of life.

"How do you make yourself look always neat and clean?" he asked.

She confessed: "I wash out my things at night and hang them on the inside of the shutters to dry. They're ready to wear again in the morning."

"Getting on!" cried he, full of admiration. "They simply can't down us, and they might as well give up trying."

"But I don't look neat," sighed she. "I can't iron."

"No--that's the devil of it," laughed he. He pulled aside his waistcoat and she saw he was wearing a dickey. "And my cuffs are pinned in," he said. "I have to be careful about raising and lowering my arms."

"Can't I wash out some things for you?" she said, then hurried on to put it more strongly. "Yes, give them to me when we get back to the hotel."

"It does help a man to feel he's clean underneath. And we've got nothing to waste on laundries."

"I wish I hadn't spent that fifteen cents to have my heels straightened and new steels put in them." She had sat in a cobbler's while this repair to the part of her person she was most insistent upon had been effected.

He laughed. "A good investment, that," said he. "I've been noticing how you always look nice about the feet. Keep it up. The surest sign of a sloven and a failure, of a moral, mental, and physical no-good is down-at-the-heel. Always keep your heels straight, Lorna."

And never had he given her a piece of advice more to her liking. She thought she knew now why she had always been so particular about her boots and shoes, her slippers and her stockings. He had given her a new confidence in herself--in a strength within her somewhere beneath the weakness she was always seeing and feeling.

Not until she thought it out afterward did she realize what they were passing through, what frightful days of failure he was enduring. He acted like the steady-nerved gambler at life that he was. He was not one of those more or less weak losers who have to make desperate efforts to conceal a fainting heart. His heart was not fainting. He simply played calmly on, feeling that the next throw was as likely to be for as against him. She kept close to her room, walking about there--she had never been much of a sitter--thinking, practicing the new songs he had got for her--character songs in which he trained her as well as he could without music or costume or any of the accessories. He also had an idea for a church scene, with her in a choir boy's costume, singing the most moving of the simple religious songs to organ music. She from time to time urged him to take her on the rounds with him. But he stood firm, giving always the same reason of the custom in the profession. Gradually, perhaps by some form of that curious process of infiltration that goes on between two minds long in intimate contact, the conviction came to her that the reason he alleged was not his real reason; but as she had absolute confidence in him she felt that there was some good reason or he would not keep her in the background--and that his silence about it must be respected. So she tried to hide from him how weary and heartsick inaction was making her, how hard it was for her to stay alone so many hours each day.

As he watched her closely, it soon dawned on him that something was wrong, and after a day or so he worked out the explanation. He found a remedy--the reading room of the public library where she could make herself almost content the whole day long.

He began to have a haggard look, and she saw he was sick, was keeping up his strength with whisky. "It's only this infernal summer cold I caught in the smashup," he explained. "I can't shake it, but neither can it get me down. I'd not dare fall sick. What'd become of _us_?"

She knew that "us" meant only herself. Her mind had been aging rapidly in those long periods of unbroken reflection. To develop a human being, leave him or her alone most of the time; it is too much company, too little time to digest and assimilate, that keep us thoughtless and unformed until life is half over. She astonished him by suddenly announcing one evening:

"I am a drag on you. I'm going to take a place in a store."

He affected an indignation so artistic that it ought to have been convincing. "I'm ashamed of you!" he cried. "I see you're losing your nerve."

This was ingenious, but it did not succeed. "You can't deceive me any longer," was her steady answer. "Tell me honest--couldn't you have got something to do long ago, if it hadn't been for trying to do something for me?"

"Sure," replied he, too canny to deny the obvious. "But what has that to do with it? If I'd had a living offer, I'd have taken it. But at my age a man doesn't dare take certain kinds of places. It'd settle him for life. And I'm playing for a really big stake and I'll win. When I get what I want for you, we'll make as much money a month as I could make a year. Trust me, my dear."

It was plausible; and her "loss of nerve" was visibly aggravating his condition--the twitching of hands and face, the terrifying brightness of his eyes, of the color in the deep hollows under his cheek bones. But she felt that she must persist. "How much money have we got?" she asked.

"Oh--a great deal enough."

"You must play square with me," said she. "I'm not a baby, but a woman--and your partner."

"Don't worry me, child. We'll talk about it tomorrow."

"How much? You've no right to hide things from me. You--hurt me."

"Eleven dollars and eighty cents--when this bill for supper's paid and the waitress tipped."

"I'll try for a place in a store," said she.

"Don't talk that way or think that way," cried he angrily. "There's where so many people fail in life. They don't stick to their game. I wish to God I'd had sense enough to break straight for Chicago or New York. But it's too late now. What I lack is nerve--nerve to do the big, bold things my brains show me I ought."

His distress was so obvious that she let the subject drop. That night she lay awake as she had fallen into the habit of doing. But instead of purposeless, rambling thoughts, she was trying definitely to plan a search for work. Toward three in the morning she heard him tossing and muttering--for the wall between their rooms was merely plastered laths covered with paper. She tried his door; it was locked. She knocked, got no answer but incoherent ravings. She roused the office, and the night porter forced the door. Burlingham's gas was lighted; he was sitting up in bed--a haggard, disheveled, insane man, raving on and on--names of men and women she had never heard--oaths, disjointed sentences.

"Brain fever, I reckon," said the porter. "I'll call a doctor."

In a few minutes Susan was gladdened by the sight of a young man wearing the familiar pointed beard and bearing the familiar black bag. He made a careful examination, asked her many questions, finally said:

"Your father has typhoid, I fear. He must be taken to a hospital."

"But we have very little money," said Susan.

"I understand," replied the doctor, marveling at the calmness of one so young. "The hospital I mean is free. I'll send for an ambulance."

While they were waiting beside Burlingham, whom the doctor had drugged into unconsciousness with a hypodermic, Susan said: "Can I go to the hospital and take care of him?"

"No," replied the doctor. "You can only call and inquire how he is, until he's well enough to see you."

"And how long will that be?"

"I can't say." He hadn't the courage to tell her it would be three weeks at least, perhaps six or seven.

He got leave of the ambulance surgeon for Susan to ride to the hospital, and he went along himself. As the ambulance sped through the dimly lighted streets with clanging bell and heavy pounding of the horse's hoofs on the granite pavement, Susan knelt beside Burlingham, holding one of his hot hands. She was remembering how she had said that she would die for him--and here it was he that was dying for her. And her heart was heavy with a load of guilt, the heaviest she was ever to feel in her life. She could not know how misfortune is really the lot of human beings; it seemed to her that a special curse attended her, striking down all who befriended her.

They dashed up to great open doors of the hospital. Burlingham was lifted, was carried swiftly into the receiving room. Susan with tearless eyes bent over, embraced him lingeringly, kissed his fiery brow, his wasted cheeks. One of the surgeons in white duck touched her on the arm.

"We can't delay," he said.

"No indeed," she replied, instantly drawing back.

She watched the stretcher on wheels go noiselessly down the corridor toward the elevator and when it was gone she still continued to look. "You can come at any hour to inquire," said the young doctor who had accompanied her. "Now we'll go into the office and have the slip made out."

They entered a small room, divided unequally by a barrier desk; behind it stood a lean, coffee-sallowed young man with a scrawny neck displayed to the uttermost by a standing collar scarcely taller than the band of a shirt. He directed at Susan one of those obtrusively shrewd glances which shallow people practice and affect to create the impression that they have a genius for character reading. He drew a pad of blank forms toward him, wiped a pen on the mat into which his mouse-colored hair was roached above his right temple. "Well, miss, what's the patient's name?"

"Robert Burlingham."

"Age?"

"I don't know."

"About what?"

"I--I don't know. I guess he isn't very young. But I don't know."

"Put down forty, Sim," said the doctor.

"Very well, Doctor Hamilton." Then to Susan: "Color white, I suppose. Nativity?"

Susan recalled that she had heard him speak of Liverpool as his birthplace. "English," said she.

"Profession?"

"Actor."

"Residence?"

"He hasn't any. It was sunk at Jeffersonville. We stop at the Walnut Street House."

"Walnut Street House. Was he married or single?"

"Single." Then she recalled some of the disconnected ravings. "I--I--don't know."

"Single," said the clerk. "No, I guess I'll put it widower. Next friend or relative?"

"I am."

"Daughter. First name?"

"I am not his daughter."

"Oh, niece. Full name, please."

"I am no relation--just his--his friend."

Sim the clerk looked up sharply. Hamilton reddened, glowered at him. "I understand," said Sim, leering at her. And in a tone that reeked insinuation which quite escaped her, he went on, "We'll put your name down. What is it?"

"Lorna Sackville."

"You don't look English--not at all the English style of beauty, eh--Doctor?"

"That's all, Miss Sackville," said Hamilton, with a scowl at the clerk. Susan and he went out into Twelfth Street. Hamilton from time to time stole a glance of sympathy and inquiry into the sad young face, as he and she walked eastward together. "He's a strong man and sure to pull through," said the doctor. "Are you alone at the hotel?"

"I've nobody but him in the world," replied she.

"I was about to venture to advise that you go to a boarding house," pursued the young man.

"Thank you. I'll see."

"There's one opposite the hospital--a reasonable place."

"I've got to go to work," said the girl, to herself rather than to him.

"Oh, you have a position."

Susan did not reply, and he assumed that she had.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to call and see--Mr. Burlingham. The physicians at the hospital are perfectly competent, as good as there are in the city. But I'm not very busy, and I'd be glad to go."

"We haven't any money," said the girl. "And I don't know when we shall have. I don't want to deceive you."

"I understand perfectly," said the young man, looking at her with interested but respectful eyes. "I'm poor, myself, and have just started."

"Will they treat him well, when he's got no money?"

"As well as if he paid."

"And you will go and see that everything's all right?"

"It'll be a pleasure."

Under a gas lamp he took out a card and gave it to her. She thanked him and put it in the bosom of her blouse where lay all the money they had--the eleven dollars and eighty cents. They walked to the hotel, as cars were few at that hour. He did all the talking--assurances that her "father" could not fail to get well, that typhoid wasn't anything like the serious disease it used to be, and that he probably had a light form of it. The girl listened, but her heart could not grow less heavy. As he was leaving her at the hotel door, he hesitated, then asked if she wouldn't let him call and take her to the hospital the next morning, or, rather, later that same morning. She accepted, she hoped that, if he were with her, she gratefully; would be admitted to see Burlingham and could assure herself that he was well taken care of.

The night porter tried to detain her for a little chat. "Well," said he, "it's a good hospital--for you folks with money. Of course, for us poor people it's different. You couldn't hire _me_ to go there."

Susan turned upon him. "Why not?" she asked.

"Oh, if a man's poor, or can't pay for nice quarters, they treat him any old way. Yes, they're good doctors and all that. But they're like everybody else. They don't give a darn for poor people. But your uncle'll be all right there."

For the first time in her life Susan did not close her eyes in sleep.

The young doctor was so moved by her worn appearance that he impulsively said: "Have you some troubles you've said nothing about? Please don't hesitate to tell me."

"Oh, you needn't worry about me," replied she. "I simply didn't sleep--that's all. Do they treat charity patients badly at the hospital?"

"Certainly not," declared he earnestly. "Of course, a charity patient can't have a room to himself. But that's no disadvantage."

"How much is a room?"

"The cheapest are ten dollars a week. That includes private attendance--a little better nursing than the public patients get--perhaps. But, really--Miss Sackville----"

"He must have a room," said Susan.

"You are sure you can afford it? The difference isn't----"

"He must have a room." She held out a ten-dollar bill--ten dollars of the eleven dollars and eighty cents. "This'll pay for the first week. You fix it, won't you?"

Young Doctor Hamilton hesitatingly took the money. "You are quite, quite sure, Miss Sackville?--Quite sure you can afford this extravagance--for it is an extravagance."

"He must have the best we can afford," evaded she.

She waited in the office while Hamilton went up. When he came down after perhaps half an hour, he had an air of cheerfulness. "Everything going nicely," said he.

Susan's violet-gray eyes gazed straight into his brown eyes; and the brown eyes dropped. "You are not telling me the truth," said she.

"I'm not denying he's a very sick man," protested Hamilton.

"Is he----"

She could not pronounce the word.

"Nothing like that--believe me, nothing. He has the chances all with him."

And Susan tried to believe. "He will have a room?"

"He has a room. That's why I was so long. And I'm glad he has--for, to be perfectly honest, the attendance--not the treatment, but the attendance--is much better for private patients."

Susan was looking at the floor. Presently she drew a long breath, rose. "Well, I must be going," said she. And she went to the street, he accompanying her.

"If you're going back to the hotel," said he, "I'm walking that way."

"No, I've got to go this way," replied she, looking up Elm Street.

He saw she wished to be alone, and left her with the promise to see Burlingham again that afternoon and let her know at the hotel how he was getting on. He went east, she north. At the first corner she stopped, glanced back to make sure he was not following. From her bosom she drew four business cards. She had taken the papers from the pockets of Burlingham's clothes and from the drawer of the table in his room, to put them all together for safety; she had found these cards, the addresses of theatrical agents. As she looked at them, she remembered Burlingham's having said that Blynn--Maurice Blynn, at Vine and Ninth Streets--might give them something at one of the "over the Rhine" music halls, as a last resort. She noted the address, put away the cards and walked on, looking about for a policeman. Soon she came to a bridge over a muddy stream--a little river, she thought at first, then remembered that it must be the canal--the Rhine, as it was called, because the city's huge German population lived beyond it, keeping up the customs and even the language of the fatherland. She stood on the bridge, watching the repulsive waters from which arose the stench of sewage; watching canal boats dragged drearily by mules with harness-worn hides; followed with her melancholy eyes the course of the canal under bridge after bridge, through a lane of dirty, noisy factories pouring out from lofty chimneys immense clouds of black smoke. It ought to have been a bright summer day, but the sun shone palely through the dense clouds; a sticky, sooty moisture saturated the air, formed a skin of oily black ooze over everything exposed to it. A policeman, a big German, with stupid honest face, brutal yet kindly, came lounging along.

"I beg your pardon," said Susan, "but would you mind telling me where--" she had forgotten the address, fumbled in her bosom for the cards, showed him Blynn's card--"how I can get to this?"

The policeman nodded as he read the address. "Keep on this way, lady"--he pointed his baton south--"until you've passed four streets. At the fifth street turn east. Go one--two--three--four--five streets east. Understand?"

"Yes, thank you," said the girl with the politeness of deep gratitude.

"You'll be at Vine. You'll see the name on the street lamp. Blynn's on the southwest corner. Think you can find it?"

"I'm sure I can."

"I'm going that way," continued the policeman. "But you'd better walk ahead. If you walked with me, they'd think you was pinched--and we'd have a crowd after us." And he laughed with much shaking of his fat, tightly belted body.

Susan contrived to force a smile, though the suggestion of such a disgraceful scene made her shudder. "Thank you so much. I'm sure I'll find it." And she hastened on, eager to put distance between herself and that awkward company.

"Don't mention it, lady," the policeman called after her, tapping his baton on the rim of his helmet, as a mark of elegant courtesy.

She was not at ease until, looking back, she no longer saw the bluecoat for the intervening crowds. After several slight mistakes in the way, she descried ahead of her a large sign painted on the wall of a three-story brick building:

MAURICE BLYNN, THEATRICAL AGENT
ALL KINDS OF TALENT PLACED AND SUPPLIED

After some investigation she discovered back of the saloon which occupied the street floor a grimy and uneven wooden staircase leading to the upper stories. At the first floor she came face to face with a door on the glass of which was painted the same announcement she had read from the wall. She knocked timidly, then louder. A shrill voice came from the interior:

"The door's open. Come in."

She turned the knob and entered a small, low-ceilinged room whose general grime was streaked here and there with smears of soot. It contained a small wooden table at which sprawled a freckled and undernourished office boy, and a wooden bench where fretted a woman obviously of "the profession." She was dressed in masses of dirty white furbelows. On her head reared a big hat, above an incredible quantity of yellow hair; on the hat were badly put together plumes of badly curled ostrich feathers. Beneath her skirt was visible one of her feet; it was large and fat, was thrust into a tiny slipper with high heel ending under the arch of the foot. The face of the actress was young and pertly pretty, but worn, overpainted, overpowdered and underwashed. She eyed Susan insolently.

"Want to see the boss?" said the boy.

"If you please," murmured Susan.

"Business?"

"I'm looking for a--for a place."

The boy examined her carefully. "Appointment?"

"No, sir," replied the girl.

"Well--he'll see you, anyhow," said the boy, rising.

The mass of plumes and yellow bangs and furbelows on the bench became violently agitated. "I'm first," cried the actress.

"Oh, you sit tight, Mame," jeered the boy. He opened a solid door behind him. Through the crack Susan saw busily writing at a table desk a bald, fat man with a pasty skin and a veined and bulbous nose.

"Lady to see you," said the boy in a tone loud enough for both Susan and the actress to hear.

"Who? What name?" snapped the man, not ceasing or looking up.

"She's young, and a queen," said the boy. "Shall I show her in?"

"Yep."

The actress started up. "Mr. Blynn----" she began in a loud, threatening, elocutionary voice.

"'Lo, Mame," said Blynn, still busy. "No time to see you. Nothing doing. So long."

"But, Mr. Blynn----"

"Bite it off, Mame," ordered the boy. "Walk in, miss."

Susan, deeply colored from sympathy with the humiliated actress and from nervousness in those forbidding and ominous surroundings, entered the private office. The boy closed the door behind her. The pen scratched on. Presently the man said:

"Well, my dear, what's your name?"

With the last word, the face lifted and Susan saw a seamed and pitted skin, small pale blue eyes showing the white, or rather the bloodshot yellow all round the iris, a heavy mouth and jaw, thick lips; the lower lip protruded and was decorated with a blue-black spot like a blood boil, as if to indicate where the incessant cigar usually rested. At first glance into Susan's sweet, young face the small eyes sparkled and danced, traveled on to the curves of her form.

"Do sit down, my dear," said he in a grotesquely wheedling voice. She took the chair close to him as it was the only one in the little room.

"What can I do for you? My, how fresh and pretty you are!"

"Mr. Burlingham----" began Susan.

"Oh--you're the girl Bob was talking about." He smiled and nodded at her. "No wonder he kept you out of sight." He inventoried her charms again with his sensual, confident glance. "Bob certainly has got good taste."

"He's in the hospital," said Susan desperately. "So I've come to get a place if you can find me one."

"Hospital? I'm sorry to hear that." And Mr. Blynn's tones had that accent of deep sympathy which get a man or woman without further evidence credit for being "kind-hearted whatever else he is."

"Yes, he's very ill--with typhoid," said the girl. "I must do something right away to help him."

"That's fine--fine," said Mr. Blynn in the same effective tone. "I see you're as sweet as you are pretty. Yes--that's fine--fine!" And the moisture was in the little eyes. "Well, I think I can do something for you. I _must_ do something for you. Had much experience?--Professional, I mean."

Mr. Blynn laughed at his, to Susan, mysterious joke. Susan smiled faintly in polite response. He rubbed his hands and smacked his lips, the small eyes dancing. The moisture had vanished.

"Oh, yes, I can place you, if you can do anything at all," he went on. "I'd 'a' done it long ago, if Bob had let me see you. But he was too foxy. He ought to be ashamed of himself, standing in the way of your getting on, just out of jealousy. Sing or dance--or both?"

"I can sing a little, I think," said Susan.

"Now, that's modest. Ever worn tights?"

Susan shook her head, a piteous look in her violet-gray eyes.

"Oh, you'll soon get used to that. And mighty well you'll look in 'em, I'll bet, eh? Where did Bob get you? And when?" Before she could answer, he went on, "Let's see, I've got a date for this evening, but I'll put it off. And she's a peach, too. So you see what a hit you've made with me. We'll have a nice little dinner at the Hotel du Rhine and talk things over."

"Couldn't I go to work right away?" asked the girl.

"Sure. I'll have you put on at Schaumer's tomorrow night----" He looked shrewdly, laughingly, at her, with contracted eyelids. "_If_ everything goes well. Before I do anything for you, I have to see what you can do for me." And he nodded and smacked his lips. "Oh, we'll have a lovely little dinner!" He looked expectantly at her. "You certainly are a queen! What a dainty little hand!" He reached out one of his hands--puffy as if it had been poisoned, very white, with stubby fingers. Susan reluctantly yielded her hand to his close, mushy embrace. "No rings. That's a shame, petty----" He was talking as if to a baby.--"That'll have to be fixed--yes, it will, my little sweetie. My, how nice and fresh you are!" And his great nostrils, repulsively hairy within, deeply pitted without, sniffed as if over an odorous flower.

Susan drew her hand away. "What will they give me?" she asked.

"How greedy it is!" he wheedled. "Well, you'll get plenty--plenty."

"How much?" said the girl. "Is it a salary?"

"Of course, there's the regular salary. But that won't amount to much. You know how those things are."

"How much?"

"Oh, say a dollar a night--until you make a hit."

"Six dollars a week."

"Seven. This is a Sunday town. Sunday's the big day. You'll have Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinées, but they don't pay for them."

"Seven dollars a week." And the hospital wanted ten. "Couldn't I get--about fifteen--or fourteen? I think I could do on fourteen."

"Rather! I was talking only of the salary. You'll make a good many times fifteen--if you play your cards right. It's true Schaumer draws only a beer crowd. But as soon as the word flies round that _you_'re there, the boys with the boodle'll flock in. Oh, you'll wear the sparklers all right, pet."

Rather slowly it was penetrating to Susan what Mr. Blynn had in mind. "I'd--I'd rather take a regular salary," said she. "I must have ten a week for him. I can live any old way."

"Oh, come off!" cried Mr. Blynn with a wink. "What's your game? Anyhow, don't play it on me. You understand that you can't get something for nothing. It's all very well to love your friend and be true to him. But he can't expect--he'll not ask you to queer yourself. That sort of thing don't go in the profession. . . . Come now, I'm willing to set you on your feet, give you a good start, if you'll play fair with me--show appreciation. Will you or won't you?"

"You mean----" began Susan, and paused there, looking at him with grave questioning eyes.

His own eyes shifted. "Yes, I mean that. I'm a business man, not a sentimentalist. I don't want love. I've got no time for it. But when it comes to giving a girl of the right sort a square deal and a good time, why you'll find I'm as good as there is going." He reached for her hands again, his empty, flabby chin bags quivering. "I want to help Bob, and I want to help you."

She rose slowly, pushing her chair back. She understood now why Burlingham had kept her in the background, why his quest had been vain, why it had fretted him into mortal illness. "I--couldn't do that," she said. "I'm sorry, but I couldn't."

He looked at her in a puzzled way. "You belong to Bob, don't you?"

"No."

"You mean you're straight--a good girl?"

"Yes."

He was half inclined to believe her, so impressive was her quiet natural way, in favorable contrast to the noisy protests of women posing as virtuous. "Well--if that's so--why you'd better drop out of the profession--and get away from Bob Burlingham."

"Can't I have a place without--what you said?"

"Not as pretty a girl as you. And if they ain't pretty the public don't want 'em."

Susan went to the door leading into the office. "No--the other door," said Blynn hastily. He did not wish the office boy to read his defeat in Susan's countenance. He got up himself, opened the door into the hall. Susan passed out. "Think it over," said he, eyes and mouth full of longing. "Come round in a day or two, and we'll have another talk."

"Thank you," said Susan. She felt no anger against him. She felt about him as she had about Jeb Ferguson. It was not his fault; it was simply the way life was lived--part of the general misery and horror of the established order--like marriage and the rest of it.

"I'll treat you white," urged Blynn, tenderly. "I've got a soft heart--that's why I'll never get rich. Any of the others'd ask more and give less."

She looked at him with an expression that haunted him for several hours. "Thank you. Good-by," she said, and went down the narrow, rickety stairs--and out into the confused maze of streets full of strangers.

CHAPTER XVII

AT the hotel again; she went to Burlingham's room, gathered his belongings--his suit, his well-worn, twice-tapped shoes, his one extra suit of underclothes, a soiled shirt, two dickeys and cuffs, his whisk broom, toothbrush, a box of blacking, the blacking brush. She made the package as compact as she could--it was still a formidable bundle both for size and weight--and carried it into her room. Then she rolled into a small parcel her own possessions--two blouses, an undervest, a pair of stockings, a nightgown--reminder of Bethlehem and her brief sip at the cup of success--a few toilet articles. With the two bundles she descended to the office.

"I came to say," she said calmly to the clerk, "that we have no money to pay what we owe. Mr. Burlingham is at the hospital--very sick with typhoid. Here is a dollar and eighty cents. You can have that, but I'd like to keep it, as it's all we've got."

The clerk called the manager, and to him Susan repeated. She used almost the same words; she spoke in the same calm, monotonous way. When she finished, the manager, a small, brisk man with a large brisk beard, said:

"No. Keep the money. I'd like to ask you to stay on. But we run this place for a class of people who haven't much at best and keep wobbling back and forth across the line. If I broke my rule----"

He made a furious gesture, looked at the girl angrily--holding her responsible for his being in a position where he must do violence to every decent instinct--"My God, miss, I've got a wife and children to look after. If I ran my hotel on sympathy, what'd become of them?"

"I wouldn't take anything I couldn't pay for," said Susan. "As soon as I earn some money----"

"Don't worry about that," interrupted the manager. He saw now that he was dealing with one who would in no circumstances become troublesome; he went on in an easier tone: "You can stay till the house fills up."

"Could you give me a place to wait on table and clean up rooms--or help cook?"

"No, I don't need anybody. The town's full of people out of work. You can't ask me to turn away----"

"Please--I didn't know," cried the girl.

"Anyhow, I couldn't give but twelve a month and board," continued the manager. "And the work--for a lady like you----"

A lady! She dropped her gaze in confusion. If he knew about her birth!

"I'll do anything. I'm not a lady," said she. "But I've got to have at least ten a week in cash."

"No such place here." The manager was glad to find the fault of uppish ideas in this girl who was making it hard for him to be business-like. "No such place anywhere for a beginner."

"I must have it," said the girl.

"I don't want to discourage you, but----" He was speaking less curtly, for her expression made him suspect why she was bent upon that particular amount. "I hope you'll succeed. Only--don't be depressed if you're disappointed."

She smiled gravely at him; he bowed, avoiding her eyes. She took up her bundles and went out into Walnut Street. He moved a few steps in obedience to an impulse to follow her, to give her counsel and warning, to offer to help her about the larger bundle. But he checked himself with the frown of his own not too prosperous affairs.

It was the hottest part of the day, and her way lay along unshaded streets. As she had eaten nothing since the night before, she felt faint. Her face was ghastly when she entered the office of the hospital and left Burlingham's parcel. The clerk at the desk told her that Burlingham was in the same condition--"and there'll be probably no change one way or the other for several days."

She returned to the street, wandered aimlessly about. She knew she ought to eat something, but the idea of food revolted her. She was fighting the temptation to go to the _Commercial_ office, Roderick Spenser's office. She had not a suspicion that his kindness might have been impulse, long since repented of, perhaps repented of as soon as he was away from her. She felt that if she went to him he would help her. "But I mustn't do it," she said to herself. "Not after what I did." No, she must not see him until she could pay him back. Also, and deeper, there was a feeling that there was a curse upon her; had not everyone who befriended her come to grief? She must not draw anyone else into trouble, must not tangle others in the meshes of her misfortunes. She did not reason this out, of course; but the feeling was not the less strong because the reasons for it were vague in her mind. And there was nothing vague about the resolve to which she finally came--that she would fight her battle herself.

Her unheeding wanderings led her after an hour or so to a big department store. Crowds of shoppers, mussy, hot, and cross, were pushing rudely in and out of the doors. She entered, approached a well-dressed, bareheaded old gentleman, whom she rightly placed as floorwalker, inquired of him:

"Where do they ask for work?"

She had been attracted to him because his was the one face within view not suggesting temper or at least bad humor. It was more than pleasant, it was benign. He inclined toward Susan with an air that invited confidence and application for balm for a wounded spirit. The instant the nature of her inquiry penetrated through his pose to the man himself, there was a swift change to lofty disdain--the familiar attitude of workers toward fellow-workers of what they regard as a lower class. Evidently he resented her having beguiled him by the false air of young lady into wasting upon her, mere servility like himself, a display reserved exclusively for patrons. It was Susan's first experience of this snobbishness; it at once humbled her into the dust. She had been put in her place, and that place was not among people worthy of civil treatment. A girl of his own class would have flashed at him, probably would have "jawed" him. Susan meekly submitted; she was once more reminded that she was an outcast, one for whom the respectable world had no place. He made some sort of reply to her question, in the tone the usher of a fashionable church would use to a stranger obviously not in the same set as the habitués. She heard the tone, but not the words; she turned away to seek the street again. She wandered on--through the labyrinth of streets, through the crowds on crowds of strangers.

Ten dollars a week! She knew little about wages, but enough to realize the hopelessness of her quest. Ten dollars a week--and her own keep beside. The faces of the crowds pushing past her and jostling her made her heartsick. So much sickness, and harassment, and discontent--so much unhappiness! Surely all these sad hearts ought to be kind to each other. Yet they were not; each soul went selfishly alone, thinking only of its own burden.

She walked on and on, thinking, in this disconnected way characteristic of a good intelligence that has not yet developed order and sequence, a theory of life and a purpose. It had always been her habit to walk about rather than to sit, whether indoors or out. She could think better when in motion physically. When she was so tired that she began to feel weak, she saw a shaded square, with benches under the trees. She entered, sat down to rest. She might apply to the young doctor. But, no. He was poor--and what chance was there of her ever making the money to pay back? No, she could not take alms; than alms there was no lower way of getting money. She might return to Mr. Blynn and accept his offer. The man in all his physical horror rose before her. No, she could not do that. At least, not yet. She could entertain the idea as a possibility now. She remembered her wedding--the afternoon, the night. Yes, Blynn's offer involved nothing so horrible as that--and she had lived through that. It would be cowardice, treachery, to shrink from anything that should prove necessary in doing the square thing by the man who had done so much for her. She had said she would die for Burlingham; she owed even that to him, if her death would help him. Had she then meant nothing but mere lying words of pretended gratitude? But Blynn was always there; something else might turn up, and her dollar and eighty cents would last another day or so, and the ten dollars were not due for six days. No, she would not go to Blynn; she would wait, would take his advice--"think it over."

A man was walking up and down the shaded alley, passing and repassing the bench where she sat. She observed him, saw that he was watching her. He was a young man--a very young man--of middle height, strongly built. He had crisp, short dark hair, a darkish skin, amiable blue-gray eyes, pleasing features. She decided that he was of good family, was home from some college on vacation. He was wearing a silk shirt, striped flannel trousers, a thin serge coat of an attractive shade of blue. She liked his looks, liked the way he dressed. It pleased her that such a man should be interested in her; he had a frank and friendly air, and her sad young heart was horribly lonely. She pretended not to notice him; but after a while he walked up to her, lifting his straw hat.

"Good afternoon," said he. When he showed his strong sharp teeth in an amiable smile, she thought of Sam Wright--only this man was not weak and mean looking, like her last and truest memory picture of Sam--indeed, the only one she had not lost. "Good afternoon," replied she politely. For in spite of Burlingham's explanations and cautionings she was still the small-town girl, unsuspicious toward courtesy from strange men. Also, she longed for someone to talk with. It had been weeks since she had talked with anyone nearer than Burlingham to her own age and breeding.

"Won't you have lunch with me?" he asked. "I hate to eat alone."

She, faint from hunger, simply could not help obvious hesitation before saying, "I don't think I care for any."

"You haven't had yours--have you?"

"No."

"May I sit down?"

She moved along the bench to indicate that he might, without definitely committing herself.

He sat, took off his hat. He had a clean, fresh look about the neck that pleased her. She was weary of seeing grimy, sweaty people, and of smelling them. Also, except the young doctor, since Roderick Spenser left her at Carrolltown she had talked with no one of her own age and class--the class in which she had been brought up, the class that, after making her one of itself, had cast her out forever with its mark of shame upon her. Its mark of shame--burning and stinging again as she sat beside this young man!

"You're sad about something?" suggested he, himself nearly as embarrassed as she.

"My friend's ill. He's got typhoid."

"That is bad. But he'll get all right. They always cure typhoid, nowadays--if it's taken in time and the nursing's good. Everything depends on the nursing. I had it a couple of years ago, and pulled through easily."

Susan brightened. He spoke so confidently that the appeal to her young credulity toward good news and the hopeful, cheerful thing was irresistible. "Oh, yes--he'll be over it soon," the young man went on, "especially if he's in a hospital where they've got the facilities for taking care of sick people. Where is he?"

"In the hospital--up that way." She moved her head vaguely in the direction of the northwest.

"Oh, yes. It's a good one--for the pay patients. I suppose for the poor devils that can't pay"--he glanced with careless sympathy at the dozen or so tramps on benches nearby--"it's like all the rest of 'em--like the whole world, for that matter. It must be awful not to have money enough to get on with, I mean. I'm talking about men." He smiled cheerfully. "With a woman--if she's pretty--it's different, of course."

The girl was so agitated that she did not notice the sly, if shy, hint in the remark and its accompanying glance. Said she:

"But it's a good hospital if you pay?"

"None better. Maybe it's good straight through. I've only heard the servants' talk--and servants are such liars. Still--I'd not want to trust myself to a hospital unless I could pay. I guess the common people have good reason for their horror of free wards. Nothing free is ever good."

The girl's face suddenly and startlingly grew almost hard, so fierce was the resolve that formed within her. The money must be got--_must!_--and would. She would try every way she could think of between now and to-morrow; then--if she failed she would go to Blynn.

The young man was saying: "You're a stranger in town?"

"I was with a theatrical company on a show boat. It sank."

His embarrassment vanished. She saw, but she did not understand that it was because he thought he had "placed" her--and that her place was where he had hoped.

"You _are_ up against it!" said he. "Come have some lunch. You'll feel better."

The good sense of this was unanswerable. Susan hesitated no longer, wondered why she had hesitated at first. "Well--I guess I will." And she rose with a frank, childlike alacrity that amused him immensely.

"You don't look it, but you've been about some--haven't you?"

"Rather," replied she.

"I somehow thought you knew a thing or two."

They walked west to Race Street. They were about the same height. Her costume might have been fresher, might have suggested to an expert eye the passed-on clothes of a richer relative; but her carriage and the fine look of skin and hair and features made the defects of dress unimportant. She seemed of his class--of the class comfortable, well educated, and well-bred. If she had been more experienced, she would have seen that he was satisfied with her appearance despite the curious looking little package, and would have been flattered. As it was, her interest was absorbed in things apart from herself. He talked about the town--the amusements, the good times to be had at the over-the-Rhine beer halls, at the hilltop gardens, at the dances in the pavilion out at the Zoo. He drew a lively and charming picture, one that appealed to her healthy youth, to her unsatisfied curiosity, to her passionate desire to live the gay, free city life of which the small town reads and dreams.

"You and I can go round together, can't we? I haven't got much, but I'll not try to take your time for nothing, of course. That wouldn't be square. I'm sure you'll have no cause to complain. What do you say?"

"Maybe," replied the girl, all at once absent-minded. Her brain was wildly busy with some ideas started there by his significant words, by his flirtatious glances at her, by his way of touching her whenever he could make opportunity. Evidently there was an alternative to Blynn.

"You like a good time, don't you?" said he.

"Rather!" exclaimed she, the violet eyes suddenly very violet indeed and sparkling. Her spirits had suddenly soared. She was acting like one of her age. With that blessed happy hopefulness of healthy youth, she had put aside her sorrows--not because she was frivolous but for the best of all reasons, because she was young and superbly vital. Said she: "I'm crazy about dancing--and music."

"I only needed to look at your feet--and ankles--to know that," ventured he the "ankles" being especially audacious.

She was pleased, and in youth's foolish way tried to hide her pleasure by saying, "My feet aren't exactly small."

"I should say not!" protested he with energy. "Little feet would look like the mischief on a girl as tall as you are. Yes, we can have a lot of fun."

They went into a large restaurant with fly fans speeding. Susan thought it very grand--and it was the grandest restaurant she had ever been in. They sat down--in a delightfully cool place by a window looking out on a little plot of green with a colladium, a fountain, some oleanders in full and fragrant bloom; the young man ordered, with an ease that fascinated her, an elaborate lunch--soup, a chicken, with salad, ice cream, and fresh peaches. Susan had a menu in her hand and as he ordered she noted the prices. She was dazzled by his extravagance--dazzled and frightened--and, in a curious, vague, unnerving way, fascinated. Money--the thing she must have for Burlingham in whose case "everything depended on the nursing." In the brief time this boy and she had been together, he, without making an effort to impress, had given her the feeling that he was of the best city class, that he knew the world--the high world. Thus, she felt that she must be careful not to show her "greenness." She would have liked to protest against his extravagance, but she ventured only the timid remonstrance, "Oh, I'm not a bit hungry."

She thought she was speaking the truth, for the ideas whirling so fast that they were dim quite took away the sense of hunger. But when the food came she discovered that she was, on the contrary, ravenous--and she ate with rising spirits, with a feeling of content and hope. He had urged her to drink wine or beer, but she refused to take anything but a glass of milk; and he ended by taking milk himself. He was looking more and more boldly and ardently into her eyes, and she received his glances smilingly. She felt thoroughly at ease and at home, as if she were back once more among her own sort of people--with some element of disagreeable constraint left out.

Since she was an outcast, she need not bother about the small restraints the girls felt compelled to put upon themselves in the company of boys. Nobody respected a "bastard," as they called her when they spoke frankly. So with nothing to lose she could at least get what pleasure there was in freedom. She liked it, having this handsome, well-dressed young man making love to her in this grand restaurant where things were so good to eat and so excitingly expensive. He would not regard her as fit to associate with his respectable mother and sisters. In the casts of respectability, her place was with Jeb Ferguson! She was better off, clear of the whole unjust and horrible business of respectable life, clear of it and free, frankly in the outcast class. She had not realized--and she did not realize--that association with the players of the show boat had made any especial change in her; in fact, it had loosened to the sloughing point the whole skin of her conventional training--that surface skin which seems part of the very essence of our being until something happens to force us to shed it. Crises, catastrophes, may scratch that skin, or cut clear through it; but only the gentle, steady, everywhere-acting prying-loose of day and night association can change it from a skin to a loose envelope ready to be shed at any moment.

"What are you going to do?" asked the young man, when the acquaintance had become a friendship--which was before the peaches and ice cream were served.

"I don't know," said the girl, with the secretive instinct of self-reliance hiding the unhappiness his abrupt question set to throbbing again.

"Honestly, I've never met anyone that was so congenial. But maybe you don't feel that way?"

"Then again maybe I do," rejoined she, forcing a merry smile.

His face flushed with embarrassment, but his eyes grew more ardent as he said: "What were you looking for, when I saw you in Garfield Place?"

"Was that Garfield Place?" she asked, in evasion.

"Yes." And he insisted, "What were you looking for?"

"What were _you_ looking for?"

"For a pretty girl." They both laughed. "And I've found her. I'm suited if you are. . . . Don't look so serious. You haven't answered my question."

"I'm looking for work."

He smiled as if it were a joke. "You mean for a place on the stage. That isn't work. _You_ couldn't work. I can see that at a glance."

"Why not?"

"Oh, you haven't been brought up to that kind of life. You'd hate it in every way. And they don't pay women anything for work. My father employs a lot of them. Most of his girls live at home. That keeps the wages down, and the others have to piece out with"--he smiled--"one thing and another."

Susan sat gazing straight before her. "I've not had much experience," she finally said, thoughtfully. "I guess I don't know what I'm about."

The young man leaned toward her, his face flushing with earnestness. "You don't know how pretty you are. I wish my father wasn't so close with me. I'd not let you ever speak of work again--even on the stage. What good times we could have!"

"I must be going," said she, rising. Her whole body was alternately hot and cold. In her brain, less vague now, were the ideas Mabel Connemora had opened up for her.

"Oh, bother!" exclaimed he. "Sit down a minute. You misunderstood me. I don't mean I'm flat broke."

Susan hastily reseated herself, showing her confusion. "I wasn't thinking of that."

"Then--what were you thinking of?"

"I don't know," she replied--truthfully, for she could not have put into words anything definite about the struggle raging in her like a battle in a fog. "I often don't exactly know what I'm thinking about. I somehow can't--can't fit it together--yet."

"Do you suppose," he went on, as if she had not spoken, "do you suppose I don't understand? I know you can't afford to let me take your time for nothing. . . . Don't you like me a little?"

She looked at him with grave friendliness. "Yes." Then, seized with a terror which her habitual manner of calm concealed from him, she rose again.

"Why shouldn't it be me as well as another?. . . At least sit down till I pay the bill."

She seated herself, stared at her plate.

"Now what are you thinking about?" he asked.

"I don't know exactly. Nothing much."

The waiter brought the bill. The young man merely glanced at the total, drew a small roll of money from his trousers pocket, put a five-dollar note on the tray with the bill. Susan's eyes opened wide when the waiter returned with only two quarters and a dime. She glanced furtively at the young man, to see if he, too, was not disconcerted. He waved the tray carelessly aside; the waiter said "Thank you," in a matter-of-course way, dropped the sixty cents into his pocket. The waiter's tip was by itself almost as much as she had ever seen paid out for a meal for two persons.

"Now, where shall we go?" asked the young man.

Susan did not lift her eyes. He leaned toward her, took her hand. "You're different from the sort a fellow usually finds," said he. "And I'm--I'm crazy about you. Let's go," said he.

Susan took her bundle, followed him. She glanced up the street and down. She had an impulse to say she must go away alone; it was not strong enough to frame a sentence, much less express her thought. She was seeing queer, vivid, apparently disconnected visions--Burlingham, sick unto death, on the stretcher in the hospital reception room--Blynn of the hideous face and loose, repulsive body--the contemptuous old gentleman in the shop--odds and ends of the things Mabel Connemora had told her--the roll of bills the young man had taken from his pocket when he paid--Jeb Ferguson in the climax of the horrors of that wedding day and night. They went to Garfield Place, turned west, paused after a block or so at a little frame house set somewhat back from the street. The young man, who had been as silent as she--but nervous instead of preoccupied--opened the gate in the picket fence.

"This is a first-class quiet place," said he, embarrassed but trying to appear at ease.

Susan hesitated. She must somehow nerve herself to speak of money, to say to him that she needed ten dollars--that she must have it. If she did not speak--if she got nothing for Mr. Burlingham--or almost nothing--and probably men didn't give women much--if she were going with him--to endure again the horrors and the degradation she had suffered from Mr. Ferguson--if it should be in vain! This nice young man didn't suggest Mr. Ferguson in any way. But there was such a mystery about men--they had a way of changing so--Sam Wright--Uncle George even Mr. Ferguson hadn't seemed capable of torturing a helpless girl for no reason at all----

"We can't stand here," the young man was saying.

She tried to speak about the ten dollars. She simply could not force out the words. With brain in a whirl, with blood beating suffocatingly into her throat and lungs, but giving no outward sign of agitation, she entered the gate. There was a low, old-fashioned porch along the side of the house, with an awning curiously placed at the end toward the street. When they ascended the steps under the awning, they were screened from the street. The young man pulled a knob. A bell within tinkled faintly; Susan started, shivered. But the young man, looking straight at the door, did not see. A colored girl with a pleasant, welcoming face opened, stood aside for them to enter. He went straight up the stairs directly ahead, and Susan followed. At the threshold the trembling girl looked round in terror. She expected to see a place like that foul, close little farm bedroom--for it seemed to her that at such times men must seek some dreadful place--vile, dim, fitting. She was in a small, attractively furnished room, with a bow window looking upon the yard and the street. The furniture reminded her of her own room at her uncle's in Sutherland, except that the brass bed was far finer. He closed the door and locked it.

As he advanced toward her he said: "_What_ are you seeing? Please don't look like that." Persuasively, "You weren't thinking of me--were you?"

"No--Oh, no," replied she, passing her hand over her eyes to try to drive away the vision of Ferguson.

"You look as if you expected to be murdered. Do you want to go?"

She forced herself to seem calm. "What a coward I am!" she said to herself. "If I could only die for him, instead of this. But I can't. And I _must_ get money for him."

To the young man she said: "No. I--I--want to stay."

Late in the afternoon, when they were once more in the street, he said. "I'd ask you to go to dinner with me, but I haven't enough money."

She stopped short. An awful look came into her face.

"Don't be alarmed," cried he, hurried and nervous, and blushing furiously. "I put the--the present for you in that funny little bundle of yours, under one of the folds of the nightgown or whatever it is you've got wrapped on the outside. I didn't like to hand it to you. I've a feeling somehow that you're not regularly--that kind."

"Was it--ten dollars?" she said, and for all he could see she was absolutely calm.

"Yes," replied he, with a look of relief followed by a smile of amused tenderness.

