"I'm dead!" she said wearily, resting her head against his shoulder like a tired child.
She went upstairs slowly to her room. It was strewn with garments and hats and cardboard boxes; Susan's suitcase, with the things in it that she would need for a fortnight in the woods, was open on the table. The gas flared high, Betsey at the mirror was trying a new method of arranging her hair. Mrs. Carroll was packing Susan's trunk, Anna sat on the bed.
"Sue, dear," said the mother, "are you going to be warm enough up in the forest? It may be pretty cold."
"Oh, we'll have fires!" Susan said.
"Well, you are the COOLEST!" ejaculated Betsey. "I should think you'd feel so FUNNY, going up there alone with Billy—-"
"I'd feel funnier going up without him," Susan said equably. She got into a loose wrapper, braided her hair. Mrs. Carroll and Betsey kissed her and went away; Susan and Anna talked for a few minutes, then Susan went to sleep. But Anna lay awake for a long time thinking,—thinking what it would be like to know that only a few hours lay between the end of the old life and the beginning of the new.
"My wedding day." Susan said it slowly when she awakened in the morning. She felt that the words should convey a thrill, but somehow the day seemed much like any other day. Anna was gone, there was a subdued sound of voices downstairs.
A day that ushered in the full glory of the spring. All the flowers were blooming at once, at noon the air was hot and still, not a leaf stirred. Before Susan had finished her late breakfast Billy arrived; there was talk of tickets and train time before she went upstairs. Mary Lou had come early to watch the bride dress; good, homely, happy Miss Lydia Lord must run up to Susan's room too,—the room was full of women. Isabel Furlong was throned in the big chair, John was to take her away before the wedding, but she wanted to kiss Susan in her wedding gown.
Susan presently saw a lovely bride, smiling in the depths of the mirror, and was glad for Billy's sake that she looked "nice." Tall and straight, with sky-blue eyes shining under a crown of bright hair, with the new corsets setting off the lovely gown to perfection, her mother's lace at her throat and wrists, and the rose-wreathed hat matching her cheeks, she looked the young and happy woman she was, stepping bravely into the world of loving and suffering.
The pretty gown must be gathered up safely for the little walk to church. "Are we all ready?" asked Susan, running concerned eyes over the group.
"Don't worry about us!" said Philip. "You're the whole show to-day!"
In a dream they were walking through the fragrant roads, in a dream they entered the unpretentious little church, and were questioned by the small Spanish sexton at the door. No, that was Miss Carroll,— this was Miss Brown. Yes, everyone was here. The groom and his best man had gone in the other door. Who would give away the bride? This gentleman, Mr. Eastman, who was just now standing very erect and offering her his arm. Susan Ralston Brown—William Jerome Oliver— quite right. But they must wait a moment; the sexton must go around by the vestry for some last errand.
The little organ wheezed forth a march; Susan walked slowly at Ferd Eastman's side,—stopped,—and heard a rich Italian voice asking questions in a free and kindly whisper. The gentleman this side—and the lady here—so!
The voice suddenly boomed out loud and clear and rapid. Susan knew that this was Billy beside her, but she could not raise her eyes. She studied the pattern that fell on the red altar-carpet through a sun-flooded window. She told herself that she must think now seriously; she was getting married. This was one of the great moments of her life.
She raised her head, looked seriously into the kind old face so near her, glanced at Billy, who was very pale.
"I will," said Susan, clearing her throat. She reflected in a panic that she had not been ready for the question, and wondered vaguely if that invalidated her marriage, in the eyes of Heaven at least. Getting married seemed a very casual and brief matter. Susan wished that there was more form to it; pages, and heralds with horns, and processions. What an awful carpet this red one must be to sweep, showing every speck! She and Billy had painted their floors, and would use rugs—-
This was getting married. "I wish my mother was here!" said Susan to herself, perfunctorily. The words had no meaning for her.
They knelt down to pray. And suddenly Susan, whose ungloved hand, with its lilies-of-the-valley, had dropped by her side, was thrilled to the very depth of her being by the touch of Billy's cold fingers on hers.
Her heart flooded with a sudden rushing sense of his goodness, his simplicity. He was marrying his girl, and praying for them both, his whole soul was filled with the solemn responsibility he incurred now.
She clung to his hand, and shut her eyes.
"Oh, God, take care of us," she prayed, "and make us love each other, and make us good! Make us good—-"
She was deep in her prayer, eyes tightly closed, lips moving fast, when suddenly everything was over. Billy and she were walking down the aisle again, Susan's ringed hand on the arm that was hers now, to the end of the world.
"Billy, you didn't kiss her!" Betts reproached him in the vestibule.
"Didn't I? Well, I will!" He had a fragrant, bewildered kiss from his wife before Anna and Mrs. Carroll and all the others claimed her.
Then they walked home, and Susan protested that it did not seem right to sit at the head of the flower trimmed table, and let everyone wait on her. She ran upstairs with Anna to get into her corduroy camping-suit, and dashing little rough hat, ran down for kisses and good-byes. Betsey—Mary Lou—Philip—Mary Lou again.
"Good-bye, adorable darling!" said Betts, laughing through tears.
"Good-bye, dearest," whispered Anna, holding her close.
"Good-bye, my own girl!" The last kiss was for Mrs. Carroll, and Susan knew of whom the mother was thinking as the first bride ran down the path.
"Well, aren't they all darlings?" said young Mrs. Oliver, in the train.
"Corkers!" agreed the groom. "Don't you want to take your hat off, Sue?"
"Well, I think I will," Susan said pleasantly. Conversation languished.
"Oh, no!" Susan said brightly.
"I wonder if you can smoke in here," Billy observed, after a pause.
"I don't believe you can!" Susan said, interestedly.
"Well, when he comes through I'll ask him—-"
Susan felt as if she should never speak spontaneously again. She was very tired, very nervous, able, with cold dispassion, to wonder what she and Billy Oliver were doing in this close, dirty train,—to wonder why people ever spoke of a wedding-day as especially pleasant,—what people found in life worth while, anyway!
She thought that it would be extremely silly in them to attempt to reach the cabin to-night; far more sensible to stay at Farwoods, where there was a little hotel, or, better yet, go back to the city. But Billy, although a little regretful for the darkness in which they ended their journey, suggested no change of plan, and Susan found herself unable to open the subject. She made the stage trip wedged in between Billy and the driver, climbed down silently at the foot of the familiar trail, and carried the third suitcase up to the cabin.
"You can't hurt that dress, can you, Sue?" said Billy, busy with the key.
"No!" Susan said, eager for the commonplace. "It's made for just this!"
"Then hustle and unpack the eats, will you? And I'll start a fire!"
"Two seconds!" Susan took off her hat, and enveloped herself in a checked apron. There was a heavy chill in the room; there was that blank forbidding air in the dusty, orderly room that follows months of unuse. Susan unpacked, went to and fro briskly; the claims of housekeeping reassured and soothed her.
