Part 17 out of 19
peculiar and uncertain . . . and I don't understand him at all."
"Isn't this his usual way with the failures--his way of
letting them down easily?"
Susan's manner was certainly light and cheerful, an assurance
that he need have no fear of hysterics or despair or any sort
of scene trying to a soft heart. But Garvey could take but
the one view of the favor or disfavor of the god of his
universe. He looked at her like a dog that is getting a
whipping from a friend. "Now, Miss Lenox, you've no right to
put me in this painful----"
"That's true," said Susan, done since she had got what she
sought. "I shan't say another word. When Mr. Brent comes
back, will you tell him I sent for you to ask you to thank him
for me--and say to him that I found something else for which
I hope I'm better suited?"
"I'm so glad," said Garvey, hysterically. "I'm delighted.
And I'm sure he will be, too. For I'm sure he liked you,
personally--and I must say I was surprised when he went. But
I must not say that sort of thing. Indeed, I know nothing,
Miss Lenox--I assure you----"
"And please tell him," interrupted Susan, "that I'd have
written him myself, only I don't want to bother him."
"Oh, no--no, indeed. Not that, Miss Lenox. I'm so sorry.
But I'm only the secretary. I can't say anything."
It was some time before Susan could get rid of him, though he
was eager to be gone. He hung in the doorway, ejaculating
disconnectedly, dropping and picking up his hat, perspiring
profusely, shaking hands again and again, and so exciting her
pity for his misery of the good-hearted weak that she was for
the moment forgetful of her own plight. Long before he went,
he had greatly increased her already strong belief in Brent's
generosity of character--for, thought she, he'd have got
another secretary if he hadn't been too kind to turn adrift so
helpless and foolish a creature. Well--he should have no
trouble in getting rid of her.
She was seeing little of Spenser and they were saying almost
nothing to each other. When he came at night, always very
late, she was in bed and pretended sleep. When he awoke, she
got breakfast in silence; they read the newspapers as they
ate. And he could not spare the time to come to dinner. As
the decisive moment drew near, his fears dried up his
confident volubility. He changed his mind and insisted on her
coming to the theater for the final rehearsals. But
"Shattered Lives" was not the sort of play she cared for, and
she was wearied by the profane and tedious wranglings of the
stage director and the authors, by the stupidity of the actors
who had to be told every little intonation and gesture again
and again. The agitation, the labor seemed grotesquely out of
proportion to the triviality of the matter at issue. At the
first night she sat in a box from which Spenser, in a high
fever and twitching with nervousness, watched the play,
gliding out just before the lights were turned up for the
intermission. The play went better than she had expected, and
the enthusiasm of the audience convinced her that it was a
success before the fall of the curtain on the second act.
With the applause that greeted the chief climax--the end of
the third act--Spenser, Sperry and Fitzalan were convinced.
All three responded to curtain calls. Susan had never seen
Spenser so handsome, and she admired the calmness and the
cleverness of his brief speech of thanks. That line of
footlights between them gave her a new point of view on him,
made her realize how being so close to his weaknesses had
obscured for her his strong qualities--for, unfortunately,
while a man's public life is determined wholly by his strong
qualities, his intimate life depends wholly on his weaknesses.
She was as fond of him as she had ever been; but it was
impossible for her to feel any thrill approaching love. Why?
She looked at his fine face and manly figure; she recalled how
many good qualities he had. Why had she ceased to love him?
She thought perhaps some mystery of physical lack of sympathy
was in part responsible; then there was the fact that she
could not trust him. With many women, trust is not necessary
to love; on the contrary, distrust inflames love. It happened
not to be so with Susan Lenox. "I do not love him. I can
never love him again. And when he uses his power over me, I
shall begin to dislike him." The lost illusion! The dead
love! If she could call it back to life! But no--there it lay,
coffined, the gray of death upon its features. Her heart ached.
After the play Fitzalan took the authors and the leading lady,
Constance Francklyn, and Miss Lenox to supper in a private
room at Rector's. This was Miss Francklyn's first trial in a
leading part. She had small ability as an actress, having
never risen beyond the primer stage of mere posing and
declamation in which so many players are halted by their
vanity--the universal human vanity that is content with small
triumphs, or with purely imaginary triumphs. But she had a
notable figure of the lank, serpentine kind and a bad, sensual
face that harmonized with it. Especially in artificial light
she had an uncanny allure of the elemental, the wild animal in
the jungle. With every disposition and effort to use her
physical charms to further herself she would not have been
still struggling at twenty-eight, had she had so much as a
thimbleful of intelligence.
"Several times," said Sperry to Susan as they crossed Long
Acre together on the way to Rector's, "yes, at least half a
dozen times to my knowledge, Constance had had success right
in her hands. And every time she has gone crazy about some
cheap actor or sport and has thrown it away."
"But she'll get on now," said Susan.
"Perhaps," was Sperry's doubting reply. "Of course, she's got
no brains. But it doesn't take brains to act--that is, to act
well enough for cheap machine-made plays like this. And
nowadays playwrights have learned that it's useless to try to
get actors who can act. They try to write parts that are
"You don't like your play?" said Susan.
"Like it? I love it. Isn't it going to bring me in a pot of
money? But as a play"--Sperry laughed. "I know Spenser
thinks it's great, but--there's only one of us who can write
plays, and that's Brent. It takes a clever man to write a
clever play. But it takes a genius to write a clever play
that'll draw the damn fools who buy theater seats. And Robert
Brent now and then does the trick. How are you getting on
with your ambition for a career?"
Susan glanced nervously at him. The question, coming upon the
heels of talk about Brent, filled her with alarm lest Rod had
broken his promise and had betrayed her confidence. But
Sperry's expression showed that she was probably mistaken.
"My ambition?" said she. "Oh--I've given it up."
"The thought of work was too much for you--eh?"
Susan shrugged her shoulders.
A sardonic grin flitted over Sperry's Punch-like face. "The
more I see of women, the less I think of 'em," said he. "But
I suppose the men'd be lazy and worthless too, if nature had
given 'em anything that'd sell or rent. . . . Somehow I'm
disappointed in _you_, though."
That ended the conversation until they were sitting down at
the table. Then Sperry said:
"Are you offended by my frankness a while ago?"
"No," replied Susan. "The contrary. Some day your saying
that may help me."
"It's quite true, there's something about you--a look--a
manner--it makes one feel you could do things if you tried."
"I'm afraid that `something' is a fraud," said she. No doubt
it was that something that had misled Brent--that had always
deceived her about herself. No, she must not think herself a
self-deceived dreamer. Even if it was so, still she must not
think it. She must say to herself over and over again "Brent
or no Brent, I shall get on--I shall get on" until she had
silenced the last disheartening doubt.
Miss Francklyn, with Fitzalan on her left and Spenser on her
right, was seated opposite Susan. About the time the third
bottle was being emptied the attempts of Spenser and Constance
to conceal from her their doings became absurd. Long before
the supper was over there had been thrust at her all manner of
proofs that Spenser was again untrue, that he was whirling
madly in one of those cyclonic infatuations which soon wore
him out and left him to return contritely to her. Sperry
admired Susan's manners as displayed in her unruffled
serenity--an admiration which she did not in the least
deserve. She was in fact as deeply interested as she seemed
in his discussion of plays and acting, illustrated by Brent's
latest production. By the time the party broke up, Susan had
in spite of herself collected a formidable array of
incriminating evidence, including the stealing of one of
Constance's jeweled show garters by Spenser under cover of the
tablecloth and a swift kiss in the hall when Constance went
out for a moment and Spenser presently suspended his drunken
praises of himself as a dramatist, and appointed himself a
committee to see what had become of her.
At the door of the restaurant, Spenser said:
"Susan, you and Miss Francklyn take a taxicab. She'll drop
you at our place on her way home. Fitz and Sperry and I want
one more drink."
"Not for me," said Sperry savagely, with a scowl at Constance.
But Fitzalan, whose arm Susan had seen Rod press, remained silent.
"Come on, my dear," cried Miss Francklyn, smiling sweet
insolent treachery into Susan's face.
Susan smiled sweetly back at her. As she was leaving the
taxicab in Forty-fifth Street, she said:
"Send Rod home by noon, won't you? And don't tell him I know."
Miss Francklyn, who had been drinking greedily, began to cry.
Susan laughed. "Don't be a silly," she urged. "If I'm not
upset, why should you be? And how could I blame you two for
getting crazy about each other? I wouldn't spoil it for
worlds. I want to help it on."
"Don't you love him--really?" cried Constance, face and voice
full of the most thrilling theatricalism.
"I'm very fond of him," replied Susan. "We're old, old
friends. But as to love--I'm where you'll be a few months
Miss Francklyn dried her eyes. "Isn't it the devil!" she
exclaimed. "Why _can't_ it last?"
"Why, indeed," said Susan. "Good night--and don't forget to
send him by twelve o'clock." And she hurried up the steps
without waiting for a reply.
She felt that the time for action had again come--that critical
moment which she had so often in the past seen come and had
let pass unheeded. He was in love with another woman; he was
prosperous, assured of a good income for a long time, though
he wrote no more successes. No need to consider him. For
herself, then--what? Clearly, there could be no future for
her with Rod. Clearly, she must go.
