From the Relief Society Magazine, April 1939 –
By Wilford D. Lee
Sitting on a chair by the kitchen table Mary Warwick winced under Maizie McNulty’s flying fingers. “I think a man like that,” Maizie was saying, “is cheap.”
“But Maizie! After all, Burton is my husband.”
“Husband!” Maizie’s voice sizzled with scorn. “I don’t want to hurt you, but facts are facts. Today your husband and his lawyer were together in his office when my girl friend, who stenos for him, listened in. Believe it or not, but ‘dear Burton’ is trying to find a way to get rid of you. And you sitting here like a timid mouse!”
“Oh, Maizie, he wouldn’t do that!”
“Listen! A woman like you is the last person on earth to believe the truth. You think he’s perfect! Well, I think he’s …”
But Mrs. Warwick raised her hand in a quick gesture. When she arose from the chair, she was crying.
“There you go! Crying over a …”
“Oh, Maizie, please don’t … I know … I have probably …”
“Yes, you’ve been the door mat murmuring ‘Welcome’ to that ungrateful politician …”
“Maizie … please!”
Maizie dropped into a chair. “Oh, Mary, don’t be angry with me. I always have to burst out …”
Mrs. Warwick comforted her. “I know … I know …”
“But I’ve lived with you so long,” the girl went on. “Coming here just out of school, and you taking me in and treating me like a daughter because you hadn’t one of your own, and then … then … that …”
Mrs. Warwick walked to the window. “Divorce,” she thought. It chilled her. “He is trying to get a divorce!” Parting the curtains, she looked out at the garden. It was true … it was true. That other woman, so sleek and sophisticated …
Mrs. Warwick was short, and much too plump for her height. Even with her glasses off, her face was round; but with the thick lenses in large gold frames before her eyes, she looked positively owlish. Her made-over frock had suffered dismally in the two processes through which it had passed. Her flat-heeled, comfortable shoes neatly finished off a perfect picture of dumpishness.
Taking up a long nail file, Maizie inquired, “Mary, how did you ever happen to marry him, anyway?”
“It … it was a peculiar thing,” she half confessed. “Burton and I were in the same class in college. He was specializing in speech, and I … well, I was just going to school. He was such a masterful sort of a fellow, tall and handsome; and when his great voice boomed out over the crowd, it made little tingles just thrill down my spine. Yet I … I’m afraid that I have never loved him in the true sense of the word. I … I worshiped him!”
Maizie made a derogatory noise in her throat.
“I had no idea of ever marrying him. He often used to come and get me to help him with some of the more difficult passages in his speeches. He always had ideas and could memorize like lightning; but he had difficulty in … well, you know …”
“I know. Positively, without you he would be a nit-wit, nothing but a big noise.”
“And I’ll be you’d never been out with a fellow before in your life.”
“Oh, I would hardly say that … But of course, I didn’t … go out much!”
“And then his sweetheart jilted him and he married you out of spite,” Maizie snapped. “How cheap! Married a cook, a housekeeper and a ghost writer all in one! It’s you who have made him a sure-fire candidate for the Senate. And right now, when a swanky woman would be a big asset to him, he’s trying to …”
The front door opened. Burton Warwick came in and leisurely divested himself of topcoat and hat. Tossing his great mass of hair back over his head, he strode into the room and rubbed his hands together before the fire. Half turning, as a great tragedian might turn upon the stage, he asked, “You have … ah … finished looking over those last few words in my Rotary speech tonight, dear?”
His deep voice rumbled like the chords of a great organ; yet he did not sound affected. He did not sound hypocritical. When he spoke, there was a deep and pervading sincerity, heightened by a dignity that was convincing even to Maizie. Every movement of his body, every little trick of facial expression, even his slightest gesture, heightened the effect. One could not talk with him a moment without feeling the power of his personality.
Mrs. Warwick stood at hesitant attention before him. “I’m sorry, Burton,” she confessed, “I have been so busy … But I have only a page or two left. I will do those while you are eating your dinner.”
With her swift, capable hands, she prepared the meal – chops, a salad, the dessert. He was sitting with a lawyer … divorce … She had been a failure! Her heart throbbed painfully in her tight throat. Yet maybe the girl was mistaken … Her husband had hardly finished the headlines of his front page when she stepped to his side and quietly announced that his meal was ready.
But immediately she escaped. She had always felt inferior; she always felt the impulse to grovel at his feet when he came into the room. She couldn’t help it. She attributed it to the fact that she had been born in the country, and that she had never had much of anything before – lived in a bare little house, and scrimped eternally in order to get through. This grueling hardship had done something to her … Given her a poverty complex, Maizie said.
