Hornets in Heaven
A story of modern marriage, its pitfalls and its hard-won joys
MARGARET LEE RUNBECK
CY DIDN’T read the telegram. In the excitement of the conference, he jammed it into his pocket without opening it; then he forgot all about it because the moment the door closed, with the client on one side and his important signature on the other side, the firm rose as one man and clapped him on the shoulder. Even Uncle Milt, the president, who had been afraid to present the daring advertising campaign to such a conservative client, was beaming and wringing Cy’s hand.
Half of them were saying. “Boy, I didn’t think you had it in you.” And the other half were boasting that they always knew Cy could deliver when the moment came. But all of them meant the same thing—and that was that Cy Upton, the outrageous, reckless youngster, had saved the day for all the fine old conservatives who knew he would come to no good end.
After the first hilarious moment, all of them began bolting out of the conference room to tell all their large and little worlds that they were on their feet again, and to go ahead and breathe freely.
“I’ve got to be telling Susie,” Cy said, in a large offhand voice. “She’s probably sitting on the edge of her chair up there in Hill Haven.”
“Give her my regards, too,” Uncle Milt said. “Tell her I say she’s got a husband who’s a credit to her.”
“I doubt if she suspects that, sir.” Cy tried to look modest and properly embarrassed, but he succeeded only in looking uncomfortable. “There’s been a lot of difference of opinion on that, Mr. Keene,” Cy said. “Most of the faith has been in the first person singular. And I can’t say that I blame ’em, myself.”
“Susie had the faith,” Uncle Milt said quickly. “She married you, didn’t she?”
"Susie just couldn’t take a dare,” Cy said. “Susie could never resist the impossible.”
“That’s a harsh word to call yourself,” Uncle Milt said, beaming at him with those babyish blue eyes, which dwelt so calmly behind their glass houses. “Well, get along and tell her.”
All the desks in the agency had their telephones tilted, and everyone was talking excitedly into them. Even the office boy was telling the finance company that he wasn’t going to turn in his car after all ; the old librarian, his elbow
absent-mindedly in the paste pot. was pompously advising his wife that she might just as well go ahead and buy the linoleum for the kitchen.
“Give me a booth and an outside line,” Cy shouted to the switchboard as he swaggered out of the conference room, looking as if he were a son-of-a-Santa Claus.
He knew that everyone would know lie was telephoning to tell Susie. So that’s the way he looked triumphant and amorous. But when the folding door of the booth was closed and he had the receiver in his hand, and the outside operator was chirping expectantly in his ear. there wasn’t anything that he could say. Because, of course, he wasn’t going to tell Susie. He wasn’t going to tell her good things or bad ever again, because, good or bad, it was nothing to Susie.
EVERYONE had known from the start that it wouldn’t work. Everyone, except Susie and Cy. And while two may be company, it is the crowd that makes the majority. Everyone knew it wouldn’t work, and everyone stood around expectantly, waiting with happy regret for the explosion.
Even Susie’s fam-
ily—that very modern family of hers, whose managing psychology was so obvious that it enraged Cy — showed quite blandly that they could afford not to oppose. They could afford to be gracious—and waif.
‘Tm r.ot having your rooms done over, darling,”mother had said to Susie. “We had thought of making them into a guest suite, but I think under the circumstances we’ll just leave them.” They were always loyally assuring Susie tliat of course they liked Cy, as though they were a somewhat eccentric minority who could afford to like any outrageous thing they chose.
Even Cy’s blunt father, a small-town newspaper editor, made no bones about Cy’s marriage being only a temporary adventure. “I suppose wild oats have gone out of style,” he said to Cy, “but as near as I can make out, there isn’t much difference. Marriage is probably politer, and of course it gives the lawyers something to do. Besides, how you going to keep the gal in clothes? Those shoes alone. . .”
“Susie doesn’t care about clothes,” Cy said. “Susie’s got character. You just wait and she’ll show you.”
“That’s what I’m thinking,” dad said. “Well, I’ll be around, son, when you need me.”
Susie and Cy said to each other, mutually apologetic for their families and all their friends, and even for the press in which they briefly blazed: "It’s just that they’re old and cynical, darling. They have more faith in money than in love. They let all this business about possessions and big houses, and stuff, mix ’em up. We belong to the new race.”