Billy made thundering journeys for wood. Presently there was a flare of lighted papers in the fireplace, and the heartening snap and crackle of wood. The room was lighted brilliantly; delicious odors of sap mingled with the fragrance from Susan's coffee pot.
"Oh, keen idea!" said Billy, when she brought the little table close to the hearth. "Gee, that's pretty!" he added, as she shook over it the little fringed tablecloth, and laid the blue plates neatly at each side.
"Isn't this fun?" It burst spontaneously from the bride.
"Fun!" Billy flung down an armful of logs, and came to stand beside her, watching the flames. "Lord, Susan," he said, with simple force, "if you only knew how perfect you seem to me! If you only knew how many years I've been thinking how beautiful you were, and how clever, and how far above me——-I"
"Go right on thinking so, darling!" said Susan, practically, escaping from his arm, and taking her place behind the cold chicken. "Do ye feel like ye could eat a little mite, Pa?" asked she.
"Well, I dunno, mebbe I could!" William answered hilariously. "Say, Sue, oughtn't those blankets be out here, airing?" he added suddenly.
"Oh, do let's have dinner first. They make everything look so horrid," said young Mrs. Oliver, composedly carving. "They can dry while we're doing the dishes."
"You know, until we can afford a maid, I'm going to help you every night with the dishes," said Billy.
"Well, don't put on airs about it," Susan said briskly. "Or I'll leave you to do them entirely alone, while I run over the latest songs on the PIARNO. Here now, deary, chew this nicely, and when I've had all I want, perhaps I'll give you some more!"
"Sue, aren't we going to have fun—doing things like this all our lives?"
"I think we are," said Susan demurely. It was strange, it had its terrifying phases, but it was curiously exciting and wonderful, too, this wearing of a man's ring and his name, and being alone with him up here in the great forest.
"This is life—this is all good and right," the new-made wife said to herself, with a flutter at her heart. And across her mind there flitted a fragment of the wedding-prayer, "in shamefacedness grave." "I will be grave," thought Susan. "I will be a good wife, with God's help!"
Again morning found the cabin flooded with sunlight, and for all their happy days there the sun shone, and summer silences made the woods seem like June.
"Billum, if only we didn't have to go back!" said William's wife, seated on a stump, and watching him clean trout for their supper, in the soft close of an afternoon.
"Darling, I love to have you sitting there, with your little feet tucked under you, while I work," said William enthusiastically.
"I know," Susan agreed absently. "But don't you wish we didn't?" she resumed, after a moment.
"Well, in a way I do," Billy answered, stooping to souse a fish in the stream beside which he was kneeling. "But there's the 'Protest' you know,—there's a lot to do! And we'll come back here, every year. We'll work like mad for eleven months, and then come up here and loaf."
"But, Bill, how do we know we can manage it financially?" said Susan prudently.
"Oh, Lord, we'll manage it!" he answered comfortably. "Unless, of course, you want to have all the kids brought up in white stockings," grinned Billy, "and have their pictures taken every month!"
"Up here," said Susan dreamily, yet very earnestly too, "I feel so sure of myself! I love the simplicity, I love the work, I could entertain the King of England right here in this forest and not be ashamed! But when we go back, Bill, and I realize that Isabel Wallace may come in and find me pressing my window curtains, or that we honestly can't afford to send someone a handsome wedding present, I'll begin to be afraid. I know that now and then I'll find myself investing in finger-bowls or salted almonds, just because other people do."
"Well, that's not actionable for divorce, woman!"
Susan laughed, but did not answer. She sat looking idly down the long aisles of the forest, palpitating to-day with a rush of new fragrance, new color, new song. Far above, beyond the lacing branches of the redwoods, a buzzard hung motionless in a blue, blue sky.
"Bill," she said presently, "I could live at a settlement house, and be happy all my life showing other women how to live. But when it comes to living down among them, really turning my carpets and scrubbing my own kitchen, I'm sometimes afraid that I'm not big enough woman to be happy!"
"Why, but, Sue dear, there's a decent balance at the bank. We'll build on the Panhandle lots some day, and something comes in from the blue-prints, right along. If you get your own dinner five nights a week, we'll be trotting downtown on other nights, or over at the Carrolls', or up here." Billy stood up. "There's precious little real poverty in the world," he said, cheerfully, "we'll work out our list of expenses, and we'll stick to it! But we're going to prove how easy it is to prosper, not how easy it is to go under. We're the salt of the earth!"
"You're big; I'm not," said Susan, rubbing her head against him as he sat beside her on the stump. But his nearness brought her dimples back, and the sober mood passed.
"Bill, if I die and you remarry, promise me, oh, promise! that you won't bring her here!"
"No, darling, my second wife is going to choose Del Monte or Coronado!" William assured her.
"I'll bet she does, the cat!" Susan agreed gaily, "You know when Elsie Rice married Jerry Philips," she went on, in sudden recollection, "they went to Del Monte. They were both bridge fiends, even when they were engaged everyone who gave them dinners had to have cards afterwards. Well, it seems they went to Del Monte, and they moped about for a day or two, and, finally, Jerry found out that the Joe Carrs were at Santa Cruz,—the Carrs play wonderful bridge. So he and Elsie went straight up there, and they played every afternoon and every night for the next two weeks,—and all went to the Yosemite together, even playing on the train all the way!"
"What a damn fool class for any nation to carry!" Billy commented, mildly.
"Ah, well," Susan said, joyfully, "we'll fix them all! And when there are model poorhouses and prisons, and single tax, and labor pensions, and eight-hour days, and free wool—THEN we'll come back here and settle down in the woods for ever and ever!"
In the years that followed they did come back to the big woods, but not every year, for in the beginning of their life together there were hard times, and troubled times, when even a fortnight's irresponsibility and ease was not possible. Yet they came often enough to keep fresh in their hearts the memory of great spaces and great silences, and to dream their old dreams.
The great earthquake brought them home hurriedly from their honeymoon, and Susan had her work to do, amid all the confusion that followed the uprooting of ten thousand homes. Young Mrs. Oliver listened to terrible stories, while she distributed second-hand clothing, and filed cards, walked back to her own little kitchen at five o'clock to cook her dinner, and wrapped and addressed copies of the "Protest" far into the night.
With the deeper social problems that followed the days of mere physical need,—what was in her of love and charity rushed into sudden blossoming,—she found that her inexperienced hands must deal. She, whose wifehood was all joy and sanity, all sweet and mysterious deepening of the color of life, encountered now the hideous travesty of wifehood and motherhood, met by immature, ill- nourished bodies, and hearts sullen and afraid.
"You ought not be seeing these things now," Billy warned her. But Susan shook her head.
"It's good for me, Billy. And it's good for the little person, too. It's no credit to him that he's more fortunate than these—he needn't feel so superior!" smiled Susan.
