The love story of a girl who was too pretty
RUTH BURR SANBORN
PLEASE," said Suanne "You couldn't keep that job half an hour," said Miss Trimmer.
"I kept the last one nearly half a day," Suanne reminded her. "Let me try it, Miss Trimmer. Pretty, please.”
"Pretty!” snorted Miss Trimmer. “You’re too pretty. That’s the wltole trouble.”
Suanne Hardinge was Ux> pretty. That was the whole trouble.
Miss Trimmer’s agency was justly prosperous. When Mr. John Brier, of the Brier Coal and Wood Company, wanted a secretary, inte ligent, tall, and prepossessing in appearance, Miss Trimmer sent him an intelligent, tall and prepossessing secretary within the hour. When Mr Theophilus Horton, of Horton Restaurants, Inc., wanted a hostess, natural blonde, curly hair, pleasant smile and gotxi teeth, statuesque type, weight not over 130, Miss Trimmer sent him a natural, curly, smiling, statuesque blonde, 1291 ^—
with diet list in case of emergency. Miss Trimmer sent themand they stayed. It was irritating to have had Suanne fired nine times in two weeks. Suanne Hardinge was a thorn in Miss Trimmer’s side.
Mr. Thomas Mortimer Sherrill was a thorn in Miss Trimmer’s other side. Mr. Sherrill was a lawyer. His demands, at first, had not seemed difficult. He telephoned briefly that he wanted a capable secretary.
“Any other requirements?” asked Miss Trimmer. “Er — background?"
"I don’t have to see her home.” said Mr. Sherrill.
“This is a lawyer’s office, not a beauty shop,” said Mr. Sherrill.
“ET special aptitudes?”
"Capable,” said Mr Sherrill brusquely. “Elaven’t you
"Oh. yes," promised Miss Trimmer. “I’ll send one over.”
Miss Trimmer was pleased. She had on her list several very capable secretaries indeed; they wore horn-rimmed glasses and flat shoes, and they had failed to find employment worthy of their talents only because they were not natural blondes or tall and prepossessing brunettes. Miss Wright was the most callable and had the flattest feet. Miss Trimmer sent her first.
Miss Wright stayed a week and returned in tears. After that Miss Trimmer sent several other young women second only in capacity to Miss Wright They returned in tears also, saying respectively that Mr. Sherrill was cross and fierce and difficult and demanding and a regular old bugbear. And now the old bugbear wanted another secretary right away quick —or he should have to look elsewhere. And Miss Trimmer was at her wit’s end, because she did not have any capable secretaries left.
Not. of course, that Suanne Hardinge was not capable enough. Put she was too pretty. Not palely and awesomely
handsome, as is desirable for reception secretaries who have to turn people away; nor darkly and dangerously beautiful, of the type in demand by rich old men whose wives misunderstand them, but just deliciously, youthfully, upsettingly pretty—and such a little chit of a thing, besides, to cope with a great big. rude, rough typewriter. All the young men in the offices where she was employed laid aside their work and gathered round to see what they could do about it. It got her fired nine times in two weeks. And the fierce Mr. Sherrill was the last man in the world to want her.
Suanne looked thoughtfully at her little high-heeled shoes. “If you think that’s really the trouble.” she said, “maybe I could do something about it.”
If there had been any one else, Miss Trimmer would not have listened to her for a minute. But it was Suanne or nothing. “All right,” she said finally. “Go ahead and try it.”
SUANNE sat in front of her mirror and lœked depressed.
It did seem rather hopeless. In the mirror there was reflected a thin sweet oval of a face, with a long upper lip like a child’s, like a child’s a little lifted, and a dimple in the chin; the most enormous candid pair of blue eyes that ever looked out th.ough a tangle of tilted lashes, and a quantity of fine gold hair that curled. Out of these unpromising materials,.Suanne had to make herself look . . . capable.
The hair, Suanne reflected dispassionately, would be the worst. You simply could not take curl out of hair, because the more you wet it the more it curled. She studied the list of hair dyes in her hand. Black, dark brown, light brown, auburn, drab . . . Black hair and blue eyes would only make her look Irish and provocative. Red would be provocative and daring. “Drab,” she decided. “Nothing could be more capable than that.” And she went right out that minute to the drug store.