"I can't make you out," he went on. "You're a queer one. You've had a look in your eyes all afternoon--well, if I hadn't been sure you were experienced, you'd almost have frightened me away."

"Yes, I've had experience. The--the worst," said the girl.

"You--you attract me awfully; you've got--well, everything that's nice about a woman--and at the same time, there's something in your eyes---- Are you very fond of your friend?"

"He's all I've got in the world."

"I suppose it's his being sick that makes you look and act so queer?"

"I don't know what's the matter with me," she said slowly. "I--don't know."

"I want to see you again--soon. What's your address?"

"I haven't any. I've got to look for a place to live."

"Well, you can give me the place you did live. I'll write you there, Lorna. You didn't ask me my name when I asked you yours. You've hardly said anything. Are you always quiet like this?"

"No--not always. At Least, I haven't been."

"No. You weren't, part of the time this afternoon--at the restaurant. Tell me, what are you thinking about all the time? You're very secretive. Why don't you tell me? Don't you know I like you?"

"I don't know," said the girl in a slow dazed way. "I--don't--know."

"I wouldn't take your time for nothing," he went on, after a pause. "My father doesn't give me much money, but I think I'll have some more day after tomorrow. Can I see you then?"

"I don't know."

He laughed. "You said that before. Day after tomorrow afternoon--in the same place. No matter if it's raining. I'll be there first--at three. Will you come?"

"If I can."

She made a movement to go. But still he detained her. He colored high again, in the struggle between the impulses of his generous youth and the fear of being absurd with a girl he had picked up in the street. He looked at her searchingly, wistfully. "I know it's your life, but--I hate to think of it," he went on. "You're far too nice. I don't see how you happened to be in--in this line. Still, what else is there for a girl, when she's up against it? I've often thought of those things--and I don't feel about them as most people do. . . . I'm curious about you. You'll pardon me, won't you? I'm afraid I'll fall in love with you, if I see you often. You won't fail to come day after tomorrow?"

"If I can."

"Don't you want to see me again?"

She did not speak or lift her eyes.

"You like me, don't you?"

Still no answer.

"You don't want to be questioned?"

"No," said the girl.

"Where are you going now?"

"To the hospital."

"May I walk up there with you? I live in Clifton. I can go home that way."

"I'd rather you didn't."

"Then--good-by--till day after tomorrow at three." He put out his hand; he had to reach for hers and take it. "You're not--not angry with me?"

"No."

His eyes lingered tenderly upon her. "You are _so_ sweet! You don't know how I want to kiss you. Are you sorry to go--sorry to leave me--just a little?. . . I forgot. You don't like to be questioned. Well, good-by, dear."

"Good-by," she said; and still without lifting her gaze from the ground she turned away, walked slowly westward.

She had not reached the next street to the north when she suddenly felt that if she did not sit she would drop. She lifted her eyes for an instant to glance furtively round. She saw a house with stone steps leading up to the front doors; there was a "for rent" sign in one of the close-shuttered parlor windows. She seated herself, supported the upper part of her weary body by resting her elbows on her knees. Her bundle had rolled to the sidewalk at her feet. A passing man picked it up, handed it to her, with a polite bow. She looked at him vaguely, took the bundle as if she were not sure it was hers.

"Heat been too much for you, miss?" asked the man.

She shook her head. He lingered, talking volubly--about the weather--then about how cool it was on the hilltops. "We might go up to the Bellevue," he finally suggested, "if you've nothing better to do."

"No, thank you," she said.

"I'll go anywhere you like. I've got a little money that I don't care to keep."

She shook her head.

"I don't mean anything bad," he hastened to suggest--because that would bring up the subject in discussable form.

"I can't go with you," said the girl drearily. "Don't bother me, please."

"Oh--excuse me." And the man went on.

Susan turned the bundle over in her lap, thrust her fingers slowly and deliberately into the fold of the soiled blouse which was on the outside. She drew out the money. A ten and two fives. Enough to keep his room at the hospital for two weeks. No, for she must live, herself. Enough to give him a room one week longer and to enable her to live two weeks at least. . . . And day after tomorrow--more. Perhaps, soon--enough to see him through the typhoid. She put the money in her bosom, rose and went on toward the hospital. She no longer felt weary, and the sensation of a wound that might ache if she were not so numb passed away.

A clerk she had not seen before was at the barrier desk. "I came to ask how Mr. Burlingham is," said she.

The clerk yawned, drew a large book toward him. "Burlingham--B--Bu--Bur----" he said half to himself, turning over the leaves. "Yes--here he is." He looked at her. "You his daughter?"

"No, I'm a friend."

"Oh--then--he died at five o'clock--an hour ago."

He looked up--saw her eyes--only her eyes. They were a deep violet now, large, shining with tragic softness--like the eyes of an angel that has lost its birthright through no fault of its own. He turned hastily away, awed, terrified, ashamed of himself.

CHAPTER XVIII

THE next thing she knew, she felt herself seized strongly by the arm. She gazed round in a dazed way. She was in the street--how she got there she had no idea. The grip on her arm--it was the young doctor, Hamilton. "I called you twice," explained he, "but you didn't hear."

"He is dead," said she.

Hamilton had a clear view of her face now. There was not a trace of the child left. He saw her eyes--quiet, lonely, violet stars. "You must go and rest quietly," he said with gentleness. "You are worn out."

Susan took from her bosom the twenty dollars, handed it to him. "It belongs to him," said she. "Give it to them, to bury him." And she started on.

"Where are you going?" asked the young man.

Susan stopped, looked vaguely at him. "Good-by," she said. "You've been very kind."

"You've found a boarding place?"

"Oh, I'm all right."

"You want to see him?"

"No. Then he'll always be alive to me."

"You had better keep this money. The city will take care of the funeral."

"It belong to him. I couldn't keep it for myself. I must be going."

"Shan't I see you again?"

"I'll not trouble you."

"Let me walk with you as far as your place."

"I'm not feeling--just right. If you don't mind--please--I'd rather be alone."

"I don't mean to intrude, but----"

"I'm all right," said the girl. "Don't worry about me."

"But you are too young----"

"I've been married. . . . Thank you, but--good-by."

He could think of no further excuse for detaining her. Her manner disquieted him, yet it seemed composed and natural. Probably she had run away from a good home, was now sobered and chastened, was eager to separate herself from the mess she had got into and return to her own sort of people. It struck him as heartless that she should go away in this fashion; but on second thought, he could not associate heartlessness with her. Also, he saw how there might be something in what she had said about not wishing to have to think of her friend as dead. He stood watching her straight narrow young figure until it was lost to view in the crowd of people going home from work.

Susan went down Elm Street to Garfield Place, seated herself on one of the benches. She was within sight of the unobtrusive little house with the awnings; but she did not realize it. She had no sense of her surroundings, of the passing of time, felt no grief, no sensation of any kind. She simply sat, her little bundle in her lap, her hands folded upon it.

A man in uniform paused before her. "Closing-up time," he said, sharply but in the impartial official way. "I'm going to lock the gates."

She looked at him.

In a softer, apologetic tone, he said, "I've got to lock the gates. That's the law, miss."

She did not clearly understand, but rose and went out into Race Street. She walked slowly along, not knowing or caring where. She walked--walked--walked. Sometimes her way lay through crowded streets, again through streets deserted. Now she was stumbling over the uneven sidewalks of a poor quarter; again it was the smooth flagstones of the shopping or wholesale districts. Several times she saw the river with its multitude of boats great and small; several times she crossed the canal. Twice she turned back because the street was mounting the hills behind the city--the hills with the cars swiftly ascending and descending the inclined planes, and at the crests gayly lighted pavilions where crowds were drinking and dancing. Occasionally some man spoke to her, but desisted as she walked straight on, apparently not hearing. She rested from time to time, on a stoop or on a barrel or box left out by some shopkeeper, or leaning upon the rail of a canal bridge. She was walking with a purpose--to try to scatter the dense fog that had rolled in and enveloped her mind, and then to try to think.

She sat, or rather dropped, down from sheer fatigue, in that cool hour which precedes the dawn. It happened to be the steps of a church. She fell into a doze, was startled back to consciousness by the deep boom of the bell in the steeple; it made the stone vibrate under her. One--two--three--four! Toward the east there shone a flush of light, not yet strong enough to dim the stars. The sky above her was clear. The pall of smoke rolled away. The air felt clean and fresh, even had in it a reminiscence of the green fields whence it had come. She began to revive, like a sleeper shaking off drowsiness and the spell of a bad dream and looking forward to the new day. The fog that had swathed and stupefied her brain seemed to have lifted. At her heart there was numbness and a dull throbbing, an ache; but her mind was clear and her body felt intensely, hopelessly alive and ready, clamorously ready, for food. A movement across the narrow street attracted her attention. A cellar door was rising--thrust upward by the shoulders of a man. It fell full open with a resounding crash, the man revealed by the light from beneath--a white blouse, a white cap. Toward her wafted the delicious odor of baking bread. She rose, hesitated only an instant, crossed the street directly toward the baker who had come up to the surface for cool air.

"I am hungry," said she to him. "Can't you let me have something to eat?"

The man--he had a large, smooth, florid face eyed her in amused astonishment. "Where'd you jump from?" he demanded.

"I was resting on the church steps over there. The smell came to me and--I couldn't stand it. I can pay."

"Oh, that's all right," said the man, with a strong German accent. "Come down." And he descended the steps, she following. It was a large and lofty cellar, paved with cement; floor, ceilings, walls, were whitened with flour. There were long clean tables for rolling the dough; big wooden bowls; farther back, the ovens and several bakers at work adding to the huge piles of loaves the huge baskets of rolls. Susan's eyes glistened; her white teeth showed in a delightful smile of hunger about to be satisfied.

"Do you want bread or rolls?" asked the German. Then without waiting for her to answer, "I guess some of the 'sweet rolls,' we call 'em, would about suit a lady."

"Yes--the sweet rolls," said the girl.

The baker fumbled about behind a lot of empty baskets, found a sewing basket, filled it with small rolls--some crescent in shape, some like lady fingers, some oval, some almost like biscuit, all with pulverized sugar powdered on them thick as a frosting. He set the little basket upon an empty kneading table. "Wait yet a minute," he commanded, and bustled up a flight of stairs. He reappeared with a bottle of milk and a piece of fresh butter. He put these beside the basket of rolls, drew a stool up before them. "How's that?" asked he, his hands on his hips, his head on one side, and his big jolly face beaming upon her. "Pretty good, don't it!"

Susan was laughing with pleasure. He pointed to the place well down in the bottle of milk where the cream ended. "That's the way it should be always--not so!" said he. She nodded. Then he shook the bottle to remix the separated cream and milk. "So!" he cried. Then--"_Ach, dummer Esel!_" he muttered, striking his brow a resounding thwack with the flat of his hand. "A knife!" And he hastened to repair that omission.

Susan sat at the table, took one of the fresh rolls, spread butter upon it. The day will never come for her when she cannot distinctly remember the first bite of the little sweet buttered roll, eaten in that air perfumed with the aroma of baking bread. The milk was as fine as it promised to be she drank it from the bottle.

The German watched her a while, then beckoned to his fellow workmen. They stood round, reveling in the joyful sight of this pretty hungry girl eating so happily and so heartily.

"The pie," whispered one workman to another.

They brought a small freshly baked peach pie, light and crisp and brown. Susan's beautiful eyes danced. "But," she said to her first friend among the bakers, "I'm afraid I can't afford it."

At this there was a loud chorus of laughter. "Eat it," said her friend.

And when she had finished her rolls and butter, she did eat it. "I never tasted a pie like that," declared she. "And I like pies and can make them too."

Once more they laughed, as if she had said the wittiest thing in the world.

As the last mouthful of the pie was disappearing, her friend said, "Another!"

"Goodness, no!" cried the girl. "I couldn't eat a bite more."

"But it's an apple pie." And he brought it, holding it on his big florid fat hand and turning it round to show her its full beauty.

She sighed regretfully. "I simply can't," she said. "How much is what I've had?"

Her friend frowned. "Vot you take me for--hey?" demanded he, with a terrible frown--so terrible he felt it to be that, fearing he had frightened her, he burst out laughing, to reassure.

"Oh, but I must pay," she pleaded. "I didn't come begging."

"Not a cent!" said her friend firmly. "I'm the boss. I won't take it."

She insisted until she saw she was hurting his feelings. Then she tried to thank him; but he would not listen to that, either. "Good-by--good-by," he said gruffly. "I must get to work once." But she understood, and went with a light heart up into the world again. He stood waist deep in the cellar, she hesitated upon the sidewalk. "Good-by," she said, with swimming eyes. "You don't know how good you've been to me."

"All right. Luck!" He waved his hand, half turned his back on her and looked intently up the street, his eyes blinking.

She went down the street, turned the first corner, dropped on a doorstep and sobbed and cried, out of the fullness of her heart. When she rose to go on again, she felt stronger and gentler than she had felt since her troubles began with the quarrel over Sam Wright. A little further on she came upon a florist's shop in front of which a wagon was unloading the supply of flowers for the day's trade. She paused to look at the roses and carnations, the lilies and dahlias, the violets and verbenas and geraniums. The fast brightening air was scented with delicate odors. She was attracted to a small geranium with many buds and two full-blown crimson flowers.

"How much for that?" she asked a young man who seemed to be in charge.

He eyed her shrewdly. "Well, I reckon about fifteen cents," replied he.

She took from her bosom the dollar bill wrapped round the eighty cents, gave him what he had asked. "No, you needn't tie it up," said she, as he moved to take it into the store. She went back to the bakeshop. The cellar door was open, but no one was in sight. Stooping down, she called: "Mr. Baker! Mr. Baker!"

The big smooth face appeared below.

She set the plant down on the top step. "For you," she said, and hurried away.

On a passing street car she saw the sign "Eden Park." She had heard of it--of its beauties, of the wonderful museum there. She took the next car of the same line. A few minutes, and it was being drawn up the inclined plane toward the lofty hilltops. She had thought the air pure below. She was suddenly lifted through a dense vapor--the cloud that always lies over the lower part of the city. A moment, and she was above the cloud, was being carried through the wide, clean tree-lined avenue of a beautiful suburb. On either side, lawns and gardens and charming houses, a hush brooding over them. Behind these walls, in comfortable beds, amid the surroundings that come to mind with the word "home," lay many girls such as she--happy, secure, sheltered. Girls like herself. A wave of homesickness swept over her, daunting her for a little while. But she fought it down, watched what was going on around her. "I mustn't look back--I mustn't! Nothing there for me." At the main gateway of the park she descended. There indeed was the, to her, vast building containing the treasures of art; but she had not come for that. She struck into the first by-path, sought out a grassy slope thickly studded with bushes, and laid herself down. She spread her skirts carefully so as not to muss them. She put her bundle under her head.

When she awoke the moon was shining upon her face--shining from a starry sky!

She sat up, looked round in wonder. Yes--it was night again--very still, very beautiful, and warm, with the air fragrant and soft. She felt intensely awake, entirely rested--and full of hope. It was as if during that long dreamless sleep her whole being had been renewed and magically borne away from the lands of shadow and pain where it had been wandering, to a land of bright promise. Oh, youth, youth, that bears so lightly the burden of the past, that faces so confidently the mystery of the future! She listened--heard a faint sound that moved her to investigate. Peering through the dense bushes, she discovered on the grass in the shadow of the next clump, a ragged, dirty man and woman, both sound asleep and snoring gently. She watched them spellbound. The man's face was deeply shaded by his battered straw hat. But she could see the woman's face plainly--the thin, white hair, the sunken eyes and mouth, the skeleton look of old features over which the dry skin of age is tightly drawn. She gazed until the man, moving in his sleep, kicked out furiously and uttered a curse. She drew back, crawled away until she had put several clumps of bushes between her and the pair. Then she sped down and up the slopes and did not stop until she was where she could see, far below, the friendly lights of the city blinking at her through the smoky mist.

She had forgotten her bundle! She did not know how to find the place where she had left it; and, had she known, she would not have dared return. This loss, however, troubled her little. Not in vain had she dwelt with the philosopher Burlingham.

She seated herself on a bench and made herself comfortable. But she no longer needed sleep. She was awake--wide awake--in every atom of her vigorous young body. The minutes dragged. She was impatient for the dawn to give the signal for the future to roll up its curtain. She would have gone down into the city to walk about but she was now afraid the police would take her in--and that probably would mean going to a reformatory, for she could not give a satisfactory account of herself. True, her older way of wearing her hair and some slight but telling changes in her dress had made her look less the child. But she could not hope to pass for a woman full grown. The moon set; the starlight was after a long, long time succeeded by the dawn of waking birds, and of waking city, too--for up from below rose an ever louder roar like a rising storm. In her restless rovings, she came upon a fountain; she joined the birds making a toilet in its basin, and patterned after them--washed her face and hands, dried them on a handkerchief she by great good luck had put into her stocking, smoothed her hair, her dress.

And still the sense of unreality persisted, cast its friendly spell over this child-woman suddenly caught up from the quietest of quiet lives and whirled into a dizzy vortex of strange events without parallel, or similitude even, in anything she had ever known. If anyone had suddenly asked her who she was and she had tried to recall, she would have felt as if trying to remember a dream. Sutherland--a faint, faint dream, and the show boat also. Spenser--a romantic dream--or a first installment of a love-story read in some stray magazine. Burlingham--the theatrical agent--the young man of the previous afternoon--the news of the death that left her quite alone--all a dream, a tumbled, jumbled dream, all passed with the night and the awakening. In her youth and perfect health, refreshed by the long sleep, gladdened by the bright new day, she was as irresponsible as the merry birds chattering and flinging the water about at the opposite side of the fountain's basin. She was now glad she had lost her bundle. Without it her hands were free both hands free to take whatever might offer next. And she was eager to see what that would be, and hopeful about it--no--more than hopeful, confident. Burlingham, aided by those highly favorable surroundings of the show boat, and of the vagabond life thereafter, had developed in her that gambler's spirit which had enabled him to play year after year of losing hands with unabating courage--the spirit that animates all the brave souls whose deeds awe the docile, conventional, craven masses of mankind.

Leisurely as a truant she tramped back toward the city, pausing to observe anything that chanced to catch her eye. At the moment of her discovery of the difference between her and most girls there had begun a cleavage between her and the social system. And now she felt as if she were of one race and the rest of the world of another and hostile race. She did not realize it, but she had taken the first great step along the path that leads to distinction or destruction. For the world either obeys or tramples into dust those who, in whatever way, have a lot apart from the common. She was free from the bonds of convention--free to soar or to sink.

Her way toward the city lay along a slowly descending street that had been, not so very long before, a country road. Block after block there were grassy fields intersected by streets, as if city had attempted a conquest of country and had abandoned it. Again the vacant lots were disfigured with the ruins of a shanty or by dreary dump heaps. For long stretches the way was built up only on one side. The houses were for the most part tenement with small and unprosperous shops or saloons on the ground floor. Toward the foot of the hill, where the line of tenements was continuous on either side, she saw a sign "Restaurant" projecting over the sidewalk. When she reached it, she paused and looked in. A narrow window and a narrow open door gave a full view of the tiny room with its two rows of plain tables. Near the window was a small counter with a case containing cakes and pies and rolls. With back to the window sat a pretty towheaded girl of about her own age, reading. Susan, close to the window, saw that the book was Owen Meredith's "Lucile," one of her own favorites. She could even read the words:

The ways they are many and wide, and seldom are two ways the same.

She entered. The girl glanced up, with eyes slowly changing from far-away dreaminess to present and practical--pleasant blue eyes with lashes and brows of the same color as the thick, neatly done yellowish hair.

"Could I get a glass of milk and a roll?" asked Susan, a modest demand, indeed, on behalf of a growing girl's appetite twenty-four hours unsatisfied.

The blonde girl smiled, showing a clean mouth with excellent teeth. "We sell the milk for five cents, the rolls three for a nickel."

"Then I'll take milk and three rolls," said Susan. "May I sit at a table? I'll not spoil it."

"Sure. Sit down. That's what the tables are for." And the girl closed the book, putting a chromo card in it to mark her place, and stirred about to serve the customer. Susan took the table nearest the door, took the seat facing the light. The girl set before her a plate, a knife and fork, a little form of butter, a tall glass of milk, and three small rolls in a large saucer. "You're up and out early?" she said to Susan.

On one of those inexplicable impulses of frankness Susan replied: "I've been sleeping in the park."

The girl had made the remark merely to be polite and was turning away. As Susan's reply penetrated to her inattentive mind she looked sharply at her, eyes opening wonderingly. "Did you get lost? Are you a stranger in town? Why didn't you ask someone to take you in?"

The girl reflected, realized. "That's so," said she. "I never thought of it before. . . . Yes, that is so! It must be dreadful not to have any place to go." She gazed at Susan with admiring eyes. "Weren't you afraid--up in the park?"

"No," replied Susan. "I hadn't anything anybody'd want to steal."

"But some man might have----" The girl left it to Susan's imagination to finish the sentence.

"I hadn't anything to steal," repeated Susan, with a kind of cynical melancholy remotely suggestive of Mabel Connemora.

The restaurant girl retired behind the counter to reflect, while Susan began upon her meager breakfast with the deliberation of one who must coax a little to go a great ways. Presently the girl said:

"Where are you going to sleep tonight?"

"Oh, that's a long ways off," replied the apt pupil of the happy-go-lucky houseboat show. "I'll find a place, I guess."

The girl looked thoughtfully toward the street. "I was wondering," she said after a while, "what I'd do if I was to find myself out in the street, with no money and nowhere to go. . . . Are you looking for something to do?"

"Do you know of anything?" asked Susan interested at once.

"Nothing worth while. There's a box factory down on the next square. But only a girl that lives at home can work there. Pa says the day's coming when women'll be like men--work at everything and get the same wages. But it isn't so now. A girl's got to get married."

Such a strange expression came over Susan's face that the waitress looked apologetic and hastened to explain herself: "I don't much mind the idea of getting married," said she. "Only--I'm afraid I can never get the kind of a man I'd want. The boys round here leave school before the girls, so the girls are better educated. And then they feel above the boys of their own class--except those boys that're beginning to get up in the world--and those kind of boys want some girl who's above them and can help them up. It's dreadful to be above the people you know and not good enough for the people you'd like to know."

Susan was not impressed; she could not understand why the waitress spoke with so much feeling. "Well," said she, pausing before beginning on the last roll, "I don't care so long as I find something to do."

"There's another thing," complained the waitress. "If you work in a store, you can't get wages enough to live on; and you learn things, and want to live better and better all the time. It makes you miserable. And you can't marry the men who work at nice refined labor because they don't make enough to marry on. And if you work in a factory or as a servant, why all but the commonest kind of men look down on you. You may get wages enough to live on, but you can't marry or get up in the world."

"You're very ambitious, aren't you?"

"Indeed I am. I don't want to be in the working class." She was leaning over the counter now, and her blond face was expressing deep discontent and scorn. "I _hate_ working people. All of them who have any sense look down on themselves and wish they could get something respectable to do."

"Oh, you don't mean that," protested Susan. "Any kind of work's respectable if it's honest."

"_You_ can say that," retorted the girl. "_You_ don't belong in our class. You were brought up different. You are a _lady_."

Susan shrank and grew crimson. The other girl did not see. She went on crossly:

"Upper-class people always talk about how fine it is to be an honest workingman. But that's all rot. Let 'em try it a while. And pa says it'll never be straightened out till everybody has to work."

"What--what does your father do?"

"He was a cabinetmaker. Then one of the other men tipped over a big chest and his right hand was crushed--smashed to pieces, so he wasn't able to work any more. But he's mighty smart in his brains. It's the kind you can't make any money out of. He has read most everything. The trouble with pa was he had too much heart. He wasn't mean enough to try and get ahead of the other workmen, and rise to be a boss over them, and grind them down to make money for the proprietor. So he stayed on at the bench--he was a first-class cabinetmaker. The better a man is as a workman, and the nicer he is as a man, the harder it is for him to get up. Pa was too good at his trade--and too soft-hearted. Won't you have another glass of milk?"

"No--thank you," said Susan. She was still hungry, but it alarmed her to think of taking more than ten cents from her hoard.

"Are you going to ask for work at the box factory?"

"I'm afraid they wouldn't take me. I don't know how to make boxes."

"Oh, that's nothing," assured the restaurant girl. "It's the easiest kind of work. But then an educated person can pick up most any trade in a few days, well enough to get along. They'll make you a paster, at first."

"How much does that pay?"

"He'll offer you two fifty a week, but you must make him give you three. That's right for beginners. Then, if you stay on and work hard, you'll be raised to four after six months. The highest pay's five."

"Three dollars," said Susan. "How much can I rent a room for?"

The restaurant girl looked at her pityingly. "Oh, you can't afford a room. You'll have to club in with three other girls and take a room together, and cook your meals yourselves, turn about."

Susan tried not to show how gloomy this prospect seemed. "I'll try," said she.

She paid the ten cents; her new acquaintance went with her to the door, pointed out the huge bare wooden building displaying in great letters "J. C. Matson, Paper Boxes."

"You apply at the office," said the waitress. "There'll be a fat black-complected man in his shirt with his suspenders let down off his shoulders. He'll be fresh with you. He used to be a working man himself, so he hasn't any respect for working people. But he doesn't mean any harm. He isn't like a good many; he lets his girls alone."

Susan had not got far when the waitress came running after her. "Won't you come back and let me know how you made out?" she asked, a little embarrassed. "I hope you don't think I'm fresh."

"I'll be glad to come," Susan assured her. And their eyes met in a friendly glance.

"If you don't find a place to go, why not come in with me? I've got only a very little bit of a room, but it's as big and a lot cleaner than any you'll find with the factory girls."

"But I haven't any money," said Susan regretfully. "And I couldn't take anything without paying."

"You could pay two dollars and a half a week and eat in with us. We couldn't afford to give you much for that, but it'd be better than what you'd get the other way."

"But you can't afford to do that."

The restaurant girl's mind was aroused, was working fast and well. "You can help in the restaurant of evenings," she promptly replied. "I'll tell ma you're so pretty you'll draw trade. And I'll explain that you used to go to school with me--and have lost your father and mother. My name's Etta Brashear."

"Mine's--Lorna Sackville," said Susan, blushing. "I'll come after a while, and we'll talk about what to do. I may not get a place."

"Oh, you'll get it. He has hard work finding girls. Factories usually pay more than stores, because the work's more looked down on--though Lord knows it's hard to think how anything could be more looked down on than a saleslady."

"I don't see why you bother about those things. What do they matter?"

"Why, everybody bothers about them. But you don't understand. You were born a lady, and you'll always feel you've got social standing, and people'll feel that way too."

"But I wasn't," said Susan earnestly. "Indeed, I wasn't. I was born--a--a nobody. I can't tell you, but I'm just nobody. I haven't even got a name."

Etta, as romantic as the next young girl, was only the more fascinated by the now thrillingly mysterious stranger--so pretty, so sweet, with such beautiful manners and strangely outcast no doubt from some family of "high folks." "You'll be sure to come? You won't disappoint me?"

Susan kissed Etta. Etta embraced Susan, her cheeks flushed, her eyes brilliant. "'I've taken an awful fancy to you," she said. "I haven't ever had an intimate lady friend. I don't care for the girls round here. They're so fresh and common. Ma brought me up refined; she's not like the ordinary working-class woman."

It hurt Susan deeply--why, she could not have quite explained--to hear Etta talk in this fashion. And in spite of herself her tone was less friendly as she said, "I'll come when I find out."

CHAPTER XIX

IN the office of the factory Susan found the man Etta described. He was seated, or, rather, was sprawled before an open and overflowing rolltop desk, his collar and cuffs off, and his coat and waistcoat also. His feet--broad, thick feet with knots at the great toe joints bulging his shoes--were hoisted upon the leaf of the desk. Susan's charms of person and manners so wrought upon him that, during the exchange of preliminary questions and answers, he slowly took down first one foot then the other, and readjusted his once muscular but now loose and pudgy body into a less loaferish posture. He was as unconscious as she of the cause and meaning of these movements. Had he awakened to what he was doing he would probably have been angered against himself and against her; and the direction of Susan Lenox's life would certainly have been changed. Those who fancy the human animal is in the custody of some conscious and predetermining destiny think with their vanity rather than with their intelligence. A careful look at any day or even hour of any life reveals the inevitable influence of sheer accidents, most of them trivial. And these accidents, often the most trivial, most powerfully determine not only the direction but also the degree and kind of force--what characteristics shall develop and what shall dwindle.

"You seem to have a nut on you," said the box manufacturer at the end of the examination. "I'll start you at three."

Susan, thus suddenly "placed" in the world and ticketed with a real value, was so profoundly excited that she could not even make a stammering attempt at expressing gratitude.

"Do your work well," continued Matson, "and you'll have a good steady job with me till you get some nice young fellow to support you. Stand the boys off. Don't let 'em touch you till you're engaged--and not much then till the preacher's said the word."

"Thank you," said Susan, trying to look grave. She was fascinated by his curious habit of scratching himself as he talked--head, ribs, arm, legs, the backs of his red hairy hands.

"Stand 'em off," pursued the box-maker, scratching his ribs and nodding his huge head vigorously. "That's the way my wife got me. It's pull Dick pull devil with the gals and the boys. And the gal that's stiff with the men gets a home, while her that ain't goes to the streets. I always gives my gals a word of good advice. And many a one I've saved. There's mighty few preachers does as much good as me. When can you go to work?"

Susan reflected. With heightened color and a slight stammer she said, "I've got something to do this afternoon, if you'll let me. Can I come in the morning?" "Seven sharp. We take off a cent a minute up to a quarter of an hour. If you're later than that, you get docked for the day. And no excuses. I didn't climb to the top from spittoon cleaner in a saloon fifteen years ago by being an easy mark for my hands."

"I'll come at seven in the morning," said Susan.

"Do you live far?"

"I'm going to live just up the street."

"That's right. It adds ten cents a day to your wages--the ten you'll save in carfare. Sixty cents a week!" And Matson beamed and scratched as if he felt he had done a generous act. "Who are you livin' with? Respectable, I hope."

"With Miss Brashear--I think."

"Oh, yes--Tom Brashear's gal. They're nice people. Tom's an honest fellow--used to make good money till he had his hard luck. Him and me used to work together. But he never could seem to learn that it ain't workin' for yourself but makin' others work for you that climbs a man up. I never was much as a worker. I was always thinkin' out ways of makin' people work for me. And here I am at the top. And where's Tom? Well--run along now--what's your name?"

"Lorna Sackville."

"Lorny." He burst into a loud guffaw. "Lord, what a name! Sounds like a theayter. Seven sharp, Lorny. So long."

Susan nodded with laughing eyes, thanked him and departed. She glanced up the street, saw Etta standing in the door of the restaurant. Etta did not move from her own doorway, though she was showing every sign of anxiety and impatience. "I can't leave even for a minute so near the dinner hour," she explained when Susan came, "or I'd, a' been outside the factory. And ma's got to stick to the kitchen. I see you got a job. How much?"

"Three," replied Susan.

"He must have offered it to you," said Etta, laughing. "I thought about it after you were gone and I knew you'd take whatever he said first. Oh, I've been so scared something'd happen. I do want you as my lady friend. Was he fresh?"

"Not a bit. He was--very nice."

"Well, he ought to be nice--as pa says, getting richer and richer, and driving the girls he robs to marry men they hate or to pick up a living in the gutter."

Susan felt that she owed her benefactor a strong protest. "Maybe I'm foolish," said she, "but I'm awful glad he's got that place and can give me work."

Etta was neither convinced nor abashed. "You don't understand things in our class," replied she. "Pa says it was the kind of grateful thinking and talking you've just done that's made him poor in his old age. He says you've either got to whip or be whipped, rob or be robbed--and that the really good honest people are the fools who take the losing side. But he says, too, he'd rather be a fool and a failure than stoop to stamping on his fellow-beings and robbing them. And I guess he's right"--there Etta laughed--"though I'll admit I'd hate to be tempted with a chance to get up by stepping on somebody." She sighed. "And sometimes I can't help wishing pa had done some tramping and stamping. Why not? That's all most people are fit for--to be tramped and stamped on. Now, don't look so shocked. You don't understand. Wait till you've been at work a while."

Susan changed the subject. "I'm going to work at seven in the morning. . . . I might as well have gone today. I had a kind of an engagement I thought I was going to keep, but I've about decided I won't."

Etta watched with awe and delight the mysterious look in Susan's suddenly flushed face and abstracted eyes. After a time she ventured to interrupt with:

"You'll try living with us?"

"If you're quite sure--did you talk to your mother?"

"Mother'll be crazy about you. She wants anything that'll make me more contented. Oh, I do get so lonesome!"

Mrs. Brashear, a spare woman, much bent by monotonous work--which, however, had not bent her courage or her cheerfulness--made Susan feel at home immediately in the little flat. The tenement was of rather a superior class. But to Susan it seemed full of noisome smells, and she was offended by the halls littered with evidences of the uncleanness of the tenants. She did not then realize that the apparent superior cleanness and neatness of the better-off classes was really in large part only affected, that their secluded back doors and back ways gave them opportunity to hide their uncivilized habits from the world that saw only the front. However, once inside the Brashear flat, she had an instant rise of spirits.

"Isn't this nice?" exclaimed she as Etta showed her, at a glance from the sitting-room, the five small but scrupulously clean rooms. "I'll like it here!"

Etta reddened, glanced at her for signs of mockery, saw that she was in earnest. "I'm afraid it's better to look at than to live in," she began, then decided against saying anything discouraging. "It seems cramped to us," said she, "after the house we had till a couple of years ago. I guess we'll make out, somehow."

The family paid twenty dollars a month for the flat. The restaurant earned twelve to fifteen a week; and the son, Ashbel, stocky, powerful and stupid, had a steady job as porter at ten a week. He gave his mother seven, as he had a room to himself and an enormous appetite. He talked of getting married; if he did marry, the family finances would be in disorder. But his girl had high ideas, being the daughter of a grocer who fancied himself still an independent merchant though he was in fact the even more poorly paid selling agent of the various food products trusts. She had fixed twenty a week as the least on which she would marry; his prospects of any such raise were--luckily for his family--extremely remote; for he had nothing but physical strength to sell, and the price of physical strength alone was going down, under immigrant competition, not only in actual wages like any other form of wage labor, but also in nominal wages.

Altogether, the Brashears were in excellent shape for a tenement family, were better off than upwards of ninety per cent of the families of prosperous and typical Cincinnati. While it was true that old Tom Brashear drank, it was also true that he carefully limited himself to two dollars a week. While it was true that he could not work at his trade and apparently did little but sit round and talk--usually high above his audience--nevertheless he was the actual head of the family and its chief bread-winner. It was his savings that were invested in the restaurant; he bought the supplies and was shrewd and intelligent about that vitally important department of the business--the department whose mismanagement in domestic economy is, next to drink, the main cause of failure and pauperism, of sickness, of premature disability, of those profound discouragements that lead to despair. Also, old Brashear had the sagacity and the nagging habit that are necessary to keeping people and things up to the mark. He had ideas--practical ideas as well as ideals--far above his station. But for him the housekeeping would have been in the familiar tenement fashion of slovenliness and filth, and the family would have been neat only on Sundays, and only on the surface then. Because he had the habit of speaking of himself as useless, as done for, as a drag, as one lingering on when he ought to be dead, his family and all the neighborhood thought of him in that way. Although intelligence, indeed, virtue of every kind, is expected of tenement house people--and is needed by them beyond any other condition of humanity--they are unfortunately merely human, are tainted of all human weaknesses. They lack, for instance, discrimination. So, it never occurred to them that Tom Brashear was the sole reason why the Brashears lived better than any of the other families and yielded less to the ferocious and incessant downward pressure.

But for one thing the Brashears would have been going up in the world. That thing was old Tom's honesty. The restaurant gave good food and honest measure. Therefore, the margin of profit was narrow--too narrow. He knew what was the matter. He mocked at himself for being "such a weak fool" when everybody else with the opportunity and the intelligence was getting on by yielding to the compulsion of the iron rule of dishonesty in business. But he remained honest--therefore, remained in the working class, instead of rising among its exploiters.

"If I didn't drink, I'd kill myself," said old Tom to Susan, when he came to know her well and to feel that from her he could get not the mere blind admiration the family gave him but understanding and sympathy. "Whenever anybody in the working class has any imagination," he explained, "he either kicks his way out of it into capitalist or into criminal--or else he takes to drink. I ain't mean enough to be either a capitalist or a criminal. So, I've got to drink."

Susan only too soon began to appreciate from her own experience what he meant.

In the first few days the novelty pleased her, made her think she was going to be contented. The new friends and acquaintances, different from any she had known, the new sights, the new way of living--all this interested her, even when it shocked one or many of her senses and sensibilities. But the novelty of folding and pasting boxes, of the queer new kind of girls who worked with her, hardly survived into the second week. She saw that she was among a people where the highest known standard--the mode of life regarded by them as the acme of elegance and bliss--the best they could conceive was far, far below what she had been brought up to believe the scantest necessities of respectable and civilized living. She saw this life from the inside now--as the comfortable classes never permit themselves to see it if they can avoid. She saw that to be a contented working girl, to look forward to the prospect of being a workingman's wife, a tenement housekeeper and mother, a woman must have been born to it--and born with little brains--must have been educated for it, and for nothing else. Etta was bitterly discontented; yet after all it was a vague endurable discontent. She had simply heard of and dreamed of and from afar off--chiefly through novels and poems and the theater--had glimpsed a life that was broader, that had comfort and luxury, people with refined habits and manners. Susan had not merely heard of such a life; she had lived it--it, and no other.

Always of the thoughtful temperament, she had been rapidly developed first by Burlingham and now by Tom Brashear--had been taught not only how to think but also how to gather the things to think about.

With a few exceptions the girls at the factory were woefully unclean about their persons. Susan did not blame them; she only wondered at Etta the more, and grew to admire her--and the father who held the whole family up to the mark. For, in spite of the difficulties of getting clean, without bathtub, without any but the crudest and cheapest appliances for cleanliness, without any leisure time, Etta kept herself in perfect order. The show boat and the quarters at the hotel had been trying to Susan. But they had seemed an adventure, a temporary, passing phase, a sort of somewhat prolonged camping-out lark. Now, she was settled down, to live, apparently for the rest of her life, with none of the comforts, with few of the decencies. What Etta and her people, using all their imagination, would have pictured as the pinnacle of luxury would have been for Susan a small and imperfect part of what she had been bred to regard as "living decently." She suspected that but for Etta's example she would be yielding, at least in the matter of cleanliness, when the struggle against dirt was so unequal, was thankless. Discouragement became her frequent mood; she wondered if the time would not come when it would be her fixed habit, as it was with all but a handful of those about her.

Sometimes she and Etta walked in the quarter at the top of the hill where lived the families of prosperous merchants--establishments a little larger, a little more pretentious than her Uncle George's in Sutherland, but on the whole much like it--the houses of the solid middle class which fancies itself grandly luxurious where it is in fact merely comfortable in a crude unimaginative way. Susan was one of those who are born with the instinct and mental bent for luxurious comfort; also, she had the accompanying peculiar talent for assimilating ideas about food and dress and surroundings from books and magazines, from the study of well-dressed people in the street, from glances into luxurious interiors through windows or open doors as she passed by. She saw with even quicker and more intelligently critical eyes the new thing, the good idea, the improvement on what she already knew. Etta's excitement over these commonplace rich people amused her. She herself, on the wings of her daring young fancy, could soar into a realm of luxury, of beauty and exquisite comfort, that made these self-complacent mansions seem very ordinary indeed. It was no drag upon her fancy, but the reverse, that she was sharing a narrow bed and a narrow room in a humble and tiny tenement flat.

On one of these walks Etta confided to her the only romance of her life therefore the real cause of her deep discontent. It was a young man from one of these houses--a flirtation lasting about a year. She assured Susan it was altogether innocent. Susan--perhaps chiefly because Etta protested so insistently about her unsullied purity--had her doubts.

"Then," said Etta, "when I saw that he didn't care anything about me except in one way--I didn't see him any more. I--I've been sorry ever since."

Susan did not offer the hoped-for sympathy. She was silent.

"Did you ever have anything like that happen to you?" inquired Etta.

"Yes," said Susan. "Something like that."

"And what did you do?"

"I didn't want to see him any more."

"Why?"

"I don't know--exactly.

"And you like him?"

"I think I would have liked him."

"You're sorry you stopped?"

"Sometimes," replied she, hesitatingly.

She was beginning to be afraid that she would soon be sorry all the time. Every day the war within burst forth afresh. She reproached herself for her growing hatred of her life. Ought she not to be grateful that she had so much--that she was not one of a squalid quartette in a foul, vermin-infested back bedroom--infested instead of only occasionally visited--that she was not a streetwalker, diseased, prowling in all weathers, the prey of the coarse humors of contemptuous and usually drunken beasts; that she was not living where everyone about her would, by pity or out of spitefulness, tear open the wounds of that hideous brand which had been put upon her at birth? Above all, she ought to be thankful that she was not Jeb Ferguson's wife.

But her efforts to make herself resigned and contented, to kill her doubts as to the goodness of "goodness," were not successful. She had Tom Brashear's "ungrateful" nature--the nature that will not let a man or a woman stay in the class of hewers of wood and drawers of water but drives him or her out of it--and up or down.

"You're one of those that things happen to," the old cabinetmaker said to her on a September evening, as they sat on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. The tenements had discharged their swarms into the hot street, and there was that lively panorama of dirt and disease and depravity which is fascinating--to unaccustomed eyes. "Yes," said Tom, "things'll happen to you."

"What--for instance?" she asked.

"God only knows. You'll up and do something some day. You're settin' here just to grow wings. Some day--swish!--and off you'll soar. It's a pity you was born female. Still--there's a lot of females that gets up. Come to think of it, I guess sex don't matter. It's havin' the soul--and mighty few of either sex has it."

"Oh, I'm like everybody else," said the girl with an impatient sigh. "I dream, but--it doesn't come to anything."

"No, you ain't like everybody else," retorted he, with a positive shake of his finely shaped head, thatched superbly with white hair. "You ain't afraid, for instance. That's the principal sign of a great soul, I guess."

"Oh, but I _am_ afraid," cried Susan. "I've only lately found out what a coward I am."

"You think you are," said the cabinetmaker. "There's them that's afraid to do, and don't do. Then there's them that's afraid to do, but goes ahead and does anyhow. That's you. I don't know where you came from--oh, I heard Etta's accountin' for you to her ma, but that's neither here nor there. I don't know where you come from, and I don't know where you're going. But--you ain't afraid--and you have imagination--and those two signs means something doing."

Susan shook her head dejectedly; it had been a cruelly hard day at the factory and the odors from the girls working on either side of her had all but overwhelmed her.

Old Tom nodded with stronger emphasis. "You're too young, yet," he said. "And not licked into shape. But wait a while. You'll get there."

Susan hoped so, but doubted it. There was no time to work at these large problems of destiny when the daily grind was so compelling, so wearing, when the problems of bare food, clothing and shelter took all there was in her.

For example, there was the matter of clothes. She had come with only what she was wearing. She gave the Brashears every Saturday two dollars and a half of her three and was ashamed of herself for taking so much for so little, when she learned about the cost of living and how different was the food the Brashears had from that of any other family in those quarters! As soon as she had saved four dollars from her wages--it took nearly two months--she bought the necessary materials and made herself two plain outer skirts, three blouses and three pairs of drawers. Chemises and corset covers she could not afford. She bought a pair of shoes for a dollar, two pairs of stockings for thirty cents, a corset for eighty cents, an umbrella for half a dollar, two underwaists for a quarter. She bought an untrimmed hat for thirty-five cents and trimmed it with the cleaned ribbon from her summer sailor and a left over bit of skirt material. She also made herself a jacket that had to serve as wrap too--and the materials for this took the surplus of her wages for another month. The cold weather had come, and she had to walk fast when she was in the open air not to be chilled to the bone. Her Aunt Fanny had been one of those women, not too common in America, who understand and practice genuine economy in the household--not the shabby stinginess that passes for economy but the laying out of money to the best advantage that comes only when one knows values. This training stood Susan in good stead now. It saved her from disaster--from disintegration.

She and Etta did some washing every night, hanging the things on the fire escape to dry. In this way she was able to be clean; but in appearance she looked as poor as she was. She found a cobbler who kept her shoes in fair order for a few cents; but nothing was right about them soon--except that they were not down at the heel. She could recall how she had often wondered why the poor girls at Sutherland showed so little taste, looked so dowdy. She wondered at her own stupidity, at the narrowness of an education, such as hers had been, an education that left her ignorant of the conditions of life as it was lived by all but a lucky few of her fellow beings.

