So This Is Susan
When your eldest son whirls home from the city with a new and strange wife, there's only one thing to do. The question is—What?
TO LITTLE Frankie, the air of excitement that pervaded the house was like the beginnings of a thunderstorm. Its disturbance was intangible and electric. It was fraught with novelty, mystery, and evidently it was tremendously important.
Mom inspected his ears, her flushed round face near to his, her fingers ungentle as they tilted his head at an angle. He winced as a matter of course and said, “Ouch!” But the festive nature of the occasion made him submit docilely as Mrs. Brandon pulled a starched white blouse over his dripping wet hair.
“What’ll I say, mom?” he asked.
“You just stay out of mischief, and don’t reach across the table. Say ‘please’ when you want something.”
“But what’ll I say to her?"
“Greet her like I told you, and keep your blouse clean.”
“Do I have to kiss her?”
“Yes—well, not if she isn’t the kind. Just show your good breeding—the way you’ve been brought up. Now remember.”
Her hard hand brushed a rivulet of water from his face with fierceness but no malice. He said, “Ouch!” although he knew the motion was only to impress him with the importance of remembering.
The question of whether Bill’s wife should be embraced or merely greeted with genteel warmth was a matter of concern to Mrs. Brandon. Bill was bringing home a wife from the city to see his folks. It was a phenomenon that had no precedent in Mrs. Brandon’s life, and she did not quite know how she was going to react to it.
Routine was so much a part of Mrs. Brandon’s existence that she never really accepted changes. They always struck her forcibly, like little explosions on the outside of her. It took time for the impact to alter her within. Bill's going away for a job in the city had been, to her, merely a temporary disruption of her immediate world. She still resisted the inevitable. And now, the news of his marriage. Try as she might, she could not summon up a picture of Bill except as a boy, grimacing over his food or racketing in and out of the house in hectic play.
Ordinarily a buxom, imperturbable person who disposed of daily problems with calm assurance, she was now full of misgivings. In all her years of married life, for instance, she had never known any doubt as to how roast leg of lamb should be prepared, yet doubts assailed her as she went down the hall of her two-story clapboard house to Janet’s room.
JANET was thirteen and a young lady. Mrs. Brandon knew she could depend on her daughter for capable support—unless the child's frame of mind was unusual. She did seem a bit nervous, at that.
“I’ll die before she comes, mamma. I’ll per-ish alive if she isn’t pretty.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Bill’s eye for women. Anyhow, you read his letters.”
“But he’s married, mamma,” Janet pointed out. “He’s in love.” The word “love” belonged to a vast inscrutable world not yet hers, but she had read enough to know that it did strange and, of course, wonderful things to people—made them sort of pale, dizzy and a little nearsighted.
Mrs. Brandon shrugged her plump shoulders. Merely to make sure that she herself was not disappointed, she said, “Pretty girls don’t make good wives.” Then, remembering Janet was pretty, she added. “Unless they have good sense and aren’t flighty.”
One thing Mrs. Brandon knew—she was going to like Bill’s wife. The bounds of her affections had quite naturally widened to leave space for the unknown quantity soon to arrive. Mrs. Brandon had gone through life with a bur-
den of affection which she could drop anywhere at will. It held her family in a constant embrace without being selfish.
Janet detained her at the door of her room. “Mamma, don't you think that poem is a little silly? I mean—” “Now, don’t go upsetting our plans and getting me mixed up. You do as you're supjx>sed to.”
Janet closed the door after her mother. For a moment she stood with her hand on the knob. A thought had brought with it a sinking sensation. Bill was married. Everybody got married sooner or later, but she still had no boy friends. It made her seem like an old maid.
“I’m only a little girl yet,” she told herself, but she felt her tallness, and lier mind let all the boys she knew at school pass in review. They were children. The boys of her age were just children.
Bill was coming home with a wife. The sensation of vicarious romance relegated her brief misgivings to a minor place in her thoughts. She reviewed in a low voice the jxx'm she had created in a burst of feeling:
“Welcome, dear Susan, welcome to you.
