Part 15 out of 19
She looked at him with intense appeal in her eyes. "Why?" she
said earnestly." _Why_ do you do this?"
He smiled gravely down at her--as gravely as Brent could
smile--with the quizzical suggestion never absent from his
handsome face, so full of life and intelligence. "I've been
observing your uneasiness," said he. "Now listen. It would
be impossible for you to judge me, to understand me. You are
young and as yet small. I am forty, and have lived
twenty-five of my forty years intensely. So, don't fall into
the error of shallow people and size me up by your own foolish
little standards. Do you see what I mean?"
Susan's candid face revealed her guilt. "Yes," said she,
"I see you do understand," said he. "And that's a good sign.
Most people, hearing what I said, would have disregarded it as
merely my vanity, would have gone on with their silly judging,
would have set me down as a conceited ass who by some accident
had got a reputation. But to proceed--I have not chosen you
on impulse. Long and patient study has made me able to judge
character by the face, as a horse dealer can judge horses by
looking at them. I don't need to read every line of a book to
know whether it's wise or foolish, worth while or not. I
don't need to know a human being for years or for hours or for
minutes even, before I can measure certain things. I measured
you. It's like astronomy. An astronomer wants to get the
orbit of a star. He takes its position twice--and from the
two observations he can calculate the orbit to the inch. I've
got three observations of your orbit. Enough--and to spare."
"I shan't misunderstand again," said Susan.
"One thing more," insisted Brent. "In our relations, we are
to be not man and woman, but master and pupil. I shan't waste
your time with any--other matters."
It was Susan's turn to laugh. "That's your polite way of
warning me not to waste any of your time with--other matters."
"Precisely," conceded he. "A man in my position--a man in any
sort of position, for that matter--is much annoyed by women
trying to use their sex with him. I wished to make it clear
at the outset that----"
"That I could gain nothing by neglecting the trade of actress
for the trade of woman," interrupted Susan. "I understand
He put out his hand. "I see that at least we'll get on
together. I'll have Fitzalan send the carpenter to your
friend at once."
"Today!" exclaimed Susan, in surprise and delight.
"Why not?" He arranged paper and pen. "Sit here and write
Spenser's address, and your own. Your salary begins with
today. I'll have my secretary mail you a check. And as soon
as I can see you again, I'll send you a telegram.
Meanwhile--" He rummaged among a lot of paper bound plays on
the table "Here's `Cavalleria Rusticana.' Read it with a view
to yourself as either _Santuzzao_ or _Lola_. Study her first
entrance--what you would do with it. Don't be frightened. I
expect nothing from you--nothing whatever. I'm glad you know
nothing about acting. You'll have the less to unlearn."
They had been moving towards the elevator. He shook hands
again and, after adjusting the mechanism for the descent,
closed the door. As it was closing she saw in his expression
that his mind had already dismissed her for some one of the
many other matters that crowded his life. XIII
THE Susan Lenox who left Delancey Street at half past two that
afternoon to call upon Robert Brent was not the Susan Lenox
who returned to Delancey Street at half-past five. A man is
wandering, lost in a cave, is groping this way and that in
absolute darkness, with flagging hope and fainting
strength--has reached the point where he wonders at his own
folly in keeping on moving--is persuading himself that the
sensible thing would be to lie down and give up. He sees a
gleam of light. Is it a reality? Is it an illusion--one more
of the illusions that have lured him on and on? He does not
know; but instantly a fire sweeps through him, warming his
dying strength into vigor.
So it was with Susan.
The pariah class--the real pariah class--does not consist of
merely the women formally put beyond the pale for violations
of conventional morality and the men with the brand of thief
or gambler upon them. Our social, our industrial system has
made it far vaster. It includes almost the whole
population--all those who sell body or brain or soul in an
uncertain market for uncertain hire, to gain the day's food
and clothing, the night's shelter. This vast mass floats
hither and yon on the tides and currents of destiny. Now it
halts, resting sluggishly in a dead calm; again it moves,
sometimes slowly, sometimes under the lash of tempest. But it
is ever the same vast inertia, with no particle of it
possessing an aim beyond keeping afloat and alive. Susan had
been an atom, a spray of weed, in this Sargasso Sea.
If you observe a huge, unwieldy crowd so closely packed that
nothing can be done with it and it can do nothing with itself,
you will note three different types. There are the entirely
inert--and they make up most of the crowd. They do not
resist; they helplessly move this way and that as the chance
waves of motion prompt. Of this type is the overwhelming
majority of the human race. Here and there in the mass you
will see examples of a second type. These are individuals who
are restive and resentful under the sense of helplessness and
impotence. They struggle now gently, now furiously. They
thrust backward or forward or to one side. They thresh about.
But nothing comes of their efforts beyond a brief agitation,
soon dying away in ripples. The inertia of the mass and their
own lack of purpose conquer them. Occasionally one of these
grows so angry and so violent that the surrounding inertia
quickens into purpose--the purpose of making an end of this
agitation which is serving only to increase the general
discomfort. And the agitator is trampled down, disappears,
perhaps silently, perhaps with groan or shriek. Continue to
look at this crowd, so pitiful, so terrible, such a melancholy
waste of incalculable power--continue to observe and you may
chance upon an example of the third type. You are likely at
first to confuse the third type with the second, for they seem
to be much alike. Here and there, of the resentful
strugglers, will be one whose resentment is intelligent. He
struggles, but it is not aimless struggle. He has seen or
suspected in a definite direction a point where he would be
more or less free, perhaps entirely free. He realizes how he
is hemmed in, realizes how difficult, how dangerous, will be
his endeavor to get to that point. And he proceeds to try to
minimize or overcome the difficulties, the dangers. He
struggles now gently, now earnestly, now violently--but always
toward his fixed objective. He is driven back, to one side,
is almost overwhelmed. He causes commotions that threaten to
engulf him, and must pause or retreat until they have calmed.
You may have to watch him long before you discover that, where
other strugglers have been aimless, he aims and resolves. And
little by little he gains, makes progress toward his goal--and
once in a long while one such reaches that goal. It is
Susan, young, inexperienced, dazed; now too despondent, now
too hopeful; now too gentle and again too infuriated--Susan
had been alternating between inertia and purposeless struggle.
Brent had given her the thing she lacked--had given her a
definite, concrete, tangible purpose. He had shown her the
place where, if she should arrive, she might be free of that
hideous slavery of the miserable mass; and he had inspired her
with the hope that she could reach it.
And that was the Susan Lenox who came back to the little room
in Delancey Street at half-past five.
Curiously, while she was thinking much about Brent, she was
thinking even more about Burlingham--about their long talks on
the show boat and in their wanderings in Louisville and
Cincinnati. His philosophy, his teachings--the wisdom he had,
but was unable to apply--began to come back to her. It was
not strange that she should remember it, for she had admired
him intensely and had listened to his every word, and she was
then at the time when the memory takes its clearest and
strongest impressions. The strangeness lay in the suddenness
with which Burlingham, so long dead, suddenly came to life,
changed from a sad and tender memory to a vivid possibility,
advising her, helping her, urging her on.
Clara, dressed to go to dinner with her lover, was waiting to
arrange about their meeting to make together the usual rounds
in the evening. "I've got an hour before I'm due at the
hospital," said Susan. "Let's go down to Kelly's for a drink."
While they were going and as they sat in the clean little back
room of Kelly's well ordered and select corner saloon, Clara
gave her all the news she had gathered in an afternoon of
visits among their acquaintances--how, because of a
neighborhood complaint, there was to be a fake raid on
Gussie's opium joint at midnight; that Mazie had caught a
frightful fever; and that Nettie was dying in Governeur of the
stab in the stomach her lover had given her at a ball three
nights before; that the police had raised the tariff for
sporting houses, and would collect seventy-five and a hundred
a month protection money where the charge had been twenty-five
and fifty--the plea was that the reformers, just elected and
hoping for one term only, were compelling a larger fund from
vice than the old steady year-in-and-year-out ruling crowd.
"And they may raise _us_ to fifteen a week," said Clara,
"though I doubt it. They'll not cut off their nose to spite
their face. If they raised the rate for the streets they'd
drive two-thirds of the girls back to the factories and sweat
shops. You're not listening, Lorna. What's up?"
"Your fellow's not had a relapse?"
"Need some money? I can lend you ten. I did have twenty, but
I gave Sallie and that little Jew girl who's her side partner
ten for the bail bondsman. They got pinched last night for not
paying up to the police. They've gone crazy about that prize
fighter--at least, he thinks he is--that Joe O'Mara, and
they're giving him every cent they make. It's funny about
Sallie. She's a Catholic and goes to mass regular. And she
keeps straight on Sunday--no money'll tempt her--I've seen it
tried. Do you want the ten?"
"No. I've got plenty."
"We must look in at that Jolly Rovers' ball tonight. There'll
be a lot of fellows with money there.
"We can sure pull off something pretty good. Anyhow, we'll
have fun. But you don't care for the dances. Well, they are
a waste of time. And because the men pay for a few bum drinks
and dance with a girl, they don't want to give up anything
more. How's she to live, I want to know?"
"Would you like to get out of this, Clara?" interrupted Susan,
coming out of her absent-mindedness.
"Would I! But what's the use of talking?"
"But I mean, would you _really?_"
"Oh--if there was something better. But is there? I don't
see how I'd be as well off, respectable. As I said to the
rescue woman, what is there in it for a `reclaimed' girl, as
they call it? When they ask a man to reform they can offer
him something--and he can go on up and up. But not for girls.
