Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: The Book of Susan - A Novel
Author: Dodd, Lee Wilson, 1879-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Book of Susan - A Novel" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE

BOOK OF SUSAN

_A Novel_

BY LEE WILSON DODD

[Illustration]

          "_Though she track the wilds,
            Though she breast the crags,
            Choosing no path--
            Her kirtle tears not,
            Her ankles gleam,
            Her sandals are silver._"


          NEW YORK
          E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
          681 FIFTH AVENUE



          COPYRIGHT, 1920,
          BY E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

          _All Rights Reserved_

          _First printing      April, 1920_
          _Second printing     April, 1920_
          _Third printing       June, 1920_
          _Fourth printing      June, 1920_
          _Fifth printing       July, 1920_
          _Sixth printing       July, 1920_
          _Seventh printing   August, 1920_
          _Eighth printing    August, 1920_
          _Ninth printing     August, 1920_
          _Tenth printing     August, 1920_
          _Eleventh printing  August, 1920_
          _Twelfth printing   August, 1920_

          Printed in the United States of America



          JOSEPHI FRATRIBUS

          NON QUOD VOLUI
          SED QUOD POTUI



CONTENTS


                                 PAGE
          THE FIRST CHAPTER        1
          THE SECOND CHAPTER      24
          THE THIRD CHAPTER       62
          THE FOURTH CHAPTER     131
          THE FIFTH CHAPTER      153
          THE SIXTH CHAPTER      221
          THE LAST CHAPTER       238



THE BOOK OF SUSAN



THE FIRST CHAPTER


I

IT happens that I twice saw Susan's mother, one of those soiled rags of
humanity used by careless husbands for wiping their boots; but Susan
does not remember her. John Stuart Mill studied Greek at three, and
there is a Russian author who recalls being weaned as the first of his
many bitter experiences. Either Susan's mental life did not waken so
early or the record has faded. She remembers only the consolate husband,
her father; remembers him only too well. The backs of his square,
angry-looking hands were covered with an unpleasant growth of reddish
bristles; his nostrils were hairy, too, and seemed formed by Nature
solely for the purpose of snorting with wrath. It must not be held
against Susan that she never loved her father; he was not created to
inspire the softer emotions. Nor am I altogether certain just why he was
created at all.

Nevertheless, Robert Blake was in his soberer hours--say, from Tuesdays
to Fridays--an expert mechanic, thoroughly conversant with the interior
lack of economy of most makes of automobiles. He had charge of the
repair department of the Eureka Garage, New Haven, where my
not-too-robust touring car of those primitive days spent, during the
spring of 1907, many weeks of interesting and expensive invalidism. I
forget how many major operations it underwent.

It was not at the Eureka Garage, however, that I first met Bob Blake.
Nine years before I there found him again, I had defended him in
court--as it happens, successfully--on a charge of assault with intent
to kill. That was almost my first case, and not far--thank heaven--from
my last. Bob's defense, I remember, was assigned to me by a judge who
had once borrowed fifty dollars from my father, which he never repaid;
at least, not in cash. There are more convenient methods. True, my
father was no longer living at the time I was appointed to defend Bob;
but that is a detail.

Susan was then four years old. I can't say I recall her, if I even laid
eyes on her. But Mrs. Bob appeared as a witness, at my request--it was
all but her final appearance, poor woman; she died of an embolism within
a week--and I remember she told the court that a kinder husband and
father than Bob had never existed. I remember, too, that the court
pursed its lips and the gentlemen of the jury grinned approvingly, for
Mrs. Bob could not easily conceal something very like the remains of a
purple eye, which she attributed to hearing a suspicious noise one night
down cellar, a sort of squeaking noise, and to falling over the cat on
her tour of investigation--with various circumstantial _minutiæ_ of no
present importance.

The important thing is, that Bob went scot-free and was as nearly
grateful as his temperament permitted. His assault--with an umbrella
stand--had been upon a fellow reveller of no proved worth to the
community, and perhaps this may have influenced the jury's unexpected
verdict.

Of Susan herself my first impression was gained at the Eureka Garage.
Bob Blake, just then, was lying beneath my car, near which I hovered
listening to his voluble but stereotyped profanity. He had lost the nut
from a bolt, and, unduly constricted, sought it vainly, while his tongue
followed the line of least resistance. I was marveling at the energy of
his wrath and the poverty of his imagination, when I became aware of a
small being beside me, in plaid calico. She had eager black
eyes--terrier's eyes--in a white, whimsical little face. One very long
and very thin black pigtail dangled over her left shoulder and down
across her flat chest to her waist, where it was tied with a shoe string
and ended lankly, without even the semblance of a curl. In her right
hand she bore a full dinner pail, and with her left thumb she pointed
toward the surging darkness beneath my car.

"Say, mister, please," said the small being, "if I was to put this down,
would you mind telling him his dinner's come?"

"Not a bit," I responded. "Are you Bob's youngster?"

"I'm Susan Blake," she answered; and very softly placed the dinner pail
on the step of the car.

"Why don't you wait and see your father?" I suggested. "He'll come up
for air in a minute."

"That's why I'm going now," said Susan.

Whereupon she gave a single half skip--the very ghost of a skip--then
walked demurely from me and out through the great door.


II

Bob Blake, in those days, lived in a somewhat dilapidated four-room
house, off toward the wrong end of Birch Street. His family arrangements
were peculiar. He had never married again; but not very long after his
wife's death a dull-eyed, rather mussy young woman, with a fondness for
rouge pots, had taken up her abode with him--to the scandal and
fascination of the neighborhood. It was an outrage, of course! With a
child in the house, too! Something ought to be done about it!

Yet, oddly enough, nothing that much worried Bob ever was done about
it, reckoning the various shocked-and-grieved forms of conversation as
nothing. As he never tired of asserting, Bob didn't give a damn for the
cackle of a lot of hens. He guessed he knew his way about; and so did
Pearl. Let the damned hens cackle their heads off; he was satisfied!

And so, eventually, I am forced to believe, were the hens. In the
earlier days of the scandal there was much clitter-clatter of having the
law on him, serving papers, and the like; but, as hen cackle sometimes
will, it came to precisely naught. Nor am I certain that, as the years
passed, the neighborhood did not grow a little proud of its one crimson
patch of wickedness; I am reasonably certain, indeed, that more than one
drab life took on a little borrowed flush of excitement from its
proximity.

Of course no decent, God-fearing woman would ever greet either Bob or
Pearl; but every time one passed either of them without a nod or a
"How's things to-day?" it gave one something to talk about, at home, or
over any amicable fence.

As for the men, they too were forbidden to speak; but men, most of them,
are unruly creatures if at large. You can't trust them safely five
minutes beyond the sound of your voice.

There was even one man, old Heinze, proprietor of the Birch Street
grocery store, who now and then cautiously put forth a revolutionary
sentiment.

"Dey lifs alvays togedder--like man unt vife--nod? Vere iss der
diffurunz, Mrs. Shay?"

"Shame on you for _them_ words, Mr. Heinze!"

"_Aber_"--with a slow, wide smile--"vere iss der diffurunz, Mrs. Shay? I
leaf id to you?"

That Pearl and Bob lived always together cannot be denied, and perhaps
they also lived as some men and their lawful wives are accustomed to
live--off toward the wrong end of city streets; and occasionally, no
doubt, toward the right end of them as well. Midweek, things wore along
dully enough, but over Sunday came drink and ructions. Susan says she
has never been able to understand why Sunday happens to be called a day
of rest. The day of arrest, she was once guilty of naming it.

Bob's neighbors, I fear, were not half so scandalized by his week-end
drunkenness as by what Mrs. Perkins--three doors nearer the right end of
Birch Street--invariably called his "brazen immorality." Intoxication
was not a rare vice in that miscellaneous block or two of factory
operatives. Nor can it be said that immorality, in the sense of Mrs.
Perkins, was so much rare as it was nervously concealed. The unique
quality of Bob's sin lay in its brazen element; that was what stamped
him peculiarly as a social outlaw.

Bob accepted this position, if sober, with a grim disregard. He had a
bitter, lowering nature at best, and when not profane was taciturn. As
for Pearl, social outlawry may be said to have been her native element.
She had a hazy mind in a lazy body, and liked better than most things
just to sit in a rocking-chair and polish her finger nails, as
distinguished from cleaning them. Only the guiltless member of this
family group really suffered from its low social estate, but she
suffered acutely. Little Susan could not abide being a social outlaw.

True, she was not always included in the general condemnation of her
family by the grown-ups; but the children were ruthless. They pointed
fingers, and there was much conscious giggling behind her back; while
some of the daintier little girls--the very little girls whom Susan
particularly longed to chum with--had been forbidden to play with "that
child," and were not at all averse to telling her so, flatly, with tiny
chins in air and a devastating expression of rectitude on their smug
little faces. At such times Susan would fight back impending cataracts,
stick her own freckled nose toward the firmament, and even, I regret to
say, if persistently harassed, thrust forth a rigid pink tongue. This,
Susan has since informed me, is the embryonic state of "swearing like
anything."

The little boys, on the whole, were better. They often said cruel
things, but Susan felt that they said them in a quite different spirit
from their instinctively snobbish and Grundyish sisters--said them
merely by way of bravado, or just for the fun of seeing whether or not
she would cry. And then they often let her join in their games, and on
those happy occasions treated her quite as an equal, with an impartial
and, to Susan, entirely blissful roughness. Susan early decided that she
liked boys much better than girls.

There was, for example, Jimmy Kane, whose widowed mother took in
washing, and so never had any time to clean up her huddled flat, over
Heinze's grocery store, or her family of four--two boys and two girls.
No one ever saw skin, as in itself it really is, on the faces of Mrs.
Kane's children, and Jimmy was always, if comparison be possible, the
grimiest of the brood. For some reason Jimmy always had a perpetual
slight cold, and his funny flat button of a nose wept, winter and summer
alike, though never into an unnecessary handkerchief. His coat-sleeve
served, even if its ministrations did not add to the tidiness of his
countenance.

Susan often wished she might scrub him, just to see what he really
looked like; for she idolized Jimmy. Not that Jimmy ever had paid any
special attention to her, except on one occasion. It was merely that he
accepted her as part of the human scheme of things, which in itself
would almost have been enough to win Susan's affectionate admiration.
But one day, as I have hinted, he became the god of her idolatry.

The incident is not precisely idyllic. A certain Joe--Giuseppe
Gonfarone; _ætat._ 14--whose father peddled fruit and vegetables, had
recently come into the neighborhood; a black-curled, brown-eyed little
devil, already far too wise in the manifold unseemliness of this sad old
planet. Joe was strong, stocky, aggressive, and soon posed as something
of a bully among the younger boys along Birch Street. Within less than a
month he had infected the minds of many with a new and rich vocabulary
of oaths and smutty words. Joe was not of the unconsciously
foul-mouthed; he relished his depravity. In fact, youngster as he was,
Joe had in him the makings of that slimiest product of our cities--the
street pimp, or cadet.

It was one fine spring day, three years or so before I met Susan in the
Eureka Garage, that Joe, with a group of Birch Street boys, was playing
marbles for keeps, just at the bottom of the long incline which carries
Birch Street down to the swamp land and general dump at the base of East
Rock. Susan was returning home from Orange Street, after bearing her
father his full dinner pail, and as she came up to the boys she halted
on one foot, using the toe of her free foot meanwhile to scratch
mosquito bites upward along her supporting shin.

"H'lo, Susan!" called Jimmy Kane, with his perfunctory good nature.
"What's bitin' you?"

Then it was his turn to knuckle-down. Susan, still balanced cranelike,
watched him eager-eyed, and was so delighted when he knocked a fine fat
reeler of Joe's out of the ring, jumping up with a yell of triumph to
pocket it, that she too gave a shrill cheer: "Oh, goody! I knew you'd
win!"

The note of ecstasy in her tone infuriated Joe. "Say!" he shrieked. "You
getta hell outta here!"

Susan's smile vanished; her white, even teeth--she had all her front
ones, she tells me; she was ten--clicked audibly together.

"It's no business of yours!" she retorted.

"You're right; it ain't!" This from Jimmy, still in high good humor.
"You stay here if you want. You're as good as him!"

"Who's as good as me?"

"She is!"

"_Her?_" Joe's lips curled back. He turned to the other boys, who had
all scrambled to their feet by this time and, instinctively scenting
mischief, were standing in a sort of ring. "He says she's good as me!"

Two of the smallest boys tittered, from pure excitement. Susan's nose
went up.

"I'm better. I'm not a dago!"

Joe leaped toward Susan and thrust his dense, bull-like head forward,
till his eyes were glaring into hers.

"Mebbe I live lika you--eh? Mebbe I live," cried Joe, "with a dirty
_whore_!"

There was a gasp from the encircling boys as Susan fell back from this
word, which she did not wholly comprehend, but whose vileness she felt,
somehow, in her very flesh. Joe, baring gorilla teeth, burst into coarse
jubilation.

It was just at this point that Jimmy Kane, younger than Joe by a year or
more, and far slighter, jumped on the little ruffian--alas, from
behind!--and dealt him as powerful a blow on the head as he could
compass; a blow whose effectiveness, I reluctantly admit, was enhanced
by the half brick with which Jimmy had first of all prudently provided
himself. Joe Gonfarone went to earth, inert, but bleeding profusely.

There was a scuttling of frightened feet in every direction. Susan
herself did not stop running until she reached the very top of the Birch
Street incline. Then she looked back, her eyes lambent, her heart
throbbing, not alone from the rapid ascent. Yes, there was Jimmy--_her_
Jimmy!--kneeling in the dust by the still prostrate Joe. Susan could not
hear him, but she knew somehow from his attitude that he was scared to
death, and that he was asking Joe if he was hurt much. She agonized with
her champion, feeling none the less proud of him, and she waited for him
at the top of the rise, hoping to thank him, longing to kiss his hands.

But Jimmy, when he did pass her, went by without a glance, at top speed.
He was bound for a doctor. So Susan never really managed to thank Jimmy
at all. She merely idolized him in secret, a process which proved,
however, fairly heart-warming and, in the main, satisfactory.

It took three stitches to mend Joe's head--a fact famous in the junior
annals of Birch Street for some years--and soon after he appeared,
somewhat broken in spirit, in the street again, his parents moved him,
Margharita and the sloe-eyed twins to Bridgeport--very much, be it
admitted, to the relief of Jimmy Kane, who had lived for three weeks
nursing a lonely fear of dark reprisals.


III

There was one thing about Bob Blake's four-room house--it exactly fitted
his family. The floor plan was simple and economically efficient.
Between the monolithic door slab--relic of a time when Bob's house had
been frankly "in the country"--and the public street lay a walk formed
of a single plank supported on chance-set bricks. From the door slab one
stepped through the front doorway directly into the parlor. Beyond the
parlor lay the kitchen, from which one could pass out through a narrow
door to a patch of weed-grown back yard. A ladderlike stair led up from
one side of the kitchen, opposite to the single window and the small
coal range. At the top of the stair was a slit of unlighted hallway with
a door near either end of it. The door toward Birch Street gave upon the
bedroom occupied by Bob and Pearl; the rearward door led to Susan's
sternly ascetic cubiculum. No one of these four rooms could be described
as spacious, but the parlor and Bob's bedroom may have been twelve by
fifteen or thereabouts. Susan's quarters were a scant ten by ten.

The solider and more useful pieces of furniture in the house belonged to
the régime of Susan's mother--the great black-walnut bed which almost
filled the front bedroom; Susan's single iron cot frame; the parlor
table with its marble top; the melodeon; the kitchen range; and the deal
table in the kitchen, upon which, impartially, food was prepared and
meals were served. To these respectable properties Pearl had added from
time to time certain other objects of interest or art.

Thus, in the parlor, there was a cane rocking-chair, gilded; and on the
wall above the melodeon hung a banjo suspended from a nail by a broad
sash of soiled blue ribbon. On the drumhead of the banjo someone had
painted a bunch of nondescript flowers, and Pearl always claimed these
as her own handiwork, wrought in happier days. This was her one eagerly
contested point of pride; for Bob, when in liquor, invariably denied the
possibility of her ever having painted "that there bouquet." This flat
denial was always the starting point for those more violent Sunday-night
quarrels, which had done so much to reduce the furniture of the house to
its stouter, more imperishable elements.

During the brief interval between the death of Susan's mother and the
arrival of Pearl, Bob had placed his domestic affairs in the hands of an
old negro-woman, who came in during the day to clean up, keep an eye on
Susan and prepare Bob's dinner. Most of the hours during Bob's absence
this poor old creature spent in a rocking-chair, nodding in and out of
sleep; and it was rather baby Susan, sprawling about the kitchen floor,
who kept an eye on her, than the reverse. Pearl's installation had
changed all that. Bob naturally expected any woman he chose to support
to work for her board and lodging; and it may be that at first Pearl had
been too grateful for any shelter to risk jeopardizing her good luck by
shirking. There seems to be no doubt that for a while she did her poor
utmost to keep house--but the sloven in her was too deeply rooted not to
flower.

By the time Susan was six or seven the interior condition of Bob's
house was too crawlingly unpleasant to bear exact description; and even
Bob, though callous enough in such matters, began to have serious
thoughts of giving Pearl the slip--not to mention his landlord--and of
running off with Susan to some other city, where he could make a fresh
start and perhaps contrive now and then to get something decent to eat
set before him. It never occurred to him to give Susan the slip as
well--which would have freed his hands; not because he had a soft spot
somewhere for the child, nor because he felt toward her any special
sense of moral obligation. Simply, it never occurred to him. Susan was
his kid; and if he went she went with him, along with his pipe, his shop
tools, and his set of six English razors--his dearest possession, of
which he was jealously and irascibly proud.

But, as it happens, Bob never acted upon this slowly forming desire to
escape; the desire was quietly checked and insensibly receded; and for
this Susan herself was directly responsible.

Very early in life she began to supplement Pearl's feeble housewifery,
but it was not until her ninth year that Susan decided to bring about a
domestic revolution. Whether or no hatred of dirt be inheritable, I
leave to biologists, merely thumbnailing two facts for their
consideration: Susan's mother had hated dirt with an unappeasable
hatred; her nightly, after-supper, insensate pursuit of imaginary
cobwebs had been one of Bob's choicest grievances against her. And
little Susan hated dirt, in all its forms, with an almost equal venom,
but with a brain at once more active and more unreeling. She had good
reason to hate it. She must either have hated it or been subdued to it.
For five years, more or less, she had lived in the midst of dirt and
suffered. It had seemed to her one of the inexpungable evils of
existence, like mosquitoes, or her father's temper, or the smell of
Pearl's cheap talcum powder when warmed by the fumes of cooking cabbage.
But gradually it came upon her that dirt only accumulated in the absence
of a will to removal.

Once her outreaching mind had grasped--without wordily
formulating--this physical and moral law, her course was plain. Since
the will to removal was dormant or missing in Pearl, she must supply it.
Within the scope of her childish strength, she did supply it. Susan
insists that it took her two years merely to overcome the handicap of
Pearl's neglect. Her self-taught technique was faulty; proper tools were
lacking. There was a bucket which, when filled, she could not lift; a
broom that tripped her; high corners she could not reach--corners she
had to grow up to, even with the aid of a chair. But in the end she
triumphed. By the time she was thirteen--she was thirteen when I first
saw in the Eureka Garage--Bob's four rooms were spotless six and
one-half days out of every seven.

Even Pearl, in her flaccid way, approved the change. "It beats hell,"
she remarked affably to Bob one night, "how that ugly little monkey
likes to scrub things. She's a real help to me, that child is. But no
comp'ny. And she's a sight."

"Well," growled Bob, "she comes by that honest. So was the old woman."
They were annoyed when Susan, sitting by them, for the first time within
their memory burst into flooding, uncontrollable tears.


IV

I should probably, in my own flaccid way, have lost all track of Susan,
if it had not been for certain ugly things that befell in Bob's
four-room house one breathless evening--June twentieth of the year 1907.
It is a date stamped into my consciousness like a notarial seal. For one
thing it happened to be my birthday--my thirty-third, which I was not
precisely celebrating, since it was also the anniversary of the day my
wife had left me, two years before. Nor was I entirely pleased to have
become, suddenly, thirty-three. I counted it the threshold of
middle-age. Now that eleven years have passed, and with them my health
and the world's futile pretense at peace, I am feeling younger.

This book is about Susan, but it will be simpler if you know something,
too, concerning her scribe. Fortunately there is not much that it will
be needful to tell.

I was--in those bad, grossly comfortable old days--that least happy of
Nature's experiments, a man whose inherited income permitted him to be
an idler, and whose tastes urged him to write precious little essays
about precious little for the more precious reviews. My half-hearted
attempt to practice law I had long abandoned. I lived in a commodious,
inherited mansion on Hillhouse Avenue--an avenue which in all fairness
must be called aristocratic, since it has no wrong end to it. It is
right at both ends, so, naturally, though broad, it is not very long. My
grandfather, toward the end of a profitably ill-spent life, built this
mansion of sad-colored stone in a somewhat mixed Italian style; my
father filled it with expensive and unsightly movables--the spoils of a
grand European tour; and I, in my turn, had emptied it of these
treasures and refilled it with my own carefully chosen collection of
rare furniture, rare Oriental carpets, rare first editions, and costly
_objets d'art_. This collection I then anxiously believed, and do still
in part believe, to be beautiful--though I am no longer haunted by an
earlier fear lest the next generation should repudiate my taste and
reverse my opinion. Let the auction rooms of 1960 decide. Neither in
flesh nor in spirit shall I attend them.

The tragi-comedy of my luckless marriage I shall not stop here to
explain, but its rather mysterious ending had at first largely cut me
off from my old family friends and my socially correct acquaintances.
When Gertrude left me, their sympathies, or their sense of security,
went with her. I can hardly blame them. There had been no glaring
scandal, but the fault was inferentially mine. To speak quite brutally,
I did not altogether regret their loss. Too many of them had bored me
for too many years. I was glad to rely more on the companionship of
certain writers and painters which my scribbling had quietly won for me,
here and in France. I traveled about a good deal. When at home, I kept
my guest rooms filled--often, in the horrid phrase, with "visitors of
distinction."

In this way I became a social problem, locally, of some magnitude.
Visitors of distinction--even when of eccentric distinction--cannot
easily be ignored in a university town. Thus it made it a little
awkward, perhaps, that I should so often prove to be their host; a
little--less, on the whole, than one would suppose. Within two
years--just following Ballou's brief stay with me, on his way to
introduce that now forgotten nine-days wonder, Polymorphous Prose, among
initiates of the Plymouth Rock Poetry Guild, at Boston--my slight
remaining ineligibility was tacitly and finally ignored. The old family
friends began to hint that Gertrude, though a splendid woman, had always
been a little austere. Possibly there were faults on both sides. One
never knew.

And it was just at this hour of social reëstablishment that my birthday
swung round again, for the thirty-third time, and brought with it a
change in my outer life which was to lead on to even greater changes in
all my modes of thinking and feeling. Odd, that a drunken quarrel in a
four-room house toward the wrong end of Birch Street could so affect the
destiny of a luxurious _dilettante_, living at the very center of bonded
respectability, in a mansion of sad-colored stone, on a short broad
avenue which is right at both ends!


V

"Never in this (obviously outcast) world!" grumbled Bob Blake, bringing
his malletlike fist down on the marble top of the parlor table.

The blow made his half-filled glass jump and clinkle; so he emptied it
slowly, then poured in four fingers more, forgetting to add water this
time, and sullenly pushed the bottle across to Pearl. But Pearl was
fretful. Her watery blue eyes were fixed upon the drumhead of the banjo,
where it hung suspended above the melodeon.

"I did so paint them flowers. And well you know it. What's the good of
bein' so mean? If you wasn't heeled you'd let me have it my way. Didn't
I bring that banjo with me?"

"Hungh! Say you did. What does that prove?"

"I guess it proves somethin', all right."

"Proves you swiped it, likely."

"Me! I ain't that kind, thanks."

"The hell you ain't."

"If you're tryin' to get gay, cut it out!"

"Not me."

"Well, then--quit!"

This was shortly after supper. It was an unusually hot, humid evening;
doors and windows stood open to no purpose; and Susan was sitting out on
the monolithic door slab, fighting off mosquitoes. She found that this
defensive warfare partly distracted her from the witless, interminable
bickering within. Moreover, the striated effluvia of whisky, talcum
powder, and perspiration had made her head feel a little queer. By
comparison, the fetid breath from the exposed mud banks of the salt
marsh was almost refreshing.

Possibly it was because her head did feel a little queer that Susan
began presently to wonder about things. Between her days at the
neighboring public school and her voluntary rounds of housework, Susan
had not of late years had much waking time to herself. In younger and
less crowded hours, before her father had been informed by the
authorities that he must either send his child to school or take the
consequences, Susan had put in all her spare moments at wondering. She
would see a toad in the back yard, for example, under a plantain leaf,
and she would begin to wonder. She would wonder what it felt like to be
a toad. And before very long something would happen to her, inside, and
she would _be_ a toad. She would have toad thoughts and toad
feelings.... There would stretch above her a dim, green, balancing
canopy--the plantain leaf. All about her were soaring, translucent
fronds--the grass. It was cool there under the plantain leaf; but she
was enormously fat and ugly, her brain felt like sooty cobwebs, and
nobody loved her.

Still, she didn't care much. She could feel her soft gray throat, like
a blown-into glove finger, pulsing slowly--which was almost as soothing
a sensation as letting the swing die down. It made her feel as if
Someone--some great unhappy cloudlike Being--were making up a song, a
song about most everything; chanting it sleepily to himself--or was it
_herself_?--somewhere; and as if she were part of this beautiful,
unhappy song. But all the time she knew that if that white fluffy
restlessness--that moth miller--fluttered only a little nearer among
those golden-green fronds, she knew if it reached the cool rim of her
plantain shade, she knew, then, that something terrible would happen to
her--knew that something swift and blind, that she couldn't help, would
coil deep within her like a spring and so launch her forward,
open-jawed. It was awful--awful for the moth miller--but she couldn't
_not_ do it. She was a toad....

And it was the same with her father. There were things he couldn't not
do. She could be--sitting very still in a corner--_be_ her father, when
he was angry; and she knew he couldn't help it. It was just a dark slow
whirling inside, with red sparks flying swiftly out from it. And it hurt
while it lasted. Being her father like that always made her sorry for
him. But she wished, and she felt he must often wish, that he couldn't
be at all. There were lots of live things that would be happier if they
weren't live things; and _if_ they weren't, Susan felt, the great
cloudlike Being would be less unhappy too.

Naturally, I am giving you Susan's later interpretations of her
pre-schoolday wonderings; and a number of you would gasp a little,
knowing what firm, delicate imaginings all Susan Blake's later
interpretations were, if I should give you her pen name as well--which I
have promised myself not to do. This is not an official study of a young
writer of peculiar distinction; it is merely an unpretending book about
a little girl I knew and a young married woman I still know--one and the
same person. It is what I have named it--that only: _The Book of Susan_.

Meanwhile, this humid June night--to the sordid accompaniment of Bob
and Pearl snarling at each other half-drunkenly within--Susan waits for
us on the monolithic door slab; and there is a new wonder in her dizzy
little head. I can't do better than let her tell you in her own words
what this new wonder was like.

"Ambo, dear"--my name, by the way, is Ambrose Hunt; Captain Hunt, of the
American Red Cross, at the present writing, which I could date from a
sleepy little village in Southern France--"Ambo, dear, it was the moon,
mostly. There was a pink bud of light in the heat mist, way off beyond
East Rock, and then the great wild rose of the moon opened slowly
through it. Papa, inside, was sounding just like a dog when he's
bullying another dog, walking up on the points of his toes, stiff
legged, round him. So I tried to escape, tried to be the moon; tried to
feel floaty and shining and beautiful, and--and remote. But I couldn't
manage it. I never could make myself be anything not alive. I've tried
to be stones, but it's no good. It won't work. I can be trees--a little.
But usually I have to be animals, or men and women--and of course
they're animals too.

"So I began wondering why I liked the moon, why just looking at it made
me feel happy. It couldn't talk to me; or love me. All it could do was
to be up there, sometimes, and shine. Then I remembered about mythology.
Miss Chisholm, in school, was always telling us about gods and
goddesses. She said we were children, so we could recreate the gods for
ourselves, because they belonged to the child age of the world. She
talked like that a lot, in a faded-leaf voice, and none of us ever
understood her. The truth is, Ambo, we never paid any attention to her;
she smiled too much and too sadly, without meaning it; and her eyelashes
were white. All the same, that night somehow I remembered Artemis, the
virgin moon goddess, who slipped silently through dark woods at dusk,
hunting with a silvery bow. Being a virgin seemed to mean that you
didn't care much for boys. But I did always like boys better than girls,
so I decided I could never be a virgin. And yet I loved the thought of
Artemis from that moment. I began to think about her--oh,
intensely!--always keeping off by herself; cool, and shining, and--and
detached. And there was one boy she _had_ cared for; I remembered that,
too, though I couldn't remember his name. A naked, brown sort of boy,
who kept off by himself on blue, distant hills. So Artemis wasn't really
a virgin at all. She was just--awfully particular. She liked clean, open
places, and the winds, and clear, swift water. What she hated most was
_stuffiness_! That's why I decided then and there, Ambo, that Artemis
should be my goddess, my own pet goddess; and I made up a prayer to her.
I've never forgotten it. I often say it still....

          _Dearest, dearest Far-Away,
           Can you hear me when I pray?
           Can you hear me when I cry?
           Would you care if I should die?
           No, you wouldn't care at all;
           But I love you most of all._

"It isn't very good, Ambo, but it's the first rhyme I ever made up out
of my own head. And I just talked it right off to Artemis without any
trouble. But I had hardly finished it, when----"

What had happened next was the crash of glassware, followed by Bob's
thick voice, bellowing: "C'm ba' here! Damned slut! Tell yeh t' c'm ba'
an'--an' 'pol'gize!"

Susan heard a strangling screech from Pearl, the jar of a heavy piece of
furniture overturned. The child's first impulse was to run out into
Birch Street and scream for help. She tells me her spine knew all at
once that something terrible had happened--or was going to happen. Then,
in an odd flash of hallucination, she saw _Artemis_ poised the
fleetingest second before her--beautiful, a little disdainful, divinely
unafraid. So Susan gulped, dug her nails fiercely into her palms, and
hurried back through the parlor into the kitchen, where she stumbled
across the overturned table and fell, badly bruising her cheek.

As she scrambled to her feet a door slammed to, above. Her father, in a
grotesque crouching posture, was mounting the ladderlike stair. On the
floor at the stair's foot lay the parchment head of Pearl's banjo, which
he had cut from its frame. Susan distinctly caught the smudged pinks and
blues of the nondescript flowers. She realized at once that her father
was bound on no good errand. And Pearl was trapped. Susan called to her
father, daringly, a little wildly. He slued round to her, leaning
heavily on the stair rail, his face green-white, his lips held back by
some evil reflex in a fixed, appalling grin.

It was the face of a madman.... He raised his right hand, slowly, and a
tiny prismatic gleam darted from the blade of an opened razor--one of
his precious set of six. He had evidently used it to destroy the banjo
head, which he would never have done in his right mind. But now he made
a shocking gesture with the blade, significant of other uses; then
turned, crouching once more, to continue upward. Susan tried to cry out,
tried to follow him, until the room slid from its moorings into a
whirlpool of humming blackness....

       *       *       *       *       *

That is all Susan remembers for some time. It is just as well.


VI

What Susan next recalls is an intense blare of light, rousing her from
her nothingness, like trumpets. Her immediate confused notion was that
the gates of hell had been flung wide for her; and when a tall black
figure presently cut across the merciless rays and towered before her,
she thought it must be the devil. But the intense blare came from the
head lights of my touring car, and the tall black devil was I. A greatly
puzzled and compassionate devil I was too! Maltby Phar--that exquisite
anarchist--was staying with me, and we had run down to the shore for
dinner, hoping to mitigate the heat by the ride, and my new sensation of
frustrate middle-age by broiled live lobsters. It was past eleven. I had
just dropped Maltby at the house and had run my car round to the garage
where Bob worked, meaning to leave it there overnight so Bob could begin
patching at it the first thing in the morning. It had been bucking its
way along on three cylinders or less all day.

Bob's garage lay back from the street down a narrow alley. Judge, then,
of my astonishment as I nosed my car up to its shut double doors! There,
on the concrete incline before the doors, lay a small crumpled figure,
half-curled, like an unearthed cut-worm, about a shining dinner pail. I
brought the car to a sudden dead stop. The small figure partly
uncrumpled, and a white, blinded little face lifted toward me. It was
Bob's youngster! What was she up to, lying there on the ribbed concrete
at this time of night? And in heaven's name--why the dinner pail? I
jumped down to investigate.

"You're Susan Blake, aren't you?"

"Yes"--with a whispered gasp--"your Royal Highness."

Susan says she doesn't know just why she addressed the devil in that
way, unless she was trying to flatter him and so get round him.

"I'm not so awfully bad," she went on, "if you don't count thinking
things too much!"

The right cheek of her otherwise delicately modeled child's face was a
swollen lump of purple and green. I dropped down on one knee beside her.

"Why, you poor little lady! You're hurt!"

Instantly she sprang to her feet, wild-eyed.

"No, no! It's not me--it's Pearl! Oh, quick--please! He had a razor!"

"Razor? _Who_ did?" I seized her hands. "I'm Mr. Hunt, dear. Your father
often works on my car. Tell me what's wrong!"

She was still half dazed. "I--I can't see why I'm down here--with
papa's dinner pail. Pearl was upstairs, and I tried to stop him from
going." Then she began to whimper like a whipped puppy. "It's all mixed.
I'm scared."

"Of course--of course you are; but it's going to be all right." I led
her to the car and lifted her to the front seat. "Hold on a minute,
Susan. I'll be back with you in less than no time!"

I sounded my horn impatiently. After an interval, a slow-footed car
washer inside the garage began trundling the doors back to admit me. I
ran to him.

No. Bob, he left at six, same as usual. He hadn't been round since....
His kid, eh? Mebbe the heat had turned her queer. Nuff to addle most
folks, the heat was....

I saw that he knew nothing, and snapped him off with a sharp request to
crank the car for me. As he did so, I jumped in beside Susan.

"Where do you live, Susan? Oh, yes, of course--Birch Street. Bob told me
that.... Eh? You don't want to go home?"

"Never, please. Never, never! I _won't_!" Proclaiming this, she flung
Bob's dinner pail from her and it bounced and clattered down the
asphalt. "It's too late," she added, in a frightened whisper: "I know it
is!"

Then she seized my arm--thereby almost wrecking us against a fire
hydrant--and clung to me, sobbing. I was puzzled and--yes--alarmed. Bob
was a bad customer. The child's bruised face ... something she had said
about a razor----? And instantly I made up my mind.

"I'll take you to my house, Susan. Mrs. Parrot"--Mrs. Parrot was my
housekeeper--"will fix you up for to-night. Then I'll go round and see
Bob; see what's wrong." I felt her thin fingers dig into my arm
convulsively. "Yes," I reassured her, taking a corner perilously at full
speed, "that will be much better. You'll like Mrs. Parrot."

Rather recklessly, I hoped this might prove to be true; for Mrs. Parrot
was a little difficult at times....

It was Maltby Phar who saw me coming up the steps with a limp child in
my arms, and who opened the screen door for me. "Aha!" he exclaimed.
"Done it this time, eh! Always knew you would, sooner or later. You're
too damned absent-minded to drive a car. You----"

"Nonsense!" I struck in. "Tell Mrs. Parrot to ring up Doctor Stevens.
Then send her to me." And I continued on upstairs with Susan.

When Mrs. Parrot came, Susan was lying with closed eyes in the middle of
a great white embroidered coverlet, upon which her shoes had smeared
greasy, permanent-looking stains.

"Mercy," sighed Mrs. Parrot, "if you've killed the poor creature,
nobody's sorrier than I am! But why couldn't you have laid her down on
the floor? She wouldn't have known."

In certain respects Mrs. Parrot was invaluable to me; but then and there
I suspected that Mrs. Parrot would, in the not-too-distant future, have
to go.

Within five minutes Doctor Stevens arrived, and, after hurried
explanations, Maltby and I left him in charge--and then made twenty-five
an hour to Birch Street.

However, Susan's intuitions had been correct. We found Bob's four-room
house quite easily. It was the house with the crowd in front of it....
We were an hour too late.

"Cut her throat clean acrost; and his own after," shrilled Mrs. Perkins
to us--Mrs. Perkins, who lived three doors nearer the right end of Birch
Street. "But it's only what was to be looked for, and I guess it'll be a
lesson to some. You can't expect no better end than that," perorated
Mrs. Perkins to us and her excited neighbors, while her small gray-green
eyes snapped with electric malice, "you can't expect no better end than
that to sech _brazen_ immorality!"

"My God," groaned Maltby, as we sped away, "How they have enjoyed it
all! Why, you almost ruined the evening for them when you told them
you'd found the child! They were hoping to discover her body in the
cellar or down the well. Ugh! What a world!

"By the way," he added, as we turned once more into the dignified
breadth of Hillhouse Avenue, "what'll you do with the homely little
brat? Put her in some kind of awful institution?"

The bland tone of his assumption irritated me. I ground on the brakes.

"Certainly not! I like her. If she returns the compliment, and her
relatives don't claim her, she'll stay on here with me."

"Hum. Bravo.... About two weeks," said Maltby Phar.



THE SECOND CHAPTER


I

IT was not Susan who left me at the end of two weeks; it was Mrs.
Parrot. Maltby had departed within three days, hastening perforce to
editorial duties in New York. He then edited, with much furtive groaning
to sympathetic friends, the _Garden Exquisite_, a monthly magazine _de
luxe_, devoted chiefly to advertising matter, and to photographs
taken--by request of far-seeing wives and daughters--at the country
clubs and on the country estates of our minor millionaires. For a
philosophical anarch, rather a quaint occupation! Yet one must live....
Maltby, however, had threatened a return as soon as possible, "to look
over the piteous _débâcle_." There was no probability that Mrs. Parrot
would ever return.

"You cannot expect me," maintained Mrs. Parrot, "to wait on the child of
a murdering suicide. Especially," she added, "when he was nothing but a
common sort of man to begin with. I'm as sorry for that poor little
creature as anybody in New Haven; but there are places for such."

That was her ultimatum. My reply was two weeks' notice, and a
considerable monetary gift to soften the blow.

Hillhouse Avenue, in general, so far as I could discover, rather
sympathized with Mrs. Parrot. She at once obtained an excellent post,
becoming housekeeper for the Misses Carstairs, spinster sisters of
incredible age, who lived only two doors from me in a respectable
mansion whose portico resembled an Egyptian tomb. Wandering freshmen
from the Yale campus frequently mistook it for the home office of one of
the stealthier secret societies.

There, silently ensconced, Mrs. Parrot burned with a hard, gemlike
flame, and awaited my final downfall. So did the Misses Carstairs, who,
being cousins of my wife, had remained firmly in opposition. And rumor
had it that other members of neighboring families were suffering
discomfort from the proximity of Susan. It was as if a tiny, almost
negligible speck of coal dust had blown into the calm, watchful eye of
the _genius loci_, and was gradually inflaming it--with resultant
nervous irritation to all its members.

Susan was happily unconscious of these things. Her gift of intuition had
not yet projected itself into that ethereal region which conserves the
more tenuous tone and the subtler distinction--denominate "society." For
the immediate moment she was bounded in a nutshell, yet seemed to count
herself a princess of infinite space--yes, in spite of bad dreams.
We--Doctor Stevens and I--had put her to bed in the large, coolly
distinguished corner room formerly occupied by Gertrude. This room
opened directly into my own. Doctor Stevens counselled bed for a few
days, and Susan seemed well content to obey his mandate. Meanwhile, I
had requested Mrs. Parrot to buy various necessities for
her--toothbrushes, nightdresses, day dresses, petticoats, and so on.
Mrs. Parrot had supposed I should want the toilet articles inexpensive,
and the clothing plain but good.

"Good, by all means, Mrs. Parrot," I had corrected, "but not plain. As
pretty and frilly as possible!"

Mrs. Parrot had been inclined to argue the matter.

"When that poor little creature goes from here," she had maintained,
"flimsy, fussy things will be of no service to her. None. She'll need
coarse, substantial articles that will bear usage."

"Do you like to wear coarse, substantial articles, Mrs. Parrot?" I had
mildly asked. "So far as I am permitted to observe----"

Mrs. Parrot had resented the implication. "I hope in my outer person,
Mr. Hunt, that I show a decent respect for my employers, but I've never
been one to pamper myself on linjery, if I may use the word--not
believing it wholesome. Nor to discuss it with gentlemen. But if I don't
know what it's wisest and best to buy in this case, who," she had
demanded of heaven, "does?"

"Possibly," heaven not replying, had been my response, "_I_ do. At any
rate, I can try."

It was fun trying. I ran down on the eight o'clock to New York and
strolled up and down Fifth Avenue, shopping here and there as the fancy
moved me. Shopping--with a well-filled pocketbook--is not a difficult
art. Women exaggerate its difficulties for their own malign purposes. In
two hours of the most casual activity I had bought a great number of
delightful things--for my little daughter, you know. Her age?... Oh,
well--I should think about fourteen. Let's call it 'going on fourteen.'
Then it's sure to be all right.

It _was_ all right--essentially. By which I mean that the parties of the
first and second parts--to wit, Susan and I--were entirely and
blissfully satisfied.

Susan liked particularly a lacy sort of nightgown all knotted over with
little pink ribbony rosebuds; there was a coquettish boudoir cap to
match it--suggestive somehow of the caps village maidens used to wear in
old-fashioned comic operas; and a pink silk kimono embroidered with
white chrysanthemums, to top off the general effect. Needless to say,
Mrs. Parrot disapproved of the general effect, deeming it, no doubt with
some reason, a thought flamboyant for Gertrude's coolly distinguished
corner room.

But Susan, propped straight up by now against pillows, wantoned in this
finery. She would stroke the pink silk of the kimono with her thin,
sensitive fingers, sigh deeply, happily, then close her eyes.

There was nothing much wrong with her. The green-and-purple bruise on
her cheek--a somber note which would not harmonize with the frivolity of
the boudoir cap--was no longer painful. But, as Doctor Stevens put it,
"The little monkey's all in." She was tired, tired out to the last tiny
filament of her tiniest nerve....

During those first days with me she asked no awkward questions; and few
of any kind. Indeed, she rarely spoke at all, except with her
always-speaking black eyes. For the time being the restless-terrier-look
had gone from them; they were quiet and deep, and said "_Thank you_," to
Doctor Stevens, to Mrs. Parrot, to me, with a hundred modulating shades
of expression. In spite of a clear-white, finely drawn face, against
which the purple bruise stood out in shocking relief; in spite of
entirely straight but gossamery black hair; in spite of a rather short
nose and a rather wide mouth--there was a fascination about the child
which no one, not even the hostile Mrs. Parrot, wholly escaped.

"That poor, peeny little creature," admitted Mrs. Parrot, on the very
morning she left me, "has a way of looking at you--so you can't talk to
her like you'd ought to. It's somebody's duty to speak to her in a
Christian spirit. She never says her prayers. Nor mentions her father.
And don't seem to care what's happened to him, or why she's here, or
what's to come to her. And what is to come to her," demanded Mrs.
Parrot, "if she stays on in this house, without a God-fearing woman, and
one you can't fool most days? Not that I could be persuaded, having made
other arrangements. And if I may say a last word, the wild talk I've
heard here isn't what I've been used to. Nor to be approved of. No
vulgarity. None. I don't accuse. But free with matters better left to
the church; or in the dark--where they belong. All I hold is, that some
things are sacred, and some unmentionable; and conversation should take
cognizance of such!"

I had never known her so moved or so eloquent. I strove to reassure her.

"You are quite right, Mrs. Parrot. I apologize for any painful moments
my friends and I have given you. But don't worry too much about Susan.
So far as Susan's concerned, I promise to 'take cognizance' in every
possible direction."

It was clear to me that I should have to expend a good deal of care upon
engaging another housekeeper at once. And, of course, a governess--for
lessons and things. And a maid? Yes; Susan would need a maid, if only to
do her mending. Obviously, neither the housekeeper, the governess, nor I
could be expected to take cognizance of that.


II

But I anticipate. Two weeks before Mrs. Parrot's peroration, on the very
evening of the day Maltby Phar had left me, Susan and I had had our
first good talk together. My memorable shopping tour had not yet come
off, and Susan, having pecked birdlike at a very light supper, was
resting--semi-recumbent--in bed, clothed in a suit of canary-yellow
pajamas, two sizes too big for her, which I was rather shaken to
discover belonged to Nora, my quiet little Irish parlor maid. I had not
supposed that Nora indulged in night gear filched from musical comedy.
However, Nora had meant to be kind in a good cause; though canary yellow
is emphatically a color for the flushed and buxom and should never be
selected for peeny, anemic little girls. It did make Susan look middling
ghastly, as if quarantined from all access to Hygeia, the goddess!
Perhaps that is why, when I perched beside her on the edge of Gertrude's
colonial four-poster, I felt an unaccustomed prickling sensation back of
my eyes.

"How goes it, canary bird?" I asked, taking the thin, blue-threaded hand
that lay nearest to me.

Susan's fingers at once curled trustfully to mine, and there came
something very like a momentary glimmer of mischief into her dark eyes.

"If I was an honest-to-God canary, I could sing to you," said Susan.
"I'd like to do something for you, Mr. Hunt. Something you'd like, I
mean."

"Well, you can, dear. You can stop calling me 'Mr. Hunt'! My first
name's pretty awkward, though. It's Ambrose."

For an instant Susan considered my first name, critically, then very
slowly shook her head. "It's a nice name. It's _too_ nice, isn't it--for
every day?"

I laughed. "But it's all I have, Susan. What shall we do about it?"

Then Susan laughed, too; it was the first time I had heard her laugh. "I
guess your mother was feeling kind of stuck up when she called you
that!"

"Most mothers do feel kind of stuck up over their first babies, Susan."

She considered this, and nodded assent, "But it's silly of them,
anyway," she announced. "There are so many babies all the time,
everywhere. There's nothing new about babies, Ambo."

"Aha!" I exclaimed. "You knew from the first how to chasten my stuck-up
name, didn't you? 'Ambo' is a delightful improvement."

"It's more like you," said Susan, tightening her fingers briefly on
mine.

And presently she closed her eyes. When, after a long still interval,
she opened them, they were cypress-shaded pools.

"Tell me what happened, Ambo."

"He's dead, Susan. Pearl's dead, too."

She closed her eyes again, and two big tears slipped out from between
her lids, wetting her thick eyelashes and staining her bruised and her
pallid cheek.

"He couldn't help it. He was made like that, inside. He was no damn
good, Ambo. That's what he was always saying to Pearl--'You're no damn
good.' She wasn't, either. And he wasn't, much. I guess it's better for
him and Pearl to _be_ dead."

This--and the two big tears--was her good-by to Bob, to Pearl, to the
four-room house; her good-by to Birch Street. It shocked me at the time.
I released her hand and stood up to light a cigarette--staring the while
at Susan. Where had she found her precocious brains? And had she no
heart? Had something of Bob's granitic harshness entered into this
uncanny, this unnatural child? Should I live to regret my decision to
care for her, to educate her? When I died, would she say--to whom?--"I
guess it's better for him to _be_ dead. Poor Ambo! He was no damn good."

But even as I shuddered, I smiled. For, after all, she was right; the
child was right. She had merely uttered, truthfully, thoughts which a
more conventional mind, more conventionally disciplined, would have
known how to conceal--yes, to conceal even from itself. Genius was very
like that.

"Susan!" I suddenly demanded. "Have you any relatives who will try to
claim you?"

"Claim me?"

"Yes. Want to take care of you?"

"Mamma's sister-in-law lives in Hoboken," said Susan. "But she's a
widow; and she's got seven already."

"Would you like to stay here with me?"

For all answer she flopped sidelong down from the pillows and hid her
bruised face in the counterpane. Her slight, canary-clad shoulders were
shaken with stifled weeping.

"That settles it!" I affirmed. "I'll see my lawyer in the morning, and
he'll get the court to appoint me your guardian. Come now! If you cry
about it, I'll think you don't want me for guardian. Do you?"

She turned a blubbered, wistful face toward me from the counterpane. Her
eyes answered me. I leaned over, smoothed a pillow and slipped it
beneath her tired head, then kissed her unbruised cheek and walked
quietly back into my own room--where I rang for Mrs. Parrot.

When she arrived, "Mrs. Parrot," I suggested, "please make Susan
comfortable for the night, will you? And I'll appreciate it if you treat
her exactly as you would my own child."

It took Mrs. Parrot at least a minute to hit upon something she quite
dared to leave with me.

"Very well, Mr. Hunt. Not having an own child, and not knowing--you can
say that. Not that it's the same thing, though you _do_ say it! But I'll
make her comfortable--and time tells. In darker days, I hope you'll be
able to say that poor, peeny little creature has done the same by you."

"Thank you, Mrs. Parrot. Good-night."

"A good night to you, Mr. Hunt," elaborated Mrs. Parrot, not without
malice; "many of them, Mr. Hunt; many of them, I'm sure."


III

By the time Mrs. Parrot left us, housekeeper, governess, and maid had
been obtained in New York through agencies of the highest
respectability.

Miss Goucher, the housekeeper, proved to be a tall, big-framed spinster,
rising fifty; a capable, taciturn woman with a positive talent for
minding her own affairs. She had bleak, light-gray eyes, a rudderlike
nose, and a harsh, positive way of speech that was less disagreeable
than it might have been, because she so seldom spoke at all. Having
hoped for a more amiable presence, I was of two minds over keeping her;
but she took charge of my house so promptly and efficiently, and effaced
herself so thoroughly--a difficult feat for so definite a figure--that
in the end there was nothing I could complain of; and so she stayed.

Miss Disbrow on the other hand, who came as governess, was all that I
had dared to wish for; a graceful, light-footed, soft-voiced girl--she
was not yet thirty--with charming manners, a fluent command of the
purest convent-taught French, a nice touch on the piano, and apparently
some slight acquaintance with the solider branches. Merely to associate
with Miss Disbrow would, I felt, do much for Susan.

I was less certain about Sonia, the maid. I had asked for a middle-aged
English maid. Sonia was Russian, and she was only twenty-three. But she
was sent directly to me from service with Countess
Dimbrovitski--formerly, as you know, Maud Hochstetter, of Omaha--and
brought with her a most glowing reference for skill, honesty, and
unfailing tact. Countess Dimbrovitski did not explain in the reference,
dated from Newport, why she had permitted this paragon to slip from her;
nor did it occur to me to investigate the point. But Sonia later
explained it all, in intimate detail, to Susan--as we shall see.

I had feared that Susan might be at first a little bewildered by the
attentions of Sonia and of Miss Disbrow; so I explained the unusual
situation to Miss Goucher and Miss Disbrow--with certain
reservations--and asked them to make it clear to Sonia. Miss Goucher
merely nodded, curtly enough, and said she understood. Miss Disbrow
proved more curious and more voluble.

"How wonderful of you, Mr. Hunt!" she exclaimed. "To take in a poor
little waif and do all this for her! Personally, I count it a privilege
to be allowed some share in so generous an action. Oh, but I do--I do.
One likes to feel, even when forced to work for one's living, that one
has some little opportunity to do good in the world. Life isn't," asked
Miss Disbrow, "all money-grubbing and selfishness, is it?" And as I
found no ready answer, she concluded: "But I need hardly ask that of
you!"

For the fleetingest second I found myself wondering whether Miss
Disbrow, deep down in her hidden heart, might not be a minx. Yet her
glance, the happiest mixture of frankness, timidity, and respectful
admiration, disarmed me. I dismissed the unworthy suspicion as absurd.

I was a little troubled, though, when Susan that same evening after
dinner came to me in the library and seated herself on a low stool
facing my easy-chair.

"Ambo," she said, "I've been blind as blind, haven't I?"

"Have you?" I responded. "For a blind girl, it's wonderful how you find
your way about!"

"But I'm not joking--and that's just it," said Susan.

"What's wrong, dear?" I asked. "I see something is."

"Yes. I am. The wrongest possible. I've just dumped myself on you, and
stayed here; and--and I've no damn business here at all!"

"I thought we were going to forget the damns and hells, Susan?"

"We are," said Susan, coloring sharply and looking as if she wanted to
cry. "But when you've heard them, and worse, every minute all your
life--it's pretty hard to forget. You must scold me more!" Then with a
swift movement she leaned forward and laid her cheek on my knee. "You're
too good to me, Ambo. I oughtn't to be here--wearing wonderful dresses,
having a maid to do my hair and--and polish me and button me and mend
me. I wasn't meant to have an easy time; I wasn't born for it. First
thing you know, Ambo, I'll get to thinking I was--and be mean to you
somehow!"

"I'll risk that, Susan."

"Yes, but I oughtn't to let you. I could learn to be somebody's maid
like Sonia; and if I study hard--and I'm going to!--some day I could be
a governess like Miss Disbrow; only really know things, not just
pretend. Or when I'm old enough, a housekeeper like Miss Goucher! That's
what you should make me do--work for you! I can clean things better than
Nora now; I never skip underneaths. Truly, Ambo, it's all wrong, my
having people work for me--at your expense. I know it is! Miss Disbrow
made it all clear as clear, right away."

"What! Has Miss Disbrow been stuffing this nonsense into your head!" I
was furious.

"Oh, not in words!" cried Susan. "She talks just the other way. She
keeps telling me how fortunate I am to have a guardian like you, and how
I must be so careful never to annoy you or make you regret what you've
done for me. Then she sighs and says life is very hard and unjust to
many girls born with more advantages. Of course she means herself, Ambo.
You see, she hates having to work at all. She's much nicer to look at
and talk to, but she reminds me of Pearl. She's no damn--she's no good,
Ambo dear. She's hard where she ought to be soft, and soft where she
ought to be hard. She tries to get round people, so she can coax things
out of them. But she'll never get round Miss Goucher, Ambo--or me." And
Susan hesitated, lifting her head from my knee and looking up at me
doubtfully, only to add, "I--I'm not so sure about _you_."

"Indeed. You think, possibly, Miss Disbrow might get round me, eh?"

"Well, she might--if I wasn't here," said Susan. "She might marry you."

My explosion of laughter--I am ordinarily a quiet person--startled
Susan. "Have I said something awful again?" she cried.

"Dreadful!" I sputtered, wiping my eyes. "Why, you little goose! Don't
you see how I need you? To plumb the depths for me--to protect me? I
thought I was your guardian, Susan; but that's just my mannish
complacency. I'm not your guardian at all, dear. You're mine."

But I saw at once that my mirth had confused her, had hurt her
feelings.... I reached out for her hands and drew her upon my knees.

"Susan," I said, "Miss Disbrow couldn't marry me even if she got round
me, and wanted to. You see, I have a wife already."

Susan stared at me with wide, frightened eyes. "You have, Ambo? Where is
she?"

"She left me two years ago."

"Left you?" It was evident that she did not understand. "Oh--what will
she say when she comes home and finds _me_ here? She won't like it; she
won't like me!" wailed Susan. "I know she won't."

"Hush, dear. She's not coming home again. She made up her mind that she
couldn't live with me any more."

"What's her name?"

"Gertrude."

"Why couldn't she live with you, Ambo?"

"She said I was cruel to her."

"_Weren't_ you good to her, Ambo? Why? Didn't you like her?"

The rapid questions were so unexpected, so searching, that I gasped. And
my first impulse was to lie to Susan, to put her off with a few
conventional phrases--phrases that would lead the child to suppose me a
wronged, lonely, broken-hearted man. This would win me a sympathy I had
not quite realized that I craved. But Susan's eyes were merciless, and I
couldn't manage it. Instead, I surprised myself by blurting out: "That's
about it, Susan. I didn't like her--enough. We couldn't hit it off,
somehow. I'm afraid I wasn't very kind."

Instantly Susan's thin arms went about my neck, and her cheek was
pressed tight to mine.

"Poor Ambo!" she whispered. "I'm so sorry you weren't kind. It must
_hurt_ you so." Then she jumped from my knees.

"Ambo!" she demanded. "Is my room--_her_ room? Is it?"

"Certainly not. It isn't hers any more. She's never coming back, I tell
you. She put me out of her life once for all; and God knows I've put her
out of mine!"

"If you can't let me have another room, Ambo--I'll have to go."

"Why? Hang it all, Susan, don't be silly! Don't make difficulties where
none exist! What an odd, overstrained child you are!" I was a little
annoyed.

"Yes," nodded Susan gravely, "I see now why Gertrude left you. But she
must be awfully stupid not to know it's only your outside that's made
like that!"

Next morning, without a permissive word from me, Susan had Miss Goucher
move all her things to a small bedroom at the back of the house,
overlooking the garden. This silent flitting irritated me not a little,
and that afternoon I had a frank little talk with Miss Disbrow--franker,
perhaps, than I had intended. Miss Disbrow at once gave me notice, and
left for New York within two hours, letting it be known that she
expected her trunks to be sent after her.

"Gutter-snipes are not my specialty," was her parting word.


IV

There proved to be little difficulty in getting myself appointed Susan's
guardian. No one else wanted the child.

I promised the court to do my best for her; to treat her, in fact, as I
would my own flesh and blood. It might well be, I said, that before long
I should legally adopt her. In any event, if this for some unforeseen
reason proved inadvisable, I assured the court that Susan's future would
be provided for. The court benignly replied that, as it stood, I was
acting very handsomely in the matter; very handsomely; no doubt about
it. But there was a dim glimmer behind the juridic spectacles that
seemed to imply: "Handsomely, my dear sir, but whether wisely or no is
another question, which, as the official champion of widows and orphans,
I am not called upon to decide."

It was with a new sense of responsibility that I opened an account in
Susan's name with a local savings bank, and a week later added a short
but efficient codicil to my will.

In the meantime--but with alert suspicions--I interviewed several highly
recommended applicants for Miss Disbrow's deserted post; only to find
them wanting. Poor things! Combined, they could hardly have met all the
requirements, æsthetic and intellectual, which I had now set my heart
upon finding in one lone governess for Susan! It would have needed, by
this, a subtly modernized Hypatia to fulfill my ideal.

I might, of course, have waited for October to send Susan to a select
private school in the vicinage, patronized by the little daughters of
our more cautious families. It was, by neighborly consent, an excellent
school, where carefully sterilized cultures--physical, moral, mental,
and social--were painlessly injected into the blue blood streams of our
very nicest young girls. I say that I might have done so, but this is a
euphemism. On the one hand, I shrank from exposing Susan to possible
snubs; on the other, a little bird whispered that Miss Garnett,
principal of the school, would not care to expose her carefully
sterilized cultures to an alien contagion. Bearers of contagion--whether
physical, moral, mental, or social--were not sympathetic to Miss
Garnett's _clientèle_. In Mrs. Parrot's iron phrase, there are places
for such.

Public schools, to wit! But in those long-past days--before Susan taught
me that there are just two kinds of persons, big and little; those you
can do nothing for, because they can do nothing for themselves, and
those you can do nothing for, because they can do everything for
themselves--in those days, I admit that I had my own finicky fears.
Public schools were all very well for the children of men who could
afford nothing better. They had, for example, given Bob Blake's daughter
a pretty fair preliminary training; but they would never do for Ambrose
Hunt's ward. _Noblesse_--or, at any rate, _largesse_--_oblige_.

