The love story of a girl who endured the Smell of Frying Parsnips but remembered Poppies in a Turquoise Bowl
NORMA BICKNELL MANSFIELD
IT WAS hot in the ladies’ lounge. “Tropical,” Sully murmured, reddening her lips. Stuffy. Bee called it. She was a working girl and knew how to speak her mind.
“Anyway,” Sully was the smaller of the two, a dryad type, “we aren’t lingering.” She said it resolutely, remembering Herman in his rented tails waiting to stumble through another dance with her.
"Honest, princess,” Bee said, “Ed's never let me down before. He knows some swell guys. He must owe Herman money.”
“I lerman's all right.” Sully closed her eyes for one swift, sustaining moment. “It’s time 1 met the proletariat,”
"You can take punishment.” Bee. superbly built, was blond. She gave an expert yank to ice-blue satin, wriggled her hips. "Lord, princess, how do you stay cool?”
Sully touched one dark eyebrow with unnecessary solicitude. Nature had shaped her face to complement an arrogant arch above each eye. had given her an aristocratic nose to complement the eyes. A Gaines nose, born to wealthy odors and only recently deprived of them.
"Someone forgot her wrap.” Sully had seen it first on entering the lounge, the fur a plushy snowflake flung down and carelessly forgotten on a chromium chair. It was reflected lushly in the mirror; her glance slipjxxi toward it now.
“Oh, go ahead,” Bee said, yawning. She liad used the
same words six months ago in Seaman’s where, as an old girl, she had urged Sully, the new. to ask for a better typewriter. “Here,” she swallowed the yawn briskly and held up the wrap. “Put it on and think of sackcloth.”
“I shouldn't,” Sully murmured weakly, but she did. The jacket clung with subtle knowledge to her smcxjth young curves.
“All right,” Bee said, “that’s that. It fits. So what? So you take it off and ferment after we get home. Things like that are behind you, princess. You’re a working girl.” It was her way of saying you could bask in moonlight but you couldn’t touch the moon. Not twice in a lifetime. “Listen.” she reached for a paper towel to fan the moisture from her face, “I get you a blind date that stands us to a night club, and are you grateful? No. You try on other people’s coats—”
“1 had one like it once.” She stood there looking at the mirrored girl. White against black, ermine touching velvet, gardenia set in cloudy hair. She could remember seeing this same girl in mink and orchids. And not so long ago. Not blessedly long ago.
“Cut it,” Bee said. “You’re a big girl now. A big brave girl playing hopscotch with the wolf. Say. is it hot or am
“Let me keep it on a moment,” Sully began, and stopped.
A man had entered the lounge, had bounded into it.
“If you blease.” It was Karl, the head waiter. His lips
sucked in and out like a trout’s. “If you blease, we are on fire.”
Because he still looked alien and April-foolish standing there, even Bee, the competent, didn’t quite believe him, and then she looked beyond his greying head and saw a smear of smoke against the checkered ceiling.
“Tropical!” she snorted, and pushed Sully toward the door.
THEY tried to stay together. Sully felt the small bones in her wrist move painfully in Bee’s hard grasp, until abruptly Bee let go. Black coats and slippery shoulders met Sully’s clutching hands. A high heel spiked her instep and nerved her for one urgent, thrusting lurch. It carried her outside, still milling with the mob but with fresh air to breathe. Above her head the reassuring flash of colored signs proved the fire was local.
Two hose trucks sprawled in the street, and banks of cars with gaping humans hanging on them jammed the pavement. Sully twisted free of a shrieking woman and found an unexpected avenue between the onlookers. From somewhere off to the right she heard Bee’s sturdy voice calling to Ed; “This way. Get Herman, he’s behind you. Sullv’s clear.”
“This way!” Repeated in her ear, the words were too loud for an echo. A man’s hand cupped her elbow, urging her through the crowd. “The car’s in a garage. Maybe we am stay ahead of the mob.”
“Haven’t you.” Sully had been trained to meet emergency politely, “pressed the wrong button?”