Nothing doing but charity and pity and the second table and
the back door. I can make more money at this and have a
better time, as long as my looks last. And I've turned down
already a couple of chances to marry--men that wouldn't have
looked at me if I'd been in a store or a factory or living
out. I may marry."
"Don't do that," said Susan. "Marriage makes brutes of men,
and slaves of women."
"You speak as if you knew."
"I do," said Susan, in a tone that forbade question.
"I ain't exactly stuck on the idea myself," pursued Clara.
"And if I don't, why when my looks are gone, where am I worse
off than I'd be at the same age as a working girl? If I have
to get a job then, I can get it--and I'll not be broken down
like the respectable women at thirty--those that work or those
that slop round boozing and neglecting their children while
their husbands work. Of course, there's chances against you
in this business. But so there is in every business. Suppose
I worked in a factory and lost a leg in the machinery, like
that girl of Mantell, the bricklayer's? Suppose I get an
awful disease--to hear some people talk you'd think there
wasn't any chances of death or horrible diseases at
respectable work. Why, how could anybody be worse off than if
they got lung trouble and boils as big as your fist like those
girls over in the tobacco factory?"
"You needn't tell me about work," said Susan. "The streets
are full of wrecks from work--and the hospitals--and the
graveyard over on the Island. You can always go to that
slavery. But I mean a respectable life, with everything better."
"Has one of those swell women from uptown been after you?"
"No. This isn't a pious pipe dream."
"You sound like it. One of them swell silk smarties got at me
when I was in the hospital with the fever. She was a
bird--she was. She handed me a line of grand talk, and I,
being sort of weak with sickness, took it in. Well, when she
got right down to business, what did she want me to do? Be a
dressmaker or a lady's maid. Me work twelve, fourteen, God
knows how many hours--be too tired to have any fun--travel
round with dead ones--be a doormat for a lot of cheap people
that are tryin' to make out they ain't human like the rest of
us. _Me!_ And when I said, `No, thank you,' what do you think?"
"Did she offer to get you a good home in the country?" said Susan.
"That was it. The _country!_ The nerve of her! But I called
her bluff, all right, all right. I says to her, `Are you
going to the country to live?' And she reared at _me_ daring
to question _her_, and said she wasn't. `You'd find it dead
slow, wouldn't you?' says I. And she kind o' laughed and
looked almost human. `Then,' says I, `no more am I going to the
country. I'll take my chances in little old New York,' I says."
"I should think so!" exclaimed Susan.
"I'd like to be respectable, if I could afford it. But
there's nothing in that game for poor girls unless they
haven't got no looks to sell and have to sell the rest of
themselves for some factory boss to get rich off of while they
get poorer and weaker every day. And when they say `God' to
me, I say, `Who's he? He must be somebody that lives up on
Fifth Avenue. We ain't seen him down our way.'"
"I mean, go on the stage," resumed Susan.
"I wouldn't mind, if I could get in right. Everything in this
world depends on getting in right. I was born four flights up
in a tenement, and I've been in wrong ever since."
"I was in wrong from the beginning, too," said Susan,
thoughtfully. "In wrong--that's it exactly." Clara's eyes
again became eager with the hope of a peep into the mystery of
Susan's origin. But Susan went on, "Yes, I've always been in
"Oh, no," declared Clara. "You've got education--and
manners--and ladylike instincts. I'm at home here. I was
never so well off in my life. I'm, you might say, on my way
up in the world. Most of us girls are--like the fellow that
ain't got nothing to eat or no place to sleep and gets into
jail--he's better off, ain't he? But you--you don't belong
here at all."
"I belong anywhere--and everywhere--and nowhere," said Susan.
"Yes, I belong here. I've got a chance uptown. If it pans
out, I'll let you in."
Clara looked at her wistfully. Clara had a wicked temper when
she was in liquor, and had the ordinary human proneness to
lying, to mischievous gossip, and to utter laziness. The life
she led, compelling cleanliness and neatness and a certain
amount of thrift under penalty of instant ruin, had done her
much good in saving her from going to pieces and becoming the
ordinary sloven and drag on the energies of some man.
"Lorna," she now said, "I do believe you like me a little."
"More than that," Susan assured her. "You've saved me from
being hard-hearted. I must go to the hospital. So long!"
"How about this evening?" asked Clara.
"I'm staying in. I've got something to do."
"Well--I may be home early--unless I go to the ball."
Susan was refused admittance at the hospital. Spenser, they
said, had received a caller, had taxed his strength enough for
the day. Nor would it be worth while to return in the
morning. The same caller was coming again. Spenser had said
she was to come in the afternoon. She received this
cheerfully, yet not without a certain sense of hurt--which,
however, did not last long.
When she was admitted to Spenser the following afternoon, she
faced him guiltily--for the thoughts Brent had set to bubbling
and boiling in her. And her guilt showed in the tone of her
greeting, in the reluctance and forced intensity of her kiss
and embrace. She had compressed into the five most receptive
years of a human being's life an experience that was, for one
of her intelligence and education, equal to many times five
years of ordinary life. And this experience had developed her
instinct for concealing her deep feelings into a fixed habit.
But it had not made her a liar--had not robbed her of her
fundamental courage and self-respect which made her shrink in
disdain from deceiving anyone who seemed to her to have the
right to frankness. Spenser, she felt as always, had that
right--this, though he had not been frank with her; still,
that was a matter for his own conscience and did not affect
her conscience as to what was courageous and honorable toward
him. So, had he been observing, he must have seen that
something was wrong. But he was far too excited about his own
affairs to note her.
"My luck's turned!" cried he, after kissing her with
enthusiasm. "Fitzalan has sent Jack Sperry to me, and we're
to collaborate on a play. I told you Fitz was the real thing."
Susan turned hastily away to hide her telltale face.
"Who's Sperry?" asked she, to gain time for self-control.
"Oh, He's a play-smith--and a bear at it. He has knocked
together half a dozen successes. He'll supply the trade
experience that I lack, and Fitzalan will be sure to put on
"You're a lot better--aren't you?"
"Better? I'm almost well."
He certainly had made a sudden stride toward health. By way
of doing something progressive he had had a shave, and that
had restored the look of youth to his face--or, rather, had
uncovered it. A strong, handsome face it was--much handsomer
than Brent's--and with the subtle, moral weakness of
optimistic vanity well concealed. Yes, much handsomer than
Brent's, which wasn't really handsome at all--yet was superbly
handsomer, also--the handsomeness that comes from being
through and through a somebody. She saw again why she had
cared for Rod so deeply; but she also saw why she could not
care again, at least not in that same absorbed, self-effacing
way. Physical attraction--yes. And a certain remnant of the
feeling of comradeship, too. But never again utter belief,
worshipful admiration--or any other degree of belief or
admiration beyond the mild and critical. She herself had
grown. Also, Brent's penetrating and just analysis of Spenser
had put clearly before her precisely what he was--precisely
what she herself had been vaguely thinking of him.
As he talked on and on of Sperry's visit and the new projects,
she listened, looking at his character in the light Brent had
turned upon it--Brent who had in a few brief moments turned
such floods of light upon so many things she had been seeing
dimly or not at all. Moderate prosperity and moderate
adversity bring out the best there is in a man; the extreme of
either brings out his worst. The actual man is the best there
is in him, and not the worst, but it is one of the tragedies
of life that those who have once seen his worst ever afterward
have sense of it chiefly, and cannot return to the feeling
they had for him when his worst was undreamed of. "I'm not in
love with Brent," thought Susan. "But having known him, I
can't ever any more care for Rod. He seems small beside
Brent--and he _is_ small."
Spenser in his optimistic dreaming aloud had reached a point
where it was necessary to assign Susan a role in his dazzling
career. "You'll not have to go on the stage," said he. "I'll
look out for you. By next week Sperry and I will have got
together a scenario for the play and when Sperry reads it
to Fitzalan we'll get an advance of at least five hundred. So
you and I will take a nice room and bath uptown--as a
starter--and we'll be happy again--happier than before."
"No, I'm going to support myself," said Susan promptly.
"Trash!" cried Spenser, smiling tenderly at her. "Do you
suppose I'd allow you to mix up in stage life? You've
forgotten how jealous I am of you. You don't know what I've
suffered since I've been here sick, brooding over what you're
She laid her fingers on his lips. "What's the use of fretting
about anything that has to be?" said she, smilingly. "I'm
going to support myself. You may as well make up your mind to it."
"Plenty of time to argue that out," said he, and his tone
forecast his verdict on the arguing. And he changed the
subject by saying, "I see you still cling to your fad of
looking fascinating about the feet. That was one of the
reasons I never could trust you. A girl with as charming
feet and ankles as you have, and so much pride in getting
them up well, simply cannot be trustworthy." He laughed.
"No, you were made to be taken care of, my dear."
She did not press the matter. She had taken her stand; that
was enough for the present. After an hour with him, she went
home to get herself something to eat on her gas stove.
Spenser's confidence in the future did not move her even to
the extent of laying out half a dollar on a restaurant dinner.
Women have the habit of believing in the optimistic
outpourings of egotistical men, and often hasten men along the
road to ruin by proclaiming this belief and acting upon it.