Yet here was a quandary: Public schools, in my estimation, being too
vulgar for Susan; and Susan, in the estimation of Hillhouse Avenue,
being too vulgar for private ones; yea, and though I still took
cognizance, no subtly modernized Hypatia coming to me highly recommended
for a job--how in the name of useless prosperity was I to get poor
little Susan properly educated at all!

It was Susan who solved this difficulty for me, as she was destined to
solve most of my future difficulties, and all of her own.

She soon turned the public world about her into an extra-select,
super-private school. She impressed all who came into contact with her,
and made of them her devoted--if often unconscious--instructors. And she
began by impressing Miss Goucher and Nora and Sonia, and Philip Farmer,
assistant professor of philosophy in Yale University; and Maltby Phar,
anarchist editor of _The Garden Exquisite_; and--first and chiefly--me.

The case of Phil Farmer was typical. Phil and I had been classmates in
the dark backward and abysm, and we were still, in a manner of speaking,
friends. I mean that, though we had few tastes in common, we kept on
liking each other a good deal. Phil was a gentle-hearted, stiff-headed
sort of man, with a conscience--formed for him and handed on by a long
line of Unitarian ministers--a conscience which drove him to incredible
labor at altitudes few of us attain, and where even Phil, it seemed to
me, found breathing difficult. Not having been thrown with much feminine
society on his chosen heights, he had remained a bachelor. The
Metaphysical Mountains are said to be infested with women, but they
cluster, I am told, below the snow line. Phil did not even meet them by
climbing through them; he always ballooned straight up for the
Unmelting; and when he occasionally dropped down, his psychic chill
seldom wore entirely off before he was ready to ascend again. This
protected him; for he was a tall, dark-haired fellow whose features had
the clear-cut gravity of an Indian chieftain; his rare, friendly smile
was a delight. So he would hardly otherwise have escaped.

Perhaps once a week it was his habit to drop in after dinner and share
with me three or four pipes' worth of desultory conversation. We seldom
talked shop; since mine did not interest him, nor his me. Mostly we just
ambled aimlessly round the outskirts of some chance neutral topic--who
would win the big game, for example. It amused neither of us, but it
rested us both.

One night, perhaps a month after Susan had come to me, I returned late
from a hot day's trip to New York--one more unsuccessful quest after
Hypatia Rediviva--and found Phil and Susan sitting together on the
screened terrace at the back of my house, overlooking the garden. It was
not my custom to spend the muggy midsummer months in town, but this year
I had been unwilling to leave until I could capture and carry off
Hypatia Rediviva with me. Moreover, I did not know where to go. The
cottage at Watch Hill belonged to Gertrude, and was in consequence no
longer used by either of us. As a grass widower I had, in summer, just
travelled about. Now, with a ward of fourteen to care for, just
travelling about no longer seemed the easiest solution; yet I hated
camps and summer hotels. I should have to rent a place somewhere, that
was certain; but where? With the world to choose from, a choice proved
difficult. I was marking time.

My stuffy fruitless trip had decided me to mark time no longer. Hypatia
or no Hypatia, Susan must be taken to the hills or the sea. It was this
thought that simmered in my brain as I strolled out to the garden
terrace and overheard Susan say to Phil: "But I think it's _much_ easier
to believe in the devil than it is in God! Don't you? The devil isn't
all-wise, all-good, all-everything! He's a lot more like _us_."

I stopped short and shamelessly listened.

"That's an interesting concept," responded Phil, with his slow, friendly
gravity. "You mean, I suppose, that if we must be anthropomorphic, we
ought at least to be consistent."

"Wouldn't it be funny," said Susan, "if I did mean that without knowing
it?" There was no flippancy, no irony in her tone.
"'_An-thro-po-mor-phic_ ... '" she added, savoring its
long-drawn-outness. Susan never missed a strange word; she always
pounced on it at once, unerringly, and made it hers.

"That's a Greek word," explained Phil.

"It's a good word," said Susan, "if it has a tremendous lot packed up in
it. If it hasn't, it's much too long."

"I agree with you," said Phil; "but it has."

"What?" asked Susan.

"It would take me an hour to tell you."

"Oh, I'm glad!" cried Susan. "It must be a wonderful word! Please go on
till Ambo comes!"

I decided to take a bath, and tiptoed softly and undetected away.


V

After that evening Phil began to drop in every two or three nights, and
he did not hesitate to tell me that the increasing frequency of his
visits was due to his progressive interest in Susan.

"She's a curious child," he explained; which was true in any sense you
chose to take it, and all the way back to the Latin _curiosus_,
"careful, diligent, thoughtful; from _cura_, care," and so on....

"I've never seen much of children," Phil continued; "never had many
chances, as it happens. My sister has three boys, but she's married to a
narrow-gauge missionary, and lives--to call it that--in Ping Lung, or
some such place. I've the right address somewhere, I think--in a
notebook. Bertha sends me snapshots of the boys from time to time, but I
can't say I've ever felt lonely because of their exile. Funny. Perhaps
it's because I never liked Bertha much. Bertha has a sloppy mind--you
know, with chance scraps of things floating round in it. Nothing
coheres. But you take this youngster of yours, now--I call her
yours----"

"Do!" I interjected.

"Well, there's the opposite extreme! Susan links everything up,
everything she gets hold of--facts, fancies, guesses, feelings; the
whole psychic menagerie. Chains them all together somehow, and seems to
think they'll get on comfortably in the same tent. Of course they
won't--can't--and that's the danger for her! But she's stimulating,
Hunt"--Phil always called me Hunt, as if just failing whole-heartedly to
accept me--"she's positively stimulating! A mind like that must be
trained; thoroughly, I mean. We must do our best for her."

The "we" amused me and--yes, I confess it--nettled me a little.

"Don't worry about that," I said, and more dryly than I had meant to;
"I'm combing the country now for a suitable governess."

"Governess!" Phil snorted. "You don't want a governess for Susan. You
want, for this job," he insisted, "a male intellect--a vigorous,
disciplined male intellect. Music, dancing, water colors--pshaw!
Deportment--how to enter a drawing-room! Fiddle-faddle! How to enter the
Kingdom of God! That's more Susan's style," cried Phil, with a most
unaccustomed heat.

I laughed at him.

"Are you willing to take her on, Phil?" I asked. "I believe it's been
done; Epicurus had a female pupil or two."

"I have taken her on," Phil replied, quite without resentment. "Hadn't
you noticed it?"

"Yes," I said; "only, it's the other way round."

"I've been appropriated, is that it?"

"Yes; by Susan. We all have, Phil. That vampire child is simply draining
us, my dear fellow."

"All right," said Phil, after a second's pause, "if she's a _spiritual_
vampire, so much the better. Only, she'll need a firm hand. We must give
her suck at regular hours; draw up a plan. You can tackle the languages,
if you like--æsthetics, and all that. I'll pin her down to math and
logic--teach her to _think_ straight. We can safely leave her to pick up
history and sociology and such things for herself. You've a middling
good library, and she'll browse."

"Oh, she'll browse! She's browsing now."

"Poetry?" demanded Phil, suspicion in his tone, anxiety in his eyes.
"If she runs amuck with poetry too soon, there's no hope for her. She'll
get to taking sensations for ideas, and that's fatal. A mind like
Susan's----"

What further he said I missed; a distant tinkle from the front-door bell
had distracted me.

It was Maltby Phar. He came out to us on the garden terrace, unexpected
and unannounced.

"Whether you like it or not," he sighed luxuriously, "I'm here for a
week. How's the great experiment--eh? Am I too late for the bust-up?"
Then he nodded to Phil. "How are you, Mr. Farmer? Delighted to meet an
old adversary! Shall it be swords or pistols this time? Or clubs? But I
warn you, I'm no fit foe; I'm soft. Making up our mammoth Christmas
Number in July always unnerves me. By the time I had looked over a dozen
designs for our cover this morning and found Gaspar, Melchior, and
Balthazar in every one of them, mounted on fancy camels, and heading for
an exaggerated star in the right upper dark-blue corner, I succumbed to
heat and profanity, turned 'em all face downward, shuffled 'em, grabbed
one at random, and then fled for solace! Solace," he added, dropping
into a wicker armchair, "can begin, if you like, by taking a cool,
mellow, liquid form."

I rang.

Phil, I saw, was looking annoyed. He disliked Maltby Phar, openly
disliked him; so I felt certain--I was perhaps rather hoping--that he
would take this opportunity to escape. With Phil I was never then
entirely at ease; but in those days I was wholly so with Maltby. Miss
Goucher answered my summons in person, and I suggested a sauterne cup
for my friends. Phil frowned on the suggestion, but Maltby beamed. The
ayes had it, and Miss Goucher, who had remained neutral, withdrew. It
was Phil's chance; yet he surprised me by settling back and refilling
his pipe.

"When you came, Mr. Phar," he said, his tone withdrawing toward
formality, "we were discussing the education of Susan."

"Then I came just in time!" cried Maltby.

"For what?" I queried.

"I may prevent a catastrophe. If you're really going to see this thing
through, Boz"--his name for me--"for God's sake do a little clear
thinking first! Don't drift. Don't flounder. Don't wallow. Scrap all
your musty, inbred prejudices once for all, and see that at least one
kid on this filthy old planet gets a plain, honest, unsentimentalized
account of what she is and what the world is. If you can bring yourself
to do that, Susan will be unique. She will be the first educated woman
in America."

"'What she is and what the world is,'" repeated Phil, slowly. "What is
the world, may I ask? And what is Susan?"

There was a felt tenseness in the moment; the hush before battle. We
leaned forward a little from our easy-chairs, and no one of us noticed
that Susan had slipped noiselessly to the window seat by the opened
library window which gave upon the terrace. But there, as we later
discovered, she was; and there, for the present silently, she remained.

"The world," began Maltby Phar sententiously, "is a pigsty."

"Very well," interrupted Phil; "I'll grant you that to start with. What
follows?"

"What we see about us," said Maltby.

"And what do we see?" asked Phil.

At this inopportune moment Miss Goucher reappeared, bearing a Sheffield
tray, on which stood three antique Venetian goblets, and a tall pitcher
of rare Bohemian glass, filled to the brim with an iced sauterne cup
garnished with fresh strawberries and thin disks of pineapple. Nothing
less suggestive of the conventional back-lot piggery could have been
imagined. By the time a table had been placed, our goblets filled, and
Miss Goucher had retired, Maltby had decided to try for a new opening.

"Excellent!" he resumed, having drained and refilled his goblet. "Now,
Mr. Farmer, if you really wish to know what the world is, and what Susan
is, I am ready. Have with you! And by the way, Boz," he interjected,
sipping his wine, "your new housekeeper is one in a thousand. Mrs.
Parrot was admirable; I've been absurdly regretting her loss. But Mrs.
Parrot never quite rose to _this_!"

Phil's tongue clicked an impatient protest against the roof of his
mouth. "I am still unenlightened, Mr. Phar."

"True," said Maltby. "That's the worst of you romantic idealists. It's
your permanent condition." He settled back in his chair, and fell to his
old trick of slowly caressing the back of his left hand with the palm of
his right. "The world, my dear Mr. Farmer," he continued, "the universe,
indeed, as we have come gradually to know it, is an infinity of blindly
clashing forces. They have always existed, they will always exist; they
have always been blind, and they always will be. Anything may happen in
such an infinity, and we--this world of men and microbes--are one of the
things which has temporarily happened. It's regrettable, but it is so.
And though there is nothing final we can do about it, and very little in
any sense, still--this curious accident of the human intellect enables
us to do something. We can at least admit the plain facts of our
horrible case. Here, a self-realizing accident, we briefly are. Death
will dissipate us one by one, and the world in due time. That much we
know. But while we last, why must we add imaginary evils to our real
ones, and torment ourselves with false hopes and ridiculous fears?

"Why can't each one of us learn to say: 'I am an accident of no
consequence in a world that means nothing. I might be a stone, but I
happen to be a man. Hence, certain things give me pleasure, others pain.
And, obviously, in an accidental, meaningless world I can owe no duty to
anyone but myself. I owe it to myself to get as much pleasure and to
avoid as much pain as possible. Unswerving egotism should be my law.'"
He paused to sip again, with a side glance toward Phil.

"Elementary, all this, I admit. I apologize for restating it to a
scholar. But such are the facts as science reveals them--are they not?
You have to try somehow to go beyond science to get round them. And
where do you go--you romantic idealists? Where _can_ you go? Nowhere
outside of yourselves, I take it. So you plunge, perforce, down below
the threshold of reason into a mad chaos of instinct and desire and
dream. And what _there_ do you find? Bugaboos, my dear sir, simply
bugaboos: divine orders, hells, heavens, purgatories, moral
sanctions--all the wild insanity, in two words, that had made our
wretched lives even less worth living than they could and should be!"

"_Should?_ Why _should_?" asked Phil. "Granting your universe, who gives
a negligible damn for a little discomfort more or less?"

"I do!" Maltby asserted. "I want all the comfort I can get; and I could
get far more in a world of clear-seeing, secular egotists than I can in
this mixed mess of superstitious, sentimental idealists which we choose
to call civilized society! Take just one minor practical illustration:
Say that some virgin has wakened my desire, and I hers. In a reasonable
society we could give each other a certain amount of passing
satisfaction. But do we do it? No. The virgin has been taught to believe
in a mystical, mischievous something, called Purity! To follow her
natural instinct would be a sin. If you sin and get caught on earth,
society will punish you; and if you don't get caught here, you'll
infallibly get caught hereafter--and then God will punish you. So the
virgin tortures herself and tortures me--unless I'm willing to marry
her, which would be certain to prove the worst of tortures for us both.
And there you are."

It was at this point that Susan spoke from her window.

"Pearl and papa weren't married, Mr. Phar; but they didn't get much fun
out of not being."

I confess that I felt a nervous chill start at the base of my spine and
shiver up toward my scalp. Even Phil, the man of Indian gravity, looked
for an instant perturbed.

"Susan!" I demanded sharply. "Have you been listening?"

"Mustn't I listen?" asked Susan. "Why not? Are you cross, Ambo?"

"The mischief's done," said Phil to me quietly; "better not make a point
of it."

"Please don't be cross, Ambo," Susan pleaded, slipping through the
window to the terrace and coming straight over to me. "Mr. Phar feels
just the way papa did about things; only papa couldn't talk so
splendidly. He had a very poor vocabulary"--"Vocabulary!" I
gasped--"except nasty words and swearing. But he meant just what Mr.
Phar means, _inside_."

Phil, as she ended, began to make strange choking noises and retired
suddenly into his handkerchief. Maltby put down his glass and stared at
Susan.

"Young person," he finally said, "you ought to be spanked! Don't you
know it's an unforgivable sin to spy on your elders!"

"But you don't believe in sin," responded Susan calmly, without the
tiniest suspicion of pertness in her tone or bearing. "You believe in
doing what you want to. _I_ wanted to hear what you were saying, Mr.
Phar."

"Of course you did!" Phil struck in. "But next time, Susan, as a
concession to good manners, you might let us know you're in the
neighborhood--?"

Susan bit her lower lip very hard before she managed to reply.

"Yes. I will next time. I'm sorry, Phil." (_Phil!_) Then she turned to
Maltby. "But I wasn't spying! I just didn't know you would any of you
mind."

"We don't, really," I said. "Sit down, dear. You're always welcome." I
had been doing some stiff, concentrated thinking in the last three
minutes, and now I had taken the plunge. "The truth is, Susan," I went
on, "that most children who live in good homes, who are what is called
'well brought up,' are carefully sheltered from any facts or words or
thoughts which their parents do not consider wholesome or pleasant.
Parents try to give their children only what they have found to be best
in life; they try to keep them in ignorance of everything else."

"But they can't," said Susan. "At least, they couldn't in Birch Street."

"No. Nor elsewhere. But they try. And they always make believe to
themselves that they have succeeded. So it's supposed to be very
shocking and dangerous for a girl of your age to listen to the free
conversation of men of our age. That's the reason we all felt a little
guilty, at first, when we found you'd been overhearing us."

"How funny," said Susan. "Papa never cared."

"Good for him!" exclaimed Maltby. "I didn't feel guilty, for one! I
refuse to be convicted of so hypocritically squeamish a reaction!"

"Oh!" Susan sighed, almost with rapture. "You know such a lot of words,
Mr. Phar! You can say anything."

"Thanks," said Maltby; "I rather flatter myself that I can."

"And you _do_!" grunted Phil. "But words," he took up the dropped
threads rather awkwardly, "are nothing in themselves, Susan. You are too
fond of mere words. It isn't words that matter; it's ideas."

"Yes, Phil," said Susan meekly, "but I love words--best of all when
they're pictures."

Phil frowned, without visible effect upon Susan. I saw that her mind had
gone elsewhere.

"Ambo?"

"Yes, dear?"

"You mustn't ever worry about me, Ambo. My hearing or knowing things--or
saying them. I--I guess I'm different."

Maltby's face was a study in suppressed amazement; Phil was still
frowning. It was all too much for me, and I laughed--laughed from the
lower ribs!

Susan laughed with me, springing from her chair to throw her arms
tightly round my neck in one big joyous suffocating hug!

"Oh, Ambo!" she cried, breathless. "Isn't it going to be fun--all of
us--together--now we can _talk_!"


VI

The following evening, after dinner, Maltby Phar, still a little ruffled
by Susan's unexpected vivacities of the night before, retired to the
library with pipe and book, and Susan and I sat alone together on the
garden terrace. It was dusk. The heavy air of the past week had been
quickened and purified by an afternoon thunderstorm. Little cool puffs
came to us across a bed of glimmering white phlox, bearing with them its
peculiar, loamy fragrance. Smoke from my excellent cigarette eddied now
and then toward Susan.

Silence had stolen upon her as the afterglow faded, revealing the first
patient stars. Already I had learned to respect Susan's silences. She
was not, in the usual sense of uncertain temper, of nervous
irritability, a moody child; yet she had her moods--moods, if I may put
it so, of extraordinary definition. There were hours, not too frequent
to be disturbing, when she _withdrew_; there is no better word for it.
At such times her thin, alert little frame was motionless; she would sit
as if holding a pose for a portrait, her chin a trifle lifted, her eyes
focusing on no visible object, her hands lying--always with the palms
upward--in her lap. I supposed that now, with the veiled yet sharply
scented dusk, such a mood had crept upon her. But for once I was
mistaken. Susan, this time, had not withdrawn; she was intensely aware.

"Ambo"--the suddenness with which she spoke startled me--"you ought to
have lots of children. You ought to have a boy, anyway; not just a
girl."

"A boy? Why, dear? Are you lonely?"

"Of course not; with you--and Phil!"

"Then whatever in the world put such a crazy----"

Susan interrupted; a bad habit of hers, never subsequently broken, and
due, doubtless, to an instinctive impatience of foreseeable remarks.

"You're so awfully rich, Ambo. You could have dozens and not feel
it--except that they'd get in your way sometimes and make your outside
cross. But two wouldn't be much more trouble than one. It might seem a
little crowded--at first; but after while, Ambo, you'd hardly notice
it."

"Possibly. Still--nice boys don't grow on bushes, Susan. Not the kind of
brothers I should have to insist upon for you!"

"I'm not so fussy as all that," said Susan. "And it isn't fair that I
should have everything. Besides, Ambo, boys are much nicer than girls.
Honestly they are."

"Oh, are they! I'm afraid you haven't had much experience with boys!
Most of them are disgusting young savages. Really, Susan! Their hands
and feet are too big for them, and their voices don't fit. They're
always breaking things--irreplaceable things for choice, and raising the
devil of a row. Take my word for it, dear, please. I'm an ex-boy myself;
I know all about 'em! They were never created for civilized human
companionship. Why, I'd rather give you a young grizzly bear and be done
with it, than present you with the common-or-garden brother! But if
you'd like a nice quiet little sister some day, maybe----"

"I wouldn't," said Susan.

She was silent again for several moments, pondering. I observed her
furtively. Nothing was more distant from my desire than any addition, of
any age, male or female, to my present family. Heaven, in its great and
unwonted kindness, had sent me Susan; she was--to my thinking--perfect;
and she was enough. Whether in art or in life I am no lover of an
avoidable anticlimax. But Susan's secret purposes were not mine.

"Ambo," she resumed, "I guess if you'd ever lived in Birch Street you'd
feel differently about boys."

"I doubt it, Susan."

"I'm sure you'd feel differently about Jimmy."

"Jimmy?"

"Jimmy Kane, Ambo--_my_ Jimmy. Haven't I ever told you about him?"

Guilefully, persuasively, she edged her chair nearer to mine.

It was then that I first learned of Jimmy's battle for Susan, of the
bloody but righteous downfall of Giuseppe Gonfarone, and of many another
incident long treasured in the junior annals of Birch Street. Thus,
little by little, though the night deepened about us, my eyes were
unsealed. What a small world I had always lived in! For how long had it
seemed to me that romance was--approximately--dead! My fingers tightened
on Susan's, while the much-interrogated stars hung above us in their
mysterious orbits and---- But no, that is the pathetic fallacy.
Stars--are they not matter, merely? They could not smile.

"Don't you truly think, Ambo," suggested Susan, "that Jimmy ought to
have a better chance? If he doesn't get it, he'll have to work in a
factory all his life. And here I am--with you!"

"Yes. But consider, Susan--there are thousands of boys like Jimmy. I
can't father them all, you know."

"I don't want you to father them all," said Susan; "and there isn't
anybody like Jimmy! You'll see."

It came over me as she spoke that I was, however unwillingly,
predestined to see.

Maltby Phar thought otherwise. That night, after Susan had gone up to
bed, I talked the thing over with him--trying for an airy, detached
tone; the tone of one who discusses an indifferent matter for want of a
more urgent. Maltby was not, I fear, deceived.

"My dear Boz," he pleaded, "buck up! Get a fresh grip on your
individuality and haul it back from the brink of destruction! If you
don't, that little she-demon above-stairs will push it over into the
gulf, once for all! You'll be nobody. You'll be her dupe--her slave. How
can you smile, man! I'm quite serious, and I warn you. Fight the good
fight! Defend the supreme rights of your ego, before it's too late!"

"Why these tragic accents?" I parried. "It's not likely the washlady's
kid would want to come; or his mother let him. Susan idealizes him, of
course. He's probably quite commonplace and content as he is. No harm,
though, if it pleases Susan, in looking him over?"

Maltby took up his book again. He dismissed me. "Whom the gods
destroy----" he muttered, and ostentatiously turned a page.


VII

My feeling that I was predestined to see, with Susan, that there wasn't
anybody like Jimmy--that I was further predestined to take him into my
heart and home--proved, very much to my own surprise and to the
disappointment of Susan, to be unjustified. This was the first bitter
defeat that Susan had been called upon to bear since leaving Birch
Street. She took it quietly, but deeply, which troubled my private sense
of relief, and indeed turned it into something very like regret. The
simple fact was that much had happened in Birch Street since the tragedy
of the four-room house; life had not stood still there; chance and
change--deaths and marriages and births--had altered the circumstances
of whole families. In short, that steady flux of mortality, which
respects neither the dignity of the Hillhouse Avenues nor the obscurity
of the Birch Streets of the world, had in its secret courses already
borne Jimmy Kane--elsewhere. Precisely where, even his mother did not
know; and first and last it was her entire and passionate ignorance as
to Jimmy's present location which foiled us. "West" is a geographical
expression certainly, but it is not an address.

Jimmy's mother lived with her unwashed brood, you will remember, above
old Heinze's grocery store, and on the following afternoon I ran Susan
over there for a tactful reconnaissance. At Susan's request we went
slowly along Birch Street from its extreme right end to its ultimate
wrong, crossing the waste land and general dump at the base of East
Rock--historic ground!--mounting the long incline beyond, and so passing
the four-room house, which now seemed to be occupied by at least three
families of that hardy, prolific race discourteously known to young
America as "wops." Throughout this little tour Susan withdrew, and I
respected her silence. She had not yet spoken when we stopped at
Heinze's corner and descended.

Here first it was that forebodings of chance and change met us upon the
pavement, in the person of old Heinze himself, standing melancholy and
pensive before the screened doorway of his domain. Him Susan accosted.
He did not at first recognize her, but recollection returned to him as
she spoke.

"_Ach_, so!" he exclaimed, peering with mildest surprise above
steel-rimmed spectacles. "Id iss you--nod? Leedle Susanna!"

My formal introduction followed; nor was it without a glow of
satisfaction that I heard old Heinze assure me that he had read certain
of my occasional essays with attention and respect. "Ard for ard--yah!
Dot iss your credo," he informed me, with tranquil noddings of his
bumpy, oddly shaped skull. "Dot iss der credo of all arisdograds. Id iss
nod mine."

But Susan was in no mood for general ideas; she descended at once to
particulars, and announced that we were going up to see Mrs. Kane. Then
old Heinze snaggily, and I thought rather wearily, smiled.

"_Aber_," he objected, lifting twisted, rheumatic hands, "dere iss no
more such a vooman! Alretty, leedle Susanna, I haf peen an oldt fool
like oders. I haf made her my vife." And though he continued to smile,
he also sighed.

Our ensuing interview with Frau Heinze, formerly the Widow Kane, fully
interpreted this sigh. Prosperity, Susan later assured me, had not
improved her. She greeted us, above the shop, in her small, shiny,
colored lithograph of a parlor, with unveiled suspicion. Her eyes were
hostile. She seemed to take it for granted, did Mrs. Heinze, that we
could have no kindly purpose in intruding upon her. A dumpy, grumpy
little woman, with the parboiled hands and complexion of long years at
the wash-tubs, her present state of comparative freedom from bondage had
not lightened her heart. Her irritability, I told Susan after our
escape, was doubtless due to the fact that she could not share in old
Heinze's intellectual and literary tastes. Susan laughed.

"She wouldn't bother much about that; Birch Street's never lonely, and
it's only a step to the State Street movies. No; I think it's corsets."

Corsets? The word threw a flood of light. I saw at once that it must be
a strain upon any disposition to return after a long and figureless
widowhood to the steel, buckram, and rebellious curves of conventional
married life. I remembered the harnesslike creaking of Mrs. Heinze's
waistline, and forgave her much.

There was really a good deal to forgive. It was neither Susan's fault
nor mine that turned our call into a bad quarter of an hour. I had
looked for a pretty scene as I mounted the stairs behind Susan. I had
pictured the child, in her gay summer frock, bursting like sunshine into
Mrs. Heinze's stuffy quarters--and so forth. Nothing of the kind
occurred.

"Who is ut?" demanded Mrs. Heinze, peering forth. "Oh, it's you--Bob
Blake's girl. What do you want?" Susan explained. "Well, come in then,"
said Mrs. Heinze.

Susan, less daunted than I by her reception, marched in and asked at
once for Jimmy. At the sound of his name Mrs. Heinze's suspicions were
sharply focused. If the gentleman knew anything about Jimmy, all right,
let him say so! It wouldn't surprise her to hear he'd been gettin'
himself into trouble! It would surprise her much more, she implied, if
he had not. But if he had, she couldn't be responsible--nor Heinze
either, the poor man! Jimmy was sixteen--a man grown, you might say. Let
him look after himself, then; and more shame to him for the way he'd
acted!

But what way he had acted, and why, Susan at first found it difficult to
determine.

"Oh!" she at length protested, following cloudy suggestions of evil
courses. "Jimmy couldn't do anything mean! You know he couldn't. It
isn't in him!"

"Isn't ut indeed! Me slavin' for him and the childer ever since Kane was
took off sudden--and not a cint saved for the livin'--let alone the
dead! Slavin' and worritin'--the way you'd think Jimmy'd 'a' jumped wid
joy when Heinze offered! And an easier man not to be found--though he's
got his notions. What man hasn't? If it's not one thing, it's another.
'Except his beer, he don't drink much,' I says to Jimmy; 'and that's
more than I could say for your own father, rest his soul!' 'My father
wasn't a Dutchman,' Jimmy says; givin' me his lip to me face. 'He didn't
talk out against the Pope,' he says. 'Nor the Pris'dint,' he says. 'He
wasn't a stinkin' Socialist,' he says--usin' them very words! 'No,' I
says, 'he was a Demycrat--and what's ut to you? All men'll be blatherin'
polytics after hours,' I says. 'Heinze manes no harm by ut, no more nor
the rest. 'Tis just his talk,' I says. And after that we had more words,
and I laid me palm to his head."

"Oh!" cried Susan.

"I'll not take lip from a son of mine, Susan Blake; nor from you, wid
all your grand clothes! I've seen you too often lackin' a modest stitch
to your back!"

I hastened to intervene.

"We'll not trouble you longer, Mrs. Heinze, if you'll only be good
enough to tell me where Jimmy is now. He was very kind to Susan once,
and she wants to thank him in some way. I've a proposition to make
him--which might be to his advantage."

"Oh--so that's ut at last! Well, Susan Blake, you've had the grand luck
for the likes of you! But you're too late. Jimmy's gone."

"Gone?"

"'Tis the gratitude I get for raisin' him! Gone he is, wid what he'd
laid by--twinty-sivin dollars--and no word to nobody. There's a son for
ye!"

"But--oh, Mrs. Heinze--gone _where_?"

"West. That's all I know," said Mrs. Heinze. "He left a line to say he'd
gone West. We've not had a scrap from him since. If he comes to a bad
end----"

"Jimmy won't come to a bad end!" struck in Susan sharply. "He did just
right to leave you. Good-by." With that she seized my arm and swept me
with her from the room.

"Glory be to God! Susan Blake--the airs of her now!" followed us
shrilly, satirically, down the stairs.


VIII

Maltby's visit came to an end, and for the first time I did not regret
his departure. For some reason, which perhaps purposely I left
unanalyzed, Maltby was beginning to get a trifle on my nerves. But let
that pass. Once he was gone, Phil Farmer drew a long breath and plunged
with characteristic thoroughness into his comprehensive scheme for the
education of Susan. Her enthusiasm for this scheme was no less
contagious than his own, and I soon found myself yielding to her wish to
stay on in New Haven through the summer, and let in for daily lessons at
regular hours--very much to my astonishment, the rôle of schoolmaster
being one which I had always flattered myself I was temperamentally
unfitted to sustain.

I soon discovered, however, that teaching a mentally alert, whimsically
unexpected, stubbornly diligent, and always grateful pupil is among the
most stimulating and delightful of human occupations. My own psychic
laziness, which had been long creeping upon me, vanished in this new
atmosphere of competition--competition, for that is what it came to,
with the unwearying Phil. It was a real renascence for me. Forsaken
gods! how I studied--off hours and on the sly! My French was excellent,
my Italian fair; but my small Latin and less Greek needed endless
attention. Yet I rather preen myself upon my success; though Phil has
always maintained that I overfed Susan with æsthetic flummery, thus
dulling the edge of her appetite for his own more wholesome daily bread.

In one respect, at least, I disagreed fundamentally with Phil, and
here--through sheer force of conviction--I triumphed. Phil, who lived
exclusively in things of the mind, would have turned this sensitive
child into a bemused scholar, a female bookworm. This, simply, I would
not and did not permit. If she had a soul, she had a body, too, and I
was determined that it should be a vigorous, happy body before all else.
For her sake solely--for I am too easily an indolent man--I took up
riding again, and tennis, and even pushed myself into golf; with the
result that my nervous dyspepsia vanished, and my irritability along
with it; with the more excellent result that Susan filled and bloomed
and ate (for her) three really astonishing meals a day.

It was a busy life--a wonderful life! Hard work--hard
play--fun--travel.... Ah, those years!

But I am leaping ahead----!

Yet I have but one incident left to record of those earliest days with
Susan--an incident which had important, though delayed,
results--affecting in various ways, for long unforeseen, Susan's career,
and the destiny of several other persons, myself among them.

Sonia, Susan's little Russian maid, was at the bottom of it all; and
the first hint of the rather sordid affair came to me, all unprepared,
from the lips of Miss Goucher. She sought me out in my private study,
whither I had retired after dinner to write a letter or two--a most
unusual proceeding on her part, and on mine--and she asked at once in
her brief, hard, respectful manner for ten minutes of my time. I rose
and placed a chair for her, uncomfortably certain that this could be no
trivial errand; she seated herself, angularly erect, holding her
feelings well in hand.

"Mr. Hunt," she began, "have I your permission to discharge Sonia?"

My face showed my surprise.

"But Susan likes her, doesn't she, Miss Goucher? And she seems
efficient?"

"Yes. A little careless perhaps; but then, she's young. It isn't her
service I object to."

"What is the trouble?"

"It is a question of character, Mr. Hunt. I have reason to think her
lacking in--self-respect."

"You mean--immoral?" I asked, using the word in the restricted sense
which I assumed Miss Goucher, like most maiden ladies, exclusively
attached to it. To my astonishment Miss Goucher insisted upon more
definition.

"No, I shouldn't say that. She tells a good many little fibs, but she's
not at heart dishonest. And I'm by no means certain she can be held
responsible for her weakness in respect to men." A slight flush just
tinged Miss Goucher's prominent cheek bones; but duty was duty, and she
persevered. "She has a bad inheritance, I think; and until she came
here, Mr. Hunt, her environment was always--unfortunate. If it were not
for Susan, I shouldn't have spoken. I should have felt it my duty to try
to protect the child and---- However," added Miss Goucher, "I doubt
whether much can be done for Sonia. So my first duty is certainly to
Miss Susan, and to you."

Susan's quiet admiration for Miss Goucher had more or less puzzled me
hitherto, but now my own opinion of Miss Goucher soared heavenward. Why,
the woman was remarkable--far more so than I had remotely suspected! She
had a mind above her station, respectable though her station might well
be held to be.

"My dear Miss Goucher," I exclaimed, "it is perfectly evident to me
that my interests are more than safe in your keeping. Do what you think
best, by all means!"

"Unfortunately, Mr. Hunt," said Miss Goucher, "that is what I cannot
do."

"May I ask why?"

"Society would not permit me," answered Miss Goucher.

"Please explain," I gasped.

"Sonia will cause a great deal of suffering in the world," said Miss
Goucher, the color on her cheek bones deepening, while she avoided my
glance. "For herself--and others. In my opinion--which I am aware is not
widely shared--she should be placed in a lethal chamber and painlessly
removed. We are learning to 'swat the fly,'" continued Miss Goucher,
"because it benefits no one and spreads many human ills. Some day we
shall learn to swat--other things." Calmly she rose to take her leave.
Excitedly eager, I sprang up to detain her.

"Don't go, Miss Goucher! Your views are really most interesting--though,
as you say, not widely accepted. Certainly not by me. Your plan of a
lethal chamber for weak sisters and brothers strikes me as--well,
drastic. Do sit down."

Again Miss Goucher perched primly upright on the outer edge of the chair
beside my own. "I felt bound to state my views truthfully," she said,
"since you asked for them. But I never intrude them upon others. I'm not
a social rebel, Mr. Hunt. I lack self-confidence for that. When I differ
from the received opinion I always suspect that I am quite wrong.
Probably I am in this case. But I think society would agree with me that
Sonia is not a fit maid for Susan."

"Beyond a shadow of doubt," I assented. "But may I ask on what grounds
you suspect Sonia?"

"It is certainly your right," replied Miss Goucher; "but if you insist
upon an answer I shall have to give notice."

"Then I shall certainly not insist."

"Thank you, Mr. Hunt," said Miss Goucher, rising once more. "I
appreciate this." And she walked from the room.

It was the next afternoon that Susan burst into my study without
knocking--a breach of manners which she had recently learned to conquer,
so the irruption surprised me. But I noted instantly that Susan's
agitation had carried her far beyond all thought for trifles. Never had
I seen her like this. Her whole being was vibrant with emotional stress.

"Ambo!" she cried, all but slamming the door behind her. "Sonia mustn't
go! I won't let her go! You and Miss Goucher may think what you
please--I won't, Ambo! It's wicked! You don't want Sonia to be like
Tilly Jaretski, do you?"

"Like Tilly Jaretski?" My astonishment was so great that I babbled the
unfamiliar name merely to gain time, collect my senses.

"Yes!" urged Susan, almost leaping to my side, and seizing my arm with
tense fingers. "She'll be just like Tilly was, along State Street--after
her baby came. Tilly wasn't a bit like Pearl, Ambo; and Sonia isn't
either! But she's going to have a baby, too, Ambo, like Tilly."

With a wrench of my entire nervous system I, in one agonizing second,
completely dislocated the prejudices of a lifetime, and rose to the
situation confronting me. O Hillhouse Avenue, right at both ends! How
little you had prepared me for this precocious knowledge of
life--knowledge that utterly degrades or most wonderfully saves--which
these children, out toward the wrong end of the Birch Streets of the
world, drink in almost with their mothers' milk! How far I, a grown
man--a cultured, sophisticated man--must travel, Susan, even to begin to
equal your simple acceptance of naked, ugly fact--sheer fact--seen,
smelt, heard, tasted! How far--how far!

"Susan," I said gravely, "does Miss Goucher know about Sonia?"

"I don't know. I suppose so. I haven't seen her yet. When Sonia came to
me, crying--I ran straight in here!"

"And how long have _you_ known?"

"Over a week. Sonia told me all about it, Ambo. Count Dimbrovitski got
her in trouble. She loved him, Ambo--her way. She doesn't any more.
Sonia can't love anybody long; he can't, either. That's why his wife
sent Sonia off. Sonia says she knows her husband's like that, but so
long as she can hush things up, she doesn't care. Sonia says she has a
lover herself, and Count Dim doesn't care much either. Oh, Ambo--how
_stuffy_ some people are! I don't mean Sonia. She's just pitiful--like
Tilly. But those others--they're different--I can feel it! Oh, how
_Artemis_ must hate them, Ambo!"

Susan's tense fingers relaxed, slipping from my arm; she slid down to
the floor, huddled, and leaning against the padded side of my chair
buried her face in her hands.

Very quietly I rose, not to disturb her, and crossing to the interphone
requested Miss Goucher's presence. My thoughts raced crazily on. In
advance of Miss Goucher's coming I had dramatized my interview with her
in seven different and unsatisfactory ways. When she at last entered, my
temple pulses were beating and my tongue was stiff and dry. Susan,
except for her shaken shoulders, had not stirred.

"Miss Goucher," I managed to begin, "shut the door, please.... You see
this poor child----?"

Miss Goucher saw. Over her harsh, positive features fell a sort of
transforming veil. It seemed to me suddenly--if for that moment
only--that Miss Goucher was very beautiful.

"If you wouldn't mind," she suggested, "leaving her with me?"

Well, I had not in advance dramatized our meeting in this way. In all
the seven scenes that had flashed through me, I had stood, an
unquestioned star, at the center of the stage. I had not foreseen an
exit. But I most humbly and gratefully accepted one now.

Precisely what took place, what words were said there, in my study,
following my humble exit, I have never learned, either from Miss Goucher
or from Susan. I know only that from that hour forth the bond between
them became what sentimentalists fondly suppose the relationship between
mother and daughter must always be--what, alas, it so rarely, but then
so beautifully, is.

I date from that hour Miss Goucher's abandonment of her predilection for
the lethal chamber; at least, she never spoke of it again. And Sonia
stayed with us. Her boy was born in my house, and there for three happy
years was nourished and shamelessly spoiled; at the end of which time
Sonia found a husband in the person of young Jack Palumbo,
unquestionably the pick of all our Hillhouse Avenue chauffeurs. Their
marriage caused a brief scandal in the neighborhood, but was soon
accepted as an authentic and successful fact.

Chance and change are not always villains, you observe; the
temperamental Sonia has grown stout and placid, and has increased the
world's legitimate population by three. Nevertheless, it is the
consensus of opinion that little Ivan, her first-born, is the golden
arrow in her quiver--an opinion in which Jack Palumbo delightedly, if
rather surprisingly, concurs.

And so much for Sonia.... Let the curtain quietly descend. When it rises
again, six years will have passed; good years--and therefore unrecorded.
Your scribe, Susan, is now nearing forty; and you---- Great heavens, is
it possible! Can you be "going on"--twenty?

Yes, dear---- You are.



THE THIRD CHAPTER


I

IT was October; the year, 1913. Susan, Miss Goucher and I had just
returned from Liverpool on the good ship "Lusitania"--there was a good
ship "Lusitania" in those days--after a delightful summer spent in Italy
and France. Susan and I entirely agree that the season for Italy is
midsummer. Italy is not Italy until she has drunk deep of the sun; until
a haze of whitest dust floats up from the slow hoofs of her white oxen
along Umbrian or Tuscan roads. You will never get from her churches all
they can give unless they have been to you as shadows of great rocks in
a weary land. To step from reverberating glare to vast cool dimness--ah,
that is to know at last the meaning of sanctuary!

But to step from a North River pier into a cynical taxi, solely
energized by our great American principle of "Take a chance!"--to be
bumped and slithered by that energizing principle across the main
traffic streams of impatient New York--that is to reawaken to all the
doubt and distraction, the implacable multiplicity of a scientifically
disordered world!

New Haven was better; Hillhouse Avenue preserving especially--through
valorous prodigies of rejection--much of its ancient, slightly
disdainful, studiously inconspicuous calm.

Phil Farmer was waiting for us at the doorstep. For all his inclusive
greeting, his warm, welcoming smile, he looked older, did Phil, leaner
somehow, more finely drawn. There was a something hungry about
him--something in his eyes. But if Susan, who notices most things, noted
it, she did not speak of her impression to me. She almost hugged Phil as
she jumped out to greet him and dragged him with her up the steps to the
door.

And now, if this portion of Susan's history is to be truthfully
recorded, certain facts may as well be set down at once, clearly, in due
order, without shame.

1. Phil Farmer was, by this time, hopelessly in love with Susan.

2. So was Maltby Phar.

3. So was I.

It should now be possible for a modest but intelligent reader to follow
the approaching pages without undue fatigue.


II

Susan never kept a diary, she tells me, but she had, like most beginning
authors, the habit of scribbling things down, which she never intended
to keep, and then could seldom bring herself to destroy. To a writer all
that his pen leaves behind it seems sacred; it is, I treacherously
submit, a private grief to any of us to blot a line. Such is our vanity.
However inept the work which we force ourselves or are prevailed upon to
destroy, the unhappy doubt always lingers: "If I had only saved it? One
can't be sure? Perhaps posterity----?"

Susan, thank God, was not and probably is not exempt from this folly. It
enables me from this time forward to present certain passages--mere
scraps and jottings--from her notebooks, which she has not hesitated to
turn over to me.

"I don't approve, Ambo," was her comment, "but if you _will_ write
nonsense about me, I can't help it. What I can help, a little, is your
writing nonsense about yourself or Phil or the rest. It's only fair to
let me get a word in edgeways, now and then--if only for your sake and
theirs."

That is not, however, my own reason for giving you occasional peeps
into these notebooks of Susan's.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I'm beginning to wish that Shelley might have had a sense of humor.
'Epipsychidion' is really too absurd. 'Sweet benediction in the eternal
curse!' Imagine, under any condition of sanity, calling any woman that!
Or 'Thou star above the storm!'--beautiful as the image is. 'Thou storm
upon the star!' would make much worse poetry, but much better sense....
Isn't it strange that I can't feel this about Wordsworth? He was better
off without humor, for all his solemn-donkey spots--and it's better for
us that he didn't have it. It's probably better for us, too, that
Shelley didn't have it--but it wasn't better for _him_.
Diddle-diddle-dumpling--what stuff all this is! Go to bed, Susan."

       *       *       *       *       *

"There's no use pretending things are different, Susan Blake; you might
as well face them and see them through, open-eyed. What does being in
love mean?

"I suppose if one is really in love, head over heels, one doesn't care
what it means. But I don't like pouncing, overwhelming things--things
that crush and blast and scorch and blind. I don't like cyclones and
earthquakes and conflagrations--at least, I've never experienced any,
but I know I shouldn't like them if I did. But I don't think I'd be so
terribly afraid of them--though I might. I think I'd be more--sort
of--indignant--disgusted."

       *       *       *       *       *

Editor's Note: Such English! But pungent stylist as Susan is now
acknowledged to be, she is still, in the opinion of academic critics,
not sufficiently attentive to formal niceties of diction. She remains
too wayward, too impressionistic; in a word, too personal. I am inclined
to agree, and yet--am I?

       *       *       *       *       *

"It's all very well to stamp round declaiming that you're captain of
your soul, but if an earthquake--even a tiny one--comes and shakes your
house like a dice box and then scatters you and the family out of it
like dice--it wouldn't sound very appropriate for your epitaph. 'I am
the master of my fate' would always look silly on a tombstone. Why
aren't tombstones a good test for poetry--some poetry? I've never seen
anything on a tombstone that looked real--not even the names and dates.

"But _does_ love have to be like an earthquake? If it does, then it's
just a blind force, and I don't like blind forces. It's stupid to be
blind oneself; but it's worse to have blind stupid things butting into
one and pushing one about.

"Hang it, I don't believe love has to be stupid and blind, and go
thrashing through things! Ambo isn't thrashing through things--or Phil
either. But, of course, they wouldn't. That's exactly what I mean about
love; it can be tamed, civilized. No, not civilized--just tamed.
_Cowed?_ Then it's still as wild as ever underneath? I'm afraid it is.
Oh, dear!

"Phil and Ambo really are captains of their souls though, so far as
things in general let them be. _Things in general_--what a funny name
for God! But isn't God just a short solemn name for things in general?
There I go again. Phil says I'm always taking God's name in vain. He
thinks I lack reverence. I don't, really. What I lack is--reticence.
That's different--isn't it, Ambo?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The above extracts date back a little. The following were jotted early
in November, 1913, not long after our return from overseas.

       *       *       *       *       *

"This is growing serious, Susan Blake. Phil has asked you to marry him,
and says he needs you. Ditto Maltby; only he says he wants you. Which,
too obviously, he does. Poor Maltby--imagine his trying to stoop so low
as matrimony, even to conquer! As for Ambo--Ambo says nothing, bless
him--but I think he wants and needs you most of all. Well, Susan?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Jimmy's back. I saw him yesterday. He didn't know me."

"Sex is a miserable nuisance. It muddles things--interferes with honest
human values. It's just Nature making fools of us for her own private
ends. These are not pretty sentiments for a young girl, Susan Blake!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Speak up, Susan--clear the air! You are living here under false
pretenses. If you can't manage to feel like Ambo's daughter--you
oughtn't to stay."


III

It was perhaps when reticent Phil finally spoke to me of his love for
Susan that I first fully realized my own predicament--a most unpleasant
discovery; one which I determined should never interfere with Susan's
peace of mind or with the possible chances of other, more eligible, men.
As Susan's guardian, I could not for a moment countenance her receiving
more than friendly attention from a man already married, and no longer
young. A grim, confused hour in my study convinced me that I was an
impossible, even an absurd, _parti_. This conviction brought with it
pain so sharp, so nearly unendurable, that I wondered in my weakness how
it was to be unflinchingly borne. Yet borne it must be, and without
betrayal. It did not occur to me, in my mature folly, that I was
already, and had for long been, self-betrayed.

"Steady, you old fool!" whispered my familiar demon. "This isn't going
to be child's play, you know. This is an hour-by-hour torture you've set
out to grin and bear and live through. You'll never make the grade, if
you don't take cognizance in advance. The road's devilishly steep and
icy, and the corners are bad. What's more, there's no end to it; the
crest's never in sight. Clamp your chains on and get into low....
Steady!

"But, of course," whispered my familiar demon, "there's probably an
easier way round. Why attempt the impossible? Think what you've done for
Susan! Gratitude, my dear sir--affectionate gratitude--is a long step in
the right direction ... if it is the right direction. I don't say it is;
I merely suggest, _en passant_, that it may be. Suppose, for example,
that Susan----"

"Damn you!" I spat out, jumping from my chair. "You contemptible swine!"

Congested blood whined in my ears like a faint jeering laughter. I paced
the room, raging--only to sink down again, exhausted, my face and hands
clammy.

"What a hideous exhibition," I said, distinctly addressing a grotesque
porcelain Buddha on the mantelpiece. Contrary, I believe, to my
expectations, he did not reply. My familiar demon forestalled him.

"If by taking a merely conventional attitude," he murmured, "you defeat
the natural flowering of two lives----? Who are you to decide that the
voice of Nature is not also the voice of God? Supposing, for the moment,
that God is other than a poetic expression. If her eyes didn't haunt
you," continued my familiar demon, "or a certain way she has of turning
her head, like a poised poppy...."

As he droned on within me, the mantelpiece blurred and thinned to the
blue haze of a distant Tuscan hill, and the little porcelain Buddha sat
upon this hill, very far off now and changed oddly to the semblance of a
tiny huddled town. We were climbing along a white road toward that far
hill, that tiny town.

"Ambo," she was saying, "that isn't East Rock--it's Monte Senario. And
this isn't Birch Street--it's the Faenzan Way. How do you do it,
Ambo--you wonderful magician! Just with a wave of your wand you change
the world for me; you give me--all this!"

A bee droned at my ear: "Gratitude, my dear sir. Affectionate gratitude.
A long step."

"Damn you!" I whimpered.... But the grotesque porcelain Buddha was
there again, on the mantelshelf. The creases in his little fat belly
disgusted me; they were loathsome. I rose. "At least," I said to him, "I
can live without _you_!" Then I seized him and shattered him against the
fireplace tiles. It was an enormous relief.

Followed a knock at my door that I answered calmly: "Who is it? Come
in."

Miss Goucher never came to me without a mission; she had one now.

"Mr. Hunt," she said, "I should like to talk to you very plainly. May I?
It's about Susan." I nodded. "Mr. Hunt," she continued resolutely,
"Susan is in a very difficult position here. I don't say that she isn't
entirely equal to meeting it; but I dread the nervous strain for her--if
you understand?"

"Not entirely, Miss Goucher; perhaps, not at all."

"I was afraid of this," she responded unhappily. "But I must go on--for
her sake."

Knowing well that Miss Goucher would face death smiling for Susan's
sake, her repressed agitation alarmed me. "Good heavens!" I exclaimed.
"Is there anything really wrong?"

"A good deal." She paused, her lips whitening as she knit them together,
lest any ill-considered word should slip from her. Miss Goucher never
loosed her arrows at random; she always tried for the bull's-eye, and
usually with success.

"I am speaking in strict confidence--to Susan's protector and legal
guardian. Please try to fill in what I leave unsaid. It is very
unfortunate for Susan's peace of mind that you should happen to be a
married man."

"For _her_ peace of mind!"

"Yes."

"Wait! I daren't trust myself to fill in what you leave unsaid. It's
too--preposterous. Do you mean---- But you can't mean that you imagine
Susan to be in love with--her grandfather?" My heart pounded,
suffocating me; with fright, I think.

"No," said Miss Goucher, coldly; "Susan is not in love with her
grandfather. She is with you."

I could manage no response but an angry one. "That's a dangerous
statement, Miss Goucher! Whether true or not--it ruins everything. You
have made our life here together impossible."

"It is impossible," said Miss Goucher. "It became so last summer. I knew
then it could not go on much longer."

"But I question this! I deny that Susan feels for me more
than--gratitude and affection."

"Gratitude is rare," said Miss Goucher enigmatically, her eyes fixed
upon the fragments of Buddha littering my hearth. "True gratitude," she
added, "is a strong emotion. When it passes between a man and a woman,
it is like flame."

"Very interesting!" I snapped. "But hardly enough to have brought you
here to me with this!"

"She feels that you need her," said Miss Goucher.

"I do," was my reply.

"Susan doesn't need _you_," said Miss Goucher. "I don't wish to be
brutal; but she doesn't. In spite of this, she can easily stand alone."

"I see. And you think that would be best?"

"Naturally. Don't you?"

"I'm not so sure."

As I muttered this my eyes, too, fixed themselves on the fragments of
Buddha. Would the woman never go! I hated her; it seemed to me now that
I had always hated her. What was she after all but a superior kind of
servant--presuming in this way! The irritation of these thoughts swung
me suddenly round to wound her, if I might, with sarcasm, with implied
contempt. But it is impossible to wound the air. With her customary
economy of explanation Miss Goucher had, pitilessly, left me to myself.


IV

The evening of this already comfortless day I now recall as one of the
most exasperating of my life. Maltby Phar arrived for dinner and the
week-end--an exasperation foreseen; Phil came in after dinner--another;
but what I did not foresee was that Lucette Arthur would bring her
malicious self and her unspeakably tedious husband for a formal call.
Lucette was an old friend of Gertrude, and I always suspected that her
occasional evening visits were followed by a detailed report; in fact, I
rather encouraged them, and returned them promptly, hoping that they
were. In my harmless way of life even Lucette's talent for snooping
could find, I felt, little to feed upon, and it did not wholly displease
me that Gertrude should be now and then forced to recognize this.

The coming of Susan had, not unnaturally, for a time, provided Lucette
with a wealth of interesting conjecture; she had even gone so far as to
intimate that Gertrude felt I was making--the expression is entirely
mine--an ass of myself, which neither surprised nor disturbed me, since
Gertrude had always had a tendency to feel that my talents lay in that
direction. But, on the whole, up to this time--barring the Sonia
incident, which had afforded her a good deal of scope, but which, after
all, could not be safely misinterpreted--Lucette had found at my house
pretty thin pickings for scandal; and I could only wonder at the
unwearying patience with which she pursued her quest.

She arrived with poor Doctor Arthur in tow--Dr. Lyman Arthur, who
professed Primitive Eschatology in the School of Religion: eschatology
being "that branch of theology which treats of the end of the world and
man's condition or state after death"--just upon the heels of Phil, who
shot me a despairing glance as we rose to greet them.

But Susan, I thought, welcomed them with undisguised relief. She had
been surpassing herself before the fire, chatting blithely, wittily,
even a little recklessly; but there are gayer evenings conceivable than
one spent in the presence of three doleful men, two of whom have
proposed marriage to you, and one of whom would have done so if he were
not married already. Almost anything, even open espionage and covert
eschatology, was better than that.

Lucette--the name suggests Parisian vivacity, but she was really large
and physically languid and very blonde, scented at once, I felt, a
something faintly brimstoneish in the atmosphere of my model home, and
forthwith prepared herself for a protracted and pleasant evening. It so
happened that the Arthurs had never met Maltby, and Susan carried
through the ceremony of introduction with a fine swinging rhythm which
settled us as one group before the fire and for some moments at least
kept the conversation animated and general.

But Eschatology, brooding in the background, soon put an end to this
somewhat hectic social burst. The mere unnoted presence of Dr. Lyman
Arthur, peering nearsightedly in at the doorway on a children's party,
has been known, I am told, to slay youngling joy and turn little tots
self-conscious, so that they could no longer be induced by agonized
mothers to go to Jerusalem, or clap-in clap-out. His presence now,
gradually but surely, had much the same effect. Seated at Maltby's
elbow, he passed into the silence and drew us, struggling but helpless,
after him. For five horrible seconds nothing was heard but the impolite,
ironic whispering of little flames on the hearth. Was this man's
condition or state after death? Eschatology had conquered.

Susan, in duty bound as hostess, broke the spell, but it cannot be said
she rose to the occasion. "Is it a party in a parlor," she murmured
wistfully to the flames, "all silent and all--damned?"

Perceiving that Lucette supposed this to be original sin, I laughed much
more loudly than cheerfully, exclaiming "Good old Wordsworth!" as I did
so.

Then Maltby's evil genius laid hold on him.

"By the way," he snorted, "they tell me one of you academic ghouls has
discovered that Wordsworth had an illegitimate daughter--whatever _that_
means! Any truth in it? I hope so. It's the humanest thing I ever heard
about the old sheep!"

Doctor Arthur cleared his throat, very cautiously; and it was evident
that Maltby had not helped us much. Phil, in another vein, helped us
little more.

"I wonder," he asked, "if anyone reads Wordsworth now--except Susan?"

No one, not even Susan, seemed interested in this question; and the
little flames chuckled quietly once more.

Something had to be done.

"Doctor," I began, turning toward Eschatology, and knowing no more than
my Kazak hearthrug what I was going to say, "is it true that----"

"Undoubtedly," intoned Eschatology, thereby saving me from the pit I was
digging for myself. My incomplete question must have chimed with Doctor
Arthur's private reflections, and he seemed to suppose some
controversial matter under discussion. "Undoubtedly," he repeated....
"And what is even more important is this----"

But Lucette silenced him with a "Why is it, dear, that you always let
your cigar burn down at one side? It does look so untidy." And she
leaned to me. "What delightfully daring discussions you must all of you
have here together! You're all so terribly intellectual, aren't you? But
do you never talk of anything but books and art and ideas? I'm sure you
must," she added, fixing me with impenetrable blue eyes.

"Often," I smiled back; "even the weather has charms for us. Even food."

Her inquisitive upper lip curled and dismissed me.

"Why is it," she demanded, turning suddenly on Susan, "that I don't see
you round more with the college boys? They're much more suitable to your
age, you know, than Ambrose or Phil. I hope you don't frighten them off,
my dear, by mentioning Wordsworth? Boys dislike bluestockings; and
you're much too charming to wear them anyway. Oh, but you really are! I
must take charge of you--get you out more where you belong, away from
these dreadful old fogies!" Lucette laughed her languid, purring,
dangerous laughter. "I'm serious, Miss Blake. You musn't let them
monopolize you; they will if you're not careful. They're just selfish
enough to want to keep you to themselves."

The tone was badinage; but the remark struck home and left us
speechless. Lucette shifted the tiller slightly and filled her sails.
"Next thing you know, Miss Blake, they'll be asking you to marry them.
Individually, of course--not collectively. And, of course--not Ambrose!
At least you're safe there," she hastily added; "aren't you?"

Maltby, I saw, was furious; bent on brutalities. Before I could check
him, "Why?" he growled. "Why, Mrs. Arthur, do you assume that Susan is
safe with Boz?"

"Well," she responded with a slow shrug of her shoulders,
"naturally----"

"Unnaturally!" snapped Maltby. "Unless forbidden fruit has ceased to
appeal to your sex. I was not aware that it had."

Phil's eyes were signalling honest distress. Susan unexpectedly rose
from her chair. Deep spots of color burned on her cheeks, but she spoke
with dignity. "I have never disliked any conversation so much, Mrs.
Arthur. Good night." She walked from the room. Phil jumped up without a
word and hurried after her. Then we all rose.

It seemed, however, that apologies were useless. Doctor Arthur had no
need for them, since he had not perceived a slight, and was only too
happy to find himself released from bondage; as for Lucette, her assumed
frigidity could not conceal her flaming triumph. As a social being, for
the sake of the _mores_, she must resent Susan's snub; but I saw that
she would not have had things happen otherwise for a string of matched
pearls. At last, at last her patience had been rewarded! I could almost
have written for her the report to Gertrude--with nothing explicitly
stated, and nothing overlooked.

Maltby, after their departure, continued truculent, and having no one
else to rough-house decided to rough-house me. The lengthening absence
of Susan and Phil had much to do with his irritation, and something no
doubt with mine. For men of mature years we presently developed a very
pretty little gutter-snipe quarrel.