Every cent must be counted in these days. Susan and Billy laughed long afterward to remember that on many a Sunday they walked over to the little General Post Office in Mission Street, hoping for a subscription or two in the mail, to fan the dying fires of the "Protest" for a few more days. Better times came; the little sheet struck roots, carried a modest advertisement or two, and a woman's column under the heading "Mary Jane's Letter" whose claims kept the editor's wife far too busy.
As in the early days of her marriage all the women of the world had been simply classified as wives or not wives, so now Susan saw no distinction except that of motherhood or childlessness. When she lay sick, feverish and confused, in the first hours that followed the arrival of her first-born, she found her problem no longer that of the individual, no longer the question merely of little Martin's crib and care and impending school and college expenses. It was the great burden of the mothers of the world that Susan took upon her shoulders. Why so much strangeness and pain, why such ignorance of rules and needs, she wondered. She lay thinking of tired women, nervous women, women hanging over midnight demands of colic and croup, women catching the little forms back from the treacherous open window, and snatching away the dangerous bottle from little hands—-!
"Miss Allen," said Susan, out of a silence, "he doesn't seem to be breathing. The blanket hasn't gotten over his little face, has it?"
So began the joyous martyrdom. Susan's heart would never beat again only for herself. Hand in hand with the rapture of owning the baby walked the terror of losing him. His meals might have been a special miracle, so awed and radiant was Susan's face when she had him in her arms. His goodness, when he was good, seemed to her no more remarkable than his badness, when he was bad. Susan ran to him after the briefest absences with icy fear at her heart. He had loosened a pin—gotten it into his mouth, he had wedged his darling little head in between the bars of his crib—-!
But she left him very rarely. What Susan did now must be done at home. Her six-days-old son asleep beside her, she was discovered by Anna cheerfully dictating to her nurse "Mary Jane's Letter" for an approaching issue of the "Protest." The young mother laughed joyfully at Anna's concern, but later, when the trained nurse was gone, and the warm heavy days of the hot summer came, when fat little Martin was restless through the long, summer nights with teething, Susan's courage and strength were put to a hard test.
"We ought to get a girl in to help you," Billy said, distressedly, on a night when Susan, flushed and excited, refused his help everywhere, and attempted to manage baby and dinner and house unassisted.
"We ought to get clothes and china and linen and furniture,—we ought to move out of this house and this block!" Susan wanted to say. But with some effort she refrained from answering at all, and felt tears sting her eyes when Billy carried the baby off, to do with his big gentle fingers all the folding and pinning and buttoning that preceded Martin's disappearance for the evening.
"Never mind!" Susan said later, smiling bravely over the dinner table, "he needs less care every day! He'll soon be walking and amusing himself."
But Martin was only staggering uncertainly and far from self- sufficient when Billy Junior came laughing into the family group. "How do women DO it!" thought Susan, recovering slowly from a second heavy drain on nerves and strength.
No other child, of course, would ever mean to her quite what the oldest son meant. The first-born is the miracle, brought from Heaven itself through the very gates of death, a pioneer, merciless and helpless, a little monarch whose kingdom never existed before the day he set up his feeble little cry. All the delightful innovations are for him,—the chair, the mug, the little airings, the remodeled domestic routine.
"Pain in his poor little tum!" Susan said cheerfully and tenderly, when the youthful Billy cried. Under exactly similar circumstances, with Martin, she had shed tears of terror and despair, while Billy, shivering in his nightgown, had hung at the telephone awaiting her word to call the doctor. Martin's tawny, finely shaped little head, the grip of his sturdy, affectionate little arms, his early voyages into the uncharted sea of English speech,—these were so many marvels to his mother and father.
But it had to be speedily admitted that Billy had his own particular charm too. The two were in everything a sharp contrast. Martin's bright hair blew in loose waves, Billy's dark curls fitted his head like a cap. Martin's eyes were blue and grave, Billy's dancing and brown. Martin used words carefully, with a nice sense of values, Billy achieved his purposes with stamping and dimpling, and early coined a tiny vocabulary of his own. Martin slept flat on his small back, a muscular little viking drifting into unknown waters, but drowsiness must always capture Billy alive and fighting. Susan untangled him nightly from his covers, loosened his small fingers from the bars of his crib.
She took her maternal responsibilities gravely. Billy Senior thought it very amusing to see her, buttering a bowl for bread-pudding, or running small garments through her machine, while she recited "The Pied Piper" or "Goblin Market" to a rapt audience of two staring babies. But somehow the sight was a little touching, too.
"Bill, don't you honestly think that they're smarter than other children, or is it just because they're mine?" Susan would ask. And Billy always answered in sober good faith, "No, it's not you, dear, for I see it too! And they really ARE unusual!"
Susan sometimes put both boys into the carriage and went to see Georgie, to whose group a silent, heavy little boy had now been added. Mrs. O'Connor was a stout, complacent little person; the doctor's mother was dead, and Georgie spoke of her with sad affection and reverence. The old servant stayed on, tirelessly devoted to the new mistress, as she had been to the old, and passionately proud of the children. Joe's practice had grown enormously; Joe kept a runabout now, and on Sundays took his well- dressed wife out with him to the park. They had a circle of friends very much like themselves, prosperous young fathers and mothers, and there was a pleasant rivalry in card-parties, and the dressing of little boys and girls. Myra and Helen, colored ribbons tying their damp, straight, carefully ringletted hair, were a nicely mannered little pair, and the boy fat and sweet and heavy.
"Georgie is absolutely satisfied," Susan said wistfully. "Do you think we will ever reach our ideals, Aunt Jo, as she has hers?"
It was a summer Saturday, only a month or two after the birth of William Junior. Susan had not been to Sausalito for a long time, and Mrs. Carroll was ending a day's shopping with a call on mother and babies. Martin, drowsy and contented, was in her arms. Susan, luxuriating in an hour's idleness and gossip, sat near the open window, with the tiny Billy. Outside, a gusty August wind was sweeping chaff and papers before it; passers-by dodged it as if it were sleet.
"I think there's no question about it, Sue," Mrs. Carroll's motherly voice said, cheerfully. "This is a hard time; you and Billy are both doing too much,—but this won't last! You'll come out of it some day, dear, a splendid big experienced woman, ready for any big work. And then you'll look back, and think that the days when the boys needed you every hour were short enough. Character is the one thing that you have to buy this way, Sue,—by effort and hardship and self-denial!"
"But after all," Susan said somberly, so eager to ease her full heart that she must keep her voice low to keep it steady, "after all, Aunt Jo, aren't there lots of women who do this sort of thing year in and year out and DON'T achieve anything? As a means to an end," said Susan, groping for words, "as a road—this is comprehensible, but—but one hates to think of it as a goal!"
