December was unusually cold and bleak, that year, and after the holidays came six long weeks during which there were but a few glimpses of watery sunlight, between long intervals of fogs and rains. Day after day broke dark and stormy, day after day the office-going crowds jostled each other under wet umbrellas, or, shivering in wet shoes and damp outer garments, packed the street-cars.
Mrs. Lancaster’s home, like all its type, had no furnace, and moisture and cold seemed to penetrate it, and linger therein. Wind howled past the dark windows, rain dripped from the cornice above the front door, the acrid odor of drying woolens and wet rubber coats permeated the halls. Mrs. Lancaster said she never had known of so much sickness everywhere, and sighed over the long list of unknown dead in the newspaper every morning.
“And I shouldn’t be one bit surprised if you were sickening for something, Susan,” her aunt said, in a worried way, now and then. But Susan, stubbornly shaking her head, fighting against tears, always answered with ill-concealed impatience:
“Oh, please don’t, auntie! I’m all right!”
No such welcome event as a sudden and violent and fatal illness was likely to come her way, she used bitterly to reflect. She was here, at home again, in the old atmosphere of shabbiness and poverty; nothing was changed, except that now her youth was gone, and her heart broken, and her life wrecked beyond all repairing. Of the great world toward which she had sent so many hopeful and wistful and fascinated glances, a few years ago, she now stood in fear. It was a cruel world, cold and big and selfish; it had torn her heart out of her, and cast her aside like a dry husk. She could not keep too far enough away from it to satisfy herself in future, she only prayed for obscurity and solitude for the rest of her difficult life.
She had been helped through the first dreadful days that had followed the sailing of the Nippon Maru, by a terrified instinct of self-protection. Having failed so signally in this venture, her only possible course was concealment. Mary Lord did not guess—Mrs. Saunders did not guess—Auntie did not guess! Susan spent every waking hour, and many of the hours when she was supposedly asleep, in agonized search for some unguarded move by which she might be betrayed.
A week went by, two weeks—life resumed its old aspect outwardly. No newspaper had any sensational revelation to make in connection with the news of the Nippon Maru’s peaceful arrival in Honolulu harbor, and the reception given there for the eminent New York novelist. Nobody spoke to Susan of Bocqueraz; her heart began to resume its natural beat. And with ebbing terror it was as if the full misery of her heart was revealed.