Must go--must take the only road that offered. Up before
her--as in every mood of deep depression--rose the vision of
the old women of the slums--the solitary, bent, broken forms,
clad in rags, feet wrapped in rags--shuffling along in the
gutters, peering and poking among filth, among garbage, to get
together stuff to sell for the price of a drink. The old
women of the tenements, the old women of the gutters, the old
women drunk and dancing as the lecherous-eyed hunchback played
She must not this time wait and hesitate and hope; this time
she must take the road that offered--and since it must be
taken she must advance along it as if of all possible roads it
was the only one she would have freely chosen.
Yet after she had written and sent off the note to Palmer, a
deep sadness enveloped her--a grief, not for Rod, but for the
association, the intimacy, their life together, its sorrows
and storms perhaps more than the pleasures and the joys. When
she left him before, she had gone sustained by the feeling
that she was doing it for him, was doing a duty. Now, she was
going merely to save herself, to further herself. Life, life
in that great and hard school of practical living, New York,
had given her the necessary hardiness to go, aided by Rod's
unfaithfulness and growing uncongeniality. But not while she
lived could she ever learn to be hard. She would do what she
must--she was no longer a fool. But she could not help
sighing and crying a little as she did it.
It was not many minutes after noon when Spenser came. He
looked so sheepish and uncomfortable that Susan thought
Constance had told him. But his opening sentence of apology was:
"I took too many nightcaps and Fitz had to lug me home with him."
"Really?" said Susan. "How disappointed Constance must have been!"
Spenser was not a good liar. His face twisted and twitched so
that Susan laughed outright. "Why, you look like a caught
married man," cried she. "You forget we're both free."
"Whatever put that crazy notion in your head--about Miss
Francklyn?" demanded he.
"When you take me or anyone for that big a fool, Rod, you only
show how foolish you yourself are," said she with the utmost
good humor. "The best way to find out how much sense a person has
is to see what kind of lies he thinks'll deceive another person."
"Now--don't get jealous, Susie," soothed he. "You know how a
The tone was correctly contrite, but Susan felt underneath the
confidence that he would be forgiven--the confidence of the
egotist giddied by a triumph. Said she:
"Don't you think mine's a strange way of acting jealous?"
"But you're a strange woman."
Susan looked at him thoughtfully. "Yes, I suppose I am," said
she. "And you'll think me stranger when I tell you what I'm
going to do."
He started up in a panic. And the fear in his eyes pleased
her, at the same time that it made her wince.
She nodded slowly. "Yes, Rod--I'm leaving."
"I'll drop Constance," cried he. "I'll have her put out of
"No--go on with her till you've got enough--or she has."
"I've got enough, this minute," declared he with convincing
energy and passion. "You must know, dearest, that to me
Constance--all the women I've ever seen--aren't worth your
little finger. You're all that they are, and a whole lot more
besides." He seized her in his arms. "You wouldn't leave
me--you couldn't! You understand how men are--how they get
these fits of craziness about a pair of eyes or a figure or
some trick of voice or manner. But that doesn't affect the
man's heart. I love you, Susan. I adore you."
She did not let him see how sincerely he had touched her. Her
eyes were of their deepest violet, but he had never learned
that sign. She smiled mockingly; the fingers that caressed
his hair were trembling. "We've tided each other over, Rod.
The play's a success. You're all right again--and so am I.
Now's the time to part."
"Is it Brent, Susie?"
"I quit him last week."
"There's no one else. You're going because of Constance!"
She did not deny. "You're free and so am I," said she
practically. "I'm going. So--let's part sensibly. Don't
make a silly scene."
She knew how to deal with him--how to control him through his
vanity. He drew away from her, chilled and sullen. "If you
can live through it, I guess I can," said he. "You're making
a damn fool of yourself--leaving a man that's fond of you--and
leaving when he's successful."
"I always was a fool, you know," said she. She had decided
against explaining to him and so opening up endless and vain
argument. It was enough that she saw it was impossible to
build upon or with him, saw the necessity of trying
elsewhere--unless she would risk--no, invite--finding herself
after a few months, or years, back among the drift, back in
He gazed at her as she stood smiling gently at him--smiling to
help her hide the ache at her heart, the terror before the
vision of the old women of the tenement gutters, earning the
wages, not of sin, not of vice, not of stupidity, but of
indecision, of over-hopefulness--of weakness. Here was the
kind of smile that hurts worse than tears, that takes the
place of tears and sobs and moans. But he who had never
understood her did not understand her now. Her smile
infuriated his vanity. "You can _laugh!_" he sneered.
"Well--go to the filth where you belong! You were born for
it." And he flung out of the room, went noisily down the
stairs. She heard the front door's distant slam; it seemed to
drop her into a chair. She sat there all crouched together
until the clock on the mantel struck two. This roused her
hastily to gather into her trunk such of her belongings as she
had not already packed. She sent for a cab. The man of all
work carried down the trunk and put it on the box. Dressed in
a simple blue costume as if for traveling, she entered the cab
and gave the order to drive to the Grand Central Station.
At the corner she changed the order and was presently entering
the Beaux Arts restaurant where she had asked Freddie to meet
her. He was there, smoking calmly and waiting. At sight of
her he rose. "You'll have lunch?" said he.
"A small bottle of champagne?"
"Yes--I'm rather tired."
He ordered the champagne. "And," said he, "it'll be the real
thing--which mighty few New Yorkers get even at the best
places." When it came he sent the waiter away and filled the
glasses himself. He touched the brim of his glass to the
bottom of hers. "To the new deal," said he.
She smiled and nodded, and emptied the glass. Suddenly it
came to her why she felt so differently toward him. She saw
the subtle, yet radical change that always transforms a man of
force of character when his position in the world notably
changes. This man before her, so slightly different in
physical characteristics from the man she had fled, was wholly
different in expression.
"When shall we sail?" asked he. "Tomorrow?"
"First--there's the question of money," said she.
He was much amused. "Still worrying about your independence."
"No," replied she. "I've been thinking it out, and I don't
feel any anxiety about that. I've changed my scheme of life.
I'm going to be sensible and practice what life has taught me.
It seems there's only one way for a woman to get up. Through
Freddie nodded. "By marriage or otherwise, but always through
"So I've discovered," continued she. "So, I'm going to play
the game. And I think I can win now. With the aid of what
I'll learn and with the chances I'll have, I can keep my
feeling of independence. You see, if you and I don't get on
well together, I'll be able to look out for myself.
Something'll turn up."
"Don't you want me to be candid? But even if you don't, I've
got to be."
"Yes--truth--especially disagreeable truth--is your long
suit," said he. "Not that I'm kicking. I'm glad you went
straight at the money question. We can settle it and never
think of it again. And neither of us will be plotting to take
advantage of the other, or fretting for fear the other is
plotting. Sometimes I think nearly all the trouble in this
world comes through failure to have a clear understanding
about money matters."
Susan nodded. Said she thoughtfully, "I guess that's why I
came--one of the main reasons. You are wonderfully sensible
and decent about money."
"And the other chap isn't?"
"Oh, yes--and no. He likes to make a woman feel dependent.
He thinks--but that doesn't matter. He's all right."
"Now--for our understanding with each other," said Palmer.
"You can have whatever you want. The other day you said you
wanted some sort of a salary. But if you've changed----"
"No--that's what I want."
"So much a year?"
"So much a week," replied she. "I want to feel, and I want
you to feel, that we can call it off at any time on seven
"But that isn't what I want," said he--and she, watching him
closely if furtively, saw the strong lines deepen round his mouth.
She hesitated. She was seeing the old woman's dance hall, was
hearing the piano as the hunchback played and the old horrors
reeled about, making their palsy rhythmic. She was seeing
this, yet she dared. "Then you don't want me," said she, so
quietly that he could not have suspected her agitation. Never
had her habit of concealing her emotion been so useful to her.
He sat frowning at his glass--debating. Finally he said:
"I explained the other day what I was aiming for. Such an
arrangement as you suggest wouldn't help. You see that?"
"It's all I can do--at present," replied she firmly. And she
was now ready to stand or fall by that decision. She had
always accepted the other previous terms--or whatever terms
fate offered. Result--each time, disaster. She must make no
more fatal blunders. This time, her own terms or not at all.
He was silent a long time. She knew she had convinced him
that her terms were final. So, his delay could only mean that
he was debating whether to accept or to go his way and leave
her to go hers. At last he laughed and said:
"You've become a true New Yorker. You know how to drive a
hard bargain." He looked at her admiringly. "You certainly
have got courage. I happen to know a lot about your affairs.
I've ways of finding out things. And I know you'd not be here
if you hadn't broken with the other fellow first. So, if I
turned your proposition down you'd be up against it--wouldn't you?"
"Yes," said she. "But--I won't in any circumstances tie
myself. I must be free."
"You're right," said he. "And I'll risk your sticking. I'm
a good gambler."
"If I were bound, but didn't want to stay, would I be of much use?"
"Of no use. You can quit on seven minutes' notice, instead of
"And you, also," said she.
Laughingly they shook hands. She began to like him in a new
and more promising way. Here was a man, who at least was cast
in a big mold. Nothing small and cheap about him--and Brent
had made small cheap men forever intolerable to her. Yes,
here was a man of the big sort; and a big man couldn't
possibly be a bad man. No matter how many bad things he might
do, he would still be himself, at least, a scorner of the
pettiness and sneakiness and cowardice inseparable from villainy.
"And now," said he, "let's settle the last detail. How much
a week? How would five hundred strike you?"
"That's more than twelve times the largest salary I ever got.
It's many times as much as I made in the----"
"No matter," he hastily interposed. "It's the least you can
hold down the job on. You've got to spend money--for clothes
and so on."
