Digital Downloads Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall (Ebook Edition)

Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall (Ebook Edition)

Susan Lenox: Her Rise and Fall (Ebook Edition)
Catalog # SKU4066
Publisher TGS Publishing
Author Name David Graham Phillips
ISBN 10: 0000000000
ISBN 13: 0000000000000
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Susan Lenox:
Her Rise and Fall

Electronic Book

David Graham Phillips

I do not know what the public may think of "Susan Lenox." I scarcely know what I think. It is a terrible book--terrible and true and beautiful. Under the depths there are unspeakable things that writhe. His plumb-line touches them and they squirm. He bends his head from the clouds to do it. Is it worth doing? I don't know.



A few years ago, as to the most important and most interesting subject in the world, the relations of the sexes, an author had to choose between silence and telling those distorted truths beside which plain lying seems almost white and quite harmless. And as no author could afford to be silent on the subject that underlies all subjects, our literature, in so far as it attempted to deal with the most vital phases of human nature, was beneath contempt. The authors who knew they were lying sank almost as low as the nasty-nice purveyors of fake idealism and candied pruriency who fancied they were writing the truth. Now it almost seems that the day of lying conscious and unconscious is about run. "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

There are three ways of dealing with the sex relations of men and women--two wrong and one right. For lack of more accurate names the two wrong ways may be called respectively the Anglo-Saxon and the Continental. Both are in essence processes of spicing up and coloring up perfectly innocuous facts of nature to make them poisonously attractive to perverted palates. The wishy-washy literature and the wishy-washy morality on which it is based are not one stage more--or less--rotten than the libertine literature and the libertine morality on which it is based. So far as degrading effect is concerned, the "pure, sweet" story or play, false to nature, false to true morality, propagandist of indecent emotions disguised as idealism, need yield nothing to the so-called "strong" story. Both pander to different forms of the same diseased craving for the unnatural. Both produce moral atrophy. The one tends to encourage the shallow and unthinking in ignorance of life and so causes them to suffer the merciless penalties of ignorance.

The other tends to miseducate the shallow and unthinking, to give them a ruinously false notion of the delights of vice. The Anglo-Saxon "morality" is like a nude figure salaciously draped; the Continental "strength" is like a nude figure salaciously distorted. The Anglo-Saxon article reeks the stench of disinfectants; the Continental reeks the stench of degenerate perfume. The Continental shouts "Hypocrisy!" at the Anglo-Saxon; the Anglo-Saxon shouts "Filthiness!" at the Continental. Both are right; they are twin sisters of the same horrid mother. And an author of either allegiance has to have many a redeeming grace of style, of character drawing, of philosophy, to gain him tolerance in a clean mind.

There is the third and right way of dealing with the sex relations of men and women. That is the way of simple candor and naturalness. Treat the sex question as you would any other question. Don't treat it reverently; don't treat it rakishly. Treat it naturally. Don't insult your intelligence and lower your moral tone by thinking about either the decency or the indecency of matters that are familiar, undeniable, and unchangeable facts of life. Don't look on woman as mere female, but as human being. Remember that she has a mind and a heart as well as a body. In a sentence, don't join in the prurient clamor of "purity" hypocrites and "strong" libertines that exaggerates and distorts the most commonplace, if the most important feature of life. Let us try to be as sensible about sex as we are trying to be about all the other phenomena of the universe in this more enlightened day.

Nothing so sweetens a sin or so delights a sinner as getting big-eyed about it and him. Those of us who are naughty aren't nearly so naughty as we like to think; nor are those of us who are nice nearly so nice. Our virtues and our failings are--perhaps to an unsuspected degree--the result of the circumstances in which we are placed. The way to improve individuals is to improve these circumstances; and the way to start at improving the circumstances is by looking honestly and fearlessly at things as they are. We must know our world and ourselves before we can know what should be kept and what changed. And the beginning of this wisdom is in seeing sex relations rationally. Until that fundamental matter is brought under the sway of good common sense, improvement in other directions will be slow indeed. Let us stop lying--to others--to ourselves.


Chapter II

NOT quite seventeen years later, on a fine June morning, Ruth Warham issued hastily from the house and started down the long tanbark walk from the front veranda to the street gate. She was now nineteen--nearer twenty--and a very pretty young woman, indeed. She had grown up one of those small slender blondes, exquisite and doll-like, who cannot help seeming fresh and sweet, whatever the truth about them, without or within. This morning she had on a new summer dress of a blue that matched her eyes and harmonized with her coloring. She was looking her best, and she had the satisfying, confidence-giving sense that it was so.

