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 needs material things to compensate her for her inability to have children.
John discovers a sport, or mutation, on an apricot tree – one limb that blossoms earlier than the rest.
Alyn meets Judith Wyatt, an attractive young widow, who is apparently to become a mother.
Alyn pretends to her friends that there has been no change in the Fordyce financial status, even thought they have actually run short of food, due, of course, to her inability to manage on John’s limited salary. She and John quarrel over money.
Alyn took up her book and adjusted the light to read. She caught John looking at her, a look of mingled perplexity and compassion. He looked at her long, too long for comfort, and she thought that he must certainly make some move, or speak, but he did not. He merely resumed his reading. It was irritating, but at least it was a rest from the monologue that had become almost the whole of their conversation together: trees, “budding,” “sports,” some queer trade talk of the world of horticulture – a world foreign and alien to the last degree, uninteresting in the extreme to Alyn.
Tonight Jetta and Lane Haywood were giving a dinner. There would be candles and sparkling conversation. There would be perfect service and delicious food. Afterward they would trail into Jetta’s living room and talk seriously about world events – seriously, with the froth of wit making its headiness felt. The men would pose and gesture against the mantel. Jeff Peterson would tell them what the war was doing to high finance, a little smugly – forgivably, of course, in view of his prominence.
The women would size each other up critically and compliment each other sweetly. All this, and Alyn’s own ivory velvet frock hung swathed in cellophane in the cedar closet. Alyn sat at home with a book. John sat opposite, and they quarreled about, of all things, food. How hateful! The only pleasant thing about the entire day had been her unexpected encounter with Judith Wyatt. If John could only see her! The sound of her voice, her evident good breeding were a proof that all these things were justifiable. Who might the girl be? Who might the girl be?
“John,” said Alyn suddenly.
“John, I wish you would be a little more careful. Bea and Wif McIntyre saw you down at Milton’s the other day. I am sure Wif McIntyre recognized you, and in those old clothes. Bea talked him out of it, but you must be careful.”
“I don’t quite understand you, Alyn. Careful of what?”
“Well, keep out of sight. I don’t think at this stage that you should allow our friends to see you at such common labor. ‘A common laborer,’ was what Bea said. I was so humiliated.”
“At what stage, Alyn? What had you in mind?” said John, and there was a queer watchfulness in his voice.
“Why, John, you must know. Aren’t you afraid of spoiling your chances for a real job?”
John carefully put down his paper. “Alyn,” he said, “there’s something I must make clear to you. I’ve tried hard enough in the last month, but I can’t seem to touch an answering spark in you whatever.”
“I said I’d help, John, and I am …”
“No, wait! I am not looking for another job, Alyn. I am satisfied where I am. Whatever this looks like to you, it is a real job to me.”
“John, you can’t mean that! How perfectly silly! how utterly absurd. A hundred and fifty dollars a …”
“But I do mean it. This is the thing I have always wanted to do, Alyn. I tell you, dear, this is the first time I have ever really lived. I wouldn’t give this up for all the money in Jim’s bank. You haven’t any idea of the possibilities, the scope of this work. It has everything – adventure, nature, science …”
“Well, John, if you feel so about it, why don’t you take it up as a hobby?” said Alyn reasonably. She was trying, really trying, to see John’s point of view. The Merriweathers could never be accused of lacking open-mindedness. “But for your work, your business …’
“I think a hobby is a palliative for failure. It is the sure sign that you are not happy in your work. Oh, Alyn, I wish I could make you see! Ninety out of every hundred people are doing work they don’t like. Furthermore, I believe that there is work in the world for every person, each one doing what he likes best to do. If we ever learn that, Alyn, this earth will be heaven.”
“No doubt,” said Alyn, unconvinced, “but in the meantime, what are you going to do about tomorrow’s groceries?”
“Nothing,” said John.
“Nothing?” repeated Alyn, stupidly. “Whatever has come over you, John? Of course, you realize that aside from two eggs and a strip of bacon we have absolutely no supplies?”
“Yes,” said John, serenely. “I did what I could when I gave you the money for the groceries at the first of the month. I get my first pay check in three more days. I will give it to you, and you may do as you see fit – except that we will run no bills. If you wish to run short of food in order to keep this apartment, you may do so. That is your privilege.”
So! that was it! The apartment again! Rage shook Alyn. Futility swept over her. Just what did one do with a man like John? In all their life together she had never known him to behave so. Would he get over it? How long would it last? No wonder women got divorces.