"Two hundred is the most I can take," said she. "It's the
He insisted, but she remained firm. "I will not accustom
myself to much more than I see any prospect of getting
elsewhere," explained she. "Perhaps later on I'll ask for an
increase--later on, when I see how things are going and what
my prospects elsewhere would be. But I must begin modestly."
"Well, let it go at two hundred for the present. I'll deposit
a year's salary in a bank, and you can draw against it. Is
that satisfactory? You don't want me to hand you two hundred
dollars every Saturday, do you?"
"No. That would get on my nerves," said she.
"Now--it's all settled. When shall we sail?"
"There's a girl I've got to look up before I go."
"Maud? You needn't bother about her. She's married to a
piker from up the state--a shoe manufacturer. She's got
a baby, and is fat enough to make two or three like what
she used to be."
"No, not Maud. One you don't know."
"I hoped we could sail tomorrow. Why not take a taxi and go
after her now?"
"It may be a long search."
"She's a----?" He did not need to finish his sentence in order
to make himself understood.
"Oh, let her----"
"I promised," interrupted she.
"Then--of course." Freddie drew from his trousers pocket a
huge roll of bills. Susan smiled at this proof that he still
retained the universal habit of gamblers, politicians and
similar loose characters of large income, precariously
derived. He counted off three hundreds and four fifties and
held them out to her. "Let me in on it," said he.
Susan took the money without hesitation. She was used to
these careless generosities of the men of that
class--generosities passing with them and with the unthinking
for evidences of goodness of heart, when in fact no generosity
has any significance whatever beyond selfish vanity unless it
is a sacrifice of necessities--real necessities.
"I don't think I'll need money," said she. "But I may."
"You've got a trunk and a bag on the cab outside," he went on.
"I've told them at Sherry's that I'm to be married."
Susan flushed. She hastily lowered her eyes. But she need
not have feared lest he should suspect the cause of the
blush . . . a strange, absurd resentment of the idea that she
could be married to Freddie Palmer. Live with him--yes. But
marry--now that it was thus squarely presented to her, she
found it unthinkable. She did not pause to analyze this
feeling, indeed could not have analyzed it, had she tried. It
was, however, a most interesting illustration of how she had
been educated at last to look upon questions of sex as a man
looks on them. She was like the man who openly takes a
mistress whom he in no circumstances would elevate to the
position of wife.
"So," he proceeded, "you might as well move in at Sherry's."
"No," objected she. "Let's not begin the new deal until we sail."
The wisdom of this was obvious. "Then we'll take your things
over to the Manhattan Hotel," said he. "And we'll start the
search from there."
But after registering at the Manhattan as Susan Lenox, she
started out alone. She would not let him look in upon any
part of her life which she could keep veiled. XIX
SHE left the taxicab at the corner of Grand Street and the
Bowery, and plunged into her former haunts afoot. Once again
she had it forced upon her how meaningless in the life history
are the words "time" and "space." She was now hardly any
distance, as measurements go, from her present world, and she
had lived here only a yesterday or so ago. Yet what an
infinity yawned between! At the Delancey Street apartment
house there was already a new janitress, and the kinds of
shops on the ground floor had changed. Only after two hours
of going up and down stairs, of knocking at doors, of
questioning and cross-questioning, did she discover that Clara
had moved to Allen Street, to the tenement in which Susan
herself had for a few weeks lived--those vague, besotted weeks
When we go out into the streets with bereavement in mind, we
see nothing but people dressed in mourning. And a similar
thing occurs, whatever the emotion that oppresses us. It
would not have been strange if Susan, on the way to Allen
Street afoot, had seen only women of the streets, for they
swarm in every great thoroughfare of our industrial cities.
They used to come out only at night. But with the passing of
the feeling against them that existed when they were a rare,
unfamiliar, mysteriously terrible minor feature of life, they
issue forth boldly by day, like all the other classes, making
a living as best they can. But on that day Susan felt as if
she were seeing only the broken down and cast-out creatures of
the class--the old women, old in body rather than in years,
picking in the gutters, fumbling in the garbage barrels,
poking and peering everywhere for odds and ends that might
pile up into the price of a glass of the poison sold in the
barrel houses. The old women--the hideous, lonely old
women--and the diseased, crippled children, worse off than the
cats and the dogs, for cat and dog were not compelled to wear
filth-soaked rags. Prosperous, civilized New York!
A group of these children were playing some rough game, in
imitation of their elders, that was causing several to howl
with pain. She heard a woman, being shown about by a
settlement worker or some such person, say:
"Really, not at all badly dressed--for street games. I must
confess I don't see signs of the misery they talk so much about."
A wave of fury passed through Susan. She felt like striking
the woman full in her vain, supercilious, patronizing
face--striking her and saying: "You smug liar! What if you
had to wear such clothes on that fat, overfed body of yours!
You'd realize then how filthy they are!"
She gazed in horror at the Allen Street house. Was it
possible that _she_ had lived there? In the filthy doorway sat
a child eating a dill pickle--a scrawny, ragged little girl
with much of her hair eaten out by the mange. She recalled
this little girl as the formerly pretty and lively youngster,
the daughter of the janitress. She went past the child
without disturbing her, knocked at the janitress' door. It
presently opened, disclosing in a small and foul room four
prematurely old women, all in the family way, two with babies
in arms. One of these was the janitress. Though she was not
a Jewess, she was wearing one of the wigs assumed by orthodox
Jewish women when they marry. She stared at Susan with not a
sign of recognition.
"I am looking for Miss Clara," said Susan.
The janitress debated, shifted her baby from one arm to the
other, glanced inquiringly at the other women. They shook
their heads; she looked at Susan and shook her head. "There
ain't a Clara," said she. "Perhaps she's took another name?"
"Perhaps," conceded Susan. And she described Clara and the
various dresses she had had. At the account of one with
flounces on the skirts and lace puffs in the sleeves, the
youngest of the women showed a gleam of intelligence. "You
mean the girl with the cancer of the breast," said she.
Susan remembered. She could not articulate; she nodded.
"Oh, yes," said the janitress. "She had the third floor back,
and was always kicking because Mrs. Pfister kept a guinea pig
for her rheumatism and the smell came through."
"Has she gone?" asked Susan.
"Couple of weeks."
The janitress shrugged her shoulders. The other women
shrugged their shoulders. Said the janitress:
"Her feller stopped coming. The cancer got awful bad. I've
saw a good many--they're quite plentiful down this way. I
never see a worse'n hers. She didn't have no money. Up to
the hospital they tried a new cure on her that made her
gallopin' worse. The day before I was going to have to go to
work and put her out--she left."
"Can't you give me any idea?" urged Susan.
"She didn't take her things," said the janitress meaningly.
"Not a stitch."
The janitress shrugged her shoulders. "She always said she
would, and I guess----"
Again the fat, stooped shoulders lifted and lowered. "She was
most crazy with pain."
There was a moment's silence, then Susan murmured, "Thank
you," and went back to the hall. The house was exhaling a
frightful stench--the odor of cheap kerosene, of things that
passed there for food, of animals human and lower, of death
and decay. On her way out she dropped a dollar into the lap
of the little girl with the mange. A parrot was shrieking
from an upper window. On the topmost fire escape was a row of
geraniums blooming sturdily. Her taxicab had moved up the
street, pushed out of place by a hearse--a white hearse, with
polished mountings, the horses caparisoned in white netting,
and tossing white plumes. A baby's funeral--this mockery of
a ride in state after a brief life of squalor. It was summer,
and the babies were dying like lambs in the shambles. In
winter the grown people were slaughtered; in summer the
children. Across the street, a few doors up, the city dead
wagon was taking away another body--in a plain pine box--to
the Potter's Field where find their way for the final rest one
in every ten of the people of the rich and splendid city of
Susan hurried into her cab. "Drive fast," she said.
When she came back to sense of her surroundings she was flying
up wide and airy Fifth Avenue with gorgeous sunshine bathing
its palaces, with wealth and fashion and ease all about her.
Her dear City of the Sun! But it hurt her now, was hateful to
look upon. She closed her eyes; her life in the slums, her
life when she was sharing the lot that is really the lot of
the human race as a race, passed before her--its sights and
sounds and odors, its hideous heat, its still more hideous
cold, its contacts and associations, its dirt and disease and
degradation. And through the roar of the city there came to
her a sound, faint yet intense--like the still, small voice
the prophet heard--but not the voice of God, rather the voice
of the multitude of aching hearts, aching in hopeless
poverty--hearts of men, of women, of children----
The children! The multitudes of children with hearts that no
sooner begin to beat than they begin to ache. She opened her
eyes to shut out these sights and that sound of heartache.
She gazed round, drew a long breath of relief. She had almost
been afraid to look round lest she should find that her escape
had been only a dream. And now the road she had chosen--or,
rather, the only road she could take--the road with Freddie
Palmer--seemed attractive, even dazzling. What she could not
like, she would ignore--and how easily she, after her
experience, could do that! What she could not ignore she
would tolerate would compel herself to like.