“Good lord!” In spite of crumpled tie and a surprising gash above one eye he looked worth knowing, a tall young man accustomed to his tails. His eyes were blue and puzzled at the moment, but, even puzzled, they had laughter wrinkles at the corners. Staring at her. he forgot to relinquish her elbow. Something in Sully’s manner, perhaps, recalled him.
“Look here.” he had a swift, clipped way of speaking, “that coat . . . My Aunt Miggs wore a white fur wrap tonight. I beg your pardon.”
He turned and shouted back toward the crowd. “Miggs ! Miggs! Don't go away.” he said to Sully. “I’ll be back.” Sully gathered up her long skirts and hailed a taxi, and sat on the edge of the seat the whole way home, trying to summon words to explain envy and covetousness and finally, panic. All done up in a package labelled, “Night club—foolish gesture—fire!’’
When Bee came home she found the wrap, stuffed with newspapers, sitting in a chair. “I am a fugitive from a chain gang,” read the label. Sully was sleeping.
“Well,” Bee said next day. “It’s your rabbit. Why didn’t you wait for them and hand it back to her?”
“Panic. The thought of trying to explain in all that confusion a silly little thing like trying on a jacket.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“I’m trying to think.”
Tension developed between them during the two days Sully tried to think. She could imagine two bleak eyes and an accusing finger pointing at her while she stammered out an explanation no one could be expected to believe. The wrap became a loathsome object. But she left it out where she could see it.
On the second day Bee put her hands on her hips and demanded truculently, “Aren’t names sewed into these sometimes?” She knew the answer, having looked.
“May you never know what it is to get your neck out.” Sully said, and opened the door and went down the hall and called a number on the telephone.
Parsnips were cooking somewhere noisomelv. Sully’s Gaines nose wrinkled in distaste, and when a maid’s voice answered hers, cold and faintly foreign on the wire, everything about the rooming house was suddenly distasteful, soap-slopped stairs and ragged carpeting. More essentially, the iron bedsteads and the scarred bureau and the naked gas-plate she shared with Bee.
It was arranged, in spite of Sully’s momentary nausea, that she would call tomorrow on Miss Margaret Wentworth.
Bee said nothing at all, surprisingly, hearing the name corroborated. She had been washing stockings and with a foam of soapsuds on her wrists she leaned against the door and looked at Sully. Bee’s taste in after-work-hours clothes was florid. She was a blonde who could wear red, but red and purple with an unrelated splash of green made even Bee seem, for the moment, awful.
“You could say that when the fire started you grabbed the first thing handy,” she began at last.
“I could say somebody handed it to me,” Sully put in.
“You could say you’d had a sudden chill and doctor’s orders were doctor’s orders,” Bee finished lamely. “You know who she is, don’t you? She’s guardian of a fresh young mint named Winthrop. John Q. Winthrop when he’s sober.”
It was a name kept resolutely out of society columns, but Sully had seen it in a paper. Splashed on a front page.
“Wasn’t there a girl?”
“Girls,” Bee said succinctly. “He moves in coveys.” She drew a design in the soapsuds drying on her arm. “Still, at that, he hasn’t been too crazy. He’s had something to buck, with all that dough and looking like a collar ad. At least he’s had the courage to drag a couple of ’em into court.” She looked up then at Sully. “Trouble, princess? Look, I’ve got a date tomorrow, but I can call Ed up. It wouldn’t skin my nose at all to take that jacket back. What’d she mean throwing it down like that, anyway?”
"You're sweet, Bee,” Sully said. “It won’t skin my nose either.”
DUT IT did. She put on her black dress, the one she wore with silver bracelets handed down from Gaines to Gaines to Sully. There was a wide black hat, cheap but expensive looking, and black pumps she’d given up lunches for a month to buy. At the end of the bus line she had a four blocks walk through the sullen heat to the Wentworth address, an apartment. A dusky doorman let her into the building. He was expecting her and, moving down the hall toward the elevator, she felt his eyes accusing her straight back.
In the elevator she tried to recall Bee’s handy explanations for an action which, examined now without amusement, looked palpably suspicious.
