By Alice Morrey Bailey
ALYN FORDYCE struggles against her husband,
JOHN FORDYCE, who insists upon continuing his work – which he loves – at the Milton Nurseries at a salary of $150 a month when Alyn has been used to $500 a month which he used to earn at work which he did not like. She thinks him selfish not to compensate her 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 who is to become a mother. Humiliated by her friends, who know of her reduced financial status and her refusal to admit it, Alyn decides to get a divorce. however, when she goes to fill the appointment with
JUDGE OLDHAM, her lawyer, she overhears him denouncing a woman in her same set of circumstances. She hurries out of his office without waiting to see him, but abandons divorce plans and decides to get a job. In her fruitless search for work, she is surprised and shocked to learn that she has no specific training to equip her for the business world. She also learns that a person of pride cannot play upon friendships for favors, as she has insisted that John do. She is stung by John’s remark that her family’s innate gift is selling. though she has been repelled by it, Alyn determines to get a job at selling, and seizes the opportunity to sell a hat to another customer in Charlotte-Chapeaux, a hat shop where she has gone to purchase a hat.
CHARLOTTE, proprietor of Charlotte-Chapeaux, is a good-hearted but rather coarse woman. She watches Alyn and is so pleased with her sales ability that she offers her a job, which Alyn accepts. Alyn is surprised to discover that Judith Wyatt, who is ill, is also an employee of the shop. A fine friendship is established between Judith and Alyn. Alyn arouses the wrath of Charlotte when, sensitive to her position as a clerk, she slips into the cloakroom rather than meet one of her wealthy friends who comes to buy a hat. Charlotte’s rebuke is so severe that Alyn, in indignation, decides to quit her job.
Alyn did not quit her job as clerk at Charlotte Chapeaux, for when she went to the office to gather her things, she found Judith bent over her desk, sobbing quietly, deeply.
“Judith, you mustn’t! Has Lottie …?”
“No,” said Judith. She raised her head, dabbing at her tears, trying to laugh. “I have an awful case of self-pity. I might have known I’d get caught.”
“Stop trying to be brave and tell me about it. Go ahead and cry if you like. Maybe it will help.”
Alyn put her arm across Judith’s shoulder, and Judith did as Alyn had urged, the accumulation pouring with relief from her pent emotions.
“It’s a little bit of everything. I’m homesick for Theo. I’m tired and afraid.”
“Afraid? Well, that’s a normal reaction I should imagine. I was afraid when I knew I was going to have my appendix out. It is just …”
“I wouldn’t care for myself,” Judith was saying. “Theo took everything I wanted with him when he left. The only precious thing I ever had – our love. It was so short a time to have him.”
“We were married a year after we first met. We had been married only five months.”
“Five months! Oh, how awful.”
“He didn’t want to die. He was delirious – pneumonia – and he kept fighting. We pinned the covers to the mattress above his shoulders, but his hands kept working back and forth. ‘A man can’t fight, a man can’t fight!’ he repeated over and over. It was awful.”
Alyn, searching her mind for comforting words, could find none. She wished fervently that John were here. He could be so reassuring, so restful.
“I thought it would be easier by now, but it gets worse. I need him so, and, wherever he is, I know that he needs me, too, that he is waiting for me. All we had was each other. I often hear his footsteps, almost his voice. Every once in a while I look up and see someone like him on the street. Before I can think, my heart leaps. I just can’t get used to him being gone.”
“But your baby, Judith. You must think of it.”
“I know. I do most of the time, but he needs a father as much as he does a mother. Everything is so hopeless – a little lonesome child in the care of strangers, a working mother, and no father …”
“Oh, you’ll find some comfortable, baby-loving soul who will be glad to mother the baby for you.”
“Yes,” said Judith, and laughed suddenly. “I can be the father, coming home from the office at night with a new whistle, or a doll – if it’s a girl. You see how silly I am?”
“Your husband’s people, Judith? What about them?”
“Theo had no people. We were both orphans. That was really the thing that brought us together. Then we found so many things in common – books, music, plays. In fact, everything! But it was that background that made everything so understandable. Neither of us had anyone.”
“You soon will have, Judith,” said Alyn brightly. “Before you know it that youngster will be here, and then you will have someone that demands all your attention. What do you think it will be, a boy or a girl?”
“I really don’t care. A first-born is generally thought of as a son, isn’t it? But a girl would be sweet! Think of it – dressing her, sending her to school, hearing her prayers, her confidences. Oh, Alyn, how awful of me to be so thankless, so serious …”
“The serious thing is your being cooped up here all day. You need fresh air and sunshine. No wonder your thoughts are dark. Lottie said she’d begged you to quit, that she’d continue your wages. You really oughtn’t to refuse, Judith.”
