"Why a special delivery—and why here—and what is it?" asked Susan, wiping buttery fingers carefully before she took the big envelope in her hands. "It's from Edward Dean," she said, examining it with unaffected interest. "Oh, I know what this is—it's about that blue- print business!" Susan finished, enlightened. "Probably Mr. Dean didn't have Billy's new address, but wanted him to have these to work on, on Sunday."
"It feels as if something bulky was in there," Mrs. Carroll said. "I wish we could get him by telephone! As bad luck would have it, he's a good deal worried about the situation at the works, and told me he couldn't possibly leave the men this week. What ARE the blue- prints?"
"Why, it's some little patent of Billy's,—a deep-petticoat, double- groove porcelain insulator, if that means anyone to anyone!" laughed Susan. "He's been raving about it for weeks! And he and Mr. Dean have to rush the patent, because they've been using these things for some time, and they have to patent them before they've been used a year, it seems!"
"I was just thinking, Sue, that, if you didn't mind crossing to the city with them, you could put on a special-delivery stamp and then Billy would have them to-night. Otherwise, they won't leave here until tomorrow morning."
"Why, of course, that'll do!" Susan said willingly. "I can catch the two-ten. Or better yet, Aunt Jo, I'll take them right out there and deliver them myself."
"Oh, dearie, no! Not if there's any ugliness among the men, not if they are talking of a strike!" the older woman protested.
"Oh, they're always striking," Susan said easily. "And if I can't get him to bring me back," she added, "don't worry, for I may go stay with Georgie overnight, and come back with Bill in the morning!"
She was not sorry to have an errand on this exquisite afternoon. The water of the bay was as smooth as blue glass, gulls were flashing and dipping in the steamer's wake. Sailboats, waiting for the breeze, drifted idly toward the Golden Gate; there was not a cloud in the blue arch of the sky. The little McDowell whistled for her dock at Alcatraz. On the prison island men were breaking stone with a metallic clink—clink—clink.
Susan found the ferry-place in San Francisco hot and deserted; the tar pavements were softened under-foot; gongs and bells of cars made a raucous clamor. She was glad to establish herself on the front seat of a Mission Street car and leave the crowded water-front behind her.
They moved along through congested traffic, past the big docks, and turned in between the great ware-houses that line Mission Street. The hot streets were odorous of leather and machine-oils, ropes and coffee. Over the door of what had been Hunter, Baxter & Hunter's hung a new bright sign, "Hunter, Hunter & Brauer." Susan caught a glimpse, through the plaster ornamentation of the facade, of old Front Office, which seemed to be full of brightly nickeled samples now, and gave back a blinking flash of light to the afternoon sun.
"Bathroom fixtures," thought Susan. "He always wanted to carry them!" What a long two years since she had known or cared what pleased or displeased Mr. Brauer!
The car clanged out of the warehouse district, past cheap flats and cheap shops, and saloons, and second-hand stores, boiling over, at their dark doorways, with stoves and rocking-chairs, lamps and china ware. This neighborhood was sordid enough, but crowded, happy and full of life. Now the road ran through less populous streets; houses stood at curious angles, and were unpainted, or painted in unusual colors. Great ware-houses and factories shadowed little clusters of workingmen's homes; here and there were country-like strips of brown palings with dusty mallow bushes spraying about them, or a lean cow grazing near a bare little wooden farmhouse. Dumps, diffusing a dry and dreadful odor, blighted the prospect with their pyramids of cans and broken umbrellas; little grocery stores, each with its wide unrailed porch, country fashion, and its bar accessible through the shop, or by a side entrance, often marked the corners on otherwise vacant blocks.
Susan got off the car in the very shadow of the "works," and stood for a moment looking at the great foundries, the dark and dirty yards, with their interlacing tracks and loaded cars, the enormous brick buildings set with rows and rows of blank and dusty windows, the brick chimneys and the black pipes of the blast-furnaces, the heaps of twisted old iron and of ashes, the blowing dust and glare of the hot summer day. She had been here with Billy before, had peeped into the furnace rooms, all a glare of white heat and silhouetted forms, had breathed the ashy and choking air.
Now she turned and walked toward the rows of workingmen's cottages that had been built, solidly massed, nearby. Presenting an unbroken, two-story facade, the long buildings were divided into tiny houses that had each two flat-faced windows upstairs, and a door and one window downstairs. The seven or eight long buildings might have been as many gigantic German toys, dotted with apertures by some accurate brush, and finished with several hundred flights of wooden steps and several hundred brick chimneys. Ugly when they first were built, they were even uglier now, for the exterior was of some shallow plaster that chipped and cracked and stained and in nearly every dooryard dirt and disorder added a last touch to the unlovely whole.
Children swarmed everywhere this afternoon; heavy, dirty-faced babies sat in the doorways, women talked and laughed over the low dividing fences. Gates hung awry, and baby carriages and garbage tins obstructed the bare, trampled spaces that might have been little gardens.
Up and down the straight narrow streets, and loitering everywhere, were idle, restless men. A few were amusing babies, or joining in the idle chatter of the women, but for the most part they were silent, or talking in low tones among themselves.
"Strikers!" Susan said to herself, with a thrill.
Over the whole curious, exotic scene the late summer sunshine streamed generously; the street was hot, the talking women fanned themselves with their aprons.
Susan, walking slowly alone, found herself attracting a good deal of attention, and was amazed to find that it frightened her a little. She was conspicuously a newcomer, and could not but overhear the comments that some of the watching young men made as she went by.
"Say, what's that song about 'I'd leave my happy home for you,' Bert?" she heard them say. "Don't ask me! I'm expecting my gurl any minute!" and "Pretty good year for peaches, I hear!"
Susan had to pretend that she did not hear, but she heartily wished herself back on the car. However, there was nothing to do but walk senselessly on, or stop and ask her way. She began to look furtively about for a friendly face, and finally stopped beside a dooryard where a slim pretty young woman was sitting with a young baby in her arms.
"Excuse me," said Susan, "but do you know where Mr. William Oliver lives, now?"
The girl studied her quietly for a minute, with a closed, composed mouth. Then she said evenly:
"Huh?" said a tall young man, lathered for shaving, who came at once to the door.
"I'm trying to find Mr. Oliver—William Oliver," Susan said smiling. "I'm a sort of cousin of his, and I have a special delivery letter for him."
Joe, who had been rapidly removing the lather from his face with a towel, took the letter and, looking at it, gravely conceded:
"Well, maybe that's right, too! Sure you can see him. We're haying a conference up at the office tonight," he explained, "and I have to clean up or I'd take you to him myself! Maybe you'd do it, Lizzie?" he suggested to his wife, who was all friendliness to Susan now, and showed even a hint of respect in her friendliness.
"Well, I could nurse him later, Joe," she agreed willingly, in reference to the baby, "or maybe Mama—Mama!" she interrupted herself to call.
An immense, gray-haired old woman, who had been an interested auditor of this little conversation, got up from the steps of the next house, and came to the fence. Susan liked Ellan Cudahy at first sight, and smiled at her as she explained her quest.
"And you're Mr. Oliver's sister, I c'n see that," said Mrs. Cudahy shrewdly.
"No, I'm not!" Susan smiled. "My name is Brown. But Mr. Oliver was a sort of ward of my aunt's, and so we call ourselves cousins."
"Well, of course ye wud," agreed Mrs. Cudahy. "Wait till I pin on me hat wanst, and I'll take you up to the Hall. He's at the Hall, Joe, I dunno?" she asked.
Joseph assenting, they set out for the Hall, under a fire of curious eyes.
"Joe's cleaning up for the conference," said Mrs. Cudahy. "There's a committee going to meet tonight. The old man-that's Carpenter, the boss of the works, will be there, and some of the others."
Susan nodded intelligently, but Saturday evening seemed to her a curious time to select for a conference. They walked along in silence, Mrs. Cudahy giving a brief yet kindly greeting to almost every man they met.
"Hello, Dan, hello, Gene; how are ye, Jim?" said she, and one young giant, shouldering his scowling way home, she stopped with a fat imperative hand. "How's it going, Jarge?"
"It's going rotten," said George, sullenly evading her eyes.
"Well,—don't run by me that way—stand still!" said the old woman. "What d'ye mean by rotten?"
"Aw, I mean rotten!" said George ungraciously. "D'ye know what the old man is going to do now? He says that he'll give Billy just two or three days more to settle this damn thing, and then he'll wire east and get a carload of men right straight through from Philadelphia. He said so to young Newman, and Frank Harris was in the room, and heard him. He says they're picked out, and all ready to come!"
"And what does Mr. Oliver say?" asked Mrs. Cudahy, whose face had grown dark.
"I don't know! I went up to the Hall, but at the first word he says, 'For God's sake, George—None of that here! They'll mob the old man if they hear it!' They was all crowding about him, so I quit."
"Well," said Mrs. Cudahy, considering, "there's to be a conference at six-thirty, but befoor that, Mr. Oliver and Clem and Rassette and Weidermeyer are going to meet t'gether in Mr. Oliver's room at Rassette's house. Ye c'n see them there."
"Well, maybe I will," said George, softening, as he left them.