We know you will like us, as we’ll like you too.”
How silly ! Perhaps if she could teach the simple lines to Frankie before they came . . .
She w'as at her dresser drawer. Surreptitiously she opened it and took out a powder puff. She applied the puff to her cheeks, although there was no powder on it. The sound of footsteps in the hall made her close the drawer quickly. Dad came in with a worried frown on his kindly face.
Elias Brandon was slightly Ix-nt at the shoulders, longlimbed and graceless. His hair was grey-black, wiry and untamed after years of onslaught w ith a stiff-bristled brush. He smiled at his daughter as he fumbled with his collar. “Smell,” he invited, bowing his head.
Janet inhaled deeply. “Oh, wonderful, daddy! What is it?”
“Stick’em. Four bits a bottle.”
From below Mrs. Brandon’s voice carried up the stairway with the lilt of a street-haw'ker’s song.
“Eli-yus! Eli-yus! Hurry!”
Mr. Brandon turned to the door, banging one fist on top of the other in a gesture of extreme annoyance.
“All right, mamma,” he exclaimed petulantly. “I’m ready most any minute now.” He turned appealingly to his daughter. “Here 1 come home from the store at four in the afternoon, and not a minute to get dressed since then. ‘Elias, jump out and get me a pound of butter. Run the sweeper over the rugs . . ”
He let Janet fix his tie. Her hands shook slightly as they worked quickly under his chin.
“Daddy.” she said hesitantly, "is it bad if I go out with boys? 1 mean, just to a movie or something?”
Mr. Brandon scratched his head and looked at her askance. “You been asked?”
“Why, no, daddy. But if I were—”
“Can’t say that I see any harm in it, when and if you’re asked.”
Unwittingly, he had planted a seed of doubt in Janet’s mind that filled her with a vague uneasiness. When and if she were asked . . .
\/f R BRANDON patted the silk lapels of his smoking ^ coat as he went down the stairs. The smoking coat had been an inspiration, a mechanism to thwart the confining discomfort of a jacket. But he was warm nevertheless. It was a warm summer evening.
He made his way out to the porch, being careful to shut the screen door quickly against the invasion of insects. A glance up and down the street assured him that they had not yet arrived. He sUxxl idly, indecisively on the porch steps, his mind's eye anticipating their approach. A onehorse rig with Bill at the reins, controlling a mare made skittish by an auto horn. His bride sitting stiflly by his side.
Mr. Brandon shook his head. That was himself, twentyfive years ago. He looked at Herb Bailey’s streamlined sedan in the driveway across the street. For an instant he had a picture of himself as he was, drifting comfortably in the tow of progress, not helping it or hindering it. You couldn't hold a scene for more time than it tcxik a camera’s shutter to snap. The way of living constantly shifted—-yet it had a design. You married, had children, then your children married. Mr. Brandon was too ordinary a man to think that was anything but a happy plan.
A hammock on the little square of lawn before the house captured his eye. It didn’t seem to lx* balanced correctly. He went to it and struggled to get a lower link of the chain onto the luxjk of the stand. The hammock was heavy, and it left him a little breathless, if triumphant.
He entered the house again, paused to kx>k at himself critically in a hall mirror, then proceeded into the kitchen.
“Set up the chairs in the dining room, Elias,” Mrs. Brandon told him. Her pleasant round face below her newly acquired permanent was llusluxl from the heat of the stove. She looked up and uttered a horrified gasp. “Take off that rag and put on a jacket.”
“But. mamma, it's the latest style. The very latest.” “You wear your jacket at the dinner table. What will she think?”
“Mamma, we’re simple folk--”
“Elias, don’t upset me. It's frayed at the edges.”
He banged one fist on the other in slow annoyance. “Mamma, you get me all nervous. For twenty years I never wore no jacket at the table. I’m weak with prickly heat as it is.”
