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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSusanna And Sue - Chapter 4. Louisa's Mind
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Susanna And Sue - Chapter 4. Louisa's Mind Post by :vvvvDave Category :Long Stories Author :Kate Douglas Wiggin Date :May 2012 Read :911

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Susanna And Sue - Chapter 4. Louisa's Mind


Louisa, otherwise Mrs. Adlai Banks, the elder sister of Susanna s husband, was a rock-ribbed widow of forty-five summers, --forty-five winters would seem a better phrase in which to assert her age,-- who resided on a small farm twenty miles from the manufacturing town of Farnham.

When the Fates were bestowing qualities of mind and heart upon the Hathaway babies, they gave the more graceful, genial, likable ones to John, not realizing, perhaps, what bad use he would make of them, --and endowed Louisa with great deposits of honesty, sincerity, energy, piety, and frugality, all so mysteriously compounded that they turned to granite in her hands. If she had been consulted, it would have been all the same. She would never have accepted John's charm of personality at the expense of being saddled with his weaknesses, and he would not have taken her cast-iron virtues at any price whatsoever.

She was sweeping her porch on that day in May when Susanna and Sue had wakened in the bare upper chamber at the Shaker Settlement--Sue clear-eyed, jubilant, expectant, unafraid; Susanna pale from her fitful sleep, weary with the burden of her heart.

Looking down the road, Mrs. Banks espied the form of her brother John walking in her direction and leading Jack by the hand.

This was a most unusual sight, for John's calls had been uncommonly few of late years, since a man rarely visits a lady relative for the mere purpose of hearing "a piece of her mind." This piece, large, solid, highly flavored with pepper, and as acid as mental vinegar could make it, was Louisa Banks's only contribution to conversation when she met her brother. She could not stop for any airy persiflage about weather, crops, or politics when her one desire was to tell him what she thought of him.

"Good-morning, Louisa. Shake hands with your aunt, Jack."

"He can't till I'm through sweeping. Good-morning, John; what brings you here?"

John sat down on the steps, and Jack flew to the barn, where there was generally an amiable hired man and a cheerful cow, both infinitely better company than his highly respected and wealthy aunt.

"I came because I had to bring the boy to the only relation I've got in the world," John answered tersely. "My wife's left me."

"Well, she's been a great while doing it," remarked Louisa, digging her broom into the cracks of the piazza floor and making no pause for reflection. "If she had n't had the patience of Job and the meekness of Moses, she'd have gone long before. Where'd she go?"

"I don't know; she did n't say."

"Did you take the trouble to look through the house for her? I ain't certain you fairly know her by sight nowadays, do you?"

John flushed crimson, but bit his lip in an attempt to keep his temper. "She left a letter," he said, "and she took Sue with her."

"That was all right; Sue's a nervous little thing and needs at least one parent; she has n't been used to more, so she won't miss anything. Jack's like most of the Hathaways; he'll grow up his own way, without anybody's help or hindrance. What are you going to do with him?"

"Leave him with you, of course. What else could I do?" "Very well, I'll take him, and while I'm about it I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."

John was fighting for selfcontrol, but he was too wretched and remorseful for rage to have any real sway over him.

"Is it the same old piece, or a different one?" he asked, setting his teeth grimly. "I should n't think you'd have any mind left, you've given so many pieces of it to me already."

"I have some left, and plenty, too," answered Louisa, dashing into the house, banging the broom into a corner, coming out again like a breeze, and slamming the door behind her. "You can leave the boy here and welcome; I'll take good care of him, and if you don't send me twenty dollars a month for his food and clothes, I'll turn him outdoors. The more responsibility other folks rid you of, the more you'll let 'em, and I won't take a feather's weight off you for fear you'll sink into everlasting perdition."

"I did n't expect any sympathy from you," said John, drearily, pulling himself up from the steps and leaning against the honeysuckle trellis. "Susanna's just the same. Women are all as hard as the nether millstone. They're hard if they're angels, and hard if they're devils; it docs n't make much difference."

