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Chapter 29


THE inhabitants of the little house in Passy were of necessity
early risers; but when Susy jumped out of bed the next morning
no one else was astir, and it lacked nearly an hour of the call
of the bonne's alarm-clock.

For a moment Susy leaned out of her dark room into the darker
night.  A cold drizzle fell on her face, and she shivered and
drew back.  Then, lighting a candle, and shading it, as her
habit was, from the sleeping child, she slipped on her dressing-
gown and opened the door.  On the threshold she paused to look
at her watch.  Only half-past five!  She thought with
compunction of the unkindness of breaking in on Junie Fulmer's
slumbers; but such scruples did not weigh an ounce in the
balance of her purpose.  Poor Junie would have to oversleep
herself on Sunday, that was all.

Susy stole into the passage, opened a door, and cast her light
on the girl's face.

"Junie!  Dearest Junie, you must wake up!"

Junie lay in the abandonment of youthful sleep; but at the sound
of her name she sat up with the promptness of a grown person on
whom domestic burdens have long weighed.

"Which one of them is it?" she asked, one foot already out of

"Oh, Junie dear, no ... it's nothing wrong with the children ...
or with anybody," Susy stammered, on her knees by the bed.

In the candlelight, she saw Junie's anxious brow darken

"Oh, Susy, then why--?  I was just dreaming we were all driving
about Rome in a great big motor-car with father and mother!"

"I'm so sorry, dear.  What a lovely dream!  I'm a brute to have
interrupted it--"

She felt the little girl's awakening scrutiny.  "If there's
nothing wrong with anybody, why are you crying, Susy?  Is it you
there's something wrong with?  What has happened?"

"Am I crying?"  Susy rose from her knees and sat down on the
counterpane.  "Yes, it is me.  And I had to disturb you."

"Oh, Susy, darling, what is it?"  Junie's arms were about her in
a flash, and Susy grasped them in burning fingers.

"Junie, listen!  I've got to go away at once-- to leave you all
for the whole day.  I may not be back till late this evening;
late to-night; I can't tell.  I promised your mother I'd never
leave you; but I've got to--I've got to."

Junie considered her agitated face with fully awakened eyes.
"Oh, I won't tell, you know, you old brick, " she said with

Susy hugged her.  "Junie, Junie, you darling!  But that wasn't
what I meant.  Of course you may tell--you must tell.  I shall
write to your mother myself.  But what worries me is the idea of
having to go away-- away from Paris--for the whole day, with
Geordie still coughing a little, and no one but that silly
Angele to stay with him while you're out--and no one but you to
take yourself and the others to school.  But Junie, Junie, I've
got to do it!" she sobbed out, clutching the child tighter.

Junie Fulmer, with her strangely mature perception of the case,
and seemingly of every case that fate might call on her to deal
with, sat for a moment motionless in Susy's hold.  Then she
freed her wrists with an adroit twist, and leaning back against
the pillows said judiciously:  "You'll never in the world bring
up a family of your own if you take on like this over other
people's children."

Through all her turmoil of spirit the observation drew a laugh
from Susy.  "Oh, a family of my own--I don't deserve one, the
way I'm behaving to your"

Junie still considered her.  "My dear, a change will do you
good:  you need it," she pronounced.

Susy rose with a laughing sigh.  "I'm not at all sure it will!
But I've got to have it, all the same.  Only I do feel
anxious--and I can't even leave you my address!"

Junie still seemed to examine the case.

"Can't you even tell me where you're going?" she ventured, as if
not quite sure of the delicacy of asking.

"Well--no, I don't think I can; not till I get back.  Besides,
even if I could it wouldn't be much use, because I couldn't give
you my address there.  I don't know what it will be."

"But what does it matter, if you're coming back to-night?"

"Of course I'm coming back!  How could you possibly imagine I
should think of leaving you for more than a day?"

"Oh, I shouldn't be afraid--not much, that is, with the poker,
and Nat's water-pistol," emended Junie, still judicious.

Susy again enfolded her vehemently, and then turned to more
practical matters.  She explained that she wished if possible to
catch an eight-thirty train from the Gare de Lyon, and that
there was not a moment to lose if the children were to be
dressed and fed, and full instructions written out for Junie and
Angele, before she rushed for the underground.