Poor Clara!--Happy Clara!--better off in the dregs of the
river than she had ever been in the dregs of New York. She
shuddered. Then, as so often, the sense of the grotesque
thrust in, as out of place as jester in cap and bells at a
bier--and she smiled sardonically. "Why," thought she,
"in being squeamish about Freddie I'm showing that I'm more
respectable than the respectable women. There's hardly one
of them that doesn't swallow worse doses with less excuse or
no excuse at all--and without so much as a wry face." XX
IN the ten days on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Mr. and
Mrs. Palmer, as the passenger list declared them, planned the
early stages of their campaign. They must keep to themselves,
must make no acquaintances, no social entanglements of any
kind, until they had effected the exterior transformation
which was to be the first stride--and a very long one, they
felt--toward the conquest of the world that commands all the
other worlds. Several men aboard knew Palmer slightly--knew
him vaguely as a big politician and contractor. They had a
hazy notion that he was reputed to have been a thug and a
grafter. But New Yorkers have few prejudices except against
guilelessness and failure. They are well aware that the
wisest of the wise Hebrew race was never more sagacious than
when he observed that "he who hasteth to be rich shall not be
innocent." They are too well used to unsavory pasts to bother
much about that kind of odor; and where in the civilized
world--or in that which is not civilized--is there an odor
from reputation--or character--whose edge is not taken off by
the strong, sweet, hypnotic perfume of money? Also, Palmer's
appearance gave the lie direct to any scandal about him. It
could not be--it simply could not be--that a man of such
splendid physical build, a man with a countenance so handsome,
had ever been a low, wicked fellow! Does not the devil always
at once exhibit his hoofs, horns, tail and malevolent smile,
that all men may know who and what he is? A frank, manly
young leader of men--that was the writing on his countenance.
And his Italian blood put into his good looks an ancient and
aristocratic delicacy that made it incredible that he was of
low origin. He spoke good English, he dressed quietly; he
did not eat with his knife; he did not retire behind a napkin
to pick his teeth, but attended to them openly, if necessity
compelled--and splendid teeth they were, set in a wide, clean
mouth, notably attractive for a man's. No, Freddie Palmer's
past would not give him any trouble whatever; in a few years
it would be forgotten, would be romanced about as the heroic
struggles of a typical American rising from poverty.
"Thank God," said Freddie, "I had sense enough not to get a
jail smell on me!"
Susan colored painfully--and Palmer, the sensitive, colored
also. But he had the tact that does not try to repair a
blunder by making a worse one; he pretended not to see Susan's
_Her_ past would not be an easy matter--if it should ever rise
to face her publicly. Therefore it must not rise till Freddie
and she were within the walls of the world they purposed to
enter by stealth, and had got themselves well intrenched.
Then she would be Susan Lenox of Sutherland, Indiana, who had
come to New York to study for the stage and, after many trials
from all of which she had emerged with unspotted virtue,
whatever vicious calumny might in envy say, had captured the
heart and the name of the handsome, rich young contractor.
There would be nasty rumors, dreadful stories, perhaps. But
in these loose and cynical days, with the women more and more
audacious and independent, with the universal craving for
luxury beyond the reach of laboriously earned incomes, with
marriage decaying in city life among the better classes--in
these easy-going days, who was not suspected, hinted about,
attacked? And the very atrociousness of the stories would
prevent their being believed. One glance at Susan would be
enough to make doubters laugh at their doubts.
The familiar types of fast women of all degrees come from the
poorest kinds of farms and from the tenements. In America,
practically not until the panics and collapses of recent years
which have tumbled another and better section of the middle
class into the abyss of the underworld--not until then did
there appear in the city streets and houses of ill repute any
considerable number of girls from good early surroundings.
Before that time, the clamor for luxury--the luxury that
civilization makes as much a necessity as food--had been
satisfied more or less by the incomes of the middle class; and
any girl of that class, with physical charm and shrewdness
enough to gain a living as outcast woman, was either supported
at home or got a husband able to give her at least enough of
what her tastes craved to keep her in the ranks of the
reputable. Thus Susan's beauty of refinement, her speech and
manner of the lady, made absurd any suggestion that she could
ever have been a fallen woman. The crimson splash of her
rouged lips did not suggest the _cocotte_, but the lady with a
dash of gayety in her temperament. This, because of the
sweet, sensitive seriousness of her small, pallid face with
its earnest violet-gray eyes and its frame of abundant dark
hair, simply and gracefully arranged. She was of the advance
guard of a type which the swift downfall of the middle class,
the increasing intelligence and restlessness and love of
luxury among women, and the decay of formal religion with its
exactions of chastity as woman's one diamond-fine jewel, are
now making familiar in every city. The demand for the
luxurious comfort which the educated regard as merely decent
existence is far outstripping the demand for, and the
education of, women in lucrative occupations other than
Luckily Susan had not been arrested under her own name; there
existed no court record which could be brought forward as
proof by some nosing newspaper.
Susan herself marveled that there was not more trace of her
underworld experience in her face and in her mind. She could
not account for it. Yet the matter was simple enough to one
viewing it from the outside. It is what we think, what we
feel about ourselves, that makes up our expression of body and
soul. And never in her lowest hour had her soul struck its
flag and surrendered to the idea that she was a fallen
creature. She had a temperament that estimated her acts not
as right and wrong but as necessity. Men, all the rest of the
world, might regard her as nothing but sex symbol; she
regarded herself as an intelligence. And the filth slipped
from her and could not soak in to change the texture of her
being. She had no more the feeling or air of the _cocotte_
than has the married woman who lives with her husband for a
living. Her expression, her way of looking at her fellow
beings and of meeting their looks, was that of the woman of
the world who is for whatever reason above that slavery to
opinion, that fear of being thought bold or forward which
causes women of the usual run to be sensitive about staring or
being stared at. Sometimes--in _cocottes_, in stage women, in
fashionable women--this expression is self-conscious, or
supercilious. It was not so with Susan, for she had little
self-consciousness and no snobbishness at all. It merely gave
the charm of worldly experience and expertness to a beauty
which, without it, might have been too melancholy.
Susan, become by sheer compulsion philosopher about the
vagaries of fat, did not fret over possible future dangers.
She dismissed them and put all her intelligence and energy to
the business in hand--to learning and to helping Palmer learn
the ways of that world which includes all worlds.
Toward the end of the voyage she said to him:
"About my salary--or allowance--or whatever it is---- I've
been thinking things over. I've made up my mind to save some
money. My only chance is that salary. Have you any objection
to my saving it--as much of it as I can?"
He laughed. "Tuck away anything and everything you can lay
your hands on," said he. "I'm not one of those fools who
try to hold women by being close and small with them.
I'd not want you about if you were of the sort that
could be held that way."
"No--I'll put by only from my salary," said she. "I admit
I've no right to do that. But I've become sensible enough to
realize that I mustn't ever risk being out again with no
money. It has got on my mind so that I'd not be able to think
of much else for worrying--unless I had at least a little."
"Do you want me to make you independent?"
"No," replied she. "Whatever you gave me I'd have to give
back if we separated."
"_That_ isn't the way to get on, my dear," said he.
"It's the best I can do--as yet," replied she. "And it's
quite an advance on what I was. Yes, I _am_ learning--slowly."
"Save all your salary, then," said Freddie. "When you buy
anything charge it, and I'll attend to the bill."
Her expression told him that he had never made a shrewder
move in his life. He knew he had made himself secure against
losing her; for he knew what a force gratitude was in her
Her mind was now free--free for the educational business in
hand. She appreciated that he had less to learn than she.
Civilization, the science and art of living, of extracting all
possible good from the few swift years of life, has
been--since the downfall of woman from hardship, ten or
fifteen thousand years ago--the creation of the man almost
entirely. Until recently among the higher races such small
development of the intelligence of woman as her seclusion and
servitude permitted was sporadic and exotic. Nothing
intelligent was expected of her--and it is only under the
compulsion of peremptory demand that any human being ever is
roused from the natural sluggishness. But civilization,
created _by_ man, was created _for_ woman. Woman has to learn
how to be the civilized being which man has ordained that she
shall be--how to use for man's comfort and pleasure the
ingenuities and the graces he has invented.
It is easy for a man to pick up the habits, tastes, manners
and dress of male citizens of the world, if he has as keen
eyes and as discriminating taste as had Palmer, clever
descendant of the supple Italian. But to become a female
citizen of the world is not so easy. For Susan to learn to be
an example of the highest civilization, from her inmost
thoughts to the outermost penumbra of her surroundings--that
would be for her a labor of love, but still a labor. As her
vanity was of the kind that centers on the advantages she
actually had, instead of being the more familiar kind that
centers upon non-existent charms of mind and person, her task
was possible of accomplishment--for those who are sincerely
willing to learn, who sincerely know wherein they lack, can
learn, can be taught. As she had given these matters of
civilization intelligent thought she knew where to begin--at
the humble, material foundation, despised and neglected by
those who talk most loudly about civilization, art, culture,
and so on. They aspire to the clouds and the stars at
once--and arrive nowhere except in talk and pretense and
flaunting of ill-fitting borrowed plumage. They flap their
gaudy artificial wings; there is motion, but no ascent. Susan
wished to build--and build solidly. She began with the
When they had been at Naples a week Palmer said:
"Don't you think we'd better push on to Paris?"
"I can't go before Saturday," replied she. "I've got several
"It's pretty dull here for me--with you spending so much time
in the shops. I suppose the women's shops are
good"--hesitatingly--"but I've heard those in Paris are better."
"The shops here are rotten. Italian women have no taste in
dress. And the Paris shops are the best in the world."
"Then let's clear out," cried he. "I'm bored to death. But
I didn't like to say anything, you seemed so busy."
"I am busy. And--can you stand it three days more?"