“We’re going to run it, too,” Cy said. “We’re going to run this race until we fall in our tracks. It’s just us against the rest of them.”
“Us against everything,” Susie promised. And they both liked the little shiver down their backbones.
That would have been all right if that’s the way it had gone. But somehow it didn’t.
They moved into a house just big enough for two, and
the dickens of that was that four of them moved in, for Susie and Cy each brought their own monster pride, and that kept the house impossibly crowded.
It began, promptly enough, with Susie’s trunks. Mother had liad sixteen of them packed—enough to send a whole finishing school abroad. The first night that they were in that absurd, idyllic little house with petunias peeping in the kitchen windows, the cavalcade of station wagons arrived, and the several chauffeurs set the trunks all over everything, until there wasn’t room for Cy even to walk. He stood there, a wild-haired giant in a cage of shiny trunks, cussing.
“It’s just some kind of a joke,” Susie explained, but her scalp was tingling with rage against mother and all her skill at contrast. Mother knew how those trunks would dwarf everything in the house, and make all their gay cheap little furniture not gay but gaudy. “Don’t you worry about them, darling,” Susie said. “I’ll get rid of them tomorrow.”
“Meantime, we’ll have to sleep in a baggage room,” Cy said, trying not to be stuffy about it. Then he admitted honestly, “It isn’t the trunks, of course. It’s only that if I
work from now until I’m seventy, I’ll probably never be able to buy you sixteen trunks like those and all the stuif that’s in them.”
“But don’t you see?” Susie said. “I’ve left all that stuff. It didn’t mean enough to me, Cy. Just one little wiggle of your finger and I came running, didn’t I?”
“You came running,” he said, and climbed over the trunks to her. A kiss blotted out everything for the moment, and they sat on them and laughed and loved and healed each other’s hurt.
“We’ve got to love each other more than most people do,” Cy said, seriously.
“We do, Cyrus.”
“Love’s all we have,” he said. He would have liked to make her understand why he had to believe she loved him; her great unreasonable love was all the justification there was for her, a very rich girl, marrying a poor dub of a copy writer.
“There’s no doubt about me,” Susie said. “I had to beg you to marry me.”
“Yep. That’s right.” He could not tell her that he couldn’t beg her, couldn’t even ask her.
“But you love me now, Cy.”
“I love you now. And just as long as you’re a good girl, Shoesie.” And that was his way of saying, “Just as long as there’s a sky and an earth, beloved.”
But every time he remembered the trunks, Cy had to squirm with outraged pride. “I’ll buy her trunks,” he said between his teeth. “If she ever goes to visit those people, I’ll send up forty trunks. I’ll show ’em I can take a joke.”
THROUGH THE months they did honestly try, but the whole scale of their lives was absurdly out of balance. When Cy said something was expensive, he meant that it cost twenty-five dollars; when Susie said something was ridiculously cheap, she meant it cost one hundred and forty. And that was the whole synopsis of their not-quitea-year of marriage.
Marriage, it seems, can survive anything except humiliation. And when very modern people, who, to start with, are a little sheepish about being earnest, find that their own
earnestness is playing a practical joke on them, that’s bitter acid in the sting of humiliation. They were continually trying, and then finding that the trying wasn’t anywhere good enough. Cy was continually stretching his last cent to provide something grand for Susie, and then discovering that it was humorously trivial. Susie was continually pinching down her wants to their tiniest dimensions, and when she was expecting praise for all this economy, Cy would have to say, “But, Shoesie, we can’t afford it. We couldn’t even afford half that much.” And their very souls would prickle with shame.
They hurt each other, and then they healed each other, and it was all pretty sweet business.
“We don’t deserve each other,” Susie said, as her tears ran down his neck and made a puddle on his collarbone. “We live in heaven and we’re too dumb to know it.”
“We live in heaven and we act like hornets,” Cy said. “But it’s all my fault, darling!”
“No. It’s mine. I want to make good, and I’m so vain I blame my failures on you.”
“I’m vain. I’m ashamed because I’m poor and you deserve a better man.”
“There are no better men, Cy. None I could love better.”
“Yep. I guess you’re right.” he said. “You are pretty crazy about me, aren’t you?”
“You know I am.”
But every time they moved, they tripped over the matter of money. Every time they moved, they bumped into each
other’s large and tender pride, until everything was one big bruise.