While she bathed Geordie, and then hurried into her own clothes,
she could not help wondering at her own extreme solicitude for
her charges.  She remembered, with a pang, how often she had
deserted Clarissa Vanderlyn for the whole day, and even for two
or three in succession--poor little Clarissa, whom she knew to
be so unprotected, so exposed to evil influences.  She had been
too much absorbed in her own greedy bliss to be more than
intermittently aware of the child; but now, she felt, no sorrow
however ravaging, no happiness however absorbing, would ever
again isolate her from her kind.

And then these children were so different!  The exquisite
Clarissa was already the predestined victim of her surroundings:
her budding soul was divided from Susy's by the same barrier of
incomprehension that separated the latter from Mrs. Vanderlyn.
Clarissa had nothing to teach Susy but the horror of her own
hard little appetites; whereas the company of the noisy
argumentative Fulmers had been a school of wisdom and

As she applied the brush to Geordie's shining head and the
handkerchief to his snuffling nose, the sense of what she owed
him was so borne in on Susy that she interrupted the process to
catch him to her bosom.

"I'll have such a story to tell you when I get back to-night, if
you'll promise me to be good all day," she bargained with him;
and Geordie, always astute, bargained back:  "Before I promise,
I'd like to know what story."

At length all was in order.  Junie had been enlightened, and
Angele stunned, by the minuteness of Susy's instructions; and
the latter, waterproofed and stoutly shod, descended the
doorstep, and paused to wave at the pyramid of heads yearning to
her from an upper window.

It was hardly light, and still raining, when she turned into the
dismal street.  As usual, it was empty; but at the corner she
perceived a hesitating taxi, with luggage piled beside the
driver.  Perhaps it was some early traveller, just arriving, who
would release the carriage in time for her to catch it, and thus
avoid the walk to the metro, and the subsequent strap-hanging;
for it was the work-people's hour.  Susy raced toward the
vehicle, which, overcoming its hesitation, was beginning to move
in her direction.  Observing this, she stopped to see where it
would discharge its load.  Thereupon the taxi stopped also, and
the load discharged itself in front of her in the shape of Nick

The two stood staring at each other through the rain till Nick
broke out:  "Where are you going?  I came to get you."

"To get me?  To get me?" she repeated.  Beside the driver she
had suddenly remarked the old suit-case from which her husband
had obliged her to extract Strefford's cigars as they were
leaving Como; and everything that had happened since seemed to
fall away and vanish in the pang and rapture of that memory.

"To get you; yes.  Of course."  He spoke the words peremptorily,
almost as if they were an order.  "Where were you going?" he

Without answering, she turned toward the house.  He followed
her, and the laden taxi closed the procession.

"Why are you out in such weather without an umbrella?" he
continued, in the same severe tone, drawing her under the
shelter of his.

"Oh, because Junie's umbrella is in tatters, and I had to leave
her mine, as I was going away for the whole day."  She spoke the
words like a person in a trance.

"For the whole day?  At this hour?  Where?"

They were on the doorstep, and she fumbled automatically for her
key, let herself in, and led the way to the sitting-room.  It
had not been tidied up since the night before.  The children's
school books lay scattered on the table and sofa, and the empty
fireplace was grey with ashes.  She turned to Nick in the pallid

"I was going to see you," she stammered, "I was going to follow
you to Fontainebleau, if necessary, to tell you ... to prevent

He repeated in the same aggressive tone:  "Tell me what?
Prevent what?"

"Tell you that there must be some other way ... some decent
way ... of our separating ... without that horror.   that horror
of your going off with a woman ...."

He stared, and then burst into a laugh.  The blood rushed to her
face.  She had caught a familiar ring in his laugh, and it
wounded her.  What business had he, at such a time, to laugh in
the old way?

"I'm sorry; but there is no other way, I'm afraid.  No other way
but one," he corrected himself.

She raised her head sharply.  "Well?"

"That you should be the woman.  --Oh, my dear!"  He had dropped
his mocking smile, and was at her side, her hands in his.  "Oh,
my dear, don't you see that we've both been feeling the same
thing, and at the same hour?  You lay awake thinking of it all
night, didn't you?  So did I.  Whenever the clock struck, I said
to myself:  'She's hearing it too.'  And I was up before
daylight, and packed my traps--for I never want to set foot
again in that awful hotel where I've lived in hell for the last
three days.  And I swore to myself that I'd go off with a woman
by the first train I could catch--and so I mean to, my dear."

