By Alice Morrey Bailey
ALYN FORDYCE, proud of her background of family and wealth, is shocked when her husband,
JOHN FORDYCE, whom she has never considered a great success, announces that he has lost his job – which he has never liked, but which paid a salary of $500 a month – and has taken a job with
MR. MILTON, of the Intermountain Milton Nurseries, working at horticulture – which he has always liked, but which pays only $150 a month. he is stubborn about using their brilliant social connections to obtain a more lucrative position, and Alyn accuses him of selfishness, reminding him that she has always lived well, and, though she may have gone a little beyond their means, she had to have some compensation for her inability to have children.
“You couldn’t have wanted children so badly – with all the homeless waifs there are in the world,” John says.
John finally exacts a promise from Alyn to economize, but she rebels at giving up her expensive apartment. “I will not live in poverty,” she tells John.
Alyn didn’t give the lavish dinner she had planned, nor did she have the luncheon she had mentioned to Josephine. She wondered, as the days went on, what everyone thought of her, and imagined the little pointed remarks, veiled by policy, that were perhaps being passed about her: “Poor, dear, Alyn, she isn’t entertaining much these days. I wonder if, after all, she isn’t quite up to snuff socially. The darling rushes about so … doubtless that’s it – doubtless.” She remembered John’s accusation: “you invite someone because someone invited you.” Of course, John was wrong. It was really ill-bred of him to think such a thing. One really had to be brought up in good taste to appreciate true hospitality, and John’s background …
“I won’t explain,” she promised herself. An explanation would admit the need of one. Instead, she went about serenely – outwardly at least – accepting engagements as always, attending luncheons as she was today. John balked at dinners, and she was obliged to decline all invitations, temporarily, of course, until John got over some of his silly notions. Rail at him and storm as she would, she couldn’t get him to see that now was the time to make the most of his opportunities to make contacts with influential people.
“But I am making contacts, Alyn, the kind I enjoy. I tell you, dear, that this thing has a future. This is what I’ve always wanted to do – the thing I enjoy. Just today I showed Mr. Milton a sport on his apricot tree, one branch that blossomed earlier than the rest of the tree.” Alyn turned a deaf ear. John was hopeless. John was actually digging in the earth. He wore old clothes and came home grimy. It made Alyn’s heart positively sick within her. This was the first tragedy, barring death, of course, to enter her life.
“Alyn, for goodness sake, where are you?” Bea’s voice pierced her thoughts – Bea’s laughter. “Nothing but the income tax return could produce a brown study like that in me. I’ve spoken to her six times without a sign that she heard me.” Then, Bea was off to a hilarious tale of how she and Wif made out their income tax papers, not forgetting to wail about the huge sum they had to pay. “And, my dear, isn’t it simply awful about ‘Private Enterprise’?” she finished.
“How is John, lately?” asked Josephine. “It seems ages since I saw him. I was sorry you had that engagement and couldn’t come to my dinner. Does John still have his headaches?”
“Why, no,” said Alyn, searching her mind swiftly for information about John’s headaches. No, he hadn’t said a word about headache since he lost his job, except to tell her what the doctor said. “John hasn’t had a headache for a month,” she elucidated. “I’m so encouraged with him. He went to Doctor Fielding, and he told John that it was nothing but nerves.”
“Do you suppose it’s his job, Alyn?” spoke up Mary. “He’s still with Edmunds and Pierce, isn’t he? Such confining work …”
Alyn had the distinct feeling that every eye was upon her, but she was spared, mercifully, from answering, by Bea’s voice.
“Oh, Alyn, Wif swore that he saw John down at Milton’s Nursery the other day, but it turned out to be just a working man, a common laborer. I assured Wif that that wasn’t John.”
This was ghastly. Thank goodness the party was breaking up. Alyn couldn’t bear another word.
“Can I give you a lift? I see you haven’t your car,” offered Josephine, and Alyn was on the point of accepting, when Bea’s voice cut in:
“Didn’t you hear Alyn say she’s walking for her figure?” she asked Josephine. “Besides, I want you to go with me. I’ve spotted the darlingest little hat to go with my black suit, and I want your opinion before I buy it.”
“Run along, Jo,” said Alyn, indulgently. “Bea’s right. I have three pounds to lose somehow. It will be just a brisk walk home.” How shocked they would be if they knew that Alyn didn’t have even trolley fare in her expensive purse. They must never know, decided Alyn grimly. Soon John would be settled, and they would forget this awful time. “John has gone over to Bradley and Coombes,” she could hear herself saying, “such nice people to work for, a broader chance for advancement …” Or, “Fairbanks, Stocks and Bonds …” She might mention any one of a dozen fine old firms. Then they would look back on this time and maybe eventually joke about it. Thank goodness Bea and Wif hadn’t had a closer look at John down at Milton’s Nursery.
