By Alice Morrey Bailey
ALYN FORDYCE struggles against her husband,
JOHN FORDYCE, who insists upon continuing his work at the Milton Nurseries, which he likes, but which pays only $150 a month instead of $500 which Alyn is used to. She thinks he is selfish not to humor her in compensation for her inability to have children, and is annoyed with his enthusiasm over a sport, or mutation, on an apricot tree – one that blossoms earlier than the rest. She wishes John could meet
JUDITH WYATT, whom she has met by chance, a young woman of good breeding and grace, who is to become a mother. Humiliated by her friends, who know John’s change of status and her refusal to admit it, Alyn decides the only solution is divorce. However, when she goes to fill the appointment with
JUDGE OLDHAM, whom she has chosen to represent her, she overhears him denouncing a woman who apparently is surrounded by her same set of circumstances, and she hurries out of his office without waiting to see him. In desperation, with a desire to be independent of John, Alyn decides to get a job.
Alyn sat aloof from the people about her, but felt rather foolish in the waiting room of The Home Acres Real Estate Company. She was very conscious of the presence of an elderly man, a slender girl, and a young man whose linen was not too clean. They were there for the same purpose as she – employment. The younger man and the girl were engaged in conversation.
“I always figure this way,” the young man was saying, “when you go to look for work, remember this – you may be scared, but the man who is hiring you, he’s scared, too. He’s wondering about you just as much as you are about him. You are trying to impress him all right, but don’t forget he’s trying to impress you just as much, as a boss I mean.” Nevertheless, the young man straightened his tie nervously when the secretary motioned for him to go into one of the offices. Alyn stirred to leave; this was no place for her, waiting with shabby people to be interviewed. But she was too late – the secretary’s eyes were upon her, and her expression was one of respect, almost awe.
Real estate sounded more dignified to Alyn that some other lines of business. She had thought of interior decorating or some vague executive position. She might casually talk to Vivian Preece who owned the Axdale Furniture company – they had gone to school together – or to Farley Haight who had the art store. They would do anything for her. There were dozens of people she could appeal to, and, if the worst came to the worst, there were always her close personal friends.
“Mr. Hendley will see you now,” the secretary announced. The young man who had preceded her into the office came out in a surprisingly short time and passed hastily through the room, head down, unwilling to face the girl, unable to hide his failure, brave opinions notwithstanding. Alyn went in. The man across the desk looked up with an expression of pleasant surprise, welcoming a deviation from routine. “Yes?” he said.
“I saw your advertisement in this morning’s paper,” Alyn began.
“Oh, that. Well it’s a beautiful house, but you are in the wrong department. Step through the door and ask for Mr. Thomas; he knows all about the property.”
“I mean your advertisement about employment,” explained Alyn.
“You mean you want work?” Mr. Hendley asked incredulously.
“Yes,” said Alyn, “I do.”
The man’s face underwent a change. The suavity of the salesman, the deference due a customer were gone. Instead, there was the searching glance of one who dealt shrewdly with those who might gain employment from him. He appraised Alyn as if she had said something preposterous. “Are you a typist?”
“No,” said Alyn, “I don’t type.”
“Can you keep records, or care for a file?” he asked.
“No,” said Alyn again. Mr. Hendley sat back in his chair and looked at her with something less than pity.
“Perhaps you had in mind the selling end of the business?” he offered with an air of great patience.
“Selling?” The very word stiffened a resentment in Alyn. Mr. Hendley saw it at once.
“Yes, selling. Selling, my dear young lady, is the ground upon which all business is built – not buying, selling. Whether you like it or not, if you don’t recognize that fact you have no place in the business world.” His tone indicated his forte and left no room for doubt. He was a salesman and was proud of it.
“I guess you are right,” said Alyn, “I had not thought of it in that way.”
“What had you thought of? You want work. What can you do? What has been your experience?”
“None, I’m afraid,” answered Alyn.
“Well, in that case, Mrs. …”
“Fordyce,” supplied Alyn automatically, and cold with rage and resentment at being patronized and scolded, she started to assemble her things.
Mr. Hendley continued, more kindly. “You could go to the State Employment Office; they may find something for you to do, if you must work.” He seemed unable to associate the need for work with one so well dressed. “Husband out of work?”
“No, my husband …” began Alyn and stopped; she could not tell this man anything of her private affairs.