Suanne accomplished wonders that afternoon. She dyed lier hair drab—a good name, she thought, hesitating over how. to do it. Parted in the middle it was demure and rather nice. Parted on the side it was just plain becoming. Brushed straight back it only showed the nice shape of her forehead. “The middle,” she decided, “with a few hairs on the wrong side. And braids.”
Suanne braided her hair—tight. She pugged it up in the back: not low enough to be fashionable, not high enough to be dashing; she drew a hair net over it hard to hold the curls down flat. She put a smear of cold cream on her nose so it would shine. She hid the tippy lashes under bone-rimmed spectacles. The effect would have been satisfactory if it had not been for the dimple. Suanne ¡xmdered. Then she took a piece of adhesive, and covered the dimple up.
Suanne spent a long time on her clothes. Black was the natural thing; but black just made her look little and young and terribly appealing and prettier than ever. Suanne reflected on these facts without pride— if your looks were a handicap, they were nothing to be proud of. There was a peculiarly dingy brown, though, she remembered -a gingery, dish-watery, muddy brown - that tt;x)k the color out of her cheeks and the blue right out of her eyes. Such a brown she found finally: last year’s model, with a low waist-line, a size too large and nearly a f(x>t tcx) short. Suanne let it down, obviously, and put a petticoat underneath, and dragged it in tight and bunchy with a belt ; she added a white collar and cuffs that were immaculately clean but too stiff to be tantalizing. After that she removed the feather from her hat, and set the hat straight above her brows instead of tipped over one eye; she put on flat shoes, and short-wristed gloves, and took a green eye-shade in her hand. And then she went to see Mr. Sherrill.
CUANNE was possessed by a desire to laugh when she ^ opened the office d(x>r. But she got right over it.
Mr. Thomas Mortimer Sherrill was sitting behind a large uncompromising desk, and he looked large and uncompromising, too. He glanced up at her and scowled. He was an extravagantly tall young man. with a thin harassed face, and cold eyes and a lantern jaw.
“Miss Trimmer sent me, sir,” said Suanne, feeling more timid than she had expected.
“What’s your name?” demanded Mr. Sherrill.
“Miss Harding ...”
“Hardinge,” said Suanne. “Dinge, as in ‘dingy.’ ” "Dingy,” repeated Mr. Sherrill, more crossly than ever. “Are you capable?”
“Don’t I look capable?” said Suanne.
"Looks,” said Mr. Sherrill, “are deceptive.” From their warmth, Suanne was afraid the brown dress had not taken quite all the color from her cheeks. “Can you spell?”
“Yes, sir,” said Suanne.
“Spell pinochle,” commanded Mr. Sherrill.
“Capital P, hyphen, k-n-u-c-k-l-e,” said Suanne, “and I won’t knuckle down to anybody.”
“You are impertinent,” said Mr. Sherrill.
“Yes, sir,” said Suanne.
Suddenly she was frightened. This was her last chance, and she was throwing it away because she did not like the angle of Mr. Sherrill’s jaw. If Mr. Sherrill refused her, then Miss Trimmer would not bother any more, and she should starve, as like as not, and it would be very unpleasant. Upon an impulse she took off her hat, so that Mr. Sherrill
could see how drab her hair was. She felt very drab indeed, and the future was drab also. “P-i-n-o-c-h-l-e,” she said meekly.
Mr. Thomas Sherrill liked meekness -or at least he thought he did. The girl acted afraid of him—and he liked ixople to be afraid. She had spirit, too, and Mr. Sherrill liked spirit—if he could take it out of ’em. “Sit down,” he said abruptly, “and write this letter!”
At five o’clock that night, Suanne had not been fired. She had written that letter and the other letter, and copied a brief, and caught up with the filing; and Mr. Thomas Sherrill had criticized her sharply, but he had not fired her. He had not looked at her. either.
Suanne should have been pleased with the success of her disguise. She said to herself that she was pleased. Only when the handsome young dentist from next door stepped in to speak to Mr. Sherrill, and glanced briefly at her once and right away again, it was a little more successful than was necessary. She would have liked to have Mr. Sherrill look at her once himself . . . just to see how drab her hair was.