“A man screamed fire, and I was in the ladies’ lounge, and then I saw this jacket...”
She tried out the patter, silently. Even without words in it, her mouth felt dry.
The door opened swiftly to her ring.
“Please to sit down,” the maid said briskly. Sully knew her type, well paid and competent, snobbish and without humor.
Sully said, “Thank you,” and remained standing. Her knees felt wobbly and the package in her hands became oppressive.
She put it on the hall table. For no reason at all, a faint anger possessed her.
Through an arched door she could see a gracious room, tall French windows draped in hand-blocked linen depicting English scenes; pink-coated hunters, thatched rooftops and rural gardens. Two Whistler etchings chastely framed in narrow black, and under them on an antique table a turquoise bowl and purple poppies. It was a room Sully’s grandmother might have chosen, and when Margaret Wentworth, white-haired and slender as a girl, entered the hall. Sully’s first impulse was to curtsy as she had curtsied not so long ago before her grandmother.
“This is very good of you,” Margaret Wentworth said. Sully’s first impression was of age and severe breeding. “I deserved to lose the jacket. Tea is coming. Won’t you sit down?”
The wise thing would have been to say, “No, thank you,” to have excuser! herself and fled.
Sully said, “This room is beautiful.” She wanted to say, “1 grew up in one like it.” She wanted to say, “Please go away and let me be myself again, in this room where I grew up.” “Night clubs are always hazardous,” Margaret Wentworth began dryly, “butJohnny thinks at my age hazards restore one’s zest for living. I’m trying to keep him from knowing what an effort it is to lx* in the city at this time of year. He’s taken a job,” she said with a swift proud smile. “He builds boats, or helps to build them, being strictly honest. He’s just beginning.”
Her hands, busy with tea things, were thin and brown and ringless. Against the creamy walls she looked brown as old parchment, but strength lay in the delicate line from brow to chin and in her erect body.
“I’m expecting my nephew,” she said when the doorbell rang.
He came in coatless and wearing flannels, as though he had left his work abruptly to make this simple gesture of courtesy. He looked younger by daylight. A neat strip of tape covered the gash above his eye and the eyes had changed. They were still blue, but wary.
“How do you do?” Sully asked gravely.
He didn’t smile. He sjxike abruptly in the swift, clipped way Sully remembered.
“I’m wondering how you found us. What about Scotch and soda, Miggs? And a bucket of ice.”
“Paget is bringing them.”
“You’ll join me?” Johnny said. He looked at Sully as though of course she would, and that would prove something or other he was sure of anyway. A pretty little working girl, making her way.
“Thank you.” Sully said. “I don’t mix tea and whisky.” She wanted suddenly to get away. He looked at her again abruptly, lift«! one shoulder.
“You haven’t told us about locating Miggs.”
The blue eyes were, at last, deliberately mistrustful. “Miss Wentworth’s name was in the coat.”
“It took you two days to discover that?”
“Johnny, please,” Miggs protested.
“Now, wait,” he said, “let’s hear the explanation.”
“I’m not accustomed to giving explanations.” Fury restored her self-assurance. “You’ll forgive me if I stumble.” She turned her back on him and sjx^ke to Miggs, as simply and directly as she would have spoken to her grandmother. She told exactly what had happened. “The coat was lying there. And I was wearing black velvet. I suppose I wanted to see how they would look together.” She almost added, “Again.” “I meant to slip it on just for a moment, then Karl came in and I forgot the coat completely. And after that I— well, got panicky. It was a foolish thing to do,” she said, and swung around to face young Winthrop. “Are there other questions?"
Their eyes crossed fire. Sully thought, “If I perish I’ll never let him know 1 had an ermine wrap once, myself.”
He set his glass down with an abrupt, eager gesture.
“It wasn’t the wrong button after all,” he said. “Except for Miggs, I’d never met an honest woman.”
She held out her hand to Margaret Wentworth. “Thank you for the tea.”
Miggs wouldn’t let her go like that. In the hall she picked up the package and held it out to Sully.