Mr. Hendley made a sympathetic gesture. “Too bad, those things do happen.” Alyn realized that he had mistaken her for a widow. “Frankly, Mrs. Fordyce, this is a hard world, a man’s world. If you want to make your way with any degree of success, you must have some of the qualities of a man, and you must have something specific to offer or there will be no takers.” How crudely he put it. Long afterward the words clung – you must have some of the qualities of a man, and you must have something specific to offer.
Alyn went home wearily despondent. The recital of her lack of capabilities, humiliating, shattering, went through her mind despite every attempt to shut it out. She could not type, keep records, care for a filing system; she was temperamentally unfitted for selling, therefore she was of no use in a man’s world of barter and trade. Surely there must be something in her make-up that fitted her to do something reasonably well; there must be some place into which she would fit. She had thought herself well equipped to take a place in the world outside of her home. But just what could she do? She thought of combining her ladylike qualities in some way with commercial life, but she withdrew hurriedly from that thought. There was something distasteful about being charming for hire. The day’s encounter had been enough and too much for her.
John sat reading the paper and poring over texts on horticulture. Alyn pretended to listen to the radio, but in reality her thoughts made no clear pattern. She felt trapped, defeated at every turn.
After an almost wordless evening, she went to bed to dream that she and John were swimming endlessly at sea; that she was towing John to a distant land, dim in the half-light; that he was heavy and resistant. She knew on that distant land were fresh water, food, comfort, but John could not be made to understand; that he kicked free to swim in some mad fashion of his own. Instead of relief at the loss of his weight, she found, paradoxically, that he had been supporting her, not she him.
She was not rested in the morning, and it irritated her slightly to have John present himself at the table shining with vitality, brushed and shaved, smelling faintly of soap and toothpaste. He spooned into his apricots and held up a half for her to see.
“Alyn, you would be amazed to see the apricots on that limb I am watching. They’re larger than these already and haven’t begun to ripen; they’re two whole weeks ahead of the crop. Milton and the other men are watching them, too. They all call them the ‘Fordyce’ sport.”
“John,” said Alyn. “How did you say you got your job?”
“I just went in and told Milton I wanted it; that I had had no experience in that line, but I had always been interested in horticulture; and he gave me the job.”
“That easy?” Alyn looked at John with new eyes.
“Well, almost. He was on the way out to look over some trees, and I went along. We talked an hour or so, and I guess he could tell my interest was not pretended. I told him how I felt about a person working at something he didn’t like and how I didn’t fit where I had been.”
“John, you didn’t! And he hired you, knowing you to be a fai …” Alyn caught herself. “Oh, John, I’m sorry.”
“I wasn’t a failure,” said John without rancor. “Mr. Milton said not many men would be as honest as I. He felt the same as I did, having been an outdoor man all his life. He said an office job would drive him daft in thirty days.”
It was almost easy to agree with John.
“John, is it easy to sell things? I mean merchandise, dresses, real estate, and things like that?”
John laughed. “It seems odd for a Merriweather to ask that question. Your family’s money was earned through that special gift. My father used to say your grandfather could have sold a waistline to a wasp. Your father was just as capable, and Mother often envied your mother’s ability to dispense dinners and charm in the right direction.”
“Oh, John! You make my people sound awful – money grabbers, Shylocks. Nothing is farther from the truth. The culture … The background … I suppose you think I am the same.”
“No, really. I have nothing but admiration for a gift, no matter in which direction it lies; but I don’t believe in using one man’s gift as a yard rule for all.”
Alyn couldn’t believe that John was not treating her to a little subtle sarcasm, though she searched his face in vain for a sign. The suspicion nettled her.
“What a crude conversation,” she said, but in spite of herself little scraps of conversation, little incidents which justified what John had said come to her mind.
“Well, darling,” John continued, “a woman as beautiful as you are should not have to worry. I meant no insinuation that your people were not absolutely right. Selling, competition, was the breath of life to them. Certain lines of work would have been torture to your father, so it would have been silly to force him to do any work other than that which he did. Remember what I said about a dominating interest? You can’t have it without doing the thing you love most to do. Know what I mean?”
Suddenly Alyn recalled all that had brought up this conversation; she remembered the quick snub she had received from Bea McIntyre when her financial status had changed.
“I know only one thing,” she burst out, “so long as I live I shall have no desire to see Bea McIntyre again.”
As soon as the words were spoken she knew the outburst to be impetuous and childish, and she wished she might recall what she had said.
“Bea?” questioned John. “Why do you say that, darling?”
Alyn, somewhat abashed, would not answer.
“Alyn, why don’t you talk more freely to me? You are so reserved that I have to guess what goes on in your mind, and it distresses me very much. Believe me, darling, I want you to be happy. I still want that in spite of the motives you must sometimes apply to my actions. Has Bea been unpleasant?”