"But you'll only have to throw away the stuff you buy here.
Why buy so much?"
"I'm not buying much. Two ready-to-wear Paris dresses--models
they call them--and two hats."
Palmer looked alarmed. "Why, at that rate," protested he,
"it'll take you all winter to get together your winter
clothes, and no time left to wear 'em."
"You don't understand," said she. "If you want to be treated
right in a shop--be shown the best things--have your orders
attended to, you've got to come looking as if you knew what
the best is. I'm getting ready to make a good first
impression on the dressmakers and milliners in Paris."
"Oh, you'll have the money, and that'll make 'em step round."
"Don't you believe it," replied she. "All the money in the
world won't get you _fashionable_ clothes. at the most
fashionable place. It'll only get you _costly_ clothes."
"Maybe that's so for women's things. It isn't for men's."
"I'm not sure of that. When we get to Paris, we'll see. But
certainly it's true for women. If I went to the places in the
rue de la Paix dressed as I am now, it'd take several years to
convince them that I knew what I wanted and wouldn't be
satisfied with anything but the latest and best. So I'm
having these miserable dressmakers fit those dresses on me
until they're absolutely perfect. It's wearing me out, but
I'll be glad I did it."
Palmer had profound respect for her as a woman who knew what
she was about. So he settled himself patiently and passed
the time investigating the famous Neapolitan political machine
with the aid of an interpreter guide whom he hired by the day.
He was enthusiastic over the dresses and the hats when Susan
at last had them at the hotel and showed herself to him in
them. They certainly did work an amazing change in her. They
were the first real Paris models she had ever worn.
"Maybe it's because I never thought much about women's clothes
before," said Freddie, "but those things seem to be the best
ever. How they do show up your complexion and your figure!
And I hadn't any idea your hair was as grand as all that. I'm
a little afraid of you. We've got to get acquainted all over
again. These clothes of mine look pretty poor, don't they?
Yet I paid all kinds of money for 'em at the best place in
He examined her from all points of view, going round and round
her, getting her to walk up and down to give him the full
effect of her slender yet voluptuous figure in that
beautifully fitted coat and skirt. He felt that his dreams
were beginning to come true.
"We'll do the trick!" cried he. "Don't you think about money
when you're buying clothes. It's a joy to give up for clothes
for you. You make 'em look like something."
"Wait till I've shopped a few weeks in Paris," said Susan.
"Let's start tonight," cried he. "I'll telegraph to the Ritz
When she began to dress in her old clothes for the journey, he
protested. "Throw all these things away," he urged. "Wear
one of the new dresses and hats."
"But they're not exactly suitable for traveling."
"People'll think you lost your baggage. I don't want ever to
see you again looking any way except as you ought to look."
"No, I must take care of those clothes," said she firmly.
"It'll be weeks before I can get anything in Paris, and I must
keep up a good front."
He continued to argue with her until it occurred to him that
as his own clothes were not what they should be, he and she
would look much better matched if she dressed as she wished.
He had not been so much in jest as he thought when he said to
her that they would have to get acquainted all over again.
Those new clothes of hers brought out startlingly--so clearly
that even his vanity was made uneasy--the subtle yet profound
difference of class between them. He had always felt this
difference, and in the old days it had given him many a savage
impulse to degrade her, to put her beneath him as a punishment
for his feeling that she was above him. Now he had his
ambition too close at heart to wish to rob her of her chief
distinction; he was disturbed about it, though, and looked
forward to Paris with uneasiness.
"You must help me get my things," said he.
"I'd be glad to," said she. "And you must be frank with me,
and tell me where I fall short of the best of the women we see."
He laughed. The idea that he could help her seemed fantastic.
He could not understand it--how this girl who had been brought
up in a jay town away out West, who had never had what might
be called a real chance to get in the know in New York, could
so quickly pass him who had been born and bred in New York,
had spent the last ten years in cultivating style and all the
other luxurious tastes. He did not like to linger on this
puzzle; the more he worked at it, the farther away from him
Susan seemed to get. Yet the puzzle would not let him drop it.
They came in at the Gare de Lyon in the middle of a beautiful
October afternoon. Usually, from late September or earlier
until May or later, Paris has about the vilest climate that
curses a civilized city. It is one of the bitterest ironies
of fate that a people so passionately fond of the sun, of the
outdoors, should be doomed for two-thirds of the year to live
under leaden, icily leaking skies with rarely a ray of real
sunshine. And nothing so well illustrates the exuberant
vitality, the dauntless spirit of the French people, as the
way they have built in preparation for the enjoyment of every
bit of the light and warmth of any chance ray of sunshine.
That year it so fell that the winter rains did not close in
until late, and Paris reveled in a long autumn of almost New
York perfection. Susan and Palmer drove to the Ritz through
Paris, the lovely, the gay.
"This is the real thing--isn't it?" said he, thrilled into
speech by that spectacle so inspiring to all who have the joy
of life in their veins--the Place de l'Opera late on a bright
"It's the first thing I've ever seen that was equal to what I
had dreamed about it," replied she.
They had chosen the Ritz as their campaign headquarters
because they had learned that it was the most fashionable
hotel in Paris--which meant in the world. There were hotels
more grand, the interpreter-guide at Naples had said; there
were hotels more exclusive. There were even hotels more
comfortable. "But for fashion," said he, "it is the summit.
There you see the most beautiful ladies, most beautifully
dressed. There you see the elegant world at tea and at dinner."
At first glance they were somewhat disappointed in the quiet,
unostentatious general rooms. The suite assigned them--at a
hundred and twenty francs a day--was comfortable, was the most
comfortable assemblage of rooms either had ever seen. But
there was nothing imposing. This impression did not last
long, however. They had been misled by their American passion
for looks. They soon discovered that the guide at Naples had
told the literal truth. They went down for tea in the garden,
which was filled as the day was summer warm. Neither spoke as
they sat under a striped awning umbrella, she with tea
untasted before her, he with a glass of whiskey and soda he
did not lift from the little table. Their eyes and their
thoughts were too busy for speech; one cannot talk when one is
thinking. About them were people of the world of which
neither had before had any but a distant glimpse. They heard
English, American, French, Italian. They saw men and women
with that air which no one can define yet everyone knows on
sight--the assurance without impertinence, the politeness
without formality, the simplicity that is more complex than
the most elaborate ornamentation of dress or speech or manner.
Susan and Freddie lingered until the departure of the last
couple--a plainly dressed man whose clothes on inspection
revealed marvels of fineness and harmonious color; a quietly
dressed woman whose costume from tip of plume to tip of suede
slipper was a revelation of how fine a fine art the toilet can
"Well--we're right in it, for sure," said Freddie, dropping to
a sofa in their suite and lighting a cigarette.
"Yes," said Susan, with a sigh. "In it--but not of it."
"I almost lost my nerve as I sat there. And for the life of
me I can't tell why."
"Those people know how," replied Susan. "Well--what they've
learned we can learn."
"Sure," said he energetically. "It's going to take a lot of
practice--a lot of time. But I'm game." His expression, its
suggestion of helplessness and appeal, was a clear confession
of a feeling that she was his superior.
"We're both of us ignorant," she hastened to say. "But when
we get our bearings--in a day or two--we'll be all right."
"Let's have dinner up here in the sitting-room. I haven't got
the nerve to face that gang again today"
"Nonsense!" laughed she. "We mustn't give way to our
feelings--not for a minute. There'll be a lot of people as
badly off as we are. I saw some this afternoon--and from the
way the waiters treated them, I know they had money or
something. Put on your evening suit, and you'll be all right.
I'm the one that hasn't anything to wear. But I've got to go
and study the styles. I must begin to learn what to wear and
now to wear it. We've come to the right place, Freddie.
He felt better when he was in evening clothes which made him
handsome indeed, bringing out all his refinement of feature
and coloring. He was almost cheerful when Susan came into the
sitting-room in the pale gray of her two new toilettes. It
might be, as she insisted, that she was not dressed properly
for fashionable dining; but there would be no more delicate,
no more lady-like loveliness. He quite recovered his nerve
when they faced the company that had terrified him in
prospect. He saw many commonplace looking people, not a few
who were downright dowdy. And presently he had the
satisfaction of realizing that not only Susan but he also was
getting admiring attention. He no longer floundered
panic-stricken; his feet touched bottom and he felt foolish
about his sensations of a few minutes before.
After all, the world over, dining in a restaurant is nothing
but dining in a restaurant. The waiter and the head waiter
spoke English, were gracefully, tactfully, polite; and as he
ordered he found his self-confidence returning with the
surging rush of a turned tide on a low shore. The food was
wonderful, and the champagne, "English taste," was the best he
had ever drunk. Halfway through dinner both he and Susan were
in the happiest frame of mind. The other people were drinking
too, were emerging from caste into humanness. Women gazed
languorously and longingly at the handsome young American; men
sent stealthy or open smiles of adoration at Susan whenever
Freddie's eyes were safely averted. But Susan was more
careful than a woman of the world to which she aspired would
have been; she ignored the glances and without difficulty
assumed the air of wife.
"I don't believe we'll have any trouble getting acquainted
with these people," said Freddie.
"We don't want to, yet," replied she.
"Oh, I feel we'll soon be ready for them," said he.
"Yes--that," said she. "But that amounts to nothing. This
isn't to be merely a matter of clothes and acquaintances--at
least, not with me."
"What then?" inquired he.