“Please take the jacket. It must be beautiful on you.” The color flamed again in Sully’s cheeks. She doubled one small fist and held her temjïer hard in that.
“Thank you. I’ve had it for two days.”
THE stairs blurred as she started down, and when she reached the street again she paused to force back furious tears. A pretty little working girl, making her way to both of them.
“Look.” Johnny said beside her. “Please forgive me. And let me drive you home. The bus would cost you one whole dime.”
His roadster skxxl beside the curb, amazingly restrained in size and color. “No other passengers.” he pointed out, “and silence from the driver if you want it.”
“In that case,” she decided crisply, “it might be worth a dime.”
He drove with one hand on the wheel, the other resting lightly on the gearshift, and for three blocks maintained silence. Then, peering underneath the wide black brim, he submitted a question.
“Sully for what?”
For Sullivan,” she said and relaxed to the sweep of cool air on her cheeks.
“A queer name, isn’t it, to give a girl?”
“Queer people sometimes think so,” Sully said. This was familiar ground, remembered territory, driving beside a man who understood how to be casual and friendly. She clung to the moments. They meant so much more than the luxury of cool air on her cheeks. A Gaines, she’d told herself a thousand times, could face disaster undefeated. And she had for a year, one long grim year. Compared to that, this moment was pure ecstasy.
“Hungry?” Johnny said, and after a long moment Sully nodded. A reckless little rxxl designed to turn one moment into two.
They ate in a small restaurant where the clothes they wore had no significance. Starting from scratch, they had a lot to talk about jitterbugs and swing and night clubs that caught fire, and the terrifying grandeur of moonlight on tall buildings. Johnny laughed easily and freely, and ate his bread with butter side turned down, and ordered milk to drink. And Sully liked him.
Again Sully nodded. They found a place near the rail, and Sully pulled off her hat to let the wind push through her hair.
“You’ve got it all pinned up in back,” he said. “Not like the other night.”
“What bright eyes you have, grandpa !”
“You’re very beautiful,” he said. “Why didn’t you accept Miggs’ wrap? She offered it because she liked you.”
He was more than a full head taller, and with a crowd behind +hem forcing them against the rail and close together, his eyes were near hers, no longer cool or wary.
“Look,” Sully said. Small boats were drifting down the river, their riding lights dull, fallen stars against the brighter lights along the shore. “Tugs creeping home, and glad to be anonymous. Suppose a big boat offered one of them a beacon?”
“They’d snap it up,” he told her promptly.
“Which proves,” she said, “you don't know tugs. They have their work to do and they’re important. What could a beacon do to help them? Nothing except remind them of a splendor they can’t touch. It might even break their pride, or create envy. Tugs, in their way, are very wise.”
He put an arm on either side of her, bracing himself away from the rail, reserving space for both of them.
“Fur jackets have nothing to do with tugs,” he said.
She turned in the small space and answered wildly.
“You can’t begin to understand what I’ve been saying. What do you know about small boats, or beacons either? Neither means anything to you because you’ve never known what it was to be one, wanting the other. You’ve never slept in a bed that sags in the middle and creaks at both ends. You’ve never had to piece a tube of toothpaste out with soda, to make it last a month and stay within your budget. You’ve never tried to live a life you didn’t want or understand or cherish.” She stopped and drew a quivering breath.
“Why are you saying all this,” he asked, “against your will?”
She turned from him blindly.
“I don’t quite know,” she said. "Just call it education.”
Let it go at that, her thoughts continued. How would it help to tell him I’ve been starved for all the things I had been taught to live by, poppies in a turquoise bowl and tea served from a silver pot in a quiet room where noise and sweat and the smell of parsnips frying would be barbaric.
She’d asked for pity with her outburst; let it be the pity he would feel for any struggling office girl with debutante ideas. At least she could keep the bitterer truth from him, that courage to try to stay alive against odds she had never known existed had not been included in her training. Nor in his.
He drove her home in silence, and at the door he took her lightly by the shoulders and kissed her on the lips.