"What's the conference about?" asked Susan pleasantly.
"What's the—don't tell me ye don't know THAT!" Mrs. Cudahy said, eying her shrewdly.
"I knew there was a strike—-" Susan began ashamedly.
"Sure, there's a strike," Mrs. Cudahy agreed, with quiet grimness, and under her breath she added heavily, "Sure there is!"
"And are Mr. Oliver's—are the men out?" Susan asked.
"There's nine hundred men out," Mrs. Cudahy told her, coldly.
"Nine hundred!" Susan stopped short. "But Billy's not responsible for all that!" she added, presently.
"I don't know who is, then," Mrs. Cudahy admitted grimly.
"But—but he never had more than thirty or forty men under him in his life!" Susan said eagerly.
"Oh? Well, maybe he doesn't know anything about it, thin!" Mrs. Cudahy agreed with magnificent contempt.
But her scorn was wasted upon another Irishwoman. Susan stared at her for a moment, then the dimples came into view, and she burst into her infectious laughter.
"Aren't you ashamed to be so mean!" laughed Susan. "Won't you tell me about it?"
Mrs. Cudahy laughed too, a little out of countenance.
"I misdoubt me you're a very bad lot!" said she, in high good humor, "but 'tis no joke for the boys," she went on, sobering quickly. "They wint on strike a week ago. Mr. Oliver presided at a meeting two weeks come Friday night, and the next day the boys went out!"
"What for?" asked Susan.
"For pay, and for hours," the older woman said. "They want regular pay for overtime, wanst-and-a-half regular rates. And they want the Chinymen to go,—sure, they come in on every steamer," said Mrs. Cudahy indignantly, "and they'll work twelve hours for two bits! Bether hours," she went on, checking off the requirements on fat, square fingers, "overtime pay, no Chinymen, and—and—oh, yes, a risin' scale of wages, if you know what that is? And last, they want the union recognized!"
"Well, that's not much!" Susan said generously. "Will they get it?"
"The old man is taking his time," Mrs. Cudahy's lips shut in a worried line. "There's no reason they shouldn't," she resumed presently, "We're the only open shop in this part of the world, now. The big works has acknowledged the union, and there's no reason why this wan shouldn't!"
"And Billy, is he the one they talk to, the Carpenters I mean—the authorities?" asked Susan.
"They wouldn't touch Mr. William Oliver wid a ten-foot pole," said Mrs. Cudahy proudly. "Not they! Half this fuss is because they want to get rid of him—they want him out of the way, d'ye see? No, he talks to the committee, and thin they meet with the committee. My husband's on it, and Lizzie's Joe goes along to report what they do."
"But Billy has a little preliminary conference in his room first?" Susan asked.
"He does," the other assented, with a chuckle. "He'll tell thim what to say! He's as smart as old Carpenter himself!" said Mrs. Cudahy, "he's prisidint of the local; Clem says he'd ought to be King!" And Susan was amazed to notice that the strong old mouth was trembling with emotion, and the fine old eyes dimmed with tears. "The crowd av thim wud lay down their lives for him, so they would!" said Mrs. Cudahy.
"And—and is there much suffering yet?" Susan asked a little timidly. This cheery, sun-bathed scene was not quite her idea of a labor strike.
"Well, some's always in debt and trouble annyway," Mrs. Cudahy said, temperately, "and of course 'tis the worse for thim now!"
She led Susan across an unpaved, deeply rutted street, and opened a stairway door, next to a saloon entrance.
Susan was glad to have company on the bare and gloomy stairs they mounted. Mrs. Cudahy opened a double-door at the top, and they looked into the large smoke-filled room that was the "Hall."
It was a desolate and uninviting room, with spirals of dirty, colored tissue-paper wound about the gas-fixtures, sunshine streaming through the dirty, specked windows, chairs piled on chairs against the long walls, and cuspidors set at regular intervals along the floor. There was a shabby table set at a platform at one end.
About this table was a group of men, talking eagerly and noisily to Billy Oliver, who stood at the table looking abstractedly at various letters and papers.
At the entrance of the women, the talk died away. Mrs. Cudahy was greeted with somewhat sheepish warmth; the vision of an extremely pretty girl in Mrs. Cudahy's care seemed to affect these vociferous laborers profoundly. They began confused farewells, and melted away.
"All right, old man, so long!" "I'll see you later, Oliver," "That was about all, Billy, I must be getting along," "Good-night, Billy, you know where I am if you want me!" "I'll see you later,—good- night, sir!"
"Hello, Mrs. Cudahy—hello, Susan!" said Billy, discovering them with the obvious pleasure a man feels when unexpectedly confronted by his womenkind. "I think you were a peach to do that, Sue!" he said gratefully, when the special delivery letter had been read. "Now I can get right at it, to-morrow!—Say, wait a minute, Clem—-"
He caught by the arm an old man,—larger, more grizzled, even more blue of eye than was Susan's new friend, his wife,—and presented her to Mr. Cudahy.
"—-My adopted sister, Clem! Sue, he's about as good as they come!"
"Sister, is it?" asked Mrs. Cudahy, "Whin I last heard it was cousin! What do you know about that, Clem?"
"Well, that gives you a choice!" said Susan, laughing.
"Then I'll take the Irishman's choice, and have something different entirely!" the old woman said, in great good spirits, as they all went down the stairs.
"I'll take me own gir'rl home, and give you two a chanst," said Clem, in the street. "That'll suit you, Wil'lum, I dunno?"
"You didn't ask if it would suit ME," sparkled Susan Brown.
"Well, that's so!" he said delightedly, stopping short to scratch his head, and giving her a rueful smile. "Sure, I'm that popular that there never was a divvle like me at all!"
"You get out, and leave my girl alone!" said William, with a shove. And his tired face brightened wonderfully, as he slipped his hand under Susan's arm.
"Now, Sue," he said contentedly, "we'll go straight to Rassette's— but wait a minute—I've got to telephone!"
Susan stood alone on the corner, quite as a matter of course, while he dashed into a saloon. In a moment he was back, introducing her to a weak-looking, handsome young man, who, after a few wistful glances back toward the swinging door, walked away with them, and was presently left in the care of a busily cooking little wife and a fat baby. Billy was stopped and addressed on all sides. Susan found it pleasantly exciting to be in his company, and his pleasure in showing her this familiar environment was unmistakable.
"Everything's rotten and upset now," said Billy, delighted with her friendly interest and sympathy. "You ought to see these people when they aren't on strike! Now, let's see, it's five thirty. I'll tell you, Sue, if you'll miss the seven-five boat, I'll just wait here until we get the news from the conference, then I'll blow you to Zink's best dinner, and take you home on the ten-seventeen."
"Oh, Bill, forget me!" she said, concerned for his obvious fatigue, for his face was grimed with perspiration and very pale. "I feel like a fool to have come in on you when you're so busy and so distressed! Anything will be all right—-"
"Sue, I wouldn't have had you miss this for a million, if you can only get along, somehow!" he said eagerly. "Some other time—-"
"Oh, Billy, DON'T bother about me!" Susan dismissed herself with an impatient little jerk of her head. "Does this new thing worry you?" she asked.
"What new thing?" he asked sharply.
"Why, this—this plan of Mr. Carpenter's to bring a train-load of men on from Philadelphia," said Susan, half-proud and half- frightened.
"Who said so?" he demanded abruptly.
"Why, I don't know his name, Billy—yes I do, too! Mrs. Cudahy called him Jarge—-"
"George Weston, that was!" Billy's eyes gleamed. "What else did he say?"
"He said a man named Edward Harris—-" "Sure it wasn't Frank Harris?" "Frank Harris—that was it! He said Harris overheard him— or heard him say so!"
"Harris didn't hear anything that the old man didn't mean to have him hear," said Billy grimly. "But that only makes it the more probably true! Lord, Lord, I wonder where I can get hold of Weston!"
"He's going to be at that conference, at half-past five," Susan assured him. He gave her an amused look.
"Aren't you the little Foxy-Quiller!" he said. "Gosh, I do love to have you out here, Sue!" he added, grinning like a happy small boy. "This is Rassette's, where I'm staying," he said, stopping before the very prettiest and gayest of little gardens. "Come in and meet Mrs. Rassette."
Susan went in to meet the blonde, pretty, neatly aproned little lady of the house.
"The boys already are upstairs, Mr. Oliver," said Mrs. Rassette, and as Billy went up the little stairway with flying leaps, she led Susan into her clean little parlor. Susan noticed a rug whose design was an immense brown dog, a lamp with a green, rose-wreathed shade, a carved wooden clock, a little mahogany table beautifully inlaid with white holly, an enormous pair of mounted antlers, and a large concertina, ornamented with a mosaic design in mother-of-pearl. The wooden floor here, and in the hall, was unpainted, but immaculately clean and the effect of the whole was clean and gay and attractive.
"You speak very wonderful English for a foreigner, Mrs. Rassette."
"I?" The little matron showed her white teeth. "But I was born in New Jersey," she explained, "only when I am seven my Mama sends me home to my Grandma, so that I shall know our country. It is a better country for the working people," she added, with a smile, and added apologetically, "I must look into my kitchen; I am afraid my boy shall fall out of his chair."