Judith’s chin lifted. “No, Alyn. The baby and I will pay our own way. Lottie’s grand, letting me work so long. I couldn’t take advantage of her generosity. Besides, Lottie has had enough. Her sister was left with nine children and not a cent in the world. Lottie is sending all of them through school. Eight years she’s been at it now, and there are still many years ahead for her, but she never mentions it.”
“I didn’t know that,” said Alyn. “It makes things different.”
“Alyn, I’m a new woman,” Judith suddenly exclaimed. “My troubles seemed so colossal and so real, but now I feel wonderfully relieved. I don’t know why I let things bother me so much. it’s amazing what having a friendly shoulder to weep on has done for me. Thank you so much.”
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” said Alyn. “It’s five-thirty right this minute. I’m going to call a taxi and take you home with me to dinner. After dinner we’ll do whatever you want to do – go to a movie or chat. It’ll be fun!” And Alyn was thrilled herself at the prospect of it. What would John think of Judith? Probably he wouldn’t like her at all.
But John did like Judith! He warmed to her immediately. He came forward to meet her carrying a little box as if it contained something priceless.
“Well, well, so this is Judith! Alyn has told me so much about you that it’s like meeting an old friend.” Alyn could have hugged him, for she really hadn’t said much about anything connected with the store to John.
“I love Alyn,” said Judith simply.
“Well, at least we have something in common,” said John, his brown eyes twinkling.
Judith smiled. “Give me an apron please, and I’ll help with the dinner.”
“Now you girls curb your ambitions about that dinner for a few minutes,” John continued. “I have something to show you. This is a great occasion, made greater by a fifty percent greater audience.”
With an air of mystification, he carefully laid the box down on the table and opened it. One by one, he produced three apricots, amazingly large, beautifully colored, and smooth of skin. “Now, why,” he said, “did I bring home three instead of two? I thought at the time that it was because the box would hold three and because they were the first to ripen, but now I know one was for Judith.”
“Oh, lovely!” exclaimed Judith. “I didn’t know apricots were ripe.”
“They are truly beautiful, John,” Alyn agreed.
“Apricots are not ripe generally,” said John, trying to control his pride. “These from my sport are exceptions.”
Oh dear! thought Alyn. John was going to be tiresome about that apricot tree again. But Judith was interested.
“Sport? What is a sport?”
“No, not a word of explanation until you’ve sampled my wares.”
The apricot was really the most delicious one Alyn had ever tasted, fine grained and sweet, filled with juice and deliciously flavored.
“I think I have never tasted anything, anywhere, so good,” enthused Judith. “Apricots are my favorite fruit.”
“Alyn?” questioned John anxiously, and waited for her reply as if the world hung on the balance.
“I agree with Judith entirely,” said Alyn, wishing she had given her opinion spontaneously and whole-heartedly, to satisfy the intense desire betrayed in John’s eyes. Suddenly pity for John swept her. He was so patient with her, so thoughtful, his love for her so unwavering, and she knew suddenly that she had, especially of late, given him very little in return. “John,” she said, “I’m not flattering you when I say that it is the most superb apricot in every respect that I have ever seen or tasted.” She was rewarded by the quick surge of joy which came to John’s eyes.
“A sport,” he said, in answer to Judith’s question, “is a happy mistake of nature. It is one limb or branch on a tree that blossoms before all the rest and produces superior flowers or fruit earlier than all the rest. Horticulturists are always on the lookout for one.”
“How very interesting,” marvelled Judith. “But why do horticulturists want sports? They must be practically lacking in value for commercial purposes.”
“Their value is that they can be budded and eventually produced on a large scale. One sport can generate a whole new species.”
Alyn opened her eyes, figuratively. This was interesting. Now she could remember John saying something of the sort numerous times before, things she had ignored in annoyance, or hadn’t heard through lack of interest. How completely selfish and stupid she had been. If there was a demand for these things, she thought suddenly, there must be money in them. Perhaps she had underestimated John.
“What a marvelous thing,” Judith was saying, “to know that one had created a new thing, a thing that might go down through centuries; it’s like writing a great book, but perhaps men don’t think of it with so much sentimentality.”
“Quite the contrary. It is a most satisfying thing to work, hope, wait, and accomplish such a thing. Each step along the way is so filled with miracles, each one an accomplishment, until the culminating thing brings a thrill that can’t be surpassed. it’s like having a private little slice of heaven,” John finished.
Well, that was one way of looking at it, thought Alyn. Maybe John was right, and she was just mercenary. She wouldn’t ask now how much money might be involved. This, then, was John’s idea of success – to find a sport and successfully bud an apricot tree. Alyn couldn’t feel the thing, but realized there was something of joy, something of ecstacy that she was missing. How simple and wholesome, they seemed to her, Judith and John, talking in a language alien to her, yet perfectly understandable to them. She felt some envy, yet was glad they liked each other. The fact vindicated, in some vague way, her judgment of them both. John looked at her and smiled, sharing Judith with her, as if she constituted a bond.