“You talk about the rich caring about money,” Susie used to say angrily. “It’s the poor that worship it. Everything they know has a dollar mark in front.”
“It has to have,” Cy said. “And the poor have to be good sports in order to live in this kind of a world.”
"So you think I’m not,” Susie had deduced. “And why should I be? I doubt if it’s worth it, after all.”
They had said a lot of very terrible things to each other, because they had cared too much and now were so hurt by their own helpless betrayals. But they remembered those things as people always remember quarrels, not as a dialogue but only a monologue of grievance. Susie remembered only what Cy had said, and Cy knew only tliat Susie hadn’t wept so he’d have a chance to kiss her and comfort her, but that she had stood up proudly and said she might have known from the beginning. Had said, in fact, that possibly all those people were right who had suggested that what Cy really cared about was money and that was why he was marrying her, Susie Duane.
“That’ll be about all,” Cy said, when they reached this point. “You can pack up those nasty little spoiled-brat manners of yours in your sixteen trunks and go on home. It’ll take the sixteen to hold ’em. But I’m through tryinf to make a human being out of you.”
“A human being, indeed! A cook, and a darner, and a penny stretcher.”
So she had gone out and got into Cy’s old car and had driven away, not even mentioning whether or not she would send back one of the chauffeurs with it. After all, cars were no more to Susie than umbrellas to other people. Good manners suggested you return them, but if you forgot, it wasn’t important.
“She’ll come back,” he had said to himself as he went in and began picking up the Sunday morning breakfast dishes. “After all, she’s pretty crazy about me or she wouldn’t have got us into a mess like this.”
Susie had to be crazy about him, and he had to keep telling himself she was every time his own shortcomings hurt him. But in his heart, he was only a little boy frightened in the dark in spite of his cowboy suit.
Suppose she didn’t come back? Suppose she expected him to come crawling up there to get her? Come panhandling up to the Duane front door and say to the butler, “Please may I have my wife back?” She knew he couldn’t ask for things. The poor can never ask; only the rich have that privilege.
“She’ll come back,” he said to himself all that day and all the next week. “And I hope it teaches her a lesson.” But he was scared to death under his cowboy suit.
THAT WAS when he began telling everybody all the brave lies. “I’ve sent Susie off for a little rest,” he said, cockily. “Like to have gone with her myself, but things are pretty busy right now for me.”
“You could have gone,” Uncle Milt had told him. “Why don’t you clean up things today and run up tonight and surprise her?”
Of course Cy couldn’t do that, even if there hadn’t been his famous old pride to argue with. He couldn’t have gone, because he didn’t know where she was.
Every time the phone rang, he thought it was a longdistance apology from Susie. Maybe he would pretend he wasn’t going to forgive her—for about two minutes. Probably she was at the Duane summer place in Magnolia, and they would expect him to take a couple of weeks off and go up. Susie probably wouldn’t tell them anything was wrong. No matter how violently they desecrated their marriage to each other, they were passionately loyal about it to other people. He couldn’t make up his mind whether he would go or not; but that didn’t matter because they never asked him.
He hardly knew when all his bravado quaked into panic; one day he was devising unique penances for Susie, and the next day he knew he had lost her forever and that it was all his fault, his stubborn, proud fault.
He knew Susie hadn’t gone home when her mother called up and invited them both for the week-end. He endured a day of nightmare imagining terrible things that might have happened to her. He would have to notify the police ! . .
Then she did telephone, and all his anguish bristled to anger because of that anguish. “I’m staying at Aunt Sarah’s house in Hill Haven,” Susie had said stiffly. “You can tell people anything you please.”
“I’m not telling them anything,” Cy said. “I avoid unpleasant subjects.”
“I suppose you’re getting along all right.” “Wonderfully,” he said. “The happiest years of my life were the first twenty-five, you know.”
“So they were,” Susie said. “Well, I had twenty-three myself.”
“Cut yourself another twenty-three,” Cy said. “It’s okay by me.”
And they hung up, a little farther apart than ever. But still not far enough apart for them to admit to the bystanders that it had been a mistake.