But after he had arranged six chairs around the diningroom table, using an odd one from the telephone nook, he went into the hall again to gaze thoughtfully at his image in the mirror.
“The very latest style,” he assured himself. However, his wife’s criticism had made him unsure of himself. He
knew almost nothing about styles, least of all the latest.
Frankie clumped down the stairs, jumped the last few steps and landed in a heap at the bottom. He scrambled to his feet and started to imitate a locomotive.
“Chug-chug! Whooo! I^ast stop!”
He pulled up in front of his father. “Daddy !” he yelled. “Oh, daddy ! Janet gimme a nickel to recite a poem.”
“Keep your clothes clean, or I’ll give you something to recite about,” Mr. Brandon admonished in a routine manner.
He proceeded upstairs to his bedroom. As he was changing into his jacket, Frankie's shrill voice sent out a warning.
“They’re here ! I ley, they’re here !”
\yf R. BRANDON was suddenly panicky. He was going ■*•*■*■ to meet Bill’s wife. He hoped it would be easy, meeting her. At that moment he wished Bill’s marriage was an accepted fact—not something that still had to be qualified and fitted into the design with introductions and dinners for which you had to wear jackets.
He muttered an impatient exclamation. His jacket was small on him, as were all his coats. Hurriedly he left the bedroom, pushing up the cuffs of his shirt so they would not extend too far out of his sleeves.
Janet was breathless in the hall. “They’re here, daddy,” she whispered aloud.
“I know'. I know. Come down and help your mother in the kitchen.”
"There’s nothing to do. I was there.”
She waited in the hallway until her father had descended the stairs, then she went quickly into his bedroom to the front window. Standing to the side of the window with
When noises below told her the guests had entered the house, she went down the stairs slowly. Yesterday she had chased Frankie dow" the steps three at a time, emitting chilling war whoopÄ Now' she descended with adult dignity.
bated breath, she watched Bill and his w'ife gei of their little coupé. But although she strained her eyes to penetrate the twilight, she could not make out the features of Bill’s wife.
She heard snatches yf from the front door. “Mom, this is Susan. Dad, you old reprobate.”
Then Bill happened to turn and see her. “Hi, Janet,” lie called. “Come here and show' your face.”
Bill, his broad-shouldered frame neatly draped with a blue serge suit, stood near his wife. Janet came forward shyly as her father was hanging Bill’s wife’s coat on a clothes tree.
“This is Susan, Janet.”
“I’ve been looking fonvard to meeting you,” said Bill’s w'ife.
“Me too.” Janet stole a glance at her face. She wasn’t beautiful. Not like movie stars. But as mom said later, “Anyhow, she has gorgeous eyes, a nice complexion—and so sensible.” She was taller than Janet, though not much taller. Janet was painfully conscious of that fact.
Mrs. Brandon, who had removed her apron and now stood in the glory of her church-going dress, put her arms around Janet’s shoulder.
“It w’on’t be many years before this one goes too,” she sighed. “They all go so quickly.”
She released her daughter, smiled and said in the midst of a brief silence, “Well, so this is Susan!”
“Let’s go into the parlor, huh?” Mr. Brandon suggested. He too had a smile on his face. He had put it on when Bill and his wife arrived. Now it was a fixed, somewhat frozen expression.
“It isn’t much of a parlor,” said Mrs. Brandon. “We haven't started fall cleaning yet. Elias, I told you to have the hardware man repaper the walls.”
“What? Oh, yes. Repaper the walls.” Mr. Brandon could not recall having been told that. “Well, I guess Susan knows we’re simple folks. We don’t put on fancy airs. Just good living and plain home cooking.”
Mrs. Brandon put in hastily: “Of course, we have our luncheons at the country club, church socials and such interesting speakers at the community centre.”
She was talking in her refined manner, through pursed lips, the way she talked to the Reverend Pierce and other people of culture or position.
“I don’t think there’s much difference between town and city nowadays,” said Bill’s wife. She was sitting primly on the sofa, where she had been placed. “It’s not like it used to be.”