"Damn it, Boz," he summed his grievances, "it comes precisely to this:
You're playing dog in the manger here. By your attitude, by every kind
of sneaking suggestion, you poison Susan's mind against me. Hang it, I'm
not vain--but at least I'm presentable, and I've been called amusing.
Other women have found me so. And to speak quite frankly, it isn't every
man in my position who would offer marriage to a girl whose father----"

"I'd stop there, Maltby, if I were you!"

"My dear man, you and I are above such prejudices, of course! But it's
only common sense to acknowledge that they exist. Susan's the most
infernally seductive accident that ever happened on this middle-class
planet! But all the same, there's a family history back of her that not
one man in fifty would be able to forget. My point is, that with all her
seduction, physical and mental, she's not in the ordinary sense
marriageable. And it's the ordinary sense of such things that runs the
world."

"Well----"

"Well--there you are! I offer her far more than she could reasonably
hope for; or you for her. I'm well fixed, I know everybody worth
knowing; I can give her a good time, and I can help her to a career. It
strikes me that if you had Susan's good at heart, you'd occasionally
suggest these thing's to her--even urge them upon her. As her guardian
you must have some slight feeling of responsibility?"

"None whatever."

"What!"

"None whatever--so far as Susan's deeper personal life is concerned.
That is her affair, not mine."

"Then you'd be satisfied to have her throw herself away?"

"If she insisted, yes. But Susan's not likely to throw herself away."

"Oh, isn't she! Let me tell you this, Boz, once for all: You're in love
with the girl yourself, and though you may not know it, you've no
intention of letting anyone else have a chance."

"Well," I flashed, "if you were in my shoes--would _you_?"

The vulgarity of our give and take did not escape me, but in my then
state of rage I seemed powerless to escape vulgarity. I revelled in
vulgarity. It refreshed me. I could have throttled Maltby, and I am
quite certain he was itching to throttle me. We were both longing to
throttle Phil. Indeed, we almost leaped at him as he stopped in the hall
doorway to toss us an unnaturally gruff good night.

"Where's Susan?" I demanded.

"In your study," Phil mumbled, hunching into his overcoat; "she's
waiting to see you." Then he seized his shapeless soft hat and--the good
old phrase best describes it--made off.

"She's got to see me first!" Maltby hurled at me, coarsely, savagely, as
he started past.

I grabbed his arm and held him. It thrilled me to realize how soft he
was for all his bulk, to feel that physically I was the stronger.

"Wait!" I said. "This sort of thing has gone far enough. We'll stop
_grovelling_--if you don't mind! If we can't give Susan something better
than this, we've been cheating her. It's a pity she ever left Birch
Street."

Maltby stared at me with slowly stirring comprehension.

"Yes," he at length muttered, grudgingly enough; "perhaps you're right.
It's been an absurd spectacle all round. But then, life is."

"Wait for me here," I responded. "We'll stop butting at each other like
stags, and try to talk things over like men. I'm just going to send
Susan to bed."

That _was_ my intention. I went to her in the study as a big brother
might go, meaning good counsel. It was certainly not my intention to let
her run into my arms and press her face to my shoulder. She clung to me
with passion, but without joy, and her voice came through the tumult of
my senses as if from a long way off.

"Ambo, Ambo! You've asked nothing--and you want me most of all. I _must_
make somebody happy!"

It was the voice of a child.


V

I could not face Maltby again that evening, as I had promised, for our
good sensible man-to-man talk; a lapse in courage which reduced him to
rabid speculation and restless fury. So furious was he, indeed, after a
long hour alone, that he telephoned for a taxi, grabbed his suitcase,
and caught a slow midnight local for New York--from which electric
center he hissed back over the wires three ominous words to ruin my
solitary breakfast:

       *       *       *       *       *

          "He laughs best----        M. PHAR."

       *       *       *       *       *

While my egg solidified and the toast grew rigid I meditated a humble
apologetic reply, but in the end I could not with honesty compose one;
though I granted him just cause for anger. With that, for the time
being, I dismissed him. There were more immediate problems, threatening,
inescapable, that must presently be solved.

Susan, always an early riser, usually had a bite of breakfast at seven
o'clock--brought to her by the faithful Miss Goucher--and then remained
in her room to work until lunch time. For about a year past I had so far
caught the contagion of her example as to write in my study three hours
every morning; a regularity I should formerly have despised.
Dilettantism always demands a fine frenzy, but now it astounded me to
discover how much respectable writing one could do without waiting for
the spark from heaven; one could pass beyond the range of an occasional
article and even aspire to a book. Only the final pages of my first real
book--_Aristocracy and Art_, an essay in æsthetic and social
criticism--remained to be written; and Susan had made me swear by the
Quanglewangle's Hat, her favorite symbol, to push on with it each
morning till the job was done.

Well, _Aristocracy and Art_ has since been published and, I am glad to
say, forgotten. Conceived in superciliousness and swaddled in
preciosity, it is one of the sins I now strive hardest to expiate. But
in those days it expressed clearly enough the crusted aridity of my
soul. However----

I had hoped, of course, that Susan would break over this morning and
breakfast with me. She did not; and from sheer habit I took to my study
and found myself in the chair before my desk. It was my purpose to think
things out, and perhaps that is what I supposed myself to be doing as I
stared dully at an ink blob on my blotter. It looked--and I was
idiotically pleased by the resemblance--rather like a shark. All it
needed was some teeth and a pair of flukes for its tail. Methodically I
opened my fountain pen and supplied these, thereby reducing one fragment
of chaos to order; and then my eye fell upon a half-scribbled sheet,
marked "Page 224."

The final sentence on the sheet caught at me and annoyed me; it was
ill-constructed. Presently it began to rearrange itself in whatever
portion of us it is that these shapings and reshapings take place.
Something in its rhythm, too, displeased me; it was mannered; it
minuetted; it echoed Pater at his worst. It should be simpler, stronger.
Why, naturally! I lopped at it, compressed it, pulled it about....

There! At last the naked idea got the clean expression it deserved; and
it led now directly to a brief, clear paragraph of transition. I had
been worrying over that transition the morning before when my pen
stopped; now it came with a smooth rush, carrying me forward and on.

Incredible, but for one swiftly annihilated hour I forgot all my
insoluble life problems! Art, that ancient Circe, had waved her wand; I
was happy--and it was enough. I forgot even Susan.

Meanwhile, Susan, busy at her notebook, had all but forgotten me.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Am I in love with Ambo, or am I just trying to be for his sake? If
happiness is a test, then I can't be in love with him, for there is no
happiness in me. But what has happiness to do with love? It's just as I
told nice old Phil last night. To be in love is to be silly enough to
suppose that some other silly can gather manna for you from the meadows
of heaven. Meanwhile, the other silly is supposing much the same
nonsense about you--or if he isn't, then the sun goes black. What lovers
seem to value most in each other is premature softening of the brain.
But surely the union of two vain hopes in a single disappointment can
never mean joy? No. You might as well get it said, Susan. Love is two
broken reeds trying to be a Doric column.

"Still, there must be some test. Is it passion? How can it be?

"When I ran to Ambo last night I was pure rhythm and flame; but this
morning I'm the hour before sunrise. No; I'm the outpost star, the one
the comets turn--the one that peers off into nowhere.

"Perhaps if Ambo came to me now I should flame again; or perhaps I
should only make believe for his sake. Is wanting to make believe for
another's sake enough? Why not? I've no patience with lovers who are
always rhythm and flame. Even if they exist--outside of _maisons de
santé_--what good are they? Poets can rave about them, I suppose--that's
something; but imagine coming to the end of life and finding that one
had merely furnished good copy for Swinburne! No, thank you, Mrs.
Hephæstus--you beautiful, shameless humbug! I prefer Apollo's lonely
magic to yours. I'd rather be Swinburne than Iseult. If there's any
singing left to be done I shall try to do part of it myself.

"There, you see; already you've forgotten Ambo completely--now you'll
have to turn back and hunt for him. And if he's really working on
_Aristocracy and Art_ this morning, as he should be, then he has almost
certainly forgotten you. Oh, dear! but he isn't--and he hasn't! Here he
comes----"

       *       *       *       *       *

Yes, I came; but not to ask for assurances of love. Man is so naïvely
egotist, it takes a good deal to convince him, once the idea has been
accepted, that he is not the object of an unalterable devotion. Frankly,
I took it for granted now that Susan loved me, and would continue to
love me till her dying hour.

What I really came to say to her, under the calming and strengthening
influence of two or three rather well-written pages, was that our
situation had definitely become untenable. I am an emancipated talker,
but I am not an emancipated man; the distinction is important; the hold
of mere custom upon me is strong. I could not see myself asking Susan to
defy the world with me; or if I could just see it for my own sake, I
certainly couldn't for hers. Nor could I see it for Gertrude's.
Gertrude, after all, was my wife; and though she chose to feel I had
driven her from my society, I knew that she did not feel willing to seek
divorce for herself or to grant the freedom of it to me. On this point
her convictions, having a religious sanction, were permanent. Gentle
manners, then, if nothing higher, forbade me to seize the freedom she
denied me. Having persuaded Gertrude, in good faith, to enter into an
unconditional contract with me for life, I could no more bring myself to
break it than I could have forced myself to steal another's money by
raising a check.

My New England ancestors had distilled into my blood certain
prejudices; only, where my great-grandfather, or even my grandfather,
would have said that he refrained from evil because he feared God, I was
content merely to feel that there are some things a gentleman doesn't
stoop to. With them it was the stern daughter of the voice of God who
ruled thoughts and acts; with me it was, if anything, the class
obligations of culture, breeding, good form. Just as I wore correct
wedding garments at a wedding, and would far rather have cut my throat
with a knife than carry food on it from plate to mouth, so, in the face
of any of life's moral or emotional crises, I clung to what instinct and
cultivation told me were the correct sentiments.

Gertrude, it is true, was not precisely fulfilling her part in our
contract, but then--Gertrude was a woman; and the excusable frailties of
women should always be regarded as trumpet calls to the chivalry of man.
Absurdly primitive, such ideas as these! Seated with Maltby Phar in my
study, I had laughed them out of court many a time; for I could talk
pure Bernard Shaw--our prophet of those days--with anybody, and even go
him one better. But when it came to the pinch of decisive action I had
always thrown back to my sources and left the responsibility on them. I
did so now.

Yet it was hard to speak of anything but enchantment, witchery,
fascination, when, from her desk, Susan looked round to me, faintly
puzzled, faintly smiling. She was not a pretty girl, as young
America--its taste superbly catered to by popular magazines--understands
that phrase; nor was she beautiful by any severe classic
standard--unless you are willing to accept certain early Italians as
having established classic standards; not such faultless painters as
Raphael or Andrea del Sarto, but three or four of the wayward lesser men
whose strangely personal vision created new and unexpected types of
loveliness. Not that I recall a single head by any one of them that
prefigured Susan; not that I am helping you, baffled reader, to see her.
Words are a dull medium for portraiture, or I am too dull a dog to catch
with them even a phantasmal likeness. It is the mixture of dark and
bright in Susan that eludes me; she is all soft shadow and sharpest
gleams. But that is nonsense. I give it up.

It was really, then, a triumph for my ancestors that I did not throw
myself on my knees beside her chair--the true romantic attitude, when
all's said--and draw her dark-bright face down to mine. I halted instead
just within the doorway, retaining a deathlike grip on the door-knob.

"Dear," I blurted, "it won't do. It's the end of the road. We can't go
on."

"Can we turn back?" asked Susan.

I wonder the solid bronze knob did not shatter like hollow glass in my
hand.

"You must help me," I muttered.

"Yes," said Susan, all quiet shadow now, gleamless; "I'll help you."

Half an hour after I left her she telephoned and dispatched the
following telegram, signed "Susan Blake," to Gertrude at her New York
address:

          "_Either come back to him or set him free. Urgent._"


VI

The reply--a note from Gertrude, the ink hardly dry on it, written from
the Egyptian tomb of the Misses Carstairs--came directly to me that
evening; and Mrs. Parrot was the messenger. Her expression, as she
mutely handed me the note, was ineffable. I read the note with
sensations of suffocation; an answer was requested.

"Tell Mrs. Hunt," I said firmly to Mrs. Parrot, "that it was she who
left me, and I am stubbornly determined to make no advances. If she
cares to see me I shall be glad to see her. She has only to walk a few
yards, climb a few easy steps, and ring the bell."

My courtesy was truly elaborate as I conducted Mrs. Parrot to the door.
Her response was disturbing.

"It's not for me to make observations," said Mrs. Parrot, "the situation
being delicate, and not likely to improve. But if I was you, Mr. Hunt,
I'd not be too stiff. No; I'd not be. I would not. No. Not if I valued
the young lady's reputation."

Like the Pope's mule, Mrs. Parrot had saved her kick many years. I can
testify to its power.

Thirty minutes later this superkick landed me, when I came crashing back
to earth, at the door of the Egyptian tomb.

"How hard it is," says Dante, "to climb another's stairs," and he might
have added to ring another's bell, under certain conditions of spiritual
humiliation and stress. Thank the gods--all of them--it was not Mrs.
Parrot who admitted me and took my card!

I waited miserably in the large, ill-lighted reception vault of the
tomb, which smelt appropriately of lilies, as if the undertaker had
recently done his worst. How well I remembered it, how long I had
avoided it! It was here of all places, under the contemptuous eye of old
Ephraim Carstairs, grim ancestral founder of this family's fortunes,
that Gertrude had at last consented to be my wife. And there he still
lorded it above the fireplace, unchanged, glaring down malignantly
through the shadows, his stiff neck bandaged like a mummy's, his hard,
high cheek bones and cavernous eyes making him the very image of bugaboo
death. What an eavesdropper for the approaching reconciliation; for that
was what it had come to. That was what it would have to be!

It was not Gertrude who came down to me; it was Lucette. Lucette--all
graciousness, all sympathetic understanding, all feline smiles! Dear
Gertrude had 'phoned her on arriving, and she had rushed to her at once!
Dear Gertrude had such a desperate headache! She couldn't possibly see
me to-night. She was really ill, had been growing rapidly worse for an
hour. Perhaps to-morrow?

I was in no mood to be tricked by this stale subterfuge.

"See here, Lucette," I said sternly, "I'm not going to fence with you or
fool round at cross purposes. Less than an hour ago Gertrude sent over a
note, asking me to call."

"To which you returned an insufferable verbal reply."

"A bad-tempered reply, I admit. No insult was intended. And I've come
now to apologize for the temper."

"Oh, dear!" sighed Lucette. "Men always do their thinking too late. I
wish I could reassure you; but the mischief seems to be done. Poor
Gertrude is furious."

"Then the headache is--hypothetical?"

"An excuse, you mean? I wish it were, for her sake!" Lucette's eyes
positively caressed me, as a tiger might lick the still-warm muzzle of
an antelope, its proximate meal. "If you could see her face, poor
creature! She's in torment."

"I'm sorry."

"Isn't that--what you called her headache?"

"No. I'm ashamed of my boorishness. Let me see Gertrude and tell her
so."

Lucette smiled, slightly shaking her head. "Impossible--till she's
feeling better. And not then--unless she changes her mind. You see,
Ambrose, Mrs. Parrot's version of your reply was the last straw."

"No doubt she improved on the original," I muttered.

"Oh, no doubt," agreed Lucette calmly. "She would. It was silly of you
not to think of that."

"Yes," I snapped. "Men always underestimate a woman's malice."

"They have so many distractions, poor dears. Men, I mean. And we have so
few. You can put that in your next article, Ambrose?" She straightened
her languid curves deliberately, as if preparing to rise.

"Please!" I exclaimed. "I'm not ready for dismissal yet. We'll get down
to facts, if you don't mind. Why is Gertrude here at all? After years of
silence? Did you send for her?"

Lucette's spine slowly relaxed, her shoulders drooped once more. "I? My
dear Ambrose, why on earth should I do a thing like that?"

"I don't know. The point is, did you?"

"You think it in character?"

"Oh--be candid! I don't mean directly, of course. But is she here
because of anything you may have telephoned her--after your call last
night?"

"Really, Ambrose! This is a little too much, even from you."

"Forgive me--I insist! Is she?"

"You must have a very bad conscience," replied Lucette.

"I am more interested in yours."

She laughed luxuriously, "Mine has never been clearer."

Did the woman want me to stop her breath with bare hands? I gripped the
mahogany arms of my stiff Chippendale chair.

"Listen to me, Lucette! I know this is all very thrilling and amusing
for you. Vivisection must have its charms, of course--for an expert. But
I venture to remind you that once upon a time you were not a bad-hearted
girl, and you must have some remnants of human sympathy about you
somewhere. Am I wrong?"

"You're hideously rude."

"Granted. But I must place you. I won't accept you as an onlooker.
Either you'll fight me or help me--or clear out. Is that plain?"

"You're worse than rude," said Lucette; "you're a beast! I always
wondered why Gertrude couldn't live with you. Now I know."

"That's better," I hazarded. "We're beginning to understand each other.
Now let's lay all our cards face up on the table?"

Lucette stared at me a moment, her lips pursed, dubious, her
impenetrable blue eyes holding mine.

"I will, if you will," she said finally. "Let's."

It was dangerous, I knew, to take her at her word; yet I ventured.

"I've a weak hand, Lucette; but there's one honest ace of trumps in it."

"There could hardly be two," smiled Lucette.

"No; I count on that. In a pinch, I shall take the one trick essential,
and throw the others away." I leaned to her and spoke slowly: "There is
no reason, affecting her honor or rights, why Gertrude may not return to
her home--if she so desires. I think you understand me?"

"Perfectly. You wish to protect Miss Blake. You would try to do that in
any case, wouldn't you? But I'm rather afraid you're too late. I'm
afraid Miss Blake has handicapped you too heavily. If so, it was clever
of her--for she must have done it on purpose. You see, Ambrose, it was
she who sent for Gertrude."

"Susan!"

"Susan. Telegraphed her--of all things!--either to come home to you or
set you free. The implication's transparent. Especially as I had thought
it my duty to warn Gertrude in advance--and as Mr. Phar sent her, by
messenger, a vague but very disturbing note this morning."

"Maltby?"

"Yes. His note was delivered not five minutes ahead of Susan's wire.
Gertrude caught the next train. And there you are."

Well, at least I began to see now, dimly, where Maltby was, where Susan
was, where we all were--except, possibly Gertrude. Putting enormous
constraint on my leaping nerves, I subdued every trace of anger.

"Two more questions, Lucette. Do you believe me when I say, with all the
sincerity I'm capable of, that Susan is slandered by these suspicions?"

"Really," answered Lucette, with a little worried frown, as if anxiously
balancing alternatives, "I'm not, am I, in a position to judge?"

I swallowed hard. "All right," I managed to say coldly. "Then I have
placed you. You're not an onlooker--you're an open foe."

"And the second question, Ambrose?"

"What, precisely, does Gertrude want from me?"

"I'm not, am I, in a position to judge?" repeated Lucette. "But one
supposes it depends a little on what you're expecting--from her?"

"All I humbly plead for," said I, "is a chance to see Gertrude alone and
talk things over."

"Don't you mean talk _her_ over?" suggested Lucette. "And aren't you,"
she murmured, "forgetting the last straw?"


VII

My confusion of mind, my consternation, as I left the Egyptian tomb, was
pitiable. One thing, one only, I saw with distinctness: The being I
loved best was to be harried and smirched, an innocent victim of the
folly and malignity of others.

"Never," I muttered, "Never--never--never!"

This was all very grim and virile; yet I knew that I could grit my teeth
and mutter Never! from now till the moon blossomed, without in any way
affecting the wretched situation. Words, emotional contortions,
attitudes--would not help Susan; something sensible must be done--the
sooner the better. Something sensible and decisive--but what? There were
so many factors involved, human, incalculable factors; my thought
staggered among them, fumbling like a drunken man for the one right door
that must be found and opened with the one right key. It was no use; I
should never be able to manage it alone. To whom could I appeal? Susan,
for the time being, was out of the question; Maltby had maliciously
betrayed a long friendship. Phil? Why of course, there was always Phil?
Why hadn't I thought of him before?

I turned sharply and swung into a rapid stride. With some difficulty I
kept myself from running. Phil seemed to me suddenly an intellectual
giant, a man of infinite heart and unclouded will. Why had I never
appreciated him at his true worth? My whirling perplexities would have
no terrors for him; he would at once see through them to the very thing
that should at once be undertaken. Singular effect of an overwhelming
desire and need! Faith is always born of desperation. We are forced by
deep-lying instincts to trust something, someone, when we can no longer
trust ourselves. As I hurried down York Street to his door, my sudden
faith in Phil was like the faith of a broken-spirited convert in the
wisdom and mercy of God.

Phil's quarters were on the top floor of a rooming-house for students;
he had the whole top floor to himself and had lived there simply and
contentedly many years, with his books, his pipes, his papers, and his
small open wood fire. Phil is not destitute of taste, but he is by no
means an æsthete. His furniture is of the ordinary college-room
type--Morris chair of fumed oak, and so on--picked up as he needed it at
the nearest department store; but he has two or three really good framed
etchings on the walls of his study; one Seymour Haden in particular--the
_Erith Marshes_--which I have often tried to persuade him to part with.
There is a blending of austerity and subtlety in the work of the great
painter-etchers that could not but appeal to this austere yet finely
organized man.

His books are wonderful--not for edition or binding--he is not a
bibliophile; they are wonderful because he keeps nothing he has not
found it worth while to annotate. There is no volume on his shelves
whose inside covers and margins are not filled with criticism or
suggestive comment in his neat spiderwebby hand; and Phil's marginal
notes are usually far better reading than the original text. Susan
warmly maintains that she owes more to the inside covers of Phil's books
than to any other source; insists, in fact, that a brief note in his
copy of Santayana's _Reason in Common Sense_, at the end of the first
chapter, established her belief once for all in mind as a true thing, an
indestructible and creative reality, destined after infinite struggle to
win its grim fight with chaos. I confess I could never myself see in
this note anything to produce so amazing an affirmation; but in these
matters I am a worm; I have not the philosophic _flair_. Here it is:

"'We know that life is a dream, and how should thinking be more?'
Because, my dear Mr. Santayana, a dream cannot propagate dreams and
realize them to be such. The answer is sufficient."

Well, certainly Susan, too, seemed to feel it sufficient; and perhaps I
should agree if I better understood the answer.... But I have now
breasted four flights to Phil and am knocking impatiently.... He opened
to me and welcomed me cordially, all trace of his parting gruffness of
the other evening having vanished, though he was still haggard about the
eyes. He was not alone. Through the smoke haze of his study I saw a
well-built youngster standing near the fireplace, pipe in hand; some
college boy, of course, whom Phil was being kind to. Phil was forever
permitting these raw boys to cut in upon his precious hours of privacy;
yet he was at the opposite pole from certain faculty members, common to
all seats of learning, who toady to the student body for a popularity
which they feel to be a good business asset, or which they find the one
attainable satisfaction for their tottering self-esteem.

Phil, who had had to struggle for his own education, was genuinely fond
of young men who cared enough for education to be willing to struggle
for theirs. He had become unobtrusively, by a kind of natural affinity,
the elder brother of those undergraduates who were seekers in any sense
for the things of the mind. For the rest, the triumphant majority--fine,
manly young fellows as they usually were, in official oratory at
least--he was as blankly indifferent as they were to him.

"My enthusiasm for humanity is limited, fatally limited," he would
pleasantly admit. "For the human turnip, even when it's a prize
specimen, I have no spontaneous affection whatever."

On the other hand it was not the brilliant, exceptional boy whom he best
loved. It was rather the boy whose interest in life, whose curiosity,
was just stirring toward wakefulness after a long prenatal and postnatal
sleep. For such boys Phil poured forth treasures of sympathetic
understanding; and it was such a youth, I presume, who stood by the
fireplace now, awkwardly uncertain whether my coming meant that he
should take his leave.

His presence annoyed me. On more than one occasion I had run into this
sort of thing at Phil's rooms, had suffered from the curious inability
of the undergraduate, even when he longs himself to escape, to end a
visit--take his hat, say good-by simply, and go. It doesn't strike one
offhand as a social accomplishment of enormous difficulty; yet it must
be--it so paralyzes the social resourcefulness of the young.

Phil introduced me to Mr. Kane, and Mr. Kane drooped his right
shoulder--the correct attitude for this form of assault--grasped my
hand, and shattered my nerves--with the dislocating squeeze which young
America has perfected as the high sign of all that is virile and
sincere. I sank into a chair to recover, and to my consternation Mr.
Kane, too, sat down.

"Jimmy's just come to us," said Phil, relighting his pipe. "He passed
his entrance examinations in Detroit last spring, but he had to finish
up a job he was on out there before coming East. So he has a good deal
of work to make up, first and last. And it's all the harder for him,
because he's dependent upon himself for support."

"Oh," said Jimmy, "what I've saved'll last me through this year, I
guess."

"Yes," Phil agreed; "but it's a pity to touch what you've saved." He
turned to me. "You see, Hunt, we're talking over all the prospects.
Aren't we, Jimmy?"

"Yes, sir," answered Jimmy. "Prof. Farmer thinks," he added, "that I may
be making a mistake to try it here; he thinks it may be a waste of time.
I'm kind of up in the air about it, myself."

"Jimmy's rather a special case," struck in Phil, dropping into a Morris
chair and thrusting his legs out. "He's twenty-two now; and he's already
made remarkably good as an expert mechanic. He left his home here over
six years ago, worked his way to Detroit, applied for a job and got it.
Now there's probably no one in New Haven who knows more than this young
man about gas engines, steel alloys, shop organization, and all that.
The little job that detained him was the working out of some minor but
important economy in the manufacture of automobiles. He suggested it by
letter to the president of the company himself, readily obtained several
interviews with his chief, and was given a chance to try it out.

"It has proved its practical worth already, though you and I are far too
ignorant to understand it. As a result, the president of the company
offered him a much higher position at an excellent salary. It's open to
him still, if he chooses to go back for it. But Jimmy has decided to
turn it down for a college education. And I'm wondering, Hunt, whether
Yale has anything to give him that will justify such a
sacrifice--anything that he couldn't obtain for himself, at much less
expense, without three years waste of time and opportunity. How does it
strike you, old man? What would you say, offhand, without weighing the
matter?"

What I wanted to say was, "Damn it all! I'm not here at this time of
night to interest myself in the elementary problems of Jimmy Kane!" In
fact, I did say it to myself, with considerable energy--only to stop at
the name, to stare at the boy before me, and to exclaim in a swift flash
of connection, "Great Scott! Are you _Susan's_ Jimmy?"

"'Susan's Jimmy'!" snorted Phil, with a peculiar grin. "Of course he's
Susan's Jimmy! I wondered how long it would take you!"

As for Susan's Jimmy, his expression was one of desolated amazement.
Either his host and his host's friend, or he himself--had gone suddenly
mad! The drop of his jaw was parentheses about a question mark. His blue
eyes piteously stared.

"I guess I'm not on, sir," he mumbled to Phil, blushing hotly.

He was really a most attractive youth, considering his origins. I eyed
him now shamelessly, and was forced to wonder that the wrong end of
Birch Street should have produced not only Susan--who would have proved
the phoenix of any environment--but this pleasant-faced,
confidence-inspiring boy, whose expression so oddly mingled simplicity,
energy, stubborn self-respect, and the cheerfulness of good health, an
unspoiled will, and a hopeful heart. He seemed at once too mature for
his years and too naïve; concentration had already modelled his
forehead, but there was innocence in his eyes. Innocence--I can only
call it that. His eyes looked out at the world with the happiest candor;
and I found myself predicting of him what I had never yet predicted of
mortal woman or man: "He's capable of anything--but sophistication;
he'll get on, he'll arrive somewhere--but he will never change."

Phil, meanwhile, had eased his embarrassment with a friendly laugh.
"It's all right, Jimmy; we're not the lunatics we sound. Don't you
remember Bob Blake's kid on Birch Street?"

"Oh! Her?"

"Mr. Hunt became her guardian, you know, after----"

"Oh!" interrupted Jimmy, beaming on me. "You're the gentleman that----"

"Yes," I responded; "I'm the unbelievably fortunate man."

"She was a queer little kid," reflected Jimmy. "I haven't thought about
her for a long time."

"That's ungrateful of you," said Phil; "but of course you couldn't know
that."

Question mark and parentheses formed again.

"Phil means," I explained, "that Susan has never forgotten you. It seems
you did battle for her once, down at the bottom of the Birch Street
incline?"

"Oh, gee!" grinned Jimmy. "The time I laid out Joe Gonfarone? Maybe I
wasn't scared stiff that day! Well, what d'y' think of her remembering
that!"

"You'll find it's a peculiarity of Susan," said Phil, "that she doesn't
forget anything."

"Why--she must be grown up by this time," surmised Jimmy. "It was mighty
fine of you, Mr. Hunt, to do what you did! I'd kind of like to see her
again some day. But maybe she'd rather not," he added quickly.

"Why?" asked Phil.

"Well," said Jimmy, "she had a pretty raw deal on Birch Street. Seeing
me--might bring back things?"

"It couldn't," I reassured him. "Susan has never let go of them. She
uses all her experience, every part of it, every day."

Jimmy grinned again. "It must keep her hustling! But she always was
different, I guess, from the rest of us." With a vague wonder, he
addressed us both: "You think a lot of her, don't you?"

For some detached, ironic god this moment must have been exquisite. I
envied the god his detachment. The blank that had followed his question
puzzled Jimmy and turned him awkward. He fidgeted with his feet.

"Well," he finally achieved, "I guess I'd better be off, professor. I'll
think over all you said."

"Do," counselled Phil, rising, "and come to see me to-morrow. We mustn't
let you take a false step if we can avoid it."

"It's certainly great of you to show so much interest," said Jimmy,
hunching himself at last out of his chair. "I appreciate it a lot." He
hesitated, then plunged. "It's been well worth it to me to come East
again--just to meet _you_."

"Nonsense!" laughed Phil, shepherding him skillfully toward the door....

When he turned back to me, it was with the evident intention of
discussing further Jimmy's personal and educational problems; but I
rebelled.

"Phil," I said, "I know what Susan means to you, and you know--I
think--what she means to me. Now, through my weakness, stupidity, or
something, Susan's in danger. Sit down please, and let me talk. I'm
going to give you all the facts, everything--a full confession. It's
bound, for many reasons, to be painful for both of us. I'm sorry, old
man--but we'll have to rise to it for Susan's sake; see this thing
through together. I feel utterly imbecile and helpless alone."

Half an hour later I had ended my monologue, and we both sat silent,
staring at the dulled embers on the hearth....

At length Phil drew in a slow, involuntary breath.

"Hunt," he said, "it's a humiliating thing for a professional
philosopher to admit, but I simply can't trust myself to advise you. I
don't know what you ought to do; I don't know what Susan ought to do; or
what I should do. I don't even know what your wife should do; though I
feel fairly certain that whatever it is, she will try something else.
Frankly, I'm too much a part of it all, too heartsick, for honest
thought."

He smiled drearily and added, as if at random: "'Physician, heal
thyself.' What an abysmal joke! How the fiends of hell must treasure it.
They have only one better--'Man is a reasonable being!'" He rose, or
rather he seemed to be propelled from his chair. "Hunt! Would you really
like to know what all my days and nights of intense study have come to?
The kind of man you've turned to for strength? My life has come to just
this: I love her, and she doesn't love me!

"Oh!" he cried--"Go home. For God's sake, go home! I'm ashamed...."

So I departed, like Omar, through the same door wherein I went; but not
before I had grasped--as it seemed to me for the first time--Phil's
hand.


VIII

There are some verses in Susan's notebook of this period, themselves
undated, and never subsequently published, which--from their position on
the page--must have been written about this time and may have been
during the course of the momentous evening on which I met Jimmy Kane at
Phil Farmer's rooms. I give them now, not as a favorable specimen of her
work, since she thought best to exclude them from her first volume, but
because they throw some light at least on the complicated and rather
obscure state of mind that was then hers. They have no title, and need
none. If you should feel they need interpretation--"_guarda e passa_"!
They are not for you.

          _Though she rose from the sea
           There were stains upon her whiteness;
           All earth's waters had not sleeked her clean.
           For no tides gave her birth,
           Nor the salt, glimmering middle depths;
           But slime spawned her, the couch of life,
           The sunless ooze,
           The green bed of Poseidon,
           Where with sordid Chaos he mingles obscurely.
           Her flanks were of veined marble;
           There were stains upon her._

          _But she who passes, lonely,
           Through waste places,
           Through bog and forest;
           Who follows boar and stag
           Unwearied;
           Who sleeps, fearless, among the hills;
           Though she track the wilds,
           Though she breast the crags,
           Choosing no path--
           Her kirtle tears not,
           Her ankles gleam,
           Her sandals are silver._


IX

It was midnight when I reached my own door that night, but I was in no
mood for lying in bed stark awake in the spiritual isolation of
darkness. I went straight to my study, meaning to make up a fire and
then hypnotize myself into some form of lethargy by letting my eyes
follow the printed lines of a book. If reading in any other sense than
physical habit proved beyond me, at least the narcotic monotony of habit
might serve.

But I found a fire, already falling to embers, and Susan before it,
curled into my big wing chair, her feet beneath her, her hands lying
palms upward in her lap. This picture fixed me in the doorway while my
throat tightened. Susan did not stir, but she was not sleeping. She had
withdrawn.

Presently she spoke, absently--from Saturn's rings; or the moon.

"Ambo? I've been waiting to talk to you; but now I can't or I'll lose
it--the whole movement. It's like a symphony--great brasses groaning and
cursing--and then violins tearing through the tumult to soar above it."

Her eyes shut for a moment. When she opened them again it was to shake
herself free from whatever spell had bound her. She half yawned, and
smiled.

"Gone, dear--all gone. It's not your fault. Words wouldn't hold it.
Music might--but music doesn't come.... Oh, poor Ambo--you've had a
wretched time of it! How tired you look!"

I shut the door quietly and went to her, sitting on the hearth rug at
her feet, my knees in my arms.

"Sweetheart," I said, "it seems that in spite of myself I've done you
little good and about all the harm possible." And I made a clean breast
of all the facts and fears that the evening had developed. "So you see,"
I ended, "what my guardianship amounts to!"

Susan's hand came to my shoulder and drew me back against her knees; she
did not remove her hand.

"Ambo," she protested gently, "I'm just a little angry with you, I
think."

"No wonder!"

"Oh!" she exclaimed. "If I am angry it's because you can say stupid
things like that! Don't you see, Ambo, the very moment things grow
difficult for us you forget to believe in me--begin to act as if I were
a common or garden fool? I'm not, though. Surely you must know in your
heart that everything you're afraid of for me doesn't matter in the
least. What harm could slander or scandal possibly do me, dear? Me, I
mean? I shouldn't like it, of course, because I hate everything stodgy
and _formidablement bête_. But if it happens, I shan't lose much sleep
over it. You're worrying about the wrong things, Ambo; things that don't
even touch our real problem. And the real problem may prove to be the
real tragedy, too."

"Tragedy?" I mumbled.

"Oh, I hope not--I think not! It all depends on whether you care for
freedom; on whether you're really passion's slave. I don't believe you
are."

The words wounded me. I shifted, to look up at, to question, her shadowy
face. "Susan, what do you mean?"

"I suppose I mean that _I'm_ not, Ambo. You're far dearer to me than
anybody else on earth; your happiness, your peace, mean everything to
me. If you honestly can't find life worth while without me--can't--I'll
go with you anywhere; or face the music with you right here. First,
though, I must be sincere with you. I can live away from you, and still
make a life for myself. Except your day-by-day companionship--I'd be
lonely without that, of course--I shouldn't lose anything that seems to
me really worth keeping. Above all, I shouldn't really lose you."

"Susan! You're planning to leave me!"

"But, Ambo--it's only what you've felt to be necessary; what you've been
planning for me!"

"As a duty--at the bitterest possible cost! How different that is! You
not only plan to leave me--I feel that you want to!"

"Yes, I want to. But only if you can understand why."

"I don't understand!"

"Ah, wait, Ambo! You're not speaking for yourself. You're a slave now,
speaking for your master. But it's _you_ I want to talk to!"

I snarled at this. "Why? When you've discovered your mistake so soon!...
You don't love me."

She sighed, deeply unhappy; though my thin-skinned self-esteem wrung
from her sigh a shade of impatience, too.

"If not, dear," she said, "we had better find it out before it's too
late. Perhaps you are right. Perhaps love is something I only guess at
and go wrong about. If love means that I should be utterly lost in you
and nothing without you--if it means that I would rather die than leave
you--well, then I don't love you. But all the same, if love honestly
means that to you--I can't and won't go away." She put out her hand
again swiftly, and tightened her fingers on mine.

"It's a test, then. Is that it?" I demanded. "You want to go because
you're not sure?"

"I'm sure of what I feel," she broke in; "and more than that, I doubt if
I'm made so that I can ever feel more. No; that isn't why I want to go.
I'll go if you can let me, because--oh, I've got to say it,
Ambo!--because at heart I love freedom better than I love love--or you.
And there's something else. I'm afraid of--please try to understand
this, dear--I'm afraid of stuffiness for us both!"

"Stuffiness?"

"Sex _is_ stuffy, Ambo. The more people let it mess up their lives for
them, the stuffier they grow. It's really what you've been afraid of for
me--though you don't put it that way. But you hate the thought of people
saying--with all the muddy little undercurrents they stir up round such
things--that you and I have been passion's slaves. We haven't been--but
we might be; and suppose we were. It's the truth about us--not the
lies--that makes all the difference. You're you--and I'm I. It's because
we're worth while to ourselves that we're worth while to each other.
Isn't that true? But how long shall we be worth anything to ourselves or
to each other if we accept love as slavery, and get to feeling that we
can't face life, if it seems best, alone? Ambo, dear, do you see at all
what I'm driving at?"

Yes; I was beginning to see. Miss Goucher's desolate words came
suddenly back to me: "Susan doesn't need _you_."


X

Next morning, while I supposed her at work in her room, Susan slipped
down the back stairs and off through the garden. It was a heavy forenoon
for me, perhaps the bleakest and dreariest of my life. But it was a busy
forenoon for Susan. She began its activities by a brave intuitive
stroke. She entered the Egyptian tomb and demanded an interview with
Gertrude. What is stranger, she carried her point--as I was presently to
be made aware.

Miss Goucher tapped at the door, entered, and handed me a card. So
Gertrude had changed her mind; Gertrude had come. I stared, foolishly
blank, at the card between, my fingers, while Miss Goucher by perfect
stillness effaced herself, leaving me to my lack of thought.

"Well," I finally muttered, "sooner or later----"

Miss Goucher, perhaps too eagerly, took this for assent. "Shall I say to
Mrs. Hunt that you are coming down?"

I forced a smile, fatuously enough, and rose.

"When I'm down already? Surely you can see, Miss Goucher, that I've
touched the bottom?" Miss Goucher did not reply. "I'll go myself at
once," I added formally. "Thank you, Miss Goucher."

Gertrude was waiting in the small Georgian reception room, whose
detailed correctness had been due to her own; waiting without any vulgar
pretense at entire composure. She was walking slowly about, her color
was high, and it startled me to find her so little altered. Not a day
seemed to have added itself; she looked under thirty, though I knew her
to be thirty-five; she was even handsomer than I had chosen to remember.
Even in her present unusual restlessness, the old distinction, the old
patrician authority was hers. Her spirit imposed itself, as always; one
could take Gertrude only as she wished to be taken--seriously--humbly
grateful if exempted from disdain. Gertrude never spoke for herself
alone; she was at all times representative--almost symbolic. Homage met
in her not a personal gratitude, but the approval of a high, unbroken
tradition. She accepted it graciously, without obvious egotism, not as
due to her as a temporal being, but as due--under God--to that timeless
entity, her class. I am not satirizing Gertrude; I am praising her. She,
more than any person I have ever known, made of her perishing substance
the temple of a completely realized ideal.

It was, I am forced to assume, because I had failed in entire respect
for and submission to this ideal that she had finally abandoned me. It
was not so much incompatibility of temperament as incompatibility of
worship. She had removed a hallowed shrine from a felt indifference and
a possible contamination. That was all, but it was everything. And as I
walked into the reception room I saw that the shrine was still
beautiful, faultlessly tended, and ready for any absolute but dignified
sacrifice.

"Gertrude," I began, "it's splendid of you to overlook my inexcusable
rudeness of yesterday! I'm very grateful."

"I have not forgiven you," she replied, with casual indignation--just
enough for sincerity and not a shade too much for art. "Don't imagine
it's pleasant for me to be here. I should hardly have risked your
misinterpreting it, if any other course had seemed possible."

"You might simply have waited," I said. "It was my intention to call
this evening, if only to ask after your health."

"I could not have received you," said Gertrude.

"You find it less difficult here?"

"Less humiliating. I'm not, at least, receiving a husband who wishes to
plead for reconciliation--on intolerable grounds."

"May I offer you a chair? Better still--why not come to the study? We're
so much less likely to be disturbed."

She accepted my suggestion with a slight nod, and herself led the way.

"Now, Gertrude," I resumed, when she had consented to an easy-chair and
had permitted me to close the door, "whatever the situation and
misunderstandings between us, can't we discuss them"--and I ventured a
smile--"more informally, in a freer spirit?"

She caught me up. "Freer! But I understand--less disciplined. How very
like you, Ambrose. How unchanged you are."

"And you, Gertrude! It's a compliment you should easily forgive."

She preferred to ignore it. "Miss Blake," she announced, "has just been
with me for an hour."

She waited the effect of this. The effect was considerable, plunging me
into dark amazement and conjecture. Not daring to make the tiniest guess
as to the result of so fantastic an interview, I was left not merely
tongue-tied but brain-tied. Gertrude saw at once that she had beggared
me and could now at her leisure dole out the equal humiliation of alms
withheld or bestowed.

"Given your curious social astigmatism and her curious mixed charm--so
subtle and so deeply uncivilized--I can see, of course, why she has
bewitched you," said Gertrude reflectively, and paused. "And I can see,"
she continued, musing, as if she had adopted the stage convention of
soliloquy, "why you have just failed to capture her imagination. For you
have failed--but you can hardly be aware how completely."

"Whether or not I'm aware," I snapped, "seems negligible! Susan feels
she must leave me, and she'll probably act with her usual promptness. Is
that what she called to tell you?"

"Partly," acknowledged Gertrude, resuming then her soliloquy: "You've
given her--as you would--a ridiculous education. She seems to have
instincts, impulses, which--all things considered--might have bloomed if
cultivated. As it is, you found her crude, and, in spite of all the
culture you've crammed upon her, you've left her so. She's
emancipated--that is, public; she's thrown away the locks and keys of
her mind. I grant she has one. But apparently no one has even suggested
to her that the essence of being rare, of being fine, is knowing what to
omit, what to reject, what to conceal. I find my own people,
Ambrose--and they're the _right_ people, the only ones worth finding--by
feeling secure with them; I can trust them not to go too far. They have
decorum, taste. Oh, I admit we're upholding a lost cause! You're a
deserter from it--and Miss Blake doesn't even suspect its existence.
Still"--with a private smile--"her crudity had certain immediate
advantages this morning."

Ignoring rarity, fineness, I sank to the indecorum of a frankly human
grin. "In other words, Gertrude, Susan omitted so little, went so much
too far, that she actually forced you for once to get down to brass
tacks!"

Gertrude frowned. "She stripped herself naked before a stranger--if
that's what you mean."

"With the result, Gertrude?"

"Ah, that's why I'm here--as a duty I owe myself. I'm bound to say my
suspicions were unjust--to Miss Blake, at least. I'll even go beyond
that----"

"Careful, Gertrude! Evil communications corrupt good manners."

"Yes," she responded quickly, rising, "they do--always; that's why I'm
not here to stay. But all I have left for you, Ambrose, is this: I'm
convinced now that in one respect I've been quite wrong. Miss Blake
convinced me this morning that her astounding telegram had at least one
merit. It happened to be true. I _should_ either live with you or set
you free. I've felt this myself, from time to time, but divorce, for
many reasons...." She paused, then added: "However, it seems inevitable.
If you wish to divorce me, you have legal grounds--desertion; I even
advise it, and I shall make no defense. As for your amazing ward--make
your mind quite easy about her. If any rumors should annoy you, they'll
not come from me. And I shall speak to Lucette." She moved to the door,
opening it slowly. "That's all, I think, Ambrose?"

"It's not even a beginning," I cried.

"Think of it, rather, as an ending."

"Impossible! I--I'm abashed, Gertrude! What you propose is out of the
question. Why not think better of returning here? The heydey's past for
both of us. My dream--always a wild dream--is passing; and I can promise
sincere understanding and respect."

"I could not promise so easily," said Gertrude; "nor so much. No; don't
come with me," she added. "I know my way perfectly well alone."

Nevertheless, I went with her to the front door, as I ought, in no
perfunctory spirit. It was more than a courteous habit; it was a genuine
tribute of admiration. I admired her beauty, her impeccable bearing, her
frock, her furs, her intellect, the ease and distinction of her triumph.
She left me crushed; yet it was a privilege to have known her--to have
wooed her, won her, lost her; and now to have received my _coup de
grâce_ from her competent, disdainful hands. I wished her well, knowing
the wish superfluous. In this, if nothing else, she resembled Susan--she
did not need me; she could stand alone. It was her tragedy, in the
French classic manner, that she must. Would it also in another manner,
in a deeper and--I can think of no homelier word--more cosmic sense,
prove to be Susan's?

But my own stuffy problem drama, whether tragic or absurd, had now
reached a crisis and developed its final question: How in the absence of
Susan to stand at all?


XI

From her interview with Gertrude, Susan went straight on to Phil's
rooms, not even stopping to consider the possible proprieties involved.
But, five minutes before her arrival, Phil had been summoned to the
Graduates Club to receive a long-distance call from his Boston
publisher; and it was Jimmy Kane who answered her knock and opened the
study door. He had been in conference with Phil on his private problems
and Phil had asked him to await his return. All this he thought it
courteous to explain to the peach of a girl before him, whose presence
at the door puzzled him mightily, and whose disturbing eyes held his, he
thought, rather too intimately and quizzically for a stranger's.

She could hardly be some graduate student in philosophy; she was too
young and too flossy for that. "Flossy," in Jimmy's economical
vocabulary, was a symbol for many subtle shades of meaning: it implied,
for any maiden it fitted, an elegance not too cold to be alluring; the
possession of that something more than the peace of God which a friend
told Emerson always entered her heart when she knew herself to be well
dressed. Flossy--to generalize--Jimmy had not observed the women
graduate students to be, though he bore them no ill will. To be truly
flossy was, after all, a privilege reserved for a chosen few, born to a
certain circle which Jimmy had never sought to penetrate.

One--and a curiously entrancing specimen--of the chosen evidently stood
watching him now, and he wished that her entire self-possession did not
so utterly imperil his own. What was she doing alone, anyway, this
society girl--in a students' rooming house--at Prof. Farmer's door? Why
couldn't she tell him? And why were her eyes making fun of him--or
weren't they? His fingers went instinctively to his--perhaps too hastily
selected?--cravat.

Then Susan really did laugh, but happily, not unkindly, and walked on in
past him, shutting the door behind her as she came.

"Jimmy Kane," she said, "if I weren't so gorgeously glad to see you
again, I could beat you for not remembering!"

"Good Lord!" he babbled. "Why--good Lord! You're Susan!"

It was all too much for him; concealment was impossible--he was
flabbergasted. Sparkling with sheer delight at his _gaucherie_, Susan
put out both hands. Her impulsiveness instantly revived him; he seized
her hands for a moment as he might have gripped a long-lost boy
friend's.

"You never guessed I could look so--presentable, did you?" demanded
Susan.

"Presentable!" The word jarred on him, it was so dully inadequate.

"I have a maid," continued Susan demurely. "Everything in Ambo's
house--Ambo is my guardian, you know; Mr. Hunt--well, everything in his
house is a work of art. So he pays a maid to see that I am--always. I am
simply clay in her hands, and it does make a difference. But I didn't
have a maid on Birch Street, Jimmy."

Jimmy's blue eyes capered. This was American humor--the kind he was born
to and could understand. Happiness and ease returned with it. If Susan
could talk like that while looking like that--well, Susan was _there_!
She was all right.

Within five minutes he was giving her a brief, comradely chronicle of
the missing years, and when Phil got back it was to find them seated
together, Susan leaning a little forward from the depths of a Morris
chair to follow more attentively Jimmy's minute technical description of
the nature of the steel alloys used in the manufacture of automobiles.

They rose at Phil's entrance with a mingling, eager chatter of
explanation. Phil later--much later--admitted to me that he had never
felt till that moment how damnably he was past forty, and how fatally
Susan was not. He further admitted that it was far from the most
agreeable discovery of a studious life.

"What do you think, Prof. Farmer," exclaimed Jimmy, "of our meeting
again accidentally like this--and me not knowing Susan! You can't beat
that much for a small world!"

Phil sought Susan's eye, and was somewhat relieved by the quizzical
though delighted gleam in it.

"Well, Jimmy," he responded gravely, "truth compels me to state that I
have heard of stranger encounters--less inevitable ones, at least. I
really have."

"But you never heard of a nicer one," said Susan. "Haven't I always told
you and Ambo that Jimmy would be like this?"

"Sort of foolish?" grinned Jimmy, with reawakening constraint. "I'll bet
you have, too."

Susan shook her head, solemn and slow; but the corners of her mouth
meant mischief.

"No, Jimmy, not foolish; just--natural. Just--sort of--_you_."

At this point, Jimmy hastily remembered that he must beat it, pleading
what Phil knew to be an imaginary recitation. But he did not escape
without finding himself invited to dinner for that very evening,
informally of course--Susan suspected the absence of even a dinner coat:
Phil would bring him. It was really Phil who accepted for him, while
Jimmy was still muddling through his thanks and toiling on to needless
apologies.

"If I've been too"--he almost said "fresh," but sank to--"familiar,
calling you by your first name, I mean--I wouldn't like you to
think--but coming all of a sudden like this, what I mean is----"

"Oh, run along!" called Susan gayly. "Forget it, Jimmy! You're spoiling
everything."

"That's what I m-mean," stammered Jimmy, and was gone.

"But he does mean well, Susan," Phil pleaded for him, after closing the
door.

It puzzled him to note that Susan's face instantly clouded; there was
reproof in her tone. "That was patronizing, Phil. I won't have anybody
patronize Jimmy. He's perfect."

Phil was oddly nettled by this reproof and grew stubborn and detached.
"He's a nice boy, certainly; and has the makings of a real man. I
believe in him. Still--heaven knows!--he's not precisely a subtle soul."

Susan's brow had cleared again. "That's what I m-mean!" she laughed,
mimicking Jimmy without satire, as if for the pure pleasure of
recollection. "The truth is, Phil, I'm rather fed up on
subtlety--especially my own. Sometimes I think it's just a polite term
for futility, with a dash of intellectual snobbishness thrown in. It
must be saner, cleaner, healthier, to take life straight."

"And now, Phil dear," she said, dismissing the matter, as if settling
back solidly to earth after a pleasantly breathless aërial spin, "I need
your advice. Can I earn my living as a writer? I'll write anything that
pays, so I think I can. Fashion notes--anything! Sister and I"--"Sister"
being Susan's pet name for Miss Goucher--"are running away to New York
on Monday--to make our fortunes. You mustn't tell Ambo--yet; I'll tell
him in my own way. And I must _make_ my own way now, Phil. I've been a
lazy parasite long enough--too long! So please sit down and write me
subtle letters of introduction to any publishers you know. Maltby is
bound to help me, of course. You see, I'm feeling ruthless--or
shameless; I shall pull every wire in sight. So I'm counting on _The
Garden Exquisite_ for immediate bread and butter. I did my first article
for it in an hour when I first woke up this morning--just the
smarty-party piffle its readers and advertisers seem to demand.

"This sort of thing, Phil: 'The poets are wrong, as usual. Wild flowers
are not shy and humble, they are exclusive. How to know them is still a
social problem in American life, and very few of us have attained this
aristocratic distinction.' And so on! Two thousand silly salable
words--and I can turn on that soda-water tap at will. Are you listening?
Please tell me you don't think poor Sister--she refuses to leave me, and
I wouldn't let her anyway--will have to undergo martyrdom in a cheap
hall bedroom for the rest of her days?"

Needless to say, Phil did not approve of Susan's plan. He agreed with
her that under the given conditions she could not remain with me in New
Haven; and he commended her courage, her desire for independence. But
Susan would never, he felt, find her true pathway to independence,
either material or spiritual, as a journalistic free-lance in New York.
He admitted the insatiable public thirst for soda-water, but saw no
reason why Susan should waste herself in catering to it. He was by no
means certain that she could cater to it if she would.

"You'll too often discover," he warned her, "that your tap is running an
unmarketable beverage. The mortal taste for nectar is still undeveloped;
it remains the drink of the gods."

"But," Susan objected, "I can't let Ambo pay my bills from now on--I
can't! And Sister and I must live decently somehow! I'd like nothing
better than to be a perpetual fountain of nectar--supposing, you nice
old Phil, that I've ever really had the secret of distilling a single
drop of it. But you say yourself there's no market for it this side of
heaven, which is where we all happen to be. What do you want me to do?"

"Marry me."

"It wouldn't be fair to you, dear."

There was a momentary pause.

"Then," said Phil earnestly, "I want you to let Hunt--or if you can't
bring yourself to do that--to let _me_ loan you money enough from time
to time to live on simply and comfortably for a few years, while you
study and think and write in your own free way--till you've found
yourself. My nectar simile was nonsense, just as your soda-water tap
was. You have brains and a soul, and the combination means a shining
career of some kind--even on earth. Don't fritter your genius away in
makeshift activities. Mankind needs the best we have in us; the best's
none too good. It's a duty--no, it's more than that--it's a true
_religion_ to get that expressed somehow--whether in terms of action or
thought or beauty. I know, of course, you feel this as I do, and mean to
win through to it in the end. But why handicap yourself so cruelly at
the start?"

Phil tells me that Susan, while he urged this upon her, quietly
withdrew and did not return for some little time after he had ceased to
speak. He was not even certain she had fully heard him out until she
suddenly leaned to him from her chair and gave his hand an affectionate,
grateful squeeze.

"Yes, Phil," she said, "it is a religion--it's perhaps the only religion
I shall ever have. But for that very reason I must accept it in my own
way. And I'm sure--it's part of my faith--that any coddling now will do
me more harm than good. I must meet the struggle, Phil--the hand-to-hand
fight. If the ordinary bread-and-butter conditions are too much for me,
then I'm no good and must go under. I shan't be frittering anything away
if I fail. I shan't fail--in our sense--unless we're both mistaken, and
there isn't anything real in me. That's what I must find out first--not
sheltered and in silence, but down in the scrimmage and noise of it all.
If I'm too delicate for that, then I've nothing to give this world, and
the sooner I'm crushed out of it the better! Believe me, Phil dear, I
know I'm right; I _know_."

She was pressing clenched hands almost fiercely between her girl's
breasts as she ended, as if to deny or repress any natural longing for a
special protection, a special graciousness and security, from our common
taskmaster, life.

Phil admits that he wanted to whimper like a homesick boy.


XII

Susan's informal dinner for Jimmy that evening was not really a
success. The surface of the water sparkled from time to time, but there
were grim undercurrents and icy depths. Perhaps it was not so bad as my
own impression of it, for I had a sullen headache pulsing its tiresome
obbligato above a dull ground base of despair. Despair, I am forced to
call it. Never had life seemed to me so little worth the trouble of
going on; and I fancy Phil's reasoned conviction of its eternal dignity
and import had become, for the present, less of a comfort to him than a
curse. Moods of this kind, however ruthlessly kept under, infect the
very air about them. They exude a drab fog to deaden spontaneity and
choke laughter at its source.

Neither Phil nor I was guilty of deliberate sulking; whether from false
pride or native virtue we did our best--but our best was abysmal. Even
Susan sank under it to the flat levels of made conversation, and poor
Jimmy--who had brought with him many social misgivings--was stricken at
table with a muscular rigor; sat stiffly, handled his implements
jerkily, and ended by oversetting a glass of claret and blushing till
the dusky red of his face matched the spreading stain before him.

At this crisis of gloom, luckily, Susan struggled clear of the drab fog
and saved the remnant of the evening--at least for Jimmy, plunging with
the happiest effect into the junior annals of Birch Street, till our
heavier Hillhouse atmosphere stirred and lightened with
_Don't-you-remember's_ and _Sure-I-do's_. And shortly after dinner,
Phil, tactfully pleading an unprepared lecture, dragged Jimmy off with
him before this bright flare-up of youthful reminiscence had even
threatened to expire. Their going brought Susan at once to my side, with
a stricken face of self-reproach.

"It was so stupid of me, Ambo--this dinner. I've never been more
ashamed. How could I have forced it on you to-night! But you were
wonderful, dear--wonderful! So was Phil. I'll never forget it." There
were tears in her eyes. "Oh, Ambo," she wailed, "do you think I shall
ever learn to be a little like either of you? I feel--abject." Before I
could prevent it, she had seized my hand in both hers and kissed it.
"Homage," she smiled....

It broke me down--utterly.... You will spare me any description of the
next ten minutes of childishness. Indeed, you must spare me the details
of our later understanding; they are inviolable. It is enough to say
that I emerged from it--for the experience had been overwhelming--with a
new spirit, a clarified and serener mind. My love for Susan was
unchanged--yet wholly changed. The paradox is exact. Life once more
seemed to me good, since she was part of it; and my own life rich, since
I now knew how truly it had become a portion of hers. She had made me
feel, know, that I counted for her--unworthy as I am--in all she had
grown to be and would grow to be. We had shaped and would always shape
each other's lives. There for the moment it rested. She would leave me,
but I was not to be alone.

No; I was not to be alone. For even if she had died, or had quite
changed and forsaken me, there would be memories--such as few men have
been privileged to recall....


INTERLUDE

On the rearward and gentler slopes of Mount Carmel, a rough, isolated
little mountain, very abrupt on its southerly face, which rises six or
seven miles up-country from the New Haven Green, there is an ancient
farm, so long abandoned as to be completely overgrown with gray
birch--the old field birch of exhausted soils--with dogwood and an
aromatic tangle of humbler shrubs, high-bush huckleberry and laurel and
sweet fern; while beneath these the dry elastic earth-floor is a deep
couch of ghost-gray moss, shining checkerberry and graceful ground pine.
The tumbledown farmstead itself lies either unseen at some distance from
these abandoned fields or has wholly disappeared along with the neat
stone fences that must once have marked them. Yet the boundaries of the
fields are now majestically defined through the undergrowth by rows of
gigantic red cedars so thickset, so tall, shapely, and dense as to
resemble the secular cypresses of Italian gardens more nearly than the
poor relations they ordinarily are.

And at the upper edge of one steep-lying field, formerly an apple
orchard--though but three or four of the original apple trees remain,
hopelessly decrepit and half buried in the new growth--the older cedars
of the fence line have seeded capriciously and have thrown out an almost
perfect circle of younger, slenderer trees which, standing shoulder to
shoulder, inclose the happiest retreat for woodland god or dreaming
mortal that the most exacting faun or poet could desire.