Cy wrote really quite a masterpiece of a letter, explaining his point of view. He said it was a matter of craftsman-
ship with him, nothing more. He said he would like to leave his marriage in as good condition as he had found it. And if Susie would please have a little sportsmanly patience about it, he’d like to clean up the debris in a nice orderly way—which meant paying off the sum of debts before they mentioned divorce. “First and last,” he said, “marriage has been nothing but a botched budget, but in the interests of good bookkeeping, I’d like to see it balanced before the books are closed.”
SUSIE AGREED to all this with cold good manners, and the spring blossomed into summer, so that it was more than ever reasonable to go on telling the lies about Susie’s vacation. Matter of fact, it was a vacation, as was all the time that Susie had ever spent in her life.
“Don’t picture me up here wilting and grieving,” she had written. “I’m having one grand time. And of course I hope you are.”
“Hmm, I’ll say I am,” Cy growled when he read that, and he tried to think up something really annoying to tell her so she’d see how splendidly he got along without her.
“I have a houseful of guests. Amusing people. Though I’m afraid they’d bore you. Of course you couldn’t help admiring the major with all his handsome adventures. And there’s Mimi Valentine, the actress. Mimi insists the major is in love with me, but mostly that is to hear me contradict and assure her she’s the one ...”
“So he’s in love with her, is he?” Cy cried. “Well, I’ll tell her about some affair I’m carrying on.' And he reviewed all sorts of affairs, which he wasn’t carrying on, and then scorned to write about them. Child’s play, that would be. He’d better spend his time writing a grand campaign for a client . . .
“Next time I marry,” Susie wrote, “it’s going to be an older man who knows how to appreciate a woman. I never realized how unromantic and matter-of-fact are most of the men I’ve known, until I knew Major Prentiss. Could anyone make poetry out of anything we ever said to each other, for instance? The other evening after we’d been for a walk, he slipped a little poem under my door ...”
“Heck, you don’t make poetry out of life,” Cy said to himself. “You make life out of poetry. There aren’t any fine words when you care the way we used to, but the metre pounds in your hearts and rhymes in your eyes. Ours used to—heck, what’m I talking about?” And his throat hurt him, so he went in and gargled.
“To heck with it all. Thank heaven, it’s over and stuff like that,” he said to himself. But there was something the matter with his eyes, and he guessed he’d been reading too late at night.
So with Susie, it wasn’t just anger and hurt pride; it was defeat, admitted and accepted. For she could talk about marrying again. Well, he’d talk about marrying again, too. He’d write up some good love poetry and get it published in a magazine she’d be sure to see. “To Second Love.” No, she might think he was counting that fool little Barven girl
Continued on page 64
Hornets in Heaven
Continued from page 9—Starts on page 7
as the first, and take this one to herself. “To E.J.” That’d give her something to think about . . .
“I’ve learned such a lot about love, being away from you, Cyrus,” Susie wrote. “I had no idea what love was, before.”
ITe swore, but there was no profanity in his vocabulary to blot out the heresy of Susie learning about love, away from him.
Week-ends were pretty terrible, because everyone assumed he’d be dashing up to the country, and he was too proud in his pretense to accept even the few invitations people did think of offering. “Awfully sorry,” he would say, “but you know how Susie is.”
“About you,” they said, and grinned at him. “Well, go to it, boy.”
Then he’d have to spend his time dodging like a criminal into movies, in neighborhoods where he’d be sure he would meet none of their friends. It certainly would have been a lot simpler to have admitted that everybody had been right, everybody except themselves. But he just couldn’t do it.
AND NOW, here he was this morning, a\. standing in the telephone booth, pretending to call up Susie and tell her he was the big guy of the day, the bacon-saver, the contract-getter. Famley and Jones came past the booth, and he put a big foolish grin on his face and mumbled into the receiver. Farnley yanked open the door and stuck in his old busybody head.
“Wait a minute, Susie,” Cy said to the astonished operator, who was still chirping, “Number, please.” “There’s a guy breaking and entering.”
“Tell her to come on home,” Famley said. “We’ve just been talking about giving you a big party. Here, let me talk to her.”
“Talk on your own nickels,” Cy said, and he goodnaturedly elbowed him out and closed the door with his foot. But there was a trickle of dampness between his shoulder blades, and he wished he were a million miles away from all this wounding pretense.
Uncle Milt was waiting for him as he came out of the booth. “Naturally you’re on your way up to Susie, I suppose.”
“Naturally I would be,” Cy said.