"Hundreds of women reach their highest ambitions, Sue," the other woman answered thoughtfully, "without necessarily reaching YOURS. It depends upon which star you've selected for your wagon, Sue! You have just been telling me that the Lords, for instance, are happier than crowned kings, in their little garden, with a state position assured for Lydia. Then there's Georgie; Georgie is one of the happiest women I ever saw! And when you remember that the first thirty years of her life were practically wasted, it makes you feel very hopeful of anyone's life!"
"Yes, but I couldn't be happy as Mary and Lydia are, and Georgie's life would drive me to strong drink!" Susan said, with a flash of her old fire.
"Exactly. So YOUR fulfilment will come in some other way,—some way that they would probably think extremely terrifying or unconventional or strange. Meanwhile you are learning something every day, about women who have tiny babies to care for, about housekeeping as half the women of the world have to regard it. All that is extremely useful, if you ever want to do anything that touches women. About office work you know, about life downtown. Some day just the use for all this will come to you, and then I'll feel that I was quite right when I expected great things of my Sue!"
"Of me?" stammered Susan. A lovely color crept into her thin cheeks and a tear splashed down upon the cheek of the sleeping baby.
Anna's dearest dream was suddenly realized that summer, and Anna, lovelier than ever, came out to tell Sue of the chance meeting with Doctor Hoffmann in the laboratory that had, in two short minutes, turned the entire current of her life. It was all wonderful and delightful beyond words, not a tiny cloud darkened the sky.
Conrad Hoffmann was forty-five years old, seventeen years older than his promised wife, but splendidly tall and strong, and—Anna and Susan agreed—STRIKINGLY handsome. He was at the very top of his profession, managed his own small surgical hospital, and maintained one of the prettiest homes in the city. A musician, a humanitarian, rich in his own right, he was so conspicuous a figure among the unmarried men of San Francisco that Anna's marriage created no small stir, and the six weeks of her engagement were packed with affairs in her honor.
Susan's little sons were presently taken to Sausalito to be present at Aunt Anna's wedding. Susan was nervous and tired before she had finished her own dressing, wrapped and fed the beribboned baby, and slipped the wriggling Martin into his best white clothes. But she forgot everything but pride and pleasure when Betsey, the bride and "Grandma" fell with shrieks of rapture upon the children, and during the whole happy day she found herself over and over again at Billy's side, listening to him, watching him, and his effect on other people, slipping her hand into his. It was as if, after quiet months of taking him for granted, she had suddenly seen her big, clever, gentle husband as a stranger again, and fallen again in love with him.
Susan felt strangely older than Anna to-day; she thought of that other day when she and Billy had gone up to the big woods; she remembered the odor of roses and acacia, the fragrance of her gown, the stiffness of her rose-crowned hat.
Anna and Conrad were going away to Germany for six months, and Susan and the babies spent a happy week in Anna's old room. Betsey was filling what had been Susan's position on the "Democrat" now, and cherished literary ambitions.
"Oh, why must you go, Sue?" Mrs. Carroll asked, wistfully, when the time for packing came. "Couldn't you stay on awhile, it's so lovely to have you here!"
But Susan was firm. She had had her holiday; Billy could not divide his time between Sausalito and the "Protest" office any longer. They crossed the bay in mid-afternoon, and the radiant husband and father met them at the ferry. Susan sighed in supreme relief as he lifted the older boy to his shoulder, and picked up the heavy suitcase.
"We could send that?" submitted Susan, but Billy answered by signaling a carriage, and placing his little family inside.
"Oh, Bill, you plutocrat!" Susan said, sinking back with a great sigh of pleasure.
"Well, my wife doesn't come home every day!" Billy said beaming.
Susan felt, in some subtle climatic change, that the heat of the summer was over. Mission Street slept under a soft autumn haze; the hint of a cool night was already in the air.
In the dining-room, as she entered with her baby in her arms, she saw that a new table and new chairs replaced the old ones, a ruffled little cotton house-gown was folded neatly on the table. A new, hooded baby-carriage awaited little Billy.
"Oh, BILLY!" The baby was bundled unceremoniously into his new coach, and Susan put her arms about her husband's neck. "You OUGHTN'T!" she protested.
"Clem and Mrs. Cudahy sent the carriage," Billy beamed.
"And you did the rest! Bill, dear—when I am such a tired, cross apology for a wife!" Susan found nothing in life so bracing as the arm that was now tight about her. She had a full minute's respite before the boys' claims must be met.
"What first, Sue?" asked Billy. "Dinner's all ordered, and the things are here, but I guess you'll have to fix things—-"
"I'll feed baby while you give Mart his milk and toast," Susan said capably, "then I'll get into something comfortable and we'll put them off, and you can set the table while I get dinner! It's been a heavenly week, Billy dear," said Susan, settling herself in a low rocker, "but it does seem good to get home!"
The next spring all four did indeed go up to the woods, but it was after a severe attack of typhoid fever on Billy Senior's part, and Susan was almost too much exhausted in every way to trust herself to the rough life of the cabin. But they came back after a month's gypsying so brown and strong and happy that even Susan had forgotten the horrors of the winter, and in mid-summer the "Protest" moved into more dignified quarters, and the Olivers found the comfortable old house in Oakland that was to be a home for them all for a long time.
Oakland was chosen because it is near the city, yet country-like enough to be ideal for children. The house was commonplace, shabby and cheaply built, but to Susan it seemed delightfully roomy and comfortable, and she gloried in the big yards, the fruit trees, and the old-fashioned garden. She cared for her sweet-pea vines and her chickens while the little boys tumbled about her, or connived against the safety of the cat, and she liked her neighbors, simple women who advised her about her plants, and brought their own babies over to play with Mart and Billy.
Certain old interests Susan found that she must sacrifice for a time at least. Even with the reliable, capable, obstinate personage affectionately known as "Big Mary" in the kitchen, they could not leave the children for more than a few hours at a time. Susan had to let some of the old friends go; she had neither the gowns nor the time for afternoon calls, nor had she the knowledge of small current events that is more important than either. She and Billy could not often dine in town and go to the theater, for running expenses were heavy, the "Protest" still a constant problem, and Big Mary did not lend herself readily to sudden changes and interruptions.
Entertaining, in any formal sense, was also out of the question, for to be done well it must be done constantly and easily, and the Oliver larder and linen closet did not lend itself to impromptu suppers and long dinners. Susan was too concerned in the manufacture of nourishing puddings and soups, too anxious to have thirty little brown stockings and twenty little blue suits hanging on the line every Monday morning to jeopardize the even running of her domestic machinery with very much hospitality. She loved to have any or all of the Carrolls with her, welcomed Billy's business associates warmly, and three times a year had Georgie and her family come to a one o'clock Sunday dinner, and planned for the comfort of the O'Connors, little and big, with the greatest pleasure and care. But this was almost the extent of her entertaining in these days.
