And no festivity was thought by Freda to warrant Alfred’s approach to his old habits. She never allowed him so much as a sherry sauce on his pudding. She frankly admitted that she “yelled bloody murder” if he suggested absenting himself from her side for so much as a single evening. She adored him, she thought him the finest type of man she knew, but she allowed him no liberty.
“A doctor told Ma once that when a man drank, as Alfie did, he couldn’t stop right off short, without affecting his heart,” said Mary Lou, gently.
“All right, let it affect his heart then!” said the twenty-year-old Freda hardily. Ma herself thought this disgustingly cold-blooded; she said it did not seem refined for a woman to admit that her husband had his failings, and Mary Lou said frankly that it was easy enough to see where that marriage would end, but Susan read more truly the little bride’s flashing blue eyes and the sudden scarlet in her cheeks, and she won Freda’s undying loyalty by a surreptitious pressure of her fingers.
One afternoon in mid-November Susan and Mary Lou chanced to be in the dining-room, working over a puzzle-card that had been delivered as an advertisement of some new breakfast food. They had intended to go to market immediately after lunch, but it was now three o’clock, and still they hung over the fascinating little combination of paper angles and triangles, feeling that any instant might see the problem solved.
Suddenly the telephone rang, and Susan went to answer it, while Mary Lou, who had for some minutes been loosening her collar and belt preparatory to changing for the street, trailed slowly upstairs, holding her garments together.
Outside was a bright, warm winter day, babies were being wheeled about in the sunshine, and children, just out of school, were shouting and running in the street. From where Susan sat at the telephone she could see a bright angle of sunshine falling through the hall window upon the faded carpet of the rear entry, and could hear Mrs. Cortelyou’s cherished canary, Bobby, bursting his throat in a cascade of song upstairs. The canary was still singing when she hung up the receiver, two minutes later,—the sound drove through her temples like a knife, and the placid sunshine in the entry seemed suddenly brazen and harsh.
Susan went upstairs and into Mary Lou’s room.
“Mary Lou—–” she began.
“Why, what is it?” said Mary Lou, catching her arm, for Susan was very white, and she was staring at her cousin with wide eyes and parted lips.
“It was Billy,” Susan answered. “Josephine Carroll’s dead.”
“What!” Mary Lou said sharply.
“That’s what he said,” Susan repeated dully. “There was an accident,—at Yellowstone—they were going to meet poor Stewart—and when he got in—they had to tell him—poor fellow! Ethel Frothingham’s arm was broken, and Jo never moved—Phil has taken Mrs. Carroll on to-day—Billy just saw them off!” Susan sat down at the bureau, and rested her head in her hands. “I can’t believe it!” she said, under her breath. “I simply cannot believe it!”