“Why did you do that?” she asked, trembling.
“I had to know how much you liked me. An honest woman like you. Look up here and let me see your eyes again.”
A policeman on his beat swung past. Someone pushed up a window and leaned out. A child began to cry.
“It’s late,” Sully said, uncertainly.
“And you’re a little tug, come daylight. Good night. I’ll be around again, Sullivan Gaines.”
SHE climbed the stairs on dreary feet, and found Bee sitting up in bed, her hair pinned in fiat curls against her head.
“Nothing you’d approve,” Sully said. “Don’t scold me. Bee.”
Bee threw back the covers and found her mules and helped her to undress.
“Get into bed,” she said, “and let me rub your neck.” And presently; “Don’t listen to my thoughts, princess. They go with indigestion. Relax. You’ve had a tough break any way you look at it. Take what you can get while you can get it. That feel better?”
“He’s sweet, Bee. Almost as sweet as you are.”
“Yeah? Well, don't trust him.”
It took a week for Johnny to become a habit. No more than that. A habit Sully liked, vaguely defiant because Bee held back stubbornly on her approval.
“It would be all right,” she said, “if he knew who you were.”
“You’re taking it too seriously,” Sully said. “This is a summer spasm and summer’s almost over. Besides,” and here defiance became militant, “he should be able to figure some things for himself.”
“What things?” Bee said dryly.
Sully withheld her answer. She couldn't say to Bee, “Like recognizes like, or should. I am a Gaines. And he’s a Winthrop.” Oddly there hadn’t been much that being a Gaines had done to build her up with Bee.
Instead of answering she stood beside the bed, fingering a package that had come that day, a package similar to others she had scorned to open.
“I’ve been needing clothes,” she said, not looking at Bee. “Mari has good taste.” Mari was a cousin still basking in the sun.
“Give that to me,” Bee said peremptorily. “I’ll put it in the Goodwill bag, same as always. What’s happening to you, princess? You’re losing all the ground you’ve gained. Besides, it isn’t fair to Johnny.”
“Johnny,” Sully said a little bitterly, “won’t know the difference.”
She took the gowns out one by one. And all her former life breathed fragrance from them.
“I’ll keep just one,” she said at last and stuffed the others back into the box. “Here,” giving the box to Bee, “hide them.”
She wore a Chanel suit to work next day. And later Johnny liked it.
“These shops do pretty well by fifty cents,” he said.
“Don’t they?” In the same breath she added resolutely. “I needed something warmer.”
'I’he gash above his eye was healed. A brief red scar remained and managed somehow to emphasize the candid blueness of his eyes. Sully had learned his face by heart, the quick lift of his eyebrows when she spoke to him, the way he had of kx)king down at her, a glance of swift content. “Merely a summer spasm,” she repeated often.
They were in the car, moving out toward a chicken dinner in a place where they could dance without recurrent proddings.
“I’m giving a party,” Johnny said, one firm possessive hand on both of Sully’s. “Coming?”
“I might.” In what, she wondered. Against her will, the blue chiffon by Faquin, in Mari’s box, came to her mind. With silver pumps and silver bracelets.
“It’s time,” Johnny was saying, “you met some friends of mine.”
It was as close as he had come to mentioning futures. Sully’s heart moved up a notch. She thought of orchids pinned to a silver bag, and chiffon rippling at her heels. And Johnny’s friends admiring. She thought of Margaret Wentworth, brown as old parchment, holding out a gracious hand.
“I’m coming,” Sully said, and wondered, terrified, if the Goodwill bag had been collected. She couldn’t wait till morning to find out. She couldn’t wait to bid a lingering farewell to Johnny.
With her latchkey still in hand she closed the door behind her and sped down the smelly hall to the dusty closet underneath the stairs. There was no light, but, fumbling in the dark, she found the bag, and, fumbling further, felt the cool delight of chiffon against her fingers. She drew the Paquin out and hurried up the stairs. Bee was asleep. With a gesture halfdefiant, Sully spread the blue dress out across a chair.
Bee saw it in the morning and said nothing.