“You’ll be driving up in your own car?”
“No. Susie’s had the custody of that,” and he grinned as though he could afford to joke about custodies.
“Well, I was thinking,” said Uncle Milt. “How’s to my running up with you? I’ve got an errand to do up there. I could drop you off and see Susie for a minute.”
People who walk around continually in a lie sooner or later find themselves suddenly stripped, as in those nightmares which modest people have. Cy clutched his tattered pretenses about him, but apparently Uncle Milt saw nothing wrong, just a young executive being disconcerted by the president visiting him unexpectedly.
“That’d be great,” he stammered. “I know Susie’ll be tickled to death. Surprised, too.”
“Maybe we ought to wire her,” Uncle Milt said considerately.
And that was the first moment that Cy remembered the telegram which he had jammed unread into his pocket before the conference. He took it out and looked at it, and suddenly was afraid to open it. In his blur of excitement about the conference, he had assumed that it was some routine office business, but now he realized that only personal telegrams were delivered. And Cy had no personal business except Susie; and no personal business about Susie that could be anything but bad. He mumbled an apology and turned a little aside to open the yellow envelope.
“Please come immediately. We must talk things over with you. Major Bertram Prentiss.”
So all that romantic business between Susie and the major had come to something. Ai?d now he was sending her telegrams for her. And now he was condescendingly ordering her husband to appear, so that he could tell him just what was expected of him. And now Susie had learned about love, and, being modem people, another man was going to tell him about it.
A crumbling of despair shocked through him at the realization that Susie and he must negotiate their meetings now through some third person. And then, quickly, as had always been his fine old masculine custom, he blotted out the despair with his more habitual anger. Whenever anything hurt him, he quickly got angry about it, and that made it bearable—something he could fight.
“That’s good,” he said to himself. “It’s about time we cleaned this up. So Susie’s going to marry the major.”
Under the numbed pain of knowing, he felt separately forlorn and hurt, because he saw now that all these dialogues which he liad been carrying on in his mind with Susie were undoubtedly one-sided, for Susie, falling in love again, certainly had no time to be muttering to herself vindictive tit-for-tat toward him. When people no longer care, they graciously forgive, and he felt very bleak and neglected about being forgiven.
“We’ll make a party of it,” Uncle Milt was saying. “I’ll take up some of my champagne, and we’ll drink to the new contract.”
“The new contract,” Cy said, “that’s the stuff to drink to,” and he liked the irony of that. He whooped with the double-edged mirth of that meaning.
Uncle Milt’s eyes, so gentle and blue, living in their glass houses, looked a little bewildered at all this vehement response.
When they were in his car, he said, "You’d better drive, Cy; you know these roads. I imagine you can make ’em in your sleep, all the times you’ve been up during this summer.”
THAT WOULD be just one more devilish thing to get through, because Cy had no idea at all where the village was or how to reach it. He might just as well stop here and now, and tell Uncle Milt the truth. But when he glanced at him, the old gentleman looked so kind and defenseless, so utterly unprepared for any of the violence which caring can cause, that Cy didn’t know how to begin. He had never known how to talk about hiô troubles anyway; he knew only how to disguise them with a grin, no matter how much they ate into him.
“Susie seems to have liked it up here in the country,” Uncle Milt said. “I was quite surprised when her father told me she wouldn’t go abroad with them this year. Guess we can’t expect scenery to compete with romance, can we?” he beamed fatuously.
So they’d gone abroad, and Susie hadn’t gone ! Even in the early summei she must have chred enough about that devilish, fancy-named major to give up travelling so she could hang around some sleepy little village where he was—learning about love. Well, that would be okay.
They drove and drove, and sometimes Cy knew they were off the course and dared not stop to enquire. Uncle Milt talked on happily and innocently.
“It’s Hill Haven we’re headed for, isn’t it?” Uncle Milt said. “I have a friend in that town myself, a doctor. Matter of fact, he wrote and asked me if I could do a favor for him. Wanted me to deliver a prescription to a patient.”
“Did you do it?”
“Can’t say yet. Doing favors is sometimes dangerous work.”
It was getting dark now, and Cy was
weary and sick of all this. Even if he found Hill Haven, he’d have to stumble around the streets trying to locate the house.