"Oh, let's go out!" Susan followed her into a kitchen as spotless as the rest of the house, and far more attractive. The floor was cream- white, the woodwork and the tables white, and immaculate blue saucepans hung above an immaculate sink.
Three babies, the oldest five years old, were eating their supper in the evening sunshine, and now fixed their solemn blue eyes upon the guest. Susan thought they were the cleanest babies she had ever seen; through their flaxen mops she could see their clean little heads, their play-dresses were protected by checked gingham aprons worked in cross-stitch designs. Marie and Mina and Ernie were kissed in turn, after their mother had wiped their rosy little faces with a damp cloth.
"I am baby-mad!" said Susan, sitting down with the baby in her lap. "A strike is pretty hard, when you have these to think of, isn't it?" she asked sympathetically.
"Yes, we don't wish that we should move," Mrs. Rassette agreed placidly, "We have been here now four years, and next year it is our hope that we go to our ranch."
"Oh, have you a ranch?" asked Susan.
"We are buying a little ranch, in the Santa Clara valley," the other woman said, drawing three bubbling Saucepans forward on her shining little range. "We have an orchard there, and there is a town nearby where Joe shall have a shop of his own. And there is a good school! But until my Marie is seven, we think we shall stay here. So I hope the strike will stop. My husband can always get work in Los Angeles, but it is so far to move, if we must come back next year!"
Susan watched her, serenely beginning to prepare the smallest girl for bed; the helpful Marie trotting to and fro with nightgowns and slippers. All the while the sound of men's voices had been rising and falling steadily in an upstairs room. Presently they heard the scraping of chairs on a bare floor, and a door slammed.
Billy Oliver put his head into the kitchen. He looked tired, but smiled when he saw Susan with the sleepy baby in her lap.
"Hello, Sue, that your oldest? Come on, woman, the Cudahys expect us to dinner, and we've not got much time!"
Susan kissed the baby, and walked with him to the end of the block, and straight through the open door of the Cudahy cottage, and into the kitchen. Here they found Mrs. Cudahy, dashing through preparations for a meal whose lavishness startled Susan. Bottles of milk and bottles of cream stood on the table, Susan fell to stripping ears of corn; there were pop-overs in the oven; Mrs. Cudahy was frying chickens at the stove. Enough to feed the Carroll family, under their mother's exquisite management, for a week!
There was no management here. A small, freckled and grinning boy known as "Maggie's Tim" came breathless from the grocery with a great bottle of fancy pickles; Billy brought up beer from the cellar; Clem Cudahy cut a thick slice of butter from a two-pound square, and helped it into the serving-dish with a pudgy thumb. A large fruit pie and soda crackers were put on the table with the main course, when they sat down, hungry and talkative.
"Well, what do you think of the Ironworks Row?" asked Billy, at about seven o'clock, when the other men had gone off to the conference, and Susan was helping Mrs. Cudahy in the kitchen.
"Oh, I like it!" Susan assured him, enthusiastically. "Only," she added in a lowered tone, with a glance toward Mrs. Cudahy, who was out in the yard talking to Lizzie, "only I prefer the Rassette establishment to any I've seen!"
"The Rassettes," he told her, significantly, "are trained for their work; she just as much as he is! Do you wonder I think it's worth while to educate people like that?"
"But Billy—everyone seems so comfortable. The Cudahys, now,—why, this dinner was fit for a king—if it had been served a little differently!"
"Oh, Clem's a rich man, as these men go," Billy said. "He's got two flats he rents, and he's got stock! And they've three married sons, all prosperous."
"Well, then, why do they live here?"
"Why wouldn't they? You think that it's far from clubs and shops and theaters and libraries, but they don't care for these things. They've never had time for them, they've never had time to garden, or go to clubs, and consequently they don't miss them. But some day, Sue," said Billy, with a darkening face, "some day, when these people have the assurance that their old age is to be protected and when they have easier hours, and can get home in daylight, then you'll see a change in laborers' houses!"
"And just what has a strike like this to do with that, Billy?" said Susan, resting her cheek on her broom handle.
"Oh, it's organization; it's recognition of rights; it's the beginning!" he said. "We have to stand before we can walk!"
"Here, don't do that!" said Mrs. Cudahy, coming in to take away the broom. "Take her for a walk, Billy," said she, "and show her the neighborhood." She laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Now, don't ye worry about the men coming back," said she kindly, "they'll be back fast enough, and wid good news, too!"
"I'm going to stay overnight with Mrs. Cudahy," said Susan, as they walked away.
"You are!" he stopped short, in amazement.
"Yes, I am I" Susan returned his smile with another. "I could no more go home now than after the first act of a play!" she confessed.
"Isn't it damned interesting?" he said, walking on.
"Why, yes," she said. "It's real at last—it's the realest thing I ever saw in my life! Everything's right on the surface, and all kept within certain boundaries. In other places, people come and go in your lives. Here, everybody's your neighbor. I like it! It could be perfect; just fancy if the Carrolls had one house, and you another, and I a third, and Phil and his wife a fourth—wouldn't it be like children playing house! And there's another thing about it, Billy," Susan went on enthusiastically, "it's honest! These people are really worried about shoes and rent and jobs—there's no money here to keep them from feeling everything! Think what a farce a strike would be if every man in it had lots of money! People with money CAN'T get the taste of really living!"
"Ah, well, there's a lot of sin and wretchedness here now!" he said sadly. "Women drinking—men acting like brutes! But some day, when the liquor traffic is regulated, and we have pension laws, and perhaps the single tax—-"
"And the Right-Reverend William Lord Oliver, R. I., in the Presidential Chair, hooray and Glory be to God—-!" Susan began.
"Oh, you dry up, Susan," Billy said laughing. "I don't care," he added contentedly. "I like to be at the bottom of things, shoving up. And my Lord, if we only pull this thing off—-!"
"It's not my preconceived idea of a strike," Susan said, after a moment's silence. "I thought one had to throw coal, and run around the streets with a shawl over one's head—-"
"In the east, where the labor is foreign, that's about it," he said, "but here we have American-born laborers, asking for their rights. And I believe it's all coming!"
"But with ignorance and inefficiency on one hand, and graft and cruelty on the other, and drink and human nature and poverty adding their complications, it seems rather a big job!" Susan said. "Now, look at these small kids out of bed at this hour of night, Bill! And what are they eating?—Boiled crabs! And notice the white stockings- -I never had a pair in my life, yet every kidlet on the block is wearing them. And look upstairs there, with a bed still airing!"
"The wonder is that it's airing at all," Billy said absently. "Is that the boys coming back?" he asked sharply.
"Now, Bill, why do you worry—-?" But Susan knew it was useless to scold him. They went quietly back, and sat on Mrs. Cudahy's steps, and waited for news. All Ironworks Row waited. Down the street Susan could see silent groups on nearly every door-step. It grew very dark; there was no moon, but the sky was thickly strewn with stars.
It was after ten o'clock when the committee came back. Susan knew, the moment that she saw the three, moving all close together, silently and slowly, that they brought no good news.
As a matter of fact, they brought almost no news at all. They went into Clem Cudahy's dining-room, and as many men and women as could crowded in after them. Billy sat at the head of the table.
Carpenter, the "old man" himself, had stuck to his guns, Clem Cudahy said. He was the obstinate one; the younger men would have conceded something, if not everything, long ago. But the old man had said that he would not be dictated to by any man alive, and if the men wanted to listen to an ignorant young enthusiast—-
"Three cheers for Mr. Oliver!" said a strong young voice, at this point, and the cheers were given and echoed in the street, although Billy frowned, and said gruffly, "Oh, cut it out!"
It was a long evening. Susan began to think that they would talk forever. But, at about eleven o'clock, the men who had been streaming in and out of the house began to disperse, and she and Mrs. Cudahy went into the kitchen, and made a pot of coffee.
Susan, sitting at the foot of the table, poured it, and seasoned it carefully.
"You are going to be well cared for, Mr. Oliver," said Ernest Rassette, in his careful English.
"No such luck!" Billy said, smiling at Susan, as he emptied his cup at a draught. "Well! I don't know that we do any good sitting here. Things seem to be at a deadlock."
"What do they concede, Bill?" Susan asked.
"Oh, practically everything but the recognition of the union. At least, Carpenter keeps saying that if this local agitation was once wiped out,—which is me!—then he'd talk. He doesn't love me, Sue."
"Damn him!" said one of his listeners, a young man who sat with his head in his hands.
"It's after twelve," Billy said, yawning. "Me to the hay! Goodnight, everyone; goodnight, Sue!"
"And annywan that cud get a man like that, and doesn't," said Mrs. Cudahy when he was gone, "must be lookin' for a saint right out av the lit'ny!"
"I never heard of any girl refusing Mr. Oliver," Susan said demurely.
She awoke puzzled, vaguely elated. Sunshine was streaming in at the window, an odor of coffee, of bacon, of toast, drifted up from below. Susan had slept well. She performed the limited toilet necessitated by a basin and pitcher, a comb somewhat beyond its prime, and a mirror too full of sunlight to be flattering.