"I guess you've found a few soft ones, if report says true," returned Louisa, bluntly. "You'd better go and get some of their sympathy, the kind you can buy and pay for. The way you've ruined your life turns me fairly sick. You had a good father and mother, good education and advantages, enough money to start you in business, the best of wives, and two children any man could be proud of, one of 'em especially. You've thrown 'em all away, and what for? Horses and cards and gay company, late suppers, with wine, and for aught I know, whiskey, you the son of a man who did n't know the taste of ginger beer! You've spent your days and nights with a pack of carousing men and women that would take your last cent and not leave you enough for honest burial."

"It's a pity we did n't make a traveling preacher of you!" exclaimed John, bitterly. "Lord Almighty, I wonder how such women as you can live in the world, you know so little about it, and so little about men."

"I know all I want to about 'em," retorted Louisa, "and precious little that's good. They 're a gluttonous, self-indulgent, extravagant, reckless, pleasure- loving lot! My husband was one of the best of 'em, and he would n't have amounted to a hill of beans if I had n't devoted fifteen years to disciplining, uplifting, and strengthening him!"

"You managed to strengthen him so that he died before he was fifty!"

"It don't matter when a man dies," said the remorseless Mrs. Banks, "if he's succeeded in living a decent, Godfearing life. As for you, John Hathaway, I'll tell you the truth if you are my brother, for Susanna's too much of a saint to speak out."

"Don't be afraid; Susanna's spoken out at last, plainly enough to please even you!"

"I'm glad of it, for I did n't suppose she had spunk enough to resent anything. I shall be sorry tomorrow, 's likely as not, for freeing my mind as much as I have, but my temper's up and I'm going to be the humble instrument of Providence and try to turn you from the error of your ways. You've defaced and degraded the temple the Lord built for you, and if He should come this minute and try to turn out the crowd of evildoers you've kept in it, I doubt if He could!"

"I hope He'll approve of the way you've used your 'temple,'" said John, with stinging emphasis. "I should n't want to live in such a noisy one myself; I'd rather be a bat in a belfry. Goodbye; I've had a pleasant call, as usual, and you've been a real sister to me in my trouble. You shall have the twenty dollars a month. Jack's clothes are in that valise, and there'll be a trunk tomorrow. Susanna said she'd write and let you know her whereabouts."

So saying, John Hathaway strode down the path, closed the gate behind him, and walked rapidly along the road that led to the station. It was a quiet road and he met few persons. He had neither dressed nor shaved since the day before; his face was haggard, his heart was like a lump of lead in his breast. Of what use to go to the empty house in Farnham when he could stifle his misery by a night with his friends?

No, he could not do that, either! The very thought of them brought a sense of satiety and disgust; the craving for what they would give him would come again in time, no doubt, but for the moment he was sick to the very soul of all they stood for. The feeling of complete helplessness, of desertion, of being alone in mid-ocean without a sail or a star in sight, mounted and swept over him. Susanna had been his sail, his star, although he had never fully realized it, and he had cut himself adrift from her pure, steadfast love, blinding himself with cheap and vulgar charms.

The next train to Farnham was not due for an hour. His steps faltered; he turned into a clump of trees by the wayside and flung himself on the ground to cry like a child, he who had not shed a tear since he was a boy of ten. If Susanna could have seen that often longed-for burst of despair and remorse, that sudden recognition of his sins against himself and her, that gush of penitent tears, her heart might have softened once again; a flicker of flame might have lighted the ashes of her dying love; she might have taken his head on her shoulder, and said, "Never mind, John! Let's forget, and begin all over again!"

Matters did not look any brighter for John the next week, for his senior partner, Joel Atterbury, requested him to withdraw from the firm as soon as matters could be legally arranged. He was told that he had not been doing, nor earning, his share; that his way of living during the year just past had not been any credit to "the concern," and that he, Atterbury, sympathized too heartily with Mrs. John Hathaway to take any pleasure in doing business with Mr. John.

John's remnant of pride, completely humbled by this last withdrawal of confidence, would not suffer him to tell Atterbury that he had come to his senses and bidden farewell to the old life, or so he hoped and believed. To lose a wife and child in a way infinitely worse than death; to hear the unwelcome truth that as a husband you have grown so offensive as to be beyond endurance; to have your own sister tell you that you richly deserve such treatment; to be virtually dismissed from a valuable business connection, all this is enough to sober any man above the grade of a moral idiot, and John was not that; he was simply a self-indulgent, pleasure-loving, thoughtless, willful fellow, without any great amount of principle. He took his medicine, however, said nothing, and did his share of the business from day to day doggedly, keeping away from his partner as much as possible.