But not intelligent women of experience; that sort of woman,
by checking optimistic husbands, fathers, sons, lovers, has
even put off ruin--sometimes until death has had the chance to
save the optimist from the inevitable consequence of his
folly. When she finished her chop and vegetable, instead of
lighting a cigarette and lingering over a cup of black coffee
she quickly straightened up and began upon the play Brent had
given her. She had read it several times the night before,
and again and again during the day. But not until now did she
feel sufficiently calmed down from her agitations of thought
and emotion to attack the play understandingly.
Thanks to defective education the most enlightened of us go
through life much like a dim-sighted man who has no
spectacles. Almost the whole of the wonderful panorama of the
universe is unseen by us, or, if seen, is but partially
understood or absurdly misunderstood. When it comes to the
subtler things, the things of science and art, rarely indeed
is there anyone who has the necessary training to get more
than the crudest, most imperfect pleasure from them. What
little training we have is so limping that it spoils the charm
of mystery with which savage ignorance invests the universe
from blade of grass to star, and does not put in place of that
broken charm the profounder and loftier joy of understanding.
To take for illustration the most widely diffused of all the
higher arts and sciences, reading: How many so-called
"educated" people can read understandingly even a novel, the
form of literature designed to make the least demand upon the
mind? People say they have read, but, when questioned, they
show that they have got merely a glimmering of the real
action, the faintest hint of style and characterization, have
perhaps noted some stray epigram which they quote with
evidently faulty grasp of its meaning.
When the thing read is a play, almost no one can get from it
a coherent notion of what it is about. Most of us have
nothing that can justly be called imagination; our early
training at home and at school killed in the shoot that finest
plant of the mind's garden. So there is no ability to fill in
the picture which the dramatic author draws in outline. Susan
had not seen "Cavalleria Rusticana" either as play or as
opera. But when she and Spenser were together in Forty-fourth
Street, she had read plays and had dreamed over them; the talk
had been almost altogether of plays--of writing plays, of
constructing scenes, of productions, of acting, of all the
many aspects of the theater. Spenser read scenes to her, got
her to help him with criticism, and she was present when he
went over his work with Drumley, Riggs, Townsend and the
others. Thus, reading a play was no untried art to her.
She read "Cavalleria" through slowly, taking about an hour to
it. She saw now why Brent had given it to her as the primer
lesson--the simple, elemental story of a peasant girl's ruin
under promise of marriage; of her lover's wearying of one who
had only crude physical charm; of his being attracted by a
young married woman, gay as well as pretty, offering the
security in intrigue that an unmarried woman could not offer.
Such a play is at once the easiest and the hardest to act--the
easiest because every audience understands it perfectly and
supplies unconsciously almost any defect in the acting; the
hardest because any actor with the education necessary to
acting well finds it next to impossible to divest himself or
herself of the sophistications of education and get back to
the elemental animal.
_Santuzza_ or _Lola_? Susan debated. _Santuzza_ was the big and
easy part; _Lola_, the smaller part, was of the kind that is
usually neglected. But Susan saw possibilities in the
character of the woman who won _Turiddu_ away--the triumphant
woman. The two women represented the two kinds of love--the
love that is serious, the love that is light. And experience
had taught her why it is that human nature soon tires of
intensity, turns to frivolity. She felt that, if she could
act, she would try to show that not _Turiddu's_ fickleness nor
his contempt of the woman who had yielded, but _Santuzza's_ sad
intensity and _Lola's_ butterfly gayety had cost _Santuzza_ her
lover and her lover his life. So, it was not _Santuzza's_ but
_Lola's_ first entrance that she studied.
In the next morning's mail, under cover addressed "Miss Susan
Lenox, care of Miss Lorna Sackville," as she had written it
for Brent, came the promised check for forty dollars. It was
signed John P. Garvey, Secretary, and was inclosed with a
note bearing the same signature:
Herewith I send you a check for forty dollars for the first
week's salary under your arrangement with Mr. Brent. No
receipt is necessary. Until further notice a check for the
same amount will be mailed you each Thursday. Unless you
receive notice to the contrary, please call as before, at
three o'clock next Wednesday.
It made her nervous to think of those five days before she
should see Brent. He had assured her he would expect nothing
from her; but she felt she must be able to show him that she
had not been wasting her time--his time, the time for which he
was paying nearly six dollars a day. She must work every
waking hour, except the two hours each day at the hospital.
She recalled what Brent had said about the advantage of being
contented alone--and how everything worth doing must be done
in solitude. She had never thought about her own feelings as
to company and solitude, as it was not her habit to think
about herself. But now she realized how solitary she had
been, and how it had bred in her habits of thinking and
reading--and how valuable these habits would be to her in her
work. There was Rod, for example. He hated being alone,
must have someone around even when he was writing; and he had
no taste for order or system. She understood why it was so
hard for him to stick at anything, to put anything through to
the finish. With her fondness for being alone, with her
passion for reading and thinking about what she read, surely
she ought soon to begin to accomplish something--if there was
any ability in her.
She found Rod in higher spirits. Several ideas for his play
had come to him; he already saw it acted, successful, drawing
crowded houses, bringing him in anywhere from five hundred to
a thousand a week. She was not troubled hunting for things to
talk about with him--she, who could think of but one thing and
that a secret from him. He talked his play, a steady stream
with not a seeing glance at her or a question about her. She
watched the little clock at the side of the bed. At the end
of an hour to the minute, she interrupted him in the middle of
a sentence. "I must go now," said she, rising.
"Sit down," he cried. "You can stay all day. The doctor says
it will do me good to have you to talk with. And Sperry isn't
coming until tomorrow."
"I can't do it," said she. "I must go."
He misunderstood her avoiding glance. "Now, Susie--sit down
there," commanded he. "We've got plenty of money. You--you
needn't bother about it any more."
"We're not settled yet," said she. "Until we are, I'd not dare
take the risk." She was subtly adroit by chance, not by design.
"Risk!" exclaimed he angrily. "There's no risk. I've as good
as got the advance money. Sit down."
She hesitated. "Don't be angry," pleaded she in a voice that
faltered. "But I must go."
Into his eyes came the gleam of distrust and jealousy. "Look
at me," he ordered.
With some difficulty she forced her eyes to meet his.
"Have you got a lover?"
"Then where do you get the money we're living on?" He counted
on her being too humiliated to answer in words. Instead of
the hanging head and burning cheeks he saw clear, steady eyes,
heard a calm, gentle and dignified voice say:
"In the streets."
His eyes dropped and a look of abject shame made his face
pitiable. "Good Heavens," he muttered.
"How low we are!"
"We've been doing the best we could," said she simply.
"Isn't there any decency anywhere in you?" he flashed out,
eagerly seizing the chance to forget his own shame in
contemplating her greater degradation.
She looked out of the window. There was something terrible in
the calmness of her profile. She finally said in an even,
"You have been intimate with a great many women, Rod. But you
have never got acquainted with a single one."
He laughed good-humoredly. "Oh, yes, I have. I've learned
that `every woman is at heart a rake,' as Mr. Jingle Pope says."
She looked at him again, her face now curiously lighted by her
slow faint smile. "Perhaps they showed you only what they
thought you'd be able to appreciate," she suggested.
He took this as evidence of her being jealous of him. "Tell
me, Susan, did you leave me--in Forty-fourth Street--because
you thought or heard I wasn't true to you?"
"What did Drumley tell you?"
"I asked him, as you said in your note. He told me he knew no
So Drumley had decided it was best Rod should not know why she
left. Well, perhaps--probably--Drumley was right. But there
was no reason why he shouldn't know the truth now. "I left,"
said she, "because I saw we were bad for each other."
This amused him. She saw that he did not believe. It wounded
her, but she smiled carelessly. Her smile encouraged him to
say: "I couldn't quite make up my mind whether the reason was
jealousy or because you had the soul of a shameless woman.
You see, I know human nature, and I know that a woman who once
crosses the line never crosses back. I'll always have to
watch you, my dear. But somehow I like it. I guess you
have--you and I have--a rotten streak in us. We were brought
up too strictly. That always makes one either too firm or too
loose. I used to think I liked good women. But I don't.
They bore me. That shows I'm rotten."
"Or that your idea of what's good is--is mistaken."
"You don't pretend that _you_ haven't done wrong?" cried Rod.
"I might have done worse," replied she. "I might have wronged
others. No, Rod, I can't honestly say I've ever felt wicked."
"Why, what brought you here?"
She reflected a moment, then smiled. "Two things brought me
down," said she. "In the first place, I wasn't raised right.
I was raised as a lady instead of as a human being. So I
didn't know how to meet the conditions of life. In the second
place--" her smile returned, broadened--"I was too--too what's
"Pity about you!" mocked he.
"Being what's called good is all very well if you're
independent or if you've got a husband or a father to do
life's dirty work for you--or, perhaps, if you happen to be in
some profession like preaching or teaching--though I don't
believe the so-called `goodness' would let you get very far
even as a preacher. In most lines, to practice what we're
taught as children would be to go to the bottom like a stone.
You know this is a hard world, Rod. It's full of men and
women fighting desperately for food and clothes and a roof to
cover them--fighting each other. And to get on you've got to
have the courage and the indifference to your fellow beings
that'll enable you to do it."
"There's a lot of truth in that," admitted Spenser. "If I'd
not been such a `good fellow,' as they call it--a fellow
everybody liked--if I'd been like Brent, for instance--Brent,
who never would have any friends, who never would do anything
for anybody but himself, who hadn't a thought except for his
career--why, I'd be where he is."