"Oh--we'll see as we get our bearings." She could not have
put into words the plans she was forming--plans for educating
and in every way developing him and herself. She was not sure
at what she was aiming, but only of the direction. She had no
idea how far she could go herself--or how far he would consent
to go. The wise course was just to work along from day to
day--keeping the direction.
"All right. I'll do as you say. You've got this game sized
up better than I."
Is there any other people that works as hard as do the
Parisians? Other peoples work with their bodies; but the
Parisians, all classes and masses too, press both mind and
body into service. Other peoples, if they think at all, think
how to avoid work; the Parisians think incessantly, always,
how to provide themselves with more to do. Other peoples
drink to stupefy themselves lest peradventure in a leisure
moment they might be seized of a thought; Parisians drink to
stimulate themselves, to try to think more rapidly, to attract
ideas that might not enter and engage a sober and therefore
somewhat sluggish brain. Other peoples meet a new idea as if
it were a mortal foe; the Parisians as if it were a long-lost
friend. Other peoples are agitated chiefly, each man or
woman, about themselves; the Parisians are full of their work,
their surroundings, bother little about themselves except as
means to what they regard as the end and aim of life--to make
the world each moment as different as possible from what it
was the moment before, to transform the crass and sordid
universe of things with the magic of ideas. Being
intelligent, they prefer good to evil; but they have God's own
horror of that which is neither good nor evil, and spew it out
of their mouths.
At the moment of the arrival of Susan and Palmer the world
that labors at amusing itself was pausing in Paris on its way
from the pleasures of sea and mountains to the pleasures of
the Riviera and Egypt. And as the weather held fine, day
after day the streets, the cafes, the restaurants, offered the
young adventurers an incessant dazzling panorama of all they
had come abroad to seek. A week passed before Susan permitted
herself to enter any of the shops where she intended to buy
dresses, hats and the other and lesser paraphernalia of the
woman of fashion.
"I mustn't go until I've seen," said she. "I'd yield to the
temptation to buy and would regret it."
And Freddie, seeing her point, restrained his impatience for
making radical changes in himself and in her. The fourth day
of their stay at Paris he realized that he would buy, and
would wish to buy, none of the things that had tempted him the
first and second days. Secure in the obscurity of the crowd
of strangers, he was losing his extreme nervousness about
himself. That sort of emotion is most characteristic of
Americans and gets them the reputation for profound
snobbishness. In fact, it is not snobbishness at all. In no
country on earth is ignorance in such universal disrepute as
in America. The American, eager to learn, eager to be abreast
of the foremost, is terrified into embarrassment and awe when
he finds himself in surroundings where are things that he
feels he ought to know about--while a stupid fellow, in such
circumstances, is calmly content with himself, wholly unaware
of his own deficiencies.
Susan let full two weeks pass before she, with much
hesitation, gave her first order toward the outfit on which
Palmer insisted upon her spending not less than five thousand
dollars. Palmer had been going to the shops with her. She
warned him it would make prices higher if she appeared with a
prosperous looking man; but he wanted occupation and
everything concerning her fascinated him now. His ignorance
of the details of feminine dress was giving place rapidly to
a knowledge which he thought profound--and it was profound,
for a man. She would not permit him to go with her to order,
however, or to fittings. All she would tell him in advance
about this first dress was that it was for evening wear and
that its color was green. "But not a greeny green," said she.
"I understand. A green something like the tint in your skin
at the nape of your neck."
"Perhaps," admitted she. "Yes."
"We'll go to the opera the evening it comes home. I'll have
my new evening outfit from Charvet's by that time."
It was about ten days after this conversation that she told
him she had had a final fitting, had ordered the dress sent
home. He was instantly all excitement and rushed away to
engage a good box for the opera. With her assistance he had
got evening clothes that sent through his whole being a glow
of self-confidence--for he knew that in those clothes, he
looked what he was striving to be. They were to dine at
seven. He dressed early and went into their sitting-room.
He was afraid he would spoil his pleasure of complete surprise
by catching a glimpse of the _grande toilette_ before it was
finished. At a quarter past seven Susan put her head into the
sitting-room--only her head. At sight of his anxious face,
his tense manner, she burst out laughing. It seemed, and was,
grotesque that one so imperturbable of surface should be so upset.
"Can you stand the strain another quarter of an hour?" said she.
"Don't hurry," he urged. "Take all the time you want. Do the
thing up right." He rose and came toward her with one hand
behind him. "You said the dress was green, didn't you?"
"Well--here's something you may be able to fit in somewhere."
And he brought the concealed hand into view and held a jewel
box toward her.
She reached a bare arm through the crack in the door and took
it. The box, the arm, the head disappeared. Presently there
was a low cry of delight that thrilled him. The face
reappeared. "Oh--Freddie!" she exclaimed, radiant. "You must
have spent a fortune on them."
"No. Twelve thousand--that's all. It was a bargain. Go on
dressing. We'll talk about it afterward." And he gently
pushed her head back--getting a kiss in the palm of his
hand--and drew the door to.
Ten minutes later the door opened part way again. "Brace
yourself," she called laughingly. "I'm coming."
A breathless pause and the door swung wide. He stared with
eyes amazed and bewitched. There is no more describing the
effects of a harmonious combination of exquisite dress and
exquisite woman than there is reproducing in words the magic
and the thrill of sunrise or sunset, of moonlight's fanciful
amorous play, or of starry sky. As the girl stood there, her
eyes starlike with excitement, her lips crimson and sensuous
against the clear old-ivory pallor of her small face in its
frame of glorious dark hair, it seemed to him that her soul,
more beautiful counterpart of herself, had come from its
dwelling place within and was hovering about her body like an
aureole. Round her lovely throat was the string of emeralds.
Her shoulders were bare and also her bosom, over nearly half
its soft, girlish swell. And draped in light and clinging
grace about her slender, sensuous form was the most wonderful
garment he had ever seen. The great French designers of
dresses and hats and materials have a genius for taking an
idea--a pure poetical abstraction--and materializing it,
making it visible and tangible without destroying its
spirituality. This dress of Susan's did not suggest matter
any more than the bar of music suggests the rosined string
that has given birth to it. She was carrying the train and a
pair of long gloves in one hand. The skirt, thus drawn back,
revealed her slim, narrow foot, a slender slipper of pale
green satin, a charming instep with a rosiness shimmering
through the gossamer web of pale green silk, the outline of a
long, slender leg whose perfection was guaranteed by the
beauty of her bare arm.
His expression changed slowly from bedazzlement to the nearest
approach to the old slumbrous, smiling wickedness she had seen
since they started. And her sensitive instinct understood; it
was the menace of an insane jealousy, sprung from fear--fear of
losing her. The look vanished, and once again he was Freddie
Palmer the delighted, the generous and almost romantically
considerate, because everything was going as he wished.
"No wonder I went crazy about you," he said.
"Then you're not disappointed?"
He came to her, unclasped the emeralds, stood off and viewed
her again. "No--you mustn't wear them," said he.
"Oh!" she cried, protesting. "They're the best of all."
"Not tonight," said he. "They look cheap. They spoil the
effect of your neck and shoulders. Another time, when you're
not quite so wonderful, but not tonight."
As she could not see herself as he saw her, she pleaded for
the jewels. She loved jewels and these were the first she had
ever had, except two modest little birthday rings she had left
in Sutherland. But he led her to the long mirror and
convinced her that he was right. When they descended to the
dining-room, they caused a stir. It does not take much to
make fashionable people stare; but it does take something to
make a whole room full of them quiet so far toward silence
that the discreet and refined handling of dishes in a
restaurant like the Ritz sounds like a vulgar clatter. Susan
and Palmer congratulated themselves that they had been at the
hotel long enough to become acclimated and so could act as if
they were unconscious of the sensation they were creating.
When they finished dinner, they found all the little tables in
the long corridor between the restaurant and the entrance
taken by people lingering over coffee to get another and
closer view. And the men who looked at her sweet dreaming
violet-gray eyes said she was innocent; those who looked at
her crimson lips said she was gay; those who saw both eyes and
lips said she was innocent--as yet. A few very dim-sighted,
and very wise, retained their reason sufficiently to say that
nothing could be told about a woman from her looks--especially
an American woman. She put on the magnificent cloak, white
silk, ermine lined, which he had seen at Paquin's and had
insisted on buying. And they were off for the opera in the
aristocratic looking auto he was taking by the week.
She had a second triumph at the opera--was the center that
drew all glasses the instant the lights went up for the
intermission. There were a few minutes when her head was
quite turned, when it seemed to her that she had arrived very
near to the highest goal of human ambition--said goal being
the one achieved and so self-complacently occupied by these
luxurious, fashionable people who were paying her the tribute
of interest and admiration. Were not these people at the top
of the heap? Was she not among them, of them, by right of
excellence in the things that made them, distinguished them?
Ambition, drunk and heavy with luxury, flies sluggishly and low.
And her ambition was--for the moment--in danger of that fate.
During the last intermission the door of their box opened. At
once Palmer sprang up and advanced with beaming face and
extended hand to welcome the caller.
"Hello, Brent, I _am_ glad to see you! I want to introduce you
to Mrs. Palmer"--that name pronounced with the unconscious
pride of the possessor of _the_ jewel.
Brent bowed. Susan forced a smile.
"We," Palmer hastened on, "are on a sort of postponed
honeymoon. I didn't announce the marriage--didn't want to have
my friends out of pocket for presents. Besides, they'd have
sent us stuff fit only to furnish out a saloon or a hotel--and
we'd have had to use it or hurt their feelings. My wife's a
Western girl--from Indiana. She came on to study for the
stage. But"--he laughed delightedly--"I persuaded her to
change her mind."