John actually bristled, but Alyn remembered his prediction that her friends would soon make her feel the difference in her financial status. She wouldn’t let John have the satisfaction of knowing his prediction had been fulfilled.
“I must remember butter when I get the groceries,” she said at random, trying to change the subject, but John detected the device.
“Alyn,” he said, sitting opposite her and taking both her hands in his own, “I have thought through our situation thoroughly. I know some unpleasantness is inevitable. I had planned to keep you happy in spite of everything, but when you don’t tell me about what goes on I can’t help the situation. I know a great deal of the wrong is in your own thinking. I do so want to help you settle your values as I have mine.”
Alyn was surprised and nettled. She drew back her hands.
“I think this is stupid,” she said coldly.
John gave her a long, concerned look, and Alyn had a moment of regret that she had been so unpleasant. His words had the ring of truth, but how dared he suggest she was wrong? No matter how he felt about his own activities, he had no right whatever to force her into an unwanted situation. Everywhere she turned for escape she was balked by the lack of money.
She felt as if she were going mad. There was not one person in whom she could confide and who would understand. Resentment mounted within her; the same old nightmare, the same fissures at her feet. Sensibilities or not, the only possible way out for her was a job.
She feverishly dusted and finished odds and ends of straightening, in haste to be off. She would go to the State Employment Office first, she promised herself; after that, if necessary, she would go to her friends. There would be no repetition of yesterday’s mistake. She would be frank as to her lack of experience. Surely there would be someone in the Employment Office willing to talk to her about her situation.
But there was no one. The place was extremely businesslike with rows of desks at which sat numbers of workers absorbed with stacks of papers. She was directed here and there with machine-like impersonality. “Fill out this form at one of the desks,” she was told, or, “We will call you, Madam, if we can place you,” and she was dismissed, feeling, of course, that nothing whatever would come of it.
Outside, on the sidewalk, Alyn took a long breath. Now for her friends. She realized suddenly that there was not one friendship she cared to risk. How could she open the subject, for instance, to Vivian Preece? Her steps tapped out the questions Mr. Hendley had asked her yesterday. Viv would be happy to see her after so long a time. But what if his face changed when he learned her reason for coming to him, as did Mr. Hendley’s yesterday? It seemed not quite honest to play upon a friendship for something she couldn’t get without such a personal appeal. She knew she couldn’t do it.
Suddenly a thought struck her. “Your grandfather could sell a waistline to a wasp,” John had said. So could her father and her mother. Perhaps she had the same gift inherent in her nature. The thought did something to her. A Merriweather at sea in business? She would show John Fordyce! She would apply for a selling job at every store on the street! The sign, “Charlotte Chapeaux,” caught her eye, and into the shop Alyn went.
The one clerk was busy with a customer in the back. Alyn waited a few minutes, then her eye caught a hat, a lovely thing of fine, white straw with fluttering lines. It was not rakish, but was perky enough to be smart. She simply must see how she looked in it. She took off her hat and moved toward it with the intention of trying it on. At that moment a girl swept in, nodded to her briefly, and quickly sat down before a mirror. She noted the hat Alyn was about to grasp, and said:
“Yes – try that one on me.”
Alyn looked at her in amazement, then perceived that the girl thought her a clerk. She opened her mouth to explain, glanced about for another employee. The clerk was still busy, her back turned. Alyn closed her mouth and did as the girl bade.
“We’ll see whether I can sell,” she told herself grimly.
“Fine,” said the girl, hardly looking at the hat. “I’ll take it.’
This was too easy. “No,” said Alyn, distressed at the girl’s offhand manner. Besides, the hat did not become her. “Look what the shape does to your jawline. This isn’t your hat. Here …”
She snatched another hat from a niche – one with a youthful halo effect in blue and brim-facing of pastel flowers.
“Look. See how it emphasizes the delicate point of your chin? A girl with a smooth brow, so young and slim and lovely as you are should wear a girlish hat. It’s the difference between being good-looking and beautiful.”
The girl stared at her, wide-eyed. “Hats,” she said, “are the bane of my life. I only buy them because Mother insists. I never know how to select one. Maybe you’ll teach me. I’ll come here every time. Mother … her hats look like Queen Mary’s.”
“I …” began Alyn.
“You just do that, dearie,” cut in a voice, “and I’ll see that this lady always assists you in your selections. She does know her hats. There isn’t one in the store that would become you better. Here, I’ll box it for you. That will be twelve-fifty.”