“The shore gong rang ten minutes ago, ladies!” said a petty officer at the gang-plank severely.
“Thank God we’re in time!” Lydia answered amiably, with her honest, homely smile.
“You’ve got to hurry; we’re waiting!” added the man less disapprovingly.
Susan, desperate now, was only praying for oblivion. That Lydia and Stephen might not meet—that she might be spared only that—that somehow they might escape this hideous publicity—this noise and blare, was all she asked. She did not dare raise her eyes; her face burned.
“She’s hurt her foot!” said pitying voices, as the two women went slowly down the slanting bridge to the dock.
Down, down, down they went! And every step carried Susan nearer to the world of her childhood, with its rigid conventions, its distrust of herself, its timidity of officials, and in crowded places! The influence of the Saunders’ arrogance and pride failed her suddenly; the memory of Stephen’s bracing belief in the power to make anything possible forsook her. She was only little Susan Brown, not rich and not bold and not independent, unequal to the pressure of circumstances.
She tried, with desperate effort, to rally her courage. Men were waiting even now to take up the gang-plank when she and Lydia left it; in another second it would be too late.
“Is either of you ladies sailing?” asked the guard at its foot.
“No, indeed!” said Lydia, cheerfully. Susan’s eye met his miserably--but she could not speak.
They went slowly along the pier, Susan watching Lydia’s steps, and watching nothing else. Her face burned, her heart pounded, her hands and feet were icy cold. She merely wished to get away from this scene without a disgraceful exposition of some sort, to creep somewhere into darkness, and to die. She answered Lydia’s cheerful comments briefly; with a dry throat.
Suddenly beside one of the steamer’s great red stacks there leaped a plume of white steam, and the prolonged deep blast of her whistle drowned all other sounds.
“There she goes!” said Lydia pausing.
She turned to watch the Nippon Maru move against the pier like a moving wall, swing free, push slowly out into the bay. Susan did not look.
“It makes me sick,” she said, when Lydia, astonished, noticed she was not watching.
“Why, I should think it did!” Lydia exclaimed, for Susan’s face was ashen, and she was biting her lips hard to keep back the deadly rush of faintness that threatened to engulf her.
“I’m afraid—air—Lyd—–” whispered Susan. Lydia forgot her own injured ankle.
“Here, sit on these boxes, darling,” she said. “Well, you poor little girl you! There, that’s better. Don’t worry about anyone watching you, just sit there and rest as long as you feel like it! I guess you need your lunch!”