Ellen, the faithful maid of all work, stayed on with him at the old home; Jack wrote to him every week, and often came to spend Sunday with him.

"Aunt Louisa's real good to me," he told his father, "but she's not like mother. Seems to me mother's kind of selfish staying away from us so long. When do you expect her back?"

"I don't know; not before winter, I'm afraid; and don't call her selfish, I won't have it! Your mother never knew she had a self."

"If she'd only left Sue behind, we could have had more good times, we three together!"

"No, our family is four, Jack, and we can never have any good times, one, two, or three of us, because we're four! When one's away, whichever it is, it's wrong, but it's the worst when it's mother. Does your Aunt Louisa write to her?"

"Yes, sometimes, but she never lets me post the letters."

"Do you write to your mother? You ought to, you know, even if you don't have time for me. You could ask your aunt to enclose your letters in hers."

"Do you write to her, father?"

"Yes, I write twice a week," John answered, thinking drearily of the semi- weekly notes posted in Susanna's empty worktable upstairs. Would she ever read them? He doubted it, unless he died, and she came back to settle his affairs; but of course he would n't die, no such good luck. Would a man die who breakfasted at eight, dined at one, supped at six, and went to bed at ten? Would a man die who worked in the garden an hour every afternoon, with half a day Saturday; that being the task most disagreeable to him and most appropriate therefore for penance?

Susanna loved flowers and had always wanted a garden, but John had been too much occupied with his own concerns to give her the needed help or money so that she could carry out her plans. The last year she had lost heart in many ways, so that little or nothing had been accomplished of all she had dreamed. It would have been laughable, had it not been pathetic, to see John Hathaway dig, delve, grub, sow, water, weed, transplant, generally at the wrong moment, in that dream-garden of Susanna's. He asked no advice and read no books. With feverish intensity, with complete ignorance of Nature's laws and small sympathy with their intricacies, he dug, hoed, raked, fertilized, and planted during that lonely summer. His absentmindedness caused some expensive failures, as when the wide expanse of Susanna's drying ground, which was to be velvety lawn, "came up" curly lettuce; but he rooted out his frequent mistakes and patiently planted seeds or roots or bulbs over and over and over and over, until something sprouted in his beds, whether it was what he intended or not. While he weeded the brilliant orange nasturtiums, growing beside the magenta portulacca in a friendly proximity that certainly would never have existed had the mistress of the house been the head-gardener, he thought of nothing but his wife. He knew her pride, her reserve, her sensitive spirit; he knew her love of truth and honor and purity, the standards of life and conduct she had tried to hold him to so valiantly, and which he had so dragged in the dust during the blindness and the insanity of the last two years.

He, John Hathaway, was a deserted husband; Susanna had crept away all wounded and resentful. Where was she living and how supporting herself and Sue, when she could not have had a hundred dollars in the world? Probably Louisa was the source of income; conscientious, infernally disagreeable Louisa!

Would yet the rumor of his changed habit o( life reach her by some means in her place of hiding, sooner or later? Would she not yearn for a sight of Jack? Would she not finally give him a chance to ask forgiveness, or had she lost every trace of affection for him, as her letter seemed to imply? He walked the garden paths, with these and other unanswerable questions, and when he went to his lonely room at night, he held the lamp up to a bit of poetry that he had cut from a magazine and pinned to the looking-glass. If John Hathaway could be brought to the reading of poetry, he might even glance at the Bible in course of time, Louisa would have said. It was in May that Susanna had gone, and the first line of verse held his attention.

May comes, day comes,
One who was away comes;
All the earth is glad again,
Kind and fair to me.

May comes, day comes,
One who was away comes;
Set her place at hearth and board
As it used to be.

May comes, day comes,
One who was away comes;
Higher are the hills of home,
Bluer is the sea.

The Hathaway house was in the suburbs, on a rise of ground, and as John turned to the window he saw the full moon hanging yellow in the sky. It shone on the verdant slopes and low wooded hills that surrounded the town, and cast a glittering pathway on the ocean that bathed the beaches of the nearby shore.

"How long shall I have to wait," he wondered, "before my hills of home look higher, and my sea bluer, because Susanna has come back to 'hearth and board'!"

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