That Susan should have happened upon this lonely, this magic circle, I
can never regard as a mere accident. Obviously time had slowly and
lovingly formed and perfected it for some purpose; it was there waiting
for her--and one day she came and possessed it, and the magic circle was
complete.

Susan was then seventeen and the season, as it should have been, was
early May. Much of the hill country lying northward from the Connecticut
coast towns is surprisingly wild, and none of it wilder or lovelier than
certain tracts spread within easy reach of the few New Haveners who have
not wholly capitulated to business or college politics or golf or social
service or the movies, forgetting a deeper and saner lure. A later
Wordsworth or Thoreau might still live in midmost New Haven and never
feel shut from his heritage, for it neighbors him closely--swamp and
upland, hemlock cliff and hardwood forest, precipitous brook or
slow-winding meadow stream, where the red-winged blackbirds flute and
flash by; the whole year's wonder awaits him; he has but to go
forth--alone.

Nature never did betray the heart that loved her, though she so
ironically betrays most of us who merely pretend to love her, because we
feel, after due instruction, that we ought. For Nature is not easily
communicative, nor lightly wooed. She demands a higher devotion than an
occasional picnic, and will seldom have much to say to you if she feels
that you secretly prefer another society to hers. To her elect she
whispers, timelessly, and Susan, in her own way, was of the elect. It
was the way--the surest--of solitary communion; but it was very little,
very casually, the way of science. She observed much, but without
method; and catalogued not at all. She never counted her warblers and
seldom named them--but she loved them, as they slipped northward through
young leaves, shyly, with pure flashes of green or russet or gold.

Nature for Susan, in short, was all mood, ranging from cold horror to
supernal beauty; she did not sentimentalize the gradations. The cold
horror was there and chilled her, but the supernal beauty was there
too--and did not leave her cold. And through it all streamed an
indefinable awe, a trail one could not follow, a teasing mystery--an
unspoken word. It was back of--no rather it interpenetrated the horror
no less than the beauty; they were but phases, hints, of that other,
that suspected, eerie trail, leading one knew not where.

But surely there, in that magic circle, one might press closer, draw
oneself nearer, catch at the faintest hint toward a possible clue? The
aromatic space within the cedars became Susan's refuge, her nook from
the world, her Port-Royal, her Walden, her Lake Isle of Innisfree. Once
found that spring she never spoke of it; she hoarded her treasure,
slipping off to it stealthily, through slyest subterfuge or evasion,
whenever she could. For was it not hers?

Sometimes she rode out there, tying her horse to a tree in the lowest
field back of a great thicket of old-fashioned lilac bushes run wild,
where he was completely hidden from the rare passers-by of the rough
up-country road or lane. But oftenest, she has since confessed, she
would clear her morning or afternoon by some plausible excuse for
absence, then board the Waterbury trolley express, descending from it
about two miles from her nook, and walking or rather climbing up to it
crosslots through neglected woodland and uncropped pasture reverting to
the savage.

At one point she had to pass a small swampy meadow through which a mere
thread of stream worked its way, half-choked by thick-springing blades
of our native wild iris; so infinitely, so capriciously delicate in form
and hue. And here, if these were in bloom, she always lingered a while,
poised on the harsh hummocks of bent-grass, herself slender as a reed.
The pale, softly pencilled iris petals stirred in her a high wonder
beyond speech. What supreme, whimsical artistry brought them to being
there, in that lonely spot; and for whose joy? No human hand, cunning
with enamel and platinum and treated silver, could, after a lifetime of
patience, reproduce one petal of these uncounted flowers. Out of the
muck they lifted, ethereal, unearthly--yet so soon to die....

Oh, she knew what the learned had to say of them!--that they were merely
sexual devices; painted deceptions for attracting insects and so
assuring cross-pollination and the lusty continuance of their race. So
far as it went this was unquestionably true; but it went--just how far?
Their color and secret manna attracted the necessary insects, which they
fed; the form of their petals and perianth tubes, and the arrangement of
their organs of sex were cunningly evolved, so that the insect that
sought their nectar bore from one flower to the next its fertilizing
golden dust----

Astonishing, certainly! But what astonished her far more was that all
this ingenious mechanism should in any way affect _her_! It was
obviously none of her affair; and yet to come upon these cunning
mechanistic devices in this deserted field stirred her, set something
ineffable free in her--gave it joy for wings. It was as if these pale
blooms of wild iris had been for her, in a less mortal sense, what the
unconscious insects were for them--_intermediaries_, whose more ethereal
contacts cross-fertilized her very soul. But she could not define for
herself or express for others what they did to her. Of one thing only
she was certain: These fleeting moments of expansion, of illumination,
were brief and vague--moments of pure, uncritical feeling--but they were
the best moments of her life; and they were real. They vanished, but not
wholly. They left lasting traces. Never to have been visited by them
would have condemned her, she knew, to be less than her fullest self,
narrower in sympathy, more rigid, more dogmatic, and less complete.

But that first May day of her discovery, when called out to wander
lonely as a cloud by the spirit of spring--the day she had happened on
her magic circle,--all that rough upland world was burgeoning, and the
beauty of those deserted fields hurt the heart. Susan never easily wept,
but that day--safely hidden in the magic circle, then newly hers--she
threw herself down on the ghost-gray moss among the spicy tufts of sweet
fern and enjoyed, as she later told me, the most sensuously abandoned
good cry of her life. The dogwood trees were a glory of flushed white
about her, shining in on every hand through the black-green cedars, as
if the stars had rushed forward toward earth and clustered more thickly
in a nearer midnight sky. Life had no right to be so overwhelmingly
fair--if these poignant gusts of beauty gave no sanction to all that the
bruised heart of man might long for of peace and joy! If life must be
accepted as an idiot's tale, signifying nothing, then it was a
refinement of that torture that it could suddenly lift--as a sterile
wave lifts only to break--to such dizzying, ecstatic heights.... No,
no--it was impossible! It was unthinkable! It was absurd!

That year we spent July, August, and early September in France, but late
September found us back in New Haven for those autumnal weeks which are
the golden, heady wine of our New England cycle. Praise of the New
England October, for those who have experienced it, must always seem
futile, and for those who have not, exaggerated and false. Summer does
not decay in New England; it first smoulders and then flares out in a
clear multicolored glory of flame; it does not sicken to corruption, it
shouts and sings and is transfigured. I had suggested to Susan,
therefore, a flight to higher hills--to the Berkshires, to be
precise--where we might more spaciously watch these smoke-less
frost-fires flicker up, spread, consume themselves, and at last leap
from the crests, to vanish rather than die. But Susan, pleading a desire
to settle down after much wandering, begged off. She did not tell me
that she had a private sanctuary, too long unvisited, hidden among
nearer and humbler hills.

The rough fields of the old farm were now rich with crimson and
gold--bright yellow gold, red gold, green and tarnished gold--or misted
over with the horizon blue of wild asters, a needed softening of tone in
a world else so vibrant with light, so nakedly clear. This was another
and perhaps even a deeper intoxication than that of the flood tide of
spring. Unbearably beautiful it grew at its climax of splendor! An
unseen organist unloosed all his stops, and Susan, like a little child
overpowered by that rocking clamor, was shaken by it and almost
whimpered for mercy....

It was not until the following spring that chance improbably betrayed
her guarded secret to me. All during the preceding fall I had wondered
at times that I found it so increasingly difficult to arrange for
afternoons of tennis or golf or riding with Susan; but I admonished
myself that as she grew up she must inevitably find personal interests
and younger friends, and it was not for me to limit or question her
freedom. And though Susan never lied to me, she was clever enough, and
woman enough, to let me mislead myself.

"I've been taking a long walk, Ambo." "I've been riding."

Well, bless her, so she had--and why shouldn't she? Though it came at
last with me to a vague, comfortless feeling of shut-outness--of too
often missing an undefined something that I had hoped to share.

During a long winter of close companionship in study and socially
unsocial life this feeling disappeared, but with the spring it gradually
formed again, like a little spreading cloud in an empty sky. And one
afternoon, toward middle May, I discovered myself to be unaccountably
alone and wishing Susan were round--so we could "do something." The day
was a day apart. Mummies that day, in dim museums, ached in their
cerements. Middle-aged bank clerks behind grilles knew a sudden unrest,
and one or two of them even wondered whether to be always honestly
handling the false counters of life were any compensation for never
having riotously lived. Little boys along Hillhouse Avenue, ordinarily
well-behaved, turned freakishly truculent, delighted in combat, and
pummelled each other with ineffective fists. Settled professors in
classrooms were seized with irrelevant fancies and, while trying to
recover some dropped thread of discourse, openly sighed--haunted by
visions of the phoebe bird's nest found under the old bridge by the mill
dam, or of the long-forgotten hazel eyes of some twelve-year-old
sweetheart. A rebellious day--and a sentimental! [See Lord Tennyson, and
the poets, _passim_.] The apple trees must be in full bloom....

Well then, confound it, why had Susan gone to a public lecture on
Masefield? Or had she merely mentioned at lunch that there was a public
lecture on Masefield? Oh, damn it! One can't stay indoors on such a day!

Susan and I kept our saddle horses at the local riding academy, where
they were well cared for and exercised on the many days when we couldn't
or did not wish to take them out. As the academy was convenient and had
good locker rooms and showers, we always preferred changing there
instead of dressing at home and having the horses sent round. Riding is
not one of my passions, and oddly enough is not one of Susan's. That
intense sympathy which unites some men and women to horses, and others
to dogs or cats, is either born in one or it is not. Susan felt it very
strongly for both dogs and cats, and if I have failed to mention Tumps
and Togo, that is a lack in myself, not in her. I don't dislike dogs or
cats or, for that matter, well-broken horses, but--though I lose your
last shreds of sympathy--they all, in comparison with other interests,
leave me more than usual calm. Of Tumps and Togo, nevertheless,
something must yet be said, though too late for their place in Susan's
heart; or indeed, for their own deserving. But they are already an
intrusion here.

For Alma, her dainty little single footer, Susan's feeling was rather
admiration than love. Just as there are poets whose songs we praise, but
whose genius does not seem to knit itself into the very fabric of our
being, so it was with Alma and Susan. She said and thought nothing but
good of Alma, yet never felt lonely away from her--the infallible test.
As for Jessica, my own modest nag, I fear she was very little more to me
than an agreeably paced inducement to exercise, and I fear I was little
more to her than a possible source of lump sugar and a not-too-fretful
hand on the bridle reins. To-day, however, I needed her as a more poetic
motor; failing Susan's companionship, I wanted to be carried far out
into country byways apart from merely mechanical motors or--ditto--men.

Jessica, well up to it, offered no objections to the plan, and we were
soon trotting briskly along the aërial Ridge Road, from which we at
length descended to the dark eastern flank of Mount Carmel. It would
mean a long pull to go right round the mountain by the steep back road,
and I had at first no thought of attempting it; but the swift
remembrance of a vast cherry orchard bordering that road made me wonder
whether its blossoms had yet fallen. When I determined finally to push
on, poor Jessica's earlier fire had cooled; we climbed the rough back
road as a slug moves; the cherry orchard proved disappointing; and the
sun was barely two hours from the hills when we crossed the divide and
turned south down a grass-grown wood road that I had never before
traveled. I hoped, and no doubt Jessica hoped, it might prove a shorter
cut home.

What it did prove was so fresh an enchantment of young leaf and
flashing wing, that I soon ceased to care where it led or how late I
might be for dinner. Then a sharp dip in the road brought a new vision
of delight; dogwood--cloudy masses of pink dogwood, the largest,
deepest-tinted trees of it I had ever seen! It caught at my throat; and
I reined in Jessica, whose æsthetic sense was less developed, and
stared. But presently the spell was broken. An unseen horse squealed,
evidently from behind a great lilac thicket in an old field at the left,
and Jessica squealed back, instantly alert and restive. The sharp
whinnying was repeated, and Jessica's dancing excitement grew intense;
then there was a scuffling commotion back of the lilacs and to my final
astonishment Susan's little mare, Alma, having broken her headstall and
wrenched herself free of bit and bridle, came trotting amicably forth to
join her old friends--which she could easily do, as the ancient cattle
bars at the field-gate had long since rotted away.

It was unmistakably dainty Alma with her white forehead star--but where
was her mistress? A finger of ice drew slowly along my spine as I urged
Jessica into the field and round the lilac thicket. Alma meekly followed
us, softly breathing encouragement through pink nostrils, and my alarm
quieted when I found nothing more dreadful than the broken bridle still
dangling from the branch of a dead cedar. It was plain that Susan had
tied Alma there to explore on foot through the higher fields; it was
plain, too, that she must have preferred to ride out here alone, and had
been at some pains to conceal her purpose.

For a second, so piqued was I, I almost decided to ride on and leave the
willful child to her own devices. But the broken bridle shamed me. I
dismounted to examine it; it could be held together safely enough for
the return, I saw, with a piece of stout twine, and there was certain to
be a habitation with a piece of stout twine in it on down the road
somewhere. Susan must have come that way and could tell me. But I must
find her first....

"Susan!" I called. "_Oh-ho-o-o! Soo-san!_"

No answer. I called again--vainly. Nothing for it, then, but a search! I
tethered Jessica to the cedar stump, convinced that Alma wouldn't wander
far from her old friend, and started off through the field past a senile
apple tree bearing a few scattered blossoms, beyond which a faintly
suggested path seemed to lead upward through a wonder-grove of the pink
dogwood, mingled with laurel and birch and towering cedars. That path, I
knew, would have tempted Susan.

What there was of it soon disappeared altogether in an under-thicket of
high-bush huckleberry, taller than a man's head. Through this I was
pushing my way, and had stooped to win past some briers and protect my
eyes--when I felt a silk scarf slip across them, muffling my face.

It was swiftly knotted from behind; then my hand was taken, and Susan's
voice--on a tone of blended mischief and mystery--quavered at my ear:
"Hush! Profane mortal--speak not! This is holy ground."

With not another word spoken she drew me after her, guiding me to freer
air and supporting me when I stumbled. We continued thus for some
moments, on my part clumsily enough; and then Susan halted me, and
turned me solemnly round three times, while she crooned in a weird
gypsy-like singsong the following incantation:

          _Cedar, cedar, birch and fern,
           Turn his wits as mine you turn._

          _If he sees what now I see
           Welcome shall this mortal be._

          _If he sees it not, I'll say
           Crick-crack and vanish May!_

But I must have seen! My initiation was pronounced successful. From that
hour all veils were withdrawn, and I was made free of the magic
circle....

It was a dip in Lethe. Dinner was forgotten--the long miles home and the
broken bridle. A powerful enchantment had done its work. For me, only
the poised moment of joy was real. Nothing else mattered, nothing else
existed, while that poised fragile moment was mine. We talked or were
silent--it was all one. And when dusk crept in, and a grateful
wood-thrush praised it, we still lingered to join in that praise....
Then a whippoorwill began to call insistently, grievously, from very far
off. It was the whippoorwill that shattered my poised crystal moment of
perfect joy.

"Those poor horses," I said.

"Oh!" cried Susan, springing up, "how _could_ we let them starve! I'm
starved, too, Ambo--aren't you? What sillies we are!"

We got home safely, after some trifling difficulties, past ten
o'clock....

          _When the lamp is shattered
           The light in the dust lies dead----_

Only it doesn't, always--thank God! Memories.... And this was but one.
Oh, no; I was not to be alone. I should never really be alone....


XIII

The morning after Jimmy had dined with us, Susan, at my request, brought
Miss Goucher to my study, and we had a good long talk together. And
first of all the problem of Gertrude loomed before us, starting up
ghostlike at a chance remark, and then barring all progress with more
practical considerations, till laid. Neither Susan's telegram nor her
private interview with Gertrude had been discussed between us; I had
nervously shied off from both matters in my dread of seeming to question
Susan's motives. But now Susan herself, to put it crudely, insisted on a
show-down.

"The air needed clearing, Ambo, and I sent the telegram hoping to clear
it by raising a storm. But, as Sister reminded me at breakfast, storms
don't always clear the air--even good hard ones; they sometimes leave it
heavier than ever. I'm afraid that's what my storm has done. Has it,
Ambo? What happened when Mrs. Hunt came to see you here? But perhaps I
ought to tell you first what happened between us?"

"No," I smiled; "Gertrude made that fairly plain, for once. And your
storm did sweep off the worst of the fog! You see, Gertrude has,
intensely, the virtues of her defects--a fastidious sense of honor among
them. Once she felt her suspicions unjust, she was bound to acknowledge
it. I can't say you won a friend, but you did--by some miracle--placate
a dangerous foe."

"Is she coming back to you, Ambo?"

"No. She suggests divorce. But that of course is impossible!"

"Why?"

"Is it kind to ask?" said Miss Goucher. "And--forgive me, dear--after
your decision, is it necessary for you to know?"

Susan reflected anxiously. "No," she finally responded, "it isn't kind;
but it is necessary. I'll tell you why, Ambo. If you had been free, I
think there's no doubt I should have married you. Oh, I know, dear, it
sounds cold-blooded like that! But the point is, I shouldn't then have
questioned things as I do now. My feeling for you--your need of me--they
wouldn't have been put to the test. Now they have been--or rather,
they're being tested, every minute of every hour. Suppose I should ask
you now--meaning every word of it--to divorce Mrs. Hunt so you could
marry me? At least you'd know then, wouldn't you, that simply being
yours meant more to me than anything else in life? Or suppose I couldn't
bring myself to ask it, but couldn't face life without you? Suppose I
drowned myself----"

"Good God, dear!"

"I'm not going to, Ambo--and what's equally important, neither are you.
Why, you don't even pause over Mrs. Hunt's suggestion! You don't even
wait to ask my opinion! You say at once--it's impossible! That proves
something, doesn't it--about you and me? It either proves we're not half
so much in love as we think we are, or else that love isn't for either
of us the only good thing in life--the whole show." She paused, but
added: "Why can't you consider divorcing Mrs. Hunt, Ambo? After all, she
isn't honestly your wife and doesn't want to be; it would only be common
fairness to yourself."

Miss Goucher stirred uneasily in her chair. I stirred uneasily in mine.

"There are so many reasons," I fumbled. "I suppose at bottom it comes to
this--a queer feeling of responsibility, of guilt even...."

"Nonsense!" cried Susan. "You never could have satisfied her, Ambo. You
weren't born to be human, but somehow, in spite of everything, you just
are! It's your worst fault in Mrs. Hunt's eyes. Mrs. Hunt shouldn't have
married a man; she should have married a social tradition; an abstract
idea."

"How could she?" asked Miss Goucher.

"Easily," said Susan; "she's one herself, so there must be others. It's
hard to believe, but apparently abstractions like that do get themselves
incarnated now and then. I never met one before--in the flesh. It gave
me a creepy feeling--like shaking hands with the fourth dimension or
asking the Holy Roman Empire to dinner. But I don't pretend to make her
out, Ambo. Why _did_ she leave you? It seems the very thing an incarnate
social tradition could never have brought herself to do!"

Before I could check myself I reproved her. "You're not often merely
cruel, Susan!" Then, hoping to soften it, I hurried on: "You see, dear,
Gertrude isn't greatly to blame. Suppose you had been born and brought
up like her, to believe beauty and brains and a certain gracious way of
life a family privilege, a class distinction. Don't you see how your
inbred worship of class and family would become in the end an intenser
form of worshipping yourself? Gertrude was taught to live exclusively,
from girlhood, in this disguised worship of her own perfections. We're
all egotists of course; but most of us are the common or garden variety,
and have an occasional suspicion that we're pretty selfish and
intolerant and vain. Gertrude has never suspected it. How could she? A
daughter of her house can do no wrong--and she is a daughter of her
house." I sighed.

"Unluckily, my power of unreserved admiration has bounds, and my tongue
and temper sometimes haven't. So our marriage dissolved in an acid bath
compounded of honest irritations and dishonest apologies. _I_ made the
dishonest apologies. To do Gertrude justice, she never apologized. She
knew the initial fault was mine. I shouldn't have joined a church whose
creed I couldn't repeat without a sensation of moral nausea. That's just
what I did when I married Gertrude. There was no deception on her side,
either. I knew her gods, and I knew she assumed that mine were the same
as hers, and that I was humbly entering the service of their dedicated
priestess. Well, I apostatized--to her frozen amazement. Then a crisis
came--insignificant enough.... Gertrude refused to call with me on the
bride of an old friend of mine, because she thought it a misalliance. He
had no right, she held, under her jealous gods, to bring a former
trained nurse home as his wife, and thrust her upon a society that would
never otherwise have received her.

"I was furious, and blasphemed her gods. I insisted she should either
accompany me, then and there, or I'd go myself and apologize for
her--yes, these are the words I used--her 'congenital lunacy.' She left
me like a statue walking, and went to her room."

"And you?" asked Susan.

"I made the call."

"Did you make the apology?"

"No; I couldn't."

"Naturally not," assented Miss Goucher.

"Oh, Ambo," protested Susan, "what a coward you are! Well, and then?"

"I returned to a wifeless house. From that hour until yesterday morning
there have been no explanations between Gertrude and me. Gertrude is
superb."

"I understand her less than ever," said Susan.

"I understand her quite well," said Miss Goucher. "But your long
silence, Mr. Hunt--that I can't understand."

"I can," Susan exclaimed. "Ambo's very bones dislike her. So do mine. Do
you remember how I used to shock you, Ambo, when I first came
here--saying somebody or other was no damn good? Well, I can't help it;
it's stronger than I am. Mrs. Hunt's no----"

"Oh, _child_!" struck in Miss Goucher. "How much you have still to
learn!" Then she addressed me: "I've never seen a more distinguished
person than Mrs. Hunt. I know it's odd, coming from me, but somehow I
sympathize with her--greatly. I've always"--hesitated Miss
Goucher--"been a proud sort of nobody myself."

Susan reached over and slipped her hand into Miss Goucher's. "Poor
Sister! Just as we're going off together you begin to find out how
horrid I can be. But I'll make a little true confession to both of you.
What I've been saying about Mrs. Hunt isn't in the least what I think
about her. The fact is, I'm jealous of her, in so many ways--except in
the ordinary way! To make a clean breast of it, when I was with her she
brought me to my knees in spite of myself. Oh, I acknowledge her power!
It's uncanny. How did you ever find strength to resist it, Ambo? My
outbreak was sheer Birch Street bravado--a cheap insult flung in the
face of the unattainable! It was all my shortcomings throwing mud at all
her disdain. Truly! Why, the least droop of her eyelids taught me that
it takes more than quick wits and sensitive nerves and hard study to
overcome a false start--or rather, no start at all!

"Birch Street isn't even a beginning, because, so far as Mrs. Hunt's
concerned, Birch Street simply doesn't exist! And even Birch Street
would have to admit that she gets away with it! I'd say so, too, if I
didn't go a step farther and feel that it gets away with her. That's why
ridicule can't touch her. You can't laugh at a devotee, a woman
possessed, the instrument of a higher power! Mrs. Hunt's a living
confession of faith in the absolute rightness of the right people, and a
living rebuke to the incurable wrongness of the wrong! Oh, I knew at
once what you meant, Ambo, when you called her a dedicated priestess!
It's the way I shall always think of her--ritually clothed, and pouring
out tea to her gods from sacred vessels of colonial silver! You can
smile, Ambo, but I shall; and way down in my common little Birch Street
heart, I believe I shall always secretly envy her.... So there!"

For the first time in my remembrance of her, Miss Goucher laughed out
loud. Her laugh--in effect, not in resonance--was like cockcrow. We all
laughed together, and Gertrude vanished.... But ten minutes later found
us with knit brows again, locked in debate. Susan had at length seized
courage to tell me that when she left my house she must, once and for
all, go it completely alone. She could no longer accept my financial
protection. She was to stand on her own feet, for better or worse,
richer or poorer, in sickness or in health. This staggering proposal I
simply could not listen to calmly, and would not yield to! It was too
preposterously absurd.

Yet I made no headway with my objections, until I stumbled upon the one
argument that served me and led to a final compromise, "Dear," I had
protested, really and deeply hurt by Susan's stubborn stand for absolute
independence, "can't you feel how cruelly unkind all this is to me?"

"Oh," she wailed, "unkind? Why did you say that! Surely, Ambo, you don't
mean it! Unkind?"

I was quick to press my advantage. "When you ask me to give up even the
mere material protection of my family? You _are_ my family, Susan--all
the family I shall ever have. I don't want to be maudlin about it. I
don't wish to interfere with your freedom to develop your own life in
your own way. But it's beyond my strength not to plead that all that's
good in my life is bound up with yours. Please don't ask me to live in
daily and hourly anxiety over your reasonable comfort and health.
There's no common sense in it, Susan. It's fantastic! And it is unkind!"

Susan could not long resist this plea, for she felt its wretched
sincerity, even if she knew--as she later told me--that I was making the
most of it. It was Miss Goucher who suggested our compromise.

"Mr. Hunt," she said, "my own arrangement with Susan is this: We are to
pool our resources, and I am to make a home for her, just as if I were
her own mother. I've been able to save, during the past twenty-five
years, about eight thousand dollars; it's well invested, I think, and
brings me in almost five hundred a year. This is what we were to start
with; and Susan feels certain she can earn at least two thousand dollars
a year by her pen. I know nothing of the literary market, but I haven't
counted on her being able to earn so much--for a year or so, at least.
On the other hand, I feel certain Susan will finally make her way as a
writer. So I'd counted on using part of my capital for a year or two if
necessary. We plan to live very simply for the present, of course--but
without hardship."

"Still----" I would have protested, if for once Miss Goucher had not
waived all deference, sailing calmly on:

"As Susan has told you, she's convinced that she needs the assurance of
power and self-respect to be gained by meeting life without fear or
favor and making her own career in the face of whatever difficulties
arise. There's a good deal to be said for that, Mr. Hunt--more than you
could be expected to understand. Situated as you have always been, I
mean. But naturally, as Susan's guardian, you can't be expected to stand
aside if for any reason we fail in our attempt. I see that; and Susan
sees it now, I'm sure. Yet I really feel I must urge you to let us try.
And I promise faithfully to keep you informed as to just how we are
getting on."

"Please, Ambo," Susan chimed in, "let us try. If things go badly I won't
be unreasonable or stubborn--indeed I won't. Please trust me for that.
I'll even go a step farther than Sister. I won't let her break into her
savings--not one penny. If it ever comes to that, I'll come straight to
you. And for the immediate present, I have over five hundred dollars in
my bank account; and"--she smiled--"I'll try to feel it's honestly mine.
You've spent heaven knows how much on me, Ambo; though it's the least of
all you've done for me and been to me! But now, please let me see
whether I could ever have made anything of myself if I hadn't been so
shamelessly lucky--if life had treated me as it treats most people....
Jimmy, for instance.... _He_ hasn't needed help, Ambo; and I simply must
know whether he's a better man than I am, Gunga Dhin! Don't you see?"

Yes; I flatter myself that I did, more or less mistily, begin to see.
Thus our morning conference drew to its dreary, amicable close.

But from the door Susan turned back to me with tragic eyes: "Ambo--I'm
caring. It does--hurt." And since I could not very safely reply, she
attempted a smile. "Ambo--what is to become of poor Tumps? Togo will
have to come; I can't reduce him to atheism. But Tumps would die in New
York; and he never has believed in God anyway! Can you make a martyr of
yourself for his surly sake? Can you? Just to see, I mean, that he gets
his milk every day and fish heads on Friday? Can you, dear?"

I nodded and turned away.... The door closed so quietly that I first
knew when the latch ticked once how fortunately I was alone.


XIV

Maltby Phar was responsible for Togo; he had given him--a little black
fluff-ball with shoe-button eyes--to Susan, about six months after she
first came to live with me. Togo is a Chow; and a Chow is biologically
classified as a dog. But if a Chow is a dog, then a Russian sable muff
is a dish rag. Your Chow--black, smoke blue, or red--is a creation
apart. He is to dogdom what Hillhouse Avenue is to Birch Street--the
wrong end, _bien entendu_. His blood is so blue that his tongue is
purple; and, like Susan's conception of Gertrude, he is a living
confession of faith in the rightness of the right people, a living
rebuke to the wrongness of the wrong; the right people being, of course,
that master god or mistress goddess whom he worships, with their
immediate _entourage_. No others need apply for even cursory notice,
much less respect.

I am told they eat Chows in China, their native land. If they do, it
must be from the motive that drove Plutarch's Athenian to vote the
banishment of Aristides--ennui, to wit, kindling to rage; he had wearied
to madness of hearing him always named "the Just." Back, too, in
America--for I write from France--there will one day be proletarian
reprisals against the Chow; for in the art of cutting one dead your Chow
is supreme. He goes by you casually, on tiptoe, with the glazed eye of
indifference. He sees you and does not see you--and will not. You may
cluck, you may whistle, you may call; interest will not excite him, nor
flattery move him; he passes; he "goes his unremembering way." But let
him beware! If Americans are slow to anger, they are terrible when
roused. I have frequently explained this to Togo--more for Susan's sake
than his own--and been yawned at for my pains.

Personally, I have no complaint to make. In Togo's eyes I am one of the
right people. He has always treated me with a certain tact, though with
a certain reserve. Only to Susan does he prostrate himself with an
almost mystical ecstasy of devotion. Only for her does his feathered
tail-arc quiver, do his ears lie back, his calm ebon lips part in an
unmistakably adoring smile. But there is much else, I admit, to be said
for him; he never barks his deep menacing bark without cause; and as a
mere _objet d'art_, when well combed, he is superb. Ming porcelains are
nothing to him; he is perhaps the greatest decorative achievement of the
unapproachably decorative East....

But for Tumps, my peculiar legacy, I have nothing good to say and no
apologies to offer. Like Calverley's parrot, he still lives--"he will
not die." Tumps is a tomcat. And not only is he a tomcat, he is a
hate-scarred noctivagant, owning but an ear and a half, and a poor third
of tail. His design was botched at birth, and has since been degraded;
his color is unpleasant; his expression is ferocious--and utterly
sincere. He has no friends in the world but Susan and Sonia, and Sonia
cannot safely keep him with her because of the children.

Out of the night he came, shortly after Togo's arrival; starved for
once into submission and dragging himself across the garden terrace to
Susan's feet. And she accepted this devil's gift, this household
scourge. I never did, nor did Togo; but we were finally subdued by fear.
Those baleful eyes cursing us from dim corners--Togo, Togo, shall we
ever forget them! Separately or together, we have more than once failed
to enter a dusky room, toward twilight, where those double phosphors
burned from your couch corner or out from beneath my easy-chair.

But nothing would move Susan to give Tumps up so long as he cared to
remain; and Tumps cared. Small wonder! Nursed back to health and
rampageous vivacity, he soon mastered the neighborhood, peopled it with
his ill-favored offspring, and wailed his obscene balladry to the moon.
Hillhouse Avenue protested, _en bloc_. The Misses Carstairs, whose
slumbers had more than once been postponed, and whose white Persian,
Desdemona, had been debauched, threatened traps, poison and the law.
Professor Emeritus Gillingwater attempted murder one night with a .22
rifle, but only succeeded in penetrating the glass roof of his
neighbor's conservatory.

Susan was unmoved, defending her own; she would not listen to any plea,
and she mocked at reprisals. Those were the early days of her coming,
when I could not force myself to harsh measures; and happily Tumps,
having lost some seven or eight lives, did with the years grow more
sedate, though no more amiable. But the point is, he stayed--and, I
repeat, lives to this hour on my distant, grudging bounty.

Such was the charge lightly laid upon me....

Oh, Susan--Susan! For once, resentment will out! May you suffer, shamed
to contrition, as you read these lines! Tumps--and I say it now
boldly--is "no damn good."


XV

I am clinging to this long chapter as if I were still clinging to
Susan's hand on the wind-swept station platform, hoarding time by
infinitesimally split seconds, dreading her inevitable escape. Phil--by
request, I suspect--did not come down; and Susan forbade me to enter the
train with her, having previously forbidden me to accompany her to town.
Togo was forward, amid crude surroundings, riling the brakemen with his
disgusted disdain. Miss Goucher had already said a decorous but
sincerely felt good-by, and had taken her place inside.

"Let's not be silly, Ambo," Susan whispered. "After all, you'll be down
soon--won't you? You're always running to New York."

Then, unexpectedly, she snatched her hand from mine, threw her arms
tight round my neck, and for a reckless public moment sobbed and kissed
me. With that she was gone.... I turned, too, at once, meaning flight
from the curious late-comers pressing toward the car steps. One of them
distinctly addressed me.

"Good morning, Ambrose. Don't worry about your charming little ward.
She'll be quite safe--away from you. I'll keep a friendly eye on her
going down."

It was Lucette.



THE FOURTH CHAPTER


I

I HAD a long conference with Phil the day after Susan's departure, and
we solemnly agreed that we must, within reasonable limits, give Susan a
clear field; her desire to play a lone hand in the cut-throat poker game
called life must be, so far as possible, respected. But we sneakingly
evaded any definition of our terms. "Within reasonable limits;" "so far
as possible"--the vagueness of these phrases will give you the measure
of our secret duplicity.

Meanwhile we lived on from mail delivery to mail delivery, and Susan
proved a faithful correspondent. There is little doubt, I think, that
the length and frequency of her letters constituted a deliberate
sacrifice of energy and time, laid--not reluctantly, but not always
lightly--on the altar of affection. It was a genuine, yet must often
have been an arduous piety. To write full life-giving letters late at
night, after long hours of literary labor, is no trifling effort of good
will--good will, in this instance, to two of the loneliest, forlornest
of men. Putting aside the mere anodyne of work we had but one other
effective consolation--Jimmy; our increasing interest and joy in Jimmy.
But, for me at least, this was not an immediate consolation; my taste
for Jimmy's prosaic companionship was very gradually acquired.

Our first word from Susan was a day letter, telephoned to me from the
telegraph office, though I at once demanded the delivery of a verbatim
copy by messenger. Here it is:

"_At grand central safe so far new york lies roaring just beyond sister
and togo tarry with the stuff near cab stand while I send. Love Mrs.
Arthur snooped in vain now for it courage Susan whos afraid dont you be
alonsen fan._"

Phil, the scholar, interpreted the last two verbatim symbols: "_Allons,
enfants!_"


II

SUSAN TO ME

"Sister and I are at the nice old mid-Victorian Brevoort House for three
or four days. Sister is calmly and courageously hunting rooms for
us--or, if not rooms, a room. She hopes for the plural. We like this
quarter of town. It's near enough publishers and things for walking, and
it's not quite so New Yorky as some others. What Sister is trying to
avoid for us is slavery to the Subway, which is awful! But we may have
to fly up beyond Columbia, or even to the Bronx, before we're through.
The hotel objected to Togo, but I descended to hitherto untried depths
of feminine wheedle--and justified them by getting my way. Sister
blushed for me--and herself--but has since felt more confident about my
chances for success in this wickedly opportunist world.

"Better skip this part if you read extracts to Phil; he'll brood. But
perhaps you'd better begin disillusioning him at once, for I'm
discovering dreadful possibilities in my nature--now the Hillhouse
inhibitions seem remote. New York, one sees overnight, is no place for a
romantic idealist--Maltby's phrase, not mine, bless Phil's heart!--but
luckily I've never been one. Birch Street is going to stand me in good
stead down here. New York _is_ Birch Street on a slightly exaggerated
scale; Hillhouse Avenue is something entirely different. Finer too,
perhaps; but the world's future has its roots in New Birch Street. I
began to feel that yesterday during my first hunt for a paying job.

"I've plunged on shop equipment, since Jimmy says, other things being
equal, the factory with the best tools wins--that is, I've bought a
reliable typewriter, and I tackled my first two-finger exercises last
night. The results were dire--mostly interior capitals and extraneous
asterisks. I shan't have patience to take proper five-finger lessons.
Sister vows she's going to master the wretched thing too, so she can
help with copying now and then. There's a gleam in her eye,
dear--wonderful! This is to be her great adventure as well as mine.
'Susan, Sister & Co., Unlicensed Hacks--Piffle While You Wait!' Oh, we
shall get on--you'll see. Still, I can't truthfully report much progress
yesterday or to-day, though a shade more to-day than yesterday. I've
been counting callously on Maltby, as Phil disapprovingly knows, and I
brought three short manufactured-in-advance articles for the Garden Ex.
down with me. So my first step was to stifle my last maidenly scruple
and take them straight to Maltby; I hoped they would pay at least for
the typewriter. It was a clear ice-bath of a morning, and the walk up
Fifth Avenue braced me for anything. I stared at everybody and a good
many unattached males stared back; sometimes I rather liked it, and
sometimes not. It all depends.

"But I found the right building at last, somewhere between the Waldorf
and the Public Library. There's a shop on its avenue front for the sale
of false pearls, and judging from the shop they must be more expensive
than real ones. Togo dragged me in there at first by mistake; and as I
was wearing my bestest tailor-made and your furs, and as Togo was
wearing his, plus his haughtiest atmosphere, we seemed between us to be
just the sort of thing the languid clerks had been waiting for. There
was a hopeful stir as we entered--no, swept in! I was really sorry to
disappoint them; it was horrid to feel that we couldn't live up to their
expectations.

"We didn't sweep out nearly so well! But we found the elevator round the
corner and were taken up four or five floors, passing a designer of _de
luxe_ corsets and a distiller of _de luxe_ perfumes on the way, and
landed in the impressive outer office of the Garden Ex.

"But how stupid of me to describe all this! You've been there twenty
times, of course, and remember the apple-green art-crafty furniture and
potted palms and things. Several depressed-looking persons were
fidgeting about, but my engraved card--score one for Hillhouse!--soon
brought Maltby puffing out to me with both hands extended. Togo didn't
quite cut him dead, but almost, and he insulted an entire roomful of
stenographers on his way to the great man's sanctum. My first _sanctum_,
Ambo! I did get a little thrill from that, in spite of Maltby.

"Stop chattering, Susan--stick to facts. Yes, Phil, please. Fact One:
Maltby was surprisingly flustered at first. He was, Ambo! He jumped to
the conclusion that I was down for shopping or the theaters, and assumed
of course you were with me. So you were, dear--our way! But I thought
Maltby asked rather gingerly after you. Why?

"Fact Two: I did my best to explain things, but Maltby doesn't believe
yet I'm serious--seemingly he can't believe it, because he doesn't want
to. That's always true of Maltby. He still thinks this must be a sudden
spasm--not of virtue; thinks I've run away for an unholy lark. It suits
him to think so. If I'm out on the loose he hopes to manage the whole
_Mardi gras_, and he needn't hear what I say about needing work too
distinctly. That merely annoyed him. But I did finally make him
promise--while he wriggled--to read my three articles and give me a
decision on them to-morrow. I had to promise to lunch with him then to
make even that much headway.--Oof!

"Meanwhile, I fared slightly better to-day. I took your letter to Mr.
Sampson. The sign, Garnett & Co., almost frightened me off, though,
Ambo; and you know I'm not easily frightened. But I've read so many of
their books--wonderful books! I knew great men had gone before me into
those dingy offices and left their precious manuscripts to strengthen
and delight the world. Who was I to follow those footsteps? Luckily an
undaunted messenger boy whistled on in ahead of me--so I followed his
instead! By the time I had won past all the guardians of the _sanctum
sanctorum_, my sentimental fit was over. Birch Street was herself again.

"And Mr. Sampson proved all you promised--rather more! The dearest odd
old man, full of blunt kindness and sudden whimsy. I think he liked me.
I know I liked him. But he didn't like me as I did him--at first sight.
Togo's fault, of course. Why didn't you tell me Mr. Sampson has a
democratic prejudice against aristocratic dogs? I must learn to leave
poor Togo at home--if there ever is such a place!--when I'm looking for
work; I may even have to give up your precious soul-and-body-warming
furs. Between them, they belie every humble petition I utter. Sister and
I may have to eat Togo yet.

"Mr. Sampson only began to relent when I told him a little about Birch
Street. I didn't tell him much--just enough to counteract the furs and
Togo. And he forgave me everything when I told him of Sister and
confessed what we were hoping to do--found a home together and earn our
own right to make it a comfy one to live in. He questioned me pretty
sharply, too, but not from snifty-snoops like Mrs. Arthur.

"By the way, dear, she was on the train coming down, as luck would have
it, in the chair just across from mine. Her questions were masterpieces,
but nothing to my replies. I was just wretched enough to scratch without
mercy; it relieved my feelings. But you'd better avoid her for a week or
two--if you can! I didn't mind any of Mr. Sampson's questions, though I
eluded some of them, being young in years but old in guile. I'm to take
him my poems to-morrow afternoon, and some bits of prose things--the
ones you liked. They're not much more than fragments, I'm afraid. He
says he wants to get the hang of me before loading me down with bad
advice. I do like him, and--the serpent having trailed its length all
over this endless letter--I truly think his offhand friendship may prove
far more helpful to me than Maltby's----! _You_ can fill in the blank,
Ambo. My shamelessness has limits, even now, in darkest New York.

"Good night, dear. Please don't think you are ever far from my me-est
thoughts. Now for that ---- typewriter!"


III

SUSAN TO JIMMY

"That's a breath-taking decision you've made, but like you; and I'm
proud of you for having made it--and prouder that the idea was entirely
your own. I suppose we're all bound to be more or less lopsided in a
world slightly flattened at the poles and rather wobbly on its axis
anyway. But the less lopsided we are the better for us, and the better
for us the better for others--and that's one universal law, at least,
that doesn't make me long for a universal recall and referendum.

"Oh, you're right to stay on at Yale, but so much righter to have
decided on a broad general course instead of a narrow technical one! _Of
course_ you can carry on your technical studies by yourself! With your
brain's natural twist and the practical training you've had, probably
carry them much farther by yourself than under direction! And the way
you've chosen will open vistas, bring the sky through the jungle to you.
It was brave of you to see that and take the first difficult step. "_Il
n'y a que le premier pas qui coûte_"--but no wonder you hesitated!
Because at your advanced age, Jimmy, and from an efficient point of
view, it's a downright silly step, wasteful of time--and time you know's
money--and money you know's everything. Only, I'm afraid you _don't_
know that intensely enough ever to have a marble mansion on upper Fifth
Avenue, a marble villa at Newport, a marble bungalow at Palm Beach, a
marble steam yacht--but they don't make those of marble, do they!

"It's so possible for you to collect all these marbles, Jimmy--reelers,
every one of them!--if you'll only start now and do nothing else for the
next thirty or forty years. You can be a poor boy who became infamous
just as easy as pie! Simply forget the world's so full of a number of
things, and grab all you can of just one. But I could hug you for
wanting to be a man, not an adding-machine! For caring to know why
Socrates was richer than Morgan, and why Saint Francis and Sainte-Beuve,
each in his own way, have helped more to make life worth living than all
the Rothschilds of Europe! Oh, I know it's a paradox for me to preach
this, when here am I trying to collect a few small clay marbles--putting
every ounce of concentration in me on money making, on material success!
Not getting far with it, either--so far.

"But what I'm doing, Jimmy, is just what you've set out to do--I'm
trying not to be lopsided. You've met life as it is, already; I never
have. And I'd so love to moon along pleasantly on Ambo's inherited
money--read books and write verses and look at flowers and cats and
stars and trees and children and cows and chickens and funny dogs and
donkeys and funnier women and men! I'd so like not to adjust myself to
an industrial civilization; not to worry over that sort of thing at all;
above everything, not to earn my daily bread. I could cry about having
to make up my mind on such bristly beasts as economic or social
problems!

"The class struggle bores me to tears--yet here it is, we're up against
it; and I _won't_ be lopsided! What I want is pure thick cream, daintily
fed to me, too, from a hand-beaten spoon. So I mustn't have it unless I
can get it. And I don't know that I can--you see, it isn't all
conscience that's driving me; curiosity's at work as well! But it's
scrumptious to know we're both studying the same thing in a different
way--the one great subject, after all: How not to be lopsided! How to be
perfectly spherical, like the old man in the nonsense rhyme. Not wobbly
on one's axis--not even slightly flattened at the poles!"

"_Hurrah for us! Trumpets!_

"But I'm gladdest of all that you and Ambo are beginning at last to be
friends. You don't either of you say so--it drifts through; and I could
sing about it--if I could sing. There isn't anybody in the world like
Ambo.

"As for Sister and me, we're getting on, and we're not. Sister thinks
I've done marvels; I know she has. Marvels of economy and taste in
cozying up our room, marvels of sympathy and canny advice that doesn't
sound like advice at all. As one-half of a mutual-admiration syndicate
I'm a complete success! But as a professional author--hum, hum. Anyway,
I'm beginning to poke my inquisitive nose into a little of everything,
and you can't tell--something, some day, may come of this. As the
Dickens man said--who was he?--I hope it mayn't be human gore.
Meanwhile, one thing hits the most casual eye: We're still in the
double-room-with-alcove boarding-house stage, and likely to stay there
for some time to come."


IV

SUSAN TO PHIL

"Your short letter answering my long one has been read and reread and
read again. I know it by heart. Everything you say's true--and isn't.
I'll try to explain that--for I can't bear you to be doubting me. You
are, Phil. I don't blame you, but I do blame myself--for complacency.
I've taken too much for granted, as I always do with you and Ambo. You
see, I know so intensely that you and Ambo are pure
gold--incorruptible!--that I couldn't possibly question anything you
might say or do--the fineness of the motive, I mean. If you did murder
and were hanged for it, and even if I'd no clue as to why you struck--I
should know all the time you must have done it because, for some
concealed reason, under circumstances dark to the rest of us, your clear
eyes marked it as the one possible right thing to do.

"Yes, I trust you like that, Phil; you and Ambo and Sister and Jimmy.
Think of trusting four people like that! How rich I am! And you can't
know how passionately grateful! For it isn't blind trusting at all. In
each one of you I've touched a soul of goodness. There's no other name
for it. It's as simple as fresh air. You're good--you four--good from
the center. But, Phil dear, a little secret to comfort you--just between
us and the stars: So, mostly, am I.

"Truly, Phil, I'm ridiculously good at the center, and most of the way
out. There are things I simply can't do, no matter how much I'd like to;
and lots of oozy, opally things I simply can't like at all. I'm with you
so far, at least--peacock-proud to be! But we're tremendously different,
all the same. It's really this, I think: You're a Puritan, by instinct
and cultivation; and I'm not. The clever ones down here, you know, spend
most of their spare time swearing by turns at Puritanism and the
Victorian Era. Their favorite form of exercise is patting themselves on
the back, and this is one of their subtler ways of doing it. But they
just rampantly rail; they don't--though they think they do--understand.
They mix up every _passé_ narrowness and bigotry and hypocrisy and
sentimental cant in one foul stew, and then rush from it, with held
noses, screaming "Puritanism! _Faugh!_" Well, it does, Phil--their stew!
So, often, for that matter--and to high heaven--do the clever ones!

"But it isn't Puritanism, the real thing. You see, I know the real
thing--for I know you. Ignorance, bigotry, hypocrisy,
sentimentalism--such things have no part in your life. And yet you're a
Puritan, and I'm not. Something divides us where we are most alike. What
is it, Phil?

"May I tell you? I almost dare believe I've puzzled it out.

"You're a simon-Puritan, dear, because you won't trust that central
goodness, your own heart; the very thing in you on whose virgin-goldness
I would stake my life! You won't trust it in yourself; and when you find
it in others, you don't fully trust it in them. You've purged your
philosophy of Original Sin, but it still secretly poisons the marrow of
your bones. You guard your soul's strength as possible
weakness--something that might vanish suddenly, at a pinch. How silly of
you! For it's the _you_-est you, the thing you can never change or
escape. Instead of worrying over yourself or others--me?--you could
safely spread yourself, Phil dear, all over the landscape, lie back in
the lap of Mother Earth and twiddle your toes and smile! Walt Whitman's
way! He may have overdone it now and then, posed about it; but I'm on
his side, not yours. It's heartier--human-er--more fun! Yes, Master
Puritan--more fun! That's a life value you've mostly missed. But it's
never too late, Phil, for a genuine cosmic spree.

"Now I've done scolding back at you for scolding at me.--But I loved
your sermon. I hope you won't shudder over mine?"


V

The above too-cryptic letter badly needs authoritative annotation, which
I now proceed to give you--at perilous length. But it will lead us
far....

       *       *       *       *       *

Though it is positively not true that Phil and I, having covenanted on a
hands-off policy, were independently hoping for the worst, so far as
Susan's ability to cope unaided with New York was concerned;
nevertheless, the ease with which she made her way there, found her feet
without us and danced ahead, proved for some reason oddly disturbing to
us both. Here was a child, of high talents certainly, perhaps of
genius--the like, at least, of whose mental precocity we had never met
with in any other daughter--much less, son--of Eve! A woman, for we so
loved her, endowed as are few women; yet assuredly a child, for she had
but just counted twenty years on earth. And being men of careful
maturity, once Susan had left us, our lonely anxieties fastened upon
this crying fact of her youth; it was her youth, her inexperience, that
made her venture suddenly pathetic and dreadful to us, made us yearn to
watch over her, warn her of pitfalls, guide her steps.

True, she was not alone. Miss Goucher was admirable in her way; though
a middle-aged spinster, after all, unused to the sharp temptations and
fierce competitions of metropolitan life. It was not a house-mother
Susan would need; the wolves lurked beyond the door--shrewd,
soft-treading wolves, cunningly disguised. How could a child, a charming
and too daring child--however gifted--be expected to deal with these
creatures? The thought of these subtle, these patient ones, tracking
her--tracking her--chilled us to hours-long wakefulness in the night!
Then with the morning a letter would come, filled with strange men's
names.

We compared notes, consulted together--shaking unhappy heads. We wrote
tactful letters to Heywood Sampson, begging him, but always indirectly,
to keep an eye. We ran down singly for nights in town, rescued--the verb
was ours--Susan and Miss Goucher from their West 10th Street
boarding-house, interfered with their work or other plans, haled
them--the verb, I fear, was theirs--to dinner, to the opera or theater,
or perhaps to call on someone of ribbed respectability who might prove
an observant friend. God knows, in spite of all resolutions, we did our
poor best to mind Susan's business for her, to brood over her destiny
from afar!

And God knows our efforts were superfluous! The traps, stratagems,
springes in her path, merely suspected by us and hence the more darkly
dreaded, were clearly seen by Susan and laughed at for the ancient,
pitiful frauds they were. The dull craft, the stale devices of avarice
or lust were no novelties to her; she greeted them, _en passant_, with
the old Birch Street terrier-look; just a half-mocking nod of
recognition--an amused, half-wistful salute to her gamin past. It was
her gamin past we had forgotten, Phil and I, when we agonized over
Susan's inexperienced youth. Inexperienced? Bob Blake's kid! If there
were things New York could yet teach Bob Blake's kid--and there were
many--they were not those that had made her see in it "Birch Street--on
a slightly exaggerated scale"!

But, as the Greeks discovered many generations ago, it is impossible to
be high-minded or clear-sighted enough to outwit a secret unreason in
the total scheme of things. Else the virtuous, in the Greek sense, would
be always the fortunate; and perhaps then would grow too self-regarding.
Does the last and austerest beauty of the ideal not flower from this,
that it can promise us nothing but itself! You can choose a clear road,
yet you shall never walk there in safety: Chance--that secret
unreason--lurks in the hedgerows, myriad-formed, to plot against you.
"_Hélas!_" as the French heroine might say. "Diddle-diddle-dumpling!" as
might say Susan.... Meaning: That strain, Ambo, was of a higher mood,
doubtless; but do return to your muttons.

Susan had reached New York late in November, 1913, and the letter to
Phil dates from the following January. Barely two months had passed
since her first calls upon Maltby and Heywood Sampson, but every day of
that period had been made up of crowded hours. Of the three
manufactured-in-advance articles for the Garden Ex., Maltby had accepted
one, paying thirty dollars for it, half-rate--Susan's first professional
earnings; but the manner of his acceptance had convinced Susan it was a
mere stroke of personal diplomacy on his part. He did not wish to
encourage her as a business associate, for Maltby kept his business
activities rigidly separate from what he held to be his life; neither
did he wish to offend her. What he wholly desired was to draw her into
the immediate circles he frequented as a social being, where he could
act as her patron on a scale at once more brilliant and more impressive.

So far as the Garden Ex. was concerned, his attitude from the first had
been one of sympathetic discouragement. Susan hit off his manner
perfectly in an earlier letter:

          "'My dear Susan! You can write very delicate,
          distinctive verse, no doubt, and all that--and of
          course there's a fairly active market for verse
          nowadays, and I can put you in touch with some
          little magazines, _à côté_, that print such
          things, and even occasionally pay for them.
          They're your field, I'm convinced. But, frankly, I
          can't see you quite as one of our
          contributors--and I couldn't pay you a higher
          compliment!

          "'You don't suppose, do you, I sit here like an
          old-fashioned editor, reading voluntary
          contributions? No, my dear girl; I have a small,
          well-broken staff of writers, and I tell them what
          to write. If I find myself, for example, with a
          lot of parade interiors taken in expensive homes,
          I select four or five, turn 'em over to
          Abramovitz, and tell him to do us something on
          "The More Dignified Dining-Room" or "The Period
          Salon, a Study in Restfulness." Abramovitz knows
          exactly what to say, and how to point the
          snobbish-but-not-too-snobbish captions and feature
          the best names. I've no need to experiment, you
          see. I count on Abramovitz. Just so with other
          matters. Here's an article, now, on "The Flaunting
          Paeony." Skeat did that, of course. It's signed
          "Winifred Snow"--all his flower-and-sundial stuff
          is--and it couldn't be better! I don't even have
          to read it.

          "'Well, there you are! I'm simply a purveyor of
          standardized goods in standardized packages. Dull
          work, but it pays.'

          "'Exactly!' I struck in. 'It pays! That's why I'm
          interested. Sister and Togo and I need the
          money!'"

As for the brilliant, intertwined circles frequented by Maltby as a
social being, within which, he hoped to persuade Susan, lay true
freedom, while habit slyly bound her with invisible chains--well, they
are a little difficult to describe. Taken generally, we may think of
them as the Artistic Smart Set. Maltby's acquaintance was wide,
penetrating in many directions; but he felt most at home among those
iridescent ones of earth whose money is as easy as their morals, and
whose ruling passion for amusement is at least directed by æsthetic
sensibilities and vivacious brains.

Within Maltby's intersecting circles were to be found, then, many a
piquant contrast, many an anomalous combination. There the young,
emancipated society matron, of fattest purse and slenderest figure,
expressed her sophisticated paganism through interpretative dancing; and
there the fashionable painter of portraits, solidly arrived, exhibited
her slender figure on a daring canvas--made possible by the fatness of
her purse--at one of his peculiarly intimate studio teas. There the
reigning _ingénue_, whose graceful _diablerie_ in imagined situations on
the stage was equalled only by her roguish effrontery in more real, if
hardly less public situations off, played up to the affluent
_amateur_--patron of all arts that require an unblushing coöperation
from pretty young women. There, in short, all were welcome who liked the
game and were not hampered in playing it by dull inhibitions, material
or immaterial. It was Bohemia _de luxe_--Bohemia in the same sense that
Marie Antoinette's dairy-farm was Arcady.

That Susan--given her doting guardian, her furs, her Chow, her
shadowy-gleaming, imaginative charm, her sharp audacities of
speech--would bring a new and seductive personality to this perpetual
carnival was Maltby's dream; she was predestined--he had long suspected
the tug of that fate upon her--to shine there by his side. He best could
offer the cup, and her gratitude for its heady drafts of life would be
merely his due. It was an exciting prospect; it promised much; and it
only remained to intoxicate Susan with the wine of an unguessed freedom.
This, Maltby fondly assured himself, would prove no difficult task. Life
was life, youth was youth, joy was joy; their natural affinities were
all on his side and would play into his practiced hands.

Doubtless Phil and I must have agreed with him--from how differently
anxious a spirit!--but all three of us would then have proved quite
wrong. To intoxicate Susan, Maltby did find a difficult, in the end an
impossible, task. He took her--not unwilling to enter and appraise any
circle from high heaven to nether hell--to all the right, magical
places, exposed her to all the heady influences of his world; and she
found them enormously stimulating--to her sense of the ironic. Maltby's
sensuous, quick-witted friends simply would not come true for Susan when
she first moved among them; they were not serious about anything but
refined sensation and she could not take their refined sensations
seriously; but for a time they amused her, and she relished them much as
Charles Lamb relished the belles and rakes of Restoration Drama: "They
are a world of themselves almost as much as fairyland."

To their intimate dinners, their intimate musical evenings, their
intimate studio revels--she came on occasion with Maltby as to a play:
"altogether a speculative scene of things." She could, in those early
weeks, have borrowed Lamb's words for her own comedic detachment: "We
are amongst a chaotic people. We are not to judge them by our usages. No
reverend institutions are insulted by their proceedings--for they have
none among them. No peace of families is violated--for no family ties
exist among them.... No deep affections are disquieted, no holy-wedlock
bands are snapped asunder--for affection's depth and wedded faith are
not the growth of that soil. There is neither right nor wrong.... Of
what consequence is it to Virtue or how is she at all concerned?... The
whole thing is a passing pageant."

It is probable that Maltby at first mistook her interest in the
spectacle for the preliminary stirrings of its spell within her; but he
must soon have been aware--for he had intelligence--that Susan was not
precisely flinging herself among his maskers with the thrilled abandon
that would betoken surrender. She was not afraid of these clever,
beauty-loving maskers, some of whom bore celebrated names; it was not
timidity that restrained her; she, too, loved beauty and lilting wit and
could feel joyously at ease among them--for an hour or two--once in a
while. But to remain permanently within those twining circles, held to a
limited dream, when she was conscious of wilder, freer, more adventurous
spaces without----! Why should she narrow her sympathies like that? It
never occurred to her as a temptation to do so. She had drunk of a
headier cup, and had known a vaster intoxication. From the magic circle
of her cedar trees, in that lonely abandoned field back of Mount Carmel,
the imagination of her heart had long since streamed outward beyond all
such passing pageants, questing after a dream that does not pass....

No gilded nutshell could bound her now; she could become the slave of no
_intersected_ ring.... Lesser incantations were powerless.

So much, then, for my own broad annotation of Susan's letter to Phil!
But I leave you with generalizations, when your interest is in concrete
fact. Patience. In my too fumbling way I am ready for you there, as
well.


VI

SUSAN TO JIMMY

"I suppose you'd really like to know what I've lately been up to; but I
hardly know myself. It's absurd, of course, but I almost think I'm
having a weeny little fit of the blues to-night--not dark-blue devils
exactly--say, light-blue gnomes! I hate being pushed about, and things
have pushed me about, rather. It's that, I think. There's been too
much--of everything--somehow----

"You see, my social life just now is divided into three parts, like all
Gaul, and as my business opportunities--Midas forgive them!--have all
come out of my social contacts, I'll have to begin with them. Maltby's
the golden key to the first part; Mr. Heywood Sampson, the great
old-school publisher and editor-author, is the iron key to the second;
and chance--our settling down here on the fringes of Greenwich
Village--is the skeleton key to the third.