How few the lucky! What an amazing world--what a strange creation the human race! How was it possible that the lucky few, among whom she had been born and bred, should know so little, really nothing, about the lot of the vast mass of their fellows, living all around them, close up against them? "If I had only known!" she thought. And then she reflected that, if she had known, pleasure would have been impossible. She could see her bureau drawers, her closets at home. She had thought herself not any too well off. Now, how luxurious, how stuffed with shameful, wasteful unnecessaries those drawers and closets seemed!

And merely to keep herself in underclothes that were at least not in tatters she had to spend every cent over and above her board. If she had had to pay carfare ten cents a day, sixty cents a week!--as did many of the girls who lived at home, she would have been ruined. She understood now why every girl without a family back of her, and without good prospect of marriage, was revolving the idea of becoming a streetwalker--not as a hope, but as a fear. As she learned to observe more closely, she found good reasons for suspecting that from time to time the girls who became too hard pressed relieved the tension by taking to the streets on Saturday and Sunday nights. She read in the _Commercial_ one noon--Mr. Matson sometimes left his paper where she could glance through it--she read an article on working girls, how they were seduced to lives of shame--by love of _finery_! Then she read that those who did not fall were restrained by religion and innate purity. There she laughed--bitterly. Fear of disease, fear of maternity, yes. But where was this religion? Who but the dullest fools in the throes of that bare and tortured life ever thought of God? As for the purity--what about the obscene talk that made her shudder because of its sheer filthy stupidity?--what about the frank shamelessness of the efforts to lure their "steadies" into speedy matrimony by using every charm of caress and of person to inflame passion without satisfying it? She had thought she knew about the relations of the sexes when she came to live and work in that tenement quarter. Soon her knowledge had seemed ignorance beside the knowledge of the very babies.

It was a sad, sad puzzle. If one ought to be good--chaste and clean in mind and body--then, why was there the most tremendous pressure on all but a few to make them as foul as the surroundings in which they were compelled to live? If it was wiser to be good, then why were most people imprisoned in a life from which they could escape only by being bad? What was this thing comfortable people had set up as good, anyhow--and what was bad? She found no answer. How could God condemn anyone for anything they did in the torments of the hell that life revealed itself to her as being, after a few weeks of its moral, mental and physical horrors? Etta's father was right; those who realized what life really was and what it might be, those who were sensitive took to drink or went to pieces some other way, if they were gentle, and if they were cruel, committed any brutality, any crime to try to escape.

In former days Susan thought well of charity, as she had been taught. Old Tom Brashear gave her a different point of view. One day he insulted and drove from the tenement some pious charitable people who had come down from the fashionable hilltop to be good and gracious to their "less fashionable fellow-beings." After they had gone he explained his harshness to Susan:

"That's the only way you can make them slicked-up brutes feel," said he, "they're so thick in the hide and satisfied with themselves. What do they come here for! To do good! Yes--to themselves. To make themselves feel how generous and sweet they was. Well, they'd better go home and read their Russia-leather covered Bibles. They'd find out that when God wanted to really do something for man, he didn't have himself created a king, or a plutocrat, or a fat, slimy church deacon in a fashionable church. No, he had himself born a bastard in a manger."

Susan shivered, for the truth thus put sounded like sacrilege. Then a glow--a glow of pride and of hope--swept through her.

"If you ever get up into another class," went on old Tom, "don't come hangin' round the common people you'll be livin' off of and helpin' to grind down; stick to your own class. That's the only place anybody can do any good--any real helpin' and lovin', man to man, and woman to woman. If you want to help anybody that's down, pull him up into your class first. Stick to your class. You'll find plenty to do there."

"What, for instance?" asked Susan. She understood a little of what he had in mind, but was still puzzled.

"Them stall-fed fakers I just threw out," the old man went on. "They come here, actin' as if this was the Middle Ages and the lord of the castle was doin' a fine thing when he went down among the low peasants who'd been made by God to work for the lords. But this ain't the Middle Ages. What's the truth about it?"

"I don't know," confessed Susan.

"Why, the big lower class is poor because the little upper class takes away from 'em and eats up all they toil and slave to make. Oh, it ain't the upper class's fault. They do it because they're ignorant more'n because they're bad, just as what goes on down here is ignorance more'n badness. But they do it, all the same. And they're ignorant and need to be told. Supposin' you saw a big girl out yonder in the street beatin' her baby sister. What would you do? Would you go and hold out little pieces of candy to the baby and say how sorry you was for her? Or would you first grab hold of that big sister and throw her away from beatin' of the baby?"

"I see," said Susan.

"That's it exactly," exclaimed the old man, in triumph. "And I say to them pious charity fakers, 'Git the hell out of here where you can't do no good. Git back to yer own class that makes all this misery, makes it faster'n all the religion and charity in the world could help it. Git back to yer own class and work with them, and teach them and make them stop robbin' and beatin' the baby.'"

"Yes," said the girl, "you are right. I see it now. But, Mr. Brashear, they meant well."

"The hell they did," retorted the old man. "If they'd, a' had love in their hearts, they'd have seen the truth. Love's one of the greatest teachers in the world. If they'd, a' meant well, they'd, a' been goin' round teachin' and preachin' and prayin' at their friends and fathers and brothers, the plutocrats. They'd never 'a' come down here, pretendin' they was doin' good, killin' one bedbug out of ten million and offerin' one pair of good pants where a hundred thousand pairs is needed. They'd better go read about themselves in their Bible--what Jesus says. He knew 'em. _He_ belonged to _us_--and _they_ crucified him."

The horrors of that by no means lowest tenement region, its horrors for a girl bred as Susan had been! Horrors moral, horrors mental, horrors physical--above all, the physical horrors; for, worse to her than the dull wits and the lack of education, worse than vile speech and gesture, was the hopeless battle against dirt, against the vermin that could crawl everywhere--and did. She envied the ignorant and the insensible their lack of consciousness of their own plight--like the disemboweled horse that eats tranquilly on. At first she had thought her unhappiness came from her having been used to better things, that if she had been born to this life she would have been content, gay at times. Soon she learned that laughter does not always mean mirth; that the ignorant do not lack the power to suffer simply because they lack the power to appreciate; that the diseases, the bent bodies, the harrowed faces, the drunkenness, quarreling, fighting, were safer guides to the real conditions of these people than their occasional guffaws and fits of horseplay.

A woman from the hilltop came in a carriage to see about a servant. On her way through the hall she cried out: "Gracious! Why don't these lazy creatures clean up, when soap costs so little and water nothing at all!" Susan heard, was moved to face her fiercely, but restrained herself. Of what use? How could the woman understand, if she heard, "But, you fool, where are we to get the time to clean up?--and where the courage?--and would soap enough to clean up and keep clean cost so little, when every penny means a drop of blood?"

"If they only couldn't drink so much!" said Susan to Tom.

"What, then?" retorted he. "Why, pretty soon wages'd be cut faster than they was when street carfares went down from ten cents to five. Whenever the workin' people arrange to live cheaper and to try to save something, down goes wages. No, they might as well drink. It helps 'em bear it and winds 'em up sooner. I tell you, it ain't the workin' people's fault--it's the bosses, now. It's the system--the system. A new form of slavery, this here wage system--and it's got to go--like the slaveholder that looked so copper-riveted and Bible-backed in its day."

That idea of "the system" was beyond Susan. But not what her eyes saw, and her ears heard, and her nose smelled, and her sense of touch shrank from. No ambition and no reason for ambition. No real knowledge, and no chance to get any--neither the leisure nor the money nor the teachers. No hope, and no reason for hope. No God--and no reason for a God.

Ideas beyond her years, beyond her comprehension, were stirring in her brain, were making her grave and thoughtful. She was accumulating a store of knowledge about life; she was groping for the clew to its mystery, for the missing fact or facts which would enable her to solve the puzzle, to see what its lessons were for her. Sometimes her heavy heart told her that the mystery was plain and the lesson easy--hopelessness. For of all the sadness about her, of all the tragedies so sordid and unromantic, the most tragic was the hopelessness. It would be impossible to conceive people worse off; it would be impossible to conceive _these_ people better off. They were such a multitude that only they could save themselves--and they had no intelligence to appreciate, no desire to impel. If their miseries--miseries to which they had fallen heir at birth--had made them what they were, it was also true that they were what they were--hopeless, down to the babies playing in the filth. An unscalable cliff; at the top, in pleasant lands, lived the comfortable classes; at the bottom lived the masses--and while many came whirling down from the top, how few found their way up!

On a Saturday night Ashbel came home with the news that his wages had been cut to seven dollars. And the restaurant had been paying steadily less as the hard times grew harder and the cost of unadulterated and wholesome food mounted higher and higher. As the family sat silent and stupefied, old Tom looked up from his paper, fixed his keen, mocking eyes on Susan.

"I see, here," said he, "that _we_ are so rich that they want to raise the President's salary so as he can entertain _decently_--and to build palaces at foreign courts so as our representatives'll live worthy of _us_!"

CHAPTER XX

ON Monday at the lunch hour--or, rather, half-hour--Susan ventured in to see the boss.

Matson had too recently sprung from the working class and was too ignorant of everything outside his business to have made radical changes in his habits. He smoked five-cent cigars instead of "twofurs"; he ate larger quantities of food, did not stint himself in beer or in treating his friends in the evenings down at Wielert's beer garden. Also he wore a somewhat better quality of clothing; but he looked precisely what he was. Like all the working class above the pauper line, he made a Sunday toilet, the chief features of which were the weekly bath and the weekly clean white shirt. Thus, it being only Monday morning, he was looking notably clean when Susan entered--and was morally wound up to a higher key than he would be as the week wore on. At sight of her his feet on the leaf of the desk wavered, then became inert; it would not do to put on manners with any of the "hands." Thanks to the bath, he was not exuding his usual odor that comes from bolting much strong, cheap food.

"Well, Lorny--what's the kick?" inquired he with his amiable grin. His rise in the world never for an instant ceased to be a source of delight to him; it--and a perfect digestion--kept him in a good humor all the time.

"I want to know," stammered Susan, "if you can't give me a little more money."

He laughed, eyeing her approvingly. Her clothing was that of the working girl; but in her face was the look never found in those born to the modern form of slavery-wage servitude. If he had been "cultured" he might have compared her to an enslaved princess, though in fact that expression of her courageous violet-gray eyes and sensitive mouth could never have been in the face of princess bred to the enslaving routine of the most conventional of conventional lives; it could come only from sheer erectness of spirit, the exclusive birthright of the sons and daughters of democracy.

"More money!" he chuckled. "You _have_ got a nerve!--when factories are shutting down everywhere and working people are tramping the streets in droves."

"I do about one-fourth more than the best hands you've got," replied Susan, made audacious by necessity. "And I'll agree to throw in my lunch time."

"Let me see, how much do you get?"

"Three dollars."

"And you aren't living at home. You must have a hard time. Not much over for diamonds, eh? You want to hustle round and get married, Lorny. Looks don't last long when a gal works. But you're holdin' out better'n them that gads and dances all night."

"I help at the restaurant in the evening to piece out my board. I'm pretty tired when I get a chance to go to bed."

"I'll bet!. . . So, you want more money. I've been watchin' you. I watch all my gals--I have to, to keep weedin' out the fast ones. I won't have no bad examples in _my_ place! As soon as I ketch a gal livin' beyond her wages I give her the bounce."

Susan lowered her eyes and her cheeks burned--not because Matson was frankly discussing the frivolous subject of sex. Another girl might have affected the air of distressed modesty, but it would have been affectation, pure and simple, as in those regions all were used to hearing the frankest, vilest things--and we do not blush at what we are used to hearing. Still, the tenement female sex is as full of affectation as is the sex elsewhere. But, Susan, the curiously self-unconscious, was incapable of affectation. Her indignation arose from her sense of the hideous injustice of Matson's discharging girls for doing what his meager wages all but compelled.

"Yes, I've been watching you," he went on, "with a kind of a sort of a notion of makin' you a forelady. That'd mean six dollars a week. But you ain't fit. You've got the brains--plenty of 'em. But you wouldn't be of no use to me as forelady."

"Why not?" asked Susan. Six dollars a week! Affluence! Wealth!

Matson took his feet down, relit his cigar and swung himself into an oracular attitude.

"I'll show you. What's manufacturin'? Right down at the bottom, I mean." He looked hard at the girl. She looked receptively at him.

"Why, it's gettin' work out of the hands. New ideas is nothin'. You can steal 'em the minute the other fellow uses 'em. No, it's all in gettin' work out of the hands."

Susan's expression suggested one who sees light and wishes to see more of it. He proceeded:

"You work for me--for instance, now, if every day you make stuff there's a profit of five dollars on, I get five dollars out of you. If I can push you to make stuff there's a profit of six dollars on, I get six dollars--a dollar more. Clear extra gain, isn't it? Now multiply a dollar by the number of hands, and you'll see what it amounts to."

"I see," said Susan, nodding thoughtfully.

"Well! How did I get up? Because as a foreman I knew how to work the hands. I knew how to get those extra dollars. And how do I keep up? Because I hire forepeople that get work out of the hands."

Susan understood. But her expression was a comment that was not missed by the shrewd Matson.

"Now, listen to me, Lorny. I want to give you a plain straight talk because I'd like to see you climb. Ever since you've been here I've been laughin' to myself over the way your forelady--she's a fox, she is!--makes you the pacemaker for the other girls. She squeezes at least twenty-five cents a day over what she used to out of each hand in your room because you're above the rest of them dirty, shiftless muttonheads."

Susan flushed at this fling at her fellow-workers.

"Dirty, shiftless muttonheads," repeated Matson. "Ain't I right? Ain't they dirty? Ain't they shiftless--so no-account that if they wasn't watched every minute they'd lay down--and let me and the factory that supports 'em go to rack and ruin? And ain't they muttonheads? Do you ever find any of 'em saying or doing a sensible thing?"

Susan could not deny. She could think of excuses--perfect excuses. But the facts were about as he brutally put it.

"Oh, I know 'em. I've dealt with 'em all my life," pursued the box manufacturer. "Now, Lorny, you ought to be a forelady. You've got to toughen up and stop bein' so polite and helpful and all that. You'll _never_ get on if you don't toughen up. Business is business. Be as sentimental as you like away from business, and after you've clum to the top. But not _in_ business or while you're kickin' and scratchin' and clawin' your way up."

Susan shook her head slowly. She felt painfully young and inexperienced and unfit for the ferocious struggle called life. She felt deathly sick.

"Of course it's a hard world," said Matson with a wave of his cigar. "But did I make it?"

"No," admitted Susan, as his eyes demanded a reply.

"Sure not," said he. "And how's anybody to get up in it? Is there any other way but by kickin' and stampin', eh?"

"None that I see," conceded Susan reluctantly.

"None that is," declared he. "Them that says there's other ways either lies or don't know nothin' about the practical game. Well, then!" Matson puffed triumphantly at the cigar. "Such bein' the case--and as long as the crowd down below's got to be kicked in the face by them that's on the way up, why shouldn't I do the kickin'--which is goin' to be done anyhow--instead of gettin' kicked? Ain't that sense?"

"Yes," admitted Susan. She sighed. "Yes," she repeated.

"Well--toughen up. Meanwhile, I'll raise you, to spur the others on. I'll give you four a week." And he cut short her thanks with an "Oh, don't mention it. I'm only doin' what's square--what helps me as well as you. I want to encourage you. You don't belong down among them cattle. Toughen up, Lorny. A girl with a bank account gets the pick of the beaux." And he nodded a dismissal.

Matson, and his hands, bosses and workers, brutal, brutalizing each other more and more as they acted and reacted upon each other. Where would it end?

She was in dire need of underclothes. Her undershirts were full of holes from the rubbing of her cheap, rough corset; her drawers and stockings were patched in several places--in fact, she could not have worn the stockings had not her skirt now been well below her shoetops. Also, her shoes, in spite of the money she had spent upon them, were about to burst round the edges of the soles. But she would not longer accept from the Brashears what she regarded as charity.

"You more than pay your share, what with the work you do," protested Mrs. Brashear. "I'll not refuse the extra dollar because I've simply got to take it. But I don't want to pertend."

The restaurant receipts began to fall with the increasing hardness of the times among the working people. Soon it was down to practically no profit at all--that is, nothing toward the rent. Tom Brashear was forced to abandon his policy of honesty, to do as all the other purveyors were doing--to buy cheap stuff and to cheapen it still further. He broke abruptly with his tradition and his past. It aged him horribly all in a few weeks--but, at least, ruin was put off. Mrs. Brashear had to draw twenty of the sixty-three dollars which were in the savings bank against sickness. Funerals would be taken care of by the burial insurance; each member of the family, including Susan, had a policy. But sickness had to have its special fund; and it was frequently drawn upon, as the Brashears knew no more than their neighbors about hygiene, and were constantly catching the colds of foolish exposure or indigestion and letting them develop into fevers, bad attacks of rheumatism, stomach trouble, backache all regarded by them as by their neighbors as a necessary part of the routine of life. Those tenement people had no more notion of self-restraint than had the "better classes" whose self-indulgences maintain the vast army of doctors and druggists. The only thing that saved Susan from all but an occasional cold or sore throat from wet feet was eating little through being unable to accustom herself to the fare that was the best the Brashears could now afford--cheap food in cheap lard, coarse and poisonous sugar, vilely adulterated coffee, doctored meat and vegetables--the food which the poor in their ignorance buy--and for which they in their helplessness pay actually higher prices than do intelligent well-to-do people for the better qualities. And not only were the times hard, but the winter also. Snow--sleet--rain--thaw--slush--noisome, disease-laden vapor--and, of course, sickness everywhere--with occasional relief in death, relief for the one who died, relief for the living freed from just so much of the burden. The sickness on every hand appalled Susan. Surely, she said to old Brashear, the like had never been before; on the contrary, said he, the amount of illness and death was, if anything, less than usual because the hard times gave people less for eating and drinking. These ghastly creatures crawling toward the hospital or borne out on stretchers to the ambulance--these yet ghastlier creatures tottering feebly homeward, discharged as cured--these corpses of men, of women, of boys and girls, of babies--oh, how many corpses of babies!--these corpses borne away for burial, usually to the public burying ground--all these stricken ones in the battle ever waging, with curses, with hoarse loud laughter, with shrieks and moans, with dull, drawn faces and jaws set--all these stricken ones were but the ordinary losses of the battle!

"And in the churches," said old Tom Brashear, "they preach the goodness and mercy of God. And in the papers they talk about how rich and prosperous we are."

"I don't care to live! It is too horrible," cried the girl.

"Oh, you mustn't take things so to heart," counseled he. "Us that live this life can't afford to take it to heart. Leave that to them who come down here from the good houses and look on us for a minute and enjoy themselves with a little weepin' and sighin' as if it was in the theater."

"It seems worse every, day," she said. "I try to fool myself, because I've got to stay and----"

"Oh, no, you haven't," interrupted he.

Susan looked at him with a startled expression. It seemed to her that the old man had seen into her secret heart where was daily raging the struggle against taking the only way out open to a girl in her circumstances. It seemed to her he was hinting that she ought to take that way.

If any such idea was in his mind, he did not dare put it into words. He simply repeated:

"You won't stay. You'll pull out."

"How?" she asked.

"Somehow. When the way opens you'll see it, and take it."

There had long since sprung up between these two a sympathy, a mutual understanding beyond any necessity of expression in words or looks. She had never had this feeling for anyone, not even for Burlingham. This feeling for each other had been like that of a father and daughter who love each other without either understanding the other very well or feeling the need of a sympathetic understanding. There was a strong resemblance between Burlingham and old Tom. Both belonged to the familiar philosopher type. But, unlike the actor-manager, the old cabinetmaker had lived his philosophy, and a very gentle and tolerant philosophy it was.

After she had looked her request for light upon what way she was to take, they sat silent, neither looking at the other, yet each seeing the other with the eye of the mind. She said:

"I may not dare take it."

"You won't have no choice," replied he. "You'll have to take it. And you'll get away from here. And you mustn't ever come back--or look back. Forget all this misery. Rememberin' won't do us no good. It'd only weaken you."

"I shan't ever forget," cried the girl.

"You must," said the old man firmly. He added, "And you will. You'll have too much else to think about--too much that has to be attended to."

As the first of the year approached and the small shopkeepers of the tenements, like the big ones elsewhere, were casting up the year's balances and learning how far toward or beyond the verge of ruin the hard times had brought them, the sound of the fire engines--and of the ambulances--became a familiar part of the daily and nightly noises of the district. Desperate shopkeepers, careless of their neighbors' lives and property in fiercely striving for themselves and their families--workingmen out of a job and deep in debt--landlords with too heavy interest falling due--all these were trying to save themselves or to lengthen the time the fact of ruin could be kept secret by setting fire to their shops or their flats. The Brashears had been burned out twice in their wandering tenement house life; so old Tom was sleeping little; was constantly prowling about the halls of all the tenements in that row and into the cellars.

He told Susan the open secret of the meaning of most of these fires. And after he had cursed the fire fiends, he apologized for them. "It's the curse of the system," explained he. "It's all the curse of the system. These here storekeepers and the farmers the same way--they think they're independent, but really they're nothin' but fooled slaves of the big blood suckers for the upper class. But these here little storekeepers, they're tryin' to escape. How does a man escape? Why, by gettin' some hands together to work for him so that he can take it out of their wages. When you get together enough to hire help--that's when you pass out of slavery into the master class--master of slaves."

Susan nodded understandingly.

"Now, how can these little storekeepers like me get together enough to begin to hire slaves? By a hundred tricks, every one of them wicked and mean. By skimpin' and slavin' themselves and their families, by sellin' short weight, by sellin' rotten food, by sellin' poison, by burnin' to get the insurance. And, at last, if they don't die or get caught and jailed, they get together the money to branch out and hire help, and begin to get prosperous out of the blood of their help. These here arson fellows--they're on the first rung of the ladder of success. You heard about that beautiful ladder in Sunday school, didn't you?"

"Yes," said Susan, "that and a great many other lies about God and man."

Susan had all along had great difficulty in getting sleep because of the incessant and discordant noises of the district. The unhappy people added to their own misery by disturbing each other's rest--and no small part of the bad health everywhere prevailing was due to this inability of anybody to get proper sleep because somebody was always singing or quarreling, shouting or stamping about. But Susan, being young and as yet untroubled by the indigestion that openly or secretly preyed upon everyone else, did at last grow somewhat used to noise, did contrive to get five or six hours of broken sleep. With the epidemic of fires she was once more restless and wakeful. Every day came news of fire somewhere in the tenement districts of the city, with one or more, perhaps a dozen, roasted to death, or horribly burned. A few weeks, however, and even that peril became so familiar that she slept like the rest. There were too many actualities of discomfort, of misery, to harass her all day long every time her mind wandered from her work.

One night she was awakened by a scream. She leaped from bed to find the room filling with smoke and the street bright as day, but with a flickering evil light. Etta was screaming, Ashbel was bawling and roaring like a tortured bull. Susan, completely dazed by the uproar, seized Etta and dragged her into the hall. There were Mr. and Mrs. Brashear, he in his nightdress of drawers and undershirt, she in the short flannel petticoat and sacque in which she always slept. Ashbel burst out of his room, kicking the door down instead of turning the knob.

"Lorny," cried old Tom, "you take mother and Etta to the escape." And he rushed at his powerful, stupid son and began to strike him in the face with his one good fist, shrieking, "Shut up, you damn fool! Shut up!"

Dragging Etta and pushing Mrs. Brashear, Susan moved toward the end of the hall where the fire escape passed their windows. All the way down, the landings were littered with bedding, pots, pans, drying clothes, fire wood, boxes, all manner of rubbish, the overflow of the crowded little flats. Over these obstructions and down the ladders were falling and stumbling men, women, children, babies, in all degrees of nudity--for many of the big families that slept in one room with windows tight shut so that the stove heat would not escape and be wasted when fuel was so dear, slept stark naked. Susan contrived to get Etta and the old woman to the street; not far behind them came Tom and Ashbel, the son's face bleeding from the blows his father had struck to quiet him.

It was a penetrating cold night, with an icy drizzle falling. The street was filled with engines, hose, all manner of ruined household effects, firemen shouting, the tenement people huddling this way and that, barefooted, nearly or quite naked, silent, stupefied. Nobody had saved anything worth while. The entire block was ablaze, was burning as if it had been saturated with coal oil.

"The owner's done this," said old Tom. "I heard he was in trouble. But though he's a church member and what they call a philanthropist, I hardly thought he'd stoop to hirin' this done. If anybody's caught, it'll be some fellow that don't know who he did it for."

About a hundred families were homeless in the street. Half a dozen patrol wagons and five ambulances were taking the people away to shelter, women and babies first. It was an hour--an hour of standing in the street, with bare feet on the ice, under the ankle-deep slush--before old Tom and his wife got their turn to be taken. Then Susan and Etta and Ashbel, escorted by a policeman, set out for the station house. As they walked along, someone called out to the policeman:

"Anybody killed at the fire, officer?"

"Six jumped and was smashed," replied the policeman. "I seen three dead babies. But they won't know for several days how many it'll total."

And all her life long, whenever Susan Lenox heard the clang of a fire engine, there arose before her the memory picture of that fire, in all the horror of detail. A fire bell to her meant wretched families flung into the night, shrieks of mangled and dying, moans of babies with life oozing from their blue lips, columns of smoke ascending through icy, soaking air, and a vast glare of wicked light with flame demons leaping for joy in the measureless woe over which they were presiding. As the little party was passing the fire lines, Ashbel's foot slipped on a freezing ooze of blood and slush, and he fell sprawling upon a human body battered and trampled until it was like an overturned basket of butcher's odds and ends.

The station house was eleven long squares away. But before they started for it they were already at the lowest depth of physical wretchedness which human nerves can register; thus, they arrived simply a little more numb. The big room, heated by a huge, red-hot stove to the point where the sweat starts, was crowded with abject and pitiful human specimens. Even Susan, the most sensitive person there, gazed about with stolid eyes. The nakedness of unsightly bodies, gross with fat or wasted to emaciation, the dirtiness of limbs and torsos long, long unwashed, the foul steam from it all and from the water-soaked rags, the groans of some, the silent, staring misery of others, and, most horrible of all, the laughter of those who yielded like animals to the momentary sense of physical well-being as the heat thawed them out--these sights and sounds together made up a truly infernal picture. And, like all the tragedies of abject poverty, it was wholly devoid of that dignity which is necessary to excite the deep pity of respect, was sordid and squalid, moved the sensitive to turn away in loathing rather than to advance with brotherly sympathy and love.

Ashbel, his animal instinct roused by the sight of the stove, thrust the throng aside rudely as he pushed straight for the radiating center. Etta and Susan followed in his wake. The fierce heat soon roused them to the sense of their plight. Ashbel began to curse, Etta to weep. Susan's mind was staring, without hope but also without despair, at the walls of the trap in which they were all caught--was seeking the spot where they could begin to burrow through and escape.

Beds and covers were gathered in by the police from everywhere in that district, were ranged upon the floor of the four rooms. The men were put in the cells downstairs; the women and the children got the cots. Susan and Etta lay upon the same mattress, a horse blanket over them. Etta slept; Susan, wide awake, lived in brain and nerves the heart-breaking scenes through which she had passed numb and stolid.

About six o'clock a breakfast of coffee, milk and bread was served. It was evident that the police did not know what to do with these outcasts who had nothing and no place to go--for practically all were out of work when the blow came. Ashbel demanded shoes, pants and a coat.

"I've got to get to my job," shouted he, "or else I'll lose it. Then where in the hell'd we be!"

His blustering angered the sergeant, who finally told him if he did not quiet down he would be locked in a cell. Susan interrupted, explained the situation, got Ashbel the necessary clothes and freed Etta and herself of his worse than useless presence. At Susan's suggestion such other men as had jobs were also fitted out after a fashion and sent away. "You can take the addresses of their families if you send them anywhere during the day, and these men can come back here and find out where they've gone----" this was the plan she proposed to the captain, and he adopted it. As soon as the morning papers were about the city, aid of every kind began to pour in, with the result that before noon many of the families were better established than they had been before the fire.

Susan and Etta got some clothing, enough to keep them warm on their way through the streets to the hospital to which Brashear and his wife had been taken. Mrs. Brashear had died in the ambulance--of heart disease, the doctors said, but Susan felt it was really of the sense that to go on living was impossible. And fond of her though she was, she could not but be relieved that there was one less factor in the unsolvable problem.

"She's better, off" she said to Etta in the effort to console.

But Etta needed no consolation. "Ever so much better off," she promptly assented. "Mother hasn't cared about living since we had to give up our little home and become tenement house people. And she was right."

As to Brashear, they learned that he was ill; but they did not learn until evening that he was dying of pneumonia. The two girls and Ashbel were admitted to the ward where he lay--one of a long line of sufferers in bare, clean little beds. Screens were drawn round his bed because he was dying. He had been suffering torments from the savage assaults of the pneumonia; but the pain had passed away now, so he said, though the dreadful sound of his breathing made Susan's heart flutter and her whole body quiver.

"Do you want a preacher or a priest?" asked the nurse.

"Neither," replied the old man in gasps and whispers. "If there is a God he'll never let anybody from this hell of a world into his presence. They might tell him the truth about himself."

"Oh, father, father!" pleaded Etta, and Ashbel burst into a fit of hysterical and terrified crying.

The old man turned his dying eyes on Susan. He rested a few minutes, fixing her gaze upon his with a hypnotic stare. Then he began again:

"You've got somethin' more'n a turnip on your shoulders. Listen to me. There was a man named Jesus once"--gasp--gasp--"You've heard about him, but you don't know about him"--gasp--gasp--"I'll tell you--listen. He was a low fellow--a workin' man--same trade as mine--born without a father--born in a horse trough--in a stable"--gasp--gasp--

Susan leaned forward. "Born without a father," she murmured, her eyes suddenly bright.

"That's him. Listen"--gasp--gasp--gasp--"He was a big feller--big brain--big heart--the biggest man that ever lived"--gasp--gasp--gasp--gas--"And he looked at this here hell of a world from the outside, he being an outcast and a low-down common workingman. And he _saw_--he did----

"Yes, he saw!"--gasp--gasp--gasp--"And he said all men were brothers--and that they'd find it out some day. He saw that this world was put together for the strong and the cruel--that they could win out--and make the rest of us work for 'em for what they chose to give--like they work a poor ignorant horse for his feed and stall in a dirty stable----"gasp--gasp--gasp--

"For the strong and the cruel," said Susan.

"And this feller Jesus--he set round the saloons and such places--publicans, they called 'em"--gasp--gasp--gasp--"And he says to all the poor ignorant slaves and such cattle, he says, 'You're all brothers. Love one another'"--gasp--gasp--gasp--" 'Love one another,' he says, 'and learn to help each other and stand up for each other,' he says, 'and hate war and fightin' and money grabbin'----'"gasp--gasp--gasp--"'Peace on earth,' he says, 'Know the truth, and the truth shall make you free'--and he saw there'd be a time"--the old man raised himself on one elbow--"Yes, by God--there _will_ be!--a time when men'll learn not to be beasts and'll be men--_men_, little gal!"

"Men," echoed Susan, her eyes shining, her bosom heaving.

"It ain't sense and it ain't right that everything should be for the few--for them with brains--and that the rest--the millions--should be tramped down just because they ain't so cruel or so 'cute'--they and their children tramped down in the dirt. And that feller Jesus saw it."

"Yes--yes," cried Susan. "He saw it."

"I'll tell you what he was," said old Tom in a hoarse whisper. "He wasn't no god. He was bigger'n that--bigger'n that, little gal! He was the first _man_ that ever lived. He said, 'Give the weak a chance so as they kin git strong.' He says----"

The dying man fell back exhausted. His eyes rolled wildly, closed; his mouth twitched, fell wide open; there came from his throat a sound Susan had never heard before, but she knew what it was, what it meant.

Etta and Ashbel were overwhelmed afresh by the disgrace of having their parents buried in Potter's Field--for the insurance money went for debts. They did not understand when Susan said, "I think your father'd have liked to feel that he was going to be buried there--because then he'll be with--with his Friend. You know, _He_ was buried in Potter's Field." However, their grief was shortlived; there is no time in the lives of working people for such luxuries as grief--no more time than there is at sea when all are toiling to keep afloat the storm-racked sinking ship and one sailor is swept overboard. In comfortable lives a bereavement is a contrast; in the lives of the wretched it is but one more in the assailing army of woes.

Etta took a job at the box factory at three dollars a week; she and Susan and Ashbel moved into two small rooms in a flat in a tenement opposite the factory--a cheaper and therefore lower house than the one that had burned. They bought on the installment plan nine dollars' worth of furniture--the scant minimum of necessities. They calculated that, by careful saving, they could pay off the debt in a year or so--unless one or the other fell ill or lost work. "That means," said Etta, eyeing their flimsy and all but downright worthless purchases, "that means we'll still be paying when this furniture'll be gone to pieces and fit only for kindling."

"It's the best we can do," replied Susan. "Maybe one of us'll get a better job."

"_You_ could, I'm sure, if you had the clothes," said Etta. "But not in those rags."

"If I had the clothes? Where?"

"At Shillito's or one of the other department stores. They'd give us both places in one of the men's departments. They like pretty girls for those places--if they're not giddy and don't waste time flirting but use flirtation to sell goods. But what's the sense in talking about it? You haven't got the clothes. A saleslady's got to be counter-dressed. She can look as bad as she pleases round the skirt and the feet. But from the waist up she has to look natty, if she wants wages."

Susan had seen these girls; she understood now why they looked as if they were the put together upper and lower halves of two different persons. She recalled that, even though they went into other business, they still retained the habit, wore toilets that were counterbuilt. She revolved the problem of getting one of these toilets and of securing a store job. But she soon saw it was hopeless, for the time. Every cent the three had was needed to keep from starving and freezing. Also--though she did not realize it--her young enthusiasm was steadily being sapped by the life she was leading. It may have been this rather than natural gentleness--or perhaps it was as much the one as the other--that kept Susan from taking Matson's advice and hardening herself into a forelady. The ruddy glow under her skin had given place to, the roundness of her form had gone, and its pallor; beauty remained only because she had a figure which not even emaciation could have deprived of lines of alluring grace. But she was no longer quite so straight, and her hair, which it was a sheer impossibility to care for, was losing its soft vitality. She was still pretty, but not the beauty she had been when she was ejected from the class in which she was bred. However, she gave the change in herself little thought; it was the rapid decline of Etta's prettiness and freshness that worried her most.

Not many weeks after the fire and the deeper plunge, she began to be annoyed by Ashbel. In his clumsy, clownish way he was making advances to her. Several times he tried to kiss her. Once, when Etta was out, he opened the door of the room where she was taking a bath in a washtub she had borrowed of the janitress, leered in at her and very reluctantly obeyed her sharp order to close the door. She had long known that he was in reality very different from the silent restrained person fear of his father made him seem to be. But she thought even the reality was far above the rest of the young men growing up among those degrading influences.

The intrusion into her room was on a Sunday; on the following Sunday he came back as soon as Etta went out. "Look here, Lorny," said he, with blustering tone and gesture, "I want to have a plain talk with you. I'm sick and tired of this. There's got to be a change."

"Sick of what?" asked Susan.

"Of the way you stand me off." He plumped himself sullenly down on the edge of hers and Etta's bed. "I can't afford to get married. I've got to stick by you two."

"It strikes me, Ashbel, we all need each other. Who'd marry you on seven a week?" She laughed good-humoredly. "Anyhow, _you_ wouldn't support a wife. It takes the hardest kind of work to get your share of the expenses out of you. You always try to beat us down to letting you off with two fifty a week."

"That's about all Etta pays."

"It's about all she gets. And _I_ pay three fifty--and she and I do all the work--and give you two meals and a lunch to take with you--and you've got a room alone--and your mending done. I guess you know when you're well off."

"But I ain't well off," he cried. "I'm a grown-up man--and I've got to have a woman."

Susan had become used to tenement conditions. She said, practically, "Well--there's your left over four dollars a week."

"Huh!" retorted he. "Think I'm goin' to run any risks? I'm no fool. I take care of my health."

"Well--don't bother me with your troubles--at least, troubles of that sort."

"Yes, but I will!" shouted he, in one of those sudden furies that seize upon the stupid ignorant. "You needn't act so nifty with me. I'm as good as you are. I'm willing to marry you."

"No, thanks," said Susan. "I'm not free to marry--even if I would."

"Oh--you ain't?" For an instant his curiosity, as she thus laid a hand upon the curtain over her past, distracted his uncertain attention. But her expression, reserved, cold, maddeningly reminding him of a class distinction of which he was as sensitively conscious as she was unconscious--her expression brought him back with a jerk. "Then you'll have to live with me, anyhow. I can't stand it, and I'm not goin' to.

If you want me to stay on here, and help out, you've got to treat me right. Other fellows that do as I'm doing get treated right. And I've got to be, too--or I'll clear out." And he squirmed, and waggled his head and slapped and rubbed his heavy, powerful legs.

"Why, Ashbel," said Susan, patting him on the shoulder. "You and I are like brother and sister. You might as well talk this way to Etta."

He gave her a brazen look, uttered a laugh that was like the flinging out of a bucket of filth. "Why not? Other fellows that have to support the family and can't afford to marry gets took care of." Susan shrank away. But Ashbel did not notice it. "It ain't a question of Etta," he went on. "There's you--and I don't need to look nowhere else."

Susan had long since lost power to be shocked by any revelation of the doings of people lashed out of all civilized feelings by the incessant brutal whips of poverty and driven back to the state of nature. She had never happened to hear definitely of this habit--even custom--of incestuous relations; now that she heard, she instantly accepted it as something of which she had really known for some time. At any rate, she had no sense of shock. She felt no horror, no deep disgust, simply the distaste into which her original sense of horror had been thinned down by constant contact with poverty's conditions--just as filth no longer made her shudder, so long as it did not touch her own person.

"You'd better go and chase yourself round the square a few times," said she, turning away and taking up some mending.

"You see, there ain't no way out of it," pursued he, with an insinuating grin.

Susan gave him a steady, straight look. "Don't ever speak of it again," said she quietly. "You ought to be ashamed--and you will be when you think it over."

He laughed loudly. "I've thought it over. I mean what I say. If you don't do the square thing by me, you drive me out."

He came hulking up to her, tried to catch her in his big powerful arms. She put the table between him and her. He kicked it aside and came on. She saw that her move had given him a false impression--a notion that she was afraid of him, was coquetting with him. She opened the door leading into the front part of the flat where the Quinlan family lived. "If you don't behave yourself, I'll call Mr. Quinlan," said she, not the least bluster or fear or nervousness in her tone.

"What'd be the use? He'd only laugh. Why, the same thing's going on in their family."

"Still, he'd lynch you if I told him what _you_ were trying to do."

Even Ashbel saw this familiar truth of human nature. The fact that Quinlan was guilty himself, far from staying him from meting out savage justice to another, would make him the more relentless and eager. "All right," said he. "Then you want me to git out?"

"I want you to behave yourself and stay on. Go take a walk, Ashbel."

And Ashbel went. But his expression was not reassuring; Susan feared he had no intention of accepting his defeat. However, she reasoned that numbskull though he was, he yet had wit enough to realize how greatly to his disadvantage any change he could make would be. She did not speak of the matter to Etta, who was therefore taken completely by surprise when Ashbel, after a silent supper that evening, burst out with his grievance:

"I'm going to pack up," said he. "I've found a place where I'll be treated right." He looked haughtily at Susan. "And the daughter's a good looker, too. She's got some weight on her. She ain't like a washed out string."

Etta understood at once. "What a low-down thing you are!" she cried. "Just like the rest of these filthy tenement house animals. I thought _you_ had some pride."

"Oh, shut up!" bawled Ashbel. "You're not such a much. What're we, anyhow, to put on airs? We're as common as dirt--yes, and that sniffy lady friend of yours, too. Where'd she come from, anyhow? Some dung pile, I'll bet."

He went into his room, reappeared with his few belongings done into a bundle. "So long," said he, stalking toward the hall door.

Etta burst into tears, caught him by the arm. "You ain't goin', are you, Ashy?" cried she.

"Bet your life. Let me loose." And he shook her off. "I'm not goin' to be saddled with two women that ain't got no gratitude."

"My God, Lorna!" wailed Etta. "Talk to him. Make him stay."

Susan shook her head, went to the window and gazed into the snowy dreary prospect of tenement house yards. Ashbel, who had been hesitating through hope, vented a jeering laugh. "Ain't she the insultin'est, airiest lady!" sneered he. "Well, so long."

"But, Ashy, you haven't paid for last week yet," pleaded Etta, clinging to his arm.

"You kin have my share of the furniture for that."

"The furniture! Oh, my God!" shrieked Etta, releasing him to throw out her arms in despair. "How'll we pay for the furniture if you go?"

"Ask your high and mighty lady friend," said her brother. And he opened the door, passed into the hall, slammed it behind him. Susan waited a moment for Etta to speak, then turned to see what she was doing. She had dropped into one of the flimsy chairs, was staring into vacancy.

"We'll have to give up these rooms right away," said Susan.

Etta roused herself, looked at her friend. And Susan saw what Etta had not the courage to express--that she blamed her for not having "made the best of it" and kept Ashbel. And Susan was by no means sure that the reproach in Etta's eyes and heart were not justified. "I couldn't do it, Etta," she said with a faint suggestion of apology.

"Men are that way," said Etta sullenly.

"Oh, I don't blame him," protested Susan. "I understand. But--I can't do it, Etta--I simply can't!"

"No," said Etta. "You couldn't. I could, but you couldn't. I'm not as far down as Ashbel. I'm betwixt and between; so I can understand you both."

"You go and make up with him and let me look after myself. I'll get along."

Etta shook her head. "No," said she without any show of sentiment, but like one stating an unalterable fact. "I've got to stay on with you. I can't live without you. I don't want to go down. I want to go up."

"Up!" Susan smiled bitterly.

Silence fell between them, and Susan planned for the new conditions. She did not speak until Etta said, "What ever will we do?"

"We've got to give up the furniture. Thank goodness, we've paid only two-fifty on it."

"Yes, _it's_ got to go," said Etta.

"And we've got to pay Mrs. Quinlan the six we owe her and get out tonight. We'll go up to the top floor--up to Mrs. Cassatt. She takes sleepers. Then--we'll see."

An hour later they had moved; for Mrs. Quinlan was able to find two lodgers to take the rooms at once. They were established with Mrs. Cassatt, had a foul and foul-smelling bed and one-half of her back room; the other half barely contained two even dirtier and more malodorous cots, in one of which slept Mrs. Cassatt's sixteen-year-old daughter Kate, in the other her fourteen-year-old son Dan. For these new quarters and the right to cook their food on the Cassatt stove the girls agreed to pay three dollars and a half a week--which left them three dollars and a half a week for food and clothing--and for recreation and for the exercise of the virtue of thrift which the comfortable so assiduously urge upon the poor.

CHAPTER XXI

EACH girl now had with her at all times everything she possessed in the world--a toothbrush, a cake of castile soap, the little money left out of the week's wages, these three items in the pocket of her one skirt, a cheap dark blue cloth much wrinkled and patched; a twenty-five cent felt hat, Susan's adorned with a blue ribbon, Etta's with a bunch of faded roses; a blue cotton blouse patched under the arms with stuff of a different shade; an old misshapen corset that cost forty-nine cents in a bargain sale; a suit of gray shoddy-and-wool underwear; a pair of fifteen-cent stockings, Susan's brown, Etta's black; a pair of worn and torn ties, scuffed and down at the heel, bought for a dollar and nine cents; a dirt-stained dark blue jacket, Susan's lacking one button, Etta's lacking three and having a patch under the right arm.

Yet they often laughed and joked with each other, with their fellow-workers. You might have said their hearts were light; for so eager are we to believe our fellow-beings comfortable, a smile of poverty's face convinces us straightway that it is as happy as we, if not happier. There would have been to their mirth a little more than mere surface and youthful ability to find some jest in the most crushing tragedy if only they could have kept themselves clean. The lack of sufficient food was a severe trial, for both had voracious appetites; Etta was tormented by visions of quantity, Susan by visions of quality as well as of quantity. But only at meal times, or when they had to omit a meal entirely, were they keenly distressed by the food question. The cold was a still severer trial; but it was warm in the factory and it was warm in Mrs. Cassatt's flat, whose windows were never opened from closing in of winter until spring came round. The inability to keep clean was the trial of trials.