It was at the tip of Susan's tongue to say, "Yes--strong--able
to help others--able to do things worth while." But she did
Rod went on: "I'm not going to be a fool any longer. I'm
going to be too busy to have friends or to help people or to
do anything but push my own interests."
Susan, indifferent to being thus wholly misunderstood, was
again moving toward the door. "I'll be back this evening, as
usual," said she.
Spenser's face became hard and lowering: "You're going to
stay here now, or you're not coming back," said he. "You can
take your choice. Do you want me to know you've got the soul
of a streetwalker?"
She stood at the foot of the bed, gazing at the wall above his
head. "I must earn our expenses until we're safe," said she,
once more telling a literal truth that was yet a complete
"Why do you fret me?" exclaimed he. "Do you want me to be
"Suppose you didn't get the advance right away," urged she.
"I tell you I shall get it! And I won't have you--do as you
are doing. If you go, you go for keeps."
She seated herself. "Do you want me to read or take dictation?"
His face expressed the satisfaction small people find in small
successes at asserting authority. "Don't be angry," said he.
"I'm acting for your good. I'm saving you from yourself."
"I'm not angry," replied she, her strange eyes resting upon him.
He shifted uncomfortably. "Now what does that look mean?" he
demanded with an uneasy laugh.
She smiled, shrugged her shoulders.
Sperry--small and thin, a weather-beaten, wooden face
suggesting Mr. Punch, sly keen eyes, theater in every tone and
gesture Sperry pushed the scenario hastily to completion and
was so successful with Fitzalan that on Sunday afternoon he
brought two hundred and fifty dollars, Spenser's half of the
"Didn't I tell you!" said Spenser to Susan, in triumph.
"We'll move at once. Go pack your traps and put them in a
carriage, and by the time you're back here Sperry and the
nurses will have me ready."
It was about three when Susan got to her room. Clara heard
her come in and soon appeared, bare feet in mules, hair
hanging every which way. Despite the softening effect of the
white nightdress and of the framing of abundant hair, her face
was hard and coarse. She had been drunk on liquor and on
opium the night before, and the effects were wearing off. As
she was only twenty years old, the hard coarse look would
withdraw before youth in a few hours; it was there only
temporarily as a foreshadowing of what Clara would look like
in five years or so.
"Hello, Lorna," said she. "Gee, what a bun my fellow and I
had on last night! Did you hear us scrapping when we came in
about five o'clock?"
"No," replied Susan. "I was up late and had a lot to do, and
was kept at the hospital all day. I guess I must have fallen
"He gave me an awful beating," pursued Clara. "But I got one
good crack at him with a bottle." She laughed. "I don't
think he'll be doing much flirting till his cheek heals up.
He looks a sight!" She opened her nightdress and showed Susan
a deep blue-black mark on her left breast. "I wonder if I'll
get cancer from that?" said she. "It'd be just my rotten
luck. I've heard of several cases of it lately, and my father
kicked my mother there, and she got cancer. Lord, how she did
Susan shivered, turned her eyes away. Her blood surged with
joy that she had once more climbed up out of this deep, dark
wallow where the masses of her fellow beings weltered in
darkness and drunkenness and disease--was up among the favored
ones who, while they could not entirely escape the great ills
of life, at least had the intelligence and the means to
mitigate them. How fortunate that few of these unhappy ones
had the imagination to realize their own wretchedness! "I
don't care what becomes of me," Clara was saying. "What is
there in it for me? I can have a good time only as long as my
looks last--and that's true of every woman, ain't it? What's
a woman but a body? Ain't I right?"
"That's why I'm going to stop being a woman as soon as ever I
can," said Susan.
"Why, you're packing up!" cried Clara.
"Yes. My friend's well enough to be moved. We're going to
Clara dropped into a chair and began to weep. "I'll miss you
something fierce!" sobbed she. "You're the only friend in the
world I give a damn for, or that gives a damn for me. I wish
to God I was like you. You don't need anybody."
"Oh, yes, I do, dear," cried Susan.
"But, I mean, you don't lean on anybody. I don't mean you're
hard-hearted--for you ain't. You've pulled me and a dozen
other girls out of the hole lots of times. But you're
independent. Can't you take me along? I can drop that bum
across the hall. I don't give a hoot for him. But a girl's
got to make believe she cares for somebody or she'd blow her
"I can't take you along, but I'm going to come for you as soon
as I'm on my feet," said Susan. "I've got to get up myself
first. I've learned at least that much."
"Oh, you'll forget all about _me_."
"No," said Susan.
And Clara knew that she would not. Moaned Clara, "I'm not fit
to go. I'm only a common streetwalker. You belong up there.
You're going back to your own. But I belong here. I wish to
God I was like most of the people down here, and didn't have
any sense. No wonder you used to drink so! I'm getting that
way, too. The only people that don't hit the booze hard down
here are the muttonheads who don't know nothing and can't
learn nothing. . . . I used to be contented. But somehow,
being with you so much has made me dissatisfied."
"That means you're on your way up," said Susan, busy with her packing.
"It would, if I had sense enough. Oh, it's torment to have
sense enough to see, and not sense enough to do!"
"I'll come for you soon," said Susan. "You're going up with me."
Clara watched her for some time in silence. "You're sure
you're going to win?" said she, at last.
"Sure," replied Susan.
"Oh, you can't be as sure as that."
"Yes, but I can," laughed she. "I'm done with foolishness.
I've made up my mind to get up in the world--_with_ my
self-respect if possible; if not, then without it. I'm going
to have everything--money, comfort, luxury, pleasure.
Everything!" And she dropped a folded skirt emphatically upon
the pile she had been making, and gave a short, sharp nod. "I
was taught a lot of things when I was little--things about
being sweet and unselfish and all that. They'd be fine, if
the world was Heaven. But it isn't."
"Not exactly," said Clara.
"Maybe they're fine, if you want to get to Heaven," continued
Susan. "But I'm not trying to get to Heaven. I'm trying to
live on earth. I don't like the game, and I don't like its
rules. But--it's the only game, and I can't change the rules.
So I'm going to follow them--at least, until I get what I want."
"Do you mean to say you've got any respect for yourself?" said
Clara. "__I__ haven't. And I don't see how any girl in our
line can have."
"I thought I hadn't," was Susan's reply, "until I talked
with--with someone I met the other day. If you slipped and
fell in the mud--or were thrown into it--you wouldn't say,
`I'm dirty through and through. I can never get clean
"But that's different," objected Clara.
"Not a bit," declared Susan. "If you look around this world,
you'll see that everybody who ever moved about at all has
slipped and fallen in the mud--or has been pushed in."
"Mostly pushed in."
"Mostly pushed in," assented Susan. "And those that have good
sense get up as soon as they can, and wash as much of the mud
off as'll come off--maybe all--and go on. The fools--they
worry about the mud. But not I--not any more!. . . And not
you, my dear--when I get you uptown."
Clara was now looking on Susan's departure as a dawn of good
luck for herself. She took a headache powder, telephoned for
a carriage, and helped carry down the two big packages that
contained all Susan's possessions worth moving. And they
kissed each other good-by with smiling faces. Susan did not
give Clara, the loose-tongued, her new address; nor did Clara,
conscious of her own weakness, ask for it.
"Don't put yourself out about me," cried Clara in farewell.
"Get a good tight grip yourself, first."
"That's advice I need," answered Susan. "Good-by.
The carriage had to move slowly through those narrow tenement
streets, so thronged were they with the people swarmed from
hot little rooms into the open to try to get a little air that
did not threaten to burn and choke as it entered the lungs.
Susan's nostrils were filled with the stenches of animal and
vegetable decay--stenches descending in heavy clouds from the
open windows of the flats and from the fire escapes crowded
with all manner of rubbish; stenches from the rotting, brimful
garbage cans; stenches from the groceries and butcher shops
and bakeries where the poorest qualities of food were exposed
to the contamination of swarms of disgusting fat flies, of
mangy, vermin-harassed children and cats and dogs; stenches
from the never washed human bodies, clad in filthy garments
and drawn out of shape by disease and toil. Sore eyes,
scrofula, withered arm or leg, sagged shoulder, hip out of
joint--There, crawling along the sidewalk, was the boy whose
legs had been cut off by the street car; and the stumps were
horribly ulcered. And there at the basement window drooled
and cackled the fat idiot girl whose mother sacrificed
everything always to dress her freshly in pink. What a
world!--where a few people such a very few!--lived in health
and comfort and cleanliness--and the millions lived in disease
and squalor, ignorant, untouched of civilization save to wear
its cast-off clothes and to eat its castaway food and to live
in its dark noisome cellars!--And to toil unceasingly to make
for others the good things of which they had none themselves!
It made her heartsick--the sadder because nothing could be
done about it. Stay and help? As well stay to put out a
conflagration barehanded and alone.
