It was one of the perfect experiences only possible to youth and irresponsibility. They swam, they went for the Seventeen-Mile Drive, they rode horseback. Ella knew every inch of the great hotels, even some of the waiters and housekeepers. She had the best rooms, she saw that Susan missed nothing. They dressed for dinner, loitered about among the roses in the long twilight, and Susan met a young Englishman who later wrote her three letters on his way home to Oxfordshire. Ella’s exquisite gowns had a chapter all to themselves when Susan was telling her cousins about it, but Susan herself alternated contentedly enough between the brown linen with the daisy-hat and the black net with the pearl band in her hair. Miss Saunders’ compliments, her confidences, half-intoxicated the girl.
It was with a little effort that she came back to sober every-day living. She gave a whole evening to Mary Lord, in her eagerness to share her pleasure. The sick woman was not interested in gowns, but she went fairly wild when Susan spoke of Monterey,—the riotous gardens with their walls of white plaster topped with red pipe, the gulls wheeling over the little town, the breakers creaming in lazy, interlocking curves on the crescent of the beach, and the little old plaster church, with its hundred-year-old red altar-cloth, and its altar-step worn into grooves from the knees of the faithful.
“Oh, I must see the sea again!” cried Mary.
“Well, don’t talk that way! You will,” Lydia said cheerfully. But Susan, seeing the shadow on the kind, plain face, wished that she had held her tongue.
It was late in July that Georgianna Lancaster startled and shocked the whole boarding-house out of its mid-summer calm. Susan, chronically affected by a wish that “something would happen,” had been somewhat sobered by the fact that in poor Virginia’s case something had happened. Suddenly Virginia’s sight, accepted for years by them all as “bad,” was very bad indeed. The great eye-doctor was angry that it had not been attended to before. “But it wasn’t like this before!” Virginia protested patiently. She was always very patient after that, so brave indeed that the terrible thing that was coming swiftly and inevitably down upon her seemed quite impossible for the others to credit. But sometimes Susan heard her voice and Mrs. Lancaster’s voice rising and falling for long, long talks in the night. “I don’t believe it!” said Susan boldly, finding this attitude the most tenable in regard to Virginia’s blindness.
Georgie’s news, if startling, was not all bad. “Perhaps it’ll raise the hoodoo from all of us old maids!” said Susan, inelegantly, to Mr. Oliver. “O’Connor doesn’t look as if he had sense enough to raise anything, even the rent!” answered Billy cheerfully.
Susan heard the first of it on a windy, gritty Saturday afternoon, when she was glad to get indoors, and to take off the hat that had been wrenching her hair about. She came running upstairs to find Virginia lying limp upon the big bed, and Mary Lou, red-eyed and pale, sitting in the rocking-chair.