From her beginning at the box factory the physical uncleanness of the other girls had made Susan suffer keenly. And her suffering can be understood only by a clean person who has been through the same ordeal. She knew that her fellow-workers were not to blame. She even envied them the ignorance and the insensibility that enabled them to bear what, she was convinced, could never be changed. She wondered sometimes at the strength and grip of the religious belief among the girls--even, or, rather, especially, among those who had strayed from virtue into the path their priests and preachers and rabbis told them was the most sinful of all strayings. But she also saw many signs that religion was fast losing its hold. One day a Lutheran girl, Emma Schmeltz, said during a Monday morning lunch talk:

"Well, anyhow, I believe it's all a probation, and everything'll be made right hereafter. _I_ believe my religion, I do. Yes, we'll be rewarded in the hereafter."

Becky--Rebecca Lichtenspiel--laughed, as did most of the girls. Said Becky:

"And there ain't no hereafter. Did you ever see a corpse? Ain't they the dead ones! Don't talk to me about no hereafter."

Everybody laughed. But this was a Monday morning conversation, high above the average of the girls' talk in intelligence and liveliness. Their minds had been stimulated by the Sunday rest from the dreary and degenerating drudgery of "honest toil."

It was the physical contacts that most preyed upon Susan. She was too gentle, too considerate to show her feelings; in her determined and successful effort to conceal them she at times went to the opposite extreme and not only endured but even courted contacts that were little short of loathsome. Tongue could not tell what she suffered through the persistent affectionateness of Letty Southard, a sweet and pretty young girl of wretchedly poor family who developed an enormous liking for her. Letty, dirty and clad in noisome undergarments beneath soiled rags and patches, was always hugging and kissing her--and not to have submitted would have been to stab poor Letty to the heart and humiliate all the other girls. So no one, not even Etta, suspected what she was going through.

From her coming to the factory in the morning, to hang her hat and jacket in the only possible place, along with the soiled and smelling and often vermin-infected wraps of the others--from early morning until she left at night she was forced into contacts to which custom never in the least blunted her. However, so long as she had a home with the Brashears there was the nightly respite. But now--

There was little water, and only a cracked and filthy basin to wash in. There was no chance to do laundry work; for their underclothes must be used as night clothes also. To wash their hair was impossible.

"Does my hair smell as bad as yours?" said Etta. "You needn't think yours is clean because it doesn't show the dirt like mine."

"Does my hair smell as bad as the rest of the girls'?" said Susan.

"Not quite," was Etta's consoling reply.

By making desperate efforts they contrived partially to wash their bodies once a week, not without interruptions of privacy--to which, however, they soon grew accustomed. In spite of efforts which were literally heroic, they could not always keep free from parasites; for the whole tenement and all persons and things in it were infected--and how could it be otherwise where no one had time or money or any effective means whatsoever to combat nature's inflexible determination to breed wherever there is a breeding spot? The last traces of civilization were slipping from the two girls; they were sinking to a state of nature.

Even personal pride, powerful in Susan and strong in Etta through Susan's example, was deserting them. They no longer minded Dan's sleeping in their room. They saw him, his father, the other members of the family in all stages of nudity and at the most private acts; and they were seen by the Cassatts in the same way. To avoid this was impossible, as impossible as to avoid the parasites swarming in the bed, in the woodwork, in cracks of ceiling, walls, floor.

The Cassatts were an example of how much the people who live in the sheltered and more or less sunny nooks owe to their shelter and how little to their own boasted superiority of mind and soul. They had been a high class artisan family until a few months before. The hard times struck them a series of quick, savage blows, such as are commonplace enough under our social system, intricate because a crude jumble of makeshifts, and easily disordered because intricate. They were swept without a breathing pause down to the bottom. Those who have always been accustomed to prosperity have no reserve of experience or courage to enable them to recuperate from sudden and extreme adversity. In an amazingly short time the Cassatts had become demoralized--a familiar illustration of how civilization is merely a wafer-thin veneer over most human beings as yet. Over how many is it more? They fought after a fashion; they fought valiantly. But how would it have been possible not steadily to yield ground against such a pitiless, powerful foe as poverty? The man had taken to drink, to blunt outraged self-respect and to numb his despair before the spectacle of his family's downfall. Mrs. Cassatt was as poor a manager as the average woman in whatever walk of life, thanks to the habit of educating woman in the most slipshod fashion, if at all, in any other part of the business but sex-trickery. Thus she was helpless before the tenement conditions. She gave up, went soddenly about in rags with an incredibly greasy and usually dangling tail of hair.

"Why don't you tie up that tail, ma?" said the son Dan, who had ideas about neatness.

"What's the use?" said Mrs. Cassatt. "What's the use of _anything_?"

"Ma don't want to look stylish and stuck up," said the daughter.

Mrs. Cassatt's haunting terror was lest someone who had known them in the days of their prosperity with a decently furnished little house of their own should run into one of the family now.

Kate, the sixteen-year-old had a place as saleslady in a big shop in Fifth, Street; her six dollars a week was the family's entire steady income. She had formerly possessed a good deal of finery for a girl in her position, though really not much more than the daughter of the average prosperous artisan or small shopkeeper expects, and is expected, to have. Being at the shop where finery was all the talk and sight and thought from opening until closing had developed in her a greedy taste for luxury. She pilfered from the stocks of goods within her reach and exchanged her stealings for the stealings of girls who happened to be able to get things more to her liking or need. But now that the family savings--bank account was exhausted, all these pilferings had to go at once to the pawnshop. Kate grew more and more ill-tempered as the family sank. Formerly she had been noted for her amiability, for her vanity easily pleased with a careless compliment from no matter whom--a jocose, half-drunken ash man, half-jeering, half-admiring from his cart seat quite as satisfactory as anybody. But poverty was bringing out in her all those meanest and most selfish and most brutish instincts--those primal instincts of human nature that civilization has slowly been subjecting to the process of atrophy which has lost us such other primal attributes as, for example, prehensile toes and a covering of hair.

"Well, I for one don't have to stay in this slop barrel," Kate was always saying. "Some fine morning I'll turn up missing--and you'll see me in my own turnout."

She was torturing her mother and father with the dread that she would leave the family in the lurch and enter a house of prostitution. She recounted with the utmost detail how the madam of a house in Longworth Street came from time to time to her counter in the perfumery and soap department--and urged her to "stop making a fool of yourself and come get good money for your looks before you lose 'em drudging behind a counter." The idea grew less abhorrent, took on allurement as the degradation of tenement life ate out respect for conventional restraints--for modesty, for virtue, for cleanness of speech, and the rest. More and more boldly Kate was announcing that she wasn't going to be a fool much longer.

Dan, the fourteen-year-old boy, had attracted the attention of what Cassatt called "a fancy lady" who lived two floors below them. She made sometimes as much as nine or ten dollars a week and slept all day or lounged comfortably about in showy, tawdry stuff that in those surroundings seemed elegant luxury. She was caught by the boy's young beauty and strength, and was rapidly training him in every vice and was fitting him to become a professional seducer and "lover."

Said Mrs. Cassatt in one of her noisy wailing appeals to Dan:

"You better keep away from that there soiled dove. They tell me she's a thief--has done time--has robbed drunken men in dark hallways."

Dan laughed impudently. "She's a cute one. What diff does it make how she gets the goods as long as she gets it?"

Mrs. Cassatt confided to everybody that she was afraid the woman would make a thief of her boy--and there was no disputing the justice of her forebodings.

Foul smells and sights everywhere, and foul language; no privacy, no possibility of modesty where all must do all in the same room: vermin, parasites, bad food vilely cooked--in the midst of these and a multitude of similar ills how was it possible to maintain a human standard, even if one had by chance acquired a knowledge of what constituted a human standard? The Cassatts were sinking into the slime in which their neighbors were already wallowing. But there was this difference. For the Cassatts it was a descent; for many of their neighbors it was an ascent--for the immigrants notably, who had been worse off in their European homes; in this land not yet completely in the grip of the capitalist or wage system they were now getting the first notions of decency and development, the first views and hope of rising in the world. The Cassatts, though they had always lived too near the slime to be nauseated by it, still found it disagreeable and in spots disgusting. Their neighbors--

One of the chief reasons why these people were rising so slowly where they were rising at all was that the slime seemed to them natural, and to try to get clean of it seemed rather a foolish, finicky waste of time and effort. People who have come up--by accident, or by their own force, or by the force of some at once shrewd and brutal member of the family--have to be far and long from the slums before they lose the sense that in conforming to the decencies of life they are making absurd effeminate concessions. When they go to buy a toothbrush they blush and stammer.

"Look at Lorna and Etta," Mrs. Cassatt was always saying to Kate.

"Well, I see 'em," Kate would reply. "And I don't see much."

"Ain't you ashamed of yourself!" cried the mother. "Them two lives straight and decent. And you're better off than they are."

"Don't preach to me, ma," sneered Kate. "When I get ready I'll--stop making a damn fool of myself."

But the example of the two girls was not without its effect. They, struggling on in chastity against appalling odds, became the models, not only to Mrs. Cassatt, but all the mothers of that row held up to their daughters. The mothers--all of them by observation, not a few by experience--knew what the "fancy lady's" life really meant. And they strove mightily to keep their daughters from it. Not through religion or moral feeling, though many pretended--perhaps fancied--that this was their reason; but through the plainest kind of practical sense--the kind that in the broad determines the actions of human beings of whatever class, however lofty the idealistic pretenses may be. These mothers knew that the profession of the pariah meant a short life and a wretched one, meant disease, lower and ever lower wages, the scale swiftly descending, meant all the miseries of respectability plus a heavy burden of miseries of its own. There were many other girls besides Susan and Etta holding up their heads--girls with prospects of matrimony, girls with fairly good wages, girls with fathers and brothers at work and able to provide a home. But Susan and Etta were peculiarly valuable as examples because they were making the fight alone and unaided.

Thus, they were watched closely. In those neighborhoods everyone knows everyone's else business down to how the last cent is got and spent. If either girl had appeared in a new pair of shoes, a new hat, a new garment of any kind, at once the report would have sped that the wearer had taken a turn in the streets. And the scandal would have been justified; for where could either have respectably got the money for the smallest and cheapest addition to her toilet? Matson, too, proudly pointed them out as giving the lie to the talk about working girls not getting living wages, to the muttering against him and his fellow employers as practically procurers for the pavement and the dive, for the charity hospital's most dreadful wards, for the Morgue's most piteous boxes and slabs.

As their strength declined, as their miseries ate in and in, the two girls ceased talking together; they used to chatter much of the time like two birds on a leafy, sunny bough. Now they walked, ate their scanty, repulsive meals, dressed, worked, all in silence. When their eyes met both glanced guiltily away, each fearing the other would discover the thought she was revolving--the thought of the streets. They slept badly--Etta sometimes, Susan every night. For a long time after she came to the tenements she had not slept well, despite her youth and the dull toil that wore her out each day. But after many months she had grown somewhat used to the noisiness--to fretting babies, to wailing children, the mixed ale parties, the quarrelings of the ill and the drunk, the incessant restlessness wherever people are huddled so close together that repose is impossible. And she had gradually acquired the habit of sleeping well--that is, well for the tenement region where no one ever gets the rest without which health is impossible. Now sleeplessness came again--hours on hours of listening to the hateful and maddening discords of densely crowded humanity, hours on hours of thinking--thinking--in the hopeless circles like those of a caged animal, treading with soft swift step round and round, nose to the iron wall, eyes gleaming with despairing pain. One Saturday evening after a supper of scorched cornmeal which had been none too fresh when they got it at the swindling grocer's on the street floor, Etta put on the tattered, patched old skirt at which she had been toiling. "I can't make it fit to wear," said she. "It's too far gone; I think"--her eyelids fluttered--"I'll go see some of the girls."

Susan, who was darning--seated on the one chair--yes, it had once been a chair--did not look up or speak. Etta put on her hat--slowly. Then, with a stealthy glance at Susan, she moved slidingly toward the door. As she reached it Susan's hands dropped to her lap; so tense were Etta's nerves that the gesture made her startle. "Etta!" said Susan in an appealing voice.

Etta's hand dropped from the knob. "Well--what is it, Lorna?" she asked in a low, nervous tone.

"Look at me, dear."

Etta tried to obey, could not.

"Don't do it--yet," said Susan. "Wait--a few more days."

"Wait for what?"

"I don't know. But--wait."

"You get four, I get only three--and there's no chance of a raise. I work slower instead of faster. I'm going to be discharged soon. I'm in rags underneath. . . . I've got to go before I get sick--and won't have anything to--to sell."

Susan did not reply. She stared at the remains of a cheap stocking in her lap. Yes, there was no doubt about it, Etta's health was going. Etta was strong, but she had no such store of strength to draw upon as had accumulated for Susan during the seventeen years of simple, regular life in healthful surroundings. A little while and Etta would be ill--would, perhaps--probably--almost certainly--die--

Dan Cassatt came in at the other door, sat on the edge of his bed and changed his trousers for what he was pleased to imagine a less disreputable pair. Midway the boy stopped and eyed Susan's bare leg and foot, a grin of pleasure and amusement on his precociously and viciously mature face.

"My, but you keep clean," he cried. "And you've got a mighty pretty foot. Minnie's is ugly as hell."

Minnie was the "fancy lady" on the floor below--"my skirt," he called her. Susan evidently did not hear his compliment. Dan completed his "sporting toilet" with a sleeking down of his long greasy hair, took himself away to his girl. Susan was watching a bug crawl down the wall toward their bed with its stained and malodorous covers of rag. Etta was still standing by the door motionless. She sighed, once more put her hand on the knob.

Susan's voice came again. "You've never been out, have you?" "No," replied Etta.

Susan began to put on her stocking. "I'll go," said she. "I'll go--instead."

"No!" cried Etta, sobbing. "It don't matter about me. I'm bound to be sucked under. You've got a chance to pull through."

"Not a ghost of a chance," answered Susan. "I'll go. You've never been."

"I know, but----"

"You've never been," continued Susan, fastening her shoe with its ragged string. "You've never been. Well--I have."

"You!" exclaimed Etta, horrified though unbelieving. "Oh, no, you haven't."

"Yes," said Susan. "And worse."

"And worse?" repeated Etta. "Is that what the look I sometimes see in your eyes--when you don't know anyone's seeing--is that what it means?"

"I suppose so. I'll go. You stay here."

"And you--out there!"

"It doesn't mean much to me."

Etta looked at her with eyes as devoted as a dog's. "Then we'll go together," she said.

Susan, pinning on her weather-stained hat, reflected. "Very well," she said finally. "There's nothing lower than this."

They said no more; they went out into the clear, cold winter night, out under the brilliant stars. Several handsome theater buses were passing on their way from the fashionable suburb to the theater. Etta looked at them, at the splendid horses, at the men in top hats and fur coats--clean looking, fine looking, amiable looking men--at the beautiful fur wraps of the delicate women--what complexions!--what lovely hair!--what jewels! Etta, her heart bursting, her throat choking, glanced at Susan to see whether she too was observing. But Susan's eyes were on the tenement they had just left.

"What are you looking at--so queer?" asked Etta.

"I was thinking that we'll not come back here."

Etta started. "Not come back _home!_"

Susan gave a strange short laugh. "Home!. . . No, we'll not come back home. There's no use doing things halfway. We've made the plunge. We'll go--the limit."

Etta shivered. She admired the courage, but it terrified her. "There's something--something--awful about you, Lorna," she said. "You've changed till you're like a different person from what you were when you came to the restaurant. Sometimes--that look in your eyes--well, it takes my breath away."

"It takes _my_ breath away, too. Come on."

At the foot of the hill they took the shortest route for Vine Street, the highway of the city's night life.

Though they were so young and walked briskly, their impoverished blood was not vigorous enough to produce a reaction against the sharp wind of the zero night which nosed through their few thin garments and bit into their bodies as if they were naked. They came to a vast department store. Each of its great show-windows, flooded with light, was a fascinating display of clothing for women upon wax models--costly jackets and cloaks of wonderful furs, white, brown, gray, rich and glossy black; underclothes fine and soft, with ribbons and flounces and laces; silk stockings and graceful shoes and slippers; dresses for street, for ball, for afternoon, dresses with form, with lines, dresses elegantly plain, dresses richly embroidered. Despite the cold the two girls lingered, going from window to window, their freezing faces pinched and purple, their eyes gazing hungrily.

"Now that we've tried 'em all on," said Susan with a short and bitter laugh, "let's dress in our dirty rags again and go."

"Oh, I couldn't imagine myself in any of those things--could you?" cried Etta.

"Yes," answered Susan. "And better."

"You were brought up to have those things, I know."

Susan shook her head. "But I'm going to have them."

"When?" said Etta, scenting romance. "Soon?"

"As soon as I learn," was Susan's absent, unsatisfactory reply.

Etta had gone back to her own misery and the contrasts to it. "I get mad through and through," she cried, "when I think how all those things go to some women--women that never did work and never could. And they get them because they happen to belong to rich fathers and husbands or whoever protects them. It isn't fair! It makes me crazy!"

Susan gave a disdainful shrug. "What's the use of that kind of talk!" said she. "No use at all. The thing is, _we_ haven't got what we want, and we've got to _get_ it--and so we've got to _learn_ how."

"I can't think of anything but the cold," said Etta. "My God, how cold I am! There isn't anything I wouldn't do to get warm. There isn't anything anybody wouldn't do to get warm, if they were as cold as this. It's all very well for warm people to talk----"

"Oh, I'm sick of all the lying and faking, anyhow. Do you believe in hell, Lorna?"

"Not in a hot one," said Susan.

Soon they struck into Vine Street, bright as day almost, and lined with beer halls, concert gardens, restaurants. Through the glass fronts crowds of men and women were visible--contented faces, well-fed bodies, food on the tables or inviting-looking drink. Along the sidewalk poured an eager throng, all the conspicuous faces in it notable for the expectancy of pleasure in the eyes.

"Isn't this different!" exclaimed Etta. "My God, how cold I am--and how warm everybody else is but us!"

The sights, the sounds of laughter, of gay music, acted upon her like an intoxicant. She tossed her head in a reckless gesture. "I don't care what becomes of me," said she. "I'm ready for anything except dirt and starvation."

Nevertheless, they hurried down Vine Street, avoiding the glances of the men and behaving as if they were two working girls in a rush to get home. As they walked, Susan, to delude herself into believing that she was not hesitating, with fainting courage talked incessantly to Etta--told her the things Mabel Connemora had explained to her--about how a woman could, and must, take care of her health, if she were not to be swept under like the great mass of the ignorant, careless women of the pariah class. Susan was astonished that she remembered all the actress had told her--remembered it easily, as if she had often thought of it, had used the knowledge habitually.

They arrived at Fountain Square, tired from the long walk. They were both relieved and depressed that nothing had happened. "We might go round the fountain and then back," suggested Susan.

They made the tour less rapidly but still keeping their heads and their glances timidly down. They were numb with the cold now. To the sharp agony had succeeded an ache like the steady grinding pain of rheumatism. Etta broke the silence with, "Maybe we ought to go into a house."

"A house! Oh--you mean a--a sporting house." At that time professional prostitution had not become widespread among the working class; stationary or falling wages, advancing cost of food and developing demand for comfort and luxury had as yet only begun to produce their inevitable results. Thus, prostitution as an industry was in the main segregated in certain streets and certain houses and the prostitutes were a distinct class.

"You haven't been?" inquired Etta.

"No," said Susan.

"Dan Cassatt and Kate told me about those places," Etta went on. "Kate says they're fine and the girls make fifty and sometimes a hundred dollars a week, and have everything--servants to wait on them, good food, bathrooms, lovely clothes, and can drive out. But I--I think I'd stay in the house."

"I want to be my own boss," said Susan.

"There's another side than what Kate says," continued Etta as consecutively as her chattering teeth would permit. "She heard from a madam that wants her to come. But Dan heard from Minnie--she used to be in one--and she says the girls are slaves, that they're treated like dogs and have to take anything. She says it's something dreadful the way men act--even the gentlemen. She says the madam fixes things so that every girl always owes her money and don't own a stitch to her back, and so couldn't leave if she wanted to."

"That sounds more like the truth," said Susan.

"But we may _have_ to go," pleaded Etta. "It's awful cold--and if we went, at least we'd have a warm place. If we wanted to leave, why, we couldn't be any worse off for clothes than we are."

Susan had no answer for this argument. They went several squares up Vine Street in silence. Then Etta burst out again:

"I'm frozen through and through, Lorna, and I'm dead tired--and hungry. The wind's cutting the flesh off my bones. What in the hell does it matter what becomes of us? Let's get warm, for God's sake. Let's go to a house. They're in Longworth Street--the best ones."

And she came to a halt, forcing Susan to halt also. It happened to be the corner of Eighth Street. Susan saw the iron fence, the leafless trees of Garfield Place. "Let's go down this way," said she. "I had luck here once."

"Luck!" said Etta, her curiosity triumphant over all.

Susan's answer was a strange laugh. Ahead of them, a woman warmly and showily dressed was sauntering along. "That's one of them," said Etta. "Let's see how _she_ does it. We've got to learn quick. I can't stand this cold much longer."

The two girls, their rags fluttering about their miserable bodies, kept a few feet behind the woman, watched her with hollow eyes of envy and fear. Tears of anguish from the cold were streaming down their cheeks. Soon a man alone--a youngish man with a lurching step--came along. They heard the woman say, "Hello, dear. Don't be in a hurry."

He tried to lurch past her, but she seized him by the lapel of his overcoat. "Lemme go," said he. "You're old enough to be a grandmother, you old hag."

Susan and Etta halted and, watching so interestedly that they forgot themselves, heard her laugh at his insult, heard her say wheedlingly, "Come along, dearie, I'll treat you right. You're the kind of a lively, joky fellow I like."

"Go to hell, gran'ma," said the man, roughly shaking her off and lurching on toward the two girls. He stopped before them, eyed them by the light of the big electric lamp, grinned good-naturedly. "What've we got here?" said he. "This looks better."

The woman rushed toward the girls, pouring out a stream of vileness. "You git out of here!" she shrilled. "You chippies git off my beat. I'll have you pinched--I will!"

"Shut up!" cried the drunken man, lifting his fist. "I'll have _you_ pinched. Let these ladies alone, they're friends of mine. Do you want me to call the cop?"

The woman glanced toward the corner where a policeman was standing, twirling his club. She turned away, cursing horribly. The man laughed. "Dirty old hag--isn't she?" said he. "Don't look so scared, birdies." He caught them each by an arm, stared woozily at Etta. "You're a good little looker, you are. Come along with me. There's three in it."

"I--I can't leave my lady friend," Etta succeeded in chattering. "Please really I can't."

"Your lady friend?" He turned his drunken head in Susan's direction, squinted at her. He was rather good-looking. "Oh--she means _you_. Fact is, I'm so soused I thought I was seein' double. Why, _you're_ a peach. I'll take you." And he released his hold on Etta to seize her. "Come right along, my lovey-dovey dear."

Susan drew away; she was looking at him with terror and repulsion. The icy blast swept down the street, sawed into her flesh savagely.

"I'll give _you_ five," said the drunken man. "Come along." He grabbed her arm, waved his other hand at Etta. "So long, blondie. 'Nother time. Good luck."

Susan heard Etta's gasp of horror. She wrenched herself free again. "I guess I'd better go with him," said she to Etta.

Etta began to sob. "Oh, Lorna!" she moaned. "It's awful."

"You go into the restaurant on the corner and get something to eat, and wait for me. We can afford to spend the money. And you'll be warm there."

"Here! Here!" cried the tipsy man. "What're you two whispering about? Come along, skinny. No offense. I like 'em slim." And he made coarse and pointed remarks about the sluggishness of fat women, laughing loudly at his own wit.

The two girls did not hear. The wind straight from the Arctic was plying its hideous lash upon their defenseless bodies.

"Come on, lovey!" cried the man. "Let's go in out of the cold."

"Oh, Lorna! You can't go with a drunken man! I'll--I'll take him. I can stand it better'n you. You can go when there's a gentleman----"

"You don't know," said Susan. "Didn't I tell you I'd been through the worst?"

"Are you coming?" broke in the man, shaking his head to scatter the clouds over his sight.

The cold was lashing Susan's body; and she was seeing the tenement she had left--the vermin crawling, the filth everywhere, the meal bugs in the rotting corn meal--and Jeb Ferguson. "Wait in the restaurant," said she to Etta. "Didn't I tell you I'm a nobody. This is what's expected of me." The wind clawed and tore at her quivering flesh. "It's cold, Etta. Go get warm. Good-by."

She yielded to the tipsy man's tugging at her arm. Etta stood as if paralyzed, watching the two move slowly westward. But cold soon triumphed over horror. She retraced her steps toward Vine Street. At the corner stood an elderly man with an iron-gray beard. She merely glanced at him in passing, and so was startled when he said in a low voice:

"Go back the way you came. I'll join you." She glanced at him again, saw a gleam in his eyes that assured her she had not imagined the request. Trembling and all at once hot, she kept on across the street. But instead of going into the restaurant she walked past it and east through dark Eighth Street. A few yards, and she heard a quiet step behind her. A few yards more, and the lights of Vine Street threw a man's shadow upon the sidewalk beside her. From sheer fright she halted. The man faced her--a man old enough to be her father, a most respectable, clean looking man with a certain churchly though hardly clerical air about him. "Good evening, miss," said he.

"Good evening," she faltered.

"I'm a stranger--in town to buy goods and have a little fun," stammered he with a grotesque attempt to be easy and familiar. "I thought maybe you could help me."

A little fun! Etta's lips opened, but no words came. The cold was digging its needle-knives into flesh, into bone, into nerve. Through the man's thick beard and mustache came the gleam of large teeth, the twisting of thick raw lips. A little fun!

"Would it," continued the man, nervously, "would it be very dear?"

"I--I don't know," faltered Etta.

"I could afford--say--" he looked at her dress--"say--two dollars."

"I--I" And again Etta could get no further.

"The room'd be a dollar," pleaded the man. "That'd make it three."

"I--I--can't," burst out Etta, hysterical. "Oh, please let me alone. I--I'm a good girl, but I do need money. But I--I can't. Oh, for God's sake--I'm so cold--so cold!"

The man was much embarrassed. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said feelingly. "That's right--keep your virtue. Go home to your parents." He was at ease now; his voice was greasy and his words sleek with the unction of an elder. "I thought you were a soiled dove. I'm glad you spoke out--glad for my sake as well as your own. I've got a daughter about your age. Go home, my dear, and stay a good girl. I know it's hard sometimes; but never give up your purity--never!" And he lifted his square-topped hard hat and turned away.

Suddenly Etta felt again the fury of the winter night and icy wind. As that wind flapped her thin skirt and tortured her flesh, she cried, "Wait--please. I was just--just fooling."

The man had halted, but he was looking at her uncertainly. Etta put her hand on his arm and smiled pertly up at him--smiled as she had seen other street girls smile in the days when she despised them. "I'll go--if you'll give me three."

"I--I don't think I care to go now. You sort of put me out of the humor."

"Well--two, then." She gave a reckless laugh. "God, how cold it is! Anybody'd go to hell to get warm a night like this."

"You are a very pretty girl," said the man. He was warmly dressed; his was not the thin blood of poverty. He could not have appreciated what she was feeling. "You're sure you want to go? You're sure it's your--your business?"

"Yes. I'm strange in this part of town. Do you know a place?"

An hour later Etta went into the appointed restaurant. Her eyes searched anxiously for Susan, but did not find her. She inquired at the counter. No one had asked there for a young lady. This both relieved her and increased her nervousness; Susan had not come and gone--but would she come? Etta was so hungry that she could hold out no longer. She sat at a table near the door and took up the large sheet on which was printed the bill of fare. She was almost alone in the place, as it was between dinner and supper. She read the bill thoroughly, then ordered black bean soup, a sirloin steak and German fried potatoes. This, she had calculated, would cost altogether a dollar; undoubtedly an extravagance, but everything at that restaurant seemed dear in comparison with the prices to which she had been used, and she felt horribly empty. She ordered the soup, to stay her while the steak was broiling.

As soon as the waiter set down bread and butter she began upon it greedily. As the soup came, in walked Susan--calm and self-possessed, Etta saw at first glance. "I've been so frightened. You'll have a plate of soup?" asked Etta, trying to look and speak in unconcerned fashion.

"No, thank you," replied Susan, seating herself opposite.

"There's a steak coming--a good-sized one, the waiter said it'd be."

"Very well."

Susan spoke indifferently.

"Aren't you hungry?"

"I don't know. I'll see." Susan was gazing straight ahead. Her eyes were distinctly gray--gray and as hard as Susan Lenox's eyes could be.

"What're you thinking about?"

"I don't know," she laughed queerly.

"Was--it--dreadful?"

A pause, then: "Nothing is going to be dreadful to me any more. It's all in the game, as Mr. Burlingham used to say."

"Burlingham--who's he?" It was Etta's first faint clew toward that mysterious past of Susan's into which she longed to peer.

"Oh--a man I knew. He's dead."

A long pause, Etta watching Susan's unreadable face. At last she said:

"You don't seem a bit excited."

Susan came back to the present. "Don't I? Your soup's getting cold."

Etta ate several spoonfuls, then said with an embarrassed attempt at a laugh, "I--I went, too."

Susan slowly turned upon Etta her gaze--the gaze of eyes softening, becoming violet. Etta's eyes dropped and the color flooded into her fair skin. "He was an old man--forty or maybe fifty," she explained nervously. "He gave me two dollars. I nearly didn't get him. I lost my nerve and told him I was good and was only starting because I needed money."

"Never whine," said Susan. "It's no use. Take what comes, and wait for a winning hand."

Etta looked at her in a puzzled way. "How queer you talk! Not a bit like yourself. You sound so much older. . . . And your eyes--they don't look natural at all."

Indeed they looked supernatural. The last trace of gray was gone. They were of the purest, deepest violet, luminous, mysterious, with that awe-inspiring expression of utter aloneness. But as Etta spoke the expression changed. The gray came back and with it a glance of irony. Said she:

"Oh--nonsense! I'm all right."

"I didn't mind nearly as much as I thought I would. Yes, I'll get used to it."

"You mustn't," said Susan.

"But I've got to."

"We've got to do it, but we haven't got to get used to it," replied Susan.

Etta was still puzzling at this when the dinner now came--a fine, thick broiled steak, the best steak Susan had ever seen, and the best food Etta had ever seen.

They had happened upon one of those famous Cincinnati chop houses where in plain surroundings the highest quality of plain food is served. "You _are_ hungry, aren't you, Lorna?" said Etta.

"Yes--I'm hungry," declared Susan. "Cut it--quick."

"Draught beer or bottled?" asked the waiter.

"Bring us draught beer," said Etta. "I haven't tasted beer since our restaurant burned."

"I never tasted it," said Susan. "But I'll try it tonight."

Etta cut two thick slices from the steak, put them on Susan's plate with some of the beautifully browned fried potatoes. "Gracious, they have good things to eat here!" she exclaimed. Then she cut two thick slices for herself, and filled her mouth. Her eyes glistened, the color came into her pale cheeks. "Isn't it _grand_!" she cried, when there was room for words to pass out.

"Grand," agreed Susan, a marvelous change of expression in her face also.

The beer came. Etta drank a quarter of the tall glass at once. Susan tasted, rather liked the fresh bitter-sweet odor and flavor. "Is it--very intoxicating?" she inquired.

"If you drink enough," said Etta. "But not one glass."

Susan took quite a drink. "I feel a lot less tired already," declared she.

"Me too," said Etta. "My, what a meal! I never had anything like this in my life. When I think what we've been through! Lorna, will it _last_?"

"We mustn't think about that," said Susan.

"Tell me what happened to you."

"Nothing. He gave me the money, that was all."

"Then we've got seven dollars--seven dollars and twenty cents, with what we brought away from home with us."

"Seven dollars--and twenty cents," repeated Susan thoughtfully. Then a queer smile played around the corners of her mouth. "Seven dollars--that's a week's wages for both of us at Matson's."

"But I'd go back to honest work tomorrow--if I could find a good job," Etta said eagerly--too eagerly. "Wouldn't you, Lorna?"

"I don't know," replied Susan. She had the inability to make pretenses, either to others or to herself, which characterizes stupid people and also the large, simple natures.

"Oh, you can't mean that!" protested Etta. Instead of replying Susan began to talk of what to do next. "We must find a place to sleep, and we must buy a few things to make a better appearance."

"I don't dare spend anything yet," said Etta. "I've got only my two dollars. Not that when this meal's paid for."

"We're going to share even," said Susan. "As long as either has anything, it belongs to both."

The tears welled from Etta's eyes. "You are too good, Lorna! You mustn't be. It isn't the way to get on. Anyhow, I can't accept anything from you. You wouldn't take anything from me."

"We've got to help each other up," insisted Susan. "We share even--and let's not talk any more about it. Now, what shall we get? How much ought we to lay out?"

The waiter here interrupted. "Beg pardon, young ladies," said he. "Over yonder, at the table four down, there's a couple of gents that'd like to join you. I seen one of 'em flash quite a roll, and they acts too like easy spenders."

As Susan was facing that way, she examined them. They were young men, rather blond, with smooth faces, good-natured eyes and mouths; they were well dressed--one, the handsomer, notably so. Susan merely glanced; both men at once smiled at her with an unimpertinent audacity that probably came out of the champagne bottle in a silver bucket of ice on their table.

"Shall I tell 'em to come over?" said the waiter.

"Yes," replied Susan.

She was calm, but Etta twitched with nervousness, saying, "I wish I'd had your experience. I wish we didn't look so dreadful--me especially. _I_'m not pretty enough to stand out against these awful clothes."

The two men were pushing eagerly toward them, the taller and less handsome slightly in advance. He said, his eyes upon Susan, "We were lonesome, and you looked a little that way too. We're much obliged." He glanced at the waiter. "Another bottle of the same."

"I don't want anything to drink," said Susan.

"Nor I," chimed in Etta. "No, thank you."

The young man waved the waiter away with, "Get it for my friend and me, then." He smiled agreeably at Susan. "You won't mind my friend and me drinking?"

"Oh, no."

"And maybe you'll change your mind," said the shorter man to Etta. "You see, if we all drink, we'll get acquainted faster. Don't you like champagne?"

"I never tasted it," Etta confessed.

"Neither did I," admitted Susan.

"You're sure to like it," said the taller man to Susan--his friend presently addressed him as John. "Nothing equal to it for making friends. I like it for itself, and I like it for the friends it has made me."

Champagne was not one of the commonplaces of that modest chop house. So the waiter opened the bottle with much ceremony. Susan and Etta startled when the cork popped ceilingward in the way that in such places is still regarded as fashionable. They watched with interested eyes the pouring of the beautiful pale amber liquid, were fascinated when they saw how the bubbles surged upward incessantly, imprisoned joys thronging to escape. And after the first glass, the four began to have the kindliest feelings for each other. Sorrow and shame, poverty and foreboding, took wings unto themselves and flew away. The girls felt deliciously warm and contented, and thought the young men charming--a splendid change from the coarse, badly dressed youths of the tenement, with their ignorant speech and rough, misshapen hands. They were ashamed of their own hands, were painfully self-conscious whenever lifting the glass to the lips brought them into view. Etta's hands in fact were not so badly spoiled as might have been expected, considering her long years of rough work; the nails were in fairly good condition and the skin was rougher to the touch than to the sight. Susan's hands had not really been spoiled as yet. She had been proud of them and had taken care of them; still, they were not the hands of a lady, but of a working girl. The young men had gentlemen's hands--strong, evidently exercised only at sports, not at degrading and deforming toil.

The shorter and handsomer youth, who answered to the name of Fatty, for obvious but not too obvious reasons, addressed himself to Etta. John--who, it came out, was a Chicagoan, visiting Fatty--fell to Susan. The champagne made him voluble; he was soon telling all about himself--a senior at Ann Arbor, as was Fatty also; he intended to be a lawyer; he was fond of a good, time was fond of the girls--liked girls who were gay rather than respectable ones--"because with the prim girls you have to quit just as the fun ought really to begin."

After two glasses Susan, warned by a slight dizziness, stopped drinking; Etta followed her example. But the boys kept on, ordered a second bottle. "This is the fourth we've had tonight," said Fatty proudly when it came.

"Don't it make you dizzy?" asked Etta.

"Not a bit," Fatty assured her. But she noticed that his tongue now swung trippingly loose.

"You haven't been at--at this--long, have you?" inquired John of Susan.

"Not long," replied she.

Etta, somewhat giddied, overheard and put in, "We began tonight. We got tired of starving and freezing."

John looked deepest sympathy into Susan's calm violet-gray eyes. "I don't blame you," said he. "A woman does have a--a hades of a time!"

"We were going out to buy some clothes when you came," proceeded Etta. "We're in an awful state."

"I wondered how two girls with faces like yours," said John, "came to be dressed so--so differently. That was what first attracted us." Then, as Etta and Fatty were absorbed in each other, he went on to Susan: "And your eyes--I mustn't forget them. You certainly have got a beautiful face. And your mouth--so sweet and sad--but, what a lovely, _lovely_ smile!"

At this Susan smiled still more broadly with pleasure. "I'm glad you're pleased," said she.

"Why, if you were dressed up----

"You're not a working girl by birth, are you?"

"I wish I had been," said Susan.

"Oh, I think a girl's got as good a right as a man to have a good time," lied John.

"Don't say things you don't believe," said Susan. "It isn't necessary."

"I can hand that back to you. You weren't frank, yourself, when you said you wished you'd been born in the class of your friend--and of my friend Fatty, too."

Susan's laugh was confession. The champagne was dancing in her blood. She said with a reckless toss of the head:

"I was born nothing. So I'm free to become anything I please--anything except respectable."

Here Fatty broke in. "I'll tell you what let's do. Let's all go shopping. We can help you girls select your things."

Susan laughed. "We're going to buy about three dollars' worth. There won't be any selecting. We'll simply take the cheapest."

"Then--let's go shopping," said John, "and you two girls can help Fatty and me select clothes for you."

"That's the talk!" cried Fatty. And he summoned the waiter. "The bill," said he in the manner of a man who likes to enjoy the servility of servants.

"We hadn't paid for our supper," said Susan. "How much was it, Etta?"

"A dollar twenty-five."

"We're going to pay for that," said Fatty. "What d'ye take us for?"

"Oh, no. We must pay it," said Susan.

"Don't be foolish. Of course I'll pay."

"No," said Susan quietly, ignoring Etta's wink. And from her bosom she took a crumpled five-dollar bill.

"I should say you _were_ new," laughed John. "You don't even know where to carry your money yet." And they all laughed, Susan and Etta because they felt gay and assumed the joke whatever it was must be a good one. Then John laid his hand over hers and said, "Put your money away."

Susan looked straight at him. "I can't allow it," she said. "I'm not that poor--yet."

John colored. "I beg your pardon," he said. And when the bill came he compelled Fatty to let her pay a dollar and a quarter of it out of her crumpled five. The two girls were fascinated by the large roll of bills--fives, tens, twenties--which Fatty took from his trousers pocket. They stared open-eyed when he laid a twenty on the waiter's plate along with Susan's five. And it frightened them when he, after handing Susan her change, had left only a two-dollar bill, four silver quarters and a dime. He gave the silver to the waiter.

"Was that for a tip?" asked Susan.

"Yes," said Fatty. "I always give about ten per cent of the bill unless it runs over ten dollars. In that case--a quarter a person as a rule. Of course, if the bill was very large, I'd give more." He was showing his amusement at her inquisitiveness.

"I wanted to know," explained she. "I'm very ignorant, and I've got to learn."

"That's right," said John, admiringly--with a touch of condescension. "Don't be afraid to confess ignorance."

"I'm not," replied Susan. "I used to be afraid of not being respectable and that was all. Now, I haven't any fear at all."

"You are a queer one!" exclaimed John. "You oughtn't to be in this life."

"Where then?" asked she.

"I don't know," he confessed.

"Neither do I." Her expression suddenly was absent, with a quaint, slight smile hovering about her lips. She looked at him merrily. "You see, it's got to be something that isn't respectable."

"What _do_ you mean?" demanded he.

Her answer was a laugh.

Fatty declared it too cold to chase about afoot--"Anyhow, it's late--nearly eleven, and unless we're quick all the stores'll be closed." The waiter called them a carriage; its driver promised to take them to a shop that didn't close till midnight on Saturdays. Said Fatty, as they drove away:

"Well, I suppose, Etta, you'll say you've never been in a carriage before."

"Oh, yes, I have," cried Etta. "Twice--at funerals."

This made everyone laugh--this and the champagne and the air which no longer seemed cruel to the girls but stimulating, a grateful change from the close warmth of the room. As the boys were smoking cigarettes, they had the windows down. The faces of both girls were flushed and lively, and their cheeks seemed already to have filled out. The four made so much noise that the crowds on the sidewalk were looking at them--looking smilingly, delighted by the sight of such gayety. Susan was even gayer than Etta. She sang, she took a puff at John's cigarette; then laughed loudly when he seized and kissed her, laughed again as she kissed him; and she and John fell into each other's arms and laughed uproariously as they saw Fatty and Etta embracing.

The driver kept his promise; eleven o'clock found them bursting into Sternberg's, over the Rhine--a famous department store for Germans of all classes. They had an hour, and they made good use of it. Etta was for yielding to Fatty's generous urgings and buying right and left. But Susan would not have it. She told the men what she and Etta would take--a simple complete outfit, and no more. Etta wanted furs and finery. Susan kept her to plain, serviceable things. Only once did she yield. When Etta and Fatty begged to be allowed a big showy hat, Susan yielded--but gave John leave to buy her only the simplest of simple hats. "You needn't tell _me_ any yarns about your birth and breeding," said he in a low tone so that Etta should not hear.

But that subject did not interest Susan. "Let's forget it," said she, almost curtly. "I've cut out the past--and the future. Today's enough for me."

"And for me, too," protested he. "I hope you're having as good fun as I am."

"This is the first time I've really laughed in nearly a year," said she. "You don't know what it means to be poor and hungry and cold--worst of all, cold."

"You unhappy child," said John tenderly.

But Susan was laughing again, and making jokes about a wonderful German party dress all covered with beads and lace and ruffles and embroidery. When they reached the shoe department, Susan asked John to take Fatty away. He understood that she was ashamed of their patched and holed stockings, and hastened to obey. They were making these their last purchases when the big bell rang for the closing. "I'm glad these poor tired shopgirls and clerks are set free," said John.

It was one of those well-meaning but worthless commonplaces of word-kindness that get for their utterance perhaps exaggerated credit for "good heart." Susan, conscience-stricken, halted. "And I never once thought of them!" she exclaimed. "It just shows."

"Shows what?"

"Oh, nothing. Come on. I must forget that, for I can't be happy again till I do. I understand now why the comfortable people can be happy. They keep from knowing or they make themselves forget."

"Why not?" said John. "What's the use in being miserable about things that can't be helped?"

"No use at all," replied the girl. She laughed. "I've forgotten."

The carriage was so filled with their bundles that they had some difficulty in making room for themselves--finally accomplished it by each girl sitting on her young man's lap. They drove to a quietly placed, scrupulously clean little hotel overlooking Lincoln Park. "We're going to take rooms here and dress," explained Fatty. "Then we'll wander out and have some supper."

By this time Susan and Etta had lost all sense of strangeness. The spirit of adventure was rampant in them as in a dreaming child. And the life they had been living--what they had seen and heard and grown accustomed to--made it easy for them to strike out at once and briskly in the new road, so different from the dreary and cruel path along which they had been plodding. They stood laughing and joking in the parlor while the boys registered; then the four went up to two small but comfortable and fascinatingly clean rooms with a large bathroom between. "Fatty and I will go down to the bar while you two dress," said John.

"Not on your life!" exclaimed Fatty. "We'll have the bar brought up to us."

But John, fortified by Susan's look of gratitude for his tactfulness, whispered to his friend--what Susan could easily guess. And Fatty said, "Oh, I never thought of it. Yes, we'll give 'em a chance. Don't be long, girls."

"Thank you," said Susan to John.

"That's all right. Take your time."

Susan locked the hall door behind the two men. She rushed to the bathroom, turned on the hot water. "Oh, Etta!" she cried, tears in her eyes, a hysterical sob in her throat. "A bathtub again!"

Etta too was enthusiastic; but she had not that intense hysterical joy which Susan felt--a joy that can be appreciated only by a person who, clean by instinct and by lifelong habit, has been shut out from thorough cleanliness for long months of dirt and foul odors and cold. It was no easy matter to become clean again after all those months. But there was plenty of soap and brushes and towels, and at last the thing was accomplished. Then they tore open the bundles and arrayed themselves in the fresh new underclothes, in the simple attractive costumes of jacket, blouse and skirt. Susan had returned to her class, and had brought Etta with her.

"What shall we do with these?" asked Etta, pointing disdainfully with the toe of her new boot to the scatter of the garments they had cast off.