As the carriage reached wider Second Avenue, the horses broke
into a trot. Susan drew a long breath of the purer air--then
shuddered as she saw the corner where the dive into which the
cadet had lured her flaunted its telltale awnings. Lower
still her spirits sank when she was passing, a few blocks
further on, the music hall. There, too, she had had a chance,
had let hope blaze high. And she was going forward--into--the
region where she had been a slave to Freddie Palmer--no, to
the system of which he was a slave no less than she----
"I _must_ be strong! I _must!_" Susan said to herself, and
there was desperation in the gleam of her eyes, in the set of
her chin. "This time I will fight! And I feel at last that
But her spirits soared no more that day. XIV
SPERRY had chosen for "Mr. and Mrs. Spenser" the second floor
rear of a house on the south side of West Forty-fifth Street
a few doors off Sixth Avenue. It was furnished as a
sitting-room--elegant in red plush, with oil paintings on the
walls, a fringed red silk-plush dado fastened to the
mantelpiece with bright brass-headed tacks, elaborate
imitation lace throws on the sofa and chairs, and an imposing
piece that might have been a cabinet organ or a pianola or a
roll-top desk but was in fact a comfortable folding bed.
There was a marble stationary washstand behind the
hand-embroidered screen in the corner, near one of the two
windows. Through a deep clothes closet was a small but
"And it's warm in winter," said Mrs. Norris, the landlady, to
Susan. "Don't you hate a cold bathroom?"
Susan declared that she did.
"There's only one thing I hate worse," said Mrs. Norris, "and
that's cold coffee."
She had one of those large faces which look bald because the
frame of hair does not begin until unusually far back. At
fifty, when her hair would be thin, Mrs. Norris would be
homely; but at thirty she was handsome in a bold, strong
way. Her hair was always carefully done, her good figure
beautifully corseted. It was said she was not married to Mr.
Norris--because New York likes to believe that people are
living together without being married, because Mr. Norris came
and went irregularly, and because Mrs. Norris was so
particular about her toilet--and everyone knows that when a
woman has the man with whom she's satisfied securely fastened,
she shows her content or her virtuous indifference to other
men--or her laziness--by neglecting her hair and her hips and
dressing in any old thing any which way. Whatever the truth
as to Mrs. Norris's domestic life, she carried herself
strictly and insisted upon keeping her house as respectable as
can reasonably be expected in a large city. That is, everyone
in it was quiet, was of steady and sedate habit, was backed by
references. Not until Sperry had thoroughly qualified as a
responsible person did Mrs. Norris accept his assurances as to
the Spensers and consent to receive them. Downtown the
apartment houses that admit persons of loose character are
usually more expensive because that class of tenants have more
and expect more than ordinary working people. Uptown the
custom is the reverse; to get into a respectable house you
must pay more. The Spensers had to pay fourteen a week for
their quarters--and they were getting a real bargain, Mrs.
Norris having a weakness for literature and art where they
were respectable and paid regularly.
"What's left of the two hundred and fifty will not last long,"
said Spenser to Susan, when they were established and alone.
"But we'll have another five hundred as soon as the play's
done, and that'll be in less than a month. We're to begin
tomorrow. In less than two months the play'll be on and the
royalties will be coming in. I wonder how much I owe the
doctor and the hospital."
"That's settled," said Susan.
He glanced at her with a frown. "How much was it? You had no
right to pay!"
"You couldn't have got either doctor or room without payment
in advance." She spoke tranquilly, with a quiet assurance of
manner that was new in her, the nervous and sensitive about
causing displeasure in others. She added, "Don't be cross,
Rod. You know it's only pretense."
"Don't you believe anybody has any decency?" demanded he.
"It depends on what you mean by decency," replied she. "But
why talk of the past? Let's forget it."
"I would that I could!" exclaimed he.
She laughed at his heroics. "Put that in your play," said
she. "But this isn't the melodrama of the stage. It's the
farce comedy of life."
"How you have changed! Has all the sweetness, all the
womanliness, gone out of your character?"
She showed how little she was impressed. "I've learned to
take terrible things--really terrible things--without making
a fuss--or feeling like making a fuss. You can't expect me to
get excited over mere staginess. They're fond of fake
emotions up in this part of town. But down where I've been so
long the real horrors come too thick and fast for there to be
any time to fake."
He continued to frown, presently came out of a deep study to
say, "Susie, I see I've got to have a serious talk with you."
"Wait till you're well, my dear," said she. "I'm afraid I'll
not be very sympathetic with your seriousness."
"No--today. I'm not an invalid. And our relations worry me,
whenever I think of them."
He observed her as she sat with hands loosely clasped in her
lap; there was an inscrutable look upon her delicate face,
upon the clear-cut features so attractively framed by her
thick dark hair, brown in some lights, black in others.
"Well?" said she.
"To begin, I want you to stop rouging your lips. It's the
only sign of--of what you were. I'd a little rather you
didn't smoke. But as respectable women smoke nowadays, why I
don't seriously object. And when you get more clothes, get
quieter ones. Not that you dress loudly or in bad taste----"
"Thank you," murmured Susan.
"What did you say?"
"I didn't mean to interrupt. Go on."
"I admire the way you dress, but it makes me jealous. I want
you to have nice clothes for the house. I like things that
show your neck and suggest your form. But I don't want you
attracting men's eyes and their loose thoughts, in the
street. . . . And I don't want you to look so damnably alluring
about the feet. That's your best trick--and your worst. Why
are you smiling--in that fashion?"
"You talk to me as if I were your wife."
He gazed at her with an expression that was as affectionate as
it was generous--and it was most generous. "Well, you may be
some day--if you keep straight. And I think you will."
The artificial red of her lips greatly helped to make her
sweetly smiling face the perfection of gentle irony. "And
you?" said she.
"You know perfectly well it's different about a man."
"I know nothing of the sort," replied she. "Among certain
kinds of people that is the rule. But I'm not of those kinds.
I'm trying to make my way in the world, exactly like a man.
So I've got to be free from the rules that may be all very
well for ladies. A woman can't fight with her hands tied, any
more than a man can--and you know what happens to the men who
allow themselves to be tied; they're poor downtrodden
creatures working hard at small pay for the men who fight with
their hands free."
"I've taken you out of the unprotected woman class, my dear,"
he reminded her. "You're mine, now, and you're going back
where you belong."
"Back to the cage it's taken me so long to learn to do
without?" She shook her head. "No, Rod--I couldn't possibly
do it--not if I wanted to. . . . You've got several false ideas
about me. You'll have to get rid of them, if we're to get along."
"In the first place, don't delude yourself with the notion
that I'd marry you. I don't know whether the man I was forced
to marry is dead or whether he's got a divorce. I don't care.
No matter how free I was I shouldn't marry you."
He smiled complacently. She noted it without irritation.
Truly, small indeed is the heat of any kind that can be got
from the warmed-up ashes of a burnt-out passion. She went
"You have nothing to offer me--neither love nor money. And a
woman--unless she's a poor excuse--insists on one or the other.
You and I fancied we loved each other for a while. We don't
fool ourselves in that way now. At least I don't, though I
believe you do imagine I'm in love with you."
"You wouldn't be here if you weren't."
"Put that out of your head, Rod. It'll only breed trouble.
I don't like to say these things to you, but you compel me to.
I learned long ago how foolish it is to put off unpleasant
things that will have to be faced in the end. The longer
they're put off the worse the final reckoning is. Most of my
troubles have come through my being too weak or
good-natured--or whatever it was--to act as my good sense told
me. I'm not going to make that mistake any more. And I'm
going to start the new deal with absolute frankness with you.
I am not in love with you."
"I know you better than you know yourself," said he.
"For a little while after I found you again I did have a
return of the old feeling--or something like it. But it soon
passed. I couldn't love you. I know you too well."
He struggled hard with his temper, as his vanity lashed at it.
She saw, struggled with her old sensitiveness about inflicting
even necessary pain upon others, went on:
"I simply like you, Rod--and that's all. We're well
acquainted. You're physically attractive to me--not wildly
so, but enough--more than any other man--probably more than
most husbands are to their wives--or most wives to their
husbands. So as long as you treat me well and don't wander
off to other women, I'm more than willing to stay on here."
"Really!" said he, in an intensely sarcastic tone. "Really!"
"Now--keep your temper," she warned. "Didn't I keep mine when
you were handing me that impertinent talk about how I should
dress and the rest of it? No--let me finish. In the second
place and in conclusion, my dear Rod, I'm not going to live
off you. I'll pay my half of the room. I'll pay for my own
clothes--and rouge for my lips. I'll buy and cook what we eat
in the room; you'll pay when we go to a restaurant. I believe
"Are you quite sure?" inquired he with much satire.
"Yes, I think so. Except--if you don't like my terms, I'm
ready to leave at once."
"And go back to the streets, I suppose?" jeered he.
"If it were necessary--yes. So long as I've got my youth and
my health, I'll do precisely as I please. I've no craving for
respectability--not the slightest. I--I----" She tried to
speak of her birth, that secret shame of which she was
ashamed. She had been thinking that Brent's big fine way of
looking at things had cured her of this bitterness. She found
that it had not--as yet. So she went on, "I'd prefer your
friendship to your ill will--much prefer it, as you're the
only person I can look to for what a man can do for a woman,
and as I like you. But if I have to take tyranny along with
the friendship--" she looked at him quietly and her tones were
almost tender, almost appealing--"then, it's good-by, Rod."
She had silenced him, for he saw in her eyes, much more gray
than violet though the suggestion of violet was there, that
she meant precisely what she said. He was astonished, almost
dazed by the change in her. This woman grown was not the
Susie who had left him. No--and yet----
She had left him, hadn't she? That showed a character
completely hidden from him, perhaps the character he was now
seeing. He asked--and there was no sarcasm and a great deal
of uneasiness in his tone:
"How do you expect to make a living?"