Like most of the unattached girls of small towns, she was always dreaming of the handsome stranger who would fall in love--the thrilling, love-story kind of love at first sight. The weather plays a conspicuous part in the romancings of youth; she felt that this was precisely the kind of day fate would be most likely to select for the meeting. Just before dressing she had been reading about the wonderful him--in Robert Chambers' latest story--and she had spent full fifteen minutes of blissful reverie over the accompanying Fisher illustration. Now she was issuing hopefully forth, as hopefully as if adventure were the rule and order of life in Sutherland, instead of a desperate monotony made the harder to bear by the glory of its scenery.

She had got only far enough from the house to be visible to the second-story windows when a young voice called:

"Ruthie! Aren't you going to wait for me?"

Ruth halted; an expression anything but harmonious with the pretty blue costume stormed across her face. "I won't have her along!" she muttered. "I simply won't!" She turned slowly and, as she turned, effaced every trace of temper with a dexterity which might have given an onlooker a poorer opinion of her character than perhaps the facts as to human nature justify. The countenance she presently revealed to those upper windows was sunny and sweet. No one was visible; but the horizontal slats in one of the only closed pair of shutters and a vague suggestion of movement rather than form behind them gave the impression that a woman, not far enough dressed to risk being seen from the street, was hidden there. Evidently Ruth knew, for it was toward this window that she directed her gaze and the remark: "Can't wait, dear. I'm in a great hurry. Mamma wants the silk right away and I've got to match it."

"But I'll be only a minute," pleaded the voice--a much more interesting, more musical voice than Ruth's rather shrill and thin high soprano.

"No--I'll meet you up at papa's store."

"All right."

Ruth resumed her journey. She smiled to herself. "That means," said she, half aloud, "I'll steer clear of the store this morning."

But as she was leaving the gate into the wide, shady, sleepy street, who should come driving past in a village cart but Lottie Wright! And Lottie reined her pony in to the sidewalk and in the shade of a symmetrical walnut tree proceeded to invite Ruth to a dance--a long story, as Lottie had to tell all about it, the decorations, the favors, the food, who would be there, what she was going to wear, and so on and on. Ruth was intensely interested but kept remembering something that caused her to glance uneasily from time to time up the tanbark walk under the arching boughs toward the house. Even if she had not been interested, she would hardly have ventured to break off; Lottie Wright was the only daughter of the richest man in Sutherland and, therefore, social arbiter to the younger set. Lottie stopped abruptly, said: "Well, I really must get on. And there's your cousin coming down the walk. I know you've been waiting for her."

Ruth tried to keep in countenance, but a blush of shame and a frown of irritation came in spite of her.

"I'm sorry I can't ask Susie, too," pursued Lottie, in a voice of hypocritical regret. "But there are to be exactly eighteen couples--and I couldn't."

"Of course not," said Ruth heartily. "Susan'll understand."

"I wouldn't for the world do anything to hurt her feelings," continued Lottie with the self-complacent righteousness of a deacon telling the congregation how good "grace" has made him. Her prominent commonplace brown eyes were gazing up the walk, an expression distressingly like envious anger in them. She had a thick, pudgy face, an oily skin, an outcropping of dull red pimples on the chin. Many women can indulge their passion for sweets at meals and sweets between meals without serious injury--to complexion; Lottie Wright, unluckily, couldn't.

"I feel sorry for Susie," she went on, in the ludicrous patronizing tone that needs no describing to anyone acquainted with any fashionable set anywhere from China to Peru. "And I think the way you all treat her is simply beautiful. But, then, everybody feels sorry for her and tries to be kind. She knows--about herself, I mean--doesn't she, Ruthie?"

"I guess so," replied Ruth, almost hanging her head in her mortification. "She's very good and sweet." "Indeed, she is," said Lottie. "And father says she's far and away the prettiest girl in town."

With this parting shot, which struck precisely where she had aimed, Lottie gathered up the reins and drove on, calling out a friendly "Hello, Susie dearie," to Susan Lenox, who, on her purposely lagging way from the house, had nearly reached the gate.

"What a nasty thing Lottie Wright is!" exclaimed Ruth to her cousin.

"She has a mean tongue," admitted Susan, tall and slim and straight, with glorious dark hair and a skin healthily pallid and as smooth as clear. "But she's got a good heart. She gives a lot away to poor people."

"Because she likes to patronize and be kowtowed to," retorted Ruth. "She's mean, I tell you." Then, with a vicious gleam in the blue eyes that hinted a deeper and less presentable motive for the telling, she added: "Why, she's not going to ask you to her party."

Susan was obviously unmoved. "She has the right to ask whom she pleases. And"--she laughed--"if I were giving a party I'd not want to ask her--though I might do it for fear she'd feel left out." "Don't you feel--left out?"