“I’m going to a very special party,” Sully pleaded. “I had to have a very special dress.”
“You’re headed,” Bee said flatly, “for some very special trouble.”
"K yflGGS was Johnny’s hostess, her fragile elegance enhanced by pearls and satin. Around her the familiar room made Sully feel at home again, as though the broken pattern of her life could be miraculously welded here.
“This is very good of you.” Miggs took her hand. “We honest women have to stand together.” She introduced her as a friend of Johnny’s. “Earning her living,” Miggs said simply, and Sully remembered how proud she had been announcing Johnny had a job.
The guests were people Sully might have met at Cannes or Murray Bay, and hadn’t. Selles Hampton of the boating Hamptons. Wynne Lane, whose charm, in spite of two divorces, remained dewy. Judge Winship, paunchy and good-natured; and a tall dark-haired beauty, Paula Wellington. Sully moved among them easily and gaily. She heard Judge Winship’s favorite story, retold with gusto for her benefit. Selles Hampton asked her to go sailing. She looked up to see Johnny’s blue eyes being proud of her. And Paula Wellington, coolly staring.
Paula Wellington, tall and too thin, with a too perfect make-up, bending her head to Johnny’s words. And Sully knew with a quick inner knowledge that Paula had claimed Johnny’s time quite recently, completely.
“You really came,” she said to Sully now. “We had to make Johnny plan a party to get you here. I thought you were a myth.”
“Myths are old-fashioned,” Sully responded sweetly. “Do you know much about them?” From across the room Johnny saluted with his eyes.
They talked at dinner of things Sully had known about for years. And had forgotten. She was silent, not trying to recall them. It was enough to share a candlelighted table, to have a damask napkin in her lap.
“Things,” Sully thought. “I’ve let things gain too much importance.”
Later, when they had left the table, Paula played and sang for them, brittle French things mostly, in a high, deceptively sweet voice. Still sitting at the piano, with Johnny turning pages for her, she spoke across the room to Sully.
“You’ll recognize these, of course. They were new last spring in Paris.”
“Oh?” Sully said politely.
“You must have been there at the same time I was, observing the collections. I tried that gown you’re wearing. Paquin, isn’t it?”
What was it Bee had said? “—Some very special trouble.” Sully kept her grave, dark eyes on Paula while a thousand words of explanation, terrible, painful words, exploded in her mind. She didn't look at Miggs. Or Johnny.
“Or a good copy.” Sully said.
“Why is it." Paula’s voice was plaintive, “a working girl is never willing to admit how much she makes? Something to do with unions, I suppose. And labor troubles.”
In that tense, bitter moment, the evening broke in two for Sully. Johnny looked up with the quick lift of head Sully had learned from him. He stared at her a brief, bewildered second before he smiled in answer to her gay salute. She wasn’t surprised. despite the smile, that in the car on the way home he asked, elaborately casual :
“What’s the name of that shop where you buy your clothes?”
“You'd never find it,” Sully said remotely.
“Maybe I would.” he answered lightly. “I’m not so dumb.”
It seemed to her his words held double meaning. \\ hen she was in her room again the tears fell furiously.
“You should have told him.” Bee said urgently.
“If he doesn’t know by this time—” “Princess,” Bee said, “you’re an ostrich. Skin off your clothes and let me rub your neck.”
“He won't be back.” It sounded like a question.
“Well.” Bee said brusquely, “what do you care? Summer’s over.”
rT'HE next day passed without a word from Johnny, and the day after that. He came while they were doing dishes the next night. Bee answered his knock, expecting Ed. She left him staring at the room, and summoned Sully, who came from the kitchen with an apron tied around her.
“Hello,” she said.
He put down his hat and came across the room to take her hands. His eyes were heavy, as though he needed sleep.
“Something went wrong the other night,” he said. “I’m sorry, Sully. I have to be honest. About that dress, the blue one you were wearing. Paula swears it was made in Paris.”
Sully withdrew her hands. She moved a step away from him.
“You mean the Paquin model?”
