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 is discouraged. She reviews her life with John and sees no place in which she has failed. Indeed, she feels that she has contributed a great deal toward their marriage, which John, for some reason, fails to appreciate. She feels he is insensitive to her needs and callous to her misery. She has no children – nothing to compensate her for all she has endured. “There is just no way out but divorce,” she concludes, and promptly makes an appointment with
JUDGE OLDHAM, an experienced and able lawyer.
It was not until Alyn entered the office of Judge Oldham that she began to have some trepidation. Judge Oldham was a plain-spoken old gentleman, but he would be kind to her because he had been a friend of her father’s. His office was still housed by the old Gladstone Building, whose ornate hallway with its wrought iron and varnished wood beckoned her from an “eighteen ninety” past. Of course, it was well kept, down to the last polished brass doorknob, but it was in striking contrast to the streamlined offices of Tory Meade and his contemporaries. Alyn didn’t mind. The atmosphere seemed to lend dignity to her errand.
The secretary had her hat on when Alyn walked in.
“I waited to go out until you came, Mrs. Fordyce. The Judge wants me to do some errands. I hope you won’t mind. Make yourself comfortable. Here are magazines. He is with a client now, but she will leave soon.”
“Quite all right,” murmured Alyn. She could hear the Judge talking and a woman’s voice from the other room.
But Alyn couldn’t settle herself to a magazine. She arose to circle the room; she gazed absently at the restful old oil paintings that decorated the walls. Gradually the words of the two in the next room bore in on her consciousness.
“You say that he doesn’t drink to excess?” Judge Oldham was saying. “‘Other women’ is not your problem, Mrs. Payne? So far as I can see, he is an honest and honorable man who pays his bills and, up to now, has provided amply for his wife, judging by the lovely clothes you are wearing. He is good to you; his only sin against you is the loss of his money.”
“You don’t understand, Judge. You don’t see … think what I’ve been through. The mental cruelty …”
“Yes, but I do see. And I’m going to tell you exactly what I see. I see that in the first place you are a small child who has not been spanked since you were as young physically as you are mentally. Does it occur to you that you might have been inflicting mental cruelty upon him? Don’t you see that the very first time in his life when he needs his wife to stand by him and face the music you are failing him – adding your reproaches to those of the rest of the world? Does it occur to you to wonder what he has been through? I think not. I believe your mind is much more on yourself and clothes and the opinion of your neighbors, than upon what goes on in your husband’s heart and mind, upon whether he will crack under the strain. I have nothing further to say, and I will not handle your divorce.”
Alyn waited for no more. Gathering her purse and her gloves, she fled before the door would open, for every word that the Judge had said felt like a whip to her own sensitivity – so much so that she entirely forgot the presence of the other woman.
There was nothing to do but go home – home to a house empty of food. Her future seemed equally empty as she made her way back to the place she loved so much. How could John have eaten breakfast and left her nothing? But upon entering the kitchen she noticed John had not eaten all the food. The bacon was stretched neatly in the pan, and the eggs were on the buffet shelf of the gas range. Against her plate a note had been propped. “Alyn, darling,” it read, “I hate so badly to put you through all this. I dearly love you and would not have you hurt for the world. John.”
Alyn crumpled the note against her face and wept. Now, everything would be all right. Why, she really loved John; he had become so much a habit, he was just like a part of herself. How fortunate that she had not talked to Judge Oldham this morning. She felt sure that John would relent in his ridiculous stand to stay with his position with Intermountain Milton Nurseries, and they would go on as before.
When John came home, she went graciously into his arms, as befitted a lady who had won her way. He searched her with his eyes. “I know you are starving, honey. No luncheon invitation today?” he asked.
“Nonsense,” she assured him, “I’ve eaten less when I’ve been dieting. I didn’t want breakfast, so I ate the things you left for lunch.” She remembered the circumstance with guilt, and added hastily. “And what did you eat for breakfast?”
“I got by,” said John easily. “I sold something I didn’t need. Some groceries are coming up.”
“Oh, John,” said Alyn, “not a pawn shop?”
“What else?” shrugged John calmly. “I don’t like it either. It will not happen again,” he said smiling, but Alyn knew it was a command. He had used the same tone before, the summer Josephine and Bea had gone to Europe and wanted her to accompany them. John had refused her quietly and kindly, but he had not budged an inch. Alyn had begged and pleaded, used all her artifices, but she had not gone to Europe. There was simply that one little quality in John that would not be broken. He could tell her not to run over her allotment, and she knew she must not run over it. It wasn’t fair, but she kept resentment out of her voice as she said easily, “All of that will take care of itself when you are in a better-paying position; it isn’t that I spend too much, John, it’s that you don’t make enough.” In answer, he did an odd thing. He drew her to the divan, sat on a chair in front of her, and looked at her long and earnestly.
“Alyn, I won’t repeat what I have already said about my present work, though it is no less true now than it was twenty-four hours ago. Please believe me when I say that my decision with regard to my work is final. It is more vital to me than life itself. It is just as vital to you, and I must make you see it.”