Susan shook her head. "I seem not to care much about going to parties lately. The boys don't like to dance with me, and I get tired of sitting the dances out."

This touched Ruth's impulsively generous heart and woman's easy tears filled her eyes; her cousin's remark was so pathetic, the more pathetic because its pathos was absolutely unconscious. Ruth shot a pitying glance at Susan, but the instant she saw the loveliness of the features upon which that expression of unconsciousness lay like innocence upon a bed of roses, the pity vanished from her eyes to be replaced by a disfiguring envy as hateful as an evil emotion can be at nineteen. Susan still lacked nearly a month of seventeen, but she seemed older than Ruth because her mind and her body had developed beyond her years--or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say beyond the average of growth at seventeen. Also, her personality was stronger, far more definite. Ruth tried to believe herself the cleverer and the more beautiful, at times with a certain success. But as she happened to be a shrewd young person--an inheritance from the Warhams--she was haunted by misgivings--and worse. Those whose vanity never suffers from these torments will, of course, condemn her; but whoever has known the pain of having to concede superiority to someone with whom she or he--is constantly contrasted will not be altogether without sympathy for Ruth in her struggles, often vain struggles, against the mortal sin of jealousy.

The truth is, Susan was beyond question the beauty of Sutherland. Her eyes, very dark at birth, had changed to a soft, dreamy violet-gray. Hair and coloring, lashes and eyebrows remained dark; thus her eyes and the intense red of her lips had that vicinage of contrast which is necessary to distinction. To look at her was to be at once fascinated by those violet-gray eyes--by their color, by their clearness, by their regard of calm, grave inquiry, by their mystery not untouched by a certain sadness. She had a thick abundance of wavy hair, not so long as Ruth's golden braids, but growing beautifully instead of thinly about her low brow, about her delicately modeled ears, and at the back of her exquisite neck. Her slim nose departed enough from the classic line to prevent the suggestion of monotony that is in all purely classic faces. Her nostrils had the sensitiveness that more than any other outward sign indicates the imaginative temperament. Her chin and throat--to look at them was to know where her lover would choose to kiss her first.

When she smiled her large even teeth were dazzling. And the smile itself was exceedingly sweet and winning, with the violet-gray eyes casting over it that seriousness verging on sadness which is the natural outlook of a highly intelligent nature. For while stupid vain people are suspicious and easily offended, only the intelligent are truly sensitive--keenly susceptible to all sensations. The dull ear is suspicious; the acute ear is sensitive.

The intense red of her lips, at times so vivid that it seemed artificial, and their sinuous, sensitive curve indicated a temperament that was frankly proclaimed in her figure--sensuous, graceful, slender--the figure of girlhood in its perfection and of perfect womanhood, too--like those tropical flowers that look innocent and young and fresh, yet stir in the beholder passionate longings and visions. Her walk was worthy of face and figure--free and firm and graceful, the small head carried proudly without haughtiness.

This physical beauty had as an aureole to illuminate it and to set it off a manner that was wholly devoid of mannerisms--of those that men and women think out and exhibit to give added charm to themselves--tricks of cuteness, as lisp and baby stare; tricks of dignity, as grave brow and body always carried rigidly erect; tricks of sweetness and kindliness, as the ever ready smile and the warm handclasp. Susan, the interested in the world about her, Susan, the self-unconscious, had none of these tricks. She was at all times her own self. Beauty is anything but rare, likewise intelligence. But this quality of naturalness is the greatest of all qualities. It made Susan Lenox unique. It was not strange--nor inexcusable that the girls and their parents had begun to pity Susan as soon as this beauty developed and this personality had begun to exhale its delicious perfume.

It was but natural that they should start the whole town to "being kind to the poor thing." And it was equally the matter of course that they should have achieved their object--should have impressed the conventional masculine mind of the town with such a sense of the "poor thing's" social isolation and "impossibility" that the boys ceased to be her eagerly admiring friends, were afraid to be alone with her, to ask her to dance. Women are conventional as a business; but with men conventionality is a groveling superstition. The youths of Sutherland longed for, sighed for the alluring, sweet, bright Susan; but they dared not, with all the women saying "Poor thing! What a pity a nice man can't afford to have anything to do with her!" It was an interesting typical example of the profound snobbishness of the male character. Rarely, after Susan was sixteen, did any of the boys venture to ask her to dance and so give himself the joy of encircling that lovely form of hers; yet from babyhood her fascination for the male sex, regardless of age or temperament, had been uncanny--"naturally, she being a love-child," said the old women. And from fourteen on, it grew steadily.

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