He didn’t even know what kind of a house she lived in. He realized that now. Though he had pictured Susie living up here, it had been in a house built of dream specifications. A white house, of course, with green shutters, a gracious classic house, with sun spattering through old ¿ms, a fanlight over the door, and longvaisted windows. A sentimental picture nobody ever could accuse him of!
And in it, dwelt a sentimental picture of Susie, her eyes lighted by tea-time candles, her mouth the shape of a wifely caress. Certainly not the scanty Susie who stood up straight and proud and insulted his dignity; who thought up cruder things to soy than even he could think of.
He felt forlorn and sick of it all, like a child who’s had to imagine all his fun because nobody invited him to the party. He bent over the wheel and tried to think dearly. He longed suddenly to give in to bis loneliness and misery, to stop juggling bright balls in the air. But of course one can’t stop.
Now they were on Hill Haven road. Dark houses, hooded in vines, went past, lights burning warmly in their hearts. Frost had sharpened the autumn air, and there was the homesick smell of burning leaves and supper-smoke across the twilight. It was coming-home time, but he vas on his way to grapple with a better man, about Susie. Houses went past them along the quiet street, but there was no gracious white house in which Susie might be waiting, looking up happily into her new lover’s eyes and saying beautiful words to him such as “we” and “us.”
Suddenly the street ended in a field, like a sentence trailing into silence. Cy stopped the car behind a battered coupé standing before the last house on the road, and leaped out, determined to ask someone his way, and never mind what Uncle Milt thought.
“When you see Doc Parsons, son,” Uncle Milt said, “tell him I’ve got all the faith in the world in his prescription. And good luck, Cy.” And the vague old boy reached out and grasped Cy’s hand.
“What’s he talking about?” Cy muttered to himself, as he dashed up the walk and knocked at the door of a rambling old house. He was trembling with weariness and chagrin at this dismal errand into shame. The door opened, and a middleaged woman, tear-stained and crumpled, peered out resentfully into the darkness.
“Will you tell me, please, if Mrs. Cyrus Upton lives on this road?”
“Come in,” she said, and gulped. “The doctor’s still here, but I think you’d better just go on up, Mr. Upton,” she said surprisingly.
Three very old ladies, blurred and vaguelooking, stood in the hall behind her, all whispering at once. Without quite comprehending, Cy started up the stairs, and then suddenly he felt strength surging into his ankles, and he ran. He ran and prayed without words.
At the top of the stairs was a small, tenderly-lighted room, with three people in it, still and solemn, as though they were waiting for death itself. Light spilled across a broad bed, and in the centre of it, tossed down like a doll, lay Susie, a softfaced, burning-eyed Susie, with curly
golden braids laid obediently outside the sheet. All the despair and stubbornness, all the self-dignity and the silly shame of caring what anyone thought, were drained out of Cy’s heart when he saw her, and the only thing that mattered was that Susie— naughty, adorable, sassy little Susie—was still and angelic-looking, because she was most terribly ill.
“That’s the way our little girl would have looked,” he thought wildly. “And now we’re never going to have a little girl ...”
A BENT, white-haired man sat beside her bed, holding her wrist in his waxy old fingers, and murmuring something or other in the comforting way of old country doctors. A tall, tanned young man stood beside the blue window, looking as if his heart would break if anything happened to Susie. He was no gay debonair major at this moment; he was only a man like Cy himself, frightened at this silent rival who threatened to snatch Susie from all of them. Cy, who had driven a hundred miles with hatred in his heart, who had muttered vehement abuse under his breath every time he’d thought of him all these days, wanted somehow to comfort him now.
Susie stirred on her pillow, and a vagrant smile wandered homesickly across her lips, looking as if it had lost its way in that room. “Everybody that comes in here looks like Cy to me,” she said in a clear little fragile voice. “I suppose that is because I want Cy so much.”
In his rough, smoky-smelling topcoat, Cy was suddenly on his knees beside her bed. Fie wanted to take her little hand from the old man, but he was afraid of hurting her, because his own hands were trembling, and some rough thing was fluttering in his chest like a bird imprisoned. Tears were on his face, and he didn’t try to pretend they weren’t. Fie, who’d never admitted a tear, even when he was six.
“Susie, don’t die,” he was saying. “Go away and stay for ten years, if you want to. That’d give me time to learn to take care of you, Susie. But if you died, what’d life be for?”