The next day, Lottie approached Alyn a little diffidently. “Here’s that little number you admired so much in the window. It’s yours if you want it.”
It was the white hat that had attracted Alyn into the store that first day. This was, she knew, Lottie’s apology for yesterday’s unpleasantness.
“Why, Lottie, you darling. But I couldn’t think of it. That’s a grand hat, and I’d like it, but I’ll buy it.”
“If you want the cost price on it, it’s a deal.”
“All right,” agreed Alyn. “Lottie, I’m sorry about yesterday. I didn’t quite understand. I’ll do better next time.”
“Forget it, kid,” said Lottie, and the matter was ended.
“Someone wants you on the telephone,” said Ivy Walters, coming out of the office. Who could it be? No one had ever called her at the store.
It was John, and his voice held a note of excitement.
“Alyn, darling, will you do something for me, something important?”
“Why, yes, John, certainly. What is it?”
“I want to bring a dinner guest home tonight.”
“Who, John? Is it anyone I know?”
“No, darling. It is a man, an orchard man, from the East. Milton knows him, and he wired Milton that he would be here for dinner tonight. Milton’s wife is ill. I offered to take him.”
Well, this was unusual for John to become socially minded. Alyn smiled to herself. “I guess we can manage it,” she said indulgently, thinking swiftly. Maybe she could serve some ham and last night’s potatoes made into croquettes. There would be enough ice cream in the refrigerator tray …
“Alyn, you’re a sweetheart,” John was saying. “I know you must be tired, especially after last night. Can we splurge a little, dearest?”
Splurge! Well, that was a little different. John couldn’t expect her to go to too much trouble, after a full day at the store, and with such short notice.
“John is bringing home a visitor,” she explained to Judith as she hung up the receiver.
“You took it beautifully,” observed Judith. “Some women fuss so much over an unexpected guest that they spoil whatever their husbands had in mind – not your kind, not my kind. I’m thankful that whatever Theo and I had to give, in the short time we had each other, was given freely and generously. It would always have been that way. It must be tragic when there isn’t harmony in marriage.”
“It must be,” murmured Alyn, wondering in which category her own might be placed.
“You know,” continued Judith, “you and Mr. Fordyce remind me of Theo and me in so many ways.”
“In what ways?” said Alyn, surprised.
“You seem to have preserved that harmony, that communion of spirit so remarkably. He is so devoted to you. Your home life – you have all the things we planned and would have had, too, if Theo had lived.”
Alyn was touched, and thankful that Judith hadn’t penetrated the disquiet in her heart. She felt, however, that the unrest that was most certainly there would grow until it would be perfectly apparently to everyone, that something must be done to stop it. Until last night, she had thought that conditions had to change, but now, all day, she had had the very strong conviction that her trouble was something ugly and deep within herself that must be subjected to some sort of alchemy – the base metal must be turned to gold. But where, and what in this world of shifting values, was the alchemy?
Instead of the dinner she planned, she served steaks, sizzling and brown, potatoes whipped to creamy whiteness, and buttered peas. She took, special pains for the crispness of the salad and made a delicious dessert with fruits and whipped cream. And she was only slightly annoyed when John repeated the ritual of last night with the apricots.
The visitor was a silent sort of person, with a straight, inflexible mouth. He ate the apricot slowly, in dead silence, turning it between bites, examining it, the skin, the meat, and the stone. He even put it to his nose and smelled it. Something tense in the scene conveyed itself to Alyn. It was a queer way for two grown men to be behaving. John was watching the man, a Mr. Moyle, as he had watched her last night, but if he was expecting effusions he was certainly disappointed.
“Nice apricot,” said Mr. Moyle when he had finished, in exactly the same tone as he might have said, “Nice day.” However, he reached over and took another apricot and turned it minutely in his hand before he bit into it.
“Going to bud it?” he finally asked.
“Yes,” said John.
Both men ate silently, seeming oblivious to the food. Conversation was strained, and each subject that was opened in hope fell flat for lack of interest. It was only as he started to go that the visitor seemed to remember Alyn.
“Nice dinner,” he said.
After he had gone, John went to the window and looked out into the June night across the auroral light that spread into the sky over the business section of the city.
“John, darling,” said Alyn, when she could stand it no longer. “Why didn’t you tell him – like you did Judith last night?” she put an arm about his waist and patted him sympathetically.
“There was nothing to tell, dear – nothing he didn’t know.”
He put his arm about her shoulder, and they continued to stand at the window. Finally John drew a long breath.
“I gave him all the eloquence I had,” he said, “in that little apricot.”