By Olive W. Burt
Synopsis: Helen Lund for some time has been worried about a neighbor, May Turner, whose habit of gossiping may cause trouble in the community. At a P.T.A. meeting, May tries to find out how the Carlsons financed a new Cadillac. Helen refuses to offer any information, but May hints that the car may have been financed by a crooked business deal.
Helen Lund did manage to forget about May Turner and her gossipy innuendoes for several days. then, suddenly, she was brought face to face with them again.
She was sewing a little costume for Jill to wear in the Primary playlet when the telephone rang. She lifted the receiver to hear Tess Carlson’s voice, high-pitched and almost hysterical.
“Helen? Helen, I’m so glad you’re home. I’m coming right over. I’ve got to talk to you!”
“Of course, Tess. Come on.”
Tess didn’t wait for anything more. She slammed down her receiver and Helen, somewhat mystified, slowly replaced her own receiver in the cradle. Two minutes later Tess was at the door.
As soon as Helen saw her neighbor’s face her curiosity changed to alarm.
“What is it, Tess? Has something happened to Jamie? Or to Jim? What is it?”
“Oh, Helen, it’s awful! I don’t know what to do? I called Marge Lewis and she said to talk to you, you might know what it’s all about. She said she saw you and May Turner talking at the P.T.A. meeting and afterward someone said you were talking about Jim …”
Helen’s face flushed, and she was about to say, “I wasn’t talking!” But before she could get the words said, Tess went on, “Someone’s been saying awful things about Jim – just because he bought a new car.”
“Well, if that’s all,” Helen interrupted, “you needn’t get upset about it. It can’t matter much.”
“Oh, can’t it?” Tess cried. “You just don’t know, Helen. somehow Mr. Nestor – he’s head of the law firm, you know, where Jim works – well, somehow he heard something. Goodness knows what! But this morning he called Jim into his office and said, ‘What’s this I hear about your being mixed up in some crooked uranium deal?’”
“Oh, no!” Helen exclaimed. “it’s not possible, Tess! It’s just not possible!”
Tess nodded her head and tears filled her eyes. “That’s what he said to Jim – to my Jim! And Jim just stood there with his mouth open. He didn’t know what Mr. Nestor was talking about, and when he told Mr. Nestor he didn’t have any idea what he was getting at, he still acted suspicious.”
Tess flopped down onto the settee and began to sob. “Jim phoned me. He’s awfully upset, and I called Marge to see if she’d heard anything, and she told me to talk to you. Oh, Helen, what is it? Crooked uranium deal – I never heard of such a thing! We don’t even have any uranium stock, or anything!”
“Listen, Tess,” Helen said quietly. “Let me tell you exactly what was said at the P.T.A. meeting, and maybe we can get some idea …”
Briefly she outlined May’s attempts to extract information and the woman’s carelessly tossed bait that Jim must have made some money in a crooked uranium deal.
“She didn’t really mean it, Tess. She was just saying that to try to get something out of me. it was too silly. I guess some of the women standing nearby could have heard her, but no one – not a single soul would believe it for a minute. We all know Jim …”
“Well, someone believed it and passed it on for the truth. And somehow it got to Mr. Nestor, and now, maybe, Jim will not be made a partner.”
“Not on a mere rumor like that, Tess. You tell Jim exactly what happened and have him explain it to Mr. Nestor. Tell him to keep calm, treat it for just what it is, some gossipy woman’s careless remark. Everything will be all right. I know it will, Tess. Jim isn’t home now, is he?”
Tess shook her head.
“Well, then, dry your eyes. I’ve just made a lemon-meringue pie, your favorite, Tess. I’ll go cut us each a slice, and we can think about something more pleasant than that silly talk.”
Tess couldn’t resist the comfort of Helen’s delicious pie, but she wasn’t entirely consoled. As she ate, she said thoughtfully, “Something ought to be done, Helen. Really. It’s getting past a joke – we simply can’t keep on ignoring this sort of thing. May Turner will have to be cured!” The tears flooded her eyes again.
Helen shook her head determinedly. “The best way to cure this is to ignore it,” she advised. “Believe me, Tess, that’s the only thing to do. I know none of our crowd would repeat anything malicious – and you know it, too. We’ll just forget May and all her talk.”
Helen had reason to wonder about the wisdom of this advice a day or two later. Jill was ensconced in their cheerful kitchen eating her after-school snack while Helen balanced a cake on one hand, as with the other she swirled rich frosting over the sides. Jill watched her mother, her eyes big and round as she munched a cookie and washed it down with milk.