"I seem to be getting all Gaul mixed up with Bluebeard's closets and
things, but I'll try to straighten my kinky metaphors out for you,
Jimmy, if it takes me all night. But I assume you're more or less up to
date on me, since I find you all most brazenly hand me round, and since
I wrote Phil--and got severely scolded in return; deserved it, too--all
about Maltby's patiently snubbing me as a starving author and
impatiently rushing me as a possible member for his Emancipated Order of
Æsthetic May-Flies--I call it his, for he certainly thinks of it that
way. Now--Maltby and I have not precisely quarreled, but the north wind
doth blow and we've already had snow enough to cool his enthusiasm. The
whole thing's unpleasant; but I've learned something. Result--my
occasional flutterings among the Æsthetic May-Flies grow beautifully
less. They'd cease altogether if I hadn't made friends--to call them
that--with a May-Fly or two.

"One of them's the novelist, Clifton Young, a May-Fly at heart--but
there's a strain of Honeybee in his blood somewhere. It's an unhappy
combination--all the talents and few of the virtues; but I like him in
spite of himself. For one thing, he doesn't pose; and he can _write_!
He's a lost soul, though--thinks life is a tragic farce. Almost all the
May-Flies try to think that; it's a sort of guaranty of the last
sophistication; but it's genuine with Clifton, he must have been born
thinking it. He doesn't ask for sympathy, either; if he did, I couldn't
pity him--and get jeered at wittily for my pains!

"Then there's Mona Leslie, who might have been a true Honeybee if
everybody belonging to her hadn't died too soon, leaving her hopeless
numbers of millions. Mona, for some reason, has taken a passing fancy to
me; all her fancies pass. She sings like an angel, and might have made a
career--if it had seemed worth while. It never has. Nothing has, but
vivid sensation--from ascetic religion to sloppy love; and, at thirty,
she's exhausted the whole show. So she spends her time now in a mad duel
with boredom. Poor woman! Luckily the fairies gave her a selfishly kind
heart, and there's a piece of it left, I think. It may even win the duel
for her in the end. More and more she's the reckless patron of all the
arts, almost smothering ennui under her benefactions. She'd smother poor
me, too, if I'd let her; but I can't; I'm either not brazen enough or
not Christian enough to let her patronize me for her own amusement. And
that's her one new sensation for the last three years!

"Still, I've one thing to thank her for, and I wish I could feel
grateful. She introduced me, at one of her Arabian-Nightish _soirées
musicales_, to Hadow Bury, proprietor of _Whim_, the smarty-party weekly
review. In two years it's made a sky-rocketing success, by printing the
harum-scarumest possible comment on all the social and æsthetic fads and
freaks of the day--just the iris froth of the wave, that and that only.
Hadow's a big, black, bleak man-mountain. You'd take him for an
undertaker by special appointment to coal-beef-and-iron kings. You'd
never suspect him of having capitalized the Frivolous. But he's found it
means bagfuls of reelers for him, so he takes it seriously. He's after
the _goods_. He gets and delivers the goods, no matter what they cost.
He's ready to pay any price now for a new brand of cerebral champagne.

"Well, I didn't know _what_ he was when Mona casually dropped me beside
him, but he loomed so big and black and bleak he frightened me--till my
thoughts chattered! I rattled on--like this, Jimmy--only not because I
wanted to, but because having madly started I didn't know how to stop. I
made a fool of myself--utter; with the result that he detected a
slightly different flavor in my folly, a possibly novel _bouquet_--let's
call it the 'Birch Street _bouquet_.' At any rate, he finally silenced
me to ask whether I could write as I talked, and I said I hoped not; and
he looked bleaker and blacker than ever and said that was the worst of
it, so few amusing young women could! It seemed to be one of the more
annoying laws of Nature.

"The upshot was, I found out all about him and his ambitions for
_Whim_; and the fantastic upshot of _that_ was, I'm now doing a nonsense
column a week for him--have been for the past five--and getting fifty
dollars a week for my nonsense, too! I sign the thing "Dax"--a signature
invented by shutting both eyes and punching at my typewriter three
times, just to see what would happen. "Dax" happened, and I'm to be
allowed to burble on as him--I think Dax is a him--for ten weeks; then,
if my stuff goes, catches on, gets over--I'm to have a year's contract.
And farewell to double-room-and-alcove for aye! Else, farewell _Whim_!
So it _must_ get over--I'm determined! I stick at nothing. I even test
my burble on poor Sister every week before sending it in. If she smiles
sadly, twice, I seal up the envelope and breathe again.

"That's my bird in the hand, Jimmy--a sort of crazily screaming jay--but
I mustn't let it escape.

"There's another bird, though. A real bluebird, still in the bush--and
oh, so shy! And he lures me into the second and beautifulest part of all
Gaul----

"It's no use, I'm dished! Sister says no one ever wrote or read such a
monstrous letter, and commands me to stop now and go to bed. There's a
look in her eye--she means it. Good-night and good luck--I'll tell you
about my other two parts of Gaul as soon as I can, unless you wire
me--collect--'Cut it out!' Or unless you run down--you never have--and
learn of them that way. Why not--_soon_?"


VII

Jimmy Kane took the hint, or obeyed the open request, in Susan's letter
and went down to New York for the week-end; and on the following Monday
Miss Goucher wrote her first considerable letter to me. It was a long
letter, for her, written--recopied, I fancy--in precise script, though
it would have been a mere note for Susan.

          _My dear Mr. Hunt:_ I promised to let you know
          from time to time the exact truth about our
          experiment. It is already a success financially.
          Susan is now earning from sixty to seventy dollars
          a week, with every prospect of earning
          substantially more in the near future. Her
          satirical paragraphs and verses in "Whim" are
          quoted and copied everywhere. They do not seem to
          me quite the Susan I love, but then, I am not a
          clever person; and it is undeniable that "Who is
          Dax?" is being asked now on every hand. If this
          interest continues, I am assured it can only mean
          fame and fortune. I am very proud of Susan, as you
          must be.

          But, Mr. Hunt, there is another side to my
          picture. In alluding to it I feel a sense of guilt
          toward Susan; I know she would not wish me to do
          so. Yet I feel that I must. If I may say so to
          you, Susan has quickened in me many starved
          affections, and they all center in her. In this,
          may I not feel without offense that we are of one
          mind?

          If I had Susan's pen I could tell you more clearly
          why I am troubled. I lack her gift, which is also
          yours, of expressing what I feel is going on
          secretly in another's mind. Mr. Phar and a Mr.
          Young, a writer, have been giving Susan some cause
          for annoyance lately; but that is not it. Mr.
          Hunt, she is deeply unhappy. She would deny it,
          even to you or me; but it is true.

          My mind is too commonplace for this task. If my
          attempt to explain sounds crude, please forgive it
          and supply what is beyond me.

          I can only say now that when I once told you Susan
          could stand alone, I was mistaken. In a sense she
          can. If her health does not give way, life will
          never beat her down. But--there are the needs of
          women, older than art. They tear at us, Mr. Hunt;
          at least while we are young. I could not say this
          to you, but I must manage somehow to write it. I
          do not refer to passion, taken by itself. I am old
          enough to be shocked, Mr. Hunt, to find that many
          brilliant women to-day have advanced beyond
          certain boundaries so long established. You will
          understand.

          A woman's need is greater than passion, greater
          even than motherhood. It is so hard for me to
          express it. But she can only find rest when these
          things are not lived separately; when, with many
          other elements, they build up a living whole--what
          we call a _home_. How badly I put it; for I feel
          so much more than the conventional sentiments.
          Will you understand me at all if I say that Susan
          is homesick--for a home she has never known and
          may never be privileged to know? With all her
          insight I think she doesn't realize this yet; but
          I once suffered acutely in this way, and it
          perhaps gives me the right to speak. Of course I
          may be quite wrong. I am more often wrong than
          right.

          I venture to inclose a copy of some lines, rescued
          last week from our scrap-basket. I'm not a critic,
          but am I wrong in thinking it would have been a
          pity to burn them? As they are not in free verse,
          which I do not appreciate as I should, they
          affected me very much; and I feel they will tell
          you, far more than my letter, why I am a little
          worried about Susan.

          Young Mr. Kane informed me, when he was here on
          Sunday, that you and Professor Farmer are well. He
          seems a nice boy, though still a little crude
          perhaps; nothing offensive. I am confined to the
          room to-day by a slight cold of no consequence; I
          hope I may not pass it on to Susan. Kindly give my
          love to Sonia, if you should see her, and to
          little Ivan. I trust the new housekeeper I
          obtained for you is reasonably efficient, and that
          Tumps is not proving too great a burden. I am,

                                         Respectfully yours,
                                              MALVINA GOUCHER.

The inclosed "copy of some lines" affected me quite as much as they had
Miss Goucher, and it was inconceivable to me that Susan, having written
them, could have tossed them away. As a matter of fact she had not. Like
Calais in the queen's heart, they were engraven in her own. They were
too deeply hers; she had meant merely to hide them from the world; and
it is even now with a curious reluctance that I give them to you here.
The lines bore no title, but I have ventured, with Susan's consent, to
call them

_MENDICANTS_

          _We who are poets beg the gods
             Shamelessly for immortal bliss,
           While the derisive years with rods
             Flay us; nor silvery Artemis
           Hearkens, nor Cypris bends, nor she,_

            _The grave Athena with gray eyes.
           Were they not heartless would they be
             Deaf to the hunger of our cries?_

          _We are the starving ones of clay,
             Famished for deathless love, no less._

          _Oh, but the gods are far and fey,
             Shut in their azure palaces!_

          _Oh, but the gods are far and fey,
             Blind to the rags of our distress!_

          _We pine on crumbs they flick away;
             Brief beauty, and much weariness._

And the night I read these lines a telegram came to me from New York,
signed "Lucette Arthur," announcing that Gertrude was suddenly dead....



THE FIFTH CHAPTER


I

I AM an essayist, if anything, trying to tell Susan's story, and telling
it badly, I fear, for lack of narrative skill. So it is with no desire
to prolong cheaply a possible point of suspense that I must double back
now before I can go forward. My personal interest centers so entirely in
Susan herself, in the special qualities of her mind and heart, that I
have failed to bring in certain stiff facts--essential, alas, to all
further progress. A practiced novelist, handling this purely biographic
material--such a man as Clifton Young--would quietly have "planted"
these facts in their due order, thus escaping my present embarrassment.
But indeed I am approaching a cruel crisis in Susan's life and in the
lives of those dearest to her; a period of sheer circumstantial
fatality; one of those incursions of mad coincidence, of crass
melodrama, which--with a brutal, ironic, improbability, as if
stage-managed by an anarchistic fiend of the pit--bursts through some
fine-spun, geometrical web of days, leaving chaos behind; and I am
ill-equipped to deal with this chance destruction, this haphazard
wantonness.

Even could I merely have observed it from the outside, with æsthetic
detachment, it would baffle me now; I should find it too crude for art,
too arbitrary. It is not in my line. But God knows the victim of what
seems an insane break in Nature is in no mood for art; he can do little
more than cry out or foolishly rail!

       *       *       *       *       *

Jimmy returned from his excursion to New York on the Sunday evening
preceding Miss Goucher's letter. She must have been at work on it the
next evening when Phil brought him to dine with me. It was our
deliberate purpose to draw him out, track his shy impressions of Susan
and of her new life in her new world. But it was hard going at first;
for ten minutes or so we bagged little but the ordinary Jimmyesque
_clichés_. He had had a great time, _etc._, _etc._...

Matters improved with the roast. It then appeared that he had lightly
explored with Susan the two-thirds of Gaul omitted from her letter. He
had called with her on Heywood Sampson, and fathomed Susan's allusion to
the shy bluebird. Mr. Sampson, he assured us, was a fine old boy--strong
for Susan too! He'd read a lot of her poems and things and was going to
bring out the poems for her right away. But the bluebird in the bush had
to do with a pet scheme of his for a weekly critical review of a
different stamp from Hadow Bury's _Whim_. Solider, Jimmy imagined; safe
and sane--the real thing! If Mr. Sampson should decide to launch it--he
was still hesitating over the business outlook--Susan was to find a
place on his staff.

Mr. Sampson, Jimmy opined, had the right idea about things in general.
He didn't like Susan's quick stuff in _Whim_; thought it would cheapen
her if she kept at it too long. And Mr. Sampson didn't approve of
Susan's remaining third of Gaul, either--her Greenwich Village friends.
Not much wonder, Jimmy added; Susan had trotted him round to three or
four studios and places, and they were a funny job lot. Too many
foreigners among them for him; they talked too much; and they pawed. But
some nice young people, too. Most of them were young--and not stuck up.
Friendly. Sort of alive--interested in everything--except, maybe, being
respectable. Their jokes, come to think of it, were all about being
respectable--kidding everyday people who weren't up to the latest ideas.
There was a lot of jabber one place about the "Oedipus Complex," for
example, but he didn't connect at all. He had his own idea--surely, not
of the latest--that a lot of the villagers might feel differently when
they began to make good and started their bank accounts. But Susan was
on to them, anyway, far more than they were on to her! She liked them,
though--in spite of Mr. Sampson; didn't fall for their craziest ways or
notions of course, but was keen about their happy-go-lucky side--their
pep! Besides, they weren't all alike, naturally. Take the pick of them,
the ones that did things instead of posing round and dressing the part,
and Jimmy could see they might be there. At least, they were on their
way--like Susan.

This was all very well, so far as it went; but we had felt, Phil and I,
a dumb undercurrent struggling to press upward into speech, and after
dinner before the fire, we did our best to help Jimmy free its course.
Gradually it became apparent; it rather trickled than gushed forth.
Jimmy was bothered, more than bothered; there was something, perhaps
there were several things, on his mind. We did not press him, using
subtler methods, biding our time; and little by little Jimmy oozed
toward the full revelation of an uneasy spirit.

"Did you see Mr. Phar?" Phil asked.

"No," said Jimmy, his forehead knotting darkly; "I guess it's a good
thing I didn't too!"

"Why?"

"Well, that letter I had from Susan--the one I showed you, Mr.
Hunt--mentioned some unpleasantness with Mr. Phar; and all Saturday
afternoon while she was trotting me round, I could see she'd been
worrying to herself a good deal."

"Worrying?"

"Yes. Whenever she thought I wasn't paying attention her face would
go--sort of dead tired and sad--all used up. I can't describe it. And
one or two remarks she dropped didn't sound as happy as she meant them
to. Then, Sunday morning, she had to get some work done, so I took Miss
Goucher to church. I'm supposed to be a Catholic, you know; but I guess
I'm not much of anything. I'd just as soon go to one kind of church as
another, if the music's good. Anyway, it was a nice morning and Miss
Goucher thought I'd like to see the Fifth Avenue parade; so we walked up
to some silk-stocking church above Thirty-fourth Street, where they have
a dandy choir; and back again afterwards. I stayed at the Brevoort, down
near them, you know; and Miss Goucher certainly is a peach. We got along
fine. And I found out from her how Mr. Phar's been acting. He's a bad
actor, all right. I'm just as glad I didn't run into him. I might have
done something foolish."

"What, for instance?" I suggested.

"Well," muttered Jimmy, "there's some things I can't stand. I might have
punched his head."

Phil whistled softly.

"He's not what I call a white man," explained Jimmy, dogged and slow, as
if to justify his vision of assault. "He's a painted pup."

"Come, Jimmy!" Phil commanded. "Out with it! Hunt and I know he's been
annoying Susan, but that's all we know. I supposed he might have been
pressing his attentions too publicly. If it's more than that----"

There was an unusual sternness in Phil's eye. Jimmy appealed from it to
mine, but in vain.

"Look here, Mr. Hunt," he blurted, "Susan's all right, of course--and
so's Miss Goucher! They've got their eyes open. And maybe it's not up to
me to say anything. But if I was in your place, I'd feel like giving two
or three people down there a piece of my mind! Susan wouldn't thank me
for saying so, I guess; she's modern--she likes to be let alone. Why,
she laughed at me more than once for getting sort of hot! And I know
I've a bunch to learn yet. But all the same," he pounded on, "I do know
this: It was a dirty trick of Mr. Phar's not to stand up for Susan!"

"Not stand up for her! What do you mean?" Phil almost barked.

"Jimmy means, Phil," I explained, "that some rather vague rumors began
not along ago to spread through Maltby's crowd in regard to Susan--as to
why she found it advisable to leave New Haven. Many of his friends know
me, of course--or know Gertrude; know all about us, at any rate. It's
not very remarkable, then, that Susan's appearance in New York--and so
far as Maltby's May-Flies know, in some sense under his wing--has set
tongues wagging. I was afraid of it; but I know Maltby's set well enough
to know that to-day's rumor, unless it's pretty sharply spiced, is soon
forgotten. To-morrow's is so much fresher, you see. The best thing for
innocent victims to do is to keep very still. And then, I confess, it
seemed to me unlikely that Maltby would permit anything of the sort to
go too far."

I saw that Jimmy was following my exposition with the most painful
surprise. Phil grunted disgustedly as I ended.

"I don't pretend to much knowledge of that world," he said deliberately,
"but common sense tells me Maltby Phar might think it to his advantage
to fan the flame instead of stamping it out. I may be unfair to him, but
I'm even capable of supposing he touched it off in the first place."

"No, Phil," I objected, "he wouldn't have done that. But you seem to be
right about his failing to stamp out the sparks. That's what you meant
by his not standing up for Susan, isn't it, Jimmy?"

The boy's face was a study in unhappy perplexity. "I guess I'm like
Professor Farmer!" he exclaimed. "I'm not on to people who act like
that. But, Mr. Hunt, you're dead wrong--excuse me, sir!"

"Go on, Jimmy."

"Well, I mean--you spoke of vague rumors, didn't you? They're not
vague. I guess Susan hasn't wanted to upset you. Miss Goucher told me
all about it, and she wouldn't have done it, would she, if she hadn't
hoped I'd bring it straight back to you? I guess she promised Susan not
to tell you, so she told me. That's the only way I can figure it,"
concluded Jimmy.

Phil was grim now. "Give us your facts, Jimmy--all of them."

"Yes, sir. There's a Mr. Young; he writes things. He's clever. They're
all clever down there. Well, Mr. Young's dead gone on Susan; but then,
he's the kind that's always dead gone on somebody. It's women with him,
you see, sir. Susan understands. It don't seem right she should,
somehow; but--well, Susan's always been different from most girls. At
least, I don't know many girls----"

"Never mind that," prompted Phil.

"No, sir. Talking about things like this always rattles me. I can't help
it. They kind of stick in my throat. Well, Mr. Young don't want to marry
anybody, but he's been making love to Susan--trying to. He had the wrong
idea about her, you see; and Susan saw that, too--saw he thought she was
playing him for a poor fish. So--her way--out she comes with it to him,
flat. And he gets sore and comes back at her with what he'd heard."
Jimmy's handkerchief was pulled out at this point; he mopped his brow.
"It don't feel right even to speak of lies like this about--any decent
girl," he mumbled.

"No," Phil agreed, "it doesn't. But there's nothing for it now. Get it
said and done with!"

"Yes, sir. Mr. Young told Susan he wasn't a fool; he knew she'd
been--what she shouldn't be--up here."

"Hunt's mistress, you mean?" snapped Phil.

"Yes, sir," whispered Jimmy, his face purple with agonized shame.

"And then?"

"Susan's a wonder," continued Jimmy, taking heart now his Rubicon lay
behind him. "Most girls would have thrown a fit. But Susan seems to feel
there's a lot to Mr. Young, in spite of all that rotten side of him. She
saw right away he believed that about her, and so he couldn't be blamed
much for getting sore. Anyway, he must have a white streak in him, for
Susan talked to him--the way she can--and he soon realized he was in all
wrong. But the _reason_ he was in wrong--that's what finished things
between Susan and Mr. Phar! I guess you won't blame me for wanting to
punch his head."

"No," I threw in; "I shouldn't blame you for wanting to punch mine!"

"Give us the reason, Jimmy," insisted Phil, his grave, Indianlike face
stiffened to a mask.

"Mr. Young didn't get that lie from Mr. Phar," admitted Jimmy, "but he
did take it straight to him, when he first heard it, thinking he ought
to know."

"Good God!" I cried. "Do you mean to tell me Maltby confirmed it?"

"Well," Jimmy hesitated, "it seems he didn't come right out and say,
'Yes, that's so!' But he didn't deny it either. Sort of shrugged his
shoulders, I guess, and did things with his eyebrows. Whatever he did or
didn't, Mr. Young got it fastened in his head then and there that
Susan----"

But this time Jimmy simply couldn't go on; the words stuck in his throat
and stayed there.

Phil's eyes met mine and held them, long.

"Hunt," he said quietly at last, "it's a fortunate thing for Susan--for
all of us--that I have long years of self-discipline behind me.
Otherwise, I should go to New York to-morrow, find Maltby Phar, and
shoot him."

Jimmy's blue eyes flashed toward Phil a startled but admiring glance.

"What do _you_ propose to do, Hunt?" demanded Phil.

"Think," I replied; "think hard--think things through. Wednesday morning
I shall leave for New York."


II

My prophecy was correct. Wednesday, at 12.03 A. M., I left for New
York, in response to the shocking telegram from Lucette. I arrived at
Gertrude's address, an august apartment house on upper Park Avenue, a
little before half-past two, dismissed my taxi at the door, noting as I
did so a second taxi standing at the curb just ahead of my own, and was
admitted to the dignified public entrance-hall with surprising
promptness, considering the hour, by the mature buttons on duty. Buttons
was a man nearing sixty, at a guess, of markedly Irish traits, and he
was unexpectedly wide-awake. When I gave him my name, and briefly stated
the reason for my untimely arrival, his deep-set eyes glittered with
excited curiosity, while he drew down deep parallels about his mouth in
a grimacing attempt at deepest sympathy and profoundest respect. I
questioned him. Several persons had gone up to Mrs. Hunt's apartment, he
solemnly informed me, during the past two hours. He believed the police
were in charge.

"Police?" I exclaimed, incredulous.

He believed so. He would say no more.

"Take me up at once!" I snapped at him. "Surely there's a mistake. There
can be no reason for police interference."

His eyes glittered more shrewdly, the drawn parallels deepened yet
further as he shot back the elevator door....

It was unmistakably a police officer who admitted me for the first and
last time to Gertrude's apartment. On hearing my name he nodded, then
closed the door firmly in the face of Buttons, who had lingered.

"He's been warned not to tip off the press," said the police officer,
"but it's just as well to be cautious."

"The press? What do you mean?" I asked, still incredulous. "Is it a New
York custom for police to enter a house of mourning?" I was aware as I
spoke of repressed voices murmuring in an adjoining room.

"I'm Sergeant Conlon," he answered, "in charge here till the coroner
comes. He should make it by seven. If you're the poor lady's husband,
you'll be needed. I'll have to detain you."

As he ended, the murmur ended in the adjoining room, and Lucette walked
out from it. She was wearing an evening gown--blue, I think--cut very
low, and a twinkling ornament of some kind in her hair. She has fine
shoulders and beautiful hair. But her face had gone haggard; she had
been weeping; she looked ten years older than when I had last seen her.

"What is it? What is it?" I demanded of her. "I know nothing but your
telegram!"

"Looks like murder," said Sergeant Conlon, dry and short. "I wouldn't
talk much if I was you, not till the coroner gets here. I'm bound to
make notes of what you say."

For the merest hundredth of a second my scalp prickled, my flesh went
cold; but sheer incredulity was still strong upon me; it beat back the
horror. It was simply not real, all this.

"At least," I managed, "give me facts--something!"

Then unreality deepened to utter nightmare, passing all bounds of
reason. Lucette spoke, and life turned for me to sheer prattling
madness; to a gibbering grotesque!

"_Susan_ did it!" she cried, her voice going high and strident, slipping
from all control. "I know it! I know she did! I know it! Wasn't she with
her? _Alone_ with her? Who else could have done it! Who else! _It's in
her blood!_"

Well, of course, when a woman you have played tag with in her girlhood
goes mad before you, raves----

How could one act or answer? Then, too, she had vanished; or had I
really seen her in the flesh at all? Really heard her voice, crying
out....

Sergeant Conlon's voice came next; short, dry, businesslike. It
compelled belief.

"I've a question or two for you, Mr. Hunt. This way; steady!"

I felt his hand under my elbow.

Gertrude's apartment was evidently a very large one; I had vaguely the
sensation of passing down a long hall with an ell in it, and so into a
small, simply furnished, but tasteful room--the sitting-room for her
maids, as I later decided. Sergeant Conlon shut the door and locked it.

"That's not to keep you in," he said; "it's to keep others out. Sit
down, Mr. Hunt. Smoke somethin'. Let's make ourselves comfortable."

The click of the shot bolt in the lock had suddenly, I found, restored
my power of coördination. It had been like the sharp handclap which
brings home a hypnotized subject to reason and reality. I was now, in a
moment, not merely myself again, but peculiarly alert and steady of
nerve, and I gave matter-of-fact assent to Sergeant Conlon's
suggestions. I lit a cigarette and took possession of the most
comfortable chair. Conlon remained standing. He had refused my
cigarettes, but he now lighted a long, roughly rolled cigar.

"I get these from a fellow over on First Avenue," he explained affably.
"He makes them up himself. They're not so bad."

I attempted a smile and achieved a classic reaction. "They
look--efficient," I said. "And now, sergeant, what has happened here? If
I've seemed dazed for the past ten minutes, it's little wonder. I
hurried down in response to a telegram saying my wife.... You know we've
lived apart for years?" He grunted assent.... "Saying she had died
suddenly. And I walk in, unprepared, on people who seem to me to be
acting parts in a crook melodrama of the crudest type. Be kind enough to
tell me what it's all about!"

Sergeant Conlon's gray-blue eyes fixed me as I spoke. He was a big,
thickset man, nearing middle age; the bruiser build, physically; but
with a solidly intelligent-looking head and trustworthy eyes.

"I'll do that, Mr. Hunt," he assented. "I got Mrs. Arthur to send you
that telegram; but I'll say to you first-off, now you've come, I don't
suspect you of bein' mixed up in this affair. When I shot that 'It looks
like murder' at you, I did it deliberate. Well--that's neither here nor
there; but I always go by the way things strike me. I have to." He
twirled a light chair round to face me and seated himself, leaning a
little forward, his great stubby hands propped on his square knees.
"Here's the facts, then--what we know are facts: It seems, Mrs.
Arthur--she's been visitin' Mrs. Hunt for two weeks past--she went to
the opera to-night with a Mr. Phar; she says you know him well." I
nodded. "Durin' the last act of the opera they were located by somebody
in the office down there and called out to the 'phone--an accident to
Mrs. Hunt--see?--important." Again I nodded. "Mrs. Arthur answered the
'phone, and Doctor Askew--he lives in this house, but he's Mrs. Hunt's
reg'lar doctor--well, he was on the wire. He just told her to hurry back
as fast as she could--and she and Mr. Phar hopped a taxi and beat it up
here. Doctor Askew met them at the door, and a couple of scared maids.
The doc's a good man--big rep--one of the best. He'd taken charge and
sent on the quiet for us. I got here with a couple of my men soon after
Mrs. Arthur----"

"But----"

"I know, _I_ know!" he stopped me off. "But I want you to get it all
straight. Mrs. Hunt, sir, was killed--somehow--with a long,
sharp-pointed brass paper-knife--a reg'lar weapon. I've examined it. And
someone drove that thing--and it must'a' took some force, believe
_me_!--right through her left eye up to the handle--a full inch of metal
plumb into her brain!"

I tried to believe him as he said this; as, seeing my blankness, he
repeated it for me in other words. For the moment it was impossible.
This sort of thing must have happened in the world, of course--at other
times, to other people. But not now, not to Gertrude. Certainly not to
Gertrude; a woman so aloof, so exquisite, self-sheltered,
class-sheltered, not merely from ugliness, from the harsh and brutal,
but from everything in life even verging toward vulgarity, coarse
passion, the unrestrained....

"That's the way she was killed, Mr. Hunt--no mistake. Now--who did
it--and why? That's the point."

At my elbow was a table with a reading-lamp on it, a desk-set, a
work-basket, belonging, I suppose, to one of the maids, and some
magazines. One magazine lay just before me--_The Reel World_--a
by-product of the great moving-picture industry. I had been
staring--unseeingly, at first--at a flamboyant advertisement on its
cover that clamored for my attention, until now, with Conlon's question,
it momentarily gained it. The release of a magnificent Superfeature was
announced--in no quavering terms. "The Sins of the Fathers" it shrieked
at me! "All the thrilling human suspense"; "virile, compelling";
"brimming over with the kind of action and adventure your audiences
crave"; "it delivers the wallop!"

Instantly, with a new force, Lucette's outcry swept back upon me. "Susan
did it! Wasn't she with her? Alone with her? _It's in her blood!_"

And at once every faculty of my spirit leaped, with an almost
supernatural acuteness, to the defense of the one being on earth I
wholly loved. All sense of unreality vanished. Now for it--since it must
be so! Susan and I, if need be, against the world!

"Go on, sergeant. What's your theory?"

"Never mind my theory! I'd like to get _yours_ first--when I've given
you all I know."

"All right, then! But be quick about it!"

"Easy, Mr. Hunt! It's not as simple as all that. Well, here it is:
Somewhere round ten o'clock, a Miss Blake--a magazine-writer livin' on
West 10th Street--your ward, I understand----"

"Yes."

"Well, she calls here, alone, and asks for Mrs. Arthur. Mrs. Hunt's
personal maid--English; she's no chicken either--she lets her in and
says Mrs. Arthur isn't here--see--and didn't the door boy tell her so?
Yes, says Miss Blake, but she'll wait for her anyway. The maid--name of
Iffley--says she thought that was queer, so she put it to Miss Blake
that maybe she'd better ask Mrs. Hunt. Oh, says Miss Blake, I thought
she was out, too. But it seems Mrs. Hunt was in her private sittin'
room; she'd had a slight bilious attack, and she'd got her corsets off
and somethin' loose on, the way women do, and was all set for a good
read. So the maid didn't think she could see Miss Blake, but anyhow she
took in her card--and Mrs. Hunt decided to see her. That maid Iffley's
an intelligent woman; she's all broke up, but she ain't hysterical like
the cook--who didn't see nothin' anyway. The parlor maid was havin' her
night off, but she's back now, too, and I've got 'em all safe where they
can't talk to outsiders, yet. I don't want this thing in the papers
to-morrow, not if I can help it; I want to keep it dark till I know
better where I'm gettin' off."

"Right!" I approved. "What's the maid's story?"

"Well, I've questioned her pretty close, and I think it's to be relied
on. It hits me that way. Mrs. Hunt, she says, when she took in Miss
Blake's card, was lyin' on her couch in a long trailin' thing--what
ladies call a negligee."

"Yes?"

"And she was cuttin' the pages of some new book with that paper-knife I
spoke of."

"Yes?"

"And her dog, a runty little French bull, was sleepin' on the rug beside
the couch."

"What does that matter?"

"More'n you'd think! He's got a broken leg--provin' some kind of a
struggle must'a'----"

"I see. Go on!"

"Well, Mrs. Hunt, the maid says, looked at Miss Blake's card a minute
and didn't say anythin' special, but seemed kind of puzzled. Her only
words was, 'Yes, I ought to see her.' So the maid goes for Miss Blake
and shows her to the door, which she'd left ajar, and taps on it for
her, and Mrs. Hunt calls to come in. So Miss Blake goes in and shuts the
door after her, and the maid comes back to this room we're in now--it's
round the corner of the hall from Mrs. Hunt's room--see? But she don't
much more than get here--just to the door--when she hears the dog give a
screech and then go on cryin' like as if he'd been hurt. The cook was in
here, too, and she claims she heard a kind of jarrin' sound, like
somethin' heavy fallin'; but Iffley--that's the maid, they call her
Iffley--says all she noticed was the dog. Anyway she listened a second,
then she started for Mrs. Hunt's room--and the cook, bein' nervous,
locked herself in here and sat with her eyes tight shut and her fingers
in her ears. Fact. She says she can't bear nothin' disagreeable. Too bad
about her, ain't it!"

"And then?" I protested, crossly.

"Well, Mr. Hunt, when the Iffley woman turned the hall corner--the door
of your poor wife's room opens, and Miss Blake walks out. She had the
paper-knife in her right hand, and the knife and her hand was all
bloody; her left hand was bloody too; and we've found blood on her
clothes since. There was a queer, vacant look about her--that's what the
maid says. She didn't seem to see anythin'. Naturally, the maid was
scared stiff--but she got one look in at the door anyway--that was
enough for her. She was too scared even to yell, she says.
Paralyzed--she just flopped back against the wall half faintin'.

"And then she noticed somethin' that kind of brought her to again! Mr.
Hunt, that young woman, Miss Blake--she'd gone quiet as you please and
curled herself down on a rug in the hallway--that bloody knife in her
hand--and she was either dead or fast asleep! And then the doorbell
rang, and the Iffley woman says she don't know how she got past that
prostrate figger on the rug--her very words, Mr. Hunt--that prostrate
figger on the rug--but she did, somehow; got to the door. And when she
opened it, there was Doctor Askew and the elevator man. And then she
passed out. And I must say I don't much blame her, considerin'."

"Where's Miss Blake now?" I sharply demanded.

"She's still fast asleep, Mr. Hunt--to call it that. The doc says
it's--somethin' or other--due to shock. Same as a trance."

I started up. "Where is Doctor Askew? I must see him at once!"

"We've laid Miss Blake on the bed in Mrs. Arthur's room. He's observin'
her."

"Take me there."

"I'll do that, Mr. Hunt. But I'll ask you a question first--straight. Is
there any doubt in your mind that that young lady--your ward--killed
Mrs. Hunt?"

I met his gray-blue glance directly, pausing a moment before I spoke.
"Sergeant Conlon," I replied, while a meteor-shower of speculation shot
through me with the rapidity of light waves, "there is no doubt whatever
in my mind: Miss Blake could not--and so did not--kill my wife."

"Who did, then?"

"Wait! Let me first ask you a question, sergeant: Who sent for Doctor
Askew?"

"That's the queerest part of it; Miss Blake did."

"Ah! _How?_"

"There's a 'phone in Mrs. Hunt's sittin' room. Miss Blake called the
house operator, gave her name and location, and said not to waste a
moment--to send up a doctor double-quick!"

"Is that _all_ she said?"

"No. The operator tells me she said Mrs. Hunt had had a terrible
accident and was dyin'."

"You're certain she said 'accident'?"

"The girl who was at the switchboard--name of Joyce--she's sure of it."

I smiled, grimly enough. "Then that is exactly what occurred,
sergeant--a terrible accident; hideous. Your question is answered.
Nobody killed Mrs. Hunt--unless you are so thoughtless or blasphemous as
to call it an act of God!"

"Oh, come on now!" he objected, shaking his head, but not, I felt, with
entire conviction. "No," he continued stubbornly, "I been turnin' that
over too. But there's no way an accident like that could 'a' happened.
It's not possible!"

"Fortunately," I insisted, "nothing else is possible! Are you asking me
to believe that a young, sensitive girl, with an extraordinary
imaginative sympathy for others--a girl of brains and character, as all
her friends have reason to know--asking me to believe that she walked
coolly into my wife's room this evening, rushed savagely upon her,
wrested a paper knife from her hand, and then found the sheer brute
strength of will and arm to thrust it through her eye deep into her
brain? Are you further asking me to believe that having done this
frightful thing she kept her wits about her, telephoned at once for a
doctor--being careful to call her crime an accident--and so passed at
once into a trance of some kind and walked from the room with the bloody
knife in her hand? What possible motive could be strong enough to drive
such a girl to such a deed?"

"Jealousy," said Sergeant Conlon. "She wanted _you_--and your wife stood
in her way. That's what I get from Mrs. Arthur."

"I see. But the three or four persons who know Miss Blake and me best
will tell you how absurd that is, and you'll find their reasons for
thinking so are very convincing. Is Mr. Phar still about?"

"He is. I've detained him."

"What does he think of Mrs. Arthur's nonsensical theory?"

"He's got a theory of his own," said Conlon; "and it happens to be the
same as mine."

"Well?"

"Mr. Phar says Miss Blake's own father went mad--all of a sudden; cut
some fancy woman's throat, and his own after! He thinks history's
repeated itself, that's all. So do I. Only a crazy woman could 'a' done
this--just this way. A strong man in his senses couldn't 'a' drove that
paper-knife home like that! But when a person goes mad, sir, all rules
are off. I seen too many cases. Things happen you can't account for.
Take the matter of that dog now--his broken leg, eh? What are you to
make of that? And take this queer state she's in. There's no doubt in my
mind, Mr. Hunt--the poor girl's gone crazy, somehow. You nor me can't
tell how nor why. But it's back of all this--that's sure."

Throughout all this coarse nightmare, this insane break in Nature, as I
have called it and must always regard it, let me at least be honest. As
Conlon spoke, for the tiniest fraction of a second a desolating fear
darted through me, searing every nerve with white-hot pain. Was it true?
Might it not conceivably be true? But this single lightning-thrust of
doubt passed as it came. No, not as it came, for it blotted all
clearness, all power of voluntary thought from my mind; but it left
behind it a singular intensity of vision. Even as the lightning-pang
vanished, and while time yet stood still, a moving picture that amounted
to hallucination began to play itself out before me. It was like

                                  _... that last
          Wild pageant of the accumulated past
          That clangs and flashes for a drowning man._

I saw Susan shutting the door of a delicately panelled Georgian room,
and every detail of this room--a room I had never entered in the
flesh--was distinct to me. Given time, I could have inventoried its
every object. I saw Gertrude lying on--not a couch, as Conlon had called
it--on a _chaise-longue_, a book with a vivid green cover in her left
hand, a bronze paper knife with a thin, pointed blade in her right. She
was holding it with the knuckles of her hand upward, her thumb along the
handle, and the point of the blade turned to her left, across and a
little in toward her body. She was wearing a very lovely _négligé_, a
true creation, all in filmy tones of old gold. On a low-set tip-table at
her elbow stood a reading-lamp, and a small coal-black French bull lay
asleep on a superb Chinese rug--lay close in by the _chaise-longue_,
just where a dropped hand might caress him. A light silky-looking
coverlet of a peculiar dull blue, harmonizing with certain tones of the
rug, was thrown across Gertrude's feet.

As Susan shut the door, the little bull pricked up his bat-ears and
started to uncurl, but Gertrude must have spoken to him, for he settled
back again--not, however, to sleep. It was all a picture; I heard no
sounds. Then I saw Gertrude put down her book on the table and swing her
feet from the _chaise-longue_, meaning to rise and greet Susan. But, as
she attempted to stand up, the light coverlet entangled her feet and
tripped her; she lost her balance, tried with a violent, awkward lurch
of her whole body to recover herself, and stamped rather than stepped
full on the dog's forepaws. He writhed, springing up between her
feet--the whole grotesque catastrophe was, in effect, a single, fatal
gesture!--and Gertrude, throwing her hands instinctively before her
face, fell heavily forward, the length of her body, prone. I saw Susan
rush toward her---- And the psychic reel flickered out, blanked.... I
needed to see no more.

"Don't you agree with me, Mr. Hunt?" Conlon was asking.

"No," I said bluntly. "No madwoman would have summoned a doctor. Miss
Blake called it a terrible accident. It was. Her present state is due to
the horror of it. When she wakes, it will all be explained. Now take me
to her."

Conlon's gray-blue glance fixed me once more. "All right," he grunted,
"I've no objections. But I'd 'a' thought your first wish would 'a' been
to see your wife."

"No," I replied. "Mrs. Hunt separated from me years ago, for reasons of
her own. I bore her no ill will; in a sense, I respected her, admired
her. Understand me, Sergeant Conlon. There was nothing vulgar in her
life, and her death in this stupid way--oh, it's indecent, damnable! A
cheap outrage! I could do nothing for her living, and can do nothing
now. But I prefer to remember her as she was. _She_ would prefer it,
too."

"Come on, then," said Conlon; pretty gruffly, I thought.

He unlocked the door.


III

It was a singular thing, but so convincing had my vision been to me
that I felt no immediate desire to verify the details of its setting by
an examination of Gertrude's boudoir. It had come to me bearing its own
credentials, its own satisfying accent of truth. One question did,
however, fasten upon me, as I followed Conlon's bulky form, down the
hall to Lucette's bedroom. Whence had this vision, this psychic reel
come to me? What was its source? How could the mere fact of
it--clearing, as it did, at least, all perplexities from my own
mind--have occurred? For the moment I could find no answer; the mystery
had happened, had worked, but remained a mystery.

Like most men in this modern world I had taken a vague, mild interest in
psychical research, reading more or less casually, and with customary
suspension of judgment, anything of the sort that came in my way. I had
a bowing acquaintance with its rapidly growing literature; little more;
and until now I had had no striking psychical experiences of my own, and
had never, as it happened, attended a séance of any kind, either popular
or scientific. Nevertheless, I could--to put it so--speak that language.
I was familiar with the described phenomena, in a general way, and with
the conflicting theories of its leading investigators; but I
had--honestly speaking--no pet theories of my own, though always
impatient of spiritistic explanations, and rather inclined to doubt,
too, the persistent claim that thought transference had been
incontrovertibly established. On the whole, I suppose I was inclined to
favor common-sense mechanistic explanations of such phenomena, and to
regard all others with alert suspicion or wearily amused contempt.

Now at last, in my life's most urgent crisis, I had had news from
nowhere; now, furthermore, the being I loved and would protect, _must_
protect, had been thrown by psychic shock into that grim borderland, the
Abnormal: that land of lost voices, of the fringe of consciousness, of
dissociated personalities, of morbid obsession, and wild symbolic
dreams. Following on Conlon's heels, then, I entered a softly illumined
room--a restrained _Louis Seize_ room--a true Gertrude room, with its
cool French-gray panelled walls; but entered there as into sinister
darkness, as if groping for light. The comfortably accustomed, the
predictable, I felt, lay all behind me; I must step warily henceforth
among shifting shadows and phosphoric blurs. The issues were too
terrifying, too vast, for even one little false move; Susan's future,
the very health of her soul, might depend now upon the blundering
clumsiness or the instinctive tact with which I attempted to pick and
choose my way. It was with a secret shuddering of flesh and spirit that
I entered that discreet, faultless room.

Susan was lying on the low single French bed, a coverlet drawn over her;
they had removed her trim tailored hat, the jacket of her dark suit, and
her walking-boots, leaving them on the couch by the silk-curtained
windows, where they had perhaps first placed her. She had not dressed
for the evening before coming up to Gertrude's; it was evidently to have
been a businesslike call. Her black weblike hair--smoky, I always called
it, to tease her; it never fell lank or separated into strings--had been
disordered, and a floating weft of it had drifted across her forehead
and hung there. Her face was moon-white, her lips pale, the lines of
cheek and chin had sharpened, her eyes were closed. It was very like
death. My throat tightened and ached....

Doctor Askew stood across the bed from us, looking down at her.

"Here's Mr. Hunt," said Conlon, without further introduction. "He wants
to see you." Then he stepped back to the door and shut it, remaining
over by it, at some distance from the bed. His silence was expressive.
"Now show me!" it seemed to say. "This may be a big case for me and it
may not. If not, I'm satisfied; I'm ready for anything. Go on, show me!"

Doctor Askew was not, as I had expected to find him, old; nor even
middle-aged; an expectation caught, I presume, from Conlon's laconic
"One of the best--a big rep"; he was, I now estimated, a year or so
younger than I. I had never heard of him and knew nothing about him, but
I liked him at once when he glanced humorously up at Conlon's "He wants
to see you," nodded to me, and said: "I've been hoping you'd come soon,
Mr. Hunt. I've a mind to try something here--if you've no objection to
an experiment?"

He was a short man, not fat, but thickset like Conlon; only, with a
higher-strung vitality, carrying with it a sense of intellectual
eagerness and edge. He had a sandy, freckled complexion, bronzy,
crisp-looking hair with reddish gleams in it, and an unmistakably red,
aggressive mustache, close-clipped but untamed. Green-blue eyes. A man,
I decided, of many intensities; a willful man; but thoughtful, too, and
seldom unkind.

"Why did you wait for my permission?" I asked.

"I shouldn't have--much longer," he replied, his eyes returning to
Susan's unchanging face. "But I've read one or two of your essays, so I
know something of the feel of your mind. It occurred to me you might be
useful. And besides, I badly need some information about this"--he
paused briefly--"this very lovely child." Again he paused a moment,
adding: "This is a singular case, Mr. Hunt--and likely to prove more
singular as we see it through. I acted too impulsively in sending for
Conlon; I apologize. It's not a police matter, as I at first supposed.
However, I hope there's no harm done. Conlon is holding his horses and
trying to be discreet. Aren't you, Conlon?"

"What's the idea?" muttered Conlon, from the doorway; Conlon was not
used to being treated thus, _de haut en bas_. "Even if that poor little
girl's crazy, we'll have to swear out a warrant for her. It's a police
matter all right."

"I think _not_," said Doctor Askew, dismissing Conlon from the
conversation. "Have you ever," he then asked me, "seen Miss Blake like
this before?"

I was about to say "No!" with emphasis, when a sudden memory returned
to me--the memory of a queer, crumpled little figure lying on the
concrete incline of the Eureka Garage; curled up there, like an
unearthed cutworm, round a shining dinner-pail. "Yes," I replied
instead; "once--I think."

"You think?"

I sketched the occasion for him and explained all its implications as
clearly and briefly as I could; and while I talked thus across her bed
Susan's eyes did not open; she did not stir. Doctor Askew heard me out,
as I felt, intently, but kept his eye meanwhile--except for a keen
glance or two in my direction--on Susan's face.

"All right," he said, when I had concluded; "that throws more or less
light. There's nothing to worry us, at least, in Miss Blake's condition.
Under psychical trauma--shock--she has a tendency to pass into a trance
state--amounting practically to one of the deeper stages of hypnosis.
She'll come out of it sooner or later--simply wake up--if we leave her
alone. Perhaps, after all, that's the wisest thing for us to do."

On this conclusion he walked away from the bed, as if it ended the
matter, and lit a cigarette.

"Well, Conlon," he grinned, "we're making a night of it, eh? Come, let's
all sit down and talk things over." He seated himself on the end of the
couch as he spoke, lounging back on one elbow and crossing his knees. "I
ought to tell you, Mr. Hunt," he added, "that nervous disorders are my
specialty; more than that, indeed--my life! I studied under Janet in
Paris, and later put in a couple of years as assistant physician in the
Clinic of Psychiatry, Zurich. Did some work, too, at Vienna--with Stekel
and Freud. So I needn't say a problem of this kind is simply meat and
drink to me. I wouldn't have missed it for anything in the world!"

I was a little chilled by his words, by an attitude that seemed to me
cold-bloodedly professional; nevertheless, I joined him, drawing up a
chair, and Conlon gradually worked his way toward us, though he remained
standing.

"What I want to know, doc," demanded Conlon, "is why you've changed your
mind?"

"I haven't," Doctor Askew responded. "I can't have, because I haven't
yet formed an opinion. I'm just beginning to--and even that may take me
some time." He turned to me. "What's your theory, Mr. Hunt?"

I was prepared for this question; my mind had been busying itself
foresightedly with every possible turn our conversation was likely to
take. All my faculties were sharpened by strain, by my pressing sense
that Susan's future, for good or evil, might somehow be linked to my
lightest word. I had determined, then, in advance, not to speak in
Conlon's presence of my inexplicable vision, not to mention it at all to
anyone unless some unexpected turn of the wheel might make it seem
expedient. I could use it to Susan's advantage, I believed, more
effectively by indirection; I endeavored to do so now.

"My theory?" I queried.

"As to how Mrs. Hunt met her death. However painful, we've got to face
that out, sooner or later."

"Naturally. But I have no theory," I replied; "I have an unshakable
conviction."

"Ah! Which is----"

"That the whole thing was accidental, of course; just as Miss Blake
affirmed it to be over the telephone."

"You believe that _because_ she affirmed it?"

"Exactly."

"That won't go down with the coroner," struck in Conlon. "How could it?
I'd like to think it, well enough--but it don't with me!"

"Wait, Conlon!" suggested Doctor Askew, sharply. "I'll conduct this
inquiry just now, if you don't mind--and if Mr. Hunt will be good enough
to answer."

"Why not?" I replied.

"Thank you. Conlon's point is a good one, all the same. Have you been
able to form any reasonable notion of how such an accident could have
occurred?"

"Yes."

"The hell you have!" exclaimed Conlon excitedly, not meaning, I think,
to be sarcastic. "Why, you haven't even been in there"--he referred to
Gertrude's boudoir--"or seen the body!"

"No," I responded, "but you and Doctor Askew have, so you can easily put
me right. Extraordinary as the whole thing is--the one deadly chance in
perhaps a million--there's nothing impossible about it. Merely from the
facts you've given me, Sergeant Conlon, I can reconstruct the whole
scene--come pretty near it, at any rate. But the strength of my
conviction is based on other grounds--don't lose sight of that! Miss
Blake didn't kill Mrs. Hunt; she's incapable of such an action; and if
she didn't, no one else did. An accident is the only alternative."

"Well, then," grunted Conlon, "tell us about it! It'll take some
tellin'!"

"Hold on!" exclaimed Doctor Askew before I could begin. "Sorry, Mr.
Hunt--but you remember, perhaps--when you first came in--I had half a
mind to try something--an experiment?" I nodded. "Well, I've made up my
mind. We'll try it right now, before it's too late. If it succeeds, it
may yield us a few facts to go on. Your suppositions can come
afterward."

I felt, as he spoke, that something behind his words belied their
rudeness, that their rudeness was rather for Conlon's benefit than for
mine. He got up briskly and crossed to the bedside. There after a moment
he turned and motioned us both to join him.

As we did so, tiptoeing instinctively: "Yes--this is fortunate," he
said; "she's at it again. Look."

Susan still lay as I had first seen her, with shut eyes, her arms
extended outside the coverlet; but she was no longer entirely
motionless. Her left arm lay relaxed, the palm of her left hand upward.
I had often seen her hands lie inertly thus in her lap, the palms
upward, in those moments of silent withdrawal which I have more than
once described. But now her right hand was turned downward, the fingers
slightly contracted, as if they held a pen, and the hand was creeping
slowly on the coverlet from left to right; it would creep slowly in this
way for perhaps eight inches, then draw quickly back to its point of
starting and repeat the manoeuvre. It was uncanny, this patient
repetition--over and over--of a single restricted movement.

"My God," came from Conlon in a husky whisper, "is she dyin'--or what?"

"Far from it!" said Doctor Askew, his abrupt, crisp speech in almost
ludicrous contrast to Conlon's sudden awe. "Get me some paper from that
desk over there, Conlon. A pad, if possible."

He drew out a pencil from his pocket as he spoke. Conlon hesitated an
instant, then obeyed, tiptoeing ponderously, with creaking boots, over
to a daintily appointed writing-table, and returning with a block of
linen paper. Doctor Askew, meanwhile, holding the pencil between his
teeth, had lifted Susan's unresisting shoulders--too roughly, I
thought--from the bed.

"Stick that other pillow under her," he ordered me, sharply enough in
spite of the impeding pencil. "A little farther down--so!"

Susan now lay, no less limply than before, with her trunk, shoulders,
and head somewhat raised. Her right hand had ceased its slow, patient
movement.

"What's the idea?" Conlon was muttering. "What's the idea, doc?"

Whatever it was, it was evident that Conlon didn't like it.

"Got the pad?" demanded Doctor Askew. "Oh, good! Here!"

He almost snatched the pad from Conlon and tore the blotter cover from
it; then he slipped it beneath Susan's right palm and finally thrust his
pencil between her curved fingers, its point resting on the linen block,
which he steadied by holding one corner between finger and thumb. For a
moment the hand remained quiet; then it began to write. I say "it"
advisedly; no least trace of consciousness or purposed control could be
detected in Susan's impassive face or heavily relaxed body. _Susan_ was
not writing; her waking will had no part in this strange automatism; so
much, at least, was plain to me and even to Conlon.

"Mother of God," came his throaty whisper again, "it's not _her_ that's
doin' it. Who's pushin' that hand?"

"It's not _sperits_, Conlon," said Doctor Askew ironically; "you can
take my say-so for that." With the words he withdrew the scribbled top
sheet from the pad, glanced at it, and handed it to me. The hand
journeyed on, covering a second sheet as I read. "That doesn't help us
much, does it?" was Doctor Askew's comment, when I had devoured the
first sheet.

"No," I replied; "not directly. But I'll keep this if you don't mind."

I folded the sheet and slipped it into my pocket. Doctor Askew removed
the second sheet.

"Same sort of stuff," he grunted, passing it over to me. "It needs
direction." And he began addressing--not _Susan_, to Conlon's
amazement--the _hand_! "What happened in Mrs. Hunt's room to-night?" he
demanded firmly of the hand. "Tell us exactly what happened in Mrs.
Hunt's room to-night! It's important. What happened in Mrs. Hunt's room
to-night?"

Always addressing the hand, his full attention fixed upon it as it
moved, he repeated this burden over and over. "We must know exactly what
happened in Mrs. Hunt's room to-night! Tell us what happened in Mrs.
Hunt's room to-night.... What happened in Mrs. Hunt's room to-night?"

Conlon and I both noted that Susan's breathing, hitherto barely to be
detected, gradually grew more labored while Doctor Askew insisted upon
and pressed home his monotonous refrain. He had so placed himself now
that he could follow the slowly pencilled words. More and more
deliberately the hand moved; then it paused....

"What happened in Mrs. Hunt's room to-night?" chanted Doctor Askew.

"This ain't right," muttered Conlon. "It's worse'n the third degree. I
don't like it."

He creaked uneasily away. The hand moved again, hesitatingly, briefly.

"Ah," chanted Doctor Askew--always to the hand--"it was an accident, was
it? How did it happen? Tell us exactly how it happened--exactly how it
happened. _We must know_.... How did the accident happen in Mrs. Hunt's
room to-night?"

Again the hand moved, more steadily this time, and seemingly in response
to his questions.

Doctor Askew glanced up at me with an encouraging smile. "We'll get it
now--all of it. Don't worry. The hand's responding to control."

Though sufficiently astonished and disturbed by this performance, I was
not, like Conlon, wholly at sea. Sober accounts of automatic writing
could be found in all modern psychologies; I had read some of these
accounts--given with all the dry detachment of clinical data. They had
interested me, not thrilled me. No supernatural power was involved. It
was merely the comparative rarity of such phenomena in the ordinary
normal course of experience that made them seem awe-inspiring. And yet,
the _hand_ there, solely animate, patiently writing in entire
independence of a consciously directing will----! My spine, too, like
Conlon's, registered an authentic shiver of protest and atavistic fear.
But, throughout, I kept my tautened wits about me, busily working; and
they drove me now on a sudden inspiration to the writing-table, where I
seized pen and paper and wrote down with the most collected celerity a
condensed account of--for so I phrased it--"what must, from the
established facts, be supposed to have taken place in Mrs. Hunt's
boudoir, just after Miss Blake had entered it." I put this account
deliberately as my theory of the matter, as the one solution of the
problem consistent with the given facts and the known characters
involved; and I had barely concluded when I was startled to my feet by
Doctor Askew's voice--raised cheerily above its monotonous murmur of
questions to the hand--calling my name.

"What are you up to, Mr. Hunt? My little experiment's over. It's a
complete success."

He was walking toward me with a handful of loose scribbled sheets from
the linen block.

"How is she now?" I inquired anxiously, as if she had just been
subjected to a dangerous operation.

"All right. Deep under. I shan't try to pull her out yet. Much better
for her to come out of it naturally herself. I suggest we darken the
room and leave her."

"That suits _me_!" I just caught from Conlon, over by the door.

"She'll be quite safe alone?"

"Absolutely. I want to read this thing to Conlon and Mrs. Arthur and Mr.
Phar, before the coroner gets here. I rather think they'll find it
convincing."

"Good," I responded. "But, first of all, let me read them this. I've
just jotted down my analysis of the whole situation. It's a piece of
cold constructive reasoning from the admitted data, and I shall be
greatly surprised if it doesn't on the whole agree with what you've been
able to obtain."

Doctor Askew stared at me a moment curiously. "And if it doesn't agree?"
he asked.

"If it don't," exclaimed Conlon, with obvious relief, "it may help us,
all the same! This thing can't be settled by _that_ kind of stuff, doc."
He gave a would-be contemptuous nod toward Doctor Askew's handful of
scrawled pages. "That's no evidence--whatever it says. Where does it
come from? Who's givin' it? It can't be sworn to on the Book, that's
certain--eh? Let's get outa here and begin to talk sense!" Conlon opened
the door eagerly, and creaked off through the hall.

"Go with him," ordered Doctor Askew. "I'll put out the lights." Then he
touched my elbow and gave me a slight nod. "I see your point of course.
But I hope to God you've hit somewhere near it?"

"Doctor," I replied, "this account of mine is exact. I'll tell you
later how I know that."

"Ah!" he grunted, with a green-blue flash of eyes. "What a lucky devil I
am!... But I've felt all along this would prove a rewarding case."


IV

Up to this point I have been necessarily thus detailed, but I am eager
now to win past the cruder melodrama of this insanely disordered night.
I am eager to win back from all these damnable and distracting things to
Susan. This book is hers, not mine; it is certainly not Sergeant
Conlon's or Doctor Askew's. So you will forgive me, and understand, if I
present little more than a summary of the immediately following hours.

We found Maltby and Lucette in the drawing-room, worn out with their
night-long vigil; Maltby, somnolent and savage; Lucette still keyed
high, suffering from exasperated nerves which--perhaps for the first
time in her life--she could not control. They were seated as far apart
as the room permitted, having long since talked themselves out, and were
engaged, I think, in tacitly hating one another. The situation was
almost impossible; yet I knew I must dominate it somehow, and begin by
dominating myself--and in the end, with Conlon's and Doctor Askew's
help, I succeeded. Conlon, I confess, proved to be an unexpected ally
all through.

"Now, Mrs. Arthur, and you, Mr. Phar," he stated at once as we entered
the drawing-room together, "I've brought Mr. Hunt in here to read you
his guess at what happened last evenin'. Doctor Askew'll be with us in a
minute, and _he's_ got somethin' to lay before you.... No; Miss Blake's
not come round yet. The doc'll explain about her. But we'll hear from
Mr. Hunt first, see? I've examined him and I'm satisfied he's straight.
You've known him long enough to form your own opinions, but that's mine.
Oh, here's the doc! Go on, Mr. Hunt."

With this lead, I was at length able to persuade Lucette and Maltby to
listen, sullenly enough, to my written analysis. My feeling toward them
both, though better concealed, was quite as hostile as theirs toward me,
but I saw that I caught their reluctant attention and that Maltby was
somewhat impressed by what I had written, and by my interjected
amplifications of the more salient points. I had been careful to
introduce no facts not given me by Sergeant Conlon, and when I had
finished, ignoring Lucette's instant murmur of impatience and
incredulity, I turned to him and said: "Sergeant, is there anything
known to you and not known to me--any one detail discovered during your
examination of Mrs. Hunt's boudoir, say--which makes my deductions
impossible or absurd?"

He reflected a moment, then acknowledged: "Well, no, Mr. Hunt. Things
might 'a' happened like that; maybe they did. But just sayin' so don't
prove they did!"

"May I ask you a few questions?"

"Sure."

"Had Mrs. Hunt's body been moved when you arrived? I mean, from the very
spot where it fell?"