Isabel Furlong had indeed tried to bridge the gulf that lay between their manners of living, with a warm and sweet insistence that had conquered even the home-loving Billy. Isabel had silenced all of Susan's objections—Susan must bring the boys; they would have dinner with Isabel's own boy, Alan, then the children could all go to sleep in the Furlong nursery, and the mothers have a chat and a cup of tea before it was time to dress for dinner. Isabel's car should come all the way to Oakland for them, and take them all home again the next day.
"But, angel dear, I haven't a gown!" protested Susan.
"Oh, Sue, just ourselves and Daddy and John's mother!"
"I could freshen up my black—-" mused Susan.
"Of course you could!" triumphed Isabel. And her enthusiasm carried the day. The Olivers went to dine and spend the night with the Furlongs, and were afterward sorry.
In the first place, it was expensive. Susan indeed "freshened up" the black gown, but slippers and gloves, a belt and a silk petticoat were new for the occasion. The boys' wardrobes, too, were supplemented with various touches that raised them nearer the level of young Alan's clothes; Billy's dress suit was pressed, and at the last moment there seemed nothing to be done but buy a new suitcase— his old one was quite too shabby.
The children behaved well, but Susan was too nervous about their behavior to appreciate that until the visit was long over, and the exquisite ease and order of Isabel's home made her feel hopelessly clumsy, shabby and strange. Her mood communicated itself somewhat to Billy, but Billy forgot all lesser emotions in the heat of a discussion into which he entered with Isabel's father during dinner. The old man was interested, tolerant, amused. Susan thought Billy nothing short of rude, although the meal finished harmoniously enough, and the men made an engagement the next morning to see each other again, and thresh out the subject thoroughly.
Isabel kept Susan until afternoon, and strolled with her across the road to show her the pretty house that had been the Wallaces' home, in her mother's lifetime, empty now, and ready to lease.
Susan had forgotten what a charming house it really was, bowered in gardens, flooded with sunshine, old-fashioned, elegant, comfortable and spacious. The upper windows gave on the tree-hidden roofs of San Rafael's nicest quarter, the hotel, the tennis-courts were but a few minutes' walk away.
"Oh, if only you dear people could live here, what bliss we'd have!" sighed Isabel.
"Isabel—it's out of the question! But what's the rent?"
"Eighteen hundred—-" submitted Isabel dubiously. "What do you pay?"
"We're buying, you know. We pay six per cent, on a small mortgage."
"Still, you could rent that house?" Isabel suggested, brightening.
"Well, that's so!" Susan let her fancy play with it. She saw Mart and Billy playing here, in this sheltered garden, peeping through the handsome iron fence at horsemen and motor-cars passing by. She saw them growing up among such princely children as little Alan, saw herself the admired center of a group of women sensible enough to realize that young Mrs. Oliver was of no common clay.
Then she smiled and shook her head. She went home depressed and silent, vexed at herself because the question of tipping or not tipping Isabel's chauffeur spoiled the last half of the trip, and absent-minded over Billy's account of the day, and the boys' prayers.
Other undertakings, however, terminated more happily. Susan went with Billy to various meetings, somehow found herself in charge of a girls' dramatic club, and meeting in a bare hall with a score or two of little laundry-workers, waitresses and factory girls on every Tuesday evening. Sometimes it was hard to leave the home lamp-light, and come out into the cold on Tuesday evenings, but Susan was always glad she had made the effort when she reached the hall and when her own particular friends among the "Swastika Hyacinth Club" girls came to meet her.
She had so recently been a working girl herself that it was easy to settle down among them, easy to ask the questions that brought their confidence, easy to discuss ways and means from their standpoint. Susan became very popular; the girls laughed with her, copied her, confided in her. At the monthly dances they introduced her to their "friends," and their "friends" were always rendered red and incoherent with emotion upon learning that Mrs. Oliver was the wife of Mr. Oliver of the "Protest."
Sometimes Susan took the children to see Virginia, who had long ago left Mary Lou's home to accept a small position in the great institution for the blind. Virginia, with her little class to teach, and her responsibilities when the children were in the refectory and dormitory, was a changed creature, busy, important, absorbed. She showed the toddling Olivers the playroom and conservatory, and sent them home with their fat hands full of flowers.
"Bless their little hearts, they don't know how fortunate they are!" said Virginia, saying good-bye to Mart and Billy. "But I know!" And she sent a pitiful glance back toward her little charges.
After such a visit, Susan went home with a heart too full of gratitude for words. "God has given us everything in the world!" she would say to Billy, looking across the hearth at him, in the silent happy evening.
Walking with the children, in the long spring afternoons, Susan liked to go in for a moment to see Lydia Lord in the library. Lydia would glance up from the book she was stamping, and at the sight of Susan and the children, her whole plain face would brighten. She always came out from behind her little gates and fences to talk in whispers to Susan, always had some little card or puzzle or fan or box for Mart and Billy.
"And Mary's well!"
"Well—-! You never saw anything like it. Yesterday she was out in the garden from eight o'clock until ten at night! And she's never alone, everyone in the neighborhood loves her—-!" Miss Lord would accompany them to the door when they went, wave to the boys through the glass panels, and go back to her desk still beaming.
Happiest of all the times away from home were those Susan spent with the Carrolls, or with Anna in the Hoffmanns' beautiful city home. Anna did not often come to Oakland, she was never for more than a few hours out of her husband's sight, but she loved to have Susan and the boys with her. The doctor wanted a glimpse of her between his operations and his lectures, would not eat his belated lunch unless his lovely wife sat opposite him, and planned a hundred delights for each of their little holidays. Anna lived only for him, her color changed at his voice, her only freedom, in the hours when Conrad positively must be separated from her, was spent in doing the things that pleased him, visiting his wards, practicing the music he loved, making herself beautiful in some gown that he had selected for her.
"It's idolatry, mon Guillaume," said Mrs. Oliver, briskly, when she was discussing the case of the Hoffmanns with her lord. "Now, I'm crazy enough about you, as you well know," continued Susan, "but, at the same time, I don't turn pale, start up, and whisper, 'Oh, it's Willie!' when you happen to come home half an hour earlier than usual. I don't stammer with excitement when I meet you downtown, and I don't cry when you—well, yes, I do! I feel pretty badly when you have to be away overnight!" confessed Susan, rather tamely.
"Wait until little Con comes!" Billy predicted comfortably. "Then they'll be less strong on the balcony scene!"
"They think they want one," said Susan wisely, "but I don't believe they really do!"
On the fifth anniversary of her wedding day Susan's daughter was born, and the whole household welcomed the tiny Josephine, whose sudden arrival took all their hearts by storm.
"Take your slangy, freckled, roller-skating, rifle-shooting boys and be off with you!" said Susan, over the hour-old baby, to Billy, who had come flying home in mid-morning. "Now I feel like David Copperfield's landlady, 'at last I have summat I can love!' Oh, the mistakes that you WON'T make, Jo!" she apostrophized the baby. "The smart, capable, self-sufficient way that you'll manage everything!"
