But to-night she lay awake for a long time. Susan was at twenty-one no more than a sweet and sunny child, after all. She had accepted a rather cheerless destiny with all the extraordinary philosophy and patience of a child, thankful for small pleasures, enduring small discomforts gaily. No situation was too hopeless for Susan’s laughter, and no prospect too dark for her bright dreams. Now, to-night for the first time, the tiny spark of a definite ambition was added to this natural endowment. She would study the work of the, office systematically, she would be promoted, she would be head girl some day, some day very soon, and obliged, as head girl, to come in and out of Mr. Peter Coleman’s office constantly. And by the dignity and gravity of her manner, and her personal neatness, and her entire indifference to his charms—always neat little cuffs and collars basted in her tailor-made suit—always in her place on the stroke of half-past eight—
Susan began to get sleepy. She turned over cautiously, and bunched her pillow comfortably under one cheek. Hazy thoughts wheeled through her tired brain. Thorny—the man on the dummy—the black king—
Among Mrs. Lancaster’s reminiscences Susan had heard none more often than the one in which the first appearance of Billy Oliver and his mother in the boarding-house was described. Mrs. Oliver had been newly widowed then, and had the round-faced, square-shouldered little Billy to support, in a city that was strange and unfriendly. She had gone to Mrs. Lancaster’s intending merely to spend a day or two, until the right work and the right home for herself and Billy should be found.
“It happened to be a bad time for me,” Mrs. Lancaster would say, recalling the event. “My cook had gone, the house was full, and I had a quinsy sore throat. But I managed to find her a room, and Alfie and George carried in a couch for the little boy. She borrowed a broom, I remember, and cleaned out the I room herself. I explained how things were with me, and that I ought to have been on my back then! She was the cleanest soul I ever saw, she washed out the very bureau drawers, and she took the little half-curtain down, it was quite black,—we used to keep that window open a good deal. Well, and we got to talking, and she told me about her husband’s death, he was a surveyor, and a pretty clever man, I guess. Poor thing, she burst right out crying—”
“And you kept feeling sicker and sicker, Ma.”
“I began to feel worse and worse, yes. And at about four o’clock I sent Ceely,—you remember Ceely, Mary Lou!—for the doctor. She was getting dinner—everything was upset!”
“Was that the day I broke the pitchers, Ma?”
“No. That was another day. Well, when the doctor came, he said bed. I was too wretched then to say boo to a goose, and I simply tumbled in. And I wasn’t out of bed for five weeks!”