“Billy, how could I? Right in the next office!”
“Well, that’s an advantage, in a way. It keeps the things in his mind. Either way, you’re no worse off for stopping everything now, Sue. If he’s in earnest, he’ll not be put off by that, and if he’s not, you save yourself from—from perhaps beginning to care.”
Susan could have kissed the top of Billy’s rumpled head for the tactful close. She had thrown her pride to the winds to-night, but she loved him for remembering it.
“But he would think that I cared!” she objected.
“Let him! That won’t hurt you. Simply say that your aunt disapproves of your being so much with him, and stop short.”
Billy went on working, and Susan shuffled her pack for a new game.
“Thank you, Bill,” she said at last, gratefully. “I’m glad I told you.”
“Oh, that’s all right!” said William, gruffly.
There was a silence until Mary Lou came in, to rip up her old velvet hat, and speculate upon the clangers of a trip to Virginia City.
Life presented itself in a new aspect to Susan Brown. A hundred little events and influences combining had made it seem to her less a grab-bag, from which one drew good or bad at haphazard, and more a rational problem, to be worked out with arbitrarily supplied materials. She might not make herself either rich or famous, but she could,—she began dimly to perceive,—eliminate certain things from her life and put others in their places. The race was not to the swift, but to the faithful. What other people had done, she, by following the old copybook rules of the honest policy, the early rising, the power of knowledge, the infinite capacity of taking pains that was genius, could do, too. She had been the toy of chance too long. She would grasp chance, now, and make it serve her. The perseverance that Anna brought to her hospital work, that Josephine exercised in her studies, Susan, lacking a gift, lacking special training, would seriously devote to the business of getting married. Girls did marry. She would presumably marry some day, and Peter Coleman would marry. Why not, having advanced a long way in this direction, to each other?
There was, in fact, no alternative in her case. She knew no other eligible man half as well. If Peter Coleman went out of her life, what remained? A somewhat insecure position in a wholesale drug-house, at forty dollars a month, and half a third-story bedroom in a boarding-house.
Susan was not a calculating person. She knew that Peter Coleman liked her immensely, and that he could love her deeply, too. She knew that her feeling for him was only held from an extreme by an inherited feminine instinct of self-preservation. Marriage, and especially this marriage, meant to her a great many pleasant things, a splendid, lovable man with whom to share life, a big home to manage