Susan looked down at it in horror. She could not believe that _she_ had been wearing such stuff--that it was the clothing of all her associates of the past six months--was the kind of attire in which most of her fellow-beings went about the beautiful earth, She shuddered. "Isn't life dreadful?" she cried. And she kicked together the tattered, patched, stained trash, kicked it on to a large piece of heavy wrapping paper she had spread out upon the floor. Thus, without touching her discarded self, she got it wrapped up and bound with a strong string. She rang for the maid, gave her a quarter and pointed to the bundle. "Please take that and throw it away," she said.

When the maid was gone Etta said: "I'm mighty glad to have it out of the room."

"Out of the room?" cried Susan. "Out of my heart. Out of my life."

They put on their hats, admired themselves in the mirror, and descended--Susan remembering halfway that they had left the lights on and going back to turn them off. The door boy summoned the two young men to the parlor. They entered and exclaimed in real amazement. For they were facing two extremely pretty young women, one dark, the other fair. The two faces were wreathed in pleased and grateful smiles.

"Don't we look nice?" demanded Etta.

"Nice!" cried Fatty. "We sure did draw a pair of first prizes--didn't we, Johnny?"

John did not reply. He was gazing at Susan. Etta had young beauty but it was of the commonplace kind. In Susan's face and carriage there was far more than beauty. "Where _did_ you come from?" said John to her in an undertone. "And _where_ are you going?"

"Out to supper, I hope," laughed she.

"Your eyes change--don't they? I thought they were violet. Now I see they're gray--gray as can be."

CHAPTER XXII

AT lunch, well toward the middle of the following afternoon, Fatty--his proper name was August Gulick--said: "John and I don't start for Ann Arbor until a week from today. That means seven clear days. A lot can be done in that time, with a little intelligent hustling. What do you say, girls? Do you stick to us?"

"As long as you'll let us," said Etta, who was delighting Gulick with her frank and wondering and grateful appreciation of his munificence. Never before had his own private opinion of himself received such a flatteringly sweeping indorsement--from anyone who happened to impress him as worth while. In the last phrase lies the explanation of her success through a policy that is always dangerous and usually a failure.

So it was settled that with the quiet little hotel as headquarters the four would spend a week in exploring Cincinnati as a pleasure ground. Gulick knew the town thoroughly. His father was a brewer whose name was on many a huge beer wagon drawn about those streets by showy Clydesdales. Also he had plenty of money; and, while Redmond--for his friend was the son of Redmond, well known as a lawyer-politician in Chicago--had nothing like so much as Gulick, still he had enough to make a passable pretense at keeping up his end. For Etta and Susan the city had meant shabby to filthy tenements, toil and weariness and sorrow. There was opened to their ravished young eyes "the city"--what reveals itself to the pleasure-seeker with pocket well filled--what we usually think of when we pronounce its name, forgetting what its reality is for all but a favored few of those within its borders. It was a week of music and of laughter--music especially--music whenever they ate or drank, music to dance by, music in the beer gardens where they spent the early evenings, music at the road houses where they arrived in sleighs after the dances to have supper--unless you choose to call it breakfast. You would have said that Susan had slipped out of the tenement life as she had out of its garments, that she had retained not a trace of it even in memory. But--in those days began her habit of never passing a beggar without giving something.

Within three or four days this life brought a truly amazing transformation in the two girls. You would not have recognized in them the pale and wan and ragged outcasts of only the Saturday night before. "Aren't you happy?" said Etta to Susan, in one of the few moments they were alone. "But I don't need to ask. I didn't know you could be so gay."

"I had forgotten how to laugh," replied Susan.

"I suppose I ought to be ashamed," pursued Etta.

"Why?" inquired Susan.

"Oh, you know why. You know how people'd talk if they knew."

"What people?" said Susan. "Anyone who's willing to give you anything?"

"No," admitted Etta. "But----" There she halted.

Susan went on: "I don't propose to be bothered by the other kind. They wouldn't do anything for me if they could except sneer and condemn."

"Still, you know it isn't right, what we're doing."

"I know it isn't cold--or hunger--or rags and dirt--and bugs," replied Susan.

Those few words were enough to conjure even to Etta's duller fancy the whole picture to its last detail of loathsome squalor. Into Etta's face came a dazed expression. "Was that really _us_, Lorna?"

"No," said Susan with a certain fierceness. "It was a dream. But we must take care not to have that dream again."

"I'd forgotten how cold I was," said Etta; "hadn't you?"

"No," said Susan, "I hadn't forgotten anything."

"Yes, I suppose it was all worse for you than for me. _You_ used to be a lady."

"Don't talk nonsense," said Susan.

"I don't regret what I'm doing," Etta now declared. "It was Gus that made me think about it." She looked somewhat sheepish as she went on to explain. "I had a little too much to drink last night. And when Gus and I were alone, I cried--for no reason except the drink. He asked me why and I had to say something, and it popped into my head to say I was ashamed of the life I was leading. As things turned out, I'm glad I said it. He was awfully impressed."

"Of course," said Susan.

"You never saw anything like it," continued Etta with an expression suggesting a feeling that she ought to be ashamed but could not help being amused. "He acted differently right away. Why don't you try it on John?"

"What for?"

"Oh, it'll make him--make him have more--more respect for you." "Perhaps," said Susan indifferently.

"Don't you want John to--to respect you?"

"I've been too busy having a good time to think much about him--or about anything. I'm tired of thinking. I want to rest. Last night was the first time in my life I danced as much as I wanted to."

"Don't you like John?"

"Certainly."

"He does know a lot, doesn't he? He's like you. He reads and and thinks--and---- He's away ahead of Fatty except---- You don't mind my having the man with the most money?"

"Not in the least," laughed Susan. "Money's another thing I'm glad to rest from thinking about."

"But this'll last only a few days longer. And--If you managed John Redmond right, Lorna----"

"Now--you must not try to make me think."

"Lorna--are you _really_ happy?"

"Can't you see I am?"

"Yes--when we're all together. But when--when you're alone with him----"

Susan's expression stopped her. It was a laughing expression; and yet-- Said Susan: "I am happy, dear--very happy. I eat and drink and sleep--and I am, oh, so glad to be alive."

"_Isn't_ it good to be alive!--if you've got plenty," exclaimed Etta. "I never knew before. _This_ is the dream, Lorna--and I think I'll kill myself if I have to wake."

On Saturday afternoon the four were in one of the rooms discussing where the farewell dinner should be held and what they would eat and drink. Etta called Susan into the other room and shut the door between.

"Fatty wants me to go along with him and live in Detroit," said she, blurting it out as if confessing a crime.

"Isn't that splendid!" cried Susan, kissing her. "I thought he would. He fell in love with you at first sight."

"That's what he says. But, Lorna--I--I don't know _what_ to do!"

"_Do_? Why, go. What else is there? Go, of course."

"Oh, no, Lorna," protested Etta. "I couldn't leave you. I couldn't get along without you."

"But you must go. Don't you love him?"

Etta began to weep. "That's the worst of it. I do love him so! And I think he loves me--and might marry me and make me a good woman again. . . . You mustn't ever tell John or anybody about that--that dreadful man I went with--will you, dear?"

"What do you take me for?" said Susan.

"I've told Fatty I was a good girl until I met him. You haven't told John about yourself?" Susan shook her head.

"I suppose not. You're so secretive. You really think I ought to go?"

"I know it."

Etta was offended by Susan's positive, practical tone. "I don't believe you care."

"Yes, I care," said Susan. "But you're right to follow the man you love. Besides, there's nothing so good in sight here."

"What'll _you_ do? Oh, I can't go, Lorna!"

"Now, Etta," said Susan calmly, "don't talk nonsense. I'll get along all right."

"You come to Detroit. You could find a job there, and we could live together."

"Would Fatty like that?"

Etta flushed and glanced away. Young Gulick had soon decided that Susan was the stronger--therefore, the less "womanly"--of the two girls, and must be the evil influence over her whom he had appeared just in time to save. When he said this to Etta, she protested--not very vigorously, because she wished him to think her really almost innocent. She wasn't _quite_ easy in her mind as to whether she had been loyal to Lorna. But, being normally human, she soon _almost_ convinced herself that but for Lorna she never would have made the awful venture. Anyhow, since it would help her with Gulick and wouldn't do Lorna the least mite of harm, why not let him think he was right?

Said Susan: "Hasn't he been talking to you about getting away from--from all this?"

"But I don't care," cried Etta, moved to an outburst of frankness by her sense of security in Susan's loyalty and generosity. "He doesn't understand. Men are fools about women. He thinks he likes in me what I haven't got at all. As a matter of fact if I had been what he made me tell him I was, why we'd never have met--or got acquainted in the way that makes us so fond of each other. And I owe it all to you, Lorna. I don't care what he says, Lorna--or does. I want you."

"Can't go," said Susan, not conscious--yet not unaware, either--of the curious mixture of heart and art in Etta's outburst of apparent eagerness to risk everything for love of her. "Can't possibly go. I've made other plans. The thing for you is to be straight--get some kind of a job in Detroit--make Fatty marry you--quick!"

"He would, but his father'd throw him out."

"Not if you were an honest working girl."

"But----" Etta was silent and reflective for a moment. "Men are so queer," she finally said. "If I'd been an honest working girl he'd never have noticed me. It's because I am what I am that I've been able to get acquainted with him and fascinate him. And he feels it's a sporty thing to do--to marry a fast girl. If I was to settle down to work, be a regular working girl--why, I'm afraid he--he'd stop loving me. Then, too, he likes to believe he's rescuing me from a life of shame. I've watched him close. I understand him."

"No doubt," said Susan drily.

"Oh, I know you think I'm deceitful. But a woman's got to be, with a man. And I care a lot about him--aside from the fact that he can make me comfortable and--and protect me from--from the streets. If you cared for a man-- No, I guess you wouldn't. You oughtn't to be so--so _honest_, Lorna. It'll always do you up."

Susan laughed, shrugged her shoulders. "I am what I am," said she. "I can't be any different. If I tried, I'd only fail worse."

"You don't love John--do you?"

"I like him."

"Then you wouldn't have to do _much_ pretending," urged Etta. "And what does a little pretending amount to?"

"That's what I say to myself," replied Susan thoughtfully.

"It isn't nearly as bad as--as what we started out to do."

Susan laughed at Etta's little hypocrisy for her respectability's comfort. "As what we did--and are doing," corrected she. Burlingham had taught her that it only makes things worse and more difficult to lie to oneself about them.

"John's crazy about you. But he hasn't money enough to ask you to come along. And----" Etta hesitated, eyed Susan doubtfully. "You're _sure_ you don't love him?"

"No. I couldn't love him any more than--than I could hate him." Susan's strange look drifted across her features. "It's very queer, how I feel toward men. But--I don't love him and I shan't pretend. I want to, but somehow--I can't."

Etta felt that she could give herself the pleasure of unburdening herself of a secret. "Then I may as well tell you, he's engaged to a girl he thinks he ought to marry."

"I suspected so."

"And you don't mind?" inquired Etta, unable to read Susan's queer expression.

"Except for him--and her--a little," replied Susan. "I guess that's why I haven't liked him better--haven't trusted him at all."

"Aren't men dreadful! And he is so nice in many ways. . . . Lorna----" Etta was weeping again. "I can't go--I can't. I mustn't leave you."

"Don't be absurd. You've simply got to do it."

"And I do love him," said Etta, calmed again by Susan's calmness. "And if he married me--Oh, how grateful I'd be!"

"I should say!" exclaimed Susan. She kissed Etta and petted her. "And he'll have a mighty good wife."

"Do you think I can marry him?"

"If you love him--and don't worry about catching him."

Etta shook her head in rejection of this piece of idealistic advice. "But a girl's got to be shrewd. You ought to be more so, Lorna."

"That depends on what a girl wants," said Susan, absently. "Upon what she wants," she repeated.

"What do _you_ want?" inquired Etta curiously.

"I don't know," Susan answered slowly.

"I wish I knew what was going on in your head!" exclaimed Etta.

"So do I," said Susan, smiling.

"Do you really mind my going? Really--honestly?"

There wasn't a flaw in Susan's look or tone. "If you tried to stay with me, I'd run away from you."

"And if I do get him, I can help you. Once he's mine----" Etta rounded out her sentence with an expression of countenance which it was well her adoring rescuer did not see. Not that it lacked womanliness; "womanly" is the word that most exactly describes it--and always will exactly describe such expressions--and the thoughts behind--so long as men compel women to be just women, under penalty of refusing them support if they are not so.

Redmond came in, and Etta left him alone with Susan. "Well, has Etta told you?" he asked.

"Yes," replied the girl. She looked at him--simply a look, but the violet-gray eyes had an unusual seeming of seeing into minds and hearts, an expression that was perhaps the more disquieting because it was sympathetic rather than critical.

His glance shifted. He was a notably handsome young fellow--too young for any display of character in his face, or for any development of it beyond the amiable, free and easy lover of a jolly good time that is the type repeated over and over again among the youth of the comfortable classes that send their sons to college.

"Are you going with her?" he asked.

"No," said Susan.

Redmond's face fell. "I hoped you liked me a little better than that," said he.

"It isn't a question of you."

"But it's a question of _you_ with me," he cried. "I'm in love with you, Lorna. I'm--I'm tempted to say all sorts of crazy things that I think but haven't the courage to act on." He kneeled down beside her, put his arms round her waist. "I'm crazy about you, Lorna. . . . Tell me---- Were you---- Had you been--before we met?"

"Yes," said Susan.

"Why don't you deny it?" he exclaimed. "Why don't you fool me, as Etta fooled Gus?"

"Etta's story is different from mine," said Susan. "She's had no experience at all, compared to me."

"I don't believe it," declared he. "I know she's been stuffing Fatty, has made him think that you led her away. But I can soon knock those silly ideas out of his silly head----"

"It's the truth," interrupted Susan, calmly.

"No matter. You could be a good woman." Impulsively, "If you'll settle down and be a good woman, I'll marry you."

Susan smiled gently. "And ruin your prospects?"

"I don't care for prospects beside you. You _are_ a good woman--inside. The better I know you the less like a fast woman you are. Won't you go to work, Lorna, and wait for me?"

Her smile had a little mockery in it now--perhaps to hide from him how deeply she was moved. "No matter what else I did, I'd not wait for you, Johnny. You'd never come. You're not a Johnny-on-the-spot."

"You think I'm weak--don't you?" he said. Then, as she did not answer, "Well, I am. But I love you, all the same."

For the first time he felt that he had touched her heart. The tears sprang to her eyes, which were not at all gray now but all violet, as was their wont when she was deeply moved. She laid her hands on his shoulders. "Oh, it's so good to be loved!" she murmured.

He put his arms around her, and for the moment she rested there, content--yes, content, as many a woman who needed love less and craved it less has been content just with being loved, when to make herself content she has had to ignore and forget the personality of the man who was doing the loving--and the kind of love it was. Said he:

"Don't you love me a little enough to be a good woman and wait till I set up in the law?"

She let herself play with the idea, to prolong this novel feeling of content. She asked, "How long will that be?"

"I'll be admitted in two years. I'll soon have a practice. My father's got influence."

Susan looked at him sadly, slowly shook her head. "Two years--and then several years more. And I working in a factory--or behind a counter--from dawn till after dark--poor, hungry--half-naked--wearing my heart out--wearing my body away----" She drew away from him, laughed. "I was fooling, John--about marrying. I liked to hear you say those things. I couldn't marry you if I would. I'm married already."

"_You_!"

She nodded.

"Tell me about it--won't you?"

She looked at him in astonishment, so amazing seemed the idea that she could tell anyone that experience. It would be like voluntarily showing a hideous, repulsive scar or wound, for sometimes it was scar, and sometimes open wound, and always the thing that made whatever befell her endurable by comparison.

She did not answer his appeal for her confidence but went on, "Anyhow, nothing could induce me to go to work again. You don't realize what work means--the only sort of work I can get to do. It's--it's selling both body and soul. I prefer----"

He kissed her to stop her from finishing her sentence. "Don't--please," he pleaded. "You don't understand. In this life you'll soon grow hard and coarse and lose your beauty and your health--and become a moral and physical wreck."

She reflected, the grave expression in her eyes--the expression that gave whoever saw it the feeling of dread as before impending tragedy. "Yes--I suppose so," she said. "But---- Any sooner than as a working girl living in a dirty hole in a tenement? No--not so soon. And in this life I've got a chance if I'm careful of my health and--and don't let things touch _me_. In that other--there's no chance--none!"

"What chance have you got in this life?"

"I don't know exactly. I'm very ignorant yet. At worst, it's simply that I've got no chance in either life--and this life is more comfortable."

"Comfortable! With men you don't like--frightful men----"

"Were you ever cold?" asked Susan.

But it made no impression upon him who had no conception of the cold that knows not how it is ever to get warm again. He rushed on:

"Lorna, my God!" He caught hold of her and strained her to his breast. "You are lovely and sweet! It's frightful--you in this life."

Her expression made the sobs choke up into his throat. She said quietly: "Not worse than dirt and vermin and freezing cold and long, long, dull--oh, _so_ dull hours of working among human beings that don't ever wash--because they can't." She pushed him gently away. "You don't understand. You haven't been through it. Comfortable people talk like fools about those things. . . . Do you remember my hands that first evening?"

He reddened and his eyes shifted. "I'm absurdly sensitive about a woman's hands," he muttered.

She laughed at him. "Oh, I saw--how you couldn't bear to look at them--how they made you shiver. Well, the hands were nothing--_nothing_!--beside what you didn't see."

"Lorna, do you love someone else?"

His eyes demanded an honest answer, and it seemed to her his feeling for her deserved it. But she could not put the answer into words. She lowered her gaze.

"Then why----" he began impetuously. But there he halted, for he knew she would not lift the veil over herself, over her past.

"I'm very, very fond of you," she said with depressing friendliness. Then with a sweet laugh, "You ought to be glad I'm not able to take you at your word. And you will be glad soon." She sighed. "What a good time we've had!"

"If I only had a decent allowance, like Fatty!" he groaned.

"No use talking about that. It's best for us to separate best for us both. You've been good to me--you'll never know how good. And I can't play you a mean trick. I wish I could be selfish enough to do it, but I can't."

"You don't love me. That's the reason."

"Maybe it is. Yes, I guess that's why I've got the courage to be square with you. Anyhow, John, you can't afford to care for me. And if I cared for you, and put off the parting--why it'd only put off what I've got to go through with before----" She did not finish; her eyes became dreamy.

"Before what?" he asked.

"I don't know," she said, returning with a sigh. "Something I see--yet don't see in the darkness, ahead of me."

"I can't make you out," cried he. Her expression moved him to the same awe she inspired in Etta--a feeling that gave both of them the sense of having known her better, of having been more intimate with her when they first met her than they ever had been since or ever would be again.

When Redmond embraced and kissed her for the last time, he was in another and less sympathetic mood, was busy with his own wounds to vanity and perhaps to heart. He thought her heartless--good and sweet and friendly, but without sentiment. She refused to help him make a scene; she refused to say she would write to him, and asked him not to write to her. "You know we'll probably see each other soon."

"Not till the long vacation--not till nearly July."

"Only three months."

"Oh, if you look at it that way!" said he, piqued and sullen. Girls had always been more than kind, more than eager, when he had shown interest.

Etta, leaving on a later train, was even more depressed about Susan's heart. She wept hysterically, wished Susan to do the same; but Susan stood out firmly against a scene, and would not have it that Etta was shamefully deserting her, as Etta tearfully accused herself. "You're going to be happy," she said. "And I'm not so selfish as to be wretched about it. And don't you worry a minute on my account. I'm better off in every way than I've ever been. I'll get on all right."

"I know you gave up John to help me with August. I know you mean to break off everything. Oh, Lorna, you mustn't--you mustn't."

"Don't talk nonsense," was Susan's unsatisfactory reply.

When it came down to the last embrace and the last kiss, Etta did feel through Susan's lips and close encircling arms a something that dried up her hysterical tears and filled her heart with an awful aching. It did not last long. No matter how wildly shallow waters are stirred, they soon calm and murmur placidly on again. The three who had left her would have been amazed could they have seen her a few minutes after Etta's train rolled out of the Union Station. The difference between strong natures and weak is not that the strong are free from cowardice and faint-heartedness, from doubt and foreboding, from love and affection, but that they do not stay down when they are crushed down, stagger up and on.

Susan hurried to the room they had helped her find the day before--a room in a house where no questions were asked or answered. She locked herself in and gave way to the agonies of her loneliness. And when her grief had exhausted her, she lay upon the bed staring at the wall with eyes that looked as though her soul had emptied itself through them of all that makes life endurable, even of hope. For the first time in her life she thought of suicide--not suicide the vague possibility, not suicide the remote way of escape, but suicide the close and intimate friend, the healer of all woes, the solace of all griefs--suicide, the speedy, accurate solver of the worst problem destiny can put to man.

She saw her pocketbook on the floor where she had dropped it. "I'll wait till my money's gone," thought she. Then she remembered Etta--how gentle and loving she was, how utterly she gave herself--for Susan was still far from the profound knowledge of character that enables us to disregard outward signs in measuring actualities. "If I really weren't harder than Etta," her thoughts ran on reproachfully, "I'd not wait until the money went. I'd kill myself now, and have it over with." The truth was that if the position of the two girls had been reversed and Susan had loved Gulick as intensely as Etta professed and believed she loved him, still Susan would have given him up rather than have left Etta alone. And she would have done it without any sense of sacrifice. And it must be admitted that, whether or not there are those who deserve credit for doing right, certainly those who do right simply because they cannot do otherwise--the only trustworthy people--deserve no credit for it.

She counted her money--twenty-three dollars in bills, and some change. Redmond had given her fifty dollars each time they had gone shopping, and had made her keep the balance--his indirect way of adjusting the financial side. Twenty-three dollars meant perhaps two weeks' living. Well, she would live those two weeks decently and comfortably and then--bid life adieu unless something turned up--for back to the streets she would not go. With Etta gone, with not a friend anywhere on earth, life was not worth the price she had paid for Etta and herself to the drunken man. Her streak of good fortune in meeting Redmond had given her no illusions; from Mabel Connemora, from what she herself had heard and seen--and experienced--she knew the street woman's life, and she could not live that life for herself alone. She could talk about it to Redmond tranquilly. She could think about it in the abstract, could see how other women did it, and how those who had intelligence might well survive and lift themselves up in it. But do it she could not. So she resolved upon suicide, firmly believing in her own resolve. And she was not one to deceive herself or to shrink from anything whatsoever. Except the insane, only the young make these resolves and act upon them; for the young have not yet learned to value life, have not yet fallen under life's sinister spell that makes human beings cling more firmly and more cravenly to it as they grow older. The young must have something--some hope, however fanatic and false--to live for. They will not tarry just to live. And in that hour Susan had lost hope.

She took off her street dress and opened her trunk to get a wrapper and bedroom slippers. As she lifted the lid, she saw an envelope addressed "Lorna"; she remembered that Redmond had locked and strapped the trunk. She tore the end from the envelope, looked in. Some folded bills; nothing more. She sat on the floor and counted two twenties, five tens, two fives--a hundred dollars! She looked dazedly at the money--gave a cry of delight--sprang to her feet, with a change like the startling shift from night to day in the tropics.

"I can pay!" she cried. "I can pay!"

Bubbling over with smiles and with little laughs, gay as even champagne and the release from the vile prison of the slums had made her, she with eager hands took from the trunk her best clothes--the jacket and skirt of dark gray check she had bought for thirty dollars at Shillito's and had had altered to her figure and her taste; the blouse of good quality linen with rather a fancy collar; the gray leather belt with a big oxidized silver buckle; her only pair of silk stockings; the pair of high-heeled patent leather shoes--the large black hat with a gray feather curling attractively round and over its brim. The hat had cost only fourteen dollars because she had put it together herself; if she had bought it made, she would have paid not less than thirty dollars.

All these things she carefully unpacked and carefully laid out. Then she thoroughly brushed her hair and did it up in a graceful pompadour that would go well with the hat. She washed away the traces of her outburst of grief, went over her finger nails, now almost recovered from the disasters incident to the life of manual labor. She went on to complete her toilet, all with the same attention to detail--a sure indication, in one so young, of a desire to please some specific person. When she had the hat set at the satisfactory angle and the veil wound upon it and draped over her fresh young face coquettishly, she took from her slender store of gloves a fresh gray pair and, as she put them on, stood before the glass examining herself.

There was now not a trace of the tenement working girl of a week and a day before. Here was beauty in bloom, fresh and alluring from head to narrow, well-booted feet. More than a hint of a fine color sense--that vital quality, if fashion, the conventional, is to be refined and individualized into style, the rare--more than a hint of color sense showed in the harmony of the pearl gray in the big feather, the pearl gray in the collar of the blouse, and the pearl white of her skin. Susan had indeed returned to her own class. She had left it, a small-town girl with more than a suggestion of the child in eyes and mouth; she had returned to it, a young woman of the city, with that look in her face which only experience can give--experience that has resulted in growth. She locked all her possessions away in her trunk--all but her money; that she put in her stockings--seventy-five dollars well down in the right leg, the rest of the bills well down in the left leg; the two dollars or so in change was all she intrusted to the pocketbook she carried. She cast a coquettish glance down at her charmingly arrayed feet--a harmless glance of coquetry that will be condemned by those whose physical vanity happens to center elsewhere. After this glance she dropped her skirts--and was ready.

By this time dusk had fallen, and it was nearly six o'clock. As she came out of the house she glanced toward the west--the instinctive gesture of people who live in rainy climates. Her face brightened; she saw an omen in the long broad streak of reddened evening sky.

CHAPTER XXIII

SHE went down to Fourth Street, along it to Race, to the _Commercial_ building. At the entrance to the corridor at the far side of which were elevator and stairway, she paused and considered. She turned into the business office.

"Is Mr. Roderick Spenser here?" she asked of a heavily built, gray-bearded man in the respectable black of the old-fashioned financial employee, showing the sobriety and stolidity of his character in his dress.

"He works upstairs," replied the old man, beaming approvingly upon the pretty, stylish young woman.

"Is he there now?"

"I'll telephone." He went into the rear office, presently returned with the news that Mr. Spenser had that moment left, was probably on his way down in the elevator. "And you'll catch him if you go to the office entrance right away."

Susan, the inexperienced in the city ways of men with women, did not appreciate what a tribute to her charms and to her character, as revealed in the honest, grave eyes, was the old man's unhesitating assumption that Spenser would wish to see her. She lost no time in retracing her steps. As she reached the office entrance she saw at the other end of the long hall two young men coming out of the elevator. After the habit of youth, she had rehearsed speech and manner for this meeting; but at sight of him she was straightway trembling so that she feared she would be unable to speak at all. The entrance light was dim, but as he glanced at her in passing he saw her looking at him and his hand moved toward his hat. His face had not changed--the same frank, careless expression, the same sympathetic, understanding look out of the eyes. But he was the city man in dress now--notably the city man.

"Mr. Spenser," said she shyly.

He halted; his companion went on. He lifted his hat, looked inquiringly at her--the look of the enthusiast and connoisseur on the subject of pretty women, when he finds a new specimen worthy of his attention.

"Don't you know me?"

His expression of puzzled and flirtatious politeness gradually cleared away. The lighting up of his eyes, the smile round his mouth delighted her; and she grew radiant when he exclaimed eagerly, "Why, it's the little girl of the rock again! How you've grown--in a year--less than a year!"

"Yes, I suppose I have," said she, thinking of it for the first time. Then, to show him at once what a good excuse she had for intruding again, she hastened to add, "I've come to pay you that money you loaned me."

He burst out laughing, drew her into the corridor where the light was brighter. "And you've gone back to your husband," he said--she noted the quick, sharp change in his voice.

"Why do you think that?" she said.

The way his eyes lingered upon the charming details toilet that indicated anything but poverty might of a have given her a simple explanation. He offered another.

"I can't explain. It's your different expression--a kind of experienced look."

The color flamed and flared in Susan's face.

"You are--happy?" he asked.

"I've not seen--him," evaded she. "Ever since I left Carrollton I've been wandering about."

"Wandering about?" he repeated absently, his eyes busy with her appearance.

"And now," she went on, nervous and hurried, "I'm here in town--for a while."

"Then I may come to see you?"

"I'd be glad. I'm alone in a furnished room I've taken--out near Lincoln Park."

"Alone! You don't mean you're still wandering?"

"Still wandering."

He laughed. "Well, it certainly is doing you no harm. The reverse." An embarrassed pause, then he said with returning politeness: "Maybe you'll dine with me this evening?"

She beamed. "I've been hoping you'd ask me."

"It won't be as good as the one on the rock."

"There never will be another dinner like that," declared she. "Your leg is well?"

Her question took him by surprise. In his interest and wonder as to the new mystery of this mysterious young person he had not recalled the excuses he made for dropping out of the entanglement in which his impulses had put him. The color poured into his face. "Ages ago," he replied, hurriedly. "I'd have forgotten it, if it hadn't been for you. I've never been able to get you out of my head." And as a matter of truth she had finally dislodged his cousin Nell--without lingering long or vividly herself. Young Mr. Spenser was too busy and too self-absorbed a man to bother long about any one flower in a world that was one vast field abloom with open-petaled flowers.

"Nor I you," said she, as pleased as he had expected, and showing it with a candor that made her look almost the child he had last seen. "You see, I owed you that money, and I wanted to pay it."

"Oh--_that_ was all!" exclaimed he, half jokingly. "Wait here a minute." And he went to the door, looked up and down the street, then darted across it and disappeared into the St. Nicholas Hotel. He was not gone more than half a minute.

"I had to see Bayne and tell him," he explained when he was with her again. "I was to have dined with him and some others--over in the café. Instead, you and I will dine upstairs. You won't mind my not being dressed?"

It seemed to her he was dressed well enough for any occasion. "I'd rather you had on the flannel trousers rolled up to your knees," said she. "But I can imagine them."

"What a dinner that was!" cried he. "And the ride afterward," with an effort at ease that escaped her bedazzled eyes. "Why didn't you ever write?"

He expected her to say that she did not know his address, and was ready with protests and excuses. But she replied:

"I didn't have the money to pay what I owed you." They were crossing Fourth Street and ascending the steps to the hotel. "Then, too--afterward--when I got to know a little more about life I----Oh, no matter. Really, the money was the only reason."

But he had stopped short. In a tone so correctly sincere that a suspicious person might perhaps have doubted the sincerity of the man using it, he said:

"What was in your mind? What did you think? What did you--suspect me of? For I see in that honest, telltale face of yours that it was a suspicion."

"I didn't blame you," protested the girl, "even if it was so. I thought maybe you got to thinking it over--and--didn't want to be bothered with anyone so troublesome as I had made myself."

"How _could_ you suspect _me_ of such a thing?"

"Oh, I really didn't," declared she, with all the earnestness of a generous nature, for she read into his heightened color and averted eyes the feelings she herself would have had before an unjust suspicion. "It was merely an idea. And I didn't blame you--not in the least. It would have been the sensible----"

Next thing, this child-woman, this mysterious mind of mixed precocity and innocence, would be showing that she had guessed a Cousin Nell.

"You are far too modest," interrupted he with a flirtatious smile. "You didn't realize how strong an impression you made. No, I really broke my leg. Don't you suppose I knew the twenty-five in the pocketbook wouldn't carry you far?" He saw--and naturally misunderstood--her sudden change of expression as he spoke of the amount. He went on apologetically, "I intended to bring more when I came. I was afraid to put money in the note for fear it'd never be delivered, if I did. And didn't I tell you to write--and didn't I give you my address here? Would I have done that, if I hadn't meant to stand by you?"

Susan was convinced, was shamed by these smooth, plausible assertions and explanations. "Your father's house--it's a big brick, with stone trimmings, standing all alone outside the little town--isn't it?"

Spenser was again coloring deeply. "Yes," admitted he uneasily.

But Susan didn't notice. "I saw the doctor--and your family--on the veranda," she said.

He was now so nervous that she could not but observe it. "They gave out that it was only a sprain," said he, "because I told them I didn't want it known. I didn't want the people at the office to know I was going to be laid up so long. I was afraid I'd lose my job."

"I didn't hear anything about it," said she. "I only saw as I was going by on a boat."

He looked disconcerted--but not to her eyes. "Well--it's far in the past now," said he. "Let's forget--all but the fun."

"Yes--all but the fun." Then very sweetly, "But I'll never forget what I owe you. Not the money--not that, hardly at all--but what you did for me. It made me able to go on."

"Don't speak of it," cried he, flushed and shamefaced. "I didn't do half what I ought." Like most human beings he was aware of his more obvious--if less dangerous--faults and weaknesses. He liked to be called generous, but always had qualms when so called because he knew he was in fact of the familiar type classed as generous only because human beings are so artless in their judgments as to human nature that they cannot see that quick impulses quickly die. The only deep truth is that there are no generous natures but just natures--and they are rarely classed as generous because their slowly formed resolves have the air of prudence and calculation.

In the hotel she went to the dressing-room, took twenty-five dollars from the money in her stocking. As soon as they were seated in the restaurant she handed it to him.

"But this makes it you who are having me to dinner--and more," he protested.

"If you knew what a weight it's been on me, you'd not talk that way," said she.

Her tone compelled him to accept her view of the matter. He laughed and put the money in his waistcoat pocket, saying: "Then I'll still owe you a dinner."

During the past week she had been absorbing as only a young woman with a good mind and a determination to learn the business of living can absorb. The lessons before her had been the life that is lived in cities by those who have money to spend and experience in spending it; she had learned out of all proportion to opportunity. At a glance she realized that she was now in a place far superior to the Bohemian resorts which had seemed to her inexperience the best possible. From earliest childhood she had shown the delicate sense of good taste and of luxury that always goes with a practical imagination--practical as distinguished from the idealistic kind of imagination that is vague, erratic, and fond of the dreams which neither could nor should come true. And the reading she had done--the novels, the memoirs, the books of travel, the fashion and home magazines--had made deep and distinct impressions upon her, had prepared her--as they have prepared thousands of Americans in secluded towns and rural regions where luxury and even comfort are very crude indeed--for the possible rise of fortune that is the universal American dream and hope. She felt these new surroundings exquisitely--the subdued coloring, the softened lights, the thick carpets, the quiet elegance and comfort of the furniture. She noted the good manners of the well-trained waiter; she listened admiringly and memorizingly as Spenser ordered the dinner--a dinner of French good taste--small but fine oysters, a thick soup, a guinea hen _en casserole_, a fruit salad, fresh strawberry ice cream, dry champagne. She saw that Spenser knew what he was about, and she was delighted with him and proud to be with him and glad that he had tastes like her own--that is, tastes such as she proposed to learn to have. Of the men she had known or known about he seemed to her far and away the best. It isn't necessary to explain into what an attitude of mind and heart this feeling of his high superiority immediately put her--certainly not for the enlightenment of any woman.

"What are you thinking?" he asked--the question that was so often thrust at her because, when she thought intensely, there was a curiosity-compelling expression in her eyes.

"Oh--about all this," replied she. "I like this sort of thing so much. I never had it in my life, yet now that I see it I feel as if I were part of it, as if it must belong to me." Her eyes met his sympathetic gaze. "You understand, don't you?" He nodded. "And I was wondering"--she laughed, as if she expected even him to laugh at her--"I was wondering how long it would be before I should possess it. Do you think I'm crazy?"

He shook his head. "I've got that same feeling," said he. "I'm poor--don't dare do this often--have all I can manage in keeping myself decently. Yet I have a conviction that I shall--shall win. Don't think I'm dreaming of being rich--not at all. I--I don't care much about that if I did go into business. But I want all my surroundings to be right."

Her eyes gleamed. "And you'll get it. And so shall I. I know it sounds improbable and absurd for me to say that about myself. But--I know it."

"I believe you," said he. "You've got the look in your face--in your eyes. . . . I've never seen anyone improve as you have in this less than a year."

She smiled as she thought in what surroundings she had apparently spent practically all that time. "If you could have seen me!" she said. "Yes, I was learning and I know it. I led a sort of double life. I----" she hesitated, gave up trying to explain. She had not the words and phrases, the clear-cut ideas, to express that inner life led by people who have real imagination. With most human beings their immediate visible surroundings determine their life; with the imaginative few their horizon is always the whole wide world.

She sighed, "But I'm ignorant. I don't know how or where to take hold."

"I can't help you there, yet," said he. "When we know each other better, then I'll know. Not that you need me to tell you. You'll find out for yourself. One always does."

She glanced round the attractive room again, then looked at him with narrowed eyelids. "Only a few hours ago I was thinking of suicide. How absurd it seems now!--I'll never do that again. At least, I've learned how to profit by a lesson. Mr. Burlingham taught me that."

"Who's he?"

"That's a long story. I don't feel like telling about it now."

But the mere suggestion had opened certain doors in her memory and crowds of sad and bitter thoughts came trooping in.

"Are you in some sort of trouble?" said he, instantly leaning toward her across the table and all aglow with the impulsive sympathy that kindles in impressionable natures as quickly as fire in dry grass. Such natures are as perfect conductors of emotion as platinum is of heat--instantly absorbing it, instantly throwing it off, to return to their normal and metallic chill--and capacity for receptiveness. "Anything you can tell me about?"

"Oh, no--nothing especial," replied she. "Just loneliness and a feeling of--of discouragement." Strongly, "Just a mood. I'm never really discouraged. Something always turns up."

"Please tell me what happened after I left you at that wretched hotel."

"I can't," she said. "At least, not now."

"There is----" He looked sympathetically at her, as if to assure her that he would understand, no matter what she might confess. "There is--someone?"

"No. I'm all alone. I'm--free." It was not in the least degree an instinct for deception that made her then convey an impression of there having been no one. She was simply obeying her innate reticence that was part of her unusual self-unconsciousness.

"And you're not worried about--about money matters?" he asked. "You see, I'm enough older and more experienced to give me excuse for asking. Besides, unless a woman has money, she doesn't find it easy to get on."

"I've enough for the present," she assured him, and the stimulus of the champagne made her look--and feel--much more self-confident than she really was. "More than I've ever had before. So I'm not worried. When anyone has been through what I have they aren't so scared about the future."

He looked the admiration he felt--and there was not a little of the enthusiasm of the champagne both in the look and in the admiration--"I see you've already learned to play the game without losing your nerve."

"I begin to hope so," said she.

"Yes--you've got the signs of success in your face. Curious about those signs. Once you learn to know them, you never miss in sizing up people."

The dinner had come. Both were hungry, and it was as good a dinner as the discussion about it between Spenser and the waiter had forecast. As they ate the well-cooked, well-served food and drank the delicately flavored champagne, mellow as the gorgeous autumn its color suggested, there diffused through them an extraordinary feeling of quiet intense happiness--happiness of mind and body. Her face took on a new and finer beauty; into his face came a tenderness that was most becoming to its rather rugged features. And he had not talked with her long before he discovered that he was facing not a child, not a child-woman, but a woman grown, one who could understand and appreciate the things men and women of experience say and do.

"I've always been expecting to hear from you every day since we separated," he said--and he was honestly believing it now. "I've had a feeling that you hadn't forgotten me. It didn't seem possible I could feel so strongly unless there was real sympathy between us."

"I came as soon as I could."

He reflected in silence a moment, then in a tone that made her heart leap and her blood tingle, he said: "You say you're free?"

"Free as air. Only--I couldn't fly far."

He hesitated on an instinct of prudence, then ventured. "Far as New York?"

"What is the railroad fare?"

"Oh, about twenty-five dollars--with sleeper."

"Yes--I can fly that far."

"Do you mean to say you've no ties of any kind?"

"None. Not one." Her eyes opened wide and her nostrils dilated. "Free!"

"You love it--don't you?"

"Don't you?"

"Above everything!" he exclaimed. "Only the free _live_."

She lifted her head higher in a graceful, attractive gesture of confidence and happiness. "Well--I am ready to live."

"I'm afraid you don't realize," he said hesitatingly. "People wouldn't understand. You've your reputation to think of, you know."

She looked straight at him. "No--not even that. I'm even free from reputation." Then, as his face saddened and his eyes glistened with sympathy, "You needn't pity me. See where it's brought me."

"You're a strong swimmer--aren't you?" he said tenderly. "But then there isn't any safe and easy crossing to the isles of freedom. It's no wonder most people don't get further than gazing and longing."

"Probably I shouldn't," confessed Susan, "if I hadn't been thrown into the water. It was a case of swim or drown."

"But most who try are drowned--nearly all the women."

"Oh, I guess there are more survive than is generally supposed. So much lying is done about that sort of thing."

"What a shrewd young lady it is! At any rate, you have reached the islands."

"But I'm not queen of them yet," she reminded him. "I'm only a poor, naked, out-of-breath castaway lying on the beach."

He laughed appreciatively. Very clever, this extremely pretty young woman. "Yes--you'll win. You'll be queen." He lifted his champagne glass and watched the little bubbles pushing gayly and swiftly upward. "So--you've cast over your reputation."

"I told you I had reached the beach naked." A reckless light in her eyes now. "Fact is, I had none to start with. Anybody has a reason for starting--or for being started. That was mine, I guess."

"I've often thought about that matter of reputation--in a man or a woman--if they're trying to make the bold, strong swim. To care about one's reputation means fear of what the world says. It's important to care about one's character--for without character no one ever got anywhere worth getting to. But it's very, very dangerous to be afraid for one's reputation. And--I hate to admit it, because I'm hopelessly conventional at bottom, but it's true--reputation--fear of what the world says--has sunk more swimmers, has wrecked more characters than it ever helped. So--the strongest and best swimmers swim naked."

Susan was looking thoughtfully at him over the rim of her glass. She took a sip of the champagne, said: "If I hadn't been quite naked, I'd have sunk--I'd have been at the bottom--with the fishes----"

"Don't!" he cried. "Thank God, you did whatever you've done--yes, I mean that--whatever you've done, since it enabled you to swim on." He added, "And I know it wasn't anything bad--anything unwomanly."

"I did the best I could--nothing I'm ashamed of--or proud of either. Just--what I had to do."

"But you ought to be proud that you arrived."

"No--only glad," said she. "So--so _frightfully_ glad!"

In any event, their friendship was bound to flourish; aided by that dinner and that wine it sprang up into an intimacy, a feeling of mutual trust and of sympathy at every point. Like all women she admired strength in a man above everything else. She delighted in the thick obstinate growth of his fair hair, in the breadth of the line of his eyebrows, in the aggressive thrust of his large nose and long jawbone. She saw in the way his mouth closed evidence of a will against which opposition would dash about as dangerously as an egg against a stone wall. There was no question of his having those birthmarks of success about which he talked. She saw them--saw nothing of the less obtrusive--but not less important--marks of weakness which might have enabled an expert in the reading of faces to reach some rather depressing conclusion as to the nature and the degree of that success.

Finally, he burst out with, "Yes, I've made up my mind. I'll do it! I'm going to New York. I've been fooling away the last five years here learning a lot, but still idling--drinking--amusing myself in all kinds of ways. And about a month ago--one night, as I was rolling home toward dawn--through a driving sleet storm--do you remember a line in 'Paradise Lost'"

"I never read it," interrupted Susan.

"Well--it's where the devils have been kicked out of Heaven and are lying in agony flat on the burning lake--and Satan rises up--and marches haughtily out among them--and calls out, 'Awake! Arise! Or forever more be damned!' That's what has happened to me several times in my life. When I was a boy, idling about the farm and wasting myself, that voice came to me--'Awake! Arise! Or forever more be damned!' And I got a move on me, and insisted on going to college. Again--at college--I became a dawdler--poker--drink--dances--all the rest of it. And suddenly that voice roared in my ears, made me jump like a rabbit when a gun goes off. And last month it came again. I went to work--finished a play I've been pottering over for three years. But somehow I couldn't find the--the--whatever I needed--to make me break away. Well--_you've_ given me that. I'll resign from the _Commercial_ and with all I've got in the world--three hundred dollars and a trunk full of good clothes, I'll break into Broadway."

Susan had listened with bright eyes and quickened breath, as intoxicated and as convinced as was he by his eloquence. "Isn't that splendid!" she exclaimed in a low voice.

"And you?" he said meaningly.

"I?" she replied, fearing she was misunderstanding.

"Will you go?"

"Do you want me?" she asked, low and breathlessly.

With a reluctance which suggested--but not to her--that his generosity was winning a hard-fought battle with his vanity, he replied: "I need you. I doubt if I'd dare, without you to back me up."

"I've got a trunk full of fairly good clothes and about a hundred dollars. But I haven't got any play--or any art--or any trade even. Of course, I'll go." Then she hastily added, "I'll not be a drag on you. I pay my own way."

"But you mustn't be suspicious in your independence," he warned her. "You mustn't forget that I'm older than you and more experienced and that it's far easier for a man to get money than for a woman."

"To get it without lowering himself?"

"Ah!" he exclaimed, looking strangely at her. "You mean, without bowing to some boss? Without selling his soul? I had no idea you were so much of a woman when I met you that day."