Her dark sweet eyes stood quiet a long moment and looked at him. “I won’t die. And I’m not going anywhere, now that you’re here,” she said, in a voice that was as thin as the whisper of sleet against a window, “if this is you, Cy. Darling?” The tall young man came over and touched the old white head bent and unnoticed beside the bed. The young man said to Cy, “You better be alone with her for a few minutes, Cy. But be careful. She’s pretty sick, and she’s still in the woods. The child has worked herself to death.”
Cy looked up into his fine brown eyes, and a flood of understanding flowed through him for this man, who, loving Susie, was suffering as he had suffered himself because of her. lie wanted him to know he wouldn’t take advantage of this sick weakness of Susie; he wouldn’t get any mad notions about her meaning what she seemed to be saying. For the first time in his life, he felt a sort of meekness. He didn’t want to fight; he wanted to be still and try to understand . . .
“I know, old man,” he said.
The major and the doctor went out of the stricken room with its heartbreakingly gay frills and its frivolous petticoat on the dressing table. They closed the door, and Cy thought swiftly, “This may be the last time we’ll ever be in a little room alone together. Oh, God !”
“I’m not delirious,” Susie was saying. “But I’m happy enough to be.”
“Don’t talk, precious. The major’s a grand guy, Susie. I don’t blame you . . .” “I was so lonesome, Cy. I didn’t want you to suspect. You said you didn’t miss me.”
“I died missing you. I’ve been dead, walking around, pretending to myself. It nearly finished me, Susie.”
“You could have come, Cy.”
“Begging. I thought I couldn’t, Susie.
Change of Address
Subscribers who are changing their addresses should advise us at least five weeks in advance so that no issues may be missed.
Mailing lists have to be prepared considerably in advance of actual mailing date. If notice of change of address has not reached us before mailing list has been prepared, change cannot be made until next issue.
But I could have. I’m begging now . . . I’d beg on the housetops if it’d help; if it wasn’t too late ...”
“I’ve saved three hundred dollars,” Susie said. “I earned it myself. I’ve taken in boarders, Cy—sweet old people nobody else wanted around ... I can make a bed without any wrinkles ... I bake a pie every morning, and I painted all this furniture ...”
“Oh, Susie. You must love that guy, darling.”
“I do,” she said. “I always have.” “Then don’t ycu worry about anything,” he whispered. ‘I’ll arrange it for you. You don’t have to tell me about it, darling. I understand. In six months you can have your divorce, and marry the major.” He said it steadily so she’d hear how matterof-fact he could be about it, but his voice suddenly broke under the weight, and he put his face down on the bed, so she wouldn’t see. But this time he was pre-
tending, not to spare himself but to spare Susie.
“The major?” Susie said wearily. “He’s seventy, Cy.”
She motioned weakly toward the vacant chair where the old man had sat, and Cy understood dizzily then that the burningeyed young man on the other side of the bed was not the major but the doctor. The doctor, of course, who had asked Uncle Milt to see that he got up here tonight. All that prattling about a prescription Uncle Milt was bringing up—why he was the prescription !
He saw then that Uncle Milt’s maddeningly-stupid intrusion all through this day had been but an old-fashioned gentleman’s manner of helping a man to manage his own affairs. He had brought him here and dumped him, and then had gone on about his own business . . .
“Don’t let them suspect, Cy, that we’ve
Continued on page 67
Continued from page 66
quarrelled,” Susie was whispering. “I’ve never told them. They’re old and they believe in things, and I just told them— little lies—about how much we love each other ... I just pretended we understood how to help each other . . . ”
“Oh, Susie . . . ”
“I slipped away week-ends sometimes to pretend I was going home to you. I’ve got used to thinking of you as a very gentle person . . . ”
“I am, underneath. I’m all melted down, Susie . .
“Take me back, Cy. I could help now.
I could dam for you so you wouldn’t have to limp ... I can cook, darling . . . And I’ve patience, and I know what loneliness is, and how to be poor without being petty.”
“You’ve learned about love, Susie. I’ve learned, too, dearest.”
“I’ve worked and worked to make myself into somebody who could help, if you ever wanted me to belong to you again.. .” “You couldn’t belong to anybody else,” he said. “You’ve always been crazy about me, haven’t you?” And there he was back again, the old bragging Cy. But his mouth was trembling.