"It had and it hadn't. The doc here found her lyin' face down on the
floor, right in front of the couch. He had to roll her over on her back
to examine her. That's all. The body's there now like that, covered with
a sheet. Nothin' else has been disturbed."

"The body was lying face down, you say?"

"Yes," struck in Doctor Askew; "it was."

"At full length?"

"Yes."

"Isn't that rather surprising?"

"Unquestionably."

"How do you account for the position?"

"There's only one possible explanation," replied Doctor Askew, as if
giving expert testimony from a witness box; "a sudden and complete loss
of balance, pitching the body sharply forward, accompanied by such a
binding of the legs and feet as to prevent any instinctive movement
toward recovery."

"Thank you. Were there any indications of such binding?"

"Yes. Mrs. Hunt's trailing draperies had somehow wound themselves
tightly about her legs below the knee, and I judge her feet were further
impeded by a sort of coverlet which I found touselled up on the rug
beneath them."

"Grant all that!" growled Maltby. "It points to just the opposite of
what we'd all like to think is true. If Mrs. Hunt had risen slowly to
greet a caller in the usual way--well, she wouldn't have gotten herself
tangled up. She was the last woman in the world to do anything
awkwardly. But if she leaped to her feet in terror--what? To defend
herself--or try to escape? Don't you see?"

"Of course we see!" cried Lucette. "It proves everything!"

"Hardly," I replied. "Try to imagine the scene, Maltby, as you seem to
believe it occurred. I won't speak of the major impossibility--that
Susan, a girl you've known and have asked to be your wife, could under
any circumstances be the author of such a crime! We'll pass that. Simply
try to picture the crime itself. Susan, showing no traces of unnatural
excitement, is conducted to my wife's boudoir. She enters, shuts the
door, turns, then rushes at her with so hideous an effect of insane fury
that Gertrude springs up, terrified. Susan--more slightly built than
Gertrude, remember!--grapples with her, tears a paper knife from her
hand, and plunges it deep into her eye, penetrating the brain. Suppose,
if you will, that madness lent her this force. But, obviously, for the
point of the knife to enter the eye in that way, Gertrude must have been
fronting Susan, her chin well raised. Obviously, the force of such a
blow would have thrown her head, her whole body, backward, not forward;
and if her feet were bound, as Doctor Askew says they were, she must
have fallen backward or to one side, certainly not forward at full
length, on her face."

"You've said somethin' this time, Mr. Hunt!" exclaimed Conlon. "There's
a lot to that!"

Maltby was visibly impressed; but not Lucette. "As if," she said, "Susan
wouldn't have arranged the body--afterward--in any way she thought to
her advantage!"

"There wasn't time!" Doctor Askew objected impatiently. "And," he went
on, "it happens that all this is futile! I have proof here,
corroborating Mr. Hunt's remarkably acute theories in the most positive
way."

But before reading what Susan's hand had written, he turned to Sergeant
Conlon, requesting his close attention, and then gave him briefly a
popular lecture on the nature of automatic writing as understood by a
tough-minded neurologist with no faith in the supernatural. It was
really a masterly performance in its way, for he avoided the jargon of
science and cut down to essentials.

"Conlon," he said, "you've often forgotten something, tried to recall
it, and finally given it up. We all have. And then some day, when you
least expected it and were thinking of something else, that forgotten
something has popped into your mind again--eh? All right. Where was it
in the meantime, when you couldn't put your finger on it? Since it
eventually came back, it must have been preserved somewhere. That's
plain enough, isn't it? But when you say something you've forgotten
'pops into your mind' again, you're wrong. It's never been out of your
mind. What too many of us still don't know is that a man's mind has two
parts to it. One part, much the smallest, is consciousness--the part
we're using now, the part we're always aware of. The other part is a big
dark storehouse, where pretty much everything we've forgotten is kept.
We're not aware of the storehouse or the things kept in it, so the
ordinary man doesn't know anything about it. You're not aware of your
spleen, and wouldn't know you had one if doctors hadn't cut up a lot of
people and found spleens in every one of them. You believe you've got a
spleen because we doctors tell you so. Well, I'm telling you now that
your mind has a big storehouse, where most of the things you've
forgotten are preserved. We mind-doctors call it your Unconscious Mind.
All clear so far?... Good.

"Now then--when a man's hypnotized, it means his conscious mind has been
put to sleep, practically, and his unconscious mind has, in a sense,
waked up. When a man's hypnotized we can fish all sorts of queer things
from his big storehouse, his unconscious mind; things he didn't know
were there, things he'd forgotten.... And it's the same with what we
call trances. A man in a trance is a man whose conscious mind is asleep
and whose unconscious mind is awake.

"That's exactly Miss Blake's condition now. The shock of what she saw
last evening threw her into a trance; she doesn't know what's going on
round her--but her unconscious mind has a record, a sort of
phonograph-record of more or less everything that's ever happened to
her, and if she speaks or writes in this trance state she'd simply play
one of these stored-up records for us; play it just like a phonograph,
automatically. Her will power's out of commission, you see; in this
state she's nothing more nor less than a highly complicated instrument.
And the record she plays may be of no interest to anybody; some
long-forgotten incident or experience of childhood, for example. On the
other hand, if we can get the right record going--eh?--we've every
chance of finding out exactly what we want to know!" He paused, fixing
his already attentive pupil with his peculiarly vivid green-blue glance.

"Now, Conlon, _get_ this--it's important! I must ask you to believe one
other thing about the Unconscious Mind--simply take it on my say-so, as
a proved fact: When the conscious mind is temporarily out of
business--as under hypnotism, or in trance--the unconscious mind, like
the sensitive instrument it is, will often obey or respond to outside
suggestions. I can't go into all this, of course. But what I ask you to
believe about Miss Blake is this: In her present state of trance, at my
suggestion, _she has played the right record for us_! She has
automatically written down for us an account of her experiences last
evening. And I assure you this account, obtained in this way, is far
more reliable and far more complete than any she could give us in her
normal, conscious, waking state. There's nothing marvellous or weird
about it, Conlon. We have here"--and he slightly rattled the loose
sheets in his hand--"simply an automatic record of stored-up
impressions. Do you see?"

Conlon grunted that he guessed maybe he saw; at any rate, he was willing
to be shown.

Then Doctor Askew read us Susan's own story of the strange, idiotically
meaningless accident to Gertrude. As it corresponded in every particular
with my vision, I shall not repeat it; but it produced an enormous
impression on Sergeant Conlon and Maltby, and even on Lucette. Taken in
connection with my independent theory of what must have occurred, they
found Susan's story entirely convincing; though whether Lucette really
found it so or had suddenly decided--because of certain uncomfortable
accusations against herself made by Susan's hand--that the whole matter
had gone quite far enough and any further publicity would be a mistake,
I must leave to your later judgment.

As for the coroner, when at length he arrived, he too--to my
astonishment and unspeakable relief--accepted Susan's automatic story
without delay or demur. Here was a stroke of sheer good luck, for a
grateful change--but quite as senseless in itself, when seriously
considered, as the cruel accident to Gertrude. It merely _happened_ that
the coroner's sister was a professional medium, and that he and his
whole family were ardent believers in spiritualism, active missionaries
in that cause. He had started life as an East Side street-urchin, had
the coroner, and had scrambled up somehow from bondage to influence,
fighting his way single-fisted through a hard school that does not often
foster illusions; but I have never met a more eagerly credulous mind. He
accepted the automatic writing as evidence without a moment's cavil,
assuring us at once that it undoubtedly came as a direct message from
the dead.

Doctor Askew's preliminary explanations he simply brushed aside. If Miss
Blake in her present trance state, which he soon satisfied himself was
genuine, had produced this message, then her hand had been controlled by
a disembodied spirit--probably Mrs. Hunt's. There was no arguing with
the man, and on my part, heaven knows, no desire to oppose him! I
listened gratefully for one hour to his wonder tales of spirit
revelations, and blessed him when he reluctantly left us--with the
assurance that Gertrude's death would be at once reported as due to an
unavoidable accident. It was so announced in the noon editions of the
evening papers. Sergeant Conlon and his aids departed by the service
elevator, and were soon replaced by a shocked and grieved clergyman and
a competent undertaker. The funeral--to take place in New Haven--was
arranged for; telegrams were sent; one among them to Phil. Even poor
Miss Goucher was at last remembered and communicated with--only just in
time, I fear, to save her reason. But of her more in its place. And,
meanwhile, throughout all this necessary confusion, Susan slept on. Noon
was past, and she still slept.... And Doctor Askew and I watched beside
her, and talked together.

At precisely seven minutes to three--I was bending over her at the
moment, studying her face for any sign of stirring consciousness--she
quietly opened her eyes.

"Ambo," were her first words, "I believe in God now; a God, anyway. I
believe in _Setebos_----"


V

In my unpracticed, disorderly way--in the hurry of my desire to get
back to Susan--I have again overstepped myself and must, after all,
pause to make certain necessary matters plain. There is nothing else for
it. I have, on reflection, dropped too many threads--the thread of my
own vision, the thread of those first two or three pages scrawled by
Susan before her hand had fully responded to Doctor Askew's control;
other weakly fluttering, loose-ended threads! My respect for the great
narrative writers is increasing enormously, as I bungle onward. "Order
is heaven's first law," and I wish to heaven it might also more
instinctively be mine!

Just after the coroner's departure Maltby left us, but before he left I
insisted upon a brief talk with him in Lucette's presence. I was in no
mood for tact.

"Maltby," I said, "I can't stop now for anything but the plain statement
that you've been a bad friend--to Susan and me. As for you, Lucette,
it's perfectly clear now that Susan believes you responsible for
spreading a slanderous lie about her. Between you, directly or
indirectly, you've managed to get it believed down here that Susan has
been my mistress and was forced to leave New Haven because the scandal
had grown notorious. That's why Susan came here, determined to see you,
Lucette; that's why Gertrude received her. Gertrude was never
underhanded, never a sneak. My guess is, that she suspected you of
slandering Susan, but wasn't sure; and then Susan's unexpected call on
you----"

Lucette flared out at this, interrupting me. "I'm not particularly
interested in your guesswork, Ambrose Hunt! We've had a good deal of it,
already. Besides, I've a raging headache, and I'm too utterly heartsick
even to resent your insults. But I'll say this: I've very strong reasons
for thinking that what you call a lying slander is a fact. Mr. Phar can
tell you why--if he cares to."

With that, she walked out of the room, and I did not see her again until
we met in New Haven at Gertrude's funeral, on which occasion, with
nicely calculated publicity, she was pleased to cut me dead.

When she had gone I turned on Maltby.

"Well?" I demanded.

Maltby, I saw, was something more than ill-at-ease.

"Now see here, Boz," he began, "can't we talk this over without
quarreling? It's so stupid, I mean--between men of the world." I waited,
without responding. "I'll be frank with you," he mumbled at me. "Fact
is, old man, that night--the night Phil Farmer said Susan wanted to see
you--was waiting for you in your study--remember? You promised to rejoin
me shortly and talk things out.... But you didn't come back. Naturally,
I've always supposed since then----"

"You have a scoundrelly imagination!" I exclaimed.

His face, green-pale from loss of sleep, slowly mottled with purplish
stains.

"Years of friendship," he stumbled, thick-voiced, through broken
phrases. "Wouldn't take that from any one else.... Not yourself....
Question of viewpoint, really.... I'd be the last to blame either of
you, if---- However----"

"Maltby," I said, "you're what I never thought you--a common or garden
cad. That's my deliberate opinion. I've nothing more to say to you."

For an instant I supposed he was going to strike me. It is one of the
major disappointments of my life that he did not. My fingers ached for
his throat.

Later, with the undertaker efficiently in charge of all practical
arrangements, and while Susan still hid from us behind her mysterious
veil, I talked things out with Doctor Askew, giving him the whole story
of Susan as clearly and unreservedly as I could. My purpose in doing so
was two-fold. I felt that he must know as much as possible about Susan
before she woke again to what we call reality. What I feared was that
this shock--which had so profoundly and so peculiarly affected
her--might, even after the long and lengthening trance had passed, leave
some mark upon her spirit, perhaps even some permanent cloud upon her
brain. I had read enough of these matters to know that my fear was not
groundless, and I could see that Doctor Askew welcomed my
information--felt as keenly as I did that he might later be called upon
to interpret and deal with some perplexing borderland condition of the
mind. It was as well at least to be prepared. That was my major purpose.
But connected with it was another, more self-regarding. My own vision,
my psychic reel, greatly disturbed me. It was not orthodox. It could not
be explained, for example, as something swiftly fabricated from covert
memories by my unconscious mind, and forced then sharply into
consciousness by some freak of circumstance, some psychic perturbation
or strain.

My vision of the accident itself--of the manner of its occurrence--might
conceivably have been such a fabrication, subconsciously elaborated from
the facts given me by Conlon; not so my vision of its setting. I had
seen in vivid detail the interior of a room which I had never entered
and had never heard described; and every detail thus seen was minutely
accurate, for I had since examined the room and had found nothing in it
unfamiliar, nothing that did not correspond with what my mind's eye had
already noted and remembered. Take merely one instance--the pattern and
color scheme of the Chinese rug beside the _chaise-longue_. As an
amateur in such matters I could easily, in advance of physically looking
at it, have catalogued that rug and have estimated its value to a
collector. How then to account for this astounding clairvoyance? I could
not account for it without widening my whole conception of what was
psychically possible. Seated with Doctor Askew in the room where Susan
lay withdrawn from us, from our normal world of limited concrete
perceptions, I was oppressed as never before by the immensity and
deluding vagueness of the unknown. What were we, we men and women?
Eternal forces, or creatures of an hour? An echo, from days long past
returned to me, Phil's quiet, firm voice demanding--of Maltby, wasn't
it? Yes, yes, of course--demanding of Maltby: "_What is the world, may I
ask? And what is Susan?_"

Doctor Askew cross-questioned me closely as we sat there, a little off
from Susan, our eyes seldom leaving her face. "You must have patience,"
he kept assuring me in the midst of his questioning. "It will be much
better for her to come out of this thing tranquilly, by herself. We're
not really wasting time." When his cross-questioning was over he sat
silent for a long time, biting at his upper lip, tapping one
foot--almost irritably, I thought--on the parquet floor.

"I don't like it," he said finally, in his abrupt way. "I don't like it
because I believe you're telling the truth. If I could only persuade
myself that you are either lying or at least drawing a long bow"--he
gave a little disgusted snort of laughter--"it would be a great relief
to me!"

"Why?"

"Why? Because you're upsetting my scientific convictions. My mind was
all tidied up, everything nicely in order, and now you come raging
through it with this ridiculous tale of a sudden hallucinating
vision--of seeing things that you'd never seen, never heard
described--whose very existence you were completely unaware of! Damn it!
I'd give almost anything to think you a cheerful liar--or self-deceived!
But I can't."

"Still, you must have met with similar cases?"

"Never, as it happens, with one that I couldn't explain away to my own
satisfaction. That's what irritates me now. I can't explain you away,
Mr. Hunt. I believe you had that experience just as you describe it.
Well, then, if you had--what follows?" He pulled for a moment or two at
a stubby end of red mustache.

"What does?" I suggested.

"One of three things," he replied, "all equally impossible. Either your
vision--to call it that--was first recorded in the mind of another
living person and transferred thence to yours--or it was not. If it
wasn't, then it came direct from God or the devil and was purely
miraculous! With your kind permission, we'll rule that out. But if it
was first recorded in the mind of another living person, then we're
forced to accept telepathy--complete thought transference from a
distance--accept it as a fact. I never have so accepted it, and hate
like hell to do it now! And even if I could bring myself to accept it,
my troubles have only begun. From whose mind was this exact vision of
the accident to Mrs. Hunt transferred to yours? So far as I can see, the
detailed facts of it could have been registered in the minds of only two
persons--Miss Blake and your wife. Isn't that so?"

I agreed.

"All right. See where that leaves us! At the time you received this
vision, Miss Blake is lying here in a deep trance, unconscious; and your
wife is dead. Which of these incredible sources of information do you
prefer? It's a matter of indifference to me. Either way my entire
reasoned conception of the universe topples in ruins!"

"But surely," I protested, "it might have come to me from Miss Blake, as
you suggest, without our having to descend to a belief in spirit
communication? Let's rule that out, too!"

"As you please," smiled Doctor Askew, pretty grimly. "If you find it
easier to believe your vision came from Miss Blake, do so by all means!
Personally, I've no choice. I can accept the one explanation quite as
readily as the other. Which means, that as a thinking being I can accept
neither! Both are--absurd. So I can go no further--unless by a sheer act
of faith. I'm baffled, you see--in my own field; completely baffled.
That's what it comes to. And I find it all devilishly annoying and
inconvenient. Don't you?"

I did not reply. For a time I mused, drearily enough, turning many
comfortless things over in my mind. Then I drew from my pocket the three
sheets scribbled by Susan's hand, before it had responded to Doctor
Askew's insistent suggestions.

"Doctor," I asked, handing him the scribbled pages, "in view of all
I've told you, doesn't what Miss Blake has written here strike you as
significant? You see," I added, while he glanced through them, "how
strongly her repressed feelings are in revolt against me--against the
tyranny of my love for her. Doesn't it seem improbable, then, to say the
least of it, that my vision could have come from that direction?"

He was reading the pages through again, more slowly. "Jimmy?" he queried
to himself. "Oh, yes--Jimmy's the boy you spoke of. I see--I see." He
looked up, and I did my best to smile.

"That's a bitter dose of truth for me, doctor; but thank God it came in
this way--came in time!"

Except for the punctuation, which I have roughly supplied, the three
pages read as follows:

"A net. No means of escape from it. To escape--somehow. Jimmy---- Only
wretchedness for Ambo--for us both. How can he care! Insufferably
self-satisfied; childishly blind. I won't--I won't--not after this. No
escape from it--my net. But the inner net--Ambo's--binding him, too.
Some way out. A dead hand killing things. My own father. How he killed
and killed--always--more than he knew. Blind. Never felt that before as
part of me--of me. Wrong way round though--it enfolds--smothers. I'm
tangled there--part of it--forever and ever. Setebos--God of my
father--Setebos knows. Oh, how could I dream myself free of it like
others--how could I! A net--all a net--no breaking it. Poor Ambo--and
his love too--a net. It shan't hold me. I'll gnaw through--mouselike. I
must. Fatal for Ambo now if it holds me. Fatal--Setebos--Jimmy will----"

"Hum," said Doctor Askew quietly.

"That doesn't help me much," I complained.

"No," he responded; "but I can't see that all this has any bearing on
the possible source of your vision."

"I only thought that perhaps this revelation of a repressed inner revolt
against me----"

"Yes, I see. But there's no reasoning about the unthinkable. I've
already said I can make nothing of your vision--nothing I'm yet prepared
to believe." He handed the three sheets back to me with these words:
"But I'm afraid your interpretation of this thing is correct. It's a
little puzzling in spots--curious, eh, the references to
Setebos?--still, if I were you, Mr. Hunt, I should quietly withdraw from
a lost cause. It'll mean less trouble all round in the end." He shook
his head impatiently. "These sexual muddles--it's better to see 'em out
frankly! They're always the devil, anyway! What silly mechanisms we
are--how Nature makes puppet-fools of us! That lovely child there--she
admires you and wants to love you, because you love her. Why shouldn't
she? What could be a happier arrangement--now? You've had your share of
marital misfortune, I should say. But Nature doesn't give a damn for
happy arrangements! God knows what she's after, I don't! But just at
present she seems to be loading the dice for Jimmy--for Jimmy, who
perhaps isn't even interested in the game! Well, such--for our misery or
amusement--is life! And my cigarettes are gone.... How about yours----?"


VI

It did not take Susan long to make it perfectly clear to Doctor Askew
and me that she had waked from her trance to complete lucidity, showing
no traces of any of the abnormal after-effects we had both been
dreading. Her first rather surprising words had been spoken just as she
opened her eyes and before she had quite realized anything but my
familiar presence beside her. They were soon followed by an entirely
natural astonishment and confusion. What had happened? Where was she?
She sat up in bed and stared about her, her eyes coming to rest on
Doctor Askew's eager, observant face.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"Doctor Askew," he replied quietly. "Don't be alarmed, Miss Blake. Mr.
Hunt and I have been looking after you. Not that you've been much
trouble," he smiled; "on the contrary. You've been fast asleep for more
than twelve hours. We both envy you."

For a long two minutes she did not reply. Then, "Oh, yes," she said.
"Oh, yes." Her chin began to quiver, she visibly shuddered through her
whole slight frame, and for an instant pressed her palms hard against
her eyes. "Ambo," she murmured, "it was cruel--worse than anything! I
got to the 'phone all right, didn't I? Yes, I remember that. I gave the
message. But I knew I must go back to her. So much blood, Ambo.... I'm a
coward--oh, I'm a coward! But I tried, I did try to go back! Where _did_
I go, Ambo?"

"You went to sleep like a sensible little woman!" struck in Doctor
Askew, briskly. "You'd done all you could, all anyone could--so you went
to sleep. I wish to God more women under such circumstances would follow
your example! Much better than going all to pieces and making a scene!"

Susan could not respond to his encouraging smile. "To sleep!" she sighed
miserably; "just as I did--once before. What a coward I am! When awful
things happen, I dodge them--I run away."

"Nonsense, dear. You knew Gertrude was beyond helping, didn't you?"

"Yes; but if she hadn't been?" She shook her head impatiently. "You're
both trying to be kind; but you won't be able to make me forgive
myself--not this time. I don't rise to a crisis--I slump. Artemis
wouldn't have; nor Gertrude. You know that's true, Ambo. Even if I could
do nothing for her--there were others to think of. There was you. I
ought to have been helping you; not you, me." She put out her hand to
me. "You've done everything for me, always--and I make no return. Now,
when I might have, I--I've been a quitter!"

Tears of shame and self-reproach poured from her eyes. "Oh," she cried
out with a sort of fierce disgust, "how I hate a coward! How I hate
myself!"

"Come, come!" protested Doctor Askew. "This won't do, little lady!" He
laid a firm hand on her shoulder and almost roughly shook it, as if she
had been a boy. "If you're equal to it, I suggest you get up and wash
your face in good cold water. Do your hair, too--put yourself to rights!
Things never look quite normal to a woman, you know, when her hair's
tumbling!" His hand slipped from her shoulder to her upper arm; he drew
the coverlet from her, and helped her to rise. "All right? Feel your
pins under you?... Fine! Need a maid? No?... Splendid! Come along, Mr.
Hunt, we'll wait for the little lady in the drawing-room. She'll soon
pull herself together."

He joined me and walked with me to the door. Susan had not moved as yet
from the bedside.

"Ambo," she demanded unexpectedly, "does Sister know?"

"Yes, dear."

"Why isn't she with me then? Is her cold worse?"

"Rather, I'm afraid. I've sent a doctor to her, with instructions to
keep her in bed if possible. We'll go right down when you're ready and
feel up to it."

"Why didn't I stay with her, Ambo? I should have. If I had, all this
wouldn't have happened. It was pure selfishness, my coming here to see
Mrs. Arthur. I simply wanted the cheap satisfaction of telling her--oh,
no matter! I'll be ready in five minutes or less."

"Ah," laughed Doctor Askew, "then we know just what to expect! I'll
order my car round for you in half an hour."

Phil and Jimmy arrived in town that afternoon and I met them at the
Brevoort, where the three of us took rooms, with a sitting-room, for the
night. I told them everything that had occurred as fully as I could,
with one exception: I did not speak of those first three pages
automatically scribbled by Susan's hand. Nor did I mention my
impression--which was rapidly becoming a fixed idea--that my love for
her had darkened her life. This was my private problem, my private
desolation. It would be my private duty to free Susan's spirit from this
intolerable strain. No one could help me here, not even Susan. In all
that most mattered to me, my isolation must from now on be complete.

All else I told them, not omitting my vision--the whole wild story. And,
finally, I had now to add to my devil's list a new misfortune. We had
found poor Miss Goucher's condition much more serious than I had
supposed. Doctor Askew had taken us down in his car, and we were met in
the nondescript lower hall of the boarding-house by his friend, Doctor
Carl--the doctor whom I had sent to Miss Goucher on his advice. Miss
Goucher's heavy chest cold, he at once informed us, had taken a graver
turn; double pneumonia had declared itself. Her fever was high and she
had lately grown delirious; he had put a trained nurse in charge. The
crisis of the disease would probably be passed during the next twelve
hours; he was doing everything possible; he hoped for the best.

Susan, very white, motionless, had heard him out. "If Sister dies," she
had said quietly when he ended, "I shall have killed her." Then she had
run swiftly up the stairs and the two doctors had followed her. I had
remained below and had not again seen her; but Doctor Askew had returned
within ten minutes, shaking his head.

"No one can say what will happen," I had finally wrested from him. "One
way or the other now, it's the flip of a coin. Carl's doing his
best--that is, nothing, since there's nothing to do. I've warned him to
keep an eye on the little lady. I'll look in again after dinner.
Good-by. Better find a room and get some sleep if you can."

There was little doubt that Miss Goucher's turn for the worse had come
as the result of Susan's disturbing all-night absence. Susan had made
her comfortable and left her in bed, promising to be home before twelve.
Miss Goucher had fallen asleep about eleven and had not waked until two.
The light she had left for Susan had not been switched off, and Susan's
bed, which stood beside her own, was unoccupied. Feverish from her
bronchial cold, she was at once greatly alarmed, and sprang from her bed
to go into the sitting-room, half hoping to find Susan there and scold
her a little for remaining up so late over her work. She did not even
stop to put on a dressing-gown or find her slippers. All this Susan
later learned from her red-eyed landlady, Miss O'Neill, whose own
bedroom, as it happened, was just beside their own. Miss O'Neill, a
meritorious if tiresome spinster of no particular age, had at last been
waked from heavy and well-earned sleep by persistent knocking at her
door. She had found Miss Goucher standing in the unheated, draughty
hall, bare-footed, in her nightgown, her cheeks flushed with mounting
fever while her teeth chattered with cold.

Like a sensible woman she had hurried her instantly back to bed, and
would have gone at once for a hot-water bottle, if Miss Goucher had not
insisted upon a hearing. Miss O'Neill was abjectly fond of Miss Goucher,
who had the rare gift of listening to voluble commonplace without
impatience--a form of sympathy so rare and so flattering to Miss
O'Neill's so often bruised self-esteem that she would gladly--had there
been any necessity--have carried Miss Goucher rent-free for the mere
spiritual solace of pouring out her not very romantic troubles to her.
She had taken, Susan felt, an almost voluptuous pleasure in this, her
one opportunity to do something for Miss Goucher. She had telephoned
Gertrude's apartment for her: "no matter if it is late! I won't have you
upset like this for nobody! They've got to answer!" And she had talked
with some man--"and I didn't like his tone, neither"--who had asked her
some rather odd questions, and had then told her Miss Blake was O. K.,
not to worry about Miss Blake; she'd had a fainting-spell and been put
to bed; she'd be all right in the morning; sure; well, he was the
doctor, he guessed he ought to know! "Queer kind of doctor for a lady,"
Miss O'Neill had opined; "he sounded more like a mick!" A shrewd guess,
for he was, no doubt, one of Conlon's trusties.

Miss Goucher had then insisted that she was going to dress and go up at
once to Susan, and had even begun her preparations in spite of every
protest, when she was seized with so stabbing a pain in her chest that
she could only collapse groaning on the bed and let Miss O'Neill
minister to her as best she might with water bottles and a mustard
plaster borrowed from Number Twelve....

By the time I had tardily remembered to telephone Miss Goucher it was
almost nine A. M., and it was Miss O'Neill who had answered the call,
receiving my assurances of Susan's well-being, and informing me in turn
that poor Miss Goucher was good and sick and no mistake, let alone
worrying, and should she send for a doctor? She was a Scientist herself,
though she'd tried a mustard plaster, anyway, always liking to be on the
safe side; but Miss Goucher wasn't, and so maybe she ought. At this
point I had naturally taken charge.

And it was at this point in my long, often interrupted relation to Phil
and Jimmy that Phil took charge.

"You're going to bed, Hunt--and you're going now! There's absolutely
nothing further you can do this evening, and if anything turns up Jimmy
or I can attend to it. You've been living on your nerves all day and you
show it, too plainly. We don't want another patient to-morrow. Run out
and get some veronal powders, Jimmy. Thanks. No protests, old man.
You're going to bed!"

I went; and, drugged with veronal, I slept--slept dreamlessly--for
fourteen hours. When I woke, a little past ten, Jimmy was standing
beside me.

"Good morning, Mr. Hunt. You look rested up some! How about breakfast?"
His greeting went through all the sounds and motions of cheerfulness,
but it was counterfeit coin. There was something too obviously wrong
with Jimmy's ordinarily fresh healthy-boy face; it had gone sallow and
looked pincushiony round the eyes. I stared at him dully, but could not
recall anything that might account for this alteration. Only very
gradually a faint sense of discomfort began to pervade my consciousness.
Hadn't something happened--once--something rather sad--and rather
horrible? When was it? Where was I? And then the full gust of
recollection came like a stiff physical blow over my heart. I sat up
with a sharp gasp for breath....

"Well!" I demanded. "Miss Goucher! How is she?"

"She's dead, sir," answered Jimmy, turning away.

"And----"

"She's wonderful!" answered Jimmy.

He had not needed Susan's name.

Yes, in a sense, Jimmy was right. He was not a boy to look far beneath
the surface effects of life, and throughout the following weeks Susan's
surface effect was indeed wonderful. Apparently she stood up to her
grief and mastered it, developing an outer stillness, a quietude
strangely disquieting to Phil and to me. Gentleness itself in word and
deed, for the first time since we had known her she became spiritually
reticent, holding from us her deeper thoughts. It was as if she had
secretly determined--God knows from what pressure of lonely sorrow--to
conventionalize her life, to present the world hereafter nothing but an
even surface of unobtrusive conformity. This, we feared, was hereafter
to be her wounded soul's protection, her Chinese Wall. It had not
somehow the feel of a passing mood; it had rather the feel of a
permanent decision or renunciation. And it troubled our hearts....

I spare you Gertrude's funeral, and Miss Goucher's. The latter, held in
a small, depressingly official mortuary chapel, provided--at a price--by
the undertaker, was attended only by Phil, Jimmy, Susan, Sonia, Miss
O'Neill and me. Oh--there was also the Episcopal clergyman, whom I
provided. He read the burial service professionally, but well; it is
difficult to read it badly. There are a few sequences of words that
really are foolproof, carrying their own atmosphere and dignity with
them.

Phil and I, at Susan's request, had examined Miss Goucher's effects and
had made certain inquiries. She had been for many years, we found,
entirely alone in the world--a phrase often, but seldom accurately,
used. It is a rare thing, happily, to discover a human being who is
absolutely the last member of his or her family line; in Miss Goucher's
case this aloneness was complete. But so far as her nonexistent
ancestors were concerned, Miss Goucher, we ascertained, had every
qualification necessary for a D. A. R.; forebears of hers had lived for
generations in an old homestead near Poughkeepsie, and the original
Ithiel Goucher had fought as a young officer under Washington. From
soldiering, the Gouchers had passed on to farming, to saving souls, to
school-teaching, to patent-medicine peddling, and finally to drink and
drugs and general desuetude. Miss Goucher herself had been a last
flare-up of the primitive family virtues, and with her they were now
extinct.

All this we learned from her papers, and from an old lady in
Poughkeepsie who remembered her grandfather, and so presumably her
mother and father as well--though in reply to my letter of inquiry she
forbore to mention them. They were mentioned several times in letters
and legal documents preserved by Miss Goucher, but--except to say that
they both died before she was sixteen--I shall follow the example of the
old lady in Poughkeepsie. She, I feel, and the Roman poet long before
her, had what Jimmy calls the "right idea."...

Miss Goucher, always methodical, left a brief and characteristic will:
"To Susan Blake, ward of Ambrose Hunt, Esq., of New Haven, Conn., and to
her heirs and assigns forever, I leave what little personal property I
possess. She has been to me more than a daughter. I desire to be
cremated, believing that to be the cleanest and least troublesome method
of disposing of the dead."

That, with the proper legal additions, was all. Her desire was of course
respected, and I had a small earthenware jar containing her ashes placed
in my own family vault. On this jar Susan had had the following words
inscribed:

          MALVINA GOUCHER
          A GENTLE WOMAN


VII

On one point Susan was from the first determined: Miss Goucher's death
should make no difference in her struggle for independence; she would go
on as she had begun, and fight things through to a finish alone. Neither
Phil nor I could persuade her to take even a few days for a complete
change of scene, a period of rest and recuperation. Simply, she would
not. She settled down at once to work harder than ever, turning out
quotable paragraphs for _Whim_, as daring as they were sprightly; and
she resolutely kept her black hours of loneliness to herself. That she
had many such hours I then suspected and now know, but on my frequent
visits to New York--I had been appointed administrator of Miss Goucher's
more than modest estate--she ignored them, and skillfully turned all my
inquiries aside. These weeks following on Miss Goucher's death were for
many reasons the unhappiest of my life.

Never since I had known Susan, never until now, had our minds met
otherwise than candidly and freely. Now, through no crying fault on
either side--unless through a lack of imagination on mine--barriers were
getting piled up between us, barriers composed of the subtlest, yet
stubbornest misunderstandings. Our occasional hours together soon became
a drab tissue of evasions and cross purposes and suppressed desires.
Only frankness can serve me here or make plain all that was secretly at
work to deform the natural development of our lives.

There are plays--we have all attended them to our indignation--in which
some unhappy train of events seems to have been irrationally forced upon
his puppets by the author; if he would only let them speak out freely
and sensibly, all their needless difficulties would vanish! Such plays
infuriate the public and are never successful.

"Good Lord!" we exclaim. "Why didn't she _say_ she loved him in the
first place!"--or, "If he had only told her his reasons for leaving home
that night!"

We, the enlightened public, feel that in the shoes of either the hero
or the heroine we must have acted more wisely, and we refuse our
sympathy to misfortunes that need never have occurred. Our reaction is
perhaps inevitable and æsthetically justified; but I am wondering--I am
wondering whether two-thirds of the unhappiness of most mortals is not
due to their failure clearly to read another's thoughts or clearly to
reveal their own? Is not half, at least, of the misery in our hearts
born of futile misunderstandings, misunderstandings with which any sane
onlooker in full possession of the facts on both sides, can have little
patience, since he instinctively feels they ought never to have taken
place? But it is only in the theater that we find such an onlooker, the
audience, miraculously in possession of the facts on both sides. In
active life, we are doing pretty well if we can partly understand our
own motives; we are supermen if we divine the concealed, genuine motives
of another. Certainly at this period Susan, with all her insight, did
not seize my motives, nor was I able to interpret hers. Hence, we could
not speak out! What needed to be said between us could not be said. And
the best proof that it could not is, after all, that it was not....

The conversation that ought to have taken place between us might not
unreasonably have run something like this:

          SUSAN: Ambo dear--what _is_ the matter? Heaven
          knows there's enough!--but I mean between _us_?
          You've never been more wonderful to me than these
          past weeks--and never so remote. I can feel you
          edging farther and farther away. Why, dear?

          I: I've been a nuisance to you too long, Susan.
          Whatever I am from now on, I won't be that.

          SUSAN: As if you could be; or ever had been!

          I: Don't try to spare my feelings because you like
          me--because you're grateful to me and sorry for
          me! I've had a glimpse of fact, you see. It's the
          great moral antiseptic. My illusions are done for.

          SUSAN: What illusions?

          I: The illusion that you ever have really loved
          me. The illusion that you might some day grow to
          love me. The illusion that you might some day be
          my wife.

          SUSAN: Only the last is illusion, Ambo. I do love
          you. I'm growing more in love with you every day.
          But I can't be your wife, ever. If I've seemed
          changed and sad--apart from Sister's death, and
          everything else that's happened--it's _that_,
          dear. It's killing me by half-inches to know I can
          never be completely part of your life--yours!

          I:

          [But I can't even imagine what babble of sorrow
          and joy such words must have wrung from me!
          Suppose a decent interval, and a partial recovery
          of verbal control.]

          SUSAN: You shouldn't have rescued me from Birch
          Street, Ambo. Everything's made it plain to me, at
          last. But I've already ground the mud of it into
          your life now--in spite of myself. You'll never
          feel really clean again.

          I: What nonsense! Susan, Susan--dearest!

          SUSAN: It isn't nonsense. You forget; I'm a
          specialist in nonsense nowadays. Oh, Ambo, how can
          you care for me! I've been so insufferably
          self-satisfied; so childishly blind! My eyes are
          wide open now. I've had the whole story of what
          happened that awful night--all of it--from Doctor
          Askew. He thought he was psycho-analyzing me,
          while I pumped it out of him, drop by drop. And
          I've been to Maltby, too; yes, I've been to
          Maltby, behind your back. Ambo, he isn't really
          certain yet that I didn't go crazy that night and
          kill your wife. Neither, I'm sure, is Mrs. Arthur.
          They've given me the benefit of the doubt simply
          because they dread being dragged through a
          horrible scandal, that's all. But they're not
          convinced. Of course, Maltby didn't say so in so
          many words, but it was plain as plain! He was
          afraid of me--afraid! I could feel his fear. He
          thinks madness is in my blood. Well, he's right.
          Not just as he means it, but as _Setebos_ means
          it--the cruel, jealous God of this world!... No,
          wait, dear! Let me say it out to you, once for
          all. My father ended a brutal life by an insanely
          brutal murder, then killed himself; my own father.
          And I've never all these years honestly realized
          that as part of my life--part of _me_! But now I
          do. It's there, back of me. I can never escape
          from it. Oh, how could I have imagined myself like
          others--a woman like others, free to love and
          marry and have children and a home! How could I!

          I: Susan! Is that all? Is it really all that's
          holding you from me? Good God, dear! Why, I
          thought you--secretly--perhaps even unknown to
          yourself--loved Jimmy!

          SUSAN: Jimmy? You thought----

          I: I think so even now. How can I help it?
          Look.... [And here you must suppose me to show her
          those first scrawled sheets, written automatically
          by her hand.] Perhaps I'm revealing your own heart
          to you, Susan--dragging to light what you've tried
          to keep hidden even from yourself. See, dear. "A
          net. No means of escape from it. To
          escape--somehow. Jimmy----"

          [And then Susan would perhaps have handed back
          those scrawled pages to me with a pitying and
          pitiful smile.]

          SUSAN:

          [_Author's Note_: This carefully written,
          imaginary speech has been deleted _in toto_ by
          Censor Susan from the page proof--at considerable
          expense to me--and the following authentic
          confession substituted for it in her own hand. But
          she doesn't know I am making this explanation,
          which will account to you for the form and manner
          of her confession, purposely designed to be a
          continuation of my own imaginary flight. In
          admitting this, I am risking Susan's displeasure;
          but conscience forbids me to let you mistake a
          "genuine human document"--so dear to the modern
          heart--for a mere effort at interpretation by an
          amateur psychologist. What follows, then, is
          veracious, is essentially that solemn thing so
          dear to a truth-loving generation--sheer _fact_.]

          Ambo dear, I can explain that, but not without a
          long, unhappy confession. Must I? It's a shadowy,
          inside-of-me story, awfully mixed and muddled; not
          a nice story at all. Won't it be better, all
          round, if I simply say again that I love _you_,
          not Jimmy, with all my heart?

          [No doubt I should then have reached for her
          hands, and she would have drawn away.]

          Ah, no, dear, please not! I've never made a clean
          breast of it all, even to myself. It's got to be
          done, though, Ambo, sooner or later, for both our
          sakes. Be patient with me. I'll begin at the
          beginning.

          I'm ridiculously young, Ambo; we all keep
          forgetting how young I am! I'm an infant prodigy,
          really; you and Phil--and God first, I
          suppose--have made me so. And the main point about
          infant prodigies is that experience hasn't caught
          up with them. They live in things they've imagined
          from things they've been told or read, live on
          intuition and second-hand ideas; and they've no
          means of testing their real values in a real
          world. And they're childishly conceited, Ambo! I
          am. Less now than some months ago; but I'm still
          pretty bad....

          Well, back in Birch Street, before I came to you,
          when I was honestly a child, I lived all alone
          inside of myself. I lived chiefly on stories I
          made up about myself; and of course my stories
          were all escapes from reality--from the things
          that hurt or disgusted me most. There was hardly
          anything in my life at home that I didn't long to
          escape from. You can understand that, in a general
          way. But there's one thing you perhaps haven't
          thought about; it's such an ugly thing to think
          about. I know it isn't modern of me, but I do hate
          to talk about it, even to you. I must, though.
          You'll never understand--oh, lots of later
          things--unless I do.

          Love, Ambo, human love, as I learned of it there
          at home--and I saw and heard much too much of
          it--frightened and sickened me. It was
          swinish--horrible. Most of all I longed to escape
          from all that! I couldn't. I wonder if anyone ever
          has or can? We are made as we are made.... Yes, I
          longed to escape from it; but my very made-up
          story of escape was a disguised romance. Jimmy was
          to be the gentle Galahad who would some day rescue
          me. He had done battle for me once already--with
          Joe Gonfarone. But some day he would come in
          white, shining armor and take me far away from all
          the mud and sweat of Birch Street to blue distant
          hills. Artemis was all mixed up in it, too; she
          was to be our special goddess; our free, swift,
          cool-eyed protector. There was to be no heartsick
          shame, no stuffiness in my life any more forever!
          But it wasn't Jimmy who rescued me, Ambo. You did.

          Only, when we've lived in a dream, wholly, for
          months and months and months, it doesn't vanish,
          Ambo; it never vanishes altogether; it's part of
          us--part of our lives. Isn't it? Gertrude was once
          your dream, dear; and the dream-Gertrude has never
          really vanished from your life, and never will.
          Ah, don't I know!

          Well, then you rescued me; and you and Phil and
          Maltby and Sister and books and Hillhouse Avenue
          and France and Italy and England, and my Magic
          Circle--_everything_--crowded upon me and changed
          me and made me what I am; if I'm anything at all!
          But Birch Street had made me first; and my
          dreams....

          Ambo, I can never make you know what you've been
          to me, never! Cinderella's prince was nothing
          beside you, and my Galahad-Jimmy a pale phantom! I
          shan't try. And I can never make you know what a
          wild confusion of storm you sent whirling through
          me when I first felt the difference in you--felt
          your man's need of me, of _me_, body and soul! You
          meant me not to feel that, Ambo; but I did. I was
          only seventeen. And my first reaction was all
          passionate joy, a turbulent desire to give, give,
          give--and damn the consequences! It was, Ambo. I
          loved you.

          But given you and me, Ambo, that couldn't last
          long. You're too moral--and I'm too complicated.
          My inner pattern's a labyrinth, full of queer
          magic; simple emotions soon get lost in me, lost
          and transformed. And please don't keep forgetting
          how young I was, and still am; how little I could
          understand of all I was conceited enough to think
          I understood! Well, dear, I saw you struggling to
          suppress your love for me as something wrong,
          unworthy; something that could only harm us both.
          And then all that first, swift, instinctive joy
          went out of me, and my old fear and distrust of
          what men call love seized me again. "Stuffiness,
          stuffiness everywhere--it leads to nothing but
          stuffiness!" I said. "I hate it. I won't let it
          rule my life. The great thing is to keep clear of
          it, clean of it, aloof and free!" The old
          Artemis-motive swept through me again like a
          hill-wind--but it came in gusts; and there were
          days--weeks, Ambo--when I simply wanted to be
          yours. And one night I threw myself into your
          arms....

          But the next day I was afraid again. The phrase
          "passion's slave" got into my head and plagued me.
          Then you came to me and said, "It's the end of the
          road, dear. We can't go on." That changed
          everything once more, Ambo, in a flash. That was
          my crisis. From that moment, I was madly jealous
          of Gertrude; knew I always had been, from the
          first. My telegram to her was a challenge to
          battle. It was, dear--and I lost. She came back;
          she was wonderful, too--her way--and the old
          Gertrude-dream stirred in you again; just stirred,
          but that was enough. You said to yourself, didn't
          you? that perhaps after all the best solution for
          our wretched difficulties was for Gertrude to
          return to her home. At least, that would end
          things. But you couldn't have said that to
          yourself if Gertrude had been really repulsive to
          you. The old dream had fluttered its tired wings,
          once, Ambo; you know it had!

          And so I flopped again, dear! I was sick of love;
          I hated love! I said to myself, "I won't have this
          stupid, brutal, instinctive thing pushing and
          pulling me about like this! I'll rule my own life,
          thanks--my own thoughts and dreams! _Freedom's_
          the thing--the only good thing in life. I'll be
          free! Ambo, too, must learn to be free. We can
          only share what's honestly best in both of us when
          at last we are free!"

          My Galahad-Jimmy had turned up again, too.
          Perhaps that had something to do with my final
          fiercest revolt against you. I don't know. He was
          all I had wanted him to be, Ambo; simple and
          straightforward and clean. Oh, he had his white,
          shining armor on, bless him! But I didn't want him
          to rescue me, for all that; not in the old way. I
          was just glad my dream-boy had come a little true;
          that's all. You were jealous of him, weren't you?
          Confess! You needn't have been.

          But here in New York, with Sister, things happened
          that made a difference....

          First of all, dear, I discovered all I had lost in
          losing you; discovered I _couldn't_ be free. All I
          could do was to make some kind of a life of it;
          for Sister, chiefly. And I tried; oh, I did try!
          Then those whispered scandals about us began. But
          it wasn't the scandal itself that did for me; it
          was something added to it--by Mrs. Arthur, I
          suppose--something _true_, Ambo, that I'd never
          honestly faced. Suddenly my father rose from the
          dead! Suddenly I was forced to feel that never,
          never under any conditions, would it have been
          possible for me to be yours--bear you children....
          Suddenly I felt, saw--as I should have seen long
          ago--that the strain of evil, perhaps of madness,
          in my father--the strain that made his life a hell
          of black passions--must end with me!

          Here's where Jimmy comes back, Ambo--and it's the
          worst of all I have to confess. My anxiety was all
          for you now: not for myself, I happened to love
          you that way. "Suppose," I kept thinking, "suppose
          something should unexpectedly make it possible for
          Ambo to ask me to be his wife? Suppose Gertrude
          should fall in love herself and insist on divorce?
          Or suppose she should die? Ambo would be certain
          to come to me. And if he did? Should I have the
          moral courage to send him away? As I must--I
          must!"

          Dear, from that time on a sort of demon in me
          kept suggesting: "Jimmy--Jimmy's the solution!
          He's almost in love with you now; all he needs is
          a little encouragement. You could manage it,
          Susan. You could engage yourself to Jimmy; and
          then you could string him along! You could make it
          an interminable engagement, years and years of it,
          and break it off when Ambo was thoroughly
          discouraged or cured; you're clever enough for
          that. And Jimmy's ingenuousness itself. You could
          manage Jimmy." Oh, please don't think I ever
          really listened to my demon, was ever tempted by
          him! But I hated myself for the mere fact that
          such thoughts could even occur to me! They did,
          though, more than once; and each time I had to
          banish them, thrust them down into their native
          darkness.

          But they didn't die there, Ambo; they lived there,
          a hideous secret life, lying in wait to betray me.
          They never will betray me, of course; I loathe
          them. But they can still stir in their darkness,
          make themselves known. That's what the references
          to Jimmy mean, Ambo, in those pages I scribbled in
          my trance; and that's _all_ they mean. For I don't
          love him; I love you.

          But I can't marry you, ever. I can't. That black
          strain concentrated in my father--oh, it must die
          out with me! Just as Sister's line ended with
          her.... She ran away from the one love of her
          life, Ambo--just as I must run away from you. You
          never knew that about Sister. But I knew it. Sonia
          told me. Sister told _her_, the week before Sonia
          married. Sister felt then that Sonia ought to run
          away from all that, as she had. But Sonia wouldn't
          listen to her....

"Good for Sonia!" I might then have cried out. "God bless her! Hasn't
she made her husband happy? Aren't her children his pride? Why in
heaven's name should she have denied herself the right to live! And for
a mere possibility of evil! As if the blood of any human family on earth
were wholly sound, wholly blameless! Sonia was selfish, but right, dear;
and Miss Goucher was brave, but wrong! So are you wrong! Actually
inherited feeble-mindedness, or insanity, or disease--that's one thing;
but a dread of mere future possibilities, of mere supposed tendencies!
Good Lord! The human race might as well commit suicide _en bloc_! It's
you I love--_you_--just as you are. And you say you love me. Well, that
settles it!"

But who knows? It might have settled it and it might not--could any such
imaginary conversation conceivably have taken place. It did not take
place. We are dealing, worse luck, with history.


VIII

Perhaps six weeks after Miss Goucher's death one little conversation,
just skirting these hidden matters, did take place between us; but how
different was its atmosphere, and how drearily different its conclusion!
You will understand it better now that--like a theater audience, or like
God--you are in full possession of Susan's facts and of mine; but I fear
it will interest you less. To know all may sometimes be to forgive all;
but more often, alas, it is to be bored by everything....

[Firmly inserted note, by Susan: "Rubbish! It's only when we _think_ we
know it all, and don't really, that we are bored."]

I had taken Susan for dinner that night to a quiet hotel uptown where I
knew the dining-room, mercifully lacking an orchestra and a cabaret, was
not well patronized, though the cooking was exceptionally good. At this
hotel, by a proper manipulation of the head waiter, it is often possible
to get a table a little apart from the other diners--an advantage, if
one desires to talk intimately without the annoyance of being overheard.
It troubled me to find Susan's appetite practically nonexistent; I had
ordered one or two special dishes to tempt her, but I saw that she took
no pleasure in them, merely forcing herself to eat so as not to disquiet
me. She was looking badly, too, all gleamless shadow, and fighting off a
physical and mental languor by a stubborn effort which she might have
concealed from another, but not from me. It was only too plain to me
that her wish was to keep the conversation safely away from whatever was
busying and saddening her private thoughts. In this, till the coffee was
placed before us, I thought best to humor her, and we had discussed at
great length the proper format for her first book of poems, which was to
appear within the next month. Also, we had discussed Heywood Sampson's
now rapidly maturing plans for his new critical review.

"He really wants me on his staff, Ambo, and I really want to be on
it--just for the pleasure of working with him. It's an absolutely
unbelievable chance for me! And yet----"

"And yet----? Is there any reason why you shouldn't accept?"

"At least two reasons, yes. I'm afraid both of them will surprise you."

"I wonder."

"Won't they? If not, Ambo, you must suppose you've guessed them. What
are they?"

Susan rather had me here. I had not guessed them, but wasn't willing to
admit even to myself that I could not if I tried. I puckered my brows,
judicially.

"Well," I hesitated, "you may very naturally feel that 'Dax' is too
plump a bird in the hand to be sacrificed for Heywood's slim bluebird in
the bush. Any new publication's a gamble, of course. On the other hand,
Heywood isn't the kind to leave his associates high and dry. Even if the
review should fail, he'll stand by you somehow. He has a comfy fortune,
you know; he could carry on the review as a personal hobby if he cares
to, even if it never cleared a penny."

Susan smiled, gravely shaking her head: "Cold, dear; stone cold. I'm
pretty mercenary these days, but I'm not quite so mercenary as that. Now
that I've discovered I can make a living, I'm not nearly so interested
in it; hardly at all. It's the stupid side of life, always; I shouldn't
like it to make much difference to me now, when it comes to real
decisions. I did want a nice home for Sister, though. As for me, any old
room most anywhere will do. It will, Ambo; don't laugh; I'm in earnest.
But what's your second guess?" she added quickly.

"You've some writing you want to do--a book, maybe? You're afraid the
review will interfere?"

"Ah, now you're a tiny bit warmer! I am afraid it will interfere, but in
a much deeper way than that; interfere with _me_."

"I don't quite follow that, do I!"

"Good gracious, no--since you ask. It's simple enough, though--and
pretty vague. Only it feels important--here." For an instant her hand
just touched her breast. "I hate so to be roped in, Ambo, have things
staked out for me--spiritually, I mean. Mr. Sampson's a darling; I love
him! But he's a great believer in ropes and stakes and fences--even
barbed wire. I'm beginning to see that the whole idea of his review is a
scheme for mending political and moral and social fences, stopping up
gaps in them made by irresponsible idealists--anarchists, revolutionary
socialists--people like that. People like me, really!--There! Now you do
look surprised."

I was; but I smiled.

"You've turned _Red_, Susan? How long since? Overnight?"

"Not red," answered Susan, with bravely forced gayety; "pinkish, say! I
haven't fixed on my special shade till I'm sure it becomes me."

"It's certain to do that, dear."

She bobbed me a little bow across the cloth, much in the old happy
style--alas, not quite. "But I never did like washed-out colors," she
threw in for good measure.

"You _are_ irresponsible, then! Suppose Phil could hear you--or Jimmy.
Jimmy'd say your Greenwich Village friends were corrupting you. Perhaps
they are?"

"Perhaps they are," echoed Susan, "but I think not. I'm afraid it goes
farther back, Ambo. It's left-over Birch Street; that's what it is. So
much of me's that. All of me, I sometimes believe."

"Not quite. You'll never escape Hillhouse, either, Susan. You've had
both."

"Yes, I've had both," she echoed again, almost on a sigh, pushing her
untasted _demi-tasse_ from her.

Suddenly her elbows were planted on the cloth before her, her
face--shadowed and too finely drawn--dropped between her hands, her eyes
sought and held mine. They dizzied me, her eyes....

"Ambo," she said earnestly, "I suppose I'm a dreadful egotist, but more
and more I'm feeling the real me isn't a true child of this world! I
love this world--and I hate it. I don't know whether I love it most or
hate it most. I bless it and damn it every day of my life--in the same
breath often. But sometimes I feel I hate it most--hate it for its cold
dullness of head and heart! Why can't we care more to make it worth
living in, this beautiful, frightful world! What's the matter with us?
Why are we what we are? Half angels--and half pigs or goats or
saber-toothed tigers or snakes! Each and every one of us, by and large!
And oh, how we do distrust our three-quarters angels--while they're
living, anyway! Dreamers--mad visionaries--social rebels--outcasts!
Crucify them, crucify them! Time enough to worship them--ages of
to-be-wasted time enough--when they're dead!" She paused, still holding
my eyes, and drawing in a slow breath, a breath that caught midway and
was almost a sob; then her eyes left mine.

"There--that's over. Saying things like that doesn't help us a bit;
it's--silly.... And half the idealists _are_ mad, no doubt, and have
plenty of pig and snake in them, too. I've simply coils and coils of
unregenerate serpent in me--and worse. Oh, Ambo dear--but I've a dream
in me beyond all that, and a great longing to help it come true! But it
doesn't--it won't. I'm afraid it never will--here. Will it _there_,
Ambo? Is there a _there_?... Have we got all of Sister that clean fire
couldn't take, shut up in that tiny vase?"

"We can hope not, at least," I replied.

"Hope isn't enough," said Susan. "Why don't you say you know we
haven't! I know we haven't. I do know it. It's the only thing
I--_know_!"

A nervous waiter sidled up to us and softly slipped a small metal tray
before me; it held my bill, carefully turned face downward.

"Anything more, sir?" he murmured.

"A liqueur?" I suggested to Susan. She sat upright in her chair again,
with a slight impatient shake of the head.

I ordered a cigar and a _fine champagne_. The waiter, still nervously
fearful of having approached us at a moment when he suspected some
intimate question of the heart had grown critically tense, faded from us
with the slightest, discreetest cough of reassurance. He was not one, he
would have us know, to obtrude material considerations when they were
out of place.

"No; I can't go with Mr. Sampson," Susan was saying; "and he'll be
hurt--he won't be able to see why. But I'm not made to be an editor--of
anything. Editors have to weigh other people's words. I can't even weigh
my own. And I talk of nothing but myself. Ugh!"

"You're tired out, overwrought," I stupidly began.

"Don't tell me so!" cried Susan. "If I should believe you, I'd be lost."

"But," I blundered on, "it's only common sense to let down a little, at
such a time. If you'd only take a real rest----"

"There is no such thing," said Susan. "We just struggle on and on. It's
rather awful, isn't it?" And presently, very quietly, as if to herself,
she said over those words, surely among the saddest and loveliest ever
written by mortal man:

          _From too much love of living,
             From hope and fear set free,
           We thank with brief thanksgiving
             Whatever gods may be_

          _That no life lives forever,
           That dead men rise up never;
           That even the weariest river
             Winds somewhere safe to sea._

"To sea," she repeated; "to sea.... As if the sea itself knew rest!--Now
please pay your big fat bill from your nice fat pocketbook, Ambo; and
take me home."

"If I only could!" was my despairing thought; and I astounded the
coat-room boy, as I tipped him, by muttering aloud, "Oh, damn Jimmy
Kane!"

"Yes, sir--thank you, sir--I will, sir," grinned the coat-room boy.

On our way downtown in the taxi Susan withdrew until we reached her West
Tenth Street door. "Good-night, Ambo," she then said; "don't come with
me; and thank you for everything--always." I crossed the pavement with
her to the loutish brownstone front-stoop of the boarding house; there
she turned to dismiss me.

"You didn't ask my second reason for not going on the review, Ambo. You
must know it though, sooner or later. I can't _write_ any more--not
well, I mean. Even my Dax paragraphs are falling off; Hadow Bury
mentioned it yesterday. But nothing comes. I'm sterile, Ambo. I'm
written out at twenty. Bless you. Good-night."

"Susan," I cried, "come back here at once!" But she just turned in the
doorway to smile back at me, waved her hand, and was gone.

I was of two minds whether to follow her or stay. Then, "A whim," I
thought; "the whim of a tired child. And I've often felt that way
myself--all writers do. But she must take a vacation of some kind--she
must!"

She did.


IX

I woke up the next morning, broad awake before seven o'clock, a full
hour earlier than my habit. I woke to find myself greatly troubled by
Susan's parting words of the night before, and lay in bed for perhaps
twenty minutes turning them over fretfully in my mind. Then I could
stand it no longer and rose, bathed, dressed and ate my breakfast in
self-exasperating haste, yet with no very clear idea of why I was
hurrying or what was to follow. I had an appointment with my lawyer for
eleven; I was to lunch with Heywood Sampson at one; after lunch--my
immediate business in town being completed--I had purposed to return to
New Haven.

Susan would be expecting me for my daily morning call at half-past nine.
That call was a fixed custom between us when I was stopping in New York.
It seldom lasted over twenty minutes and was really just an opportunity
to say good-morning and arrange conveniently for any further plans for
the day or evening. But it was now only a few minutes past eight. No
matter, Susan was both a nighthawk and a lark, retiring always too late
and rising too early--though it must be said she seemed to need little
sleep; and I felt that I must see her at once and try somehow to
encourage her about her work and bring her back to a more reasonable and
normal point of view. "Overstrain," I kept mumbling to myself,
idiotically enough, as I charged rather than walked down Fifth Avenue
from my hotel: "Overstrain--overstrain...."

However, the brisk physical exertion of my walk gradually quieted my
nerves, and as I turned west on Tenth Street I was beginning to feel a
little ashamed of my unreasonable anxiety, was even beginning to poke a
little fun at myself and preparing to amuse Susan if I could by a
whimsical account of my morning brainstorm. I had now persuaded myself
that I should find her quietly at work, as I so usually did, and quite
prepared to talk things over more calmly. I meant this time to make a
supreme effort, and really hoped to persuade her to do two sensible
things: First, to accept Heywood Sampson's offer; second, to give up all
other work for the present, and get a complete rest and change of scene
until her services were needed for the review. That would not be for six
or eight weeks at the very least.