"I wasn't--then," replied she. "And I didn't know where I'd got till we began to talk this evening."

"And you're very young!"

"Oh, but I've been going to a school where they make you learn fast."

"Indeed I do need you." He touched his glass to hers. "On to Broadway!" he cried.

"Broadway!" echoed she, radiant.

"Together--eh?"

She nodded. But as she drank the toast a tear splashed into her glass. She was remembering how some mysterious instinct had restrained her from going with John Redmond, though it seemed the only sane thing to do. What if she had disobeyed that instinct! And then--through her mind in swift ghostly march--past trailed the persons and events of the days just gone--just gone, yet seeming as far away as a former life in another world. Redmond and Gulick--Etta--yes, Etta, too--all past and gone--forever gone----

"What are you thinking about?"

She shook her head and the spectral procession vanished into the glooms of memory's vistas. "Thinking?--of yesterday. I don't understand myself--how I shake off and forget what's past. Nothing seems real to me but the future."

"Not even the present?" said he with a smile.

"Not even the present," she answered with grave candor. "Nothing seems to touch me--the real me. It's like--like looking out of the window of the train at the landscape running by. I'm a traveler passing through. I wonder if it'll always be that way. I wonder if I'll ever arrive where I'll feel that I belong."

"I think so--and soon."

But she did not respond to his confident smile. "I--I hope so," she said with sad, wistful sweetness. "Then again--aren't there some people who don't belong anywhere--aren't allowed to settle down and be happy, but have to keep going--on and on--until----"

"Until they pass out into the dark," he finished for her. "Yes." He looked at her in a wondering uneasy way. "You do suggest that kind," said he. "But," smilingly, to hide his earnestness, "I'll try to detain you."

"Please do," she said. "I don't want to go on--alone."

He dropped into silence, puzzled and in a way awed by the mystery enveloping her--a mystery of aloofness and stoniness, of complete separation from the contact of the world--the mystery that incloses all whose real life is lived deep within themselves.

CHAPTER XXIV

LIKE days later, on the Eastern Express, they were not so confident as they had been over the St. Nicholas champagne. As confident about the remoter future, it was that annoying little stretch near at hand which gave them secret uneasiness. There had been nothing but dreaming and sentimentalizing in those four days--and that disquietingly suggested the soldier who with an impressive flourish highly resolves to give battle, then sheathes his sword and goes away to a revel. Also, like all idlers, they had spent money--far more money than total net cash resources of less than five hundred dollars warranted.

"We've spent an awful lot of money," said Susan.

She was quick to see the faint frown, the warning that she was on dangerous ground. Said he:

"Do you regret?"

"No, indeed--no!" cried she, eager to have that cloud vanish, but honest too.

She no more than he regretted a single moment of the dreaming and love-making, a single penny of the eighty and odd dollars that had enabled them fittingly to embower their romance, to twine myrtle in their hair and to provide Cupid's torch-bowls with fragrant incense. Still--with the battle not begun, there gaped that deep, wide hollow in the war chest.

Spenser's newspaper connection got them passes over one of the cheaper lines to New York--and he tried to console himself by setting this down as a saving of forty dollars against the eighty dollars of the debit item. But he couldn't altogether forget that they would have traveled on passes, anyhow. He was not regretting that he had indulged in the extravagance of a stateroom--but he couldn't deny that it was an extravagance. However, he had only to look at her to feel that he had done altogether well in providing for her the best, and to believe that he could face with courage any fate so long as he had her at his side.

"Yes, I can face anything with you," he said. "What I feel for you is the real thing. The real thing, at last."

She had no disposition to inquire curiously into this. Her reply was a flash of a smile that was like a flash of glorious light upon the crest of a wave surging straight from her happy heart.

They were opposite each other at breakfast in the restaurant car. He delighted in her frank delight in the novelty of travel--swift and luxurious travel. He had never been East before, himself, but he had had experience of sleepers and diners; she had not, and every moment she was getting some new sensation. She especially enjoyed this sitting at breakfast with the express train rushing smoothly along through the mountains--the first mountains either had seen. At times they were so intensely happy that they laughed with tears in their eyes and touched hands across the table to get from physical contact the reassurances of reality.

"How good to eat everything is!" she exclaimed. "You'll think me very greedy, I'm afraid. But if you'd eaten the stuff I have since we dined on the rock!"

They were always going back to the rock, and neither wearied of recalling and reminding each other of the smallest details. It seemed to them that everything, even the least happening, at that sacred spot must be remembered, must be recorded indelibly in the book of their romance. "I'm glad we were happy together in such circumstances," she went on. "It was a test--wasn't it, Rod?"

"If two people don't love each other enough to be happy anywhere, they could be happy nowhere," declared he.

"So, we'll not mind being very, very careful about spending money in New York," she ventured--for she was again bringing up the subject she had been privately revolving ever since they had formed the partnership. In her wanderings with Burlingham, in her sojourn in the tenements, she had learned a great deal about the care and spending of money--had developed that instinct for forehandedness which nature has implanted in all normal women along with the maternal instinct--and as a necessary supplement to it. This instinct is more or less futile in most women because they are more or less ignorant of the realities as to wise and foolish expenditure. But it is found in the most extravagant women no less than in the most absurdly and meanly stingy.

"Of course, we must be careful," assented Rod. "But I can't let you be uncomfortable."

"Now, dear," she remonstrated, "you mustn't treat me that way. I'm better fitted for hardship than you. I'd mind it less."

He laughed; she looked so fine and delicate, with her transparent skin and her curves of figure, he felt that anything so nearly perfect could not but easily be spoiled. And there he showed how little he appreciated her iron strength, her almost exhaustless endurance. He fancied he was the stronger because he could have crushed her in his muscular arms. But exposures, privations, dissipations that would have done for a muscularly stronger man than he would have left no trace upon her after a few days of rest and sleep.

"It's the truth," she insisted. "I could prove it, but I shan't. I don't want to remember vividly. Rod, we _must_ live cheaply in New York until you sell a play and I have a place in some company."

"Yes," he conceded. "But, Susie, not too cheap. A cheap way of living makes a cheap man--gives a man a cheap outlook on life. Besides, don't forget--if the worst comes to the worst, I can always get a job on a newspaper."

She would not have let him see how uneasy this remark made her. However, she could not permit it to pass without notice. Said she a little nervously:

"But you've made up your mind to devote yourself to plays--to stand or fall by that."

He remembered how he had thrilled her and himself with brave talk about the necessity of concentrating, of selecting a goal and moving relentlessly for it, letting nothing halt him or turn him aside. For his years Rod Spenser was as wise in the philosophy of success as Burlingham or Tom Brashear. But he had done that brave and wise talking before he loved her as he now did--before he realized how love can be in itself an achievement and a possession so great that other ambitions dwarf beside it. True, away back in his facile, fickle mind, behind the region where self-excuse and somebody-else-always-to-blame reigned supreme, a something--the something that had set the marks of success so strongly upon his face--was whispering to him the real reason for his now revolving a New York newspaper job. Real reasons as distinguished from alleged reasons and imagined reasons, from the reasons self-deception invents and vanity gives out--real reasons are always interesting and worth noting. What was Rod's? Not his love for her; nothing so superior, so superhuman as that. No, it was weak and wobbly misgivings as to his own ability to get on independently, the misgivings that menace every man who has never worked for himself but has always drawn pay--the misgivings that paralyze most men and keep them wage or salary slaves all their lives. Rod was no better pleased at this sly, unwelcome revelation of his real self to himself than the next human being is in similar circumstances. The whispering was hastily suppressed; love for her, desire that she should be comfortable--those must be the real reasons. But he must be careful lest she, the sensitive, should begin to brood over a fear that she was already weakening him and would become a drag upon him--the fear that, he knew, would take shape in his own mind if things began to go badly. "You may be sure, dearest," he said, "I'll do nothing that won't help me on." He tapped his forehead with his finger. "This is a machine for making plays. Everything that's put into it will be grist for it."

She was impressed but not convinced. He had made his point about concentration too clear to her intelligence. She persisted:

"But you said if you took a place on a newspaper it would make you fight less hard."

"I say a lot of things," he interrupted laughingly. "Don't be frightened about me. What I'm most afraid of is that you'll desert me. _That_ would be a real knock-out blow."

He said this smilingly; but she could not bear jokes on that one subject.

"What do you mean, Rod?"

"Now, don't look so funereal, Susie. I simply meant that I hate to think of your going on the stage--or at anything else. I want you to help _me_. Selfish, isn't it? But, dear heart, if I could feel that the plays were _ours_, that we were both concentrated on the one career--darling. To love each other, to work together--not separately but together--don't you understand?"

Her expression showed that she understood, but was not at all in sympathy. "I've got to earn my living, Rod," she objected. "I shan't care anything about what I'll be doing. I'll do it simply to keep from being a burden to you----"

"A burden, Susie! You! Why, you're my wings that enable me to fly. It's selfish, but I want all of you. Don't you think, dear, that if it were possible, it would be better for you to make us a home and hold the fort while I go out to give battle to managers--and bind up my wounds when I come back--and send me out the next day well again? Don't you think we ought to concentrate?"

The picture appealed to her. All she wanted in life now was his success. "But," she objected, "it's useless to talk of that until we get on our feet--perfectly useless."

"It's true," he admitted with a sigh.

"And until we do, we must be economical."

"What a persistent lady it is," laughed he. "I wish I were like that."

In the evening's gathering dusk the train steamed into Jersey City; and Spenser and Susan Lenox, with the adventurer's mingling hope and dread, confidence and doubt, courage and fear, followed the crowd down the long platform under the vast train shed, went through the huge thronged waiting-room and aboard the giant ferryboat which filled both with astonishment because of its size and luxuriousness.

"I am a jay!" said she. "I can hardly keep my mouth from dropping open."

"You haven't any the advantage of me," he assured her. "Are you trembling all over?"

"Yes," she admitted. "And my heart's like lead. I suppose there are thousands on thousands like us, from all over the country--who come here every day--feeling as we do."

"Let's go out on the front deck--where we can see it."

They went out on the upper front deck and, leaning against the forward gates, with their traveling bags at their feet, they stood dumb before the most astounding and most splendid scene in the civilized world. It was not quite dark yet; the air was almost July hot, as one of those prematurely warm days New York so often has in March. The sky, a soft and delicate blue shading into opal and crimson behind them, displayed a bright crescent moon as it arched over the fairyland in the dusk before them. Straight ahead, across the broad, swift, sparkling river--the broadest water Susan had ever seen--rose the mighty, the majestic city. It rose direct from the water. Endless stretches of ethereal-looking structure, reaching higher and higher, in masses like mountain ranges, in peaks, in towers and domes. And millions of lights, like fairy lamps, like resplendent jewels, gave the city a glory beyond that of the stars thronging the heavens on a clear summer night.

They looked toward the north; on and on, to the far horizon's edge stretched the broad river and the lovely city that seemed the newborn offspring of the waves; on and on, the myriad lights, in masses, in festoons, in great gleaming globes of fire from towers rising higher than Susan's and Rod's native hills. They looked to the south. There, too, rose city, mile after mile, and then beyond it the expanse of the bay; and everywhere the lights, the beautiful, soft, starlike lights, shedding a radiance as of heaven itself over the whole scene. Majesty and strength and beauty.

"I love it!" murmured the girl. "Already I love it."

"I never dreamed it was like this," said Roderick, in an awed tone.

"The City of the Stars," said she, in the caressing tone in which a lover speaks the name of the beloved.

They moved closer together and clasped hands and gazed as if they feared the whole thing--river and magic city and their own selves--would fade away and vanish forever. Susan clutched Rod in terror as she saw the vision suddenly begin to move, to advance toward her, like apparitions in a dream before they vanish. Then she exclaimed, "Why, we are moving!" The big ferryboat, swift, steady as land, noiseless, had got under way. Upon them from the direction of the distant and hidden sea blew a cool, fresh breeze. Never before had either smelled that perfume, strong and keen and clean, which comes straight from the unbreathed air of the ocean to bathe New York, to put life and hope and health into its people. Rod and Susan turned their faces southward toward this breeze, drank in great draughts of it. They saw a colossal statue, vivid as life in the dusk, in the hand at the end of the high-flung arm a torch which sent a blaze of light streaming out over land and water.

"That must be Liberty," said Roderick.

Susan slipped her arm through his. She was quivering with excitement and joy. "Rod--Rod!" she murmured. "It's the isles of freedom. Kiss me."

And he bent and kissed her, and his cheek felt the tears upon hers. He reached for her hand, with an instinct to strengthen her. But when he had it within his its firm and vital grasp sent a thrill of strength through him.

A few minutes, and they paused at the exit from the ferry house. They almost shrank back, so dazed and helpless did they feel before the staggering billows of noise that swept savagely down upon them--roar and crash, shriek and snort; the air was shuddering with it, the ground quaking. The beauty had vanished--the beauty that was not the city but a glamour to lure them into the city's grasp; now that city stood revealed as a monster about to seize and devour them.

"God!" He shouted in her ear. "Isn't this _frightful!_"

She was recovering more quickly than he. The faces she saw reassured her. They were human faces; and while they were eager and restless, as if the souls behind them sought that which never could be found, they were sane and kind faces, too. Where others of her own race lived, and lived without fear, she, too, could hope to survive. And already she, who had loved this mighty offspring of the sea and the sky at first glance, saw and felt another magic--the magic of the peopled solitude. In this vast, this endless solitude she and he would be free. They could do as they pleased, live as they pleased, without thought of the opinion of others. Here she could forget the bestial horrors of marriage; here she would fear no scornful pointing at her birth-brand of shame. She and Rod could be poor without shame; they could make their fight in the grateful darkness of obscurity.

"Scared?" he asked.

"Not a bit," was her prompt answer. "I love it more than ever."

"Well, it frightens me a little. I feel helpless--lost in the noise and the crowd. How can I do anything here!"

"Others have. Others do."

"Yes--yes! That's so. We must take hold!" And he selected a cabman from the shouting swarm. "We want to go, with two trunks, to the Hotel St. Denis," said he.

"All right, sir! Gimme the checks, please."

Spenser was about to hand them over when Susan said in an undertone, "You haven't asked the price."

Spenser hastened to repair this important omission. "Ten dollars," replied the cabman as if ten dollars were some such trifle as ten cents.

Spenser laughed at the first experience of the famous New York habit of talking in a faint careless way of large sums of money--other people's money. "You did save us a swat," he said to Susan, and beckoned another man. The upshot of a long and arduous discussion, noisy and profane, was that they got the carriage for six dollars--a price which the policeman who had been drawn into the discussion vouched for as reasonable. Spenser knew it was too high, knew the policeman would get a dollar or so of the profit, but he was weary of the wrangle; and he would not listen to Susan's suggestion that they have the trunks sent by the express company and themselves go in a street car for ten cents. At the hotel they got a large comfortable room and a bath for four dollars a day. Spenser insisted it was cheap; Susan showed her alarm--less than an hour in New York and ten dollars gone, not to speak of she did not know how much change. For Roderick had been scattering tips with what is for some mysterious reason called "a princely hand," though princes know too well the value of money and have too many extravagant tastes ever to go far in sheer throwing away.

They had dinner in the restaurant of the hotel and set out to explore the land they purposed to subdue and to possess. They walked up Broadway to Fourteenth, missed their way in the dazzle and glare of south Union Square, discovered the wandering highway again after some searching. After the long, rather quiet stretch between Union Square and Thirty-fourth Street they found themselves at the very heart of the city's night life. They gazed in wonder upon the elevated road with its trains thundering by high above them. They crossed Greeley Square and stood entranced before the spectacle--a street bright as day with electric signs of every color, shape and size; sidewalks jammed with people, most of them dressed with as much pretense to fashion as the few best in Cincinnati; one theater after another, and at Forty-second Street theaters in every direction. Surely--surely--there would be small difficulty in placing his play when there were so many theaters, all eager for plays.

They debated going to the theater, decided against it, as they were tired from the journey and the excitement of crowding new sensations. "I've never been to a real theater in my life," said Susan. "I want to be fresh the first time I go."

"Yes," cried Rod. "That's right. Tomorrow night. That _will_ be an experience!" And they read the illuminated signs, inspected the show windows, and slowly strolled back toward the hotel. As they were recrossing Union Square, Spenser said, "Have you noticed how many street girls there are? We must have passed a thousand. Isn't it frightful?"

"Yes," said Susan.

Rod made a gesture of disgust, and said with feeling, "How low a woman must have sunk before she could take to that life!"

"Yes," said Susan.

"So low that there couldn't possibly be left any shred of feeling or decency anywhere in her." Susan did not reply.

"It's not a question of morals, but of sensibility," pursued he. "Some day I'm going to write a play or a story about it. A woman with anything to her, who had to choose between that life and death, wouldn't hesitate an instant. She couldn't. A streetwalker!" And again he made that gesture of disgust.

"Before you write," said Susan, in a queer, quiet voice, "you'll find out all about it. Maybe some of these girls--most of them--all of them--are still human beings. It's not fair to judge people unless you know. And it's so easy to say that someone else ought to die rather than do this or that."

"You can't imagine yourself doing such a thing," urged he.

Susan hesitated, then--"Yes," she said.

Her tone irritated him. "Oh, nonsense! You don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes," said Susan.

"Susie!" he exclaimed, looking reprovingly at her.

She met his eyes without flinching. "Yes," she said. "I have."

He stopped short and his expression set her bosom to heaving. But her gaze was steady upon his. "Why did you tell me!" he cried. "Oh, it isn't so--it can't be. You don't mean exactly that."

"Yes, I do," said she.

"Don't tell me! I don't want to know." And he strode on, she keeping beside him.

"I can't let you believe me different from what I am," replied she. "Not you. I supposed you guessed."

"Now I'll always think of it--whenever I look at you. . . . I simply can't believe it. . . . You spoke of it as if you weren't ashamed."

"I'm not ashamed," she said. "Not before you. There isn't anything I've done that I wouldn't be willing to have you know. I'd have told you, except that I didn't want to recall it. You know that nobody can live without getting dirty. The thing is to want to be clean--and to try to get clean afterward--isn't it?"

"Yes," he admitted, as if he had not been hearing. "I wish you hadn't told me. I'll always see it and feel it when I look at you."

"I want you to," said she. "I couldn't love you as I do if I hadn't gone through a great deal."

"But it must have left its stains upon you," said he. Again he stopped short in the street, faced her at the curb, with the crowd hurrying by and jostling them. "Tell me about it!" he commanded.

She shook her head. "I couldn't." To have told would have been like tearing open closed and healed wounds. Also it would have seemed whining--and she had utter contempt for whining. "I'll answer any question, but I can't just go on and tell."

"You deliberately went and did--that?"

"Yes."

"Haven't you any excuse, any defense?"

She might have told him about Burlingham dying and the need of money to save him. She might have told him about Etta--her health going--her mind made up to take to the streets, with no one to look after her. She might have made it all a moving and a true tale--of self-sacrifice for the two people who had done most for her. But it was not in her simple honest nature to try to shift blame. So all she said was:

"No, Rod."

"And you didn't want to kill yourself first?"

"No. I wanted to live. I was dirty--and I wanted to be clean. I was hungry--and I wanted food. I was cold--that was the worst. I was cold, and I wanted to get warm. And--I had been married--but I couldn't tell even you about that--except--after a woman's been through what I went through then, nothing in life has any real terror or horror for her."

He looked at her long. "I don't understand," he finally said. "Come on. Let's go back to the hotel."

She walked beside him, making no attempt to break his gloomy silence. They went up to their room and she sat on the lounge by the window. He lit a cigarette and half sat, half lay, upon the bed. After a long time he said with a bitter laugh, "And I was so sure you were a good woman!"

"I don't feel bad," she ventured timidly. "Am I?"

"Do you mean to tell me," he cried, sitting up, "that you don't think anything of those things?"

"Life can be so hard and cruel, can make one do so many----"

"But don't you realize that what you've done is the very worst thing a woman can do?"

"No," said she. "I don't. . . . I'm sorry you didn't understand. I thought you did--not the details, but in a general sort of way. I didn't mean to deceive you. That would have seemed to me much worse than anything I did."

"I might have known! I might have known!" he cried--rather theatrically, though sincerely withal--for Mr. Spenser was a diligent worker with the tools of the play-making trade. "I learned who you were as soon as I got home the night I left you in Carrolton. They had been telephoning about you to the village. So I knew about you."

"About my mother?" asked she. "Is that what you mean?"

"Oh, you need not look so ashamed," said he, graciously, pityingly.

"I am not ashamed," said she. But she did not tell him that her look came from an awful fear that he was about to make her ashamed of him.

"No, I suppose you aren't," he went on, incensed by this further evidence of her lack of a good woman's instincts. "I really ought not to blame you. You were born wrong--born with the moral sense left out."

"Yes, I suppose so," said she, wearily.

"If only you had lied to me--told me the one lie!" cried he. "Then you wouldn't have destroyed my illusion. You wouldn't have killed my love."

She grew deathly white; that was all.

"I don't mean that I don't love you still," he hurried on. "But not in the same way. That's killed forever."

"Are there different ways of loving?" she asked. "How can I give you the love of respect and trust--now?"

"Don't you trust me--any more?"

"I couldn't. I simply couldn't. It was hard enough before on account of your birth. But now---- Trust a woman who had been a--a--I can't speak the word. Trust you? You don't understand a man."

"No, I don't." She looked round drearily. Everything in ruins. Alone again. Outcast. Nowhere to go but the streets--the life that seemed the only one for such as she. "I don't understand people at all. . . . Do you want me to go?"

She had risen as she asked this. He was beside her instantly. "Go!" he cried. "Why I couldn't get along without you."

"Then you love me as I love you," Said she, putting her arms round him. "And that's all I want. I don't want what you call respect. I couldn't ever have hoped to get that, being born as I was--could I? Anyhow, it doesn't seem to me to amount to much. I can't help it, Rod--that's the way I feel. So just love me--do with me whatever you will, so long as it makes you happy. And I don't need to be trusted. I couldn't think of anybody but you."

He felt sure of her again, reascended to the peak of the moral mountain. "You understand, we can never get married. We can never have any children."

"I don't mind. I didn't expect that. We can _love_--can't we?"

He took her face between his hands. "What an exquisite face it is," he said, "soft and smooth! And what clear, honest eyes! Where is _it?_ Where _is_ it? It _must_ be there!"

"What, Rod?"

"The--the dirt."

She did not wince, but there came into her young face a deeper pathos--and a wan, deprecating, pleading smile. She said:

"Maybe love has washed it away--if it was there. It never seemed to touch me--any more than the dirt when I had to clean up my room."

"You mustn't talk that way. Why you are perfectly calm! You don't cry or feel repentant. You don't seem to care."

"It's so--so past--and dead. I feel as if it were another person. And it was, Rod!"

He shook his head, frowning. "Let's not talk about it," he said harshly. "If only I could stop thinking about it!"

She effaced herself as far as she could, living in the same room with him. She avoided the least show of the tenderness she felt, of the longing to have her wounds soothed. She lay awake the whole night, suffering, now and then timidly and softly caressing him when she was sure that he slept. In the morning she pretended to be asleep, let him call her twice before she showed that she was awake. A furtive glance at him confirmed the impression his voice had given. Behind her pale, unrevealing face there was the agonized throb of an aching heart, but she had the confidence of her honest, utter love; he would surely soften, would surely forgive. As for herself--she had, through loving and feeling that she was loved, almost lost the sense of the unreality of past and present that made her feel quite detached and apart from the life she was leading, from the events in which she was taking part, from the persons most intimately associated with her. Now that sense of isolation, of the mere spectator or the traveler gazing from the windows of the hurrying train--that sense returned. But she fought against the feeling it gave her.

That evening they went to the theater--to see Modjeska in "Magda."

Susan had never been in a real theater. The only approach to a playhouse in Sutherland was Masonic Hall. It had a sort of stage at one end where from time to time wandering players gave poor performances of poor plays or a minstrel show or a low vaudeville. But none of the best people of Sutherland went--at least, none of the women. The notion was strong in Sutherland that the theater was of the Devil--not so strong as in the days before they began to tolerate amateur theatricals, but still vigorous enough to give Susan now, as she sat in the big, brilliant auditorium, a pleasing sense that she, an outcast, was at last comfortably at home. Usually the first sight of anything one has dreamed about is pitifully disappointing. Neither nature nor life can build so splendidly as a vivid fancy. But Susan, in some sort prepared for the shortcomings of the stage, was not disappointed. From rise to fall of curtain she was so fascinated, so absolutely absorbed, that she quite forgot her surroundings, even Rod. And between the acts she could not talk for thinking. Rod, deceived by her silence, was chagrined. He had been looking forward to a great happiness for himself in seeing her happy, and much profit from the study of the viewpoint of an absolutely fresh mind. It wasn't until they were leaving the theater that he got an inkling of the true state of affairs with her.

"Let's go to supper," said he.

"If you don't mind," replied she, "I'd rather go home. I'm very tired."

"You were sound asleep this morning. So you must have slept well," said he sarcastically.

"It's the play," said she.

"_Why_ didn't you like it?" he asked, irritated.

She looked at him in wonder. "Like what? The play?" She drew a long breath. "I feel as if it had almost killed me."

He understood when they were in their room and she could hardly undress before falling into a sleep so relaxed, so profound, that it made him a little uneasy. It seemed to him the exhaustion of a child worn out with the excitement of a spectacle. And her failure to go into ecstasies the next day led him further into the same error. "Modjeska is very good as _Magda_," said he, carelessly, as one talking without expecting to be understood. "But they say there's an Italian woman--Duse--who is the real thing."

Modjeska--Duse--Susan seemed indeed not to understand. "I hated her father," she said. "He didn't deserve to have such a wonderful daughter."

Spenser had begun to laugh with her first sentence. At the second he frowned, said bitterly: "I might have known! You get it all wrong. I suppose you sympathize with _Magda_?"

"I worshiped her," said Susan, her voice low and tremulous with the intensity of her feeling.

Roderick laughed bitterly. "Naturally," he said. "You can't understand."

An obvious case, thought he. She was indeed one of those instances of absolute lack of moral sense. Just as some people have the misfortune to be born without arms or without legs, so others are doomed to live bereft of a moral sense. A sweet disposition, a beautiful body, but no soul; not a stained soul, but no soul at all. And his whole mental attitude toward her changed; or, rather, it was changed by the iron compulsion of his prejudice. The only change in his physical attitude--that is, in his treatment of her--was in the direction of bolder passion. of complete casting aside of all the restraint a conventional respecter of conventional womanhood feels toward a woman whom he respects. So, naturally, Susan, eager to love and to be loved, and easily confusing the not easily distinguished spiritual and physical, was reassured. Once in a while a look or a phrase from him gave her vague uneasiness; but on the whole she felt that, in addition to clear conscience from straightforwardness, she had a further reason for being glad Chance had forced upon her the alternative of telling him or lying. She did not inquire into the realities beneath the surface of their life--neither into what he thought of her, nor into what she thought of him--thought in the bottom of her heart. She continued to fight against, to ignore, her feeling of aloneness, her feeling of impending departure.

She was aided in this by her anxiety about their finances. In his efforts to place his play he was spending what were for them large sums of money--treating this man and that to dinners, to suppers--inviting men to lunch with him at expensive Broadway restaurants. She assumed that all this was necessary; he said so, and he must know. He was equally open-handed when they were alone, insisting on ordering the more expensive dishes, on having suppers they really did not need and drink which she knew she would be better off without--and, she suspected, he also. It simply was not in him, she saw, to be careful about money. She liked it, as a trait, for to her as to all the young and the unthinking carelessness about money seems a sure, perhaps the surest, sign of generosity--when in fact the two qualities are in no way related. Character is not a collection of ignorant impulses but a solidly woven fabric of deliberate purposes. Carelessness about anything most often indicates a tendency to carelessness about everything. She admired his openhanded way of scattering; she wouldn't have admired it in herself, would have thought it dishonest and selfish. But Rod was different. _He_ had the "artistic temperament," while she was a commonplace nobody, who ought to be--and was--grateful to him for allowing her to stay on and for making such use of her as he saw fit. Still, even as she admired, she saw danger, grave danger, a disturbingly short distance ahead. He described to her the difficulties he was having in getting to managers, in having his play read, and the absurdity of the reasons given for turning it down. He made light of all these; the next manager would see, would give him a big advance, would put the play on--and then, Easy Street!

But experience had already killed what little optimism there was in her temperament--and there had not been much, because George Warham was a successful man in his line, and successful men do not create or permit optimistic atmosphere even in their houses. Nor had she forgotten Burlingham's lectures on the subject with illustrations from his own spoiled career; she understood it all now--and everything else he had given her to store up in her memory that retained everything. With that philippic against optimism in mind, she felt what Spenser was rushing toward. She made such inquiries about work for herself as her inexperience and limited opportunities permitted. She asked, she begged him, to let her try to get a place. He angrily ordered her to put any such notion out of her head. After a time she nerved herself again to speak. Then he frankly showed her why he was refusing.

"No," said he peremptorily, "I couldn't trust you in those temptations. You must stay where I can guard you."

A woman who had deliberately taken to the streets--why, she thought nothing of virtue; she would be having lovers with the utmost indifference; and while she was not a liar yet--"at least, I think not"--how long would that last? With virtue gone, virtue the foundation of woman's character--the rest could no more stand than a house set on sand.

"As long as you want me to love you, you've got to stay with me," he declared. "If you persist, I'll know you're simply looking for a chance to go back to your old ways."

And though she continued to think and cautiously to inquire about work she said no more to him. She spent not a penny, discouraged him from throwing money away--as much as she could without irritating him--and waited for the cataclysm. Waited not in gloom and tears but as normal healthy youth awaits any adversity not definitely scheduled for an hour close at hand. It would be far indeed from the truth to picture Susan as ever for long a melancholy figure to the eye or even wholly melancholy within. Her intelligence and her too sympathetic heart were together a strong force for sadness in her life, as they cannot but be in any life. In this world, to understand and to sympathize is to be saddened. But there was in her a force stronger than either or both. She had superb health. It made her beautiful, strong body happy; and that physical happiness brought her up quickly out of any depths--made her gay in spite of herself, caused her to enjoy even when she felt that it was "almost like hard-heartedness to be happy." She loved the sun and in this city where the sun shone almost all the days, sparkling gloriously upon the tiny salt particles filling the air and making it delicious to breathe and upon the skin--in this City of the Sun as she called it, she was gay even when she was heavy-hearted.

Thus, she was no repellent, aggravating companion to Rod as she awaited the cataclysm.

It came in the third week. He spent the entire day away from her, toward midnight he returned, flushed with liquor. She had gone to bed. "Get up and dress," said he with an irritability toward her which she had no difficulty in seeing was really directed at himself. "I'm hungry--and thirsty. We're going out for some supper."

"Come kiss me first," said she, stretching out her arms. Several times this device had shifted his purpose from spending money on the needless and expensive suppers.

He laughed. "Not a kiss. We're going to have one final blow-out. I start to work tomorrow. I've taken a place on the _Herald_--on space, guaranty of twenty-five a week, good chance to average fifty or sixty."

He said this hurriedly, carelessly, gayly--guiltily. She showed then and there what a surpassing wise young woman she was, for she did not exclaim or remind him of his high resolve to do or die as a playwright. "I'll be ready in a minute," was all she said.

She dressed swiftly, he lounging on the sofa and watching her. He loved to watch her dress, she did it so gracefully, and the motions brought out latent charms of her supple figure. "You're not so sure-fingered tonight as usual," said he. "I never saw you make so many blunders--and you've got one stocking on wrong side out."

She smiled into the glass at him. "The skirt'll cover that. I guess I was sleepy."

"Never saw your eyes more wide-awake. What're you thinking about?"

"About supper," declared she. "I'm hungry. I didn't feel like eating alone."

"I can't be here always," said he crossly--and she knew he was suspecting what she really must be thinking.

"I wasn't complaining," replied she sweetly. "You know I understand about business."

"Yes, I know," said he, with his air of generosity that always made her feel grateful. "I always feel perfectly free about you."

"I should say!" laughed she. "You know I don't care what happens so long as you succeed." Since their talk in Broadway that first evening in New York she had instinctively never said "we."

When they were at the table at Rector's and he had taken a few more drinks, he became voluble and plausible on the subject of the trifling importance of his setback as a playwright. It was the worst possible time of year; the managers were stocked up; his play would have to be rewritten to suit some particular star; a place on a newspaper, especially such an influential paper as the _Herald_, would be of use to him in interesting managers. She listened and looked convinced, and strove to convince herself that she believed. But there was no gray in her eyes, only the deepest hue of violets.

Next day they took a suite of two rooms and a bath in a pretentious old house in West Forty-fourth Street near Long Acre Square. She insisted that she preferred another much sunnier and quieter suite with no bath but only a stationary washstand; it was to be had for ten dollars a week. But he laughed at her as too economical in her ideas, and decided for the eighteen-dollar rooms. Also he went with her to buy clothes, made her spend nearly a hundred dollars where she would have spent less than twenty-five. "I prefer to make most of my things," declared she. "And I've all the time in the world." He would not have it. In her leisure time she must read and amuse herself and keep herself up to the mark, especially physically. "I'm proud of your looks," said he. "They belong to me, don't they? Well, take care of my property, Miss."

She looked at him vaguely--a look of distance, of parting, of pain. Then she flung herself into his arms with a hysterical cry--and shut her eyes tight against the beckoning figure calling her away. "No! No!" she murmured. "I belong here--_here!_"

"What are you saying?" he asked.

"Nothing--nothing," she replied.

CHAPTER XXV

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.

"You are--happy?"

"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.

"Nearly nineteen."

"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 absent-mindedly 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?"

"No."

"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."

"Still blue?"

"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 _café 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.

********THE END OF VOLUME I*******

SUSAN LENOX: HER FALL AND RISE

by David Graham Phillips

Volume II

WITH A PORTRAIT OF THE AUTHOR

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY NEW YORK LONDON 1917

CHAPTER I

SUSAN'S impulse was toward the stage. It had become a definite ambition with her, the stronger because Spenser's jealousy and suspicion had forced her to keep it a secret, to pretend to herself that she had no thought but going on indefinitely as his obedient and devoted mistress. The hardiest and best growths are the growths inward--where they have sun and air from without. She had been at the theater several times every week, and had studied the performances at a point of view very different from that of the audience. It was there to be amused; she was there to learn. Spenser and such of his friends as he would let meet her talked plays and acting most of the time. He had forbidden her to have women friends. "Men don't demoralize women; women demoralize each other," was one of his axioms. But such women as she had a bowing acquaintance with were all on the stage--in comic operas or musical farces. She was much alone; that meant many hours every day which could not but be spent by a mind like hers in reading and in thinking. Only those who have observed the difference aloneness makes in mental development, where there is a good mind, can appreciate how rapidly, how broadly, Susan expanded. She read plays more than any other kind of literature. She did not read them casually but was always thinking how they would act. She was soon making in imagination stage scenes out of dramatic chapters in novels as she read. More and more clearly the characters of play and novel took shape and substance before the eyes of her fancy. But the stage was clearly out of the question.

While the idea of a stage career had been dominant, she had thought in other directions, also. Every Sunday, indeed almost every day, she found in the newspapers articles on the subject of work for women.

"Why do you waste time on that stuff?" said Drumley, when he discovered her taste for it.

"Oh, a woman never can tell what may happen," replied she.

"She'll never learn anything from those fool articles," answered he. "You ought to hear the people who get them up laughing about them. I see now why they are printed. It's good for circulation, catches the women--even women like you." However, she persisted in reading. But never did she find an article that contained a really practical suggestion--that is, one applying to the case of a woman who had to live on what she made at the start, who was without experience and without a family to help her. All around her had been women who were making their way; but few indeed of them--even of those regarded as successful--were getting along without outside aid of some kind. So when she read or thought or inquired about work for women, she was sometimes amused and oftener made unhappy by the truth as to the conditions, that when a common worker rises it is almost always by the helping hand of a man, and rarely indeed a generous hand--a painful and shameful truth which a society resolved at any cost to think well of itself fiercely conceals from itself and hypocritically lies about.

She felt now that there was hope in only one direction--hope of occupation that would enable her to live in physical, moral and mental decency. She must find some employment where she could as decently as might be realize upon her physical assets. The stage would be best--but the stage was impossible, at least for the time. Later on she would try for it; there was in her mind not a doubt of that, for unsuspected of any who knew her there lay, beneath her sweet and gentle exterior, beneath her appearance of having been created especially for love and laughter and sympathy, tenacity of purpose and daring of ambition that were--rarely--hinted at the surface in her moments of abstraction. However, just now the stage was impossible. Spenser would find her immediately. She must go into another part of town, must work at something that touched his life at no point.

She had often been told that her figure would be one of her chief assets as a player. And ready-made clothes fitted her with very slight alterations--showing that she had a model figure. The advertisements she had cut out were for cloak models. Within an hour after she left Forty-fourth Street, she found at Jeffries and Jonas, in Broadway a few doors below Houston, a vacancy that had not yet been filled--though as a rule all the help needed was got from the throng of applicants waiting when the store opened.

"Come up to my office," said Jeffries, who happened to be near the door as she entered. "We'll see how you shape up. We want something extra--something dainty and catchy."

He was a short thick man, with flat feet, a flat face and an almost bald head. In his flat nostrils, in the hollows of his great forward bent ears and on the lobes were bunches of coarse, stiff gray hairs. His eyebrows bristled; his small, sly brown eyes twinkled with good nature and with sensuality. His skin had the pallor that suggests kidney trouble. His words issued from his thick mouth as if he were tasting each beforehand--and liked the flavor. He led Susan into his private office, closed the door, took a tape measure from his desk. "Now, my dear," said he, eyeing her form gluttonously, "we'll size you up--eh? You're exactly the build I like."

And under the pretense of taking her measurements, he fumbled and felt, pinched and stroked every part of her person, laughing and chuckling the while. "My, but you are sweet! And so firm! What flesh! Solid--solid! Mighty healthy! You are a good girl--eh?"

"I am a married woman."

"But you've got no ring."

"I've never worn a ring."

"Well--well! I believe that is one of the new wrinkles, but I don't approve. I'm an old-fashioned family man. Let me see again. Now, don't mind a poor old man like me, my dear. I've got a wife--the best woman in the world, and I've never been untrue to her. A look over the fence occasionally--but not an inch out of the pasture. Don't stiffen yourself like that. I can't judge, when you do. Not too much hips--neither sides nor back. Fine! Fine! And the thigh slender--yes--quite lovely, my dear. Thick thighs spoil the hang of garments. Yes--yes--a splendid figure. I'll bet the bosom is a corker--fine skin and nice ladylike size. You can have the place."

"What does it pay?" she asked.

"Ten dollars, to start with. Splendid wages. _I_ started on two fifty. But I forgot--you don't know the business?"

"No--nothing about it," was her innocent, honest answer.

"Ah--well, then--nine dollars--eh?"

Susan hesitated.

"You can make quite a neat little bunch on the outside--_you_ can. We cater only to the best trade, and the buyers who come to us are big easy spenders. But I'm supposed to know nothing about that. You'll find out from the other girls." He chuckled. "Oh, it's a nice soft life except for a few weeks along at this part of the year--and again in winter. Well--ten dollars, then."

Susan accepted. It was more than she had expected to get; it was less than she could hope to live on in New York in anything approaching the manner a person of any refinement or tastes or customs of comfort regards as merely decent. She must descend again to the tenements, must resume the fight against that physical degradation which sooner or later imposes--upon those _descending_ to it--a degradation of mind and heart deeper, more saturating, more putrefying than any that ever originated from within. Not so long as her figure lasted was she the worse off for not knowing a trade. Jeffries was telling the truth; she would be getting splendid wages, not merely for a beginner but for any woman of the working class. Except in rare occasional instances wages and salaries for women were kept down below the standard of decency by woman's peculiar position--by such conditions as that most women took up work as a temporary makeshift or to piece out a family's earnings, and that almost any woman could supplement--and so many did supplement--their earnings at labor with as large or larger earnings in the stealthy shameful way. Where was there a trade that would bring a girl ten dollars a week at the start? Even if she were a semi-professional, a stenographer and typewriter, it would take expertness and long service to lift her up to such wages. Thanks to her figure--to its chancing to please old Jeffries' taste--she was better off than all but a few working women, than all but a few workingmen. She was of the labor aristocracy; and if she had been one of a family of workers she would have been counted an enviable favorite of fortune. Unfortunately, she was alone unfortunately for herself, not at all from the standpoint of the tenement class she was now joining. Among them she would be a person who could afford the luxuries of life as life reveals itself to the tenements.

"Tomorrow morning at seven o'clock," said Jeffries. "You have lost your husband?"

"Yes."

"I saw you'd had great grief. No insurance, I judge? Well--you will find another--maybe a rich one. No--you'll not have to sleep alone long, my dear." And he patted her on the shoulder, gave her a parting fumble of shoulders and arms.

She was able to muster a grateful smile; for she felt a rare kindness of heart under the familiar animalism to which good-looking, well-formed women who go about much unescorted soon grow accustomed. Also, experience had taught her that, as things go with girls of the working class, his treatment was courteous, considerate, chivalrous almost. With men in absolute control of all kinds of work, with women stimulating the sex appetite by openly or covertly using their charms as female to assist them in the cruel struggle for existence--what was to be expected?

Her way to the elevator took her along aisles lined with tables, hidden under masses of cloaks, jackets, dresses and materials for making them. They exuded the odors of the factory--faint yet pungent odors that brought up before her visions of huge, badly ventilated rooms, where women aged or ageing swiftly were toiling hour after hour monotonously--spending half of each day in buying the right to eat and sleep unhealthily. The odors--or, rather, the visions they evoked--made her sick at heart. For the moment she came from under the spell of her peculiar trait--her power to do without whimper or vain gesture of revolt the inevitable thing, whatever it was. She paused to steady herself, half leaning against a lofty up-piling of winter cloaks. A girl, young at first glance, not nearly so young thereafter, suddenly appeared before her--a girl whose hair had the sheen of burnished brass and whose soft smooth skin was of that frog-belly whiteness which suggests an inheritance of some bleaching and blistering disease. She had small regular features, eyes that at once suggested looseness, good-natured yet mercenary too. She was dressed in the sleek tight-fitting trying-on robe of the professional model, and her figure was superb in its firm luxuriousness.

"Sick?" asked the girl with real kindliness.

"No--only dizzy for the moment."

"I suppose you've had a hard day."

"It might have been easier," Susan replied, attempting a smile.

"It's no fun, looking for a job. But you've caught on?"

"Yes. He took me."

"I made a bet with myself that he would when I saw you go in." The girl laughed agreeably. "He picked you for Gideon."

"What department is that?"

The girl laughed again, with a cynical squinting of the eyes. "Oh, Gideon's our biggest customer. He buys for the largest house in Chicago."

"I'm looking for a place to live," said Susan. "Some place in this part of town."

"How much do you want to spend?"

"I'm to have ten a week. So I can't afford more than twelve or fourteen a month for rent, can I?"

"If you happen to have to live on the ten," was the reply with a sly, merry smile.

"It's all I've got."

Again the girl laughed, the good-humored mercenary eyes twinkling rakishly. "Well--you can't get much for fourteen a month."

"I don't care, so long as it's clean."

"Gee, you're reasonable, ain't you?" cried the girl. "Clean! I pay fourteen a week, and all kinds of things come through the cracks from the other apartments. You must be a stranger to little old New York--bugtown, a lady friend of mine calls it. Alone?"

"Yes."

"Um--" The girl shook her head dubiously. "Rents are mighty steep in New York, and going up all the time. You see, the rich people that own the lands and houses here need a lot of money in their business. You've got either to take a room or part of one in with some tenement family, respectable but noisy and dirty and not at all refined, or else you've got to live in a house where everything goes. You want to live respectable, I judge?"

"Yes."

"That's the way with me. Do what you please, _I_ say, but for _God's sake_, don't make yourself _common!_ You'll want to be free to have your gentlemen friends come--and at the same time a room you'll not be ashamed for 'em to see on account of dirt and smells and common people around."

"I shan't want to see anyone in my room."

The young woman winced, then went on with hasty enthusiasm.

"I knew you were refined the minute I looked at you. I think you might get a room in the house of a lady friend of mine--Mrs. Tucker, up in Clinton Place near University Place--an elegant neighborhood--that is, the north side of the street. The south side's kind o' low, on account of dagoes having moved in there. They live like vermin--but then all tenement people do."

"They've got to," said Susan.

"Yes, that's a fact. Ain't it awful? I'll write down the name and address of my lady friend. I'm Miss Mary Hinkle."

"My name is Lorna Sackville," said Susan, in response to the expectant look of Miss Hinkle.

"My, what a swell name! You've been sick, haven't you?"