Finally she asked casually, “Mommy, when is Daddy going to jail?”
Helen gave a start and nearly dropped the cake. She stared at her daughter, open-mouthed. Then, remembering that the first duty of a parent was to show no alarm over a child’s questions, she smiled cheerfully. “What a silly question, Jill!”
“It’s not silly, Mommy. Teddy Turner told me at school. He said Daddy might go to jail any day now, and he wants to know if he can go with us when we go to visit him, ‘cause Teddy’s never seen the inside of a jail.”
“Neither have you, darling, and neither have I, and neither has Daddy. And we never shall, I imagine. Teddy was teasing you, Jill.”
“No, he wasn’t teasing, Mommy. He told me. He said he heard his mommy talking on the phone and she said she wouldn’t be s’prised if Daddy was found out and sent to jail. What did he do, Mommy, to be found out?”
Helen set the cake down carefully. She waited a moment to get control of the surprised anger that flared through her whole being. then, forcing her voice to sound casual and unconcerned, she said, “Teddy’s a joker, darling. His mommy was just playing a game. You shouldn’t listen to such silly things.”
“How can I help listening when Teddy is talking straight to me?” Jill asked reasonably. “All the kids were listening, too. We couldn’t help it. And he wasn’t playing a game.”
“Jill, listen to Mommy. When folks say things like that, they are playing a game – a silly, naughty game. they’re trying to make you scared or angry.” She sat down beside her daughter. “Look at Mommy, Jill. You’ve seen naughty boys tease a kitten, haven’t you?” Just to make it squirm or squeal?” Jill nodded thoughtfully. “Well, Teddy was just teasing you. But instead of pulling your hair to make you cry, he just told you stories to make you excited about Daddy. They were just stories, Jill.”
“You mean lies, Mommy?”
“Yes,” Helen said firmly. “They were lies, naughty lies. Now you drink up your milk and skedaddle outside. It’s a lovely afternoon for jumping the rope.”
But when Jill was outside, Helen sat down and stared at the wall. Pay no attention, she had told Tess the other day and Jill today. Pay no attention. But what good was that doing? May Turner’s gossiping was getting out of hand. When it threatened a man’s job, when it invaded the school playground, something must be done. Obviously, paying no attention was too mild a pill for May’s disease. Something stronger was required.
And it was imperative that something be done immediately. With the school bazaar coming up, the P.T.A. members would be thrown together day after day in work sessions. May should have unusual opportunities to carry on her malicious work.
And how vicious it was! Helen thought, wrathfully. Just because she had refused to discuss a neighbor’s affairs, her whole family was being involved – Tony and Jill, absolutely innocent victims. May must have been spreading her poison by the telephone route. Helen could almost hear her, “Oh, Josephine, have you heard what everyone is saying? I don’t believe it, of course – it’s just gossip. But then, where there’s smoke there’s fire, I always say. And there certainly is smoke! No, I wouldn’t want you to repeat it. I never say anything but good about my neighbors,” and then a malicious giggle. “Listen …”
Helen shook herself angrily. Yes, something must be done. Her eyes shifted from their fixed gaze at the wall and roamed around the room, seeking inspiration, help. But there was nothing in that bright, gay kitchen, filled with sunlight and the good smell of cooking, to suggest how to combat this dark evil.
Helen’s eyes came to the window, where her colored glass reflected the afternoon sun in myriad colors. She smiled in spite of her worry, as she always smiled when she looked at that pretty window with its old glass, much of which had been toted across the plains by her own ancestors.
And then suddenly her roving glance stopped and settled on a little figurine that stood between the two red cologne bottles of her own great-grandmother.
It was a cheap little ornament that her grandmother had given her when she was no older than Jill. She had treasured it ever since, and had placed it there among her colored glass so that she could see it every day. She smiled now, remembering what her grandmother had said.
“Keep this where you can always see it, Helen, and it will help you to be the kind of girl Grandma will be proud of.”
Helen went to the window and lifted down the little ornament. Holding it in her hands she repeated aloud her grandmother’s words. “These three little monkeys have names, Helen. They are: Hear-No-Evil, See-No-Evil, and Speak-No-Evil. Make them your friends and your example.”
Suddenly Helen laughed, a clear, ringing laugh.
“Yes, Grandma, darling,” she said, “your three little monkeys have been a great help in keeping me from gossip. And now, perhaps, they will help someone else. For I have an idea! Thanks, Grandma, thanks!”
Smiling, Helen replaced the three little monkeys in their accustomed place on the window shelf.