"I've got a place at forty dollars a week."
"Forty dollars a week! You!" He scowled savagely at her.
"There's only one thing anyone would pay you forty a week for."
"That's what I'd have said," rejoined she. "But it seems not
to be true. My luck may not last, but while it lasts, I'll
have forty a week."
"I don't believe you," said he, with the angry bluntness
"Then you want me to go?" inquired she, with a certain
melancholy but without any weakness.
He ignored her question. He demanded:
"Who's giving it to you?"
Spenser leaned from the bed toward her in his excitement.
"_Robert_ Brent?" he cried.
"Yes. I'm to have a part in one of his plays."
Spenser laughed harshly. "What rot! You're his mistress."
"It wouldn't be strange for you to think I'd accept that
position for so little, but you must know a man of his sort
wouldn't have so cheap a mistress."
"It's simply absurd."
"He is to train me himself."
"You never told me you knew him."
"Who got you the job?"
"He saw me in Fitzalan's office the day you sent me there. He
asked me to call, and when I went he made me the offer."
"Absolute rot. What reason did he give?"
"He said I looked as if I had the temperament he was in search of."
"You must take me for a fool."
"Why should I lie to you?"
"God knows. Why do women lie to men all the time? For the
pleasure of fooling them."
"Oh, no. To get money, Rod--the best reason in the world, it
being rather hard for a woman to make money by working for it."
"The man's in love with you!"
"I wish he were," said Susan, laughing. "I'd not be here, my
dear--you may be sure of that. And I'd not content myself
with forty a week. Oh, you don't know what tastes I've got!
Wait till I turn myself loose."
"Well--you can--in a few months," said Spenser.
Even as he had been protesting his disbelief in her story, his
manner toward her had been growing more respectful--a change
that at once hurt and amused her with its cynical suggestions,
and also pleased her, giving her a confidence-breeding sense
of a new value in herself. Rod went on, with a kind of
shamefaced mingling of jest and earnest:
"You stick by me, Susie, old girl, and the time'll come when
I'll be able to give you more than Brent."
"I hope so," said Susan.
He eyed her sharply. "I feel like a fool believing such a
fairy story as you've been telling me. Yet I do."
"That's good," laughed she. "Now I can stay. If you hadn't
believed me, I'd have had to go. And I don't want to do
His eyes flinched. "Not yet? What does that mean?"
"It means I'm content to stay, at present. Who can answer for
tomorrow?" Her eyes lit up mockingly. "For instance--you.
Today you think you're going to be true to me don't you? Yet
tomorrow--or as soon as you get strength and street clothes, I
may catch you in some restaurant telling some girl she's the
one you've been getting ready for."
He laughed, but not heartily. Sperry came, and Susan went to
buy at a department store a complete outfit for Rod, who still
had only nightshirts. As she had often bought for him in the
old days, she felt she would have no difficulty in fitting him
nearly enough, with her accurate eye supplementing the
measurements she had taken. When she got back home two hours
and a half later, bringing her purchases in a cab, Sperry had
gone and Rod was asleep. She sat in the bathroom, with the
gas lighted, and worked at "Cavalleria" until she heard him
calling. He had awakened in high good-humor.
"That was an awful raking you gave me before Sperry came,"
began he. "But it did me good. A man gets so in the habit of
ordering women about that it becomes second nature to him.
You've made it clear to me that I've even less control over
you than you have over me. So, dear, I'm going to be humble
and try to give satisfaction, as servants say."
"You'd better," laughed Susan. "At least, until you get on
your feet again."
"You say we don't love each other," Rod went on, a becoming
brightness in his strong face. "Well--maybe so. But--we suit
each other--don't we?"
"That's why I want to stay," said Susan, sitting on the bed
and laying her hand caressingly upon his. "I could stand it
to go, for I've been trained to stand anything--everything.
But I'd hate it."
He put his arm round her, drew her against his breast.
"Aren't you happy here?" he murmured.
"Happier than any place else in the world," replied she softly.
After a while she got a small dinner for their two selves on
the gas stove she had brought with her and had set up in the
bathroom. As they ate, she cross-legged on the bed opposite
him, they beamed contentedly at each other. "Do you remember
the dinner we had at the St. Nicholas in Cincinnati?" asked she.
"It wasn't as good as this," declared he. "Not nearly so well
cooked. You could make a fortune as a cook. But then you do
"Even to rouging my lips?"
"Oh, forget it!" laughed he. "I'm an ass. There's a
wonderful fascination in the contrast between the dash of
scarlet and the pallor of that clear, lovely skin of yours."
Her eyes danced. "You are getting well!" she exclaimed. "I'm
sorry I bought you clothes. I'll be uneasy every time you're out."
"You can trust me. I see I've got to hustle to keep my job
with you. Well, thank God, your friend Brent's old enough to
be your father."
"Is he?" cried Susan. "Do you know, I never thought of his age."
"Yes, he's forty at least--more. Are you sure he isn't after
"He warned me that if I annoyed him in that way he'd discharge me."
"Do you like him?"
"I--don't--know" was Susan's slow, reflective answer.
"I'm--afraid of him--a little."
Both became silent. Finally Rod said, with an impatient shake
of the head, "Let's not think of him."
"Let's try on your new clothes," cried Susan.
And when the dishes were cleared away they had a grand time
trying on the things she had bought. It was amazing how near
she had come to fitting him. "You ought to feel flattered,"
said she. "Only a labor of love could have turned out so well."
He turned abruptly from admiring his new suit in the glass and
caught her in his arms. "You do love me--you do!" he cried.
"No woman would have done all you've done for me, if she didn't."
For answer, Susan kissed him passionately; and as her body
trembled with the sudden upheaval of emotions long dormant or
indulged only in debased, hateful ways, she burst into tears.
She knew, even in that moment of passion, that she did not
love him; but not love itself can move the heart more deeply
than gratitude and her bruised heart was so grateful for his
words and tones and gestures of affection!
Wednesday afternoon, on the way to Brent's house, she glanced
up at the clock in the corner tower of the Grand Central
Station. It lacked five minutes of three. She walked slowly,
timed herself so accurately that, as the butler opened the
door, a cathedral chime hidden somewhere in the upper interior
boomed the hour musically. The man took her direct to the
elevator, and when it stopped at the top floor, Brent himself
opened the door, as before. He was dismissing a short fat man
whom Susan placed as a manager, and a tall, slim, and most
fashionably dressed woman with a beautiful insincere
face--anyone would have at once declared her an actress,
probably a star. The woman gave Susan a searching, feminine
look which changed swiftly to superciliousness. Both the man
and the woman were loath to go, evidently had not finished
what they had come to say. But Brent, in his abrupt but
courteous way, said:
"Tomorrow at four, then. As you see, my next appointment has
begun." And he had them in the elevator with the door closed.
He turned upon Susan the gaze that seemed to take in
everything. "You are in better spirits, I see," said he.
"I'm sorry to have interrupted," said she. "I could have waited."
"But __I__ couldn't," replied he. "Some day you'll discover
that your time is valuable, and that to waste it is far
sillier than if you were to walk along throwing your money
into the gutter. Time ought to be used like money--spent
generously but intelligently." He talked rapidly on, with his
manner as full of unexpressed and inexpressible intensity as
the voice of the violin, with his frank egotism that had no
suggestion of vanity or conceit. "Because I systematize my
time, I'm never in a hurry, never at a loss for time to give
to whatever I wish. I didn't refuse to keep you waiting for
your sake but for my own. Now the next hour belongs to you
and me--and we'll forget about time--as, if we were dining in
a restaurant, we'd not think of the bill till it was
presented. What did you do with the play?"
Susan could only look at him helplessly.
He laughed, handed her a cigarette, rose to light a match for
her. "Settle yourself comfortably," said he, "and say what's
in your head."
With hands deep in the trousers of his house suit, he paced up
and down the long room, the cigarette loose between his lips.
Whenever she saw his front face she was reassured; but
whenever she saw his profile, her nerves trembled--for in the
profile there was an expression of almost ferocious
resolution, of tragic sadness, of the sternness that spares
not. The full face was kind, if keen; was sympathetic--was
the man as nature had made him. The profile was the great
man--the man his career had made. And Susan knew that the
profile was master.
"Which part did you like _Santuzza_ or _Lola_?"
"_Lola_," replied she.
He paused, looked at her quickly. Why?"
"Oh, I don't sympathize with the woman--or the man--who's
deserted. I pity, but I can't help seeing it's her or his own
fault. _Lola_ explains why. Wouldn't you rather laugh than
cry? _Santuzza_ may have been attractive in the moments of
passion, but how she must have bored _Turiddu_ the rest of the
time! She was so intense, so serious--so vain and selfish."
"Vain and selfish? That's interesting." He walked up and
down several times, then turned on her abruptly. "Well--go on,"
he said. "I'm waiting to hear why she was vain and selfish."
"Isn't it vain for a woman to think a man ought to be crazy
about her all the time because he once has been? Isn't it
selfish for her to want him to be true to her because it gives
_her_ pleasure, even though she knows it doesn't give _him_ pleasure?"
"Men and women are all vain and selfish in love," said he.
"But the women are meaner than the men," replied she, "because
they're more ignorant and narrow-minded."
He was regarding her with an expression that made her uneasy.
"But that isn't in the play--none of it," said he.