But it was evidently satisfactory, for Clem Cudahy told her, as she went smiling into the kitchen, that she looked like a streak of sunlight herself. Sunlight was needed; it was a worried and anxious day for them all.
Susan went with Lizzie to see the new Conover baby, and stopped on the way back to be introduced to Mrs. Jerry Nelson, who had been stretched on her bed for eight long years. Mrs. Nelson's bright little room was easily accessible from the street; the alert little suffering woman was never long alone.
"I have to throw good soup out, the way it spoils on me," said Mrs. Nelson's daughter to Susan, "and there's nobody round makes cake or custard but what Mama gets some!"
"I'm a great one for making friends," the invalid assured her happily. "I don't miss nothing!"
"And after all I don't see why such a woman isn't better off than Mary Lord," said Susan later to Billy, "so much nearer the center of things! Of course," she told him that afternoon, "I ought to go home today. But I'm too interested. I simply can't! What happens next?"
"Oh, waiting," he said wearily. "We have a mass meeting this afternoon. But there's nothing to do but wait!"
Waiting was indeed the order of the day. The whole colony waited. It grew hotter and hotter; flies buzzed in and out of the open doorways, children fretted and shouted in the shade. Susan had seen no drinking the night before; but now she saw more than one tragedy. The meeting at three o'clock ended in a more grim determination than ever; the men began to seem ugly. Sunset brought a hundred odors of food, and unbearable heat.
"I've got to walk some of this off," said Billy, restlessly, just before dark. "Come on up and see the cabbage gardens!"
Susan pinned on her wide hat, joined him in silence, and still in silence they threaded the path that led through various dooryards and across vacant lots, and took a rising road toward the hills.
The stillness and soft dusk were very pleasant to Susan; she could find a beauty in carrot-tops and beet greens, and grew quite rapturous over a cow.
"Doesn't the darling look comfortable and countryish, Bill?"
Billy interrupted his musing to give her an absent smile. They sat down on a pile of lumber, and watched the summer moon rise gloriously over the hills.
"Doesn't it seem FUNNY to you that we're right in the middle of a strike, Bill?" Susan asked childishly.
"Funny—! Oh, Lord!"
"Well—-" Susan laughed at herself, "I didn't mean funny! But I'll tell you what I'd do in your place," she added thoughtfully.
Billy glanced at her quickly.
"What YOU'D do?" he asked curiously.
"Certainly! I've been thinking it over, as a dispassionate outsider," Susan explained calmly.
"Well, go on," he said, grinning indulgently.
"Well, I will," Susan said, firing, "if you'll treat me seriously, and not think that I say this merely because the Carrolls want you to go camping with us! I was just thinking—-" Susan smiled bashfully, "I was wondering why you don't go to Carpenter—-"
"He won't see me!"
"Well, you know what I mean!" she said impatiently. "Send your committee to him, and make him this proposition. Say that if he'll recognize the union—that's the most important thing, isn't it?"
"That's by far the most important! All the rest will follow if we get that. But he's practically willing to grant all the rest, EXCEPT the union. That's the whole point, Sue!"
"I know it is, but listen. Tell him that if he'll consent to all the other conditions—why," Susan spread open her hands with a shrug, "you'll get out! Bill, you know and I know that what he hates more than anything or anybody is Mr. William Oliver, and he'd agree to almost ANY terms for the sake of having you eliminated from his future consideration!"
"I—get out?" Billy repeated dazedly. "Why, I AM the union!"
"Oh, no you're not, Bill. Surely the principles involved are larger than any one man!" Susan said pleasantly.
"Well, well—yes—that's true!" he agreed, after a second's silence. "To a certain extent—I see what you mean!—that is true. But, Sue, this is an unusual case. I organized these boys, I talked to them, and for them. They couldn't hold together without me—they'll tell you so themselves!"
"But, Billy, that's not logic. Suppose you died?"
"Well, well, but by the Lord Harry I'm not going to die!" he said heatedly. "I propose to stick right here on my job, and if they get a bunch of scabs in here they can take the consequences! The hour of organized labor has come, and we'll fight the thing out along these lines—-"
"Through your hat—that's the way you're talking now!" Susan said scornfully. "Don't use those worn-out phrases, Bill; don't do it! I'm sick of people who live by a bunch of expressions, without ever stopping to think whether they mean anything or not! You're too big and too smart for that, Bill! Now, here you've given the cause a splendid push up, you've helped these particular men! Now go somewhere else, and stir up more trouble. They'll find someone to carry it on, don't you worry, and meanwhile you'll be a sort of idol—all the more influential for being a martyr to the cause!"
Billy did not answer. He got up and walked away from her, turned, and came slowly back.
"I've been here ten years," he said then, and at the sound of pain in his voice the girl's heart began to ache for him. "I don't believe they'd stand for it," he added presently, with more hope. And finally, "And I don't know what I'd do!"
"Well, that oughtn't to influence you," Susan said bracingly.
"No, you're quite right. That's not the point," he agreed quickly.
Presently she saw him lean forward in the darkness, and put his head in his hands. Susan longed to put her arm about him, and draw the rough head to her shoulder and comfort him.
At breakfast time the next morning, Billy walked into Mrs. Cudahy's dining-room, very white, very serious, determined lines drawn about his firm young mouth. Susan looked at him, half-fearful, half- pitying.
"How late did you walk, Bill?" she asked, for he had gone out again after bringing her back to the house the night before.
"I didn't go to bed," he said briefly. He sat down by the table. "Well, I guess Miss Brown put her finger on the very heart of the matter, Clem," said he.
"And how's that?" asked Clem Cudahy. His wife, in the very act of pouring the newcomer a cup of coffee, stopped with arrested arm. Susan experienced a sensation of panic.
"Oh, but I didn't mean anything!" she said eagerly. "Don't mind what I said, Bill!"
But the matter had been taken out of her hands now, and in less than an hour the news spread over the entire settlement. Mr. Oliver was going to resign!
The rest of the morning and the early afternoon went by in a confused rush. At three o'clock Billy, surrounded by vociferous allies, walked to the hall, for a stormy and exhausting meeting.
"The boys wouldn't listen to him at all at first," said Clem, in giving the women an account of it, later. "But eventually they listened, and eventually he carried the day. It was all too logical to be ignored and turned aside, he told them. They had not been fighting for any personal interest, or any one person. They had asked for this change, and that, and the other,—and these things they might still win. He, after all, had nothing to do with the issue; as a recognized labor union they might stand on their own feet."
After that the two committees met, in old Mr. Carpenter's office, and Billy came home to Susan and Mrs. Cudahy, and sat for a tense hour playing moodily with Lizzie's baby.
Then the committee came back, almost as silently as it had come last night. But this time it brought news. The strike was over.
Very quietly, very gravely, they made it known that terms had been reached at last. Practically everything had been granted, on the single condition that William Oliver resign from his position in the Iron Works, and his presidency of the union.
Billy congratulated them. Susan knew that he was so emotionally shaken, and so tired, as to be scarcely aware of what he was doing and saying. Men and women began to come in and discuss the great news. There were some tears; there was real grief on more than one of the hard young faces.
"I'll see all you boys again in a day or two," Billy said. "I'm going over to Sausalito to-night,—I'm all in! We've won, and that's the main thing, but I want you to let me off quietly to-night,—we can go over the whole thing later.
"Gosh, about one cheer, and I would have broken down like a kid!" he said to Susan, on the car. Rassette and Clem had escorted them thither; Mrs. Cudahy and Lizzie walking soberly behind them, with Susan. Both women kissed Susan good-bye, and Susan smiled through her tears as she saw the last of them.
"I'll take good care of him," she promised the old woman. "He's been overdoing it too long!"
"Lord, it will be good to get away into the big woods," said Billy. "You're quite right, I've taken the whole thing too hard!"
"At the same time," said Susan, "you'll want to get back to work, sooner or later, and, personally, I can't imagine anything else in life half as fascinating as work right there, among those people, or people like them!"
"Then you can see how it would cut a fellow all up to leave them?" he asked wistfully.
"See!" Susan echoed. "Why, I'm just about half-sick with homesickness myself!"
The train went on and on and on; through woods wrapped in dripping mist, and fields smothered in fog. The unseasonable August afternoon wore slowly away. Betsey, fitting her head against the uncomfortable red velvet back of the seat, dozed or seemed to doze. Mrs. Carroll opened her magazine over and over again, shut it over and over again, and stared out at the landscape, eternally slipping by. William Oliver, seated next to Susan, was unashamedly asleep, and Susan, completing the quartette, looked dreamily from face to face, yawned suppressedly, and wrestled with "The Right of Way."
They were making the six hours' trip to the big forest for a month's holiday, and it seemed to each one of the four that they had been in the train a long, long time. In the racks above their heads were coats and cameras, suit-cases and summer hats, and a long cardboard box, originally intended for "Gents' medium, ribbed, white," but now carrying fringed napkins and the remains of a luncheon.
It had all been planned a hundred times, under the big lamp in the Sausalito sitting-room. The twelve o'clock train—Farwoods Station at five—an hour's ride in the stage—six o'clock. Then they would be at the cabin, and another hour—say—would be spent in the simplest of housewarming. A fire must be built to dry bedding after the long months, and to cook bacon and eggs, and just enough unpacking to find night-wear and sheets. That must do for the first night.