Along toward night Suanne took a good lt;k at Mr. Sherrill, getting round behind him for the purpose, so that he should not know. He was too ridiculously tall, of course, but so well proportioned that you hardly noticed. Some people liked tall men. Suanne herself did not really mind them. But he was certainly a regular old bugbear. When she opened the Z drawer to file Alelen in —a natural mistake if one is watching her employer over a shoulder—Mr. Sherrill said tartly that if she didn’t know the alphabet, she could look it up in the dictionary.
“It’s all right,” Suanne telephoned to Miss Trimmer. “He took me at my face value.”
AT THE END of a month, Suanne still had not been fired. And Mr. Thomas Sherrill still had not looked at her. He stalked in every morning at nine o’clock exactly, six feet tall and incorruptible. He had a light suit and a dark
suit and a kind cf tweedy suit and a blue suit, and his ties were always right. The blue suit was especially becoming. Suanne thought a tuxedo would lx most becoming of all; but one does not wear tuxedoes to an office, so there was no way of telling. He worked very hard. It seemed as if there never was a man with such a capacity for concentrated labor, so impervious to secretarial interruptions. Probably that was why he was already so well known in legal circles. When he worked his voice was cool and crisp and businesslike, and so were his lips, and so were his busy fingers.
But he was certainly very cross. When Suanne tcx)k him a letter with all the words spelled right, he said, "Why don’t you make the margins wider?” And when she made the margins wider, he said. “Why don’t you leave room at the bottom for a man to sign his name?” Thomas Mortimer Sherrill had a great big dashing signature, lx)ld and firm and rather interesting.
The dentist in the next office was named Dr. Lucien Warner. He came in often to speak to Thomas Sherrill, and one day when Suanne had taken off her spectacles to polish them, he must have noticed that her eyes were blue. After that he always said good morning, and also good afternoon, and now and then he waited at the dcx>r to say good night. “Gxxl night,” said Suanne and ran off fast, in her fiat-heeled shoes, to catch the five-ten bus.
After a while the drab began to come out of Suanne’s hair, and when she washed it the third time it came out altogether. Suanne did not bother to re-dye it. If Thomas Sherrill was not going to look at her anyhow, it wouldn’t matter. So she just braided it, and pugged it up, and pulled the hair net down tight and let it go. lint Dr. Warner must have noticed that it was a fine clear gold, the color of summer sun; and after that he came in to speak to Thomas Sherrill more often than ever, and during the lunch hour he sat on Suanne’s desk to wait for him, and talked to Suanne.
Dr. Warner was very handsome indeed. But it was a
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rather monotonous kind of handsomeness. He was medium tall and medium broad, with a medium-colored sunburn and medium brown hair. Only his lips were a little too red and moist, and his eyes a little too bright brown and meaningful, and he was a little too popular with lady patients.
Thomas Sherrill’s eyes were grey. Suanne was surprised now to think that she had ever called them cold. Thoughtful eyes, brooding eyes, not very happy eyes, inattentive eyes sometimes—but certainly not cold. When he was absorbed, they lighted with warmth and eagerness, a strange urgent fire from within: when he talked with clients who were troubled, they were kind and understanding. But when they looked toward Suanne, they just simply did not see her.
Dr. Warner had a speck of a mustache, like a small brown toothbrush in token of his calling. It would prick if he kissed anybody. Thomas Sherrill did not have any mustache at all.
Thomas Sherrill was not handsome like Dr. Warner. But he was more interesting. When you had seen Dr. Warner once, you had exhausted his possibilities. But with Thomas Sherrill you were always making discoveries.
Suanne made a number of discoveries before the month was out. Thomas, for instance, liked dogs. Sometimes he brought his dog with him to the office and it waited in the car; it sat on Thomas’s coat, and made up stories about how some scoundrel tried to steal the coat and what it did to the scoundrel. When Thomas came, the dog tried to be noncommittal and not let his tail w'ag his whole backbone, but you could see the ripple of pleasure all down his hair when Thomas patted him. There must be something about a man, to make a dog like that.
Thomas spent most of his evenings reading. Suanne spent her evenings reading, too. There wasn’t anything else to do with them.
Thomas had crispish hair and the back of his neck was smooth. When the sun came down on his hair through the office window. it made the short ends look like rubbed copper. There was one of those little whirly places in the parting.
When Thomas laughed—a thing he did but seldom—his face did not look severe any more. Laughter made little puckers come in front of his ears.