"Well, it ought to be," replied she. "_Santuzza_ is the
old-fashioned conventional heroine. I used to like
them--until I had lived a little, myself. She isn't true to
life. But in _Lola_----"
"Yes--what about _Lola_?" he demanded.
"Oh, she wasn't a heroine, either. She was just human--taking
happiness when it offered. And her gayety--and her
capriciousness. A man will always break away from a solemn,
intense woman to get that sort of sunshine."
"Yes--yes--go on," said Brent.
"And her sour, serious, solemn husband explains why wives are
untrue to their husbands. At least, it seems so to me."
He was walking up and down again. Every trace of indolence,
of relaxation, was gone from his gait and from his features.
His mind was evidently working like an engine at full speed.
Suddenly he halted. "You've given me a big idea," said he.
"I'll throw away the play I was working on. I'll do your play."
Susan laughed--pleased, yet a little afraid he was kinder than
she deserved. "What I said was only common sense--what my
experience has taught me."
"That's all that genius is, my dear," replied he. "As soon as
we're born, our eyes are operated on so that we shall never
see anything as it is. The geniuses are those who either
escape the operation or are reendowed with true sight by
experience." He nodded approvingly at her. "You're going to
be a person--or, rather, you're going to show you're a person.
But that comes later. You thought of _Lola_ as your part?"
"I tried to. But I don't know anything about acting except
what I've seen and the talk I've heard."
"As I said the other day, that means you've little to learn.
Now--as to _Lola's_ entrance."
"Oh, I thought of a lot of things to do--to show that she, too,
loved _Turiddu_ and that she had as much right to love--and to
be loved--as _Santuzza_ had. _Santuzza_ had had her chance, and
Brent was highly amused. "You seem to forget that _Lola_ was a
married woman--and that if _Santuzza_ didn't get a husband she'd
be the mother of a fatherless child."
Never had he seen in her face such a charm of sweet melancholy
as at that moment. "I suppose the way I was born and the life
I've led make me think less of those things than most people
do," replied she. "I was talking about natural hearts--what
people think inside--the way they act when they have courage."
"When they have courage," Brent repeated reflectively. "But
who has courage?"
"A great many people are compelled to have it," said she.
"I never had it until I got enough money to be independent."
"I never had it," said Susan, "until I had no money."
He leaned against the big table, folded his arms on his chest,
looked at her with eyes that made her feel absolutely at ease
with him. Said he:
"You have known what it was to have no money--none?"
Susan nodded. "And no friends--no place to sleep--worse off
than _Robinson Crusoe_ when the waves threw him on the island.
I had to--to suck my own blood to keep alive."
"You smile as you say that," said he.
"If I hadn't learned to smile over such things," she answered,
"I'd have been dead long ago."
He seated himself opposite her. He asked:
"Why didn't you kill yourself?"
"I was afraid."
"Of the hereafter?"
"Oh no. Of missing the coming true of my dreams about life."
"That--and more. Just love wouldn't satisfy me. I want to
see the world--to know the world--and to be somebody. I want
to try _everything_."
She laughed gayly--a sudden fascinating vanishing of the
melancholy of eyes and mouth, a sudden flashing out of young
beauty. "I've been down about as deep as one can go. I want
to explore in the other direction."
"Yes--yes," said Brent, absently. "You must see it all."
He remained for some time in a profound reverie, she as
unconscious of the passing of time as he for if he had his
thoughts, she had his face to study. Try as she would, she
could not associate the idea of age with him--any age. He
seemed simply a grown man. And the more closely she studied
him the greater her awe became. He knew so much; he
understood so well. She could not imagine him swept away by
any of the petty emotions--the vanities, the jealousies, the
small rages, the small passions and loves that made up the
petty days of the small creatures who inhabit the world and
call it theirs. Could he fall in love? Had he been in love?
Yes--he must have been in love many times--for many women must
have taken trouble to please a man so well worth while, and he
must have passed from one woman to another as his whims or his
tastes changed. Could he ever care about her--as a woman?
Did he think her worn out as a physical woman? Or would he
realize that body is nothing by itself; that unless the soul
enters it, it is cold and meaningless and worthless--like the
electric bulb when the filament is dark and the beautiful,
hot, brilliant and intensely living current is not in it?
Could she love him? Could she ever feel equal and at ease,
through and through, with a man so superior?
"You'd better study the part of _Lola_--learn the lines," said
he, when he had finished his reflecting. "Then--this day week
at the same hour--we will begin. We will work all
afternoon--we will dine together--go to some theater where I
can illustrate what I mean. Beginning with next Wednesday
that will be the program every day until further notice."
"Until you see whether you can do anything with me or not?"
"Just so. You are living with Spenser?"
"Yes." Susan could have wished his tone less matter-of-fact.
"How is he getting on?"
"He and Sperry are doing a play for Fitzalan."
"Really? That's good. He has talent. If he'll learn of
Sperry and talk less and work more, and steadily, he'll make
a lot of money. You are not tied to him in any way?"
"No--not now that he's prospering. Except, of course, that
I'm fond of him."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, everybody must have somebody.
You've not seen this house. I'll show it to you, as we've
still fifteen minutes."
A luxurious house it was--filled with things curious and, some
of them, beautiful--things gathered in excursions through
Europe, Susan assumed. The only absolutely simple room was
his bedroom, big and bare and so arranged that he could sleep
practically out of doors. She saw servants--two men besides
the butler, several women. But the house was a bachelor's
house, with not a trace of feminine influence. And evidently
he cared nothing about it but lived entirely in that wonderful
world which so awed Susan--the world he had created within
himself, the world of which she had alluring glimpses through
his eyes, through his tones and gestures even. Small people
strive to make, and do make, impression of themselves by
laboring to show what they know and think. But the person of
the larger kind makes no such effort. In everything Brent
said and did and wore, in all his movements, gestures,
expressions, there was the unmistakable hallmark of the man
worth while. The social life has banished simplicity from
even the most savage tribe. Indeed, savages, filled with
superstitions, their every movement the result of some notion
of proper ceremonial, are the most complex of all the human
kind. The effort toward simplicity is not a movement back to
nature, for there savage and lower animal are completely
enslaved by custom and instinct; it is a movement upward
toward the freedom of thought and action of which our best
intelligence has given us a conception and for which it has
given us a longing. Never had Susan met so simple a man; and
never had she seen one so far from all the silly ostentations
of rudeness, of unattractive dress, of eccentric or coarse
speech wherewith the cheap sort of man strives to proclaim
himself individual and free.
With her instinct for recognizing the best at first sight,
Susan at once understood. And she was like one who has been
stumbling about searching for the right road, and has it
suddenly shown to him. She fairly darted along this right
road. She was immediately busy, noting the mistakes in her
own ideas of manners and dress, of good and bad taste. She
realized how much she had to learn. But this did not
discourage her. For she realized at the same time that she
could learn--and his obvious belief in her as a possibility
was most encouraging.
When he bade her good-by at the front door and it closed
behind her, she was all at once so tired that it seemed to her
she would then and there sink down through sheer fatigue and
fall asleep. For no physical exercise so quickly and utterly
exhausts as real brain exercise--thinking, studying, learning
with all the concentrated intensity of a thoroughbred in the
last quarter of the mile race. XV
SPENSER had time and thought for his play only. He no longer
tormented himself with jealousy of the abilities and income
and fame of Brent and the other successful writers for the
stage; was not he about to equal them, probably to surpass
them? As a rule, none of the mean emotions is able to
thrive--unless it has the noxious vapors from disappointment
and failure to feed upon. Spenser, in spirits and in hope
again, was content with himself. Jealousy of Brent about
Susan had been born of dissatisfaction with himself as a
failure and envy of Brent as a success; it died with that
dissatisfaction and that envy. His vanity assured him that
while there might be possibly--ways in which he was not
without rivals, certainly where women were concerned he simply
could not be equaled; the woman he wanted he could have--and he
could hold her as long as he wished. The idea that Susan
would give a sentimental thought to a man "old enough to be
her father"--Brent was forty-one--was too preposterous to
present itself to his mind. She loved the handsome,
fascinating, youthful Roderick Spenser; she would soon be
crazy about him.
Rarely does it occur to a man to wonder what a woman is
thinking. During courtship very young men attribute intellect
and qualities of mystery and awe to the woman they love. But
after men get an insight into the mind of woman and discover
how trivial are the matters that of necessity usually engage
it, they become skeptical about feminine mentality; they would
as soon think of speculating on what profundities fill the
brain of the kitten playing with a ball as of seeking a
solution of the mystery behind a woman's fits of abstraction.
However, there was in Susan's face, especially in her eyes, an
expression so unusual, so arresting that Spenser,
self-centered and convinced of woman's intellectual deficiency
though he was, did sometimes inquire what she was thinking
about. He asked this question at breakfast the morning after
that second visit to Brent.
"Was I thinking?" she countered.
"You certainly were not listening. You haven't a notion what
I was talking about."
"About your play."
"Of course. You know I talk nothing else," laughed he. "I
must bore you horribly."
"No, indeed," protested she.
"No, I suppose not. You're not bored because you don't listen."
He was cheerful about it. He talked merely to arrange his
thoughts, not because he expected Susan to understand matters
far above one whom nature had fashioned and experience had
trained to minister satisfyingly to the physical and
sentimental needs of man. He assumed that she was as
worshipful before his intellect as in the old days. He would
have been even more amazed than enraged had he known that she
regarded his play as mediocre claptrap, false to life, fit
only for the unthinking, sloppily sentimental crowd that could
not see the truth about even their own lives, their own
thoughts and actions.