"But we'll sit and talk over the fire," Betsey would plead. "Please, Mother! We'll be all through dinner at eight o'clock I"
The train however was late, nearly half-an-hour late, when they reached Farwoods. The stage, pleasant enough in pleasant weather, was disgustingly cramped and close inside. Susan and Betsey were both young enough to resent the complacency with which Jimmy climbed up, with his dog, beside the driver.
"You let him stay in the baggage-car with Baloo all the way, Mother," Betts reproached her, flinging herself recklessly into the coach, "and now you're letting him ride in the rain!"
"Well, stop falling over everything, for Heaven's sake, Betts!" Susan scolded. "And don't step on the camera! Don't get in, Billy,— I say DON'T GET IN! Well, why don't you listen to me then! These things are all over the floor, and I have to—-"
"I have to get in, it's pouring,—don't be such a crab, Sue!" Billy said pleasantly. "Lord, what's that! What did I break?"
"That's the suitcase with the food in it," Susan snapped. "PLEASE wait a minute, Betts!—All right," finished Susan bitterly, settling herself in a dark corner, "tramp over everything, I don't care!"
"If you don't care, why are you talking about it?" asked Betts.
"He says that we'll have to get out at the willows, and walk up the trail," said Mrs. Carroll, bending her tall head, as she entered the stage, after a conversation with the driver. "Gracious sakes, how things have been tumbled in! Help me pile these things up, girls!"
"I was trying to," Susan began stiffly, leaning forward to do her share. A sudden jolt of the starting stage brought her head against Betts with a violent concussion. After that she sat back in magnificent silence for half the long drive.
They jerked and jolted on the uneven roads, the rain was coming down more steadily now, and finally even Jimmy and the shivering Baloo had to come inside the already well-filled stage.
It was quite dark when they were set down at the foot of the overgrown trail, and started, heavily loaded, for the cabin. Wind sighed and swept through the upper branches of the forest, boughs creaked and whined, the ground underfoot was spongy with moisture, and the air very cold.
The cabin was dark and deserted looking; a drift of tiny redwood branches carpeted the porch. The rough steps ran water. Once inside, they struck matches and lighted a candle.
Cold, darkness and disorder everybody had expected to find. But it was a blow to discover that the great stone fireplace, the one real beauty of the room, and the delight of every chilly evening, had been brought down by some winter gale. A bleak gap marked its once hospitable vicinity, cool air rushed in where the breath of dancing flames had so often rushed out, and, some in a great heap on the hearth, and some flung in muddy confusion to the four corners of the room, the sooty stones lay scattered.
It was a bad moment for everyone. Betsey began to cry, her weary little head on her mother's shoulder.
"This won't do!" Mrs. Carroll said perplexedly. "B-r-r-r-r! How cold it is!"
"This is rotten," Jimmy said bitterly. "And all the fellows are going to the Orpheum to-night too!" he added enviously.
"It's warm here compared to the bedroom," Susan, who had been investigating, said simply. "The blankets feel wet, they're so cold!"
"And too wet for a camp-fire—" mused the mother.
"And the stage gone!" Billy added.
A cold draught blew open the door and set the candle guttering.
"Oh, I'm so COLD!" Susan said, hunching herself like a sick chicken.
The rest of the evening became family history. How they took their camping stove and its long tin pipe from the basement, and set it up in the woodshed that, with the little bedroom, completed the cabin, how wood from the cellar presently crackled within, how suitcases were opened by maddening candle-light, and wet boots changed for warm slippers, and wet gowns for thick wrappers. How the kettle sang and the bacon hissed, and the coffee-pot boiled over, and everybody took a turn at cutting bread. Deep in the heart of the rain-swept, storm-shaken woods, they crowded into the tiny annex, warm and dry, so lulled by the warm meal and the warm clothes that it was with great difficulty that Mrs. Carroll roused them all for bed at ten o'clock.
"I'm going to sleep with you, Sue," announced Betsey, shivering, and casting an envious glance at her younger brother who, with Billy, was to camp for that night in the kitchen, "and if it's like this to-morrow, I vote that we all go home!"
But they awakened in all the fragrant beauty and stillness of a great forest, on a heavenly August morning. Sunshine flooded the cabin, when Susan opened her eyes, and the vista of redwood boughs beyond the window was shot with long lines of gold. Everywhere were sweetness and silence; blots of bright gold on feathery layers of soft green. High-arched aisles stretched all about the cabin like the spokes of a great wheel; warm currents, heavy with piney sweetness, drifted across the crystal and sparkling brightness of the air. The rain was gone; the swelled creek rushed noisily down a widened course; it was cool now, but the day would be hot. Susan, dressing with her eyes on the world beyond the window, was hastened by a sudden delicious odor of boiling coffee, and the delightful sound of a crackling wood fire.
Delightful were all the sights and sounds and duties of the first days in camp. There must be sweeping, airing, unpacking in the little domicile. Someone must walk four miles to the general store for salt, and more matches, and pancake flour. Someone must take the other direction, and climb a mile of mountain every day or two for milk and eggs and butter. The spring must be cleared, and a board set across the stream; logs dragged in for the fire, a pantry built of boxes, for provisions, and ship-shape disposition made of mugs and plates.
Billy sharpened cranes for their camp-kitchen, swung the kettles over a stone-lined depression, erected a protection of flat redwood boughs. And under his direction the fireplace was rebuilt.
"It just shows what you can do, if you must!" said Susan, complacently eying the finished structure.
"It's handsomer than ever!" Mrs. Carroll said. The afternoon sunlight was streaming in across the newly swept hearth, and touching to brighter colors the Navajo blanket stretched on the floor. "And now we have one more happy association with the camp!' she finished contentedly.
"Billy is wishing he could transfer all his strikers up here," said Susan dimpling. "He thinks that a hundred miles of forest are too much for just a few people!"
"They wouldn't enjoy it," he answered seriously, "they have had no practice in this sort of life. They'd hate it. But of course it's a matter of education—-"
"Help! He's off!" said the irreverent Susan, "now he'll talk for an hour! Come on, Betts, I have to go for milk!"
Exquisite days these for them all, days so brimming with beauty as to be forever memorable. Susan awoke every morning to a rushing sense of happiness, and danced to breakfast looking no more than a gay child, in her bluejacket's blouse, with her bright hair in a thick braid. Busy about breakfast preparations, and interrupted by a hundred little events in the forest or stream all about her, Billy would find her. There was always a moment of heat and hurry, when toast and oatmeal and coffee must all be brought to completion at once, and then they might loiter over their breakfast as long as they liked.
Afterward, Susan and Mrs. Carroll put the house in order, while the others straightened and cleaned the camp outside. Often the talks between the two women ran far over the time their work filled, and Betsey would come running in to ask Mother and Susan why they were laughing. Laughter was everywhere, not much was needed to send them all into gales of mirth.
Usually they packed a basket, gathered the stiff, dry bathing suits from the grass, and lunched far up in the woods. Fishing gear was carried along, although the trout ran small, and each fish provided only a buttery, delicious mouthful. Susan learned to swim and was more proud of her first breathless journey across the pool than were the others with all their expert diving and racing. Mrs. Carroll swam well, and her daughters were both splendid swimmers.
After the first dip, they lunched on the hot shingle, and dozed and talked, and skipped flat stones on the water, until it was time to swim again. All about them the scene was one of matchless beauty. Steep banks, aquiver with ferns, came down on one side of the pool, to the very edge of the crystal water; on the other, long arcades, shot with mellow sunlight, stretched away through the forest. Bees went by on swift, angry journeys, and dragon-flies rested on the stones for a few dazzling palpitating seconds, and were gone again. Black water-bugs skated over the shallows, throwing round shadows on the smooth floor of the pool.
Late in the afternoon, the campers would saunter home, crossing hot strips of meadow, where they started hundreds of locusts into flight, or plunging into the cool green of twilight woods. Back at the camp, there would be the crackle of wood again, with all the other noises of the dying forest day. Good odors drifted about, broiling meat and cooking wild berries, chipmunks and gray squirrels and jays chattered from the trees overhead; there was a whisking of daring tails, a flutter of bold wings.
Daylight lasted for the happy meal, and stars came out above their camp-fire. And while they talked or sang, or sat with serious young eyes watching the flames, owls called far away through the wood, birds chuckled sleepily in the trees, and, where moonlight touched the stream, sometimes a trout rose and splashed.
When was it that Billy always began to take his place at Susan's side, at the campfire, their shoulders almost touching in the dark? When was it that, through all the careless, happy companionship that bound them all, she began to know, with a thrill of joy and pain at her heart, that there were special looks for her, special glad tones for her? She did not know.
But she did know that suddenly all the world seemed Billy,—Billy's arm to cross a stream, Billy's warning beside the swimming pool, Billy's laughter at her nonsense, and Billy's eyes when she looked up from musing over her book or turned, on a trail, to call back to the others, following her. She knew why the big man stumbled over words, grew awkward and flushed when she turned upon him the sisterly gaze of her blue eyes.