Thomas had very lean, strong hands. When they touched you. they made a strange feeling like a flash of light all over your body. The only time this happened, however, was when Suanne misspelled “fascination,” and Thomas took the dictionary to show her how wrong she was. He was very disagreeable about it.
'T'H.AT was the afternoon when Suanne discovered something else—something terribly upsetting. It wasn’t about Thomas this time. It was about herself. But, of course, your pride will not let you love a man who does not even look at you.
To be sure, once or twice, she had thought he was going to. But nothing came of it.
“How did you hurt your chin?” he asked one day abruptly.
‘‘I didn’t hurt it,” said Suanne incautiously. Then she remembered the sticking plaster; and bright color, that no dish-watery brown dress could quite subdue, rushed to her cheeks. "It—it’s a permanent disfigurement.”
“Oh.” said Thomas. “Sorry.” Surely he must have looked at her a little, Suanne thought, to know that she had a chin. But afterward she understood that he had noticed the plaster because it was an untidy thing to have about an office.
"Do you have much trouble with your eyes?” he asked her another day.
"Oh. yes.” said Suanne feelingly. “In the last nine places where I worked, they gave me no end of trouble.”
“Perhaps I could have the light changed.” * “Thank you,” said Suanne. “But I don’t
believe it’s the light that’s the matter.”
“I used to think it was,” said Suanne sadly. "But lately they seem to be getting over . . . it.”
“That’s fine,” said Thomas briskly.
And then there was the night he took her home. It was the night of the first snow, and it came bursting out of the sky in great wet chunks that turned to mush and molasses in the streets. Suanne was excited by the taste of it in the air and Thomas’s sudden offer. “I’ve got my car here. Better let me drive you back ...”
‘‘Background doesn’t matter,” said Suanne pertly. “You don’t have to see me home.”
She knew at once that she had been too pert, for a strange look came over Thomas’s face—a stillness like the snow. “You’ll get your feet wet,” he said stiffly, “and then you’ll catch cold and can’t come to work."
His fingers were hard and firm under her elbow when he helped her across the sidewalk. “If I should slip,” said Suanne, “I might break a wrist and then I couldn’t typewrite.”
“If you slip,” said Thomas, “I’ll catch you.”
“You always catch my slips, don’t you?” said Suanne.
Thomas did not answer, because just then they reached the car, and the dog was inside —a little rowdy terrier with one bat ear. “Hello, Lohengrin,” said Thomas. He explained diffidently: “I call him that because he’s a low scamp, and he grins.” He rumpled the dog’s hair familiarly, his fingers lingering under the bristly chin. Thomas had a nice way—with dogs.
Lohengrin wriggled in pure joy at the touch. But the little chap had tact. After a courteous greeting to his master’s guest, he took himself into the back seat and pulled the blanket over his head.
“Move over this way,” said Thomas. “The snow comes on your side.”
Suanne moved over obediently, and the car sprang forward.
Outside the snow pressed against the windows and the wind went hurrying by. It was a strange fanciful world they moved through, with the lights swelling grotesquely against the clouded panes, and exploding as they reached them in a shower of gold and snow -and Thomas there beside her. Suanne could see him by the pale light of the half moon where the windshield wiper ticked — just a strip of smooth brown cheek and the end of his nose, between the turned-up collar of his coat and the turned-down brim of his hat. It was a very good straight nose with a little flare at the nostril. But usually even the straightest nose is not an exciting object. It was strange that Suanne should have been so moved by that almost imperceptible flare and withdrawal that was the stirring of Thomas’s breath. She felt his body, hard and straight beside her; curiously tense, though you would not have expected him to be nervous about driving. Oddly it was the warmth of that hard tense body, rather than the cold of the storm, that set Suanne to shivering.
“Are you cold?” said Thomas.
“Yes,” said Suanne hopefully.
“I’ll get the other robe,” said Thomas.
“You can’t,” said Suanne. “Lohengrin is using it.”
Thomas laughed then, and his laughter made the little puckers come in front of his ears. “Then I’ll have to put my arm round you.”