"You are from the West?" said Brent in the formal tone one
uses in addressing a new acquaintance. "So am I. But that's
more years ago than you could count. I live in New York--when
I don't live here or in the Riviera."
The moment had passed when Susan could, without creating an
impossible scene, admit and compel Brent to admit that they
knew each other. What did it matter? Was it not best to
ignore the past? Probably Brent had done this deliberately,
assuming that she was beginning a new life with a clean slate.
"Been here long?" said Brent to Palmer.
As he and Palmer talked, she contrasted the two men. Palmer
was much the younger, much the handsomer. Yet in the
comparison Brent had the advantage. He looked as if he
amounted to a great deal, as if he had lived and had
understood life as the other man could not. The physical
difference between them was somewhat the difference between
look of lion and look of tiger. Brent looked strong; Palmer,
dangerous. She could not imagine either man failing of a
purpose he had set his heart upon. She could not imagine
Brent reaching for it in any but an open, direct, daring way.
She knew that the descendant of the supple Italians, the
graduate of the street schools of stealth and fraud, would not
care to have anything unless he got it by skill at subtlety.
She noted their dress. Brent was wearing his clothes in that
elegantly careless way which it was one of Freddie's
dreams--one of the vain ones--to attain. Brent's voice was
much more virile, was almost harsh, and in pronouncing some
words made the nerves tingle with a sensation of mingled
irritation and pleasure. Freddie's voice was manly enough,
but soft and dangerous, suggestive of hidden danger. She
compared the two men, as she knew them. She wondered how they
would seem to a complete stranger. Palmer, she thought, would
be able to attract almost any woman he might want; it seemed
to her that a woman Brent wanted would feel rather helpless
before the onset he would make.
It irritated her, this untimely intrusion of Brent who had the
curious quality of making all other men seem less in the
comparison. Not that he assumed anything, or forced
comparisons; on the contrary, no man could have insisted less
upon himself. Not that he compelled or caused the transfer of
all interest to himself. Simply that, with him there, she
felt less hopeful of Palmer, less confident of his ability to
become what he seemed--and go beyond it. There are occasional
men who have this same quality that Susan was just then
feeling in Brent--men whom women never love yet who make it
impossible for them to begin to love or to continue to love
the other men within their range.
She was not glad to see him. She did not conceal it. Yet she
knew that he would linger--and that she would not oppose. She
would have liked to say to him: "You lost belief in me and
dropped me. I have begun to make a life for myself. Let me
alone. Do not upset me--do not force me to see what I must
not see if I am to be happy. Go away, and give me a chance."
But we do not say these frank, childlike things except in
moments of closest intimacy--and certainly there was no
suggestion of intimacy, no invitation to it, but the reverse,
in the man facing her at the front of the box.
"Then you are to be in Paris some time?" said Brent,
"I think so," said Susan.
"Sure," cried Palmer. "This is the town the world revolves
round. I felt like singing `Home, Sweet Home' as we drove
from the station."
"I like it better than any place on earth," said Brent.
"Better even than New York. I've never been quite able to
forgive New York for some of the things it made me suffer
before it gave me what I wanted."
"I, too," said Freddie. "My wife can't understand that. She
doesn't know the side of life we know. I'm going to smoke a
cigarette. I'll leave you here, old man, to entertain her."
When he disappeared, Susan looked out over the house with an
expression of apparent abstraction. Brent--she was
conscious--studied her with those seeing eyes--hazel eyes
with not a bit of the sentimentality and weakness of brown in
them. "You and Palmer know no one here?"
"Not a soul."
"I'll be glad to introduce some of my acquaintances to
you--French people of the artistic set. They speak English.
And you'll soon be learning French."
"I intend to learn as soon as I've finished my fall shopping."
"You are not coming back to America?"
"Not for a long time."
"Then you will find my friends useful."
She turned her eyes upon his. "You are very kind," said she.
"But I'd rather--we'd rather--not meet anyone just yet."
His eyes met hers calmly. It was impossible to tell whether
he understood or not. After a few seconds he glanced out over
the house. "That is a beautiful dress," said he. "You have
real taste, if you'll permit me to say so. I was one of those
who were struck dumb with admiration at the Ritz tonight."
"It's the first grand dress I ever possessed," said she.
"You love dresses--and jewels--and luxury?"
"As a starving man loves food."
"Then you are happy?"
"Perfectly so--for the first time in my life."
"It is a kind of ecstasy--isn't it? I remember how it was
with me. I had always been poor--I worked my way through prep
school and college. And I wanted _all_ the luxuries. The more
I had to endure--the worse food and clothing and lodgings--the
madder I became about them, until I couldn't think of anything
but getting the money to buy them. When I got it, I gorged
myself. . . . It's a pity the starving man can't keep on loving
food--keep on being always starving and always having his
"Ah, but he can."
He smiled mysteriously. "You think so, now. Wait till you
She laughed. "You don't know! I could never get enough--never!"
His smile became even more mysterious. As he looked away, his
profile presented itself to her view--an outline of sheer
strength, of tragic sadness--the profile of those who have
dreamed and dared and suffered. But the smile, saying no to
her confident assertion, still lingered.
"Never!" she repeated. She must compel that smile to take
away its disquieting negation, its relentless prophecy of the
end of her happiness. She must convince him that he had come
back in vain, that he could not disturb her.
"You don't suggest to me the woman who can be content with
just people and just things. You will always insist on
luxury. But you will demand more." He looked at her again.
"And you will get it," he added, in a tone that sent a wave
through her nerves.
Her glance fell. Palmer came in, bringing an odor of cologne
and of fresh cigarette fumes. Brent rose. Palmer laid a
detaining hand on his shoulder. "Do stay on, Brent, and go to
supper with us."
"I was about to ask you to supper with me. Have you been to
"No. We haven't got round to that yet. Is it lively?"
"And the food's the best in Paris. You'll come?"
Brent was looking at Susan. Palmer, not yet educated in the
smaller--and important--refinements of politeness, did not
wait for her reply or think that she should be consulted.
"Certainly," said he. "On condition that you dine with us
"Very well," agreed Brent. And he excused himself to take
leave of his friends. "Just tell your chauffeur to go to the
Abbaye--he'll know," he said as he bowed over Susan's hand.
"I'll be waiting. I wish to be there ahead and make sure of
As the door of the box closed upon him Freddie burst out with
that enthusiasm we feel for one who is in a position to render
us good service and is showing a disposition to do so. "I've
known him for years," said he, "and he's the real thing. He
used to spend a lot of time in a saloon I used to keep in
"Allen Street?" ejaculated Susan, shivering.
"I was twenty-two then. He used to want to study types, as he
called it. And I gathered in types for him--though really my
place was for the swell crooks and their ladies. How long ago
that seems--and how far away!"
"Another life," said Susan.
"That's a fact. This is my second time on earth. _Our_ second time.
I tell you it's fighting for a foothold that makes men and women
the wretches they are. Nowadays, I couldn't hurt a fly--could you?
But then you never were cruel. That's why you stayed down so long."
Susan smiled into the darkness of the auditorium--the curtain was
up, and they were talking in undertones. She said, as she smiled:
"I'll never go down and stay down for that reason again."
Her tone arrested his attention; but he could make nothing of
it or of her expression, though her face was clear enough in
the reflection from the footlights.
"Anyhow, Brent and I are old pals," continued he, "though we
haven't seen so much of each other since he made a hit with
the plays. He always used to predict I'd get to the top and
be respectable. Now that it's come true, he'll help me.
He'll introduce us, if we work it right."
"But we don't want that yet," protested Susan.
"You're ready and so am I," declared Palmer in the tone she
knew had the full strength of his will back of it.
Faint angry hissing from the stalls silenced them, but as
soon as they were in the auto Susan resumed. "I have told Mr.
Brent we don't want to meet his friends yet."
"Now what the hell did you do that for?" demanded Freddie. It
was the first time she had crossed him; it was the first time
he had been reminiscent of the Freddie she used to know.
"Because," said she evenly, "I will not meet people under
"I will not do it," replied she in the same quiet way.
He assumed that she meant only one of the false pretenses--the
one that seemed the least to her. He said:
"Then we'll draw up and sign a marriage contract and date it
a couple of years ago, before the new marriage law was passed
to save rich men's drunken sons from common law wives."
"I am already married," said Susan. "To a farmer out in Indiana."
Freddie laughed. "Well, I'll be damned! You! You!" He
looked at her ermine-lined cloak and laughed again. "An
Indiana farmer!" Then he suddenly sobered. "Come to think of
it," said he, "that's the first thing you ever told me about
"Or anybody else," said Susan. Her body was quivering, for we
remember the past events with the sensations they made upon us
at the time. She could smell that little room in the
farmhouse. Allen Street and all the rest of her life in the
underworld had for her something of the vagueness of
dreams--not only now but also while she was living that life.
But not Ferguson, not the night when her innocent soul was
ravished as a wolf rips up and munches a bleating lamb. No
vagueness of dreams about that, but a reality to make her
shudder and reel whenever she thought of it--a reality vivider
now that she was a woman grown in experiences and understanding.
"He's probably dead--or divorced you long ago."
"I do not know."
"I can find out--without stirring things up. What was his name?"
"What was his first name?"