“We go to concerts occasionally,” Bill offerêd as he playfully rumpled Frankie’s hair.
“Did you have any trouble getting up here?” Mr. Brandon asked.
“Concerts?” said Mrs. Brandon. “We have an excellent glee club, and once a month the orchestra from West Hurleyton has a musicale. What was that they played two weeks ago? Some—some symphony by a great composer?”
“Beethoven?” Bill asked.
“Tchaikovsky?” said Bill’s wife.
“Why, yes. I think it was Chikovsky. So you see,
Susan”—smiling modestly with pursed lips—“we do have a few culture—-cultural pleasures."
Her glance fell on Janet, who was hunkered on a footstool. She nodded as a signal.
“Wasn’t there something you were going to say, dear?” Janet’s cheeks were crimson. “Frankie will say it.” Frankie broke his silence. • “I ain’t,” he said. “It’s a poem, and I ain’t gonna say it, ’cause I forgot it, and I ain’t gonna give back the nickel.”
JANET saw the command in her mother’s eyes. She rose to her feet. Fier hands hung limply at her sides. She looked at Bill’s wife, small and neat on the sofa, and felt her own awkwardness acutely.
“It’s so silly,” she said, her voice high and unnatural. “You’ll laugh.”
“Please,” Susan urged. “I’m sure we won’t laugh.” Janet closed her eyes, bracing herself, and began to recite.
“Welcome, dear Susan, welcome to you.
We hope you will like us, as we’ll like you, too.”
She swayed slightly, hoping some miracle would occur to make her disappear. Some catastrophe—an earthquake— that would be an excuse to stop.
“You have found love, which makes us so glad—
Me and Frankie and mother and dad.”
“Go on, dear,” Mrs. Brandon urged.
“Oh, mom, it’s so silly, the rest of it. I can’t.”
“It’s beautiful,” Bill’s wife declared. “I know just what you’re trying to say.”
“We have a poetess in the family,” Bill said brightly. “That’s a new development.” Mrs. Brandon stood up. “I’ll have a look at the roast,” she said as she left the room.
“One thing you’ll get,” Mr. Brandon observed. “Plenty of good, simple food. We’re not much for this fancy cooking.”
Fie passed a handkerchief over his brow. He hoped he didn’t look as warm and uncomfortable as he felt. One of his shirt cuffs had crept out again. The cuffs were rumpled now from pushing them back into the coat sleeves.
In his wife’s absence, he felt at loss for conversation. Bill and his wife were a separate entity, a visiting faction. Mr. Brandon was very proud of their self-sufficiency, but he wished he could think of some big favor— some big, intimate favor—he might do for them. He was drawn to Bill’s wife, and he wanted her to like Bill’s folks; but he could not think for the life of him what to do or say to make her like them.
“Bill’s letters told us something about your being a trained librarian.”
“Yes. I’m on vacation now1, Mr. Brandon.”
“Aw, call me dad.” He winked both eyes playfully. “You know, I am your father now. Father-in-law, at any rate.”
Mrs. Brandon came in, her face flushed again from being near the stove.
“I guess we can sit down at the table now. I didn’t prepare anything special. Just what we have every night.”
“That’s good enough for us,” Bill said. “We should have given you more time to prepare anyhow.”
“We would have been here so much sooner,” Susan added, “if week-end traffic hadn’t been so thick.”
They moved in a body toward the dining room, each trying to manoeuvre himself so as not to be the first one in.
“That’s city life for you.” Elias Brandon shook his head. “Everything rushed. No time to look around or plan ahead. Here, you sit next to Bill. Susie . . . Look, I'm calling her Susie already.”
“And I’m calling you dad,” Bill’s wife laughed.
At the dinner table, after much discussion of who should sit where, Mrs. Brandon gave the signal to begin.
“There’s nothing like fresh healthy fruit,” said Mr. Brandon.