Before she sat down to her typewriter, she surveyed herself in the mirror. She did look a sight! Hair wet, with metal clamps all over it. She ran her hands down over her ribs to her hips and then to her thighs. Enormous rolls of flesh … and that string of a belt … a sack of bran tied in the middle!
She turned and seated herself quickly. Running her eyes over the last few sentences, she picked up the thread of his discourse … “And so this economic system must be changed. Although we do not wish to do away with capitalism, although we do not desire to embarrass those who have made these United States the greatest nation that has ever graced the earth, yet we do wish to set the stage for a greater civilization. But a greater civilization cannot be reared upon the foundation of an outworn economic system. ‘Blessed is he who buildeth his house upon a rock. Though the winds come, and the rains descend, the house falleth not because it is builded upon a rock …’” so he wants an attractive looking wife, does he? What base ingratitude! He had used her wit and her logic for the last ten years, and now that success was near … She at there with her fingers numb and cold upon the keys. A great lump of pain welled up within her. She gripped her hands together. Yet he was so big, so grand; she had admired him so much for the good that was in him. Suddenly she realized that ever since she had known him she had voluntarily shut her eyes to at least half of what he was. She knew that he was not at all well informed. He dared not answer questions after his talks, and he never gave anything but prepared speeches. He hid behind that impenetrable dignity. Yet always he dressed her own pregnant words with golden eloquence.
The opening of the door startled her. There he stood, silent. She had not finished his speech! She had been sitting there for half an hour, mooning out of the window. Her fingers flew to their task. While he was changing, she tapped out the final paragraphs, swinging them to a final close with three ringing sentences which would resound through the hall. She could always hear his vibrant voice as she wrote. Great, resounding words came to her fingers, words that fitted his organ-bass voice as perfectly as their profound meaning fitted his dignity.
The next week was torment itself for Mary Warwick. Like one suddenly struck dizzy and unable to recover, she went about her work. Her husband, preoccupied with the swift-moving details of his campaign, observed nothing. Having the name of being a great liberal, he satisfied the masses of the people.
Meeting his wife in the hall after breakfast one morning, he instructed her concerning his next big address. It was to be at the laying of the cornerstone of the new federal building. It looked as if it had distinct possibilities. Mary would recognize them, of course …
Mary did recognize them. All through the morning as she did her work, in the afternoon as she shopped, throughout the evening prowling through the book stacks at the library, she planned and thought. The great unemployment problem, its complex causes, its multiple ills, the responsibility of the government for the lives of such men. Work projects such as this federal building was one answer.
Yet as she worked, something else was going on within her. Bitterness welled up in her soul; she could see it all now. Why, had she been so wantonly blind! Bitterness ripened into a new cynicism which bit deeper because it was unexpressed.
On Monday Burton went on a trip south, but he was back on Thursday in time to rest thoroughly before the banquet. Before five o’clock Mary came and laid his speech beside him on the end table. She hesitated as he fumbled through its crisp pages. “I would like to go tonight, Burton,” she murmured.
“But my dear,” he rumbled. “You don’t understand. This is politics. Rough and tumble attack and counter attack which you wouldn’t enjoy in the least. Stay here and rest yourself. Read a good book. It will be more to your liking.”
The next morning the paper ran an excellent candid camera shot of her husband laughing behind his hand into the ear of a bejewelled and aristocratic woman. Mrs. Warwick recognized her as the woman who had been included in the hunting party which Burton had joined on his trip south. She caught her breath.
Why not slip out of it all and return to her old home? At home she never felt the necessity of groveling before anyone. It would be quite easy. There was a time when Burton needed her to prepare his meals for him, but now he ate at hotels most of the time.
But the thought of separation caught her and tore at her heart strings. What would she do to satisfy her longing to create? She loved to write. she had never been able to express herself in society. She could punish him by not writing his speeches, but that would punish her more. How she loved to hear her ideas, as they fell from the lips of her husband, become the ringing clarion calls for freedom and equality!
How could she leave all this? She paced the floor in the agony of her indecision. She looked up as the door flew open, and Maizie breezed in.
“Hello, Mary, I’ve got us a couple of hot tamales for our supper. Hope ‘His Eloquency’ isn’t at home tonight. Say …” she stopped to look at Mrs. Warwick more closely, “what ails you?”
“Oh, Maizie, I’m so distracted! I don’t know what to do. I’ve just about decided to slip away and go home. That would give him a good excuse for divorcing me; then he could marry the other woman …”
Maizie turned upon her with withering scorn. “You jellyfish! Come on and eat a tamale with me, and you will be a changed woman.”
Changed woman! The thought struck Mary with particular force. Suddenly something inside of her clicked, and she saw things in new light. She had no end of courage when she was writing, but in just about everything else she was a jellyfish. Here she sat never making any effort to better herself … never making any effort to make herself acceptable. No wonder he didn’t want her! She wasn’t beautiful, she wasn’t clever, she wasn’t useful …
“Maizie,” she murmured, trying to keep her voice calm in the excitement of the new thought, “would you help me do something?”