She tried to recall. "I think--it was Jim. Yes, it was Jim."
She fancied she could hear the voice of that ferocious sister
snapping out that name in the miserable little coop of a
general room in that hot, foul, farm cottage.
"Where did he live?"
"His farm was at the edge of Zeke Warham's place--not far from
Beecamp, in Jefferson County."
She lapsed into silence, seemed to be watching the gay night
streets of the Montmartre district--the cafes, the music
halls, the sidewalk shows, the throngs of people every man and
woman of them with his or her own individual variation upon
the fascinating, covertly terrible face of the Paris mob.
"What are you thinking about?" he asked, when a remark brought
"The past," said she. "And the future."
"Well--we'll find out in a few days that your farmer's got no
claim on you--and we'll attend to that marriage contract and
everything'll be all right."
"Do you want to marry me?" she asked, turning on him suddenly.
"We're as good as married already," replied he. "Your tone
sounds as if _you_ didn't want to marry _me_." And he laughed
at the absurdity of such an idea.
"I don't know whether I do or not," said she slowly.
He laid a gentle strong hand on her knee. Gentle though it
was, she felt its strength through the thickness of her cloak.
"When the time comes," said he in the soft voice with the
menace hidden in it, "you'll know whether you do or don't.
You'll know you _do_--Queenie."
The auto was at the curb before the Abbaye. And on the steps,
in furs and a top hat, stood the tall, experienced looking,
cynical looking playwright. Susan's eyes met his, he lifted
his hat, formal, polite.
"I'll bet he's got the best table in the place," said Palmer,
before opening the door, "and I'll bet it cost him a bunch." XXI
BRENT had an apartment in the rue de Rivoli, near the Hotel
Meurice and high enough to command the whole Tuileries garden.
From his balcony he could see to the east the ancient courts
of the Louvre, to the south the varied, harmonious facades of
the Quay d'Orsay with the domes and spires of the Left Bank
behind, to the west the Obelisque, the long broad reaches of
the Champs Elysees with the Arc de Triomphe at the boundary of
the horizon. On that balcony, with the tides of traffic far
below, one had a sense of being at the heart of the world,
past, present, and to come. Brent liked to feel at home
wherever he was; it enabled him to go tranquilly to work
within a few minutes after his arrival, no matter how far he
had journeyed or how long he had been away. So he regarded it
as an economy, an essential to good work, to keep up the house
in New York, a villa in Petite Afrique, with the Mediterranean
washing its garden wall, this apartment at Paris; and a
telegram a week in advance would reserve him the same quarters
in the quietest part of hotels at Luzerne, at St. Moritz and
Susan admired, as he explained his scheme of life to her and
Palmer when they visited his apartment. Always profound
tranquillity in the midst of intense activity. He could shut
his door and he as in a desert; he could open it, and the most
interesting of the sensations created by the actions and
reactions of the whole human race were straightway beating
upon his senses. As she listened, she looked about, her eyes
taking in impressions to be studied at leisure. These
quarters of his in Paris were fundamentally different from
those in New York, were the expression of a different side of
his personality. It was plain that he loved them, that they
came nearer to expressing his real--that is, his inmost--self.
"Though I work harder in Paris than in New York," he
explained, "I have more leisure because it is all one kind of
work--writing--at which I'm never interrupted. So I have time
to make surroundings for myself. No one has time for
surroundings in New York."
She observed that of the scores of pictures on the walls,
tables, shelves of the three rooms they were shown, every one
was a face--faces of all nationalities, all ages, all
conditions--faces happy and faces tragic, faces homely, faces
beautiful, faces irradiating the fascination of those abnormal
developments of character, good and bad, which give the
composite countenance of the human race its distinction, as
the characteristics themselves give it intensities of light
and shade. She saw angels, beautiful and ugly, devils
beautiful and ugly.
When she began to notice this peculiarity of those rooms, she
was simply interested. What an amazing collection! How much
time and thought it must have taken! How he must have
searched--and what an instinct he had for finding the unusual,
the significant! As she sat there and then strolled about and
then sat again, her interest rose into a feverish excitement.
It was as if the ghosts of all these personalities, not one of
them commonplace, were moving through the rooms, were pressing
upon her. She understood why Brent had them there--that they
were as necessary to him as cadavers and skeletons and
physiological charts to an anatomist. But they oppressed,
suffocated her; she went out on the balcony and watched the
effects of the light from the setting sun upon and around the
enormously magnified Arc.
"You don't like my rooms," said Brent.
"They fascinate me," replied she. "But I'd have to get used to
these friends of yours. You made their acquaintance one or a few
at a time. It's very upsetting, being introduced to all at once."
She felt Brent's gaze upon her--that unfathomable look which
made her uneasy, yet was somehow satisfying, too. He said, after
a while, "Palmer is to give me his photograph. Will you give me
yours?" He was smiling. "Both of you belong in my gallery."
"Of course she will," said Palmer, coming out on the balcony
and standing beside her. "I want her to have some taken right
away--in the evening dress she wore to the Opera last week.
And she must have her portrait painted."
"When we are settled," said Susan. "I've no time for anything
now but shopping."
They had come to inspect the apartment above Brent's, and had
decided to take it; Susan saw possibilities of making it over
into the sort of environment of which she had dreamed. In
novels the descriptions of interiors, which weary most
readers, interested her more than story or characters. In her
days of abject poverty she used these word paintings to
construct for herself a room, suites of rooms, a whole house,
to replace, when her physical eyes closed and her eyes of
fancy opened wide, the squalid and nauseous cell to which
poverty condemned her. In the streets she would sometimes
pause before a shop window display of interior furnishings; a
beautiful table or chair, a design in wall or floor covering
had caught her eyes, had set her to dreaming--dreaming on and
on--she in dingy skirt and leaky shoes. Now--the chance to
realize her dreams had come. Palmer had got acquainted with
some high-class sports, American, French and English, at an
American bar in the rue Volney. He was spending his
afternoons and some of his evenings with them--in the
evenings winning large sums from them at cards at which he
was now as lucky as at everything else. Palmer, pleased by
Brent's manner toward Susan--formal politeness, indifference to
sex--was glad to have him go about with her. Also Palmer was
one of those men who not merely imagine they read human nature
but actually can read it. He _knew_ he could trust Susan. And
it had been his habit--as it is the habit of all successful
men--to trust human beings, each one up to his capacity for
resisting temptation to treachery.
"Brent doesn't care for women--as women," said he. "He never
did. Don't you think he's queer?"
"He's different," replied Susan. "He doesn't care much for
people--to have them as intimates. I understand why. Love
and friendship bore one--or fail one--and are
unsatisfactory--and disturbing. But if one centers one's life
about things--books, pictures, art, a career--why, one is
never bored or betrayed. He has solved the secret of
happiness, I think."
"Do you think a woman could fall in love with him?" he asked,
with an air of the accidental and casual.
"If you mean, could I fall in love with him," said she, "I
should say no. I think it would either amuse or annoy him to
find that a woman cared about him."
"Amuse him most of all," said Palmer. "He knows the
ladies--that they love us men for what we can give them."
"Did you ever hear of anyone, man or woman, who cared about a
person who couldn't give them anything?"
Freddie's laugh was admission that he thought her right. "The
way to get on in politics," observed he, "is to show men that
it's to their best interest to support you. And that's the
way to get on in everything else--including love."
Susan knew that this was the truth about life, as it appeared
to her also. But she could not divest herself of the human
aversion to hearing the cold, practical truth. She wanted
sugar coating on the pill, even though she knew the sugar made
the medicine much less effective, often neutralized it
altogether. Thus Palmer's brutally frank cynicism got upon
her nerves, whereas Brent's equally frank cynicism attracted
her because it was not brutal. Both men saw that life was a
coarse practical joke. Palmer put the stress on the
coarseness, Brent upon the humor.
Brent recommended and introduced to her a friend of his, a
young French Jew named Gourdain, an architect on the way up to
celebrity. "You will like his ideas and he will like yours,"
She had acquiesced in his insistent friendship for Palmer and
her, but she had not lowered by an inch the barrier of her
reserve toward him. His speech and actions at all times,
whether Palmer was there or not; suggested that he respected
the barrier, regarded it as even higher and thicker than it
was. Nevertheless she felt that he really regarded the
barrier as non-existent. She said:
"But I've never told you my ideas."
"I can guess what they are. Your surroundings will simply be
an extension of your dress."
She would not have let him see--she would not have admitted to
herself--how profoundly the subtle compliment pleased her.
Because a man's or a woman's intimate personal taste is good
it by no means follows that he or she will build or decorate
or furnish a house well. In matters of taste, the greater
does not necessarily include the less, nor does the less imply
the greater. Perhaps Susan would have shown she did not
deserve Brent's compliment, would have failed ignominiously in
that first essay of hers, had she not found a Gourdain,
sympathetic, able to put into the concrete the rather vague
ideas she had evolved in her dreaming. An architect is like
a milliner or a dressmaker. He supplies the model, product of
his own individual taste. The person who employs him must
remold that form into an expression of his own
personality--for people who deliberately live in surroundings
that are not part of themselves are on the same low level with
those who utter only borrowed ideas. That is the object and
the aim of civilization--to encourage and to compel each
individual to be frankly himself--herself. That is the
profound meaning of freedom. The world owes more to bad
morals and to bad taste that are spontaneous than to all the
docile conformity to the standards of morals and of taste,
however good. Truth--which simply means an increase of