Alyn went over the indignities of the past month. She hadn’t forgotten that John had actually accused her of not wanting a baby when everyone knew it had been the life-long desire of her heart. Hurts and humiliations had piled up, one upon another, ever since that dreadful afternoon when he had come home and announced that he had lost his job. Her only consolation was that their friends didn’t know. At least, the Merriweather pride had stood her in good stead. Many women would have gone weeping to their friends, but not Alyn. No one would know from any word or look or deed of hers that things were not well with the Fordyces, nor would they ever know what it cost her to keep it from them.
“As for Wif and Bea,”John was saying, “I doubt if Bea was fooled. I know Wif wasn’t. I sold Wif a Blue Spruce last week myself, to fit into a space in their landscaping. Wif knew it was I all right, and I would be willing to stake a good deal that Bea knew it, too, and was just baiting you at the tea. I told Wif how happy I am. I’m not ashamed of my job. I’m proud of it.”
Alyn just stood there, helpless. Under just what circumstances did women faint? Of all the crowning indignities, this was the peak. She had a sickening recollection of the watchfulness on the faces of the women at the luncheon, and she knew that John was right. Bea was just baiting her, and every woman there knew it.
“I can’t stand this,” she told herself, numbly. “I’m going to get a divorce!”
The next morning Alyn awoke late, after a drugged, nightmarish sleep. John was gone; she had not heard him leave. She sat up in bed and put both hands to her aching head. On the way to the bathroom she peeped hastily into the kitchen. There were dishes on the table. Evidently John had prepared his own breakfast. It was just as well for her that she couldn’t eat a bite, since there was nothing whatever to eat. After last night she couldn’t bear to go near the kitchen.
“I must talk to someone,” she thought, “but who?” Obviously it must not be Tory Meade, the ablest young lawyer in town. He was a member of the crowd. He had handled the Peters’ divorce last year, and it was all quietly over and Anne had gone away before the crowd was really aware that there had been trouble between her and Bill. The Merriweather pride, however, forbade Alyn’s going to him, because Tory had had some idea of marrying her himself when they were younger. He would be something more than human if he didn’t feel a little like gloating over her failure to make a go of it with John. No, she couldn’t go to Tory. She thought of Judge Oldham, and reached for the telephone.
“Judge Oldham isn’t in, but I am sure he has an opening for eleven,” the secretary told her. “He will see you then.”
Now she was committed. Alyn put the receiver in its cradle with shaking fingers, and a sense of walking in a nightmare. This was certainly not she, thinking of divorce – already with an appointment with a lawyer.
She walked to the window and looked out. It wasn’t too late yet. Below, in a tidy little yard, an apricot tree dropped its belated blossoms one by one to the ground.
“I’ll bet I’m the first woman to have an apricot tree for a rival,” thought Alyn, a little whimsically. But it was true. John was in reality choosing trees in preference to his wife. John had slept instantly and deeply when he dropped to the pillow last night, but far into the night Alyn had lain staring into the darkness. No Merriweather had ever had a divorce, but certainly she had acquitted herself well enough as a wife. She it was who had given John his advantage in the very beginning – an advantage that had given him sesame to the very best homes in the city, even in the state. Their home had always been a place of good taste and good breeding. She had never for an instant caused him to be ashamed of her. A wealth of pride and tradition were behind her. And what had John done with his opportunities? Nothing – worse than nothing! He had finally wound up a common laborer in a nursery. Certainly no one could blame her if she divorced him.
She knew nothing about divorce laws. She guessed she would have to base her divorce on “incompatibility,” whatever that was. “Mental cruelty” she had heard mentioned somewhere, in some newspaper perhaps. Well, no woman could have suffered greater mental cruelty than had she in the last month – the humiliations. Of course, if there had been children things would be a little different. There was Cecile Borden who had married beneath her and had three children before she discovered her husband was a failure. Where was she now? She had gradually dropped from the crowd – Alyn couldn’t just remember how. She was barely thought of by any of them now except in passing. Once in a while, someone mentioned “poor dear Cecile.” No doubt she was eking out some miserable existence, scraping along on nothing with a man who was a failure, just for the “sake of the children.”
Alyn wished she had something to compensate her, but John was so callous to her misery. He hadn’t used to be, but now he didn’t think of or talk about anything but trees. That limb of apricots that had blossomed early had excited him more than anything had in years – more than any dinner they had ever attended, even the one when Jeff and Doris had entertained that great banker from the House of Morgan who had come through last summer. John was so insensitive to her needs. There was just no way out but divorce. Alyn glanced at her clock. She had just one hour and twenty minutes before she must keep her appointment with Judge Oldham. She was satisfied she was doing the right thing.