"Do you really want me to take the boys away for a few days?" asked Billy, who was kneeling down for a better view of mother and child.
Susan's eyes widened with instant alarm.
"Why should you?" she asked, cool fingers tightening on his.
"I thought you had no further use for the sex," answered Billy meekly.
"Oh—-?" Susan dimpled. "Oh, she's too little to really absorb me yet," she said. "I'll continue a sort of superficial interest in the boys until she's eighteen or so!"
Sometimes echoes of the old life came to her, and Susan, pondering them for an hour or two, let them drift away from her again. Billy showed her the headlines one day that told of Peter Coleman's narrow escape from death, in his falling airship, and later she learned that he was well again and had given up aeronautics, and was going around the world to add to his matchless collection of semi-precious stones. Susan was sobered one day to hear of Emily Saunders' sudden death. She sat for a long time wondering over the empty and wasted life. Mrs. Kenneth Saunders, with a smartly clad little girl, was caught by press cameras at many fashionable European watering- places; Kenneth spent much of his time in institutions and sanitariums, Susan heard. She heard that he worshipped his little girl.
And one evening a London paper, at which she was carelessly glancing in a library, while Billy hunted through files nearby for some lost reference, shocked her suddenly with the sight of Stephen Bocqueraz's name. Susan had a sensation of shame and terror; she shut the paper quickly.
She looked about her. Two or three young men, hard-working young men to judge from appearance, were sitting with her at the long, magazine-strewn table. Gas-lights flared high above them, soft footfalls came and went in the warm, big room. At the desk the librarian was whispering with two nervous-looking young women. At one of the file-racks, Billy stood slowly turning page after page of a heap of papers. Susan looked at him, trying to see the kind, keen face from an outsider's viewpoint, but she had to give up the attempt. Every little line was familiar now, every little expression. William looked up and caught her smile and his lips noiselessly formed, "I love you!"
"Me?" said Susan, also without a voice, and with her hand on her heart.
And when he said "Fool!" and returned grinning to his paper, she opened her London sheet and turned to the paragraph she had seen.
Not sensational. Mr. Stephen Bocqueraz, the well-known American writer, and Mrs. Bocqueraz, said the paragraph, had taken the house of Mrs. Bromley Rose-Rogers for the season, and were being extensively entertained. Mr. and Mrs. Bocqueraz would thus be near their daughter, Miss Julia Bocqueraz, whose marriage to Mr. Guy Harold Wetmore, second son of Lord Westcastle, would take place on Tuesday next.
Susan told Billy about it late that night, more because not telling him gave the thing the importance inseparable from the fact withheld than because she felt any especial pang at the opening of the old wound.
They had sauntered out of the library, well before closing time, Billy delighted to have found his reference, Susan glad to get out into the cool summer night.
"Oysters?" asked William. Susan hesitated.
"This doesn't come out of my expenses," she stipulated. "I'm hard-up this week!"
"Oh, no—no! This is up to me," Billy said. So they went in to watch the oyster-man fry them two hot little panfuls, and sat over the coarse little table-cloth for a long half-hour, contentedly eating and talking. Fortified, they walked home, Susan so eager to interrogate Big Mary about the children that she reached the orderly kitchen quite breathless.
Not a sound out of any of them was Big Mary's satisfactory report. Still their mother ran upstairs. Children had been known to die while parents and guardians supposed them to be asleep.
However the young Olivers were slumbering safely, and were wide- awake in a flash, the boys clamoring for drinks, from the next room, Josephine wide-eyed and dewy, through the bars of her crib. Susan sat down with the baby, while Billy opened windows, wound the alarm clock, and quieted his sons.
A full half-hour passed before everything was quiet. Susan found herself lying wakeful in the dark. Presently she said:
"What is it?" he asked, roused instantly.
"Why, I saw something funny in the London 'News' to-night," Susan began. She repeated the paragraph. Billy speculated upon it interestedly.
"Sure, he's probably gone back to his wife," said Billy. "Circumstances influence us all, you know."
"Do you mean that you don't think he ever meant to get a divorce?"
"Oh, no, not necessarily! Especially if there was any reason for him to get it. I think that, if it had been possible, he would have gotten it. If not, he wouldn't have. Selfish, you know, darned selfish!"
Susan pondered in silence.
"I was to blame," she said finally.
"Oh, no, you weren't, not as much as he was—and he knew it!" Billy said.
"All sensation has so entirely died out of the whole thing," Susan said presently, "that it's just like looking at a place where you burned your hand ten years ago, and trying to remember whether the burn hurt worst, or dressing the burn, or curing the burn! I know it was all wrong, but at the time I thought it was only convention I was going against—I didn't realize that one of the advantages of laws is that you can follow them blind, when you've lost all your moorings. You can't follow your instincts, but you can remember your rule. I've thought a lot about Stephen Bocqueraz in the past few years, and I don't believe he meant to do anything terribly wrong and, as things turned out, I think he really did me more good than harm! I'm confident that but for him I would have married Kenneth, and he certainly did teach me a lot about poetry, Billy, about art and music, and more than that, about the SPIRIT of art and music and poetry, the sheer beauty of the world. So I've let all the rest go, like the fever out of a burn, and I believe I could meet him now, and like him almost. Does that seem very strange to you? Have you any feeling of resentment?"
Billy was silent.
"Billy!" Susan said, in quick uneasiness, "ARE you angry?"
After a tense moment the regular sound of deep and placid breathing answered her. Billy lay on his back sound asleep.
Susan stared at him a moment in the dimness. Then the absurdity of the thing struck her, and she began to laugh.
"I wonder if, when we get to another world, EVERYTHING we do here will seem just ridiculous and funny?" speculated Susan.
For their daughter's first Thanksgiving Day the Olivers invited a dozen friends to their Oakland house for dinner; the first really large gathering of their married lives.
"We have always been too poor, or I haven't been well, or there's been some other good reason for lying low," wrote Mrs. Oliver to Mrs. Carroll, "but this year the stork is apparently filling previous orders, and our trio is well, and we have been blessed beyond all rhyme and reason, and want to give thanks. Anna and Conrad and the O'Connors have promised, Jinny will be here, and I'm only waiting to hear from you three to write and ask Phil and Mary and Pillsey and the baby. So DO come—for next year Anna says that it's her turn, and by the year after we may be so prosperous that I'll have to keep two maids, and miss half the fun—it will certainly break my heart if I ever have to say, 'We'll have roast turkey, Jane, and mince pies,' instead of making them myself. PLEASE come, we are dying to see the little cousins together, they will be simply heavenly—-"
"There's more than wearing your best dress and eating too much turkey to Thanksgiving," said Susan to Billy, when they were extending the dining-table to its largest proportions on the day before Thanksgiving. "It's just one of those things, like having a baby, that you have to DO to appreciate. It's old-fashioned, and homelike, and friendly. Perhaps I have a commonplace, middle-class mind, but I do love all this! I love the idea of everyone arriving, and a big fire down here, and Betts and her young man trying to sneak away to the sun-room, and the boys sitting in Grandma's lap, and being given tastes of white meat and mashed potato at dinnertime. Me to the utterly commonplace, every time!"