Her momentary annoyance was interrupted by something urgent and compelling in his gaze. The light from the west window frosted his hair, a little grey at the temples, and the rim of his glasses. There was no denying, John was a distinguished looking man, neither excessively tall nor fat for middle life; he was a substantial-looking person, a typical business man, well cared for, with the controlled features of an executive. His eyes, a living brown, spoke to her, reaching for her thoughts, searching her reactions, reassuring her fears. There was depth in them, a sureness she had not noticed before. There was something quietly indomitable, something thrilling about John. His voice went on:
“There must be a dominating interest in every life, Alyn. Moreover, that interest, whatever it is, must be something important. There must be some reason for its being. There must be some justification for living.”
Alyn, absorbed in a new appreciation of her husband, noted the rise and fall of his voice, the deep timbre of it; she heard the words only superficially. “I am no exception,” he continued, “and you are no exception. There comes a time, my dear, when we are no longer children, but adults. We must have at least one thing that sustains us, or we crack up. That time has come for me, and I think it is not far off for you.”
“But, John!” Alyn protested, “I am interested; I have been interested. Getting ahead seems …”
“Yes,” said John thoughtfully, “getting ahead – progressing. Progression is right, darling, but we, you and I, have made the wrong application of it. You wanted to excel socially and financially, and that is wrong. It is wrong because there is no lasting value in it, and someday, after you had wasted your brilliant self and your undoubted ability on it, you would have found that out – too late.”
This was really intriguing, she thought. “I had no idea you had such serious thoughts,” she said. “What was your wrongly applied part of it then, John? I am sure you did not share that one with me, considering the difficulty I have always had dragging you to social affairs.”
“Mine was in trying to make you happy,” said John, to Alyn’s dismay.
“Well, certainly, there shouldn’t be anything wrong in that – making one’s wife happy,” she said, a little tartly.
“You are right – if it could be done; but because we built upon the wrong foundation, we were both destined to fail. You could never have attained your desire because you had to depend on me to make it come true. I could never attain mine because I had to depend upon work I didn’t like in order to bring it about.”
All John had said, the manner of his speaking, had the conviction of truth, new as it was to Alyn, hard as it was for her to understand. How thankful she was that she had not been launched, even now, upon a course from which it would be difficult, if not impossible, to turn – divorce. Alyn felt really happy, exalted with her pride in John – until morning; until the call from Josephine.
“Darling, we missed you so at Bea’s luncheon yesterday. Why didn’t you come?”
“Bea’s luncheon?” said Alyn blankly. “I didn’t know she was having one.”
“Oh, my dear, then I have done something I shouldn’t have. I thought, of course, she had invited you; so unlike Bea.”
It was unlike Bea – not the giving of a luncheon without Alyn, of course, but being so quiet about it. Alyn could almost hear her say, “I’m having those women from the committee, Alyn, and I can’t have anyone I want, but the ghastly thing must be gotten over with.” That was Bea’s way, rather than to have the crowd and merely leave Alyn out. Moreover, there had been much more in Josephine’s voice than in her words, and Alyn recognized instantly that Josephine knew she hadn’t been invited, and why. She had a sense of earthquake with the fissure widening at her feet.
“Nonsense,” she lied valiantly. “I had an important engagement to fill – one I couldn’t break. No doubt Bea knew it.”
“Of course,” agreed Josephine sweetly, and added magnanimously, “I want you for Friday, dear. I simply can’t think of not having you.”
“Friday?” said Alyn, pretending perplexity. “I couldn’t possible come Friday. I’ve had something planned for weeks. Thank you so much, but don’t count on me.”
That ought to even the score a little, she thought grimly as she finished the conversation. This was a battle, with social engagements as missiles. But what had she done that the missiles should be aimed at her?
Nothing, certainly! It all traced back to John. Where was he with his high sounding phrases? She knew with awful clarity just what had happened at the luncheon: “Did you see Alyn’s face when I told her about seeing John at Milton’s? and “Did you notice her when Mary mentioned his job?” “It’s too bad that Alyn has to lower her standards when she has always been used to so much,” someone would say with satisfaction. “I could never afford such clothes as she has,” Mary would say self-righteously, “with all Will makes.”
It would all be there, her family, her marriage, and her pride, stripped to shreds with silken claws. How many times she had partaken of these little polite travesties; they seemed harmless chatter then, but how different it was now that she was their target!
It was cruel of John to place her in such a position with not one weapon for her defense. If she could only be somewhere else until she might plan a course that would save her self-esteem – a trip, anywhere to be away. Why not write to Connie Cummings? Connie had urged her many times to come and spend a few weeks. But, no, Connie knew Bea’s sister who lived in the same town. The news of John’s failure would no doubt have traveled that far already. She could imagine Connie’s probable reply: “So sorry, but we have planned an eastern trip or one to Alaska; in any case, we won’t be home for some weeks to come.” No, she couldn’t risk it with any of her friends who might have connections with her set.
Suddenly, Alyn knew what she would do; she had the answer to her problem, and the next time things became unbearable she would not be helpless. Alyn was going to get herself a job.