Thomas put his arm round her. It was hard and tense like the rest of his body, and it bundled Suanne up close so that the storm and the wind and the bursting lights were shut outside the small warm circle that it made. The arrangement would have been quite satisfactory, if Suanne had not had a thought. Perhaps it was the slicker, like a cold thin wall across the circle. But Suanne remembered suddenly how you tucked a
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typewriter into a rubber cover, because it was a valuable piece of machinery and must not be injured. Suanne did not want to feel like a typewriter. She drew a little away.
“It’s very uncertain at this season, isn’t it?” she said at random. ‘The weather, I mean.”
“Very,” said Thomas.
It was all like that afterward. The car went plunging through the streets, tossing feathers of slush behind it, and Suanne sat in the circle of Thomas Sherrill’s arm . . . and felt like a typewriter. They talked very fast about nothing.
“I’ll have that Tozier-Osburn brief ready to copy in the morning.”
“Do you often work at night?” “Sometimes. I suppose you go out a great deal yourself?”
“No,” said Suanne. “I have to keep fresh for my work.”
“Oh,” said Thomas.
“Dr. Warner is very nice, isn’t he?” said Suanne.
"I don’t know. I never noticed.”
“You don’t notice people much, do you?” “Some people.”
“Oh,” said Suanne.
“I’m sorry,” said Suanne, “to use up so much time ...”
“Don’t worry,” said Thomas. "Of course I don’t have to stop.”
“I shouldn’t dream of asking you,” said Suanne.
They drew up in a splutter of dirty water at the curb. “So this is where I drop you,” said Thomas.
“It looks like it,” said Suanne.
TT MUST have been the effects of the storm that made Suanne feel so stormy the next morning. She got up hating drab hair and flat shoes and spectacles and capability . . . and kind, blind employers with nice noses and a way with dogs and a care for typewriters.
When she got to the office, she found Thomas looking stormy, too. Probably he had worked too late the night before. He slapped the Tozier-Osburn brief down on her desk as if it had been a beautiful secretary that he wanted to be rid of.
"Disagreeable morning out,” he said. “Disagreeable in, too,” agreed Suanne. She pounded the typewriter as if it were a tall, cross, upsetting lawyer who made prickles in your fingers.
The Tozier-Osburn brief was very' long; and though Suanne pounded the typewriter like fury, and never looked up once, or spoke, or even thought, save fleetingly, of how moving breath can be drawm hard through a thin nostril, or how smooth the back of a neck can be above a clean white collar, still it w'as well on in the afternoon before she finished. She gathered up the pages and cast them untidily down in front of Mr. Thomas Sherrill.
Mr. Sherrill w'as no doubt annoyed at their untidiness. He stared at the scattered pages with distaste. “That’s a prettylooking thing!” he said.
“This is a lawyer’s office,” retorted Suanne, “not a beauty shop.”
“There is no legal provision,” retorted Thomas, “against neatness.”
Suanne does not know to this day whether Thomas really looked at the hem of her skirt or not. Probably not. But at any rate Suanne looked at it herself—and her petticoat showed. The red flew into her cheeks, and the red flew into Thomas Sherrill’s cheeks also. “I’ll fix it,” she said shortly. And she flounced out, feeling like a mad little girl instead of a capable secretary, and slammed the door behind her.
In the dressing room, Suanne had a tantrum. There was no pleasing people. You tried to look capable—and see what came of it. She jerked off the petticoat, and rolled it up and stuck it in the waste box; she threw the bone-rimmed glasses out the window; and in her excitement she tore a hole in the hairnet so that a little gold curl came through and waved like all possessed.
It was really odd, the way things happened. Because of the storm. Suanne felt stormy, and Thomas Sherrill also; and
because they felt stormy they quarrelled about nothing in particular; and because they quarrelled, Suanne tore her hairnet so that a curl stuck up. And all because the curl stuck up—and also because he saw for the first time how slim and lovely she was, and how lightly she moved in spite of the too sensible shoes—Dr. Lucian Warner, when he met her in the corridor, asked Suanne to go to dinner. And because she was very angry at Thomas Mortimer Sherrill, Suanne said she would.
Suanne realized then that she simply could not go back into the office—looking as she did. So she opened the door a very small crack, and explained to Mr. Sherrill in a small voice that she had a headache and was going home. And then she went home.