"There you go again!" cried he, a few minutes later. "What
_are_ you thinking about? I forgot to ask how you got on with
Brent. Poor chap--he's had several failures in the past year.
He must be horribly cut up. They say he's written out. What
does he think he's trying to get at with you?"
"Acting, as I told you," replied Susan. She felt ashamed for
him, making this pitiable exhibition of patronizing a great man.
"Sperry tells me he has had that twist in his brain for a long
time--that he has tried out a dozen girls or more--drops them
after a few weeks or months. He has a regular system about
it--runs away abroad, stops the pay after a month or so."
"Well, the forty a week's clear gain while it lasts," said
Susan. She tried to speak lightly. But she felt hurt and
uncomfortable. There had crept into her mind one of those
disagreeable ideas that skurry into some dusky corner to hide,
and reappear from time to time making every fit of the blues
so much the sadder and aggravating despondency toward despair.
"Oh, I didn't mean to suggest that _you_ wouldn't succeed,"
Spenser hastened to apologize with more or less real
kindliness. "Sperry says Brent has some good ideas about
acting. So, you'll learn something--maybe enough to enable me
to put you in a good position--if Brent gets tired and if you
still want to be independent, as you call it."
"I hope so," said Susan absently.
Spenser was no more absorbed in his career than she in hers;
only, she realized how useless it would be to try to talk it
to him--that he would not give her so much as ears in an
attitude of polite attention. If he could have looked into
her head that morning and seen what thoughts were distracting
her from hearing about the great play, he would have been more
amused and disgusted than ever with feminine frivolity of mind
and incapacity in serious matters. For, it so happened that
at the moment Susan was concentrating on a new dress. He
would have laughed in the face of anyone saying to him that
this new dress was for Susan in the pursuit of her scheme of
life quite as weighty a matter, quite as worthy of the most
careful attention, as was his play for him. Yet that would
have been the literal truth. Primarily man's appeal is to the
ear, woman's to the eye--the reason, by the way, why the
theater--preeminently the place to _see_--tends to be dominated
Susan had made up her mind not only that she would rapidly
improve herself in every way, but also how she would go about
the improving. She saw that, for a woman at least, dress is
as much the prime essential as an arresting show window for a
dealer in articles that display well. She knew she was far
from the goal of which she dreamed--the position where she
would no longer be a woman primarily but a personage. Dress
would not merely increase her physical attractiveness; it
would achieve the far more important end of gaining her a
large measure of consideration. She felt that Brent, even
Brent, dealer in actualities and not to be fooled by
pretenses, would in spite of himself change his opinion of her
if she went to him dressed less like a middle class working
girl, more like the woman of the upper classes. At best,
using all the advantages she had, she felt there was small
enough chance of her holding his interest; for she could not
make herself believe that he was not deceiving himself about
her. However, to strengthen herself in every way with him was
obviously the wisest effort she could make. So, she must have
a new dress for the next meeting, one which would make him
better pleased to take her out to dinner. True, if she came
in rags, he would not be disturbed--for he had nothing of the
snob in him. But at the same time, if she came dressed like
a woman of his own class, he would be impressed. "He's a
man, if he is a genius," reasoned she.
Vital though the matter was, she calculated that she did not
dare spend more than twenty-five dollars on this toilet. She
must put by some of her forty a week; Brent might give her up
at any time, and she must not be in the position of having to
choose immediately between submitting to the slavery of the
kept woman as Spenser's dependent and submitting to the costly
and dangerous and repulsive freedom of the woman of the
streets. Thus, to lay out twenty-five dollars on a single
costume was a wild extravagance. She thought it over from
every point of view; she decided that she must take the risk.
Late in the afternoon she walked for an hour in Fifth Avenue.
After some hesitation she ventured into the waiting- and
dressing-rooms of several fashionable hotels. She was in
search of ideas for the dress, which must be in the prevailing
fashion. She had far too good sense and good taste to attempt
to be wholly original in dress; she knew that the woman who
understands her business does not try to create a fashion but
uses the changing and capricious fashion as the means to
express a constant and consistent style of her own. She
appreciated her limitations in such matters--how far she as
yet was from the knowledge necessary to forming a permanent
and self-expressive style. She was prepared to be most
cautious in giving play to an individual taste so imperfectly
educated as hers had necessarily been.
She felt that she had the natural instinct for the best and
could recognize it on sight--an instinct without which no one
can go a step forward in any of the arts. She had long since
learned to discriminate among the vast masses of offering,
most of them tasteless or commonplace, to select the rare and
few things that have merit. Thus, she had always stood out in
the tawdrily or drearily or fussily dressed throngs, had been
a pleasure to the eyes even of those who did not know why they
were pleased. On that momentous day, she finally saw a woman
dressed in admirable taste who was wearing a costume simple
enough for her to venture to think of copying the main points.
She walked several blocks a few yards behind this woman, then
hurried ahead of her, turned and walked toward her to inspect
the front of the dress. She repeated this several times
between the St. Regis and Sherry's. The woman soon realized,
as women always do, what the girl in the shirtwaist and short
skirt was about. But she happened to be a good-natured
person, and smiled pleasantly at Susan, and got in return a
smile she probably did not soon forget.
The next morning Susan went shopping. She had it in mind to
get the materials for a costume of a certain delicate shade of
violet. A dress of that shade, and a big hat trimmed in tulle
to match or to harmonize, with a bunch of silk violets
fastened in the tulle in a certain way.
Susan knew she had good looks, knew what was becoming to her
darkly and softly fringed violet eyes, pallid skin, to her
rather tall figure, slender, not voluptuous yet suggesting
voluptuousness. She could see herself in that violet costume.
But when she began to look at materials she hesitated. The
violet would be beautiful; but it was not a wise investment
for a girl with few clothes, with but one best dress. She did
not give it up definitely, however, until she came upon a
sixteen-yard remnant of soft gray China crepe. Gray was a
really serviceable color for the best dress of a girl of small
means. And this remnant, certainly enough for a dress, could
be had for ten dollars, where violet China crepe of the shade
she wanted would cost her a dollar a yard. She took the remnant.
She went to the millinery department and bought a large hat
frame. It was of a good shape and she saw how it could be
bent to suit her face. She paid fifty cents for this, and two
dollars and seventy cents for four yards of gray tulle. She
found that silk flowers were beyond her means; so she took a
bunch of presentable looking violets of the cheaper kind at
two dollars and a half. She happened to pass a counter
whereon were displayed bargains in big buckles and similar
odds and ends of steel and enamel. She fairly pounced upon a
handsome gray buckle with violet enamel, which cost but
eighty-nine cents. For a pair of gray suede ties she paid two
dollars; for a pair of gray silk stockings, ninety cents.
These matters, with some gray silk net for the collar, gray
silk for a belt, linings and the like, made her total bill
twenty-three dollars and sixty-seven cents. She returned home
content and studied "Cavalleria" until her purchases arrived.
Spenser was out now, was working all day and in the evenings
at Sperry's office high up in the Times Building. So, Susan
had freedom for her dressmaking operations. To get them off
her mind that she might work uninterruptedly at learning
_Lola's_ part in "Cavalleria," she toiled all Saturday, far into
Sunday morning, was astir before Spenser waked, finished the
dress soon after breakfast and the hat by the middle of the
afternoon. When Spenser returned from Sperry's office to take
her to dinner, she was arrayed. For the first time he saw her
in fashionable attire and it was really fashionable, for
despite all her disadvantages she, who had real and rare
capacity for learning, had educated herself well in the chief
business of woman the man-catcher in her years in New York.
He stood rooted to the threshold. It would have justified a
vanity less vigorous than Susan or any other normal human
being possessed, to excite such a look as was in his eyes. He
drew a long breath by way of breaking the spell over speech.
"You are _beautiful!_" he exclaimed.
And his eyes traveled from the bewitching hat, set upon her
head coquettishly yet without audacity, to the soft crepe
dress, its round collar showing her perfect throat, its
graceful lines subtly revealing her alluring figure, to the
feet that men always admired, whatever else of beauty or charm
they might fail to realize.
"How you have grown!" he ejaculated. Then, "How did you do it?"
"By all but breaking myself."
"It's worth whatever it cost. If I had a dress suit, we'd go
to Sherry's or the Waldorf. I'm willing to go, without the
"No. I've got everything ready for dinner at home."
"Then, why on earth did you dress? To give me a treat?"
"Oh, I hate to go out in a dress I've never worn. And a woman
has to wear a hat a good many times before she knows how."
"What a lot of fuss you women do make about clothes."
"You seem to like it, all the same."
"Of course. But it's a trifle."
"It has got many women a good provider for life. And not
paying attention to dress or not knowing how has made most of
the old maids. Are those things trifles?"
Spenser laughed and shifted his ground without any sense of
having been pressed to do so. "Men are fools where women
"Or women are wise where men are concerned."
"I guess they do know their business--some of them," he
confessed. "Still, it's a silly business, you must admit."
"Nothing is silly that's successful," said Susan.
"Depends on what you mean by success," argued he.
"Success is getting what you want."
"Provided one wants what's worth while," said he.
"And what's worth while?" rejoined she. "Why, whatever one
happens to want."
To avoid any possible mischance to the _grande toilette_