"When you are commonplace, Sue," said her husband, coming out from under the table, where hasps had been absorbing his attention, "you'll be ready for the family vault at Holy Cross, and not one instant before!"
"No, but the consolation is," Susan reflected, "that if this is happiness,—if it makes me feel like the Lord Mayor's wife to have three children, a husband whom most people think is either a saint or a fool,—I think he's a little of both, myself!—and a new sun- room built off my dining-room,—why, then there's an unexpected amount of happiness in this world! In me—a plain woman, sir, with my hands still odorous of onion dressing, and a safety-pin from my daughter's bathing-struggle still sticking into my twelve-and-a- half-cent gingham,—in me, I say, you behold a contented human creature, who confidently hopes to live to be ninety-seven!"
"And then we'll have eternity together!" said the dusty Billy, with an arm about her.
"And not a minute too long!" answered his suddenly serious wife.
"You absolutely radiate content, Sue," Anna said to her wistfully, the next day.
Anna had come early to Oakland, to have luncheon and a few hours' gossip with her hostess before the family's arrival for the six o'clock dinner. The doctor's wife reached the gate in her own handsome little limousine, and Susan had shared her welcome of Anna with enthusiasm for Anna's loose great sealskin coat.
"Take the baby and let me try it on," said Susan. "Woman—it is the most gorgeous thing I ever saw!"
"Conrad says I will need it in the east,—we go after Christmas," Anna said, her face buried against the baby.
Susan, having satisfied herself that what she really wanted, when Billy's ship came in, was a big sealskin coat, had taken her guest upstairs, to share the scuffle that preceded the boys' naps, and hold Josephine while Susan put the big bedroom in order, and laid out the little white suits for the afternoon.
Now the two women were sitting together, Susan in a rocker, with her sleepy little daughter in the curve of her arm, Anna in a deep low chair, with her head thrown back, and her eyes on the baby.
"Radiate happiness?" Susan echoed briskly, "My dear, you make me ashamed. Why, there are whole days when I get really snappy and peevish,—truly I do! running from morning until night. As for getting up in the dead of night, to feed the baby, Billy says I look like desolation—'like something the cat dragged in,' was his latest pretty compliment. But no," Susan interrupted herself honestly, "I won't deny it. I AM happy. I am the happiest woman in the world."
"Yet you always used to begin your castles in Spain with a million dollars," Anna said, half-wistfully, half-curiously. "Everything else being equal, Sue," she pursued, "wouldn't you rather be rich?"
"Everything else never IS equal," Susan answered thoughtfully. "I used to think it was—but it's not! Now, for instance, take the case of Isabel Wallace. Isabel is rich and beautiful, she has a good husband,—to me he's rather tame, but probably she thinks of Billy as a cave-man, so that doesn't count!—she has everything money can buy, she has a gorgeous little boy, older than Mart, and now she has a girl, two or three months old. And she really is a darling, Nance, you never liked her particularly—-"
"Well, she was so perfect," pleaded Anna smiling, "so gravely wise and considerate and low-voiced, and light-footed—-!"
"Only she's honestly and absolutely all of that!" Susan defended her eagerly, "there's no pose! She really is unspoiled and good—my dear, if the other women in her set were one-tenth as good as Isabel! However, to go back. She came over here to spend the day with me, just before Jo was born, and we had a wonderful day. Billy and I were taking our dinners at a boarding-house, for a few months, and Big Mary had nothing else to do but look out for the boys in the afternoon. Isabel watched me giving them their baths, and feeding them their lunches, and finally she said, 'I'd like to do that for Alan, but I never do!' 'Why don't you?' I said. Well, she explained that in the first place there was a splendid experienced woman paid twenty-five dollars a week to do it, and that she herself didn't know how to do it half as well. She said that when she went into the nursery there was a general smoothing out of her way before her, one maid handing her the talcum, another running with towels, and Miss Louise, as they call her, pleasantly directing her and amusing Alan. Naturally, she can't drive them all out; she couldn't manage without them! In fact, we came to the conclusion that you have to be all or nothing to a baby. If Isabel made up her mind to put Alan to bed every night say, she'd have to cut out a separate affair every day for it, rush home from cards, or from the links, or from the matinee, or from tea—Jack wouldn't like it, and she says she doubts if it would make much impression on Alan, after all!"
"I'd do it, just the same!" said Anna, "and I wouldn't have the nurse standing around, either—and yet, I suppose that's not very reasonable," she went on, after a moment's thought, "for that's Conrad's free time. We drive nearly every day, and half the time dine somewhere out of town. And his having to operate at night so much makes him want to sleep in the morning, so that we couldn't very well have a baby in the room. I suppose I'd do as the rest do, pay a fine nurse, and grab minutes with the baby whenever I could!"
"You have to be poor to get all the fun out of children," Susan said. "They're at their very sweetest when they get their clothes off, and run about before their nap, or when they wake up and call you, or when you tell them stories at night."
"But, Sue, a woman like Mrs. Furlong does NOT have to work so hard," Anna said decidedly, "you must admit that! Her life is full of ease and beauty and power—doesn't that count? Doesn't that give her a chance for self-development, and a chance to make herself a real companion to her husband?" "Well, the problems of the world aren't answered in books, Nance. It just doesn't seem INTERESTING, or worth while to me! She could read books, of course, and attend lectures, and study languages. But—did you see the 'Protest' last week?"
"No, I didn't! It comes, and I put it aside to read—"
"Well, it was a corking number. Bill's been asserting for months, you know, that the trouble isn't any more in any special class, it's because of misunderstanding everywhere. He made the boys wild by saying that when there are as many people at the bottom of the heap reaching up, as there are people at the top reaching down, there'll be no more trouble between capital and labor! And last week he had statistics, he showed them how many thousands of rich people are trying—in their entirely unintelligent ways!—to reach down, and— my dear, it was really stirring! You know Himself can write when he tries!—and he spoke of the things the laboring class doesn't do, of the way it educates its children, of the way it spends its money,— it was as good as anything he's ever done, and it made no end of talk!
"And," concluded Susan contentedly, "we're at the bottom of the heap, instead of struggling up in the world, we're struggling down! When I talk to my girls' club, I can honestly say that I know some of their trials. I talked to a mothers' meeting the other day, about simple dressing and simple clothes for children, and they knew I had three children and no more money than they. And they know that my husband began his business career as a puddler, just as their sons are beginning now. In short, since the laboring class can't, seemingly, help itself, and the upper class can't help it, the situation seems to be waiting for just such people as we are, who know both sides!"