And with the knowledge life grew almost unbearably sweet. Susan was enveloped in some strange golden glory; the mere brushing of her hair, or shaking out of her bathing-suit became a rite, something to be done with an almost suffocating sense of significance. Everything she did became intensified, her laughter and her tears were more ready, her voice had new and sweeter notes in it, she glowed like a rose in the knowledge that he thought her beautiful, and because he thought her sweet and capable and brave she became all of these things.
She did not analyze him; he was different from all other men, he stood alone among them, simply because he was Billy. He was tall and strong and clean of heart and sunny of temper, yes—but with these things she did not concern herself,—he was poor, too, he was unemployed, he had neither class nor influence to help him,—that mattered as little.
He was Billy,—genial and clever and good, unconventional, eager to learn, full of simple faith in human nature, honest and unaffected whether he was dealing with the president of a great business, or teaching Jim how to play his reel for trout,—and he had her whole heart. Whether she was laughing at his arguments, agreeing with his theories, walking silently at his side through the woods, or watching the expressions that followed each other on his absorbed face, while he cleaned his gun or scrutinized the detached parts of Mrs. Carroll's coffee-mill, Susan followed him with eyes into which a new expression had crept. She watched him swimming, flinging back an arc of bright drops with every jerk of his sleek wet head; she bent her whole devotion on the garments he brought her for buttons, hoping that he did not see the trembling of her hands, or the rush of color that his mere nearness brought to her face. She thrilled with pride when he came to bashfully consult her about the long letters he wrote from time to time to Clem Cudahy or Joseph Rassette, listened eagerly to his talks with the post-office clerk, the store-keeper, the dairymen and ranchers up on the mountain.
And always she found him good. "Too good for me," said Susan sadly to herself. "He has made the best of everything that ever came his way, and I have been a silly fool whenever I had half a chance."
The miracle was worked afresh for them, as for all lovers. This was no mere attraction between a man and a maid, such as she had watched all her life, Susan thought. This was some new and rare and wonderful event, as miraculous in the eyes of all the world as it was to her.
"I should be Susan Oliver," she thought with a quick breath. An actual change of name—how did other women ever survive the thrill and strangeness of itl "We should have to have a house," she told herself, lying awake one night. A house—she and Billy with a tiny establishment of their own, alone over their coffee-cups, alone under their lamp! Susan's heart went out to the little house, waiting for them somewhere. She hung a dream apron on the door of a dream kitchen, and went to meet a tired dream-Billy at the door—-
He would kiss her. The blood rushed to her face and she shut her happy eyes.
A dozen times a day she involved herself in some enterprise from which she could not extricate herself without his help. Billy had to take heavy logs out of her arms, had to lay a plank across the stretch of creek she could not cross, had to help her down from the crotch of a tree with widespread brotherly arms.
"I thought—I—could—make—it!" gasped Susan, laughing, when he swam after her, across the pool, and towed her ignominiously home.
"Susan, you're a fool!" scolded Billy, when they were safe on the bank, and Susan, spreading her wet hair about her, siren-wise, answered meekly: "Oh, I know it!"
On a certain Saturday Anna and Philip climbed down from the stage, and the joys of the campers were doubled as they related their adventures and shared all their duties and delights. Susan and Anna talked nearly all night, lying in their canvas beds, on a porch flooded with moonlight, and if Susan did not mention Billy, nor Anna allude to the great Doctor Hoffman, they understood each other for all that.
The next day they all walked up beyond the ranch-house, and followed the dripping flume to the dam. And here, beside a wide sheet of blue water, they built their fire, and had their lunch, and afterward spent a long hour in the water. Quail called through the woods, and rabbits flashed out of sight at the sound of human voices, and once, in a silence, a doe, with a bright-eyed fawn clinking after her on the stones, came down to the farther shore for a drink.
"You ought to live this sort of life all the time, Sue!" Billy said idly, as they sat sunning themselves on the wide stone bulkhead that held back the water.
"I? Why?" asked Susan, marking the smooth cement with a wet forefinger.
"Because you're such a kid, Sue—you like it all so much!"
"Knowing what you know of me, Bill, I wonder that you can think of me as young at all," the girl answered drily, suddenly somber and raising shamed eyes to his.
"How do you mean?" he stammered, and then, suddenly enlightened, he added scornfully, "Oh, Lord!"
"That—-" Susan said quietly, still marking the hot cement, "will keep me from ever—ever being happy, Bill—-" Her voice thickened, and she stopped speaking.
"I don't look at that whole episode as you do, Sue," Billy said gruffly after a moment's embarrassed silence. "I don't believe chance controls those things. I often think of it when some man comes to me with a hard-luck story. His brother cheated him, and a factory burned down, and he was three months sick in a hospital— yes, that may all be true! But follow him back far enough and you'll find he was a mean man from the very start, ruined a girl in his home town, let his wife support his kids. It's years ago now perhaps, but his fate is simply working out its natural conclusion. Somebody says that character IS fate, Sue,—you've always been sweet and decent and considerate of other people, and your fate saved you through that. You couldn't have done anything wrong—it's not IN you!"
He looked up with his bright smile but Susan could hear no more. She had scrambled to her feet while he was speaking, now she stopped only long enough to touch his shoulder with a quick, beseeching pressure. The next instant she was walking away, and he knew that her face was wet with tears. She plunged into the pool, and swam steadily across the silky expanse, and when he presently joined her, with Anna and Betts, she was quite herself again.
Quite her old self, and the life and heart of everything they did. Anna laughed until the tears stood in her eyes, the others, more easily moved, went from one burst of mirth to another. They were coming home past the lumber mill when Billy fell in step just beside her, and the others drifted on without them. There was nothing in that to startle Susan, but she did feel curiously startled, and a little shy, and managed to keep a conversation going almost without help.
"Stop here and watch the creek," said Billy, at the mill bridge. Susan stopped, and they stood looking down at the foaming water, tumbling through barriers, and widening, in a ruffled circle, under the great wheel.
"Was there ever such a heavenly place, Billy?"
"Never," he said, after a second. Susan had time to think his voice a little deep and odd before he added, with an effort, "We'll come back here often, won't we? After we're married?"
"Oh, are we going to be married?" Susan said lightly.
"Well, aren't we?" He quietly put his arm about her, as they stood at the rail, so that in turning her innocent, surprised eyes, she found his face very near. Susan held herself away rigidly, dropped her eyes. She could not answer.
"How about it, Sue?" he asked, very low and, looking up, she found that he was half-smiling, but with anxious eyes. Suddenly she found her eyes brimming, and her lip shook. Susan felt very young, a little frightened.
"Do you love me, Billy?" she faltered. It was too late to ask it, but her heart suddenly ached with a longing to hear him say it.
"Love you I" he said scarcely above his breath. "Don't you know how I love you! I think I've loved you ever since you came to our house, and I gave you my cologne bottle!"
There was no laughter in his tone, but the old memory brought laughter to them both. Susan clung to him, and he tightened his arms about her. Then they kissed each other.
Half an hour behind the others they came slowly down the home trail. Susan had grown shy now and, although she held his hand childishly, she would not allow him to kiss her again. The rapid march of events had confused her, and she amused him by a plea for time "to think."
"Please, please don't let them suspect anything tonight, Bill!" she begged. "Not for months! For we shall probably have to wait a long, long time!"
"I have a nerve to ask any girl to do it!" Billy said gloomily.
"You're not asking any girl. You're asking me, you know!"
"But, darling, you honestly aren't afraid? We'll have to count every cent for awhile, you know!"
"It isn't as if I had been a rich girl," Susan reminded him.
"But you've been a lot with rich people. And we'll have to live in some place in the Mission, like Georgie, Sue!"
"In the Mission perhaps, but not like Georgie! Wait until you eat my dinners, and see my darling little drawing-room! And we'll go to dinner at Coppa's and Sanguinetti's, and come over to Sausalito for picnics,—we'll have wonderful times! You'll see!"
"I adore you," said Billy, irrevelantly.
"Well," Susan said, "I hope you do! But I'll tell you something I've been thinking, Billy," she resumed dreamily, after a silence.
"And pwhats dthat, me dar-r-rlin'?"
"Why, I was thinking that I'd rather—-" Susan began hesitatingly, "rather have my work cut out for me in this life! That is, I'd rather begin at the bottom of the ladder, and work up to the top, than be at the top, through no merit of my own, and live in terror of falling to the bottom! I believe, from what I've seen of other people, that we'll succeed, and I think we'll have lots of fun doing it!"
"But, Sue, you may get awfully tired of it!"
"Everybody gets awfully tired of everything!" sang Susan, and caught his hand for a last breathless run into camp.
At supper they avoided each other's eyes, and assumed an air of innocence and gaiety. But in spite of this, or because of it, the meal moved in an unnatural atmosphere, and everyone present was conscious of a sense of suspense, of impending news.
"Betts dear, do listen!—the SALT," said Mrs. Carroll. "You've given me the spoons and the butter twice! Tell me about to-day," she added, in a desperate effort to start conversation. "What happened?"
But Jimmy choked at this, Betsey succumbed to helpless giggling, and even Philip reddened with suppressed laughter.