“It is a copy, isn’t it?”
“No. No, it isn’t.”
Johnny said nothing. He stood there waiting for an explanation.
“But you told Paula,” he said painfully, at last, “it was a copy.”
“No. No, I didn’t. I said, ‘Or a good copy.’ ”
Her words were clipped and pleasant. Impersonally pleasant.
“Sully,” Johnny began.
“You’d like an explanation? Is that it? You think I may have found a Paquin model forgotten in a ladies’ lounge?’’
“I d like to know,” stiffly, “where you did find it.”
“You want to hear me say I didn’t steal it?”
“I want to hear the truth,” Johnny said doggedly. “You’ve become the only world I know.”
“A world you haven’t quite believed, or trusted.”
“Look at my side of it,” he said quietly. “Ever since I can remember, people I’ve trusted have gone sour on me. It hasn't mattered too much. It’s made me careful.”
“Or has it?” Sully answered. “Remember me.”
“Easy, princess,” Bee broke in unhappily.
“A lot of tricks have worked with me.” Johnny went on, “because I’ve been dumb enough to think I have a few characteristics worth more than my money. You’re honest, Sully, honest enough to admit it could look funny, the way you waited two whole days returning Miggs’ coat. Long enough to find out who she was.”
“I told you how that happened.”
“I know you did. And I believed you. I’ll believe you now, if you’ll give me a chance.”
“A chance to believe I didn’t plan to marry you for your money? A chance to find out if I really am honest, or just another bright horizon you’ve had fun exploring? It didn’t occur to you that if I were honest I might resent being called a thief? Of course it didn’t. Why should it? A man with your reputation for letting himself he fooled wouldn’t know integrity if he saw it.”
“If I saw it.” Johnny said, with unexpected sharpness, “I might. And you haven’t answered my first question.”
“I don’t intend to.”
“Now, look here, princess—”
“This is my medicine. Bee,” Sully said. “I’ll take it.” Bee opened the door and closed it behind her. Johnny picked up his hat. Tight, hard lines had settled near his lips.
“I suppose I should be bright enough to figure this thing out.”
“I’ve thought that all along,” said Sully.
“Maybe I have figured it. Maybe the answer's what I thought it could be, on my way over here."
“And what was that?” politely.
“Another runaround. Only this time I’m pulling out before the pocketbook gets scorched. Good-by, Sully. Too bad the trick exploded.”
“Yes.” Sully said, between white lips, “isn’t it?”
The door slammed shut behind him.
BY MORNING Sully’s eyes were feverishly bright and wide. And she had made up her mind to move. The day was Sunday, and by evening Bee had established them in another room, safely distant but otherwise the same. Sully flew relentlessly from task to task, accomplishing nothing. Until Bee spoke abruptly from the mirror.
“All right, princess, that’s enough. Sit down. You have to work tomorrow. And drink that cup of soup."
“I don’t want if.”
“Listen,” Bee said, and the fact that she had cold cream smeared on either cheek did nothing to dilute the quality of her anger, “you walked yourself into this with your eyes open, and now you think you can shut ’em and back out. The point is, princess, you’ve got large ideas. You think because you’re a Gaines from Pine Avenue everybody in the whole world should see it without asking. Well, let me tell you something. You aren’t the only pretty girl in this big world. What do you think you’ve got that can’t be copied?”
“If Johnny loved me-—”
“Did Margaret Wentworth recognize your ancestry? She did not ! She took you at face value. Better than face value, considering you had swiped her coat.” “That’s not fair,” unsteadily.
“Don’t talk to me about fairness! The first unfair thing you did was to put it up to Johnny to recognize you as a pearl without naming your oyster bed. Baby, that boy’s been stung by experts. lie asked you a simple question and didn’t demand affidavits. That’s love, princess.” “He should have known ”
“Oh, go to bed. Here, let me rub your neck.”
Sully took to tramping through the evenings, walking anywhere, everywhere, just walking. Until she understood, at last, how precious time had been when she was sharing it with Johnny. The realization crept up on her in spite of everything she did to deny it.