"No, I'm never sick."

"Me too. My mother taught me to stop eating as soon as I felt bad, and not to eat again till I was all right."

"I do that, too," said Susan. "Is it good for the health?"

"It starves the doctors. You've never worked before?"

"Oh, yes--I've worked in a factory."

Miss Hinkle looked disappointed. Then she gave Susan a side glance of incredulity. "I'd never, a' thought it. But I can see you weren't brought up to that. I'll write the address." And she went back through the showroom, presently to reappear with a card which she gave Susan. "You'll find Mrs. Tucker a perfect lady--too much a lady to get on. I tell her she'll go to ruin--and she will."

Susan thanked Miss Hinkle and departed. A few minutes' walk brought her to the old, high-stooped, brown-stone where Mrs. Tucker lived. The dents, scratches and old paint scales on the door, the dust-streaked windows, the slovenly hang of the imitation lace window curtains proclaimed the cheap middle-class lodging or boarding house of the humblest grade. Respectable undoubtedly; for the fitfully prosperous offenders against laws and morals insist upon better accommodations. Susan's heart sank. She saw that once more she was clinging at the edge of the precipice. And what hope was there that she would get back to firm ground? Certainly not by "honest labor." Back to the tenement! "Yes, I'm on the way back," she said to herself. However, she pulled the loose bell-knob and was admitted to a dingy, dusty hallway by a maid so redolent of stale perspiration that it was noticeable even in the hall's strong saturation of smells of cheap cookery. The parlor furniture was rapidly going to pieces; the chromos and prints hung crazily awry; dust lay thick upon the center table, upon the chimney-piece, upon the picture frames, upon the carving in the rickety old chairs. Only by standing did Susan avoid service as a dust rag. It was typical of the profound discouragement that blights or blasts all but a small area of our modern civilization--a discouragement due in part to ignorance--but not at all to the cause usually assigned--to "natural shiftlessness." It is chiefly due to an unconscious instinctive feeling of the hopelessness of the average lot.

While Susan explained to Mrs. Tucker how she had come and what she could afford, she examined her with results far from disagreeable. One glance into that homely wrinkled face was enough to convince anyone of her goodness of heart--and to Susan in those days of aloneness, of uncertainty, of the feeling of hopelessness, goodness of heart seemed the supreme charm. Such a woman as a landlady, and a landlady in New York, was pathetically absurd. Even to still rather simple-minded Susan she seemed an invitation to the swindler, to the sponger with the hard-luck story, to the sinking who clutch about desperately and drag down with them everyone who permits them to get a hold.

"I've only got one room," said Mrs. Tucker. "That's not any too nice. I did rather calculate to get five a week for it, but you are the kind I like to have in the house. So if you want it I'll let it to you for fourteen a month. And I do hope you'll pay as steady as you can. There's so many in such hard lines that I have a tough time with my rent. I've got to pay my rent, you know."

"I'll go as soon as I can't pay," replied Susan. The landlady's apologetic tone made her sick at heart, as a sensitive human being must ever feel in the presence of a fellow-being doomed to disaster.

"Thank you," said Mrs. Tucker gratefully. "I do wish----" She checked herself. "No, I don't mean that. They do the best they can--and I'll botch along somehow. I look at the bright side of things."

The incurable optimism of the smile accompanying these words moved Susan, abnormally bruised and tender of heart that morning, almost to tears. A woman with her own way to make, and always looking at the bright side!

"How long have you had this house?"

"Only five months. My husband died a year ago. I had to give up our little business six months after his death. Such a nice little stationery store, but I couldn't seem to refuse credit or to collect bills. Then I came here. This looks like losing, too. But I'm sure I'll come out all right. The Lord will provide, as the Good Book says. I don't have no trouble keeping the house full. Only they don't seem to pay. You want to see your room?"

She and Susan ascended three flights to the top story--to a closet of a room at the back. The walls were newly and brightly papered. The sloping roof of the house made one wall a ceiling also, and in this two small windows were set. The furniture was a tiny bed, white and clean as to its linen, a table, two chairs, a small washstand with a little bowl and a less pitcher, a soap dish and a mug. Along one wall ran a row of hooks. On the floor was an old and incredibly dirty carpet, mitigated by a strip of clean matting which ran from the door, between washstand and bed, to one of the windows.

Susan glanced round--a glance was enough to enable her to see all--all that was there, all that the things there implied. Back to the tenement life! She shuddered.

"It ain't much," said Mrs. Tucker. "But usually rooms like these rents for five a week."

The sun had heated the roof scorching hot; the air of this room, immediately underneath, was like that of a cellar where a furnace is in full blast. But Susan knew she was indeed in luck. "It's clean and nice here," said she to Mrs. Tucker, "and I'm much obliged to you for being so reasonable with me." And to clinch the bargain she then and there paid half a month's rent. "I'll give you the rest when my week at the store's up."

"No hurry," said Mrs. Tucker who was handling the money and looking at it with glistening grateful eyes. "Us poor folks oughtn't to be hard on each other--though, Lord knows, if we was, I reckon we'd not be quite so poor. It's them that has the streak of hard in 'em what gets on. But the Bible teaches us that's what to expect in a world of sin. I suppose you want to go now and have your trunk sent?"

"This is all I've got," said Susan, indicating her bag on the table.

Into Mrs. Tucker's face came a look of terror that made Susan realize in an instant how hard-pressed she must be. It was the kind of look that comes into the eyes of the deer brought down by the dogs when it sees the hunter coming up.

"But I've a good place," Susan hastened to say. "I get ten a week. And as I told you before, when I can't pay I'll go right away."

"I've lost so much in bad debts," explained the landlady humbly. "I don't seem to see which way to turn." Then she brightened. "It'll all come out for the best. I work hard and I try to do right by everybody."

"I'm sure it will," said Susan believingly.

Often her confidence in the moral ideals trained into her from childhood had been sorely tried. But never had she permitted herself more than a hasty, ashamed doubt that the only way to get on was to work and to practice the Golden Rule. Everyone who was prosperous attributed his prosperity to the steadfast following of that way; as for those who were not prosperous, they were either lazy or bad-hearted, or would have been even worse off had they been less faithful to the creed that was best policy as well as best for peace of mind and heart.

In trying to be as inexpensive to Spenser as she could contrive, and also because of her passion for improving herself, Susan had explored far into the almost unknown art of living, on its shamefully neglected material side. She had cultivated the habit of spending much time about her purchases of every kind--had spent time intelligently in saving money intelligently. She had gone from shop to shop, comparing values and prices. She had studied quality in food and in clothing, and thus she had discovered what enormous sums are wasted through ignorance--wasted by poor even more lavishly than by rich or well-to-do, because the shops where the poor dealt had absolutely no check on their rapacity through the occasional canny customer. She had learned the fundamental truth of the material art of living; only when a good thing happens to be cheap is a cheap thing good. Spenser, cross-examining her as to how she passed the days, found out about this education she was acquiring. It amused him. "A waste of time!" he used to say. "Pay what they ask, and don't bother your head with such petty matters." He might have suspected and accused her of being stingy had not her generosity been about the most obvious and incessant trait of her character.

She was now reduced to an income below what life can be decently maintained upon--the life of a city-dweller with normal tastes for cleanliness and healthfulness. She proceeded without delay to put her invaluable education into use. She must fill her mind with the present and with the future. She must not glance back. She must ignore her wounds--their aches, their clamorous throbs. She took off her clothes, as soon as Mrs. Tucker left her alone, brushed them and hung them up, put on the thin wrapper she had brought in her bag. The fierce heat of the little packing-case of a room became less unendurable; also, she was saving the clothes from useless wear. She sat down at the table and with pencil and paper planned her budget.

Of the ten dollars a week, three dollars and thirty cents must be subtracted for rent--for shelter. This left six dollars and seventy cents for the other two necessaries, food and clothing--there must be no incidental expenses since there was no money to meet them. She could not afford to provide for carfare on stormy days; a rain coat, overshoes and umbrella, more expensive at the outset, were incomparably cheaper in the long run. Her washing and ironing she would of course do for herself in the evenings and on Sundays. Of the two items which the six dollars and seventy cents must cover, food came first in importance. How little could she live on?

That stifling hot room! She was as wet as if she had come undried from a bath. She had thought she could never feel anything but love for the sun of her City of the Sun. But this undreamed-of heat--like the cruel caresses of a too impetuous lover--

How little could she live on?

Dividing her total of six dollars and seventy cents by seven, she found that she had ninety-five cents a day. She would soon have to buy clothes, however scrupulous care she might take of those she possessed. It was modest indeed to estimate fifteen dollars for clothes before October. That meant she must save fifteen dollars in the remaining three weeks of June, in July, August and September--in one hundred and ten days. She must save about fifteen cents a day. And out of that she must buy soap and tooth powder, outer and under clothes, perhaps a hat and a pair of shoes. Thus she could spend for food not more than eighty cents a day, as much less as was consistent with buying the best quality--for she had learned by bitter experience the ravages poor quality food makes in health and looks, had learned why girls of the working class go to pieces swiftly after eighteen. She must fight to keep health--sick she did not dare be. She must fight to keep looks--her figure was her income.

Eighty cents a day. The outlook was not so gloomy. A cup of cocoa in the morning--made at home of the best cocoa, the kind that did not overheat the blood and disorder the skin--it would cost her less than ten cents. She would carry lunch with her to the store. In the evening she would cook a chop or something of that kind on the gas stove she would buy. Some days she would be able to save twenty or even twenty-five cents toward clothing and the like. Whatever else happened, she was resolved never again to sink to dirt and rags. Never again!--never! She had passed through that experience once without loss of self-respect only because it was by way of education. To go through it again would be yielding ground in the fight--the fight for a destiny worth while which some latent but mighty instinct within her never permitted her to forget.

She sat at the table, with the shutters closed against the fiery light of the summer afternoon sun. That hideous unacceptable heat! With eyelids drooped--deep and dark were the circles round them--she listened to the roar of the city, a savage sound like the clamor of a multitude of famished wild beasts. A city like the City of Destruction in "Pilgrim's Progress"--a city where of all the millions, but a few thousands were moving toward or keeping in the sunlight of civilization. The rest, the swarms of the cheap boarding houses, cheap lodging houses, tenements--these myriads were squirming in darkness and squalor, ignorant and never to be less ignorant, ill fed and never to be better fed, clothed in pitiful absurd rags or shoddy vulgar attempts at finery, and never to be better clothed. She would not be of those! She would struggle on, would sink only to mount. She would work; she would try to do as nearly right as she could. And in the end she must triumph. She would get at least a good part of what her soul craved, of what her mind craved, of what her heart craved.

The heat of this tenement room! The heat to which poverty was exposed naked and bound! Would not anyone be justified in doing anything--yes, _anything_--to escape from this fiend?

CHAPTER II

ELLEN, the maid, slept across the hall from Susan, in a closet so dirty that no one could have risked in it any article of clothing with the least pretension to cleanness. It was no better, no worse than the lodgings of more than two hundred thousand New Yorkers. Its one narrow opening, beside the door, gave upon a shaft whose odors were so foul that she kept the window closed, preferring heat like the inside of a steaming pan to the only available "outside air." This in a civilized city where hundreds of dogs with jeweled collars slept in luxurious rooms on downiest beds and had servants to wait upon them! The morning after Susan's coming, Ellen woke her, as they had arranged, at a quarter before five. The night before, Susan had brought up from the basement a large bucket of water; for she had made up her mind, to take a bath every day, at least until the cold weather set in and rendered such a luxury impossible. With this water and what she had in her little pitcher, Susan contrived to freshen herself up. She had bought a gas stove and some indispensable utensils for three dollars and seventeen cents in a Fourteenth Street store, a pound of cocoa for seventy cents and ten cents' worth of rolls--three rolls, well baked, of first quality flour and with about as good butter and other things put into the dough as one can expect in bread not made at home. These purchases had reduced her cash to forty-three cents--and she ought to buy without delay a clock with an alarm attachment. And pay day--Saturday--was two days away.

She made a cup of cocoa, drank it slowly, eating one of the rolls--all in the same methodical way like a machine that continues to revolve after the power has been shut off. It was then, even more than during her first evening alone, even more than when she from time to time startled out of troubled sleep--it was then, as she forced down her lonely breakfast, that she most missed Rod. When she had finished, she completed her toilet. The final glance at herself in the little mirror was depressing. She looked fresh for her new surroundings and for her new class. But in comparison with what she usually looked, already there was a distinct, an ominous falling off. "I'm glad Rod never saw me looking like this," she said aloud drearily. Taking a roll for lunch, she issued forth at half-past six. The hour and three-quarters she had allowed for dressing and breakfasting had been none too much. In the coolness and comparative quiet she went down University Place and across Washington Square under the old trees, all alive with song and breeze and flashes of early morning light. She was soon in Broadway's deep canyon, was drifting absently along in the stream of cross, mussy-looking workers pushing southward. Her heart ached, her brain throbbed. It was horrible, this loneliness; and every one of the wounds where she had severed the ties with Spenser was bleeding. She was astonished to find herself before the building whose upper floors were occupied by Jeffries and Jonas. How had she got there? Where had she crossed Broadway?

"Good morning, Miss Sackville." It was Miss Hinkle, just arriving. Her eyes were heavy, and there were the criss-cross lines under them that tell a story to the expert in the different effects of different kinds of dissipation. Miss Hinkle was showing her age--and she was "no spring chicken."

Susan returned her greeting, gazing at her with the dazed eyes and puzzled smile of an awakening sleeper.

"I'll show you the ropes," said Miss Hinkle, as they climbed the two flights of stairs. "You'll find the job dead easy. They're mighty nice people to work for, Mr. Jeffries especially. Not easy fruit, of course, but nice for people that have got on. You didn't sleep well?"

"Yes--I think so."

"I didn't have a chance to drop round last night. I was out with one of the buyers. How do you like Mrs. Tucker?"

"She's very good, isn't she?"

"She'll never get along. She works hard, too--but not for herself. In this world you have to look out for Number One. I had a swell dinner last night. Lobster--I love lobster--and elegant champagne--up to Murray's--such a refined place--all fountains and mirrors--really quite artistic. And my gentleman friend was so nice and respectful. You know, we have to go out with the buyers when they ask us. It helps the house sell goods. And we have to be careful not to offend them."

Miss Hinkle's tone in the last remark was so significant that Susan looked at her--and, looking, understood.

"Sometimes," pursued Miss Hinkle, eyes carefully averted, "sometimes a new girl goes out with an important customer and he gets fresh and she kicks and complains to Mr. Jeffries--or Mr. Jonas--or Mr. Ratney, the head man. They always sympathize with her--but--well, I've noticed that somehow she soon loses her job."

"What do you do when--when a customer annoys you?"

"I!" Miss Hinkle laughed with some embarrassment. "Oh, I do the best I can." A swift glance of the cynical, laughing, "fast" eyes at Susan and away. "The best I can--for the house--and for myself. . . . I talk to you because I know you're a lady and because I don't want to see you thrown down. A woman that's living quietly at home--like a lady--she can be squeamish. But out in the world a woman can't afford to be--no, nor a man, neither. You don't find this set down in the books, and they don't preach it in the churches--leastways they didn't when I used to go to church. But it's true, all the same."

They were a few minutes early; so Miss Hinkle continued the conversation while they waited for the opening of the room where Susan would be outfitted for her work. "I called you Miss Sackville," said she, "but you've been married--haven't you?"

"Yes."

"I can always tell--or at least I can see whether a woman's had experience or not. Well, I've never been regularly married, and I don't expect to, unless something pretty good offers. Think I'd marry one of these rotten little clerks?" Miss Hinkle answered her own question with a scornful sniff. "They can hardly make a living for themselves. And a man who amounts to anything, he wants a refined lady to help him on up, not a working girl. Of course, there're exceptions. But as a rule a girl in our position either has to stay single or marry beneath her--marry some mechanic or such like. Well, I ain't so lazy, or so crazy about being supported, that I'd sink to be cook and slop-carrier--and worse--for a carpenter or a bricklayer. Going out with the buyers--the gentlemanly ones--has spoiled my taste. I can't stand a coarse man--coarse dress and hands and manners. Can you?"

Susan turned hastily away, so that her face was hidden from Miss Hinkle.

"I'll bet you wasn't married to a coarse man."

"I'd rather not talk about myself," said Susan with an effort. "It's not pleasant."

Her manner of checking Miss Hinkle's friendly curiosity did not give offense; it excited the experienced working woman's sympathy. She went on:

"Well, I feel sorry for any woman that has to work. Of course most women do--and at worse than anything in the stores and factories. As between being a drudge to some dirty common laborer like most women are, and working in a factory even, give me the factory. Yes, give me a job as a pot slinger even, low as that is. Oh, I _hate_ working people! I love refinement. Up to Murray's last night I sat there, eating my lobster and drinking my wine, and I pretended I was a lady--and, my, how happy I was!"

The stockroom now opened. Susan, with the help of Miss Hinkle and the stock keeper, dressed in one of the tight-fitting satin slips that revealed every curve and line of her form, made every motion however slight, every breath she drew, a gesture of sensuousness. As she looked at herself in a long glass in one of the show-parlors, her face did not reflect the admiration frankly displayed upon the faces of the two other women. That satin slip seemed to have a moral quality, an immoral character. It made her feel naked--no, as if she were naked and being peeped at through a crack or keyhole.

"You'll soon get used to it," Miss Hinkle assured her. "And you'll learn to show off the dresses and cloaks to the best advantage." She laughed her insinuating little laugh again, amused, cynical, reckless. "You know, the buyers are men. Gee, what awful jay things we work off on them, sometimes! They can't see the dress for the figure. And you've got such a refined figure, Miss Sackville--the kind I'd be crazy about if I was a man. But I must say----" here she eyed herself in the glass complacently--"most men prefer a figure like mine. Don't they, Miss Simmons?"

The stock keeper shook her fat shoulders in a gesture of indifferent disdain. "They take whatever's handiest--that's _my_ experience."

About half-past nine the first customer appeared--Mr. Gideon, it happened to be. He was making the rounds of the big wholesale houses in search of stock for the huge Chicago department store that paid him fifteen thousand a year and expenses. He had been contemptuous of the offerings of Jeffries and Jonas for the winter season, had praised with enthusiasm the models of their principal rival, Icklemeier, Schwartz and Company. They were undecided whether he was really thinking of deserting them or was feeling for lower prices. Mr. Jeffries bustled into the room where Susan stood waiting; his flat face quivered with excitement. "Gid's come!" he said in a hoarse whisper. "Everybody get busy. We'll try Miss Sackville on him."

And he himself assisted while they tricked out Susan in an afternoon costume of pale gray, putting on her head a big pale gray hat with harmonizing feathers. The model was offered in all colors and also in a modified form that permitted its use for either afternoon or evening. Susan had received her instructions, so when she was dressed, she was ready to sweep into Gideon's presence with languid majesty. Jeffries' eyes glistened as he noted her walk. "She looks as if she really was a lady!" exclaimed he. "I wish I could make my daughters move around on their trotters like that."

Gideon was enthroned in an easy chair, smoking a cigar. He was a spare man of perhaps forty-five, with no intention of abandoning the pretensions to youth for many a year. In dress he was as spick and span as a tailor at the trade's annual convention. But he had evidently been "going some" for several days; the sour, worn, haggard face rising above his elegantly fitting collar suggested a moth-eaten jaguar that has been for weeks on short rations or none.

"What's the matter?" he snapped, as the door began to open. "I don't like to be kept waiting."

In swept Susan; and Jeffries, rubbing his thick hands, said fawningly, "But I think, Mr. Gideon, you'll say it was worth waiting for."

Gideon's angry, arrogant eyes softened at first glimpse of Susan. "Um!" he grunted, some such sound as the jaguar aforesaid would make when the first chunk of food hurtled through the bars and landed on his paws. He sat with cigar poised between his long white fingers while Susan walked up and down before him, displaying the dress at all angles, Jeffries expatiating upon it the while.

"Don't talk so damn much, Jeff!" he commanded with the insolence of a customer containing possibilities of large profit. "I judge for myself. I'm not a damn fool."

"I should say not," cried Jeffries, laughing the merchant's laugh for a customer's pleasantry. "But I can't help talking about it, Gid, it's so lovely!"

Jeffries' shrewd eyes leaped for joy when Gideon got up from his chair and, under pretense of examining the garment, investigated Susan's figure. As his gentle, insinuating hands traveled over her, his eyes sought hers. "Excuse me," said Jeffries. "I'll see that they get the other things ready." And out he went, winking at Mary Hinkle to follow him--an unnecessary gesture as she was already on her way to the door.

Gideon understood as well as did they why they left. "I don't think I've seen you before, my dear," said he to Susan.

"I came only this morning," replied she.

"I like to know everybody I deal with. We must get better acquainted. You've got the best figure in the business--the very best."

"Thank you," said Susan with a grave, distant smile.

"Got a date for dinner tonight?" inquired he; and, assuming that everything would yield precedence to him, he did not wait for a reply, but went on, "Tell me your address. I'll send a cab for you at seven o'clock."

"Thank you," said Susan, "but I can't go."

Gideon smiled. "Oh, don't be shy. Of course you'll go. Ask Jeffries. He'll tell you it's all right."

"There are reasons why I'd rather not be seen in the restaurants."

"That's even better. I'll come in the cab myself and we'll go to a quiet place."

His eyes smiled insinuatingly at her. Now that she looked at him more carefully he was unusually attractive for a man of his type--had strength and intelligence in his features, had a suggestion of mastery, of one used to obedience, in his voice. His teeth were even and sound, his lips firm yet not too thin.

"Come," said he persuasively. "I'll not eat you up--" with a gay and gracious smile--"at least I'll try not to."

Susan remembered what Miss Hinkle had told her. She saw that she must either accept the invitation or give up her position. She said:

"Very well," and gave him her address.

Back came Jeffries and Miss Hinkle carrying the first of the wraps. Gideon waved them away. "You've shown 'em to me before," said he. "I don't want to see 'em again. Give me the evening gowns."

Susan withdrew, soon to appear in a dress that left her arms and neck bare. Gideon could not get enough of this. Jeffries kept her walking up and down until she was ready to drop with weariness of the monotony, of the distasteful play of Gideon's fiery glance upon her arms and shoulders and throat. Gideon tried to draw her into conversation, but she would--indeed could--go no further than direct answers to his direct questions. "Never mind," said he to her in an undertone. "I'll cheer you up this evening. I think I know how to order a dinner."

Her instant conquest of the difficult and valuable Gideon so elated Jeffries that he piled the work on her. He used her with every important buyer who came that day. The temperature was up in the high nineties, the hot moist air stood stagnant as a barnyard pool; the winter models were cruelly hot and heavy. All day long, with a pause of half an hour to eat her roll and drink a glass of water, Susan walked up and down the show parlors weighted with dresses and cloaks, furs for arctic weather. The other girls, even those doing almost nothing, were all but prostrated. It was little short of intolerable, this struggle to gain the "honest, self-respecting living by honest work" that there was so much talk about. Toward five o'clock her nerves abruptly and completely gave way, and she fainted--for the first time in her life. At once the whole establishment was in an uproar. Jeffries cursed himself loudly for his shortsightedness, for his overestimating her young strength. "She'll look like hell this evening," he wailed, wringing his hands like a distracted peasant woman. "Maybe she won't be able to go out at all."

She soon came round. They brought her whiskey, and afterward tea and sandwiches. And with the power of quick recuperation that is the most fascinating miracle of healthy youth, she not only showed no sign of her breakdown but looked much better. And she felt better. We shall some day understand why it is that if a severe physical blow follows upon a mental blow, recovery from the physical blow is always accompanied by a relief of the mental strain. Susan came out of her fit of faintness and exhaustion with a different point of view--as if time had been long at work softening her, grief. Spenser seemed part of the present no longer, but of the past--a past far more remote than yesterday.

Mary Hinkle sat with her as she drank the tea. "Did you make a date with Gid?" inquired she. Her tone let Susan know that the question had been prompted by Jeffries.

"He asked me to dine with him, and I said I would."

"Have you got a nice dress--dinner dress, I mean?"

"The linen one I'm wearing is all. My other dress is for cooler weather."

"Then I'll give you one out of stock--I mean I'll borrow one for you. This dinner's a house affair, you know--to get Gid's order. It'll be worth thousands to them."

"There wouldn't be anything to fit me on such short notice," said Susan, casting about for an excuse for not wearing borrowed finery.

"Why, you've got a model figure. I'll pick you out a white dress--and a black and white hat. I know 'em all, and I know one that'll make you look simply lovely."

Susan did not protest. She was profoundly indifferent to what happened to her. Life seemed a show in which she had no part, and at which she sat a listless spectator. A few minutes, and in puffed Jeffries, solicitous as a fussy old bird with a new family.

"You're a lot better, ain't you?" cried he, before he had looked at her. "Oh, yes, you'll be all right. And you'll have a lovely time with Mr. Gideon. He's a perfect gentleman--knows how to treat a lady. . . . The minute I laid eyes on you I said to myself, said I, 'Jeffries, she's a mascot.' And you are, my dear. You'll get us the order. But you mustn't talk business with him, you understand?"

"Yes," said Susan, wearily.

"He's a gentleman, you know, and it don't do to mix business and social pleasures. You string him along quiet and ladylike and elegant, as if there wasn't any such things as cloaks or dresses in the world. He'll understand all right. . . . If you land the order, my dear, I'll see that you get a nice present. A nice dress--the one we're going to lend you--if he gives us a slice. The dress and twenty-five in cash, if he gives us all. How's that?"

"Thank you," said Susan. "I'll do my best."

"You'll land it. You'll land it. I feel as if we had it with his O. K. on it."

Susan shivered. "Don't--don't count on me too much," she said hesitatingly. "I'm not in very good spirits, I'm sorry to say."

"A little pressed for money?" Jeffries hesitated, made an effort, blurted out what was for him, the business man, a giddy generosity. "On your way out, stop at the cashier's. He'll give you this week's pay in advance." Jeffries hesitated, decided against dangerous liberality. "Not ten, you understand, but say six. You see, you won't have been with us a full week." And he hurried away, frightened by his prodigality, by these hysterical impulses that were rushing him far from the course of sound business sense. "As Jones says, I'm a generous old fool," he muttered. "My soft heart'll ruin me yet."

Jeffries sent Mary Hinkle home with Susan to carry the dress and hat, to help her make a toilet and to "start her off right." In the hour before they left the store there was offered a typical illustration of why and how "business" is able to suspend the normal moral sense and to substitute for it a highly ingenious counterfeit of supreme moral obligation to it. The hysterical Jeffries had infected the entire personnel with his excitement, with the sense that a great battle was impending and that the cause of the house, which was the cause of everyone who drew pay from it, had been intrusted to the young recruit with the fascinating figure and the sweet, sad face. And Susan's sensitive nature was soon vibrating in response to this feeling. It terrified her that she, the inexperienced, had such grave responsibility. It made her heart heavy to think of probable failure, when the house had been so good to her, had taken her in, had given her unusual wages, had made it possible for her to get a start in life, had intrusted to her its cause, its chance to retrieve a bad season and to protect its employees instead of discharging a lot of them.

"Have you got long white gloves?" asked Mary Hinkle, as they walked up Broadway, she carrying the dress and Susan the hat box.

"Only a few pairs of short ones."

"You must have long white gloves--and a pair of white stockings."

"I can't afford them."

"Oh, Jeffries told me to ask you--and to go to work and buy them if you hadn't."

They stopped at Wanamaker's. Susan was about to pay, when Mary stopped her. "If you pay," said she, "maybe you'll get your money back from the house, and maybe you won't. If I pay, they'll not make a kick on giving it back to me."

The dress Mary had selected was a simple white batiste, cut out at the neck prettily, and with the elbow sleeves that were then the fashion. "Your arms and throat are lovely," said Mary. "And your hands are mighty nice, too--that's why I'm sure you've never been a real working girl--leastways, not for a long time. When you get to the restaurant and draw off your gloves in a slow, careless, ladylike kind of way, and put your elbows on the table--my, how he will take on!" Mary looked at her with an intense but not at all malignant envy. "If you don't land high, it'll be because you're a fool. And you ain't that."

"I'm afraid I am," replied Susan. "Yes, I guess I'm what's called a fool--what probably is a fool."

"You want to look out then," warned Miss Hinkle. "You want to go to work and get over that. Beauty don't count, unless a girl's got shrewdness. The streets are full of beauties sellin' out for a bare living. They thought they couldn't help winning, and they got left, and the plain girls who had to hustle and manage have passed them. Go to Del's or Rector's or the Waldorf or the Madrid or any of those high-toned places, and see the women with the swell clothes and jewelry! The married ones, and the other kind, both. Are they raving tearing beauties? Not often. . . . The trouble with me is I've been too good-hearted and too soft about being flattered. I was too good looking, and a small easy living came too easy. You--I'd say you were--that you had brains but were shy about using them. What's the good of having them? Might as well be a boob. Then, too, you've got to go to work and look out about being too refined. The refined, nice ones goes the lowest--if they get pushed--and this is a pushing world. You'll get pushed just as far as you'll let 'em. Take it from me. I've been down the line."

Susan's low spirits sank lower. These disagreeable truths--for observation and experience made her fear they were truths--filled her with despondency. What was the matter with life? As between the morality she had been taught and the practical morality of this world upon which she had been cast, which was the right? How "take hold"? How avert the impending disaster? What of the "good" should--_must_--she throw away? What should--_must_--she cling to?

Mary Hinkle was shocked by the poor little room. "This is no place for a lady!" cried she. "But it won't last long--not after tonight, if you play your cards halfway right."

"I'm very well satisfied," said Susan. "If I can only keep this!"

She felt no interest in the toilet until the dress and hat were unpacked and laid out upon the bed. At sight of them her eyes became a keen and lively gray--never violet for that kind of emotion--and there surged up the love of finery that dwells in every normal woman--and in every normal man--that is put there by a heredity dating back through the ages to the very beginning of conscious life--and does not leave them until life gives up the battle and prepares to vacate before death. Ellen, the maid, passing the door, saw and entered to add her ecstatic exclamations to the excitement. Down she ran to bring Mrs. Tucker, who no sooner beheld the glory displayed upon the humble bed than she too was in a turmoil. Susan dressed with the aid of three maids as interested and eager as ever robed a queen for coronation. Ellen brought hot water and a larger bowl. Mrs. Tucker wished to lend a highly scented toilet soap she used when she put on gala attire; but Susan insisted upon her own plain soap. They all helped her bathe; they helped her select the best underclothes from her small store. Susan would put on her own stockings; but Ellen got one foot into one of the slippers and Mrs. Tucker looked after the other foot. "Ain't they lovely?" said Ellen to Mrs. Tucker, as they knelt together at their task. "I never see such feet. Not a lump on 'em, but like feet in a picture."

"It takes a mighty good leg to look good in a white stocking," observed Mary. "But yours is so nice and long and slim that they'd stand most anything."

Mrs. Tucker and Ellen stood by with no interference save suggestion and comment, while Mary, who at one time worked for a hairdresser, did Susan's thick dark hair. Susan would permit no elaborations, much to Miss Hinkle's regret. But the three agreed that she was right when the simple sweep of the vital blue-black hair was finished in a loose and graceful knot at the back, and Susan's small, healthily pallid face looked its loveliest, with the violet-gray eyes soft and sweet and serious. Mrs. Tucker brought the hat from the bed, and Susan put it on--a large black straw of a most becoming shape with two pure white plumes curling round the crown and a third, not so long, rising gracefully from the big buckle where the three plumes met. And now came the putting on of the dress. With as much care as if they were handling a rare and fragile vase, Mary and Mrs. Tucker held the dress for Susan to step into it. Ellen kept her petticoat in place while the other two escorted the dress up Susan's form.

Then the three worked together at hooking and smoothing. Susan washed her hands again, refused to let Mrs. Tucker run and bring powder, produced from a drawer some prepared chalk and with it safeguarded her nose against shine; she tucked the powder rag into her stocking. Last of all the gloves went on and a small handkerchief was thrust into the palm of the left glove.

"How do I look?" asked Susan. "Lovely"--"Fine"--"Just grand," exclaimed the three maids.

"I feel awfully dressed up," said she. "And it's so hot!"

"You must go right downstairs where it's cool and you won't get wilted," cried Mrs. Tucker. "Hold your skirts close on the way. The steps and walls ain't none too clean."

In the bathroom downstairs there was a long mirror built into the wall, a relic of the old house's long departed youth of grandeur. As the tenant--Mr. Jessop--was out, Mrs. Tucker led the way into it. There Susan had the first satisfactory look at herself. She knew she was a pretty woman; she would have been weak-minded had she not known it. But she was amazed at herself. A touch here and there, a sinuous shifting of the body within the garments, and the suggestion of "dressed up" vanished before the reflected eyes of her agitated assistants, who did not know what had happened but only saw the results. She hardly knew the tall beautiful woman of fashion gazing at her from the mirror. Could it be that this was her hair?--these eyes hers--and the mouth and nose and the skin? Was this long slender figure her very own? What an astounding difference clothes did make! Never before had Susan worn anything nearly so fine. "This is the way I ought to look all the time," thought she. "And this is the way I _will_ look!" Only better--much better. Already her true eye was seeing the defects, the chances for improvement--how the hat could be re-bent and re-trimmed to adapt it to her features, how the dress could be altered to make it more tasteful, more effective in subtly attracting attention to her figure.

"How much do you suppose the dress cost, Miss Hinkle?" asked Ellen--the question Mrs. Tucker had been dying to put but had refrained from putting lest it should sound unrefined.

"It costs ninety wholesale," said Miss Hinkle. "That'd mean a hundred and twenty-five--a hundred and fifty, maybe if you was to try to buy it in a department store. And the hat--well, Lichtenstein'd ask fifty or sixty for it and never turn a hair."

"Gosh--ee?" exclaimed Ellen. "Did you ever hear the like?"

"I'm not surprised," said Mrs. Tucker, who in fact was flabbergasted. "Well--it's worth the money to them that can afford to buy it. The good Lord put everything on earth to be used, I reckon. And Miss Sackville is the build for things like that. Now it'd be foolish on me, with a stomach and sitter that won't let no skirt hang fit to look at."

The bell rang. The excitement died from Susan's face, leaving it pale and cold. A wave of nausea swept through her. Ellen peeped out, Mrs. Tucker and Miss Hinkle listening with anxious faces. "It's him!" whispered Ellen, "and there's a taxi, too."

It was decided that Ellen should go to the door, that as she opened it Susan should come carelessly from the back room and advance along the hall. And this program was carried out with the result that as Gideon said, "Is Miss Sackville here?" Miss Sackville appeared before his widening, wondering, admiring eyes. He was dressed in the extreme of fashion and costliness in good taste; while it would have been impossible for him to look distinguished, he did look what he was--a prosperous business man with prospects. He came perfumed and rustling. But he felt completely outclassed--until he reminded himself that for all her brave show of fashionable lady she was only a model while he was a fifteen-thousand-a-year man on the way to a partnership.

"Don't you think we might dine on the veranda at Sherry's?" suggested he. "It'd be cool there."

At sight of him she had nerved herself, had keyed herself up toward recklessness. She was in for it. She would put it through. No futile cowardly shrinking and whimpering! Why not try to get whatever pleasure there was a chance for? But--Sherry's--was it safe? Yes, almost any of the Fifth Avenue places--except the Waldorf, possibly--was safe enough. The circuit of Spenser and his friends lay in the more Bohemian Broadway district. He had taken her to Sherry's only once, to see as part of a New York education the Sunday night crowd of fashionable people. "If you like," said she.

Gideon beamed. He would be able to show off his prize! As they drove away Susan glanced at the front parlor windows, saw the curtains agitated, felt the three friendly, excited faces palpitating. She leaned from the cab window, waved her hand, smiled. The three faces instantly appeared and immediately hid again lest Gideon should see.

But Gideon was too busy planning conversation. He knew Miss Sackville was "as common as the rest of 'em--and an old hand at the business, no doubt." But he simply could not abruptly break through the barrier; he must squirm through gradually. "That's a swell outfit you've got on," he began.

"Yes," replied Susan with her usual candor. "Miss Hinkle borrowed it out of the stock for me to wear."

Gideon was confused. He knew how she had got the hat and dress, but he expected her to make a pretense. He couldn't understand her not doing it. Such candor--any kind of candor--wasn't in the game of men and women as women had played it in his experience. The women--all sorts of women--lied and faked at their business just as men did in the business of buying and selling goods. And her voice--and her way of speaking--they made him feel more than ever out of his class. He must get something to drink as soon as it could be served; that would put him at his ease. Yes--a drink--that would set him up again. And a drink for her--that would bring her down from this queer new kind of high horse. "I guess she must be a top notcher--the real thing, come down in the world--and not out of the near silks. But she'll be all right after a drink. One drink of liquor makes the whole world kin." That last thought reminded him of his own cleverness and he attacked the situation afresh. But the conversation as they drove up the avenue was on the whole constrained and intermittent--chiefly about the weather. Susan was observing--and feeling--and enjoying. Up bubbled her young spirits perpetually renewed by her healthy, vital youth of body. She was seeing her beloved City of the Sun again. As they turned out of the avenue for Sherry's main entrance Susan realized that she was in Forty-fourth Street. The street where she and Spenser had lived!--had lived only yesterday. No--not yesterday--impossible! Her eyes closed and she leaned back in the cab.

Gideon was waiting to help her alight. He saw that something was wrong; it stood out obviously in her ghastly face. He feared the carriage men round the entrance would "catch on" to the fact that he was escorting a girl so unused to swell surroundings that she was ready to faint with fright. "Don't be foolish," he said sharply. Susan revived herself, descended, and with head bent low and trembling body entered the restaurant. In the agitation of getting a table and settling at it Gideon forgot for the moment her sickly pallor.

He began to order at once, not consulting her--for he prided himself on his knowledge of cookery and assumed that she knew nothing about it. "Have a cocktail?" asked he. "Yes, of course you will. You need it bad and you need it quick."

She said she preferred sherry. She had intended to drink nothing, but she must have aid in conquering her faintness and overwhelming depression. Gideon took a dry martini; ordered a second for himself when the first came, and had them both down before she finished her sherry. "I've ordered champagne," said he. "I suppose you like sweet champagne. Most ladies do, but I can't stand seeing it served even."

"No--I like it very dry," said Susan.

Gideon glinted his eyes gayly at her, showed his white jaguar teeth. "So you're acquainted with fizz, are you?" He was feeling his absurd notion of inequality in her favor dissipate as the fumes of the cocktails rose straight and strong from his empty stomach to his brain. "Do you know, I've a sort of feeling that we're going to like each other a lot. I think we make a handsome couple--eh--what's your first name?"

"Lorna."

"Lorna, then. My name's Ed, but everybody calls me Gid."

As soon as the melon was served, he ordered the champagne opened. "To our better acquaintance," said he, lifting his glass toward her.

"Thank you," said she, in a suffocated voice, touching her glass to her lips.

He was too polite to speak, even in banter, of what he thought was the real cause of her politeness and silence. But he must end this state of overwhelmedness at grand surroundings. Said he:

"You're kind o' shy, aren't you, Lorna? Or is that your game?"

"I don't know. You've had a very interesting life, haven't you? Won't you tell me about it?"

"Oh--just ordinary," replied he, with a proper show of modesty. And straightway, as Susan had hoped, he launched into a minute account of himself--the familiar story of the energetic, aggressive man twisting and kicking his way up from two or three dollars a week. Susan seemed interested, but her mind refused to occupy itself with a narrative so commonplace. After Rod and his friends this boastful business man was dull and tedious. Whenever he laughed at an account of his superior craft--how he had bluffed this man, how he had euchered that one--she smiled. And so in one more case the common masculine delusion that women listen to them on the subject of themselves, with interest and admiration as profound as their own, was not impaired.

"But," he wound up, "I've stayed plain Ed Gideon. I never have let prosperity swell _my_ head. And anyone that knows me'll tell you I'm a regular fool for generosity with those that come at me right. . . . I've always been a favorite with the ladies."

As he was pausing for comment from her, she said, "I can believe it." The word "generosity" kept echoing in her mind. Generosity--generosity. How much talk there was about it! Everyone was forever praising himself for his generosity, was reciting acts of the most obvious selfishness in proof. Was there any such thing in the whole world as real generosity?

"They like a generous man," pursued Gid. "I'm tight in business--I can see a dollar as far as the next man and chase it as hard and grab it as tight. But when it comes to the ladies, why, I'm open-handed. If they treat me right, I treat them right." Then, fearing that he had tactlessly raised a doubt of his invincibility, he hastily added, "But they always do treat me right."

While he had been talking on and on, Susan had been appealing to the champagne to help her quiet her aching heart. She resolutely set her thoughts to wandering among the couples at the other tables in that subdued softening light--the beautifully dressed women listening to their male companions with close attention--were they too being bored by such trash by way of talk? Were they too simply listening because it is the man who pays, because it is the man who must be conciliated and put in a good humor with himself, if dinners and dresses and jewels are to be bought? That tenement attic--that hot moist workroom--poverty--privation--"honest work's" dread rewards----

"Now, what kind of a man would you say I was?" Gideon was inquiring.

"How do you mean?" replied Susan, with the dexterity at vagueness that habitually self-veiling people acquire as an instinct.

"Why, as a man. How do I compare with the other men you've known?" And he "shot" his cuffs with a gesture of careless elegance that his cuff links might assist in the picture of the "swell dresser" he felt he was posing.

"Oh--you--you're--very different."

"I _am_ different," swelled Gideon. "You see, it's this way----" And he was off again into another eulogy of himself; it carried them through the dinner and two quarts of champagne. He was much annoyed that she did not take advantage of the pointed opportunity he gave her to note the total of the bill; he was even uncertain whether she had noted that he gave the waiter a dollar. He rustled and snapped it before laying it upon the tray, but her eyes looked vague.

"Well," said he, after a comfortable pull at an expensive-looking cigar, "sixteen seventy-five is quite a lively little peel-off for a dinner for only two. But it was worth it, don't you think?"

"It was a splendid dinner," said Susan truthfully. Gideon beamed in intoxicated good humor. "I knew you'd like it. Nothing pleases me better than to take a nice girl who isn't as well off as I am out and blow her off to a crackerjack dinner. Now, you may have thought a dollar was too much to tip the waiter?"

"A dollar is--a dollar, isn't it?" said Susan.

Gideon laughed. "I used to think so. And most men wouldn't give that much to a waiter. But I feel sorry for poor devils who don't happen to be as lucky or as brainy as I am. What do you say to a turn in the Park? We'll take a hansom, and kind of jog along. And we'll stop at the Casino and at Gabe's for a drink."

"I have to get up so early," began Susan.

"Oh, that's all right." He slowly winked at her. "You'll not have to bump the bumps for being late tomorrow--if you treat _me_ right."

He carried his liquor easily. Only in his eyes and in his ever more slippery smile that would slide about his face did he show that he had been drinking. He helped her into a hansom with a flourish and, overruling her protests, bade the driver go to the Casino. Once under way she was glad; her hot skin and her weary heart were grateful for the air blowing down the avenue from the Park's expanse of green. When Gideon attempted to put his arm around her, she moved close into the corner and went on talking so calmly about calm subjects that he did not insist. But when he had tossed down a drink of whiskey at the Casino and they resumed the drive along the moonlit, shady roads, he tried again.

"Please," said she, "don't spoil a delightful evening."

"Now look here, my dear--haven't I treated you right?"

"Indeed you have, Mr. Gideon."

"Oh, don't be so damned formal. Forget the difference between our positions. Tomorrow I'm going to place a big order with your house, if you treat me right. I'm dead stuck on you--and that's a God's fact. You've taken me clean off my feet. I'm thinking of doing a lot for you."

Susan was silent.

"What do you say to throwing up your job and coming to Chicago with me? How much do you get?"

"Ten."

"Why, _you_ can't live on that."

"I've lived on less--much less."

"Do you like it?"

"Naturally not."

"You want to get on--don't you?"

"I must."

"You're down in the heart about something. Love?"

Susan was silent.

"Cut love out. Cut it out, my dear. That ain't the way to get on. Love's a good consolation prize, if you ain't going to get anywhere, and know you ain't. And it's a good first prize after you've arrived and can afford the luxuries of life. But for a man--or a woman--that's pushing up, it's sheer ruination! Cut it out!"

"I am cutting it out," said Susan. "But that takes time."

"Not if you've got sense. The way to cut anything out is--cut it out!--a quick slash--just cut. If you make a dozen little slashes, each of them hurts as much as the one big slash--and the dozen hurt twelve times as much--bleed twelve times as much--put off the cure a lot more than twelve times as long."

He had Susan's attention for the first time.

"Do you know why women don't get on?"

"Tell me," said she. "That's what I want to hear."