Bill rolled his eyes. “Mmm ! Honeydew melon and raspberries. My favorite vegetable. Dig in, Susan.”
"pRANKIE lifted one spoonful of raspberries to his mouth, then stopped. He munched the fruit with more facial contortions than were necessary. Bill's wife had caught his eye and smiled at him. Slowly a
sly grin spread over his face. His berry-red tongue went out of the side of his mouth, and he slipped lower in his chair. “Sit up straight, Frankie,” Mrs. Brandon admonished. Now that someone had noticed him, Frankie was loath to lose his audience. He slid down the chair on his backbone until he was under the table.
There was a terrible, embarrassed silence. Mr. Brandon said nervously. “I don’t understand it. He never did that before. Frankie!”
Presently Bill’s wife gasped and looked to her husband for advice. “He has my ankle,” she said, trying not to squirm, though Frankie was tickling her foot.
Mrs. Brandon had a feeling she was in the throes of a horrible nightmare. What an impression Bill’s wife would get of her home ! When she thought she could stand it no longer, Mr. Brandon went under the table and brought Frankie into the open.
Everyone managed to laugh at the incident when peace was restored to the meal once more.
“That Frankie,” said Bill. “He’s as bad as I used to be,
Everyone managed to laugh but Frankie, who realized, after the insane emotions of the moment were over, that he had not accomplished something which was likely to arouse admiration. Frankie understood the look in his mother’s eye, a warning flicker that told him punishment was being deferred, not waived.
Mrs. Brandon turned her attention to Bill’s wife while Janet served cold consommé. Within her was a desperation engendered by the need to establish the still-unrealized kinship between Susan and the family.
“I understand your father was a professional man,” she said enquiringly.
“A big one, too,” Bill informed the table. He seemed glad to be able to say something to enhance his own position. “Fie was a specialist in pediatrics. Consultant for about five hospitals.”
Mr. Brandon scratched his head. “Can’t say that I’ve heard the name before.”
“Oh, sure you have, Elias. You’ve forgotten. He’s so forgetful, Susan.”
“I’m not forgetful!” said Mr. Brandon, unwilling to let anything uncomplimentary be said about him in the presence of Bill’s wife.
“But Elias! Dr. Ed-win Clark-son. The famous pediatrician.”
Suddenly he understood. “Oh, you mean the pediatrician. Of course. Dr. Edwin Clarkson. Mighty good man. A mighty gocxl man.”
“We have a doctor in our family,” said Mrs. Brandon. "The second husband of one of our cousins. Brilliant man —but he drinks.”
Susan shook her head unbelievingly and said, “Tsk ! What a pity !”
Mr. Brandon ixxided. “We also have a relation who’s a sculptor. Got rich from the stock market.” Then wisely, “He’ll put it all back. You can't lick the market. Here, just pass the empty dishes to me. I'll pile them.”
He arranged the consommé dishes in a neat stack, then carried them into the kitchen. Mrs. Brandon was close behind him to bring in the roast.
“Elias!” she whispered imperatively. “Why did you have to go and pile the dishes? Do you want her to think we always do it that way?”
“Well, we do.”
“Not when there are guests.”
Mr. Brandon banged one fist on the other, lifting a foot for emphasis. “Hang it, mamma, we’re simple folks, and we don’t have to put on airs.”
“Go back to the table and entertain them. A man’s place isn’t in the kitchen.”
“I'll remember that,” he vowed, “some night when there’s wiping to be done.”
He pushed in his cuffs, composed his features into a happy smile and went into the dining rcxxn once more.
rT'HE ROAST was a huge success, despite Mrs. Brandon’s protestations that it was nothing special. Only Janet viewed it without relish.
“I'm not hungry,” she said when her turn came.
“You sick?” her father asked.
“No, please. I’m old enough to know what I want and what I don't want.”
“A girl like you has got to have food.”
“No, I don’t. I'm too heavy as it is.”