"A pretty heroic life, Susan!" Anna said shaking her head.
"Heroic? Nothing!" Susan answered, in healthy denial. "I like it! I've eaten maple mousse and guinea-hen at the Saunders', and I've eaten liver-and-bacon and rice pudding here, and I like this best. Billy's a hero, if you like," she added, suddenly, "Did I tell you about the fracas in August?"
"Not between you and Billy?" Anna laughed.
"No-o-o! We fight," said Susan modestly, "when he thinks Mart ought to be whipped and I don't, or when little Billums wipes sticky fingers on his razor strop, but he ain't never struck me, mum, and that's more than some can say! No, but this was really quite exciting," Susan resumed, seriously. "Let me see how it began—oh, yes!—Isabel Wallace's father asked Billy to dinner at the Bohemian Club,—in August, this was. Bill was terribly pleased, old Wallace introduced him to a lot of men, and asked him if he would like to be put up—-"
"Conrad would put him up, Sue—-" Anna said jealously.
"My dear, wait—wait until you hear the full iniquity of that old divil of a Wallace! Well, he ordered cocktails, and he 'dear boyed' Bill, and they sat down to dinner. Then he began to taffy the 'Protest,' he said that the railroad men were all talking about it, and he asked Bill what he valued it at. Bill said it wasn't for sale. I can imagine just how graciously he said it, too! Well, old Mr. Wallace laughed, and he said that some of the railroad men were really beginning to enjoy the way Billy pitched into them; he said he had started life pretty humbly himself; he said that he wanted some way of reaching his men just now, and he thought that the 'Protest' was the way to do it. He said that it was good as far as it went, but that it didn't go far enough. He proposed to work its circulation up into hundreds of thousands, to buy it at Billy's figure, and to pay him a handsome salary,—six thousand was hinted, I believe,—as editor, under a five-year contract! Billy asked if the policy of the paper was to be dictated, and he said, no, no, everything left to him! Billy came home dazed, my dear, and I confess I was dazed too. Mr. Wallace had said that he wanted Billy, as a sort of side-issue, to live in San Rafael, so that they could see each other easily,—and I wish you could see the house he'd let us have for almost nothing! Then there would be a splendid round sum for the paper, thirty or forty thousand probably, AND the salary! I saw myself a lady, Nance, with a 'rising young man' for a husband—- "
"But, Sue—but, Sue," Anna said eagerly, "Billy would be editor— Billy would be in charge—there would be a contract—nobody could call that selling the paper, or changing the policy of the 'Protest'—-"
"Exactly what I said!" laughed Susan. "However, the next morning we rushed over to the Cudahys—you remember that magnificent old person you and Conrad met here? That's Clem. And his wife is quite as wonderful as he is. And Clem of course tore our little dream to rags—-"
"Oh, HOW?" Anna exclaimed regretfully.
"Oh, in every way. He made it betrayal, and selling the birthright. Billy saw it at once. As Clem said, where would Billy be the minute they questioned an article of his, or gave him something for insertion, or cut his proof? And how would the thing SOUND—a railroad magnate owning the 'Protest'?"
"He might do more good that way than in any other," mourned Anna rebelliously, "and my goodness, Sue, isn't his first duty to you and the children?"
"Bill said that selling the 'Protest' would make his whole life a joke," Susan said. "And now I see it, too. Of course I wept and wailed, at the time, but I love greatness, Nance, and I truly believe Billy is great!" She laughed at the artless admission. "Well, you think Conrad is great," finished Susan, defending herself.
"Yes, sometimes I wish he wasn't—yet," Anna said, sighing. "I never cooked a meal for him, or had to mend his shirts!" she added with a rueful laugh. "But, Sue, shall you be content to have Billy slave as he is slaving now," she presently went on, "right on into middle- age?"
"He'll always slave at something," Susan said, cheerfully, "but that's another funny thing about all this fuss—the boys were simply WILD with enthusiasm when they heard about old Wallace and the 'Protest,' trust Clem for that! And Clem assured me seriously that they'd have him Mayor of San Francisco yet!—However," she laughed, "that's way ahead! But next year Billy is going east for two months, to study the situation in different cities, and if he makes up his mind to go, a newspaper syndicate has offered him enough money, for six articles on the subject, to pay his expenses! So, if your angel mother really will come here and live with the babies, and all goes well, I'm going, too!"
"Mother would do anything for you," Anna said, "she loves you for yourself, and sometimes I think that she loves you for—for Jo, you know, too! She's so proud of you, Sue—-"
"Well, if I'm ever anything to be proud of, she well may be!" smiled Susan, "for, of all the influences of my life—a sentence from a talk with her stands out clearest! I was moping in the kitchen one day, I forget what the especial grievance was, but I remember her saying that the best of life was service—that any life's happiness may be measured by how much it serves!"
Anna considered it, frowning.
"True enough of her life, Sue!"
"True of us all! Georgie, and Alfie, and Virginia! And Mary Lou,— did you know that they had a little girl? And Mary Lou just divides her capacity for adoration into two parts, one for Ferd and one for Marie-Louise!"
"Well, you're a delicious old theorist, Sue! But somehow you believe in yourself, and you always do me good!" Anna said laughing. "I share with Mother the conviction that you're rather uncommon—one watches you to see what's next!"
"Putting this child in her crib is next, now," said Susan flushing, a little embarrassed. She lowered Josephine carefully on the little pillow. "Best—girl—her—mudder—ever—did—HAB!" said Susan tenderly as the transfer was accomplished. "Come on, Nance!" she whispered, "we'll go down and see what Bill is doing."
So they went down, to add a score of last touches to the orderly, homelike rooms, to cut grape-fruit and taste cranberry sauce, to fill vases with chrysanthemums and ferns, and count chairs for the long table.
"This is fun!" said Susan to her husband, as she filled little dishes with nuts and raisins in the pantry and arranged crackers on a plate.
"You bet your life it's fun!" agreed Billy, pausing in the act of opening a jar of olives. "You look so pretty in that dress, Sue," he went on, contentedly, "and the kids are so good, and it seems dandy to be able to have the family all here! We didn't see this coming when we married on less than a hundred a month, did we?"
He put his arm about her, they stood looking out of the window together.
"We did not! And when you were ill, Billy—and sitting up nights with Mart's croup!" Susan smiled reminiscently.
"And the Thanksgiving Day the milk-bill came in for five months— when we thought we'd been paying it!"
"We've been through some TIMES, Bill! But isn't it wonderful to—to do it all together—to be married?"
"You bet your life it's wonderful," agreed the unpoetic William.
"It's the loveliest thing in the world," his wife said dreamily. She tightened his arm about her and spoke half aloud, as if to herself. "It IS the Great Adventure!" said Susan.