She stood before him numb.  Yes, numb:  that was the worst of
it!  The violence of the reaction had been too great, and she
could hardly understand what he was saying.  Instead, she
noticed that the tassel of the window-blind was torn off again
(oh, those children!), and vaguely wondered if his luggage were
safe on the waiting taxi.  One heard such stories ....

His voice came back to her.  "Susy!  Listen!" he was entreating.
"You must see yourself that it can't be.  We're married--isn't
that all that matters?  Oh, I know--I've behaved like a brute:
a cursed arrogant ass!  You couldn't wish that ass a worse
kicking than I've given him!  But that's not the point, you see.
The point is that we're married ....  Married ....  Doesn't it
mean something to you, something--inexorable?  It does to me.  I
didn't dream it would--in just that way.  But all I can say is
that I suppose the people who don't feel it aren't really
married-and they'd better separate; much better.  As for us--"

Through her tears she gasped out:  "That's what I felt ...
that's what I said to Streff ...."

He was upon her with a great embrace.  "My darling!  My darling!
You have told him?"

"Yes," she panted.  "That's why I'm living here."  She paused.
"And you've told Coral?"

She felt his embrace relax.  He drew away a little, still
holding her, but with lowered head.

"No ... I ... haven't."

"Oh, Nick!  But then--?"

He caught her to him again, resentfully.  "Well--then what?
What do you mean?  What earthly difference does it make?"

"But if you've told her you were going to marry her--" (Try as
she would, her voice was full of silver chimes.)

"Marry her?  Marry her?" he echoed.  "But how could I?  What
does marriage mean anyhow?  If it means anything at all it
means--you!  And I can't ask Coral Hicks just to come and live
with me, can I?"

Between crying and laughing she lay on his breast, and his hand
passed over her hair.

They were silent for a while; then he began again:  "You said it
yourself yesterday, you know."

She strayed back from sunlit distances.  "Yesterday?"

"Yes:  that Grace Fulmer says you can't separate two people
who've been through a lot of things--"

"Ah, been through them together--it's not the things, you see,
it's the togetherness," she interrupted.

"The togetherness--that's it!"  He seized on the word as if it
had just been coined to express their case, and his mind could
rest in it without farther labour.

The door-bell rang, and they started.  Through the window they
saw the taxi-driver gesticulating enquiries as to the fate of
the luggage.

"He wants to know if he's to leave it here," Susy laughed.

"No--no!  You're to come with me," her husband declared.

"Come with you?"  She laughed again at the absurdity of the

"Of course:  this very instant.  What did you suppose?  That I
was going away without you?  Run up and pack your things," he

"My things?  My things?  But I can't leave the children!"

He stared, between indignation and amusement.  "Can't leave the
children?  Nonsense!  Why, you said yourself you were going to
follow me to Fontainebleau--"

She reddened again, this time a little painfully "I didn't know
what I was doing ....  I had to find you ... but I should have
come back this evening, no matter what happened."

"No matter what?"

She nodded, and met his gaze resolutely.

"No; but really--"

"Really, I can't leave the children till Nat and Grace come
back.  I promised I wouldn't."

"Yes; but you didn't know then ....  Why on earth can't their
nurse look after them?"

"There isn't any nurse but me."

"Good Lord!"

"But it's only for two weeks more," she pleaded.  "Two weeks!
Do you know how long I've been without you!"  He seized her by
both wrists, and drew them against his breast.  "Come with me at
least for two days--Susy!" he entreated her.

"Oh," she cried, "that's the very first time you've said my

"Susy, Susy, then--my Susy--Susy!  And you've only said mine
once, you know."

"Nick!" she sighed, at peace, as if the one syllable were a
magic seed that hung out great branches to envelop them.

"Well, then, Susy, be reasonable.  Come!"

"Reasonable--oh, reasonable!" she sobbed through laughter.

"Unreasonable, then! That's even better."

She freed herself, and drew back gently.  "Nick, I swore I
wouldn't leave them; and I can't.  It's not only my promise to
their mother--it's what they've been to me themselves.  You
don't, know ... You can't imagine the things they've taught me.
They're awfully naughty at times, because they're so clever; but
when they're good they're the wisest people I know."  She
paused, and a sudden inspiration illuminated her.  "But why
shouldn't we take them with us?" she exclaimed.

Her husband's arms fell away from her, and he stood dumfounded.

"Take them with us?"

"Why not?"

"All five of them?"

"Of course--I couldn't possibly separate them.  And Junie and
Nat will help us to look after the young ones."

"Help us!" he groaned.