Bill’s wife looked at her with understanding eyes. “The vogue for skinny women is all over, dear,” she said. “You can eat as much as you like. I’m trying to gain weight myself.”
“It doesn’t matter to you any more,” Janet blurted. “You’re married now.”
She put her hand to her mouth as a shocked silence fell over the table.
Mrs. Brandon felt dizzy, but she said quickly, “Janet’s too young to know what she’s saying.”
Janet cast down her eyes. Merely to be doing something, she reached for a celery stalk. In her nervousness, she tipped over a glass of water. The contents cascaded over the tablecloth into Bill’s lap. He jumped up with a muttered exclamation.
“It’s all right.” he said hastily. “A little water never hurt anybody. 1 needed a bath anyhow.”
But there was reprimand mixed with the tragedy on Mrs. Brandon’s face. “So careless! A big girl like you!”
Janet was on her feet. “I’m not so big !” she cried. For an ihstant she fought against the tears that were already in her eyes. Then she turned and raced out of the room.
Mr. Brandon went up after her and came down presently to inform everyone, “Janet has a headache. She’ll be all right.” Dessert was a dismal period. Bill’s wife tried to carry the weight of it by talking of her girlhood. To Mrs. Brandon, her manner seemed strained. If only there were something small and homey they could talk about! Something near to all of them, to draw them closer together.
“Elias, did you bring in the children’s luggage?”
Mr. Brandon shook his head. “I was changing into my ... I thought it could wait till after dinner. No hurry.”
Bill looked at his empty plate. “As a matter of fact,” he said slowly, “we ought to be getting home tonight.”
“Tonight ! You were going to stay overnight!” Mrs. Brandon’s exclamation was a single, startled cry.
Bill shrugged. “Well, Sunday’s the only time we’ll have for apartment hunting. We’re living in a hotel now, you know.” Mrs. Brandon looked at her husband despairingly. It was evident that they had failed. They could not have said in words what they had wanted to happen. But somehow they knew they had failed.
MRS. BRANDON cleared away the dishes after they had left the table. With the dull, automatic movements of a drudge, she rinsed them and stacked them in the sink to drain. Later would be time enough to dry them. As she wiped her hands on her apron, she nourished her spirit with the satisfaction she could gain from knowing Bill liad picked himself a nice wife.
“The girl seems to have good sense, and she isn’t flighty, at any rate,” she told herself.
She hung her apron in the pantry and left the kitchen. As she passed the parlor on her way to Janet’s room, she caught a glimpse of Elias standing ill at ease in the middle of the floor. His shirt cuff extended from his sleeve and he looked miserably warm.
She went up the stairs slowly, wearily. Janet was lying on her bed at full length. Mrs. Brandon sat down beside her and stroked her hair.
“There, sweetheart. Tell mother what hurts you.”
Janet lifted her head. Her eyes were tear-stained but dry. “I don’t know, mamma. I just became excited and didn’t realize what I was doing. I’m sorry.”
“Of course you are. Now, wash your eyes and go down to the parlor. Little girls mustn’t be unmannerly.”
“Right away, mamma.”
“And you may sleep in your own room tonight, dear. Bill and his wife aren’t staying.”
Mrs. Brandon straightened the counterpane on Janet’s bed after she had gone. It was a sentimental gesture, bringing her back to the time when the room and bed had been Bill’s.
When Mrs. Brandon came down once more, she wore a forced cheerfulness. Susan sat close to Bill, while Elias was looking at a newspaper but not reading it. Frankie, conscious that he was living in the shame of some great social trespass, had retired again into his sombre shell.
Janet was doing penance by wiping the dinner dishes.
Mrs. Brandon sighed, picked up her reticule in the hall and went into the parlor. In the sober atmosphere of the room, she felt acutely the completeness of her defeat.
“Would anybody like to listen to the radio?” she asked, settling herself in a stuffed chair.
“Soon we’ll have television,” Elias offered for no apparent reason.
Bill asked, “Anything good on Saturday night?”