"Because they don't play the game under the rules. Now, what does a man do? Why, he stakes everything he's got--does whatever's necessary, don't stop at _nothing_ to help him get there. How is it with women? Some try to be virtuous--when their bodies are their best assets. God! I wish I'd 'a' had your looks and your advantages as a woman to help me. I'd be a millionaire this minute, with a house facing this Park and a yacht and all the rest of it. A woman that's squeamish about her virtue can't hope to win--unless she's in a position to make a good marriage. As for the loose ones, they are as big fools as the virtuous ones. The virtuous ones lock away their best asset; the loose ones throw it away. Neither one _use_ it. Do you follow me?"

"I think so." Susan was listening with a mind made abnormally acute by the champagne she had freely drunk. The coarse bluntness and directness of the man did not offend her. It made what he said the more effective, producing a rude arresting effect upon her nerves. It made the man himself seem more of a person. Susan was beginning to have a kind of respect for him, to change her first opinion that he was merely a vulgar, pushing commonplace.

"Never thought of that before?"

"Yes--I've thought of it. But----" She paused.

"But--what?"

"Oh, nothing."

"Never mind. Some womanish heart nonsense, I suppose. Do you see the application of what I've said to you and me?"

"Go on." She was leaning forward, her elbows on the closed doors of the hansom, her eyes gazing dreamily into the moonlit dimness of the cool woods through which they were driving.

"You don't want to stick at ten per?"

"No."

"It'll be less in a little while. Models don't last. The work's too hard."

"I can see that."

"And anyhow it means tenement house."

"Yes. Tenement house."

"Well--what then? What's your plan?"

"I haven't any."

"Haven't a plan--yet want to get on! Is that good sense? Did ever anybody get anywhere without a plan?"

"I'm willing to work. I'm going to work. I _am_ working."

"Work, of course. Nobody can keep alive without working. You might as well say you're going to breathe and eat--Work don't amount to anything, for getting on. It's the kind of work--working in a certain direction--working with a plan."

"I've got a plan. But I can't begin at it just yet."

"Will it take money?"

"Some."

"Have you got it?"

"No," replied Susan. "I'll have to get it."

"As an honest working girl?" said he with good-humored irony.

Susan laughed. "It does sound ridiculous, doesn't it?" said she.

"Here's another thing that maybe you haven't counted in. Looking as you do, do you suppose men that run things'll let you get past without paying toll? Not on your life, my dear. If you was ugly, you might after several years get twenty or twenty-five by working hard--unless you lost your figure first. But the men won't let a good looker rise that way. Do you follow me?"

"Yes."

"I'm not talking theory. I'm talking life. Take you and me for example. I can help you--help you a lot. In fact I can put you on your feet. And I'm willing. If you was a man and I liked you and wanted to help you, I'd make you help me, too. I'd make you do a lot of things for me--maybe some of 'em not so very nice--maybe some of 'em downright dirty. And you'd do 'em, as all young fellows, struggling up, have to. But you're a woman. So I'm willing to make easier terms. But I can't help you with you not showing any appreciation. That wouldn't be good business--would it?--to get no return but, 'Oh, thank you so much, Mr. Gideon. So sweet of you. I'll remember you in my prayers.' Would that be sensible?"

"No," said Susan.

"Well, then! If I do you a good turn, you've got to do me a good turn--not one that I don't want done, but one I do want done. Ain't I right? Do you follow me?"

"I follow you."

Some vague accent in Susan's voice made him feel dissatisfied with her response. "I hope you do," he said sharply. "What I'm saying is dresses on your back and dollars in your pocket--and getting on in the world--if you work it right."

"Getting on in the world," said Susan, pensively.

"I suppose that's a sneer."

"Oh, no. I was only thinking."

"About love being all a woman needs to make her happy, I suppose?"

"No. Love is--Well, it isn't happiness."

"Because you let it run you, instead of you running it. Eh?"

"Perhaps."

"Sure! Now, let me tell you, Lorna dear. Comfort and luxury, money in bank, property, a good solid position--_that's_ the foundation. Build on _that_ and you'll build solid. Build on love and sentiment and you're building upside down. You're putting the gingerbread where the rock ought to be. Follow me?"

"I see what you mean."

He tried to find her hand. "What do you say?"

"I'll think of it."

"Well, think quick, my dear. Opportunity doesn't wait round in anybody's outside office . . . Maybe you don't trust me--don't think I'll deliver the goods?"

"No. I think you're honest."

"You're right I am. I do what I say I'll do. That's why I've got on. That's why I'll keep on getting on. Let's drive to a hotel."

She turned her head and looked at him for the first time since he began his discourse on making one's way in the world. Her look was calm, inquiring--would have been chilling to a man of sensibility--that is, of sensibility toward an unconquered woman.

"I want to give your people that order, and I want to help you."

"I want them to get the order. I don't care about the rest," she replied dully.

"Put it any way you like."

Again he tried to embrace her. She resisted firmly. "Wait," said she. "Let me think."

They drove the rest of the way to the upper end of the Park in silence.

He ordered the driver to turn. He said to her; "Well, do you get the sack or does the house get the order?"

She was silent.

"Shall I drive you home or shall we stop at Gabe's for a drink?"

"Could I have champagne?" said she.

"Anything you like if you choose right."

"I haven't any choice," said she.

He laughed, put his arm around her, kissed her unresponsive but unresisting lips. "You're right, you haven't," said he. "It's a fine sign that you have the sense to see it. Oh, you'll get on. You don't let trifles stand in your way."

CHAPTER III

AT the lunch hour the next day Mary Hinkle knocked at the garret in Clinton Place. Getting no answer, she opened the door. At the table close to the window was Susan in a nightgown, her hair in disorder as if she had begun to arrange it and had stopped halfway. Her eyes turned listlessly in Mary's direction--dull eyes, gray, heavily circled.

"You didn't answer, Miss Sackville. So I thought I'd come in and leave a note," explained Mary. Her glance was avoiding Susan's.

"Come for the dress and hat?" said Susan. "There they are." And she indicated the undisturbed bed whereon hat and dress were carelessly flung.

"My, but it's hot in this room!" exclaimed Mary. "You must move up to my place. There's a room and bath vacant--only seven per."

Susan seemed not to hear. She was looking dully at her hands upon the table before her.

"Mr. Jeffries sent me to ask you how you were. He was worried because you didn't come." With a change of voice, "Mr. Gideon telephoned down the order a while ago. Mr. Jeffries says you are to keep the dress and hat."

"No," said Susan. "Take them away with you."

"Aren't you coming down this afternoon?"

"No," replied Susan. "I've quit."

"Quit?" cried Miss Hinkle. Her expression gradually shifted from astonishment to pleased understanding. "Oh, I see! You've got something better."

"No. But I'll find something."

Mary studied the situation, using Susan's expressionless face as a guide. After a time she seemed to get from it a clew. With the air of friendly experience bent on aiding helpless inexperience she pushed aside the dress and made room for herself on the bed. "Don't be a fool, Miss Sackville," said she. "If you don't like that sort of thing--you know what I mean--why, you can live six months--maybe a year--on the reputation of what you've done and their hope that you'll weaken down and do it again. That'll give you time to look round and find something else. For pity's sake, don't turn yourself loose without a job. You got your place so easy that you think you can get one any old time. There's where you're wrong. Believe me, you played in luck--and luck don't come round often. I know what I'm talking about. So I say, don't be a fool!"

"I am a fool," said Susan.

"Well--get over it. And don't waste any time about it, either."

"I can't go back," said Susan stolidly. "I can't face them."

"Face who?" cried Mary. "Business is business. Everybody understands that. All the people down there are crazy about you now. You got the house a hundred-thousand-dollar order. You don't _suppose_ anybody in business bothers about how an order's got--do you?"

"It's the way _I_ feel--not the way _they_ feel."

"As for the women down there--of course, there's some that pretend they won't do that sort of thing. Look at 'em--at their faces and figures--and you'll see why they don't. Of course a girl keeps straight when there's nothing in not being straight--leastways, unless she's a fool. She knows that if the best she can do is marry a fellow of her own class, why she'd only get left if she played any tricks with them cheap skates that have to get married or go without because they're too poor to pay for anything--and by marrying can get that and a cook and a washwoman and mender besides--and maybe, too, somebody who can go out and work if they're laid up sick. But if a girl sees a chance to get on----don't be a fool, Miss Sackville."

Susan listened with a smile that barely disturbed the stolid calm of her features. "I'm not going back," she said.

Mary Hinkle was silenced by the quiet finality of her voice. Studying that delicate face, she felt, behind its pallid impassiveness, behind the refusal to return, a reason she could not comprehend. She dimly realized that she would respect it if she could understand it; for she suspected it had its origin somewhere in Susan's "refined ladylike nature." She knew that once in a while among the women she was acquainted with there did happen one who preferred death in any form of misery to leading a lax life--and indisputable facts had convinced her that not always were these women "just stupid ignorant fools." She herself possessed no such refinement of nerves or of whatever it was. She had been brought up in a loose family and in a loose neighborhood. She was in the habit of making all sorts of pretenses, because that was the custom, while being candid about such matters was regarded as bad form. She was not fooled by these pretenses in other girls, though they often did fool each other. In Susan, she instinctively felt, it was not pretense. It was something or other else--it was a dangerous reality. She liked Susan; in her intelligence and physical charm were the possibilities of getting far up in the world; it seemed a pity that she was thus handicapped. Still, perhaps Susan would stumble upon some worth while man who, attempting to possess her without marriage and failing, would pay the heavy price. There was always that chance--a small chance, smaller even than finding by loose living a worth while man who would marry you because you happened exactly to suit him--to give him enough only to make him feel that he wanted more. Still, Susan was unusually attractive, and luck sometimes did come a poor person's way--sometimes.

"I'm overdue back," said Mary. "You want me to tell 'em that?"

"Yes."

"You'll have hard work finding a job at anything like as much as ten per. I've got two trades, and I couldn't at either one."

"I don't expect to find it."

"Then what are you going to do?"

"Take what I can get--until I've been made hard enough--or strong enough--or whatever it is--to stop being a fool."

This indication of latent good sense relieved Miss Hinkle. "I'll tell 'em you may be down tomorrow. Think it over for another day."

Susan shook her head. "They'll have to get somebody else." And, as Miss Hinkle reached the threshold, "Wait till I do the dress up. You'll take it for me?"

"Why send the things back?" urged Mary. "They belong to you. God knows you earned 'em."

Susan, standing now, looked down at the finery. "So I did. I'll keep them," said she. "They'd pawn for something."

"With your looks they'd wear for a heap more. But keep 'em, anyhow. And I'll not tell Jeffries you've quit. It'll do no harm to hold your job open a day or so."

"As you like," said Susan, to end the discussion. "But I have quit."

"No matter. After you've had something to eat, you'll feel different."

And Miss Hinkle nodded brightly and departed. Susan resumed her seat at the bare wobbly little table, resumed her listless attitude. She did not move until Ellen came in, holding out a note and saying, "A boy from your store brung this--here."

"Thank you," said Susan, taking the note. In it she found a twenty-dollar bill and a five. On the sheet of paper round it was scrawled:

Take the day off. Here's your commission. We'll raise your pay in a few weeks, L. L. J.

So Mary Hinkle had told them either that she was quitting or that she was thinking of quitting, and they wished her to stay, had used the means they believed she could not resist. In a dreary way this amused her. As if she cared whether or not life was kept in this worthless body of hers, in her tired heart, in her disgusted mind! Then she dropped back into listlessness. When she was aroused again it was by Gideon, completely filling the small doorway. "Hello, my dear!" cried he cheerfully. "Mind my smoking?"

Susan slowly turned her head toward him, surveyed him with an expression but one removed from the blank look she would have had if there had been no one before her.

"I'm feeling fine today," pursued Gideon, advancing a step and so bringing himself about halfway to the table. "Had a couple of pick-me-ups and a fat breakfast. How are you?"

"I'm always well."

"Thought you seemed a little seedy." His shrewd sensual eyes were exploring the openings in her nightdress. "You'll be mighty glad to get out of this hole. Gosh! It's hot. Don't see how you stand it. I'm a law abiding citizen but I must say I'd turn criminal before I'd put up with this."

In the underworld from which Gideon had sprung--the underworld where welters the overwhelming mass of the human race--there are three main types. There are the hopeless and spiritless--the mass--who welter passively on, breeding and dying. There are the spirited who also possess both shrewdness and calculation; they push upward by hook and by crook, always mindful of the futility of the struggle of the petty criminal of the slums against the police and the law; they arrive and found the aristocracies of the future. The third is the criminal class. It is also made up of the spirited--but the spirited who, having little shrewdness and no calculation--that is, no ability to foresee and measure consequences--wage clumsy war upon society and pay the penalty of their fatuity in lives of wretchedness even more wretched than the common lot. Gideon belonged to the second class--the class that pushes upward without getting into jail; he was a fair representative of this type, neither its best nor its worst, but about midway of its range between arrogant, all-dominating plutocrat and shystering merchant or lawyer or politician who barely escapes the criminal class.

"You don't ask me to sit down, dearie," he went on facetiously. "But I'm not so mad that I won't do it."

He took the seat Miss Hinkle had cleared on the bed. His glance wandered disgustedly from object to object in the crowded yet bare attic. He caught a whiff of the odor from across the hall--from the fresh-air shaft--and hastily gave several puffs at his cigar to saturate his surroundings with its perfume. Susan acted as if she were alone in the room. She had not even drawn together her nightgown.

"I phoned your store about you," resumed Gideon. "They said you hadn't showed up--wouldn't till tomorrow. So I came round here and your landlady sent me up. I want to take you for a drive this afternoon. We can dine up to Claremont or farther, if you like."

"No, thanks," said Susan. "I can't go."

"Upty-tupty!" cried Gideon. "What's the lady so sour about?"

"I'm not sour."

"Then why won't you go?"

"I can't."

"But we'll have a chance to talk over what I'm going to do for you."

"You've kept your word," said Susan.

"That was only part. Besides, I'd have given your house the order, anyhow."

Susan's eyes suddenly lighted up. "You would?" she cried.

"Well--a part of it. Not so much, of course. But I never let pleasure interfere with business. Nobody that does ever gets very far."

Her expression made him hasten to explain--without being conscious why. "I said--_part_ of the order, my dear. They owe to you about half of what they'll make off me. . . . What's that money on the table? Your commission?"

"Yes."

"Twenty-five? Um!" Gideon laughed. "Well, I suppose it's as generous as I'd be, in the same circumstances. Encourage your employees, but don't swell-head 'em--that's the good rule. I've seen many a promising young chap ruined by a raise of pay. . . . Now, about you and me." Gideon took a roll of bills from his trousers pocket, counted off five twenties, tossed them on the table. "There!"

One of the bills in falling touched Susan's hand. She jerked the hand away as if the bill had been afire. She took all five of them, folded them, held them out to him. "The house has paid me," said she.

"That's honest," said he, nodding approvingly. "I like it. But in your case it don't apply."

These two, thus facing a practical situation, revealed an important, overlooked truth about human morals. Humanity divides broadly into three classes: the arrived; those who will never arrive and will never try; those in a state of flux, attempting and either failing or succeeding. The arrived and the inert together preach and to a certain extent practice an idealistic system of morality that interferes with them in no way. It does not interfere with the arrived because they have no need to infringe it, except for amusement; it does not interfere with the inert, but rather helps them to bear their lot by giving them a cheering notion that their insignificance is due to their goodness. This idealistic system receives the homage of lip service from the third and struggling section of mankind, but no more, for in practice it would hamper them at every turn in their efforts to fight their way up. Susan was, at that stage of her career, a candidate for membership in the struggling class. Her heart was set firmly against the unwritten, unspoken, even unwhispered code of practical morality which dominates the struggling class. But life had at least taught her the folly of intolerance. So when Gideon talked in terms of that practical morality, she listened without offense; and she talked to him in terms of it because to talk the idealistic morality in which she had been bred and before which she bowed the knee in sincere belief would have been simply to excite his laughter at her innocence and his contempt for her folly.

"I feel that I've been paid," said she. "I did it for the house--because I owed it to them."

"Only for the house?" said he with insinuating tenderness. He took and pressed the fingers extended with the money in them.

"Only for the house," she repeated, a hard note in her voice. And her fingers slipped away, leaving the money in his hand. "At least, I suppose it must have been for the house," she added, reflectively, talking to herself aloud. "Why did I do it? I don't know. I don't know. They say one always has a reason for what one does. But I often can't find any reason for things I do--that, for instance. I simply did it because it seemed to me not to matter much what _I_ did with myself, and they wanted the order so badly." Then she happened to become conscious of his presence and to see a look of uneasiness, self-complacence, as if he were thinking that he quite understood this puzzle. She disconcerted him with what vain men call a cruel snub. "But whatever the reason, it certainly couldn't have been you," said she.

"Now, look here, Lorna," protested Gideon, the beginnings of anger in his tone. "That's not the way to talk if you want to get on."

She eyed him with an expression which would have raised a suspicion that he was repulsive in a man less self-confident, less indifferent to what the human beings he used for pleasure or profit thought of him.

"To say nothing of what I can do for you, there's the matter of future orders. I order twice a year--in big lots always."

"I've quit down there."

"Oh! Somebody else has given you something good--eh? _That's_ why you're cocky."

"No."

"Then why've you quit?"

"I wish you could tell me. I don't understand. But--I've done it."

Gideon puzzled with this a moment, decided that it was beyond him and unimportant, anyhow. He blew out a cloud of smoke, stretched his legs and took up the main subject. "I was about to say, I've got a place for you. I'd like to take you to Chicago, but there's a Mrs. G.--as dear, sweet, good a soul as ever lived--just what a man wants at home with the children and to make things respectable. I wouldn't grieve her for worlds. But I can't live without a little fun--and Mrs. G. is a bit slow for me. . . . Still, it's no use talking about having you out there. She ought to be able to understand that an active man needs two women. One for the quiet side of his nature, the other for the lively side. Sometimes I think she--like a lot of wives--wouldn't object if it wasn't that she was afraid the other lady would get me away altogether and she'd be left stranded."

"Naturally," said Susan.

"Not at all!" cried he. "Don't you get any such notion in that lovely little head of yours, my dear. You women don't understand honor--a man's sense of honor."

"Naturally," repeated Susan.

He gave a glance of short disapproval. Her voice was not to his liking. "Let's drop Mrs. G. out of this," said he. "As I was saying, I've arranged for you to take a place here--easy work--something to occupy you--and I'll foot the bills over and above----"

He stopped short or, rather, was stopped by the peculiar smile Susan had turned upon him. Before it he slowly reddened, and his eyes reluctantly shifted. He had roused her from listlessness, from indifference. The poisons in her blood were burned up by the fresh, swiftly flowing currents set in motion by his words, by the helpfulness of his expression, of his presence. She became again the intensely healthy, therefore intensely alive, therefore energetic and undaunted Susan Lenox, who, when still a child, had not hesitated to fly from home, from everyone she knew, into an unknown world.

"What are you smiling at me that way for?" demanded he in a tone of extreme irritation.

"So you look on me as your mistress?" And never in all her life had her eyes been so gray--the gray of cruelest irony.

"Now what's the use discussing those things? You know the world. You're a sensible woman."

Susan made closer and more secure the large loose coil of her hair, rose and leaned against the table. "You don't understand. You couldn't. I'm not one of those respectable women, like your Mrs. G., who belong to men. And I'm not one of the other kind who also throw in their souls with their bodies for good measure. Do _you_ think you had _me?_" She laughed with maddening gentle mockery, went on: "I don't hate you. I don't despise you even. You mean well. But the sight of you makes me sick. It makes me feel as I do when I think of a dirty tenement I used to have to live in, and of the things that I used to have to let crawl over me. So I want to forget you as soon as I can--and that will be soon after you get out of my sight."

Her blazing eyes startled him. Her voice, not lifted above its usual quiet tones, enraged him. "You--you!" he cried. "You must be crazy, to talk to _me_ like that!"

She nodded. "Yes--crazy," said she with the same quiet intensity. "For I know what kind of a beast you are--a clean, good-natured beast, but still a beast. And how could you understand?"

He had got upon his feet. He looked as if he were going to strike her.

She made a slight gesture toward the door. He felt at a hopeless disadvantage with her--with this woman who did not raise her voice, did not need to raise it to express the uttermost of any passion. His jagged teeth gleamed through his mustache; his shrewd little eyes snapped like an angry rat's. He fumbled about through the steam of his insane rage for adequate insults--in vain. He rushed from the room and bolted downstairs.

Within an hour Susan was out, looking for work. There could be no turning back now. Until she went with Gideon it had been as if her dead were still unburied and in the house. Now----

Never again could she even indulge in dreams of going to Rod. That part of her life was finished with all the finality of the closed grave. Grief--yes. But the same sort of grief as when a loved one, after a long and painful illness, finds relief in death. Her love for Rod had been stricken of a mortal illness the night of their arrival in New York. After lingering for a year between life and death, after a long death agony, it had expired. The end came--these matters of the exact moment of inevitable events are unimportant but have a certain melancholy interest--the end came when she made choice where there was no choice, in the cab with Gideon.

For better or for worse she was free. She was ready to begin her career.

CHAPTER IV

AFTER a few days, when she was viewing her situation in a calmer, more normal mood with the practical feminine eye, she regretted that she had refused Gideon's money. She was proud of that within herself which had impelled and compelled her to refuse it; but she wished she had it. Taking it, she felt, would have added nothing to her humiliation in her own sight; and for what he thought of her, one way or the other, she cared not a pin. It is one of the familiar curiosities of human inconsistency which is at bottom so completely consistent, that she did not regret having refused his far more valuable offer to aid her.

She did not regret even during those few next days of disheartening search for work. We often read how purpose can be so powerful that it compels. No doubt if Susan's purpose had been to get temporary relief--or, perhaps, had it been to get permanent relief by weaving a sex spell--she would in that desperate mood have been able to compel. Unfortunately she was not seeking to be a pauper or a parasite; she was trying to find steady employment at living wages--that is, at wages above the market value for female and for most male--labor. And that sort of purpose cannot compel.

Our civilization overflows with charity--which is simply willingness to hand back to labor as generous gracious alms a small part of the loot from the just wages of labor. But of real help--just wages for honest labor--there is little, for real help would disarrange the system, would abolish the upper classes.

She had some faint hopes in the direction of millinery and dressmaking, the things for which she felt she had distinct talent. She was soon disabused. There was nothing for her, and could be nothing until after several years of doubtful apprenticeship in the trades to which any female person seeking employment to piece out an income instinctively turned first and offered herself at the employer's own price. Day after day, from the first moment of the industrial day until its end, she hunted--wearily, yet unweariedly--with resolve living on after the death of hope. She answered advertisements; despite the obviously sensible warnings of the working girls she talked with she even consulted and took lists from the religious and charitable organizations, patronized by those whose enthusiasm about honest work had never been cooled by doing or trying to do any of it, and managed by those who, beginning as workers, had made all haste to escape from it into positions where they could live by talking about it and lying about it--saying the things comfortable people subscribe to philanthropies to hear.

There was work, plenty of it. But not at decent wages, and not leading to wages that could be earned without viciously wronging those under her in an executive position. But even in those cases the prospect of promotion was vague and remote, with illness and failing strength and poor food, worse clothing and lodgings, as certainties straightway. At some places she was refused with the first glance at her. No good-looking girls wanted; even though they behaved themselves and attracted customers, the customers lost sight of matters of merchandise in the all-absorbing matter of sex. In offices a good-looking girl upset discipline, caused the place to degenerate into a deer-haunt in the mating season. No place did she find offering more than four dollars a week, except where the dress requirements made the nominally higher wages even less. Everywhere women's wages were based upon the assumption that women either lived at home or made the principal part of their incomes by prostitution, disguised or frank. In fact, all wages even the wages of men except in a few trades--were too small for an independent support. There had to be a family--and the whole family had to work--and even then the joint income was not enough for decency. She had no family or friends to help her--at least, no friends except those as poor as herself, and she could not commit the crime of adding to their miseries.

She had less than ten dollars left. She must get to work at once--and what she earned must supply her with all. A note came from Jeffries--a curt request that she call--curt to disguise the eagerness to have her back. She tore it up. She did not even debate the matter. It was one of her significant qualities that she never had the inclination, apparently lacked the power, to turn back once she had turned away. Mary Hinkle came, urged her. Susan listened in silence, merely shook her head for answer, changed the subject.

In the entrance to the lofts of a tall Broadway building she saw a placard: "Experienced hands at fancy ready-to-wear hat trimming wanted." She climbed three steep flights and was in a large, low-ceilinged room where perhaps seventy-five girls were at work. She paused in the doorway long enough to observe the kind of work--a purely mechanical process of stitching a few trimmings in exactly the same way upon a cheap hat frame. Then she went to an open window in a glass partition and asked employment of a young Jew with an incredibly long nose thrusting from the midst of a pimply face which seemed merely its too small base.

"Experienced?" asked the young man.

"I can do what those girls are doing."

With intelligent eyes he glanced at her face, then let his glance rove contemptuously over the room full of workers. "I should hope so," said he. "Forty cents a dozen. Want to try it?"

"When may I go to work?"

"Right away. Write your name here."

Susan signed her name to what she saw at a glance was some sort of contract. She knew it contained nothing to her advantage, much to her disadvantage. But she did not care. She had to have work--something, anything that would stop the waste of her slender capital. And within fifteen minutes she was seated in the midst of the sweating, almost nauseatingly odorous women of all ages, was toiling away at the simple task of making an ugly hat frame still more ugly by the addition of a bit of tawdry cotton ribbon, a buckle, and a bunch of absurdly artificial flowers. She was soon able to calculate roughly what she could make in six days. She thought she could do two dozen of the hats a day; and twelve dozen hats at forty cents the dozen would mean four dollars and eighty cents a week!

Four dollars and eighty cents! Less than she had planned to set aside for food alone, out of her ten dollars as a model.

Next her on the right sat a middle-aged woman, grossly fat, repulsively shapeless, piteously homely--one of those luckless human beings who are foredoomed from the outset never to know any of the great joys of life the joys that come through our power to attract our fellow-beings. As this woman stitched away, squinting through the steel-framed spectacles set upon her snub nose, Susan saw that she had not even good health to mitigate her lot, for her color was pasty and on her dirty skin lay blotches of dull red. Except a very young girl here and there all the women had poor or bad skins. And Susan was not made disdainful by the odor which is far worse than that of any lower animal, however dirty, because the human animal must wear clothing. She had lived in wretchedness in a tenement; she knew that this odor was an inevitable part of tenement life when one has neither the time nor the means to be clean. Poor food, foul air, broken sleep--bad health, disease, unsightly faces, repulsive bodies!

No wonder the common people looked almost like another race in contrast with their brothers and sisters of the comfortable classes. Another race! The race into which she would soon be reborn under the black magic of poverty! As she glanced and reflected on what she saw, viewed it in the light of her experience, her fingers slackened, and she could speed them up only in spurts.

"If I stay here," thought she, "in a few weeks I shall be like these others. No matter how hard I may fight, I'll be dragged down." As impossible to escape the common lot as for a swimmer alone in mid-ocean to keep up indefinitely whether long or brief, the struggle could have but, the one end--to be sunk in, merged in, the ocean.

It took no great amount of vanity for her to realize that she was in every way the superior of all those around her--in every way except one. What did she lack? Why was it that with her superior intelligence, her superior skill both of mind and of body, she could be thus dragged down and held far below her natural level? Why could she not lift herself up among the sort of people with whom she belonged--or even make a beginning toward lifting herself up? Why could she not take hold? What did she lack? What must she acquire--or what get rid of?

At lunch time she walked with the ugly woman up and down the first side street above the building in which the factory was located. She ate a roll she bought from a pushcart man, the woman munched an apple with her few remnants of teeth. "Most of the girls is always kicking," said the woman. "But I'm mighty satisfied. I get enough to eat and to wear, and I've got a bed to sleep in--and what else is there in life for anybody, rich or poor?"

"There's something to be said for that," replied Susan, marveling to find in this piteous creature the only case of thorough content she had ever seen.

"I make my four to five per," continued the woman. "And I've got only myself. Thank God, I was never fool enough to marry. It's marrying that drags us poor people down and makes us miserable. Some says to me, 'Ain't you lonesome?' And I says to them, says I, 'Why, I'm used to being alone. I don't want anything else.' If they was all like me, they'd not be fightin' and drinkin' and makin' bad worse. The bosses always likes to give me work. They say I'm a model worker, and I'm proud to say they're right. I'm mighty grateful to the bosses that provide for the like of us. What'd we do without 'em? That's what _I_'d like to know."

She had pitied this woman because she could never hope to experience any of the great joys of life. What a waste of pity, she now thought. She had overlooked the joy of joys--delusions. This woman was secure for life against unhappiness.

A few days, and Susan was herself regarded as a model worker. She turned out hats so rapidly that the forewoman, urged on by Mr. Himberg, the proprietor, began to nag at the other girls. And presently a notice of general reduction to thirty-five cents a dozen was posted. There had been a union; it had won a strike two years before--and then had been broken up by shrewd employing of detectives who had got themselves elected officers. With the union out of the way, there was no check upon the bosses in their natural and lawful effort to get that profit which is the most high god of our civilization. A few of the youngest and most spirited girls--those from families containing several workers--indignantly quit. A few others murmured, but stayed on. The mass dumbly accepted the extra twist in the screw of the mighty press that was slowly squeezing them to death. Neither to them nor to Susan herself did it happen to occur that she was the cause of the general increase of hardship and misery. However, to have blamed her would have been as foolish and as unjust as to blame any other individual. The system ordained it all. Oppression and oppressed were both equally its helpless instruments. No wonder all the vast beneficent discoveries of science that ought to have made the whole human race healthy, long-lived and prosperous, are barely able to save the race from swift decay and destruction under the ravages of this modern system of labor worse than slavery--for under slavery the slave, being property whose loss could not be made good without expense, was protected in life and in health.

Susan soon discovered that she had miscalculated her earning power. She had been deceived by her swiftness in the first days, before the monotony of her task had begun to wear her down. Her first week's earnings were only four dollars and thirty cents. This in her freshness, and in the busiest season when wages were at the highest point.

In the room next hers--the same, perhaps a little dingier--lived a man. Like herself he had no trade--that is, none protected by a powerful union and by the still more powerful--in fact, the only powerful shield--requirements of health and strength and a certain grade of intelligence that together act rigidly to exclude most men and so to keep wages from dropping to the neighborhood of the line of pauperism. He was the most industrious and, in his small way, the most resourceful of men. He was insurance agent, toilet soap agent, piano tuner, giver of piano lessons, seller of pianos and of music on commission. He worked fourteen and sixteen hours a day. He made nominally about twelve to fifteen a week. Actually--because of the poverty of his customers and his too sympathetic nature he made five to six a week--the most any working person could hope for unless in one of the few favored trades. Barely enough to keep body and soul together. And why should capital that needs so much for fine houses and wines and servants and automobiles and culture and charity and the other luxuries--why should capital pay more when so many were competing for the privilege of being allowed to work?

She gave up her room at Mrs. Tucker's--after she had spent several evenings walking the streets and observing and thinking about the miseries of the fast women of the only class she could hope to enter. "A woman," she decided, "can't even earn a decent living that way unless she has the money to make the right sort of a start. 'To him that hath shall be given; from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.' Gideon was my chance and I threw it away."

Still, she did not regret. Of all the horrors the most repellent seemed to her to be dependence upon some one man who could take it away at his whim.

She disregarded the advice of the other girls and made the rounds of the religious and charitable homes for working girls. She believed she could endure perhaps better than could girls with more false pride, with more awe of snobbish conventionalities--at least she could try to endure--the superciliousness, the patronizing airs, the petty restraints and oppressions, the nauseating smugness, the constant prying and peeping, the hypocritical lectures, the heavy doses of smug morality. She felt that she could bear with almost any annoyances and humiliations to be in clean surroundings and to get food that was at least not so rotten that the eye could see it and the nose smell it. But she found all the homes full, with long waiting lists, filled for the most part, so the working girls said, with professional objects of charity. Thus she had no opportunity to judge for herself whether there was any truth in the prejudice of the girls against these few and feeble attempts to mitigate the miseries of a vast and ever vaster multitude of girls. Adding together all the accommodations offered by all the homes of every description, there was a total that might possibly have provided for the homeless girls of a dozen factories or sweatshops--and the number of homeless girls was more than a quarter of a million, was increasing at the rate of more than a hundred a day.

Charity is so trifling a force that it can, and should be, disregarded. It serves no _good_ useful service. It enables comfortable people to delude themselves that all that can be done is being done to mitigate the misfortunes which the poor bring upon themselves. It obscures the truth that modern civilization has been perverted into a huge manufacturing of decrepitude and disease, of poverty and prostitution. The reason we talk so much and listen so eagerly when our magnificent benevolences are the subject is that we do not wish to be disturbed--and that we dearly love the tickling sensation in our vanity of generosity.

Susan was compelled to the common lot--the lot that will be the common lot as long as there are people to be made, by taking advantage of human necessities, to force men and women and children to degrade themselves into machines as wage-slaves. At two dollars a week, double what her income justified--she rented a room in a tenement flat in Bleecker street. It was a closet of a room whose thin, dirt-adorned walls were no protection against sound or vermin, not giving even privacy from prying eyes. She might have done a little better had she been willing to share room and bed with one or more girls, but not enough better to compensate for what that would have meant.

The young Jew with the nose so impossible that it elevated his countenance from commonplace ugliness to weird distinction had taken a friendly fancy to her. He was Julius Bam, nephew of the proprietor. In her third week he offered her the forewoman's place. "You've got a few brains in your head," said he. "Miss Tuohy's a boob. Take the job and you'll push up. We'll start you at five per."

Susan thanked him but declined. "What's the use of my taking a job I couldn't keep more than a day or two?" explained she. "I haven't it in me to boss people."

"Then you've got to get it, or you're done for," said he. "Nobody ever gets anywhere until he's making others work for him."

It was the advice she had got from Matson, the paper box manufacturer in Cincinnati. It was the lesson she found in all prosperity on every hand. Make others work for you--and the harder you made them work the more prosperous you were--provided, of course, you kept all or nearly all the profits of their harder toil. Obvious common sense. But how could she goad these unfortunates, force their clumsy fingers to move faster, make their long and weary day longer and wearier--with nothing for them as the result but duller brain, clumsier fingers, more wretched bodies? She realized why those above lost all patience with them, treated them with contempt. Only as one of them could any intelligent, energetic human being have any sympathy for them, stupid and incompetent from birth, made ever more and more stupid and incapable by the degrading lives they led. She could scarcely conceal her repulsion for their dirty bodies, their stained and rotting clothing saturated with stale sweat, their coarse flesh reeking coarse food smells. She could not listen to their conversation, so vulgar, so inane. Yet she felt herself--for the time--one of them, and her heart bled for them. And while she knew that only their dullness of wit and ignorance kept them from climbing up and stamping and trampling full as savagely and cruelly as did those on top, still the fact remained that they were not stamping and trampling.

As she was turning in some work, Miss Tuohy said abruptly: "You don't belong here. You ought to go back."

Susan started, and her heart beat wildly. She was going to lose her job!

The forelady saw, and instantly understood. "I don't mean that," she said. "You can stay as long as you like--as long as your health lasts. But isn't there somebody somewhere--_anybody_--you can go to and ask them to help you out of this?"

"No--there's no one," said she.

"That can't be true," insisted the forelady. "Everybody has somebody--or can get somebody--that is, anyone who looks like you. I wouldn't suggest such a thing to a fool. But _you_ could keep your head. There isn't any other way, and you might as well make up your mind to it."

To confide is one of the all but universal longings--perhaps needs--of human nature. Susan's honest, sympathetic eyes, her look and her habit of reticence, were always attracting confidences from such unexpected sources as hard, forbidding Miss Tuohy. Susan was not much surprised when Miss Tuohy went on to say:

"I was spoiled when I was still a kid--by getting to know well a man who was above my class. I had tastes that way, and he appealed to them. After him I couldn't marry the sort of man that wanted me. Then my looks went--like a flash--it often happens that way with us Irish girls. But I can get on. I know how to deal with these people--and _you_ never could learn. You'd treat 'em like ladies and they'd treat you as easy fruit. Yes, I get along all right, and I'm happy--away from here."

Susan's sympathetic glance of inquiry gave the necessary encouragement. "It's a baby," Miss Tuohy explained--and Susan knew it was for the baby's sake that this good heart had hardened itself to the dirty work of forelady. Her eyes shifted as she said, "A child of my sister's--dead in Ireland. How I do love that baby----"

They were interrupted and it so happened that the confidence was never resumed and finished. But Miss Tuohy had made her point with Susan--had set her to thinking less indefinitely. "I _must_ take hold!" Susan kept saying to herself. The phrase was always echoing in her brain. But how?--_how?_ And to that question she could find no answer.

Every morning she bought a one-cent paper whose big circulation was in large part due to its want ads--its daily section of closely printed columns of advertisements of help wanted and situations wanted. Susan read the columns diligently. At first they acted upon her like an intoxicant, filling her not merely with hope but with confident belief that soon she would be in a situation where the pay was good and the work agreeable, or at least not disagreeable. But after a few weeks she ceased from reading.

Why? Because she answered the advertisements, scores of them, more than a hundred, before she saw through the trick and gave up. She found that throughout New York all the attractive or even tolerable places were filled by girls helped by their families or in other ways, girls working at less than living wages because they did not have to rely upon their wages for their support. And those help wanted advertisements were simply appeals for more girls of that sort--for cheaper girls; or they were inserted by employment agencies, masquerading in the newspaper as employers and lying in wait to swindle working girls by getting a fee in exchange for a false promise of good work at high wages; or they were the nets flung out by crafty employers who speeded and starved their slaves, and wished to recruit fresh relays to replace those that had quit in exhaustion or in despair.

"Why do you always read the want ads?" she said to Lany Ricardo, who spent all her spare time at those advertisements in two papers she bought and one she borrowed every day. "Did you ever get anything good, or hear of anybody that did?"

"Oh, my, no," replied Lany with a laugh. "I read for the same reason that all the rest do. It's a kind of dope. You read and then you dream about the places--how grand they are and how well off you'll be. But nobody'd be fool enough to answer one of 'em unless she was out of a job and had to get another and didn't care how rotten it was. No, it's just dope--like buyin' policy numbers or lottery tickets. You know you won't git a prize, but you have a lot of fun dreaming about it."

As Susan walked up and down at the lunch hour, she talked with workers, both men and women, in all sorts of employment. Some were doing a little better than she; others--the most--were worse off chiefly because her education, her developed intelligence, enabled her to ward off savage blows--such as illness from rotten food--against which their ignorance made them defenseless. Whenever she heard a story of someone's getting on, how grotesquely different it was from the stories she used to get out of the Sunday school library and dream over! These almost actualities of getting on had nothing in them about honesty and virtue. According to them it was always some sort of meanness or trickery; and the particular meanness or tricks were, in these practical schools of success in session at each lunch hour, related in detail as lessons in how to get on. If the success under discussion was a woman's, it was always how her boss or employer had "got stuck on her" and had given her an easier job with good pay so that she could wear clothes more agreeable to his eyes and to his touch. Now and then it was a wonderful dazzling success--some girl had got her rich employer so "dead crazy" about her that he had taken her away from work altogether and had set her up in a flat with a servant and a "swell trap"; there was even talk of marriage.

Was it true? Were the Sunday school books through and through lies--ridiculous, misleading lies, wicked lies--wicked because they hid the shameful truth that ought to be proclaimed from the housetops? Susan was not sure. Perhaps envy twisted somewhat these tales of rare occasional successes told by the workers to each other. But certain it was that, wherever she had the opportunity to see for herself, success came only by hardness of heart, by tricks and cheats. Certain it was also that the general belief among the workers was that success could be got in those ways only--and this belief made the falsehood, if it was a falsehood, or the partial truth, if it was a twisted truth, full as poisonous as if it had been true throughout. Also, if the thing were not true, how came it that everyone in practical life believed it to be so--how came it that everyone who talked in praise of honesty and virtue looked, as he talked, as if he were canting and half expected to be laughed at?

All about her as badly off as she, or worse off. Yet none so unhappy as she--not even the worse off. In fact, the worse off as the better off were not so deeply wretched. Because they had never in all their lives known the decencies of life clean lodgings, clean clothing, food fit to eat, leisure and the means of enjoying leisure. And Susan had known all these things. When she realized why her companions in misery, so feeble in self-restraint, were able to endure patiently and for the most part even cheerfully, how careful she was never to say or to suggest anything that might put ideas of what life might be, of what it was for the comfortable few, into the minds of these girls who never had known and could only be made wretched by knowing! How fortunate for them, she thought, that they had gone to schools where they met only their own kind! How fortunate that the devouring monster of industry had snatched them away from school before their minds had been awakened to the realities of life! How fortunate that their imaginations were too dull and too heavy to be touched by the sights of luxury they saw in the streets or by what they read in the newspapers and in the cheap novels! To them, as she soon realized, their world seemed the only world, and the world that lived in comfort seemed a vague unreality, as must seem whatever does not come into our own experience.

One lunch hour an apostle of discontent preaching some kind of politics or other held forth on the corner above the shop. Susan paused to listen. She had heard only a few words when she was incensed to the depths of her heart against him. He ought to be stopped by the police, this scoundrel trying to make these people unhappy by awakening them to the misery and degradation of their lot! He looked like an honest, earnest man. No doubt he fancied that he was in some way doing good. These people who were always trying to do the poor good--they ought all to be suppressed! If someone could tell them how to cease to be poor, that would indeed be good. But such a thing would be impossible. In Sutherland, where the best off hadn't so painfully much more than the worst off, and where everybody but the idle and the drunken, and even they most of the time, had enough to eat, and a decent place to sleep, and some kind of Sunday clothes--in Sutherland the poverty was less than in Cincinnati, infinitely less than in this vast and incredibly rich New York where in certain districts wealth, enormous wealth, was piled up and up. So evidently the presence of riches did not help poverty but seemed to increase it. No, the disease was miserable, thought Susan. For most of the human race, disease and bad food and vile beds in dingy holes and days of fierce, poorly paid toil--that was the law of this hell of a world. And to escape from that hideous tyranny, you must be hard, you must trample, you must rob, you must cease to be human.

The apostle of discontent insisted that the law could be changed, that the tyranny could be abolished. She listened, but he did not convince her. He sounded vague and dreamy--as fantastically false in his new way as she had found the Sunday school books to be. She passed on.

She continued to pay out a cent each day for the newspaper. She no longer bothered with the want ads. Pipe dreaming did not attract her; she was too fiercely bent upon escape, actual escape, to waste time in dreaming of ways of escape that she never could realize. She read the paper because, if she could not live in the world but was battered down in its dark and foul and crowded cellar, she at least wished to know what was going on up in the light and air. She found every day news of great doings, of wonderful rises, of rich rewards for industry and thrift, of abounding prosperity and of opportunity fairly forcing itself into acceptance. But all this applied only to the few so strangely and so luckily chosen, while the mass was rejected. For that mass, from earliest childhood until death, there was only toil in squalor--squalid food, squalid clothing, squalid shelter. And when she read one day--in an obscure paragraph in her newspaper--that the income of the average American family was less than twelve dollars a week--less than two dollars and a half a week for each individual--she realized that what she was seeing and living was not New York and Cincinnati, but was the common lot, country wide, no doubt world wide.

"_Must_ take hold!" her mind cried incessantly to her shrinking heart. "Somehow--anyhow--take hold!--must--must--_must!_"

Those tenement houses! Those tenement streets! Everywhere wandering through the crowds the lonely old women--holding up to the girls the mirror of time and saying: "Look at my misery! Look at my disease-blasted body. Look at my toil-bent form and toil-wrecked hands. Look at my masses of wrinkles, at my rags, at my leaky and rotten shoes. Think of my aloneness--not a friend--feared and cast off by my relatives because they are afraid they will have to give me food and lodgings. Look at me--think of my life--and know that I am _you_ as you will be a few years from now whether you work as a slave to the machine or as a slave to the passions of one or of many men. I am _you_. Not one in a hundred thousand escape my fate except by death."

"Somehow--anyhow--I must take hold," cried Susan to her swooning heart.

When her capital had dwindled to three dollars Mrs. Tucker appeared. Her face was so beaming bright that Susan, despite her being clad in garments on which a pawnshop would advance nothing, fancied she had come with good news.

"Now that I'm rid of that there house," said she, "I'll begin to perk up. I ain't got nothing left to worry me. I'm ready for whatever blessings the dear Master'll provide. My pastor tells me I'm the finest example of Christian fortitude he ever Saw. But"--and Mrs. Tucker spoke with genuine modesty--"I tell him I don'