And I at last had a plan for her. You may or may not remember that
Ashton Parker was a famous man thirty years ago; they called him "Hyena
Parker" in Wall Street, and no doubt he deserved it; yet he faded gently
out with consumption like any spring poet, having turned theosophist
toward the end and made his peace with the Cosmic Urge. Mrs. Ashton
Parker is an aunt of mine, long a widow, and a most delightful,
easy-going, wide-awake, and sympathetic old lady, who has made her home
in Santa Barbara ever since her husband's death there. Her Spanish villa
and gardens are famous, and her always kindly eccentricities scarcely
less famous than they. I could imagine no one more certain to captivate
Susan or to be instantly captivated by her; and though I had not seen
Aunt Belle for more than ten years, I knew I could count on her in
advance to fall in with my plan. Her hospitality is notorious and would
long since have beggared anyone with an income less absurd. Susan should
go there at once, for a month at least; the whole thing could be
arranged by telegraph. Why in heaven's name hadn't I thought of and
insisted upon this plan before!

Miss O'Neill, in person, opened the front door for me.

"Oh, Mr. Hunt!" she wailed. "Thanks to goodness you're here early. I
can't do nothing with Togo. He won't eat no breakfast, and he won't let
nobody touch him. He's sitting up there like a--I don't know what, with
his precious tail uncurled and his head sort of hanging down--it'll
break your heart to look at him! I can't bear to myself, though I'd
never no use for the beast, neither liking nor disliking! He's above his
station, I say. But what with all---- And I've got to get that room
cleared and redone by twelve, feelings or no feelings, and Gawd knows
feelings _will_ enter in! Not half Miss Susan's class either, the new
party just now applied, and right beside my own room, too, though well
recommended, so I can't complain!"

I broke through her dusty web of words with an impatient, "What on earth
are you talking about, Miss O'Neill?"

"You don't know?" she gasped. "You don't----"

"I most certainly do not. Where's Miss Susan?"

"Oh, Mr. Hunt! If I'd-a knowed she hadn't even spoke to you! And you
with her all evening--treating to dinner and all! But thank Gawd it's a
reel lady she went away with! Miss Leslie, in her big limousine, that's
often been here! _That_ I can swear to you with my own eyes!"

Susan was gone, and gone beyond hope of an immediate return. There is no
need to labor the details of her flight. A letter, left for me with Miss
O'Neill, gives all the surface facts essential.

          "_Dear Ambo_: Try not to be angry with me; or too
          hurt. When I left you last night I decided to
          seize an opportunity which had to be seized
          instantly, or not at all. Mona Leslie has been
          planning for a long European sojourn all winter,
          and for the past two weeks has been trying to
          persuade me to go with her as a sort of overpaid
          companion and private secretary. She has dangled a
          salary before me out of all proportion to my
          possible value to her, but--never feeling very
          sympathetic toward her sudden whims and
          moods--that hasn't tempted me.

          "Now, at the eleventh hour, literally, this
          chance for a complete break with my whole past and
          probable future has tempted me, and I've flopped.
          You've been urging my need for rest and change; if
          that's what I do need this will supply it, the
          change at least--with no sacrifice of my
          hard-fought-for financial independence. It was the
          abysmal prospect, as I came in, of having to go
          straight to my room--with no Sister waiting for
          me--and beat my poor typewriter and poorer brains
          for some sparks of wit--when I knew in advance
          there wasn't a spark left in me--that sent me to
          the telephone.

          "Now I'm packed--in half an hour--and waiting for
          Mona. The boat sails about three A.M.; I don't
          even know her name: we'll be on her by midnight.
          Poor Miss O'Neill is flabbergasted--and so I'm
          afraid will you be, and Phil and Jimmy. I know it
          isn't kind of me simply to vanish like this; but
          try to feel that I don't mean to be unkind. Not
          even to Togo, though my treachery to him is
          villainous. It will be a black mark against me in
          Peter's book forever. But I can't take him, Ambo;
          I just can't. Please, please--will _you_? You see,
          dear, I can't help being a nuisance to you always,
          after all. And I can't even promise you Togo will
          learn to love you, any more than Tumps--though I
          hope he may. He'll grieve himself thin at first.
          He knows something's in the air and he's grieving
          beside me now. His eyes---- If Mona doesn't come
          soon, I may collapse at his paws and promise him
          to stay.

          "Mona talks of a year over there, from darkest
          Russia to lightest France; possibly two. Her plans
          are characteristically indefinite. She knows heaps
          of people all over, of course. I'll write often.
          Please tell Hadow and Mr. Sampson I'm a physical
          wreck--or mental, if it sounds more convincing.
          I'm neither; but I'm tired--tired--_tired_.

          "If you can possibly help Phil and Jimmy to
          understand----

          "Here's Mona now. Good-by, dear.

          "Your ashamed, utterly grateful

                                            "SUSAN.

          "P. S. I'm wearing your furs."



THE SIXTH CHAPTER


I

SO Togo and I went home. My misery craving company, I rode with him all
the way up in the baggage-car, on the self-deceptive theory that he
needed an everpresent friend. It is true, however, that he did; and it
gratified me and a little cheered me that he seemed really to appreciate
my attentions. I sat on a trunk, lighting each cigarette from the end of
the last, and he sat at my feet, leaned wearily against the calf of my
right leg and permitted me to fondle his ears....


II

"Spring, the sweet spring!" Then birds do sing, hey-ding-a-ding--and so
on.... Sweet lovers love the spring.... Jimmy, Phil and I saw little of
each other those days. Jimmy clouded his sunny brow and started in
working overtime. Phil plunged headlong into what was to have proved his
philosophical _magnum opus_--"The Pluralistic Fallacy; a Critical Study
of Pragmatism." I also plunged headlong into a series of interpretative
essays for Heywood Sampson's forthcoming review. My first essay was to
be on Tolstoy; my second, on Nietzsche; my third, on Anatole France; my
fourth, on Samuel Butler and Bernard Shaw; my fifth, on Thomas Hardy;
and my sixth and last, on Walt Whitman. From the works of these writers
it was my purpose to illustrate and clarify for the semicultured the
more significant intellectual and spiritual tendencies of our
enlightened and humane civilization. It is characteristic that I
supposed myself well equipped for this task. But I never got beyond my
detached, urbane appreciation of Nietzsche; just as I had concluded
it--our enlightened and humane civilization suddenly blew to atoms with
a _cliché_-shattering report and a vile stench as of too-long-imprisoned
gas....


III

During those first months of Susan's absence, which for more than four
years were to prove the last months of almost world-wide and wholly
world-deceptive peace, several things occurred of more or less
importance to the present history. They marked, for one thing, the
auspicious sprouting and rapid initial growth of Susan's literary
reputation. Her poems appeared little more than a month after she had
left us, a well-printed volume of less than a hundred pages, in a sober
green cover. I had taken a lonely sort of joy in reading and rereading
the proof; and if even a split letter escaped me, it has not yet been
brought to my attention. These poems were issued under a quiet title and
an unobtrusive pen-name, slipping into the market-place without any
preliminary puffing, and I feared they were of too fine a texture to
attract the notice that I felt they deserved. But in some respects, at
least, Susan was born under a lucky star. An unforeseen combination of
events suddenly focused public attention--just long enough to send it
into a third edition--upon this inconspicuous little book.

Concurrently with its publication, _The Puppet Booth_ opened its
doors--its door, rather--on Macdougal Street; an artistic venture quite
as marked, you would say, for early oblivion as Susan's own. The cocoon
of _The Puppet Booth_ was a small stable where a few Italian venders of
fruit and vegetables had kept their scarecrow horses and shabby carts
and handcarts. From this drab cocoon issued a mailed and militant
dragon-fly; vivid, flashing, erratic; both ugly and beautiful--and
wholly alive! For there were in Greenwich Village--as there are, it
would seem, in all lesser villages, from Florida to Oregon--certain
mourners over and enthusiasts for the art called Drama, which they
believed to be virtually extinct. Shows, it is true, hundreds of them,
were each season produced on Broadway, and some of these delighted hosts
of the affluent, sentimental, and child-like American _bourgeoisie_.
Fortunate managers, playsmiths and actors, endowed with sympathy for the
crude tastes of this _bourgeoisie_, a sympathy partly instinctive and
partly developed by commercial acumen, waxed fat with a prosperity for
which the Village could not wearily enough express its contempt.

None of these creatures, said the Village--no, not one--was a genuine
artist! The Theater, they affirmed, had been raped by the Philistines
and prostituted to sophomoric merrymakers by cynical greed. The Theater!
Why, it should be a temple, inviolably dedicated to its peculiar god.
Since the death of religion, it was perhaps the one temple worthy of
pious preservation. Only in a Theater, sincerely consecrated to the
great god, Art, could the enlightened, the sophisticated, the
free--unite to worship. There only, they implied, could something
adumbrating a sacred ritual and a spiritual consolation be preserved.

Luckily for Susan, and indeed for us all--for we have all been gainers
from the spontaneous generation of "little theaters" all over America, a
phenomenon at its height just previous to the war--one village
enthusiast, Isidore Stalinski--by vocation an accompanist, by avocation
a vorticist, by race and nature a publicist--had succeeded in mildly
infecting Mona Leslie--who took everything in the air, though nothing
severely--with offhand zeal for his cause. The importance of her rather
casual conversion lay in the fact that her purse strings were
perpetually untied. Stalinski well knew that you cannot run even a tiny
temple for a handful of worshippers without vain oblations on the side
to the false gods of this world, and these imply--oh, Art's desire!--a
donor. And of all possible varieties of donor, that most to be desired
is the absentee donor--the donor who donates as God sends rain, unseen.

At precisely the right moment Stalinski whispered to Mona Leslie that
_entre them_--though he didn't care to be quoted--he preferred her
interpretation of Faure's _Clair de Lune_ to that of ----, the
particular _diva_ he had just been accompanying through a long,
rapturously advertised concert tour; and Mona Leslie, about to be off on
her European flight, became the absentee donor to _The Puppet Booth_.

The small stable was leased and cleansed and sufficiently reshaped to
live up to its anxiously chosen name. Much of the reshaping and all of
the decorating was done, after business hours, by the clever and pious
hands of the villagers. Then four one-act plays were selected from among
some hundreds poured forth by village genius to its rehabilitated god.
The clever and pious hands flew faster than ever, busying themselves
with scenery and costumes and properties and color and lighting--all
blended toward the creation of a thoroughly uncommercial atmosphere. And
the four plays were staged, directed, acted, and finally attended by the
Village. It was a perfectly lovely party and the pleasantest of times
was had by all.

And it only remains to drop this tone of patronizing persiflage and
admit, with humblest honesty, that the first night at _The Puppet Booth_
was that very rare thing, a complete success; what Broadway calls a
"knockout." Within a fortnight seats for _The Puppet Booth_ were at a
ruinous premium in all the ticket agencies on or near Times Square.

I happened to be there on that ecstatic opening night. Susan, in her
first letter, from Liverpool, had enjoined me to attend and report; Mona
would be glad to learn from an unprejudiced outsider how the affair went
off. But Susan did not mention the fact that one of the four selected
plays had been written by herself.

Jimmy was with me. Phil, who saw more of him than I did, thought he was
going stale from overwork, so I had made a point of hunting him up and
dragging him off with me for a night in town. He hadn't wanted to go;
said frankly, he wasn't in the mood. I'm convinced it was the first time
he had ever used the word "mood" in connection with himself or anybody
else. Jimmy and moods of any kind simply didn't belong together.

We had a good man's dinner at a good man's chop-house that night, and,
once I got Jimmy to work on it, his normal appetite revived and he
engulfed oysters and steak and a deep-dish apple pie and a mug or so of
ale, with mounting gusto. We talked, of course, of Susan.

Jimmy, inclined to a rosier view by comfortable repletion, now
maintained that perhaps after all Susan had done the natural and
sensible thing in joining Miss Leslie. He emphasized all the obvious
advantages--complete change of environment, freedom from financial
worry, and so on; then he paused....

"And there's another point, Mr. Hunt," he began again, doubtfully this
time: "Prof. Farmer and I were talking about it only the other day. We
were wondering whether we oughtn't to speak to you. But it's not the
easiest thing to speak of--it's so sort of vague--kind of a feeling in
the air."

I knew at once what he referred to, and nodded my head. "So you and Phil
have noticed it too!"

"Oh, you're _on_ then? I'm glad of that, sir. You've never mentioned
anything, so Prof. Farmer and I couldn't be sure. But it's got under our
skins that it might make a lot of trouble and something ought to be done
about it. It's hard to see what."

"Very," I agreed. "Fire ahead, Jimmy. Tell me exactly what has come to
you--to you, personally, I mean."

"Well," said Jimmy, leaning across the table to me and lowering his
voice, "it was all of three weeks ago. I went to a dance at the Lawn
Club. I don't dance very well, but I figure a fellow ought to know how
if he ever has to, so I've slipped in a few lessons. I can keep off my
partner's feet, anyway. Well, Steve Putnam took me round that night and
introduced me to some girls. I guess if they'd known my mother was
living in New Haven and married to a grocer, they wouldn't have had
anything to do with me. Maybe I ought to advertise the fact, but I
don't--simply because I can't stand for my stepfather, and so mother
won't stand for me. Mother and I never could get on, though; and it's
funny, too--as a general rule I can get on with 'most everybody. I told
Prof. Farmer the other night there must be something wrong with a fellow
who can't get on with his own mother--but he only laughed. Of course,
Mr. Hunt, I'm not exactly sailing under false pretenses, either; if any
girl wanted to make real friends with me--I'd tell her all about myself
first."

"Of course," I murmured.

"And the same with men. Steve, for instance. He knows all about me, and
his father has a lot of money, but he made it in soap--and Steve's from
the West, anyway, and don't care. Gee, I'm wandering--it's the ale, I
guess, Mr. Hunt; I'm not used to it. The point is. Steve introduced me
round, and I like girls all right, but Susan's kind of spoiled me for
the way most of them gabble. I can't do that easy, quick-talk very good
yet; Steve's a bear at it. Well--I sat out a dance with one of the
girls, a Miss Simmons; pretty, too; but she's only a kid. It was her
idea, sitting out the dance in a corner--I thought she didn't like the
way I handled myself. But that wasn't it. Mr. Hunt, she wanted to pump
me; went right at it, too.

"'You know Mr. Hunt awfully well, don't you?' she asked; and after I'd
said yes, and we'd sort of sparred round a little, she suddenly got
confidential, and a kind of thrilled look came into her eyes, and then
she asked me straight out: 'Have you ever heard there was
something--_mysterious_--about poor Mrs. Hunt's death?'

"'No,' I said.

"'Haven't you!' she said, as much as to tell me she knew, all the same,
I must have. 'Why, Mr. Kane, it's all over town. Nobody knows anything,
but it's terribly exciting! Some people think she committed suicide, all
because of that queer Miss Blake.... She must be--_you_ know! And now
she's run away to Europe! I believe she was just afraid to stay over
here, afraid she might be found out or arrested--or something!'

"That's the way she went on, Mr. Hunt; and, well--naturally, I
pooh-poohed it and steered her off, and then she lost interest in me
right away. But she's right, Mr. Hunt. There's a lot of that kind of
whispered stuff in the air, and I'm mighty glad Susan's off for a year
or two where she can't run into it. It'll all die out before she's back
again, of course."

"I hope so," was my reply; "but the source of these rumors is very
persistent--and very discreet. They start from Mrs. Arthur; they must.
But it's impossible to trace them back to her. Jimmy, she means to make
New Haven impossible for me, and I've an idea she's likely to succeed.
Already, three or four old acquaintances have--well, avoided me, and the
general atmosphere's cooling pretty rapidly toward zero. So far as I'm
concerned, it doesn't much matter; but it does matter for Susan. She may
return to find her whole future clouded by a settled impression that in
some way--indirectly--or even, directly--she was responsible for my
wife's sudden death."

"It's a damned outrage!" exclaimed Jimmy. "I don't know Mrs. Arthur, but
I'd like to wring her neck!"

"So would I, Jimmy; and she knows it. That's why she's finding life
these days so supremely worth living."

Jimmy pondered this. "Gee, I hate to think that badly of any woman," he
finally achieved; "but I guess it doesn't do to be a fool and think
they're all angels--like Susan. Mother's not."

"No, Jimmy, it doesn't do," I responded. "Still, the price for that kind
of wisdom is always much higher than it's worth."

"Women," began Jimmy---- But his aphorism somehow escaped him; he
decided to light a cigarette instead....

And on this wave of cynicism I floated him off with me to _The Puppet
Booth_.


IV

From the point of view of eccentric effectiveness and _réclame_ wonders
had been wrought with the small, ancient, brick stable on Macdougal
Street; but very little had been or could be done for the comfort of its
guests. The flat exterior wall had been stuccoed and brilliantly
frescoed to suggest the entrance to some probably questionable side-show
at a French village fair; and a gay clown with a drum, an adept at
amusing local patter, had been stationed before the door to emphasize
the _funambulesque_ illusion. Within, this atmosphere--as of something
gaudy and transitory, the mere lath-and-canvas pitch of a vagabond
_banquiste_--had been cleverly carried out. The cramped little theater
itself struck one as mere scenery, which was precisely the intention.
There was clean sawdust on the floor, and the spectators--one hundred of
them suffocatingly filled the hall--were provided only with wooden
benches, painted a vivid Paris green. These benches had been
thoughtfully selected, however, and were less excruciating to sit on
than you would suppose. There was, naturally, no balcony; a false
pitch-roof had been constructed of rough stable beams, from which hung
bannerets in a crying, carefully studied dissonance of strong color,
worthy of the barbaric Bakst. The proscenium arch was necessarily a
toylike affair, copied, you would say, from the _Guinol_ in the
Tuileries Gardens; and the curtain, for a final touch, looked
authentic--had almost certainly been acquired, at some expenditure of
thought and trouble, from a traveling Elks' Carnival. There was even a
false set of footlights to complete the masquerade; a row of oil lamps
with tin reflectors. It was all very restless and amusing--and
extravagantly make-believe....

Jimmy and I arrived just in time to squeeze down the single narrow
side-aisle and into our places in the fourth row. We had no opportunity
to glance about us or consult our broad-sheet programs, none to acquire
the proper mood of tense expectancy we later succumbed to, before the
lights were lowered and the curtain was rolled up in the true antique
style. "Gee!" muttered Jimmy, on my left, with involuntary dislike.
"Ah!" breathed a maiden, on my right, with entirely voluntary rapture.
Someone in the front row giggled, probably a cub reporter doing duty
that evening as a dramatic critic; but he was silenced by a sharp hiss
from the rear.

The cause for these significant reactions was the _mise en scène_ of the
tiny vacant stage. It consisted of three dead-black walls, a dead-black
ceiling, and a dead-black floor-cloth. In the back wall there was a
high, narrow crimson door with a black knob. A tall straight-legged
table and one straight high-backed chair, both lacquered in crimson,
were the only furniture, except for a slender crimson-lacquered perch,
down right, to which was chained a yellow, green and crimson macaw. And
through the crimson door presently entered--undulated, rather--a
personable though poisonous young woman in a trailing robe of vivid
yellow and green.

The play that followed, happily a brief one, was called--as Jimmy and I
learned from our programs at its conclusion--"Polly." It consisted of a
monologue delivered by the poisonous young woman to the macaw,
occasionally varied by _ad lib._ screams and chuckles from that evil
white-eyed bird. From the staccato remarks of the poisonous young woman,
we, the audience, were to deduce the erratic eroticism of an _âme
damnée_. It was not particularly difficult to do so, nor was it
particularly entertaining. As a little adventure in supercynicism,
"Polly," in short, was not particularly successful. It needed, and had
not been able to obtain, the boulevard wit of a Sacha Guitry to carry it
off. But the poisonous young woman had an exquisitely proportioned
figure, and her arms, bare to the slight shoulder-straps, were quite
faultless. Minor effects of this kind have, even on Broadway, been known
to save more than one bad quarter hour from complete collapse.... No, it
was not the author's lines that carried us safely through this first
fifteen minutes of diluted Strindberg-Schnitzler! And the too
deliberately bizarre _mise en scène_, though for a moment it piqued
curiosity, had soon proved wearisome, and we were glad--at least, Jimmy
and I were--to have it veiled from our eyes.

The curtain rolled down, nevertheless, to ecstatic cries and stubbornly
sustained applause. Raised lights revealed an excited, chattering band
of the faithful. The poisonous young woman took four curtain calls and
would seemingly, from her parting gesture, have drawn us collectively to
her fine bosom with those faultless, unreluctant arms. And the maiden on
my right shuddered forth to her escort, "I'm thrilled, darling! Feel
them--feel my hands--they're _moon-cold_! They always are, you know,
when I'm thrilled!"

"You can't beat this much, Mr. Hunt," whispered Jimmy, on my left. "It's
bughouse."

In a sense, it was; in a truer sense, it was not. A careful analysis of
the audience would, I was quickly convinced, have disclosed not merely a
saving remnant, but a saving majority of honest workmen in the arts--men
and women too solidly endowed with brains and humor for any
self-conscious posing or public exhibition of temperament. The genuine
freaks among us were a scant handful; but it is the special talent and
purpose of your freak to--in Whitman's phrase--"positively appear." Ten
able freaks to the hundred can turn any public gathering into a side
show; and the freaks of the Village, particularly the females of the
species, are nothing if not able. Minna Freund, for example, who was
sitting just in front of Jimmy; it would be difficult for any assembly
to obliterate Minna Freund! She was, that night, exceptionally repulsive
in a sort of yellow silk wrapper, with her sparrow's nest of bobbed
Henner hair, and her long, bare, olive-green neck, that so obviously
needed to be scrubbed!

Having strung certain entirely unrelated words together and called them
"Portents," she had in those days acquired a minor notoriety, and
Susan--impishly enjoying my consequent embarrassment--had once
introduced me to her as an admirer of her work, at an exhibition of
Cubist sculpture. Minna was standing at the time, I recalled, before
Pannino's "Study of a Morbid Complex," and she at once informed me that
the morbid complex in question had been studied from the life. She had
posed her own destiny for Pannino, so she assured me, at three separate
moments of psychic crisis, and the inevitable result had been a
masterpiece. "How it writhes!" she had exclaimed: but to my uninstructed
eyes Pannino's Study did anything but writhe; it was stolidly passive;
it looked precisely as an ostrich egg on a pedestal would look if viewed
in a slightly convex mirror.... How far away all that stupid nonsense
seems!

And, suddenly, Jimmy leaped on the bench beside me as if punctured by a
pin: "Oh, good Lord, Mr. Hunt!" he groaned. "Look here!"

He had thrust his program before me and was pointing to the third play
of the series with an unsteady finger.

"It's the same name," he whispered hoarsely; "the one she's used for her
book. Do you think----"

"I'll soon find out," was my answer. "We must know what we're in for,
Jimmy!" And just as the lights were lowered for the second play I rose,
defying audible unpopularity, and squeezed my way out to the door. That
is why I cannot describe for you the second play, a harsh little tragedy
of the sweatshops--"Horrible," Jimmy affirmed, "but it kind of _got_
me!"--written by an impecunious young man with expensive tastes, who has
since won the means of gratifying them along Broadway by concocting for
that golden glade his innocently naughty librettos--"_Tra-la, Thérèse!_"
and "_Oh, Mercy, Modestine!_"

Having sought and interviewed Stalinski--I found him huddled in the tiny
box-office, perspiring unpleasantly from nervousness and many soaring
emotions--I was back in my seat, more unpopular than ever, in good time
for Susan's--it was unquestionably Susan's--play.

But most of you have read, or have seen, or have read about, Susan's
play....

It was the sensation of the evening, of many subsequent evenings; and I
have often wondered precisely why--for there is in it nothing
sensational. Its atmosphere is delicately fantastic; remote, you would
say, from the sympathies of a matter-of-fact world, particularly as its
fantasy is not the highly sentimentalized make-believe of some popular
fairy tale. This fantasy of Susan's is ironic and grave; simple in
movement, too--just a few subtle modulations on a single poignant theme.
And I ask myself wherein lies its throat-tightening quality, its
irresistible appeal? And I find but one answer; an answer which I had
always supposed, in my long intellectual snobbery, an undeserved
compliment to the human race; a compliment no critic, who was not either
dishonest or a fool, could pay mankind.

But what other explanation can be given for the success of Susan's play,
both here and in England, than its sheer _beauty_? Beauty of substance,
of mood, of form, of quiet, heart-searching phrase! It is not called
"The Magic Circle," but it might have been; for its magic is genuine,
distilled from the depths of Nature, and it casts an unescapable
spell--on poets and bankers, on publicans and prostitutes and priests,
on all and sundry, equally and alike. It even casts its spell on those
who act in it, and no truer triumph can come to an author. I have never
seen it really badly played. Susan has never seen it played at all.

On the first wave of this astonishing triumph, Susan's pen-name was
swept into the newspapers and critical journals of America and England,
and a piquant point for gossip was added by the revelation that "Dax,"
who for several months had so wittily enlivened the columns of _Whim_,
was one and the same person. Moreover, it was soon bruited about that
the author was a slip of a girl--radiantly beautiful, of course; or why
romance concerning her!--and that there was something mysterious, even
sinister, in her history.

"A child of the underworld," said one metropolitan journal, in its
review of her poems. Popular legend presently connected her, though
vaguely, with the criminal classes. I have heard an overdressed woman in
a theater lobby earnestly assuring another that she knew for a fact that
---- (Susan) had been born in a brothel--"one of those houses, my
dear"--and brought up--like Oliver Twist, though the comparison escaped
her--to be a thief.

And so it was that the public eye lighted for a little hour on Susan's
shy poems. Poetry was said to be looking up in those days; and
influential critics in their influential, uninfluenced way suddenly
boomed these, saying mostly the wrong things about them, but saying them
over and over with energy and persistence. The first edition vanished
overnight; a larger second edition was printed and sold out within a
week or two; a still larger third edition was launched and disposed of
more slowly. Then came the war....


V

If I can say anything good of the war, it is this: Since seemingly it
must have come anyway, sooner or later, so far as Susan is concerned it
came just in time. A letter from Phil to Susan, received toward the
close of July, 1914, at the château of the Comtesse de Bligny, near
Brussels, will tell you why.

          "_Dear Susan_: If the two or three notes I've sent
          you previously have been brief and dull, I knew
          you would make the inevitable allowances and
          forgive me. In the first place, God didn't create
          me to scintillate, as you've long had reason to
          know; and since you left us I've been buried in a
          Sahara of work, living so retired a life in my
          desert that little news comes my way. But Jimmy
          breaks in on me, always welcomely, with an
          occasional bulletin, and last night Hunt came over
          and we had a long evening together. He's worried,
          Susan, not without great cause, I fear; he looks
          tired and ill; and after mulling things over, with
          my usual plodding caution--I've thought best to
          explain the situation to you.

          "It can be put in very few words. The deserved
          success of your play and the poems, following a
          natural law that one too helplessly wishes
          otherwise, has led to a crisis in the
          gossip--malicious in origin, certainly--which has
          fastened upon you and Hunt; and this gossip lately
          has taken a more sinister turn. More and more
          openly it is being said that the circumstances
          surrounding Mrs. Hunt's death ought to be
          probed--'probed' is just now the popular word in
          this connection. The feeling is widespread that
          you were in some way responsible for it.

          "I must use brutal phrases to lay the truth before
          you. You are not, seemingly, suspected of murder.
          You are suspected of having killed Mrs. Hunt
          during a sudden access of mental irresponsibility.
          It is whispered that Hunt, improperly, in some
          devious way, got the matter hushed up and the
          affair reported as an accident. As a result of
          these absurd and terrible rumors, Hunt finds
          himself a pariah--many of his oldest acquaintances
          no longer recognize him when they meet. It is a
          thoroughly distressing situation, and it's
          difficult to see how the mad injustice of it can
          be easily righted.

          "The danger is, of course, that some misguided
          person will get the whole matter into the
          newspapers; it is really a miracle that it has not
          already been seized on by some yellow sheet, the
          opportunity for a sensational story is so
          obviously ripe. Happily"--oh, Phil! oh,
          philosopher!--"the present curious tension in
          European politics is for the moment turning
          journalistic eyes far from home. But as all such
          diplomatic flurries do, this one will pass,
          leaving the flatness of the silly season upon us.
          This is what Hunt most fears; and when you next
          see him you will find him grayer and older because
          of this anxiety.

          "He dreads, for you, a sudden journalistic demand
          for a public investigation, and feels--though in
          this I can hardly agree with him--that such a
          demand could end only in a public trial, in view
          of the peculiar nature of all the circumstances
          involved--a veritable _cause célèbre_.

          "How shocking all this must be to you. The sense
          of the mental anguish I'm causing you is a horror
          to me. Nothing could have induced me to write in
          this way but the compulsion of my love for Hunt
          and you. It seems to me imperative that your names
          should be publicly cleared, in advance of any
          public outcry.

          "So I urge you, Susan--fully conscious of my
          personal responsibility in doing so--to return at
          once and to join with Hunt and your true friends
          in quashing finally and fully these damnable lies.
          It is my strong conviction that this is your duty
          to yourself, to Hunt, and to us all. If you and
          Hunt, together or separately, make a public
          statement, in view of the rumors now current, and
          yourselves demand the fullest public investigation
          of the facts, there can be but one issue. Your
          good names will be cleared; the truth will
          prevail. Dreadful as this prospect must be for you
          both, it now seems to me--and let me add, to
          Jimmy--the one wise course for you to take. But
          only you, if you agree with me, can persuade Hunt
          to such a course...."

It is unnecessary to quote the remaining paragraphs of Phil's so
characteristic letter.

       *       *       *       *       *

No doubt Susan would have returned immediately if she could, but, less
than a week after the receipt of Phil's letter, the diplomatic flurry in
Europe had taken a German army through Luxemburg and into Belgium, and
within less than two weeks Susan and Mona Leslie and the Comtesse de
Bligny were in uniform, working a little less than twenty-four hours a
day with the Belgian Red Cross....

It is no purpose of mine to attempt any description of Susan's war
experience or service. Those first corroding weeks and months of the war
have left ineffaceable scars on the consciousness of the present
generation. I was not a part of them, and can add nothing to them by
talking about them at second hand. It might, however, repay you to
read--if you have not already done so--a small anonymous volume which
has passed through some twenty or thirty editions, entitled _Stupidity
Triumphant_, and containing the brief, sharply etched personal
impressions of a Red Cross nurse in Flanders during the early days of
Belgium's long agony. It is now an open secret that this little book was
written by Susan; and among the countless documents on frightfulness
this one, surely, by reason of its simplicity and restraint, its entire
absence of merely hysterical outcry, is not the least damning and not--I
venture to believe--the least permanent.

There is one short paragraph in this book of detached pictures, marginal
notes, and condensed reflections that brought home to me, personally,
_war_, the veritable thing itself, as no other written lines were able
to do--as nothing was able to do until I had seen the beast with my own
eyes. It is not an especially striking paragraph, and just why it should
have done so I am unable to say. Certain extracts from the book have
been widely quoted--one even, I am told, was read out in Parliament by
Arthur Henderson--but I have never seen this one quoted anywhere; so I
am rather at a loss to explain its peculiar influence on me. Entirely
individual reactions to the printed word are always a little mysterious.
I know, for example, one usually enlightened and catholic critic who
stubbornly maintains that a very commonplace distich by Lord De Tabley
is the most magical moment in all English verse. But here is my
paragraph--or Susan's--for what it is worth:

"This Pomeranian prisoner was a blond boy-giant; pitifully shattered;
it was necessary to remove his left leg to the knee. The operation was
rapidly but skillfully performed. He was then placed on a pallet, close
beside the cot of a wounded German officer. After coming out of the
ether his fever mounted and he grew delirious. The German officer
commanded him to be silent. He might just as well have commanded the sun
to stand still, and he must, however muzzily, have known that. Yet he
was outraged by this unconscious act of insubordination. Thrice he
repeated his absurd command--then raised himself with a groan, leaned
across, and struck the delirious boy in the face with a weakly clenched
fist. It was not a heavy blow; the officer's strength did not equal his
intention. '_Idiot!_' I cried out; and thrust him back on his cot,
half-fainting from the pain of his futile effort at discipline. 'Idiot'
was, after all, the one appropriate word. It was constantly, I found,
the one appropriate word. The beast was a stupid beast."



THE LAST CHAPTER


I

PHIL FARMER and Jimmy Kane stayed on in New Haven that summer of 1914;
Phil to be near his precious sources in the Yale library; Jimmy to be
near his new job. As soon as his examinations were over he had gone to
work in a factory in a very humble capacity; but he was not destined to
remain there long in any capacity, nor was it written in the stars that
he was to complete his education at Yale.

My own reasons for clinging to New Haven were less definite. Sheer
physical inertia had something to do with it, no doubt; but chiefly I
stayed because New Haven in midsummer is a social desert; and in those
days my most urgent desire was to be alone. Apart from all else, the
breaking out of almost world-wide war had drastically, as if by an
operation for spiritual cataract, opened my inner eye, no longer a bliss
in solitude, to much that was trivial and self-satisfied and ridiculous
in one Ambrose Hunt, Esq. That Susan should be in the smoke of that
spreading horror brought it swiftly and vividly before me. I lived the
war from the first.

For years, with no felt discomfort to myself, I had been a pacifist. I
was a contributing member of several peace societies, and in one of my
slightly better-known essays I had expounded with enthusiasm Tolstoy's
doctrine--which, in spite of much passionate argument to the contrary
these troublous times, was assuredly Christ's--of nonresistance to evil.
I was, in fact, though in a theoretical, parlor sense a proclaimed
Tolstoyan, a Christian anarchist--lacking, however, the essential
groundwork for Tolstoy's doctrine: faith. Faith in God as a person, as a
father, I could not confess to; but the higher anarchist vision of
humanity freed from all control save that of its own sweet
reasonableness, of men turned unfailingly gentle, mutually helpful,
content to live simply if need be, but never with unuplifted
hearts--well, I could and did confess publicly that no other vision had
so strong an attraction for me!

I liked to dwell in the idea of such a world, to think of it as a
possibility--less remote, perhaps, than mankind in general supposed.
Having lived through the Spanish War, the Boer War, and Russia's war
with Japan; and in a world constantly strained to the breaking point by
national rivalries, commercial expansion, and competition for markets;
by class struggles everywhere apparent; by the harsh, discordant
energies of its predatory desires--I, nevertheless, had been able to
persuade myself that the darkest days of our dust-speck planet were done
with and recorded; Earth and its graceless seed of Adam were at last, to
quote Jimmy, "on their way"--well on their way, I assured myself, toward
some inevitable region of abiding and beneficent light!

_Pouf!_... And then?

Stricken in solitude, I went down into dark places and fumbled like a
starved beggar amid the detritus of my dreams. Dust and shadow.... Was
there anything real there, anything worth the pain of spiritual salvage?
Had I been, all my life, merely one more romanticist, one more
sentimental trifler in a universe whose ways were not those of
pleasantness, nor its paths those of peace? Surely, yes; for my heart
convicted me at once of having wasted all my days hitherto in a fool's
paradise. The rough fabric of human life was not spun from moonshine. So
much at least was certain. And nothing else was left me. Hurled from my
private, make-believe Eden, I must somehow begin anew.

          "_Brief beauty, and much weariness...._"

Susan's line haunted me throughout the first desperate isolation of
those hours. I saw no light. I was broken in spirit. I was afraid.

Morbidity, you will say. Why, yes; why not? To be brainsick and
heartsick in a cruel and unfamiliar world is to be morbid. I quite
agree. Below the too-thin crust of a _dilettante's_ culture lies always
that hungry morass. A world had been shaken; the too-thin crust beneath
my feet had crumbled; I must slither now in slime, and either sink there
finally, be swallowed up in that sucking blackness, or by some miracle
of effort win beyond, set my feet on stiff granite, and so survive.

It is most probable that I should never have reached solid ground
unaided. It was Jimmy, of all people, who stretched forth a vigorous,
impatient hand.

Shortly after the First Battle of the Marne had dammed--we knew not how
precariously, or how completely--the deluge pouring through Belgium and
Luxemburg and Northern France, Jimmy burst in on me one evening. He had
just received a brief letter from Susan. She was stationed then at
Furnes; Mona Leslie was with her; but their former hostess, the young
pleasure-loving Comtesse de Bligny, was dead. The cause of her death
Susan did not even stop to explain.

"Mona," she hurried on, "is magnificent. Only a few months ago I pitied
her, almost despised her; now I could kiss her feet. How life had wasted
her! She doesn't know fear or fatigue, and she has just put her entire
fortune unreservedly at the service of the Belgian Government--to found
field hospitals, ambulances, and so on. The king has decorated her. Not
that she cares--has time to think about it, I mean. In a sense it
irritated her; she spoke of it all to me as an unnecessary gesture. Oh,
Jimmy, come over--we need you here! Bring all America over with you--if
you can! _Setebos_ invented neutrality; I recognize his workmanship!
Bring Ambo--bring Phil! Don't stop to think about it--_come_!"

"I'm going of course," said Jimmy. "So's Prof. Farmer. How about you,
sir?"

"Phil's going?"

"Sure. Just as soon as he can arrange it."

"His book's finished?"

"What the hell has that----" began Jimmy; then stopped dead, blushing.
"Excuse me, Mr. Hunt; but books, somehow--just now--they don't seem so
important as--_see_?"

"Not quite, Jimmy. After all, the real struggle's always between ideas,
isn't it? We can't perfect the world with guns and ambulances, Jimmy."

"Maybe not," said Jimmy dryly.

"It's quite possible," I insisted, "that Phil's book might accomplish
more for humanity, in the long run, than anything he could do at his age
in Flanders."

"Susan could come home and write plays," said Jimmy; "good ones, too.
But she won't. You can bet on that, sir."

"I've never believed in war, Jimmy; never believed it could possibly
help us onward."

"Maybe it can't," interrupted Jimmy. "I've never believed in cancer,
either; it's very painful and kills a lot of people. You'd better come
with us, sir. You'll be sorry you didn't--if you don't."

"Why? You know my ideas on nonresistance, Jimmy."

"Oh, ideas!" grunted Jimmy. "I know you're a white man, Mr. Hunt. That's
enough for me. I'm not worrying much about your ideas."

"But whatever we do, Jimmy, there's an _idea_ behind it; there must be."

"Nachur'ly," said Jimmy. "Those are the only ones that count! I can't
see you letting Susan risk her life day in an' out to help people who
are being wronged, while you sit over here and worry about what's going
to happen in a thousand years or so--after we're all good and dead! Not
much I can't! The point is, there's the rotten mess--and Susan's in it,
trying to make it better--and we're not. Prof. Farmer got it all in a
flash! He'll be round presently to make plans. Well--how about it, sir?"

Granite! Granite at last, unshakable, beneath my feet!

Then, too, Susan was over there, and Jimmy and Phil were going, without
a moment's hesitation, at her behest! But I have always hoped, and I do
honestly believe, that it was not entirely that.

No; romanticist or not, I will not submit to the assumption that of two
possible motives for any decently human action, it is always the lower
motive that turns the trick. La Rochefoucauld to the contrary,
self-interest is not the inevitable mainspring of man; though, sadly I
admit, it seems to be an indispensable cog-wheel in his complicated
works....


II

And now, properly apprehensive reader--whom, in the interests of
objectivity, which has never interested me, I should never openly
address--are you not unhappy in the prospect of another little tour
through trench and hospital, of one more harrowing account of how the
Great War made a Great Man of him at last?

Be comforted! One air raid I cannot spare you; but I can spare you much.
To begin with, I can spare you, or all but spare you, a month or so over
three whole years.

You may think it incredible, but it is merely true, that I had been in
Europe for more than three years--and I had not as yet seen Susan. Phil
had seen her, just once; Jimmy had seen her many times; and I had run
into them--singly, never together--off and on, here and there, during
those slow-swift days of unremitting labor. If to labor desperately in a
heartfelt cause be really to pray, the ear of Heaven has been besieged!
But, in common humanity, there was always more crying to be done than
mortal brains or hands or accumulated wealth could compass. Once plunged
into that glorious losing struggle against the appalling hosts of
Misery, one could only fight grimly on--on--on--to the last hoarded
ounce of strength and determination.

But the odds were hopeless, fantastic! Those Titan forces of human
suffering and degradation, so half-wittedly let loose throughout Europe,
grew ever vaster, more terrible in maleficent power. They have ravaged
the world; they have ravaged the soul. An armistice has been signed, a
peace treaty is being drafted, a League of Nations is being formed--or
deformed--but those Titan forces still mock our poor efforts with
calamitous laughter. They are still in fiercely, stubbornly disputed,
but unquestionable possession of the field--insolent conquerors to this
hour. The real war, the essential war, the war against the unconsciously
self-willed annihilation of earth's tragic egoist, Man, has barely
begun. Its issue is ever uncertain; and it will not be ended in our
days....

Phil and Jimmy had gone over on the same boat, _via_ England, about the
middle of October, 1914. At that time organized American relief-work in
Europe was really nonexistent, and in order to obtain some freedom of
movement on the other side, and a chance to study out possible
opportunities for effective service, Phil had persuaded Heywood Sampson
to appoint him continental correspondent for the new review; and Jimmy
went with him, ostensibly as his private secretary.

It was all the merest excuse for obtaining passports and permission to
enter Belgium, if that should prove immediately advisable after reaching
London. It did not. Once in London, Phil had very soon found himself up
to the eyes in work. Through Mr. Page, the American Ambassador--so
lately dead--he was introduced to Mr. Herbert C. Hoover, and after a
scant twenty minutes of conversation was seized by Mr. Hoover and
plunged, with barely a gasp for breath, into that boiling sea of
troubles--the organization of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. It
does not take Mr. Hoover very long to size up the worth and stability of
any man; but in Phil he had found--and he knew he had found--a peculiar
treasure. Phil's unfailing patience, his thoroughness and courtesy,
quickly endeared him to all his colleagues and did much to make possible
the successful launching of the vastest and most difficult project for
relief ever undertaken by mortal men. Thus, almost overnight, Jimmy's
private secretaryship became anything but a sinecure. For nearly three
months their labors held them in London; then they were sent--not
unadventurously--to Brussels; there to arrange certain details of
distribution with Mr. Whitlock, the American Minister, and with the
directors of the Belgian _Comité National_.

But from Brussels their paths presently diverged. Jimmy, craving
activity, threw himself into the actual work of food distribution in the
stricken eastern districts; while Phil passed gravely on to Herculean
labors at the shipping station of the "C. R. B." in Rotterdam. He
remained in Rotterdam for upward of a year. Susan, meanwhile, had been
driven with the Belgian Army from Furnes, and was now attached to the
operating-room of a small field or receiving-hospital, which squatted
amphibiously in a waterlogged fragment of village not far from the Yser
and the flooded German lines. It was a post of danger, constantly under
fire; and she was the one woman who clung to it--who insisted upon being
permitted to cling to it, and carried her point; and, under conditions
fit neither for man nor beast, unflinchingly carried on. Mona Leslie was
no longer beside her. She had retired to Dunkirk to aid in the
organization of relief for ever-increasing hordes of civilian refugees.

And where, meanwhile, was one Ambrose Hunt, sometime _dilettante_ at
large?

It had proved impossible for me to sail with Phil and Jimmy. Just as
the preliminary arrangements were being made, Aunt Belle was stricken
down by apoplexy, while walking among the roses of her famous Spanish
gardens in Santa Barbara, and so died, characteristically intestate,
and, to my astonishment, I found that I had become the sole inheritor of
her estate; all of "Hyena Parker's" tainted millions had suddenly poured
their burdensome tide of responsibilities--needlessly and
unwelcomely--upon me. There was nothing for it. Out to California,
willy-nilly, I must go, and waste precious weeks there with lawyers and
house agents and other tiresome human necessities.

The one cheering thought in all this annoying pother was--and it was a
thought that grew rapidly in significance to me as I journeyed
westward--that fate had now made it possible for me to purify Hyena
Parker's millions by putting them to work for mankind.--Well, they have
since done their part, to the last dollar; they have spent themselves in
the losing battle against Misery, and are no more. Nothing became their
lives like the ending of them. But for all that, the world, you see, is
as it is--and the battle goes on.

Phil kept in touch with me from the other side, in spite of his
difficulties--as did Jimmy and Susan--and he had prepared the way for me
when at length I could free myself and sail. I was instructed to go to
Paris, direct, and fulfill certain duties there in connection with the
ever-increasing burdens and exasperations of the "C. R. B." I did so.
Six months later my activities were transferred to Berne; and--not to
trace in detail the evolution of my career, such as it was; for though
useful, I hope, it was never, like Phil's, exceptionally brilliant--I
had become, about the period of America's entry into the war, a modest
captain in the Red Cross, stationed at Evian, in connection with the
endless, heartbreaking task of repatriating refugees from the invaded
districts. And there my job rooted me until January of that dark winter
of our unspeakable depression, 1918.

With the beginning of America's entry into the war Phil had gone to
Petrograd for the American Red Cross, his commission being to save the
lives of as many Russian babies as possible by the distribution of
canned milk. Then, one evening--early in September, 1917, it must have
been--he started alone for Moscow, to lay certain wider plans for
disinterested relief-work before the sinister, the almost mythical
Lenine. That is the last that has ever been seen of him, and no word has
ever come forth directly from him out of the chaos men still call
Russia. The Red Cross and the American and French Governments have done
their utmost to discover his whereabouts, without avail. There are
reasons for believing he is not dead, nor even a prisoner. The dictators
of the soviet autocracy have been unable to find a trace of him, so they
affirm; and there are reasons also for believing that this is true.

As for Jimmy, you will not be surprised to learn that Jimmy had not long
been content with relief-work of any kind. He was young; and he had
_seen_ things--there, in the eastern districts. By midsummer of 1915 he
had resigned from the "C. R. B.," had made a difficult way to Paris, via
Holland and England, had enlisted in the Foreign Legion, and had
succeeded in getting himself transferred to the French Flying Corps.
Thus, months before we had officially abandoned our absurd neutrality,
he was flying over the lines--bless him! If Jimmy never became a
world-famous ace, well--there was a reason for that, too; the best of
reasons. He was never assigned to a combat squadron, for no one brought
home such photographs as Jimmy; taken tranquilly, methodically, at no
great elevation, and often far back of the German lines. His quiet
daring was the admiration of his comrades; anti-aircraft batteries had
no terrors for him; his luck was proverbial, and he grew to trust it
implicitly, seeming to bear a charmed life.

But Susan's luck had failed her, at last. On Thanksgiving Day of 1917
she was wounded in the left thigh by a fragment of shrapnel, a painful
wound whose effects were permanent. She will always walk slowly, with a
slight limp, hereafter. Mona Leslie got her down as far as Paris by
January 20, 1918, meaning to take her on to Mentone, where she had
rented a small villa for three months of long-overdue rest and
recuperation for them both. But on reaching Paris, Susan collapsed; the
accumulated strain of the past years struck her down. She was taken to
the comfortable little Red Cross hospital for civilians at Neuilly and
put to bed. A week of dangerous exhaustion and persistent insomnia
followed.

I knew nothing of it directly, at the moment. I knew only that on a
certain day Miss Leslie had planned to start with Susan from Dunkirk for
Mentone; I was waiting eagerly for word of their safe arrival in that
haven of rest and beauty; and I was scheming like a junior clerk for my
first vacation, for two weeks off, perhaps even three, that I might run
down to them there. But no word came. Throughout that first week in
Paris, Miss Leslie in her hourly anxiety neglected to drop me a line.

And then one night, as I sat vacantly on the edge of my bed in my hotel
room at Evian, almost too weary to begin the tedious sequence of
undressing and tumbling into it, came the second of my psychic reels, my
peculiar visions; briefer, this one, than my first; but no less
authentic in impression, and no less clear.


III

I saw, this time, the interior of a small white room, almost bare of
furniture, evidently a private room in some thoroughly appointed modern
hospital. The patient beneath the white coverlet of the single
white-enamelled iron bed was Susan--or the wraith of Susan, so wasted
was she, so still. My breath stopped: I thought it had been given me to
see her at the moment of death; or already dead. Then the door of the
small white room opened, and Jimmy--in his smart horizon-blue uniform
with its coveted shoulder loop, the green-and-red _fouragère_ that
bespoke the bravery of his entire _esquadrille_--came in, treading
carefully on the balls of his feet. As he approached the bedside Susan
opened her eyes--great shadows, gleamless soot-smudges in her pitifully
haggard face. It seemed that she was too weak even to greet him or
smile; her eyes closed again, and Jimmy bent down to her slowly and
kissed her. Then Susan lifted her right hand from the coverlet--I could
feel the effort it cost her--and touched Jimmy's hair. There was no
strength in her to prolong the caress. The hand slipped from him to her
breast.... And my vision ended.

Its close found me on my knees on the tiled floor of my bedroom, as if I
too had tried to go nearer, to bring myself close to her bedside,
perhaps to bury my face in my hands against the white coverlet, her
shroud; to weep there....

I sprang up, wildly enough now, with a harsh shudder, the terrified gasp
of a brute suddenly stricken from ambush, aware only of rooted claws and
a last crushing fury of deep-set fangs.

Susan was dying. I knew not where. I could not reach her. But Jimmy had
reached her. He had been summoned. He had not been too late.

There are moments of blind anguish not to be reproduced for others.
Chaos is everything--and nothing. It cannot be described.

There was nothing really useful I could do that night, not even sleep.
In those days, it was impossible to move anywhere on the railroads of
France without the proper passes and registrations of intention with the
military authorities and the local police. I could, of course,
suffer--that is always a human possibility--and I could attempt, muzzily
enough, to think, to make plans. Where was it most likely that Susan
would be? Was the hospital room that I had seen in Dunkirk, or in Nice,
or at some point between--perhaps at Paris? It could hardly, I decided,
be at Dunkirk; that stricken city, whose inhabitants were forced to dive
like rats into burrows at any hour of the day or night. There was
nothing to suggest the atmosphere of Dunkirk in that quiet,
white-enamelled room. Nice, then--or Mentone? Hardly, I again reasoned;
for Jimmy could not easily have reached them there. A day's leave; a
flight from the lines, so comfortlessly close to Paris--that was always
possible to the air-men, who were in a sense privileged characters,
being for the most part strung with taut nerves that chafed and snapped
under too strict a discipline. And in Paris there must be many such
quiet, white-enamelled rooms. I decided for Paris.

Then I threw five or six articles and a bar of chocolate into my
_musette_, a small water-proof pouch to sling over the shoulder--three
years had taught me at least the needlessness of almost all Hillhouse
necessities--and waited for dawn. It came, as all dawns come at
last--even in January, even in France. And with it came a gulp of black
coffee in the little deserted café down-stairs--and a telegram. I dared
not open the telegram. It lay beside my plate while I stained the cloth
before me and scalded my throat and furred my tongue. It was from Paris.
So my decision was justified, and now quite worthless.... I have no
memory of the interval; but I had got with it somehow back to my
room--that accursed blue envelope! Well----

          "Susan at Red Cross hospital for civilians,
          Neuilly. All in, but no cause for real worry. Is
          sleeping now for first time in nearly a week. I
          must leave by afternoon. Come up to her if you
          possibly can. She needs you.

                                              "JIMMY."

Four hours later all my exasperatingly complicated arrangements for a
two-weeks' absence were made--the requisite motions had been the purest
somnambulism--and by the ample margin of fifty seconds I had caught an
express--to do it that courtesy--moving with dignity, at decent
intervals, toward all that I lived by and despaired of and held
inviolably dear. But the irony of Jimmy's last three words went always
with me, a monotonous ache blurring every impulse toward hope and joy.
Susan was not dead, was not dying! "No cause for real worry." Jimmy
would not have said that if he had feared the worst. It was not his way
to shuffle with facts; he was by nature direct and sincere. No; Susan
would recover--thank God for it! Thank--and then, under all, through
all, over and over, that aching monotony: "She needs you. Jimmy. She
needs you. Jimmy."

"Needs me!" I groaned aloud.

"_Plaît-il?_" politely murmured the harassed-looking little French
captain, my vis-à-vis.

"_Mille pardons, monsieur_," I murmured back. "_On a quelquefois des
griefs particuliers, vous savez._"

"_Ah dame, oui!_" he sighed. "_Par le temps qui court!_"

"_Et ce pachyderme de train qui ne court jamais!_" I smiled.

"_Ah, pour ça--ça repose!_" murmured the little French captain, and shut
his eyes.

"She needs you. Jimmy. She needs you. Jimmy. She needs----"

Then, miraculously, for two blotted hours I slept. But I woke again,
utterly unrefreshed, to the old refrain: _She needs you--needs
you--needs you...._

The little French captain was still asleep, snoring now--but softly--in
his corner. Ah, lucky little French captain! _Ça repose!_


IV

One afternoon, five or six days later, I was seated by the
white-enamelled iron bed in the small white room. Susan had had a long,
quiet, normal nap, and her brisk sparrow-eyed Norman nurse, in her
pretty costume of the French Red Cross, had come to me in the little
reception-room of the hospital, where I had been sitting for an hour
stupidly thumbing over tattered copies of ancient American magazines,
and had informed me--with rather an ambiguous twinkle of those sparrow
eyes--that her patient had asked to see me as soon as she had waked, was
evidently feeling stronger, and that it was to be hoped _M. le
Capitaine_ would be discreet and say nothing to excite or fatigue the
poor little one. "_Je me sauve, m'sieu_," she had added, mischievously
grave; "_on ne peut avoir l'oeil à tout, mais--je compte sur vous._"

So innocently delighted had she been by her pleasant suspicions, it was
impossible to let her feel how sharply her raillery had pained me. But I
could not reply in kind. I had merely bowed, put down the magazine in my
hand, and so left her--to inevitable reflections, I presume, upon the
afflicting reticence of these otherwise so agreeable allies _d'outre
mer_. Their education was evidently deplorable. One never knew when they
would miss step, inconveniently, and so disarrange the entire social
rhythm of a conversation.

"Ambo," said Susan, putting her hand in mine, "do you know at all how
terribly I've missed you?" She turned her head weakly on her pillow and
looked at me. "You're older, dear. You've changed. I like your face
better now than I ever did."

I wrinkled my nose at her. "Is that saying much?" I grimaced.

"Heaps!" She attempted to smile back at me, but her lower lip quivered.
"Yours has always been my favorite face, you know, Ambo. Phil's is
wiser--somehow, and stronger, too; and Jimmy's is sunnier, healthier,
and--yes, handsomer, dear! Nobody could call you handsome, could they?
But you're not ugly, either. Sister was adorably ugly. It was a daily
miracle to see the lamp in her suddenly glow through and glorify
everything. I used to wait for it. It's the only thing that has ever
made me feel--humble; I never feel that way with you. I just feel
satisfied, content."

"Like putting on an old pair of slippers," I ventured.

"That's it," sighed Susan happily, and closed her eyes.

"That's it!" echoed my familiar demon, "but no one but Susan would have
admitted it."

As usual, I found it wiser to cut him dead.

"Well, dear," I said to Susan, "there's one good thing: you'll be able
to use the old pair of slippers any time you need them now. I'm to be
held in Paris, I find, for a three-months' job."

She opened her eyes again; disapprovingly, I felt.

"You shouldn't have done that, Ambo! You're needed at Evian; I know you
are. It's bad enough to be out of things myself, but I won't drag you
out of them! How could you imagine that would please me?"

"I hoped it would, a little," I replied, "but it hasn't any of it been
my doing--Chatworth's wife's expecting a baby in a few weeks, and he
wants to run home to welcome it; I'm to take on his executive work till
he gets back. God knows he needs a rest!"

"As if you didn't, too!" protested Susan, inconsistently enough. Her
eyes fell shut again; her hands slipped from mine. "Ambo," she asked
presently, in a thread of voice that I had to lean down to her to hear,
"have they told you I can never have a baby now?... Wasn't it lucky if
that had to happen to some woman--it happened to me?"

No, they had not told me; and for the moment I could not answer her.

"Jimmy's wife is going to have a baby soon," added Susan.

"Jimmy's--_what_!" I shrieked. Yes, shrieked--for, to my horror, I heard
my voice crack and soar, strident, incredulous.

Susan was staring at me, wide-eyed, her face aquiver with excitement;
two deep spots of color flaming on her thin cheeks.

"Didn't you _know_?"

The white door opened as she spoke, and Susan's Norman nurse hurried in,
her sparrow eyes transformed to stiletto points of indignation. "_Ah,
m'sieu--c'est trop fort!_ When I told you expressly to do nothing to
excite the poor little one!" I rose, self-convicted, before her.

"_Tais-toi, Annette!_" exclaimed Susan sharply, her eyes too gleaming
with indignation. "It is not your place to speak so to m'sieu, a man old
enough to be your father--and more than a father to me! For shame! His
surprise was unavoidable! I have just given him a shock--unexpected
news! Good news, however, I am glad to say. Now leave us!"

"On the contrary," replied Nurse Annette, four feet eleven of
uncompromising and awful dignity, "I am in charge here, and it is m'sieu
who will leave--_tout court_! But I regret my _vivacité_, _m'sieu_!"

"It is nothing, mademoiselle. You have acted as you should. It is for me
to offer my regrets. But--when may I return?"

"To-morrow, m'sieu," said Nurse Annette.

"Naturally," said Susan. "Now sit down, please, Ambo, and listen to me."

For an instant the stiletto points glinted dangerously; then Nurse
Annette giggled. That is precisely what Nurse Annette did; she giggled.
Then she twirled about on her toes and left us--very quietly, yet not
without a certain malicious ostentation, closing the door.

The French are a brave people, an intelligent and industrious people;
but they exhibit at times a levity almost childlike in the descendants
of so ancient and so deeply civilized a race....

"I knew nothing about it myself, Ambo," Susan was saying, "until I was
beginning to feel a little stronger, after my operations at Dunkirk.
Then Mona brought me letters--three from you, dear, and one long one
from Jimmy. But no letter from Phil. I'd hoped, foolishly I suppose, for
that. Jimmy's was the dearest, funniest letter I've ever read; it made
me laugh and cry all at once. It wasn't a bit good for me, Ambo. It used
me all up! And I kept wondering what you must be thinking. You see, he
said in it he had written you."

"I've had no letter from Jimmy for at least five or six months," I
replied.

"So many letters start bravely off over here," sighed Susan, "and then
just vanish--like Phil. How many heartbreaks they must have caused, all
those vanished letters--and men. And how silly of me to think about it!
There must be some fatal connection, Ambo, between being sick and being
sentimental. I suppose sentimentality's always one symptom of weakness.
I've never been so disgustingly maudlin as these past weeks--never!"

"So Jimmy's married," I repeated stupidly, for at least the third time.

"Yes," smiled Susan, "to little Jeanne-Marie Valérie Josephine Aulard. I
haven't seen her, of course, but I feel as if I knew her well. They've
been married now almost a year." She paused again. "Why don't you look
gladder, Ambo? Why don't you ask questions? You must be dying to know
why Jimmy kept it a secret from us so long."