"Don't, Betts!" Anna reproached her.
"You're just as bad yourself!" sputtered Betsey, indignantly.
"I?" Anna turned virtuous, outraged eyes upon her junior, met Susan's look for a quivering second, and buried her flushed and laughing face in her napkin.
"I think you're all crazy!" Susan said calmly.
"She's blushing!" announced Jimmy.
"Cut it out now, kid," Billy growled. "It's none of your business!"
"WHAT'S none of his business?" carroled Betsey, and a moment later joyous laughter and noise broke out,—Philip was shaking William's hand, the girls were kissing Susan, Mrs. Carroll was laughing through tears. Nobody had been told the great news, but everybody knew it.
Presently Susan sat in Mrs. Carroll's lap, and they all talked of the engagement; who had suspected it, who had been surprised, what Anna had noticed, what had aroused Jimmy's suspicions. Billy was very talkative but Susan strangely quiet to-night.
It seemed to make it less sacred, somehow, this open laughter and chatter about it. Why she had promised Billy but a few hours ago, and here he was threatening never to ask Betts to "our house," unless she behaved herself, and kissing Anna with the hilarious assurance that his real reason for "taking" Susan was because she, Anna, wouldn't have him! No man who really loved a woman could speak like that to another on the very night of his engagement, thought Susan. A great coldness seized her heart, and pity for herself possessed her. She sat next to Mrs. Carroll at the camp-fire, and refused Billy even the little liberty of keeping his fingers over hers. No liberties to-night!
And later, tucked by Mrs. Carroll's motherly hands into her little camp bed on the porch, she lay awake, sick at heart. Far from loving Billy Oliver, she almost disliked him! She did not want to be engaged this way, she wanted, at this time of all times in her life, to be treated with dignity, to be idolized, to have her every breath watched. How she had cheapened everything by letting him blurt out the news this way! And now, how could she in dignity draw back—-
Susan began to cry bitterly. She was all alone in the world, she said to herself, she had never had a chance, like other girls! She wanted a home to-night, she wanted her mother and father—-!
Her handkerchief was drenched, she tried to dry her eyes on the harsh hem of the sheet. Her tears rushed on and on, there seemed to be no stopping them. Billy did not care for her, she sobbed to herself, he took the whole thing as a joke! And, beginning thus, what would he feel after a few years of poverty, dark rooms and unpaid bills?
Even if he did love her, thought Susan bursting out afresh, how was she to buy a trousseau, how were they to furnish rooms, and pay rent, "one always has to pay a month's rent in advance!" she thought gloomily.
"I believe I am going to be one of those weepy, sensitive women, whose noses are always red," said Susan, tossing restlessly in the dark. "I shall go mad if I can't get to sleep!" And she sat up, reached for her big, loose Japanese wrapper and explored with bare feet for her slippers.
Ah—that was better! She sat on the top step, her head resting against the rough pillar of the porch, and felt a grateful rush of cool air on her flushed face. Her headache lessened suddenly, her thoughts ran more quietly.
There was no moon yet. Susan stared at the dim profile of the forest, and at the arch of the sky, spattered with stars. The exquisite beauty of the summer night soothed and quieted her. After a time she went noiselessly down the dark pathway to the spring- house for a drink.
The water was deliciously cool and fresh. Susan, draining a second cup of it, jumped as a voice nearby said quietly:
"Don't be frightened—it's me, Billy!"
"Heaven alive—how you scared me!" gasped Susan, catching at the hand he held out to lead her back to the comparative brightness of the path. "Billy, why aren't you asleep?"
"Too happy, I guess," he said simply, his eyes on her.
She held his hands at arm's length, and stared at him wistfully.
"Are you so happy, Bill?" she asked.
"Well, what do you think?" The words were hardly above a whisper, he wrenched his hands suddenly free from her, and she was in his arms, held close against his heart. "What do you think, my own girl?" said Billy, close to her ear.
"Heavens, I don't want him to care THIS much!" said the terrified daughter of Eve, to herself. Breathless, she freed herself, and held him at arm's length again.
"Billy, I can't stay down here—even for a second—unless you promise not to!"
"But darling—however, I won't! And will you come over here to the fence for just a minute—the moon's coming up!"
Billy Oliver—the same old Billy!—trembling with eagerness to have Susan Brown—the unchanged Susan!—come and stand by a fence, and watch the moon rise! It was very extraordinary, it was pleasant, and curiously exciting, too.
"Well—-" conceded Susan, as she gathered her draperies about her, and went to stand at the fence, and gaze childlishly up at the stars. Billy, also resting elbows on the old rail, stood beside her, and never moved his eyes from her face.
The half-hour that followed both of them would remember as long as they lived. Slowly, gloriously, the moon climbed up the dark blue dome of the sky, and spread her silver magic on the landscape; the valley below them swam in pale mist, clean-cut shadows fell from the nearby forest.
The murmur of young voices rose and fell—rose and fell. There were little silences, now and then Susan's subdued laughter. Susan thought her lover magnificent in the moonlight; what Billy thought of the lovely downcast face, the loose braid of hair that caught a dull gleam from the moon, the slender elbows bare on the rail, the breast that rose and fell, under her light wraps, with Susan's quickened breathing, perhaps he tried to tell her.
"But I must go in!" she protested presently. "This has been wonderful, but I must go in!"
"But why? We've just begun talking—and after all, Sue, you're going to be my wife!"
The word spurred her. In a panic Susan gave him a swift half-kiss, and fled, breathless and dishevelled, back to the porch. And a moment later she had fallen into a sleep as deep as a child's, her prayer of gratitude half-finished.
The days that followed were brightened or darkened with moods so intense, that it was a real, if secret, relief to Susan when the forest visit was over, and sun-burned and shabby and loaded with forest spoils, they all came home again. Jim's first position awaited him, and Anna was assistant matron in the surgical hospital now,—fated to see the man she loved almost every day, and tortured afresh daily by the realization of his greatness, his wealth, his quiet, courteous disregard of the personality of the dark-eyed, deft little nurse. Dr. Conrad Hoffman was seventeen years older than Anna. Susan secretly thought of Anna's attachment as quite hopeless.
Philip and Betts and Susan were expected back at their respective places too, and Billy was deeply interested in the outcome of the casual, friendly letters he had written during the month in camp to Joseph Rassette. These letters had been passed about among the men until they were quite worn out; Clem Cudahy had finally had one or two printed, for informal distribution, and there had been a little sensation over them. Now, eastern societies had written asking for back numbers of the "Oliver Letter," and a labor journal had printed one almost in full. Clement Cudahy was anxious to discuss with Billy the feasibility of printing such a letter weekly for regular circulation, and Billy thought well of the idea, and was eager to begin the enterprise.
Susan was glad to get back to the little "Democrat," and worked very hard during the fall and winter. She was not wholly happy, or, rather, she was not happy all the time. There were times, especially when Billy was not about, when it seemed very pleasant to be introduced as an engaged girl, and to get the respectful, curious looks of other girls. She liked to hear Mrs. Carroll and Anna praise Billy, and she liked Betts' enthusiasm about him.
But little things about him worried her inordinately, sometimes she resented, for a whole silent evening, his absorption in other people, sometimes grew pettish and unresponsive and offended because he could keep neither eyes nor hands from her. And there were evenings when they seemed to have nothing to talk about, and Billy, too tired to do anything but drowse in his big chair, was confronted with an alert and horrified Susan, sick with apprehension of all the long evenings, throughout all the years. Susan was fretted by the financial barrier to the immediate marriage, too, it was humiliating, at twenty-six, to be affected by a mere matter of dollars and cents.
They quarreled, and came home silently from a dinner in town, Susan's real motive in yielding to a reconciliation being her disinclination to confess to Mrs. Carroll,—and those motherly eyes read her like a book,—that she was punishing Billy for asking her not to "show off" before the waiter!
But early in the new year, they were drawn together by rapidly maturing plans. The "Oliver Letter," called the "Saturday Protest" now, was fairly launched. Billy was less absorbed in the actual work, and began to feel sure of a moderate success. He had rented for his office half of the lower floor of an old house in the Mission. Like all the old homes that still stand to mark the era when Valencia Street was as desired an address as California Street is to-day, it stood upon bulkheaded ground, with a fat-pillared wooden fence bounding the wide lawns.
The fence was full of gaps, and the house, with double bay-windows, and with a porch over its front door, was shabby and bare. Its big front door usually stood open; opposite Billy, across a wide hall, was a modest little millinery establishment, upstairs a nurses' home, and a woman photographer occupied the top floor. The "Protest," a slim little sheet, innocent of contributed matter or advertising, and written, proofed and set up by Billy's own hands, was housed in what had been the big front drawing-room. Billy kept house in the two back rooms that completed the little suite.
Susan first saw the house on a Saturday in January, a day that they both remembered afterwards as being the first on which their marriage began to seem a definite thing. It was in answer to Billy's rather vague suggestion that they must begin to look at flats in the neighborhood that Susan said, half in earnest:
"We couldn't begin here, I suppose? Have the office downstairs in the big front room, and clean up that old downstairs kitchen, and fix up these three rooms!"