Maizie looked up from her plate.
“What is it? A burglary?”
Mary stammered. “It isn’t, but it’s almost as bad. I’m going to be a changed woman!”
“A-Ah! I told you. It’s the tamales! What …”
“I’m going to dress up! I’m going to get me some cloth … some new cloth …”
Maizie’s face fell. “Oh, now listen, Mary. You know how you are as a dressmaker.”
The new light died in her eyes. “Yes, you are right,” Mary agreed. “Yet … maybe I can get something almost as cheap ready made …”
Maizie yawned behind her hand. “Did I hear you say that you were going to be a changed woman?” she asked languidly.
“Yes! I’m going to dress up … get clothes that will make me look … you know … but I’ll have to scrimp …”
Maizie nodded. “Scrimp? Did you ever do anything else?”
“Well, Burton can’t afford …”
Maizie sniffed scornfully. “Say, do you know how much money you have earned that man in the last ten years? Everybody but you knows that his bank account runs into six figures. And you talk of scrimping!”
“Not honestly!” Her eyes were big behind her glasses.
“Now listen, if you really want to be a changed woman, put yourself in my care!”
What Maizie did to Mary Warwick was, as she put it, nobody’s business. Golden afternoons were spent in exclusive salons. Hours of walking to and fro to get used to high heels and flowing skirts. Minute instructions on how to sit and stand, and move. Like one possessed, the amazing Maizie pled, threatened, coaxed and demanded, until Mary talked and walked with confidence, like a lady.
All this was with Mary’s consent. But Maizie did more. She dropped a hint to a fellow worker who whispered it into the ear of a client; the client, a sales lady, passed it on to the bookkeeper, who was a special friend of the boss’s secretary. The secretary mentioned it in an off-hand way to the boss who hurried to the man he was supporting for the United States Senate, and who was hard put to keep up his end of the race with the eloquent Burton Warwick.
The next morning Maizie dropped a hint to Mary. “If you have a caller of consequence today, treat him well.” And she went off to work.
That morning at ten, Burton’s opponent called. Mary donned a simple but becoming morning frock and stepped into the living room. Her hair, done high up on her head, made her look taller. Her new octagon rimless glasses helped to remove the owlishness. She greeted her caller confidently.
The candidate squirmed a bit and beat about the bush, but finally came flat out and said it. “Look here, Mrs. Warwick, word has come to me that you’re the one who writes Burton’s speeches. If that’s true, you’re a crackerjack. Now, to be right plain, how much would you take to come over into our camp?”
For a moment Mary’s head swam. Treason … bribery … The whole proposition leaped into her mind full formed. She almost burst with a fierce denunciation; but something back in her head warned her. Maizie’s words that morning … “If you have a caller of consequence …”
The opposing candidate squirmed forward, taking this silence for tacit approval. “I’m backed by some of the biggest industries in the state,” he told her confidentially. “We have a little money set aside for the people who might help us organize our thoughts.” He tried to read the effect of his words in her face.
A half hour later he left the house and bounded into his car. A sly grin showed in the rear view mirror as he jerked the machine into high.
Two days later Burton Warwick returned from his swing into the northern part of the state. Weary and travel stained, he came into the living room, but Mary was not there to greet him. He glanced about, irritated. Losing his dignity, for the moment, he turned and shouted, “Mary!” He threw open the doors, finally arriving at her room. She was standing before her mirror, tastefully attired in an afternoon gown, and was just adding a final touch of lipstick to her now thoroughly approachable mouth.
“Hello, Burt,” she tossed at him indifferently. “Have a good trip?”
He stood and looked at her dumbfounded.
“I’m off to a reception,” she explained. “A women’s club wants me to discuss some problems of the campaign.” This was a fib. She glanced slyly sidewise to see just how it landed.
“Women’s clubs!” he cried, seeking excuse for an explosion. “Of all the insane things! Women’s clubs!”
“But you find them very useful, don’t you? Women’s votes count just as much as men’s!”
“Yes, but … but …”
“Just sit down a moment, dear.” (She had rehearsed this jab for days. It hurt her worse than it did him.) “You are quite inarticulate. I will write you out an ironical diatribe against women’s clubs. You can memorize it while I put on my gloves.”
“Mary! What is all this? What do you mean? You …”
She swept past him. A taxi at the door swished her away to her meeting.
At ten-thirty that night she returned. Burton Warwick, his great mane hanging over his ears, leaped toward the door to meet her. “Great guns, where have you been? Out all afternoon! No supper! No newspaper! Where’s my speech?”
It took all of her nerve, but she had steeled herself for it. Her knees quaked under her.