“The Philharmonic, but it’s too late now, I think,” Susan said.
“I don't believe I’d like to listen to the radio,” Bill decided. “That is, unless anybody else wants to.”
Mrs. Brandon sighed and began to knit. A strained silence fell on the room. The two old people yearned toward their children but felt more apart than ever.
“It’s almost nine,” Bill said suddenly, looking at his watch. “We have a two-hour drive ahead of us.”
Mrs. Brandon stiffened. She had been waiting for that. Quickly she said. “Our clock has a quarter of nine.”
“People don’t go to bed so early nowadays,” Elias declared hopefully. “We don’t go to bed until almost twelve sometimes. That’s the truth.”
“W'e’ll be back for a whole week-end soon,” Susan said impulsively. She looked from one face to another, smiling, but her gaze faltered when she saw that her remark had obtained no encouraging effect upon the group.
"CVEN THEN Mrs. Brandon did not admit to herself that they were really leaving. But they were moving into the hall, and soon, with startling abruptness it seemed, Elias was helping Bill’s wife into her coat. Mrs. Brandon experienced an empty feeling. There was a void, a compartment in her heart for Susan but Susan was outside. Touching the girl’s hand, she said, “1 have something I want to give you,” and she hurried out of the room.
Elias Brandon looked critically at Susan’s purse before giving it to her. “That’s a nice clasp,” he said. “I got a friend who can get you ten per cent off for pocketbooks, but it don’t pay to get things wholesale. Cheap is cheap. Well, you want to be careful driving at night.” “We’ll he careful,” Susan said. She stood stiffly beside her husband, waiting, and she looked pale in the dim light of the hall.
Bill took her hand. “Anything wrong. Sue?” he asked.
“I’m all right.”
“Well, gosh, you’re trembling.”
Mr. Brandon was concerned. “Maybe you got a cold coming on. 1 knew a doctor who used to hang his hat on the bedpost and drink whisky and lemonade until he saw two hats.”
Bill put his arm around her shoulders. “For Pete’s sake, fella, buck up,” he whispered pleadingly. “Two more minutes.” She caught her underlip between her teeth and said nothing. Presently Mrs. Brandon appeared, carefully carrying a set of linens.
“A full set of damask service,” she said. “My mother gave it to me.”
“Oh, mom, no,” Bill objected. "You already gave us a wedding present.”
But Mrs. Brandon felt the need of giving them something of more sentimental worth than the chinaware she had shopped for so shrewdly and industriously. “You’ll need these.” she said simply. "Also, there’s an ox-blood vase—-”
“I’ve got a pipe you’d like. Bill,” said Mr. Brandon. “It’s that meerschaum. I—I’m tired of it.”
“It’s swell of you, dad, but I’ll take it next time. Well, good-by. mom.”
There was a chorus of farewells. Janet and Frankie hung back shyly, but everyone else seemed to be talking at once, saying meaningless little things that required no answer . . Your skin looks dry.
Bill . . . Good-by . About that cold, Susan . . . Good-by . . So long, Frankie . . Drive carefully. .Good-by . .
Then all at once they noticed that Susan was standing still and quiet, clutching the linens to her body.
“Comeon, Sue,” Bill said urgently. “Sue, what’s the matter with you?”
“I’m not going, Bill,” she said in an unsteady voice.
ELIAS BRANDON cocked his head to one side and said, "Eh?” Mrs. Brandon was apprehensive. They looked at each other in alarm. This, whatever it meant, was obviously out of order.
“I’m not going,” Susan repeated. Her voice was high in her throat, unnatural, and suddenly words wrere tumbling out of her in wild confusion. “I feel like a thief —taking Bill away from you—giving nothing in return. I’m a stranger—”
Mrs. Brandon said hastily, “You’re not, dear!” Bill said, “For Pete’s sake, Sue ...” And Mr. Brandon just looked startled.