Billy dismissed the idea. But it rose again, when they walked downtown, in the afternoon sunlight, and kept them in animated talk over a happy dinner.
"The rent for the whole thing is only twenty dollars!" said Susan, "and we can fix it all up, pretty old-fashioned papers, and white paint! You won't know it!"
"I adore you, Sue—isn't this fun?" was William's somewhat indirect answer. They missed one boat, missed another, finally decided to leave it to Mrs. Carroll.
Mrs. Carroll's decision was favorable. "Loads of sunlight and fresh air, Sue, and well up off the ground!" she summarized it.
The decision made all sorts of madness reasonable. If they were to live there, would this thing fit—would that thing fit—why not see paperers at once, why not look at stoves? Susan and Billy must "get an idea" of chairs and tables, must "get an idea" of curtains and rugs.
"And when do you think, children?" asked Mrs. Carroll.
"June," said Susan, all roses.
"April," said the masterful male.
"Oh, doesn't it begin to seem exciting!" burst from Betsey. The engagement was an old story now, but this revived interest in it.
"Clothes!" said Anna rapturously. "Sue, you must be married in another pongee, you NEVER had anything so becoming!"
"We must decide about the wedding too," Mrs. Carroll said. "Certain old friends of your mother, Sue—-"
"Barrows can get me announcements at cost," Philip contributed.
After that Susan and Billy had enough to talk about. Love-making must be managed at odd moments; Billy snatched a kiss when the man who was selling them linoleums turned his back for a moment; Susan offered him another as she demurely flourished the coffee-pot, in the deep recesses of a hardware shop.
"Do let me have my girl for two seconds together!" Billy pleaded, when between Anna, with samples of gowns, Betts, wild with excitement over an arriving present, and Mrs. Carroll's anxiety that they should not miss a certain auction sale, he had only distracted glimpses of his sweetheart.
It is an undeniable and blessed thing that, to the girl who is buying it, the most modest trousseau in the world seems wonderful and beautiful and complete beyond dreams. Susan's was far from being the most modest in the world, and almost every day brought her beautiful additions to it. Georgie, kept at home by a delicate baby, sent one delightful box after another; Mary Lou sent a long strip of beautiful lace, wrapped about Ferd's check for a hundred dollars.
"It was Aunt Sue Rose's lace," wrote Mary Lou, "and I am going to send you a piece of darling Ma's, too, and one or two of her spoons,"
This reminded Georgie of "Aunt Sue Rose's box," which, unearthed, brought forth more treasures; a thin old silver ladle, pointed tea- spoons connected with Susan's infant memories of castor-oil. Virginia had a blind friend from whom she ordered a wonderful knitted field-coat. Anna telephoned about a patient who must go into mourning, and wanted to sell at less than half its cost, the loveliest of rose-wreathed hats.
Susan and Anna shopped together, Anna consulting a shabby list, Susan rushing off at a hundred tangents. Boxes and boxes and boxes came home, the engagement cups had not stopped coming when the wedding presents began. The spareroom closet was hung with fragrant new clothes, its bed was heaped with tissue-wrapped pieces of silver.
Susan crossed the bay two or three times a week to rush through some bit of buying, and to have dinner with Billy. They liked all the little Spanish and French restaurants, loitered over their sweet black coffee, and dry cheese, explored the fascinating dark streets of the Chinese Quarter, or went to see the "Marionettes" next door to the old Broadway jail. All of it appealed to Susan's hunger for adventure, she wove romances about the French families among whom they dined,—stout fathers, thin, nervous mothers, stolid, claret- drinking little girls, with manes of black hair,—about the Chinese girls, with their painted lips, and the old Italian fishers, with scales glittering on their rough coats.
"We've got to run for it, if we want it!" Billy would say, snatching her coat from a chair. Susan after jabbing in her hatpins before a mirror decorated with arabesques of soap, would rush with him into the street. Fog and pools of rain water all about, closed warehouses and lighted saloons, dark crossings—they raced madly across the ferry place at last, with the clock in the tower looking down on them.
"We're all right now!" Billy would gasp. But they still ran, across the long line of piers, and through the empty waiting-room, and the iron gates.
"That was the closest yet!" Susan, reaching the upper deck, could stop to breathe. There were seats facing the water, under the engine-house, where Billy might put his arm about her unobserved. Their talk went on.
Usually they had the night boat to themselves, but now and then Susan saw somebody that she knew on board. One night she went in to talk for a moment with Ella Saunders. Ella was gracious, casual. Ken was married, as Susan knew,—the newspapers had left nothing to be imagined of the most brilliant of the season's matches, and pictures of the fortunate bride, caught by the cameras as she made her laughing way to her carriage, a white blur of veil and flowers, had appeared everywhere. Emily was not well, said Ella, might spend the summer in the east; Mama was not very well. She asked Susan no questions, and Susan volunteered nothing.
And on another occasion they were swept into the company of the Furlongs. Isabel was obviously charmed with Billy, and Billy, Susan thought, made John Furlong seem rather stupid and youthful.
"And you MUST come and dine with us!" said Isabel. Obviously not in the month before the wedding, Isabel's happy excuses, in an aside to Susan, were not necessary, "—-But when you come back," said Isabel.
"And you with us in our funny little rooms in the Mission," Susan said gaily. Isabel took her husband's arm, and gave it a little squeeze.
"He'd love to!" she assured Susan. "He just loves things like that. And you must let us help get the dinner!"
On Sundays the old walks to the beach had been resumed, and the hills never had seemed to Susan as beautiful as they did this year, when the first spring sweetness began to pierce the air, and the breeze brought faint odors of grass, and good wet earth, and violets. Spring this year meant to the girl's glowing and ardent nature what it meant to the birds, with apple-blossoms and mustard- tops, lilacs and blue skies, would come the mating time. Susan was the daughter of her time; she did not know why all the world seemed made for her now; her heritage of ignorance and fear was too great. But Nature, stronger than any folly of her children, made her great claim none the less. Susan thrilled in the sunshine and warm air, dreamed of her lover's kisses, gloried in the fact that youth was not to pass her by without youth's hour.
By March all Sausalito was mantled with acacia bloom, and the silent warm days were sweet with violets. The sunshine was soft and warm, if there was still chill in the shade. The endless weeks had dragged themselves away; Susan and Billy were going to be married.
Susan walked in a radiant dream, curiously wrapped away from reality, yet conscious, in a new and deep and poignant way, of every word, of every waking instant.
"I am going to be married next week," she heard herself saying. Other women glanced at her; she knew they thought her strangely unmoved. She thought herself so. But she knew that running under the serene surface of her life was a dazzling great river of joy! Susan could not look upon it yet. Her eyes were blinded.
Presents came in, more presents. A powder box from Ella, candle- sticks from Emily, a curiously embroidered tablecloth from the Kenneth Saunders in Switzerland. And from old Mrs. Saunders a rather touching note, a request that Susan buy herself "something pretty," with a check for fifty dollars, "from her sick old friend, Fanny Saunders."
Mary Lou, very handsomely dressed and prosperous, and her beaming husband, came down for the wedding. Mary Lou had a hundred little babyish, new mannerisms, she radiated the complacency of the adored woman, and, when Susan spoke of Billy, Mary Lou was instantly reminded of Ferd, the salary Ferd made at twenty, the swiftness of his rise in the business world, his present importance. Mary Lou could not hide the pity she felt for Susan's very modest beginning. "I wish Ferd could find Billy some nice, easy position," said Mary Lou. "I don't like you to live out in that place. I don't believe Ma would!"
Virginia was less happy than her sister. The Eastmans were too busy together to remember her loneliness. "Sometimes it seems as if Mary Lou just likes to have me there to remind her how much better off she is," said Virginia mildly, to Susan. "Ferd buys her things, and takes her places, and all I can do is admire and agree! Of course they're angels," added Virginia, wiping her eyes, "but I tell you it's hard to be dependent, Sue!"
Susan sympathized, laughed, chattered, stood still under dressmakers' hands, dashed off notes, rushed into town for final purchases, opened gifts, consulted with everyone,—all in a golden, whirling dream. Sometimes a cold little doubt crossed her mind, and she wondered whether she was taking all this too much for granted, whether she really loved Billy, whether they should not be having serious talks now, whether changes, however hard, were not wiser "before than after"?
But it was too late for that now. The big wheels were set in motion, the day was coming nearer and more near. Susan's whole being was tuned to the great event; she felt herself the pivot upon which all her world turned. A hundred things a day brought the happy color to her face, stopped her heart-beats for a second. She had a little nervous qualm over the announcements; she dreamed for a moment over the cards that bore the new name of Mrs. William Jerome Oliver. "It seems so—so funny to have these things here in my trunk, before I'm married!" said Susan.
Anna came home, gravely radiant; Betsy exulted in a new gown of flimsy embroidered linen; Philip, in the character of best man, referred to a list of last-moment reminders.
Three days more—two days more—then Susan was to be married to- morrow. She and Billy had enough that was practical to discuss the last night, before he must run for his boat. She went with him to the door.
"I'm going to be crazy about my wife!" whispered Billy, with his arms about her. Susan was not in a responsive mood.