So the evening ended with Billy and Susan in the group about the fire, listening idly to the reminiscences that the holiday mood awakened in the older women. Mrs. Cortelyou had been a California pioneer, and liked to talk of the old prairie wagons, of Indian raids, of flood and fire and famine. Susan, stirred by tales of real trouble, forgot her own imaginary ones. Indians and wolves in the strange woods all about, a child at the breast, another at the knee, and the men gone for food,—four long days’ trip! The women of those days, thought Susan, carried their share of the load. She had heard the story of the Hatch child before, the three-year-old, who, playing about the wagons, at the noontime rest on the plains, was suddenly missing! Of the desperate hunt, the half-mad mother’s frantic searching, her agonies when the long-delayed start must be made, her screams when she was driven away with her tinier child in her arms, knowing that behind one of those thousands of mesquite or cactus bushes, the little yellow head must be pillowed on the sand, the little beloved mouth smiling in sleep.
“Mrs. Hatch used to sit for hours, strainin’ her eyes back of us, toward St. Joe,” Mrs. Cortelyou said, sighing. “But there was plenty of trouble ahead, for all of us, too! It’s a life of sorrow.”
“You never said a truer word than that,” Mrs. Lancaster agreed mournfully. And the talk came about once more to the Harding funeral.
“Good-morning!” said Susan, bravely, when Miss Thornton came into the office the next morning. Miss Thornton glanced politely toward her.
“Oh, good-morning, Miss Brown!” said she, civilly, disappearing into the coat closet. Susan felt her cheeks burn. But she had been lying awake and thinking in the still watches of the night, and she was the wiser for it. Susan’s appearance was a study in simple neatness this morning, a black gown, severe white collar and cuffs, severely braided hair. Her table was already piled with bills, and she was working busily. Presently she got up, and came down to Miss Thornton’s desk.
“Mad at me, Thorny?” she asked penitently. She had to ask it twice.
“Why should I be?” asked Miss Thornton lightly then. “Excuse me—” she turned a page, and marked a price. “Excuse me—” This time Susan’s hand was in the way.
“Ah, Thorny, don’t be mad at me,” said Susan, childishly.
“I hope I know when I am not wanted,” said Miss Thornton stiffly, after a silence.
“I don’t!” laughed Susan, and stopped. Miss Thornton looked quickly up, and the story came out. Thorny was instantly won. She observed with a little complacence that she had anticipated just some such event, and so had given Peter Coleman no chance to ask her. “I could see he was dying to,” said Thorny, “but I know that crowd! Don’t you care, Susan, what’s the difference?” said Thorny, patting her hand affectionately.