"Oh, you'll see; they won't bother you.  Just leave it to me;
I'll manage--"  The word stopped her short, and an agony of
crimson suffused her from brow to throat.  Their eyes met; and
without a word he stooped and laid his lips gently on the stain
of red on her neck.

"Nick," she breathed, her hands in his.

"But those children--"

Instead of answering, she questioned:  "Where are we going?"

His face lit up.

"Anywhere, dearest, that you choose."

"Well--I choose Fontainebleau!" she exulted.

"So do I!  But we can't take all those children to an hotel at
Fontainebleau, can we?" he questioned weakly.  "You see, dear,
there's the mere expense of it--"

Her eyes were already travelling far ahead of him.  "The expense
won't amount to much.  I've just remembered that Angele, the
bonne, has a sister who is cook there in a nice old-fashioned
pension which must be almost empty at this time of year.  I'm
sure I can ma--arrange easily," she hurried on, nearly tripping
again over the fatal word.  "And just think of the treat it will
be to them!  This is Friday, and I can get them let off from
their afternoon classes, and keep them in the country till
Monday.  Poor darlings, they haven't been out of Paris for
months!  And I daresay the change will cure Geordie's cough--
Geordie's the youngest," she explained, surprised to find
herself, even in the rapture of reunion, so absorbed in the
welfare of the Fulmers.

She was conscious that her husband was surprised also; but
instead of prolonging the argument he simply questioned:  "Was
Geordie the chap you had in your arms when you opened the front
door the night before last?"

She echoed:  "I opened the front door the night before last?"

"To a boy with a parcel."

"Oh," she sobbed, "you were there?  You were watching?"

He held her to him, and the currents flowed between them warm
and full as on the night of their moon over Como.

In a trice, after that, she had the matter in hand and her
forces marshalled.  The taxi was paid, Nick's luggage deposited
in the vestibule, and the children, just piling down to
breakfast, were summoned in to hear the news.

It was apparent that, seasoned to surprises as they were, Nick's
presence took them aback.  But when, between laughter and
embraces, his identity, and his right to be where he was, had
been made clear to them, Junie dismissed the matter by asking
him in her practical way:  "Then I suppose we may talk about you
to Susy now?"--and thereafter all five addressed themselves to
the vision of their imminent holiday.

>From that moment the little house became the centre of a
whirlwind.  Treats so unforeseen, and of such magnitude, were
rare in the young Fulmers' experience, and had it not been for
Junie's steadying influence Susy's charges would have got out of
hand.  But young Nat, appealed to by Nick on the ground of their
common manhood, was induced to forego celebrating the event on
his motor horn (the very same which had tortured the New
Hampshire echoes), and to assert his authority over his juniors;
and finally a plan began to emerge from the chaos, and each
child to fit into it like a bit of a picture puzzle.

Susy, riding the whirlwind with her usual firmness, nevertheless
felt an undercurrent of anxiety.  There had been no time as yet,
between her and Nick, to revert to money matters; and where
there was so little money it could not, obviously, much matter.
But that was the more reason for being secretly aghast at her
intrepid resolve not to separate herself from her charges.  A
three days' honey-moon with five children in the party-and
children with the Fulmer appetite--could not but be a costly
business; and while she settled details, packed them off to
school, and routed out such nondescript receptacles as the house
contained in the way of luggage, her thoughts remained fixed on
the familiar financial problem.

Yes--it was cruel to have it rear its hated head, even through
the bursting boughs of her new spring; but there it was, the
perpetual serpent in her Eden, to be bribed, fed, sent to sleep
with such scraps as she could beg, borrow or steal for it.  And
she supposed it was the price that fate meant her to pay for her
blessedness, and was surer than ever that the blessedness was
worth it.  Only, how was she to compound the business with her
new principles?

With the children's things to pack, luncheon to be got ready,
and the Fontainebleau pension to be telephoned to, there was
little time to waste on moral casuistry; and Susy asked herself
with a certain irony if the chronic lack of time to deal with
money difficulties had not been the chief cause of her previous
lapses.  There was no time to deal with this question either; no
time, in short, to do anything but rush forward on a great gale
of plans and preparations, in the course of which she whirled
Nick forth to buy some charcuterie for luncheon, and telephone
to Fontainebleau.

Once he was gone--and after watching him safely round the
corner--she too got into her wraps, and transferring a small
packet from her dressing-case to her pocket, hastened out in a
different direction.

Edith Wharton

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