Suanne spent the rest of the afternoon turning back into herself. She brushed the kinks of braiding from her hair, and swept it soft and loose off her forehead so that it stood up like a curly yellow halo. She examined her lashes to see if they still curled to match—and they did. She put powder on her nose instead of cold cream, and perfume on her chin instead of sticking plaster, and slippers with high gold heels on her feet instead of hygienic shoes. And then she put on the Dress.
Suanne had bought the Dress in case she should happen to need it. It was the frailest, most luscious creamy velvet, with ever so much skirt, and ever so little waist, and a gold girdle. It had a gold-colored wrap to go with it, topped with a fat w'hite collar, and out of the fat white collar Suanne’s head rose like a little golden sun out of a snow bank. She looked at herself from those enormous candid blue eyes—just ever so faintly shadowed by a sleepless night following her cold ride in the snow—and she said to herself firmly that it was fortunate she had the Dress just when Dr. Warner asked her to go out with him . . . and she wouldn’t have gone out with Mr. Thomas Mortimer Sherrill, not under any circumstances.
And then she went downstairs, and Dr. Warner was waiting.
Dr. Warner was impressed, and a little, pleasantly, surprised. He had known the girl had possibilities, but he had not expected them to be so completely, so joyously, fulfilled. It went to his head a little. A little too much.
Suanne began to be troubled. His eyes looked so bright and hot and his lips so bright and moist. And his little toothbrushy mustache looked so pricky—and so close. He put his arm round her and drew her painfully near. Suanne did not like it. When Thomas put his arm round her, she had resented the intrusion of the slicker. But now that there wasn’t any slicker, Suanne had a wild helpless feeling that there wasn’t anything—the frail velvet dress, and the white-furred wrap, and even Dr. Warner’s overcoat were all inadequate against his dreadful urgency. Sitting there stiff, unyielding, she knew that she had put on the Dress for Thomas, turned back into herself for Thomas, in a desperate bright pretense -and now Dr. Warner had shattered her pretending.
“I forgot to mail the letters,” she said suddenly. “I’ll have to go back ...” She had a feeling that if she could be alone a minute, just a minute, in Thomas Sherrill’s empty office, then she could cope with things better. She could begin all over, in the far comer of the seat . . .
Dr. Warner was most obliging. He turned dow'n town again, and drew the car obediently in at the curb in front of the office building.
“You needn’t come,” said Suanne. “I know right where they are ...” She jumped out before he could help her. and gathered up her skirts and fled.
Suanne did not wait for the elevator. She ran up the stairs, the high gold heels clicking on the treads, and down the dimly lighted corridor to Mr. Sherrill’s office door. Her key snapped in the lock, and she swung the door shut behind her. Inside it was dark and very still. Suanne did not turn on the light; just stood there in the darkness.
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It was too silly not to go back—as if she were afraid. Only suddenly it seemed cheap and somehow shameful to let herself be kissed by a man she did not even like . . . because Thomas . . .
She was standing there when the door opened. She had trusted to the spring lock, not noticing that it was off. Dr. Warner was right on her before she knew. He did not speak. His breathing was hoarse and thick. Suanne felt reality wrung out of her, the flexir falling away from her feet. She heard herself cry out, wildly, foolishly: “Let me alone, I hate men with mustaches.”
SUANNE was never quite sure afterward what happened when that tall lean figure rose up from behind the desk, where he had so inexplicably been sitting with his head buried in his arms, and turned on the lights. Only somehow it appeared that Dr. Lucian Warner was outside in the corridor ringing urgently for the elevator, and Mr. Thomas Mortimer Sherrill was inside, looking at his secretary.
“You deceived me,” he was saying sternly.
“Yes,” said Suanne. “I—I wanted to look capable.”
“You look,” said Thomas, “capable of anything.”
“Oh, I am,” said Suanne, tipping up her red lips. “Are—are you very cross with me?”
“Very,” said Thomas. “It always made me cross to see how beautiful you could be. And it made me wild when you wouldn’t look at any one except that dentist fellow. And now it makes me simply furious to think of all the time we’ve wasted.” And he took Suanne in his long strong arms. And he held her up against his long hard body. And he kissed her on her little curly yellow halo, and on her tipped-up lashes, and on the disfigurement in her chin. And Suanne did not feel one bit like a typewriter.
“Then—then you’re not going to fire me?” said Suanne faintly, when she could get her breath.
“Of course I am,” said Thomas severely. “Do you think I’d let my wife work in an