She slowly stripped off her gloves until she knew that her voice would be steady.
“Your speech? Really, Burt, I’ve been too busy this week to write it. Senator Jackson came over the first of the week and wanted me to help him with some of his speeches. It’s been quite a job.”
He turned white. “Senator Jackson! You … you don’t mean that …”
“I needed a little pocket money. You see, the allowance which you give me is so atrociously inadequate.”
He leveled a terrible glance at her. “Traitor!” he cried.
She arched her eyebrows. “Traitor? Me? Oh, I don’t know. I found Senator Jackson to be a really charming man. Besides …” her voice quivered … she was almost in tears … “I thought you were about through with me.”
The shot struck hard. The accusing light died in his eyes. Gradually he turned away. Casting a sly glance at her as he slumped into his big chair he asked suavely, “Through with you? Why, I don’t understand.”
She turned away from him, shutting her eyes for a few moments to fight back the tears. The line that she had rehearsed so diligently came to her mind, but it was almost impossible for her to say it. “My … my lawyer,” she faltered, “tells me that you have absolutely no grounds for a divorce. But I thought …” her eyes swam in tears, “… I thought that I might go out and give you cause.” She disappeared silently while he sat startled.
The next day at the cornerstone rites Burton Warwick halted through an erratic speech, while his opponent, the clever Senator Jackson, sat back in a distant part of the audience and chuckled.
The following day, before a convention of the State Manufacturers Association, the Senator spoke as he had never spoken before. His witticisms were more refined, and they cut deeper, exposing deficiencies in Warwick’s character which none knew except Mary. Eminently pleased with himself, the Senator reeled off his prepared speech, winding up with such a powerful scorching for those who meddled with the status quo, that the convention simply went wild. When he was through, he stepped into a nearby room in the hotel to squeeze the small gloved hand of a certain person who had “revised” his speech for him.
“Little girl,” he declared, “it was great! Did you hear the hand I got? And it’s all because of you! Now, the next will be the Wool Growers’ Convention. That’s where I want to tell them something about this agricultural program and where it’s going to take them.”
It was just the week before election. Burton Warwick came into the house, his shoulders sloping with fatigue. For the last three weeks he had been fighting a losing battle – alone. Somehow he had lost his grip upon the people. In two short weeks he had dropped from the two-to-one shot for the senatorial election, to a poor runner-up. During that two weeks he had done some extremely incisive thinking. Never before had he ever considered his own worth as compared with that of someone else. He had always taken it for granted that he was supremely valuable, and that other people were useful only in relationship to his own advancement.
Jaded and forlorn, he dragged himself into his own living room, now cheerless and cold at eleven o’clock. He must be prepared for the rally tomorrow night, and he hadn’t begun his speech. He had no heart for it. He knew dimly what he wanted to say, but the effort that it took to marshal the material, to dig out the facts and figures, to verify them and recheck them for their accuracy appalled him.
Dear Mary … he was beginning to apprecaiate her genius. What a chump he had been. It had all come too easy for him. For the last two weeks he had felt so sorry for himself that he could have cried. But suddenly, tonight, he felt relieved because he didn’t feel sorry for himself any longer. “You big chump,” he murmured half aloud.
At about twelve-thirty Mary came in, wrapped to her chin in becoming fur. She was about to pass on to her own room without a word when Burton called to her.
“Come and sit here with me a while,” he requested. His voice was lean and thin. When she looked at him she was shocked. He looked old and whipped.
“Burton, you are ill,” she murmured sympathetically.
He nodded. “But not in body.” He sat there, his great head down between his shoulders, his cheeks sagged, and his eyes sunk deep in their sockets. For some time they sat thus. At last he aroused himself.
“Mary,” he said, “I’ve been a perfect numbskull. But something has happened to me these last two weeks. I have learned what it is to be beaten. Never before …” He shook his head with a pathetically wry smile. “It isn’t good to succeed too easily.”
She lay back in her chair and watched him. He didn’t glance up, merely spoke on, his voice hardly above a whisper.
“I’m afraid that I’m going to lose this election. Deserve it, too, I suppose. It’s a hard pill, but I’m almost glad that you left me to work out my own campaign.”
Her face was pulled into a tight little knot.
After a while he said, “I have instructed my lawyer to drop the suit for divorce. I know that you will be terrifically busy until after election; but when it is over, I wonder … I wonder if we couldn’t start all over again. I would like to take a little trip … to California for the winter. Would you … would you like to come with me?”
Mary slipped out of the big chair, and forgetting that this was the great Burton Warwick, she curled up on his lap, and putting her arms about him cried on his shoulder.
The next morning, as he ate his sausage and eggs, he found beside his plate a neatly typewritten script of his speech for the rally that night.