“I'll never let him know,” she told herself in bitter triumph. And went on walking, wearing out the endless hours left to her after work.
One day Bee put her hands on her hips, and Sully looked up and saw the gesture.
“Don’t,” she cried wildly, “don’t say it, Bee!”
Bee dropped her hands.
“It’s a relief to know,” she said, “you’re being honest with yourself.”
“I love him. But he wouldn’t want to hear it now. He wouldn’t even listen.” “Probably not,” Bee said.
Sully went out the door and up to the first landing and called a number on the telephone. She had never known such suffocating madness as the beating of her heart. It made her voice sound hushed and timid on the phone.
A maid’s cool, faintly foreign accent answered her question. Mr. Winthrop had left the apartment six weeks before, giving no other address.
“May I speak to Miss Wentworth?”
Miss Wentworth had sailed for Europe two weeks ago that day.
“Thank you,” Sully said, and hung up and sat down on the upper step of the landing, until presently Bee came out and found her.
“Poor baby,” Bee said, and took her in her arms. Sully looked up with a funny little gesture.
“I know now how he felt, coming against a blank wall, which was me. Bee, I’ve got to find him. I've got to tell him everything. He'll never trust himself again, unless I tell him. He has to know that he was right, that I am honest.”
“Sure.” Bee said, “sure. Of course he does.” And Sully understood that even Bee was helpless in this worst emergency.
BECAUSE the present held no interest and the future held no promise, she went back again to the places she had been with Johnny. Boat rides cost her almost as much as her meals. They brought her more enjoyment. Sometimes she couldn’t secure the exact spot at the rail where she had stood that first night with Johnny’s arms on either side of her to give her elbowroom. The night they’d talked of tugs and beacons. Occasionally some man spoke to her, but she had grown accustomed to ignoring that. It hadn’t occurred to her for weeks that Sullivan Gaines deserved something better than being jostled in a mob. Sullivan Gaines deserved nothing but the torment she was having.
It rained one night but she went anyway, and stood in the remembered place and let the raindrops wash her face. Someone came up to stand behind her. She heard him but she didn’t turn. There was room on deck that night for several other people.
“You’re getting wet,” a stiff voice said in her ear. Bee would have said, “What’s it to you?” Sully didn’t answer. A hand appeared beside her on the rail, and presently another hand on the other side of her. She turned.
“You’re thin as a Belgian bean,” Johnny said. “You’ll blow away.”
Forlorn tails of water bannered from his hat, and his face looked thin and weary in the shadow.
“Oh, Johnny,” she caught hold of his lapels. “Where have you been?”
“Working,” Johnny said, “and riding river boats.”
“It’s been a nightmare. Johnny, listen! Until a year ago I was Sullivan Gaines of Pine Avenue. And that was enough, with money to back it. Our money didn’t last. Yours did, but that’s the only difference.
I thought you should have seen it for yourself.” Her lips were getting stiff with cold, and with the certainty that Johnny didn’t want to hear all this. “My cousin sends me cast-off clothing every season. That’s where the Paquin model came from. That’s all -except, I love you, Johnny.” The ferry bumped against the pier.
“Come on,” Johnny said sharply, and took her arm. He put her in the car and drove until, not far from where she lived, he let her out and led her up a flight of stairs, inside a door, and up another flight. And through another drxrr.
There was a naked gas-plate and an iron bedstead.
“I’m living here,” he said, “on what 1 make from learning to build boats. I don’t like it, but I'm learning a lot of things I needed to know. About what makes people like you want what people like me have. I nearly starved the first week, but I’m doing better.”
Sully turned away from him, and touched the naked gas-plate.
“It needs cleaning,” she told him, unsteadily.
“Sully, I’m staying here. I’m going to go on staying here for quite a while.”
“You shouldn’t leave the butter out. It melts.”
“I could I could help you, Johnny. I’ve learned a lot of things myself.”
He held her off and looked at her. And tcx)k her in his arms. After a long time, “Honeymoon here?” he said.
“It will be heavenly,” Sully whispered.