Alyn stopped to admire the hats in the window of Charlotte’s Chapeaux. What gorgeous things they were! She had almost forgotten this little exclusive shop. It had been months since she had been in it. She wondered who its buyer was now, and she caught herself making a mental note that she must buy her next hat there. Then she remembered that she wasn’t in the market for a hat very soon. A well-dressed woman came out of the shop and walked up the street ahead of Alyn. One block, two, three, and then they were out of the business district. The woman was still five paces ahead of Alyn. Together, their footsteps made an odd little sound-pattern. Alyn fell to wondering about this woman.
She was slim and wore her powder-blue and navy suit with an air of good breeding. She was faultlessly groomed; her clothes were immaculate and her shoes trim. She walked and carried herself with grace and dignity. Alyn found herself wishing for a glimpse of the woman’s face. As if in answer to her wish, an envelope slipped from under the woman’s arm and fell to the ground.
“I beg your pardon,” said Alyn, “you’ve dropped something.”
“Thank you,” smiled the woman, stooping to pick it up.
Without intention, Alyn saw the name on it – Judith Wyatt. She also saw that the girl’s face was in keeping with the rest of her – a mingling of sweetness and reserve; patrician chiseled eyes, lips and nostrils; a modern woman without sophistication; a woman whose glance was straightforward and honest. She was beautiful without being pretty, and Alyn was aware that this attractive woman was to become a mother.
“Isn’t it wonderful to have spring again?” the girl said, falling into step with Alyn. “I love to walk.”
“I’ve become so lazy it’s almost work for me,” Alyn said. “I’m going to do more of it,” then grimly to herself, “from force.”
They fell into conversation easily, talking with increased eagerness of peach blossoms and mental telepathy, of the latest book – agreeing with perfect understanding or disagreeing frankly without rancor. When Alyn turned in at the marble steps of the “Penguin,” she had not talked enough to this woman.
“I’m sorry to leave you,” she said. My husband will be home for dinner soon. I suppose yours will, too.”
“How I wish that were true,” said Judith Wyatt. “My husband died six weeks ago.” She turned swiftly, too swiftly, and continued up the street. Alyn went slowly up the steps, regretting keenly her unwitting probe into this raw wound.
Who might the girl be? She couldn’t be Judge Oldham’s daughter who had married the man from Boston; Judith Wyatt would be too young for her – about twenty-six or seven, Alyn guessed. Nor could she be the Churchill girl whom everyone said was awkward. Alyn knew all the fine, old families, but it was simply amazing how the younger generation grew up and out of your knowledge.
“Who might this girl be!”
The clock said five-thirty when she entered the house. John would be home in an hour, and what in the world would she prepare for him?
She made a hasty inventory: there were greens enough for two skimpy salads, a can of pork and beans and three slices of bread. Well, she would not eat bread. The two eggs and the slice of bacon, with one of the bread slices, would do for John’s breakfast. Beyond that there was nothing. How ghastly! It was three more days until John’s pay day. There was nothing she could cook, either, except a bit of rice in a package and a few prunes. She hadn’t realized things were quite so bad. She was glad her mother hadn’t lived to see this day.
John soon came in, trailing bits of earth on the white tiles of the bathroom, talking endlessly of trees and bushes.
“We shipped trees enough for a whole orchard to a farmer out in Gillam. I’d like to see the orchard in ten years. Maybe we will. They were the finest trees in the world. I wish you could see those Lombardy poplars, Alyn, they make the most beautiful sight. I’m going to bud that apricot sport if it turns out well. Mr. Milton gave it to me. I’ll tell you, honey, there’s something about a tree …”
John sat down and helped himself plentifully to the beans, continuing his monologue until Alyn thought she must scream. The beans disappeared, the salad, and the bread slices, one by one. The dishes were bare; every one on the table was empty. John half reached for another helping, looking around in that helpless, hopeful way, and then laid down his knife and fork.
“Is this all you have, honey? Mercy, I’m hungry. My appetite certainly improves working out-of-doors. I could eat twice as much. You’d better cook larger lots.”
“Cook larger lots?” said Alyn bitterly. “We’re out of groceries entirely.”
“Out of groceries?’ parroted John maddeningly.
“Certainly! What did you think I might buy them with? What might I use for money?” Alyn couldn’t resist asking.
John’s face was grave. “You can’t mean we are out of money, Alyn? I gave you enough at the first of the month …”
This was awful – actually to be fussing about food, like any common family. Alyn’s answer was testy.
“You gave me eighty dollars, John. That was to do for everything.”
“And quite enough, too, dear,” said John reasonably. “You were to spend it for food.”
“Well, other things came up. I had forgotten about sending my winter things to the cleaner’s. That was ten dollars I couldn’t help spending. After all, if you have nice things they must have care.”
This was undignified, having to account for her money like a child caught stealing pennies. It was humiliating! How could John do this to her?
At any rate, the money was gone, and John would have to do something – but she couldn’t help wondering what. John offered no comment; he just read his paper with indifference. John was not the same man he used to be at all.