I had not dared to ask questions, for I believed I could guess why Jimmy
had kept it a secret from us so long. For the first time in his life, I
thought, Jimmy had been a craven. He had been afraid to tell Susan of an
event which he must know would be like a knife in her heart.

"I suppose I'm foolishly hurt about it," I mumbled.

How bravely she was taking it all, in spite of her physical exhaustion!
Poor child, poor child! But in God's name what then was the meaning of
my vision back there in the hotel room at Evian? Jimmy entering this
room where I now sat, tiptoeing to this very bedside, stooping down and
kissing Susan--and her hand lifted, overcoming an almost mortal
weakness, to touch his hair....

"You mustn't be hurt at all," Susan gently rebuked me. "Jimmy kept his
marriage a secret from us for a very Jimmyesque reason. There was
nothing specially exciting or romantic about the courtship itself,
though. Little Jeanne-Marie's father--he was a notary of Soissons who
had made a nice, comfy little fortune for those parts--died just before
the war. So the Widow Aulard retired with Jeanne-Marie to a
brand-spandy-new, very ugly little country house--south of the Aisne,
Ambo, not far from Soissons; the canny old notary had just completed it
as a haven for his declining years when he up and died. Well then,
during the first German rush, Widow Aulard--being a good extra-stubborn
_bourgeoise_--refused to leave her home--refused, Jeanne-Marie told
Jimmy, even to believe the Boches would ever really be permitted to come
so far. That was foolish, of course--but doesn't it make you like her,
and _see_ her--mustache and all?

"But the deluge was too much, even for her. One morning, after a night
of terror, she found herself compulsory housekeeper, and little
Jeanne-Marie compulsory servant, to a kennel of Bavarian officers. Then,
three weeks or so later, the orderly of one of these officers, an
Alsatian, was discovered to be a spy and was shot--and the Widow Aulard
was shot, too, for having unwittingly harbored him. Jeanne-Marie wasn't
shot, though; the kennel liked her cooking. So, like the true daughter
of a French notary, she used her wits, made herself indispensable to the
comfort of the officers, preserved her dignity under incredible insults,
and her virtue under conditions I needn't tell you about, Ambo--and
bided her time.

"It nearly killed her; but she lived through it, and finally the French
returned and helped her patch up and clean up what was left of the
kennel. And a month or so later Jimmy's _esquadrille_ made
Jeanne-Marie's battered little house their headquarters and treated its
mistress like the staunch little heroine she is. Of course, Jimmy wasn't
attached to the _esquadrille_ then; it was more than a year later that
he arrived on the scene; but it didn't take him long after getting there
to decide on an international alliance. Bless him! he says Jeanne-Marie
isn't very pretty, he guesses; she's just--wonderful! She couldn't make
up her mind to the international alliance, though. She loved Jimmy, but
the match didn't strike her as prudent. An orphan must consider these
things. Her property had been swept away, and Jimmy admitted he had
nothing. And being her father's daughter, Jeanne-Marie very wisely
pointed out that he was in hourly peril of being killed or crippled for
life. To marry under such circumstances would be to make her father turn
in his grave. How can anything so sad be so funny, Ambo? Well, anyway,
Jimmy, being Jimmy, saw the point, agreed with her completely, and seems
to have felt thoroughly ashamed of himself for trying to persuade her
into so crazy a match!

"Then little Jeanne-Marie came down with typhoid; her life was
despaired of, a priest was summoned. In the presence of death, she
managed to tell the priest that it would seem less lonely and terrible
to her if she could meet it as the wife 'M'sieu Jee-mee.' So the good
priest managed somehow to slash through yards of official red tape in no
time--you know how hard it is to get married in France, Ambo!--and the
sacrament of marriage preceded the last rites; and then, dear,
Jeanne-Marie faced the Valley of Shadow clinging to M'sieu Jee-mee's
hand. The whole _esquadrille_ was unstrung--naturally; even their famous
ace, Boisrobert. Jimmy says he absolutely refused to fly for three
days." Tears were pouring from Susan's eyes.

"Oh, what a fool I am!" she protested, mopping at them with a corner of
the top sheet. "She didn't die, of course. She rallied at the last
moment and got well--and found herself safely married after all, and
quite ready to take her chances of living happily with M'sieu Jee-mee
ever afterward! There--isn't that a nice story, Ambo? Don't you like
pretty-pie fairy tales when they happen to be true?"

That she could ask me this with her heart breaking! Again I could not
trust myself to speak calmly, and I saw that she was worn out with the
effort she had made to overcome her weakness, and what I believed to be
a living pain in her breast. I rose.

"Ambo!" she exclaimed, wide-eyed, "still you don't ask me why Jimmy
didn't tell us! How stupid of you to take it all like this!"

"I've stayed too long, dear," I mumbled; "far too long. I've let you
talk too much. Why, it's almost dark! To-morrow----"

"No, _now_," she insisted, with a little frown of displeasure. "I won't
have you thinking meanly of Jimmy! It's too absurdly unfair! I'm ashamed
of you, Ambo."

How she idealized him! How she had always idealized that normal,
likable, essentially commonplace Irish boy--pouring out, wasting for him
treasures of unswerving loyalty! It was damnable. But these things were
the final mysteries of life, these instinctive bonds, yielding no clue
to reason. One could only accept them, bitterly, with a curse or a groan
withheld. Accept them--since one must....

"Well, dear," broke from me with a touch, almost, of impatience, "I
confess I'm more interested in your health than in Jimmy's psychology!
But I see you won't sleep a wink if you don't tell me!"

"I've never known you to be so horrid," she said faintly, all the
weariness of body and soul returning upon her for a moment, till she
fought it back. She did so, to my amazement, with an entirely unexpected
chuckle, a true sharp, clear Birch Street gleam. "You don't deserve it,
Ambo, but I'm going to make you smile a little, whether you feel like it
or not! The reason Jimmy didn't tell us was because--after Jeanne-Marie
got well--he spent weeks trying to persuade her that a marriage made
exclusively for eternity oughtn't to be considered binding on this side!
She had been entirely certain, he kept pointing out to her, that she
ought not to marry him in this world, and she had only done so when she
thought she was being taken from it." Susan chuckled again. "Can't you
hear him, Ambo--and her? Jimmy, feeling he had won something precious
through an unfair advantage and so refusing his good fortune--or trying
to; and practical Jeanne-Marie simply nonplussed by his sudden lack of
all common sense! Besides which, wasn't marriage a sacrament, and wasn't
M'sieu Jee-mee a good Catholic? Was he going back on his faith--or
asking her to trifle with hers? And, anyway, they were married--that was
the end of it! And of course, Ambo, it was--really. There! I knew sooner
or later you'd have to smile!"

"Did he give in gracefully?" I asked.

"Oh, things soon settled themselves, I imagine, when Jeanne-Marie was
well enough to leave. Naturally, she had to as soon as she could. A
soldier's wife can't live with him at the Front, you know--even to keep
house for his _esquadrille_. She's living here now, in Paris, with a
distant cousin, an old lady who runs a tiny shop near St.-Sulpice--sells
pious pamphlets and pink-and-blue plaster Virgins--you know the sort of
thing, Ambo. You must call on her at once in due form, dear. You must.
I'm so eager to--when I can." She paused on a breath, then added slowly,
her eyes closing, "The baby's expected in February--Jimmy's baby."

The look on her face had puzzled me as I left her; a look of quiet
happiness, I must have said--if I had not known.

And my vision at Evian----?

I walked back toward the barrier down endless darkening avenues of
suburban Neuilly; walked by instinct, though quite unconscious of
direction, straight to the Porte Maillot, through the emotional
nightmare of what my old childhood nurse, Maggie, used always to call "a
great state of mind."


V

And that night--it was, I think, the thirtieth of January, or was it the
thirty-first?--fifty or sixty Boche aëroplanes came by detached
squadrons over Paris and, for the first time since the Zeppelins of
1916, dropped a shower of bombs on the _agglomération Parisienne_. It
was an entirely successful raid, destructive of property and life; for
the German flyers in their powerful Gothas had caught Paris napping,
impotently unprepared.

I had dined that evening with an old acquaintance, doing six-months'
time, as it amused him to put it, with the purchasing department of the
Red Cross; a man who had long since turned the silver spoon he was born
with to solid gold, and who could see no reason why, just because for
the first time in his life he was giving something for nothing, he
should deprive himself while doing so of the very high degree of
creature comfort he had always enjoyed. He was stationed in Paris, and
it was his invariable custom to dine sumptuously at one of the more
expensive restaurants.

This odd combination of service and sybaritism was not much to my
liking, seeming to indicate a curious lack of imaginative sympathy with
the victims of that triumphing Misery he was enlisted to combat;
nevertheless, I had properly appreciated my dinner. It is impossible not
to appreciate a well-ordered dinner, _chez_ Durant, where wartime
limitations seemed never to weigh very heavily upon the delicately
imagined good cheer. True, the cost of this good cheer was fantastic,
and I shuddered a little as certain memories of refugee hordes at Evian
intruded themselves between our golden mouthfuls; but the bouquet of a
fine mellowed Burgundy was in my nostrils and soon proved anæsthetic to
conscience. And Arthur Dalton is a good table companion; his easy flow
of conversation quite as mellow often as the wine he knows so well how
to select. But that night, though I did my poor best to emulate him, I
fear he did not find an equal combination of the soothing and the
stimulating in me.

Perhaps it was because I had bored him that I was destined before we
parted to catch a rather startling glimpse of a new Arthur Dalton, new
at least to me; a person wholly different from the amusing man of the
world I had long, but so casually, known.

"Hunt," he said unexpectedly, over a final glass of old yellow
Chartreuse, a liquor almost unobtainable at any price, "you've changed a
lot since our days here together." We had seen something of each other
once in Paris, years before, during a fine month of spring weather; it
was the year after my wife had left me. "A lot," he repeated; "and I
wish I could say for the better. You've aged, man, before you're old.
You've let life, somehow, get on your nerves, depress you. Suffered your
genial spirits to rot, as the poet says. That's foolish. It's a kind of
defeat--acceptance of defeat. Now my philosophy is always to stay on
top--where the cream lies. Somebody's going to get it if you and I
don't, eh? Well, I'm having my share. I don't want more and I'm damned
if I'll take less. Anything wrong with that point of view, old man? I'd
be willing to swear it used to be yours!"

"Never quite, I think," was my answer; "at least I never formulated it
that way. I took things pretty easily as they came, Dalt, and didn't
worry about reasons. I've never been a philosophical person, never lived
up to any consciously organized plan. If I had any God in those days I
suppose I named him 'Culture'; or worse still 'Good Taste.' Not much of
a god for these times," I added.

"Oh, I don't know," Dalton struck in; "I'm not so sure of that! I can't
see that these times differ much from any others. There's a big war on,
yes; but that's nothing new, is it? Looks to me pretty much like the
same old planet, right now. Never was much of a planet for the great
majority; never will be. A few of us get all the prizes--always have.
Some of us partly deserve 'em, but most of us just happen to be lucky. I
don't see anything that's likely to change that arrangement. Do you?"

"They've changed it in Russia," I suggested.

"Not a bit!" exclaimed Dalton. "Some different people have taken their
big chance and climbed on top, that's all! I doubt if they stay there
long; still, they may. That fellow Lenine, now; he has a kind of
well-up-in-the-saddle feel to him. Quite a boy, I've no doubt; and if he
sticks, I congratulate him! It's the one really amusing place to be."

"You sound like a Junker war-lord," I smiled. "Fortunately, I know your
bark, and I've never seen you bite."

"My dear Hunt," said Dalton, lowering his voice, "my teeth are
perfectly sound, I assure you; and I've always used 'em when I had to,
believe _me_. It's the law of life, as I read it. And just here between
ourselves, eh--cutting out all the nonsense we've learned to babble--do
you see any difference between a Junker war-lord and a British Tory
peer--or an American capitalist? Any real difference, I mean? I'm all
for licking Germany if we can, because if we don't she'll control the
cream supply of the world. But I can't blame her for wanting to, and if
she gets away with it--which the devil forbid!--we'll all mighty soon
forget all the nasty things we've been saying about her and begin trying
to lick her Prussian boots instead of her armies! That's so, and you
know it! Why, the most sickening thing about this war, Hunt, isn't the
loss of life--that may be a benefit to us all in the end; no sir, it's
the moral buncombe it's let loose! That man Wilson simply sweats the
stuff day and night, drenches us with it--till we stink like a church of
Easter lilies. Come now! Doesn't it all, way down in your tummy
somewhere, give you a good honest griping pain?"

I stared at him. Yes; the man was evidently in earnest; was even, I
could see, expecting me to smile--however deprecatingly, for form's
sake--and in the main agree with him, as became my situation in life; my
class. I had supposed myself incapable of moral shock, but found now
that the sincerity of his cynicism had unquestionably shocked me; I felt
suddenly embarrassed, awkward, ashamed.

"Dalt," I finally managed, pretty lamely, "it's absurd, I admit; but if
I try to answer you, I shall lose my temper. I mean it. And as I've
dined wonderfully at your expense, that's something I don't care to do."

It was his turn to stare at me.

"Do you mean to say, Hunt, you've been caught by all this sentimental
parson's palaver? Brotherhood, peace on earth, all the rest of it?"

My nerves snapped. "If you insist on a straight answer," I said, "you
can have it: I've no use for a world that spiritually starves its poets
and saints, and physically fattens its hyenas and hogs! And if that
isn't sentimental enough for you, I can go farther!"

"Oh, that'll do," he laughed, uncomfortably however. "I'm always
forgetting you're a scribbler, of sorts. You scribblers are all
alike--emotionally diseased. If you'd only stick to your real job of
amusing the rest of us, it wouldn't matter. It's when you try to reform
us that I draw the line; have to. I can't afford to grow
brainsick--abnormal. Well," he added, pushing back his chair, "come
along anyway! We've just time to get over to the Casino and have a look
at the only Gaby. Been there? It's a cheap show, after Broadway, but it
does well enough to pass the time."

From this unalluring suggestion I begged off, justly pleading a hard day
of work ahead. "And if you don't mind, Dalt, I'll walk home."

"Oh, all right," he agreed; "I'll walk along with you, if you'll take it
easy. I'm not much for exercise, you know. But it's a perfect night."

I had hoped ardently to be rid of him, but I managed to accept his
company with apparent good grace, and we strolled down the Avenue Victor
Hugo toward the Triumphal Arch, bathed now in clearest moonlight,
standing forth to all Paris as a cruelly ironic symbol of Hope, never
relinquished, but endlessly deferred. Turning there, the Champs-Élysées,
all but deserted at that hour in wartime Paris, stretched on before us
down a gentle slope, half dusky, half glimmering, and wholly silent
except for our lonesome-sounding footfalls and the distant faint
plopping of a lame cab-horse's stumbling heels.

"Not much like the old town we knew once, eh, Hunt?" asked Dalton.

But conversation soon faded out between us, as we made our way through
etched mysteries of black and silver under thickset leafless branches.
An occasional light beckoned us from far ahead down our pavement vista;
for Paris had not yet fully become that city--not of dreadful--but of
majestic and beautiful night we were later to know, and to love with so
changed and grave a passion.

It was just after we had crossed the Rond-Point that the first seven or
eight bombs in swift even succession shatteringly fell. They were not
near enough to us to do more than root us to the spot with amazement.

"What the _hell_?" muttered Dalton, holding my eyes....

Then, very far off, a curious thin wailing noise began, increasing
rapidly, rising to an eerie scream which doubled and redoubled in volume
as it was taken up in other quarters and came to us in intricately
rhythmic waves.

"Sirens," said Dalton. "The _pompiers_ are out. I guess they've come,
damn them, eh?"

"Seems so," I answered. "Yes; there go the lights. I must get to Neuilly
at once--a sick friend. So long, old man."

"Hold on!" he called after me. "Don't be an ass!"

To my impatient annoyance, for they impeded my progress, knots of people
had sprung everywhere from the darkness and were standing now in open
spots, in the full moonlight, murmuring together, as they stared with
backward-craned necks up into the spotless sky....

So, with crashing, sinister, unresolved chords, began the Straussian
overture to the great Boche symphony, _Gott Strafe Paris_, played to its
impotent conclusion throughout those bitter spring months of the year of
our wonderment, 1918! Ninety-one bombs were dropped that night within
the old fortifications; more than two hundred were showered on the
_banlieue_. No subsequent raid was to prove equally destructive of
property or life, and it was disturbingly evident that, for the time
being at least, the shadowy air lanes to Paris lay broadly open to the
foe.

Yet, for some reason unexplained, the Gothas did not immediately or
soon return. Followed a hush of rather more than a month, during which
Paris worked breathlessly to improve its air defenses and protect its
more precious monuments. Comically ugly little sausage-balloons--gorged
caterpillars, they seemed, raw yellow with pale green articulations and
loathsome, floppy appendages--were moored in the squares and public
gardens; mountains of sand bags were heaped about the Triumphal Arch and
before the portals of Notre Dame; spies were hunted out, proclamations
issued, the entrance ways to deep cellars were placarded; and Night,
that long-exiled princess, came back to us, royally, in full mourning
robes. In her honor all windows were doubly curtained, all street lamps
extinguished, or dimmed with paint to a heavy blue. We invoked the
august amplitude of darkness and would gladly have banished the trivial
prying moon, seeing her at last in true colors for the sinister corpse
light of heaven which she is. No one, I think, was deceived by this
lengthening interval of calm. Why the Gothas did not at once return,
what restrained them from following up their easy triumph, we could not
guess; but we knew they would come again, would come many times....

Meanwhile, for most of us who dwelt there, life went on as before,
busily enough; but for one of us--as for how many another--this no
longer mattered.

Brave little Jeanne-Marie Valérie Josephine Aulard, on that night of
anguish, died in giving premature birth to Jimmy's son, James Aulard
Kane--as Susan later named him: for this wizened, unready morsel of
man's flesh, in spite of every disadvantage attending his début and
first motherless weeks on earth, clung with the characteristic tenacity
of his parents to his one obvious line of duty, which was merely to keep
alive in despite of fortune: a duty he somehow finally accomplished to
his own entire satisfaction and to the blessed relief of Susan and of
me. But I shall never forget my first pitiful introduction to James
Aulard Kane.

After leaving Dalton, that night, I had finally made my way to Susan's
hospital on foot, which I had soon found to be the one practicable means
of locomotion. It was a long walk, and it brought me in due course into
the Avenue de la Grande Armée, just in time to receive the full
stampeding effect of the three bombs which fell there, the nearest of
them not four hundred yards distant from me. I am by no means
instinctively intrepid; quite the contrary; I shy like a skittish horse
in the presence of danger, and my first authentic impulse is always to
cut and run. On this occasion, by the time I had mastered this impulse,
I had placed a good six hundred yards between me and that ill-fated
building, whose stone-faced upper floors had been riven and hurled down
to the broad avenue below. Then, shamefacedly enough, I turned and
forced myself back toward that smoking ruin.

Our American ambulances from Neuilly were already arriving--the
_pompiers_ came later--and the police lines were being drawn. A civilian
spectator, even though a captain of the Red Cross, could render no real
assistance; so much, after certain futile efforts on my part, was made
clear to me, profanely, in a Middle Western accent, by a young
stretcher-bearer whose course I had clumsily impeded. Clouds of
lung-choking dust, milk-white as the moon's full rays played upon them,
rolled over us--the subdued crowd that gathered slowly, oblivious of
further danger. The air was full of whispered rumor--throughout Paris
hundreds--thousands, said some--had already died. We were keyed to
believe the wildest exaggerations, to accept the worst that excited
imaginations could invent for us. Yet there was no panic; no one gave
way to hysterical outcry; and the fall of more distant bombs brought
only a deep common groan, compounded of growling imprecations--a groan
truly of defiance and loathing, into which neither fear nor pity for the
victims of this frightfulness could find room to enter. I cursed with
the rest, instinctively, from the pit of my stomach, and turned raging
away; my whole being ached, was congested with rage. For the first time
in my life I then felt in its full hell-born fury that passion so often
named, but so seldom experienced by civilized--or what we call
civilized--man: the passion of _hate_.

By the time I had reached the hospital the raid was over; the air was
droning from the bronze vibrations of hundreds of bells, all the
church-bells of Paris, full-throated, calling forth their immediate
surface messages of cheer, their deeper message of courage and
constancy.

Though it was very late, I found a silent group of four nurses standing
in the heavily shadowed street before the shut doors of this small
civilian hospital; they were still staring up fixedly at the
silver-bright sky. They proved to be day-nurses off duty, and among them
was Mademoiselle Annette. She greeted me now as an old friend, and
brushing rules and regulations aside like a true Frenchwoman took me at
once to Susan. I found that Susan had risen from bed and was seated at
her window, which looked out across the winter-bare hospital garden.

"Ambo," she exclaimed impatiently, "why did you come here! I'm so used
to all this. But Jeanne-Marie, Ambo--in her condition! I've been hoping
so you would think of her--go to her!"

Then what fatuous devil--was it my old familiar demon?--put it into my
heart to say: "So you haven't been worrying, dear, about me?"

"About you!" she cried. "Good God, no! What does it matter about you--or
me! This generation's done for, Ambo. Only the children count now--the
children. We must save them--all of them--somehow. It's up to them--to
Jimmy's son with the rest! They've got to wipe us out, clear the slate
of us and all our insanities! They've got to pass over the wreck of us
and rebuild a happy, intelligible world!"

She rose, seized my arm, and summoning all her strength thrust me from
her toward the door....


VI

It was well on toward three o'clock in the morning when at last I stood
before the black, close-shuttered shop-front of the Vve. Guyot. I was
desperately weary, having of necessity walked all the way. It was, as I
had fully realized while almost stumbling along toward my goal, a crazy
errand. I should find a dark, silent house, and I should then stumble
back through dark, silent streets to my dark, silent hotel. The shop of
the Widow Guyot was a very little shop on a very narrow street, a mere
slit between high, ancient buildings--a slit filled now with the dense
river-mist that shrouds from the experience of Parisians all the
renewing wonders of clear-eyed dawn. The moon had set, or else hung too
veiled and low for this pestilent alley; in spite of a thick military
overcoat I shivered with cold; the flat, sour smell of ill-flushed
gutters caught at my throat. To this abomination of desolation I had,
with no little difficulty, found my way. Thank God I could turn now,
with a good conscience, and fumble back to the warm oblivion of bed.

I paused a moment, however, to draw up the collar of my overcoat to my
ears and fasten it securely; and, doing so, I was aware of the scrape
and clink of metal on metal; then the shop-door right before me was
shaken and jarred open from within. The fluttering rays of a candle,
tremulously held, surprised and for an instant blinded me; faintly
luminous green and red balloons wheeled swiftly in contracting circles,
then coalesced to a flickering point of light. The candle was held by an
old, stout woman with a loose-jowled, bruised-looking face; a face
somehow sensual and hard in spite of its bloated antiquity. A shrunken,
thin-bearded man in a long black coat stood beside her, holding a black
hand-bag. The two were conversing in tones deliberately muted, but broke
off and stared outward as the candle-light discovered me in the narrow
street.

"Ah, M'sieu, one sees, is American; he has perhaps lost his way?" piped
the thin-bearded man, pretty sharply. He, too, was old.

"But no," I replied; "I am here precisely on behalf of my friend,
Lieutenant Kane."

At this name the old woman began, only to check, a half-startled squawk,
lifting her candle as she did so and peering more intently at me. "At
this hour, m'sieu?" she demanded huskily. "What could bring you at such
an hour?"

"Do I address the Widow Guyot?" I was quick to respond.

"_Oui, m'sieu._"

"Then, permit me to explain." As briefly as possible I told her who I
was; that I had but very recently learned of the presence of Jimmy's
wife in Paris, with a relative--learned that she was awaiting the birth
of her first child at the house of this excellent woman. "It was my
intention to call soon, madame, in any case, and make myself
known--feeling there might prove to be many little services a friend
would be only too happy to render. But, after this terrible raid, I
found it impossible to retire with an easy mind--at least, until I had
assured myself that all was well with you here."

On this there came a pause, and the thin-bearded man cleared his throat
diligently several times.

"The truth is, m'sieu," he finally hazarded, "that your apprehension was
only too just. You arrive at a house of mourning, m'sieu. You arrive, as
I did, alas--too late! This poor Madame Kane you would inquire for is
dead. The child, on the contrary, still lives."

"Enter, m'sieu," said the Widow Guyot. "We can discuss these things
more commodiously within. Doubtless, otherwise, we shall receive
attentions from the police; they are nervous to-night. Naturally." She
seemed, I thought--in the utter blank depression which had seized me
with the doctor's words--offensively calm. Whether, had a doctor been
more quickly obtainable, or a more skillful practitioner at last
obtained, little Jeanne-Marie's life might have been spared, I am unable
to say. I feel certain, however, that the Widow Guyot--under difficult,
not to say terrifying circumstances--had kept a cool head, done her
best. I exonerate her from all blame. But I add this: Never in my life
have I met elsewhere a woman who seemed to me to possess such
cold-blooded possibilities for evil. Yet, so far as I know to this hour,
her life has always been and now continues industrious and thrifty;
harmless before the law. I have absolutely "nothing on her"--nothing but
an impression I shall never be rid of, which even now returns to chill
me in nights of insomnia: a sense of having met in life one woman whose
eyes may now and then have watered from dust or wind, but could never
under any circumstances conceivably human have known tears. Other women,
too many of them, have bored or exasperated me with maudlin or trivial
tears; but never before or since have I met a woman who _could_ not
weep. It is a fixed idea with me that the Widow Guyot could not; and the
idea haunts and troubles me strangely--though why it should, I am too
casual a psychologist even to guess.

At her heels, I crossed a small cluttered shop, following the tremulous
flame of the candle through a fantastic shadow dance; Doctor
Pollain--who had given me his name with the deprecating cough of one who
knows himself either unpleasantly notorious or hopelessly
obscure--shuffled behind us. Madame Guyot opened an inner door. Light
from the room beyond tempered a little the vagueness about me and
ghostily revealed a huddle of ecclesiastical trumpery--rows of thin,
pale-yellow tapers; small crucifixes of plaster or base-metal gilded; a
stand of picture post-cards; a table littered with lesser gimcracks. The
direct rays from Madame Guyot's candle, as she turned a moment in the
doorway, wanly illuminated the blue-coiffed, vapid face of a bisque
Virgin; gave for that instant a half-flicker, as of just-stirring life,
to her mannered, meaningless smile.

The room beyond proved to be a good-sized bedroom, its one window
muffled by heavy stuff-curtains of a dull magenta red. A choking,
composite odor--I detected the sick pungency of chloroform--emerged from
it. I plunged to enter, and for a second instinctively held my breath.
On the great walnut double-bed lay a still figure covered with a sheet;
the proper candles twinkled at head and foot. But it is needless to
describe these things....

It was in a smaller room beyond, a combined living-and-dining room,
stodgily ugly, but comfortable enough as well, that I first made the
acquaintance of James Aulard Kane. What I saw was a great roll of
blankets in a deep boxlike cradle, and in the depths of a deeply dented
feather pillow a tiny, wrinkled monkey-face, a miniature grotesque. The
small knife-slit that served him for mouth opened and shut slowly and
continuously, as if feebly gasping for difficult breath. He gave not
even one faint encouraging cry. I turned to Doctor Pollain, shaking my
head.

"But no!" he exclaimed. "For an eight-months child, look you--he has
vigor! I am sure he will live."

"Then, for his father's sake," I replied, "we must take no chances!
Isn't there a maternity hospital in the neighborhood where he can
receive the close attention that you, madame, at your age, with your
responsibilities, ought not to be expected to give? I make myself fully
responsible for any and all charges involved. Understand me, madame, and
you, M. le Médecin, I insist that no stone shall be left unturned!"

These words produced, at once a grateful change in the
atmosphere--hitherto, I had felt, ever so slightly hostile. It is
unnecessary to follow our further negotiations to their entirely
amicable close. Half an hour later I left the shop of the Widow Guyot,
satisfied that Doctor Pollain would assist her to make all needful
arrangements, and promising to get into communication as soon as it
could be managed with "M. Jee-mee." I should return, I told them,
certainly, before noon.

But for Jimmy's sake, on leaving, I raised a corner of the sheet
covering the face of Jeanne-Marie. It was a peaceful face. If she had
lately suffered, death now had quietly smoothed from her all but a
lasting restfulness. A good little woman, I mused, of the best type
provincial France offers; sensible, yet ardent; practical, yet kind. As
I looked down at her, the meaningless smile of the bisque Madonna in the
shop without returned to me, simpered for a half-second before me....
The symbols men made--and sold--commercial symbols! The Mother of
Sorrows, a Chinese toy! Well....

"One thing troubles me," said the Widow Guyot at my elbow, in her
husky, passionless voice: "She did not receive the last rites, m'sieu.
When the bad turn came, it was not possible for us to leave her. You
will understand that. There was a new life, was there not? Assuredly,
though, I am troubled; I regret that this should have happened to _me_.
It will be a great cause for scandal, m'sieu--when you consider my
connections--the nature of my little affairs. But, name of God, that
will pass; one explains these things with a certain success, and my age
favors me. I bear, God be praised, a good name; and in the proper
quarters, m'sieu. But--the poor little one! Observe m'sieu, that she
clasps a crucifix on her breast. Be so good as to remember that I placed
it in her hands--an instant before she died."


VII

It is an artistic fault in real life that it deals so frequently in
coincidence, to the casting of suspicion upon those who report it
veraciously. On the very night that Jeanne-Marie died, probably within
the very hour that she died, Jimmy was shot down, while taking part in a
bombing expedition; the plane he was conducting was seen, by crews of
the two other bombing-planes in the formation, to burst into flames
after a direct hit from an anti-aircraft battery, which had been firing
persistently, though necessarily at haphazard, up toward the bumble-bee
hum of French motors--so betrayingly unlike the irregular guttural growl
of the German machines.

Throughout the following morning I had been attempting, with the
indispensable aid of my old friend, Colonel ----, of the French war
office, to get into telegraphic communication with the commander of
Jimmy's _esquadrille_; but it was noon, or very nearly, before this
unexpected word came to us. And when it came, I found myself unable to
believe it.

In the very spirit of Assessor Brack, "Things don't happen like that!" I
kept insisting. "It's too improbable. I must wait for further
verification. We shall see, colonel, there's been an error in names;
some mistake." I was stubborn about it. Simply, for Susan's sake, I
could not admit the possibility that Jimmy was dead.

During the midday pause I hurriedly made my way to the Widow Guyot's
little shop. The baby had already been taken to the Hospice de la
Maternité--the old Convent of Port Royal, near the cemetery of
Montparnasse. He had stood the trip well, Madame Guyot assured me, and
would undoubtedly win through to a ripe old age. A priest was present. I
told Madame Guyot to arrange with him for a proper funeral and interment
for Jeanne-Marie, and was at once informed that the skilled assistants
of a local director of _pompes funébres_ were even then at work,
embalming her mortal remains.

"So much, at least, m'sieu," said Madame Guyot, "I knew her husband
would desire; and I relied on your suggestion that no expense need be
spared. I have stipulated for a funeral of the first class"--a specific
thing in France; so many carriages with black horses, so many plumes of
such a quality, and so on--"it only remains to acquire a site for the
poor little one's grave. This, too, M'sieu le Capitaine, you may safely
leave to my discretion; but we must together fix on a day and hour for
the ceremonies. Is it yet known when this poor Lieutenant Kane will
arrive in Paris?"

No, it was not yet known; I should be able to inform her, I hazarded,
before nightfall; and I thanked her for the pains she was taking, and
again assured her that the financial question was of no importance. As I
said this, the priest, a dry wisp of manhood, softly drew nearer and
slightly moistened his thin-set lips; but he did not speak. Possibly
Madame Guyot spoke for him.

"At such times, m'sieu," she replied, "one does what one can. But
naturally--that is understood. One is not an only relative for nothing,
m'sieu. The heart speaks. True, I have hitherto been put to certain
expenses for which the poor little one had promised to reimburse me----"

I hastened to assure her that she had only to present this account to
me in full, and we parted with mutual though secret contempt, and with
every sanctified expression of esteem. Then I returned to the cabinet of
my friend, Colonel ----.

By three o'clock in the afternoon a brief telegram from Jimmy's
commander was brought to us; it removed every possibility of doubt, even
from my obdurate mind. Jimmy had "gone West" once for all, and this time
"West" was not even a geographical expression.... I sat silent for
perhaps five slowly passing minutes in the presence of Colonel ----,
until I was aware of a somewhat amazed scrutiny from tired, heavily
pouched blue eyes.

"You feel this deeply," he observed, "and I--I feel nothing, except a
vague sympathy for you, _mon ami_. Accept, without phrases, I beg you,
all that a sad old man has left to give."

I rose, thanked him warmly for the trouble he had taken on my behalf,
and left him to his endless, disheartening labors. France was in danger;
he knew that France was in danger. What to him, in those days, was one
young life more or less? He himself had lost three sons in the war....

But how was I to let fall this one blow more, this heaviest blow of
all, upon Susan? It was that which had held me silent in my chair,
inhibiting all will to rise and begin the next needful step. Yes, it was
that; I was thinking of Susan, not of Jimmy. For me in those days, I
fear, the world consisted of Susan, and of certain negligible
phantoms--the remainder of the human race. It is not an _état d'âme_
that Susan admires, or that I much admire; but in those days it was
certainly mine. And this is the worst of a lonely passion: the more one
loves in secret, without fulfillment--and however unselfishly--the more
one excludes. Life contracts to a vivid, hypnotizing point; all else is
shadow. In the name of our common humanity, there is a good deal to be
said for those who are fickle or frankly pagan, who love more lightly,
and more easily forget. But enough of all this! Phil with his steady
wisdom might philosophize it to some purpose; not I.

In my uncertainty of mind, then, the first step that I took was an
absurdly false one. There was just one thing for me to do, and I did not
do it. I should have gone straight to Susan and told her about Jimmy and
Jeanne-Marie; above all, about James Aulard Kane. Even if Susan, as I
then supposed, loved Jimmy, and had always loved him--knowing her as I
did, loving her as I did, I should have felt instinctively that this was
the one wise and kind, the one possible thing to do. Yet a sudden
weakness, born of innate cowardice, betrayed me.

I went, instead, direct to the Hotel Crillon and sent up my card to Miss
Leslie; it struck me as fortunate that I found her just returned to her
rooms from a visit to Susan. It was really a calamity. I had seen her
several times there, at the hospital; I liked her; and I knew that Susan
had now no more devoted friend. She received me cordially, and I at once
laid all the facts before her and--with an entirely sincere
humbleness--asked her advice. But God, in the infinite variety of his
creations, had never intended Mona Leslie to shine by reason of insight
or common sense; she had other qualities! And this, too, I should easily
have discerned. Why I did not, can only be explained by a sort of
prostration of all my faculties, which had come upon me with the events
of the night and morning just past. I was inert, body and soul; I could
not think; I felt like a child in the sweep of dark forces it cannot
struggle against and does not understand; in effect, I was for the time
being a stricken, credulous child. Perhaps no grown man, not definitely
insane, has ever touched a lower stratum of spiritual debility than I
then sank to--resting there, grateful, fatuously content, as if on firm
ground. In short, I was a plain and self-damned fool.

It seemed to me, I remember, during our hour's talk together, that Miss
Leslie was one of the two or three wisest, most understanding, and
sympathetic persons I had ever met. Sympathetic, she genuinely was; very
gracious and interestingly melancholy, in her Belgian nurse's costume,
with King Albert's decoration pinned to her breast. It seemed to me that
she divined my thoughts before I uttered them; as perhaps she did--for
to call them thoughts is to dignify vague sensations with a misleading
name. Miss Leslie had had always, I am now aware, an instinctive
response for vague sensations; she had always vibrated to them like a
harp, thus surrounding herself with an odd, whispering music. A strange
woman; not without nobility and force when the appropriate vague
sensations played upon her. The sufferings of war had already wrung from
her a wild, æolian masterpiece, more moving perhaps than a consciously
ordered symphony. And Susan, though she had never so much as guessed at
Susan, was one of her passions! Susan played on us both that day: though
the mawkish music we made would have disgusted her--did disgust her in
its final effects, as it has finally disgusted me.

What these effects were can be briefly told, but not briefly enough to
comfort me. There is no second page of this record I should be so happy
not to write.

Miss Leslie had long suspected, she told me, that Susan--like Viola's
hypothetical sister--was pining in thought for a secret, unkind lover,
and she at once accepted as a certainty my suggestion that so gallant a
young aviator as Jimmy had been what "glorious Jane" always calls her
"object."

"This must be kept from her, Mr. Hunt, at all costs--for the next few
weeks, I mean! She's simply not strong enough yet, not poised enough, to
bear it--with all the rest! It would be cruelty to tell her now, and
might prove murderous. Oh, believe me, Mr. Hunt--I _know_!"

Her cocksure intensity could not fail to impress me in my present state
of deadness; I listened as if to oracles. Then we conspired together.

"My lease of the villa at Mentone runs on till May," said Miss Leslie.
"Susan's physically able for the journey now, I think; we must take that
risk anyway. I'll get the doctors to order her down there with me, at
once. She needs the change, the peace; above all--the _beauty_ of it.
She's starved for beauty, poor soul! And there's the possibility of
further raids, too; she mustn't in her condition be exposed to that.
When she's stronger, Mr. Hunt--after she's had a few happy weeks--then
I'll tell her everything, in my own way. Women can do these things, you
know; they have an instinct for the right moment, the right words."

"You are proving that now," I said. Every word she had spoken was balm
to me. Everything could be put off--put off.... To put things off
indefinitely, hide them out of sight, dodge them somehow! Why, she was
voicing the one weary cry of my soul!

And so, within three days, this supreme folly was accomplished. Mona
Leslie and I stole across the river in secret to little Jeanne-Marie's
meagerly attended "funeral of the first class," and with Madame Guyot,
Doctor Pollain, and a few casual neighbors, we followed her coffin from
the vast drafty dreariness of St. Sulpice to the wintry, crowded alleys
of the cemetery of Montparnasse.--That very evening Susan left with Miss
Leslie for Mentone.

She was glad enough to go, she said, for a week or two. "But Ambo--what
shall I say to Jimmy? Will he ever forgive me for not having been able
to make friends, first, with Jeanne-Marie? And it's all your fault,
dear; you must tell him that--say you've been downright cross with me
about it. I wish now I hadn't listened to you; I feel perfectly well
to-night; I've no business to be starting on a holiday. But I shan't
stay long, Ambo. I'll be back in Paris before little Jimmy arrives; I
promise you that. And here's a letter to post, dear; I've said so in it
to Jeanne-Marie."

       *       *       *       *       *

A dark train drew out of a dark station. With it went Hope, the shadow,
silently, from my heart....


VIII

The days passed. Mentone, Miss Leslie wrote me, was doing everything
for Susan that we had desired. "But she is determined," she added, "to
be back in Paris by the last week of February--when the baby was
expected. She begins to be bothered that you write so scrappily and
vaguely, and that she hears nothing directly from Lieutenant Kane or
Jeanne-Marie. I shall have to tell her soon now, in any case. It seems
more difficult as I come nearer to it, but I still feel sure we have
done the right thing. I'm certain now that Susan will be able to face
and bear it. Already she's full of plans for the future--wonderful!
Possibly, if an opportunity offers, I shall tell her to-night."

The next afternoon my telephone rang. When I answered it, Susan spoke to
me. "Ambo," she said, "I'm at the France-et-Choiseul. Please come over
at once, no matter how busy you are. You owe that much to me, I think."
She had hung up the receiver before I could stammer a reply.

But nothing more was necessary. I went to her as a criminal goes to
confession, knowing at last how hideously in her eyes I had sinned.

"You _meant_ well, Ambo," she said with a gentleness that yielded
nothing--"you and Mona. Meaning well's what I feel now I can never quite
forgive you. _You_, Ambo. Poor Mona doesn't count in this. But you--I
thought I was safe with you. No matter."

Later she said: "I've seen Madame Guyot--a horrible woman; and the baby.
He's a nice baby. You did just right about him, Ambo. Thank you for
that." She mused a moment. "I suppose it's absurd to think he looks like
Jimmy? But to me he does. I'm going to adopt him, Ambo. You see"--her
smile was wistful--"I _am_ going to have a baby of my own, after all."

"I'd thought of adopting him, myself," I babbled; "but of course----"

"Of course," said Susan.

In so many subtle ways she had made it clear to me. I had disappointed
her; revealed a blindness, a weakness, she would never be able to
forget. In my hotel room that night I faced it out and accepted my
punishment as just. Just--but terrible.... There is nothing in life so
terrible as to know oneself utterly and finally alone.


IX

On the night of the eighth of March the Gothas, so long expected,
returned; to be met this time by a persistent _barrage_ fire from massed
75's, which proved, however, little more than the good beginnings of a
really competent defense. Many bombs fell within the fortifications, and
we who dwelt there needed no other proof that the problem of the defense
of Paris against air raids had not yet successfully been solved.

There were thickening rumors, too, of an imminent German attack in
force. Things were not going well at the Front. It was common gossip
that there was division among the Allies; the British and French
commands were pulling at cross purposes; Italy seemed impotent; Russia
had collapsed; the Americans were unknown factors, and slow to arrive.
It began to seem possible--to the disaffected or naturally pessimistic,
more than possible--that the Prussian mountebank might make good his
anachronistic boast to wear down and conquer the world.

Even the weather seemed to fight for his pinchbeck empire; it was
continuously dry, and for the season in Northern France extraordinarily
clear. By its painful contrast with our common anxieties, the
unseasonable beauty of those March days and nights weighted as if with
lead the sense of threat, of impending calamity, that pressed upon us
and chilled us and made desperate our hearts.

I saw Susan daily. She did not avoid me and was never unkind, but I
felt that she took little comfort or pleasure from my society. Mona
Leslie, rather huffed than chastened, I fear, by Susan's quiet
aloofness, had returned to her duties at Dunkirk. I was glad to have her
go, to be rid of the embarrassment of her explanations and counsel--to
be rid, above all, of the pointedly sympathetic and pitying pressure of
her hand. Except for a slight limp, Susan now got about freely and was
busily engaged with our Red Cross directors on plans for a nursing-home
for the children of repatriated refugees--a home where these little
victims of frightfulness and malnutrition could be built up again into
happy soundness of body and mind, into the vigorous life-stuff needed
for the future of France and of the world. A too-medieval château at
----, in Provence, had been offered; and plans for its immediate
alteration and modernization were being drawn.

The whole thing, from the first, had been Susan's idea, and she was to
have charge of it all--once the required plant was ready--as became its
creator. But indeed, in the interim, she had simply taken charge of our
Red Cross architects and buyers and builders and engineers, and was
sweeping things forward with a tactful but exceedingly high hand. She
meant that the interim should be, if possible, brief.

"I want results," said Susan; "we can discuss the rules we've broken
afterward. The children are fading out _now_, and some of them will be
dead or hopelessly withered before we can aid them. Let's get some kind
of home and get it running; with a couple of good doctors, an
orthopedist, a dental expert, and the right nurses--and I'll pick
_them_, please!--we can make out somehow, 'most anywhere."

There was no standing against her. It was presently plain to all of us
in the Paris headquarters that this nursing home was to be put through,
in record time, Germans or no Germans, and no matter who fell by the
wayside! And, in spite of my natural anxiety, I was soon convinced that
whoever fell, it would not be Susan--not, at least, till the clear flame
of her spirit had burned out the oil of her energy to its last granted
drop.

In the rare intervals of these labors, she was arranging for the legal
adoption of James Aulard Kane. No step of this kind is easily arranged
in bureaucratic France. It is a difficult land to be legally born in or
married in, or to die in--if one wishes to do these things, at least,
with a certain decency, _en règle_.

Susan complained to me of this, wittily scornful, as we left the Red
Cross headquarters together on the evening of March eleventh, and
started toward her hotel down the dusky colonnade of the Rue de Rivoli.

"I'm worn out with them all!" she exclaimed. "All I want is to take care
of Jimmy's baby, and you'd think I was plotting to upset the government.
I shall, too, if some of these French officials don't presently exhibit
more common sense. It _ought_ to be upset--and simplified. Oh, I wish I
lived in a woman's republic, Ambo! Things would happen there, even if
they were wrong! No woman has patience enough to be bureaucratic."

"True," I chimed; "and you're right about men, all round. We're hopeless
incompetents at statecraft and such things, at running a reasonable
world--but we _can_ cook! And what you need for a change from all this
is a good dinner--a real dinner! It will renew your faith in the eternal
masculine--and we haven't had a bat, Susan, or talked nonsense, for
years and years! Come on, dear! Let's have a perfectly shameless bat
to-night and damn the consequences! What do you say?"

"I say--damn the consequences, Ambo! Let's! Why, I'd forgotten there was
such a thing as a bat left in the world!"

"But there is! Look--there's even a taxi to begin on!"

I hailed it; I even secured it; and we were presently clanking and
grinding on our way--in what must have been an authentic relic from the
First Battle of the Marne--toward the one restaurant in Paris. Unto each
man, native or alien, who knows his Paris, God grants but one, though it
is never the same. Well, I make no secret about it; my passion is deep
and openly proclaimed. For me, the one restaurant in Paris is
_Lapérouse_; I am long past discussing the claims of rivals. It
is--simply and finally--_Lapérouse_....

We descended before an ancient, dingy building on the Quai des
Grands-Augustins, passed through a cramped doorway into a tiny, ill-lit
foyer, climbed a steep narrow stairs, and were presently installed in a
corner of the small corner dining-room, with our backs neighborly
against the wall. In this room there happened that night to be but one
other diner; a small, bloated, bullet-headed civilian, with prominent
staring eyes; a man of uncertain age, but nearing fifty at a guess. We
paid little attention to him at first, though it soon became evident to
us that he was enjoying a Pantagruelian banquet in lonely state,
deliberately gorging himself with the richest and most incongruously
varied food. _Comme boissons_, he had always before him two bottles, one
of _Château Yquem_ and one of _Fine Champagne_; and he alternated gulps
of thick yellow sweetness with drams of neat brandy. Neither seemed to
produce upon him any perceptible effect, though he emitted from time to
time moist porcine snufflings of fleshy satisfaction. Rather a
disgusting little man, we decided; and so dismissed him....

To the ordering of our own dinner I gave a finicky care which greatly
amused Susan, for whom food, I regret to say, has always remained an
indifferent matter; it is the one æsthetic flaw in her otherwise so
delicately organized being. In spite of every effort on my part to
educate her palate, five or six nibbles at almost anything edible
remains her idea of a banquet--provided the incidental talk prove
sufficiently companionable or stimulating.

That night, however, do what we would, our talk together was neither
precisely the one nor the other. We both, rather desperately, I think,
made a supreme effort to approximate the free affectionate chatter of
old days; but such things never come of premeditation, and there were
ghosts at the table with us. It would not work.

"Oh, what's the use, Ambo!" Susan finally exclaimed, with a weary sigh.
"We can't do it this way! Sister's here, and Jeanne-Marie--as close to
me as if I had seen her and known her always; and maybe--Phil. But
Jimmy's here most of all! There's no use pretending we're forgetting,
when we're not. You and I aren't built for forgetting, Ambo. We'll never
forget."

"No, dear; we'll never forget."

"Let's _remember_, then," said Susan; "remember all we can."

For a long hour thereafter we rather mused together than conversed.
Constraint slipped from us, as those we had best loved came back to us,
warm and near and living in our thoughts of them. No taint of false
sentiment, of sorrow willfully indulged, marred these memories. Trying
to be happy we had failed; now, strangely, we came near to joy.

"We haven't lost them!" exclaimed Susan. "Not any part of them; we never
can."

"They haven't lost us, then?"

"No"--she pondered it--"they haven't lost us."

"You mean it, Susan--literally? You believe they still live--_out
there_?"

"And you?"

"I don't know."

"Poor Ambo," murmured Susan; then, with a quick, dancing gleam: "But as
Jimmy'd say, dear, you can just take it from _me_!"

She spoke of him as if present beside her. A silence fell between us and
deepened.

The small, bullet-headed man had just paid his extravagant bill,
distributed his largesse, and was about to depart. He was being helped
into a sumptuous overcoat, with a deep collar of what I took to be
genuine Russian sables. There was nothing in his officiously tended
leave-taking to stir my interest; my eyes rested on him idly for a
moment, that was all. The head waiter, two under-waiters, and a solemn
little buttons followed him out to the stair-head, with every expression
of gratitude and esteem. Passing from sight, he passed from my thoughts,
leaving with me only a vague physical repulsion that barely outlasted
his departure.

"Do you know what I think Phil has done?" Susan was asking.

"Phil?" The name had startled me back to attention.

"I believe he's made himself one of them--the peasants, I mean--in some
remote, dirty, half-starved Russian village."

"Why? That's an odd fancy, dear. And it isn't much like him. Phil's too
clear-headed, or stiff-headed, for such mysticism."

"How little you really know him, then," she replied. "He's been steering
since birth, I feel, toward some great final renunciation. I believe
he's made it, now. You'll see, Ambo. Some day we'll hear of a new
prophet, away there in the East--where all our living dreams come from!
You'll see!"

"'In Vishnu-land what Avatar?'" I quoted, smiling sadly enough; and
Susan's smile wistfully echoed mine, even while she raised a warning
finger at me.

"Oh, you of little faith!" she said quite simply.


X

We had barely stepped out from the narrow doorway of the restaurant into
a tenuous, moon-saturated mist, a low-lying diaphaneity that left the
upper air-lanes openly clear, when the sirens were wailing again from
every quarter of the city....

"They're coming early to-night!" I exclaimed. "Well, that ends all hope
for a taxi home! We must find an _abri_."

"Nonsense! We'll walk quietly back along the river. Unless"--she teased
me--"you really _are_ afraid, Ambo?"

I tucked her arm firmly into mine. "So you won't stumble, _Mlle. la
Réformée_!"

"But it is a nuisance to be lame!" she protested: "I do envy you your
two good legs, _M. le Capitaine_."

We made our way slowly along the embankment, passing the Pont des Arts,
and two shadowy lovers paced on before us, blotted together, oblivious
of the long, eerie rise and fall of the sirens; every twenty yards or so
they stopped in their tracks, as by a common impulsion, and were
momentarily lost to time in a passionate embrace.

Neither Susan nor I spoke of these lovers, who turned aside to pass
under the black arches of the Institute, into the Rue de Seine....

As we neared the Pont du Carrousel the _barrage_ began, at first distant
and muffled--the outer guns; then suddenly and grimly nearer. An
incessant twinkle of tiny star-white points--the bursts of
high-explosive shells--drifted toward us from the north. So light was
the mist, it did not obscure them; it barely dimmed the moon.

"Hold on!" I said, checking Susan; "this is something new! They're
firing to-night straight across Paris." The glitter of star-points
seemed in a moment to fill all the northern sky; the noise of the
_barrage_ trebled, trebled again.

"Why, it's drum fire!" cried Susan. "Oh, how beautiful!"

"Yes; but we'll get on faster, all the same! I'll help you! Come!"

I put my arm firmly about her waist and almost lifted her along with me.
By the time we had reached the Pont Royal, the high-explosive bursts
were directly over us; the air rocked with them. I detected, too, at
intervals, another more ominous sound--that deep, pulsing growl which no
one having once heard it could ever mistake.

"Gothas," I growled back at them, "flying low. They've ducked under the
guns!"

And instantly I swung Susan across the open _quai_ to the left and
plunged with her up an inky defile, the Rue du Bac.

"Where are you taking me?" she demanded, half breathless, dragging
against my arm.

"To the first available _abri_," I cried at her, under the sky's
reckless tumult. "Don't stop to argue about it!"

But she halted me right by the corner of the Rue de Lille. "If it's
going to be a bad raid, Ambo, I must get to Jimmy's baby--I _must_!"

"Impossible! It's at least two miles--and this isn't going to be a
picnic, Susan! You're coming with _me_!" I tightened my arm about her;
every instant now I expected the shattering climax of the bombs.

Then, just as we crossed the Rue de Lille, something halted me in my
turn. About a hundred yards at my right, down toward the Gare D'Orsay,
and from the very middle of the black street-chasm, a keen, bladelike
ray of light flashed once and again--sharp, vertical
rapier-thrusts--straight up through the thin mist-veil into the
treacherous sky. Followed, doubtless from a darkened upper window, a
woman's frantic shriek: "_Espion--espion!_"

Pistol shots next--and rough cries--and a pounding charge of feet....
Right into my arms he floundered, and I tackled him and fell with him to
the cobbles and fought him there blindly, feeling for his throat. This
lasted but a moment. Gendarmes tore us apart, in a brief crossing flash
of electric-torches--and I caught just one glimpse of a bare
bullet-head, of a bloated, discolored face, of prominent staring eyes,
maddened by fear. There could be no mistake. It was our little man of
the Pantagruelian banquet. We had watched him eating his last fabulous
meal--his farewell to Egypt.

And that is all I just then clearly remember.... I am told that nine
bombs fell in a sweeping circle throughout this district; one of them,
in the very courtyard of the War Office; one of them--of 300
kilos--perhaps a square from where we stood. There was a rush past of
hurtling fragments--glass, chimney-tiles, chips of masonry, _que
sais-je_?--and even this I report only because I have been credibly so
informed.

What next I experienced was pain, unlocalized at first, yet somehow
damnably concentrated: pure, white-hot essence of pain. And through the
stiff hell of it I was, and was not, aware of someone--some one--some
_one_--murmuring love and pity and mortal anguish....

"Ambo--you wouldn't leave me--not you! Not you, Ambo--not alone...."

The pain dimmed off from me in an ebbing, dull-red wave; great coils of
palpable darkness swirled down upon me to smother me; I struggled to
rise from beneath them--fling them off.... From an infinite distance, a
woman's cry threaded through them, like a needle through mufflings of
wool, and pricked me to an instant, a single instant, of clear
consciousness. I opened my eyes on Susan's; I strove to answer them,
tell her I understood. Susan says that I did answer them--that I even
smiled. But I can feel back now only to a vast sinking away, depth under
depth under depth, down--down--down--down....


XI

The rest, however, I thank God, is not yet silence; though it is high
time to make an end of this long and all too faulty record.

They did various things to me at the hospital, from time to time; they
removed hard substances from me that were distinctly out of place in my
interior; they also removed certain portions of my authentic
anatomy--three fingers of my left hand, among others, and my left leg to
the knee. This was not in itself agreeable, and I shall always regret
their loss; yet those weeks of progressive operation and tardy
recuperation were, up to that period, the happiest, the most fulfilled
weeks of my life. And surely egotism can go no farther! For these weeks
of my triumphant happiness were altogether the darkest, saddest,
cruellest weeks of the war. In a world without light, my heart sang in
my breast, sang hallelujahs, and would not be cast down. Susan loved
me--_me_--had always loved me! Rheims soon might fall, Amiens might
fall, the channel ports, Paris, London, the Seven Seas--the World! What
did it matter! Susan loved me--loved me!

And even now--though Susan is ashamed for me that I can say it--though
I feel that I ought to be ashamed that I can say it--though I wonder
that I am not--though I try to be--well, I am _not_ ashamed!

Final Note, by Susan--_insisted upon_: "But all the same, secretly, he
is ashamed. For there's nobody in the world like Ambo, whether for
dearness or general absurdity. Why shouldn't he have been a little
happy, if he could manage it, throughout those interminable weeks of
physical pain? He suffered day and night, preferring not to be kept
under morphine too constantly. I won't say he was a hero; he _was_, but
there's nothing to be puffed up about nowadays in that. If the war has
proved anything, it is that in nearly every man, when his particular
form of Zero Hour sounds for him, some kind of a self-despising hero is
waiting, and ready to act or endure or be broken and cast away. We all
know that now. It's the cornerstone for a possible Utopia: no, it's more
than that--it's the whole foundation. But I didn't mean to say so when I
started this note.

"All I meant to say was that you must never take Ambo _au pied de la
lettre_. I'm not in the least as he's hymned me--but that, surely,
you've guessed between the lines. What is much more important is that
he's not in the least as he has painted himself. But unless I were to
rewrite his whole book for him--which wouldn't be tactful in an
otherwise spoiled and contented wife--I could never make this clear, or
do my strange, too sensitive man the full justice he deserves. He's--oh,
but what's the use! There isn't anybody in the world like Ambo."


XII

More than a year has already passed since those dark-bright days, the
spring of 1918. Down here in quiet, silvery Provence, at our
nursing-home for children--I call it ours--the last of the cherry
blossoms are falling now in our walled orchard close. As I write, James
Aulard Kane sits--none too steadily--among a snow of petals, and sweeps
them together in miniature drifts with two very grubby little hands. He
is a likely infant and knows definitely what he wants from life, which
is mostly food. He talks nothing but French--that is, he emits the usual
baby grunts and snortings in a funny harsh accent caught from his
Marseillaise nurse. Susan is far too busy to improve this accent as she
would like to do: perhaps it would be simpler to say that she is far too
busy. She is the queen-bee of this country hive; and I--I am a harmless
enough drone. They let me dawdle about here and do this and that; but
the sun grows more powerful daily, and I sleep a good deal now through
the warmer hours. I am haunted by fewer mysterious twinges, here and
there, when I sleep....

Meanwhile, the world-cauldron bubbles, and the bubbles keep bursting,
and I read of their bursting and shake my head. When a man begins
shaking his head over the news of the day, he is done for; a back
number. Susan never shakes her head; and it's rather hard on her, I
think, to be the wife of a back number. But she's far too thoughtful of
me ever to seem to mind.

Only yesterday I quoted some lines to her, from Coventry Patmore. Susan
doesn't like Coventry Patmore; the mystical Unknown Eros he celebrates
strikes her as--well, perhaps I had better not go into that. But the
lines I quoted--they had been much in my mind lately--were these:

          _For want of me the world's course will not fail;
             When all its work is done the lie shall rot;
           The truth is great and shall prevail
             When none cares whether it prevail or not._

"Stuff! We do care!" said Susan. "And it won't prevail, either, unless
we make it. Who's working harder than you to make it prevail, I should
like to know!"

You see how she includes me.... So this book is my poor tribute to her
thoughtfulness, this Book of Susan.

       *       *       *       *       *

But sometimes I sit and wonder. Shall we ever, I wonder, go back to my
ancestral mansion on Hillhouse Avenue and quietly settle down there to
the old securities, the old, slightly disdainful calm? I doubt it.
Tumps, ancient valetudinarian, softened by age; Togo, rheumatic, but
steeped in his deeply racial, his Oriental indifferentism--they are the
inheritors of that august tradition, and they become it worthily. For
them it exists and is enough; for us it is shattered. Phil, a later
Waring, is lost in Russia. Jimmy is gone. But Susan will do, I know,
more than one woman's part to help in creating a more livable world for
his son, and I shall gain some little strength for that coming labor,
spending it as I can. It will be an interesting world for those who
survive; a dusk chaos just paling eastward. I shall hardly see even the
beginnings of dawn. But--with Susan beside me--I shall have lived.

       *       *       *       *       *

Farewell, then, Hillhouse Avenue!... Make way for Birch Street!

(THE END)





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Book of Susan - A Novel" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home