“Yes, I’m a stranger,” the girl exclaimed. “You don’t know me. I’m merely the woman who married your Bill. Oh, I know it’s hard, trying to make our positions clear in one evening, trying in one
evening to adjust ourselves to a new relationship that—that must carry through a whole lifetime.”
“But that has to be.” Mrs. Branden whispered in a scared tone
“I’ll get her a glass of water,” Elias Brandon said quickly.
Bill ran his fingers through his hair. “Never mind, dad. We really must go.” “No, we mustn’t, Bill.” Susan cried. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” She turned upon him eyes that were slightly moist. Imploring eyes. “There’s so much to say ...” But Bill appeared not to understand. A short, tired laugh escaped her. “I’m sorry. I’m making a fool of myself. Really, I don’t knowwhat’s the matter wfith me. But—but I do know that I wish—I wish with all my heart that you w'ould like me—not because I’m Bill’s wife, but because—well, because you like me.”
Seeing Mrs. Brandon’s face and the feelings it revealed, she seemed to gain strength and hope. “I’m not through.” she said softly. She leaned against Bill for support, and he put his arm around her. “There’s one more thing. You’re not strangers to me. I’ve knowm you for years. All of you. I knew you would be the way you are. It’s the way I hoped you would be, because—” She lifted her head and said simply, “Because you’re my family.” Within Mrs. Brandon rose a tide of feeling that threatened to engulf her. Mr. Brandon said, “Let me get you a glass of water, Susie.”
Bill was staring soberly at his wife. He said without turning, “Mom, dad, let’s go into the parlor.”
''"THEY trooped into the parlor, and no one spoke for a while. They were watching Bill. At length he said. “Well, it was a hard evening, but it’s over now. I feel a hundred years wiser and two hundred years older. Dad, take off that jacket. It’s been making me squirm all evening.”
“Has it, son? It’s been killing me,” Mr. Brandon said happily. With obvious relief, he removed his jacket.
Bill smiled his satisfaction. “We should have done this hours ago. Mom, may a fellow change his mind? We can live at the hotel another week. I’d like to stay over Sunday.”
Susan thanked him with a glance. Mrs. Brandon sat down weakly and said in a choked voice, “Naturally. Naturally, children, if you want to.”
“Apartments. You’ve got to take your time looking for them,” Mr. Brandon warned. “I know.” He winked both eyes at Susan.
“Ooh, a June bug,” said Janet from the doorway. She ducked squeamishly as the beetle flew near her.
“I’ll get it,” Bill declared masterfully. “I used to be a demon with a rolled newspaper.”
“Just like Frankie,” said Mrs. Brandon. She was still slightly bewildered. “He’s sure death on moths and mosquitoes.”
Realizing that his misdemeanor of the dinner hour was forgotten, Frankie unfroze with a shrill battle cry and started on the trail of the insect. Elias Brandon exclaimed, “I’m not so old I can’t hit a June bug. Come on, Janet. Get yourself a magazine.” Janet laughed gaily. She felt suddenly lighthearted. She was a little girl, young enough to chase over chairs and scream. Susan cried, “Why don’t we use psychology? Let’s lull it into a false sense of security.”
After the beetle had disappeared, a subtle tonic of excitement still pervaded the room. Mrs. Brandon’s cheeks were pink with the madness of the moment.
“I do declare,” she said. “We certainly were silly to be so stiff and formal.”
Susan smiled at Mrs. Brandon, her shining eyes reflecting the lightness of her spirit. “Honestly, I was scared half to death,” she confessed. “It really is funny.” ,
“You had nothing on me,” Elias Brandon put in. “We never had us a daughterin-law before, you know.”
Bill led his wife to the centre of the room. “That covers that,” he grinned. “Now let’s start all over again. Folks, this is she. All there is you see before you. Five foot two, amiable disposition, handy around the house and kind to children. What am I offered? Do I hear a bid?” Beaming with pride and affection, Mrs. Brandon took both the girl’s hands in her own. “Well,” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Well, so this is Susan.”